Anne Hailes: We don't languish for too long but we must keep our guard up

A touch of class and a lesson in languishing. Alice de Lancey, one of the notable courtesans of Paris, painted by Carolus-Duran in 1877

SPORTS promoter Barry Hearn is retiring and looking back over 40 years as ‘Mr Snooker’, he hasn’t had much of a good word to say about Alex Higgins. Neither did the taxi driver who took me to the Cathedral July 2010 for Higgins's funeral!

According to Hearn, Higgins was a "crazy man". Despite his fee, he’d always be asking for money for his train fare, he’d be abusive to the crowd, even walk off before a tournament had ended.

He was a heavy drinker, smoker and gambler – apparently lost £13,000 in one day betting on horses. That much we already know but one Belfast man’s memory goes way back to the beginning of the legend’s life.

Writer and historian John C Hewitt loved dancing and can rhyme off all the ballrooms in Belfast in the 1960s but his proud boast is that he played snooker with Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins in the Jam Pot off Donegall Road when Higgins had to carry a wooden Guinness box to stand on and used a brush shaft tapered and chalked at the end.

“He’d challenge us for a shilling then he’d let you beat him. It would be double or quits and that would go on till about 10/- was in the pot and of course he won. But he was a lovely fella.”

Even Barry Hearn admits Higgins could charm the birds off the trees: “He was objectionable and wonderful.” Nice epitaph.

:: Facing the future

THE past year has lulled many of us into a ‘stay at home’ relaxed, comfy chair state of mind when it’s difficult to remember what day it let alone the date. Diaries at the ready, wouldn’t do to miss a payment because the end of the month has arrived far more quickly than anticipated.

I understand there’s a new word in the lexicon – languishing. Used to mean a lady in a floaty voile dress resting on a ‘chaise longue’ with a martini in one hand and a cigarette in a holder in the other. Now it means that time between being depressed and in good form. I think many of us, no matter what age, are still languishing a lot.

“Yes I’m pleased that lockdown is lifting but it’s not for me.” A surprising comment from a gentleman friend in his 70s. Usually one to be out and about, loved his coffee mornings with his mates, made a point of getting involved in auctions, both selling and buying. So what’s the problem?

“To be honest, my self-confidence. What was routine before, getting up and dressed, breakfast, a few phone calls and then out somewhere kept me alive but now I can’t get it together.

"I was determined to walk every day and I did for a while then it became every two days and now I just don’t because it’s too much bother.”

I began to ask around and found he’s typical of a lot of people, even much younger. As one mother put it: “I’m anxious about my son going out with his mates buying beer and just sitting in a huddle somewhere. He simply doesn’t think of the consequences.”

Peter told me that driving scares him now. He hasn’t driven the car on a regular basis since last July.

“I know the mechanics but remembering the bus lanes, fitting into parking spaces, overtaking – it’s all a bit foreign to me now. I know that I’ll get used to it sooner rather than later so I’ll have to go on short journeys first. I’m really annoyed with myself – I’m a good driver but just out of practice.”

In a similar vein, Pauline says she has to psych herself up to do the things she used to do automatically when she was working.

“I dread getting on a bus, even though I’ve had my two injections and I wear a mask. Other people might not so I’d feel vulnerable. It would be terrible to risk getting the virus after all the precautions I’ve taken.”

I wonder, will going into our towns to shop become an attractive experience once again? We’ve been so used to staying local and the fact that so many high street shops have put up their shutters I suspect local will win. When the restaurants open again (roll on), that will hopefully draw people in to meet up over lunch or an evening meal perhaps before going to a cinema or a theatre (roll on).

When we consider the tragedy of India, while trying to help those desperate people in any way we can, we must not relax our guard at home.

:: Confidence builds

Confidence has to build and it will. It’s been easy to forget to put on make-up, brush hair (look at Tony Blair), dress smartly in case someone calls – no-one has been calling for so long.

Tony Blair sports the au naturel look. Picture from ITN

Hairdressers and barbers are leading the way, they are run off their feet – a haircut and set, a bit of colour, a short back and sides and a good chat does wonders for the morale.

Zoom calls have begun to wear thin unless for business purposes, mainly because there’s been nothing much to say, few experiences to share. Generally it opens with, ‘How are you?’ and ends with ‘Keep safe.’

Conversation skills will have to build again, especially with very young children who haven’t been socialising with adults or even other children. Thankfully visiting friends and relations is now becoming possible.

Soon, let’s hope, we’ll be free to meet face-to-face inside and out while still remembering to be ultra careful. In the meantime, when anyone asks me how I am, I will reply with a flutter of my eyelashes: “I’m just languishing.” Keep safe.

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