A Journal of the Plague Year 2020 Day 1

Wednesday 18th March 2020

Today I woke to the same routine these past few weeks, increasingly set every time I opened my eyes and reached for laptop or phone. Then to scroll bleary-eyed through the news of ratcheting tension, emblazoned in headlines on school closures, lockdowns, crashing markets, panic buying and ghastly figures updated every hour. They say the higher a death toll gets the less people can conceive it, the scale of destruction getting more abstracted the worse it is. I don’t think it applies here, in this instance where we’ve tracked the gradual rise into exponential reaches that double every three days. The lists of countries multiplying alongside, the imagined scenarios fueling a sense of global doom.

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At one point last night, after watching a mindless action movie on Netflix (Pacific Rim II, lurid, banal, unlikely to have a third) I stopped and my ebullience suddenly ebbed. Was this the end of times, was I unlucky enough to be living now? A once in a lifetime experience they say. But then we should remember that millions have had this same clouded prospect, not just clouded but tornadic – Syria, Iraq, Yemen, DPR Congo, Libya, South Sudan as society was whipped away around them. These conflicts prove just as abstracted to this day, when we are a mere spa break in comparison of worry and anguish, and the uncontrolled, unaided death of your loved ones.

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LIS2017003D | Aleppo After the Fall

My partner A is now out of work as of yesterday, my flatmate J awaiting his fate in an announcement today, where he works as head of silverware in a West London auction house. We drafted a letter to the agency about our situation and their avenues of support available for us not being able to pay the rent in these trying times (yes we used that phrase, at John’s historicist suggestion). They must be inundated. Then it was the phone call home, that phone call I’d been dreading all day, to find out the situation with The Family. Mum, 77 and still working in a factory, in part to support my sister (long story, do ask) may be quarantined as high risk for up to 4 months according to the government advice, or should I say, hint of what is soon to be imposed. My other sister in the process of moving back to the UK from the Netherlands, and possibly also out of work. Well, that escalated quickly. Almost overnight faced with the prospect of four grown dependents plus myself on the one wage.

Thankfully, although the Natural History Museum closed its doors yesterday for the foreseeable next two months, I will still be paid. Turns out so will Mum, and my sister in the Netherlands. She started her own company in science writing (I’ll just namedrop Atria Communications here) and is working with the disease experts, and now mobile. The acronym WFH has become suddenly relevant and widespread -though commonly misread as WTF, it correctly shares the same impact of the word. So down from a possible four to just a plus one. I should be very, very thankful, I’m lucky enough to be waged with the government, and my mother and sister are in the science sector.

Most people I know are not so lucky, living from paycheck to paycheck, often abroad from their homelands and familial support. It’s stark how very quickly the gig economy has been so exposed to economic ruin, not to mention the fragility of property bubbles and rental market. Notably in London where no one working, middle or even upper-middle class can realistically afford to own a property, unless you like converting a walk-in closet, complete with a shower under your bunk bed that dribbles onto the toilet. Or a bed-in-shed in Slough, one in a rash of tens of thousands now hidden throughout London’s leafy suburbia of illegally built, money-making favelas. Thus a vast proportion rent their abode, and a vast proportion are now looking at homelessness. How did it come to this?

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I saw four homeless people today, three I suspected of being the variety who beg but find sheltered accommodation at night (appearing well fed, dressed, clean, I know a roster of them), but one who was genuinely sleeping in a streetside alcove, wreathed in soiled camping gear. I have no idea what will happen to these people. I also saw the very old, frail, and the heavily disabled, all of them on their own, clutching empty bags on the way to the shops, and the circus that awaited them. Yesterday a woman in a wheelchair blocked everyone from getting baskets as she tried to get her goods into one (she was buying a large houseplant, I have no idea what for), but I almost caved right there and cried. I helped her out, but later heard others asking her if she was okay. Thankfully there’s still that. The mood was tense, every face deeply serious from staff to shoppers alike, but no one busting out into arguments, slappy fights or racing down the aisles, nor complaining about the epic queuing or emptied shelves.

The people are panic buying -game theory really, if one person does it everyone else has to, or they’ll lose out. Then we complain about everyone else, like how we moan about the traffic while sitting in it ourselves, or how the lovely tourist sites are overrun with tourists these days, as if we have a privilege to experience it over any given member of that yappy, sportswear-laden tour group. These days is a potion of concern, for ourselves, our families and the disadvantaged, in an uneasy mix of conflicting priorities, as we go for that last toilet roll, as we see the pensioner standing destitute behind us.

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The UK government, to much fanfare, had recently announced it was following an experimental policy of mitigation rather than extending the containment stage. Hence why, in contrast to our European neighbours, there has been no lockdown, not of schools, of pubs, of gatherings, of farming festivals and horse racing stadia, of incoming visitors, or people in general when it could have made a difference. Despite that China already provided an MO in the form of Hubei Province, roughly the same size and population of the UK, that has proven to work, where we can learn from their open-sourced mistakes and successes. However one of these scenarios also happens to be cheaper on the economy – for all the talk on  ‘sombrero flattening’ no measures have been taken to effectively do so, as yet:

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The proven path so far is lockdown, infrastructure to feed that lockdown, ICU’s, and draft hospitals, with strict quarantining (where the staff get suited up 2 or 3x over, and no object entering those wards can ever leave again, hence why many healthcare workers had to buy new phones to discard later). It saved China, but took out two months of its economy. Britain seems to have tried to have its cake and eat it in contrast to the rest -to let the infection move through the populace while the elderly would be housed away, thus saving the bedspace. However, the Imperial College yesterday released its models on what this would result in, to both the UK and US govts it advises, alongside publishing it to the press. Over 200,000 dead and a healthcare system overrun to the scale of 8x over, and possibly 10x that for the States. This is why the government is about-facing to change tack once again, and why a lockdown is likely to be imminent.

