Since the coronavirus outbreak began, our news screens have been dominated by panicked scenes of anxious shoppers selfishly stripping supermarkets of their wares.
As a sympathetic – recently unemployed – retail worker, I stayed away from the shops until this week. After dragging myself out of bed, I joined a sombre social distancing-compliant queue outside my local Tesco Express. Finally, my time came to tentatively step in. The atmosphere was uneasy, with the anxiety of my fellow shoppers denoted by an eerie silence and the avoidance of all eye contact.
Inside the door awaited my prize: a sleek, glistening pallet of Diet Coke cans. My hands began to tremble with anxious adrenaline.
You may consider this an overreaction on my part. You may think Diet Coke is overrated, or choose to avoid it out of concern for your teeth. In that moment, however, that pallet became a symbol for all I had lost in the previous 10 days. To me, the famous silver and red metallic can is synonymous with College.
Inside the door awaited my prize: a sleek, glistening pallet of Diet Coke cans. My hands began to tremble with adrenaline
From the familiar rush to afternoon lectures to long stressful nights spent in Ussher 2, the carbonated beverage had, unwittingly, become a part of my almost-daily routine. Now this routine – the coming and going between my apartment, my lectures, my friends and my job – is gone and the drink is all I have left.
To those of you who dislike it, or choose its healthier alternatives instead, I wish you well. You quite possibly have never experienced the first self-congratulatory sip taken after making it halfway through an article without stopping. Maybe it isn’t your go-to cure after a particularly messy night out. Perhaps, for some reason, you don’t associate the drink with afternoons spent lamenting the latest sorry development in your slow-moving love life.
I have nothing but pity for those of you who have missed out on these experiences. It could be that you are one of the naysayers who points to the countless newspaper articles as proof that Diet Coke is more damaging than its regular counterpart. Or maybe you’re the person who tags their friend for the fifth time in the Facebook memes linking it with a litany of health problems. If you fall into either of these categories you are most likely raising your eyebrows with scepticism. But hear me out.
Bizarre as this may sound, I know that I am not alone. If there is one thing to unite law lecturers, Arts Block smokers and Donald Trump, it is a love for (or dependency on) this caffeinated drink. (Don’t worry, even I consider Trump’s reported intake of 12 cans a day to be a bit excessive.)
If there is one thing to unite law lecturers, Arts Block smokers and Donald Trump, it is a love for (or dependency on) this caffeinated drink
A notable place is kept for the newly slender metal can on many lecterns. The drink has become a carbonated elixir for academics, students and politicians alike. Diet Coke belongs to a very specific subset within college society. You’ve heard it here first – smokers sipping from Diet Coke cans next to conspicuously-placed “Smoke Free Trinity” stickers while wearing aging Doc Martens will live on as a zeitgeist of the Trinity Education Project (TEP) era.
In that moment in Tesco Express, I was transported to first year, when the disruption caused by the infamous snowstorm of March 2018 forced me and many others into a very different, shorter period of self-isolation than the one I was now experiencing. For a very strange four days, I subsisted on nothing but Bran Flakes, potato waffles and, of course, Diet Coke. From then on, the drink became a staple in my weekly shop. Soon, friends slagged me for my over-reliance on what an old friend of mine used to call “low-fat coke”. Unbeknownst to me, it had become a constant in my chaotic, ever-evolving college life.
A concerned nod from a fellow customer eventually brought me back to the present. It was a no-brainer – €13 was a small price to pay for the nostalgic value the product offered in this distinct moment of both national and personal crisis. Grinning to myself with pride for successfully venturing outside, I lugged my haul back to my apartment.
This unintended moment of nostalgic self-reflection was a welcome reminder that, though uncertain, the current upheaval is only temporary. The metallic click of the can as the pull-tab hits the lid and tears it open will once again become the soundtrack to my panicked nights in the Ussher. I will welcome the self-righteous grins of those who don’t rely on the drink as a reward for staying in the Ussher’s clutches for longer than an hour. I will wear this habit as a badge of honour as I stow my can surreptitiously in the bottom of my bag, away from the glare of library security guards.
These are moments I will be grateful for in my final year, after they were so suddenly and cruelly robbed from me at the selfish and unforgiving hands of the coronavirus.