Eighteen months on…. Was it just Covid that has changed our lives?

“It has been a strange phenomenon, especially in the age of social media. On the one hand, it has never been easier to record, store and disseminate information but paradoxically, we are more detached than ever.” 

Many have suffered with loss of work, loss of health and of course, loss of leisure travel, amongst other ‘not so nice things’. Some have happily taken a turn to find a new lifestyle (with indulgent eating and drinking thrown in, of course). Probably the most difficult, certainly for me, was not being able to see my mother, my family and close friends. As a Sake and Shōchū educator, the last 18 months has certainly changed my way of thinking, teaching and living! The only real choice for many of us was to bare a big smile filled with an abundance of positivity and repeating to oneself, “life must go on.”

With great enthusiasm I decided to go with the flow, took a deep deep breath and here I am – older, wiser and definitely happier. I plunged into the world of virtual everything and never looked back. Ignored all negative vibes, negative people, negative thoughts and dealt with situations as they arose. When times were a bit low, out came the mantras and deep breaths. It worked. It still works and will continue working.

I learnt new methods to teach. I wrote. I helped others. I said “YES” to everything. I ran free masterclasses and sessions to practise my techniques. I fed friends. All the ”I”, “I”, “I”s because life IS good and it’s for sharing.

In terms of Sake, stocks were low, no shipments coming to the UK, little or no production, so limited imbibing capabilities and relying on virtual tastings was the only way forward. My great friend, Australian Simone, took off with the first of her series of virtual sake brewery tours on 20th April 2020. What started as a little fun zoom group of friends getting together, virtually touring the odd brewery around Japan and chatting over “ochokos” of sake is now on its 53rd (2nd August 2021) ‘Taste with the Toji’ programme attracting large numbers of newfound friends around the world. A success story.

Big names like Tim Atkin, Jamie Goode, Oz Clarke amongst others have been doing similar sessions with samples of wines sent to participants creating lots of interest. AWE followed with our very successful virtual CPD sessions as did the Circle of Wine Writers, keeping us sane with lots of wine related masterclasses. 18 months down the line, probably millions of sessions on Zoom, YouTube, reels, live chats, Instagram live, Facebook live, TikTok, recorded sessions, etc. etc., to just name a few platforms, we are now slowly easing back into real tastings with social distancing in place. A breath of fresh air.

Before working from home became the norm and now, easing back into offices, the lockdown, the bored thumb twiddling brigade were eager – with time on their hands and money in their pockets – creating a niche to be grabbed. Courses, classes, cook-alongs, anything besides watching the telly was a worthy option. Lots of wonderful informative “reads” appeared on websites and new friends were found on LinkedIn, Facebook etc. There was a lot more time to search for products, services and things to do. Keeping busy doing things we liked became addictive.

On the flip side, teaching was certainly interesting. Many decided to give it a go. The initially sceptical Zoom sessions (though certainly not ideal) was a great model to start with for people who didn’t like nor could cope with solo online courses. I myself bravely decided to have a go. With blessings from WSET, and a big Gung-ho deep breath I taught the WSET level3 Sake course not once but twice and two level1 courses too, jumping through hoops and over hurdles along the journey. Level1 students passed with flying colours. The online exam option with very strict rules using three cameras and a watchful invigilator from WSET was a success though fiddly. Level 3 exams with a blind tasting paper had to be in person so last weekend, after over a year since running the first course, a few students were able to sit for their exams live in London. We shall know in eight weeks whether this style of teaching really works. I am still awaiting students from Europe and Asia to fly in to take their exams. I also taught two further courses for the Sake School of America. Both the Shōchū and Sake Adviser courses were pretty intensive and informative. Students again took the exam online with cameras linked to the USA invigilator. Another success story with the majority gaining distinctions.

Hopefully for us educators these experiences will be a passing one and we will all slowly but surely return to some form of normality with live lectures to engage students young and old.

The Wikipedia definition of social media: Interactive technologies that allow the creation or sharing/exchange of information, ideas, career interests, and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks. Its roots probably date back to the invention of the telegraph back in the 1840s.

So the million dollar question – Has social media made a positive impact over the last 18 months and will it continue to do so?

Food for thought.

  1. Sue Eames 3 years ago

    Great blog Marie .. I know that personally I have enjoyed Zoom sessions – particularly when in lockdown alone in Paris but I’m also on the side of really looking forward to in-person sessions.
    I have so enjoyed the live trade tastings and will be doing another in-person course as soon as my travel plans can be more concrete!

  2. Vivienne Franks 3 years ago

    Marie, what great initatives you have undertaken in the past 15 months or so. Thank you for sharing your experiences

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