Non-essential travel from Ireland was re-permitted from the end of July. Having bought a flight to Malaga on the Costa Del Sol earlier that year, before the date when restriction were eased, for the day after said restrictions were finally lifted was perfect timing. This would be my first trip to Malaga – though I’d been to sister Andalusian city of Seville en route to Morocco some years earlier. My preconception was that Malaga was a gateway to Torremolinos and Fuengirola and those massive sun holiday resorts so beloved by the Irish and our northern European neighbours.
What hit me first as I disembarked the plane at 8pm was how hot it was. I’d forgotten to take into account the sweltering heat of southern Spain in summer. I should have known – I’d been to Greece and Malta during high season on previous travels. My lack of foresight was my own fault. I wasn’t worried – I was on holidays. I would struggle through. More concerning was my lack of digital Covid vaccine certificate. Having been fully vaccinated since May I should have received this soon to be compulsory travel pass. No such luck. I had the cardboard HSE card detailing my status but was worried it might be looked at askance by the Spanish authorities. There was nothing I could do about that now. I wasn’t going to delay my trip for the sake of a QR code.
My hotel was in the centre of the surprisingly large city. My research indicated that Malaga was Spain’s sixth largest city with a population of 600,000 people. Good news. This wasn’t just a beach resort. Press 2 below for next page
By July of this year, international travel out of Dublin Airport remained banned (in theory) for all but essential purposes. Obviously a hastily muttered ‘funeral’ to any inquiring policeman would see you waved through security. I am not a convincing liar however, so I performed my usual clever trick – I flew from Belfast for my upcoming trip. My destination was the Scottish Highlands. The plan was to visit the city of Inverness to where you could get a direct flight. I contacted a Glaswegian friend M, and asked her if she had any recommendations for Inverness and the surrounding area.
‘When are you going?’ came her reply. I told her early July. To my astonishment she told me that she and her partner D had bought a camper van and were planning a camping holiday in the Highlands at the same time I was visiting. An offer of a tent and a seat in the van was made. This was a welcome development. Solo travel is very enjoyable, and I have become a veteran of such excursions. Traveling with friends is preferable, however. Shared experiences take the edge when it comes to travel.
My EasyJet flight was early morning from Belfast International. The thought of rising at 5am to catch a bus from Dublin filled me with horror. I booked a room in a youth hostel close to the Europa bus station in Belfast that would allow me to emerge from my crypt at a more humane 8.30am and reach the airport on time for my flight. I ignored the fact that I was at least twenty years older than everyone staying in the hostel – I had paid for a private room so I could close my door on the world.
The flight the next day was uneventful, short, and almost empty. The bus to Inverness town from the airport departed once an hour. The next scheduled service was in twenty minutes. I asked the driver if he was going to town. He said that he’d be back in the airport in twenty minutes but if I wanted to board the bus now that was fine. The airport shuttle was a back-and-forth service. I may as well see some of the Highlands. I hopped on the bus and went on my way. The landscape around Inverness is very like West Cork – very beautiful. Press 2 below for next page
In December 2019, upon the announcement of the Abbey Theatre’s 2020 programme of events, I bought a ticket to see ‘Faith Healer’ by Brian Friel for its March revival. Starring Niamh Cusack, Aidan Gillen and Nigel Lindsay, it would be my first time seeing an adaptation of a Brian Friel play. Obviously the production was cancelled, along with all other live events. These have only just reappeared in the last couple of months, after almost two years of darkened stages.
I met Aidan Gillen randomly, early during the lockdown. At least I think I did. When I say I ‘met’ him, it may be more accurate to say I ‘encountered’ him. I recognised him from ‘Queer as folk’ from the tail end of the 20th century, and from various other shows. Imagine my surprise when one lunchtime, last spring I was crossing the Samuel Beckett Bridge to my northside of the Liffey, laden down with a bag full of insulin and needles, when he almost crashed into me on his bicycle. I was crossing at the green pedestrian light, and I imagine that he was trying to zip through before the cycle lights turned red. He was quite apologetic as he went on his way. My internal response was ‘Oh look it’s Stuart from Queer as Folk’. I think it was him anyway. If it was, then his politeness was impressive. If it wasn’t then, I retract the cycling slur from his good name. In either case – watch those lights.
I am an adequate cook. By saying that I mean that I am able to function in a kitchen with some basic raw materials. I can usually cobble together something reasonably edible. I make no boasts about being particularly talented or experimental in the kitchen. Before lockdown I had a go-to list of about five dishes I could cook from scratch without referencing a recipe book. That always struck me as sufficient to function as an adult in the world – and allowed a moderately varied diet.
As a single person, cooking can be fairly unrewarding – you don’t want to spend too much effort on a meal that you will consume in ten minutes without a solitary compliment from someone else to reward your ego. Cooking for a large number of people has never been a challenge for me – coming from a family of seven children, I have always been proficient at feeding the masses with the ingredients supplied by my parents. To this day, I still single-handedly cook Christmas dinner for the school of Murphies that assembles in Limerick each December.
Lockdown has changed my culinary narrative somewhat. As all restaurants, theatres, pubs and cinemas have been closed for almost a year, there is no longer anywhere to go in the evening. The evenings can be long. I have an objection to using the delivery apps to bring me food, thanks to how dreadfully the delivery guys are treated and paid by Deliveroo and Ubereats and JustEat. These days I cook at home for myself, seven days a week. Five core meals was no longer sufficiently varied. So I started varying it up somewhat.
For your pleasure here is list of dishes that I had never cooked before lockdown. This list does not list basic staples of pre-covid life such as spaghetti bolognaise; carbonara; green chicken curry etc. It is new dishes. Also I have of course eaten all the below dishes – simply never prepared them myself. ,This post is sponsored by the Marks and Spencer yellow sticker scheme – whereby I go to the M&S shop across the road for my house each day at 5pm and purchase ‘reduced to clear’ posh, Protestant food for a fraction of the original cost, and then immediately transfer it to the freezer for thawing and consumption at an unspecified future date.
As this strangest of years draws to a close, I am putting finger to keypad one more time to describe my travels in the time of pandemic. My final jaunt of the year taken before the second lockdown was imposed was to Venice as September turned to October. I will preface this post with my usual disclaimer. While traveling to, and while in Venice, I observed all physical distancing, hand hygiene and mask-wearing guidelines. I observed the fourteen-day quarantine period upon my return to Ireland – which as I have previously mentioned is not that difficult when you live alone. I kept this excursion entirely to myself again, not wanting to hear people’s criticism or judgement of my decision to travel. The only person I was placing at risk by my choice was myself. For the sake of my sanity, I thought my decision was sound.