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Hygge / The Strange New World

The year was 2019. Things were pretty worrying: in many countries fascism was gaining a hold, a small continent of united nations was in danger of breaking up, the ice caps were rapidly melting, and most of the population of the world had developed an addiction to staring at their own images on small screens.

And then the new year dawned, and several weeks later Life changed more drastically than anyone could ever have predicted. In much of the world human beings were forbidden to intermingle with other human beings. In a climatic U-turn the mass consumption of mountains of nonrecyclable waste was now encouraged as the world’s commodities and foodstuffs were being delivered to homes by vans and postal workers; and soon noses and mouths were banned from public exposure.

Over the course of several months it appeared that this “New Normal”, as government propaganda proclaimed it, was a quiet herald to the end of human civilisation. To the constant tune of “Happy Birthday”, lost souls with excessively clean hands had forgotten what other humans looked like in three dimensions.

And suddenly...the pubs re-opened, along with cafes and restaurants. And the brave few ventured cautiously out into the world again to try and remember what it was like to “go to work”, “have a meal out”, and perhaps even “grab a coffee”.

A couple of months ago I experienced all three of these post-lockdown experiences. Trekking down the hill into the city centre, I found things had changed since my previous visit five months earlier. From a new rainbow crossing painted across the traffic-narrowed and pedestrian-widened Pinstone Street to restaurant and pub tables out in the middle of Division Street, where cars used to travel, everything had been modified to make social distancing easier, particular on days when people can enjoy being outside - - which, of course, are quite rare in this city.

Having done a bit of research before my journey, I discovered a new coffee shop located very close to my workplace. One day, on my second week back to work, the weather was relatively sunny and warm, so I decided to seize the chance to enjoy an al fresco lunch and coffee before my shift.

I found the invitingly-named Hygge at the bottom of the stairs that descend in elegantly Brutalist concrete from Arundel Gate to Fitzalan Square. As I stepped down past Mecca Bingo I saw a sign at the very bottom that said "Hygge at Sugarcube"; and I started to worry that I might not find anything but cakes to eat. I wanted a good coffee and a bit of nutrition, not a full-on turbo-caffeinated sugar rush.

I was relieved when I entered the cafe and spotted, next to the main deli counter displaying all sorts of pastries and sweet things, a small selection of ready-made panini sandwiches, and even some vegan sausage rolls. So I decided on a mozzarella, tomato, and pesto panini.

And then I drew my attention to the coffee menu. I was pleased to see they offer not only macchiatos but also cortados, which aren’t that easy to find in Sheffield. So I ordered a single cortado. As I was still a bit nervous about being inside with strangers for very long, I immediately made a beeline for a pavement table in front of the cafe.

My cortado wasn't served in the shot glass I usually expect with a cortado, but the small grey cup gave it the appearance of a macchiato with extra foam, which was fine with me. The beans, from the Heavenly Coffee Company, are sourced and traded ethically, and with every cup of their coffee they sell they make a donation to cervical cancer screening and treatment programs for women. So I was more than happy to spend my money on this reasonably-priced cortado.

The coffee, although very smooth, is actually really nice and flavourful, and my drink was perfectly made and capped with a rosette. For some reason the wooden paddle on which my panini was served made me smile with amusement. The round panini fit nicely on the wider part, and there was just enough room on the handle for a handful of tortilla crisps and a small salad with some sort of creamy dressing. And all this -- a “substantial meal”, in today’s Tier 3 definition -- was only £3.00. My panini was nice and hot and, although the bread roll was a bit overtoasted around the edges, it was very tasty -- if a bit messy to eat.

As I played with my food I watched the action on Fitzalan Square, which at the moment featured a homeless guy shout at another homeless guy. In the centre of the square is a statue of King Edward VII, who reigned from 1901 to 1910 and was famous for modernising the British Home Fleet and reorganising the British Army after the second Boer War. Close to Edward is a free-standing vape shop, which made me wonder if there was some sort of connection. Perhaps Edward was trying to give up smoking. He also shares the square with the old Post Office Building, which is now Sheffield Hallam University’s Institute of the Arts, an art supply shop, an Admiral Casino, and of course a Betfred betting shop.

