A Journal of the Plague Year Day 37

Thursday 23rd April 2020

Today will be a new day, a new me. Oh yes.

Threw myself and J a picnic on the lawn outside, after having taken the recycling out and noticing the surrounds -the weather nigh on perfect: cool, clear, sunny. All the new leaves brilliantly green, creating wavering glades and dells.

However when we ventured out carrying everything unfeasibly, they were watering the lawns, as if nefariously seen my planning. In the end we managed to bag a spot in the corner -ours a rare gated estate, normally banned in London. Then settling down for crudités (which to us non-French mortals means raw veg and dips), followed by a spell lying in the sun, pillowed and reading. Armchair travelling: India and Russia.

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All was light and blue skies, and nary a care in the world. A lot of the residents were doing the same, each in small huddles respectfully distant, occupying every patch of grass and nurturing an almost smug relaxation.

Then the call from work.

I’m being furloughed, but on full pay, and due to how crowded the museum gets we’re looking at June, possibly as late as October. A long wait though really can’t complain with so many people out there without the option, nor income. I’m free to find another job for the time being, for my new dependents.

It all coming back. The outside world, battling beyond the gates.

There’s a controversial new meme going round following another Redditt viral vid. A bunch of women castigating a respectful, patient cop for closing a park playground in the US, till he subsequently arrests one of them (she’d offered up her hands), thus birthing a new martyr for the right. Likewise, it all runs in with the militant anti-vaxxers, some of whom are now protesting outside another policeman’s house following the similar arrest of a rebellious ‘playdate party’ organiser.

So the meme is Karen. Karen has a distinctive bob haircut, and is the type of mumsy woman who complains a lot to service staff; she always wants to speak to a manager and is outraged at minor things. It basically screams entitlement and/ or bullying. It started out as a meme quite a few years ago, and was initially nameless.

2017:

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However today she’s been updated -the current sideshow for Karen is subtly based on race (as is everything in the US), and age, and income. She’s White and starting out or is in her middle ages (‘right, Karen’ is the new ‘ok, Boomer’ riposte for Generation X). She’s churchgoing, anti-vax and likes to target ethnic minority servers. Also conspicuously middle class, with a predilection to sticking up that Laugh Love Life sign in her living room.

2020:

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This comes on a recent rash of women caught hassling other park users (even calling the police or impersonating them) for nothing more than hanging out there and being people of colour. Although it’s happened since time immemorial, this time round people have been filming it and using the hashtags, eg #SwingsetSusan.

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/woman-dubbed-swing-set-susan-charged-impersonating-officer-chase-hispanic-n1071356

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As a lifelong member of service personnel I can definitely attest to the existence of ‘Karens’, that there is a certain ilk of middle-aged woman (more so than other age groups and of men) who will be cause of outstanding drama and revel in it, knowing full well her rights to do so. Often setting traps (I don’t have a receipt -your staff never gave me one!), knowingly committing fraud (well that’s the pricetag right there so you have to honour it!) or demanding special treatment above others (I’m only buying one thing!), all of which are the three most common confrontations. So I do look on with a certain joy that she’s finally been called out. That the starched yet cartoonish Fox-News-presenter-look has been exposed as ridiculous rather than venerated.

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However, look a bit closer and the meme is now transforming. The Redditt page is indeed drawing up sub-Redditts on people’s experiences, though it’s obvious many are just dealing with your classic narcissists and sociopaths. So why the gender specifics? It appears this meme is finding fuel from your standard misogyny -it’s not enough that you call out bad people, but increasingly their gender adds to their damnation. There is a long list of contributors who are embittered ex-partners and divorcés, and only a handful who put forward ‘he-Karens’.

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Thus Karen is not just entitled, sociopathic, White, middle class and sporting a bob anymore, but also anti-vax, racist, slutty (but pretending otherwise) and divorced and lying to the judge. Some part of me thinks you gotta laugh, that some people are getting their long-neglected comeuppance. Another part thanks god I’m not called Karen.

Surely there needs to be a male counterpart. Once again from twenty years customer service experience I can also attest -the belligerent, arrogant, dismissive male, also tending towards the upper middle class, middle aged, and a big fan of bullying young women. Who complains hoarsely, talks over anyone and if not getting his way, leaves with a barrage of insults, foiled with swearing or thrown money/ products. Also very liable to change behaviour when ‘escalated’ to another man, and transforming into a vision of studious gentility and grace, often with an aside about the atrocious young girl we employ. We can call him Jeremy. He wears a suit or Dad jeans, is plump, red in the face (casual alcoholism), greying, balding and posh speaking.

He has a small, kept woman, who is trying to divorce him first chance she gets or at least outlive the bastard (perhaps accidentally, repeatedly, reversing over him in his double garage). He drives a saloon, or tank and has three kids in private schooling, and a dominatrix mistress in Colchester. Likes shooting wildlife, Thatcherite, casually racist and a businessman. Has a cottage in France and a dog called Gravel, or Gavel.

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These are perhaps the memes in life we encounter in our everyday, in certain fields. On one hand that public recognition can curb the behaviour, on the other it’s obvious everything ever could become a meme -the chav, the soccer mom, the footballer’s wife, the gangsta, the SJW, the bag lady, the A-Gay, the emo, the Guido, the hipster, the nerd, the geek, the stoner, the trailer park trash, the hillbilly, the Essex girl.

The Chinese tourist, the Brit Abroad, the Florida Man, the WASP, the Chelsea fan, the Sloane Ranger, the Scouser, the trainspotter, the truck driver, the art student, the tree hugger, the banker, the lawyer. It’s basically an acceptable form of social stereotype.

Think of your job title. And add in your name. Now use that as an insult.

“Okay Paul, Accounts Executive.”

Tara, you… Commercial BID WRITER.”

“Right, Louise, Retail. Manager.”

“Sure Sarah, Multinational Cee. Eee. Oh.”

Mo, CHARITY Worker.”

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Perhaps there is truth in parts, that a certain look or upbringing follows/ imparts a certain behaviour. When wearing a smart suit and working in finance you do become that much more forward. When feeling indentured or down, those dark clothes suddenly appeal. When feeling empowered, masculated does the bob haircut -halfway house between male and female -embody your mindset? This is what makes a culture, we just got to remember it’s a sum of parts. In the same way we look at our own countries/ schools/ workplaces as having all representative personality types, it applies to every tranche. The same creatives, jokers, rebels, intellectuals, artists, nerds, hipsters, hippies, emos and jocks whether you’re Inuit or Amish. A Black feminist lesbian or a Welsh male rugby player, a tribal hunter in the Congo or a factory worker in Sichuan. Just don’t all get the same haircut.

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I think of it distantly now, that other life when we were in proximity.

I am now attempting to watch I Am That Pretty Little Thing That Lives In The House.

It is like a beautiful rendition of my nightmare the other morning, slow, unsettling and domestic, with a carer spending her days in isolation. I’ve only seen the first 20 mins as Netflix has gone kaput yet again, but it’s promising, although J who’s seen it swears nothing’s gonna happen. It is as if life is imitating art.

There perhaps should be a meme about this, us, the stay-at-homers like drones watching Netflixian propaganda, unsullied by wind or sun to give off a cold, screen-like glow. Monosyllabic, licking out jam jars, crisp packets and greasy keyboards, dressed in our all-day finery of underwear or bathrobe

We can call ourselves Dave, and/ or Emma. A heteronormative couple, childless, furloughed, avid readers of the rolling news. Trump-haters, Harry Potter/ GOT fans, iPhone subscribers and pizza lovers. We have an old cat called Tuppence, or Teapot, adore re-runs of Peep Show and The Office and worry about the mortgage, airline vouchers, Waitrose stocks of smoked salmon, our mums and when all this horridness will just blow over so we can go on holiday again. And like all memes, we wear ourselves with pride. Redditt bitches, bring it on.

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 34

Monday 20th April 2020

I sent the book off today to two agents, feeling myself dandy for doing so too. Then had another long trek, this time into Clapham via the Common. In terms of rating London’s green spaces there’s not a lot to say about it, it would maybe score 2 or 3 out of 10. It’s first and foremost a common, delineating itself from parkland by being relatively open ground and unplanted. No acres of flowerbeds, no landscaping a hill to the right or left, though there are two pretty ponds, and a windswept one. Everything is left as nature intended, kind of, with a few statues here and there and a playground/ outdoor gym/ skatepark. The scraggly collection of woods on one side is pretty scant in terms of biodiversity, being mostly grass and small, young bushes, studded with condoms. It is of course a favoured dogging site, almost legendary, though these days populated by the kind who cannot pull online or via an app (read: old, unsexy and unkempt, possibly murderous).

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The rest of the park is plain – large empty spaces of green or gravel, popular for sports aficionados and event staging. It is dare I say it, boring. The Attenborough equivalent of an Asda carpark. Inside the ponds we saw a dead and rotting fish ( a fat, white carp), studiously being ignored by a heron, and two potatoes, possibly jettisoned by fleeing BBQers. The fun police were out in force, cruising ominously along the running paths and stop-searching drivers for evidence of commuting or shopping.

I did spot an interesting tree, as pique among dross. Very Easter. J said it may have been diseased (apt). I may come out and start worshipping it.

