Families are funny things, aren’t they?
When my sister and I were small, ours was a sprawling mess of aunts, uncles, first cousins, second cousins, godmothers, godfathers, nans, and grandads. Christmases were dubbed “the feeding frenzy,” as we all flocked to one house and gathered around a table groaning under the sheer weight of the food piled upon it. Birthdays were a riot of colourful cards, far too many to fit on the windowsills and mantelpieces. And summers were spent driving to a pub somewhere in the middle of nowhere because it was equidistant to all of us, and taking over the beer garden within moments.
My childhood memories, as you might imagine, are all incredibly noisy ones.
They’re silly arguments over whose turn it is to do the washing up, extreme water pistol fights in the garden, and shouting to be heard over the buzz of voices. They’re staying up late to sing Auld Lang Syne in the living room on New Year’s Eve, hands crossed across my chest and holding tight to whoever’s nearest to me. They’re following a series of clues on an extra-special birthday treasure hunt.
They’re coming down to breakfast at 8am, only to find everyone already at the table ready to greet me with an impossibly sarcastic “afternoon!”
As I grew older, though, things changed. I became a sulky teenager, who wore a lot of black and couldn’t stop rolling her eyes at pretty much everything. I went to university and threw myself wholeheartedly into student life. I got a magazine internship alongside my two weekend jobs, something which forced me to work all hours under the sun. And then I embarked upon my journalism career in earnest, and everything got even bloody busier.
My nan – a woman who could always be found at the centre of every family gathering, like a sun being orbited by many planets – reminded me that I could always turn up, whenever I wanted. That I didn’t have to wait for an invitation or stand on ceremony; that I was family, and that I was always, always welcome.
Not long later, she passed away and was followed soon after by my beloved grandad. For whatever reason, I imagined the door closed behind them, and, just like that, I fell out of touch with everyone.
Oh, don’t get me wrong: some of us would still send the odd WhatsApp or Facebook message from time to time. And we’d meet up, albeit rarely and always in smaller one-on-one circumstances. But the clamour that comes from everyone getting together and shouting over the top of one another? That was gone – and I assumed it was gone for good.
But then, in 2020, Covid-19 happened and the UK was plunged into the first of a seemingly endless string of lockdowns. About halfway through the first, my dad mentioned that he’d been taking part in a weekly Zoom quiz with my extended family and asked if I’d like to join one Sunday night.
“Why not?” I reasoned with myself. “One quiz won’t hurt.”
Reader, I have attended that weekly quiz ever since.
It’s been months. It’s been almost an entire year. And still, without fail, I open my laptop at 8.15pm on a Sunday night and log into Zoom to join a sea of familiar faces. They’re all there: my aunt, my uncle and his girlfriend, my godmother and her husband, my dad and stepmother (currently based in Alaska, hence the late start time), my dad’s cousin and his wife (and their own grown-up children, depending which week it is), and – appearing only occasionally, like an extra-special celebrity judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race – my sister.
Yes, it’s sometimes proven frustrating: I work an early shift on Monday mornings, and I prefer to keep my Sunday evenings free so that I can wind down, have a bubble bath, and get to bed at a decent time but… y’know. Yes, there has been some squabbling. Yes, we always start at least 10 minutes later than we should (100% my fault; I seem to run at half my usual speed on weekends). And, yes, everyone is just as noisy as I remember, which can make… well, it can make things tricky (ever tried to tackle a music round on Zoom when someone’s chatting all the way through it? Fun).
But you know what? Despite all my grumblings and eye rolls (I’ve seemingly reverted back to that teen dressed all in black, nowadays), I’ve loved it. I’ve loved every annoying, time-consuming, laptop battery-draining minute of it. I get to be a kid again – because I will forever be a kid to these people. I get to be silly, and use my computer for something that isn’t just work. I get to chat to my dad every week, despite the fact he’s living on the other side of the world. I get to imagine my nan smiling down on us all, because, honestly, there’s nothing she wanted more than for all of us to make time for one another.
So, yeah, reconnecting with everyone, and getting to know them all over again via the medium of over-competitive virtual quizzes, has proven an unexpected lockdown bonus. Because life has proven way too quiet during the age of Covid-19.
And that relentless noise, that cacophony of squabbling, childish, familiar voices, is exactly what the doctor ordered.