A Journal of the Plague Year Day 18

Saturday 4th April 2020

 

It’s been a long time coming. The sun is out and the temperatures are climbing into whole double digits. After 7 months of Great British winter it’s about feckin time, and normally an excuse for the entire country to have a sickie-induced, unofficial national holiday. Windows open with music blaring, everyone in shades and shorts, sunning themselves on beaches, parks and traffic islands, sinking timetables as trains come to screeching halts from the ‘wrong type of sunshine’ or buckling rails in the heat shimmer. The distant tinkle of ice cream vans as the new morning-to-night chorus, churning out their tinny renditions of Ode to Spring and ice-cream flavoured plastic. Tube carriages becoming searing animal transportation scandals, and the motorways and country lanes clogging with daytrippers in the 15 degrees.

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Well, the country’s on high alert to battle this oncoming tide of wellwishers and semi-pagan worshippers. Lines of armed convoys, army escorts, throbbing helicopters and arm-to-arm sweeps of the fun police.

A woman and child in Kettering were caught inflagrante with a bucket and spade. A grandfather in Looe with a fishy looking pole. Then that family in Southwark, claiming their children (holding picnic blankets and rackets) weren’t theirs. The three teenagers in Birkenhead, whose burgeoning pregnancy turned out to be a football. Chopper footage of three people in Brixton dancing around a radio, though they said it was epilepsy.

The horror. In all seriousness though, this deceptive kinda shit is killing people. The Health dept is now looking at banning the daily ‘exercise’ that is clogging up the beauty spots and vista points with cars, winnebagos and selfies. The Western govts are increasingly looking at smartphone tech now, that can trace your whereabouts (as if they don’t already do), like they did in Asia to alert others if a newly infected person had recently been in contact or passed nearby. The legendary Spring Breakers who broke US advice to party in Mexico were apparently tracked the whole way, and are now facing the consequences along with their hangovers and teen pregnancies. Likewise the same may soon be happening here, your records of diverting suspicously through the Peak District, or via your bosses wife or the atmospheric dells of Clapham Common at 4am, while popping to Lidl for all to see.

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Today I got progress on the glowering thing that’s long been in the back of my mind (after the world collapsing and tens of millions dying of course, of course) these past few weeks. The first coupla pages of my book I’m trying to write, with great feedback from some literary aficionados that have seen me re-write them from scratch, but with less description and a change in chronology. When writing it’s like trying to paint a vast picture while hovering only a few inches away, unable to step back and see the unruly splodges that mar it, nor the overall composition. It takes someone else to come in and point out that my portrait has three eyes, or a bird’s shat on the corner, or it looks like an untrammelled disaster and I really should take up plasticine figures again.

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I also missed my sisters’ birthdays; both of them born two years apart but on the same day -C looking chuffed in a family snap over a big double-candled cake, yet strangely missing mum who’d just gone into labour. I look at these bygone pics and wonder if Now marks a turning point between worlds, that of Before and that of After, always after. They say social distancing may last years, and that older folk may have to be shuttered away till the next one, though my civil servant friend has conveyed (through the art of mime) that the govt hopes it’ll be over by June.

708 people died today in the UK, overtaking Spain and Italy, where the Midlands has now become the new epicentre with over 200 deaths (almost double London). 5 London bus drivers were among the day’s dead. We’re still an estimated 7-10 days away from peak. And does it even register with us any more? We are growing a shell to the fate of others, beyond our little chalk-drawn, spray-painted, wall-built delineations.

Spain is now seeing a second day of lowering its figures to a ‘healthy’ 674, on the heels of Italy also down to 681, both of whom were recording tallies of up to 950 in the previous week. The US took 1,344 into the highest daily death toll ever. Italy remains the country with the highest deaths so far, over 15,000.

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Meanwhile China is saying it will not limit its production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and ICUs to any country, like a teacher trying to break up bickering students. The kind who are pulling each others hair and stealing phones, to the tune of hundreds of ICU’s appropriated on the way to Spain or Italy, or the US barring factories from sending any equipment to any other country other than itself, even if they’d already commissioned and paid for them.

This is a bit like a fun game of catch which everyone had been enjoying by the rules, but then started holding on for too long. Until The Great Orange Dolphin comes along, barges poor Flipper out the way, and eats the damn ball.