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Then it was Clapham Old Town, a nondescript part of London tarted up into prettiness. Although every building is not that old it’s been done up as if they are, even the 20th Century additions, complete with flowerboxes and fabric awnings, scrubbed brick and pistachio paint. This is what all of London could look like with a spirited makeover, given this end was also traditionally poor throughout the centuries. Mostly residential but gracing a tiny corner of shops and businesses, almost all closed but for the delis, organic cafes, bakeries and ultra-expensive grocers each with a queue (how very Clapham). Sainsbury’s had a very long line outside, Tesco directly opposite nary a soul, not even a guard. UK has a curious hierarchy of supermarkets/ grocers not always evident abroad, from the department store emporia at one end who deliver in 1920s horse-driven cabs, to the panic buying, zombie-baiting megamalls at the other:

Fortnum & Mason

Harrods (formerly top spot but they lost their royal charter ever since Dodi, son of arms dealer Fayed, got into the car with Diana. It’s now owned by the Qatari royals)

Harvey Nicks (do they even do food?)

Selfridges (the best imo, far more choice, and surprisingly, deceptively affordable)

M&S (can be swapped with below)

Waitrose (far more choice than above, which only does it’s own brands)

Sainsbury’s (can be slightly naff, all the usual brands but pricier for no reason whatsoever)

Tesco (naff, but all the usual brands)

Morrisons (normally bottom of the pile. Wide use of the cheapest sugar, the offcuts, the sweatshops, despite rebranding)

Asda (the new low, having seen the kind of supermarket sweep and panic at the disco behaviour relevent to these climes. Part of the Wal-Mart fam)

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Once home I was face-down and asleep, as is usual nowadays whenever popping out, as if the toll of sunshine and fresh air weighs upon the shoulders, along with possible contagion. Out of it for hours. Then cut my hair, and joined a group chat with some buddies via Zoom, the place to be this season. Despite all that had a low mood, surly even. A part of me is constantly worrying, one housemate becoming a hermit, the other needing contact, and myself trying to provide both or neither.

I miss going out to have a meal, going shopping, going on holiday. The NYC trip for May is now a no-go (had that coming) as BA has finally canceled the flights; the supremely dodgy travel company wanting to charge us £150 for an admin fee still and that’s eating me up. Canceled the Airbnb – with now over £400 in vouchers to use. Also found out the museum is looking at July or even as late as October for a reopening, so I’ll likely be furloughed.

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Across the US people have been demonstrating to reopen the country, and get rid of lockdown, plus the usual barmy anti-vaxxers. There’s been a counter-demo by two fearless healthcare workers, dressed in their scrubs, standing in the street to block the traffic from joining. In the face of hooting car horns and a woman leaning out and yelling at them to go to China if they wanted communism, and that it wasn’t fair they got to work and she didn’t.

Health care workers stand in the street as a counter-protest to those demanding the stay-at-home order be lifted in Denver
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Democracy is being given a bad name. This pandemic is showing the flaws in the system, when ignorance is given equal standing as information, when the leader himself goads it as a device to keep himself in power. We kinda forget Nazism was a democratic rise.

This is why we need constitutions, as we the people can’t be trusted, as history has shown. Of course we’re going to vote for ourselves, of course we’ll step over others to get to the top, of course we’re going to lie, cheat and steal to furnish our bigger piece of the pie. I do wonder why giving freedom so often means giving free rein to abject competition.

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I’ve looked at the news fora for the first time in a while today, and the comments are starting to die down, less demands for lynching, less arguing, insults and vitriol. It appears we’re getting used to the new normal. C-19 may be on the verge of getting boring.

Another 823 died last night in UK hospitals. Deaths in general have doubled -a 20 year high, added to by unconfirmed virus fatalities and a great deal of people avoiding hospital treatment for fear of cross-contamination, or thinking they’re overloaded (the reality is that beds are now at record vacancies due to this). They’re hoping the worst is over despite the high tallies. The city remains silent to the core.

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News of vaccine trials to start next week are encouraging, though we’re still a good year off from being able to medicate it should it succeed. The orders for more tests and PPE are being stymied by bureaucracy, the govt promising new supplies from Turkey for the following day, then realising they’d forgotten to formally request it even. At times like this paperwork fuckups can kill, on a huge scale.

The night’s film was Fantasy Island. I wouldn’t call it run-of-the-mill despite using the usual jump scares and idiot decision-making (let’s split up! Let’s stage an argument now!) from the dwindling arsenal of Hollywood storytelling. The film’s premise is each vacationer gets to live out a fantasy, but of course one that turns sour and increasingly deadly. There’s a refreshing lack of gore and overt sadism, and an interesting landscape of a storyline (SPOILER) in which one finds the disparate scenarios for each guest are related. Large plotholes withstanding it was an interesting enough watch, and a big part of my life for 2 hrs, becoming the highlight of my day.

I need to get out more. Maybe all this was just some numpter wanting a bit of me-time.

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