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Imaginary gin and fictitious chips got me through Friday

Grace Dent
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: David Burton/Alamy</span>
Photograph: David Burton/Alamy

As a younger woman, I’d have probably named sex, luxury travel and disco dancing as the pinnacles of earthly joy, which was foolish, because I now realise it is owning a complete set of nestable LocknLock food containers. Yes, I’m sure Studio 54 was pleasant, and that Bianca Jagger had a terrific time on that horse in 1977, but tell me this: did she ever feel the satisfying clunk-click of leftover soup being securely locked into a neat, sterilised box? Did she ever stack freshly dishwashered plastic boxes on a shelf, each with its corresponding lid, awaiting further practical instruction? I fear not, but it is here, within these minor victories, that the purest ecstasy lies.

Well, at least that’s what I am currently telling myself. During this most recent, more gruelling, seemingly endless national lockdown, I am forcing myself daily to notice each minor moment of joy; ones I took for granted in the old world. I let them linger a while in the general vicinity of my cerebral cortex, eking out the high. “Gratitude” is what folk like Oprah and Deepak Chopra call it, although folk from Leeds and farther up north would call it “knowing you’re bloody born”. I didn’t until around March 2020. That bit me on the bum.

Last Monday’s happiness, for example, included unscrewing the lid of a fresh jar of instant coffee, poking a spoon through the vacuum-packed film and causing an audible pop. I loved doing this as youth, but stopped hearing the noise at all, possibly at the same time I got reliable access to dial-up internet. Tuesday was saved by the unwrapping of a new piece of Sparkenhoe red leicester and serving it with crackers from the second, fresher tier of the Christmas Jacob’s Selection and smothered in sweet, caramelised onion jam laced with the thickest black treacle. That was nearly half the week done.

On Wednesday, the sun showed its face over Derwentwater at 8.21am, giving us a few more minutes’ sunlight than it did the week before. More than five, fewer than 10, but summer, I noted, is definitely coming. I mean, that’s just science. Each day will be a tiny bit lighter until, one day, on my grey winter trudge to gain supplies – I know in my heart, if I’m honest, and some days it’s harder than others – I’ll notice snowy-white spring hawthorn blossom. Or newly sprouted daffodil bulbs. All this will pass – the sadness, the bad news – but before all that, we’ll definitely put paid to winter.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because Thursday’s blessing was the small joy of perfect, fluffy steamed rice made in my fancy, modern pressure cooker. This is not at all like the pressure cooker my mother had, which was part kitchen utensil, part nuclear weapon, with its terrifying valve and high-pitched, climactic squeal that made our cats climb terrified up the wood chip, and produced corned beef hash that felt like punishment.

No, I tell myself often as I stand in the kitchen, modern life can be rubbish, but it can also be remarkable. My glorious state-of-the-art pressure cooker with its preset electronic timings makes rice so light, perfect and pleasing every time without fail. It’s like waking to fresh snow each time it hisses completion.

I place the leftovers in LocknLock, because in winter 2021, a bowl of fried rice, full of store-cupboard spices and a handful of freezer peas, is the next best thing to reliably replenishing serotonin. Fried rice and fantasies of the future. “There is a beer garden waiting for us,” I told my friend Courtney this week on WhatsApp. She’s been terribly poorly and needed a pep talk. “There is gin served in goldfish-bowl glasses. And bottles of rosé, ice-cold in a bucket. We will be there in August, I promise. With bags of crisps bought and splayed open on the table. And in-jokes and snoozing dogs and chats with random strangers at other tables. There will be laughing and making a racket and ‘all back to mine for a nightcap’ without guilt, tiers or repercussions.” I was telling myself as much as her.

Imaginary gin and fictitious chips got me, by and large, through Friday. “We’re all getting vaccinated and it is going to be amazing,” I declared with great certainty. Then I carried on stacking my plastic storage boxes. The trick is to keep breathing. Small footsteps. Onwards. “So far, so good,” I tell myself daily.