It’s six o’clock. Six hours to midnight. Six hours to Lockdown II. We have decided to pop into town and brave the cold for a pint. We have not been to the pub since Lockdown I. We have gone for three pints since March: twice along with a meal outside when the weather was still fine, and once, last Saturday, sitting under a streetlight, in the freezing, damp cold on the Square in Rosscarbery.
Even when the ‘wet pubs’ (dreadful name) were open again, we preferred to stay home, or to socialise with a small number of other households. Any other social contact has mainly been outside, or in the aisles of Lidl. Fleeting contacts caught on the fly. Even before level 5 we had decided that because we had very few outside contacts, we should limit our movements and interactions. It just seemed like the sensible thing to do, as we were in the lucky position to be able to work remotely, and had no school age children. Doing our bit, by making sure we don’t take up a hospital bed. I’m not exactly high risk, but I’m not exactly low risk either. I try to avoid colds and flus since the swine flu knocked me out for several months a few years back. In fact, I have carried hand sanitiser since then, especially when I worked in schools, or up in the city.
So, I have to admit that my heart soared when we got into town. It seems that many people had had the same idea; Let’s get a last pint. What a joy to see so many familiar faces. There were people who I used to see several times a week, who I haven’t seen since March. It felt like Christmas – if a somewhat subdued version, due to the social distancing and facemasks.
The novelty of seeing people whom I haven’t seen in over seven months, as well as saying goodbye for six weeks to people who have been our small but essential ‘friendship bubble’ since March was a bit overwhelming. Though mostly jovial, you could also feel the tension as we braced ourselves for six weeks of isolation. Overall, however, I was delighted to hear the banter, to feel the pent-up craic bubbling just under the surface. What I wouldn’t give for a good old session. Some craic agus ceol. As I said to a friend: “when this is finally over, I will never again roll my eyes if someone starts singing American Pie, no matter how badly they mangle the lyrics. As for the 45 verses of an old Irish ballad – I want to hear each and every one.”
There may well have been more than 15 people gathered, but the beer garden is big. Everyone was trying to stay well apart, and many were wearing masks when not drinking. Still we did not linger, not wanting to pose a problem for the establishment. After about 20 minutes of glorious human contact, we picked up a takeaway and went home to the 5km radius of Lockdown II.
5km isn’t that bad if you live in a city. It’s a little different when you live in what the ESB used to call a ‘rural pocket’. If you draw a 5km radius around my house, the only shop is the service station in Ballinascarthy. Thank God for small mercies. A 5km radius around my house is no different from 2km: a green dot that is comprised of fields, trees and cows, dotted with a few houses. It is beautiful, but somewhat unchanging, especially in the Winter. I can, of course, go shopping in town, which in Lockdown I was a wonderful way to break the isolation. I don’t need much more. During Lockdown I, I learnt that all I really need is 10km. That gets me into town. Better yet, it gets me to the coast. The ocean has been the great comforter during this pandemic. Of all the things, landscapes and people that I miss at Level 5, I think I miss the ocean the most.
So- Once more into lockdown, my friends! We’ll get through it. If you are reading this in the West Cork People, we’ve already clocked up at least a week. Just a few more to go… I’m going into hermit mode. I have books to read, and Netflix series to watch. On fine days I will go out and investigate the fallen leaves and sprouting mushrooms outside. We’ll put the garden to bed for the winter. We’ll keep a watch out for the buzzard, who we have named Bingo. I’ll potter. I’ll cook. I might even go for a walk and check out the fields and the cows. I’m also going to make sure that I call my friends and family more. That I stay connected.
See you on the other side.