The news of the impending two week lockdown on March 13th, was sudden and frightening. It sparked a rush on dry goods, mainly pasta and for some unknown reason, toilet roll. Armed with these items, my deliriously excited children were collected from school and we headed home to what became the new normal. We placed all our faith in our medical experts and political leaders sitting on front of the TV screen every night waiting for the updates.
Myself and my group of women friends had a night out planned for the following week. As all bars and restaurants were now closed, we decided to meet up online instead and have a few drinks and a chat. We tried WhatsApp but there were too many of us, then we tried Microsoft Teams, but it was too complicated, before finally agreeing on Zoom.
Our first attempt consisted of each of shouting “can you hear me?”
And texting each other to say, “I can see you Ann but…turn your video on.”
Then we had to figure out how to see everyone at the one time. Once we sorted all these things out, we were delighted with ourselves. We could see each other, hear each other and the drinking could start. We agreed to do this every Friday night to keep in touch and have a drink together. The first two weeks were great craic but as the lockdown was extended anxiety set in and soon, we were just talking about the Virus. This wouldn’t do. There was no point in meeting up online just to depress each other. So, we came up with an idea. Each week a lady would organize a zoom event and send details to all the other ladies during that week. That lady would then nominate another lady to provide the entertainment for the following week and so on. I volunteered to go first and decided that my activity would be zoom bingo! First, I needed to get my hands on a bingo machine. My sister said she saw one in the local spar. My husband said a friend of his had one. I raced to the Spar to buy the very last bingo set for 3euro.
“They’re flying out the door!” the noticeably young assistant told me looking completely baffled. I dispatched my husband to his friend’s house to borrow his bingo machine, which was handed over, in a plastic bag, through the window of his house to comply with social distancing guidelines. I had my set! I next had to download bingo cards and email them to everyone. Then decided I needed an outfit. Having only gone to a bingo hall with my granny over 40 years ago, I had very little recollection of the bingo callers’ attire if any, so I had a search around the house for inspiration.
The wonderful thing about zoom is that people can only see you from the waist up so that cut my job in half. My son studies drama and performing arts so while he was out, I rifled through his room for a suitable outfit and I struck gold. I found a bowler hat with a lightbulb attached to the top of it that still worked. I then borrowed a black suit jacket, white shirt and red tie that lit up and decided that my bingo caller outfit was perfect. The funny hat gave me a great idea and I emailed the ladies saying, that a hat or headgear of some type was now compulsory.
When the Friday came around, we all tuned in in our funny hats and drink of choice. There was no talk of the virus and we had a hilarious night of legs eleven, two fat ladies and fighting over who shouted house first. It was the best fun and we felt so much lighter leaving the seriousness of the virus behind us for two hours.
I nominated Fiona for the following week, and she chose karaoke. All week we 8 ladies printed off song sheets and practiced our singing in our locked down houses subjecting our poor families to added stress. Once again mad hats had to found or made and drink stocked up for another week of fun.
We carried on for 10 weeks until restrictions lifted a little and some people could return to work. At the end of each zoom session we took a photo of the screen with its 8 boxes of 8 women in mad hats. These two hour sessions kept us going each week and lifted the mood in a stressful uncertain time. Some of us have been able to meet for socially distanced coffee or a walk but the 8 of us have not been back together yet. We’re making plans, and hopefully before Christmas we can hang out in the same room again. But until then, we all have those screenshots on our phones of 8 women in silly hats drinking and having the crack supporting and lifting each other up during that first lockdown. Oh, and if anyone needs a bingo machine, I have two!
(c) Ruth O’Leary