Supervisions, studying and pandemic people watching

Columnist Ethan Cyrus Hemmati details his recent experiences with Zoom supervisions, a strange interaction in Caffè Nero and a perplexing Crushbridge conversation

Ethan Cyrus Hemmati

"The novelty of zoom teaching wore off a long time ago"varsity; facebook/crushbridge

It’s 11am and the first Zoom supervision of the day is underway. The novelty of Zoom teaching wore off a long time ago, and the only thing that changes in these things now is the way that the light sometimes plays on someone’s face in their little box at the top of the screen depending on the time of day, and even this observation is beginning to get increasingly tedious. Once in a while someone’s video goes blank, spontaneously replaced by a smart LinkedIn-style headshot or simply their name in a bold white font, and a few seconds later the student returns, lurching towards the camera as they adjust their seat, looking briefly demented.

Some of the tutors show themselves to be relatively tech savvy and adept with the mechanics of zoom; it’s the ones that begin and end every call with an earnest apology who know that they’re visibly struggling and everyone can see. This particular supervision is going well enough until the tutor mutes herself halfway through a sentence. The first time it’s unexpectedly amusing, but by the fourth or fifth time this happens everyone collectively winces, until someone peevishly tells her “You’re on mute again”. The class overruns, everyone does an awkward wave – some even unmute themselves to say thank you – and silence floods the room. I look out the window; it’s a nice day. Later, I step outside and the rain begins again.

“She accidentally swipes her mask off the table and [...] my instinct is to pick it up for her, but I stop myself at the last minute”

I’m sitting in a Caffè Nero, doing work. At the table near me is a youngish woman, probably in her thirties, delicately removing her face mask and reapplying her lipstick. She accidentally swipes her mask off the table and onto the floor near my feet and my instinct is to pick it up for her, but I stop myself at the last minute, afraid she’ll think I’m deliberately trying to give her Covid or something sinister. She checks herself in her mirror a few times and then sits patiently. Around twenty minutes later her (presumably) boyfriend shows up, mask-less, which she quietly asks him about. He tells her he’s hungry and wants to leave to get food, and she asks him if he can wait for her to finish her coffee. The man pulls out his phone, ignoring the woman altogether, and quickly leaves. She sits for a moment longer before zipping up her coat and following him out. Through the window, I see her trying to catch up with him. In her rush, she forgets to collect her mask. More people pass along King’s Parade, and eventually a teenage couple slowly walks past, both in school uniforms. They stop in front of the window, kiss through their masks, and drift apart. It starts to rain.

I’m at Sidgwick, having a coffee outside with a friend. We overhear two freshers having a conversation.

“You don’t know what Crushbridge is?”

“And then he said he would write a Crushbridge about me, but I’m not sure if it ever got posted,” one of them says.

“What’s Crushbridge?” the other asks.

“You don’t know what Crushbridge is?”

“I don’t think so. Is it a college thing?”

The first one laughs. “So if you see a post about me, can you make sure you tag me in it? I’m getting Emily to do the same.”

“Sure,” says the other.

“He said he’d either do it about me or this other girl from Selwyn. I asked him who the girl from Selwyn is but he hasn’t opened my snap. He’s so fit though.”


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“Does Selwyn have Crushbridge too? Or is it just a Fitz thing?”

There’s a silence. The first one says, “I need to call my parents. See you later.” She heads off.

My friend and I get up to leave and we pass the second girl sitting by herself, looking worriedly at her phone.

It’s just gone midnight and I’m walking back to college when I find that the porters have locked the gates. Knowing my CAMcard is in my room, I check my pockets for anything that might be useful: iPod, room key, lighter, phone, a train ticket, face mask. I walk up and down, trying to find a section with the lowest railings. I lift myself quickly over the railings, landing with a slight thud on the grass, looking and feeling like a vagrant.

In the morning, I hear a story about a boy breaking into the college at night, but apparently this one was trying to bring food to his quarantined girlfriend. I’m at my desk, wondering if that Crushbridge ever got posted, when the fire alarm goes off. I look outside just in time to see the rain starting again.