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Mary Kenny

We can still take a look back with nostalgia to the way things were and the freedom we enjoyed

Mary Kenny


One voice: a choir singing together

One voice: a choir singing together

A scene from Normal People

A scene from Normal People

One voice: a choir singing together

A very pretty, floral-themed greetings card sits in front of my desk. It's from my cousin in France and it was sent to me in January, wishing the family a wonderful 2020, happy days and lots of new projects for a year that symbolises flawless vision: 20/20.

Ah, January 2020! How long ago that seems now. It shimmers like the portrayal of the last golden summer before the First World War. And now we look back thinking: "We didn't know when we were lucky."

In that far-off time, we could hop on a train, coach or plane without thinking twice. With a credit card in the wallet, any destination, anywhere, was available at the click of a mouse. In that prelapsarian era, the word "staycation" didn't carry overtones of grim duty or the enforcement of not much alternative.

Remember how we could go anywhere so spontaneously: pop into a pub or a restaurant on a whim, without ever a thought of social distancing, face shields or masks? How we could blithely wander into an art gallery without carefully booking a "slot"?

Remember how you could just lift the phone and get a ticket for a concert, or for a performance at the theatre which contained more than one performer? Will the theatre ever recover from this catastrophe? Not in my lifetime.

The movies in an actual cinema - remember that? Without maintaining appropriate distancing. And movies which featured moments of quite explicit intimacy, too. How are they going to shoot love scenes in the future? How are they going to shoot movies at all? Small wonder Normal People was such a hit - it might be the last time, for years to come, when actors can get up close and personal. We didn't recognise when life was normal.

Remember how, in church services, we were enjoined to exchange the "handshake of peace" with the person next to us, and it was a true moment of community feeling. For a visitor to a parish, it felt so welcoming and inclusive.

Recall how we could hug and kiss as much as we liked - sometimes there was a little too much social kissing, occurring on every other television show and among the fashionable "ladies who lunch" - but now, how extrovert and effusive it all seems!

Effusiveness was an admired element of national exuberance, like the Italians or the New Yorkers. That was before we were told that effusiveness is one of the deadly carriers of the pandemic. Italians and New Yorkers caught the virus in droves because of their gregarious ways - and because they talked loudly. Talking loudly is another danger, because it facilitates the emitting of particles.

Remember how multi-generational family life - as practised among many Mediterranean families - was praised for its solidarity and support? Now, the multi-generational family is said to be a multi-spreader.

Remember how people could plan a wedding with easy joy, or, in the sad circumstances of a funeral, a wide circle of family, neighbours and friends could pay their respects?

Remember what a comfort it could be when a funeral brought a large gathering to honour the departed?

Remember how, just a few years ago, there was a heated debate, all over Europe, about the wearing of female Islamic garments like the burqa and the niqab, covering half the face? Some countries, like France, Austria and Denmark, banned these garments as unacceptable for security reasons. Others decided it wasn't in their tradition for the government to tell citizens how to dress. So Ireland, and Britain, did not ban the Islamic face coverings because, although it is part of our cultures to see the full face, a strict law infringed on the citizen's choice to wear what they like. But now, we'll all be wearing face coverings.

Remember how cheering it was to hear a choir singing - and how rewarding it was to join a choir? Choral singing was known to be one of the best exercises for anyone with a pulmonary condition: now it is regarded as deadly.

They were the days, my friend! We didn't know when we were blessed.

Yes, we all perfectly understand why things changed, and why measures had to be taken to protect the populace from a highly infectious - though not always, or even usually, fatal - pandemic.

And there's a feeling, too, that we owe it to the families who have lost loved ones with Covid-19, that we pay our respects by observing the restrictions which have been laid upon us.

But we can still look back with nostalgia to the way things were, and remember the freedoms we enjoyed, the spontaneous pleasures, the vast array of choices that we took for granted. Which won't come back, as they were, for some time yet.

Yet, there is this: by heck do we appreciate every small benefit that now comes our way! Every journey, every outing, every social gathering, every kiss and hug, will be valued to the high heavens after this long exercise in self-denying asceticism!

Belfast Telegraph