A Journal of the Plague Year Week 5

Monday 13th April 2020

I’m sick of Americana. It’s been 3 weeks and all I’ve seen is drove after drone of US telly culture via Netflix and The Internatz. It’s all starting to get too much, the cop shows, gun heists, coffee breaks, nasal drawls, whooping, blondes, chinos, cardigans, plaid. Immaculate lawns, garrulous housing, sass, likable gangsters, car culture, rest stops, trip hop, laptops, likes, stories, handles, vines. Making such a BIG deal about social mixing or not correlating with the racist, classist and sexist realities, obscuring the banality of the everyday, the gutted city centres, the crime, the boredom. How every scene conjured is pure, complicit fuckery. Lies, lies I tell you!

It’s just so fucking gushing about it all.

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Not all cafes and bars are buzzing. Not all classrooms are vapid. Not all of California is sunny. Not all of Xmas is snowing and candle-lit. Not all of Mexico is dusty and orange filtered. Not all of NYC is just SO magical! Where are the drone shots of Queens? The shopping in Wal-Mart? The social and racial segregation indexes now on par with Apartheid-era South Africa? Where are the people who don’t live in 4-5 bed houses (no matter how rich or poor they are)? Where are the sweeping stories of people working in your average smalltown office or restaurant or shop or supermarket or factory? Where, oh where are the legions of working and (lower) middle classes? The fat? Where are the people who don’t wear make-up to bed? They have their stories to tell also -and even if the same ones, whether funny, exciting, romantic or resonant, why is it the upper-middle class resoundingly get the roles?

Talk shows are an embodiment -and the fact news agencies are morphing into them a sign. Every chat show host, presenter, news anchor and primetime guest too cartoonish, every audience too canned, too willing to whoop joyously on each statement that’s ended with a raise in octave, pause, then a look out to the crowd. Ratings, ratings ratings, catering to what we want interminably, back in 2009.

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OK I get there are the many offerings that do represent, a big menu of them. American Beauty, The Wire, Sundance that kinda thing. But they are so very drowned out by everything else.

Endless Tiktok (Chinese I know), Drag Race, IG, Bojack, Cardi B, Lana Del Ray, Mark Wahlberg, Trump, Punk’d, React Channel, Prime, Disney, Pixar, Marvel. I mean I need something more exotic now, something historical. Also, another gripe: US documentaries. On one hand the tabloid idiocy of decorating information by screaming it out and dumbing it down: overdramatic audio, menacing voiceover, too-frequent summarisation (for the ad breaks every 15 mins I’ve heard), Flash graphics (trying to look sciencey), and hammy, sepia-toned dramatisations. Swear to Beelzebub, your left hand could feature in 72 Creatures To Watch The Fuck Out For, as they rotate the same shots of it turning claw shaped and raking at some gravel, or grabbing a cat to the sound of pick squeals.

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On the other hand it’s the yonder extreme: slow, dragged out, formulaic and dry. The foodie documentaries a good example, varying with arthouse and voiceovers, endless conversation and life stories when we just wanna look at the grub, the culture, the recipes, the history. It’s food for fuck’s sake, not Nelson Mandela. We are not interested in the timeless glorification of a food hero that takes up an hour-long biopic, or extended reels of a rich man going shopping. I swear, sometimes I think Americana is so very glorifying and hero-worshipping as it helps with the hierarchy. Just too much formula.

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What is missing is gravitas. Humility. Truth. Reticence. Detail. Please don’t clap. Please don’t call me Sir. Netflix, Apple TV, Quibi, Youtube, do for the love of cake just tone it down a notch or three.

My other option is Arte, our European attempt at global domination via France and Germany (and like Dunkerke, stopping right there). Ah, the fresh air. But then you only have about 20 programmes to choose from, thus forcing you into whatever arthouse/ history/ social science/ particle physics funnel they recently dreamt up from their tiny planning studio. And rapt as you may be with Malian wedding rituals, a biopic on Joan Miro, or Mannerist architecture in 16th Century Portugal it quickly becomes as entertaining as the wallpaper. I watched two entire episodes on a bunch of German God Squadders walking the medieval pilgrimage route over the Pyrenees, towards the Santiago de Compostela shrine. Mesmerised as they crossed whole bridges (someone losing a shoe in the river -heartstopping), calling in on statues, looking at buildings and getting some of the country air. They had a whole fucking season dedicated to them – those same people, that one journey. This is why Europe, denizen of holiday snaps and colonialism is no longer setting the world on fire, even with Eurovision.

