When this is all over...

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The results are in. I’ve laboriously analysed every word written or spoken since the start of the pandemic and can now exclusively reveal the three most used phrases. In third place is “have you remembered your mask?”. In second, not unexpectedly, it’s “what’s that lying bastard saying this time?”. But the runaway winner, as I’m sure you’ve guessed, is “when this is all over, I’m going to…”.

The beginning of that sentence might be universal, but its ending changes all the time. When we first locked down, we attempted to keep our spirits up by imagining the sheer undiluted joy of that first post-Covid pint, gig or football match.

However, after a while we came to realise that this wouldn’t end with a glorious shared moment of masks being hurled in the air, but with a series of tentative baby steps into a fundamentally altered world.

The first of everything would end up taking the form of a distanced, masked, nervous manifestation of what had gone before. And while every restored privilege and reopened venue is a source of delight, this is tempered with the building realisation that the path towards a “new normal” – that’s the fourth most used phrase, by the way – will be longer and less clear than we’d allowed ourselves to hope.

As a consequence of this dispiriting discovery, and of the sheer amount of time we’ve spent acquainting ourselves with the interiors of our own homes and heads, some of the things we now find ourselves looking forward to doing “when this is all over” are frankly improbable.

Setting foot in the office again despite the fact your desk is right next to Farty Gavin’s. Enthusiastically attending a family wedding you’d once have faked your own death to avoid, even though there isn’t a free bar. Negotiating the Royal Mile on a dreich August day while a desperate performer implores you to come to his one man show, Dougie Donnelly: A Life In Mime. (Actually, who am I kidding, I’d be first in the queue for that, pandemic or not.)

This strange phenomenon of craving once-despised experiences reached a new level for me when I found myself saying the following words: “When this is all over, I’m going to have a dinner party.” Now, I’m not too sure who invented the dinner party, but I’m willing to bet it was someone with enough money and/or servants to allow them to enjoy the party element without having anything to do with preparing the dinner.

When Julius Caesar made his triumphant return to Rome after conquering Gaul, his first act was not to preheat the oven so he could warm up the Mini Kievs. And preparations for Charles and Di’s wedding were at no stage disrupted by the Queen’s insistence that she’d just make a big pot of chilli and tell people to help themselves.

Yet the more I ponder this idea, the more I’m convinced it’s not entirely mad; in fact, it might just turn out to be the ideal balm for my post-pandemic psyche. After a year and more of cooking for nobody but my nearest and dearest, I’m enticed by the novelty of using my largest stew pot for a purpose other than catching drips from a leaky ceiling.

Still, there’s every reason to be wary of novelty too, in particular its tendency to wear off with spectacular haste. The long-anticipated pleasure of seeing a houseful of friendly faces is only ever a lengthy golfing anecdote away from being obliterated. At that point, the great advantage of hosting the party will be the permanently available sanctuary of the kitchen.

Of course, if all has gone to plan, there won’t actually be anything to do in there. It’s been a while since I catered for a crowd, but the slow-cooked, one pot approach – very much along the lines of the Queen’s chilli – remains much the best and least stressful. Even a single pot can suddenly require a ‘good stir’ at the exact moment the dullest person at the table launches into their lengthiest story.

Politely decline all offers of help, keep the kitchen door firmly closed, and almost any amount of time can plausibly pass in the name of food preparation, when what you’re really doing is listening to the expanded deluxe edition of Def Leppard’s Hysteria while sampling that whisky that’s just a fraction too nice to offer the guests. All this may sound facetious, and it mostly is. But there’s a kernel of truth here, which is that after all this time craving company, the situation will quickly arise – perhaps a fair bit sooner than we expect – where we find ourselves craving solitude again.

When that time comes, much better to be the host, complete with kitchen refuge, than the guest whose only means of temporary escape involves hiding in the toilet or hurriedly taking up smoking.

So when this is all over, you’re all cordially invited to a dinner party at mine. I can’t stop to discuss it just now though, because I’m pretty sure the food needs a stir.

Twitter: @tommoinleith

The writer in his kitchen refuge (it says here)

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Even a single pot can suddenly require a ‘good stir’ at the exact moment the dullest person launches into their lengthiest story

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