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I cashed in an electronics voucher today, £100 worth, to buy an upgraded phone I didn’t really need, but in order to save my purchase should that company tank during the lockdown. Everyone in there was doing the same. The three workers were gloved up to the max, and wiping down everything passing over the counter, while thrash metal played apocalyptically. A young Spanish guy bought the phone I wanted, his old phone recently kaput and having little choice but to buy a new one before his replacement could be sent (if ever it would reach him), in a time when he could contact family, and where communication would be the last link that cannot, should not fail, no matter what.

Trying times indeed. I often think of what is important to me in life, often. Everyone is saying it’s like a film. Yet this is not so much a Hollywood disaster with gung ho renegades, rousing speeches and wavering flags in the background, to fistpumping and flowering explosions  -rather it’s more a surrealist study in existentialism. The world is increasingly looking black and white, and poignant. I’m not looking forward to an increase in pace, though admittedly holding out for a Deus ex Machina (my First World privilege right there) to throw some contrived lifeline. We can but hope, to Keep Calm And Carry On.

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Just try not to remember that the phrase was dreamt up by a wartime government facing imminent invasion and, unknown to them, the planned execution of the entire adult male population. Thankfully that never transpired, and if we keep our heads level and remember we’re not facing Mad Max or alien armies here -and at worse 3% mostly will succumb at or beyond their given life expectancy anyway -we can get through this together. Game theory once again applies: help out your neighbour or stranger, and the same will likely happen to you or your loved ones wherever they may be. But know this, we’re in this together whether we like it or not. There will be forces, currently garish in the press pointing fingers between countries, races, candidates, exacerbating desperation in desperate times, but we need to collectively fight from the same ground against a common enemy. Hand washing, WFH, WTF, losing support networks, social distancing yet looking after those in need have all already united us in a collective experience, we just don’t need more rule and divide. And neither should we enable the pathologically inclined who do so -those on the sociopathic spectrum in power or with a podium, cannot help it, bless em. We however can. Don’t feed those clicks.

In short, we have enough on our plate for going political or divided right now (if we must, we can enjoy all that later). By all means, exert your pressure, demand, let your voices be heard when things are found wanting, but do the finger-pointing later. Let’s just get through the damn day.

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 100

Saturday 27th June 2020

Today is the last day of the blog, after these 100 days of solitude. Lockdown has eased itself out into less and less restriction, and ceased to function for a while now, without us having noticed too drastically. Life is not back to normal, but there is quite a semblance of it outside, traffic jams, shoppers, foodies, drinkers -the only obvious difference being the masks and the queues before the shops. Deaths are down to the single digits while we await a second wave, possibly a second lockdown too if things get bad again. But for the time being, that semblance of normality is with us again, enough to take stock and hope it continues.

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In retrospect:

The virus

At its worst C-19 was killing over 1,000 a day in the country. It’s still yet to peak abroad, notably the US, Latin America and now India. The strong sense of doom in the dark days of February contrasting with the sunny shores of late June now, having never reached full blown societal breakdown, and the burning horizons envisaged -though in the US it came close at times with the riots. To date, the virus has killed over half a million worldwide and infected ten million more, and multiple times more undetected. Some countries have managed to control the outbreak, including many we deemed in the West too poor to have done so -Vietnam, Senegal, Ghana, Venezuela, Greece. While the illusion of superiority has come crashing down from badly coordinated responses and deadly politicking, in richer states such as the US, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria and here in the UK. Those in the scopes have changed with time, but generally the old and sick remain the most at risk, while those younger are the ones who most spread it. The responsibility is with everyone, and individually.

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Racism

This year has marked a racial reckoning across much of the West, the coming of age of generations too suffering of the sins of their fathers. The world needed to change, and it did. The rot embodied by cold-blooded murder so in danger of becoming an accepted norm -were it not caught on film and amplified by social media -that something had to be done, or we would never have been able to justify our cultures again. Thousands of protests around the world, and billions of voices have shown the might of people power, and made the corporations, governments and institutions rethink their long exclusionary policies. The spotlight on history revealing the hypocrisy of our modern day hidden in plain sight -in glorifying statues and dismissed atrocities, in open bias long peddled by the media, to the fact our hierarchies, for all their touted sophistication, rely not on merit but looks and connections. The anti-Asian surge during the pandemic, the state-posturing, the sabre-rattling and populism had already formed a backdrop, common to pandemics through time, and now followed up with the authority atrocities. George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, remember their names. Igniting the presidential picking of sides, the street battles, the tearing down of icons, and the record for history to come. As Noah Yuval Harari points out, we have an undiagnosed crux: culturalism -not just racism on race, but prejudice based on culture; this ‘clash of civilisations’ invariably pits both sides as thinking themselves the only civilised ones. And how it has come to pass.

APTOPIX Minneapolis Police Death

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Politics

Trump has been the name of the day, and the tyrant at the helm taking down the bad ship the USS United States. It is not so much the world laughing at the country any more but worse -pitying it. The US is no longer pax americana that the Hollywood propaganda machine has so long promoted, rather the opposite -a warmonger that gives the democracy a bad name, insofar as it can even be called one. Vote a sociopath into power and you’ll see the gaudy, unabashed fireworks singe the gathered throngs, the huddled masses. Seeing the world so affected by every move from above, translating directly into your everyday has empowered people to take a stance, but also one in which partisanship saturates every call to arms and tears societies apart. The oneupmanship between nations, burning their bridges as they battled over PPE, or declared trade wars, exacerbated by opportunistic brinkmanship, from Hong Kong to the Himalayas, Venezuela to the Vietnam coast. Trump and Xi have both been major players, but within many countries a degradation of democracy to create overarching power has also manifested itself, notably Hungary, Brazil, Ethiopia, Turkey. We have seen two sides of the same coin -in ugly scenes of people defending their right to infect others, and governments readily rescinding constitutions in acts unconnected to protection. Politics is eating itself from the inside out.

