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‘We’ll have to learn to slurp spaghetti without splashing fellow diners with Covid’

While I was loitering in an alley and eating chips from Toffs in Muswell Hill earlier this week, before spending an hour on a cold, stone wall outside a pub – just asking for piles, my gran would say – I realised that the current half-and-half world of going out would have suited the 16-year-old me right down to the ground. Me now, though, not so much. But back when someone simply owning a car, usually a Ford Fiesta XR2i, was seen as thrilling, I’d have loved that “eating out” meant sitting in a car park and looking at a wall. I’m much fussier now. As the government begins to let us out, softly softly, while hoping to boost the economy, it has possibly not bargained on how lukewarm many of us still are about even leaving the house.

The chips were wonderful, by the way, and I was thrilled to see Toffs back open again after its co-owner, George Georgiou, passed away from coronavirus in April. There was a queue twirling down the street from 4pm, which was a lovely sight, but the guidelines on dining have been confused – never mind 1m or 2m: could we share tables with who we like, or did we have to stay in our “bubbles”? Should older people wear ribbons? This new world hasn’t been quite as good as simply not bothering.

Since lockdown, I have been through my time of railing against my robbed freedom, but then I began cultivating rhododendrons, studying the Stuart dynasty, padding around the house bra-less and letting my toe hair grow wispy. Work-wise, I have started filming for TV shows by receiving a camera delivered by courier, setting it up and filming myself looking human only from the waist up, which is all a bit Davros from Doctor Who. Hell, I’m even growing cut-and-come-again lettuce and no one is wanging on about Glastonbury. And none of this is too shabby.

Then, in late May, I rushed out of the house and punched the air to celebrate the fact that the new world was finally starting. I stood in some queues for shops, inhaled a traffic jam, watched a few park revellers piss in the bushes, then I went back indoors again. It’s nice in here. Going out when you’re young, nubile and want to hook up is understandable, but the next stage of finishing lockdown should involve Boris and Rishi visiting each and every Generation X household individually to convince us why we need to go back outside.

One thing that may lure folk out is the tentative plan to turn Britain’s town centres into pedestrianised eating zones. Fans of alfresco dining will be delighted to know that London’s West End is sealing off some roads so the restaurants can flood out on to the street in order to maintain safer distances while we slurp our spaghetti in a way that does not splash our fellow diners with Covid. Where London goes, other cities will hopefully follow, and this will certainly please some people.

All friendship groups divide into two halves: moody ex-goths who don’t mind summer lunch indoors while sipping ice-cold pastis with damp backs-of-knees; and those Club Tropicana types who call ahead to jostle for the one terrace table that’s in direct sunlight and from which you’ll be lucky to leave with any skin left on your shoulders. I gave up eating outdoors in London in the 1990s, when it became impossible to eat at an outside table without a small gang of buskers turning up to play a rousing chorus of La Bamba on their accordions while you waved off hornets with the menu.

Still, I’m thrilled by any positive news about restaurants at all. When even esteemed, seemingly rock-steady institutions such as The Ledbury and Le Caprice are shutting up shop, it all feels a bit like the ravens leaving the Tower of London. Each week I hear of places quietly giving up the ghost. Also, although I am cosy indoors, the thought of closed roads, street-party vibes and slightly stuffy restaurants bending their normal strict rules of neat decorum seems gloriously debauched. In fact, it sounds continental in a way we decided we didn’t want to be in the Brexit referendum. I may even shave my toes.

www.theguardian.com

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