My al fresco dining hits a dead-end street …



“I’ve had my two jabs,” I say to the tall, pony-tailed waitress with the grey-blue eyes, wonderfully pronounced because the rest of her countenance is covered in a mask.
She looks with disinterest at me, the grey-blue eyes darting back and forth as she places a large jug of water on our table.
“I’ve had my vaccines so you can talk to me without fear of getting Dengue fever…”
She is unusually pretty but has no sense of humour, or maybe she is just used to old guys like me for ever trying to chat her up.
“Please put your mask back on until your food arrives, jab or no jab,” she says sternly and moves off.
I think I’m in love.
My daughter looks at me. “Dad, stop…” she says firmly.
“What?” I say and lean forward and look at my first child with her different coloured eyes — heterichromia it’s called and is a sign (naturally, she being mine) of intelligence. “You know, this could be the last time I come out of a lockdown. At my age, the next one could well be a sort of permeant arrangement.”
“Maybe, you need a therapist,” she smiles, somewhat sardonically.
“ You mean a counsellor. You’re watching too much American TV,” I smile back. “What I need is a good woman — and something to eat.”
This moment has long been waited for. Restaurants depleted by an 18-month-long crisis have swung open their doors, albeit al fresco and are welcoming foodies and lunch and dinner dates back to, eh, yep, roadside tables. But the growing, although arguably not growing fast enough for Ireland’s restaurateurs, of Government laxity around dining is not a sign that the practice is necessarily safe — in the overall hospitality industry worth some €7.6 bn annually to the Irish economy.
August, we are being told by many of our experts, will be a wicked month with the Delta variant. The latest rogue microbe may make this moment more dangerous than the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak, for workers and diners alike.
Vaccination for all is the only way out. As I write only 52% of adults have had their two shots; included here is the one jab J&J.
The restaurant we are lunching at is one of eight on a strip on the south end of town. All have reopened, bar one which has no capability for outdoor dining. Trying to get to our date with lunch is like navigating a way through the crowds thronging at the entrances to Croke Park on All Ireland day.
The world and his wife are here and not an inch of footpath left to waste, the whole terrain topped with tables, choc-a-bloc. People are ‘socially herded together’ — that’s the new phenomenon.
Heaving masses of human flesh on a sweltering summer’s day, of all shapes and guises, exposed belly fat and bow legs and female derrieres that would be the want of any decent and desiring gentleman.
“ What is the soup?’ I ask grey-blue eyes as my daughter and I peruse the men.
“Soup of the day,” she quips and I don’t believe for one moment that she is smiling or smirking behind her mask. This girl is serious.
All, I’d day 40, of us in this particular restaurant, or more correctly hanging on for dear life to tables balancing on cracked pavements are on top of each other like Brown’s cows (ask your mother).
So close are we all that I — it’s the journalist in me — soon learn most of my fellow diners’ darkest secrets; who is having an affair with whom, whose best friend’s husband was caught wearing her underwear, and who is planning on putting her ‘unbearable’ mother into a home for the bewildered.
My daughter’s company is always wonderful; she is, unquestionably, my closest confidante. The food is just okay. I guess the pandemic period of enforced home cooking made me realise one can do just as well oneself. Food is food whereas nouvelle cuisine roughly translated means: I can’t believe I paid 70 odd quid for that.
I give our grey-blue eyed waitress a decent gratuity — I’m not sure why; something to do with the pandemic being tough on kids. She genuinely acknowledges it and as her mask slips she throws me the most generous smile.
As we leave the restaurant, once more circumventing the assault course, I say to my daughter: “Fancy a fish ‘n’ chip for the tea…”

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