At the start of what we now call the lockdown, in mid-March (I date it from around St Patrick’s Day, March 17, when all festivities were cancelled) I was inclined to feel rebellious against these restraints on our lives.
I disliked not being able to take a train, bus or plane; finding churches closed; seeing our open-air food and flower markets cancelled, and so many small shops shuttered up, while queues formed at the supermarkets in a mood of panic buying. It was sad not to be able to visit family or friends.
However, time and experience always work their alchemy, and following the relentless daily news reports of those afflicted with, or dying from, the coronavirus did bring home to me that it truly was an alarming pandemic. So it would indeed be for the common good to follow the mantra “Stay at home. Wash your hands. Save lives.”
Then something else occurred. I discovered that a more stay-at-home, reflective kind of life could also be rewarding. It was restful to sit in the garden – lucky as I am to have a small garden – or potter about doing household chores I’d deferred. It was great to have more time to read, and to think, without looking at the clock to meet the next appointment, or catch the 10.31 departing train.
And though I missed family and friends, there’s also a certain relief in not having to meet social obligations.
There were other lessons learned too – such as the joy of simple meals. I reverted to a childhood practice of having my “tea” at 6pm, or earlier. A sausage with beans on toast is perfect. Scrambled eggs (they must be runny) or a Welsh rarebit are delicious at midday. All those years of thinking I should aspire to Stuffed Goose with Armagnac or Risotto a la Milanese fell away. Lockdown life means simplicity!
Most women like browsing in dress shops, as do I: but examining my wardrobe in lockdown I realised I have more than enough clothes to last a lifetime. I don’t need another stitch! And whatever apparel I possess, I should make do and mend.
Then there are the real positives of neighbours being kind to each another, of old friends phoning up and sending emails, and of learning to communicate through the magic of the Zoom app, which links us face-to-face during calls.
I was impatient for a lockdown exit from the outset, but I’ve grown quite accustomed to this more reflective and simpler lifestyle, paring away so much that was superfluous.
I wouldn’t underestimate the loss, suffering, separation and sadness that the pandemic has brought, and the huge challenge of getting working life back to some normality. But I’ll retain many of the lessons I’ve learned during this extraordinary time, just the same.
I also learned that people who do what society has sometimes called modest, or even “low status” jobs should be much valued: the care workers, cleaners, binmen, hospital porters, posties, the guys and girls who stack the shop shelves, the retail staff, the truck drivers who deliver, the fruit and veg pickers. I miss, and appreciate, the kindly services of hairdressers – and chiropodists, who attend to the gnarled toenails and hardened soles of oldies. Besides the deserving nurses and medics, I also clap for them.
Sally Rooney, aged 29, is currently the most famous, and probably most esteemed, Irish novelist in the world. Her book Normal People has been a huge bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic, hailed as the oeuvre of a generation. The story has now been brought to the TV screen in a 12-part series, described as a triumph and a work of genius.
Perhaps I’m from the wrong generation – it’s schoolboy-meets-schoolgirl storyline, with the obligatory sex scenes – but I found the original story rather banal, and the screen adaptation, though cool and stylish, somewhat flat. Set in Sligo, the characters could be anywhere: there’s nothing distinctly Irish about the context.
In the original novel, there was one typically Irish passage, depicting a mean-spirited, bigoted and materialistic matriarch, noted for her Mass attendance. That, sadly, is fairly typical of how practising Catholics are now portrayed in modern Irish fiction.