Rosita Boland: When this is all over I’m going non-essential shopping

Call me a barbarian, but when lockdown ends, the theatre is not the first place I want to go

We have all discovered this last year, as the endless months seeped amorphously onwards, that we have different definitions of what’s “essential”.

We have all discovered this last year, as the endless months seeped amorphously onwards, that we have different definitions of what’s “essential”.

 

Call me a barbarian. When this is all over, the theatre is not the first place I want to go. Or the cinema. Or a gallery. Or indeed, anywhere cultural. It’s not that I won’t be going to these places at some point post-pandemic, it’s just that first I really, really want to go shopping and to eat out.

I miss browsing. I miss shopping for things other than vegetables and cleaning products and toothpaste. I miss going into a non-essential shop just for a non-essential browse at non-essential items.

In the last year, I have bought hundreds of makings of lunches and dinners during successive lockdowns, and restocked my bathroom cupboard as needs be, but there is no folly in any of that. No fun. No frivolity.

There’s a physicality to shopping in person that no purchase via a screen can replace. I am one of those people who used to do most of their shopping in actual shops, and enjoy it. There is a true pleasure in running a hand over the textures of fabrics. Of lifting garments from rails and seeing at once how they hang. Of trying on something without having to wastefully ship it back out into the online global world again if it doesn’t fit.

There’s a prescriptiveness to sitting down and looking online for something specific

There are the thrilling possibilities felt when wandering through a bookshop. Of taking up a book and smelling it, turning the pages, feeling the heft of it in my hand; the viscerality of it. Reading a few pages at random. Noticing what other people in the bookshops are looking at. Feeling part of a community of readers.

You can’t search online to buy things you don’t know about. There’s a prescriptiveness to sitting down and looking online for something specific. What I love about browsing and shopping in actual shops is the surprise element: the unexpected, finding things I had no idea existed.

Browsing might seem like a massive waste of time to some people; for me it was a pleasure. It was sometimes as simple as looking at beautiful things and admiring craftsmanship: not all objects worth contemplation in public spaces are in museums and galleries. It was sometimes about ridiculous fantasy: would my life be better if I bought this gorgeous dress/bracelet/lamp? It was sometimes about a slice of otherness in a day; a total change of headspace from staring at a computer screen, and I felt regenerated on return.

And sometimes shopping was about spending time with a friend, where we engaged in a running commentary of delighted and critical analysis of what was before us. This was often followed by a non-essential, but extremely enjoyable coffee, or lunch, or sneaky pint, if it was still afternoon. Lunches that sometimes mysteriously extended to evening, without planning it that way; talking all the time. I don’t regret a single one. I only wish now I’d done them more often.

We have all discovered this last year, as the endless months seeped amorphously onwards, that we have different definitions of what’s “essential”

I miss non-essential hospitality just as much as all those non-essential shops. I miss going into a random cafe with a book, and reading for a while. I miss pints in old bars, where there are tiles and mirrors and the occasional stag’s head. I miss sitting in my favourite Japanese restaurant and ordering the tuna sashimi, the ebi gyoza, the chilli squid.

Over the last few months, I’ve met friends on park benches for flasks of coffee. Gone for walks together around a shuttered Dublin city centre. Stood on opposite sides of the street and had a conversation. Almost all of it has been thoroughly miserable, because the experience was so small. To go from lunches or dinners or shopping together to a pre-planned half hour on a damp bench in a park with mud where there used to be grass, is so reductive as to be almost useless.

We have all discovered this last year, as the endless months seeped amorphously onwards, that we have different definitions of what’s “essential”. Of course it’s essential to be able to buy food to eat, and source medication to keep physically well, but we are not just bodies to be fuelled with food and maintained with medicine. Joy is also essential to keeping us well.

You can’t go to a supermarket and buy a bag of joy. But I know I’ll find that joy when I can go back into shops that sell things I don’t need, and into restaurants to avail of hospitality that used to be an essential part of my life; of all our lives.