Took a good, hard look at my life after that.

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And don’t get me started on the Beeb. Dumbed down as to be squatting over the ranks of what the Mirror or Daily Mail would offer (though we’re not at C5, Sun scoop spectacular quite just yet) if they were given a £20 budget to source writers on the nation’s pulse, via their readership. It is so riven with ham and hack it could be Christmas. Dr Who (sorry), Celebrity Scissorhands, War of the Worlds. And their exposées are just so damn one-sided, so very choreographed by a presenter investigative reporter who’s already charted out the story beforehand, including conclusion. Watch as Tracy investigates slaughterhouses on rumours animals get hurt in there, or Benjamin go to North Korea to check out their journalism schools. Maybe a harsh dressing down on race relations when hanging out at a KKK rally, involving multiple hidden cams and jittery chases.

TV has become a raison d’etre in these times. It is like power, food and air, a social birthright. And goddamit if what we’re getting is Coffee and fucking Kareem it’s time to man the barricades.

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Morning a write off thanks to far too heavy a weeding session in the gardens, had to run to find a bucket, rummaging under the sink and finally settling for (thankyou J, precious metals trader), an antique silver planter in the Japonisme style to vom in. Highlight of my day. Oh and Antiques Roadshow.

Then a bikeride in the sun, on the same trail to Chelsea Bridge and back. Got fatshamed by A laughing at my baby tire when I took my top off (26C), cuddling round my rippling 12 pack. I’ve been nurturing it with soft drinks, biscuits and the odd cake since lockdown, it’s my friend. A buddy messaged to ask if I wanted to take a walk in Crystal Palace Park, forgetting that I’d moved from the area a while back. We decided against after realising it would involve a train trip, which is pretty much illegal and likely swarming with plain clothes police. It would’ve been one awkward meet up anyhoo, 2 metres apart at all times and talking like we’re on stage. Pretty much it, my life in a paragraph.

Quibi is the hip new thing A is currently smitten by, though he (nor anyone) can ever remember its name. The platform specialises in 10 minute bites of programming, from comedies to episodes (that suspiciously add up to the same dozens of hours) to documentary snippets to full on gameshows – all specially condensed for our half second attention spans. They’ve also been edited to be watchable portrait or landscape on your phones.

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It’s perfect for cutting out the pfaff, but it doesn’t bode well that they’re catering to our wants (where recently tv all round the world has been trying out 15-20 minute offerings if you’ve noticed). How will we learn in the future if this becomes a norm? How will we get an appreciation of the smaller, slower things? In a similar vein another platform, Blinkist edits down entire books into 15 minute reads. I’m worried. But also enthralled.

All they need to do now is do something worth watching.

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 24

Friday 10th April 2020

Another schizo day. Trying to relax yet structure it, while trying to work yet play. Swear I need to do a rota, like I did at weerk.

Spent far too long doing the forum surfing, and checking news bites (a delicious hour seeing the presented evidence on the Great Orange Dolphin’s behaviour -that he suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder alongside growing senility), before launching into some book writing. Then a spot of gaming (Skyrim where I murdered a giant spider, Streetfighter where I spinning-bird-kicked E Honda in the head), which raised the guilt again, enough for me to embark on another round of book editing.

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Which in turn led to a spell on TikTok, which A is now getting seriously hooked into also. This is not good. I am feeling guilty for working too long, then relaxing too much. Like every addict who knows they’ve been busted.

J has been similarly at odds with what to do with himself today, finally settling on working on his antiques (writing up, researching their worth and stories, and selling them online). While A has done a bike ride, some cooking and not much else. I’m trying to inveigle everyone into sitting down to watch a film, which I may put on and hope they’re lured in.

I perhaps need this psychotic break. Like Trump at Christmas, who forgets what he’s saying mid-sentence. I almost pity him.