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Economy

Personally, it’s been tough as well as easy, up and down. The anxieties of costs, future, health and those of loved ones too all balanced with a huge amount of free time and no more rigmarole of commuting, weerking and hell being other people -plus the guilt that comes attached. I applied to maybe 15 jobs in the time, with naught a reply, and a promise to change my name. My family out of work next month, but on a magnitude that applies beyond just those we know. A coming recession looks inevitable, that for this country alone will be the worst in 300 years, not just crippled by the pandemic but already hobbled by Brexit (with a look to mask that loss of face with the miasma of biological lawlessness, that something only as epic as a pandemic will excuse). The horizons seem darkened, though somewhat distant in the sun. What awaits the global economy for the decade to come, and the destabilisation of societies remains to be seen, but it doesn’t fare well -it almost cannot.

Will return to work this coming week in a bittersweet homecoming of sorts -a semblance of normality but entering an uncertain future, an outlook that applies to the entire economy beyond firsthand experience. How much can be clawed back, and how much needs to be rewired, and endured? How much support will we need, and how much can we give?

NYC During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Life

Well one cannot deny the rollercoaster of mind and body. No more exercising, no more waking to panicking alarms, no more structure to many a day. Worry and freedom in a perpetual chase of emotions, dependent on how much one loses themselves in the present, or past. There’s been argument, division, reconciliation, laughter, so much love. A realisation of what is important in life. At times working for 18 hour days, but mostly not working at all, where time drifts between periods of sleeping. And always, the need for money, the abandonment of family to an uncertain fate, abstracted over some far horizon and haunting one’s dreams. I never did get the infection.

One day we will look back on this with tales to tell. What position we come to feels like the flotsam on some wave, with perhaps a promise of land to beach on. That promise can never die, even if it never transpires. Society has changed, and it is up to us to make it anew, to sculpt that form we wish it to take. There’s never been a better time, and neither has it been so precious; I thank you for giving it.

All the best and stay safe.

Signing off.

W x

PS a pic of kittens

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Yesterday

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 99

Friday 26th June 2020

Another mindnumbed existence by day, stuck in slug mode and attached to the bed, occasionally the sofa that is now a mere extension of my being and body. I may give it a name, such as Harriet.

From Harriet’s soft, nuzzling perch got seriously into Rick and Morty, the shenanigans of an anxiety prone teenager and his sociopath grandpa, whose dimension swapping inventions create some very darkly funny questions on life, on people, culture and family. Oh and daddy issues and death and murder, often genocidal. And the fact they unconditionally love someone that cares naught for them, even as the family breaks up trying to limit the damage wrought each day -quite the insight on what our society values, or claims to. Guilty fun.

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It’s produced by a genius studio called Adult Swim, which for ages I knew was not a porn company, but was something or other on the dark web possibly. So surreal are these planets they conceive I’m sure our current state would surely qualify as some bizarre dimension, wrought with protest, pandemic, partisanship and a police state, lorded over by a Great Orange Dolphin intent on world domineering.

Was invited out by J to sit with a friend outside on the lawn, a welcome break from the lurid graphics and gunshots, but rudely declined, thinking they were off to a headachey, urban walk in the sun (31C). Fell asleep but then suddenly revived by painkillers went out in the end, to D and Al’s house. Caught the bus then remembered the facemask rule on all public transport, fumbling about in the bag to find one at the last minute, left there about a month ago. I would’ve been apoplectic with rage otherwise, no different to any militant anti-vaxxer causing a scene with the bus driver (pressing against the screen, waving invisible rights and pitchforks). Tried not to touch anything but was impossible lurching to the top deck and seating myself equidistant between the people, a row each to themselves. The bus capacity has now dropped from 128 to 20.

Ah, the nostalgia

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At the boys’, on screen they were playing Dalston Superstore’s Pub quiz, streaming live but which was a tad boring and more your average school lesson these days -other than a section on LGBTQIA history. This was all about whether you could discern between Polari/ Romani slang and Pokemon characters. Our host appeared very serious about it all, even missing a beat from contestant Helen, who was participating while driving then strangely disappeared. Polari is an Italianate language that borrowed extensively from the minorities in London during the 19th and early 20th Century, used to disguise the bitching among queers, prostitutes, hustlers, performers, actors, dancers, and circus troupes. It’s where we get our current slang for camp, butch, blag, bitch, barney, bijoux, clobber, dish, dolly, khazi, manky, mincing, mollycoddling, ogle, scarper, slap, trade, rough trade, troll, and my fave: fantabulosa.

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I will however endeavour to bring back meshigener -crazy nutter, corybungus -arse, and vogueress -female smoker.

