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 outside 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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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 rewired, and endured? How much support will we need, and how much can we give?

 

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 it. One day we will look back on this with tales to tell. What position we come to rest on, 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

 

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 have been apoplectic with rage otherwise, no different to militant anti-vax conspiracist causing a scene with the bus driver (pressing against the screen, waving my invisible rights and pitchfork). 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. 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 is 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, and vogueress – female smoker.

More:

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)[33]:52
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)
handbag -money
martinis -hands
medzered -divided
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
schmutter -apparel
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 if they don’t shit 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 anything really new rather than the nostalgic rehash from their childhoods. 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 mum in the background of a Walmart ad. So copyrighted that here, first. Lovely night all in all, very urban and summer though surely the alcohol has helped with that. I woulda called turnip pulling lovely.

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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. 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 my 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, 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) -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:

https://mapfight.appspot.com

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 destinations as the next big thang, should it ever clean up get and get the flower baskets out, blessed with one of the world’s largest and most encompassing Old City’s that swamps over numerous hills and mountain vistas:

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Quito

Quito

 

Laos slightly smaller. Fun fact – one of the world’s most sparsely populated countries unlike almost all other Asian territories (pop 7.2 million in comparison to the UK at 68 million).

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Korea would come in at 76 million were it 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.

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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:

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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.

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Suriname, a country of half a million mostly living along the coast is South America’s smallest. It is also the first in the world to reach carbon neutrality, whose vast interior of rainforest goes far to mitigate carbon reduction for the rest of the planet. Caribbean in culture, it speaks Dutch formally and English Creole (unintelligible to the English) among the populace, who are one of the world’s most cosmopolitan, an even mix of Afro-Surinamese, Indian, Javanese, Chinese and mixed race.

 

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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.

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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. Its accent is still discernibly Irish sounding.

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Togo, one of the smallest countries in Africa no less holds more than 40 ethnic groups, and was once known typically as to what it offered the colonials -the Slave Coast, sandwiched between the Gold Coast (Ghana) and Ivory Coast that still bears its name.

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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.

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Japan’s northern island was once home to the Ainu people, who now number 25,000 and could be as high as 200,000 due to those who have no idea of their ancestry. They were claimed to be the world’s hairiest people, whose women would tattoo moustaches onto their faces.

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Louisiana comes in as the 19th smallest state in the US. Its history of Spanish, French and British colonisation, with large amounts of imported slaves and Creole culture has resulted in a heady mix of urban societies unique to the country -in 1974 English was officially unofficialised as the state language of instruction in schools, with people free to practice the tongues of their heritage. Bajan, Cajun, Creole, Caribbean, French, English and Spanish influence is redolent in cities such as New Orleans.

 

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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. It contributes a full 40% to the economy, now diversifying into conservative banking and luxe tax haven.

 

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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).

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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 12th largest territory, overtaking Mexico or Saudi Arabia, or equivalent to 6 Germany’s.

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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.

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Greece has 6,000 islands, of which 277 are inhabited, and 80% of the country is mountainous to boot. This topography of islanded, competing city states led to the cradle of Western civilisation, and the translation of history, landscape, culture and food today has seen it become a leading destination for visitors, notably winning ‘world’s best country’ by Condé Nast.

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Welcome to the world’s densest country (non-city state), that fits in 13% more people than Russia, a state 115x larger. 165 million Bangladeshis call this, the world’s largest river delta, home. Its capital Dhaka, will rise from today’s 21 million to 35 million in the next decade, then slow (Bangladesh already has below replacement fertility levels). Still, by 2100 the city will have reached 54 million, many of them climate refugees as the sea level rises and the delta sinks.

 

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One of Russia’s most beautiful spots and a major stop on the Trans Siberian, this is the world’s oldest lake and actually the largest body of freshwater in the world (non ice), not due to its footprint (where other lakes are multiple times in size) but depth, over a mile down. It holds nearly a whopping quarter of the world’s freshwater.

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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 reach a spot of land near Tehran, if everything in between and all around was ocean. For all their expertise with spotting land (based on cloud, sea movements, 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.

x3

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Japan is -typically dichotomous for its culture -one of the worlds densely populated yet most forested and mountainous countries in the world. 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.

 

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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.

x (2)

 

Yes, this is what I do with my time.

 

It is perhaps telling that it is wasted, that there is nothing much more to say, and that this has nothing much connected to life, to anything that is going on outside. It is a representation of some realm beyond the every day, conceptually imagining as far from this small, harboured life. This abstraction is key: there appears nothing more to say.

