Róisín Ingle: Time to find ourselves again? I went looking for myself down the pub

Here’s to a good Old Fashioned night out and the heartening sights of Camden Street

I wanted to mark the ending of the carry-on, and the beginning of whatever this next bit turns out to be. Photograph: iStock

I wanted to mark the ending of the carry-on, and the beginning of whatever this next bit turns out to be. Photograph: iStock

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“I 100 per cent won’t be able to touch alcohol, but I will be there,” my friend texted, carefully managing my expectations. I had asked if she fancied going out for a few drinks to celebrate the scrapping of the 8pm curfew. The ending of the emergency. The overnight vanishing of the global nightmare.

Isn’t it incredible, really, after all this time that it only took Micheál Martin making the best speech of his pandemic for Covid to pack up and run for the hills? And not even a Seamus Heaney quote in sight. It was time, Martin genially instructed us on Friday night, “to be ourselves again”. That’s all very well, but it’s nearly two years and some of us don’t know ourselves any more. Time to find ourselves again, then. Obviously, I decided to look for myself down the pub.

Everywhere you looked there were beautiful, happy young women balancing on heels while expertly sticking forks into tubs of curry chips

“Okay, not to worry,” I texted my friend back. “I’ll drink for two.” I was only half joking. I wanted to mark the ending of the carry-on, and the beginning of whatever this next bit turns out to be.

I mean, I hope it’s not the beginning of a return to normal. That would be the worst. Something else is what I want. Something new. Something even better than before. What did Michael D say last year about the best way forward post-Covid? “It’s important that people learn from it and not simply lapse back... it’s not just a matter of recovering what we’ve lost, it’s about getting to places where we’ve never been, which is far, far better.”

Before adventuring to those far, far better places, a little bit of lapsing back is perhaps just what the doctor ordered. Freedom is difficult to resist. My friend had maybe tasted too much freedom the night before, hence her warning text. She spent Saturday night in two favourite Dublin pubs, celebrating the birthday of a dear friend.

As we decided what to drink in another favourite pub, she recounted all the interactions with random strangers the night before, not all of them pleasant. She said she’d forgotten about that part of full-on, no-curfew socialising, having to endure people who, never mind 2m, don’t even know how to observe a 2mm rule. The kind of people who think loud means interesting and for some reason are desperate to know where you went to school.

Much more pleasing was the random interaction with an Indian man who was out on the razz on his own for the night. He was so charming and fun that he was co-opted into my friend’s group and after last orders, proper last orders, not 7.30pm last orders, he went back with them to a house party. “You are all so much more friendly than other Irish people,” he kept telling them, which made my friend sad. She got home at 5am, so, you know, not that sad.

Now it was the Sunday night after the Saturday night before and the man in the bar on Camden Street was taking down the big round yellow stickers asking punters to maintain their social distance. I asked him for one, and stuck it on the table in front of my Old Fashioned. The sticker already looked like a relic from another, stranger time.

My friend had an Old Fashioned too. A sophisticated hair of the dog that had savaged her so badly the night before. We 100 per cent didn’t mention her text message. You can’t really taste too much freedom, it turns out.

We sipped and laughed and watched other people sip and laugh. Two younger women came in and we all started to talk. About everything, the way that sometimes strangers can when a pandemic has been called off. By some unspoken rule all small talk was banished. We talked about parental issues, struggles with mental health, relief after a recent breast enhancement surgery, the difficulties and delights of romantic relationships, the joy of learning French and longed for career changes.

I had meant to take the yellow sticker warning about maintaining social distance home with me as a souvenir. But I forgot. Some things are best left behind

The Old Fashioneds went down too easy and then – I feel this might have been my fault – there were shots. I also think I might have been responsible for setting up a WhatsApp group called simply Camden to cement our brand new instant friendship. Even if nothing ever gets posted in there, I’ll always look at it fondly. It will remind me of the heady weekend deep in winter 2022 when we decided we had wintered this one out.

As we went to get a taxi after midnight, the sights and smells on Camden Street were heartening. Everywhere you looked there were beautiful, happy young women balancing on heels while expertly sticking forks into tubs of curry chips. I suppose this is what everyone is on about when they say nature is healing. I had meant to take the yellow sticker warning about maintaining social distance home with me as a souvenir. But I forgot. Some things are best left behind.

roisin@irishtimes.com