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I literally cannot point it out further, like a stuck record. How there are certain ideas in people’s minds projected into societies, in turn becoming governmental policies that are undermining this entire effort to stop the pandemic globally. We need to be united and working as a team, not as a committee, and not as a rival rugby troop. Sometimes you do need that perspective, to not put fences around your own little claims, and sense of righteousness over others.

I realise I am that teacher now, shouting empty words like a stuck record to a roomful of lounging, scrolling, smoking, casually sexting youth. Like a door greeter in the Disney Store churning out those empty niceties, or a production line products to the wrong client.

One day we may look back at all this and be appalled. Or will we? Will these transgressions ever see the light of day again? Or just be portrayed as a lovely staycay with govt support and no, we know nothing of stealing those meds meant for our neighbours who couldn’t afford it, but we could so we deserved it more. Ah, the snapshot of human life, to stand back and appreciate.

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Yesterday

Tomorrow

 

 

 

A Journal of the Plague Year Week 3

Sunday 29th March 2020

March being in Spring is a myth, certainly in the UK. Okay there’s a little more light, and the flowers, uninformed, may start to bloom (the stupid varieties like the tree outside, sporadically attempting blossom since January). But dearie me it’s cold still, and grey, and windy, a constant noise that sings of contagion outside. If anything March is the coldest month, as you look outside and think it warm and Spring-like, then freeze in wind and shadow, wishing you’d packed the furs. As opposed to when it’s an ice storm and you sensibly don more than a tank top. In reality ‘winter is coming’ should be taken up in September, and only relinquished in May, 8-9 months later. Tomorrow they’re changing the clocks, for mainland Europe it’ll be the last time, for Britain we will as always attempt to go it alone, miserably.

Things cannot possibly be more windswept.

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Today has been one of learning, somewhat. A has been watching the free ballets from the Bolshoi, now streamed live at 7pm Moscow time -this week’s offering being Sleeping Beauty. The way he sold it was the world’s bestest dancers for 2 and a half hrs, who trained and competed every muscle and sinew all their lives, to culminate in a show that’s spent thousands of manhours to prepare and would cost hundreds of squid a head -the least we could do was watch. And sure enough, the exquisite finesse, uplifting music, extravagant costumes and stage were breathtaking. But could we? A lasted about 20 mins, I for 20 seconds. Sorry.

I’m sure if I’d paid the ticket and was there in person I’d be edge-of-the-seat-rapt, my little eyeglasses swivelling like the Neighbourhood Watch in Windsor. But in this day and age of the half-second attention span, the scroll that never stops, the swipe like a tennis game, it’s a lot to ask for. No explosions, dinosaurs, likes or whooping. Culture appears wasted on us.

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J and I lunched through the bite-sized 15 min segs (far more consumer-friendly) of the Netflix Explained series, taking in subjects such as diamonds (totally not their worth), billionaires (off with their heads!), animal intelligence (a human-imposed hierarchy whereby we believe they don’t have souls so we get to eat them), and the latest bestseller, pandemics, complete with worldwide authority on the subject, Bill Gates (China, not again). The Guardian has run an article pinpointing the correlation of our recent pandemics and scares with the rise of industrial scaled farming, whereby pigs in Mexico, fowl in China, cows in the UK, and camels in the Middle East, brought up in vast numbers in close proximity are now infecting cross-species, notably us. The 1918 Spanish Flu that killed 100 million came from a pig infected with bird flu and human flu simultaneously, as DNA has sternly pointed out a century later. And not only has modern farming priced out the smaller landholders, it’s also forced them into wildlife hunting (or farming) as seen in China and Africa, where the last homestead on the left, just outside the jungle, is baiting what comes out of it. This is especially worrisome in the Global South due to the higher temperatures, which make them deadlier to humans. One of the main reasons bats are such a vector is that the newly transferable viruses are especially resilient to surviving the cooking of a human fever, thanks to the high body temperatures of a furry, flying, madly flapping mouse that covers hundreds of sq km of microbial gardening each night. We really shouldn’t get near the fuckers.