Is this the end of my scope? It may be time to put down the pen.

 

Yesterday

Tomorrow

 

 

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.

Oh, and made more maps, my form of travel recently:

 

Qatar can claim the title of not just the richest country per capita whom earn nearly $100,000 each every year (and that still takes into account the legions of indentured underclass and guest workers), thanks to 14% of the worlds natural gas and plenty of petrol to boot. It can also claim the world’s most multicultural country, where only 12% are native Qatari, and its capital Doha is 92% foreign born.

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Fijians are a mix of Melanesian, a few Polynesian and later waves of Indian emigrants. Melanesians share a blonde hair gene, long assumed to be traces from European colonials, but has been found to be endemic, and long before Western contact.

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Lesotho is a mountain kingdom entirely surrounded by South Africa, a mere spot on the map that shows its real size below. With spectacular cliffs, gorges, mountains and waterfalls it remains an undiscovered gem, though now rising in the tourist ranks for its verdant landscapes, plus the novelty of snow in Africa.

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Beijing has grown from 1.6 million in 1950 (barely growing since 1700 when it was the world’s largest city for the next century) to 20 million today. The govt has since curbed the growth via urban citizenship registration, but is now building a new city on its outskirts, Xiong’An.

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The Aussie state is nearly 40x larger than it’s namesake but only 2.6x larger in population  (ergo about 15x more sparsely populated), albeit a large majority live in in the Sydney area -5 million out of 8 million.

 

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London

Hong Kong (7.5 million) appears similarly populated as London in density (9.2 million), though in reality the large majority of HK is open countryside and mountain. If counting only the urban areas of the territory it becomes 20x denser- in fact the world’s most heaving spot of humanity surmounting to 60 sq km -about the size of Manhattan but 3x the population and built density, also being the world’s most highrise city, including 380 skyscrapers (over 150m/ 492ft in height):

 

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Luxembourg, a mix of French and Germanic culture, came about in 1815 as a fiefdom of the king of the Netherlands who installed a Prussian guard to defend against another French attack, thus bringing about the crossroads that is this little nation, though one of the fastest and richest in the world. Fun fact: the worlds largest manufacturer of dentures, not just a tax haven.

 

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Hawaii actually has the world’s tallest mountain, Mauna Kea, that is a gently sloping cone volcano (dormant) with a snow capped peak on Big Island, most of it underwater. If measured from the sea floor it comes to about a km taller than Mount Everest, at over 10,000m or 33,500 ft. Above water it 4,200m or 13,300 ft, slightly taller than Mont Blanc.

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New Caledonia, a gorgeous colony of France out in the Pacific, and one of the few places where you find tropical conifers.

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Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 96

Tuesday 23rd June 2020

 

btybtybtybty

 

Away from my little wanderings in the immediate locale, I came across some map porn via my daily armchair travels, showing the true size of places you see on the map, but that you don’t compare or get willfully distorted by political projection.

For example, Peru

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Japan

3

Colombia

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Saudi Arabia:

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South Africa

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Algeria

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Indonesia

5

 

Chile

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Thus started making my own:

OK, I’ll use Germany. Handy as arguably the most important most central country in Europe, and deceptively large or small dependent on how you look at it.

First off, Ghana, the rising star of West Africa this ‘small’ (well on the map it looks tiny of course), gold and petrol-rich kingdom, already diversifying into tech and biotech, is estimated to climb from a population of 30 million today to 80 million by the turn of the century:

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Uganda -another supposedly small country on the banks of Lake Victoria. However it will become the nexus of one of the world’s great population centres alongside eastern China, northern India and West Africa. A state that features little in many minds, by 2100 its nondescript capital, Kampala (present population 3.3 million) will hold 40 million, more than twice NYC. Further along the lakeshores will be Malawi, a thin thread of a country, but which will also transmogrify its sleepy towns of Lilongwe and Blantyre to similar sizes.

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Welcome to one of the world’s most mineral-rich (and suffering for it), mountainous and beautiful countries, and a former jewel of the Silk Route, whose populace is a sensual mix of the Middle Eastern, East Asian, Central Asian, Caucasoid and Indian peoples. A place remarked by invaders as an epic place to stage a war, with beauty in every direction, and crosshair.

 

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This ancient version of Arabia, Yemen is redolent of a medieval world where ancient mud-brick skyscrapers and exotic oases now share airspace with the current whizz of Saudi bombs and insurgent missiles.  One of the poorest, most indentured, and most beautiful nations on the planet, like Afghanistan paying the price for its isolation.

