Friday night, I turned on the alarm clock at 7 in the morning, but I had that annoying feeling of waking up at 4, 5 and 6 to check that I hadn’t slept. Because? Because at 9 I had a long-awaited appointment with my hairdresser, Headmaster, in Windsor.
The last time I was there in late February, the coronavirus topic only came up once when I told my stylist Amy that my brother and his wife, who live in Hong Kong, had to go to school. children because all the schools in the city were closed. ‘Can to imagine? ‘ we asked each other, with no hint of chaos to come.
Now, almost four months later, I was walking back through the (quiet) streets of Windsor for the first time in almost four months, my hair was a few inches long, dry and with a DIY fringe that needed of a professional touch.
When I saw Amy, with the full visor and rubber gloves, I practically screamed with excitement, but I resisted the urge to hug her and sat down, which was isolated with perspex screens.
Amy apologized for not being able to offer me a coffee or a magazine (I had a book in my bag – a must if you like reading while having your hair done), or for being able to chat as usual, given the his face shield. I had to keep my coat on and the girl who usually goes around sweeping her hair was now busy disinfecting all surfaces among customers.
But other than that, it was business as usual. I had heard rumors, weeks before, that the drying had been banned for the foreseeable future, but luckily it turned out to be unfounded.
As Amy stepped away from my parched, neglected, home-dyed hair and applied a shiny brown color, I felt so happy that I had started planning my second visit. When I left, I booked my next appointment, I delivered twice the normal amount and I left the show on the air.
I wandered higher on the main road and, for the first time since February, I jumped on Pret for a cappuccino, Zara for a puff pastry and Space NK for a handful of products to keep my new fringe under control. Super Saturday? It certainly was for me.
Forget your last meal, what would be your first? Difficult choice, isn’t it? After four months we are allowed to eat outside again, and all I really want is pizza.
Of course, you can have it at home – dense with books and oozing with oil; thin ones like wafers that have seen too many bumps; valiant homemade attempts that do not completely cut the mustard; frozen pizzas from the supermarket.
Not exactly like in a pizzeria, so here I am, at the still reopened branch of Pizza Pilgrims. It was all pleasantly, reassuring, trivially, normal.
Obviously different, but somehow still normal. The rules of the last few months have become so deeply rooted that, seeing them in the most intimate settings, in a restaurant, I just blinked.
Half of the tables in this pizzeria have been thrown away, indoors and in the courtyard, to comply with social distance guidelines – four pizzas in width. Some tables have perspex screens between them. Capacity has decreased by about half and the waiters seem very excited to be working again.
A QR code on the table displays the menu on my phone, but I can’t complete the order – understandable teething problems. Fortunately, for technical problems or customers without smartphones, there are paper menus (disposable).
My girlfriend and I both opt for ‘Nduja pizza, which was delicious. Pepper mills and chilli oil are brought on request and disinfected by the staff. What reminds me of most of the pandemic during the meal is the persistent smell of detergent, unfortunately overwhelming the scent of the pizzeria of wood, fire, cheese and char.
About half the tables were taken: the young parents were happy not to cook for their children, couples on dates, friends’ gossip. All quite normal. The less normal thing is that we have not been glued to our phones: how long can it last?
The return of restaurants is tinged with liveliness. For the precarious economy that will threaten their existence in the coming months, for those already closed forever, for lost jobs. Yet it is also a positive sign that, although slowly, we can still summon food, drink, conversation and laughter.
To celebrate Super Saturday I booked a table at White Horse, a 1930s venue just off Carnaby Street. On a normal summer Saturday, he would be filled with drinkers, who spilled onto the street, bursting out laughing from the walls.
Some dedicated bettors had stopped to quench their three-month thirst for a pint, but there is nothing about that lively pub atmosphere that makes drinking in this city such a unique joy.
Only eight tables are allowed, and table service for drinks takes years. Waiters who forget you feel even worse after Covid. The other drinker closest to us is sitting much more than two meters away, practically across the room.
In a relatively old-school pub like this with several different cloisters, it is easy enough to make sure that customers are spread out, but that means there is no real hustle and bustle. Everyone feels a little kidnapped.
My partner and I order a drink and the waitress brings it on a tray that she balances on the edge of the table. “Can you please have your drinks?” he asks us, almost wincing as we pick them up.
We drink in almost silence. I try to make jokes about my partner but honestly, everything seems quiet and rather desolate, any suspicion and silence.
The patron companions murmur to themselves but there is no real pub camaraderie. It is clear that the staff are doing their best.
Our waitress is sparkling and friendly, with a warm smile, she makes a joke while she collects our empty glasses that we have to slide them on the table instead of passing over them.
James Blunt is pumped out of all the speakers to muffle the silence, but he is sad. While lunchtime in the pub is starting to fill up, it is certainly far from the “Super Saturday” that the government has warned of. The fear of the virus is clearly still widespread. The big reboot certainly doesn’t seem like a wave of excitement to return to the world.
It was an ordinary and discreet service. But it was also extraordinary. The doors opened at 7.30 in the morning, allowing the ushers half an hour before Mass began to seat people two meters away, showed the hand sanitizing machines and made them aware of the agreements for Communion.
Here the liturgy met public health. Catholics, unlike Anglicans, were able to attend mass in their churches during the blockade via streaming; there were no table altars for their clergy. It was the best that could be offered in extreme circumstances – but oh, how we missed being in our sacred spaces.
Catholic Mass is a feast for all the senses. And although this Mass of the era of the facilitated block was reduced – no altar boys, no readers, no music, no sign of peace – it was still unquestionably Mass with all the senses in tune.
And it made me understand what had been most absent from the online experience: the taste of Communion and that persistent smell of incense mixed with candle wax that tells me that I am in the church sanctuary.
Don Julio Albornoz, as reader and celebrant, declaimed the words of the book of Amos: “That day I will rebuild David’s staggering shack … and I will rebuild it as in the old days.”
The cathedral was not exactly vacillating but felt rebuilt with the people gathered again to celebrate the miracle of Christ present in the consecrated bread and wine. And it was above all Communion, where the changes in ecclesial service were most evident. There was no chalice, only guests of Communion for the congregation. A prie-dieu between priest and each communicator kept them separate.
Kneeling and receiving Communion on the tongue were both banned. Instead, each person reached out and a host was dropped into them, all done in complete silence. “May Almighty God bless you,” said Don Julio at the end of the short half-hour service. It was certainly a blessing to be back at Mass.