“Ok, folks, let’s make a start.”
Sue’s on the moon. That looks quite smart.
“Oh wait, are we expecting Rex?”
“I’ll reinvite. Can someone text?”
Mike’s speaking but his sound’s gone dead.
Is Sally in her garden shed?
He’s unaware. The chorus swells,
“Unmute! Unmute!” We wave and yell.
He forges on as through a fog.
Is that hairy thing a dog?
“Test your mic, Mike! Test your sound!”
“heLLO?” Relief and thumbs all round.
The host continues, “As you know …”
Then seizes in an awkward pose.
Crikey, look at Nigel’s hair.
He sputters in and out. “Oh dear…”
“The internet’s quite dodgy here …
I’ll **~~**~~ laptop **~~** upstairs.”
Rooms swirl round. I feel quite sick.
“OK, let’s see if that’ll stick.”
Now Jen and Jules begin together.
Zoom’s confused. It’s not that clever.
So who was in that empty room?
Both retreat. Then both resume.
They urge each other, “Be my guest.”
Jules concedes but then forgets
Whatever point she meant to make.
Those curtains were a bad mistake.
“Sorry folks, I’ve got to leave.
Another meeting booked for three.”
Steve is having forty winks.
He’s gone. Another broken link.
“Thanks everyone. It’s been productive!”
Certainly, it was instructive.
“See you next time.” Meeting’s End.
So good we’re able to attend.
To hear the poem, click the play button.
Reflections from a home front: 10
I thought I’d start with the poem for a change. In a week where I’ve felt less buoyant than previously, I have indulged in playing with some lighter stuff.  If you’d like a more thoughtful poetic take, try Malcolm Guite’s second Quarantine Quatrain.
Zoom for two. Plus incidental Bookcase Credibility grab.
My own experience of Zoom – which includes work meetings, study groups, family chats and virtual drinks with the choir – is that of a mixed blessing. The moment when a familiar face enters the screen, there’s a little hit of pleasureable recognition. A few more people arrive, and – hurrah! – we’re together again. In spite of everything, here we all are! But here is an illusion, and it’s a less than convincing one in so many ways.
Although one-to-one works, after a fashion, group gatherings leave me feeling unsettled. I feel self-conscious and find it hard to know when to speak. And when I eventually do, it doesn’t feel as if I’m talking to anyone. This renders me less fluent and feeling a bit stranded. I know it’s suggested you turn your camera off, but seeing the group without me in it feels as if I’ve absented myself from proceedings, which makes me feel even more on the edge than I already do.
There’s some consolation in knowing not all of this just me. For all of us, video calls eliminate so many of the subtle but vital cues to successful human communication that we pick up brilliantly, intuitively and mostly subconsciously. And this problem is exacerbated by multiscreen screens. It’s a significant challenge to the poor old brain; no wonder we’re left with Zoom Fatigue. (Now officially a thing.) For analysis of Zoom’s fascinating but complicated effects (for certain people it’s actually a better way to communicate) see these articles from National Geographic and the BBC.
Even more unsettling than the neurological challenge is the emotional charge. When forgathering is forbidden, these facsimiles simply remind us of the living, breathing presence we do not have. It reminds me of a time when my daughter was about seven and I went away on a work trip to America. She completely refused to speak to me on the phone, knowing instinctively that it would be more than she could bear.
Look, don’t touch. Hear, don’t hug. The experience is shot through with ambivalence.
Well, it’s better than the alternative nothing. That’s the obvious argument. But if there’s one thing that the current situation has brought home is that for many things, there isn’t always straightforward way to determine what’s better or best, to put the short term alongside the long term, to put one kind of benefit above another.
It seems likely that Zoom’s face replacement service will have a place in the emerging post-lockdown world. But if nothing else, we will surely value the simple act of being together, real people in real places – something so ordinary but so vital to human flourishing.
The Wandering Albatross said I should note that this more the result of pollen fever than cabin fever.
 An absolutely brilliant thing on Twitter. Suspect mine would not come out well, though.