While the rest of England begrudgingly tucks into leftover Quality Street and settles into Jools Holland’s Hootenanny, there is one place where celebrations will go ahead almost as usual.
Although drunken renditions of Auld Lang Syne at midnight are off the menu as a result of an 11pm curfew, pubs will remain open for the more than 2,200 residents of the Isles of Scilly, a tiny archipelago off the south-western tip of Cornwall.
At the Mermaid Inn on St Mary’s, the manager, Dan Latham, was busy setting up tables of six for the 45 customers booked into the pub’s restaurant. Diners will be treated to three courses and a glass of prosecco for £28, although more punters are expected to pop in for pints.
“We’ll be really busy if Christmas Eve was anything to go by. That was busy from start to finish. It was fun. It was nice to be busy again,” said Latham.
The 33-year-old, originally from Bolton, only saw his family via Zoom on Christmas Day and has cancelled his holiday plans for January to continue working in the pub, but he said he felt “very privileged” to be living in the only area in England where hospitality venues remain open.
“Everyone that comes into the pub is well behaved, following the rules, doing the NHS tracking app,” said Latham, who believed Covid cases were so low on the islands because of residents’ compliance. “There’s a lot of people bitching and moaning that we shouldn’t be in this tier, we shouldn’t be in that tier, but then you see them all flouting the rules.”
It’s tradition for islanders to go out in fancy dress on New Year’s Eve, and despite social-distancing rules, tonight will be no different. While his staff will be dressed as minions – from the Despicable Me franchise – Dan said he would be dressed as Gru, the film’s villain-turned-hero, “because I’ve got a bald head”.
A short drive up the road at the Old Town Inn, the landlord Colin McKinnon, 38, obligingly dressed as a golfer – the pub’s fancy-dress theme this year – said celebrations were kicking off early due to the curfew.
“I’ve got tables booked in from two until seven and we’re celebrating New Year’s Eve at 6 o’clock,” said McKinnon. A number of the tables would be occupied by people from the same family, spread out to adhere to the rule of six.
Although there won’t be fireworks to mark the New Year – a difficulty, McKinnon said, because they could easily be confused with flares on such a small island – plenty of people would head to the Old Inn to celebrate.
Forty-five locals had already reserved their places, and McKinnon expected more walk-ins as a few of the islands’ handful of pubs had closed for winter. “The younger crowd will go to a couple of pubs because it will be the last time they can do it for a while,” said McKinnon.
In an effort to stay open, staff were going above and beyond to keep the pub Covid-safe. “We sanitise every table and chair before anybody sits down and every touch point. We’ve got somebody walking around that’s cleaning constantly,” he said.
When asked how he felt about the rest of England looking upon Scilly with envy, McKinnon said cautiously, “Well, it’s good for me.”