Raven Smith on life’s little pleasures

An illustration of a chair with a mouth eating a person trying to sit in it.

Our resident columnist unpicks the notion of joy – is laughter the ultimate isolation tonic?

By Raven Smith   Illustration by Elena Xausa   Friday 26 June, 2020   Short read

As you’ll all be aware (because every article we’ve read over the past two months has started with the immortal line: ‘During this pandemic’ or ‘now that we are all spending our lives on Zoom’), the globe has been in lockdown. But, alongside mass instability in the financial markets, what we’ve also been facing is something of a social recession; one that we are now forced to assess as we edge out of the pandemic.

Life’s usual ups and downs have plateaued into a flat paving stone of biding our time. We’ve cancelled holidays. We’ve cancelled weddings. We’ve cancelled all our usual joy triggers, those little indulgences that ease the bumps and scrapes of life. We’ve laid on our couches, our recurring subscription to good times unfulfilled. No weekend at the Farmhouse after a long and demanding freelance gig. No weekend anywhere for the time being at all. Now we find ourselves looking out beyond the immediate future, and instead, dreaming wistfully of a beach summer (next year) and cosy white Christmas (hopefully this year), or even a beached Christmas somewhere they serve rum in coconuts. 
It’s striking to me how after months of plotting interiors while renovating my house, I’m obsessively fixated on being anywhere else but here. I have a sort of bucket list for when I’m free to roam this great earth – legs out, flesh on show, an icy drink warming in my hand. I’d like the beach because it’s the beach, but I’m also clucking for a Gatsby-style evening of pure decadence. To get very dressed up in my finest most dandy-like clobber and drink like George Best in the company of my hottest, most engaging acquaintances. 

I don’t want to think about the bill until I get my credit card statement the following month. There are so many songs about getting drunk and almost none about sobriety. Getting drunk. Being drunk. Dancing like nobody’s watching. Dancing like only your crush can see. Drunk sex. Hangover sex. This is the cycle I will follow as soon as the quarantine lifts and I’m discharged from all-day sitting down and batch-cooked lentil dishes from the freezer. 
I want adventure, but I’m stuck in a rental flat with no sofa, so it’s just the short daily commute from the bed to an office chair to binge vitamin C and Instagram. Standards are slipping. I’ve used a spoon as if it’s both a fork and a knife to save on washing up. Looking presentable has lost its allure. I’ve swapped the Gatsby pyjamas for sweats as I search for home entertainment. I’m all caught up on the culturally important movies online. Selma and The Uncomfortable Truth are must-sees, but I need a little slapstick with my acerbic solemnity. A decent wireless connection and a white wine used to be the only things that made T5 bearable, but both are now a mainstay of my evenings at my laptop streaming the best in comedy. In these uncertain and strange times, I’ve been utilising nostalgia to soothe my worries, revisiting the funniest films of my youth. Naked Gun. The infallible Airplane! The beyond camp Death Becomes Her, with Isabella Rossellini in a bejewelled necklace as a bra (take notes, people). 1992’s HouseSitter overflows with perfect comically timed magic. You’re never lonely with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn, in the same way you’re never fully dressed without a smile. And each time I chuckle, and something shifts. Not tectonically, but enough to hold back the seeping dread of a global pandemic. Laughter is not a vaccine, but while we wait for one from WHO, a belly laugh is a tonic, a bandage to staunch the bleeding. I need paracetamol for my current stress headache, but joy is a hell of a drug.
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