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.

s

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.

s

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.

s

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.

s

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.

s

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, and that got milked into franchises (Fantastic Beasts) -their covers look a lot alike. Eoin Colfer’s doppelganger is rather a fairy fantasy series involving Irish nymphs, trolls and dwarves and a poor little rich boy. Colfer cannot, cannot be happy with the film, directed by Kenneth Branagh, unless it was his input as 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:

s

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 and we’ve just long been fucking with them, like Santa. You can thank me later.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 90

Wednesday 17th June 2020

Cooking disaster. The kind where you have so little of a life having been kept indoors for 3 months it’s a life changing event that bleeds out tears. One in which you’ll launch on a public tirade, fists to the air and life in tatters.

Lidl. Big expensive pasta of their ‘Luxury’ range. It said put it to simmer for 8 minutes, when it actually needed 4x more to even reach Al Dente. A spent a good 45 minutes preparing the sauce and mince, only to have the dish ruined when we bit in, the inside of every giant shell dry, white and uncooked.

I envisaged writing a sternly written letter from Tunbridge Wells, calling them utter cunts, or taking up witchcraft and a hex that they become weaselly (pinched nose, whiskers, small eyed) to reflect their shitty, money grasping acts. Launching on Twitter to worldwide acclaim and letters of support. Or better, youtube, filming the unbroiled results like a product unboxing to hundreds of appalled comments and a testament for years.

After microzapping it for 3 x 2 minutes to no avail, had to clean each shell under the tap and dunk it back into the pan. Spilled boiling water over my foot while doing so and swearing the house down. FML. They are to blame.

In the letter I’ll big it up that I was throwing a dinner party, possibly entertaining a European prince, and a baby got splashed. And sign off as a Viscount.

Such is life right now, any small bump becomes horizon-levelling. The trip out to get the damn thing was as bleary and unconscious as any trip to the supermarket is these days -after a run of socialising almost every day this week it’s been quite a letdown, the weather. Stormy and insipid in equal measure but wet throughout. Canceled my future engagements (another haircut for a friend and a meet up in Battersea park), and have resided into doing more of the same old same old.

Slowly, surely I’ve reached my limit with news sites and forums. This a good thing, social media also now off the list. This leaves movies and reading as more productive distractions, though the phone has perked up, having been neglected for so long. It is as if you kill off one vice and another replaces it, waiting in the wings all this time.

Should just go cold turkey and stare at a wall, take up all those enlightening things such as meditation, yoga, exercise, learning something, cooking from a cookbook without fuckery. But it all seems so far-fetched and these days it’s all about the cold hand of realism. I’m thinking of skipping. Downstairs, in some hidden corner, and putting the damn rope to use for the first time in 5 years since I bought it. I wonder if I’ll look like a tit. Maybe 4am, in disguise like a mummer, or mugger.

But seriously, as if. Another day, hey.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 89

Tuesday 16th June 2020

One thing I miss most is eating out. My friends agree we are reaching the stage where it’s fuck the pandemic, fuck the police, let’s go out to get irradiated in the name of a kebab, a shag and skag, preferably all three. For me my vice is currently in the form of Singapore fried noodles (vermicelli), from the Tai Tip Mein palace in Woolwich. TTM is a small local chain that specialises in the cheap and cheerful. As with ‘Chinese’ food the world over it caters to local tastes, notably tweaked for a multiethnic South London population.

WARNING**** FOOD PORN ****

s

The outlet in Elephant & Castle is notorious for looking like the dodgiest, skankiest eating establishment ever by dint, a little unfairly, of its architecture. The one in Woolwich, marginally better, and the one in Greenwich possibly palatial insofar as you even pay after your food rather than before. Woolwich is a gem because they cater to the large African community, notably the Nigerian customers who form a solid clientele. This is a winning formula. Elsewhere round the world the ‘Chinese’ food ups the sugar and salt content for Western tastes, creating gloopy, jam-like sauces more reminiscent of a jar of chutney poured over a changing roster of meats.

s

s

Not so for Woolwich. Nigerian food reminds me of Malay -spicy, beefy, earthy with the chilli to boost, and little demand for the saccharine. Spiced rice like jollof and nasi goreng could be cousins, as could be the roast meats whether it’s beef suya with peanut coating, or satay sticks and peanut sauce. So hey presto! We now have Singapore fried noodles -not the limp, watery variety you get elsewhere, pale and inoffensive, but now the highly spiced version swimming in chilli oil and smoky flavours. It’s not the lovely lurid yellow variety that screams turmeric content, but a fuzzy warm hint of brown thrown in that shows the greater variety of spices. It’s also double a portion you’d expect and studded with the greatest hits -tender chicken, BBQ duck and two types of roast pork (one sweet, the other salty). I always add extra chilli as I’m one of those people. You can only get this version in this branch, winningly so, but do avoid their garlic sauce dishes, a flavour clash if ever there was one.

