Róisín Ingle: Why my mother will not be cocooning again

Her new philosophy is to go about daily life as normal, while wearing a face mask

 John Gerrard’s Mirror Pavilion, a centrepiece of Galway International Arts Festival’s Autumn Edition. giaf.ie. Photograph: Colm Hogan

John Gerrard’s Mirror Pavilion, a centrepiece of Galway International Arts Festival’s Autumn Edition. giaf.ie. Photograph: Colm Hogan

 

It’s raining in Galway. Shop Street on Saturday night is slick from a downpour as people queue patiently outside restaurants and pubs that serve food. It’s after 9pm. I am arm in arm with my mother as we pick our way carefully back to our hotel near Eyre Square.

At this point, we think our night is over. It will emerge that Galway has other ideas but right now, as we dodge puddles and grin at strangers, we don’t know that yet.

Earlier, we ate Flaggy Shore oysters and pickled herring, lamb shank and choux buns. We had cocktails, a Beetroot Margarita for me, with mandarin salt on the rim and a concoction called a Beekeeper for her, made with non-alcoholic gin. Our waiter told us that non-alcoholic gins had started to get surprisingly popular but then lockdown happened and “people needed real gin again”.

We stared at the cube, awestruck, for a long while and took selfies in one of the mirrored sides

We came down from Dublin on the train, our first big train journey of the pandemic. We wore face masks and there was no snack trolley, but apart from that it had everything you want from a train trip with someone you love: long chats, companionable silences and the acknowledgment that while everything has changed some things never will. As long as we have breath, my mother and I will laugh far too loudly at long and winding stories, gasping “wait, wait, I haven’t told you the best bit yet . . .”.

My mother did six long weeks of joyless, never-leaving-the-house cocooning. It took time to adjust again to the world. She knows it’s important to have adventures, even staid ones involving reduced capacity trains and comfortable hotels. She knows the virus, as well as stealing lives, has robbed some more mature people of their spark. She saw a famous older actor on the television recently, someone people used to compare her with. But she doesn’t want to be compared to her now.

“You can see all of a sudden that she is not the woman she once was,” says my mother who, so far, is still the woman she was before corona. But it took a conscious effort and this octogenarian is not for cocooning again. Her new pandemic philosophy is to go about her daily life as normal, just while wearing a face mask. Her quality of life depends upon it.

Arriving in Galway, we took a rest in the hotel. A sign on the hotel room door said Business Class which turned out to mean we were on the side of the hotel with a glorious sea view. We took a taxi then to the Black Box Theatre where I was facilitating a talk organised by force of nature Caitríona Crowe as part of the Galway International Arts Festival. The 250-capacity theatre had arranged chairs for an audience of 50 socially-distanced people, all wearing face masks. On stage, our chairs were two metres apart.

The conversation, about racism in Ireland and the Black Lives Matter movement, featured impressive, articulate and charming panellists: poet Felicitia Olusanya, activist Amanda Adewole and trainee solicitor Tobi Lawal. Their contributions were illuminating, powerful and emotional. When near the end of our talk Tobi, sitting two metres to my right, started to softly weep while explaining the burden of everyday racism and the fight to end it. I waved my hands towards her, a simulation of something I hoped might bring comfort.

There are no real hugs these days, only real gin.

After the talk, we were taken down to Claddagh Quay to see The Mirror Pavilion, a work by north Tipperary artist John Gerrard. The pavilion is a giant cube sitting by the water, with three reflective sides. On the side facing us we could see “strawboy” figures in outfits made of corn performing a ritualistic walk/dance across the screen. They appeared to be walking on Claddagh Quay. But despite appearances this was not real life, this was a virtual world created by Gerrard and his team of computer wizards. We read that his works are mostly installed in public spaces to allow for what the artist describes as the “unexpected collisions” that can occur between the art and members of the public. We stared at the cube, awestruck, for a long while and took selfies in one of the mirrored sides.

And now it is Saturday night and we are slowly walking back to our hotel in the rain, down a crowded Shop Street. And as we near Eyre Square we see a man in waterproofs with a microphone, singing in the rain. He is reading lyrics from a laptop, also waterproofed. This is karaoke as performance art. The man belts out classics, throws shapes, twirls. An audience of young people in going out gear gathers in the rain. They cheer him on, they whoop and applaud. He does Stand By Me and I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That) and then the best busker I’ve ever seen does the entire 10 minutes of Bat of Out Hell.

My mother and I are mesmerised. We are getting slowly soaked but we can’t leave. We look around at the crowd of dancing, joyful, embracing young people and we realise we could be in the middle of one of those videos that might go viral at any moment and lead to disapproving conversations on Liveline. But in the middle of such a happening, nothing about it feels either wrong or transgressive. My mother presses a fiver into the hand of the rockstar in raingear who is Mick Jagger and Meatloaf rolled into one.

We find out he is the artist known as Jodaeous Maximus Mullarkuss or Jody Mullarkey to his friends. Like Gerrard’s, Mullarkey’s signature work is in public spaces and allows unexpected collisions between the art and members of the public.

Even in a pandemic art is everywhere. Go to Galway to see Mirror Pavilion. Go to see Jody Mullarkey sing and strut. Go for mandarin salt on the rim of a beetroot pink margarita. Drink real gin or the non-alcoholic kind. Whatever you do, please do not let the virus steal your spark.

roisin@irishtimes.com