A Journal of the Plague Year Day 9

Thursday 26th March 2020

 

A few minutes ago they started yelling. I thought it was a party, the clapping alongside, and when I went to the window another woman in the old folk’s home opposite was doing the same. We ignored each other (thank God).

The shouting rose, and rose, till I was running to the kitchen for a better view from the tower block. By then it had risen to crescendo with an army of car horns you could hear reverberating across the city; every window in the block opposite had people doing the same, all 24 floors of them standing in silhouette, backlit, most of them alone.

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I found out from J it had been organised on social media which I’ve avoided for days now -that at 8pm tonight there would be applause for the frontline workers, the essential services from healthcare to police, soldiers to postmen. It was quite the sight, especially knowing it was nationwide too. We watched in wonder.

This was of course started in Wuhan where the first lockdown was, from sporadic yells of people trapped indoors for so long, that evolved into balcony bellowing and cheering, encouraging others to keep going. In Italy the same, cheering for emergency vehicles and police vans. It’s times like this we learn the power of community, and the value of spirit in trials of hardship. The NHS has now filled its 450,000 volunteer positions within less than a day.

Italy is hard come by, it’s toll climbed again, bucking the trend of a decline seen in the last 3 days, with over 700 succumbing last night. Rumours are Italy is not just handicapped by the older populace, but the strain is more virulent. News too, that the US will likely overtake both Italy in China within the next 24 hrs, and will become the new global epicentre for the pandemic.

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Today I applied for Tesco jobs, inspired by a colleague now out of work and asking for a reference. I’m only applying for branches that will be reachable, with minimal commuting and thus exposure -it helps that I live next to the world’s busiest train station, so my radius is quite encompassing. There were literally 8 pages of positions for the company alone, all asking for immediate work on a temporary basis.

I’ve made some noises in the way of volunteering, though A says the NHS needs noone any more, and my working is volunteering enough to support my dependents. I’ve offered by CV building and job application services to some of my colleagues who don’t have as good English skills, my first foray into putting my money where my mouthpiece is, rather than endlessly writing about community spirit while popping out to forage, avoiding all contact and coming back with having done anything but purchase goods.

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The streets were sunny, and mostly quiet, though occasionally a bottleneck of a whole 7 people would clog up certain crossroads and shop awnings. I posted off my collection of masks to The Fam (they’d run out entirely of envelopes so had to bop over to the last open corner store), then it was the trundle through Lidl, which had restocked itself post-panic buying. Though of course bogroll and cleaning products were still mythical. Paracetamol was found, like El Dorado in a ray of light.

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A has spent a good few hours on the phone trying to get through to BA (who had charged him twice for a fictional flight), and the jobcentre, neither of which were ultimately reachable. We’ll try again tomorrow. Apparently they’ve been inundated with hundreds of thousands of calls, the latter likely in the millions, so cannot even accept new ones. It’s all left to a Tweet to do the talking, and like everything, everything money related, has occupied a worrisome purgatory of loss.

Yesterday’s film was The Lighthouse, starring that good looking Cedric-from-Happy-Plopper-and-Paul-Daniel’s-Wife-Debbie-McEgg. Him. Plus the vampiric looking Willem Defoe, now haggard in a strikingly accurate 19th Century rendition of a grizzly Newfoundland seadog (they have a similar accent to the Irish), salt o the shanty-shaking blarney sea. An aria in solitude and madness, and how very close to home. The relationship between salty sea master and monosyllabic hired lugger lurches between hate and love, sometimes within seconds, as they increasingly deteriorate into alcoholism and entertaining past demons through their solitude, sometimes to memories of murder, or visions of mermaids and sea monsters (tentacles and all). Heads in lobster baskets, dripping jizz, that kinda thing. All very black and white, shot on a 5:4 format redolent of silent films, for which a great deal of this brooding study is.

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A lonely island (a rocky New England shore), a haunted past and present, a backbreaking, mindbreaking roster, littered with secrets and intrigue, notably the semi-mythical light in the house itself, like a glowing gemstone. It doesn’t end well. Perhaps neither for us.

The performances of these actors are astounding, studded with rambling monologues that become increasingly poetic, ad hoc craziness and a certain sexual tension. I was glued to it. I wouldn’t call it enjoyable, but is one to savour, rather like a storm. Bat down the hatches; the city is once again, unearthly silent at 8:55pm.

