Although the holidays of my childhood were entirely taken up with rounders, kick-the-can, Happy Families, Monopoly, knucklebones, jacks, charades, pelmanism, Happy Families and so forth, as an adult I have rather taken against games. Perhaps it was the experience of an Easter in Cornwall where one of my English cousins appointed himself banker for every Monopoly tournament and won each and every one - that is, until he made a slip and one of us, belatedly eagle-eyed, discovered that he had brought with him to Cornwall all the money from the Monopoly set his family had at home.
This is how he did it: we always sat on the floor to play, and that holiday the criminal among us insisted on only ever sitting right at the corner of the rug that was closest to the window. The reason, we eventually discovered, was that under that particular corner he had hidden his horde of extra money.
It may have been that shocking experience that did it, I don't know - whatever the reason, until recently games of all kinds had been banished from my life. However, a couple of weeks ago things changed completely. Against my will, we began playing a new game that has only recently been invented. It is called COVID Christmas borders. It is addictive, and is probably the most difficult game I have ever tried.
The aim of the game is to reunite families living in different parts of the world, so that they can spend Christmas together. Let me say at the outset that anyone thinking of trying this with Australian relatives should simply give up now. Getting a flight to Australia is, if not impossible, extremely nearly impossible, and, in the unlikely event that you do manage to get one, you have to go into two weeks' quarantine when you get to the other end.
And I don't mean quarantine as it is practised in much of the world - that is, you can land, travel to where you live or are planning to stay and then stay there, without supervision. No, in Australia, the army meet you off the plane, transport you to a hotel, where you go into a room and don't come out at all for fourteen days. That means no walk around the building, no exercise in the gym, no stroll down to the lift and back, nothing. Best of all, you pay handsomely for the privilege.
And should you decide to meet up with someone who is in Australia now and feels like a little trip to somewhere else, forget that too. Australians have to ask their government for permission to leave the country, and that permission is usually denied.
In Europe, things are, if not less strict, certainly more fluid. It is this fluidity that drew us into the game.
Our original plan for Christmas was that we would spend it in our flat in Budapest, with our daughters, who would come to stay with us from where they live in Britain. But on 1 September, Hungary closed its borders to those without citizenship or residency.
Move 1, Us: Well, we thought, if the girls can't come here, then we will go to England. We will hire a house and we can all stay in it and explore somewhere new. We then spent hours poring over Air BnB properties in remote bits of Scotland, and even on islands off the coast.
Move 1, the Authorities: The Scottish government announced that anyone from overseas would have to quarantine for 14 days.
A good move. We were stymied for a day or two.
Move 2, Us: We remembered Pembrokeshire in Wales. We had loved the walks on the coast near St David's. Cue more poring over Air BnB but this time in a westerly direction.
Move 2, the Authorities: The Welsh government banned non-essential travel into its area. Would they see getting together with our children as essential travel? While it is to us, they might disagree.
Move 3, 4, and 5, Us: Well, what about Italy? Yes, lovely idea. Lichtenstein looks good. Greece? At first all looks rosy.
Move 3,4 and 5, the Authorities: An announcement that masks have to be worn at all times is made in Italy and, then, oops, the country's taken off the British safe list, along with Lichtenstein. A closer reading of Greek government guidance reveals that if officials there feel like it, they may make you quarantine, and it is impossible to tell who this will happen to and who will be spared.
Move 6, Us: Never mind, we'll all meet up in upper Bavaria. We love Bavaria. And, oh look, what a gorgeous house, right next to an enchanting village, masses of wonderful walks, pick the kids up in Munich, no quarantine for them when they get back to Britain, perfect.
Move 6, the Authorities: Germany introduces quarantine for people coming from Hungary and people coming from Britain.
Move 7, Us: We refuse to admit that it's checkmate. We will not be beaten, (we think, or hope). We will go back to plan A, but instead of Scotland, we will find a place somewhere else, a part of England that hasn't been much affected, and we will rent it for two weeks before Christmas and quarantine there. Nice places are available wherever we look, close to moorland and walks and generally ideal.
Move 7, the Authorities: Germany closes all hotels and France goes into lockdown and so, given that we were planning to drive to Britain via these countries, we will now have to plough on through day and night without any rest. On top of that, Britain appears to be on the brink of going into countrywide total lockdown, so we won't be able to meet up with anyone else, including our children, even if we manage to get there.
Move 8, Us: I don't think we are quite beaten. The Canary Islands are our latest wizard wheeze, but, to be truthful, we aren't pinning our hopes on them. Or, indeed, feeling very excited by the prospect.
In any case, regardless of what happens, I realise that above all we have been the unwitting victims of an educational toy, a mad and complicated activity with a perpetually shifting set of rules that has taught us we cannot always plan everything - or anything - in advance, that, even though it's almost Christmas and we've had all the time since last Christmas to get ourselves organised, we cannot, after all, control events. Sometimes everyone has to sit patiently and wait and see.
(And yes, of course I understand that all the rules we were playing against were not really designed to teach us anything, even if they did in fact end up giving us this valuable lesson. And, yes, I know that, paradoxically, what they are meant to do is precisely the thing they forced us to learn is impossible - to control events. Still, having absorbed so extremely well the inadvertent lesson of the game we've been playing, I do have to ask whether the rules are actually useful for their intended purpose? Is there anybody who can demonstrate that the various newly introduced measures are truly controlling anything? Or is it possible that events are, indeed, uncontrollable - that, whatever happens, the virus will sweep Europe, either slowly, with lockdowns, or swiftly, without, but inevitably, one way or the other, it will sweep? And, if it is indeed inevitable, is it truly necessary to precede it with successive new waves of panic measures, that deprive so many people of so many rights and freedoms? Did anyone ask to be ruled by doctors? Has anyone in authority checked that we are all prepared to give up so much for dubious, unproved outcomes? Are there guarantees that the terrible pain being inflicted across our societies is going to be truly beneficial - or will the result be only a deferral of illness, with the addition of monstrous social and economic pain?)