A Journal of the Plague Year 2.0

5th November 2020 Day One

Today is the first day of Lockdown 2.0. Work closed for me a couple of days ago ( I sadly missed our last day to the world’s smallest violin), as did many of the shops one by one on our local High Street. I spent yesterday seeking out board games to help us bide our time, like a middle aged fanatic. At first scouring the local charity shops, then the TK Maxx, pretending to be a caring Dad in the kiddy aisles. It’s been a good few decades since I was ever inspired to traipse down these plastic coated ways, full of lurid lights, mystery noises, shocking pink, glitter and dazzle -my adult antithesis -but it took approx. 6 seconds before I felt again that inner frisson of excitement. As if I was that 7 year old gobshite once more gurning for a glo-in-the-dark She-Razzle Death Worm plush. Every time I passed a certain aisle an automated fart sounded from one of the stealthy, plasticised offerings. I didn’t find a thing but bittersweet memories of Windsor Woolworths.

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So this is it, priorities, priorities. Beyond me standing staring at Hazmat Barbie, daily infections somewhere in the ether have risen to 20,000 for the UK though it may be as high as 80,000. Rumours abound this is a more contagious mutation from Barcelona, that landed some time in July, while highly hidden death rolls are topping 400 a day by now. Meanwhile there’s the big countdown in the US as the election appears on a knife-edge of results and a civil war, to a backdrop of 230,000 dead, and the highest ever infections registered for a single day -over 100,000. And Sainsbury’s just announced a whopping 3,500 job cuts, including almost all Argos stores and its fabled catalogues that were once the bestselling tomes since the Bible. Stalwart of childhood fantasies for 48 years, once described by Bill Bailey as the Laminated Book of Dreams.

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And yet we party, for that Last Gasp throwing heed to the contagious wind. Taking a bike ride later that night the streets were awash with social undistancing -London Bridge with its ancient but trendy pubs, indy cafes and historic diners a hive of candlelit activity, street drinkers and packed restaurants with queues outside. One after another in a smorgasbord for infection except for the gloomy respite of the White Cube gallery, like the haunted house in the neighbourhood that everyone eggs then runs away -yet also a promise as to what lies in wait for the rest of the strip tomorrow. The building resembled the zombie apocalypse of windswept brutalism, strip lighting and barriers to prevent entry to its Sainsbury’s-esque Carpark of a forecourt. Hardly anyone throughout, pint in hand, was masked, while a few lone men sat at empty tables looking emptied. Alkies a mile off.

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A busker band under fairy lights churned out some 80s chart toppers while a large crowd of coated partygoers chatted appreciatively from three opposite bars. It looked positively radiant, were it not for the fact the band was dressed in biohazard gear and it was 2020. I carried on through, holding my breath.

Much later, approaching the midnight toll the streets had emptied and pedestrians scurried off into drunken stupor. A few cars cruised by, one parking onto the pavement and unloading dressed up women in need of another prosecco and utterly nowhere to find it. Soho I heard was rammed, as were the East End nightlife districts -Dalston, Hackney, Hoxton, Brick Lane as well as other offerings in the south -Clapham, Peckham and Brixton which I’d turned down invites for. Scenes played out across the land. Strangely muted though according to the police, who didn’t record a single major incident but a convivial atmosphere. The young feel genuinely invincible, emboldened by mates or celebs who had it and were fine.

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Problem is these days a convivial atmosphere gets into your body, lungs and bloodstream and kills you. Like in the joke, pianos that fall out of trees. I dunno, kids these days.

I never did find a discounted Monopoly. Who knew that board games now are £30-40? One highly priced one was called Pandemic, which seemed promising but on closer inspection was a format in which all players colluded to rid the world of infection. Yaaawn. Plague Inc The Board Game was much more with it, based on the bestselling download 130 million strong, in which each player becomes a deadly disease intent on world annihilation.

Pretty dark, but I know which one I wanted. In the end I settled for a less guilt-inducing hand-me-down from the British Red Cross called Dixit (bear with me). It looks like a French (where else?) artsy fartsy card game of surrealist pictures, which players try to emote into words. Much more civilised, Marjorie, this may be our saviour when things start to wear thin. I also worry it may also look like life imitating art by then.

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Also managed to grab some flour, the last two packs of complete eggs in Lidl (cracked but easily swapped, the other slimed over with yolk but sorted by a handy food bag) and a few too many bottles of cider to go ker-azee with.

Riding for miles into the night on 5 pints is perhaps not the best way to say ta-ra again to civilisation, but it was a good idea at the time, and dare I say it, a little bit epic. The vaulting skyscrapers in Vauxhall really are a sight, doomed and half built like giant tombstones, with Kenny G’s sax in your head. But this lockdown I’m intent not to guilt-trip about that I’m not contributing to, or personally resolving, like pandemics or World Hunger. I will take it easy. I will lie in bed. I will watch movies. I will wear the same clothes, perhaps adult nappies. I will appreciate the smaller things, like detail, talk, fruit, chocolate, blankets, fluffy pillows, walks, drunken cycling, plush. As they promise, it’s time to Enjoy Life For Less. Just remember to stay safe from fuckery, and look out for our loved ones and all that.

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Tomorrow

Lockdown 1.0

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 50

Thursday 7th May 2020

So discovered Amazon Prime today. The last time I popped in it was the equivalent to the back end of the video store circa 1996, the section littered with films you’d never heard of -for a reason. Low budget TV movies, talky melodramas and an endless flow of has-been flicks everyone had seen some decade or two before. Like How To Make An American Quilt, Moonlighting, A Fish Called Wanda, Jaws IV The Return, The Buddy Holly Story. If they bought this year’s Cats they’d be streaming that 15 years later and touting it on every headline as event of the century.

