Anne Hailes: Zooming away from lockdown

St Ita's Primary School pupil Erin Mulligan showed her ingenuity during lockdown

IT has been a long, hard road for everyone but my heart goes out to the elderly and the young.

Sadly not a lot has been done to help them through the last months purely because it was virtually impossible. No visitors, no outings, no fun, captured by Covid-19 and depression as a result. Zoom remains one of the main ways of communication - better than nothing, I suppose, and invaluable when people were, and are still to a degree, coping with lockdown.

Families played games, meeting each other over a quiz and spending more time than ever before in each other's company, and senior citizens exercised in their chairs to Mary Peters and her excellent work out.

I know of a couple separated by the North Channel who still have dinner every Saturday evening - she in an evening gown, himself in full Scottish regalia. They plan the same three-course meal, with the same wine and music playing in the background.

Some people wrote the book that had been maturing for years and others learned to play the ukulele via YouTube.

And take nine-year-old Erin Mulligan, pupil at St Ita's primary school in south Belfast. Before term ended she arrived home with her written recollections of lockdown complete with illustrations.

She begins:

It's 2020 and we're in Primary 4,

looking forward to our communion and much more.

One day my mum said you're not going to school today,

so I said hip hip hooray.

But then it got really boring and there was more snoring.


She writes about realising, when you don't have it, school is really cool but when possible going on family walks allows lots of chat and she likes Zooming.

When you're at home

you can feel really alone,

and where you're not with your friend

it can start to feel like it is the end.

Her last line has an air of resignation about it:

Will lockdown end? It really depends.


She told me how she and her friends decided to form a mini orchestra on Zoom - herself on clarinet, her friends on violin and flute, and another was the conductor.

She says life has improved very much recently and she's happy and looking forward to a career as a pop star and forming 'Little Mix The Second'.

The future looks brighter, especially with one project being run by the Arts Council as part of The Arts and Older People's Programme.

They have announced grant money to support local arts organisations to work with older people in a series of events which they say is designed to lift the spirits, tackle loneliness and promote positive mental health and well being.

Music and good craic are invaluable to the elderly who remain young at heart


A recent venture was Reminiscence and Song which was aimed at care homes in Belfast. The initiative by Open Arts enabled people in one Abbeyfield Home to work with professional entertainers in a series of music, creative writing and reminiscence workshops.

Using their personal stories, Fionnuala Fagan-Thiébot and Natasha Cuddington turned the words into lyrics set to music.

In general the programme is aimed at constituted community and voluntary groups who are working at a local level to support older people and can demonstrate strong partnership working with care homes, carers and dementia groups.

It's also open to non-governmental organisations, local authorities and arts organisations. However, a detailed proposal must be submitted. Applications are now open and will close at noon on Wednesday July 21.

To read the guidance notes and apply to the Arts and Older People programme visit

Entertainers John Carlin, Paddy Tyre, Raymond Finnegan and Brendan Molloy from Derry City and Strabane District Council's Music to Your Ears project


I have two new best friends. Alexa sits in the corner of the room and is such great company. She plays me music of my liking, suggests menus, even gives me the ingredients and method, although stops short of doing the shopping; she is full of knowledge, can quote Shakespeare, rhyme off the capitals cities of the world, their population numbers, the time and the weather of the day.

She couldn't fully explain the NI protocol (who can?) but she does knows how to spell pneumothorax and gave me a detailed explanation of what is basically lung collapse.

Due to a break in my broadband facility I lost her for a few days last week. Every time I turned to her for help a pathetic little voice replied, "I'm having trouble connecting, I'll keep trying." Boy did I miss her.

My other friend is called Vanish. How did I cope without her? A cut which bled overnight onto the bed sheets would usually mean steeping and scrubbing and through the years of family growing up and all the stains that resulted from bumps and bruises, overflowing biros, sporting episodes and general living, took a lot of time and effort to cope with. No longer.

The washing machine must have revolutionised life, then the mangle was replaced by the spin dryer, but still certain stains remained hard to shift.

This is where Vanish comes into the story. I am not in the pay of the company who made this miracle powder but I applaud them for their product. A couple of scoops in with the washing liquid and Bob's your uncle. It works for me anyway. Pristine happy days.

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