“Tiramisù appears on the dessert menu of practically every Italian restaurant in the UK, but what does the word tiramisù mean?” It was our opening salvo in the opening battle of a good-natured war that was to rage throughout much of 2020: a general knowledge Zoom quiz involving five or six couples, all in the UK except us. It was surely just one of tens of thousands almost identical quizzes raging across the country that helped punctuate the monotony of lockdown, but that was no less entertaining or valuable to us for all that.
Our great friends James and Diane from our Brunei days initiated it, inviting us to take part along with two other couples, whom we also know from numerous raucous and boozy New Years seen in at their home in Hampshire, as well as one or both of their grown-up sons and their partners. Since nearly all of the participants continued to work in some form or another throughout lockdown, the quiz soon became fortnightly rather than weekly to give everyone enough time to research sufficiently fiendish questions, put together increasingly elaborate picture rounds, and eventually to plunder the myriad quizzing sites we all over time became familiar with (and increasingly reliant on). It also soon moved from Saturday to Friday evening: while everyone’s weekends were, of course, depressingly free of social commitments, Fridays felt a much better day to ‘celebrate’ another week of lockdown survived and ticked off.
Much like everyone else’s quizzes, I suspect, the subjects ranged from clever to obscure, from nostalgic to daft, from inventive to desperate (a round called ‘cheese or motorway service station?’ was a great leveller if nothing else), and the arguments over questions, answers and scores – all about as serious as a children’s pillow fight – grew ever less disciplined. And who won or lost grew ever less relevant. Over the weeks and months, those Friday evenings simply became a way to enjoy the company of others, to laugh, to bicker, to tease, to gripe, to let off steam, and for a couple of hours to forget about fatality rates, R-values and travel restrictions (not to mention the parallel horrors of Brexit and Trump).
With little need for discussion, we drew Season One to a close as soon as we were finally released from lockdown and for those few halcyon weeks of summer we could briefly move beyond our immediate neighbourhoods, if not actually do much once we got anywhere. But once tiers one, two and three and zona gialla, arancione and rossa confined us to our homes and screens once more, Season Two soon got underway with renewed vigour, creativity and competitiveness. Like all the best entertainment series it concluded with a Christmas special, complete with questionable festive knitwear and Santa hats as well as rounds on every conceivable aspect of Christmas, from ‘guess the celebrity Santa’ to ‘name that Christmas hit’ (played as a medley on the trumpet) and all points in between. But as with so many Christmas specials, it did slightly feel as if we were limping over the line, our energy spent and our well of ideas run dry. So when Diane tentatively suggested getting together on New Year’s Eve as we were moving our cursors to the red ‘leave meeting’ button, there was little clamour for a New-Year-themed quiz, but little imagination for a suitable alternative. Over the next few days, however, messages were exchanged and ideas batted back and forth and alongside a desire for some outright silliness, a desire for something just a tad more reflective slowly seemed to emerge; an unspoken desire, perhaps even a need, to identify and celebrate the positives and cast out the negatives as 2020 finally passed into history.
So here, then, are the questions we settled upon and my answers to them.
Three good things from 2020 from a personal perspective
Our idyllic holiday in Croatia that for so long we feared would never happen, securing our post-Brexit residency, and, in fact, the sheer release of those Friday night quizzes.
Three plans for 2021
Writing more, running more, and starting work on bringing the interior of the house up to the same standard as the outside.
New Year’s Resolutions
None – as always.
Best Christmas cracker joke
Q: Which illness can you catch from Christmas decorations?
Favourite film, book or TV programme from 2020
‘The Great British Bake Off’ for its kindly, cosy and comforting escapism.
Greatest achievement from lockdown
Turning twenty-plus years of classroom teaching experience on its head and becoming an online teacher at barely a week’s notice – and completing a qualification in online teaching in between lessons too.
Most embarrassing moment of 2020
This was a tie between scoring full marks in a quiz round based on our knowledge of Ikea products and losing a whole group of students in cyberspace in an early attempt at creating breakout groups on Zoom while experiencing connectivity problems. I never did find out where they ended up…
Best and worst purchases of 2020
Mr Blue-Shirt and I both chose as our best purchase the slouchy, L-shaped sofa for the newly-built patio, lounging on which we listened to the rasping of the cicadas and watched the fireflies dancing in the olive grove almost every evening of summer.
No worst purchase having made too few during the year for anything to qualify.
Best and worst new things tried in 2020
Podcasts were my best new thing tried: as a life-long fan of speech radio they were the perfect refuge when the relentless horrors of Covid, Brexit and Trump, reported on and dissected ad nauseum in radio news and current affairs programmes, became unbearable.
Since podcasts were effectively the only new thing I tried, nothing qualified as the worst new thing.
Favourite song and most treasured possession you would choose if invited onto Desert Island Discs
‘Sisi Wa Mbali Mbali’, a Swahili ‘party song’ of pure, unadulterated joy (‘People come from far away to be together in music’) that brings back precious memories of my singing days in Lincolnshire, and my satisfyingly heavy and beautifully engineered Montegrappa pencil together with my new, excitingly empty, gold and turquoise embossed A4 notebook – both gifts from Mr Blue-Shirt.
Now it’s your turn…
By the way, tiramisù means ‘pick me up’ – which I think we could all do with after 2020.
And finally, Happy New Year! In 2021 may we once again sing, dance, eat, drink and make merry together.