I shouldn’t have opened my mouth really. No sooner had I completed my last post than Leo Varadkar decided to up the social distancing ante. Alas, night time strolls require GPS like accuracy this week. 2 kilometres is the new 2 metres. Stray further at your peril!
It seems the country was getting cute and engaging in far too much damn disaster tourism. An exponential rise in the curve of families climbing mountains and jumping in lakes needed to be flattened. Visits to enchanted forests in the middle of Connemara are now off the menu for the foreseeable future too.
Anyway, having notified air traffic control in Shannon earlier in the day of my intended flight path – I decide to brave a nocturnal ramble to stretch the legs once more. it’s another quiet night on the footpaths. As I rev up the engines on the outward journey, I am heartened to see that the largest multinational factory in town still has some of the lights on. This worldwide shutdown is no doubt having a crippling effect on them – focused as they are – on automobile technology. I shudder to think what the demand for new cars will be like in the new world.
It’s a plant with a long and successful history in the town. I speculate on how much history and good husbandry counts for anything anymore though. A Vladimir Lenin quote, doing the rounds in the podcast world flicks into my mind for adaptation to my surrounds. It seems there are indeed decades where nothing happens in this goddamn town; and then weeks like this one where decades happen upon us.
I move on from the factory and up towards one of the towns main relief roads, I soon meet a police squad car – out with the 2 km measuring tape no doubt. It cruises by me in no particular rush. Instinctively, after a few steps, I turn to take a peek back, just in time to see it slowing and twirling back around. I briefly wonder am I the subject of their attention.
I silently curse myself for wearing a set of over-sized white headphones instead of a luminous safety jacket. I adjust the pace slightly and attempt to do an impression of a local power walker rather than a razor-less criminal on coronavirus release from Castlerea prison.
The squad pulls onto the cycle path ahead of me and nestles to a halt maybe 500 metres ahead. I needn’t have worried. Another car slows and stops across from the Gardai on the deserted road. As I approach, a social rather than an interrogative act seems to have broken out. Lot’s of laughter and slagging about how many feet two metres is, as both parties roll down the windows at a safe distance and start chewing the cud for a minute or two. Inexplicably this simple display of human interaction feels touching. Uplifting even.
Not long after, I do my own version of a three point turn and make for home. The cars and conversation have vanished. Luckily looking up, Jamie Carragher is on hand to confirm, via a passing and unemployed Sky Sports satellite, that I am at the halfway point of my colossal 4 kilometers hike. He assures me I am in no imminent threat of getting nuked but that my pace is nonetheless shocking for a full back. I guess that makes two of us that won’t be celebrating victory in the Premier League anytime soon.
I settle into a Youtube mix of the Killers and Bruce Springsteen for the return journey. The fluorescent street lights of the town outline most of the runway home. I notice the burst of serotonin at about kilometer three just as Miss Atomic Bomb bursts into life.
Unrelated to the chemical rush I’m sure and on final approach, an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary is again sitting atop the canopy of a local petrol station – smiling at me – and advertising Frank and Honest from the Gourmet Coffee Company. Usually this is a sign of an imminent caffeine miracle, lately though, it feels more like a call for penance for past sins.
I sigh and nod to herself and my addiction before entering. I quickly devise a one-man, Navy Seals, special operation on the fly, and resolve to rescue a paper cup full of something hot and frothy from the target location whilst also extracting myself alive and uninfected.
Sadly the mission is awry almost immediately on entry. The new and mandatory Grey’s Anatomy etiquette, for making a purchase in a petrol station nowadays, is quite beyond my capabilities.
Do you squirt the alcohol gel before you go in or when your leaving or both?
If you spray your hands do you still need to put on the disposable gloves at the coffee station?
Do you then need to go back to the alcohol gel and spray the gloves?
Are you supposed to wear the gloves home ?
For how long afterwards does 60% alcohol gel remain a danger to lighting a cigerette?
I am the type of person that can quite easily spend a good 5 minutes weighing up these kinds of profound questions. And thats before dealing with the twister-like complications of a yellow brick road of COVID-19 marketing on the floor.
As I hit the large button on the coffee machine I scan the shop to ascertain the current customer numbers, in an effort to judge whether I should hop in my car, drive to Galway and start queuing for the check-out somewhere out in Lower Salthill.
As my coffee is slowly brewing I am suddenly aware of a need to go to the bathroom and move towards the end of the shop. Half way down I stop. I have no idea what Leo Varadkar’s policy is on frequenting petrol station toilets. He failed to mention this in his St Patrick’s day state of the union address. I suspect he is against it. I glance around to see if anyone is watching me. Paranoia kicks in and I convince myself at least 2 security cameras and 3 customers have picked up my movements as well as my thought process. The squad car is starting to make sense now. Cruising around town on the hunt for gloveless suicide pissers.
I back-away from the toilet door and make an about turn. The sound of intense hissing and the sight of a mushroom cloud of steam from the coffee machine soon greets me. A sure sign the cow below deck has had enough for one night.
I don’t really want to point out the milk situation to a member of staff. They’ve had a hard enough day already. Stocking shelves and handling cash is akin to sweeping for landmines in Afghanistan at the moment. And they’re at it all day every day of this crisis.
Shamefully though, I look to gauge how old the cashier might be, in the vain hope he or she might……you know…. be a young person. Someone that would probably survive if it turns out I’m an asymptomatic COVID-19 super ninja – super spreader. Unfortunately the guy behind the counter has the worried demeanor of a forty something with a family at home. My caffeine addiction offers the opinion that he might be single with finely tuned virus antibodies already developed.
In season one of this pandemic, I’ve kind of committed to only risking the lives of millennials in my once daily quests for cappuccino. Hmmmm….not sure what to do here. Did I really look closely enough at this hombre the first time? – I decide that in fact I certainly did not – so I engage in a covert, forensic examination of his tired, overworked expression once more. I scold myself for being so judgmental, he could definitely be younger if he had a shower, a shave and stopped risking his life every day to ensure one of the vital supply chains of sustenance remains open. That and not age is surely why his beard is graying. Petrol station employees are certain to be aging uncharacteristically since Paddy’s day. Right?
In the end I decide against risking his life and reward myself with a packet of half-price custard creams. I settle for the promise of a biscuit and homemade cup of sugared tea instead. I hand the packet over for scanning and spend a few minutes trying to extract my credit card from the auld wallet with a gelled, gloved paw.
” Anything else ” he asks from behind the recently installed corona-resistant perspex window.
I can’t think of a thing so shake my head in the negative. As I exit I notice our Lady of Lourdes is no longer directing my movements from her elevated perch. A sign perhaps. The last of the endorphins chooses to take it as a positive one. No doubt a small miracle requires her attention elsewhere on the island and I grudgingly allow that maybe a missed coffee is a small price to pay for it.
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