Well today it looks as if they’ve upped their game. Everyone has of course copied the inordinately successful Netflix format, which makes you scroll for longer than you watch. And right now TV is like a civil right, anathema to an otherwise imprisoned populace likely to riot.

Well last night’s vision was Jexi, a comedy centring on a new bitchy equivalent to Siri or Alexa. The trailer promised it all: Man buys phone, realises something amiss, phone takes over his life in a winning way, makes him a winner via it becoming his snappy, denigrating wingman. Him being a winner means getting rich, sporty, having mates and most importantly, laying a beautiful, intelligent woman (either/and virtual or real).

It tries hard to undo the previous roles that Hollywood’s Americana long promoted: white collar, White-or-impossibly-Jewish protagonist (working in business, law, mid-management), cheerleading romantic interest (blonde, vacuous, skimpily dressed), playing out their lives in a fun American city (sunny, towering, occasionally multicultural). But dear lord, today’s version is still as formulaic and sycophantic to the American Dream, just as steaming with bullshit. The jobsworth is now in the creative fields with a hip, open-plan office (dreaming up social media clickbait yet aspiring to proper journalism), his love interest is now intelligent, fully clothed and mixed race (namedropping that she gave up her winning job at Amazon to open a hipster bike boutique), and the city is now populated with European cars, cyclists and historic housing. But still endearingly studded with minority ‘characters’, so casually, comically obnoxious one does wonder what ‘tolerance’ means to the writers.

Jexi is yet another propagandic offering from the complicit factory that is the American Dream, just as unreachable and just as false. And evil. Like Nazi-evil and baby killing.

The vast majority of Americans do not live in million dollar apartments in heritage clapperboard, with stunning views of the Bay Bridge. They do not ride bicycles (tellingly the night scene showed them up without lights) or drive Minis/ Teslas, or so openly engage into mixed-race relationships (a fraction of what it is in the UK even after four centuries). In short a film that tries so hard to upend the bullshit of the past merely replaces it with its own brand of tripe.

It’s gotta piss off Americans themselves, surely. Everything Sundance was against, but now having to redraw the lines.

Yes, it’s a comedy about a phone, and a sassy virtual assistant. But it’s hard to ignore the lurid attempts to show off from the background, constantly in-yer-face and obliterating the humour -the upturned nose, the ratcheted volume and roving eyes no different from the stage before. Yaaaahs I was just shopping in Monte Carlo darling! has now transmogrified into Yasssss I was just biking round Bra-zil bro! A little embarrassing from a non-American perspective, where living urbane, with history, holidaying, driving small cars or er, cycling isn’t something to constantly namedrop.

It’s not so much embarrassing anymore but tiresome; it feels like a constant dick measuring contest that is thinly disguised State-posturing: a commercial branding of a civilisation. And the way they sell Americana these days is increasingly disconnected with the reality; it jars quite some with the blaring headlines, with the viral vids, with the voting results when we switch channels. -And why oh why is every tale of the downtrodden still coming from the echelons of the upper middle class? Would even just a normal middle class tale so crack the bubble? would -heaven forbid- someone working in a banal office job forever destroy that magical aura? In this day and age, where information defines our era, the suspension of disbelief is no longer one of escapism, rather a weaponised reminder.

Well, ba-limey. All that from just a rom-com. I barely talked about the virtual assistant to which the film gets its name (she has her moments). It was just so screechingly awful and formulaic. Talking about sex or having a dick pic is no longer a brazen, run-round-the-room-screaming display that gets you roaring with laughter. Dating a mixed race woman isn’t the daring, border-jumping adventure into the abyss. Being creative -and making money from it -isn’t throwing off your societal chains. And riding a bike isn’t the coolest, most groundbreaking thing ever, fecund for urban escapades and hilarity. Methinks they doth protest too much.

Next time I watch a cartoon I’ll tersely report on the socio-economic costs of childhood fantasy in our lives.

I do wonder though what would be the equivalent today of breaking form -like really breaking it? What is it we don’t talk about at dinner parties, if not sex, drugs and rock n roll? Maybe a rom-com where dating differing genders (without it becoming a thing) would do the trick -with the world of a non-binary spectrum awaiting. Or having a female lead that isn’t… (please hold on to something solid) a model. Or not dating at all -dear lord, the end of Western civilisation if we had a rom-com where the end goal wasn’t perfunctorily getting laid. A setting that was a suburban town whose shiteness they could easily use to comedic affect. Professions that didn’t define their every standing in life, and was (like to most of us) just a way to a wage -yet just as peppered with kooky characters and situational enterprise.

I think finding magic in the everyday, in the banal is what would make a film stand out. Accepting it’s shitty and going at it with humour would resonate. We kinda need that now. Escapism, though very pretty, isn’t working.

Or maybe we should be rom-comming about a trans Nazi in love with a horse, perhaps a cat. In a Tajik hill village. Ze’s obese, and a dam salesmanperson, struggling to win a contract that will save the countryside (a key scene where ze plugs the hole with zir’s voluminous behind). She’s an animal. With needs and wants and liberated imperfection, battling for veganism. Ze’s a misunderstood extremist, battling for acceptance and the supreme race. Together they find love in a hopeless place.

Yesterday

Tomorrow