A Journal of the Plague Year Day 64

Friday 22nd May

Headache all day, soon becoming a right-side migraine. Spending too long on the net, and doesn’t help the affliction though it’s better than just lying there unable to sleep. A keeps me company most of the time, teasing me through the pain. Sweet thing.

The highlight of the day has been a friend’s performance art, streamed over social media live. He’s a sound artist, and uses a beatbox and his beautiful ethereal voice, singing as he goes along. Gregorian-Turkish chant to a beat is how I’d package it. We write in what we feel about lockdown, what we miss and he sings some of our replies out. Hugging family, cream cakes, stroking cats. Also quite the comic (part of the art), and pretty tongue n cheek, diving into a spell of miaowing halfway through. The number of viewers climbed to 22 at the start, fell, then climbed again to 24 over the hour. I said I missed lost children, bandicoots, bats and he sang none of that.

A got up to dance midway, like dry skiing at me until I had to tie him to the bed. J has been out most of the day so we can’t lock the front door. This means it judders constantly, a sound that travels and gives no one any peace. Fucking postwar prefabs, doors as flimsy as ironing boards. There’s a nimbus blowy sky despite the occasional, flaring heat (29C in Brighton I hear), and the wind’s an unceasing reminder of the outside. What we’re missing, or what we’re saving ourselves from.

I forgot to call fam again. My phone sits mostly unused these days; I wish I could just throw it away and hope no one would mind -something about isolation demands it. The few convos I’ve had are reluctant, recalcitrant. There’s only so many howareyou’s you can ping back as fine; I do try to penetrate into the second type of conversation (as opposed to formalities), but it’s such an effort. Peeps I feel are running out of things to do, others to talk to and I’m near the bottom of the list I bet. Friends invited me out yesterday but declined, just not in the mood to rejoin the world; as cold and scudding as the clouds.

I applied for a job yesterday at Holland & Barrett, which included ticking all the availability boxes between 5am and 10pm; hopefully that’ll make a difference. I hid my roots, ticking mixed race, and using the name Zed. You just never know these days.

A has gone for a walk, dusk when he set out and now much deeper into night, silly boy. Found a pic he sent before he left, which was a nice reminder.

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 63

Thursday 21st May 2020

26C Mad dogs.

This is the climbing attraction in Battersea Park, called Go Wild or Go Die or summat. A is convinced he wants to do it, despite a fear of heights, and vertigo. He’ll likely pay the hefty fee to get in and on the first rung go: ‘Don’t like it’ like in Little Britain, then have to crawl back down again.

It’s got three levels of walkways crisscrossing a corner or the woods near the kiddies playgrounds, apparently a 3hr ride if you do all of it. Would absolutely love it.

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Hayfever season, but this year I’m not stricken. Second time since ever.

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Sun was glorious. Being a Wednesday it wasn’t too jammed. All the hot bods are out, one stretch of the lawn’s becoming like Muscle Beach. I bet all those cross-fitters just come here for the chance to show off again in the hermit cave that is lockdown, and why not?

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Damn things everywhere. There were about 4 in all the lakes. A nerdy teenager spent his trip feeding the wildfowl, deep in concentration, thought it very sweet. It’s normally tourists or grannies.

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Seven.

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Some parts of London and its parks you really don’t notice until stopping to look at your everyday. The sheer size of some of the trees, that must be centuries old we take for granted.

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This three-pronged inverted tripod struck me as perfect for a treehouse.

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Lots of banana trees had broken out of their sacking -not sure if the lack of gardeners these days meant the mesh was meant to be removed. Looking Dalek-like in many corners -pub quiz fact, bananas have the largest leaves in the plant kingdom, up to 18m/ 60ft given the optimal conditions. There’s a big thing though with many banana species having gotten extinct, and the ones we eat only every being able to reproduce with cuttings these days.

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The sun being out meant me stopping to take snaps so often, faced with opps every few feet. A getting annoyed but he’s Mediterranean and used to this weather. Everything suddenly looks so much improved, and epic.

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The architecture certainly looks better, once again you stop to notice your everyday.

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Didn’t realise we had turtles. Biggest carp I’ve ever seen, nearly a metre long.

