A Journal of the Plague Year Day 23

Thursday 9th April 2020

 

 

Emily Maitliss opened Newsnight yesterday, following 938 new UK deaths, with one of the most prescient statements in a long time:

“The language around Covid-19 has sometimes felt trite and misleading. You do not survive the disease through fortitude and strength of character, whatever the Prime Ministers’ colleagues will tell us. And the disease is not a great leveller, the consequences of which everyone – rich or poor – suffers the same.

This is a myth which needs debunking. Those on the front line right now – bus drivers and shelf stackers, nurses, care home workers, hospital staff and shop keepers – are disproportionately the lowest paid members of our workforce. They are more likely to catch the disease because they are more exposed.

Those who live in tower blocks and small flats will find the lockdown a lot tougher. Those who work in manual jobs will be unable to work from home.

Her opener made headlines on every broadsheet.

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As mentioned recently the US infections -currently the epicentre of the pandemic -has seen an unfair slanting in Black and African American victims of the disease, Chicago reporting 70% of their cases despite the city only one third Black, with similar skewing in Louisiana, NYC and Detroit, places where race and income level strongly correlate. The BBC today has also turned the lens to our own country:

 

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Once again it appears more of the same. This seems mainly due to London being the epicentre, where 40% of residents are non-White. It also does have that correlation with class to some extent -for example 30% of Bangladeshi and 15% of Black households are classed as overcrowded compared to 2% for the national average, where it’s thus less likely to pass on. As Maitliss mentioned, minorities are also much more likely to be key workers, from the NHS (where one quarter of nurses and almost half of doctors are non-White), to transport staff and supermarket workers.

 

Yesterday’s film was also about exposing social injustice, writ into a daily life thriller. The showing was Bombshell, starring Charlize Theron (with prosthetics, playing news anchor Megan Kelly), Margot Robbie (Kayla, a new intern) and Nicole Kidman (fellow anchor, Gretchen Carlson) as the women embroiled in the sexism and sex-for-promotion scandal that overtook the Fox News network in 2016. Terse, edge-of-the-seat stuff, though lacking the fun and humour of the recent Apple offering, The Morning Show (Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon) that seems based on it. The film does miss out on what could have been some delicious exposées on toxic news avenger Bill O’Reilly, who gets a bit part, but concentrates on the fall from grace of Jabba-like media tycoon and former Nixon-courting politician, Roger Ailes.

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Apparently, the writers and producers from the start had the challenge of making the audience like the victims, or at least identify with them -stalwarts of a right wing, populist and propagandic news empire. They did this using Fleabag-like monologues, confiding with the camera while interacting the entire time still with daily life, a voice in the audience’s head despite it being evil altruistically alternative. Constant reminders of their family lives intersperse the film, complete with blonde, gurning children happily vulnerable to hate mail and reporters, then glossing over the rest, such as Kelly’s open racism or Carlson’s anti-gay rhetoric. A lowdown on what constitutes a Fox News story helps, as relayed by a secret Democrat working as a writer there. It starts off the trailer:

“You have to adopt the mentality of an Irish street cuff. The world is a bad place, people are lazy morons, minorities are criminals, sex is sick but interesting. Ask yourself what would scare my grandmother or piss off my grandfather.”

This is of course the opener near the start, that winks at the viewer to say, yes we know they’re morally corrupted, please play along. From there it introduces the two entirely fictional characters -the secret Hillary-supporting, lesbian staff writer and her one-time fling, Kayla -the generic Bimbo-dressed victim, who help to paint Fox staffers into a softer, more human and inclusive place. The fact they had to make them up entirely speaks volumes (perhaps unable to find anyone that wasn’t into animal sacrifice or KKK weekenders). The film makes for criminally good viewing, though there is no dramatic flourish at the end, or bible-thumping comeuppance to savour -true to life: Fox ended up paying $50 million to the dozens of victims, and $65 million severance to the three men accused.

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Also true to life, an icon for the film trailer on Youtube shows Charlize Theron, mouth open, about to ingest a side-on pizza slice – a screengrab deemed enticing enough to target another demographic it appears, even if it is a tale for the #metoo generation. Not unlike Aisle’s use of short skirts, excessive angles and transparent news desks to draw in the punters. Art mirrors life. And life goes on. Badly.

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This morning A got an allergic reaction. Going bright red, itchy and bumpy, hard to look at. Poor thing. But it is as always, a passing fad -within the hour it was gone, as he is strangely adverse to all sickness ever. Though when he does get sick (once every couple of years) it is very.

