I’m sure, at some time or another, we’ve all found ourselves scrambling to put on our peace medallions while squinting through pink 60s-style sunglasses we’ve bought for £3. Last week, it was our turn, as my wife and I sat down for a vaguely Beatles-themed videoconference in celebration of my father-in-law Sean’s 70th birthday.
I say ‘vaguely Beatles-themed’ because, once faces started popped up on-screen – in the manner of a Brady Bunch title sequence formed mostly of people from County Meath – it was clear that only a few of us had received that memo.
The event had been arranged by my sister-in-law Aoife and, despite the shameful neglect of dress code by 90% of the participants, it was a roaring success. Sean is well-loved, so we weren’t surprised that almost his entire family were in attendance. As Sean is from a family of 12, there were callers from all over Ireland, England and two separate siblings calling from Australia. It’s a testament to the esteem in which he’s held that they were happy to rise at 6am local time to take part in a raucous simul-chat with two dozen people, all getting increasingly tipsy, including the six of us who were, for some reason, dressed in 60s attire. For three hours, we drank, ate cake and watched as heartfelt tributes to Sean blended with merciless inter-sibling slagging. It was, in short, wonderful.
When conversation dipped for a moment, we lightened the mood by making fun of the crew calling in from Kells, who’d happily added an air of mystery to proceedings by setting up their camera so far away from their faces we couldn’t understand a thing they said for the duration of the evening. Aoife outdid herself with video tributes, special images shared from the old days, and a Sean-specific quiz.
At this point, of course, our competitive streak took over and birthday celebrations briefly morphed into a battle royale of rural Irish childhood trivia. As others began swapping wine for whiskey, we became deeply invested in working out how many senior county football matches Sean had attended. There were queries about his middle name and, perhaps, 40 straight minutes of animated argument about whether a particular photograph had been taken in front of a concrete wall or a bale of hay. We were quite merry by the time the answers were turned in, but I believe we took a creditable second place.
For us it was a reminder that, even if we all profess to be tired of the ubiquity of online meet-ups, the power they have to get people together is undeniable. Even when time delays and internet lags can’t be avoided, they enable a level of connection which, like Sean, is worth celebrating. Yes, I may be looking at things through rose-tinted specs but, in my defence, they were only £3.
Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats