Planning a night out to plan a night in

As lockdown was eased at the start of May, even though things are still a long way from anything approaching normal, as soon as the “roadmap” for opening up bars and restaurants was released, the merry men from my Stammtisch started to ask whether we should arrange a night out. For 15th May, the first evening bars would reopen.

Offering a group of socially-starved men a night out usually meets with acclamation, rather than faint murmurings. However, this time is different. Many of us have used our own gardens and terraces as a venue for virtual drinks, so the prospect of a bar in groups of no more than four was not that much of a crowd-puller. It was nevertheless necessary to break the deadlock. So I was asked to find a solution. That was the easy part.

Where it got more difficult was in finding a way that those who really wanted and needed to get out could. In my case, having broken my vow of solitude by having a socially distanced lunch in my sister-in-law’s garden on Muttertag (three separate tables for the total of five of us), I felt that I didn’t have the need to go out.

As we are twelve staunch regulars, excluding others consciously self-isolating and shielding, this worked out to our advantage – 12 being three groups of four, the maximum group size permitted. I ask our core Stammtisch group two simple binary questions (sometimes they have virtues!) about whether they a) actively wanted to meet and b) would consider meeting so that those desperate to meet could.

I felt I had to take into account the extremes of prevailing circumstances, namely that others have very elderly parents to care for, while at the other end of the spectrum some live in very modest residences, where their social interaction in recent weeks has been limited to saying hello out of the window to a passing neighbour.

From the responses, I was able to identify a group that I thought “had to meet” and found four willing to do so. In the “don’t need to, but willing to meet to ensure someone else gets a night out” group I found three and I lumped myself in the group to even out the groups into three groups of four. The “don’t want to go out, and not willing to for company for others”, drawn mainly from those living with or caring for very elderly parents were the last four.

And so to the next stage of the plan. On Friday, the four “certainties” would have met for sure, the four “maybes” would have met if they had wanted to, and the carers and shielders would have not. I then had various combinations between the groups to ensure that by mid-July, everyone should have seen everyone else.

The reaction was silence, sadly not in awe, but because people had realised that they were able to survive without a Stammtisch for a bit longer. It was no skin of my nose, the groups can be resurrected when people feel safer, and we know who might need to be picked up with regular calls, which is a good thing.

But tthis abortive attempt to organise a Stammtisch is not an isolated case. After a lengthy lockdown, some people are desperate for pre-lockdown normality to be restored. Others remain restrained, and there is also a group firmly more in fear than anything else. Yes, people’s willpower is very much on the wane rather than being strengthened here in Vienna, but the news doesn’t seem anything as hair-raising as in the UK. I’ll keep on exercising my restraint, and minding my own business. I’ve not got anything to gain by any other way of behaving. Stay safe.