A Journal of the Plague Year Day 97

Wednesday 24th June 2020

Mum rang this morning. We talked about her furloughing, and the likelihood they will be making her redundant, then about family and the past. Laughed, cried. We’re gonna look at this positively, despite her ongoing imprisonment for the foreseeable.

Did actually go out with some friends from work who I’ve not seen in ages, making use of the 30C sunshine. The grounds on the estate were already packed by morning, every available spot sequestered by sunbathing residents, some on deckchairs or reading on benches, or lolling like dead bodies in the heat, from morning till night.

One of the workmates, A, told me she’d had the lergy, the first person I know who’s been diagnosed -she’d gotten sick back in March and was told by the 111 hotline it was unlikely despite losing her smell and taste. That was back then, when they thought so little of the pandemic, and a sign of how they were sweeping the problem under the carpet, which to this day is still the national pasttime. She only just told her parents 3 months later, and her mum, so distant in Italy, cried.

Meanwhile C turned up as a beautiful stranger, whose lockdown has made him tanned and svelte from the jogging round in his spare time, with perfect locks and Italian shades. He’s been trapped with over-excitable housemates and is now looking to move, while also juggling work politics, such as getting the go-ahead for a trip back home then having it rescinded. We are to reopen soon, with the government okaying museums from the 4th of July.

Drank a wee bit much, about 5 pints plus some wacky in the Subtropical gardens of Battersea National Park. It was populated by the usual crowd peacocking their bikini lines and six-packs, plus another workmate we happened to plant our picnic blankets next to; small world. She’d just graduated from Goldsmiths, but the end of year exhibition -vital in making your name -had been canceled for an online-only showing. Class of 2020 eh. Every generation has a tragedy to stain their prospects -WWI, the Wall Street Crash, WWII, the Cold War, 911. And the Millenials got not just that but the 2008 Recession and now Covid 19 on top, a triple whammy wherein they’re unlikely to get steady work or ever own a property. They have time and time again been paying for the sins of their fathers, with Global warming still to look forward to. No wonder they’re protesting.

But was great to catch up and get immersed again in all the gossip, swapping stories into the night -whodja fancy? Who’s a twat? What’s Grindr like? What’s your star sign? Felt much like a teenager again and in a good way, the kind of night where life still lay ahead.

A joined later, then it was a midnight walk back through town, through baking streets and that dark, lurid blue in the night skies. There’s a lot to be said about how rested and enjoyable it has been recently, while things play out beyond our grasp, blinkered as we are by the immediate. The deaths from C-19 are now down to only 15 a day, but we all worry for the second wave, as the US is on trend to experience right now. It has to end some time, this lockdown, and we come crashing back to reality.

Weeeerk. Two weeeeks.

Oh, and made more maps, my form of travel recently:

 

Qatar can claim the title of not just the richest country per capita whom earn nearly $100,000 each every year (and that still takes into account the legions of indentured underclass and guest workers), thanks to 14% of the worlds natural gas and plenty of petrol to boot. It can also claim the world’s most multicultural country, where only 12% are native Qatari, and its capital Doha is 92% foreign born.

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Fijians are a mix of Melanesian, a few Polynesian and later waves of Indian emigrants. Melanesians share a blonde hair gene, long assumed to be traces from European colonials, but has been found to be endemic, and long before Western contact.

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Lesotho is a mountain kingdom entirely surrounded by South Africa, a mere spot on the map that shows its real size below. With spectacular cliffs, gorges, mountains and waterfalls it remains an undiscovered gem, though now rising in the tourist ranks for its verdant landscapes, plus the novelty of snow in Africa.

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Beijing has grown from 1.6 million in 1950 (barely growing since 1700 when it was the world’s largest city for the next century) to 20 million today. The govt has since curbed the growth via urban citizenship registration, but is now building a new city on its outskirts, Xiong’An.

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The Aussie state is nearly 40x larger than it’s namesake but only 2.6x larger in population  (ergo about 15x more sparsely populated), albeit a large majority live in in the Sydney area -5 million out of 8 million.

 

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London

Hong Kong (7.5 million) appears similarly populated as London in density (9.2 million), though in reality the large majority of HK is open countryside and mountain. If counting only the urban areas of the territory it becomes 20x denser- in fact the world’s most heaving spot of humanity surmounting to 60 sq km -about the size of Manhattan but 3x the population and built density, also being the world’s most highrise city, including 380 skyscrapers (over 150m/ 492ft in height):

 

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Luxembourg, a mix of French and Germanic culture, came about in 1815 as a fiefdom of the king of the Netherlands who installed a Prussian guard to defend against another French attack, thus bringing about the crossroads that is this little nation, though one of the fastest and richest in the world. Fun fact: the worlds largest manufacturer of dentures, not just a tax haven.

