I find myself in the interesting position of both having and not having a confirmed case of Covid.

There was an outbreak at work meaning many, but not me, were either confirmed cases or required to self-isolate because of exposure. I swabbed as a precaution but given the lack of symptoms both in my team and me, and the timings since the outbreak I was fairly confident I’d escaped. And when there were delays at the lab on Friday I didn’t worry too much that I was leaving for the weekend without a result.

On Sunday I was tired, but that could be anything so thought nothing of it (some people might, totally hypothetically, have drunk too much gin the night before, although obviously I can’t imagine anyone doing that). This morning I dragged myself into work, still feeling incredibly tired but ascribing it to a bad night’s sleep or perhaps a common bug.

It was just after 9am I got my Schrödinger status. I was waving the person with my negative swab result away from my door as I was on the phone with Test and Trace discussing my positive result.

This isn’t to criticise either Test and Trace or the lab, mistakes are made. I’m assuming an input error and that I may never find out the definitive result. However, having come home to self-isolate I fell asleep for most of the day and awoke to find my sense of taste has gone and a feeling I’m never quite taking a full breath. I now have a pretty good idea what the result should have been.

Hopefully, these will be the end of the symptoms for me and I will mostly sleep through it. And hopefully, I will be lucky enough not to pass it on to my family. Fortunately, I can be confined to my own room and while the sense of lost liberty is acute, the fatigue means I am not actually motivated to go anywhere. In any case, unlike actual prisoners I’m allowed books and the internet.

The lesson, for me, is how easy it can be to catch this thing. I have been very cautious in my mask wearing and distancing. Possibly not cautious enough, it transpires, but certainly someone who tended to go beyond the current regulations.

And the other lesson is how much luck plays a part. Were it not for London’s move into tier 2 it’s possible I would have transmitted the virus to other family members at the weekend. And, from there…?

The odds are heavily stacked in my favour; I’m relatively young and relatively fit. It might be unpleasant but I’m likely to be over it soon enough. But other people are not in that position and I hate, absolutely detest, the idea I could now be a link in the chain of transmission to one of them.

I have always had an over-developed sense of responsibility, so even knowing I followed guidance means I cannot shake a sense of ill-defined guilt for an outcome that may never happen and I will never know either way.

Imagine if I’d been the anti-mask type where I would have been more certain of the outcome of my irresponsibility. I oddly never felt my liberty infringed wearing a mask but I’m sure that death pretty severely cramps your personal freedoms.

Be careful. Keep your distance. Wear a mask.

It is difficult, sometimes, to pinpoint the exact cause of the depressive pessimism that it the mood music of 2020. Is it Covid-19? Or is it the government’s strange inability to collect and publish statistics on it? Or their tendency to blame others for problems rather than solving them? Is it that nagging sense that while the way contracts are being handed out might not be corrupt technically, it’s hard to avoid the whiff of something a bit off?

Is it the incompetence of the handling of A-level results? Or is it the bizarre situation where we’ll get worked up about a handful of people braving the Channel in a dinghy because they, bizarrely, think that life will be better here than any other European country? Or maybe it’s the utterly surreal suggestion by Priti Patel that they are trying to escape French intolerance?

I have started wondering if, actually, it’s because of all the polarisation it’s the one between optimism and pessimism that is most profound. It’s hard to imagine how making ourselves economically weaker while stoking intolerance is a cause for optimism but, when packaged up with terms like ‘freedom’ and ‘control’, it seems that even a government that’s equal parts ideology and incompetence can provide enough of the population with hope that it can dominate a broken electoral system like first-past-the-post.

The difficulty is that there is a finite capacity for pessimism and outrage. So, taking the A-level results, while there is so much focus on young people missing out their Oxbridge places there is hardly any media attention given to those elsewhere on the spectrum such as those who will miss out on a university place entirely. Those for whom the downgrading doesn’t mean the difference between a prestigious university education and slightly less prestigious university education but, instead, is a set-back that will last, with a huge economic cost, for the rest of their lives.

Or, looking beyond this, year, the fact that the algorithms have simply highlighted (and perhaps amplified) an annual inequality that downgrades the potential of children from deprived areas every single year of their education. Surely that is where the outrage should be: by limiting their potential we hold back the whole country.

I’m obviously one of the 55% or so that finds little cause for optimism in the UK. Perhaps the biggest cause of pessimism is that I don’t really expect the government to do anything to appeal to me, why should it? There is no need for consensus building when it can achieve electoral success by just appealing to its base.

Once upon a time politics was about hope and optimism. Remember that Obama poster? Perhaps that is an analogy, something that started positively but ended in disappointment and court battles. But politics was about hope. From Attlee’s ‘Face the Future’ manifesto in 1945, Thatcher in 1979 exhorting people to vote for a ‘better life’, Blair in 1997 offering the country a ‘new life’. Even May’s shambolic 2017 election, despite the comically memorable ‘Strong and Stable’, was under a manifesto entitled ‘Forward, Together’. The consistent theme is that, as a country, things can be better. And now…?

If there could be a more visceral image of a government destroying hope than downgrading the exam results of thousands and thousands of young people, mostly from less affluent areas I do not want to know what it is. Can we really take four more years of it?