Róisín Ingle: How to eat out in a pandemic. Don’t do what I did

I sat out until I couldn’t feel my fingers and got a raging cold that is NOT Covid

‘Good-looking waiting staff wandering around with brown paper bags’ Photograph: iStock

‘Good-looking waiting staff wandering around with brown paper bags’ Photograph: iStock

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I went out for dinner in Dublin town last Friday night. You’d need your big coat on to attempt such a thing in this weather. We were seated outside in a space my friend described as a holding pen. It used to be a small restaurant car-park but it’s been adapted as a cleverly-lit dining area with rustic stone walls, a concrete floor and, in a radical design twist, no ceiling.

It was a holding pen with notions, so there was a fire pit and good-looking waiting staff wandering around with brown paper bags. One of the brown paper bags was placed on our table. Our job was to take out the sanitised cutlery, glasses, salt and pepper and all the rest. There were slices of excellent (sanitised?) sourdough bread in the bag.

The central heating is back on, and the summer clothes are itching to be returned to the attic

Looking around, it felt like us diners were in a play rather than out for a meal, one of those nerve-inducing, audience participation productions: How to Eat Your Dinner In A Pandemic.

There was a couple who looked to be in their 30s at a nearby table. They kept interrupting their wine and brown paper bag foraging to snog.

(Is snog as a word still in general use? Must remember to ask Countdown word nerd Susie Dent who is providing a great pandemic service on Twitter with her words of the day. Snog sounds very old-fashioned when I write it down here. Using it reminds me of a time, the early 1990s, when a newly married friend declared she was going home for “a bonk” and we all cringed for Ireland into our gin and slimline tonics. Those gin and tonics came in regular receptacles, not giant bulbous glasses stuffed with cucumber, edible flowers and pink peppercorns. They were, in this regard anyway, more innocent times.)

The couple’s kisses were so passionate, we felt sure they had only met and got together in the pandemic. Or that this was an illicit assignation. Either way, there was probably some pandemic rule-stretching going on but we couldn’t begrudge them their snogs and their embraces and their ankles intertwined under the table.

Maybe they’d both get the virus – a mild version with hardly any symptoms, I’m not a monster – and be forced to move in together: How to Take Your Relationship to Level 3.

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Róisín Ingle in converastion with Samantha Power, Claire Byrne, Caitlin Moran & Marie Cassidy GET TICKETS HERE

My friend and I ate beautiful fresh pasta and drank too much wine and caught up with each other until it was so cold we couldn’t feel our fingers. I woke up the next morning with a tickly cough which within an hour turned into a raging cold that knocked me sideways.

I took to the bed before lunchtime and stayed there all weekend while my children brought me honey, lemon and ginger drinks and asked “it’s not Covid, is it?” 72 million times. “It’s not Covid,” I said, like the medical expert I pretend to be a lot these days.

“It’s not Covid,” I said to myself when they’d gone downstairs, checking my temperature with my hand and making sure I could definitely identify the taste of ginger in the drink.

After all those balmy, sunny September days it turned suddenly, shockingly cold. Here it comes, hot-water-bottle weather already. It will surprise nobody that winter decided, for a laugh, to arrive early to the year our children will tell their children about. Ah, 2020.

The central heating is back on, and the summer clothes are itching to be returned to the attic. We still haven’t had our Covid-themed Halloween yet – the first one on record where practically the entire population will be wearing a mask – but we’re already talking about the winter of discontent we are facing.

Will Christmas will be cancelled or will it “pivot” and adapt to the “new normal” like everything else? The songs will definitely need a rewrite. All I want for Christmas is a vaccine. We’re walking in a winter wondering-land.

Meanwhile, the experts are warning about a “winter of defiance”, as fatigue deepens around darker mornings, and compliance with the restrictions becomes even harder.

Whatever about the wide use (or not) of snog, the other day Susie Dent helpfully informed her half a million followers about the word quiddle. It’s an 18th-century word which means “to attend to trivial matters as a way of avoiding the important”.

Maybe we all need to do a bit more quiddling. Have a hot bath in the company of the posh, scented candles you’ve got languishing in the back of the cupboard. Read a favourite book you know always cheers you up. If you’ve the spare funds, book a night in a hotel and have room service delivered. Listen to the new Pillow Queens album or check out the uniquely brilliant tunes of “global popstar” CMAT (Dubliner, Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson) reminding yourself that there are young people out there making and creating and blossoming even in a global crisis.

Gossip with a friend in a holding pen with your big coat on. Eat fresh pasta. Dream up an ingenious Halloween costume. Knit a hat. Watch the Great British Bake Off. Snog.

Be a modern day Nero, basically. Quiddle while the pandemic burns.

roisin@irishtimes.com