And let me begin by wishing you a beautifewel… Look. you remember this. Do you remember, they were trying to take Christmas out of…’

Below is pictured the actual turning point (indeed) of that sentence, exhibiting the behavioural tics of dementia, closed eyes, forward lean, open mouth, grasping/ flappy limbs.

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Yesterday’s showing was The Invisible Man, the kind of film that does genuinely suck you into the storyline -but heavily flummoxed by the internet slowing on the streaming site, creating new cliffhangers and ridiculously paused scenes, mid-gurn. Every 20 mins we had to load/ reload, a reminder of the golden days of terrestrial when adverts interrupted everything. The same again for Underwater, the laughable Kristen Stewart creature feature, where you can’t really make out the cast, dialogue or creatures through the murk, exacerbated by the infernal stop-start. This is Trump’s life at the mo, despite being at the helm, and someone needs to take those controls out of his flippers.

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Throughout, despite the cider and cake, J and I were non-committal to the point of monosyllabic malaise -I even mentioned it, how I was spending the day like a sleepwalker. Apparently, the lack of vitamin D does that to you, and at our latitude we have to wait a bit longer before we can get enough out of the sun, until mid-April at least.

980 died in UK hospitals today, for France 1,400, including those who died in care homes. The BBC new site has degraded into telling village notices despite the conspicuously unmentioned disaster – how Joe Wicks is doing PE classes, how schoolkids are writing emails to an old folks home, a skipping Sikh guy is entertaining his community and a woman is using her parent’s campervan as an office. Stop the fucking press. Oh and Kenny Dalglish has it, whoever he is. What next? Newsflash! How to spruce up your day by playing microwave bingo! The Warrington boy writing to Santa about a mask for his proud, nurse-mum. The new TikTok kitten sensation, jumping to the words: Social Distancing! How to spell zoonotic! It appears Kevin and Marjorie from the local church in Kippershyt village have taken over the BBC.

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There’s a fine line between honest reportage and propaganda methinks, between buoying the wartime spirit and censorship. And treating a nation as people entrusted with truths, or downplayed into sycophancy. Or maybe people just aren’t clicking anymore, and have had their fill of doomsaying, especially now the sun’s out.

CNN has for some time also started to stray into the tabloid news category, dangling other stories lasciviously that look little different from This One Trick clicks a rung removed. They tend to show a lurid pic, coupled with a half headline, coyly doing up its laces.

This nurse demonstrates how fast germs spread even if you’re…

(armless? breeding Pomeranians? Dave?)

The doctor in the viral photo with his son behind glass has lost his…

(other son? will to IG anymore? will?)

Jake Gyllenhaal crushed Tom Hollands handstand challenge…

(by doing a handstand? by doing it cowboy? by doing his laces?)

NASA astronauts estranged wife charged with lying about claim…

(on the moon? of Catholicism? over 2004 parking ticket?)

A Florida man dies days after hundreds exposed to…

(radiation? Trump briefing? his TikTok vid?)

A fire at a Florida airport destroys more than 3,500…

(mice? Floridians? photo ops?)

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Oh CNN, how far ye’ve changed with the times. Fast forward a few years and we’ll be forced into playing a round of flappy bird to access any article, as if an advert for the latest season of Marie Kondo’s Sock Drawer isn’t enough. If you’ve so caved into a landscape of sensationalism and sponsorship for clicks, as opposed to journalistic integrity, or dissemination of insight, your leveling of any field will be forever changed. As if the lobbying already wasn’t the most decisive factor. Like art being measured by how garish, or sullied the paint is.

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Good news (we hope) in the US, as infections seem to be leveling off and the lockdown starting to see results, though hopefully all that’s not in the vein of the BBC’s current picture painting. Tomorrow will be the worst day for fatalities according to the projections, with mass graves already dug in NYC. The US does enjoy a certain serendipity in terms of its low density suburban setup for much of the land -detached housing and car culture ensuring people never had much physical contact with each other anyway. Part of the cultural handwringing, pointing toward how isolationist, untrusting and unempathetic the people can turn, but now reaping the benefits in terms of limiting the infection – albeit should they get it their higher rates of obesity, heart disease, asthma and diabetes will increase the chance of dying. A similarly low infection rate has occurred in Australia, the only country with larger average homes that the US, whilst NYC bucks the trend for obvious reasons, notably its high density landscape.

