Soft play is commonly associated with young children. However, it could be used to describe Esther O’Moore Donohoe’s fun threshold that, in recent times, has climaxed with the quiet mirth of neighbourhood WhatsApp groups and a good Sunday roast.
When it comes to partying, I party soft. I love my friends and family, but some of my favourite nights out are the ones that never happen. For I am Queen of Cosytown and happiest at home sans bra, dressed head to toe like a human Ugg boot. But this year has really tested my already very low excitement bar.
Initially, I did what everyone else was doing to get my kicks. I made bread and sowed seeds. I queued for the MüllerFruit Corners in the supermarket. By mid-June, I had completed most of the things on the “So You’re Experiencing a Once in Lifetime Pandemic” list. I knew then I had to improvise and go rogue in order to entertain myself.
After the first lockdown ended, I met a friend for lunch and we caught up on all our “news”. She regaled me with her stories of watching paint dry, and I told her about changing the PIN-code on my house alarm. We were two wild women, living out loud. She also shared a resource that had helped her during her toughest lockdown moments, namely her Residents Association WhatsApp group. I was intrigued. She scrolled through hundreds of incredible messages that ranged from warnings of foxes biting the heads off cats (“Tom. Warn Mags. That fox will kill the cat. URGENT”). To sightings of a “sinister” looking silver Nissan Micra (“Marion, that was me in the Nissan. I just wanted to know if you wanted a lift to the village”). It was better than anything on Netflix, and I wanted a piece of this very gentle action.
It didn’t take much Facebook sleuthing before I found the deets for my own neighbourhood RA. By the Six One news, I’d infiltrated the local RA WhatsApp group. I sat back and waited for the good times to roll, but by the time Eileen Dunne came on at nine, it was clear this was not the lol-ercoaster I wanted. There was zero domestic animal terror and no sharing of shifty-looking strangers loitering next to the Tesco Express. In a bid to get the party started, I asked if anyone knew where the huge pile of abandoned loaves outside the pub had come from. No one replied and two people immediately left the group. I tried not to take it personally, telling myself that they were probably just sick of any mention of bread. I can’t pretend I wasn’t disappointed, though. I thought I was going to be dipping my toe into a real-life episode of Father Ted, but the members proved to be more urbane than I had anticipated. But what did I expect? I live in Dublin 8, the birthplace of elaborate peanut butters. Down but not out, my mission for some semblance of excitement continued slowly, like an exhausted tortoise.
I next sought solace in my go-to safe space that is oven- based dinners. Attending the weekly roast in my mum’s was always worth the shower; concerned for her health and wellbeing, however, I ceased my weekly drop-ins. When I suggested she could just whizz down the road instead and drop a plate in, she became – I assume – too overwhelmed to respond (she misses me so much!). Her silence said it all.
You can’t keep a good roast potato down, though, so I took matters into my own hands. “Oh. Did you finally decide to act like a grown-up and throw a chicken into the oven yourself?” Of course I didn’t. I did what any adult woman who is me would do. I recruited a fellow spud-loving friend and we created a Sunday Roast Club. It’s like The Lord of the Rings fellowship, but starch-based.
Our “mission” was to source the finest Sunday dinners within walking distance of our homes. We even made scorecards. Hello organised fun! Categories include “Potatoes”, “General Ambience” and “Eavesdropping”. It wasn’t going to get us on to Liveline for debauched hedonism, but it put a smile on our dials and comforting carvery in our bellies.
You’re probably thinking, “Whoa! Slow down Ozzy Osbourne!” But don’t you worry about me. I know the roast potato that’s one too many (it’s five).
When my mum started talking to me again in late August, we decided to plan a couple of days away. We were sure that things would be more or less back to normal-ish by October, which was ages away. We were living for our dream of heavily cling-filmed breakfast buffets and UHT milk. Sadly, our dreams were dashed, so we did the next best thing. We took a day-trip to IKEA, aka Funderland for grown-ups. And, as a treat, I decided to wear a disposable face mask to save myself the washing. What was happening to me?
I’ll admit that after our day out, I became concerned I’d fallen too deep into Cosytown. I knew things had to change when a friend called over for coffee later that week. As she was leaving, she asked if I was doing anything exciting for the evening. When we stopped laughing 17 minutes later, I said, “Of course not!” But then I looked at my kitchen table. I had a bag full of old cables and batteries that I planned to bring to a local electrical shop for recycling. “Actually…” I stopped and gasped. This was no life. Recycling cables does not a day out make. I had crossed a very beige and mundane line. As I waved her goodbye, I whispered to myself, “This far and no further, Esther. You’re simply getting too boring, even for you.”
I know I’ll never queue outside Berghain dressed in a rubber bikini or trend on Twitter for throwing a party. I can live with that. What counts as fun depends on who you talk to. We all have to find excitement and connections in ways we’d never even considered back in January. I have found solace in gravy and marrowfat peas. Perhaps, alphabetising your spices is how you get your thrills? But look, I can’t hang around here all day. A CSO Household Finance and Consumption Survey has just arrived through the front door, and I want to get it done ASAP. Yet another wild evening for me, Queen of the Night (In).
Illustration by Hannah Monaghan.
This article originally appeared in the IMAGE 2020/2021 Annual issue, on shelves now.
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