Róisín Ingle: Some of us don’t want to let go of our lovely locked down lives

We are like caged animals let loose from our centrally heated, Netflix-enabled prisons

Tina and  Sandra Kelly outside Penneys store, which reopened on Friday. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Tina and Sandra Kelly outside Penneys store, which reopened on Friday. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

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That’s that then. The world, (and by the world I mean Penneys, obviously) has opened up again. Nature’s had enough of all that healing. It had to happen. I am glad it has.

The 200 strong queue last Friday for one of the largest secular cathedrals in Dublin (Penneys again, clearly) snaked far around the corner as people clamoured for their cheap jocks and socks. At least one member of the queue was wearing their pyjamas (probably from Penneys) and all involved, including the patient and efficient gardaí, appeared to be living their best Phase 2 lives.

You won’t hear any complaints from me about this latest pandemic opening. But, and I’m prepared to accept it might be a particularly middle-aged fetish, some of us are far less willing to launch ourselves back into the world, even in comfortable, inexpensive nightwear and open-toed furry slippers. (Conor Pope’s Penneys reportage was delightfully detailed as always).

The thing is, I am one of those people who has settled quite nicely thank you very much into lockdown life. I don’t want to go shopping. I am not craving a pint in a pub. I have no interest in retrieving much of what has been taken away from us by lockdown. I will miss cycling through empty streets, and I am sad about the roar of traffic returning to the capital.

Yes, I am relieved and cheered by some of it. I now have the freedom to go on holidays with my mother and my family in the west in a few weeks, to swim in the Atlantic Ocean, take a ferry to Inis Oirr and eat chips on the pier, but as for the rest of it? Ah, no, you’re grand, thanks.

A couple of points before I justify my current pandemic position: The first important thing to acknowledge is that it’s going to be a long time before, as a country, we come to terms with the darkness of these last few months. With the sacrifices made by so many. With the grief for loss of lives and of livelihoods, little of which has yet been given full expression. I am pleased and proud that we have succeeded in flattening if not quite annihilating the curve.

But even in the midst of joyous retail therapy and frenzied staycation planning, we can’t help but be mindful that these new-old freedoms have not come without a cost, one we will still be counting in years to come.

The second, slightly more upbeat point is this: I don’t judge the people in the Penneys queue. Especially not the younger ones. We are like caged animals let loose from our centrally heated, Netflix-enabled prisons at the moment, and this fresh taste of liberty is affecting us all in different ways.

What have you learned about yourself in lockdown? Anything you will miss?

One colleague of mine who I won’t name but his byline rhymes with Catrick Preyne got so excited about the lifting of lockdown that he went for a 20km walk with his friend while wearing inappropriate footwear. This resulted in a nasty foot infection which three different types of antibiotics are currently trying to heal.

I don’t judge Catrick, and I also can’t judge the people who joined the five hour queues for Ikea, even the heroic ones who said they were just there “for a browse”. If anything I admire their stamina and commitment to Swedish meatballs and the moreish gravy, which I usually ask for on the side as the servers can sometimes be a bit too flaithúlach with the ladle.

Listen, I once stayed out all night in a sleeping bag outside a school to get decent tickets for a variety show my kids were in – they were onstage for less than three minutes – so when it comes to queues I really am in no position to talk. But even apart from that embarrassing admission, I can’t judge anybody. And I don’t think anybody should be judging anybody else in these early Phase 2 days when we’re all getting used to being around each other again, whether hunting for designer handbag bargains in Brown Thomas or queueing for €1 thongs in Penneys.

I can understand all the urges; I just don’t have the urges or to be honest the energy myself. In pre-pandemic times, I’d have beaten down the doors of the brand new Decathlon, which opened on Saturday morning, buying mini-rucksacks, towels that dry in minutes, a tent that takes only five seconds to pitch and a very handy yoke that keeps your kid’s feet dry when they are getting dressed after a swim.

The fact that a branch of the French sports shop has launched in Dublin is a cause for celebration in our house, so I have only admiration for anyone who pitched a five-second tent outside the place the night before it opened to be at the top of the queue when it opened. (I don’t think anyone actually did that, but if they had I would not be looking down my nose at them, I’d be applauding wildly and asking them to get me one of those turban towel thingies that are handy for after you’ve washed your hair).

I mentioned my Phase 2 refusenik-ness to a friend, and she said she’d been talking to a 20 something who admitted she is also much happier in lockdown. She will never join a gym again having discovered, in lockdown, the joy of keeping fit by – radical thought, ahoy – walking or running. The only reason she was in a gym, she realised, was because so was everyone else she knew. She’s become closer to her friends, closer to her boyfriend and is saving money because she’s not out every other night.

Maybe it’s not just a middle-aged fetish. There might even be a small, contented army of us who are less than keen leave the new normal behind. We might be legion, all of us with thousands of individual reasons why we might never fully flee our cocoons. Here are a few of mine:

1. Morning revelations. Before all this, I thought I was a person who hated getting up early. It turns out what I hated was having to get up, get dressed in outdoor clothes, make myself appear vaguely groomed – emphasis on the vaguely – and head into the office. These days I am up before 7am every morning, firing on all cylinders including some cylinders I didn’t even know I possessed. I am officially a morning person for the first time in my life. Call the Vatican, for this truly is a miracle.

2. Sound effects (a). My children’s music lessons now happen online. And they are practising more than ever. A few times a week, while writing in my bedroom office, let’s call it my Bedoffice, the sweet noise from the saxophone and the double bass and the Spanish guitar wafts through the floorboards, and I am moved and soothed by their efforts. It’s the perfect soundtrack to my working life. May it remain so for a long time. Please.

Sound effects (b) My partner has been listening to a lot more music in lockdown, going back to old favourites and discovering new music. As a result he is talking to our Hey Google device a lot more than usual. He is from the North, so the Google lady struggles to understand him, and this has provided endless entertainment for the rest of us. This morning, I spent a happy five minutes listening to him talking to her as though she was an actual person – “no, that’s not what I said”, “are you deaf or what?” – while trying and failing to get her to “PLAY OUR LOVE GOES DEEPER THAN THAT BY DUKE SPECIAL”. I know it will be great when theatres and the cinema open again, but until then this is box office.

3. Self-esteem. I like myself a bit better in lockdown. Don’t get the wrong idea. I haven’t written that children’s book I was convinced I’d write the day Leo told us all to stay home. I haven’t knitted a jumper. I haven’t put the pictures in frames. Or organised a lifetime of photos. Or learned the ukulele. I haven’t learned a new language either or done an online course in philosophy.

But I think I have grown up a bit. Figured out some more things about myself. A lot of pennies have dropped, and I feel more grown up. At 48 there is still growing up, learning and listening to be done as there is at any age. A sign of maturity, I hope, is knowing a good thing when you see it.

And for some of us, of all ages, some unexpectedly good things have been uncovered in our lovely locked down lives.