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.

St. Patrick’s Day: after a year in lockdown Ireland celebrates its national day stiff, sober(ish), and socially distanced

The sight of Professor Philip Nolan sat in front of a large bottle of hand sanitiser as he ruefully warned the nation’s assembled TV cameras that people were not to engage in customary St. Patrick’s Day behaviours such as “drinking,” or worse, “gathering” was enough to send me into a spiral of cognitive dissonance.

Then I remembered that Prof. Nolan could have a swig of sanitiser if he felt the need — as most good sanitisers like the ones used by Professors would certainly contain a lot of alcohol. Delicious. That was reassuring, both for Philip and for myself too as I hate to see anyone deprived. I can only assume the good professor is similarly pissed off that we have managed to mark our second St. Patrick’s Day in lockdown.

And it’s not even that I really care about missing out on St. Patrick’s Day; it’s no big deal really — although try telling that to the anti-lockdown patriot protestors… Although it is their right to protest, the snakey, not-so silent minority.

But even on a regular, non-pandemic March 17th, I wouldn’t be disgracing myself around the town, parading green-faced into a sea of fellow green-attired people all up to no-good glugging Guinnesses. I don’t even like Guinness!

Ireland sober is Ireland stiff

James Joyce

I do, however, enjoy St. Patrick’s Day because it represents the start of the long Summer evenings. My friends and I usually gather in a little group around St. Patrick’s Day to shed off our winter cobwebs and embrace the nicer weather we sometimes get, and, yes, sometimes we have a beverage or seven. Alas, not last year and not this year either. What harm.

The reason we are disappointed and fed up this St. Patrick’s Day is because some of the more significant things in our lives have been put on hold for the past year or more, and that sense of apathy and disquiet has had a cumulative effect, and on some more than others — as we’ve seen in action on the streets recently.

This year I will walk the dog (again) and send some emails (again) and try not to lose hope (again). It will feel like every other day in lockdown, except slightly greener on social media, that famous arbiter of normality.

In the gulf of time that has passed between this March 17th and last March 17th a lot has happened and nothing has happened. My career didn’t take off like I’d hoped as getting jobs is hard during a pandemic, would you believe, and I have moved back in with my parents in the countryside.

I’m looking back on a few notes I jotted down for a Patrick’s Day blog post I was too dispirited to make last year and the gulf between that and March 17th of two years ago is actually far greater. Apparently two years ago today, I was dancing and drinking and gathering with close contacts all over the shop. It was orgiastic by comparison to this year, no offence to the dog.

Talking of dogs, they were the only ones out last year when, avoiding then Taoiseach Varadkar’s first lockdown speech, I went out for a night time walk around Galway city. Shout out to the fluffy Pomeranian who cheered me briefly as I crossed the Wolfe Tone bridge. The rest of the city was deserted, holding its breath I now realise — or listening to Leo. Some silly string and shaving foam daubed all over Shop Street was the only evidence of the usual St. Patrick’s Day scoundrelry. One restaurant remained open; most others had shut in accordance with what were then only recommendations.

Mannequins standing in shop windows were for the most part my only company. Thankfully, these days our streets are more populated — with actual humans — and we have adapted to “the new normal.” (Hey, New Normal, if you’re reading this go home, you’re drunk and nobody likes you). I suppose for this year we might as well just soldier on, alone together until we can actually go back to the old normal, which, all things considered was pretty great — puke-filled streets not included. I’m quite sure we’ll be back in high spirits again soon. On last year’s lonely walk I spotted a man whistling ‘Wrap the Green Flag ‘Round Me Boys’ and a tourist couple gamely making the most of their predicament, both of them festooned with tri-colours down by Jury’s Inn under the beginnings of soft rain. I’m sure the likes of them are somewhere to be found this year too.

I’m not going to a distant world. I’m of Ireland, and I’ll stay in Ireland until I die.

Tom Cruise as Joseph Donnelly in ‘Far and Away’ (1992)

I doubt very much that Cruise’s character would have been content in a boring, romantically sterile, pandemic Ireland with its restrictions and 5k rules. Nary an ounce of craic in sight. Even NPHET are sickened. Nothing to be done really only stick a straw in the hand sanitiser and go to town…