Food and drink is at the centre of our hopes of socialising once again
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I’m standing on the pavement in Norwich’s Golden Triangle, the sun on my face, in a queue which is moving at a glacial pace.
Normally this would be accompanied by much tutting, looking at watches and general impatience, but today we are all acknowledging our fellow queuers, spaced out at two metre intervals, with smiles – or at least as much of a smile as we can express with our eyes, the rest of our faces being hidden behind the ubiquitous masks.
What I am queueing for is not some hot ticket, or some rarity which will not be available if I’m not prepared to wait.
No, the thing that I, and a dozen or so others are prepared to spend a portion of our morning being patient about is the simplest of things – a loaf of bread.
It is a telling result of nearly a year of lockdown and isolation that we are all taking comfort from the most fleeting of human contact.
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After spending much of our days staring at the ever-present Zoom screen, the chance to talk to someone in the flesh, to read their body language and their expressions (even if they are hidden away behind a piece of cloth) is too good to miss.
And in the absence of shopping, of going to the pub, of mixing with fellow fans on the terraces at Carrow Road, the most common way most of us are experiencing such human contact is through food.
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The former chore of buying what we need to eat has become a treat, something to be savoured.
You might reasonably ask why a task as simple as buying a loaf takes so long.
Surely, it’s a question of running into the bakery, asking for a white sourdough, tapping your card against the machine, and exiting.
Especially as it’s one-in, one-out, and any lingering means those on the pavement outside will be kicking their heels for even longer.
But here’s the thing: starved as we are of out-of-the-home stimulation, few can resist the temptation to linger, to take in the sights and especially the smells of fresh-baked bread, to expand the conversation with the person behind the counter beyond the simple request for a loaf.
For those who live alone, people selling food have in many cases been the only human beings they have talked with who are not on a screen.
That is why the queue outside is being so patient with those who are taking the full five minutes to fulfil a task which should take 30 seconds. We all know that when it is our turn, we too will take the time to savour that simple transaction.
At least the end is finally in sight.
At the end of this month we see the return of the so-called Rule Of Six – which felt like such an imposition when it was first imposed last year, but now feels like an unimaginable freedom – so we will at last be able to see friends and family in our gardens.
And next month our pubs, restaurants and cafes will be able to take the first tentative step towards normality, albeit outside only.
Personally, I won’t be charging headlong into any crowded situation anytime soon, and certainly not before I’ve had my second jab (I haven’t had my first one yet, but I have no argument with the way in which those in most danger have been prioritised).
But the chance to have real human contact is the biggest treat. I just hope that I don’t ever again take it for granted, or indeed lost that new-found patience which means I am happy to spend half an hour in the sunshine queueing for a loaf of bread.
A virtual taste of East Anglia
While we await the freedom to meet face-to-face, the good people at Wild Knight Distillery, the firm behind Norfolk’s Wild Knight vodka, Boadicea gin and Nelson’s Revenge liqueur, are offering us a hybrid real world/online chance to enjoy some of the best food and drink from our region.
Working with chef Charlie Hodson, they have come up with a Taste of East Anglia tasting box and virtual tasting, which takes place on Friday, March 26.
The idea is that you order a curated tasting box, which includes everything from smoked salmon, charcuterie, tomato chilli jam, cheese, crackers, gin and Norfolk-roasted coffee – and then log on and take part in a virtual tasting where they will get the chance to quiz each of the local producers responsible for these goodies.
This sounds like the perfect preview to the time when we will be able to take part in real-world events like this once again. More details at http://bit.ly/tasteofeastanglia