My amusement with my lunch increased as I set the wooden paddle skidding freely around the surface of the patio table every time I set my sandwich down or used my fork on the salad. It was like a little eating game which made me giggle with delight instead of curse with frustration. Perhaps the gliding lunchmat game was intentional, relating to the design and feeling of the cafe. Hygge is a Scandinavian word describing a cosy and comfortable mood of conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment. The original Danish word meant “to give courage, comfort, and joy”, and it stemmed from the old Norse word hugr which referred to the soul, mind, and consciousness.

Hygge originally opened in December of last year, and then it re-opened after this year’s lockdown on the 6th of July. They now have a Hygge Tuk-Tuk takeaway coffee van located by the Sheffield Town Hall, so I’ll have to watch out for that. But I’d like to return to this cafe as the cold weather now dictates sitting inside, not just because it’s so convenient to where I work but also because I didn’t get a good enough look at the interior. Apparently there are swing chairs and all sorts of cool and cosy places to seat oneself or lounge about. I suppose at this point the hygge may be a bit compromised by all the strict social distancing measures; but I look forward to a future when we can once again lounge about in cosy comfort without having to worry about our masks or face shields or bottles of hand sanitiser. You may call me a dreamer...

Speaking of this Covid-19 year reminds me of an email conversation from the summer with my Bay Area friend:

One of my Trappist / Beer Rev mates just posted about getting a Covid-19 test in Oakland. A month ago, after Vicky had been feeling ill, we got tested with a similar setup in Redwood City. (Immediate results were negative.) My friend describes the sensation much more eloquently than I could have.

“Just got myself COVID-19 tested. Went to a drive-through in East Oakland (86th and International). Waited about 15-20 minutes. Test took about 11 seconds. It's not as bad as I'd heard. A run-down, for those who are thinking of being tested:

The wait:

You wait in line, windows rolled up, masks on. Show them your ID (from behind your closed window) once you get to the parking lot entrance, they verify you have an appointment and wave you through to the parking lot, in a line of cars heading toward a tent. I was supposed to have my case ID, but they never asked for it. I assume that's backup in case they can't find your name in the appointment list.

The test:

They give you a tissue and say blow your nose, then leave and come back a minute later. They explain they will be poking a swab up your nose for about 10 seconds and it will be uncomfortable. They assure you it's only one nostril. You put your mask down just over your mouth and the tech gently sticks the swab in. It goes pretty far, but when the tech feels it nudge your brain, they give it a little twist and gently guide it so that it pops out of your left eyeball. They gently grab the eyeball end of the swab and carefully thread it through your left ear. Still gently and with great care, they guide the swab through your left ear, around the back of your skull and out your right ear. They then guide the end of the swab to your right nostril and poke it in until it meets the one in your left nostril. At that point the ends of the swab meld together and the tech quickly and efficiently pulls downward holding both nostril-strands of the swab, swiftly removing the top half of your head and most of your face. I think they've got some very thin wire inside the swab or something. They put the swab in a bag and, very efficiently and with a surprisingly small amount of super glue, re-adhere your face and top of your head to the lower half of your head. They ask you a question to make sure your jaw is still working, then tell you "We'll contact you by phone if yes, email if no. You'll know in 2-3 days." Then you drive home. Easy-peasy. Nothing to be frightened of. Just a small amount of discomfort for about 10 seconds.” You've convinced me to rush right out and get tested! Already checked off of my Bucket List of Unpleasant Medical Tests are a barium enema, two endoscopies, and laser eye surgery directly next to my optic nerve, so I'll definitely add this one. Maybe the momentary removal of my head will finally fix that degenerated cervix in my neck.

So has Trump had one of these tests? It would be great if they could just sort of accidentally omit to reattach his face and head. I mean, medical workers are overworked these days and mistakes do happen...