A Journal of the Plague Year 3.0 Day 10

26th December 2020

Why is Boxing Day so called? Do we unbox stuff, hit each other? Or it alludes to the fact we just lie all day watching the box, sprinkled in food and wrappers, and drool. I can’t even remember what I watched.

An entire day appears to have slipped by in the stream. Maybe I did some exercise, entertained the Queen. Maybe I murdered some people in alleyways, trance-like. Might explain all that blood.

It is a little disconcerting. They say add life to your days not days to your life (right up there with Life Laugh Love, Karen), but have I not done anything noteworthy at all? Ah yes, I remember. In the morning I sent an excerpt of The Book to an agent, working for a few hours on the email and intro. This gave me carte blanche to do absolute sweet FA for the rest of the day, imbedded into sofa, mesmerised by a screen. We now have a modern allergy to boredom, even for a few seconds.

I imagine I watched a few shitty episodes of something on Netflix -my list on there I’ve realised is entirely devoted to Films I’ll Maybe Watch But Not Right Now, the kind of bargain basement shit you’d find at the bottom of the DVD pile back in the day, or in the Pound shop. Mediocre movies from 15 years ago, rom-coms that no one ever saw, some flick Someone Now Famous Wished They’d Never Done, a documentary on Something Or Other Interesting That Happened But We Can Dilute Into Numbness By Dragging Out Into A 3 Hour Epic Or Entire Season.

Anything recent that Netflix assures us is fantastic because it funded it, but is really a lacklustre bore-a-thon on human existentialism (the cheapest way to tell a story) packaged into something newfangled or woke/ unwoke. Say a beauty pageant (perhaps for drag queens), or a fat farm, or a gay conversion centre, with a laugh-an-hour at the whole situation, till it gets tired, fast. Why is Americana so formulaic? Anything that does vaguely work (thank you Sundance) is suddenly approached by the Hollywood bigwigs, thrown millions at and the premise beaten to death in a thousand different formats and merch. The Funny Spy. The Angsty Adult. The Revenge of the Angsty Adult. The Cool Mom, The Flabby Dad. The Ethnic Love Story. The Cartoon Creature, Lost. The Funny Guy And His Loveable Neurodiverse Sidekick. The Autistic Kid. The Cursed House. The Innocent Abroad and Their Funny Romance. The Man and Woman Who Start to Warm to Each Other After Contrived Melodrama. Female Struggle But Ultimately Bonding – Girl Friends! It’s all so 2020, or should I say 2017 and counting.

And has anyone seen the description blurbs when you click on a film? So mindlessly cryptic, anodyne and asinine in such a tired formula they’re likely a bot. Or a field of indentured copywriters who might as well be one, clamped under a grate so strict they get electrocuted if they stray. Their mindless recipe for tapwater tries to entice you it’s absinthe -for Schindler’s List they’d put down:

A man on a mission. A people in chains. Their struggle to redeem themselves in a black and white world -but can they outwit these dark forces?

For The Little Mermaid:

A girl seeking a dream. A crab dodging the pot. A man entranced. But can legs save her from destiny?

For Trainspotting:

A youth on the edge. A baby on the ceiling. Scotland will never look the same.

Hit me with something new. The problem with US movies, or series, is that there is so much money to be made. And canyer blame them? Find an ounce of creativity, humour and a refreshing take on something, and sell, sell, sell. You’ll make fortunes overnight, while the iron’s hot. Copy that format till it sticks, you can’t go wrong (because by the time you do -you’ll be rich).

Of course the current dearth of creativity is due to the fact for the last year nothing’s been filmed by any studio due to the infectiousness of a crew, and that everything that was due to be released is reluctant to show until cinemas get back to normal. If anything this year has marked the speeding up of the big screen being replaced by home streaming.

Tried watching some Chinese films, now the world’s biggest market, and what is taking over the Hollywood machine. Our new worldly saviour perhaps. They too have an army of writers, grade A actors, ginormous budgets, special FX and a world of history and tales to draw on. Perhaps this is the new wave? Up n coming, that’s turned around in less than a decade to become a behemoth of creativity. It’s ripe for discovery to say the least.

Well, to put it bluntly… Hell no.

Almost every flick is unwatchable. China appears still at the corny end of the spectrum when catering to vast audiences -watch as heroic boy band members save small, stupid children (separated by perhaps following a balloon/ doll/ puppy amidst all the guns-ablazing chaos) from alien bombs, or evil, foreign militia. Female assassins ward off dozens of arrows with a spinning blade… while flying. Buildings/ mountains/ glaciers collapse milliseconds behind the fleeing troupe. Some background sidekick dies -their last breaths given to profess their love of girlfriend/ family/ motherland/ Earth before detonating the key explosion on the baddies. It is an industry conspicuously playing to its own domestic market, and pretty much unsellable outside, unlike say Bollywood or the Korean New Wave, or Iranian arthouse.

You’d literally walk out in a cinema midway, perhaps vom a bit in the popcorn. I don’t think the Chinese mass market has yet reached the level of jaded in the West, to not still be entranced by the stilling waters of Rambo or fucksuit Ironman. As always the smaller productions, and the ones focused on the human story are far more appealing: crime dramas, coming-of-age epics, gothic horrors and modern angst, that win the usual awards. Avoid however the romance and ‘comedies’, and anything approaching swashbuckling adventure -still at slapstick and catering to people who walk into traffic because they’re munching on something.

Historic dramas can go either way -studies of the person behind the mask (usually a villain reaccommodated, or a new feminist perspective), or a dirge of predictable, big budget battlescenes that plays out similar to the blockbusters, whereby you can replace the aliens with Mongols or colonial White people, or the Japanese. Backdrops became such spectacle, with ever more epic budgets and fantastical storylines that China even introduced a law against inaccurately portraying history.

And it goes to show that when the City of Life and Death premiered in 2007, an award-winning biopic on several lives during the Rape of Nanjing either side of the massacre (of hundreds of thousands of civilians during WWII), the director received death threats for his sensitive portrayal of a Japanese soldier, equally horrorstruck and caught up in the maelstrom.

In short Chinese films sell their own version of the Chinese Dream in every move and nuance, just like they do Stateside. This time it’s all about importance of community above individuality, nationhood over life (or even family), of endless sacrifice for the greater good. It’s nauseating. China, please move on. Nationalism is a notoriously tricky device for The Party -handy when it needs to seal over divisions in the 180 ethnic groups, or when a foreign embassy du jour needs a demo or two over some policy atrocity (like acknowledging the Dalai Lama/ Taiwan). But all butterfingers and screaming when it gets out of hand, and people start setting buses on fire.

One good flick I saw recently was Wild Goose Lake, featuring A-lister Hu Ge (back when he was the best paid actor in the world and commanding $60 million salaries), but in a break from form, cast in an arthouse crime-a-rama that was apparently the runner up to last year’s Palme D’Or in Cannes (that went to Parasite). Hu plays a criminal on the run, who teams up with a prostitute on the lakes of you-guessed-it, Wuhan, and tries to get the ransom on his head as high as possible in order to save his wife from going down with him (it’s complicated and subtle, but you get the gist after a while). The bit where the moped suspect gets his head ripped off, the chase in the zoo as the animals watch creepily, and where Liu Aiai spits out Hu’s jizz over the side of the boat, is frankly, quite memorable, and unexpected to say the least.

Sorry about the spoilers, but it’s not like anyone’s ever gonna watch it, really.

Okay, enough enjoyable bitching. The telly is now a god-given right to our quality of life right now in lockdown. Having exhausted the formulae, we demand our manifesto for better. Newer. More. Culture needs to move on, as given this year, demand definitely has, with an aching gap in the market. Potatoes of the world unite!

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year 3.0 Day 6

22nd December 2020

So finally ventured out to do shopping, and it seemed pretty normal. No mosh pit grannies or flying loaves, or obese people filming each other screaming. Certain chains such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose are now rationing things like rice, flour, bog roll and eggs (and for Waitrose likely its cheapo Essentials range too, in edible flowers and prosecco flavoured crisps), but thankfully not Lidl; maybe the Germans really are just better organised. The streets were still populated and I’d arranged to meet up with D who’s been working home alone all week.

Xmas tree

We met up in Northcote Road which has until recently been doubling as the local verions of Soho, ripe with shoulder rubbing and vector for transmission thanks to so much loitering and street drinking -well until this new strain put a dampener on the parade. It rained, the streets were wet and people were scurrying to and fro with their shopping or dogs. We found a dry seat outside an empty pub, the kind built under the awning. About two minutes later a portly policeman politely moved us on; he did tend to lecture but apologised and we apologised back as we Brits are wont to do; though increasingly less so these days. I think we were perhaps representing a grey area -allowed to meet up with our support bubble outside, yet not allowed to stop?

Passed the new Wetherspoons on the corner (having taken over from the vodka bar, Revolution, literally up n running within 48 hrs of its demise), now shuttered up and proclaiming massive posters in its windows, about Daily MFail reports that the virus is a lie and that it’s all a conspiracy to stop their business. Haha, what a writhing bag of wankers, notably fat cat boss Tim Martin, fresh from his ongoing campaign for Brexit (which cost him £600m as Remainers left in droves).

