Updated: Jun 24, 2021
Never has a time in history seen so many wilfully under-skilled people reaching for spades, hammers and Homebase catalogues, than 2020.
With a need for distraction from the horrors of Lockdown or, dare I admit, escape from my family? I became one of those ill-fated would-be home-improvers, taking solace in my chosen project. It wasn't a bathroom makeover or a new sofa for which I plumped. I took solace in my garden, converting our unloved, brick BBQ shed into a sanctuary - an outdoor bar!
I'd always dreamed of owning a bar, trotting about The Great Gatsby, ever-popular and in demand. How could I have forgotten the reality, leanrt from working in bars throughout my university life? Endless ashtrays, a constant lack of ice, warm beer, fruit flies, and drunken brawls. Would my fantasy turn out to be a nightmare?
It started with a simple lick of white paint, a new lightbulb and a small fridge. I could have popped a couple of chairs in and been done, but with unspecified months of confinement stretching out ahead of me, a simple place to sit and have a drink in the evening sun took on a life of its own.
It was more than a bar. It was a beacon of hope. Hope that there would once again be laughter in our garden, that we would need the 8 matching bar stools, three-piece wicker sofa set and hand-built palette-crate day bed to accommodate all of our friends and family, just as soon as the cursed virus had pissed off.
Finally, the silence of confinement was being broken by the ring of the doorbell. Amazon offering up daily deliveries of optics, cocktail shakers, splashbacks and drip trays. I found myself like Kevin Costner in 'Field Of Dreams'. 'If you build it, they will come' was my mantra, driving me forward; I couldn't be stopped. By this stage, my enthusiasm was rubbing off on my, usually rational, husband. He bought a table-tennis table, complete with floodlights. Then the fairy lights appeared, then the strobe. Every light on the market found its way to our garden, along with oversized cushions, a dartboard and a new sink!
Painting sugar skulls on the walls with my 6-year-old daughter in the sun and introducing her to the idea of travels was a dreamy distraction from the ever more tragic news. I stocked the fridge to bursting, armed my optics, and created Café del Mar and Groove Armada playlists.
When gentle splashes could be heard from my son in the paddling pool, with eyes closed, I was transported to Barbados, sipping my mojito, and not imprisoned by Boris, irresponsibly mid-day drinking in my own backyard dodging home-schooling duties. It was wonderful. It was ready, just in time for the lifting of restrictions.
Perhaps we shouldn't have been shocked to find we weren't the only ones that needed the bar. Distant cousins, friends of neighbours, people I hadn't seen for years all came out the woodwork when Boris gave the thumbs up to outdoor meetings. In retrospect, bragging on Instagram about my 'amazing new addition' might not have been the wisest of decisions. A few carefully selected filters, and I'd made my garden look as sunny and inviting as the Algarve. 'If you build it, they will come.' Is all well and good, but what do you do when they just don't stop coming?
I was left fending off middle-aged men, exhibiting levels of drinking that would never have been accepted in a real bar. The other problem was that people were not allowed in your house, so they came through our garage, largely unannounced, some with empty tankers in hand, sniffing out the promise of free ever-flowing beer and tequila. How could I say no, when the people arrived wearing the weathered look of refugees? Fresh from months of home-schooling and zoom quizzes with people they'd usually avoid. Sure they offered to pay, but who's going to quibble about money when the world could be ending? And we're all friends, right?
Like many, we had envisioned Lockdown being little more than a blip on our timelines. Still, when the inevitable avalanche of 40th birthday parties hit, it fell to us and the bar to host, entertain and keep the flagging spirits of our tiring friends alive. The alcohol stocks were running out quicker than the Asda delivery man could keep up with. In one week, we had two separate deliveries of Sambuca. I don't even drink Sambuca!
The bar idea was glorious, the implementation of said plan, fun, like the sex before the arrival of the screaming new-born. Like that child, it had its moments of difficulty, but we loved it! So we sucked it up, kept ordering the drinks in and took time to count the blessings of our garden, the space we were blessed with, the friends who wanted to see us and the immense privilege it was to offer them happiness in the darkest of times.
Now Lockdown is lifting, and my once bustling hotspot of Surrey nightlife is losing its appeal to the masses. Who can blame them? I sprinted from the door, leaving my kids and husband in a cloud of dust the moment Soho House re-opened, but does that mean it's time for last orders at the lockdown bar? Considering we have garden-bar parties planned every weekend till September, I can't see it happening anytime soon and honestly, I wouldn't have it any other way.
What have been your Lockdown building triumphs and failures? Would you like your friends to come over all the time, or would you be happier putting up a fence than a bar?