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 13

Monday 30th March 2020

 

Well, I came across this today, that’s doing the rounds on social media. Very heartwarming, and oh so together in our time of collective need. I’ll add a lovely little transcript below.

 

I can’t wait for a year’s time when all of this is a distant memory. And there’ll be a corona baby boom because all the lovers were loving. And there was a rise in small businesses because all the entrepreneurs had a moment of stillness and creativity.

And all the children remember nothing but a time when all the mums and dads were at home drawing and playing ballgames. And be the time we all got to stop and be present.

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We will remember the time when health was the first priority. And we learned new ways to use fresh produce to feed our families. We will remember the laughter and fun on Tick Tock, Facetiming with our friends and family each day.

Date nights in the house and home P.E. workouts with Joe Wicks. A time when our real heroes in the NHS urged us to stay at home for the greater good. And our country showing us hope by turning Wembley and the Angel of the North blue.

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And we were all forced to think outside the box and dream of new things and reinvent old ways. And for once even amongst the chaos there was community. There was a global rise in togetherness. And as the streets were quiet our homes were bustling with love and laughter.

That time is coming soon, just like any other crisis before it. This will all be a distant memory. Things we’ll listen to our children discuss in the classroom that we share with our grandchildren.

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So to you: I know it’s unsettling, but focus on the silver lining. We’re all in this together. And there’s so much beauty to see.

 

Ah bliss, what happy memories. How we’ve all misconstrued this time together as a global catastrophe, when we coulda just framed it as the middle class Western staycay it really is! Yes, laughter and fun on social media, online workouts with hot C-list celebs, our homes ‘bustling’ with love and laughter. No Indian states to cross, no windowless Jo’burg shacks to stand in, no queueing outside US gun shops, no anti-Asian racism, no decision on which Italian patient to let die, no Iranian mass graves to dig, no parents or grandparents to watch succumb, from afar.

At a time when spousal and child abuse levels are skyrocketing, when the internet is saturated with finger-pointing, hate speech and pandemic politicking, when state after state is refusing to help its neighbour, and near a thousand people a day are dying in Italy alone, this may well be all that’s needed. Ah what a breath of fresh air! Let’s sweep it under a lovely chenille rug, all cuddly and warm, the betrayed social contracts, economic exploitation, global posturing, political corruption and massive societal cracks that had always lain beneath, all gone! No matter that the chintz-happy carpet’s now scraping the ceiling.

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Maybe they should do one for the Syrians about long distance hiking, timeless desert vistas, dieting opportunities, natural tans and the great outdoors with daytime fireworks. And the lucky 5% who can afford the average $20,000 for a Mediterranean cruise + tour package after, discovering new cultures and selfie ops across Europe. Whilst playing British bulldog with the authorities and organised crime to the tune of 10,000 missing kids by 2016 alone.

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Or the hale, healthy spirit of togetherness that is the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border right now, where millions of happy hikers are about to embark on a historic reenactment exercise, in memoriam to the holocaust trails of Partition.

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https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/nishitajha/india-coronavirus-lockdown-migrant-workers

As a random snapshot of our socially distant spirit today, word is the EU may dismantle from sheer selfishness given how moot it’s suddenly become: so-designed for precisely these scenarios yet refusing to help when presented. Given that Germany and Netherlands have blocked a rescue package (claiming the Southern states too greasy, too profligate with their spending and can’t be trusted, as they die in their thousands), Italy may well bow out, taking along Spain and Greece.

Retail may collapse en masse around the world, as does the gig economy, a Great Depression, mass unemployment, extremism and instability, while Russia and China look to make headway using the crisis. And the US, like a beauty contestant trapped under a beaching, floundering Trump, made ballast by big business and an army of enablers, don’t even get me started.

