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//Gill Sherry//

I’ve always been a glass half full kind of girl; optimistic, forever looking on the bright side. Admittedly, the last twelve months have tested my resolve, but, on the whole, I’ve managed to keep the smile on my face and maintain my sanguine spirit.

The lockdowns and curfews imposed last year were, if nothing else, novel. I had never experienced anything like it before and, hopefully, never will again. That said, it afforded me the opportunity to re-discover my neighbourhood, to appreciate the beauty on my doorstep and to spend more time with my family. Those precious few weeks, although frustrating, were surprisingly good for the soul.

Communities came together with a renewed sense of camaraderie. We shopped for our neighbours. We respected our key workers. We reassessed our priorities. Life wasn’t so bad.

Fast forward to subsequent government restrictions and things were very different. The novelty of home baking had worn off. DIY was disastrous. Mondays were monotonous. Tuesdays were tedious. Wednesdays were… well, every day was the same. Cabin fever had well and truly set in.

Still, I refused to be beaten by this new kind of normal. There was much to be thankful for. My family was safe and well, the football was back on TV, there was no longer a shortage of pasta or toilet rolls. I had food, warmth and shelter. I even had a new puppy, a constant companion at a time when friends were in short supply.

Actually, that’s not strictly true. My friends were, of course, still my friends, it’s just that social interaction was restricted to Zoom. Pre-COVID, I hadn’t even heard of Zoom. Now it was an essential form of communication, a platform for video and audio conferencing and, more importantly, my link to the outside world.

Regular chats with my friends were a much needed distraction from the malaise. A friendly face, a cheerful smile, an amusing tale. It made a refreshing change from the doom and gloom I usually saw on screen: facts and figures delivered by stern-faced newsreaders, their reports restricted to one, all-consuming subject. Screen time with my friends was a welcome change, a dose of positivity, an escape from everything COVID.

That said, sustaining a conversation was a challenge. After all, what was there to talk about? I hadn’t been anywhere, done anything or seen anyone. I felt… insignificant. But, that’s the beauty of friends. They always know how to make you feel better.

My Zoom conversations stretched far and wide. From Denmark to South Africa, from Abu Dhabi to Valencia, these global get-togethers really did unite nations. And, they lasted a surprisingly long time. Which would suggest that, actually, I had plenty to say after all.

The key, I soon realised, was to reminisce. To recall those shared experiences, those laugh out loud moments of fun and frivolity. Like the time I lost my brand new sunglasses over the side of a hot air balloon in Dubai. Or when we arrived at our caravan only to find someone else sleeping in it. That particular incident resulted in four adults spending the night in a very small family saloon. Not the most comfortable experience, I can tell you!

Moments like this are pure gold when relived with those involved and it’s surprising how many come to light once you set off down memory lane.

There are, of course, other means of communication besides the aforementioned Zoom. Depending on the number of participants, I’ve also used Google Meet, FaceTime and WhatsApp video. No doubt there are others I’ve never even heard of, let alone tried to use, but Zoom was the word on everyone’s lips when socialising was banned. ‘Are you on Zoom?’ ‘Shall we Zoom later?’ ‘What time are we Zooming in?’ The very name seemed to set it apart, to literally zoom it to the top of the list when it came to virtual meetings.

Regardless of your preferred method of communication, it’s heartening to realise that good friendships sustain themselves. After all, it’s not distance that separates people, it’s silence. Thanks to technology, keeping in touch is easy and, more often than not, it’s free. A simple text message takes seconds to send but can put a smile on the recipient’s face for the rest of the day. Phone calls go one step further, the sound of a familiar voice filling your heart and lifting your spirit. But actually seeing their smiling face, watching their smile turn to laughter, their eyes shine with delight, well, that’s just priceless.

The funny thing is, I probably talk to my friends more now than I did before. Admittedly, we all seem to have more time on our hands, but it’s not just the absence of routines that has bucked this trend. There’s nothing like a global pandemic to make you realise what’s important and, amongst other things, the last year has reminded me just how important my friends are. Some I’ve known my entire life, others only a few years, but each and every one of them has helped me through this lengthy period of uncertainty. I’d like to think I’ve done the same in return. After all, isn’t that what friends are for?

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