Today’s offering was Gemini Man, starring Will Smith and Will Smith as himself, clone wise, and thirty years younger. From the start, the predictable hi-jinxing of hi-fiving US spies acceptably murdering foreign subjects, (the typical Hollywood East Europeans, casually evil -you can just tell as they sit in awkward, unshaven dourness on intercity train journeys) and the usual ludicrous examples of American heroism (pinpointing a single passenger on a packed HSR from a couple of miles away, dodging hundreds of bullets hippo-sprayed by trained marksmen). Oh and a British villain, of the craggy fifty-something suit and tie variety. Plus one of the spies is female, brilliant and beautiful (ssshhhooocker!) erm and at uni, where she’s studying Marine Biology, like most American students do. Will Smith Jnr is sometimes quite accurate, other times a cringey CGI mould, gurning over a plasticised trajectory, as are the fightscenes, the kind where they speed things up a little too much and it looks like Tekken. Oh Ang Lee, master of suggestion and cinematography, where did it go wrong? I mean Hulk shoulda been a lesson.

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But hey, worth the respite. Nothing like a bitta mindlessness and killing to get you not thinking about the mindlessness and killing. Dinner has deteriorated – cold rice, soya sauce + sesame oil, and hammy garlic sausage slices. Took a whole 40 seconds to prepare, and about the same time to consume in front of the box, eating and watching baloney. Must try harder.

I don’t know what isolation does to people, but the message is clear from Hollywood so far, put any two people together and they will compete, and make life Sartreanly hellish for each other. I do wonder if there will ever be a film without the struggle, about say two people being plonked on an island and just getting along. No giant apes, no sharks, no killing piggy. No bloody social stereotyping. The Netflix reality series, ‘Terrace House‘ does just that, whereby they get a bunch of Tokyoites from disparate backgrounds into a household, who aren’t lugged with pressing personality disorders or diametrically opposing political views, who aren’t say a lion pride holed up with some sassy zebras. And hey presto! They chat, show their fears, their heart, and fall in love at their own pace. Not Love Island, not Big Brother (of whom the German and Brazilian editions only found out about the pandemic a few days ago).

If I wrote a book where Once Upon a Time They Lived Happily Ever After would anyone even pick it up, let alone actually enjoy it? If there was no global crisis, would I even be writing?

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Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 3

Friday 20th March 2020

 

The trains are running. It seems a morning thing. They’ll stop soon. There are reduced train services due to staff shortages, in turn due to ‘health issues’. Pray, what fucking health issues could those possibly be?

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So, so far no lockdown. I’m wondering if this is just a delay, or the status quo will be normalised from now on. I had a dream, rather tellingly of being in a train wreck where an old lady subsequently got her legs trapped by a concertina-ing row of seats (I laid her on a makeshift gurney, she was fine). -A rather obvious symbolism there -a straight trajectory into disaster for the elderly, though they’ll pull through in the end. Also, a similar scene cherry-picked from memory in the film Alive, an opus on the Andean air crash where the survivors had to eat the dead to survive. Well, we’re not there just yet.

Yesterday I slunk out to forage some more – the fridge’s been so overstuffed the door fails to close half the time, and the UFO light stays on inside, like a raygun heating up the perishables for hours, to the aroma of gently heated cream and fish. The supermarkets were everything they promised to be from the media, disparate shoppers pottering around acres of empty shelving  -all animal and plant life clear cut, cleaning products swiped, dairy and carbs burned. Alcohol was stacked fine, as were cakes and thankfully, the Greek yoghurt aisle – I grabbed the last two tubs that were actually Greek. Along with a large container of mystery seasoning; I think it’s Bosnian, whose people enjoy the world’s largest spice intake thanks to an optimised stock mix from the 70s, that overnight got smeared onto everything, ever. I figured that shit’s got to be good. Oh and herring, turns out no one likes herring.

Outside the lights were on, but everyone’s home.

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J is worried about his workplace, the owner increasingly unhinged, threatening and enjoying his power, laying off workers and oozing job insecurity from every pore; they got an email today demanding all heads of dept account for their actions of the past week. A has had no structure to his day, having spent a large part of it surfing the newsfeeds in his PJs, as I’m sure a great many people have been. I do wonder what industries are actually being bulked up by this crisis – the internet at large, streaming TV, video servers, news agencies, supermarkets, food producers, big pharma, cleaning products, telecommunications, social media, funeral directors. I’d hazard booksellers would normally be enjoying a bumper season, but there aren’t enough shops to sell them. Oh and porn apparently is doing reams of trade, at server crashing levels. All else is failing, and the banks must be absolutely shitting themselves. I see adverts now, harking back to a different time -holidays, beauty products, bosomly ladies in your area desperate to come round, sanding tools, when really we should be algorithmically targetted right now with face masks, Vileda supermops, guns, chainsaws.

I bought hair dye, my little treat to check out what I’d look like blonde but without the embarrassment should it go tits up, though likely it’ll turn ginger. It did make me question the large chunk of my life that is ultimately spent on others, on courting what others think. Fashion and hair products have been too long a large chunk of my raison d’être, I’ve parted with them now like Kate saying goodbye to Leo. Oh and eating out, that’s something I’m going cold turkey on, stodgy AF.

The movie for the night was Last Christmas. And oh, how London looked so familiar yet such a foreign country. Shot in 2017 during -you guessed it -Christmas, it was all fairy lights, crowded streets and atmospheric tinsel, a place I’ve been missing for a while now. She even sat down at a market (loads of real punters in the background gaping at that lass from Game of Thrones having a coffee with Emma Thompson), and I witnessed a jawdropping shot of people actually in close contact with each other, a bit like how people smoking indoors in films pre-Millennium makes you think they gotta have CGI’d that.

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The film was actually quite enjoyable, portraying a London where race, class and role was interchangeable (accurate to real life), where love interest, comedic effect, support cast and background noise had no set mould (accurate), and unlike Hollywood offerings, made no such fuss about it (partially accurate, it’s still a statement in London to date beyond your class). Though they did appear to tick off reprazent for literally every stratum of society, like helpful porn categories: queer, trans, every race, interracial, religious, atheist, disabled, homeless, rich, poor, left, right, age gap, worldly, bigoted. Shots of the Brexit marches, and anti-EU tirades firmly wedged it into its time, but the storyline was endearingly classic too, though I’m aware many film reviewers baulked at the big reveal, which I blurted out beforehand, thinking it so unfeasible it was fine as a joke. But hey, it was a welcome respite to lose yourself into, albeit as a bittersweet, nostalgic piece of Brollywood to reminisce again and again, back when we touched each other.

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The schools closed today, a grudging first step as children are low risk (there’s never been a death so far, anywhere in the world below 15 years old) – yet super carriers in the adorable way they openly spread bodily fluids, wiping their snotty noses along guard rails, coughing at door handles and sneezing into cash drawers.  The government has been worried about the toll it would take on half the population having their kids actually live with them during daylight hours too, unable to WFH effectively and looking to throw themselves off a balcony within days. The ruling has exempted those whose parents are currently working on the frontline in healthcare and emergencies, which must make for some very awkward schooling, ranging in ages and lessons in a very empty room, with one-on-one teaching. I’ve read online about how a full-time job it is to keep the darlings entertained, fed and schooled on a daily roster, while working on the laptop, or worst, worrying about not working at all.

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There’s a lot being said about people spending so much time with each other, about the spike in divorces every post-holiday season (Last Christmas indeed), and recently seen in China. We need to give each other space, a new reality of being alone in the same room, alone in a crowded society, a single flat in a vast and multitudinous city of 9-25 million depending on where you stop counting. Social distancing might have to be socially distant in this case, for a time. Though saying that, to quote that bible of workplace posterage, there is no I in us.

In other news, Spring Breakers Stateside are launching full throttle regardless, California is in lockdown, Italy has now surpassed China in deaths and we’ve globally passed the 10,000 mark on that. Venice’s canals are becoming crystal clear, and populated by thousands of fish due to the refreshing lack of human activity:

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Day three.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

 

 

 

 

 

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 2

19th March 2020

 

Today was to be the new routine I’d set out for myself to structure the day. The alternative being where you wake, spend untold hours in thrall of the internet, then drop out of bed log-like, and rustle something up in your underwear (who needs PJ’s?), perhaps staring at a microwave woodenly or eating jam back under the covers, to more internet, hours irrelevant, each day or night merging and drifting like clouds. To start smelling, hair/ beard/ armpits a nest, clothes a memory, monosyllabic, perhaps drooling.

Against this scenario I aim to wake, and:

  • check the situation online -the ubiquitous news sites and chat fora, an hour tops.
  • Then lug myself to wash, do my hair, choose some proper attire (avoid ‘comfortable’ attire), perhaps a hat why ever not.
  • No breakfast, I’m never hungry in the mornings and it’ll save on the food. Instead write, work on the book, the diary, creative stuff like starting a photo essay.
  • Tidy, the little odds and ends. To music.
  • Make lunch, sit down to eat, communally if plausible.
  • Learn a language – carry on with online French lessons, start Mandarin.
  • Exercise. Make use of all our gym stuff I salvaged from the communal one.
  • Watch an episode of something, hour tops. Take a very privated walk, if in lockdown just the gated area (the postwar Estate was fenced off in the Eighties due to crime, a process now illegalised in London but done so before the law came into force).
  • Write on the book
  • No tea, dinner.
  • Check in on the craziness online.
  • Movie
  • Wash, cuddle, sleep.

Well one out of two ain’t bad. Will try harder.

Yesterday it had gone swimmingly, I genuinely felt better for having done all of that. Today I spent hours online in bed, fell out to brush my teeth then fell asleep again for 4 hours. Not the best start, tapping away in my dressing gown, but onwards.

Today’s chart:

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Roylab Stats, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDGiCfCZIV5phsoGiPwIcyQ

Yesterday I got news from a Civil Servant that they’d been told not to enter London from today, and that the M25 was about to become a new non-porous border. Then frantic messaging to all I knew on the coming lockdown. It even got leaked to some of the papers within the hour, not just in the UK but in Italy, who printed that London was falling. Coupled with that was footage of soldiers marching down our local High Street, that set Twitter aflame with rumour of the impending sanction.

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However we’ve all woken up, spied people on the street (shopping as per norm) and realised this has not come to pass. The soldiers snapped in Clapham were cadets, off to a local training centre, and apparently they do that every week. Well, now I feel a bit of a plum, having told everyone that’s dear to me (and discovering only then that some of them had fled to their native France and Australia), but assuaged by the fact they then probably did the same. The papers are now hinting it will come in force tomorrow, Friday. Luckily we’ve done our hoarding already, and will miss out on the shopping circus every supermarket must now be in, their shelves emptied and customers only allowed 3-5 purchases a pop.

I saw a video today of East Asian women in a supermarket being harrassed about wearing face masks, and why they were covering up they were sick. The accuser then summoned the staff, after which the group were thrown out by the security guards. I can’t describe how palpitating a mix of rage and sadness I felt watching that, especially with a bit of a familiar past to draw on.

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East Asians are the most likely to be racially harassed, to have racial violence upon the person, and the least likely to be promoted despite having the best grades, performance, and education levels (aka the Bamboo Ceiling). East Asians come shackled to the idea they are meek and thus an easy target, and living as one is a minefield, that directly affects your life plan no matter how hard you try and ignore it. Their ancestral culture an automatic mockery from the sound of the language to the food they eat to the way they look, to the regimes they entertain, to the usual alienness of blood libel – in short no matter how laurel-lying they are, they will always be lesser -in emotional intelligence, or EQ, in culture, in viability. Any intelligence is the semi-autistic variety, those world-beating grades or IQ scores passed off as rote learning, a stark lack of higher job prospects is excused by a bundle of ‘studies’ projecting it’s their Confucian upbringing and cultural cues to blame (despite the fact there exist managers across Asia, and they function just as well) and not the usual workplace bias as suffered by women, other races, LGBTQIA, the disabled, the overweight, the accented, and pretty much anything that’s not the Tall Heterosexual White Male. Sorry if you happen to be that, but you get a privilege that’s not in your control -to be treated more as human, the rest more as sub. Not your fault, but ours, we treat you better, all you 5%’ers of the world.

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And don’t even get me started on relationship prospects, where the swipe is the last great bastion (and indicator) of socially acceptable racism. How EA men fall short, so to speak, tarred by the same tiny brush that refuses to entertain the thought that that might not always be the case for every er, member of a 2 billion strong people. I’d get it out, but that would be louche. -While women are rocketed way higher, in the objectification kind of way, you’re either a gogo girl or geisha, just don’t take your make up off. And never, ever fart.

I could go on for days about this, thanks to an upbringing on a skinhead /army estate in the metro’s most racially divided wards, in their glory years of Thatcherism. The kind where, like missiles of a bygone age, bricks, sticks and stones came over the wall, 6 year old sisters got beaten up, shit got smeared,  words got sprayed, people leaned out of their cars and flob was thrown. Where walking past any playground was to be avoided, and heads would swivel wherever you were GPS located, meerkat style. Then your schools and oh-so-open-minded art college accusing you of plagiarising from books because your essays were too accomplished, while your mate who hastily copied your notes last minute would get the grade. Even after I left I’ve come across it in almost every workplace I’ve had, sometimes overt, most often insititutionalised. And no one fucking talks about it, how it’s acceptable to say and do certain things to one race but not the others. A facade I sometimes feel only I see.

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Says it all really, you not only have to battle the damn street, but the establishment, and a complicit society. That was the Eighties and Nineties, when people were less ‘woke’, yet now I see it re-emerging again in the Twenties, in light of this first globalised disaster. I see how this spread from a culture that apparently tortures animals as per norm (that evidence of low EQ, inhumane), eating them in disgusting ways (alien, blood libel, civilisational war, dirty, laughable), then spreading it through complicit government cover ups (not to be trusted, inscrutable, indoctrinated). Not that most people go around thinking all those things, but it does reinforce the assumptions they make when coming across it.

When I tell people the things I’ve seen over the years they’re appalled, and all this build-up over the past few months is bringing it to a crux. The Taiwanese girl at work who a customer was ‘disgusted’ with, and dropped her money on the till in a show of non-contact, the unremitting stares I get on the street, Benny Hill style seat-swapping on the bus, then reading the stories of the randomised people assaulted (often women), the humiliation of public tirades, avoidance and harassment on PT (to the point many changed their commute), the pupils being sent out for coughing or getting their jaws broken in the playground, people turned away from every hotel and now more, of complicit businesses backing up the racism.

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A bitter note in the fear. It doesn’t help, these divisions, those attempts at blame. I do see that people can’t hack it and have to take it out on another, a show of weakness rather than strength. And they will always manifest themselves throughout our societies, on all sides, from the idioted Chinese generals hinting the disease was left by the US Army during a joint Wuhan training exercise shortly before (with reminders that the U.S. spread Mexican Swine Fever that killed 1.4 million), to the self-same insistence it’s a ‘Chinese’ disease by POTUS and his inner circle, alongside calls in the press for who to blame, even as we wallow with greater priorities right now. My friend who has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is finding things harder, his fear of germs ratcheting to a peak on top of everything else. This is similar for East Asians, myself included, the layers of fear on top of fear.

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Ok, breathe (through face mask I’m too scared to wear).

I suddenly feel now I’ve written too much on this. A Pandora’s box I always look back on and get embarrassed, if ever I pique on the subject. It’s a bit like name dropping Dinosaurs in earshot of Richard Hammond from Jurassic Park. But let’s not talk politics, despite it being so Right Now. I even castigated finger-pointing only what? a whole 24 hours ago in the last post. Some notes:

  • The tenancy agency rang back (sound of numerous phones going off in the background), sounding annoyed and terse -I cut to the chase and got him to say basically nothing had changed in terms of provisions for anyone who couldn’t pay the rent, as if coronovirus wasn’t on, and that we’d contact him and take it from there if we couldn’t. The government announced shortly after there would be some provisions of people like ourselves, private renters without income/ new dependents, which we await the deets with bated breath, excuse the pun.

 

  • The streets were yesterday moderately populated (although nowhere near as London normally is, which has nothing but crowds all day and night), of the usual hoarder hordes but also quite a few trying to make the best of their new time off, with the parks and cafes full and the pub to boot, a group of men carrying packs of lager somewhere. The sun had come out. Today is grey, the train station that faces our window is silent, when usually it’s a constant bevy of noise and announcements – it’s the world’s busiest with a train on average every 30 seconds, a vast interchange rather than a main terminus, of which London has nine. It’s obsolete now, along with 40 tube stations closed.

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  • I am thinking of cutting my hair. Maybe dyeing it, my one chance to go all K-Pop and crazy without work to worry about. But then I want it long on top for my trip to New York, a holiday planned pretty much all my life and set for May, though likely it’ll be canceled. Such a distant perception these days, almost surreal when you scroll back and see images of people outside enjoying themselves, even just vague figures in the streets doing their day to day without such a specific care in the world.

 

  • Some leading members of government over the other side of the pond are calling it now the end of America. The effect of that on the populace, dealing with no end of shit right now, is not heartening, at a time we need it most.

 

  • China has announced zero new cases, for the past few days its handful have been coming off the planes. The web is alive with disbelief and recrimination in light of this, rather than hope.

Oops, there I go again. Politicising thingies.

On a smaller scale, got some tidying to do. J will likely want to polish his silver, a thing he does for his work which I see in a sense of calm, and the appreciation of detail, and beauty. We need this right now.

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I will get changed. I will do my hair. I will cook lunch. I will write some of The Book. I will not look at the news. I will read a book. About a house in the forest.

It’s only fucking Day 2.

 

Yesterday

Tomorrow