More, if you’re really that bothered:

acdc, bibi -bisexual
ajax -nearby (shortened form of “adjacent to”)
alamo! -they’re attractive! (via acronym “LMO” meaning “Lick Me Out!)
aunt nell -listen!
aunt nells -ears
aunt nelly fakes -earrings
bona nochy -goodnight (from Italian – buona notte)
cartes -penis (from Italian – cazzo)
chicken -young man
clevie -vagina
corybungus -backside, posterior
dhobi  -wash (from Hindi, dohb)
Dilly boy -a male prostitute, from Piccadilly boy
fortuni -gorgeous, beautiful
fruit -gay man
fungus -old man/beard
gelt -money (Yiddish)
martinis -hands
meese -plain, ugly (from Yiddish mieskeit, in turn from Hebrew מָאוּס repulsive)
munge -darkness
nana -evil
national handbag -dole, welfare, government financial assistance
nishta -nothing
oglefakes -glasses
quongs -testicles
remould -sex change
rozzer -policeman
riah -hair (backslang)
riah zhoosher -hairdresser
schlumph -drink
shush -steal (from client)
shush bag -hold-all
TBH (to be had) -prospective sexual conquest
vogue -cigarette (from Lingua Franca fogus – “fire, smoke”)
vogueress -female smoker

Then it was noughties and nineties playlists into the baking night thanks to youtube. Awful, dire pop music, but very drunk. Fucking never, ever shall I see another shitty Britney or Steps or Backstreet Boys MV again, TLC can maybe come in just so long as they don’t take down their baggy jeans and crap everywhere. Fantastic viewing for fashion tips though, for the coming late nineties /early noughties retro, ad nauseum as for the last 25 years no one’s been unable to come up with anyything new rather than their nostalgic rehash from childhood.

I wanna make money now by setting up a website, where you can take screenshots of vintage/retro inspiration, like that backing singer’s clothes, that dancers hair, that dumpy (yet iconic) mum in the background of a Safeway ad. So, copyrighted that here, first. Lovely night all in all, very urban and summery though surely the alcohol helped with that. I woulda called turnip pulling lovely tbh.

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Dahmer

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Then back home by 2, another couple of hours zonked out on the sofa unable to sleep, chatting to J. Alcohol after its convivial, infectious peak tends to send me down a mine at some stage, scrubbing about some stilldrop place where I regret my previous glad-handering with the world. Such a bunch of nana clevie. Like the stutter of a disconnect, between the reverie of an alcoholic buzz, and the sudden realism of everything so much fucking everything that no longer moves and deserves to never again. This plateau can be a dark place, and a mean one too. I currently have a lot on a cracked plate.

I’ve decided, tomorrow will be the last day. x

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 98

Thursday 25th June 2020

Following on from my map porn the other day, made some more, this time from our sceptred isles. I think this exercise embodies a scope from being holed up in our vicinities, that looks outwards and onwards. That for too long we only see our immediate and cannot imagine what lies beyond. The lockdown has reinforced that whilst simultaneously reporting on the outside world, and the universality of our thoughts, experiences, fears, divisions and togetherness across the globe.

The traditional atlases of the world always have distortions, such is the nature of translating a 3 dimensional globe onto a flattened 2D plane. Thus the notorious Mercator version (used as a dartboard among geographers), that was traditionally used to increase the size of northern (read: Western) countries has been accused of long peddling the incorrect sizes of landmasses to millions in generation after generation, and we’re not just talking physical size and distances, but the map as envisaged in the political mind. Any map that say elevates Eurocentrism, or puts China in the centre, or the US (thus splitting Europe and Asia to opposite sides) can be equally accused -yet which is most correct?

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In truth, countries compared… you’ll need to be a bit of an atlas-savvy nerd to appreciate the differences in size of some of these comparison, but onwards -gwaan, learn something new:

https://mapfight.appspot.com

First off…

Ecuador, that tiny cut in the western side of South America is actually bigger than the UK. Fun fact, it is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries despite its small size, more so than say the US.

Also, it’s capital Quito has fantastic potential as a destination, and one of the world’s truly undiscovered next big thangs, should it ever clean up get and get the flower baskets out. It’s blessed with one of the world’s largest and most encompassing Old City’s that swamps over numerous hills and mountain vistas, like San Fran but with more grit, crime, streetkids etc. Actually exactly like San Fran:

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Quito

Quito

Koreans would come in at a 76 million count were they ever to reunite. The difference would be stark within the new populace – not just in culture and clothing, even in height where the Southerners would average a 3-5 inch difference thanks to the North Korean famine during the 90s. But it’s also said the Northerners are a happy, convivial bunch contrary to assumption, and the opposite holds truer for the south. The closest we’ve gotten to believing ourselves in paradise are those living in Pyongyang.

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Next off, England.

Sri Lanka. Until as late as 1480 Sri Lanka was connected to India by Adam’s Bridge, a 50 km/ 30 mile limestone shoal that is now about 1-3 metres underwater. Quite a hike, paddle and swim but bring your shark net. Where no boat ever dares:

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Tasmania, with a population of only 537,000 is very sparsely populated. Its original inhabitants were wiped out within 30 years of British conquest, and one of the few human ethnicities (distinct from Mainland Aborigines for 12,000 years) to become extinct. But yeah, don’t let that little footnote in history hold you back. An extraordinarly beautiful island, also a little known pinnacle of fresh, inordinately organic produce from seafood to wine to bush tucker.

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Svalbard (popularised by its largest island, Spitzbergen) is Norway’s northern archipelago and a wondrous, tortured landscape of mountains, glaciers, pinnacles and ice. Only 2,700 people live across the archipelago, making it third in place from Antarctica and Greenland as the least populated land spot in the world. One of its most arresting sights are the annual waterfalls that form mile-long walls of water pouring off the melting glaciers, and the fact the inhabitants have to tote guns everywhere they walk for fear of polar bears, even if it is to take the rubbish out. Actually ESPECIALLY if you’re taking the rubbish out, such is the attraction for foraging ice monsters.

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Newfoundland floats in the world’s largest estuary, islanded also as an English speaking outpost (one of the Maritime Provinces) before French Canada takes over. Its accent is still discernibly Irish sounding as is its old sea shanty laden history -about 70% of its population claims some ancestry from the British Isles, compared to 6% from France. Small towns and fishing villages create a sleepy backwater of an island, the first part of North America (other than Greenland) discovered by Europeans, complete with a Norse settlement about a millennium ago – take that Columbus! [/snappy Geonerd speak circa 1992 school video].