Went for a bike ride, the sun winking through foliage and air crisp and cool. People were dressed for summer, admiring the heritage poking above the trees, and placid waters mirroring the strolling, enough to add an atmosphere of convivial relaxation. There are only a few places I’ve been where every direction is beauty -usually in natural format, though humanity does raise a built landscape every now and then. Lauterbrunnen Valley, Symi, Lazise, Ko Phi Phi Leh, May in Virginia Water. The Ringstrasse, Burano, dusk in the Gardens by the Bay.

Well, for a few choice moments Battersea Park yesterday was that coffee table cover, something you spend years looking for. Just the right amount of people not to bespoil it, the perfect weather (cool yet sunny), and the optimal clarity at this time of year. For an everywhere that was crisp, gentle and swaying in the light.

This is the imagery strong enough to obscure the beyond, and deliver that long fought-for moment of peace.

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But of course I can’t really sing of anything nice without subsequently having to stylus-scratch it back into reality, with the looming elephant out of shot. This is the running theme so far, for this blog, for life and how we interpret it.

-We were one of the only few wearing facemasks, it’s still not a thing apparently among the youthful and healthy, who exclusively populated most of the paths. Strange summer.

This weekend will be geared towards heading off the holiday crowds. I like to think on one hand we are enjoying the view from the lifeboats -life’s great promise. On another, we need to remember not to push under the drowning.

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Yesterday

Tomorrow

 

 

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 22

Wednesday 8th April

Have just returned from an evening walk -the Italians call it the passeggiata, where after dinner you put on your Sunday best and go for a stroll. Everyone tends to meet up in the town square and have a good old gossip, loiter and flirt in the lilting light. This is a daily ritual played out all over the Mediterranean and Middle East, and I see why. No pressure to spend in order to be happy, to drink to socialise, or be exercising to go out. No plan, no destination, no rendez-vous. You’re just out for a walk, and anything that may come your way, in mind and body. Also an English tradition to clear one’s head, practiced back from mid century and before. I do remember it in Wind in the Willows, where Mole always swore by going for an evening walk come rain or shine, and that everyone needed to do it. I thought it a splendid idea as a kid, but when faced with a treasure trail of bus stops and army estates it proved a bit more shite in reality. I think the timing’s key, when the colours begin to glow.

The place now is often a beautiful ghost town.

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We ended up by the river, the Thames Path full of joggers and couples, or lone people on benches, some just leaning on walls and staring mistily at the Danubian waters, beneath the vaulting towers of Vauxhall. The architecture a story writ in stone and steel offsetting each other in style, typical of London. Every street was varied, where centuries-old churchtowers faced off postwar highrises or glass condos, and making perfect photo ops, which I kept annoying A to borrow his phone for, or make take a snap, having forgotten mine. The skies were ethereal.

On the way back we got lost, finding some nice pubs and a French bistrot (for ‘when this is all over’), but then ending up in the concrete wastes that is so much of Battersea, riddled with pre-fabs that look alike. We walked in the entirely wrong direction attempting to head to our own block squatting on the horizon, before realising it just another ugly doppelganger. Brick, concrete, square windows, utterly functional and uninspired, in contrast to the high end views of the Thames, like sentinel ships.

By that stage it had been all hush -emptied streets and a languid summer feel, punctuated with glowing visions of warmth and other lives. But by walking interminably the wrong way then back again I got increasingly frustrated, a switch from an elegant, arm-in-armness. I have a deep-seated intolerance to such a pitch of inefficiency, the kind of bottled up anger that makes you want to scream, punch walls and upend bins. I imagined myself raking at the damn blossoms like a madman, stomping on people’s daffodils stupidfuckingword, their picket fences handy javelins into their shitty lives, framed by chintz. We’d spent a good 45 mins plodding a huge loop back to the river, while my dinner sat uncooked and going off.

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At home still furious, made worse by having to simmer it beneath the veneer: that everything’s all right, and no one is to blame, and let’s all have a nice sit down, and not cleaver the TV, or use the wok as a fucking baseball bat. Dinner was veal burgers and rice, wrongly cooked, while film night got ignored until I masking taped everyone into the sofa. I’m going to go to bed with a brick, and will gnaw at it. Piece of shite. I think sometimes things culminate, and I know, know, know I don’t have the right.

