A Journal of the Plague Year Day 20

Monday 6th April 2020

The day has been one of the harder ones, where the four walls do feel justifiably prison-like. The light curtailed, and writing for a good 12 hours in front of a TV. I feel stained by crass sensationalism, evoking so much emotion and memory, yet signifying nothing. The day a write off, excuse the pun.

There is a certain art to domesticity, making things feel snug, and that the Danes have trumpeted throughout their culture, making them supposedly the world’s happiest nation. It’s untranslatable, but hygge (rhymes slightly with boogie/ booger) is that sense of the familial and cosy, which can be brought to anything, from workplace meetings to camping trips. J has it down to an art.

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The Queen came on, to tell us about this virus that’s been going round, and to be all stalwart. Many people had reckoned it being on the passing of her 98 year old husband, Prince Phillip, topping Ladbrokes bets every year for the past decade who quietly salivate over his demise (you can imagine the bolly and plumes of coke in the boardroom when that announcement does come). The only other 3x she’s ever had a nationwide address (outside of her Xmas thing) were on the eve of Gulf War 1, the deaths of Princess Di then the Queen Mum, and on her Diamond Jubilee in 2012. 24 million (one third of the nation) tuned in rapt, only to hear her rattle on about everything we already knew about, and to urge people to stay indoors more -which was probably the main aim they wheeled the podium out. Crestfallen we didn’t have anything more to gossip about, or a national funeral to attend it’s life back to normal. Yes, this is normal. And people still out and about, enjoying the weather.


The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson is now stricken with C-19. At first it was him ruling working from home and looking spry, then it was him going to hospital -just as a precaution -and still in good spirits with a lot of media bluster about being out soon, probably within the week. And now it’s worsened and he’s gone into intensive care, though not yet on an ICU. He may be an insufferable fool, but may he get well soon. The papers meanwhile are full of stories about who could replace him, changing their headlines midway through the day from a what happens with a ‘dead’ PM to an ‘incapacitated’ one. Type the word ‘how‘ into Google and it autopredicts instantly into ‘how old is Boris Johnson‘. ‘What ha‘ returns: ‘What happens when a Prime Minister dies in office?‘ Poor sod, he’s mathematically inclined to succumb.


The evening’s film was My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which turns out is the world’s most successful romcom, made for 4 million bucks but taking in nearly 100x that amount. It wasn’t as funny this time round, and it’s quite weird how you can date a film you enjoyed and was taken by, then watch it again within your lifetime and see it as newly facile, scales fallen. Back then, when it was also so doable, when melodrama was fun, and life was so granted. I’m getting on.


They revised yesterday’s deaths from 400+ up to 621, after counting post mortem tests and people who’d died outside hospitals, such as in their houses and in old folk’s homes. There’s also always a low count at the weekends for some reason. Hopes for a downturn have been dashed, rather we look to be starting on the high end of the curve, the bit where it’s either climbing stratospherically or plateauing at a high level.

Given that there’ve been no checkpoints, temperature gauging, or app tracking, and most people don’t wear masks it’s likely to climb. And will remain high, given the minimal measures even in lockdown. No checking of behaviour or automatic sanitising of still-functioning vector points, such as warehousing, supermarket baskets/ trolleys/ checkouts (not to mention the products themselves), mail, deliveries, PT, hire bikes, paypoints, cash, cash machines, ticket machines, lifts, lift buttons, public door handles, rails, door buzzers, and the streets themselves.

Unlike most of Asia, which went through the rigmarole beforehand, operating checkpoints every 300m and in every building, enforcing tracking apps and masks across the populace then hosing down every public surface. We need to do the same.


My legs ached all day, enough for me to get worried. But turns out that had all to do with my first bike ride in a year. J has also been worried, having been stricken by a tummy bug for a good week now, which in a certain percentage of cases is the only sign of C-19, but hopefully it’s just a rotavirus, we’ll see after day 10.

A is planning a cake. Greek milk pie it’s called. He’s a little pie himself.



A Journal of the Plague Year Day 7

Tuesday, 24th March 2020

Lockdown. As of last night, PM Boris Johnson came on to let us know that we’re no longer allowed out other than one exercise (type) a day, to go shopping (only food, pet stores and pharmacies) or to work (essential workers, or if you ‘absolutely have to’). The Telegraph, bastion of understatement and elegance, emblazoned its headline as ‘The End of Freedom’.

We’ll get fined otherwise, and if we hang out in groups of more than 2 it’ll get broken up, similar to the days of Thatcherism where more than 8 people around a radio constituted an illegal rave. I don’t however see myself joining a Reclaim the Streets brigade.


It’s not so much that the lockdown is now in place, but why it took so long, given the track record of not acting quickly enough in Italy and Wuhan, alongside the proven benefits that South Korea, Singapore and the rest of China managed to pull off (for the time being -reinfection is still a fear, albeit with standard testing at every corner). Opinion posits this late joining to the party has been due to BoJo’s long championing of personal liberties; he famously wrote in his former Telegraph column that the ban on public smoking was akin to killing Iraqis to free them.

Well, after the droves of people witnessed across the country’s parks and beauty spots over the sunny weekend, he had to bite the bullet. It sounds like in the West that’s exactly what is needed in order to keep the population indoors: guns, with the army having to be called in across the continent – Italy alone has had hundreds of thousands of people fined already. The army helicopters did a flypast over our estate last night, spotting some chinooks out of the eight before we stopped counting.

As mentioned before, us Brits are a libertine bunch, a bit too entitled since the days of Empire, and in contrast to a Germany where the death toll per capita is lower than its neighbours, perhaps due to a more heedful populace in a regimented Germanic stereotype. Albeit Austria -more specifically the apres-Ski resort of Ischgl -has now been pinpointed as a main source for infecting much of Mitteleuropa, notably a majority of the spreader Germans and Danes and as far away as Iceland. All thanks to a sick barman who blew whistles to clear the drunken droves engaging in body fluid beer pong. Plus an ensuing cover-up, the management and council in cahoots. Austria had consistently denied the link until it became too obvious, with hundreds of patients strangely sharing that same hand-warming, shoulder-rubbing vector-point.


The US too appears ever hassled, with its right to bear arms in a similar cultural quandary as the UK, whereby it’s populace may now prove to be its own worst enemy. It’s one thing to have 165 million people left with a month’s worth of money before facing homelessness and destitution, as the current fiscal roll out is promising, it’s another to give them guns to go with their desperation. The Stateside press is fervent with calls to take out Nancy Pelosi, who undid the emergency draft of economic measures after noticing it did nothing for the common man and a lot for uncommon, big business. Predictably so -barging into DC and plonking down her 1,400 page amendment as a rebuttal to much more rebuttal. Going by what the Republicans had intended your average white collar worker would get $1200 a head, while blue collar families $600, as a random example.


Meanwhile the Democrats took the opportunity to attempt a sea change in policy to come with the draft, from affirmative action rolled out into the corporate echelons to gender/ minority equity in the payscale. From halving greenhouse gases to increased union power, freer healthcare to free internet. This has of course stymied the fast-tracked path of the bailout, as businesses continue to fold and a large chunk of the population waits in limbo, attack rifles readied.

The fact that for most Americans keeping yourself in work is vital to paying for your healthcare has become a vicious Catch 22 in these climes. Whereby even the threat of illness negates work which in turn negates any chance of proper treatment, or will further indebt you for decades. This is what Obamacare, increasingly indentured, attempted to bypass. It seems the end is nigh for the American Dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, even if that entailed for some, the white picket fencing off from community and a God-given right to bear arms. And it has come not in the shape of the Red Scare, foreign attack, immigrant takeover, economic overshadowing, nuclear war or a Hollywood alien race, but a mere virus exposing the flaws in every society so far. Plus a global, capitalist system utterly reliant on unceasing spending, no matter whether you’re in Louisiana or Lusaka.


The fact Trump is now seeking to reinstate this system to the tune of untold dying is a sign of our times, and the monster we’ve nurtured, whereby dollars > death. The House Senate is now looking to shorten lockdowns, if even have them in place, which isn’t exactly democratic in any way given the commercial lobbying (read: corruption) and the lack of people voting on their own fates.

Yesterday we watched Doomsday Preppers straight after BoJo’s speech, which wasn’t the best choice in hindsight. I ended up yelling at the screen after having every button pressed, repeatedly. In seeing grown men (all terse, overweight and suburban) bringing up their kids and inveigling other families and long-suffering wives into a life of unputdownable threat and big boys’ army games. Which got me triggered, so to speak. White-socked wannabees bowling round pristine lawns armed with uzis and a well-tended fear of cityfolk, the sweaty ranch-owning narcissist putting his kids in life-or-death scenarios in prep for a terrorist takeover. His hiring of local law enforcers -constructively nurturing more trigger happiness -to stage a shouty ransoming of family members, guns to heads, was especially revealing. All in aid of seeing what the 7 year old would do (he caved and put the shotgun down, bless his little warm, living hands).

I honestly think there’s an unsaid link between our sociopathy spectrum with a hangover from our predatory evolution. That those on the far right have been shown to share nightmares of being hunted, hounded by constant threat (darkies chasing them with machetes, feminazis throwing tampons, trees getting hugged) -and that we ourselves demonstrate when put in the corner. When forced to defend our loved ones the last feelings of empathy or concern for the Other (side) goes well out the reinforced window. It’s this mix of cold disregard with wheedling for attention and premonition that is a pathological condition methinks, and the series is making the most of it. I was shocked to find it was from the National Geographic, though of course majority stakes went to Rupert Murdoch a few years ago, and the channel’s always been in bed with Fox since 2001.


Anyhoo they must be loving life right now. So I am not convinced this world deserves us, and that we deserve the world, regardless of how glossy a cover it makes and how, like most relationships in life, we pretend to care and support each other.

More commuting horrors of the tube were snapped this morning – but before we tut our middle class tongues, look again at the pics and note this is just the normal 5-7am rush hour for the poor as it is every day – construction crews, supermarket shelvers, carers, caterers, cleaners, transportation workers who have to come in from far to service the centre. Take away their trains and frequencies and it can only get worse -it’s a telling sign that somewhere like Denmark puts on more trains to enable social distancing, and we do the opposite to systemise it. Is that plain stupidity or just the usual punishing of the poor, at best callous, at worst intentional?

These people are not wilfully there, they are not congregating at sunrise for a latte in the park. They are trying to survive, and running a new gauntlet to do so; choice being a luxury we may have and they do not.

In short this is more a picture of desperation than disregard.



There is always an underlying economy beneath our everyday, the background workers shunted into fruit picking, manual labour, cleaning and human exploitation from nail bars to prostitutes to garage workers to sweatshop droves in territories beyond. The fact most Londoners have no idea there is a peak travel time at dawn, where it’s standing room only on buses and trains, so long as you live out in Zones 4-9, and are up early enough to witness it, perhaps when catching our flights to more aspirational destinations.


You can actually work out how many slaves work for you here; take note that by namedropping you live in London you actually entail more indentured labour than if you opted for Dubai, pariah of a vast underclass behind the steel and glass, just less hidden than ours. This appears to be the question in these days of our lives, do we look out for that unseen economy? Do we worry for and change habits for the untold numbers at the edges of society, the shadows in our peripherals, blocking the sun? The old, the sick, the alone, the homeless, the vulnerable who will be dying soon in forgotten wards and warehouses across the country in the next few weeks.

Italy has seen a fall in deaths again today, though still in the hundreds. It may be over the worst, though Spain looks soon to take that mantle. The UK waits in the wings, and a judgement on what our policy of half-arsed mitigation has sown. When push comes to shove, and for all our navel-gazing entreaties, how much will we look out for others, or take up arms against them? There’s a lot to be said about being alone in a crowd.


In other news J, who was a photographer and artist in another life has had his image on valuable items, for an upcoming auction (online of course) added to the Chiswick House feed where he works. Very apt, and a sign of the times. When I saw it, jaw-dropped, I did actually ask where he got these rare pieces from. What is it that we hold dear, no really?


John Rogers, @durbinlewis

“Right now in today’s world our perception of value might have shifted somewhat since 1766, when Sir Thomas Broughton and Mary Wicker had their coat of arms engraved upon this soup tureen as part of their marriage silver. Nevertheless the timeless quality of the silver sold through the Wakelin partnerships continues to captivate collectors and aesthetes alike.

Lot 580 on the 25th March Silver & Objects of Vertu auction

Just saw two of our neighbours from the window, coming up with their shopping (Sainsbury’s looks like), and proving life can be normalised despite. The sun is out and it almost looks a vision of lost mundanity, with their produce and smiles and nice clothing, all smug in a time of want. They’ve even managed to find loo roll.

The stairs, that’s where we’ll get them.