Call of the wild
ONE of my spring and summer projects has been to learn bird calls. I have identified the screeches of the greenfinches that loudly but invisibly inhabit the trees around our house. I felt smug when I was able to photograph a yellowhammer after recognising the rhythm of its little-bit-of-bread-and-no-cheese tune. I have pinned down the difference between a collared dove and a wood pigeon without having to catch sight of either.
But I was driven to the internet in the small hours of the morning by a persistent yelping sound that I wasn’t even sure was coming from a bird. I listened to recordings of foxes, hedgehogs, and even badgers before concluding that what I had heard was in fact the most obvious of all countryside nocturnal noises: a tawny owl; but, because I was only hearing a single owl, I hadn’t recognised it.
One owl calls “tu-whit” and the other answers “tu-whoo”; the answering hoot is familiar, but the question without the answer is a bizarre, otherworldly noise.
I HAVE been enjoying the weekly Something Borrowed podcast by the slam poetry champion Harry Baker (Comment, 26 June), and read an interesting interview in which he was asked about performing online. He commented that, while a stand-up comedian’s flow relies on laughs from the audience and may be disrupted without them, at least a poem has its own “weight, rhythm, and tone”.
Storytelling falls somewhere between the two, and I have been engaged in a long experiment in how to best to arrange the screen while storytelling on Zoom. Should I have my own image showing, allowing me to check that my gestures are fitting into the little window, or does watching myself perform distract me from my true audience? As for them, do I try to have them all squeezed into my screen, or select a few to enlarge so that I can see whether the interactive parts of the tale are getting their expected — albeit slightly delayed — response?
Stories in which everyone needs to call out suggestions don’t work terribly well when they all have to unmute themselves first, but background noise will interrupt the telling too much to allow everyone to remain unmuted; and then there’s the further distraction of reactions popping up in the chat box. Online performance of any kind is becoming its own new art form.
Let us unmute
WHEN we were deep in lockdown, my husband used to finish his online services with the words “Stay at home in peace, to love and serve the Lord.” Now that some restrictions have been lifted, we have hybrid communions: the Zoom contingent are able to see, hear, and even contribute to the service via a screen and cameras in the church building.
This has led to some wonderful new liturgical responses. “Let us stand to affirm our faith” resulted in some tumbling of laptops from the laps of those at home as they automatically leapt to their feet. “Let us exchange a sign of peace” has become “I’m going to unmute the Zoom room so that we can greet each other; if you’re in church please just nod and wave.”
For our outdoor Picnic and Praise services, we are allowed to play the worship music, but not to sing, which led to my husband finishing his talk with “Shall we hum?”
IF A member of the household has done well out of all this extra time at home together, it’s our guinea-pig, Bobby. He has learned the sound of the fridge door opening, and now shames my too-frequent attempts at snacking with hungry squeals as soon as he hears it. If I didn’t know better, I would say that he has also worked out that, if he shouts during a conference call, we will sneak him cucumber to keep him quiet.
His heart-rending cries work on any member of the family, as I discovered when I came down one morning after a rare lie-in and was informed individually by both children and their father that they had fed Bobby for me. My husband has gone back to the gym, now that it’s reopened; does anybody know what the equivalent is for guinea pigs?
Forward in faith
I DON’T know whether it’s more the heat or the pandemic, but something has affected my ability to make any firm decisions. In the village shop, sweating behind my mask, I found myself paralysed by possible jelly flavours, and ended up (to the children’s delight) buying all three.
Debating a now cancelled holiday to France raised too many unanswerable questions: would we be in a lockdown? Would France be in a lockdown? Would either country start asking travellers from the other to quarantine? What were the current guidelines in each country, and how likely were they to change? I felt like a single tawny owl, firing questions off into the darkness with no sign of an answering hoot.
As for the children’s return to school, it’s hard to come up with any answers without knowing what the questions will be by September. But, for the moment, we’re all right. We have pitched our tent in the garden, and we will stick together like bewildered travellers, following the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night until it leads us wherever we’re going.
Amy Scott Robinson is a writer, performance storyteller, and ventriloquist.