It’s still January. This does not seem possible, but I just checked the calendar on my phone and apparently it’s true. Although, to be honest, I don’t know if I trust the calendar. It claims there are only 31 days in January, when we all know it’s already been going on for 273 days and it’s not over yet. Some people did Dry January, which means they’ve had an even longer month than the rest of us. Frankly, those people deserve medals and congratulatory letters from the President.
I did not do Dry January. I did something else, called Ginuary, which, sadly, you won’t read about in our otherwise helpful health pages. I thought it was a bit of a strange and possibly insulting present, the bottle of Hendrick’s my sister gave me for Christmas, but now I see it as impressively prescient. She obviously knew something I didn’t. (This happens on a regular basis – she is an actuary.)
On one particularly never-ending day – January 103rd, I think it was – I cracked open that bottle of gin, and it has been a faithful companion ever since.
Add a cucumber baton to any drink and it looks less like a pandemic crutch and more like a wholesome pick-me-up from some luminous-looking person's Instagram wellness page
Like the endless stupid, boring walks around parts of my neighbourhood that hold no more mystery – sorry, Fairview Park; it’s not you, it’s me – the gin is now part of my daily routine. At around 5pm the bottle, which I leave on the kitchen window sill for full visibility, starts winking at me.
My Uncle Ron, who died a couple of years ago aged 90, had a gin and tonic or some other alcohol-forward beverage every day at noon. Unlike my Uncle Ron, I wait until 5pm. Most days.
I make an occasion of this teatime ritual. I don’t have a shot measure, so I can only guess vaguely at the right amount of gin. I chill the glass first with lots of ice and spend a few minutes carefully chopping batons of cucumber. Add a cucumber baton to any drink and it looks less like a pandemic crutch and more like a wholesome pick-me-up of the kind you’d find on some luminous-looking person’s Instagram wellness page.
Speaking of wellness – and to stop me writing a whole column about gin, because that’s where this one seems, inexorably, to be headed – my daughters’ school gives them a wellness Zoom class every Monday. Where’s our wellness Zoom class is what I want to know. Who is responsible for rolling out the National Wellness Plan? (“It’s here, inside me. Just add posh tonic and cucumber batons,” the gin bottle whispers seductively from the window sill.)
In case I need to point it out, my mood in Lockdown 3 could not be more different from my mood in Lockdown 1. I’m despondent and fearful in a way I haven’t been at any other point of the pandemic. I spent most of the past year wondering why I didn’t know anyone who had the virus, and now my WhatsApp messages are full of people who have had it or are getting a test to see if they might have it.
These are Covid-compliant people, who can only have got it doing the things that we’re all doing, the stuff we’re still allowed to do, like going on State-sanctioned walks or excursions to the supermarket. Sometimes I remind myself that there are still hopeful, happy things occurring: the vaccination programme being rolled out; growing support for zero-Covid-style measures, such as mandatory quarantining; the poet Amanda Gorman’s performance at the Biden-Harris inauguration; Harry Styles’s music videos; and Sigourney Weaver doing the Lindy Hop in the new season of Call My Agent!
But last Friday I realised I hadn’t been outside the door for three days. And, worse than that, I realised that I didn’t care.
With the home school in full swing downstairs, bed is the only place I can be guaranteed a bit of peace. I have a work/wallow thing going. Work for 20 minutes, wallow for five
Maybe it’s no wonder I’ve taken to the gin. This development seems closely related to my having also taken to WFB, or working from bed. With the home school in full swing downstairs, it’s the only place I can be guaranteed a bit of peace. I have a kind of work/wallow thing going. Work for 20 minutes, wallow for five. WFB should be part of the National Wellness Plan.
When I’m wallowing I listen to the radio, and that’s where I learned about the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. A man called John Koenig has come up with ways to describe words for unarticulated feelings. It’s a perfect project for the times we are living through, for all that wallowing in strange and unfamiliar emotions. My favourite word from his new dictionary is “kinopsia”. It’s used to describe the “eerie, forlorn atmosphere in a place that is usually bustling with people but is now abandoned”.
When I did finally push myself out the door, I cycled down a deserted Henry Street and felt almost overwhelmed by the kinopsia, so I came home and poured myself a gin. “Don’t drink Mummy’s fizzy cucumber water,” I remembered to tell the kids, in a nothing-to-see-here voice.
By the time we were sitting at the table eating another dinner – Nigella’s fish-finger bhorta, a hopeful, happy-making dish – I comforted myself that yet another January day was nearly at an end. Only 76 days of January left now. Then we’ll have February, which will probably be shorter. But I cannot guarantee it.