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Rights Managed

Yemen, Hadhramaut, Wadi Do’an, Khuraibah. A view of the oasis in Wadi Do’an.

 

From a glance at an atlas CAR looks like a small nondescript territory in the middle of the continent. It is literally the heart of darkness to many mindsets -the world’s poorest, unhealthiest nation, and worst place to be young, largely thanks to its civil war. Despite its true size shown below, only 5 million call it home, though typical of Africa they consist of 80 ethnic groups each speaking their own language. Fun fact the country is the best place in the world to view stars with the least light pollution, as well being bounded by the Bangui Magnetic Anomaly. So named after its capital that stands at the heart of this displacement in the Earth’s magnetic field, possibly caused by a meteor impact.

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The world’s newest country South Sudan broke from Sudan in 2011 after years of civil war (Sudan has been under 6 continuous conflicts since independence in the 1960s), but has recently entered its own civil wars now. In the south the country holds what may be the largest movement of large animals on Earth, in the annual migration of savannah grazers that rivals the Serengeti, only recently spotted by naturalists as a cloud on the horizon 50km (30 miles) wide and ongoing for 80km (50 miles).

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Thailand looks like an upended Germany but with a vast umbilical that stretches into the Andaman sea, haunt of tourist coves and terrorist strongholds as Islamic separatists (more affiliated with Malay culture further south) conduct their intrigue among the spectacular karst scenery. Despite its size and population (70 million), only one major city occupies the country- Bangkok, steamy denizen of the east and home to 15 million, vaults far over any other Thai city (runner up Chiang Mai only holds 200,000). One of the few cultures never to have been colonised by an Abrahamic religion or power.

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Sulawesi, the fourth largest of Indonesia’s islands is a range of peninsulars isolated from each other by a mountainous centre. A full 60% of its species are endemic (found nowhere else), and its range of ethnic groups, tribes and religions, each with their own cultures, architecture, languages and cuisines, also owe their existence to the varying levels of geogrpahical isolation. Indonesia at large holds 388 ethnic groups, whose national motto is ‘unity through diversity’.

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100 million people, 175 ethnolinguistic groups, nearly 8,000 islands, of which 5,000 haven’t even been officially named yet, spanning the equivalent distance from Norway to the Sahara. That’s a lot of ferries and a lot of timetables. Sitting on the Pacific Ring of Fire it is perhaps the world’s most disaster prone country (including the bi-annual typhoons and flooding), but also benefits from the vast natural resources that location endows, alongside one of the world’s greatest hotspots for biodiversity.

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The world’s sparsest populated country, or territory outside the poles Mongolia counts 2 people per sq km. Imagine a rolling grassland from London to Russia and you’ll get the idea of the empty expanses that have made it even hard to invade, though helped the other way round. In the past nomads would keep track by building cairns just before the last one went out of sight in the distance.

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Mawr:

Australia is a continent

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Precolonial

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This is not Argentina – it is the southernmost tip of Argentina. Once populated by the world’s tallest people, many of whom were taken into human zoos and circuses round the world -now extinct. The men were said to average 6.5ft -7ft.

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As mentioned before, Russia’s population is 145 million, Bangladesh 165 million:

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Chile is not a thin country, just a neverending one.

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The Moon displayed below is actually just splayed out. As a three dimensional ball it would look about the size of Australia.

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Thankyou, thankyou (bow, bow).

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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 it dolled up/ rebuilt 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 rose at 4 and it got dark at 11. 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.

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 corner, the kind 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 killing horses. Nor the poor deacon who’ll maybe swing by tomorrow (services are still banned thankfully so he might not), and if he does, will faint. 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.

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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 was empty, J off to work and A meeting a mate.

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

Milly Shapiro is mesmerising, and quite the turn from the all singing, dancing Matilda of Broadway fame.

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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 the slaves 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 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 the 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, smashing the piano and her dolls.

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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 said and a great woman did, being the change we want to see. Living vicariously is not enough, practicing what you preach is key to a better future, should we ever want one.

 

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 91

Thursday 18th June 2020

Went on a health drive today, inspired by a pair of Irish twins on Somebody Feed Phil. In the episode, gurning foodie Phil goes to London and runs into the inordinately good looking brothers (youtubing vegans Stephen and David Flynn) on their whole urban ‘gymless gym’ thing, after which they proceed to tear up the leafy streets of Hampstead with infectious cross-fit. They make a point to climb trees, do press-ups on the pavement and nourish themselves off anything edible sprouting about, including pavement weeds that Phil reminds them must definitely have been pissed on near the doggie park. The bit where they do the crocodile on the ground piqued me, a kind of crawling press-up where your knees touch your elbows, like Crap Spiderman.

