On the second Saturday of every month I volunteer with a group that cleans up the Royal Canal. We pick up rubbish on the banks, and in the water of the canal. Dublin City Council has no responsibility for the hygiene or maintenance of either of Dublin’s canals – the northside Royal Canal or the southside Grand Canal. Both these waterways fall under the remit of Waterways Ireland, which relies almost entirely on the efforts of volunteers for rubbish collection. There is not a single dustbin kept in the sections controlled by Waterways Ireland. As I am a frequent walker along the banks, I decided that it was my duty as a civic minded person to throw on a stylish pair of overalls and a hi-viz jacket once a month and contribute to the upkeep of these lungs of Dublin.
Today marked my fifth consecutive month volunteering. In pre-pandemic times it was quite a social activity with many people participating. Since lockdown this has changed and it has become a more solitary endeavour. I possess my own litter picker; refuse sacks and gloves however, so company – while nice – is not essential to complete the task at hand.
Yesterday evening I was sent an invitation to join a private Facebook group for members of my secondary school graduation class. This June will be the 30 year anniversary since I did my Leaving Certificate and the organiser wants the class of 1991 to reconnect. The invitation to join is valid for one month. I have not accepted it and I doubt I will be doing so. Until I decline the invitation I can see all activity but they cannot see me. Out of curiosity I clicked on the link to the group – which now has thirty-three members (from a graduating class of 175 people). There was a number of faces I recognised; a smaller number I am already connected to via social media; a surprisingly large number of people whose names I knew, but who for the life of me I couldn’t remember anything about. Other names drew a complete blank.
As would be expected, most of the posts from members were announcements about where their lives travelled – from Limerick to Dublin; from Boston to Brisbane. It was quite a shock to see all these middle aged faces –looking well, but a lot more seasoned than the teenagers I remember. They were a fertile lot, my old school year – pictures of offspring abounded.
In the final weeks of January semi-live theatre is making a comeback in Ireland.
‘The Approach’ by Mark O’Rowe is being performed live at the Project Arts Centre from the 21st to the 24th January. ‘Happy Days’ by Samuel Beckett is being staged on January 30th at the Olympia. The shows will be streamed around the world. The seats in the theatres will remain empty.
I am currently engaged in an internal debate whether or not to get a ticket for either or both shows. I know that the Mark O’Rowe play would be worth seeing – having attended‘Howie the Rookie’ in the Civic Theatre in Tallaght before lockdown last year I was blown away by the performance of Stephen Jones in the title role of an incredible play. It may be blasphemous to say it, but I’d be more reluctant to see the Beckett play. Perhaps I lack the intellectual ability to understand his work? Having seen ‘Waiting for Godot’ in Smock Alley Theatre, I was slightly bewildered at the hype. Samuel Beckett is like the sacred cow of Irish theatre – a lack of appreciation of his work reveals you to be a philistine. I remain ambivalent about him. However ‘Happy Days’ is being performed by Siobhan McSweeney, who plays Sister Michael to perfection in ‘Derry Girls’ so she’d be the main attraction for this show for me.
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, and for the sake of my sanity, I thought my decision was sound.
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.
I would like of officially nominate myself for consideration, as the new Minister for Agriculture, Food, and the Marine for Ireland. Granted I have not been elected to public office and have zero experience, but that should be no bar to success in this role. The ministry for agriculture is like a game of musical chairs – everyone should get a go
I am sitting at my workstation, gamely pretending to work. In actual fact, I am staring out the window at the Luke Kelly statue, swearing vengeance.
Later today there will be further announcements regarding updated recommendations from NPHET (National Public Health Emergency Team. New restrictions on movement and public gatherings are expected. There has been a recent spike in corona cases (200 on Saturday – the largest daily number since early May) and outbreaks in meat-processing plants and direct provision centres (the inhuman, degrading places where Ireland places asylum seekers – often for years – while their cases are being processed). The outbreaks in the meat plants and DP centres has already led to localised lockdown in counties Kildare, Laois and Offaly. The virus is spreading in the community again. The shutters will be coming down, Action must be taken. (click link below for next page)
My bags are unpacked but I am ready to go. This evening I will be taking a train out of Dublin for the first time since January (apologies to Wicklow but Bray or Greystones while technically outside Dublin seem culturally part of the Pale). I will be going to Limerick for a week long sojourn. I am not taking holidays, my laptop is accompanying me so I can pretend to be high powered and executive all week, while not officially surrendering days of leave.