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Tunisia, the northernmost country of Africa and an even mix of Berber and Arab worlds. It is classified as the only ‘Free’ country on the continent and the only full democracy in the Arab World, in part helped by igniting the Arab Spring in 2011, and the martyrdom of lowly market trader, Mohamed Bouazizi. Thousands of years of culture, from Phoenician to Roman to Berber to Arab to Ottoman to French -and it’s more famous for the scenes shot for the Star Wars franchise. I mean, fuck the ruins.

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Panama’s 80km (50 mile) canal carved out in the 19th – 20th centuries connects the Atlantic with the Pacific without the rigmarole of going round the whole of South / North America, a journey saving thousands of km and untold hazards from sea ice to stormy straits to financial lawyers. It contributes a full 40% to the economy, though that’s now diversifying into conservative banking and luxe tax haven, notably exposed by the Panama Papers . Panama City currently looks like condo heaven for the part.

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Guatemala, the most populous of the Central American states (with 17 million) and the core of the former Mayan civilisation. About 45% remain indigenous, while the rest are mixed. They happen to be one of the world’s shortest countries, where women average 4″10 (147cm) and men about 5″3 (160cm). It’s also one of the youngest countries outside Africa, whose median age is about 20 – almost half of all people are kids. Like kid kids. Like the Dino exhibit in the Natural History Museum in Half Term with Santa Claus riding the T Rex over an Easter Egg Hunt on Disney Nite. Everywhere.

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Denmark’s size is the most varying of the world’s nation, due to whether you’d include self ruling Greenland. From 130th position it can be propelled to the 12th largest territory, overtaking Mexico or Saudi Arabia, or equivalent to 6 Germany’s. Even if you were to take just that little poky nib pointing out of Germany as the be all and end all, thanks to the exactitude of how coastlines are measured it comes in as having one neverending seaside longer than Chile’s (who measures things quite laxly, doesn’t take in so many indents and doesn’t quite give a fuck unlike map nerds). Geo-porn right here.

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Iceland is so sparsely populated it stands at 3 people per sq km for its 364,000 inhabitants, mostly in the capital Reykjavik. The island is powered by geothermal energy, and almost completely renewable, plus the first on the Global Peace Index, though to be fair it’s sitting on a giant bubbling vat of energy as the one place on the planet still being formed, and there’s plenty to go round for a pool of people so small there aren’t enough wankers to get pissed off about. Even the dating apps have to run the gamut of ancestry/ DNA tools that alert you (giant flashing letters, industrial screaming, pop up of Michael Jackson’s face) if you inadvertently swipe right on your cousin.

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Hawaii is the planet’s most distant island, that takes multiple continent sized expanses of water in every direction to reach. Slap bang in the middle of the Pacific (half the world’s water area and about a third of the planet surface) it’s so hard to reach only a few birds made the up to 10,000 km /6,000 mile journeys about 8 million years ago, and evolved in utter isolation into 140 different species. No mammals made it other than a flying bat, and of course the genius of Polynesian explorers in 300 AD and another wave in 1100. Imagine rafting up your belongings, pigs and family, saying goodbye to your relatives (who’ll never know your fate) and striking out from the Isle of Wight, in a hope you’ll get an angle right to reach a spot of land near Tehran, if everything in between and all around and in every direction is ocean. For all their expertise with finding land (based on clouds, currents, birds etc) hundreds of flotillas likely never made it.

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The last major spot made habitable by humans on the planet NZ was recently discovered to be the mountaintops of a previously undiscovered continent that now lies beneath the seas. Separated by 1700km / 1000 miles from Australia the islands also enjoyed unique wildlife that propagated in isolation before humans hit it in 1350. They entered a wondrous land (world’s most varied in terms of topography and climate types, on par with the entirety of the US), where birds ruled the roost, filling the niches of mousey pickers (kiwis), giant grazers (11ft moas) and the predators that swooped on them (eagles that stood a metre tall and whose spine-snapping talons were the size of tiger paws). None of them, many who nested on the ground, were prepared for the human, rodential and livestock onslaught that followed.

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Japan is -typically dichotomous for its culture -one of the worlds most densely populated yet also most forested and mountainous countries. Tree cover accounts for 70% of the land, while the 125 million-strong population crams into the strip of coastal cities on the Kanto and Osaka plains, including the world’s singularly largest – Tokyo with 39 million inhabitants. But look again at the size of the islands, each massive -just so riddled with topography humans are islanded again.

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Somalia, with the longest coastline on Mainland Africa is the continent’s most homogenous country, standing out in a panoply of states in the world’s most diverse region, that will normally count hundreds of languages and ethnicities within any border. 85% are Somali, albeit divided into 8 tribal/ chieftain groups. In the north Somaliland has declared itself independent, a functioning, peaceful state, as opposed to the civil war decimating the rest.

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Yes, this is what I do with my time. OMGaaahd. And after all this, Beyond all this, Under all this…

Is this a distraction? An excuse for meaning in the hours. We’ve been here before, map after map over humanity, outside my life.

It is perhaps telling that it has been wasted, that there’s nothing much more to say, nor connected to life, to anything going on outside. It is a representation of some realm beyond the every day, conceptually imagining as far from this small, harboured life to the other lives and loves battling it out on the spinner.

This abstraction is key: is this the end of my scope? Dearie me, it may be time to put down the pen.

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 97

Wednesday 24th June 2020

Mum rang this morning. We talked about her furloughing, and the likelihood they will be making her redundant, then about family and the past. Laughed, cried. We’re gonna look at this positively, despite her ongoing imprisonment for the foreseeable.

