With all legal restrictions in England now lifted, I am gradually re-emerging into ‘normal life’. But like any patient suddenly discharged from the protective routine of a hospital ward, I’ve been struggling with my rehabilitation.
Unlike the Nearly-Beloved, who follows orders with 100% obedience, I prefer to trust my gut instincts. If it feels safe, then I’m happy to do it. But similarly, despite official reassurance, if alarm bells ring, I will quickly walk away from a situation. So, when we suddenly acquire free tickets to a gig, I find myself in two-minds. I’m excited about strengthening my going-out muscles. Yet I’m also nervous about how my lungs, which for over a year have adhered to a 2-metre rule, will cope sharing air in close proximity to the unsanitised.
The Nearly-Beloved ignores my protests. ‘We’re allowed to,’ he tells me. ‘So, it’s fine.’
‘Well, it might be legal,’ I say, ‘But is it sensible?’
He rolls his eyes and points out that the band in question consists of white-haired rockers and so the audience will naturally be of the double-vaxed age group. I, however, am not so sure. What if they are Baby Boomer rebels with conspiracy theories rather than Pfizer jabs? He reassures me that proof of Covid-free status is required so I reluctantly agree.
All goes well as we arrive early and settle into our seats. It’s only when the auditorium fills up and I find myself sharing an arm rest with a total stranger that I have a mini panic attack and retreat quickly behind the comforting security of my face mask. A few songs in, and with no apparent fatalities amongst the mask-free masses, I start to relax. My neighbour smiles encouragement at me. And not just with her eyes. So, gaining courage, I remove my mask and smile back. I feel triumphant. I’ve made massive progress today. Before you know it, I’ll be going to a party.
And, not long afterwards, my post-pandemic fitness is tested to its limit. We are invited to attend a wedding. Not an inferior Zoom version. A real-life variety. With actual people. Lots of them. Not just sitting. But moving around and interacting. And no PPE specified in the dress code. It’s both magnificent and terrifying!
We accept. Then I spend a few fraught days devising a cunning outfit that includes the psychological crutch of a floaty scarf that can be wrapped around my nose at the faintest sniff of danger. But my worries are eased as the venue insists on seeing test results and vaccination certificates. And as the day wears on I become de-sensitised to naked faces in close proximity.
This get-together of two families and their friends is a glimpse both back into our pre-Covid past and forwards into a more hopeful future. Of course, there are some casualties still in convalescence, not quite robust enough to make it through a day of celebrations. They are the older relatives, whose long months of enforced isolation have left them more cautious, less inclined to venture away from safety.
So, this event is a predominantly youthful affair and, as with all weddings, a triumph of hope over statistics. The happiness of the occasion is infectious. For these are germs of joy that no anti-bac can dampen down. Even Grunting Teen breaks into a smile. He’s been sulking, forced into a borrowed suit and tie, and his first pair of non-trainers. But as the festivities continue and his more adult appearance causes the waiter to keep filling his glass with wine rather than juice, he struts his designer dishevelled look with increasing Boy Band conviction.
As for the Nearly-Beloved, he’s been mixing both his loved ones and his drinks. He’s swopped a Lockdown Lambrini for a Freedom Frascati. This results in him whirling me onto the dance floor, undoing months of physio on my shoulder, as he demonstrates his signature jive moves.
Suddenly, I’m overcome with exhaustion. I’m not used to all this noise, conversation and fun vibes. It’s time for Cinderella to leave the ball. When my head hits the pillow, I have a moment of anxiety as my throat feels sore and dry. Could it be that it wasn’t only the high spirits that were contagious? But then I realise I’ve not talked so much in months, nor met so many people in one go. I’m simply suffering from sensory overload. So, whilst I may be further ahead in my recuperation process than others, I still might need to take it easy for a bit longer yet…