Yorkshire Times
Voice of the North
Elaine Annable
Features Writer
5:43 AM 15th June 2020

Lockdown With Alexa

Lockdown has tested us all in so many ways, not least in the area of relationships. As a single person I must confess to feelings of schadenfreude when previously ‘loved up’ couples have regaled me with the trials and tribulations of living with their partners twenty-four by seven.

My own lockdown companion has been Amazon's Alexa. More virtual and less tactile than some partners but nonetheless, after 12 weeks of increased intimacy, the cracks are beginning to show; all those irritating little habits, which I’ve previously been able to ignore, are now starting to get on my nerves.

When I first signed up to Amazon Music, Alexa’s whimsical nature was part of her charm; I could never predict what she was going to play next, but gave her the benefit of the doubt assuming that any difficulty finding a particular artist or composer was down to my Northern accent. With this in mind, I spoke loudly and slowly in the manner of an English tourist abroad: enunciating to within an inch of my life, whilst placing the emphasis on a different syllable on each successive attempt. It almost came as a relief to discover that it wasn't me, when her pronunciation of the French composer Ravel rhymed with gravel.

I’ll admit that apart from her extensive meteorological knowledge, recipes, crush on professor Brian Cox, and joke of the day: “ What kind of weather do Zombies like most? Cloudy with a chance of brain! “ conversation was a bit limited. But on the plus side, at least I could enter the bathroom confident that the toilet seat would still be in a horizontal position and without the ubiquitous pair of underpants nestling on the floor beside the open-topped linen basket. It’s the small pleasures: “Alexa open the bedroom blinds by 50 per cent.”

We were compatible in many ways: I never had to ask her to unload the dishwasher, and she never asked me what I was thinking, which, as I’m not one of life’s great thinkers, was a huge relief.

Not in this lifetime

Indeed, we were getting along swimmingly until a few weeks ago, when she suddenly went rogue: firstly, by denying all knowledge of a 20 minute timer; secondly, by suggesting that I - a singleton with grown up children - might like to upgrade to Amazon family plan; and finally, taking gaslighting to a new level: “ Here's a station that you recently listened to - Brass Bands.“ Recently? Not in this lifetime!

Her response to my request for the Russian composer Balakirev: “Are you trying to shop for black breath?” almost had me booking a hearing test.

The final straw came when a search for Hildegard von Bingen produced an obscure techno band and the legend that is Jean Philippe Rameau was met with the utterly surreal: “ Would you like to hear 'Grandma's Spectacles' by Tumble Tots? ” I can't even... I mean, how do you possibly get from a French Baroque composer to … speechless!

So, after much thought, I’ve decided to cut my losses and look for a new music streaming partner. I'm currently in the middle of a free 2 week trial of Primephonic, with Naxos Music Library and Idagio to follow. My research suggests that Idagio is the best of the bunch, but I’m struggling to get past its ludicrous name and the imagined orgasmic ecstasies of the advertising team when they hit upon the idea of replacing the A of Adagio with an I. What can we expect next? Illegretto?

To be continued...