A Journal of the Plague Year Day 51

Friday 8th May 2020

 

Back in the day, the city calling. Offering up its coolness and grit, but a clean grit. That something in the air where anything’s possible.

And before all that pesky adulthood and reality, responsibilities, history.

Sun’s out, guns out.

Parklife.

Clapham Common busy as always, the temperature hitting 24C at about 3pm. All along the way people strolling, queueing outside the few shops. The usual keep-fitters skipping and cartwheeling but vastly outnumbered by sunbathers and picnics.

PC Plod nowhere to be seen, but the signs everywhere, littering the flat surfaces.

A big no-no the outdoor gyms, now unsightly.

Looking like exotic, unreachable zoo animals, or edgy art.

The bandstand also (apparently the biggest in London), uglified as if to barricade there being nothing to see, nope. Rightly so, it’d be a prime vector from the sun.

The park caff fully open, and suspiciously looking to provide picnic fodder. A queue in and out, with almost a carnival atmosphere surrounding it.

Everywhere else nature returning. Although the parks now more used, quietude still to be found.

Once upon a time a ranger house, or public loos disguised as a wee cottage, pun intended. Looks like the mfing future.

The surrounding streets their own bubble in a quiet decay.

For so many a meaning lost without selling, buying, shopping.

I’ve no idea if that circus ever got there.

The ice cream shop does a roaring trade, and the closest thing to a break we can get. The queue snakes round the corner and down the street, with each punter looking a little embarrassed.

Today’s meant to be the first day of summer, traditionally the windows open, the radios blaring, the lawns littered with bodies and streets drunken. Instead a furtive atmosphere like a held note -fun is not to be had but if so, surreptitiously.

Tomorrow will be Saturday, and even hotter. It’ll happen then.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

 

A Journal of the Plague Year Week 8

Sunday 3rd May 2020

J has decamped to his other half’s house for a week, just across the Common, 45 mins walk away. The place will be quieter without him pottering about, researching his silver in the living room, though hopefully replaced by A who will creep out more surely. He is a little snail.

Stocked up at the local Tesco Metro, the only supermarket open after 5 on a Sunday. There was the same homeless guy outside as there’s ever been asking for change to get himself a hostel -though not a lot of cash about these days. I was a bit dubious at the sign, as the government was meant to be providing hotel shelter, though looks like many haven’t transpired. In the Guardian article all on the streets had fallen through the net. That they’d rung 5 or 6x and never heard anything back, perhaps due to them being EU and us having just left. I entertained the idea of bringing him home but I doubt J would have that happen, being responsible for the flat and the copious amounts of silver. We’d talked the other day and it had been a veto, though that’s understandable.

The 500,000 positions needed for UK’s annual fruit picking fest appears unable to be filled. Of the hundreds of thousands of Brits employed to do it, a whopping 115 chose to stay on, after facing a back-breaking 8 hr shift of bending over coupled with Repetitive Strain Injury. So much for the Brexit promises eh? They are now drafting in people from Romania more willing to be exploited for minimum wage -and a day upped to being 12hrs, 5x a week.

This is what many of us willfully believe our fruit and veg comes in from:

Rather than this:

The country will just have to come to terms that there are day-to-day jobs our populace is unwilling to work, at all costs, because Britons never, ever shall be slaves. Or accept we operate sweatshops in a foreign corner of every field. It seems this pandemic has exposed the facade that is our everyday, in every facet -how fragile our economies, societies, respectability and governments are behind the mask, how very reliant are lives have been made into spending for it.

The reality is picking the fruit is not able to be automated, as one also needs to be able to check if it’s ripe (smell, look and feel), not just spot them and navigate around the leaves and brances. This added cost puts quite a strain on the profits, and many unscrupulous farmers employ slave labour: indentured East Europeans and refugees from further afield who work for well under the minimum wage, sleep several to a wagon and get fed the most basic of nutritional needs, the lowest common denominator impossible to save up from.

Many get trapped with confiscation of passports, threats to family back home, money owed for smuggling them there, systemic abuse or the sheer inability to save for a ticket back. They provide the ripe fields for recruiting prostitutes, house slaves, drug runners and human traffic, often sold as bespoke teaching or nanny positions for some rich family, then kidnapped. It has always been a problem to be swept under the carpet -a frontline job we can ill afford (or we can but save so much from not doing so).

