How has your life changed since the government has imposed strict isolation and social distancing rules?
My husband and I are fortunate to have a lovely garden and we are spending a lot more time in it, than we used to. We are adapting quite well to our isolation as will be made clear below. However, despite the fact that we do have opera and theatre online, that is the thing I miss most. Last night we saw Acis and Galatea by Handel with choreography by Wayne McGregor from the ROH. Simply beautiful, but I would have preferred to be there! Tomorrow we will be discussing it with friends, while drinking champagne, as we will also be celebrating a friend’s birthday and her husband has sent us all a bottle from Fortnum and Mason. So we will do it in style using Zoom, so that we can see each other, as well as talk to one another. The ROSL Theatre and Opera Group had seven plays booked, plus Glyndebourne and a ballet at the ROH. That is what I will miss most, not just seeing the performances, but spending time with ROSL friends before or after the performance sharing a meal and discussing the production. Furthermore, I miss going to the club. I used to go 2-3 times a week and I really, really miss the members and the staff and our lunches.
Why is it important for you to stay connected with friends, family and fellow members?
This is absolutely essential. Over the past few years we have developed some wonderful relationships with ROSL members through the Book Group, Bridge and Backgammon Groups, Theatre and Opera Group and just going to concerts. Why should we stop seeing each other and talking about our shared interests? We therefore have not stopped, but continue by using Zoom. I had already used Zoom for a series of seminars with a group of 15 CEOs in Buenos Aires and appreciated its benefits. With our other friends, we keep in touch by phone and on Sunday we will all have a party together. With family, it is a slightly different story. We keep in touch using WhatsApp and we can see the grandchildren doing their homework, which they seem to be enjoying. But the loveliest story I have, is when we delivered our grandson’s birthday present on 26 March. His birthday was on the 27 and mine on the 25. Since we could not go into their house, we left the present outside their front door. We were communicating by phone and they then opened a window and started singing Happy Birthday to me and our granddaughter (eight years old) played the recorder. The four of them were at their window, including the dog, and we were in their front garden. It was surreal! Another family member called me from Athens. I have not spoken to her in years and suddenly we were having a long conversation. We seem to be in touch with friends and even family much more now than we used to be.
How did the first online meeting of the Book Group go?
The first online Book Group discussion of Beloved by Toni Morrison, using Zoom, was a big success. Since it was my birthday and I had intended to treat everyone to bubbly, I asked them to join with a glass of something, to help me celebrate. My husband kindly manned the computer half an hour before we started, to help with technical matters, and one member who could not connect via video and sound, did join us using a special telephone number. We could hear her, she could hear us and enjoyed the discussion. What came out of that meeting has been very creative indeed. We will continue with our Book Group meetings and in addition, Susan Ballard volunteered to start a WhatsApp group, which is very active indeed, with members exchanging chat, photographs, videos and poems, every day. In addition, Brian Lewis suggested that we meet for drinks on a regular basis and has now set up Sunday at Six, when members of the Book Group and the Backgammon Club, meet up with a glass of wine for a chat. It is very popular. In addition Brian organised a coffee morning last Thursday. Next Thursday, it will be my turn to organise the coffee morning, as I would like to invite the Bridge Club and some members from the theatre and opera group to join us. They do not normally meet each other, as we meet on different days and times. It will be an interesting experiment to bring them together.
When do you hope to have the Backgammon and Bridge Groups back up and running online?
We have had two games of Backgammon and one of Bridge with our tutor who will continue to offer us supervised practice. As he can only look at one table at a time, he also showed us how to set up our own tables so that we can continue to play until he can join a new table. We are using Zoom on our laptops, to talk to each other and play on our iPads. We are also connected via WhatsApp. We will continue during our usual times of Bridge on Mondays at 2.00-4.00 and Backgammon on Wednesdays 2.00-4.00. However, we can also send out an email, if we feel like a game, and invite others to play on an ad hoc basis.
What advice would you give to other members looking to make the most of technology to meet up?
Be adventurous and try something new. I would recommend the Zoom app for video and sound. You can download it and use it for free, but there is a limit of 40 minutes. If you are going to use it often, with several participants and you need more than 40 minutes, then it is worth subscribing to the Zoom Pro, which has no limit on time and can accommodate up to 100 participants. I have tried it with 30 giving a lecture to my Cambridge students and I could see them at the same time as we could all see the presentation. It even has a break-out room function. You can also use Skype for smaller groups and WhatsApp. Or even just the telephone! Think creatively. People are sharing meals online, recipes, gardening advice, poems, photographs of their gardens, etc. etc. Just make a start. My only advice would be keep it short and take the initiative, don’t wait for someone else to invite you. It really is fun and makes the day fuller and keeps your relationships active.