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Reddest thing I’ve ever seen. Literally hard to look at it in the sun. Have actually had to tone down the colour in the snap to make out the petals.

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Urban jungle -this area has canopy layers.

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 62

Tuesday 19th May 2020

Having exhausted all possibilities on Netflix, blocked by algorithms, I resorted to watch one of the latest offerings, Extraction. Starring Thor Chris Hemsworth, getting ever more typecast into the action hero role of the Great White Hunter. Set in Bangladesh, what a welcome surprise! No Hollywood film would ever think that as a film location, with few even knowing the difference between India or where, what and who it is on a map. Ask your average Joe and Josette on that side of the pond what they think of Bangladesh and the likely answer will be ‘what?’ and if lucky, followed up by ‘poor’ (this side we have enough Bangladeshis, notably running most of our ‘Indian’ restaurants, to know what their food tastes like, and that insofar, they exist) .

So what a refreshing take to think hundreds of millions round the world would now be introduced to the country, inevitably exposed to the culture, the backgrounds, the characters.

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The opening shot however was not encouraging.

There is a certain mustardy filter that has become a meme among US films, actively promoted by Hollywood and almost every Netflix production. That whenever setting a scene in the Global South (read: poor and hot) you cast a yellow glaze on all things -redolent of a dusty, dirty atmosphere. Dhaka, the capital of 21 million, was seething with it, as if a sudden sand storm had just blown in over the jungles and the world’s largest river delta, that sees in 4x the annual rainfall of London. Welcome to a giant broiling city of mass poverty, open drains and endless grit, like a Star Wars or Dune location (incidentally all scenes were actually filmed in India).

This should be called as to what it really is, a poverty filter, and racist projection.

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Mexico is particularly prone to this same cast, the minute one steps over the border from a sunny California, and just as avoidant of the glittering city centres in favour of seamy bordellos, desert ranches and shantytowns.

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This has its roots in the US Army office in Hollywood. When hiring out its weapons, fatigues and aircraft carriers it does operate a PR scheme alongside one has to agree to. This is understandable, who’s gonna lend out work if the crew in question is seeking to take down your establishment? Akin to gearing up a production and helping in all advice, while they advertise how shit and baby-killing you are.

This office has guidelines to toe, and Hollywood has fallen into step. Note how Western (read: White) locales have a certain blue tinge that psychologists put as making audiences alert, whilst promoting a sense of cleanliness and calm. However you’ll have to up this tint if dealing with Eastern Europe (notably Russia) to make it uncomfortable -overtly cold, calculating and emotionless, rife with degradation and akin to any horror flick. Meanwhile, we’re getting conditioned to warm colours equated to dirt, as any non-Western, poverty stricken nation is assumed to embody.

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The seminal film that influenced a lot of this was Saving Private Ryan, whose use of desaturated colours became iconic. This in turn led to Black Hawk Down, a film notable in the fact it had to run past an Army and White House committee for approval. Directed by Ridley Scott, its beautiful cinematography and gritty realism at battle proved to be an operatic groundbreaker. Telling the true story of the chopper crew attacked by a mob in Mogadishu, and the ensuing gunfight that killed 19 American soldiers (and led to the withdrawal of the US from Somalia), it showed harrowing shots of firsthand experience.

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One scene shows a Somali woman yelling angrily at the soldiers amidst the bullets. The soldier gallantly tries to avoid hitting her, hissing repeatedly at her to scram, but in the end he’s forced to shoot and she goes down, mad robes flailing. That snapshot employs the gritty realism the film was noted for, portraying the true-to-life decisions of every soldier, and winning the audience over in droves. -Or did it truly portray things? The reality was not that a few civilians were caught in the crossfire, and that the soldiers ummed and arred about taking one or two belligerent, bloodthirsty innocents down. It does play a bit like Zulu, the civilians shown dancing and gibbering like animals even as they’re fired at.

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Journalist Mark Bowder who wrote the book on the Battle of Mogadishu even complained about the fake ‘realism’ in their translation. In reality over 1,000 Somalis died in the battle, not just militia but hundreds of civilians callously mown down -albeit posthumously portrayed as armed with AK47s and rocket launchers jumping out in the warren of streets -or that these women and children were being used as human shields by their own militia. The mob mentality against the US ‘peacekeeping’ presence in the conflict had been long united by the highest rate of collateral civilian deaths since the Vietnam War, with 500-600 killed (inc. militia) and 2,000 wounded in that short time, plus high profile murders, torture and assaults on civilians committed by US soldiers.

