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Two Years Later: Pressing Play to Find that Nothing Has Changed



Over the weekend, I travelled on a number of different trains to a couple of different pubs and beer events. It was the first time since the start of the pandemic that everything about the day felt part of a previous lifetime; one that had been merely paused for a couple of years and restarted. 


It came just a week or so after the 2 year anniversary of the real significant moment of change to many - when sports stopped and pubs closed. It was when most Brits started taking things seriously. It was the end of the formulaic cohesion that the majority of us have known throughout adult life. Our traditional daily functions were altered beyond anything we had imagined even just a month or so before. 


We have now been adapting to the "new normal" but there was a moment on Saturday that signified this sense of a return to previous normality* and hitting the play button on a paused lifetime. Somebody said to me how good it was to see me after so long and I felt slightly confused. What were they talking about? We saw each other only recently. I remember the conversation clear as day. And then it dawned on my that the last time I had seen them was a beer event in October 2019. The few social interactions in between had changed my perception of time. 


There was something unnerving in that moment. For all the caution and stationary approach to life that we have taken, this small piece of dialogue made it feel like the real world again. I looked around at this unnerving sense of normality and wondered, with some trepidation, has anything actually changed? 




A couple of weeks ago, my social media memories page harked back to a particular Sunday pub afternoon in early March 2020. I had been out the previous day and was feeling the hangover effects. I'd taken a bracing walk into work to try and clear my head before settling in the office to catch up on paperwork. After a few hours, I started home via the pub. I still didn't feel top of my game but knew there was a nice beer still on that I could have a single pint of.


Several hours later I left having had a wonderful time There wasn't a singular reason as to why it had been so great but it was just the perfect pub afternoon, nestling in at the bar on my own with no plans to meet anybody and chatting to a dozen different people who were on a similar directionless mission. As many gathered around the bar, there was no talk that day of the potential of everything being taken away in just a few weeks 


That memory is heightened by it being the real last bastion of pre-Covid pub regularity. Perhaps it wasn't as good as I now remember it but it was the lasting pub based recollection throughout those early lockdown months that I held dear. The end game was to have a return to afternoons like that. 


Yet now I have different memories. A few months later, as Greater Manchester entered the absurdity or tier systems. I spent evenings  that are amongst my favourite ever as a pub regular. They usually began with my introverted sense of sitting alone at a table after work in the quietest part of the pub. But restrictions required people to occupy the available tables and chairs nearby, with standing not an option. Evenings of a quiet couple of pints after work turned into 5 hour sessions that I didn't want to end. I was a different person, enjoying the conviviality and the company of other pub-goers I'd often done little more than nod at. They were wonderful times, amplified in significance as some of the only interactions possible under guidance. 


Restrictionless pubs have seen me return to skulking at the end of bars hoping nobody starts telling me about their day. I'm back to nodding and exchanging pointless pleasantries that go nowhere. Nothing has changed. 



The return of beer festivals, of which I attended my first one in 2 years just the other week, has brought back a sense of pre-Covid times. Likewise, social pub crawls, real life brewery events and the chance to see everybody face to face is filling the diary again with pre-planned sociability. 


Yet I used to see my friends more. I used to see them every few weeks. I used to talk with friends in other cities, other countries, other continents. I did it all from the spare bedroom, confined to there as my snoozy nature usually meant an early finish. Nothing clashed with a friend's birthday or a relative's wedding. Nothing required pre-booked train tickets for the best deals or snatching a cheap hotel room. You weren't left out if you couldn't make it because we all got there at some hour. 


Now I'm already looking at events later in the year, not sure if my diary or my salary will allow my attendance. The fear of missing out is strong because I want to keep making the events and I want to see people. But if time or space or finances do not allow it then you miss out. The alternative is removed, just as it was before we changed our association with the word 'zoom.' Nothing has changed. 



So I return to my hallowed creaking shed space that has been so important to me over the last 24 months. An added back bar and other features suggested that I would make this my home forever. I did think that I would, at least, alternate between the pub and home more, especially due to the outstanding beers I've been having at home in the last year and the joy that the space gives me.


Instead, the pub is as permanent a fixture in my life as it was before. The home drinking has diminished even though the choices from the stash are still plentiful. There is a dissonance between pub boozing and home drinking that I cannot separate, despite all the experiences in this time and my discussions about changing perceptions of alcohol. Nothing has changed. 



I glower at the cars on the road now when I walk to work, noticing over the months how it has returned to pre-pandemic levels of traffic. Sometimes I take note of the number of solo drivers, mentally convinced that they should have all took up car-pooling or greener modes of transport. I expected some level of epiphany; the great change in everyone that brought the deer back to our garden. The roads would remain quiet as people commuted along public footpaths, cheerily greeting the morning as they passed others. It was never going to last and it makes me feel sad. 


Then I realise that I haven't changed my habits either. Aside from the little cautions that remain, but will fade with time, nothing in my own routine has altered much. I am no different to the car drivers I am so disgruntled at. 


It is a pleasant dream to write about the positives that came from this broken world and how we all emerged as friendlier, more considerate and caring characters. We love the environment. We love the local pub. We love other people a bit more. The reality is that we are ready to hit play on the moment that we all hit pause on so many months ago, returning to a world of regiment and convenience.


Maybe the next time I'm in the pub I'll be a little more welcoming to those people in the pub that I enjoyed spending those 2020 evenings with. As nice as it is to pocket those memories as belonging to a time that we are moving away from, it would be nice to take some of the positive aspects forward. We can all learn and change as long as we don't forget those experiences in a hurried return to stability. 


* I am in no way saying that we should be acting as though this is a "return to normality" completely. This isn't the place for me to start making my own position clear but yes I am well aware of what is going on..There is still a deadly disease out there so be cautious, keep sanitising, stay safe.




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