Pre-Christmas jitters, defrosting Michael Bublé

Oh, the weather outside was… briefly not frightful, so we decided to venture into town en famille, as they say in Europe – although Dad pulled a Boris and disappeared, as he didn’t have to go shopping, get out of the house, or get his hair cut.

I had all my Christmas shopping done since the second week of December, if not the week before. I’m not trying to brag, but I’m a very efficient shopper; every last browse is done studiously, and with intent – either to purchase or reject. The Secret Santa is sorted, the friends’ presents are ticked off, and I even managed to buy a few things for myself in the process. Most of the time, my shopping is just window shopping because I don’t have the disposable income of Paris Hilton, for example. I prefer to spend money on social stuff or on my stomach, so I find the mad Christmas shopping rush a bit of a shock to the system.

Shopping for the sake of shopping is depressing; it’s like eating your greens because you were told to, because that’s what’s “good for you”, instead of being taught to appreciate the slightly nutty taste of perfectly cooked broccoli, or indeed maturing to appreciate the look on someone’s face as they unwrap something genuinely unexpected and thrilling from you. Nobody can tell me capitalism doesn’t “hit different” during these moments. Those few golden hours with family – if you are lucky enough to have them – make the whole nauseating build-up to the 25th worth it. It is really only then that consumerist xmas becomes Christmas.

My family has a tradition that involves the four of us going into town to either look at the lights or do a bit of last-minute Secret Santa shopping a day or two before Christmas Eve. This year was different, and not just because of NPHET’s/government’s shock announcement mere hours before the big red fella was due to arrive that Christmas was cancelled. I was gutted. Not Christmas! We had to cancel our family dinner on Christmas Eve afternoon in town, which was only feasible in the first place because my brother wasn’t working that day. Granted, we weren’t as badly hit by the new restrictions as some families were, but it was still bloody lousy. Critics of our dear neoliberal government were complaining that xmas wasn’t cancelled as shops were allowed to stay open, thus propagating the consumerist agenda and, god forbid, saving the economy. (Has it occurred to any of these people that we are the economy? Or at least we are what’s good about it. I wonder when will the penny drop…). Like good little slaves to the machine, Mum and I ventured into the city and the shops for one last look before Christmas. “If cases keep rising at the current rate, we’ll have everything locked down in January,” said my Mum prophetically. As I write this, shops have all closed again, so we didn’t even get to January.

As a family, we have all coped with these cyclical lockdowns in different ways over the past year. Just like everyone else, we have had no choice but to mould our lives around lockdown. My brother still works, my Dad invents pet project after pet project in the garden/farm, and my Mum has started a course and learned how to use Zoom. I have done nothing; I am the same as I was last year, no worse and no better. Hopefully, this year will be different, but hope is not a currency I am particularly rich in at the moment – not that I’m rich in any of the currencies. My MA ended abruptly, and my classmates and I were left without contact teaching hours to do our final projects. I was hoping that doing a final project on journalists and academics working through lockdown might help me on my way to becoming a journalist, but I was stuck at home for most of it, and so I’m more confused about the industry now than I ever was. My interviewees were definitely concerned too, and I had very interesting conversations with them about their work, but, looking back on it, I should have chosen a lighter topic like “Puppies!” or “If It’s Not Good News I Don’t Want to Know About It” or even something less depressing to me personally, which still would have left room for all those grisly topics journos love – like war, murder, violence, how cow farts are killing the planet, abuse, white-collar crime, Mayo losing another All-Ireland…

Or I could have copied my Dad, who has taken a recent special interest in ridding our driveway of moss using the rather unorthodox method of pouring box after box of washing powder all over the drive until it resembles a Winter Wonderland. He’s out there every day sprinkling scented snowy powder murdering moss and lichen alike as happily and ruthlessly as a culchie Pablo Escobar. The garage is full of evidence; piles of used powder boxes stacked high like cartel coffins. I don’t know why he doesn’t just let the moss live. If it survived 2020, it can surely survive Dad’s notions.

He has Mum adding “washing powder x 3” to her shopping lists, and she goes out into the big, bad, pandemic-ridden world to source it for him, a dangerous mission but she is a good mule. Her car even has tinted windows. I went along with her on one of these powder-buying trips recently – it was before the Christmas but still well into xmas, so town was mad busy. We agreed we’d split for a while so she could go incognito for culchie Pablo. I met up with her again in a second-hand clothes shop down the town. Mission abandoned, she was ferreting in the shop’s far corner by the time I eventually fought my way through crowds of cheerful shoppers to get to her. I was in, by my own admission, a bit of a fouler, thanks to xmas. Grumpily, I put on my mask, and my glasses fucking fogged up the minute I entered the shop. “I’ll wait for you out here, I can’t see a thing,” I told her and made for the door, but it was too late; she had ferreted something out and wanted my opinion. “For you maybe?” she said, and I looked through the one bit of fog-free lens I had at what she had in her hand, to humour her, like. It was a bit meh – a grey pinafore thing that a geography teacher might wear.

“Mmm,” said my mother, thinking aloud, “Might be a bit slim for you… No, I’ll put it back.” I snorted my disapproval underneath my mask. “You don’t like it?” she said innocently, turning to follow me out of the shop. Well, not anymore I thought, this time adding to my initial appraisal that not only was it the sort of garment a geography teacher might wear, it was also the sort of garment that a geography teacher who never ate carbohydrates after 6pm unless she was “being naughty” would wear. I couldn’t be doing with that. We went home; somehow, she managed the drive with her foot in her mouth. The backseat was laden with boxes of washing powder, and the two of us, xmas’d out of it, were probably wondering how on earth the four of us would get through the covid-Christmas.

