Don’t tell my husband, but I have a new love of my life. Since social distancing began in March, we spend pretty much every waking minute together, and every sleeping one, too. She’s black and grey and has a white chin; she weighs 22 pounds; she prances when she’s happy and puts her tail between her legs when she’s scared; and her name is Ramona, after the famous children’s book character, but also after Joey Ramone.
I never imagined becoming one of those dog-obsessed people who uses the moniker RamonasMom, but here I am: RamonasMom. We adopted Ramona last summer, and while I loved her from the beginning, the last six months have taken me from pleasantly engaged pet owner to unabashed, full-on Dog Parent. I’ve always worked from home, but pandemic has meant that Ramona and I are barely ever apart. We eat, sleep, work (I work), exercise, and play together, all day long. Whenever I do leave the house, she’s right by the door waiting for me to come back. She runs to grab a shoe or her stuffed taco to show me, and then jumps up and down, greeting me like I’m a soldier returning from war: “YOU’RE BACK! I HAVE SO MUCH TO TELL YOU!”
The list of why dogs are great goes on and on. They inspire you to interact with the world around you. They help with anxiety and depression. It is buoying to take care of another creature, to have a trusted friend. I knew all this going into dog ownership, but coronavirus has shed light on one of the less-heralded greatnesses of dogs: Ramona lives in the now. When you spend most of your time with a dog, that rubs off on you, too.
It’s so easy for me to fall into a spiral of negativity about the world and future, but Ramona doesn’t know and doesn’t, frankly, care about politics or pandemics. As long as I keep providing her food, water, and love, she’s all good. She has no concerns about the mundane things, either: failure, deadlines, or her Twitter following (she doesn’t even have an account!). Instead of zoning out with Netflix, she sits on a pile of pillows on the couch, gazing out the window, and she barks when she sees something interesting, even if it’s the exact same interesting that happened five minutes ago.
Spending time with her, I’m reminded that so much of what we consider a happy, successful life is largely made up in our own minds, and often the product of ego and lack of fulfillment in other ways. She wants an array of simple things, but they are joyful: walks in nature, naps in the afternoon, a delicious treat. It reminds me that humans need all those things, too, now more than ever.
Also, dogs are just fun. In the book The Other End of the Leash, the writer and animal behaviorist Dr Patricia McConnell notes that dogs and humans are among the few animals that demonstrate the need to play throughout their entire lives, even as adults. Humans may forget this, but dogs never do. When I’m pulling my hair out over the latest news story or wondering if there will ever be a vaccine, Ramona is there, shoving her nose under my arm, nudging me to pet her, or running in circles around the rug until I get up and chase her and then laugh so hard my ribs hurt. We’re more in tune with each other than ever, it seems. The other day, when I didn’t feel well, Ramona jumped up to cuddle with me on the couch. She touched my hand with her paw, and my heart basically melted into a puddle of goo.
People worry, what will happen to our poor dogs when we go back to “how things used to be” and leave them alone again for much of the day, but I think the real question is, what happens to us? Though, of course, a dog wouldn’t worry about that. A dog would just live the moments as they come.
Jen Doll is a freelance journalist and the author of the young adult novel Unclaimed Baggage and the memoir Save the Date
Forget the It-bag, the latest must have is the It-candle. Gwyneth Paltrow began this year by selling out of a candle simply called This Smells Like My Vagina on Goop. In September, Alicia Keys launched her skin care brand Keys Soulcare, and its first product was a sage and oatmilk candle. And last month Anthony Hopkins launched a fragrance collection that included candles in Amber Noir, Gardenia Tuberose and Sandalwood (but sadly not Chianti flavour).
Now it is the turn of the rapper Drake, who cryptically announced the launch of his candle range Better World Fragrance House on Instagram Stories, featuring a picture of four blue candles, with names such as Sweeter Tings and Williamsburg Sleepover.
The celebrity pivot towards candles highlights the boom in the market since the beginning of the pandemic. Candles, previously looked on as a luxury, have become a lifestyle staple, with sales increasing 182% from last year according to John Lewis.
Hayley Chaytor, of Silentnight , which sells scented candles and diffusers, said: “With less opportunity to spend on experience outside of the home, consumers are making investments into their own comfort and happiness at home. We have noticed a trend in sales for people purchasing cocooning products and understandably products to help them feel good and hunker down at home.”