Did actually go out with some friends from work who I’ve not seen in ages, making use of the 30C sunshine. The grounds on the estate were already packed by morning, every available spot sequestered by sunbathing residents, some on deckchairs or reading on benches, or lolling like dead bodies in the heat, from morning till night.

One of the workmates, A, told me she’d had the lergy, the first person I know who’s been diagnosed -she’d gotten sick back in March and was told by the 111 hotline it was unlikely despite losing her smell and taste. That was back then, when they thought so little of the pandemic, and a sign of how they were sweeping the problem under the carpet, which to this day is still the national pasttime. She only just told her parents 3 months later, and her mum, so distant in Italy, cried.

Meanwhile C turned up as a beautiful stranger, whose lockdown has made him tanned and svelte from the jogging round in his spare time, with perfect locks and Italian shades. He’s been trapped with over-excitable housemates and is now looking to move, while also juggling work politics, such as getting the go-ahead for a trip back home then having it rescinded. We are to reopen soon, with the government okaying museums from the 4th of July.

Drank a wee bit much, about 5 pints plus some wacky in the Subtropical gardens of Battersea National Park. It was populated by the usual crowd peacocking their bikini lines and six-packs, plus another workmate we happened to plant our picnic blankets next to; small world. She’d just graduated from Goldsmiths, but the end of year exhibition -vital in making your name -had been canceled for an online-only showing. Class of 2020 eh. Every generation has a tragedy to stain their prospects -WWI, the Wall Street Crash, WWII, the Cold War, 911. And the Millenials got not just that but the 2008 Recession and now Covid 19 on top, a triple whammy wherein they’re unlikely to get steady work or ever own a property. They have time and time again been paying for the sins of their fathers, with Global warming still to look forward to. No wonder they’re protesting.

But was great to catch up and get immersed again in all the gossip, swapping stories into the night -whodja fancy? Who’s a twat? What’s Grindr like? What’s your star sign? Felt much like a teenager again and in a good way, the kind of night where life still lay ahead.

A joined later, then it was a midnight walk back through town, through baking streets and that dark, lurid blue in the night skies. There’s a lot to be said about how rested and enjoyable it has been recently, while things play out beyond our grasp, blinkered as we are by the immediate. The deaths from C-19 are now down to only 15 a day, but we all worry for the second wave, as the US is on trend to experience right now. It has to end some time, this lockdown, and we come crashing back to reality.

Weeeerk. Two weeeeks.

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 96

Tuesday 23rd June 2020

Was trapped watching Sense8 on Netflix by J; the show a product of the Wachowski Sisters, the gothy minds behind The Matrix trilogy. This time round it appears the siblings have been given carte blanche and the equivalent of a bottomless credit card in terms of creative license, that worked so well back in the day, to the tune of $1.6 billion in takings for their franchise. So the premise this time is a bunch of strangers across the globe who are able to telepathically connect -they feel, talk to and see each other in real time -while stalked by a hellbent organisation trying to kill em off.

The Wachowskis are a pretty left wing, inclusive bunch, having themselves transitioned in gender and being staunch advocates of LGBTQIA rights and free lovin’, which inhabits this storyline with gay and transgender characters throughout. They also bring together disparate personalities representing multiple forgotten countries outside the North American bubble -Kenya, India, South Korea, Iceland, Germany, Mexico. Well so far, so diverse.

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However, look closer and it starts to jar, notably the storylines. The Indian woman is of course caught in an arranged marriage, and battling local corruption, with a sideline in her family curry restaurant. The Kenyan man lives in a vast slum of local corruption, gang crime and HIV infection -killers at every corner. The South Korean woman is a martial arts master with a Masters in Economics, sacrificing all for family honour (wrongly imprisoned, battling -you guessed it -local corruption plus honour-bound chauvinism, to the extent her family lets her take the fall and her brother’s trying to kill her). The Mexican guy -a telenovella star (perhaps the closest the Wachowskis got to a Mexican experience) is in the closet, battling machismo stereotype, the church, wifebeating, blackmail and the vapidness of fame.

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It can be tough sell for those non-White or non-Western, try as you might. At first I made myself believe this was a wonderful cherry-picking take on every major social problem in each territory; that the Wachowski’s had done their research and were consciously raising awareness. But by the second episode it was pretty obvious they’d done quick Google searches or just put down a veneer of what’d rubbed off some passing media trope. To make it more obvious if a Black American character was up for the stand, and his raison d’etre was ghetto gangs, police brutality, drugs and trying to win back his disowned son, while aiming to be the new rap/ hoop star of the ages, it’d be cringe level 10, especially coming from the usual rich, White penmanship.

In contrast the White characters are multi-layered, do not perform to stereotype, and do not have long, lingering sidelines in their tale to prove they’re more than just a number. Laugh for hours as you discover the Korean woman likes beans on toast, or the Kenyan guy drives a homemade bus in ode of Jean-Claude Van Damme! By comparison the Icelandic woman is a DJ and living in London (not a Viking helmet or geyser in sight), the German guy’s a safecracker for organised crime (not what you’d equate with Germania), while the Americans are safely disparate as bloggers and policemen and hackers and ecologists.

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The script is derisory to say the least, although the valiant acting helps to blunt the edges, despite dooming their careers. The long, lingering shots of nookie at every turn is another seller, albeit it becomes quite an obsession. At several points throughout any given episode the characters will down tools (maybe take up new ones) to have a transcontinental fumble, often swapping bedpartners or becoming embroiled in one big orgiastic flexihump, that makes one reckon it’s wish fulfilment on the directors’ behalf (remember the weird, fluid-spraying rave in Matrix?). I see these characters -at every opportunity away from the henchmen -prowling the alleys, peeking through windows, looking for jizz.