The Atlantic has posted a new story: We Are Living In A Failed State, where blame for the corona cack-handedness lies squarely at the door of POTUS and his armed sycophants. It’s hot on the heels of the March story (different author): America Is Acting Like A Failed State, unable to project authority or ensure its populace. Meanwhile The Great Orange Dolphin is busy doing a victory lap as the deaths hit 60,000 in the US, and NY State -if it were a nation -would now have the world’s highest death rate, overtaking tiny San Marino (where 40 out of 33,344 people have died), almost double Belgium, and approaching 3x Italy.

The Top 30 death rates per million:

New York – 1,242

San Marino – 1,208

New Jersey – 872

Connecticut – 680

Belgium – 670

Andorra – 569

Massachusetts – 563

Spain – 537

Italy – 475

Louisiana – 427

UK – 414

Michigan – 404

France – 379

District of Columbia – 351

Netherlands – 291

Rhode Island – 280

Sweden – 264

Republic of Ireland – 260

Pennsylvania – 217

Maryland – 208

Switzerland – 204

Illinois – 200

Indiana – 185

Delaware – 177

Colorado – 150

Luxembourg – 147

Washington State – 115

Georgia (USA) – 114

Monaco – 102

Portugal – 100

Now imagine the orange buffoon, fat face beatific, eyes closed doing the airplane round the stadium as his Republican fanbase whoop him on on one side (confederate flags, anti-Mexican waves, salutes, mini-bugles) and the other boo him (upside-down flags, one finger salutes, lobbed bogroll), while the cheerleaders who resemble beardy hunters in camo let off a round of gunfire. Or you could imagine him doing the same with the entire stadium dead. No joke, he is already bringing MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banners out of the Eisenhower Executive Office.

 

Meanwhile, life carries on. At Tesco I indulged in the Sunday tradition of sweeping all of the reduced items of the week, collected in last-minute flurries in a specific fridge only those in the know seek out. All the stodgy ready-meals, red alerted as artery cloggers but ever moreish for it: shepherds pie, steak pie, duck pancakes and chicken kievs. Nabbed the lot.

https://www.facebook.com/paulmannart/

Youth China (one of myriad companies -the country operates the largest survey industries in the world for business, government and leisure) has recently been gauging the effect the lockdown has been having on people, particularly in Wuhan, who entered first, lasted the longest and came out first. It looks as people will be divided into two camps from now on, those YOLO fans now drawn to cafes, clubs and crowds, ‘revenge’ shopping and holidaying, and those more cautious because life is precious and must be safeguarded, reluctant even to come out of a self-imposed lockdown. It looks as life as we know it now is here to stay, perhaps for another 2 years. Forever changed, should we survive it.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 44

Friday 1st May 2020

Yesterday was quiz night. It went on for 6hrs. Dear fuckitty. By 3am, quiz over hours ago, we’d swapped tattoos, sharpied each our faces and occasionally undressed. At the end we argued :(. Alcohol is perhaps not the best wingman.

We connected via Google Meet. Zoom apparently forces you to log out and in after 40 mins, whereas GM was unlimited. But the audio was terrible, only really allowing one person to talk at any one time, and a delay for quite a few seconds. Don’t expect punchline responses.

Overall, don’t do GM, go for Zoom, the fuckers have enough money anyway.

Pretty much my highlight of the day.

Have had a migraine every day for a week, I’m wondering if it’s my hair, seems I’m allergic to blonde, despite the compliments. Maybe due to residue from the bleach -the fumes were definitely a trigger at the time, akin to eau de chemical pain.

Meanwhile a select few countries appear to be rolling out plans for opening up again from lockdowns. However the several states that have started in the US are subsequently dealing wth outbreaks in factories and businesses that force them to close yet again. The Michigan Capitol was also stormed by armed protesters.

