5 Simple pleasures to look forward to when hope returns

Hope is returning.

– Micheál Martin AKA Taoiseach

Only a politician could manage to make the words “Hope is returning” and “Summer is coming” sound like a threat and a promise at the same time.

Already, I see some ninnies complaining that today’s announcement by Martin is too hasty, too optimistic and that we should all stay indoors getting madder and more institutionalised by the day. But let the ninnies complain from behind their double-layered masks. I’ve got a life to live, and so do you, dear reader/my mother.

Over the past few months – is it twelve or thirteen? – I’ve been depressed, angry, bored, sad, and unfulfilled. Not all of the time, but more than usual. I suspect this is the same for most people. I’m not optimistic by nature, but the promise of re-opening and the thought of getting back to doing my favourite things with my favourite people is keeping me somewhat positive. Here’s a list of simple pleasures I’m looking forward to indulging in very soon…

1. Drinking coffee from a cup in a café, watching the world go by

There’s no real pleasure to be had from drinking a clandestine takeaway coffee in your car or on a bench freezing your particulars off, but this is what we caffeine addicts have had to endure during lockdown. I don’t smoke, but I’d imagine it’s the difference between having a fag standing in the pissing rain in wet shoes versus having one while lounging on a verandah in a warm, midge-less country watching the sunset. Good coffee, too, is contingent on a good atmosphere, and cafés are some of the most relaxing places on earth for me. My favourite café has all my favourite things about café culture – that’s good coffee, nice staff, late opening hours, relaxed vibe – and I am counting the days until I can seek refuge in its rickety chairs once more.

2. Eavesdropping

If you’re as nosy as I am, you’d miss listening to people’s conversations – a luxury greatly diminished in pandemic times because nobody is gossiping with their friends/family/FWB anymore. Well, they are, but they’re not doing it where I can hear them. Hopefully, that’s about to change, and I’ll soon be hanging around corners, empty gin glass in hand listening for juicy tidbits of gossip pouring from the mouths of strangers.

3. Bookshops

I love and miss independent bookshops so much and I am not alone. Amazon is not the same; indie bookshops are so beloved because they allow us bookworms to immerse ourselves in the lovely rituals (see above) we associate with browsing bookshelves for the next great bargain, bestseller, or whatever you’re having yourself.

4. Lovely pints, pub crawls, the craic

While I’m not a Guinness lover, I feel very sorry for those who are. It’s impossible to recreate a proper pint at home without the charming ambience of a dusty, old pub that hasn’t had its interior changed in any way since 1999. We’ll have to make do with table service and beer gardens for now, but the Irish pub as we know and love it will return because, after all, ’tis hard to kill a bad thing. Sláinte.

5. A haircut

Before we begin going out and about and enjoying the Summer – weather permitting – it is absolutely essential that every single one of us gets a good haircut. A follicular deforestation, if you will. I was one of the unwise people who didn’t get my hair cut last time the hairdressers opened, so my head is currently a mess of split ends and negative thoughts. It won’t be long now, though.

5 Ways to prevent early-onset madness in lockdown

Here’s a few things I did to cope with lockdown over the past year…

Learn how to insult your loved ones in several languages

Some blog writers might recommend you be productive with your time spent in lockdown. They might say: “Get up at 8 am and do thirty minutes of Spanish on Duolingo every day because learning new skills is a great way to prepare yourself for the job market.”

I say b******s to that. Especially the getting up at 8 am bit. What kind of nutter gets up that early unless they’re being paid to? I’m currently unemployed – despite my best efforts to secure a job, any job – and I’m having a great time learning how to slag my family members off in an array of exotic tongues.

So, instead of relying on a needy green owl to teach me how to ask for directions to the train station in French, I’m learning skills I actually need for the kind of life I lead at the moment – i.e a life lived at home with my family, who occasionally get on my nerves.

I use the notoriously unreliable and inaccurate Google Translate because it’s all free, and there are no “daily reminders” – perfect for those of us with commitment issues who want to call their brother a smelly poo in German.

Teach your dog the safe cross-code

What do you mean your dog doesn’t know the safe cross-code? If you have a dog and you’re in lockdown, you’re most likely bored out of your skull at least one day a week… Go and walk your dog; you have no excuse not to. My dog’s legs are being worn to butts she’s being taken out so often these days – not that she minds the extra bonding time with her humans. And she’d certainly never let a bit of rain stop her. Since the winter set, in we’ve both gotten absolutely drenched together more times than I can count as we wander the quiet country roads near our house. Ruby empties her bowels, and I empty my head.

