Each year over the Christmas and New Year period, the Abbey (Ireland’s national theatre) stages a show with an extended run. These productions tend to be crowd-pleasers which suits the time of year, and also act as slightly more adult counterparts to the insanity of the panto season. For the past three years I have attended – ‘Drama at Inish’ last year; ‘Come from away’ in 2018; and ‘Let the right one in’ in 2017. All were wonderful.
It was November 2019. I was sitting at my desk in the Wastelands pondering opportunities for foreign travel in 2020. I wanted to visit places that I had never previously travelled. Destinations in Europe that fit such a description were becoming scarce. With the exceptions of the Baltic countries of Latvia and Lithuania. I went online and booked a trip – flight into Riga on Thursday 9th March and then fly back from Vilnius on Tuesday. A two for one holiday. As March approached there were rumblings about coronavirus. It became very real in the middle of February flying back from Rome. The guards in haz-mat suits taking temperatures of people departing struck an ominous note. In early March I decided that the Plague made it unwise to travel. The air of the apocalypse hung heavy. It felt like Armageddon. I postponed my trip until late August.
If I survived then surely things would be back to normal by autumn. Little did I know. The August flights were not cancelled, and Covid related deaths and infections in Ireland had drastically reduced. I was willing to take the risk to make the trip. Unfortunately Latvia and Lithuania were not so lackadaisical. If I was I to travel I would be expected to self-isolate for fourteen days upon entry. Reluctantly I decided not to travel. Crossing the border between Latvia and Lithuania by bus might be tricky. I didn’t want to get into trouble with the Baltic authorities. Ryanair didn’t reimburse me. Of course they didn’t – it is Satan’s favourite airline. The flight was not cancelled therefore if I was going to be charged more than the flight originally cost if I were to postpone. With a heavy heart the Thursday of departure passed. I remained in Dublin.
The following week felt heavy. This pandemic seemed relentless and eternal. On Wednesday I was staring morosely out the window at the Luke Kelly statue, hissing at the emails from my work customer as they appeared in my inbox. I was idly entering destinations onto the ‘fare-finder’ section of the Ryanair website. This is the section that offers last minute deals. What was this – a Friday to Monday return flight to Barcelona cost 40 euros. I had no intention of going anywhere. Out of curiosity I opened booking.com. What was this – three nights in a pension in the Gothic Quarter for nineteen euros a night? In other words a three day trip to one of Europe’s most beautiful cities would cost under a hundred euros. Departure in thirty-six hours. As if in a daze I clicked on the ‘buy ticket’ button, giving a little yelp of terror as I did so.
I live alone. I am not part of a social bubble with another person. Working from home each day, I can often go the entire week without meeting anyone in real life apart from the shop assistants in Marks and Spencer when I am on a yellow stickered luxury food items mission. These foods don’t require any effort other than to place them in the oven (and if truth be told I would never be able to assemble a scallop bake on my own). It’s been like this for most of the year. It’s been annoying and difficult while remaining reasonably manageable.
However in July I threw caution to the wind, and booked a flight to London for a three day trip. Having witnessed how toxic judgement can be towards people who choose to bend the rules to accommodate their personal situation, I kept this trip off social media at the time. I was unwilling to deal with other people’s reactions. Particularly from people who had either a garden or who lived with another human being. On my trip, I would follow the rules by washing my hands; socially distancing, wearing a mask and continuing my self-isolated life as normal when I returned. My conscience was clear, but I wasn’t going to trumpet my travel plans. Click link below to continue
My phone beeped to notify me that a new pair of jeans were ready collect in Dunnes’ Stores on Henry Street. I had ordered them online four days previously to prepare myself for winter. The time was 2pm. Having spent the morning drinking tea, and exchanging scurrilous and libellous gossip with a friend in London I needed to take an excursion to get some exercise. I decided to walk through Sean McDermott Street in the north inner city on my way to the shop. I wanted to see the Mother and Baby Home on that street.
Sometime on Tuesday night, I woke up coughing. I was not initially worried. Even though it has been three years since I quit smoking, each year since – as the winter draws in – I get a brief case of the remnants of a smoker’s cough. Nothing like the hollow, hacking sound that cough mixture couldn’t reach, back in the smoky days – but a faint, irritating condition nonetheless. When after two hours of coughing it hadn’t ceased, I started to worry.
It’s now seven months since the soggy lockdown was introduced. This initial stage – pre official lockdown – was when we were all sent home, told to work from there, and to maintain physical distancing from people outside your household. As I packed up my laptop and mouse on that happy Thursday, I was expecting to be back in the office in the Wastelands by April 1st. I wonder how that bag of apples I left in my locker is faring?
Two weeks from now it will be seven months since the hard lockdown came into force. It seems like a decade ago. Back then I had a trip to Latvia and Lithuania planned for Friday 20th March. Sensibly I postponed this trip to the distant mists of the future, to a time when we’d be back gamboling through Fairview Park, with the global pandemic but a distant memory – September. September was last month. Both countries were – at the time – on Ireland’s green lists. This meant that I’d be spared the consequence of self-isolating for two weeks upon my return to Ireland.
Dublin has just entered the second week of level 3 Covid-19 restrictions, to tackle the surge in infection rates in the city. Level 3 means a tightening of the restrictions from Level 2 – where the rest of the country (aside from Donegal) now sits. Level 3 means that art galleries and museums are closed; as are theatres. House parties are limited to six people from outside your home – but all have to be from the same household. Bars and restaurants – whether they serve food or not are closed – unless they have an outdoor seating area, in which case they can could cater to a maximum of fifteen people.
‘Well that’s restrictive,’ I thought to myself. On Thursdays I received a message from a friend asking if I’d be willing to take a chance on having a sociable beverage on Saturday evening (along with the compulsory €9 meal – in Ireland bars that serve food were allowed to open, whereas bars that didn’t were not – Covid respects cuisine you see, and it stops moving when a substantial meal is being consumed – or something.)
I agreed. Three weeks under a renewed semi-lockdown as the days get shorter, and a distinct chill arrives in the air sounded unutterably grim. Particularly (as I have repeatedly said) for those of us living alone in an apartment without a garden. ‘We’re all in this together’ rings hollow when the four walls start closing in on you.
With a steely resolve I went online – I wasn’t taking any chances. With such limited opportunity for revelry I decided to make a booking to make sure we got a seat.
I received a call from a friend a couple of days before the new lockdown for Dublin was declared; asking if I’d be interested in accompanying her to the Druid Theatre production of ‘Druid Gregory’ in the grounds of Coole Park in Gort on Sunday evening. She had acquired a pair of tickets for the sold out show. I had a very brief internal debate about the wisdom of traveling West on the weekend that the capital closed up shop once again. Considering I live alone, work from home and only meet a small handful of people at a socially distanced level on any given week, my decision was easy. I was going to the theatre for only the second time since March (in August I went to see Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Happy Prince’ by Bewley’s Café Theatre in the Irish Georgian Society building on South William Street in Dublin.
Last week I was suffering from cabin fever. I have been quite conscientious about getting out and about in Dublin for walks during the Plague, and at this stage I could probably become a tour guide for Dublin with little training – if tourists ever come back to Dublin that is. By last Thursday however my patience was running thin. Would I ever go anywhere again? During normal times this would be the point where I’d log on to the website of Satan’s favourite airline and book a flight on a blue and yellow airplane, to go somewhere last minute for the weekend. Obviously this was no longer possible. I decided a train trip would be a suitable alternative. My destination was to be Kilkenny.