Dancing queens, sore limbs and quarantine
The struggle is real. I got up this morning and I dropped my peppermint lip balm (yeah, I’m fancy like that) and when I bent down to pick it up I felt the most excruciating pain in my legs. I wailed, fell over, extended my hand in an attempt to reach my phone.
999 what’s your emergency? I’m getting old.
This was supposed to be a story about the return of clubs and the regaining of freedom etc etc. Now it’s just a story about sore limbs after a particularly heavy night out. It has been 35 hours since I got back from the club: I’ve had two hearty meals, four nurofens and a full night's sleep? I shouldn’t feel this shit… but I do.
But let’s unwind for a second: the day is Friday. I have just been released from quarantine. I have drunk two Sicilian lemon gin tonics (I told you I’m fancy!). It’s only 5pm.
My friend Jessie comes over. I pour her a vodka lemon (she wishes she were fancy like me, but she could never). We play Madonna’s True Blue 35th Anniversary Edition. I cradle my non-existent baby bump while begging my papa not to preach - I regret to inform him I am keeping my baby (I’m gonna keep my baby, ohhh, uhhhh). We do a quick tarot reading just to make sure death is not imminent. Looks like we’ll live. It’s just a normal Friday night at Casa Valerio.
Did the pandemic even happen? Was it all a dream? Did that guy with green dreadlocks and a Korn t-shirt slip something in my drink the last time I was out clubbing in March 2020?
We leave the house and head to the bus stop. We pick up the pace, our hearts are beating fast. Jessie and I are feeling nervous. I notice she’s a bit sweaty - but then again, she always is.
Nine minutes later, we arrive in Hackney central. Yes, we could have walked - but mind your business. I am wearing a half-sleeve pink shirt with little boats on it. Hello sailor! I am ready to sail away into the night.
15 months later, we’re back in the club. I look in the bathroom mirror to see an older, frankly better-dressed me looking back with an expression of pride on his face. The smell of stale urine dating to pre-pandemic night outs interrupts this moment of self-reckoning. Is that Lizzo I hear in the background? But more importantly – is someone having sex in the cubicle next to mine? Yes. And YES.
We’re back baby! Glasses are dropped. Ankles are twisted. We get down and dirty (on the dancefloor, not the bathroom stall), we hug sweaty strangers in the dark and see the night through. Last man standing. First one in, last one out – just like old times. A post-night-out kebab on Mare Street? Yes, please, but make it vegan. Why? Because I’m fancy.
Upon returning from my Amber-country holidheyyy, I went straight into self-isolation. Third time quarantining this year - you’d think I’d be better at it by now, but no. It doesn’t get any easier.
The first time, I did what any other normal person would do and watched 3 seasons of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. The second time, I bought a hand-held steamer and cleaned my carpet after dividing it into imaginary square sections. The third time I got covid and went into a full-blown fever-induced delirium.
But this time I said enough - I am not going to lose my mind, I refuse to be crazy… I am going to be normal. So the other day, as I explained the plot of season 2 of Pretty Little Liars to my cat while folding shopping bags into little triangles, I remembered… I don’t get to complain.
I am one of the lucky ones for whom working from home is just an inconvenience. I can self-isolate and get paid and make this month’s rent without fears of being evicted and losing everything.
What about those who are not as lucky? So many of us are just a paycheck away from financial ruin. When I got covid, I got so scared - not because I feared from my health, but because I knew I had been in the same room with my friend Daniela, who works in a coffee shop, and that if she got sick she would be sent home without pay.
A survey from TUC found that half of insecure workers (51 per cent) receive no sick pay at all when off work. 31 per cent receive just Statutory Sick Pay, which is £96.35 per week, basically the price of a flat white in Central London. Low-paid workers are five times more likely to receive just SSP and also more likely to receive no sick pay at all, with one-in-five (19 per cent) receiving nothing.
The government insists that Track and Trace is the most effective tool to contain the spread of the virus, but when it comes to self-isolation, it’s no surprise that so many people simply won’t comply. So many of the people l know don’t get sick pay and have not been able to access the government’s self-isolation support funds - mainly because they don’t even know it exists!
The TUC research showed that only one-in-five workers (21 per cent) even know about the scheme. Awareness drops even further among groups who most need the support: low-paid workers (16 per cent), those in insecure work (18 per cent), and those who receive no sick pay (16 per cent).
So if you’re asked to self-isolate, please, GET YOUR MONEY. It’s easy to talk about “civic duty” while sitting on your £459 Ikea egg chair in your back garden with fairy lights and a bar shed. Low-paid workers have borne the brunt of this pandemic - in terms of both sickness and financial hardship. It’s time to put their interests first and come up with a dignified solution that will help everyone carry out their civic duty without the risk of going broke.
WHAT I ATE
Asparagus and Mascarpone Bruschetta
I intended to make these with Ricotta but I bought Mascarpone by mistake. So I accidentally invented a vegetarian antipasto that is guaranteed to change your life (and make your pee stink).
1) Pour one tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil into a pan, 2) fry a smashed clove of garlic till golden and 3) add the asparagus, cook on a medium flame for five minutes until softened 4) discard the garlic and reserve the asparagus. 5) In the same pan, fry some nice bread (sourdough, ideally) until it’s nice and toasty but not burnt.
6) In the meantime, grab a pot of Mascarpone (200g give or take), grate one to two cloves of garlic into it, add a little salt and pepper and the juice of a small lemon. 7) Mix it all with a fork, spread it on the bread - and add the asparagus. Even a drop of olive oil if you’re fancy like me.
Serve it as part of an antipasti platter: I did one with peppers bruschettas, tuna and tomato bruschettas and some cheeses. Enjoy!
WHAT I READ
I am so excited to introduce you all to the newest, hottest newsletter in substackland: “Between the Lines”, by talented journalist Jessie Williams (yes, the same one from my night out on Friday). The first instalment was everything I had expected and more. In her words:
“Stories remind us that we are not alone, that despite our differences we share the same feelings, journeys, dreams and dilemmas. They’ve also given me a lot of hope; hope that soon the world will be open and we can, once again, live our lives fully. So, here’s to stories! May we read them, write them, and live them.”
Do yourself a favour and sign up.
WHAT I WATCHED
Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer, two of the greatest acting talents of our generation, get together for a superhero-comedy movie about two childhood friends who get together to fight the forces of evil. It had a lot of WTF moments and not always in a good way. But at the end of the day, if Melissa McCarthy is in it, I’ll watch it. Maybe you should too. Available on Netflix.