Monday 6 July 2020

Scenes from the New Normal

I went to get my hair cut this morning, and was surprised to find my barbers clad in some kind of quasi-surgical gowns and wearing plastic visors. They seemed, understandably enough, embarrassed by this turn of events, and apologised for all the precautions they were now obliged to inflict on their customers: 'socially distanced' queuing, hand sanitising, supplying name, date, time and contact details on a slip of paper, and wearing a face mask and an absurd single-use plastic cape while being coiffed. The last time I saw them – this pair of splendidly reactionary Greek-Cypriot brothers – they were not unduly concerned about the Covid panic that was just then getting under way. They regarded the whole affair with a jaundiced, weary eye, and were cynically convinced that (a) it was some kind of Chinese racket and (b) someone was making money out of it. I suspect their views have not changed – there was much communication by eye-rolling as the precautions were duly enacted – but if they didn't go through this rigmarole, they wouldn't be allowed to open, even though the chances of getting serious Covid in London now are not much higher than being hit by a falling statue. This, God help us, is the new normal. But at least I got a haircut – and, boy, it felt good to be rid of those lockdown locks.
  I had a rather more dispiriting taste of this new normal the evening before, when, finding that most of the local pubs have now reopened, Mrs N and I decided to drop in on a favourite one (more a bar than a pub) for a drink. That was our first mistake. To get that drink, we had to 'wait to be seated' (though the place was half empty), then discovered that we couldn't be served without registering online and booking a table. I was all for turning on my heel at this point, but Mrs N was of another mind, and I duly toiled over my phone for some while, handing over the relevant information and making an imaginary booking. To be fair, they were quite apologetic about it all, and they did oblige us with a drink and a table while this was going on, but by then it was too late (for me anyway). What is a pub if it's not a 'public house' – a house you can drop in on any time during opening hours and have a drink without further ado? If this is the new normal, I can only hope that these absurd precautions are soon abandoned, de facto if not de jure. Meanwhile, the search is on for a more accessible pub, one where a person can simply drop in for a drink...
  For some reason, the pub incident put me in mind of a comic piece by Myles na gCopaleen, in which he suggests that the licensing authorities open pubs for just one hour a day, between 3 and 4 in the morning. He envisages what would be happening at that hour in the bedrooms of Dublin, as husbands wake, stretch, and say casually to their wives, 'You know, I think I might just drop in for the one'. Or words to that effect: I haven't been able to find the original piece. Anyone...?


  1. Yes Nige, I have it somewhere and will look it out. It wasn't until I lived in Dublin 50 years ago, that I came across the great Myles, who seemed to me totally unique in his absurdist writing. Burned into my mind is the lunatic idea of 'Buchhandlung' based upon the idea (quite understandable)that most folk warm to the idea of being considered 'well read', without possessing the will or the time to buckle down to the actual process of reading. So the 'Buchhandlung' idea is that you would hire an individual to come to your house, and give the never read and never-to-be-read tomes a good 'handling', thumbing a few pages, folding the corners of a few pages and, generally, giving the book(s) a look of having been really 'read'. At this point his extraordinary imagination (and wonderful prose style) took flight, and he suggested several 'levels' of service from 'Popular' to (from memory) 'Premier Handling', the latter including hardwritten notes scribbled in the margins, underlining and, best of all, bookmarks fashioned, in French, from perhaps a study of JP Sartre. If you are not, by now, convulsed in laughter, Myles is possibly not your cup of absinthe.

  2. Oh yes, I remember Buchhandlung – brilliant. Myles is definitely my cup of absinthe – or pint of plain. Cheers!


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