Nuala McCann: First foray back to the shops brings out the faux animal in me

Isolation has iced our hearts and rendered us wary as a hobbit in the land of orcs. But it was 9am on a Saturday. Who, in their right minds, would be up at the shops?

Shoppers queue outside Primark as shops reopened in Belfast last weekend. Picture by Mark Marlow/PA

IN THE interests of supporting the local business community – yes, I shall spend that free £100 – I hared up to the shopping centre the other morning and made a socially distanced purchase.

Shopping is no longer a joy. Since last year, we go never gently into places where folk are. Isolation has iced our hearts and rendered us wary as a hobbit in the land of orcs. But it was 9am on a Saturday. Who, in their right minds, would be up at the shops?

The other half of the world that wasn't queueing outside Primark, is the answer.

You get antsy around folk when you haven't been around them for a year. The desire to waste an hour sampling perfume and admiring the skills of lipstick namers who come up with Desert Orchid and Shergar Found, has waned.

“Hello!” said the lovely woman at the make-up counter. “Look at your hair. It has grown.”

My mop is long and white, it could stand a Heidi plait. On good days, I like to think of myself as a trendy Swedish octogenarian who dresses in magenta. On bad, the hair sings of grandma in bed waiting for little Red Riding Hood to trip through the dark woods.

In the centre, mad shoppers came way, way, way too close. I collected my prescription and navigated my way to the men's socks aisle – mercifully extremely quiet – where I bought 10 pairs of cotton-fresh socks for he who needed them. Having nicked all his in the pandemic, it was only fair.

There was just time for a crazy impulse buy before a 9.10am escape. Mission accomplished. Out and far from the uber-maddening crowd.

At home, the jury was out on the buy. My new furry rug stretched out on the bedroom floor had the air of a collapsed polar bear after an all-night session on the vodka.

“It is a little wolf-like. Is it an animal skin?” said our boy.

“Take off your shoes. Feel it under your bare feet. I'm telling you it's magic!” He didn't feel the need.

My rug is not a hungover polar bear, a wolf nor even a sheep. Let's call it Dolly after the genetically engineered sheep but they're never even cousins three times removed.

Still there is a magic when you get up in the morning and your bare feet land on soft synthetic Dolly. My pleasures are small... standing on the fake skin, looking out at the faraway sun in the sky, listening to our blackbirds sing out the back and wolf howling like Frances McDormand at the Oscars. Yarrrooooo!

Boy, but it's good to be alive in a world where the whiff of chlorine and the freedom of the pool is just around the corner. I'll even suffer Mr Alpha Male splashing the rest of us for Ireland in the fast lane and the bored retired men talking tat in the sauna.

The wolf thing reminds me of a card that always made my mother laugh. “You are nothing but a big bad wolf!” it said on the outside. Open it up and the message inside was: “I'll be coming through the woods at about 3pm this afternoon!”

That's how I'm feeling. My inner wolf wants out to mingle. Soon, I whisper, very soon.

My sister is bemused by my rug purchase. “It‘s soft... Just like those wonderful sheepskin slippers you got me for Christmas. Best gift ever!” I tell her.

I can see her shaking her head in faraway Manchester. “Age” she diagnoses. She's the doctor in the family.

She has a point. Forget itsy bitsy bikinis, forget sexy dresses: special branch would uncover a browsing history of fleecy dressing gowns with hoods and 100 per cent cotton pyjamas.

Not for the first time, have I appeared downstairs in my night attire to the words: “It's 6pm… are you serious?”

By 9pm, the lure of the fresh bed and its 100 per cent cotton sheets is way too much. Not even the last awful episode of Line of Duty could hold me back.

There's a poem, The Great Lover, that lists the small things that bring joy: for the poet it is “White plates and cups, clean gleaming” and “the strong crust of friendly bread”.

For me it's slippers; a yellow mug; the silver spoon with the feather carved on the handle; a wolf rug, the end of this last lockdown.

All together now... yarrooooooo!

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