MORE than four million people will spend this Christmas alone.
Statistics of this kind are a seasonal ritual; but Professor
Christina Victor told us on Woman's Hour (Radio 4) last
Friday that Christmas was not the worst time of the year for people
who feel lonely. Friends, family, and neighbours do make an effort
around Christmas; it is those long summer days that are worst.
If that seemed to take something of the sting from the BBC's
special day of programming, "A Life Less Lonely", it was only in
the cause of presenting a more nuanced, and, ultimately, more
powerful message about what it is to be lonely. It is not about
social isolation: it is about the gap between our expectations of
and our actual social engagement.
Thus loneliness can afflict those in company just as profoundly
as the elderly and infirm; and the examples presented during the
day on Radio 5 Live included a university student living with 14
others, a father bereaved of his son, and the runner Paula
Radcliffe, convalescing in a Limerick hotel-room with an ice-pack
on her ankle.
Is this a political issue? The Minister for Care and Support,
Norman Lamb, declared on You and Yours (Radio 4, Friday)
that "The state can't make people happy." We need, he said, to
(re-) learn neighbourliness. And, as an octogenarian, Kate
Torkington, reminded us on Woman's Hour, it is not good
enough to treat the lonely, in particular the elderly, as if all
they need is somebody - anybody - to talk to.
Social relationships require time to develop; and people do not
relinquish personalities, tastes, and interests when they enter the
Third Age - a point that apparently went over the head of the
presenter, Sheila McClennon, when, as her closing question, she
asked Ms Torkington what advice she would give to all the lonely
old people out there.
Every cause appears now to have its special day. But what about
Learn to Love the Swastika Day? (13 November, since you ask.) The
initiative is the idea of a tattoo parlour in Copenhagen, which,
despite what you might be thinking, is not a neo-Nazi outpost, but
the centre for a campaign to de-stigmatise the ancient symbol.
In Reclaiming the Swastika (World Service, Wednesday of
last week), we heard how ancient it was - at least 4000 years - and
how recently it had been used in branding products and
institutions: Coca-Cola used it in the early 20th century, the
Girls Club of the USA published a magazine called
Swastika, and the symbol was painted on some RAF planes as
late as 1939.
So universal is it that some theories associate the swastika
shape with naturally occurring patterns; one favoured by
palaeontologists associates it with a pattern found on the inside
of ivory tusks, which would also explain the early use of the
swastika as a fertility symbol.
The India-born presenter Mukti Jain Campion grew up
understanding the swastika as emblematic of well-being and good
fortune, and, in the course of her documentary, interviewed an
Auschwitz survivor about the appropriateness of displaying various
versions of the swastika. With several of them he had no problem;
but why, he asked, wear it as a tattoo? Somehow, I don't think the
13 November celebration is going to catch on.