THE smell of pints is in the air as the pubs are due to reopen this week.

The moment so many of us have been waiting for is upon us; the chance to sit with our pals and enjoy a nice cold pint in celebration of the fact that we’ve made it through a pandemic – perhaps the single biggest event that has ever and will ever happen in our lifetimes.

We’ll drink and reminisce about the old times ‘before all this’ and toast to a new future, different perhaps to how we ever imagined but still bright and hopeful.

I’ve fantasised about the first sip of that first pint for months now, telling myself that the longer I wait the better it will taste. Lips pressed to the cold glass, the amber nectar flowing into my mouth, my taste buds greeting its arrival like a dear old friend. But now that it’s almost time to head back out the house and reintegrate with society, I find myself hesitant. Nervous, even.

With regards to being wary about going back to the pub, I have a few reasons.

The first is imagining the feeling of dread the staff must be experiencing. Not just because they’re going back to work while this virus is still kicking about and nowhere near eradicated yet, but also because I can’t even comprehend the feeling of going back to work after three months off.

It makes me think about the last day of the summer holidays when I was a wee guy.

Particularly the last day of the summer holidays before I went into secondary school.

Sitting in my room, rocking back and forward on my bed, staring at the strange new uniform and schoolbag in the corner.

I wore joggies and trainers to primary school, now it was shirt and tie, smart trousers and smart shoes.

Longer days, harder lessons, thousands of new people, the fear of my pals making new pals and me being bombed out. I felt sick.

I watched the clock tick ever closer to bed time. I remember it felt like I had a concrete mixer instead of a stomach, churning around slowly but the concrete was solidifying heavy in my belly. I imagined it setting through my veins and I felt like I weighed a ton, unable to move. My maw would have to phone the school and say, ‘Sorry, Christopher won’t be in today. He is literally paralysed with fear.’

The bar staff will be looking at their work gear the night before their first shift back, feeling, I imagine, the same as I did back then. Perhaps their facemask will be sitting next to their keys and they’ll be unable to take their eyes off it. A sobering reminder that they’re literally going to risk their health, and their lives, to serve pints.

Going back to school after the summer holidays or back to work after a fortnight off are nothing compared to what they’ll be feeling. I can imagine that if I worked in a pub, I’d be cursing every person that I had to serve.

The first customer I served after a week off work in the sports shop always received terrible service. I’d skulk off into the stockroom to get the shoes they’d asked for and I’d be in there moping about like Kevin the teenager. Moaning and in a big huff, furious at the fact that this person had dared to come into a shop and ask me, the employee, to help them. I don’t want anyone to hate me like that.

But there’s another reason I’m wary of going out again and seeing my pals. What if I have simply forgotten how to socialise?

I imagine my pals say, “Aw Chris! Wit did you get up tae in lockdown?” I’ll have to reply, “Eh, no much. You?” and they’ll say, “Aye, same.” And that’ll be us. Nothing else to say because nothing else happened. We all just sat in our respective homes, scrolling through our phones, doing nothing. We’ll sit in silence until the first round of pints has been sunk.

I’ll go up to get more and the person behind the bar will pour the pints with efficiency but in silence with zero patter. It’s been so long since I’ve held a single pint glass in my hand, never mind three or four, that as they are plonked down in front of me, I break out in a sweat. What if I’ve forgot how to carry pints? What if I do it wrong and everyone in the pub laughs at me? What if, god forbid, I drop and smash them all? What if me and my pals have nothing to say to each other ever again?

Maybe I should practise ordering pints in the house with my girlfriend? Practise carrying glasses and make a list of things me and my pals can talk about so it’s not awkward?

What if… I just wait another couple of weeks until I’ve got this imaginary scenario out of my head and can simply go out and enjoy myself?