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Anyhoo, I digress. This isn’t so much an anti-US diatribe (all warring countries commit the same acts of violence and crime abroad – in Somalia Canadian soldiers were also caught torturing civilians), but a stab at the complicit narrative that democracy installs. As philosopher Jacques Ellul points out, democracies have just as extant a use of propaganda as autocracies, exacerbated by the fact just five right-wing families control most of the world’s ‘free’ media.

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Anyhooooooo, back to the film. Yes. Great for the acrobatics of camera, with some almost seamless shots following the violence from room to room to window to falling to bouncing to the landing crash below, or out one windscreen into another as the explosion hits. One pounding shot lasts 12 minutes. Directed by Sam Hargrave, the stuntman double for Captain America, these are fight scenes as memorable as the Matrix trilogy, though not as groundbreaking. However, it does fall into a pit of the dated action movie, the formula being the Great White Straight Man/ White savour meme rescuing darkies and mostly shooting them down too. It is a different time these days, and Rambo is no longer as poignant or searingly poetic.

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It is the kind of cliché where the American Aussie hero is repeatedly bulletproof even from machine guns a few feet away, is lone in his rescue of the locals, with superior strength and skillsets to be in foreign awe of, and is heartbreakingly haunted by the past. The foreign roles are extras, the one woman (immaculate, ball-breakingly ruthless) hinting at a love history and nothing more, the villains (cackling, hand-rubbing, sadistic) as single-faceted as a stage demon allows.

As farce it’s delicious for the ride, though it does repeatedly, weakly try to pretend it’s Jane Austen (with guns). You’d easily enjoy it if you forgot the attachments. But fuck you, too late. Nazi baby killers.

 

As mentioned, Bangladeshis watching this film will be offended for sure. Why Bangladesh? Well, no other country would have their police force mown down as the forgettable baddies, populating each bloodied action shot as unit after unit is gunned, stabbed, run over and er raked multiple times in every available body part as they bumble onto screen. The action starts off in India, but decamps to Bangladesh to portray the entire police as corrupt and in league with the venomous, casually torturing drug lords.

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Imagine this, let’s take the NYPD. The head honcho of the force gets in league with the cities local mafia don, and orders the arrest of the hero and his rescued kidnap victim. Does Hollywood then wordlessly allow every policeman turning up to become bullet bait, making up the majority of a body count of 183? There would be outrage. No reviewer’s picked up on that, despite castigating the film for its plot and ridiculous scenarios, yet missing the disconnect with respect in a portrayal of a people.

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This is why the film had to be set in a forgotten, forgettable small country and shot outside it -not India (too large, too important), not Mexico (too close), not the Middle East (too sensitive), not Eastern Europe (too White, the audience might notice/ identify). Despite having a population of 165 million, none of them matter, none of their voices deserve to be heard.

To finish off, some images of the city. We’re not going to pretend it isn’t poor, it isn’t sweatshoppy, it isn’t hot and steamy. But there’s more to it than a vast, festering crime-slum. Welcome to Dhaka.

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Garment workers protest for higher wages in Dhaka

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 61

Monday 18th May 2020

I lie. The body becomes a map, a landscape of sensation. The room limits to a universe.

The main focus floats above, the slowly rotating lamp that is the sun, moon and stars through this time. Bought from Ikea, who J regards as a boil on the face of history. He believes the cheapness of furniture is encouraging a throwaway society, and that we should treasure the items we have. He would say that, being into antiques. He always mentions the design (Killå?) that keels over and dispatches people, a chest of drawers that was recalled across the world, but is still extant in hundreds of thousands of uninformed homes, hiding, waiting.

When we saw it in the lighting section we knew that was gonna be our choice -made up of several sheets of fireproof snow-white material. You crumple each sheet and create a flower; it spins now like a giant meringue, UFO-like.

One side is a grey, sheer drop that is the curtain, space-y and shimmering. Found at discount, long forgotten in a corner of TK Maxx, and creased with fault lines that have never ironed out, despite gravity upon the heavy cloth. The wall is blank, a tall, narrow mirror leans as an adjunct before the door, an amaryllis that takes all year to flower punctuates the expanse of dove white, elevated by a shoerack. It’s the only colour, a veridian noteworthy of beauty were it not reminiscent of a double-pronged leek. The mirror reflects the wardrobe, which is really a stack of shelving in an alcove with another of the grey curtains to obliterate the complexity. That’s it for the room, everything else out of scope when positioned on the bed.

The window view, rarely revealed is of the world’s busiest train station where we can see straight onto the waiting, windblown commuters on platform 1. Blocking the occasional eye contact (awkward, unwarranted) are a clutch of wavering trees and a modernist church, now abandoned and awaiting some fate. It employs into its architecture ‘CHRIST IS THE WORD’ in stark black and white, encircling as a walkway to the witch’s hat steeple. Should they ever convert it I wonder if they’ll recarve the letters, perhaps replace it with some kind of family-friendly diorama, just as contrived, or the usual collection of unassuming shapes -saved by the inoffense of geometry.

Sometimes the clothes rack gallops unannounced into the room (I wake to it waiting by my side), source of annoyance as a barricade against reaching clothes, or reflection. It is here today, marring the simplicity of the room with its desultory drape of mismatched socks, t-shirts and underwear.

There’s a chenille rug in front of the mirror, reminiscent of the 80s in a big round dot. Cream and deep pile, like a spotlight made flesh. Probably my favourite seat. A framed photo of A and I sits on the bedside table, dressed in morning suits, all tails and no hat, for a picnic at Buckingham Palace. The sun is in our eyes; it’s framed by fake baroque.

Behind, where I cannot see, are two portraits, one of A (kneeling, eyes cast downwards) and one of I (backdrop of telegraph poles in the snow). I made the colours wrong, to look ethereal.

My legs ache, feeling vast like leviathan blocks. They’re shells, ceramicised over pulsating, gentle pain. The rest of me flattened and pharaonic; I’ve half a mind to lie with arms crossed, were I not balancing the laptop on my chest. My chin tucked into neck to look downward, generating a crick and ridiculousness should you stand at the bottom of the bed. The light’s grey, pigeon grey, and dampening into dusk.

Later I’ll take a walk round the block in pink light, brewing beneath more scullery skies. It’ll be chilly, we’ll talk about the world, wash our hands once inside, then more of the same, these four walls that are continents to discover.

 

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A Journal of the Plague Year Week 10

Sunday 17th May 2020

Battersea, the coming dusk at 8pm.

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The crowds headed home but for the animals reclaiming.

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Mandarin ducks are so called as a pair are traditionally given to newlyweds in China as they mate for life.  -No, we do not subsequently eat them.

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The place has become overgrown, as it was always meant to be, making new dells.

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Dying of the light

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New commute

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This year this pen laid her eggs quite openly, and close to the path. An old lady waylaying anyone taking a look and entrapping them in convo. She’s worried the foxes might nab the eggs, but as someone always says when you see a swan, they can break your leg. Pub Quiz fact, they, along with the Great Bustard, are the heaviest flying birds.

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Once home, it’s back to domesticity. I’ve noticed a thing, a health thing. My legs get tired and all achey every morning. Also after every meal it’s straight to snooze time, the gradual dying of the fight. Just so cannot be arsed. A says it’s sugar sensitivity, J that it’s lying down too much. Everything I eat is packaged and carby and salty, I am apparently in need of salad forever. Life over.

Literally cannot list more than 5 veg that I will actually, actively like. Onions, potatoes, rocket. Er think that’s it. Is garlic a veg?

If it is some kind of congealing of blood, the fatigue makes me lie down more, and get cosy with a screen. Life becomes reaching distance. Not so much a vicious circle but a snug, blanketed one.

The hair’s grown out.

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 59

Saturday 16th May 2020

OK I have in the past been both slob and a clean freak. There was a time I was neglected and smelled of a heady mix of odiferous human. Like the certain ilk of loner who hangs round community centres/ libraries toting eau de sweat, wee, hair oil and thick glasses. At the opposite end of the spectrum I was scrubbing so often I nurtured an allergy to water (or whatever chemical mix du jour Thames Water was churning out). Would wash twice or thrice daily, hair also, brush teeth after every meal and snooze, and change constantly dependant on room, possibly to make a phone call or take the rubbish out. Which in turn resulted in rashes and allergies to the point of commuting every day red and angry for having passed fleetingly under a shower. By then I’d given up on every chemical taint (basking under waterfalls) but still coming up in hives.

