PUBLIC health warning! That mawkish sentimentality so beloved of US actors, directors and filmmakers – have you seen The Midnight Sky, starring and directed by George Clooney, so saccharine your eyes will rot? – has infected the Sussexes.

I have listened to their Archewell Audio Holiday Special, the first delivery in their £30 million Spotify deal, so you don’t have to. It opens with a procession of doubtless famous people, pals of the pair, with their own definitions of 2020, like “The year that defined vulnerability” before the couple introduce themselves: “I’m Harry,” “I’m Meghan.”

A succession of their besties then trip through – Elton John, James Corden and 11 others I’ve never heard of – with Meghan popping in with her catchphrase “It’s so true”.

She psychobabbles: “Connection was crucial for all of us this year, in whatever way we found it. Sometimes standing at a distance, sometimes just through a screen.” Particularly through a screen for you, Megs.

The formerly royal couple talk about ending the 34-minute show with the song that closed their wedding, This Little Light Of Mine. (Almost total lyrics: This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine, Oh, this little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.) And in comes Harry: “Love always wins.” Cue Meghan: “It’s so true.”

At this point I had to take what they would no doubt call a comfort break as the contents of my lunch rebelled. I returned to hear son Archie, the Arch in Archewell, being coached to say “Happy New Year” like an aspiring child actor on his first screen test.

Then the first notes of that signature tune struck up but I could hear no more for the treacle in my eardrums.

No more broken resolutions

Two days into the new year and so far I haven’t broken any resolutions, although it would be hard to as this was written on Hogmanay.

I didn’t make any last year which is always the best way to ensure non-breakage, but I did make one at the start of the pandemic, which was to exercise more. Goodness, I even bought a gym membership in the early days – walk more and lose 14lbs. So, just 28lbs to go.

Apparently the ancient Babylonians were the first to make them about 4,000 years ago, but their new year started in mid-March when they sowed the first crops. I suppose it was a bit hit and miss with agriculture in those days when they didn’t have Alan Titchmarsh around to advise them.

They made promises to their gods to be good, to keep the slaying to a minimum and only when it was really, really necessary, not to walk on the city walls when the chariot races are in full swing, and remember to water the Hanging Gardens.

I’ve been in Babylon and so have US Marines. In 2003, after the invasion of Iraq, they built a military base, a helipad and other war facilities on ancient Babylonian ruins, causing irreparable damage, including to the Ishtar Gate, one of the world’s most important antiquities. Their tanks and heavy armour also crushed 2,600-year-old brick pavements with archaeological fragments scattered across the site and worse. A thousand years from now archaeologists will be digging Coca-Cola bottles out of the sand as ancient artefacts.

Babylon was also the birthplace of freemasonry – I’ll raise a trouser leg to that! – and the inspiration for many a song, from Boney M to David Gray and Lady Gaga.

Strut it out, walk a mile,

Serve it, ancient city style

Talk it out, babble on

Battle for your life, Babylon

None of them any good.

I’ll be following the resolutions of Jonathan Swift, the Gulliver’s Travels prophet, who, when he was 32, wrote his own list for when he was old, like me. Among them was “Not to boast of my former beauty, or strength, or favour with Ladyes” – a difficult one to keep obviously.

“Not to hearken to Flatteryes, nor conceive I can be beloved by a young woman” – well, that’s a given. “Not to tell the same story over and over to the same People.” Which is hard to keep when the years are chipping away your memory and faces begin to blur. And “Not to be peevish or morose, or suspicious.” No, that’s one too far. It would take the joy out of living.

Some silver linings

THE 1650s were a bit like today. No, they were except for the electricity, the internal combustion engine, the digital stuff ... Anyway, on Christmas Day 1664, a single plague death was reported in London. Another came in February, then another. The diarist Samuel Pepys wrote: “Great fears of sickness here in the City. God preserve us all.” He, or she, didn’t.

Over the summer hundreds then thousands died every week in the pandemic. Those infected were ordered not to leave their homes. Many were boarded in and left to die, a cross painted on the outside of each plague house. Plays, spectator blood sports, football and other crowd gatherings were banned. Street vendors were banned, fast food was out. And the universities closed.

One lad sent home from Cambridge University was a poor boy who had funded his studies by being a servant to richer students in exchange for tuition. When lockdown came he collected his books and trudged home to his mother’s farm – his illiterate father had died three months before his birth – to wait it out. He was Isaac Newton.

His biographer James Gleick records that the first thing he did was to make a small study and build bookshelves then start making notes in a blank, 1,000-page notebook, setting himself problems and solving them. He pushed past the then-frontier of knowledge.

Whether the apple fell nearby or not, Newton defined the revolutionary concept of gravity, and along the way invented calculus. As Gleick puts it: “The plague year was his transfiguration. Solitary and almost incommunicado, he became the world’s paramount mathematician.”

I don’t know if the Covid vaccine will turn out to be the paramount achievement of the 2020 plague year but, for all our sakes, let’s hope so.

Hope goes viral

The New Year’s Honours list, which normally hands out gongs to political chums and donors, has also rightly dished some out to the stars of the NHS, although pay rises and major investment would be more appropriate.

It was also pleasing to see there was some recognition of the scientists at Oxford University for creating the vaccine that I hope I’ll be having shortly.

Oxford needed the muscle of a major drugs company to handle the manufacture and distribution of the vaccine, but it had two non-negotiable requirements. The drug had to be put out at cost throughout the epidemic and there had to be an equitable distribution in order for the vaccine to reach the populations of poorer countries.

Unlike the other two for-profit vaccines, from Pfizer and Moderna which cost from $30 to $80 for full doses, the Oxford one will be priced at around $3.

AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot struck the deal with Oxford which ensures the world’s poor will get the vaccine. The company has agree to supply one billion doses for low and middle-income countries. Soriot said: “My kids would kill me if I didn’t do this.” Both Soriot and the scientists deserve our praise and thanks, if not a gong.