Maybe you are suffering from zoom fatigue which we read is a “disease” of the, now 16 month long COVID-19 pandemic, but as I sit here on 2nd May morning at my old, small, laptop in my dining room in Palo Alto, California, watching the Boston Symphony Orchestra, sitting well spaced and masked in their audience-less hall thousands of miles away playing Schumann’s 4th symphony, I can honestly say my computer is my friend.

Boston Symphony Orchestra

Screen shot of the Boston Symphony Orchestra playing Schuman’s 4th Symphony as viewed on Cherrill’s computer on 2nd May 2021. Photo by Cherrill Spencer, used with her permission.

You last heard from me in Linacre News in 2007 when I wrote about my postgraduate days in Oxford and CERN, Switzerland from 1969 to 1972 and themes in my life since that had their beginnings at Linacre. Here I am again to regale you with how a retired physicist keeps busy during a pandemic, when she lives in the first California county to be locked down, on 17th March 2020, and even though I’m now fully vaccinated I am still mostly sheltering-in-place, with my computer as my lifeline to the rest of the world.  A look back at the last 48 hours shows how this works (ignoring the approximately 100 emails I’ve received and the 20 I’ve sent during that period to colleagues far and wide).

At 7am on Friday 30th April I dragged myself out of bed so I could listen to a United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs webinar on “Industry and Peaceful Applications of Nuclear Technology”. This webinar was of interest to me because through my volunteer work with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). I was a member of the WILPF US delegation to the 10th review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that was to happen at the UN headquarters in New York City in May 2020 and was postponed to, maybe, August this year. Tasks associated with the abolishing of nuclear weapons have been my main occupation during the pandemic, I draw your attention to an online timeline of 1945 that I was the major contributor to : https://www.vtwilpfgathering.com/timeline

At 6pm on Friday 30th April I attended an ”Activist Café” – via zoom, with about 15 other activists who volunteer in various peace,  justice and environmental organizations in my home town. It was a drop-by conversation without an agenda to encourage networking.  All our county’s gyms and exercise clubs were closed for most of the past year and my Curves club has offered 30 minute workouts via zoom for many months, so although the clubs have re-opened I squatted, lunged and boxed in my dining room at 10am on May Day.

At 11am I watched a live stream of my favourite orchestral conductor, Cristian Măcelaru, interviewing two modern composers who had written pieces for the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music. I am a longtime supporter of this annual festival that happened in the beach town of Santa Cruz pre-pandemic, but has become virtual. In 2019 I co-commissioned a choral and orchestral piece called “When There Are Nine”, honoring the US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg; it connected my love of music with my feminism and my ongoing charitable efforts. The festival featured a recording of its 2019 world premiere in their virtual online 2020 festival and you can watch it here : https://cabrillomusic.org/2020-season/evolving-ii/ .


Cherrill and Cristian Măcelaru, Cabrillo Festival Artistic Director/Conductor. Photo credit: photo by Cherrill Spencer, used with her permission.

Academic and public libraries were closed for many months and eventually our Palo Alto public library developed an online system through which you could book an appointment to go to the library and collect a book you had put on hold via the same online system. The only book I read each month is for my Science and Technology Book Club, which, yes you guessed, now meets by zoom to discuss our current book. At 3pm on 1st May I went to said library, masked and distanced from other library patrons, and collected our current book. 

Another use of my computer as a lifeline to the rest of the world on 1st May was to watch a 5pm master class hosted by the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra (PACO), a set of 5 youth string orchestras that my daughter played violin in for nine years. During this zoom’d class three teenaged cellists, sitting in their living rooms in Palo Alto, played the cello parts of famous cello concerti for a professional cellist sitting in his living room across the country and he critiqued their performances and gave them advice to improve their already impressive efforts.

So there you have it, proof that my computer is my friend during a pandemic lockdown, I hope yours has been too.

Cherrill Spencer (1969)