Cork city centre last Wednesday afternoon, in advance of the midnight deadline, was bustling like Christmas Eve, but with autumnal sunshine and leaves, a bit more al fresco dining, and long queues outside Penney’s and barbershops.
People were clearly seizing their opportunity at a last bit of retail therapy or walking coffee chats with friends.
It’s a very different lockdown compared to March. The schools and childcare facilities are to remain open and many of us have worked out how to do our work safely and distanced, or can continue to work from home.
Unfortunately, many public-facing workers and business owners are heading into a familiar period of angst and anxiety about the future as they press pause for six weeks.
According to data from the Central Statistics Office, 34% of workers are now working from home. At the start of this crisis I was convinced that more remote working was a good thing. Less time spent commuting would mean better work/life balance, better air quality and lower carbon emissions.
Now that the days are getting shorter and colder, it’s becoming clear that the impact of heating millions of individual homes is not going to compare favourably with heating fewer energy efficient office blocks where those individual workers can gather together.
If people adopt a blended working approach; working from home a few days a week and then, avoiding public transport, driving their petrol or diesel car to their office for the remainder of the week, carbon emissions could really balloon.
So, basically, I’m trying not to turn on the heating all day, every day while working from home because of my climate guilt.
My pandemic home office attire regularly features two woolly jumpers, a hot water bottle and a blanket on my lap — less of a ‘smart casual’ look, more of a ‘frugal granny’ look.
Even though laptops do generate a nice bit of heat, I’ve obviously been complaining more than usual about the cold, because last week my good husband presented me with possibly the best birthday present of my life!
It’s called a Stoov Big Hug.
Yeah, I’d never heard of it before either. It is essentially a neat sheepskin electric blanket with a battery so you can bring a warm seat with you anywhere you want.
“Cordless heating pad with two heating elements for back and seat heating. Hours of heat thanks to the powerful built-in battery. Three heat settings, maximum 42C. This electric heating pad turns any seat into a heat sensation,” extolls the company website. It uses infrared technology to help transmit the heat quickly and safely and has a power supply like an Apple computer.
It was invented by Teun van Leijsen a Dutch designer whose pregnant wife loved the infrared heated cushion that he made for her and a new business concept was born.
In 2018, the company primarily made heated cushions for hotel and restaurant outdoor dining areas. The pandemic forced the business to relocate manufacturing from China to the Netherlands, but the silver lining to Covid-19 was the desire for people to spend more time socialising outdoors and working from home. Now the company can’t keep up with demand.
I know it might sound a bit like a crazy early morning shopping channel product, but its slick Dutch design and continuous output of heat is just so pleasant. I’m smitten.
I don’t have to turn on the gas boiler to heat the one room I’m working in and because our electricity provider is committed to 100% renewable, I can alleviate some of my climate guilt.
Of course, the Stoov Big Hug isn’t going to solve the climate crisis and has a carbon footprint (everything does) but it comes with a two-year warranty and the company offers a repair service so I’m hoping to get many years of service from it.
It’s a big bugbear of mine when companies build obsolescence into their business plans.
The Danes gave us the word hygge — the warm and cosy feeling of cuddling up — and their neighbours the Dutch gave us a bit of technology that makes hygge easier to achieve.
When Level 5 lifts and we can resume outside dining, I’ll be rolling this up and bringing it with me to the nearest beer garden to eat hot pizza in the cold night air.
This time last year, I was buying reusable coffee cups as Christmas presents because it felt like the tide was turning against disposable coffee cups and everywhere you looked someone had traded a disposable coffee cup for a long term solution.
The fear of coronavirus contagion means all these keep cups are languishing in the back of cupboards and I wonder will we ever get back to using them at the scale that’s needed to stop the use of 22,000 coffee cups an hour in Ireland?
Just before Level 5, a few Cork baristas were happy to pour my coffee into a real cup, which I could then tip into my reusable cup. It means a little more washing up for them but a big reduction in waste.
As more people will be asking for their coffees “to go” over the next few weeks, I’d really love if more coffee shops can find a safe, no-touch way to reduce waste and still give customers their caffeine hit.