Xmas gammon

In the end we bought a few bevies from Co-op and retired to the grounds of the estate; I lost a bottle of cider to the fountain and had to fish it out again, lest it sozzle the koi. Am so off sweet cider these days, and switching back to beer.

Last night’s hammy hammer horror – the 1959 rendition of the Hound of the Baskervilles -was camp as Christmas. Valiantly acted with Peter Cushing superb as Sherlock Holmes, and opposite another great icon of the macabre, a young Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville (Lee would go on to take over the role of the famous inspector a decade or two later). A leetle bending of the original tale sees a few characters combined to introduce a brazen Spanish harridan, luring her target to the jaws of death, and liable to run away whenever a man talks to her -thus starting an automatic chase, as I think that’s how flirting was constituted in those days. When caught she may or may not force a kiss on him/ herself as he shakes that feminine mystique outta her. Why young woman? Why… did you run away!? Before the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s came along, courting pretty much meant stalking the woman till she caved, or in this case sprinting after her across bubbling bog and quicksand.

Yes, very camp -the blood as shiny and vivid as the thinly disguised enamel slopped onto the tors, the ‘mire’ a pool with sawdust and sand on top, and the moors a mix of genuinely shot vistas and creaky, Dry Ice-laden sets of cardboard and houseplants. Night time is that blatantly sunny scene shot with a heavy filter. But it all added to the premise; there is a certain je ne sais quoi to these strangely shadowed film sets of yesteryear. Despite coming from the infamous house of Hammer, any horror was very subdued, with action verging on farce then over in seconds -early days for the seminal producer.

Although utterly unscary, it has been a welcome escape, that artfully balance between so-bad-it’s-good and so good-it’s-bad, plus a healthy dose of bittersweet every time. Positively refreshing -I should do this more often. I mean, how exactly has my soul so been saved by a dose of B-movie, high British schlock?

Fuck Netflix, fuck Hollywood, that’s how. Stop fucking gurning and clapping and thinking everything’s so fab and worn on your glitter-laden sleeve ye damned cartoons of characterisation. Every time. Get a damn life, and perspective, and some mystery; I mean do we HAVE to promote the American Dream in EVERY move, sentence and facial nuance? Priorities in a pandemic now, -wtf am I gonna watch for the Xmas movie?

The Eyebrow of America

I mean seriously fuck you all.

691 people died of C-19 today in the country, 30,000 truck drivers are stranded at Dover, shitting in the bushes as Hard Brexit looms, and a second new strain just landed from South Africa, that’s even more infectious. #Plagueisland has been trending all day on the world’s social media. Ho fucking hum, bah fucking humbug -let’s move on shall we?

I’ll need to buy the Xmas food soon, and when I say food, I mean booze. Can’t believe it’s Christmas; for the first time I actually feel a bit grown up, now that I’m the one organising it rather than going to the folks’.

I will try very hard for the next two days to be merry and bright, regardless of the shitshow. No pissing on people’s bonfires n all that – I may even watch my nemesis, Elsa at it (Elsa‘s a homicidal maniac, but that was just a phase -it’s more important to remember she was empowered doing it, and above all, she’s pretty). I may also watch The Road, for a touch of festive 2020ism, no one should mind aTALL if I stick that on after lunch.

Ho fucking Ho, fucking hoes.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Week 11

Sunday 24th May 2020

Wake scroll eat repeat.

Another grey day, another wasted one. Has everyone reached the stage of lying in bed all day yet? That thing we swore not to do at the start of lockdown is now requisite. Not bothering to change, curling up with a screen for hours.

I’m entering the dragon, where even the phone’s getting neglected. I don’t care for social media anymore, what anyone ever is doing out there, the few messages increasingly unanswered and increasingly infrequent. The TV too, with Netflix just blaring out a side of Amerika that’s not timely right now, too full of bullshit and pizzazz that disgusts you rather than sucks you in. I’m not watching films, I’m not reading. While that one worry, whatever it is becomes like a rock sentinel in some desert, the only thing on the horizon you try and work around or blot out. But no matter how vast the plain is, how distant that monolith, it’s always fucking visible.

I have to chase up a refund, Cockhands Carlton Leisure, a company to always avoid if ever there was one, who’ve been promising it for a month now. UUURG. J is still absent, the silver clock in the living room ticks infernally so I’ve hidden it in the corner, where it can annoy the pillows.

There’s just so little to say.