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I’ve also been reading, today my usual collection of Lonely Planet/ Rough Guide travel books from the comfort of an armchair. These guides provide a convenient summarisation of all the best of a given country, culture and cuisine can offer, though of course now they can be shelved under the SF and Fantasy sections, possibly Mythology. India is the current tome, reading up on the carved lakehouses of Srinagar, rife with touts and scams, though studded with ornateness straight out of a storybook -the closest to an Alpine city you’ll get. The 1.5 million inhabitants share convergent evolution of architecture similar to fairytale Europe – multi-storeyed, decorated wooden houses with steep sided rooves to slide off the snow, plus a plethora of the aforementioned houseboats. These are graded between the floating palaces replete with chandeliers and centuries old chintz to the cobbled-together pirate ships redolent of sleaze. Oh and I remember from a friend who spent a time out there on his way into Pakistan, that weed grows everywhere like, well a weed.

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A is now looking up on the birth of the Renaissance on his tablet, alongside what I glimpsed as the wiki page on Kandinsky, J making notes on the tax breaks in Jersey, alongside the science of the unseen worth of an object. I think we’ve reached that episode of Groundhog Day where we start to improve ourselves for wont of anything to do. We may want to write a treatise on nihilism soon, after that arthouse Italian flick. It’s an ode to Nietsche’s genealogy of morality, with an edge-of-seat climax of a rape victim eating a meal of nails, or the bit where the guy wanks off with a severed hand. There really is a whole genre of horror arthouse in the 1970s I had no idea about, a bit like Swan Lake’s little-known Human Centipede seg, if you’d stayed awake. It’s called Salo, 120 Days of Sodom btw, if you fancy something to watch over tea, directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, whom Maria Callas was so inspired by she became his stalker, trying desperately to convert him from 15 year old boys.

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This morning I’d gotten a pretty miserable start, scrolling through the news and getting into arguments, as everyone knows bickering over say, Britain’s shocking roles in the 1907 Constitutional Revolution of Iran plus a sideshow on your ‘horrible pathogens and pangolin stews’ will set you up grand for the rest of the day. They say when you argue with idiots noone can tell you apart. I’ll need that tattooed on my hands as reminder, helpful before I type, punch or press the trigger. Why are right wingers just so toxic, and frankly underhandedly supremacist, in the racist-we-hate-darkies-and-Jewslims-T-shirt-wearing kind of way, in the you-deserve-to-die-because-you-can’t-afford-healthcare-kinda-way?

Why does a side so conspiratorially side with every issue presented? Why do hundreds of millions of female Trump voters denounce the right of choice, or their whole aged demographic wake up one day and feel free healthcare an assault on their freedom, and those outdoorsy voters in rural communities think saving the planet a sudden traitorous conspiracy, ready to shoot Pee Pee the Panda in her face as it’s her fault she can’t shag? Does political chauvinism so overshadow personal choice? How can democracy be proud of ignorance, and believe it equal to knowledge, usurping even the act of learning /enlightenment itself? Once again, arguing with such superstition makes you as ridiculous.

 

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I can see The Right issuing a new edict on say, the colour orange, or say, the act of stapling an envelope being a sign of tree huggin’, lefty, Commie-courting, gun-hatin’, minority-lovin feminazism, and that gold (especially the General Motors variety) and saliva (specifically the C-19 impervious variety) is of the great and good.

Imagine the Great Orange Dolphin that is POTUS, quietly closing the Press Room doors then leaping (backflip) into a bubbling jacuzzi-vat of poppers. He knew from the start evil Orange was the new Black. Yes. He’s never had that colour touch him. No. Tweeting vids of himself licking jiffy bags suggestively, to a chorus of congratulatory shares and an army of forum posting, flag waving, sign posting supporters. Hundreds of millions of them, claiming how orange was written in the Bible as the colour of the damned, how staplers were spotted trying to kill a Bald Eagle, and were first invented in Eye-ran.

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I fell asleep again after a few hours of that, awoke again nearly at 3pm. Lunch at 7. Says it all, when losing track of time is losing grasp of society, when obsession isn’t countered nor measured against. J has fallen asleep on the sofa for most of the afternoon; his spirit animal being the panda for sleeping so much, and his room rumoured to be an armoire of the stuffed variety. Just as mine is currently the sloth, if sloths were antsy (covered in ants perhaps). I feel animals are getting their own back, unintentionally. Or Mother Nature’s real; I imagine like Queen Latifah with lightning.

