A Journal of the Plague Year Day 48

Tuesday 5th May 2020

Recently I’ve been getting down from one of those tasks that waits malingering in the background. You try and sweep it under the rug but it gets out, its tentacles showing under the door, creeping under the covers and tapping your head. Try and sleep it away, try and enjoy some screentime, but then things remind you. Every time you laugh and forget, then remember. This is what leads to depression. Money problems.

And what a task that is. It’s not the end goal (raking back money owed) but the worser fate of castigating yourself that you didn’t do something about it. