What's the thing you're most looking forward to when all this is over? Such is the question often asked these days as we face God knows how long more of home isolation - a pledge to better times somewhere down the road.
Minding my social distancing in the usual long coffee line at my local deli the other morning, a vaguely familiar neighbourhood face stood just ahead. Late 70s, a Maggie Smith lookalike, double espresso, no sugar - clearly a tough cookie. I caught her eye and dared to inquire: "So, what are you most looking forward to when it's all back to normal?"
She sized me up slowly and said: "They will have to drag me screaming from the bingo table, and when I start talking with the girls again I may never stop."
In a single stroke, she encapsulated the core stress and strain of our national quarantine - an absence of that face-to-face chinwag and chat, otherwise known as gossip. Instagram and WhatsApp may keep us in touch, but there's no substitute for the whispered glory of hearing something you like about someone you don't.
Scandal and tittle-tattle are the lubricants of our communication, a game of hearsay and titbits enjoyed by everyone from High Court judges to humble street sweepers. It's a sport we excel at in Ireland, a game whose starting gun is usually the innocent query: "Any news?"
An equal opportunity employer, gossip knows no gender barrier - its only requirement being a rumour well told, complete with arched eyebrows and an octave ladder worthy of Pavarotti.
"No one gossips about other people's secret virtues," as Bertrand Russell rightly observed. Far from a character flaw, it is a highly evolved skill fed by a wide social network and the capacity to winkle secrets from the tightest purse.
My coffee lady was spot on the money, we Irish are genetically hard-wired to the dark arts of scuttlebutt and whispers - deny us the joy of physical company and we become like trout on a riverbank, desperately gasping for air.
Studies have shown that the brain releases increased amounts of the pleasure hormone oxytocin whenever we dish the dirt, similar to arousal and sex. Indeed who amongst us has not enjoyed that particular ejaculation of joy when meeting our mates with: "You'll never guess..."
Research at Philadelphia's Centre for Cultural Studies and Analysis underlined gossip's benefits as a channel for news: "It an early warning system to alert the group of events that may happen, and preparing an emotional readiness for what's upcoming. Gossip has a bad reputation, but there are good reasons it will keep right on being a popular sport."
Andy Warhol once confessed to having a social disease: "I have to go out every night. If I stay home one night I start spreading rumours to my dogs." I know how he feels. We all do.
Aisle buy anything
I've got a little problem with Lidl, specifically with the centre aisle. Given that we now live in a world where the joy of retail has been reduced to just food, the absence of my weekly fix of Fat Face and Superdry has driven me to distraction. Every Thursday morning without fail I'm first in line at Lidl's centre aisle, finger poised on my card for the latest fishing gear, workman's pants or running top. Last week it was the knitted fleece jacket - a steal at €13.99, so got all the colours. "Hello, my name is John and I'm a..."
If you're having trouble sleeping, Dolly Parton wants to help. Every Thursday evening on Facebook she's hosting 'Goodnight with Dolly' - reading bedtime stories. "I've had heartaches, headaches, toothaches and earaches, plus quite a few pains in the ass. But I've survived to tell about it."
Good advice for these troubled times.