On the shopping foray out I noticed a lot of people getting into arguments, myself included -no less than four. First the Asda (of course) ‘helper’ shouting at us to stay behind the line at self service, after silently watching us approach the entire bank of empty checkouts (I yelled back). Then a man at Lidl who castigated the doorman for stopping the line at him before entry, both facing off. Once inside the woman stomping off after crashing baskets, then at a stop the police being called to some shouty women ejected from the bus (it looked like one had dropped a phone under it and the driver refused to back up). The police looked very persevering.

I think people are starting to hit that stage where they’re getting antsy across the board -skin itching, hair-tearing and needing a fag. There’s something about stress, and the need for humans to take it out on others, to relieve the pressure and just generally be in that negative mindset. We all know it, we all do it. Just the world would so much be a better place without it, if we learn to recognise that behaviour in ourselves and curb it /call it out. The kinda shit that stops wars.

On the subject, the US looks like its garnering support to try and bill China for compensation, from both right and left, with the states of Missouri and Mississippi having filed official claims. 2/3 of the population polled now hold strongly negative views on China -with Trump at the helm it looks likely the entire country will follow.

I’m just wondering if it could end in all out war. Apparently Trump, being a sociopath, repeatedly asked why he couldn’t just nuke North Korea. And when denied then tried to get Seoul to evacuate, as a ruse to scare the North. That’s 25 million people he tried to move out from the world’s 3rd richest city behind Tokyo and New York. Wrecking an economy (half of all South Koreans live there) as a tit-for-tat move for his personal war games.

It’s also reported he’s starting to agitate his relationship with Fix News, who’ve long been bedpartners, sending out texts and burning their Valentine cards. He’s been actively calling for an alternative -and that conveniently looks like the One America News Network (OANN), renowned for pushing conspiracy theories to the nest of the weird that is increasingly Middle America. Word out is he’s also likely to start his own news and entertainment network once out of office. Dear lord. We can imagine what that’s gonna look like, sweeping vistas of his face on Mt Rushmore at every segment, perhaps obliterating Lincoln or Washington -or both given how round it is. The sound of choppers and rockets, the billowing flag, the bimbofied newsreaders, fireworks and lurid graphics. Everything in gold.

It remains where Fox will go with this, blindly, arse-rimmingly loyal, but now running anti-Trump ads. Ah, those golden years…

Today has also been International Workers Day or Mayday, when workers of the world unite, parade or protest, especially on the continent. They have of course been universally banned due to C-19, thus fueling even more sentiment that citizen rights are being curbed as an excuse. Some have been sensible about things.

Germany

Athens

Vienna

Rome

Others less so

USA

Istanbul

Protesters marching against Erdogan are arrested in Istanbul

Ah, back when we could touch each other, comrades in arms. Workers of the world, unite!

 

Yesterday

Tomorrow

 

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 42

Tuesday 28th April 2020

London is so strange and sad’: the sacked hospitality workers sleeping rough

By Amelia Gentleman, The Guardian 28th April 2020

Homelessness charity says it has ‘never witnessed a more distressing situation’ than during coronavirus crisis

Trafalgar Square at night is silent and almost empty, the usual crowds of noisy tourists visiting London replaced by clusters of homeless people, who wait on the steps of the National Gallery for food to be distributed. But these are not all long-term rough sleepers: central London is seeing a surge of newly unemployed restaurant and pub workers forced to sleep on the streets because they can no longer afford to pay rent.

Rough sleepers like Martin, a recently-sacked chef from Poland, are finding life under lockdown increasingly difficult and dangerous. “London has become so strange and sad. The only people who are out look like they are looking for drugs. There are a lot of crazy people with knives,” he said.

The government says it has housed 90% of those who were sleeping rough nationally by paying for hotel rooms, in an unprecedented drive over the past month to stop the spread of Covid-19, with 5,400 housed including 1,800 in 10 hotels across London. But in the capital, hundreds of tents and cardboard box encampments remain and conditions are getting much harsher for those still – or newly – on the streets.

The city’s day centres have been closed to prevent the transmission of the virus, leaving the homeless with no place to shower or wash their clothes, no toilets and nowhere to access regular food supplies.

The disappearance of commuters means that no one is offering money to the destitute, at a time when most soup kitchens and food banks are not operating, and when the closure of cafes has meant the homeless no longer receive unsold sandwiches at the end of the day. It has been left to a few small groups of volunteers to provide thousands of meals a week.