 

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Hawaii actually has the world’s tallest mountain, Mauna Kea, that is a gently sloping cone volcano (dormant) with a snow capped peak on Big Island, most of it underwater. If measured from the sea floor it comes to about a km taller than Mount Everest, at over 10,000m or 33,500 ft. Above water it 4,200m or 13,300 ft, slightly taller than Mont Blanc.

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New Caledonia, a gorgeous colony of France out in the Pacific, and one of the few places where you find tropical conifers.

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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 to.

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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 once out 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 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 inverted tripod of a London plane 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 ever 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 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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This year this pen laid her eggs quite openly, and close to the path. An old lady waylaid anyone taking a look and entrapped them in convo. She was 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 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. Like it with a hat and the blonde poking out.

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 47

Monday 4th May 2020

Took a walk, a first for me on my own. A part of me can’t be bothered to entertain myself, as if, well, what’s the flipping point? I tend towards the home, the computer, the indoors and domestic, living vicariously through a screen due to a crippling lifelong condition called Laziness. The time I do want to experience things trekking about and getting canoodley with life is abroad. As they say, joy is doubled when you share it with someone; I just don’t think it, feel it otherwise.

I’m built to spend time on my own, but not to experience happiness that way.

The streets are as to be expected -the place quiet but nowhere completely empty or like a ghost town. There’s a steady stream of odd cars, and a handful of people on each thoroughfare, with often a queue outside whichever shop that’s open, even the small family-run ones.

Many stores are shut, some looking permanently with newspapers over their glass, or hand drawn signs of desperately discounted pricing, one place wallpapered with A4s of £2. I had no idea what it once sold, the name itself giving no clues. Other places as if momentarily left. The ones still surviving were very much like the old fashioned stores before supermakets took over -bespoke service, specialised produce and community based chit-chat.

Others had added little touches, from antique points of sale and off props, to signs of human misjudgement, not just banal marketing campaigns and identikitted salon design.

Then from the streets to the parks, also slightly unkempt, but beautifully so.

Battersea Park has an odd expanse which looks a lot like a retro exhibition gardens. I couldn’t place it as to whether it was 1950s or 70s, though it was refurbed in 1994 according to the sign. They were fountainless, the flowerbeds starting to overgrow, the squared off trees untrimmed to lose their cubism. A landscape to myself.

There was a sense of an elegant decay, almost spookily so. No animals, just the rustling of leaves and water becoming a momento mori.

Gardeners had obviously been laid off or furloughed, with pavilions starting to muddy up and peel, the flower beds dying or getting invaded with weeds and grass. Some cages round the back were populated only by signs touting that the animals would be back soon -metal keeps also profuse and jungled. Hopefully whatever once dwelled there will appreciate the new foliage on return, if still alive.

The rest of the park was gloriously overgrown, nature returning. Fun police were nowhere, but weren’t really needed, with nary a soul for stretches. It was a Monday, everything was just getting on with it. Was good to get out, I see that now.

There’s something to be said about what you notice, about the conversations one has with themselves on a privated walk. Notably the fact you see, feel and experience more than what’s there.

I hope we’re all okay, that we go in peace.

 

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 25

Saturday 11th April 2020

 

The first day of Easter break, and the sun is out in force, enticing everyone like the Nicki Minaj version of an ice cream sundae. Purring outside your doors, window washing your views, and stroking the bike seats. The fun police meanwhile have been expecting you, finetuned to follow squealing into the bushes and compromising selfies from the lawn.

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A had a bikeride, all the way to Hyde Park, and reported on vans blaring public announcement, notably that anyone not exercising needed to stay in. Hence why the streets and spaces had noticeably less festival-goers, from the usual rollerblading Bodyform ads that Battersea’s been recently. J told me however that Barry Island near his hometown was inundated, the beaches like a Baywatch episode but with shittier weather and pastier, anorak wreathed skin. I imagine this to be the case for much of the country.

Going out and lying on the grass is the new crack. Illicit, irresponsible, brazen. The domain of the wild and rebellious, who throw caution to virus-laden winds. They can be found loitering beneath the trees, perhaps slap bang in the centre of the lawns, relying on too vast a distance for the copshop to walk all the way, or perhaps just not giving a shit. Chewing gum as they approach, lazily twirling a windmill or blowing bubbles into their face as the finebook comes out.