Yesterday 850 died in the UK from the C-19. About 60 of them were from outside the hospitals, and there may be more not yet counted in a daily lag. The way things are going, any rumour of a release from lockdown in the next few weeks is now off the menu. Another report came out today, based on the daily figures, that the UK may be in line to have more deaths than France, Italy and Spain combined, at 66,000.

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Meanwhile, The Great Orange Dolphin (GOD) plated up a tumultuous, rambling briefing, following the highest death toll so far on a single day from any country -1,800 – despite many hints of undercounting. The reporters endured an embarrassing diatribe throwing barbs on all sides to deflect their questions on his recent leadership (or lack of), mixing messages, before rounding on the World Health Organisation (WHO). He went on to claim he’d no longer fund the organisation tasked to bring nations, their governments and their science together to collectively fight infection, mitigate the spread, treat the sick and protect the healthy. His reason to withdraw US contributions (about 1/8 of its $4 billion budget) being that it was too ‘China-centric’, though many see it as a typical sociopath’s deflection of blame by pointing at another. Basically show up at the party for cake, and the G.O.D. who was meant to bring it will subsequently point his harpoon at the birthday girl, squeak-screaming how she prefers pilot whales and he wants his pressie back.

Despite that withdrawing funds for this global organisation in the middle of a pandemic would be a major attack against domestic and international recovery, this is now being sold as protectionist realignment by the American right, notably Fox News, in the spirit of a just and superior power not to heckled, and not to be made a fool of. The WHO is now the sudden posterchild of villain and hero, for both sides, and is desperately  sending out public requests to end the politicisation of a pandemic. That one cannot have your cake and eat it, then kill everyone.

U.S. President Trump leads daily coronavirus response briefing at the White House in Washington

In other news the victims of C-19 in the US appears unfairly slanted to Black and African American groups, in Louisiana for example making up 70% of the deaths. There is a questioning of the different forces at play, from the higher rates of obesity and illness that contribute to the fatality rates, to the lower income thresholds that are more unlikely to seek or receive help. To the fact many Black Americans complain that using bandanas/ cloths during the face mask shortage is tantamount to being framed as criminals, from being turned away from stores to getting shot, hence why they’re reluctant to do so. The papers are also still full of opinion pieces on how the US got into the position of having to rely on China as its saviour (via providing Personal Protective Equipment and Intensive Care Units), and the Chinese propaganda machine now repainting itself as such. They are of course brimming with rage, both left and right, justified and unjustifiable, at China’s role in its spread in the first place, while receiving millions of donated PPE and ICUs.

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Today I promised not to write so much, limiting it to the morning, then embarking on a sojourn into gaming. Set up the laptop, unpacked the controller, and reloaded Steam. I’m not much of a gamer, though was seriously addicted to Streetfighter II as a kid – but have mostly missed out on a huge round of development, whereby gaming is now overshadowing the film industry itself, and the graphics are no longer cubist, or a floating world.

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Skyrim: Elder Scrolls was the choice. Now, I’m not one to know what the fuck I’m doing half the pixelated time, battling with the controls more than on-screen baddies, and occasionally screaming or throwing TVs out the window, so opening up the veritable universe of such a game is a risk. The complexity of it is galling, with a million different functions, controls, options and tasks. For example collecting various shit in various locations to make various spells for various occasions, via an encyclopedic menu. Or trying to kill that giant flipping spider with shitty little arrows, while nipping in and out of a corner, while the controls freeze up then change. It all sounds too much like hard work.

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There were those early Playstation ads where they basically inferred gaming was akin to a new life, being able to experience unimaginable things, from a conqueror of worlds, to just a platform, or a golf swing. Well, if they did a version of modern life, imagine walking around trying to access menus whenever having a thought or move, carrying round untold baggage like any trolley-pushing, homeless granny, and a good few scrolling options to find out whichever bag it’s in as the queue waits fuming. VR’s gonna be the future, you just reach to your abstract pocket on the side to grab that axe, or ray gun or shrinking potion as that tentacle whips towards you, as opposed to pausing and going through an Excel sheet each time. Ah, life, virtual, imagined or real – still stuck with the same bureaucratic shite.

When computers start simplifying life will be when they actually lift off as useful to humans.

Tomorrow I’ll probably take up Streetfighter again (now on it’s fifth offering), and my days will effectively cease, the lockdown being the rest of my life, when I’ll have starved to death, swaddled in adult nappies. Cold dead joysticky hands.

Yesterday

Tomorrow