A Journal of the Plague Year 2.0 Day 18

22nd November 2020

Have been binge-watching The Crown, and drinking in the backdrops, often missed. The most expensive series ever made ($130 million and counting) it is deceptively lavish. The crowds in impeccable period costume, glimpsed by the thousand as they line the streets, occasionally waving flags (recently they’re resorting to CGI, perhaps due to C-19). The endless parade of candelabras and gilt, Old Master paintings and landed estates, hired at great expense. Armies of peripheral servants, guards, horses and courtiers, sporting precious metal and polished antiques that emanate through the low light.

Even did a thing where I went through the big regalas, stopping, rewinding, on the adornments of anthropological, exotic ceremony. -The weddings (Queenie and Di), funerals and coronations, and their glittering cascades of cloth, furs and diamonds to a constant echoing of choirs.

But once again, it is all background. To the lives lived out regardless as focus to all the pomp and ceremony. Their loves and losses, trials and tribulations, affairs of desire, fears and dreams. Displayed in gilded cages of spectacle and expectation, whereby they are rulers of all but their own lives. It’s not like they actually appreciate the thousands of man-hours that go into sparkling up those backdrops.

There is also the contrast, starkly so. The episode where reams of Londoners pop their clogs in the 1952 Great Smog, goes to pains to show a disconnect. In the dim dioramas of broken glass and brick alleyways, dingy bedsits and overrun waiting rooms, where the common people suffocate by the hundreds still resonant today.

The Smog, powered by coal fires closed down the ports, airports and all major roads, as well as sport matches, theatres and cinemas as the audience couldn’t see the action. Swans and wildife wandered the streets, unable to find the river or parks, while policemen carrying flares wandered in front of inching buses to light the way. The cloud crept into houses and left a slick of brown grease on the wallpaper, quietly suffocating the sick, old and young, notably babies -the morgues filled up within hours.

4,000 died in those days, but modern research puts it at 12,000 that spiked in that month, as those who contracted lung diseases succumbed after, some walled into their homes and not discovered for years. Many more may have died from cancer within the decade.

The episode where an intruder, Michael Fagan, breaks into the palace in 1982, and chats to the Queen at the end of her bed, also portrays a nation riven with unemployment, unrest and the scuddingly grey estates he harks from. He attempts to convey the truer picture outside to the Sovereign, residing over a country made too bombastic by war with Argentina, and the newer, crueller reign of Thatcher to notice. These were some of the darkest days in postwar history, when unemployment topped 3 million and took out 14% of the workforce (half of which it’s estimated was sacrificed by the govt to keep inflation low). A two year recession and separatist terrorism stalked the land, from the Irish Republican Army and the Welsh Army of Workers (who knew?). 400,000 council homes were sold in the Right to Buy scheme, thus ensuring a vastly diminishing pool for the genuinely needy, rising by the thousands every week.

So are we, these so-called have-nots separated by 40 years of economic rise and social progress, safely harboured in the First World, just as guilty as those pampered royals? Looking back on history, here we are living the millionaire lifestyles that back in the day everyone else yearned and died for, even from a few decades before. Warm goosedown duvets, central heating, double glazing. Video games, washing machines, microwaves, restaurant meals, plane tickets. Education, pensions, cars. Pot plants, pineapples, tea tree, pepper, bog roll. Living out life with the zest of being smallpox, syphillis, leprosy and plague-free. We even have slaves that make our clothes, paint our nails, service our vehicles, pick our fruit, and deal out handjobs in the Passat. Small black rectangles that hold all mankind’s knowledge -Library of Alexandria be damned -that we use to look at kittens and nudity.

Many of us even have ‘followers’ and quite the modicum of fame and attention, crossing borders with blizzards of posted Likes. Yet this is not what we notice. -Of course it fucking isn’t, constantly bombarded with capitalism and pop, exhorting us to try harder, buy harder.

Is the grass always greener? It’s no wonder that after some celeb dies we find out what a loser they were in lifestyle, chained to infighting, lawyers, wranglers, sycophants, fanbases, doctors, drugs, cults and contracts with no real interaction with real people. Shitting in the corners above the Chiltern Firehouse, getting 6ft Buddha statues hauled into private wards for their intravenous hits.

Lets pretend this is as good as it gets. It’s what you want to do with that fact that may change it.

Watching the empty streets of Central London swing by, at 5pm on a Sunday, now dark and rattling instead of the usual backlit crowds, I was struck by an eerie beauty to it all. Offices with huge artworks in their lobbies, designed to alienate and thus intimidate, lit for no one. Dynamic new shopfronts promising pizzazz beneath crystal walls of glass now frozen in bluish tinge. The buildings like long undiscovered monoliths, rearing into the gloom, lights off, their pampered residents flown to warmer climes to live out lockdown with a glass of Bolly by the sea. The wind blew, the bus trundled its roundabout way through a silent city, the only glowing node in a complexity of form. The other two riders like companions round a fire, or rolling shots on some film that I smiled at.

It’s the little things that make your day, and there’s something to be said in finding beauty in the nondescript. Even if it is the quiet drama of bleakness, and the sense of history pulling forward, interminably.

Chicken Kiev with cheese, now that literally can’t be beat. Coupled with crispy garlic sprouts (slice em, fry em with nuts, vinegar, rice wine, sugar, soya sauce, lots of pepper, sesame oil to finish). Happiness on a plate once home, in the soft glow of living room cosiness, and sitting down and talking to someone.

I have also had quite a revelation in chatting to K, who may be able to translate The Book for the Mandarin-speaking market, the world’s largest and something I’ve never thought about. Quite excited, not at the prospect, but just working together on it is enough, and feel things progressing.

Been waiting too long for the Grand Plan to start.

Despite the fact I’ve been in bed now for 3.5 hrs (writing to all you lovely people), my body aches all over (age), my arms are dead (no heating beyond the blankets) and I have an undying bitterness in my mouth (memories + morning breath) I will endure. Time to fucking get up.

A new life! A new me! I will exercise, I will eat out and walkabout. I will write, I will make cuppas and watch the birds and learn how to hold handstands (did actually try this out on the bed once and nearly broke my neck). I will watch a film and nap too, luxuriantly on the sofa, scratching my arse when the time comes. I will accessorise. x

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