Neither of us particularly like the dog-lead – one of us resents having her freedom to sniff curtailed; the other prefers her arm in its socket, thank you very much. We both accept that leads are a necessary evil for roads with cars and dangerous bends, though. It took one of us, in particular, a very long time to get used to not acting like a complete thick whenever a car ambushes us. In my defence, Ruby doesn’t respect me or my authority very much, so if we do find ourselves crossing the road when it’s busy it becomes a power struggle in which the biggest bitch wins. But only just about.

After one too many near-brushes with doggy death by Skoda Octavia, I decided I needed to get a bit stricter, for both our sakes. We’ll start working on the safe cross code any of these weeks now.

Don’t be mindful™

Is there anything more boring than mindfulness? Somebody talking about mindfulness, perhaps. There’s an app you can download on your phone that tells you how to meditate. It’s called Headspace, and it sounds very stressful – what if I wasn’t good at mindfulness? Would I be able to handle the shame? I’d rather remain a head-case than find out I’m bad at something else.

Whenever we as a society go through a traumatising period, someone inevitably writes a smug newspaper column or blog post about mindfulness and how important it is “to be present in our suffering” – or some shite like that. Go and iron your yoga pants, you silly sausage.

Nine times out of ten, the rest of us are too busy getting on with it to be mindful of anything except what’s for dinner. (It’s beans on toast again because what’s the point?).

Purchase exercise equipment for ornamental purposes

At the start of Ireland’s second lockdown, which was six weeks ago at the time of writing, I got a sudden notion to start circuit training. I thought it would be a nice way to increase my woeful upper body strength as well as keep me occupied in the evenings.

I went on Amazon to look at exercise equipment, and then I bought what I thought I needed on an Irish website. I got two 4kg dumbbells and an ab-roller, which I tested out straight away. The ab roller was so easy to use I thought, ‘I must be doing something wrong here,’ so I haven’t used it since because I don’t trust it. It lies forlornly on my bedroom floor, and I keep meaning to have another go, but I’m afraid that if I do use it correctly, it will hurt ferociously. It’s just easier to think I don’t need it because my abs are already so obviously shredded. Not.

I’m having a bit more success with the dumbbells, but they are so heavy I can only use one at a time, like a kettle-ball. I tried to do an exercise called a bent-over row, and I nearly broke both my arms off. So, the dumbbells are lying on my bedroom floor also, and I take it in turns to use them so they don’t get jealous of each other. My advice to anyone thinking of taking up circuit training in lockdown is: don’t. And if you do buy exercise equipment, make sure it matches your curtains.

Treat lockdown like Lent

I’m pretty sure every religion has something like the Catholic tradition of Lent, a period during which people deny themselves of basic pleasures like biscuits to prove to their God that they are worthy of salvation.

Practicing Catholics observe Lent for six weeks every single year until they eventually die, and, one would hope, after all that self-denial, get their Heavenly reward.

Hopefully, we won’t have to do lockdown for six weeks every year – or twice a year – until we die, but it mightn’t do some of us more materialistic folk any harm to go without for a while. I’ve been treating lockdown like Lent – which I’d never do ordinarily – and it’s been working out fairly well for me. That might just be because as I write this, Ireland is about to open up most of its pubs, cafes, restaurants and shops. I’m aware that I sound smug to people in countries still dealing with restrictions and lockdown, but this last tip has genuinely helped me survive the past few weeks.

Bear in mind, too, that Lent doesn’t mean you have to give up everything you enjoy; it can be an opportunity to take up new hobbies and adopt better habits too. Sometimes a change is as good as a rest. I’ve swapped my nightly Netflix binge, which was getting out of hand before lockdown, for reading. I’ve just finished reading a brilliant book called ‘Shantaram‘, which is set in 1980s Bombay. It’s as far from Ireland lockdown 2020 as possible and a welcome change from 1990s American sitcoms, too. It’s a hefty tome at over 900 pages, but it was so enthralling I found it wasn’t half long enough. Perhaps I’ll end up feeling the same way about lockdown…