Although a minority of those who remain sleeping rough are there by choice and have rejected offers of hotel rooms, most of the newly homeless are still hoping for help, and feeling very vulnerable in the deserted backstreets of central London at night.

Martin, 27, worked his way up through London’s kitchens, starting as a porter when he arrived in the UK eight years ago to his most recent job as chef de partie at a fashionable restaurant in east London. He was abruptly sacked shortly before the lockdown began, and had to leave the room he was renting because he had no savings. He has been sleeping on a bit of pavement near Charing Cross station for six weeks. Advertisement

He said he has been told five or six times by outreach workers that someone will call him to organise a room in a hotel. “I waited for a call. I’m still waiting. Maybe the hotels are full,” he said. In the last couple of days his phone battery has in any case gone dead, and with cafes closed there is nowhere to charge it. He finds sleeping on the street unsafe and alarming.

Brian Whiting, a volunteer with the organisation Under One Sky, which started nightly food deliveries at the end of March, said he was disturbed by the number of newly homeless ex-hotel and restaurant staff. “One of the really distressing new things is the hospitality homeless. We’re seeing so many people who were working in kitchens, hotels and pubs until a few weeks ago. They’re so obviously ill-equipped to be out there. The long-term rough sleepers know how it works, but for them it’s very new. They look shell-shocked.”

“I’m still hanging on to my sanity, just,” a man from South Africa, who had been working for five years as a waiter in London, said from the office doorstep where he has slept for the past three weeks since losing his job. He laughed when the volunteer asked him if he was eligible for furlough payments, and said the job came through an agency, and there had been no mention of financial support. Most of those pushed into homelessness had insecure jobs and precarious living arrangements, and no ability to navigate the benefits system or wait for payments.

On the other side of the street, Whiting was dismayed to see Katarina, 34, a recently-sacked waitress from Italy, preparing to sleep again in the doorway of a cocktail bar. “It’s nice to see you, but I wish you weren’t here,” he said, giving food to her. He was concerned about her deteriorating mental health, and suspected she had started taking class A drugs. He has reported her to Streetlink, a charity that connects rough sleepers to support services, a few times, but she remains in the same spot. “She wants to be helped. I don’t understand why she hasn’t been picked up.” https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

Aside from the practical difficulties, everyone remarks on the disconcerting silence of the capital.

All the normal sounds and smells are absent – the salty, greasy smells from fast food restaurants, the wafts of coffee from snack bars, stale beer odours rising up from sticky pavements, the stench of rotting food seeping out from kitchen dustbins, even the trails of diesel fumes, have all gone.

There is no noise of people laughing or shouting, no one bellowing into their mobile phones, no sounds of plates clattering at pavement cafes. Bins are not overflowing with coffee cups and discarded newspapers. Even the pigeons seem hungrier, rushing to peck at food parcels placed on the pavement by volunteers, who are instructed to not to hand them to people in order to maintain a 2-metre distance. A woman picking up cigarette butts has to search harder to find anything worth collecting.

Amrit Maan, the owner of the Punjab restaurant in Covent Garden, who has kept his kitchens open to cook around 2,500 meals a week for Under One Sky and a Sikh charity, Nishkam Swat, to distribute, said he was troubled by the emptiness. “You can hear the wind rushing through the streets. It feels so eerie, like waking up in a post-apocalypse movie.”

A welder from Poland, sleeping in the park behind the Savoy, declined food but wanted information about where he could wash; he said he had been unable to have a shower for the past five weeks since arriving in London speculatively to look for work. Whiting left food for a man asleep beneath the stucco columns of the Lyceum Theatre, where the Lion King is no longer showing. “There’s some human excrement. I’m sorry to point it out, but it’s inevitable. Everything is closed,” he said. Advertisement

Alexander, from Romania, who worked as a cleaner and caretaker at a pizza chain until he says he was sacked just before the lockdown, was more experienced at sleeping rough in central London, since he was already unable to afford to rent a room on his minimum wage earnings even when he was in work, and has been living on the streets near Leicester Square for 18 months.