Nigerian:

s

Malaysian:

s

It’s often a surprise when people actually go to China and find the food tasting unrecognisable to their takeaways back home -and the variety on offer too. There are 15 distinct cuisines, of which 8 are official stand-outs, and a ninth is being added on.

Up in Northern style it’s salty, hearty fare for the colder climes, where the main staple is bread rather than rice, and influenced by the Steppe peoples, such as the Mongols. They gave rise to the wonders of open fire cooking -BBQ and roasting, normally deemed uncivilised by the rest, Beijing roast duck one famous example. Plus lots of warming soups and a surprisingly light and fresh touch by the coast, with a sideline in caramelising things in honey.

Local variations range from the wild Manchurian tribes foraging off the steppe and forest (bear paws anyone?) to the intricate haute cuisine of Imperial cooking, after the Manchus got used to the high end of 300 years in power.

Rou jia mo -‘Chinese hamburgers’, a 2,000 year old streetfood of smoky, spiced pork belly with coriander.

s

Beijing Roast Duck is sourced from a local breed, and cooked in a special oven over peach/ pear wood. The sweet, crackly skin should be served separately, and the meat parcelled into plum sauced pancakes. The remainder a rich broth.

s

Imperial menus employed delicate food carving

s

s

For the Southern style, Cantonese cooking forms the backbone of most of the Chinese diaspora round the world, and thus what many have been exposed to. However it’s not really authentic what we get here as the Cantonese rely on super fresh produce for natural flavour (all ingredients hours from the fields), imparted by the quality of produce and specific upbringing of plant or animal. Done well and it’s an unctuous, subtle play of layers of natural flavour (think steamed dim sum), done badly and it’s a bit plain. Overall, it can be likened to a subtropical version of Japanese, a cuisine of such simplicity yet finesse it has 700 varieties of salt. Rice as a staple. Although joked within China as the people who’ll eat everything with legs other than the chair and table (a famine cuisine), it’s traditionally regarded as the school of cooking par excellence. They may put something like snake or frog in it, but you’ll instead be tasting melt in the mouth chicken. The dog (now banned) will be a specially farmed variety that tastes sweet, the cane rat (a large rodent about a foot long from the rice fields, also farmed) a more expensive substitute for lamb.

s

 

The attention to detail is typical for every region -the meatballs they make in Shantou need to be pounded for 30 minutes nonstop with steel batons (different designs for different textures) that create bodybuilders; the local beef hotpot (meat served up and cooked in a broth at your table) has to be plated within 4 hrs from when the animal was mooing about and takes a year of training to carve up, some slices only 1mm thick. The fermented tofu mooncakes take a 25 step process and are designed to degrade so they can’t be transported beyond the city. Eating here’s pretty much a science, every stage exacted to break down certain types of fat, release different protein strands and get the right balance of texture that is so important for the Chinese palate -foods designed for the shape of the bolus, consistency and feel in the mouth.

Steamed dim sum

s

Steamed fish

s

Numerous offshoots include Hainanese -tropical but historically influenced by Western food thanks to its island trade -no heavy sauces or strong flavours, simple, direct cooking styles. Another one is Teochow/ Chiu Chow, a seafood-savvy cuisine that uses even less oil and is even more delicate, incorporating steaming, but not averse to flavour punches via its sacha sauce (salty with a hint of spice). It also has that rarity in China – a dessert menu. Macanese another one, combining the flavours of old Portugal, Africa and Cantonese cooking, for example African chicken (spiced up and peanutty), or baked, cheesy seafood, spaghetti instead of noodles followed with their version of pastel de nata (custard tarts).