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I read somewhere there’s a direct correlation between the amount of bacterial types on one’s skin and the collection of allergies one welcomes in. That we spent the last century trying to kill off bacteria, and the next one will be sending sorry cards and luring the good ones back. When we raise kids in spotless environments they’ll grow up with a host of aversions, hence why it’s particularly a First World Problem, though now the rest is catching it, as hygiene improves globally with the rise of the middle classes. Also, the bacterial garden in our gut functions as a ‘second brain’, affecting our moods and hormones, as anyone with food poisoning will know of the doom and gloom that comes as a side. We are more than one animal to make the self, and a sum of all parts.

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Hair grooming is another front, the natural hair movement also dallies a sideline in ridding the body of shampoo, that strips the skin of its natural oils then makes it overcompensate after -which gives you greasy hair, and in turn keeps making you use their product. Apparently after the first stage of a slick mop, and you keep washing with water alone, it’ll revert to its natural state, full of bounce, vigour and cleanliness, plus free you from a life of servitude to Heads n Shoulders.

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These movements, however, have been well and truly stymied by the nasty infection that’s currently doing the rounds. The world will change for years to come, in enforced social distancing, non-contact, increased plastic fantastic, car travel and WFH. But also a tsunami of OCD cleaning inside and out, the providers of which are some of the few companies doing roaring stocks in the depression (the other being big pharma). Governments worry that the multinationals will have little monetary motivation to find a cure, when life-long treatment would be so much more profitable.

For the time being though, keeping clean saves lives.

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Since those years of manic cleanliness I’ve had to cut down to a shower every morning, shampooing every 2-3 days. Still change outfit daily though, terrible Euro-habit.

Well, fast forward to now.

Days since:

shower: 3

hairwashing: 5

changing T-shirt: 3

changing underwear: 2

shaving: 4

exercising: 5

earwax cleaning: 14

checked phone: 3

checked email: 7

social media: 2

There are other things that men don’t readily admit to.

eyebrow plucking: 7

nosehair trimming: 14

moisturising: 6

random giant hair somewhere on body plucking: 35

I am a version of Worzel Gummidge, or Nicole Kidman in Destroyer (possibly the same person), where a life of hermitage and dragging your feet from car to car looks beckoning. Flies will follow me about and I’ll piss myself where I stop, staring into the distance for a few seconds, mid-convo with the fairies. I’ll take no prisoners. I mean seriously these days, who literally gives a shit anymore.

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But in the end, caved into having a good scrubbing down because I’m worth it. Albeit with no change in my countenance after, no ambassadors balls to host or charity galas to attend for all the effort. Once again I do ponder how much of the former life has been spent on pleasing others, how much of the psyche gets tied into appearance, disguise, and what others think in regard. They say a man with a beard is a sign of a free man, though the panoply of beard trimmers, dyes, combs, wax, moisturisers and balms is starting to say otherwise.

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So hey ho, onwards into the mire. Am increasingly at a loss for words most of the day, the screen my cold-faced replacement. The days aren’t so much long as irrelevant to time, and the nights obliterate. The difference between inside and out could not be more stark, or relevant in these days of our lives. Upkeep has become the meaning of it.

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 58

Friday 15th May 2020

Slept a good night, woke at 8 then did some scrolling. Slept again at 10, then up for lunch, of a biscuit and cereal. The giant chocolate chip cookie I treated myself to the other day in Lidl has bitten back, so sweet as to be near inedible. Entered a sugar coma till 6pm.

In short have slept for 15hrs out of 24. Can’t be good. They say you need 8-10hrs a night for healthy brainwaves, which is come on, ludicrous with our modern lifestyles. -Working well past our recompense and any accrued efficiency, with that sesh on Netflix our only downtime (which is why we’re so addicted). Mine recently’s been about 5, an hour or two less than normal.