Although candles are booming on the high street, they are also expanding their reach into the cool, hipster marketplace. In October Ikea teamed up with the minimalist Swedish brand Byredo to produce Osynlig, a much-coveted 13-candle collection that quickly sold out.
Boy Smells, a gender-neutral, Los Angeles-based company that has recently launched in the UK, is indicative of this new era. Home made and hand poured into a reusable glass vessel, the candles are packaged in tasteful pink. Celebrity fans range from Gigi Hadid, the Kardashians and the designer Raf Simons. Sales have increased 1,500% over lockdown.
“Something as simple as a candle scent has the potential to reflect the complexity of identity,” the co-founder, Matthew Herman, told Forbes last month. “We didn’t see that celebrated in the fragrance industry so we created Boy Smell to fill it.”
The more time we spend at home, the more our homes represent. They are no longer just living areas; they are our offices, gyms, spas, cinemas and restaurants. Candles, and their associated smells, help redefine these spaces. “While candles do help to set both the mood and tone of your living space they also speak to the personality of the room,” says Bessie Hitcham assistant buyer at Cult Beauty. “They are a display of personal identity and taste.”
This blend of hedgerow fruit and local Dorset vodka is one of our signature drinks. If you can’t get hold of fresh berries, defrost the same amount of frozen instead.
300g blackberries – hold back 6 berries, to garnish 300ml water 100g sugar 1 pinch salt 3 sprigs fresh thyme 1 tbsp apple balsamic vinegar – the best you can get hold of: we use Liberty Fields’ six-year-old aged one 1 tsp lemon juice 50ml vodka – we use Black Cow, which is brewed locally to us in Dorset Sparkling wine, well chilled, to top – again, we use a local one, namely Furleigh Estate Classic Cuvee
Put the blackberries, water, sugar and salt in a pan and bring up to a simmer, stirring constantly. Cook over a low-medium heat until reduced by half, then turn off the heat and stir in the thyme. Leave to infuse for 20 minutes, strain into a jug through a fine sieve or muslin, then stir in the vinegar and lemon juice, and taste – adjust the sweetness and/or acidity to suit your personal tastes.
Divide the six reserved blackberries between two coupes (at the restaurant, we rub the rim of the glasses with more thyme first, to enhance the aromatics), add 25ml vodka and 50ml syrup to each glass, and muddle (ie, bash) the fruit. Top with sparkling wine and serve.
The future of Scottish ski resorts hangs in the balance as they confront two starkly different scenarios for the winter to come. On the one hand, they might see record visitor numbers as British skiers head north as an alternative to the Alps; on the other, continued local restrictions could leave them facing prolonged closure and financial struggles.
This week the French, Italian and German authorities announced they would not open their ski resorts until January at the earliest, and called for other European Alpine nations to make the same commitment. Scotland’s five resorts could be beneficiaries of this but travel restrictions currently forbid residents of England, Wales and Northern Ireland from travelling north of the border. And those in Scottish areas categorised as “protection level” – which includes Edinburgh and Glasgow – are not allowed to leave their local area for tourism, so would not be able to visit the Highland resorts. Scottish operators hope the restrictions will be lifted soon, but Nevis Range has already announced it will remain closed until at least February.
“There is certainly a big demand for skiing and snowboarding at the moment,” said Andy Meldrum, majority owner of Glencoe, Scotland’s oldest and steepest resort, “and it is likely to be even bigger than normal this year due to the staycation effect.”
The Cairngorms National Park Authority board convener Xander McDade said: “Skiers coming to the park to enjoy winter sports and spend money locally will be welcomed with open arms,” adding that it would bring a much-needed boost to the local economy. Although the summer season was busier than usual this year, lockdowns meant it was much shorter, and insufficient to counterbalance the negative financial impact of the pandemic.
All Scottish ski resorts are introducing new health and safety measures in case they are swamped by skiers missing their usual foreign trip. There will be limits on the number of people allowed on the slopes each day, and social distancing on lifts, in queues and on the mountain.
Cairngorm Mountain’s interim chief executive Susan Smith said the resort was doing everything possible to remain Covid-secure and would be more cautious than in previous years with the numbers of skiers and snowboarders allowed on-site each day. “This is difficult to predict and depends on snow conditions, number of lifts operating, the day’s weather and so on,” she added.