Hainanese chicken rice (simple steamed chicken fed on rice and peanuts, with fragrant stock rice and dips)

s

African Chicken

s

http://www.omnivorescookbook.com

Due East and it’s now more reminiscent of Western takeaways due to the increase in sugar content (Suzhou more so, Shanghai less); lots of noodles and a penchant for seafood. It was historically looked down on by the rest of China for being sugary and unsubtle -but has recently seen a renaissance (thankyou Shanghai), that’s now featuring as the country’s most popular choice of restaurant when eating out. It’s come in leaps and bounds rediscovering its roots as well as reinventing the styles, from the strict regimen of the Anhui branch to the fresh flavours of Jiangsu, the smooth, ungreasy fragrance of Zhejiang to the high quality ingredients of Fujian. But beware, this is where you’ll find the ‘red style’ of cooking similar to takeout, but done much better. Though just as volcanic – you can’t do two in a row.

Squirrel-shaped fish makes use of an explosive frying technique, literally a sugar bomb.

s

Dongpo pork in ‘red style’.

s

Zhejiang’s Longjing prawns can only be eaten between April -when the Longjing tea (finest in China) is budding its best -and early summer as the local prawns are harvested. The unusual dish created accidentally when an emperor spilt his cuppa.

s

 

In central China the heat starts –Sichuan uses its native peppercorn (really a local type of flower bud) to create a different kind of spiciness, one in which the burn of the tongue is replaced by a numbing, tingling sensation in the lips and mouth, known as málà. It still liberally adds chilli on top, and may often call on an entire bottle of chilli oil (yes a whole bottle) as part of a dish, eg boiled fish soup. It relies on dual flavour combinations of spicy, sour, sweet, bitter and salty (eg hot and sour), but which can produce over 40 types of taste sensations depending on the mix.

Boiled fish + pint of chilli:

s

Don’t worry, not all the pepper in a standard dish has to be eaten

s

There are two types of cuisine -one in which the natural flavours come to the fore (eg Cantonese, Japanese, Greek), or the type where a world of flavour is added to compliment or possibly mask the natural ones (eg Indian, Thai, Turkish). Sichuan is decidedly the latter, everything looking geothermal -but it steadfastly maintains the Chinese tradition despite of having super-fresh ingredients, obsessively sourced.

Sichuan hotpot is a shared meal divided between spicy (outside of the constantly bubbling tureen) and not spicy (inside), where you dip your ingredients to cook. As the meal progresses the soup flavour intensifies.

s

Next door is Hunan, once considered an offshoot but more coming into its own. Instead of using peppercorn’s mala, it just throws in voluminous amounts of fresh chilli, purported to be the world’s hottest cuisine and what killed Chairman Mao off with stomach cancer. But so worth it. It is a fresh and aromatic counterpoint to Sichuan, with added onus on smoked and cured goods. Although one of China’s ‘furnaces’ in summer, the chilli is meant to open up the pores and help you cool, in the format of cold appetisers. Yeah, right.

s

Salad, Hunan style:

s

 

Other cuisines are the minority foods. Xinjiang, deemed quite accessible for Western tastes due to the preponderance of bread and dairy, such as cheese, but beware the nose to tail eating, such as sheep’s head. Lots of roast kebabs, spiced beef and lamb, with noodley Chinese influence and Middle Eastern piquancy via the Silk Road. Hui is another Islamic cuisine, but more sinicised with street food wonders beyond meat-on-a-stick, taking the best from both worlds in roast meat patties, date and rice cakes, crumbled bread n’ beef soups (THE definition on unctuous) and chilli lamb noodles.

Xinjiang kebabs

s

Hui date, red bean syrup and rice sticks

s

Tibetan and Mongolian are considered beyond the pale to many. Tibetans are partial to the wind dried variety of cooking (invariably yak jerky), surprisingly spicy as everything comes doused in chilli similar to Korean gochujang and washed down with butter tea. Tibet is a high altitude desert, aka the Third Pole, as if the summit of Mont Blanc was spread out to cover Western Europe – so little veg. Doable though a bit one noted.

s

Their bready dumplings though are a big hit, notably having taken over India as a moreish snack.

s

 

Mongolian is about as out there as you can imagine. If you like meat this is for you, but don’t expect veg or spices or marinades -simply boiled, perhaps served in a plastic bucket. And every part is eaten, from eyeballs to tail tips to hooves. This be warrior food Stage 10.

s

s

There is a version of Mongolian BBQ – a range of meats, veg and sauces fired up teppanyaki style in different combos as spectacle to awaiting diners, said to be sourced from the way the invading Mongols would cook up their feasts on shields, accompanied by broth in upturned helmets (Mongolian hotpot, almost identical to Sichuan’s). However, it appears these formats were a Taiwanese invention, who changed the politically sensitive ‘Beijing BBQ’ to a more palatable Mongolian moniker. The dishes are popular now all over the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia, but not in Mongolia itself.