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One character, the fellow actress/beard/fag hag/PR/PA/agent/secretary/housemaid/manager/fan vetter/letter opener/rooftiler of the Mexican couple is so laughably, vicariously infatuated with her housemates, and devoid of any life of her own she openly friggs herself off from the corner of the bed as they get manmansex-time. This seems to mirror the veritable well of navel gazing stupor the Wachowskis may be immersed in, in how blinkered they are to anyone’s experience other than their own. When Nomi (Know Me) makes the Maid of Honour speech at her sisters already compromised wedding, she hijacks the entire loveletter to make a diatribe on her transrights. One feels like yelling at her, Nomi it’s not all about you, all of the time.

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But then again, am I not wallowing in the selfsame mire? Were I long-suffering of trans abuse would this not be a revelation of a series, and a breath of fresh air for an ignorant world? While overlooking the corny national stereotypes, suddenly unimportant or forgivable. Would I be publicly standing up and voicing this diatribe to override their struggle?

ANYHOO, enough bitching. The world is stupid and so am I. Back to life.

Went out for a breath of fresh air and a touch back to reality, the real version not the utterly, ludicrously fantastical. Life sometimes is too much lived vicariously or not at all, even if it is to brandish fists at the skies.

The sun was high today, the weather cool and the fields a riot of wildflowers, even for urban, unkempt commons. And leaving it all behind.

To end the day:

btybtybtybty

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 95

Monday 22nd June 2020

Cut my nails. It was amazing.

Cancelled a park meet up.

Went out to sunbathe in the grounds.

Made some maps for Reddit, for which I have a new obsession (something about the globalisation of our pandemic has imbedded in my mind). It will likely last a few days:

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^India 1.38 billion, Pakistan 218m (in that catchment), Bangladesh 165m, Nepal 29m + Sri Lanka 22m = 1.814 billion

China – 1.2 billion in that catchment, Japan 125 million (in that catchment), Koreas 78m + Taiwan 24m, + Vladiviostok metro 1m = 1.428 billion.

SE Asia Thailand 70m, Myanmar 55m, Singapore 6m, Malaysia 32m, + Philippines 110 m+ Laos + Cambodia 24m + Indonesia (in that catchment) 265m + Vietnam 98m = 660m

= 3, 902m (50.0001% of World population 2020 -7.8 billion).

Or if you prefer (spot the difference)

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Worked out I could get rid of Borneo and Sulawesi entirely (42m) by substituting it for:

urban Gansu province – 25m (the pert nipple on China)

Tajikistan – 9.5m

incursion into Afghanistan to capture the Kabul region -7.5m

=42m

Some notes:

  • The traditional rice growing regions of the world could support 2-4 harvests, and the nature of growing it (lateral thinking, constant tweaking to fool the plant into thinking it’s constantly drowning) meant feudalism/ top down management was hard to implement = replaced by trading cities, and the planet’s densest tracts of them. Which in turn led to most of the world’s megacities and no less than 7 or 8 megalopoli.
  • Vladivostok (top right corner), long the Siberian banishment beyond the pale, is actually part of the centre of humanity. It could stand to reap in the tourism for much of the world looking for a shorter haul connection to the ‘European’ experience, especially if dolled up/ rebuilding its historic architecture.
  • This is the ‘centre of the world’ in terms of humanity. It shows how cities like Delhi and Beijing are often more important than they’re given credit for.

The Mercator version

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Watched Godzilla, the 1998 version. Shit, not what I remembered it as.

Finished a book, Sapiens by Noah Yuval Harari. Great.

Had lots of soup (A is on a soup-only week, trawling through myriad exotic recipes). Ukrainian borscht.

Went to bed.

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A Journal of the Plague Year Week 15

Sunday 21st June 2020

Yesterday was the longest day for Britain. The sun wobbled about for 19hrs. Across Eastern and Northern Europe especially pre-Christian festivals are kicking off this week depending on where their summer solstice will fall, with drunken shenanigans in the wilderness, wreaths and flowers in their hair and lots of bonfires through the night. I’ve done Midsommar in Sweden a couple of times, and it’s always perfection. A welcome reminder to our pre-Christian, pre-Communist, pre-Capitalist days.

Lithuania

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Poland

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Slovakia

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Sweden

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Norway

NIkolai Astrup

Nikolai Astrup

Alesund enjoys the worlds biggest bonfire 40m /130ft high over the fjords

Belarus

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Russia

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Latvia – a fantastic series is here, by Espen Rasmussen: https://espenrasmussen.com/STORIES-II/A-MIDSUMMER-NIGHTS-DREAM-2006/3

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Stonehenge will be taped off this year.

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All this comes on the fact I’ve spent most of the day indoors, having succumbed to microwave food coma after lunch. It’s 8pm and still light, another few hours to go before nightfall, and not one druid seance, or dance round a fire thrown in.

But fuck it, enough on my plate to feel guilty about it. Life’s too short, in the best possible way. It doesn’t mean you have to be jetsetting around living it To The Maxxx, rather don’t sweat the small stuff. Hello sun, goodbye sun.

Made Ukrainian latke for dindins, fried potato cakes with carrot, onions and sour cream dip. Will try aged cheddar in the mix next time, a stronger flavour as the sheeps cheese was undetectable. Then another magical dusk walk, the one after dinner to digest, that the Mediterranean peeps traditionally do. In Greece it’s called the Volta, or the Peripato, in Italy the Passegiata. Saw some foxes, and gaggles of teenagers on street corners, their voices and laughter rising in the last of the sun, as our own urban swansong to Midsummer. The kind of gatherings good natured and sober, as opposed to knifey and drunk like when I was growing up. Generation Z is so much more grown up than we ever were.