 

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 29

Wednesday 15th April 2020

Today has been especially sluggish. Giant-leopard-spotted-sliming-through-treacle-sluggish. With a limp. Didn’t sleep last night due to a headache pill containing the barest whiff of caffeine, and thus was trancing glo-sticks to an allnighter in my head till 6am, faceplanting the pillow. It’s not so much counting sheep by then but chasing the fuckers down and shooting them.

Got up 3 hrs later to start my day. Another joyless meal: Thai chicken soup out of a can, poured over fried bacon, carrot, potato and rice. As amazing as it sounds. Yep, I’m hitting the stage of using up what’s about to start crawling about or becoming smoked.

s

J thankfully gave me a chocolate mini-egg and some shortbread, two humane essentials at the mo, along with power, internet and water. Watched Maleficent II -crap film but a welcome change. I’ve heard there’s a high demand for media set in historical or ahistorical climes, pre-digital, pre-internet, pre-phones-4-U, pre-car, pre-TikTok. Sherlock Holmes, Game of Thrones, Dan Jones that kinda thing. I think we’re all desperate to just get TF away from reality for a spell -every morning the global hobby being lying in bed and reading endless newsfeeds, literally in-yer-face for hours.

s

Hearing about the World Health Organisation and its demonisation via the Trump regime, the continuing breakdown of the global food distribution network, more racism (casual, overt, politicised) and more large business closures (Oasis, Cath Kidston, Warehouse). Today I progressed to attempting to chase a refund (Sainsbury’s Bank having trouble for some 1.5 month-long reason, despite promising multiple times), having to book new mandatory time off work, chasing up cancelled holiday plans and checking bank records all becoming a wonderland of bureaucratic shite, a dervish of dates, times, passwords, password generators, statements, emails and assorted fuckery. They say people work longer than they did before computing, even though so much time’s been saved the bureaucratic nature of all transactions nowadays means it just becomes a blizzard. The same applies to the workplace -nothing will ever save you time, you just do more work.

I need to decouple myself from Americana, in all its garish glory. I need some Wuthering Heights, with wolves. Possibly set somewhere more exotic than Huddersfield, like the brooding wastes of Kamchatka or Hokkaido or Earthsea. It breaks my heart that I’ve had to cancel three holidays -the most we’d ever booked. I would’ve been in the wilds of the Tyrolean forest right now, working my way to Lake Garda. Possibly spotting a bear from a creaking train carriage, the kind with a restaurant car, aspidistra and doilies, and a mysterious murderer on board as light entertainment.

s

Yesterday’s film was Cold Skin, a 2017 French-Spanish funded horror from a book of the same name, La Pell Freda. Shit. Dodgy prosthetics, unscary creatures that have the big-reveal within the first 20 mins, and a pre-cursor to the Pattinson-Dafoe offering, The Lighthouse, also about two deteriorating men trapped on a lighthouse island. This version though had none of the menace or ethereal qualities that would define such a setting, replaced with tiresome screenplay, ham acting and weak characterisation (one of them unbothered that the other just tried to kill him, or has him effectively trapped each night). It scored 20 out of 40 in my horror cliche list I made last night. If ever you’re terrified by blue-tinged gimps, manatees, or just rubber this is for you.

s

I tried to feed the pigeons again. This time going one level up in the stairwell so I could lob the dinner disaster from yesterday onto where they roost. They all ran away like stupid fuckchickens, and the food lies scattered in the sun. Some have come back and are just sitting there in the pigeon-sitting-there way they do. I swear, these animals have no idea what food is. Or maybe it’s cannibalistic, feeding pigeons an omelette, though I’ve seen them snacking on KFC many a time.

The night’s offering was The Handmaiden, satiating my recent aversion to Hollywood. Pre-digitalis (tick), historicist (1920s, tick), foreign (Korean, tick), non-formulaic (LGBTQ crime drama, tick), no fucking explosions (tick). Fantastic storytelling, perverted, perverse and exotic -but I’d uploaded the directors cut. Which thus meant sitting through a near 3hr epic. J very nearly fell asleep until I conspicuously, loudly fiddled with the cushions.

s

J’s been a bit down these last few days, the lack of work and meaning starting to hem in the walls, but has started reading which apparently is making a world of difference. At Home by Bill Bryson which I’ve leant him, one of the driest subjects (domesticity) made into a rip-roaring journey through history with laughs a minute and studded with delicious, sordid details. Once again historic narrative saves the day.

Dinner was a slim-fast milkshake thingy (Complan, which I used to love as a snack while a kid), bought during the panic buying as something we could savour as a last resort, starving already and watching burning skylines.  There’s been nothing much more to my life today. No sleep. Internet. Sleep. Internet. Eat. Film. Sleep.

I officially ran out of alcohol today, the last dregs of the raspberry gin.

Yesterday

Tomorrow