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We may all be in this together, but you don’t get to see ‘so much beauty’ by sticking your M&S tote carrying, Sky-subscribing, Hollyoaks-watching, window-twitching, wife-swapping, Mail-reading, Chelsea-supporting, Starbucks-swilling, picnic-making fucking head in the sand, after you took your fam in the 4 wheeler to Dover, against the govt advice. Yeah bring a flippy kite and pretend you’re exercising you highly entitled VIPs.

Now is a chance to change in this reset button, to fight for your livelihoods and your kids’, not believe this is all just another global funnel of experience upon you – just you -to temporarily waylay your Godgiven lifestyle. Yes, how ‘unsettling’ it’s all been. The fact the insecurity and destitution we live in now, is what billions live through as a norm all their lives to supplement and supplicate you. And it doesn’t have to be like that and never did, and we can change it together.

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The earnest, beseeching Geordie accent (voice o the workin people, aye!), brimming with righteousness (imagine her as a proud, overworked nurse) grates to say the least. I think that’s what got me most, the way they picked her and their idea as to what she should embody. Swear to God, they’re targetting people who don’t read.

Someone commented after the vid: ‘Everybody doing their part to help the greater good. I cannot think of anything more British’.

How apt, the white picket walls already outlined as the rest of the batshit diseased battle it out beyond (and on that note the most charitable populace happens to be the Iraqis). Play this to the Syrians, Venezuelans or Iranians, who are fucked to the nth degree without ICUs, masks, scrubs, sanitisers or meds thanks to our sanctions, let alone a billion sub-Saharan Africans and claim we’re in it together, for the greater good. That Joe Wicks puttering about in his pistachio sitting room and denizen to a better you, will lift their spirits.

They could at least have used better examples, rather than the usual offerings catering to our self-serving, facile narcissism, borders drawn.

Gwaaan, pay it forward. I dare ya:

 

 

In short, it is an embodiment of everything that is wrong with our world. That Toon nurse satanic, probably poisoning babies. It’s just too much of a cliché that we mollycoddled Westerners get blindsided to everything, everyone else, even in this circus of shit on our doorsteps, busy laying our scented candles in a trail to the vast sucking arsehole that’s become the bathroom.

Bah fuckin humbug.

Ok, sorry. Really need to get out more. Rant over.

And in other news…

Let’s get closer to home. And breathe.

Yes, people need support. People need a lift, in a time when we’re under house arrest. We need something to look forward to. Even if it is an idiotically entitled video, though a coupla kittens playing with a giant Malteser of shite would have had a greater impact, sensitivity and societal brainwork. Imagine their little mittens all pat pat patting it, trying to get it through the cat flap, that little, little gaawjus little tail, rubbing their lickle fat faces in it! Ah, togetherness.

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On that note, last night was a true, slightly jarring respite.

Thanks to watching Beauty and the Beast (live action version) with an ecstatic J, who has a big thing about objects coming to life and being invested, similar to his antiques work and art degree and everything ever (the fab scene where the operatic armoire jumps off a balcony to battle bad’uns being the best thing that’s ever happened). Doing our best to ignore the dodgy CGI for Beast and Emma Whatserface’s constant earnestness, but the singing and dancing and the fact it was candlelit elevated it into every tealight-burning vigil for world peace. I even took a snap, to show my grandkids one day.

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So yes, thoroughly enjoyed that, cosying up on the sofa like a giant fat dormouse, while cuddling my M&S tote. Flipping channels on Sky Box Bundle Badass News, on the way to catch my Hollyoaks Xmas Special 2004 re-run, I heard 25 million people will fall back into poverty (classed as surviving on less than a fiver a day) in China alone after this month, and that India is now seeing a humanitarian crisis the largest the world will likely ever see again, stories with less hits than the shocking issue that millions of garden centre plants will have to be binned across our great and beautiful land.

Thank you Simon Jack, business editor for the BBC:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52098436

I hear the Little Mermaid’s next. Can’t wait!

So hey, that’s the way things are. Let’s be together, or maybe let’s not and say we did.

For as a great poet once said:

Down here all the fish is happy
As off through the waves they roll
The fish on the land ain’t happy
They sad ’cause they in their bowl
But fish in the bowl is lucky
They in for a worser fate
One day when the boss get hungry
Guess who’s gon’ be on the plate?
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