But finding enough cardboard to build himself a sheltered space to sleep in has become much more problematic since all the businesses closed down and stopped throwing away packaging. He spent the past few weeks recording thousands of videos on his phone of deserted London streets, from different vantage points, and posting them on Twitter – providing fascinating pavement-level footage of a city in lockdown – until his phone was stolen.

Adrian Potcki, 24, from Poland, also had his phone stolen while he slept in a restaurant doorway, in St Martin’s Lane, next to the now-empty Coliseum. He was working as a night cleaner for a bank, an agency job, before being sacked when lockdown was announced. He found himself unable to continue paying for his room in a flatshare in north London. “I think the bank closed, and didn’t need cleaning,” he said, but he is unsure, because the agency simply told him the job was over. “I couldn’t pay the rent for my room. I tried to ask the landlord to give me time, but I couldn’t work it out with him,” he said. He was finding his first exposure to homelessness very difficult. “It’s a really tough time. I don’t feel safe.”

He, like most of the other recently-unemployed new rough sleepers interviewed, said he did not want to have his photograph taken. “I don’t want to become a famous person because I’m homeless. This is something I would like to forget,” he said.

Previously Under One Sky has only organised food handouts in the winter, but began providing food for rough sleepers when it became clear that lockdown was causing unprecedented difficulties. “In the eight years since we have been serving this community, we have never witnessed a more distressing situation for those sleeping rough in London than the one unfolding right now,” said Mikkel Juel Iversen, who set up the organisation in 2012.

“Two days after lockdown we went out on the streets to see what the situation was like and we met people who hadn’t eaten for days. There are now large parts of central London where the only people you see are homeless people, drug dealers and police. There is a growing sense of desperation. We have been ramping up numbers every week.”

The newly-homeless also include people like Robin Clark, released last week from prison, and still trying to get his life together. “I can look after myself but it is hard with no showers or toilets.” Lalji Kanbi has been homeless for a while, and is hoping for a hotel room. “The hotels – it’s like a lottery, if you win, you win. I’ve given them my details twice.”

Within the rough sleeper populations there are hierarchies of destitution. There are those like Colin Reynolds, 47, currently sleeping in a tent near the Thames because he was unable to live with his parents during lockdown, who feel they are just about coping. But there are others who look close to death.

About 10 people are sheltering beneath a scaffolded shop front near Charing Cross station (where the underpasses that used to shelter dozens of homeless have been closed off); volunteers said most had long-term drug and alcohol problems. One man was lying in a foetal position on the cold pavement, passed out, watched over by his girlfriend. No one here was hungry, but they accepted water and biscuits for their dogs.

Tom Copley, London’s deputy mayor for housing, acknowledged that there was more work to be done, noting that a count last week had registered 498 people still sleeping rough. “It’s possible that the actual number will be larger, but we’ve been working at this as fast as we can; we’re trying to get more people in every day.” But he remained optimistic that the government drive to get most rough sleepers in for the duration of the lockdown could have positive long-term consequences. “We could transform the way we deal with rough sleeping and homelessness to make sure that the issue is dealt with in the long term,” he said.

There is caution from others involved in the process. “There is no clear exit strategy from central government. Some councils are working to make sure that no one is returned to the streets, but that is very difficult to sustain unless there is a commitment to funding because the cost of that is so beyond what’s available from central government,” one official, working on the national drive to house rough sleepers centrally, said. Advertisement

Jason Moyer-Lee, the general secretary of the Independent Workers of Great Britain Union, which represents agency staff, said more needed to be done for people made homeless after being sacked. “Low-paid service sector jobs, with zero-hour contracts and agency workers, were extremely precarious before this situation, and the fact that, despite the government schemes, some people are being driven into homelessness demonstrates the inadequacy of these schemes. This needs to be sorted now.”

By Amelia Gentleman, The Guardian, 28th April 2020

^This article that appeared yesterday needs to be heard. These people could be us, they are us.

A has been on bike rides past Trafalgar Square recently, and noted how there were quite some daytrippers seated on the steps, just watching the space. No police were moving them on, they appeared well-dressed, just like you and me. Now we realise who they were, the newly homeless.

Be the change you want to see.

Yesterday

Tomorrow