We are through the other side now, ready to face into 2021 in lockdown. Our driveway will be moss-less, but at least my wardrobe is thankfully pinaforeless. It’s time to stick Micheal Bublé back in the freezer until next xmas and declare a nationwide moratorium on Dry January. Happy New Year, I think…

What happened to ‘we are all in this together?’

It must be wonderful to be perfect.

It must be wonderful to be so sanctimonious in your selfless, yet somehow simultaneously self-satisfied state of self-isolation. Well done, you. I refer, of course, to all the finger-pointers, curtain-twitchers, and craic-less covidiots out there who are making this prolonged pandemic period so fucking unbearable. To paraphrase Joe Biden: Just shut up! Take a day off, please.

For the past few weeks now, I’ve been despairing of the public mood around the virus, which is here to stay whether we like it or not. (I fucking hate it; I do not doubt that you do too). But do you know what makes the whole sorry situation worse? It’s having to listen to people who think they are better than the rest of us droning on and on about how ‘selfish’ and ‘reckless’ we are being.

Since when did living become a crime? That is, after all, what those young people were doing congregated on Spanish Arch in Galway the last night. I live in Galway, and I was a student in NUI Galway, and nights out drinking have always been par for the course in most young Irish people’s experience.

Yes, some of them were pissing in people’s gardens – and that is disgustingly inconsiderate – but a minority of students have always been liberal with the contents of their bladders. This dates back to the ’70s and ’80s too. I know because there’s usually an article on it in the local paper. Oh, I shouldn’t say it, but perhaps the annual sprinkling of university urine is a sort of leveller for those lucky enough to own their own property in prime locations like the Claddagh and Newcastle?

If the pen is mightier than the sword, god love the young wans at Spanish Arch the other day. This is a compliment to the poet.

The Students’ Unions are generally fairly quick to call fellow students out on bad behaviour, and this year’s NUIG Student Union did so very nicely, while also pointing out the fact that NUIG officials were partly to blame for this in the first place, seeing as they told students to move down to Galway to pay for campus accommodation. It doesn’t take a cynic to wonder if this wasn’t all just a plan that badly backfired on the college, and now they have the audacity to think about giving these kids’ addresses to the gardaí. UCC has been talking about expulsion, like a child throwing its toys out of the pram. I thought people who run colleges were supposed to be clever? Teenagers are too young and powerless to be the scapegoats of an anxious nation; surely the presidents of our colleges realise that.

Did they think that students tentatively starting in-person (now online, now in-person) lectures in September would just move to campus en masse and stay there self-isolating like little monks and nuns? That was never going to happen. I am 26, and I find it hard enough when I can’t socialise properly. The temptation is there to say ‘fuck the lot of them’ and get plastered – especially when you’re young n’ sweet and, er, legal to drink at eighteen.

But here’s the thing; by ‘them,’ I realise I am referring to the frontline workers – the nurses, doctors, shopkeepers, emergency services, journalists, etc. I am also referring to people who have lost loved ones through coronavirus, or who are worried about losing them. That is not my intention, nor is it the intention of the youths drinking down at Spanish Arch the other night.

I think that it can be easy for people who are at a ‘fixed’ point in their lives – maybe they have children, or they have a partner and a good job they can still do in semi-lockdown – to point the finger of blame at “young people”. It’s easy to blame us for the virus spreading. It’s easy to see us as heartless hedonists who only think of quenching our vodka-thirst and having the craic, but that is not the case.

(More of a gin girl, me.)

Human beings are social animals, and we need to socialise to survive and thrive. During lockdown, nobody was thriving, and it’s a similar state of affairs at the moment as we find ourselves dealing with a limbo-like series of restrictions, many of which don’t make sense.

Let us live, Éamon. Also, congrats on missing the point.

Sometimes I look at the likes of the politicians and the NPHET members and the rest of the self-isolation preachers, and I think they have it easy with their big jobs and their marriages and their nice houses and their children. I feel as though my life has come to a standstill. My mother correctly pointed out to my brother, (20), and I that we are lucky we are not fighting a war. Lots of us are comfortable and safe, living off our parents while we wait for this spell to be over. We love our parents and grandparents and we want them to be safe.

I might add here that youth is a state of mind; I’ve seen plenty of people of “cocooning age” rail against their new-found victim status. I applaud them, and I hope they remain unscathed. The people just getting on with life are the reason I wash my hands and wear a mask when it comes down to it. I don’t have any more patience or sympathy for the finger-pointers – no matter what age they are. In fact, sometimes I think I could be tempted into giving some of them a good lick. Just to spite them. (I swear to god it has nothing to do with my not being able to date at the minute.)

There is a sadness about the whole thing as well as rage and frustration, for me. This pandemic is dividing all of us into self-interested (if not self-isolating) groups. The employed versus the unemployed, the protocol followers versus the anti-mask nutjobs, the young versus the elderly, the sick versus the rude of health, the publicans versus the schoolchildren, the meat-plant workers versus the tourists…

What happened to us? We are not all in this together anymore. That much is clear. Perhaps we never were. Not everyone’s interests can be accounted for, and some are bound to lose out. Society is cracking before our eyes.

In a sense, we are all victims of this virus. But we are fast becoming victims of lockdown, too.

As for the rowdy students? Galway being Galway, the rain is never far away. Sure, we don’t even have to pray for it!

Declan Varley has written many editorials on student life in Galway so he knows what he’s talking about