The six months I have spent in Dublin is the longest protracted period of time I have ever spent in one place without any time away – no cheeky little weekend jaunts to Amsterdam or down home. It’s been relatively painless. I have been fortunate to live in a spacious (for one) city centre apartment. Since day one of the restrictions being imposed, I made the decision that my self-isolation would not mean that I would reject all human contact. Meeting people for socially distant walks was always my modus operandus. I bit my lip when people would place social media posts castigating people for meeting with friends. I don’t engage with emotive no-win social media arguments ever though as life is too short. I didn’t reply. Mentally however I’d notice that those people berating those of us who bent the rules (marginally) tended not to live alone and/or had access to an outdoor garden – a far more spacious and companionable set up than living alone in a fourth floor flat with a balcony the size of a shoebox. I bit my lip and continued to meet my fellow solo travellers for walks while observing all advice on social distancing, hand hygiene etc.
There have been some highlights to the lockdown. Lidl is a supermarket I have gotten to know intimately. If your diet suddenly changes to three home cooked meals every day for months on end, then the absurdly over-priced IFSC shops needed the heave-ho. Instead I embraced the German budget superstore and broadened my cooking repertoire.
I am also now the possessor of a large freezer machine packed with enough food for a month. Heretofore said appliance stood empty in the corner for years on end. Thanks to the pandemic I have discovered than Marks and Spencer’s yellow-sticker deals can all be frozen. As a result I have a menu of posh food at my fingertips . I call it Protestant food- not for sectarian reasons of course, more to do with how British it all seems – scallop bakes, honey glazed salmon, chili flavoured spatchcock chicken, tuna fillets and the like. It’s a far cry from the boiled bacon and cabbage and turnips and boiled spuds on which I was raised.
Working from home surprisingly was a bonus in the context of being busy for forty hours each week. It leant an air of normalcy and continuity to life. The oldies station RTE Gold playing in the background, I sat at my desk looking out at the Luke Kelly statue and carried on my work routine as normally as possible. The calls with colleagues about work issues were often the only human voices I interacted with from Monday to Friday (I’d meet friends at the weekend). Obviously I didn’t let on to them. I wouldn’t be the type to overshare my life with workmates. I’ll never tell them they were my only contact – they’d look at me with pity from their suburban nirvana, and then judge me harshly when they hear that I was meeting friends for walks through out lockdown.
Mentally the lockdown was tolerable. Having lived abroad and alone for many years it wasn’t a novel experience going for extended periods of time without seeing family. The circumstances were unique in this instance of course, but my years in Amsterdam stood me in good stead.
The horror of what was going on in terms of deaths and infections from Covid-19 was something I tried to avoid. I used to watch the 9 o’clock news each night and try to leave it at that.
Occasionally I’d get a case of the panics. What if I catch this? Who will bring me food if I have to self-isolate? What if I die from it alone in my flat and my body is not discovered for months? What if I need to go on a ventilator in hospital? No-one will be able to visit? I’m Type 1 diabetic – that means I’m high risk if I catch this right? I’m going to get this?
The darkest day was the day I saw the Army ship setting up a Covid clinic on the river Liffey near my house in the early days of the lockdown. It felt apocalyptic and terrifying – the Army busy while the normally busy street was devoid of all other traffic. Seeing Sinead O’Connor singing ‘Light up’ in honour of the frontline workers that same night, chilled me to the bone. We’re all doomed, I thought to myself. This is the end. And then I saw the social media posts shrieking condemnation towards those of us who were still meeting people outside of their own house. If I catch this, then I’ll have no-one to blame but myself?
The next day I got up, told myself to pull myself together and made a fruit smoothie. Then I went for a walk around Dublin – a city I‘d wager that I now know as well as if I’d lived here all my life. My travels around the city were comprehensive, thorough and well researched. While I am not a fan of the Loving’ Dublin website, I can now proudly boast that I have done twenty one out of the twenty three walks that they recommend. Along with some other routes I discovered on my own. The 2 kilometre restriction wasn’t too burdensome when you live in the city centre. So much to discover. When it was extended to 5km it felt like a travel party.
My train for Limerick departs at 17.30 this evening. I initially booked it about two months ago when July 20th was announced as the date that non-essential travel was permitted anywhere in Ireland. Sometime later that date was advanced by three weeks. I kept my original booking. This evening I am getting on a train with my face-mask in place. I am very much looking forward to it. Once I get to Limerick Junction I will be on the home stretch.