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 93

Saturday 20th June 2020

Today was the longest day -early this year. The sun got up at 4am and went to bed again by 11pm, when the last of its colour vanished from the skies. A friend happened to have a beeday in Clapham Common and it was rammed -the first sunny day in about 2 weeks, plus it being midsummer solstice and a Saturday – I reckon about 5,000 people out on the Common having a jolly. There were constantly about 6-10 of us on socially distanced matting with people passing through and being replaced though I didn’t know anyone, but we got on fab, got drunk and played pictionary to an epically setting sun.

Tried to have a conversation with a couple where the inevitable –so where are you from? or what do you do? didn’t come up, and waited for the info to be volunteered -I think that’s a new politesse for London. The guy was talking about his work needing him to travel and decamp to NYC etc, with his accent hard to place. In the end he mentioned he’d studied interior design and was from Malaga, and his partner French, probably from Caribbean ancestry being able to speak Creole, (alongside Spanish, French, English and Portuguese). I think we got on so well because none of us ever asked those ubiquitous questions, a sign we weren’t that kind of judgmental.

The birthday boy and his other half, friends of J, were moving to a wild, tropical part of China -Yunnan province that’s wreathed in jungle and hilltribes -having been yoga teachers and Buddhists, so a bittersweet goodbye. Everyone pissed by then and fucking the social distancing, hugging at the end. We’re idiots.

Much of the crowd had diminished by then.

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Though still in numbers at 9.15pm

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There was a 250 year old churchyard right by us -Our Poor Lady Trinity St Clappers -which is surely sending a lengthy naughty list to Santa, or Satan. Because the police had closed the loos to discourage people staying too long, and the Common without many bushes, every fucker was using the site as an open air urinal. Couldn’t believe it but hundreds of men were pissing on the walls for hours, I counted about 12 stains at any one time on the back stretch alone, gravitating like furtive zombies staring into brick. I cannot imagine what the stench must’ve been like, wafting occasionally downwind and frightening horses. Nor for the poor deacon who’ll maybe swing by tomorrow (services are still banned thankfully so might not), but if doing so will faint, robes flying. Yours truly used a bush by the corner of the skatepark, AWKWARD when the family went by, everyone meerkatting their attention to the amazing lawn in the opposite direction.

A had stayed behind to work on his CV and apply for jobs but once home, we went for a toke through languid streets, sunset turning to the midnight blue of dusk. What a lovely fucking day.

My Stonehenge moment:

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I think midsummer’s gonna be a thing for me now. I’ll get all pagan and dress up in leaves and arson. Hail to the next year; may it be infinitely better than this one.

Hmmm.. maybe last year someone got fucked, pissed on the stones, and sungod Bertha pissed back.

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 92

Friday 19th June 2020

Never stayed in bed so epically. The usual routine -up by 6, internet and news till 9 or 10, back asleep till lunch. By then the flat empty, J off to work and A meeting a mate.

By the time the news fora had dried up I then had a half-witted stab at gaming, something rarely done. The usual Streetfighter II and its cartoonish dancing. At some stage sat down to watch Hereditary -a wonderful Shining-esque horror that creeps into your head without overt jump scares or monsters, with one shocking, genre-redefining, rule breaking scene that stays with you throughout the rest of the film, no spoilers. Dear wibbly lord, it stays, possibly outside your door.

Milly Shapiro is mesmerising, and quite the turn from the all singing, all dancing Matilda of Broadway fame. If ever you get to meet her, get her to cluck her tongue, then stare at you. -At Halloween she never again will need a costume.

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Thus my day, mostly lived vicariously.

Fin.

It is Juneteenth today, a lesser known mark on the calendar that’s come to the fore recently with global events. The day slavery ended in the US when troops marched into Galveston, Texas to free Blacks by official order in 1865. NYC declared it a national holiday for the first time.

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Also being revived is the long-buried history of Tulsa, Oklahoma where 99 years ago the Greenwood district, once known as the Black Wall Street (the richest Black community in the country) was burned to the ground following rumours of a Black man assaulting a White woman in a lift, with over 1,000 businesses destroyed and 35 blocks laid waste. The White mobs took three days while law enforcers watched or joined in, massacring over 300 residents. It was even fucking bombed by plane.

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The community never recovered, moving into entrenched poverty on the other side of the river, while Greenwood today is enjoyed as a tourist attraction for the upcoming hundred year anniversary. Only now is the city coming to terms with its past, long swept under some gigantic chintzy carpet -a commission has recently been set up to identify the victims, buried in mass graves.

The last survivor, Olivia Hooker died in 2018, and remembered hiding under the table as a six year old, while the city burned through the night, staying undetected as armed men with torches took an axe around the house; she remembers the sound of them smashing the piano, then her beloved dolls -the closest thing to humans they could find.

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The family moved to Ohio, where she went to university and became a teacher. During the war, rejected from US Navy Corps, she instead became the first Black woman coastguard, going on to become a ‘tireless voice for equality’.

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After the war her service managed to get her foot in the door for a Masters, then a PhD in Psychology. By the 1960s she was a professor in New York’s Fordham University, and a founding member of the Tulsa Race Riot Commission set up in 1997, that reopened the case of what had happened.  She was still volunteering at the Coastguard’s Auxiliary at the age of 95, and five years later on her centenary the President paid tribute to her.

It’s not about you, or me. It’s about what we can give to this world.”

-Olivia Hooker, aged 103.

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I wonder what she’d make of today, the recent worldwide protests, the change, finally, in institutions facing their past and an equally painful present. A life lived within a couple of paragraphs, summed up so quickly but with such achievement between those paltry lines.

What will they make of us in the future, looking back? -With familiarity to the same problems, or an understanding having come out the other side of the maw? We can all lend to writing our histories by, as a great man once said and a great woman did, being the change we want to see. Living vicariously is not enough, practicing what we preach is key to a better future, should we ever want one.

Here’s to hope.

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