When my husband died in March 2019, I reacted by finding loads of things to do, places to go, people to see. Suddenly I was released from the daily grind of full-time carer and chief worrier. During the summer of 2019, I travelled all around the UK, took a flying visit to the Hansa cities of Hamburg and nearby Lübeck, attended a conference in beautiful Split in Croatia, and visited my sister in Cataluña. I rounded off my first solo year with a visit to family in Singapore – with a holiday in New Zealand thrown in. At home in the UK, in August 2019 I joined a new club, Worthing Speakers, and was still singing at my regular community choir evening. I entered a whirl of lunches and days out, drinks with friends and trips to the cinema and theatre – all this meant that I was scarcely aware of what it is to be on my own.
Then along came Covid-19. Suddenly I couldn’t go anywhere at all – no family visits, no more leisurely lunches, no choir, no cinema, no classes at the gym. Well, we’ve all been there of course, so that’s enough about lockdown deprivation.
But what has saved me from crawling up my own walls has been the club I joined in August 2019. As soon as it became apparent that our in-person meetings could no longer happen, the committee moved everything online. And the club is thriving in the new medium. New members are joining us all the time. Meetings are lively, well-organised, and inspiring. Social interaction before and after meetings is encouraged and the Zoom format works well.
Worthing Speakers is part of an international organisation called Toastmasters International. Toastmaster members are entitled to visit any other club in the world. Last December I took advantage of this to visit two clubs in Singapore. But with online Toastmasters, the world has opened up. I have visited clubs all over the UK, in Ireland, in the US, and I went back to Singapore, but virtually this time.
During this period I have achieved two levels on my pathway, and am working on the next two levels with projects to benefit the club. I have joined the committee, attended online conferences, taken over the editing of the club’s newsletter, and am about to enter a speech competition. Whoever would have thought that I could do all this during a pandemic? It certainly fills what might otherwise have been empty days.
I very rarely sit down in front of my TV these days, preferring to drop in on friendly faces in other parts of the world. I have given prepared speeches, taken on roles such as grammarian and timer, spoken during the impromptu table topic sessions, or just watched, and generally enjoyed very friendly, yet structured evenings. I have got to know many people around the world and made useful contacts both in my Toastmasters career and socially.
One evening, I sang a song at an open mic session run by a club in Ireland and was awarded first place. I have to admit though that the competition was not strong!
Toastmasters and in particular our club, Worthing Speakers, have been my lifeline during the past six months. Even though lockdown has eased and most of us can now visit family members, I still cannot, due to Singapore’s very strict entry rules and I have to be content with daily Whatsapp calls for now.
I musnt not forget my weekly chats with translator friends, and a few online events I have attended over the months. But what is really keeping me sane is Worthing Speakers and Toastmasters.