This week has been a week of lockdown firsts. But which of these events would I rank first? The first time I’ve been in a pub? The first time I’ve stayed in a hotel? Or the first time I’ve seen my husband’s mother? Well, despite the long history of mother-in-law jokes, this is an easy choice. For after so many months of self-isolation, seeing loved ones, even those related through marriage, brings a tear to the eye.
In fact, there are many tears. Tears of joy from the Grunting Teen as he’s dispatched to spend the night at his sister’s. Free at last from his parents’ disapproval of PS4 misuse. Free to corrupt his brother-in-law-in-arms with an all-night gaming session.
Then there are tears of horror from Darling Daughter as double-testosterone invades her new home and an insatiable locust raids her fridge. And there are tears of happiness from my husband as he finally returns to his homeland and the person who views him as ‘fully’, not ‘nearly’, beloved.
For we are entering Wales, land of dragons and draconian laws that have made our separation much longer than its slapdash English equivalent. Even now we’re not permitted to meet indoors unless we are in a bubble. And so, we’ve had to wait for a hopeful weather forecast and a garden get-together.
Luckily the skies today are in our favour, the bakestones are fresh out of the oven and ‘there’s lovely to see you both again, isn’t it?’ And it is lovely, because if there’s one thing good to have come out of Covid, it’s the appreciation of what really counts in life. For I’ll take my mother-in-law’s Welsh cakes over my corned-beef surprise any day…
And despite having to use Google Translate to follow the conversation and my ‘interested look’ to nod through the latest rugby updates, it’s been well worth the trip over the border to see a huge smile on an octogenarian’s face. We may not have been allowed a ‘cwtch’ but we can make do with a virtual embrace and hope that next time down we’ll be inside and hugging for real.
All too soon the skies cloud over, the bakestones are gone and mum-in-law is exhausted from the unaccustomed company. It’s time to head towards English pastures and the lure of a pint in a country pub. As we sit at one of the socially distanced tables, it feels like a celebration on all counts. The Nearly-Beloved feels properly loved once more. He’s had his fix of ‘Welshness’. And now he can relax with a hand-pulled pint. For you see, drinking at home can never replicate that special feeling that drinking in a pub gives you. Despite accounts of lowered inhibitions encouraging relaxation of correct Corona conduct, this is an experience I’d be happy to repeat again, although early evening in a rustic setting may well be different to a Saturday night pub crawl downtown.
The hotel too brings nothing but delight at its normality. So what if the receptionist is behind a counter shield? He still smiles a welcome and puts the ‘hospitable’ back into the hospitality industry. And handing over keys and information in a covid-safe envelope actually feels quite fun in a ripping-open-birthday-card sort of way. As for pre-ordering breakfast times and food, it’s a blessing in disguise. No rolling down late to find the buffet bacon overly crispy and the orange juice jug full of sediment. No, the only issue is the Nearly Beloved muttering ‘if you wanted the full English, why did you order poached eggs on toast? Get your hands off my sausages!’
In fact, it all feels refreshingly new yet at the same time refreshingly normal. And that for me, in these strange, uncertain times, is definitely a lockdown first.