s

The ninth cuisine people wanna add to the greats is Yunnan. The tropical, minority-happy eating of the steamy southwest. Once derided as poverty food (a jungle has less available protein than a desert), unvarnished presentation and tendency to catch any little thing trying to scurry or crawl away (river larva, snails, insects) it’s now elevated into a healthy eating bonanza, full of fresh salads, flowers, raw ingredients, open fire cooking and banana-leaf or sugar-cane steaming, all to organic sourcing. Very trendy right now, similar to Vietnamese.

s

s

 

Thus ends a brief rundown on the Chinese cuisines, whether divided into 4, or 8, or 15, or 40, or 400 dependent on where you split hairs. That it’s hard to find genuine Chinese food outside the country, where freshness is king and you don’t have to rely on pre-packed ingredients nor cater to local tastes.

And to cut a very, very shaggy dog story down to size, I fucking want one.

 

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 88

Monday 15th June 2020

Last glimpse of sun today apparently, until July. A friend came round to get a haircut, and we set up a little backstreet barbershop in the grounds, under a tree. A model couple did some crossfit in the car park while an Italian girl wandered around on her phone, and my friend translating (talking about her baby). It’s all starting to look like a Beijing hutong, where life is lived outside and no one gives a shit. Gave him a 90s step -NOT a bowlcut -but similar. It had grown into a thatch. Now his flatmate want’s a buzz too; I’m thinking of maybe sending some leaflets round.

Was paid in alcohol, which we drank after on the verdant lawn with dips, sticks and pastries, with A and J joining -that is until the rain started. So shitty that we then had to retire inside while my mate had to walk home in the rain, as opposed to being invited in.

s

Highlight of the day. It was a spell of normality, and one that has been a long time coming. I have a strong feeling throughout of history happening, that one day we will tell others of this.

In the news, it all still rattles on beyond our little bubbles. Where horizons burn, but we do not see and needn’t look at.

The argument about the nation’s colonial and slavery role trundles on, as social media proves to be the arena that the papers take their cue from. The slavers continue to get unearthed -that their murderous families were only finished being recompensed with taxpayers money after nearly two centuries in 2015, and not a penny paid to the slaves themselves, or their kin. And these slaving dynasties still enjoy automatic power in the House of Lords for their deeds.

That it was India that built the UK, funding the small island with the equivalent of $45 trillion over the centuries. More and more skeletons are being unearthed in institutional closets, in historic companies, in the grand buildings paid in blood that dominate our city centres, and in people’s personal family histories. That the colonies contributed 15 million personnel in WWII and 450,000 deaths, and in WWI 2.5 million soldiers and over 100,000 military deaths for king and country, both mostly from India but substantially from the Caribbean too -yet scrubbed from every patriotic war film, memorial and textbook for decades, often to this day.

s

I researched the statues currently under the guillotine of history moving forward, from Gandhi’s unsavoury views of Black South Africans while he was growing up there, to of course, the most controversial: Churchill. His statue facing Big Ben now boarded up, such is it a flashpoint for defacement, fighting and protection.

s

Tbh I don’t know whether his statue should be taken down. But I do know the history needs to be remembered, to forget is to commit again. In the same way we need to remember a hero we thank our way of living for -that I am even here writing this -we need to acknowledge too that no one is imperfect, that hero and villain can manifest in the same figure dependent on your viewpoint as well as regardless of it.

Was it ethical to divert grain shipments away from India for European storage? To insist the country still export its own rice in such a time? Were the 3 million civilians who died in the Bengal Famine justified to save other lives?

Whatever a viewpoint, we must acknowledge all sides, and more importantly, learn from what happened. This needn’t be a divisive topic if especially we realise we don’t have to pick between the extremes of good and evil, black and white, hero and villain. All these things happened (in 2018 US soil studies concluded the famine was engineered by policy not drought), it’s what we want to learn from it that matters. And no, we do not have to pick sides all the time, but acknowledge it. Peace x

A Journal of the Plague Year Week 14

Sunday 14th June 2020

Today was A’s birthday celebrations, much delayed due to inclement weather and friends doing their househunting every Saturday. There won’t be another sunny day till July apparently.