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Meanwhile, I stayed in doing the usual writing and scrolling, watching the Reef as respite. I say that theoretically, as this Aussie flick is one true nailbiter, and the second best shark movie to date. It’s not relaxing. Using real footage rather than CGI, and throwing actors in the deep of it is quite something. Apparently it’s based (very loosely) on real events, when a boat capsized and three people decided to swim the smorgasbord to another island. A tiger shark (in the film replaced by a Great White) subsequently stalked them with only one surviving. Tiger sharks though smaller, are considered more dangerous – Great Whites can inflict devastating damage, but are more cautious and will scope neurotically before maybe getting in an investigative nibble and sodding off again. Whereas Tiger sharks are born opportunists, a mindless tube with teeth at one end swimming openly through turtle shells, coconuts and car parts -aka the trash can of the ocean.

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In one ridiculously tense scene a man is actually caught in the horror of horrors – a dark room with a shark in it. This is the kind of childhood scenario envisaged by anyone seeing Jaws the first time, where the 20 footer is somehow haunting the stairs at night or hiding in the bathtub, but now believably transported into a human space (an upside-down boat). Just so long as spiders don’t fly and sharks don’t float down corridors I will still be OK with existing in this world.

It does remind us that thank St Fuck we aren’t bobbing in a wine dark sea right now, fin-spotting the direction of our nemesis. There’s something inordinately vulnerable about swimming with an unknown -connected by a selfsame medium with unseen danger from any angle. Meanwhile disabled into a fraction of your speed, defence and reactions. And not too dissimilar to going out and lying on those verdant lawns right now, where threat floats just as invisibly. Just not the type weighing a tonne and brandishing teeth. If we had tallman ICU’s jumping from darkened alleyways, complete with tentacle tubing and suffocating shocks, maybe people would pay heed. Or maybe, still not. A monster, it appears, needs to be grotesque.

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We fear nature because we cannot predict it, unbound by our societal constraints, nor impulses. Even the dog scares the hitman, as it can’t be controlled.

Talking about perspective, 980 people died in UK hospitals yesterday, a record so far, while the US will likely break 2,000 from tomorrow, which is meant to be their peak day. France, Spain and Italy are now showing decreasing figures thankfully.

Israel is currently having problems with its Ultra Orthodox Jewish communities, who make up 14% of the population. Due to their adherence against modernity, which often includes TV and the internet, the message for lockdown and social distancing is harder to disseminate, not helped by a disregard for rule of law (replaced by religious teaching). Weddings, funerals and bar mitzvahs have been observed, gathering up to 150. Religious schools and synagogues still operate subversively and their districts remain crowded and unmasked.

I did a little research, as one can be inclined from sheer boredom. And found they prefer the term Haledi Jewish, and are some of the most vocal supporters of a free Palestine. That many are anti-Zionist and against the State of Israel itself, even while living there. This is due to the ‘political quietude’ they are meant to adopt according to the Torah, with a respect for free states, unconcerned with politicking today when preparing for an afterlife overrides. Well, who knew?ss

I think we could perhaps take a leaf from that book, to be politically quiet for a bit. On that note…

Today’s bike ride was similar to all the others. How quickly beauty obscures pain, and how quickly we get used to that beauty, then bored of it. They say alpine Switzerland, land of majestic vistas, crystal lakes, and outstanding quality of life is either a vision of heaven or hell. Too perfect, too ordered, and perhaps a reason why the country suffered some of the highest rates of drug abuse back in the day (when Needle Park in Zurich was filled with thousands of users in the 80s), before they started facilitating the victims rather than criminalising them.

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To deal with all that perfection -and upkeep -you’ll need a civically focused mindset (conscription into the army /social service helps in your youth), and a steadfast following of the rules. Is Switzerland boring? Well no, not more than anywhere else, just a bit of a stickler. But it does end up as the happiest (or second happiest) country each year. Societal constraint and a warm fluffy blanket of predictability appears to play some part, though I’m sure so does an inordinate shower of cash from being the world’s tax parasite.

Oh shoot just went down the political bridge again. Wtf else can I write about? I brush my teeth up to 5x a day. My nails need cutting. Saw Drag Race. Front door keeps juddering with the breeze. The station has a fire alarm, that sounds uncannily like the end of days.

Had a bit of a night with cider and J, dissecting his friendscape and our pasts. Drunken bitching. EOD. Another one under the belt.

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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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