Glencoe will limit the number of skiers on the mountain to 500 per day. Meldrum said the fact that lifts are open-air and only take two people per chair means he is “extremely confident we can provide a very safe environment for much-needed outdoor exercise”.
At Glenshee, in the eventuality poor snowfall means only lower runs that use manufactured snow-cannon snow can open, ticket sales will be limited to 150 a day.
Cairngorm plans to introduce an online ticket system for advance bookings and ski hire, and will move some of its ski-hire off-site, where people could collect skis the evening before. People will be advised to only share two- and three-man chairlifts and T-bar lifts with people in their bubble.
Nevertheless, for now, only those living in Scotland’s local authority areas in protection levels 1-2 will be able to enjoy the slopes, said Steve Duncan, senior regional planning manager for VisitScotland. “Although we understand the reasons for the new restrictions, this is difficult for the industry at the point they were looking to gain income during the winter holidays and ski season,” he said.
There are around a quarter of a million skier days each winter in Scotland, injecting almost £31m into the local economy, according to the Scottish Parliament Information Centre’s last report in 2018.
VisitScotland estimate that for every £1 spent on Scottish slopes, a further £4 was spent in the areas around Cairngorm, Glencoe, Glenshee, Nevis Range and the Lecht.
The resorts desperately need a good season this winter, as closing early last March was disastrous for their finances.
“Lockdown in March was pretty horrific,” said Meldrum, boss of Glencoe, which usually stays open into May. “We shut on the 23 March and then experienced six weeks of bluebird conditions and perfect all-over snow cover right through until early May. This has had a significant impact on the businesses ability to invest.”
Early closing cost the resort £750,000, money which was supposed to help rebuild the mountain cafe which burnt down on Christmas Day last year.
Other resorts say plans and investments would have to be put on hold if the season is a flop. Kate Hunter, ski patrol director at Glenshee, said: “If we were unable to open this season we would survive with financial help, but any planned projects would be put on hold until better times”.
Cairngorm Mountain Resort, which is owned by public body the Highlands and Islands Enterprise, will go ahead with repairs to its funicular, which has been closed since September 2018, after securing £16m of government funding last month. The government found it would cost more to remove the railway. Work has begun but will be paused over the winter and completed next year in time for the 2021/22 season.
Scotland’s outlook will depend somewhat on what happens at continental resorts. Austria and Switzerland have intimated they will not agree to demands by the leaders of France, Italy and Germany to keep ski resorts closed until at least January in a bid to stop skiers flocking to those that remain open, potentially spreading and importing the virus. Some resorts, such as Verbier in Switzerland, are already operating.
But the fact remains that none of the main Alpine ski destinations are on the travel corridors list, and even the new “test and release” system, cutting quarantine from 14 to five days for those willing to pay for a private test, is unlikely to be enough to salvage the overseas ski holiday market until a vaccine is rolled out — something the ski industry only dares to hope will happen in time for Easter.
One argument for keeping ski resorts closed in the Alps is to relieve pressure on health systems that receive an annual spike from injured skiers, but this isn’t deemed a significant problem in Scotland’s resorts. Meldrum argues the positive health benefits of being active in the mountains outweigh risks: “A bigger challenge in Scotland than Covid at the moment is mental health, and for many people it will be absolutely vital they can get safely out into the mountains this winter.”
With the best snow usually falling from late January-April there is plenty of time to go, and anyone planning a trip should see VisitScotland for updates on restrictions and snow conditions, and monitor resort websites for further updates.
Those living in England might find an alternative at one of several small ski clubs which set up temporary draglifts in the North Pennines when there’s snow, and which are also predicting a busy season ahead.
“The four northern snow skiing clubs [Yad Moss, Allenheads, Weardale and the Lake District] usually have a reciprocal agreement for their season ticket holders to ski for a reduced rate at each others’ facilities. This year, however, that has been suspended in the possibility that weekends might get too busy,” said Peter Stockton, chair of Yad Moss in Cumbria, which opened on eight days last winter. “There might be more interest in English skiing this year but we are still dependent on the snow actually falling in sufficient quantity to at least partly cover the grass!” he said.