by Eithne Cullen
The theme for this week’s Extra pages is We Need You! and it’s all about coming together.
There’s no better time to reflect on the ways people are getting together to make the best use of our time in isolation or lock-down. All kinds of organisations are offering daily creative challenges, knock-down prices on writing courses and free entry to their competitions. I’ve seen many posts celebrating the way we’re using the arts to lighten our lives. I enjoyed the screening of Peter And The Wolf from the Royal Opera House and One Man Two Guvnors from the National Theatre.
We’ve always got writing to lighten our mood and get the creative juices flowing. Pen to Printer, Mary Walsh, has written this poem about the times we’re in:
And while we isolate
trees in bud with
Flowers reach out
new shoots towards the sun
Birds and bees nest and breed
and myriad insects multiply
Rivers flow, fish swim
even the lilies of the field
grow without our help
They shine and hum
prepare their best display
and fill the world once more with
While we isolate
I found some wonderful poems in this link from the Independent – the aim of publishing obviously being to soothe and calm us down in these coronavirus days. My favourite was one by Kitty O’Meara. Do take a look and let me know what you think!
We have all heard of people who were abroad when the lock-down began. In this next piece, Una McGregor describes the way keeping in touch with her Book Group helped her, both at home and away:
Zooming To A New Height
Away in my bubble of Holiday-of-a-Lifetime, I was happy to have the occasional group chat message from my, aptly named, ‘Book Group’. Never about the book; that was reserved for face to face discussion on First Mondays. Mostly, the chat ranged from “Has anyone got a spare copy?” to “I’ve just finished. Does anyone need a spare copy?” The real techies amongst us would reply, not smugly but genuinely apologetically, “Mine’s on Kindle….” with a sad face emoji.
A sub-group, also aptly named ‘Silver Screen Book Group’, would also pop up occasionally to make appropriate suggestions and arrangements.
Of course, despite being in my holiday bubble and frequently WiFi free, I was aware of coronavirus through news feeds but the extent of the worry was pressed home when Silver Screen Book Group had an in-depth discussion about cancelling the next outing – even foregoing pre-booked tickets and incurring financial loss! My ears pricked up. This was sounding serious.
Soon after, news of panic buying of toilet rolls wended its way through the satellite system, along with myriad toilet roll jokes and video clips. And, not long after that, our bubble was well and truly burst and the Holiday-of-a-Lifetime curtailed as, armed with face masks, we zigzagged back across the globe.
On the bright side, I was back in time for my next book club meeting and even had time on my hands to read the book. However, with social distancing, the burning question was now ‘How do we meet up?’
Cue more WhatsApp messages. The techie Kindle owners suggested Zoom*, the family bingo player suggested Houseparty. But the techies were already on it and testing began…
Starting with a small chat of two, then three or four and building up, one particularly determined bookie invited us for chats. Sometimes, a disembodied voice was heard pleading for information on how to see and be seen, sometimes a person, face like a confused emoji, prodding their device to activate the microphone and be heard. Each day the chat grew.
Then came the first BIG test on Thursday at 7. The invitation went out and, armed with the code and password, we diligently abandoned dinner and postponed family calls.
I tried on my phone and then on my tablet but could not get in to the meeting. We all literally groaned – that is, we typed groans on our keypads. A cacophony of WhatsApp messages blinded us all as everyone was messaging the same. Disaster! The test had failed.
But no! A new code and password was issued by the hostess and this time we were in. Starting with a few, pixelated bookies began to appear and we literally cheered. That is, we actually cheered aloud. Lots of waving and hellos to long unseen friends and a few lessons in swiping left or right and using the mute button took place. Then, one by one, we gaily pressed leave, back to our congealed dinners and waiting families
Before First Monday, which is rapidly approaching, the next ‘Big Test’ is the Quiz Night at Lesley’s. How long will we stay connected? And, more importantly, how can we take turns talking? Being less techie, I suggested whoever is holding the teddy.
With time on my hands, my thoughts have turned to Orwell’s The Moon Under Water essay about his ideal (London) pub. It’s worth reading while you’ve got time on your hands: https://www.orwellfoundation.com/ And if you’re missing the pub, let me tell you about my plans:
Tonight I’m going to be joining a group for a drink. We always go to the pub on Thursdays, and will be missing our little ritual tonight.
Thanks to our digital technology, we’re meeting in a virtual group and sharing a drink and a chat. I think many will be doing the same in some way or form. We’ll not be buying a round, and won’t be discussing the different ales on offer. We usually talk about the real ales: “Oh, that’s a bit hoppy for me?” or: “I prefer the full-bodied flavour of this one,” and: “This one’s only 3.8% but tastes more robust.”
The wine drinkers always mention the temperature of the wine, even adding the odd ice cube (gasp!) if it’s not chilled to their taste.
But, tonight, I’ll have to forego the Thai chilli crisps and Nobby’s Nuts. We haven’t any in the house, I’m afraid, and I’m not queuing for them! There will be no background chitter-chatter, no noise of laughter, nor the clicking of tiles of the game I still can’t fathom out at a far table.
My friend lives alone in a quiet Portuguese village. She and her friends have been thinking of a name for their virtual pub. Lots of suggestions have come in, such as: The Stay In, The Quarantine Inn, The Quarantina Under The Olive Tree, The Anti-Social Distancing Club and more besides.
Now for something to lift your spirits
I hope you’ve been coming out to your front doors and cheering for the NHS. I must say I found it quite emotional, as I have several people in my life who work in the NHS and health services abroad. I also made a disgrace of myself blowing loudly on a whistle; there’s a vuvuzela (remember them?) somewhere in the garage…next week perhaps.
On the subject of next week, we’re wondering what we’ll be telling our children and grandchildren when this is all a distant memory. If you’ve written something, or have some thoughts to share, do send them to firstname.lastname@example.org with Thoughtful Tuesday as the subject.
I know we’re finding things strange and hard to comprehend. This little reflection was sent to me by my nephew, Liam, and it’s perfect for these times:
Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
Is any man afraid of change? What can take place without change? What then is more pleasing or more suitable to the universal nature? And can you take a hot bath unless the wood for the fire undergoes a change? And can you be nourished unless the food undergoes a change? And can anything else that is useful be accomplished without change? Do you not see then that for yourself also to change is just the same, and equally necessary for the universal nature?
Have a good week.
*You can find out more about Zoom on their website.
There’s no better time to reflect on the ways people are getting together to make the best use of our time in isolation or lock-down. All kinds of organisations are offering daily creative challenges, knock-down prices on writing courses and free entry to their competitions.