We agreed to meet up in Regent’s Park, equidistant between the lot of us, and each taking over an hour’s bike ride. Although the route is 45 minutes, it took double due to 3 parking stations being full on the approach to the vast green expanse, and the most beautiful park in the centre. Our friends had various dramas too, including one who got lost 3x in Camden even before we all tried to find the meeting spot in the ginormous place, packed with daytrippers.

s

I heard quite a few American accents among the youth, and did wonder about those doing their studies abroad, and how it fared during lockdown with their experience of the city much dulled. But then looking around me it wasn’t all that bad -the verdant green, flowerbeds and formal gardens dotted with statuary (it appears gardeners are still employed here, as opposed to our local Watchtower cover in Battersea),  the glittering lakes and convincingly natural landscaping that is the quintessential tradition of English garden design. Go to an ‘English Garden’ round the world (such as the Englischer Garten in Munich) and you’ll find the kind of pristine views, with artfully placed follies and ruins redolent of Grand Tour postcards, perfectly framed, in favour of formal flower beds and patterned planting of say French or Italianate offerings. And at great expense, whereby hills would be moved a few dozen metres to the left and lakes dug out in natural shapes, with slopes maintained at precise gradients. All very subtle, at tremendous work, for a wonderland.

Munich:

s

London:

s

sss

s

s

s

s

Yet Regents Park delivers, it has all the wonders of above, but enter the Inner Circle at its heart and its all formal bedding and Alice-In-Wonderland rose gardens.

Britain Set For Driest September Since 1910...LONDON, ENGLAND -

s

s

Though they’re still in love with those gentle curves and against too much symmetry. That would just be severe.

s

s

s

We decided on the lake, in a lawn normally so full of daisies it looks white rather than green -but it was out of season and crowded (couples, families, topless A-gays, topless straights, super annoying American students playing catch, right in the midst of the people trying to relax). Thus we found a perfect spot at the edge with a view of the gathering and lake, but half in the shade too.

s

To cut a long story short:

1. Shared a massive amount of food we’d all foraged together, notably more kimchi, Lithuanian salad, courgette frittata, weed, rhubarb n cream pancakes, popping candy honeycomb, and peanut-chocolate muffins.

2. Got fast drunk, on elderflower cider.

3. Needed to wee but they’d closed down all the public toilets, thus had to traipse around the wonderland of gardens looking for a suitable bush. In the end resorted to just invading the blocked off loos and went in a bush, which had obviously been the same resort for hundreds of tinklers. Dear lord, THE SMELL…

4. Met some Canada goslings by our picnic patch. They eat grass heads and Mama Goose hisses. If no one had been watching would SO have grabbed one and cuddled it to death.

btybty

In the end the need for nature’s call broke up our little soirée, with the boys and girls heading home by 9. The first Boris bike park we got to was malfunctioning (‘Please Wait, processing’ on screen), so the entire row might as well have been imbedded in concrete.

We walked quite some way to another three that had any bikes left after that.

The park is also surrounded by Regency terraces built by Nash, each worth tens of millions of not hundreds (every five windows is a new property).

s

s

s

s

The world’s most expensive rowhouses / terrace homes are here – this one at end of row sold for $130 million, which we tried to peek into but could only glimpse a lot of Carrara marble and a nouveau riches garden:

cornwall1.jpg

The walk through all that white stucco, the ghostly streets, then diverting through the utter gorgeousness of Chelsea made me think of London as a whole new city, so very different from the south side of the river. Like a neverending parade of elegance and village vibes. Chelsea was once a poor area, but all those little working mens’s cottages are now multi millionaire coversions of chichi charm.

s

s

s

I do reckon the East End could have turned out like that had it not been bombed flat, that those dank little alleys, crime dens and higgledy housing could now have been a wonderfully quirky, historic, pedestrian friendly playground of pistachio paint, hanging baskets, hidden courtyards and scrubbed brick. Like Chelsea it could have become London’s de facto Old City.

s

s

s

s

s

s

Also thought back to those students from abroad who’d landed just in time for the lockdown experience -maybe it wasn’t all that bad. That those gaggles of them I saw around the park showed how they were effectively daytripping their hours in leisure time rather than shopping and clubbing, a genteel experience of long days, gorgeously quiet streets with village atmosphere.

s

s

s

s

This is an ode to my city. Love ya Old Smoky x

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 86

Saturday 13th June

STILL SICK OHMIGAAHD. It has not come to pass.

But then, woke again a few hours later, sweaty, stained and strained. And it had, miraculously ache-free. Well enough to be up and about and feeling healthy in the first time in weeks. Bizarre.

And well enough to go out by the afternoon to meet some friends who live across the way, first time we’ve seen them in ages. Making full use of the lockdown ease in restrictions.

Discovered Wandsworth Common in all its glory.

The streets through Clapham very much resembled a socially distancing block party, all the pubs, cafes and restaurants doling out custom while the punters resided in doorways and on household chairs, available ledges and walls. Northcote Rd enjoyed a black van with a DJ pumping out the BBQ choons, apparently entirely independent from any business.

Everyone on one side of the street partied, the other side stopped, stared then decided on joining them.

davdav

The park is the usual Common scenario – blank grassland with trees at its edges, popular with sports but these days taken over by the picnickers and drinkers, notably ourselves.

Plenty of the local teens were out loitering, circling with digital boomboxes and the hot bods -the kind who still wear their baseball caps backward, circa 1987/ 2017 -with their tops off and throwing varieties of ball.

By late afternoon the clouds were gathering on this first day in a week with sunshine, doom-laden with a double rainbow appearing. Some parts of the space resistant to shadow shone bright even as it rained. It must be odd playing ball, the wind blowing, hands freezing, refusing to put your pecs away and pretending you’re still in Rio, and not Wandsworth in the rain.

Nothing will ever dampen those horizons, or get in their way.

dav

Then it was back to theirs, a sparkling place of modern living and luxury simplicity segued into a historic building -all minimalist de-clutter offset by lone artpieces, historic detailing and orchids. The kind of place you think, one day my son… Designed by the architect who makes one half of the couple, the other a yoga instructor having given up being a vet due to how dire and depressing the industry is. By all accounts riven with death, intrigue and bitching like Game of Thrones with abducted pomeranians and murderfied gerbils – it has the highest suicide rates of any other industry. -I remember a mate who was a veterinary nurse, his little flat dotted with occasional squeaks, hairballs and furtive burrowing sounds at every turn, from the rescued animals he couldn’t bear to put down. He regaled me on the practices that happened.

For example, if some kind soul brought in an injured squirrel, perhaps rounded into a soft ball in delicate hands, you were meant to thank them graciously and wait awkwardly till they left. Then take the furball outside, and pitch it like a baseball at the tarmac or appropriated Death Wall. For the government insists you do it as guidance -as an invasive species from North America it demands annihilation, having sent the native Reds (smaller, tufty ears, red) into ever shrinking outposts in Scotland, as they get outcompeted.

s

sss

There is another line of conservation, that treats invasive species beyond a certain timescale as acceptable (as almost every wildlife habitat was created by being an invasive species at some stage). The city is currently seeing in a small colony of teeny Yellow Tailed Scorpions in East London, near the old docks where they jumped ship from the Med.

s

We also have mitten crabs (yes, another Chinese biological import) -more problematic as they’re killing off all local species in favour of one. However, we may have hope -put a price on anything, and the human er ‘spirit’ will suddenly come to the fore and vanquish the impossible multitudes. As seen in the port city of Qingdao just before the Beijing Olympics, when a disastrous algae bloom turned the local coast a brilliant green. The government, having exhausted the army, eco groups and local do-gooders, then added a price for every bucket hauled (it can be used as fertiliser, food additives and fuel) -within days the seas had been cleansed and every grain of sand scrubbed as thousands of humans with greed on their minds descended.

s

Mitten crabs are of course a prized delicacy in places like Shanghai that holds them as a star dish of the city, winning Michelin wreaths for their sweet flesh. In Europe however they haven’t caught on because of the offputting look of the growths that grow on the pincers (hence their name, and another moniker being ‘Hairy Crabs’). Also, they’re Thames dwelling, sieving through 20,000 tonnes of annual sewage dumped after every heavy rainfall, and thus not quite as salivating. The Mayor is currently building the enormously overpriced, already-late ‘Super Sewer’ (at 5 billion smackeroonies its ballooned to 5x the original cost thanks to money-grabbing contractors), a 25km tunnel under the city that will be able to take the overflow of raw shit. Until then it’s unlikely to be on any trendy menus.

It was so nice to socialise again, progressed into light drunkendom and gossiping about everything lockdown, riot and race related. It’s almost a social nicety now -to catch up on the current events, protests and pandemic at the start to get it over and done with, though now slowly becoming like Brexit B Word -something not to mention in polite company and ambassador’s balls. It segued nicely, and divisively, into how much of a colonialist twat our sacred Churchill was after 3 million died in the Bengal famine, that a 2017 study on the soil samples now affirms was engineered by his actions not drought (and the fact he denied them aid even after Canada and the US offered).

s

At some stage we moved on to the hot topic of upward mobility (welcome to party-mad middle age, guys) and I stated it was noticeably easier in the UK, touting not just the figures but anecdotes on how many of our posho mates and creatives came from chavvy, knifey fams in caravan parks or refugee trails. But then J pointed out, we’d never even have that convo outside the UK, where class isn’t such a big fucking hang-up. I looked at it, he was right.

We later tried the homemade kimchi -fermented cabbage swamped in chilli (horribly pungent, spicy, and superb); Korean food is not like Chinese -it punches as a single note without so much the differing layers of flavour or texture, but in a good way. We finished the night with more wine, a surefire path to migraine and hangover for me, but what the hell. I need it. The food’s made me as reckless and unapologetic, likely to fight on the beaches.

Not so much a block party, more a fizzy, enjoyable slump into foreign sofas.

s

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 85

Friday 12th June 2020

SICK. Got up in the middle of the night to vom, perhaps food poisoning. Used to hate doing this, but after a lifetime of hangovers and drunkenness it becomes as banal as walking the cat. Very similar to A’s experience a few days earlier.

Bloated, achey, migrainey all day and into the night, sleeping only in fits. I hope its not The Thing. Worryingly with sore throat, feeling constantly dehydrated.

s

Read my beeday present to myself, Everything Trump Touches Dies, which is chortlingly bitchy, and written by an utterly vicious cunt. Also spent an unhealthy time on Twitter, watching the fireworks as JK Rowling is embroiled in trans rights issues for insisting on the existence of women by name and not description (objecting to an article describing ‘people who menstruate’). She has come under fire before, but although she asserts she supports them and will march with them, the net is alive with recrimination, notably a trope of ‘suck my trans dick’, verging on the usual misogyny.

s

She followed up without budging on her stance, and affirming she knew what it was like to be bullied, having been in an abusive relationship before. The Sun odiously followed through with a front page exposé interview with her former husband and abuser, who said he’d slapped her and was not sorry. Cue uproar that they’d given him a platform to continue to belittle her, and a statement from the rag that they were supportive of Wimmin n stuff. Phwoar!

s

s

And now The Trump has just made it legal again to discriminate against Trans people in US healthcare, as of a few hours ago.

We’re gonna need popcorn.

Just while I lie down a bit. There’s something to be said about how distant we are yet connected. Or is that connected yet distant? What is more real -the pressing physicality of the here, now, the sickness of body and mind, or the clean time travelling, across oceans to places and people imagined through screens? I wonder one day if we will just end up cancelling physicality and live our lives out as nodes in some vast programme that replicates that Matrix moment of a universe.

s

I think I’ll fly over to Mali now.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 83

Wednesday 10th June 2020

The small vagaries of life in a domestic existence start off ephemeral, but soon grow especially once they recur.

There is a strange animal outside making a noise every morning and often through the day. Often at dawn. Starts off as a squawking, progresses into dying seagull, and whining into oblivion. Occasionally screams. Enough to have gotten me up at 5am searching in slippers for some injured bird. During the afternoon you’ll hear a hoiking noise like a fat bloke clearing his throat, which degenerates into a yapping cough. I looked all of these up, and it’s a fox, which J, brought up on a farm, regards as vermin but I think magical, but then again I think pigeons are magical. The grunting cough it does is called ‘gekking’ (onomatopeic – the word sounds like what it means), one of a large retinue of noises the animal can make, most infamous of which is the death scream, pealing into the night when it’s supposedly mating, or just bored imo:

Deer also scream, not to mention make pinball noises

It is with this extra time on one’s hands, chained to a screen for hours, and having exhausted every favourite site that you begin to explore. I went for a random meander down the problems of cursive writing in the Russian script.

Lishish – (you will deprive) Лишишьs

s

s

s

And the traditional solution to the problem:

I have also been following travellers as they visit London the first time:

And lightshows in China:

The largest of which comes from Wuhan, a city you might have heard of recently. It covers 900 buildings:

Peeps trying Marmite the first time:

08:35

07:37

14:02

And Surströmming

Which naturally segues into vertigo vids:

Until 2007 this climb was done entirely without safety harnesses for millions of pilgrims, many who’d do the plank walk. A favourite suicide spot in recent years it’s now frequently closed as they launch investigations.

Welcome to the rabbit hole that is lockdown life by this stage.

So need a life right now. I’m sure Bezos sells one on Amazon.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 82

Tuesday 9th June 2020

Two films, one risible the other invigorating. The first was very promising: Proximity, what looked like an indy Strange Encounters. Everything quite subtle and fresh, steadfastly unformed or formulaic, and that kept you guessing -was it purposefully redolent of a 90s film in style and format? At first I thought the crux of the tale was to be on the human condition, ignited by obsession, fear, misrepresentation and fame (the protagonist documents an alien abduction). The lead decidedly averse to Hollywood translation -a science nerd and his mates who genuinely look like ones, and not say Chris Hemsworth or Anne Hathaway with specs. A Canadian flick surely -like a version of Hollywood with more pathos, desolation and nudity, to a smaller budget (it is actually American).

s

But then midway through the stylus scratch. The minute the Men in Black showed up complete with wraparound shades and penguins suits it became a laugh-a-minute meme, so riddled with ham robots, ant-head aliens, odious villainry, bad FX and grossly inaccurate gunsights (‘lazer’ guns haha) it became unwatchable thereon. The jarring deus ex machina was too much -coming across an internet wizz in the Costa Rican jungle, and one willing to throw life to wind to tag along, plus inveigling a brief flight from jungle to the Canadian Rockies without payment or passport. The fact the love interest is love interest (that’s like so pre-2017), falling coyly, titillatingly in love despite the fact they’re on the run from dark forces and share nothing in common but having been beamed up, her make up immaculate even waking up, or under interrogation. Others have called it a ‘film school film’.

s

The follow-up flick was The Hunt. BEWARE SPOILERS AHEAD

Universally slated as it was offensive to both sides of the political spectrum, it portrays a group of right-wing nutters (the kind who shock jock) kidnapped and hunted down by sick left-wing elites (the kind who argue about representation during their deaths). All very tongue in cheek, but drawing criticism from the right (notably the Trump) for the premise of gunning down their compadres, and the left for the negative, comedic portrayals of hypocritical SJWs. Neither side ever noticed the balance it appears. When one such elitist is asked, gun to face, whether she should get deferential, kinder treatment for being a woman she starts off with ‘no…’ and is subsequently shot in the head.

s

This effect on the audience is its winning card. As a fellow social justice warrior it was amazing seeing the change in my own reaction when realising midway through the killing, that those being mercilessly hunted down were from the opposing camp. That these previously hard-to-watch, violent scenes suddenly became camp and comedic, as intended. True to life, both sides never let up and give the other any shred of humanity, even after realising mistaken identity. They just have to win, at all costs. It is something to question what we deem human, humane and inhuman.

Hero of the movie is Crystal, played by the inimitable Betty Gilpin, whose name could not be more opposite to the character she portrays – a sociopathic, unrelenting southern ‘hick’ as brave and intelligent as can be against all societal and weapon-based odds: ‘Why’d they wanna kill us? Who gives a fuck.” We’re never sure what side of the fence she stands.

s

The film flopped thanks to being put back (after the ubiquitous monthly gun massacres Stateside), then released shortly before lockdown. It’s now on Netflix, having resorted to that as a debut. A must-see in my book.

Other films from the day were Labyrinth (don’t remember it being so hammy, a bit queasy every time Bowie’s jockstrap hoves into view or the 14 year old Jennifer Connelly gets sexied up), and Muriel’s Wedding (hilarious, seminal coming of age flick for an entire generation, laying the ground rules we see in our Millennials today).

Sooo, back to real life… The weather’s shit, as always, and looks likely to stay that way until July – quel surprise for the UK, international doyenne of scullery skies. Life at the mo is but a scroll of windows.

A mate the other day complained he’s stopped reading, and I concurred. Three other avid bookworms seem to be suffering the same fate as of late, myself included. When faced with so much interior life the lure of screentime on your phone, akin to some Mughal courtesan in a night-scented garden, glittering with diamonds -or Shazza/ Brent the town bike behind the bikesheds with some bicycle grease -jumps straight to the nitty gritty. No need to waylay them into a date, some Joop!, a rendition of your perfect life, some light jazz, a coffee, a cuddle and maybe an introductory handjob. Now a screen will ignite within seconds what a book takes several chapters to build up to. -Watch as Maria gets molested by a dolphin, a squawking crowd flee a tsunami, Mark gets jizz in his eye, or Gavriil ploughs into a moose on the autobahn. Swipe right, swipe left, swipe up and down and all around repetitively till it hits the spot.

Is this it for now on?

s

s

s

Now do swipe right.

Yesterday

Tomorrow