Will casually namedrop this while pretending to look for a spoon:

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The day’s been a write-off. But been good to have time with A for a change, in bed and watching shite together on phone or tablet. Picking up the pieces, slowly.

Been witnessing especially lurid dreams recently, as have all of us. Perhaps there’s something in the air, or we’re all hitting a collective stage of isolation-spazz endemic to humans. I have recently, in the land of nod:

  • chased some old Karen lady out a library after she hit A with a handbag, she tried to escape in a getaway car, hissed at her that she was a cunt
  • seen the sunlight falling on A‘s face in the dark, woke up crying
  • getting caught watching porn, can’t remember who by
  • something about a painting, some woman, yelled in my sleep that she was a cunt too
  • midway in a dream a big thunder strike that woke me up, the sound equating to an explosion of colours, like a Holi fest. Turned out it was something/ someone falling over in the flat above. Am increasingly convincing myself dreams are another dimension beyond our understanding of 3D sight and timescale. Like a feeling of presence, form and being, inhabiting the space.

Okay, slightly worrying the repeat of calling women the C-word (though Ms Woolf does urge us to claim the word back). Perhaps misogyny embedded and rising to the fore, or as they say, the subconscious trying to tell you something you’ve not heeded, even if it is that you left the fridge door open. I hope it’s that some woman shoplifted from my basket, rather than schizoid serial killering. Or too much Ricky Gervais recently and his love of the word, or anything really that’s crossing the boundary. I just remember being outraged each time.

Was watching some podcasts on weeerk motivation -overcoming procrastination (do the hardest part first), pefectionism (a form of self-sabotage, don’t set your expectations so high), and selling yourself (and not being guilty/ fake/ grasping about it). Can’t remember who it was but it was nicely framed by an author, so she had several nice quips about the book business, albeit from too charmed a position. Namedropping one really should contact movers in the biz, or ask other successful writers to run things past, which to your average hack is far too readily immersive.

On that subject, didn’t mean to leave this lying around.

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Made some fajitas, substituting the chicken with Quorn chunks. The tortillas were too bready and a bit like eating a rubber-paper mix, the ‘meat’ flavourless other than the BBQ coating, the packet sauce way too sweet, sour and pungent. Adding lime and raw red onion to it just created a chemical attack. Gawd, supermarket packet food. AVOID.

Never had a good Mexican in the UK, every time they stimp on the chilli, (the WASP repackaging) which is vital to the flavour balance. Also over a hundred ingredients traditionally go into your average fajita, from the spice mix to the dough to the guacamole and sauces, many of which get dismissed. It’s one of the reasons why it was the first of only two cuisines UNESCO listed as world heritage status (the other being pan-Mediterranean). Peeps from the Americas often complain about the starchy, bland substitutes over this side of the pond and I’m inclined to agree without ever having tried the real thing. Even in Mexican run establishments it’s all watered down or catering to local tastes as they lose custom otherwise, the old adage for Asian food the spectrum over, notably Chinese that comes in over-sweet, gloopy sauces unrecognisable in the homeland.

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In other news the UK death toll from C-19 is lowering, albeit still 400-500 daily. A curious thing happens each week, the numbers fall encouragingly with each new day, hitting a nadir by weekend -then shooting back up again Monday.

It remains to be seen when we open up, how much it will again rise. As reminder, the UK has the second highest amount of deaths yet recorded, behind the US, at over 34,000 and 240,000 cases. Our strain appears deadlier than Italy’s.

It’s amazing how we’re used to it now, it barely registers anymore. We are perhaps too engrossed in our domestic lives, the screen that is our inlet now tiresome from the same single note, with a new normal at play. Doom! Gloom! So now we’re knowingly putting our small dramas, whims and recipe suggestions before the fate of the world, even when we’re the ones so threatened. I’m sure it’s something we all do as per norm, but so brazen and acceptable these days it’s how a sociopath must live. The other option? Lighting a tealight in vigil? Taking to the barricades?

Rather just soldiering on, defeatist to all that shit hitting the fan, from the protests against lockdown to the casual racism, the ineptitude of governments to the people fallen by the wayside, or willingly sacrificed to it.   Worra buncha Cunts.

Oops.

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Meanwhile: Has Jeff Bezos Become a Trillionaire During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

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