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.
It appears that life is returning to a version of normal. For this I am profoundly grateful. The drudgery of the past eleven weeks in lockdown, in a flat on my own, hasn’t been too oppressive however. I have been diligent about going for a brisk walk around my neighbourhood almost every day – within the approved travel zones of 2 kilometres, and later 5 kilometres from my gracious abode.
Since day one I have bent the rules slightly, by meeting friends whose 2 kilometre zone intersects my zone. We have taken socially responsible walks, maintaining a physical distance of two metres from each other. This was disallowed, but maintaining the spirit of the restrictions seemed sufficient to me. People living alone were being asked to sacrifice more than people in shared accommodation – whether that be with partner, family, friends or flatmates. Human contact – however frustrating it can be – is preferable to none. Being a person who was recommended to self-isolate because of the diabetes played on my mind. The idea of staying indoors for three months never seemed a viable option. Seeing nobody face to face wasn’t a consideration. As a high risk person, my decision to venture out, while adhering strictly to the lockdown rules for outdoors was at my own risk. It was a calculated gamble, but I was careful. Without a garden or any secluded outdoor space to myself I would have been driven demented had I locked myself indoors for the duration.
With a devil-may-care-Texas-playboy attitude, mixed with a hyper-paranoia about physical distancing, I set sail and explored my wonderful neighbourhood. Dublin as a city – and particularly the Northside – is now a much more connected place for me. I know which streets intersect with others; where neighbourhoods overlap; short cuts to various destinations. And I have taken pictures.
As we head to a further easing of restrictions in the next week or so, you can already see the city activity resuming. There are more people on the streets. Traffic – although still sparse compared to normal times – is increasing. More cafes, and restaurants are opening – takeaway only of course. This is splendid – although my affection for the Cloud Café on North Strand Road and Il Fornaio Italian in the IFSC restaurant is now unassailable – the two venues that hardily remained open throughout the lockdown, providing my weekly posh coffee and takeaway pizza respectively.
The highlight of my lockdown in terms of places, has to be the Blessington Street Basin. It’s an old reservoir that has been transformed into a nature reserve. It is an absolute diamond of a space, hidden away from too many eyes. I stumbled across it about two months ago. Since then I have been back about ten times – such is the peace and beauty of the place.
An interesting discovery is the realisation that those metal electricity boxes throughout the city have been enhanced by artists, with some lovely paintings adorning them.
These streets that almost felt like they were mine alone, are being crowded again. This is a good thing.
I have had a fairly limited but consistent coterie of companions on my walks – particularly for my Sunday strolls. Sometimes circumstance (and travel restrictions) throws people together. And it can be a wonderful thing.
It is apparent that over the last week an adjusted version of normal life is resuming. It may be linked to the glorious weather I guess. Physical distancing may continue (maybe not judging by the gangs of teenagers on the banks of the Royal Canal each evening). Covid is still lurking like an unflushable turd in the toilet bowl of course. So long as people exercise a degree of common sense, caution and human decency and hygiene, then we’ll all be grand.
Dublin – as Soul II Soul might say – is back to life, back to reality, back to the here and now again. For that I am thankful.