After hitting the lockdown wall last week, I received some salient advice that in turn led to a bit of an epiphany (or, and perhaps more appropriately, what alcoholics refer to as ‘a moment of clarity’). I realised that something had to change so, after careful consideration, I said ‘No’ to something. I’ll just pause a moment while those of you who know me pick their jaws up from the floor.
Of course, being British, I actually said something along the lines of, “I’m terribly sorry, I really can’t meet that deadline, I do hope you understand, thank you very much and sorry again”. This was a somewhat unusual step for me, but was much needed and as a result the rest of my plates have (more or less) kept spinning. It struck me that although I find it difficult to admit that I’m finding things challenging, when I do the weight that lifts allows me to carry on with everything else.
All down to wonderful advice from exceptional friends. The tea towel in the photo above, hangs up in my kitchen, and it really is a bit of a mantra for me. I am lucky that over the years I have accidentally amassed a wide and diverse support crew, towards whom I feel a maternal loyalty and attachment. Communications are being kept alive with remarkable regularity (in some cases more than we managed pre-lockdown). There’s digital dinner parties, race nights, quizzes, and chats covering topics from crochet to sourdough starters.
Another fantastic distraction has been the “Daily Briefing Bingo” WhatsApp group which has the fortunate consequence of keeping us informing of the latest statistics and messages emanating from our esteemed leaders. Then there’s the weekly Zoom ‘pub quiz’ with my choir compatriots. And we even managed a virtual party for the birthday girl last week thanks to the immensely talented Josh Benson. At my school, I am lucky to have tremendous colleagues and a supportive buddy system where staff have been paired up to check in with each other once a week or so.
The novel and enterprising ways in which we’re maintaining our friendships is also being used in other realms. The arts world has launched into cyberspace bringing vast amounts of glorious culture into our homes. Every week free of charge The National Theatre is broadcasting a performance of some of their most popular productions, several museums have curated virtual tours of exhibitions, and even Andrew Lloyd Webber is inviting you to watch one of his Musicals every weekend (my husband is delighted).
Music teaching is also going digital, as part of the online learning on #YMHShare you can join a choir, develop your composing skills or learn to play the ukulele. There are also a community of approved peripatetic music tutors who have taken their teaching online* through mediums such as Zoom, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams, enabling them to continue to deliver lessons to children and young people. I can personally attest that this is something that has meant a lot to both parties. The tutors are staying connected to their pupils and maintaining an income in what is a time of great anxiety for the self-employed. For many of the students, the relationship they have with their music teacher is one of the most important outside of their family circle. I know that the youngest members of this household adore their instrumental teachers, and continuing their lessons has provided a sense of normality in their increasingly un-normal world.
Whilst editing my third (and definitely final) lipsync video for the staff at my school, I had another realisation. I suddenly recognised that I was missing a very specific type of contact with my colleagues and friends. Before lessons, after meetings, even the moments in the communal loo, these fleeting conversations would bring me so much joy (and gossip). I am, apparently, a chatterer** and I love the nuggets we glean and share with each other during these informal encounters. Those casual catch ups over a warm cup of something or a cold glass of something else, those chance encounters, the snatched moments that break up the day - I actually think I’m suffering from withdrawal, so much so that I’ve started talking back to my emails. I don't know of a name for these chance meetings that nestle in the brief gaps of our hectic day, so I've invented one: in-between-ness.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge said on Women’s Hour a couple of months ago that ‘friendships are the greatest romances of our lives.’ For me this is the utterly perfect description of the relationships that some of us are lucky to have with our contemporaries, colleagues and friends. It is so often true that we are the people we are because of those we surround ourselves with. During this bizarre phase of history, my extraordinary support network is actively pulling me through lockdown life. So until we can see each other and enjoy once again that arbitrary ‘in-between-ness’ as well as everything else, I leave you to enjoy the Lipsync and raise a glass or a cup*** at you through my screen and send a huge virtual hug in your general direction.
* We feature tutors based in York offering online tuition in our Bulletin every month.
** I thought I’d made this word as well but apparently not according Microsoft spell-check.
*** Time dependant.