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Thus at some stage I found myself doing similar between the kitchen and front door, akin to a child possessed. I also got the skipping rope out -bought a good five years ago as a Rather Good Idea and never used for fear of looking twattish. I remember those rosy days in primary school being one of the boys who excelled at the girly sport of skipping, I could hop, I could criss-cross the rope as I jumped, and do it backwards.

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The reality this afternoon was somewhat different. Many years ago there was migraine special on telly, and they spoke at length about how many sufferers had a tiny hole in their heart, hence the blood not really getting cleaned. The solution being they could fit a teensy umbrella into the puncture and you’d get cured. Ever since I always figured I might have one, hence why I’d feel close to passing out after one length in the pool, or when getting into a warm bath (jacuzzis a gut punch, with the likelihood of being found face down in). Or like today, feeling fluttery after about 15 skips of the rope while trying to look manly. In contrast to being able to lift my weight in books, up and down two flights of stairs and across the museum every day -raaaar! That’s always been the rock to fall back upon, having a heroic condition rather than admit that unspeakable to every man -that one is weak.

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The fact I had to prance like a Viennese showpony at times didn’t help, the rope a tad too long and delaying the jump. After about 5 minutes it broke from being repeatedly stepped on. Undid the batons (small weights inside), tied a knot and screwed it back up again. The entire time some woman across the way, jogging on the spot and watching me like the fucking zombie bunny. At times I felt like running at her screaming but I doubt there’d be any change in her dead, jiggling stare.

Also tried ‘patball’ a return to a childhood craze throughout middle school -essentially squash without rackets. Very addictive, especially if played in teams where we numbered ourselves between 1 to whatever, bounced the tennis ball off the ground onto the wall, and tried to remember our order with everyone else shouting out the numbers. Miss the floor or the wall and you’re out, if the ball bounces twice you’re also out. By counting everyone gets invested, and the excitement builds when your number comes near. You can do a safe, easy hit for your following buddy to keep the momentum, or a massive whack after which they’ll have to run back and try to return, or fake it and do a tiny hit that goes so low to the ground it’s almost impossible to follow up, though doable. There’s also a civilised tennis version. In short it gets you running, stretching and springing for hours.

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Unfortunately the fact there’s a thin veneer of gravel on the tarmac proved no matter how hard you hit the ball it only bounced a couple of feet on a diminishing return. So that was that, the only available wall and space scuppered, and A rather happy to go back inside. I could try and sweep the ground of every little bit of grit but who’s got time for that? And I’m not crawling about outside like a spider. Fuckit.

Stuffed myself with a takeaway straight after, after obsessing about Chinese food for a week. It’s a paltry substitute, my local being one of the worst establishments that claim to sell it – where you pick your sauce and your meat, which is a no-go for the cuisine and a sign the gravy drowns out any other flavour, or is an unsubtle clash for an undiscerning clientele. I had to do with crispy noodles with roast pork in a choice of generic sauce or black bean sauce, none of which quite go together.

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But it sated me somewhat for two meals (wokked up my own additions to the melange, such as fried veg and raw onions, and making it a rice dish with the leftover meat). Still yearn for dim sum, still yearn for going on holiday, to the city of Shantou and ordering their meatball noodles. Ah, in another life.

Film for the night was Artemis Fowl, which I’d long thought was one of those tiny World Book Day books that JK Rowling released back in 2001, one such pamphlet being milked into two films that is the Fantastic Beasts franchise. The other book was actually a rulebook on Quidditch, but the covers looked a lot like the simple kids branding on Eoin Colfer’s series on a fairy fantasy involving Irish nymphs, trolls and dwarves and a poor little rich boy. He cannot, cannot be happy with the film, directed by Kenneth Branagh, unless his input was the power behind the throne -where do I start? I literally can’t -the ham acts, the dirge-like explanation of a narrative, the appropriated roles, the appropriated cycle helmets, the script for idiots. I could go on for days -just don’t do it.

This image embodies everything you can expect:

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From now on I’m ignoring every kids film ever. They cater to the stupid, and kids are often not that. Arrgggh. If your kids walk out of the cinema with warming glee, I’d worry. Send them to borstal and psychiatrists, or tell them fairies are lies.

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