From today in England, the lockdown has – in part – been eased, and we can now meet up to six people (or two households) for some al fresco fun.
After months of socialising with only our fridges, many will have forgotten how to interact with other people.
Let’s be honest, being nice to friends and family can be draining; the new regulations require some extra energy to make sure we’re civil but safe.
Here are my thoughts on post-lockdown socialising.
William Hanson (pictured) recommends having plenty of anti-bac gel and wipes available for all guests
From a distance
Don’t forget we still have to keep those we have over at a distance. I’ve been trying to distance myself socially from various friends my whole life, so the last 12 months have been blessing-in-disguise.
Make sure you are suitably spaced out from those visiting from other households. You may be paying careful attention to the rules and personal hygiene, but you still don’t know where they’ve been.
Keep playing it safe. Yes, some of your guests may have had the vaccine but probably only the first dose. They can still carry the virus, and you can still pick it up.
Small terrace, big problem
If your terrace (yes, it is still downmarket to call it a ‘patio’) is on the bijou side and can only host four people comfortably, do not push it. The rule of six is an upper limit, not a goal in itself.
As with any form of entertaining, know your limits and stick to them.
If you want to have six people (or two households) gathered in your garden, but it’s too small, move.
The rules for post-lockdown conversation
Revise – a helpful exercise is to go over the basics with your partner in advance to not look uncaring. When did you last see them? What’s their dog’s name? What did they tell us last time?
Don’t moan – yes, life has been challenging, and it’s been a headache for everyone. But this is the first time you’ll have seen each other in the flesh, so keep things light, bright and upbeat.
Be humble – if you have learned a new skill over lockdown, be mindful that others may not have and may feel guilty. Try not to brag.
Don’t comment on their physical appearance – haircuts maybe dodgy, waistlines may be bigger. Everyone’s physical appearance will have changed over the past year – avoid mentioning it unless there’s a noticeable and positive change.
Use your surroundings for inspiration – “what a lovely bay tree”, “those hyacinths smell heavenly”, “it’s so quiet, isn’t it?”
Do you need to provide food and drink?
Much like the rest of us, our hosting muscles will have gone a bit flabby over the last year. Even once consummate hosts may have forgotten the basics of entertaining.
Yes, you can provide a full bon vivant buffet with alfresco munchiettes if you so wish, but why make things complicated?
Support a local restaurant and order the food. Not only will you save yourself a lot of stress in the kitchen, but you’ll rack up social kudos.
Please don’t touch or breathe on me
Handshakes, hugs, social kisses are still verboten. Sorry.
Give a clear signal to arriving guests to keep their hands, mouths and lips to themselves.
Waving is awkward and a tad pre-school. It is much nicer to give your awkward hands something to do by giving a namaste (a favourite contactless greeting of The Prince of Wales) or placing a hand on your heart.
Both gestures give a subtle signal to others that you need to maintain a respectful and safe distance.
How long should you stay?
Guests – aim for quality rather than quantity. None of us have done much over the past three months, so our conversational petrol tanks will be running on empty.
Yes, it’s lovely to get out of the house and have a change of scenery but keep in mind that three and a half hours of strained conversation is not as preferable as ninety minutes of quality chat. Less is more.
Can you use the host’s loo?
From a regulations point of view, yes. You can pass through someone’s house to get outside or freshen up – but don’t use it as a loophole and start chatting inside.
Although it may be legally acceptable to use someone’s loo, some hosts may still wish to err on the side of caution – always ask and never assume.
Etiquette expert William Hanson, has shared his advice for socialising as restrictions across England are eased (file image)
How can hosts keep things safe?
Try to serve whatever drinks in different jugs – ideally one vessel per household. This can avoid cross-contamination and is the new ultimate courtesy.
On the table, make sure you have plenty of anti-bac gel and wipes ready for all to use. You can pop some in the lavatory, too.
One of my pet hates (pre-COVID) was having to use the same wet, smelly hand towel as everyone else had been using. It was never hygienic, so I quickly implemented a system borrowed from good hotels – small, individual hand-towels (see photo).
One towel per guest and then straight into a wicker basket, ready for the wash. Far nicer all round and, pleasingly, more Covid-secure.
A seventh deadly sin
As with much in life, communication is the key to success.
Some friends may have found love in lockdown and now come with a new partner. What you don’t want to happen is to find they brought them when you weren’t expecting them, and you end up having an illegal seven people to host.
Be upfront with your invitations and ask if they are bringing their new partner or not. Communicate who else may be coming, too, so they can do the maths beforehand as well.