 

In another world, and one that glowers outside there is a global disaster unfolding. My daily reminder, that is becoming a cliché in this diary. I honestly feel guilty, and callous if I don’t mention the fact, like people taking selfies on a vista as others go over the edge. The world is becoming small again, from the confines of the flat, the four walls that face off that there is anything remotely relevant outside, and so winningly concrete in their obliteration. For a while now it had been the opposite -a haphazard existence of inside looking out. As if the small box rooms are extensions of the self -similar to driving, when the car becomes a body navigating on a broader perspective. But this time on a vast global exterior, projected into our tiny living rooms of live feeds, climbing counters and horrifying headlines from further and further afield, yet closer and closer to home. We’ve not opened the windows today, the only reminder being the howl from outside.

Perhaps we are as blind as those Trump voters, sticking our heads in the sands against personal stance (and which us lefties are just as guilty), and hoping for the best while the target marks on our arse start to glow. What exactly happened to my community spirit a few days before, ebullient in giving, that’s now decayed into a bed-tied existence with more scrolling? Perhaps for another day, for another to care about.

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In South Africa the flagrant disregard for the quarantine in some parts is seeing the army enter Jo’burg townships, where the poor would effectively be imprisoned in single room shacks for months, and why so many ignore the curfews. Where desperation and situation make a breeding ground for social unrest as well as infection. We, who have a choice of rooms, of outlets and viewpoints, yet blinkered in our existence are not that different after all, even if we are staying inside. Try sitting in your bathroom for two months and see if your stance changes, if your extensions of concern pervade beyond the walls or your body does the talking (and walking). Anyhoo, I’d choose the bedroom, chained as I am right now. Can’t even be arsed to make dinner.

Sometimes there’s nothing more to say, things are as is. It’s cold, it’s remedial, and people outside are dying, as they’ve always done.

 

Yesterday

Tomorrow

 

A Journal of the Plague Year Week 2

Sunday 22nd March 2020

The sun is out. People are on the streets, and in the parks, basking like how you’d expect in a perfectly normal day on Planet Earth in the early 21st century, and in groups too. From the older lady I spied statuesque in the carpark, soaking up her Sunny D, to the gaggles of teenagers manning street corners and park benches, impervious to care and often reason. A. who has been going for a normally lonesome walk every day due to anxiety, reported on the sudden herds. No wonder the govt has had to close down pubs and cafes, throwing heed and germs to the wind appears endemic.

In short, it looked like a quiet Sunday morning. The only difference being the distinct lessening of the traffic.

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I do think there is a libertine element still in London, a mix of Britons never ever being slaves (well, except under the Romans, and Picts, and Saxons, and Vikings, and Normans), and the anything-goes culture of a cosmopolis. On the one hand it lifted my spirits, seeing this semblance of normality, and a reminder that perhaps there is a focus beyond the infectious headlines, on another heavily gloved mit I felt uneasy about the varying options in contagion. A few of the food shops and small supermarkets operated short queues to get in (gone within 5 minutes) akin to exclusive, chichi nightspots albeit dampened by the homeless man sprawled at the entrance, sleeping it off to a sign asking for a hostel room. I’ve heard the homeless will be housed in the emptied hotels, and the Mayor will pay for it. I hope this transpires, that It Is For Real, as few people would notice, or care so much right now.

I managed to buy some face masks from a corner store, the owner having a veritable pile of them for £2.10 a pop at the till (highly suspicious, I’m never lucky). I bought 3, vowing to post them to The Fam. Along with the usual smattering of crisps, a tinned curry and packet of mystery milk, possibly camel. In the small Sainsbury’s opposite it looked normally stocked (read: amazingly stocked), I even got two packets of fresh pasta, which I may build a bidding website for.

Just outside our estate there’s an unofficial corner (read: cul-de-sac) where people leave junk to be collected by the council, or just leave junk. Tawdry closets, mangled sofas, desperately dated drawers, that kinda thing. Today’s offerings were a brand new leather and gilt armchair and a spotless new mattress, glinting in the sun. I’m wondering if anyone will grab them if ever, with the idea of contamination now imbedded as a poo stain, or murder scene. The last time this happened I moved two new chairs to sit them outside the charity shop a whole 20 yards further, but today even I was worried to touch them. I went down again to snap a pic and the chair had been taken, bless. Noticing a bargain is the last stand in functioning society.

