My tea spillage blunder whilst getting to grips with the etiquette of a Zoom call - Ian McMillan

Right, time for the meeting with those people who want me to write something for them; in the meeting we’ll discuss the first draft I sent them, and how we might alter it, and what kind of deadlines we’re working to.

Ian McMillan reflects on how meetings have shifted from physical to virtual.

In the olden days I would have walked up the street and got a bus and then a train and then another train and then, because I was early for the meeting like I’m always early for everything, I would pop into a cafe and slurp a swift espresso and then I’d wander to the meeting and then after the meeting I’d do all that in reverse, even down to a second espresso.

I know: the previous paragraph may as well have been written on parchment and unrolled from a scroll because it describes a life that seems so long ago and far away even though I’m talking about only early March.

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Nowadays, as I’ve said, I have the same kinds of meetings because I’m still, thankfully, being asked to write things, but all the meetings take place in my spare bedroom which I’ve taken to calling (and here’s something I never thought I’d do) my office. In fact, I’m hoping my wife will take the hint and get me a sign for Christmas saying Ian’s Office: He’s Bard At Work.

The meeting is scheduled to start at 10.30 on Zoom; if you haven’t used Zoom it’s the kind of thing they used to show on science fiction films. Somebody on the planet Fnarr would be talking to somebody who was on the moon of Fnarr and somebody else who was in a spaceship orbiting Fnarr and they would all be appearing on screens at the same time and they could not only hear each other but they could see each other and it felt like something from the very edge of the writer’s imagination, but now, in 2020, that’s what Zoom is.

It’s 10.15 and I’ve had an email invitation from the host to join the meeting in 15 minutes; frustratingly for an early bird like me, there’s no point being early because you just hang around in the cyber equivalent of a vestibule until the host lets you in.

So I sit in my “office” until it’s time for the meeting to start. I’ll be looking at the screen on my iPad. I try to arrange my lockdown hair, which is the opposite of locked down. It looks like a fascinator made by an infant. I try to make sure I’m sitting in front of some improving books so that I look cleverer than I am.

I try to arrange my face into a welcoming smile because I’ve noticed that a lot of people look stern on Zoom and I agree with Clive James’s idea that whenever you’re in a meeting you should always look pleased to be there.

It’s almost time. The meeting host is about to let me in. I reach across to grab my cup of tea for a final pre-Zoom glug. And of course I drop the tea and I lean forward and knock my iPad over and so the first view the meeting gets of me is actually of my ceiling. Oh well: at least they can’t see my hair.

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