A teddy bear in the background of a 'serious' tv interview leaves Yorkshire Vet Julian Norton 'zoomed out'

It’s not that I’m a Luddite.

Yorkshire Vet Julian Norton

Generally, I love technological advances, provided that they are just that– advances. At the moment, though, I am “Zoomed out”.

This sounds like a phrase from the vocabulary of a cameraman, applicable when nobody wants a close-up. I definitely feel a bit like that on a regular basis, but in this context what I mean is that I am getting fed up with virtual meetings.

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I know they have been a necessity over recent months, to facilitate both important meetings and vital yoga classes, but personally I’m struggling with them.

There is no doubt that these technologies have been essential in the battle to continue work in the face of social distancing. The emailed pictures of a dog’s ear or sore foot have enabled treatment to be provided without a trip to the surgery, although the quality of the pictures seems to vary wildly.

Sometimes they are so pixelated the images more closely resemble the Minecraft version of a dog (something I witness every time I poke my head into my youngest son’s bedroom to check on his ‘home-schooling’).

I had a great Zoom meeting with some Cambridge vet students recently. Some of them had missed out on their graduation ceremony on the lawns in front of the Vet School. I can still remember every minute of that amazing day, twenty-four years ago, almost to the day and I feel so sad for them, missing this culmination of all their hard work.

Practice Zoom meetings are of varying success due to lack of adequate broadband in parts of North Yorkshire and the vagaries of being on call. There is the perennial “it’s the button at the bottom left” conflab when people can be seen but not heard. It is a button I find increasingly useful to deploy.

My Zoom experience reached its peak this week, however, when I had an interview with the Royal Television Society, to talk about my experiences over recent years in front of the camera.

My venue of choice for the meeting, in the absence of a study crammed with classic literature, was the spare bedroom. We chatted for the customary 40 minutes’ worth of free Zoom time about the trials, tribulations and adventures I had enjoyed in the world of telly, all of which were unexpected.

It was only as the Zoom interview – destined for high-powered telly types to peruse online somewhere and sometime – drew to a close, that something caught my eye on the screen of my laptop.

It was a huge, smiling, cuddly toy, won by my father in the kids’ primary school summer fair many years ago. He was called Dodger and he was a bear. His benign grin made it hard to send him to the charity shop and his presence went unnoticed for most of the year.

But this evening, as I’d tried my best to be sensible and erudite for the higher echelons of the RTS, Dodger’s presence, sitting behind me in a rocking chair, undermined my efforts. I signed off and said my goodbyes, thankful most of the work of a vet must be done actually rather than virtually. Animals have never heard of Zoom.

I met a new patient the following day, whose owner had been waiting patiently for such time as the new kitten could have her vaccinations. I peered into the cat box, before taking the fuzzy ball of fluff into the surgery.

“We couldn’t think of what to call her,” her owner explained. “Then it hit us: she’s so fast and what with all these virtual meetings, we’ve decided to call her Zoom!”