There was suddenly something deeply inviting about the bed, in the sun.

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The air feels fresh. I made the mistake of wearing my shoes inside, twice now on the same day, when before I’d warned others about taking them off, the pavements being quite the vector for anything coming out of the human body, and absorbed when wet. I even put it as a Facebook post, like how grannies do the same on some kitten charity or the latest scam you must pass on to all otherwise it means you hate them and want them robbed.

Also sat through an online tutorial, about how the virus is covered in fat, acting a bit like an oil droplet which won’t come off with just water, but needs regular soap or handwash to break it down, and 20 seconds worth. Alongside a vid of how to wash, a short from China showing the bits you’ll likely miss using dye. I did it properly when coming home from my little sojourn, but popping out just now I halved the time. There’s a lot to be said about my enthusiasm for a cause when having relaxed just the teeniest bit, and the saddening studies on how punishment motivates people more than a prize. Or laziness, just sheer I cannot-be-arsed-right-nowness. Those people laughing in slow mo in the park, that could be me.

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I’ve not looked at the news today, though I did sink to trawling through a news forum. Once again there’s a lot of back and forth about Trump and China being in the sights for global blame. I did get involved, mentioning how China’s localised cover-up was not so much to blame (having informed the World Health Organisation -WHO – a full two weeks before ever castigating Dr Li Wenliang and his private Wechat group). What we can definitely shake a stick at China for is the fact it hadn’t quarantined the infections believing them only animal > human for nearly a month. The WHO is still haunted by a tweet on Jan 14th maintaining that no evidence had yet to be found of human to human infection. Likely from now on it’ll have to change procedure that any new disease be treated as human > human rather than waiting for a patient to turn up without any contact with wildlife, markets, handlers or farmers (about 3 or 4 new human viruses are discovered every year). Also Trump and his cronies insistence to call it a Chinese disease points towards a political tool, perhaps to dive from the spotlight accusing him of gross mismanagement, perhaps in reply to the equally idiotic Chinese General hinting it was all a US spy infection, planted during their joint Hubei exercises.

Imagine Trump diving. Like a fat dolphin, squeak-screaming under the kitchen table and toppling no end of shit.

There are other diseases out there with place names such as Spanish Flu (rather unfairly, it didn’t originate there -Spain was just the country not under media lockdown during WWI and openly spread the word about it), and West Nile Virus, itself a branch of Japanese Encephalitis. However all these were named from the 1930s backwards, or centuries before, and the practice has died out -we don’t call HIV the African disease, nor the Los Angeles Disease, where it was formally identified. To do again in this day and age is courting xenophobia, as if East Asians or anyone who looks like them don’t have enough to deal with right now in a surge of viral racism.

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This ends today’s public announcement. I’m weaning myself off the pollyticks. Really I am, promise. That was only two paragraphs; It really does help when you avoid the screaming headlines. I have no global update to post today.

Mum rang yesterday, she opted to take leave from work, the proud firm of Keeler Ltd, provider of opthalmic equipment round the world and so far protected by being in the private health sector. They’re doing the honourable thing and keeping her on the payroll till it all blows over. She joked with the HR woman’s noncommital gestures -that if they had suggested a course of action (stay away /don’t stay away) and Mum subsequently popped her clogs they’d become liable. I told her not to be mean, that the nice HR lady was doing her job, but Mum maintains the woman found it funny. I can imagine that pained, whooping laugh and beseeching niceties while they stood metres apart.

But joking aside, they are a fantastic, refreshingly humane company that consciously chose not to outsource to a sweatshop in the Global South, and I beseech the world to each buy a retinal scanner when this is over.

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At 77, with multiple health issues, she’s high risk and may have to be cocooned away for quite a sentence – 4 months to next year even according to the official hints. Enough to get cabin fever and drive herself and my sister up the tiny cramped walls of the ’60s terrace, stuffed to the eaves with things hoarders hoard. Before she seemed calm, and was going to keep working until I persuaded her otherwise (there’s a legendary 83 y.o. lady who vows to carry on on the factory floor, now laid out so worktables occupy separated rows from each other); she’s now a little more fearful, having seen the numbers in town rise from 2 to 20 almost overnight. That a doctor in the next town over was caught with the disease while treating patients. The fact there may be 20x more infected than officially tested for round the country, it all really hit home, her home.

