Alison O'Connor: Summer 2020 will be remembered for many reasons

In almost every town, there are businesses that shut in March and would not be reopening, even if a vaccine was found tomorrow
Alison O'Connor: Summer 2020 will be remembered for many reasons

Is that a ‘foreign’ accent, you wonder, as you queue for a coffee and strain to hear the language being spoken, while social distancing of course.

The hand written sign was seen stuck on the windscreen of a car in the Co Cork village of Glengarriff this week. The note stated that the occupants had observed a two week quarantine period after entering the country. This vehicle had French number plates.

It may have been a pre emptive strike, but the likelihood is that note was placed there following a few comments the opposite of a Cead mile failte. 

We all lie in judgement on a myriad of issues now, and why wouldn’t we when it is a matter of life and death? Not wanting people to visit from abroad is a clear cut issue, elsewhere your view on matters will depend very much on your perspective and literally where you are coming from.

During our annual West Cork holidays so many locals have said that if you have to endure a lockdown the place to do it is somewhere as beautiful as the Irish countryside, especially if the weather is so unseasonally good. 

Needless to say they had the same worries about jobs and businesses, especially those dependent on tourists, busy for such a short and specific period each year. But as things stand right now holiday homes are occupied, hotels appear full and there has been camping where you never before would have seen tents.

So business people wanted the visitors to arrive, and the regulars to return, but when the time came it was quite the shock to have them descend in such numbers. It meant an influx of much needed cash, but also the increased threat of Covid from those more populous places the visitors normally resided.

Soon those of us that arrived and settled were looking around with our own suspicions at those foreign registration plates and tutting loudly at the story from a friend’s sister in law’s friend who encountered a group of Americans in a queue for ice cream in Killarney. 

Deliberately engaging them in chat she discovered they had not self isolated, just got straight into a hire car at the airport and started driving around. 

Then again, another friend who went to the Co Kerry tourism mecca spoke of the shop she visited which normally caters for well heeled American tourists, but in the middle of the summer season they’ve had to reduce stock to half price.

On the high roads and by roads of West Cork I’ve spent my fair share of time over recent weeks looking suspiciously at number plates, confused for a time over what the difference is between those yellow Northern Ireland ones and those from the UK.

Is that a “foreign” accent you wonder as you queue for a coffee and strain to hear the language being spoken, while maintaining your social distance, of course. How far have your fellow queuers travelled for this particular shot of caffeine?

Chatting to the manager of a café in a tourist attraction in recent days she said it had been really busy. Were many of the customers foreign tourists? A good few. Any particular nationality? From all over the place, was the reply.

For obvious reasons there are more Irish people than ever before staying at home for their holidays or travelling around the country on day trips. Along the coast, sunny days, especially if they’ve occured on a weekend, have been like an August Bank Holiday on speed as people arrive in their droves. In tourism towns business people around here report really good trade. They’ve had many Irish customers who say they never visited that particular place before, given they would usually be abroad at this time of year.

There are the majority of restaurant/bar owners who have been exceptionally careful to set up their premises to make them as Covid-safe as possible —  screens, distancing, hand sanitiser. How disheartening for them to hear about others down the road who are packing them in and making minimal safety effort, right down to having unwashed cotton towels lying around the sinks in the toilets.

One of the former, who has been doing a good business since re-opening in his large premises with all the restrictions in place, said he realises now that while profits might be down there is a lot to be said for not having to deal with young drunken groups in the bar until the small hours of a Sunday morning after a hectic Saturday night. 

Needless to say there are also plenty of instances where people are really struggling in a commercial sense.

 In almost every town there are the business who shut their doors in March and would not be re-opening, even if a Covid vaccine was found tomorrow.

On other fronts there are people, owners of holiday homes, who will tell you they were down and stayed down “from the very start of lockdown”.

Others roll their eyes at these pronouncements. From the safety of this picturesque perch in rural Ireland there is the judgement of those who couldn’t bear to stay away from the sun holiday abroad even for just one year. These people are further damned by the talk that they intend putting their little darlings straight into summer camps on their return, or even more worryingly straight into school having spent all of July and August on the Algarve.

In this new Pandemic world there is much to gossip and backbite about over a few drinks in the evening. By the end of the second drink you’re so eager to hear every detail you’ve moved closer and find yourself doing the “hanging on every word” thing”. Then you have, without even noticing, moved the chat inside the house. Within a half an hour even the means of ventilation – the door and windows – have been closed because it’s gotten so chilly. Still it was quite a small group and no one would ever call it a house party when all involved are middle aged.

We’re living in strange, and still scary, times. It’s human nature that we judge and want to feel better about ourselves. As things currently stand the behaviour of others can put us in mortal danger and this feels like a legitimate reason to indulge in it.

Leaving the scene of your lockdown, those trusty four walls, and that fridge, oven and dishwasher, that sustained and tormented you, is the most incredible relief. Being lucky enough to able to leave your city home to go on holidays to the seaside feels like an absolute privilege.

Right now a rainy day in this particular paradise is bitched about far less this year than it might have been previously. Almost every moment is appreciated. No matter that the sea temperature seems to remain set at a level where you regularly return to shore with the equivalent of an ice cream headache after your dip. 

You keep going in because the freedom to be able to do so still feels precious. Having someone else serve up food you have not had to make yourself feels as if it will never lose its feeling of novelty.

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