I felt distant, in every way, and wonder when I’ll next see her.

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My daily structure is becoming less regimented, but still there. Rather than me sitting rod straight on the table tapping away, I’m on the sofa with Netflix in the background. Yesterday  we made the disastrous decision to watch Leisure (pronounced Leezhur) Seeker starring Helen Mirren (Golden Globe award nominee for the part) and Donald Sutherland as an aged couple kidnapping their own camper van to enjoy a vacay to the umbrage of their kids. Was kind of expecting a delightful mix of Bad Grandpa and Dukes of Hazzard, but it was of course a timeless study on our slow and inexorable act of dying from a largely Italian arthouse team. Donald is a former arts and lit professor deteriorating with Alzheimer’s, liable to accuse his wife of polygamy as he is to burst into quote on Hemingway; Helen his long-suffering, perky Southern belle of a wife liable to chat endlessly to strangers as she is to take up shotguns. No spoilers here but she’s dying too. Oops, may have fudged that a bit.

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Like you were ever gonna see it.

At the end I felt like shooting myself in the gullet. In one scene they enter an old folks home and point an unloaded shotgun around at several members of the bedded community, then get told off about it and offered a price leaflet. If that happened here it’d be ten years just for possession, and the rest of the fucking story would just end there. Fin. And we would not have had to watch them die and pretend everything was absofuckinglutely fine behind those walls.

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The whole thing felt like a demise mere days from now, dripping slowly worries, fondness, memories and saying goodbye to a sacrament of decaying time -rather than an exercise savoured for your twilight years multiple decades in the future. I may have cried for an instant. Right now America’s Got Talent (AGT!) is playing in the background, by contrast. By very very fucking contrast. So full of cheering and trashy pizzazz I want to reach through the screen and slap everyone of the goobers with a brick. How can people be so very whoopingly supportive, so very worshipping of any given status quo? Does the studio director say jump and they fucking imbed their heads in the ceiling? While Nipplepants Cowell lords over them like an arsey, stuck up demigod, hovering from his red buttoned throne. How can people be so willing to submit to hierarchy, to appraise or condemn from their exalted, cup-holding audience seats? This series will date badly, to the point of becoming historical reference. Culture, society, economy.

I need to get out more. I think rather it was just a reminder of a simpler, freer time that pissed me off so much. History envy may be a thing now.

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What is happening out there? What is happening to my friends and family and everyone I’ve ever known, outside of re-run land where what we see is no longer there, and always Has Been? What is reality from a different lens?

A welcome respite is not really one, when that breath of fresh air is deepening a chasm. It’s not so much a list of cliches: living for the moment, putting off the inevitable and all that jazz, but that we can enjoy ourselves, the air, the sun, and others with social distancing. We need to learn now how to do it, not later, not too late. 800 people died today in Italy, and a week or two ago they too were sunning themselves on passegiata. Eight hundred.

J came home shortly after in a huff, wiping down the door handles on everything -a blindsided colleague of his had admitted his wife had the lergy, yet had come in 3x to work, plus met clients. Well I suppose, I’ll swap that guilt for the kitchen fire last night. J’s working again today, apparently before any auction the dept heads have to work an unpaid weekend, to put in the extra time and commitment. Illegal surely, but suddenly acceptable in these current climes. We wound down with two episodes of Drag Race, all bright colours to bitchiness which J is obsessed by, and is infecting us with. Sakura was kicked out last night, rather unfairly I may add, especially in comparison to that rather uninspired Emo-Minelli, who resembles a pretty slug.

A car in the lot below has a bookshelf tied to its roof, liberally balancing an assortment of heavy boxes, houseplants, coat stands, bench tools and books on top. Looks like a tenant is moving with his father, back to the country where they can hold out longer, perhaps in a castle. It can’t end well, an opener for Final Destination if ever I saw one. Plus I know how it’ll end for the survivors.

I’m bored. As fuck. I took a picture of the flowers outside, just like little old ladies on social media are wont to do. We can pleasure ourselves for hours over this: I think it’s Spring.

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Yesterday

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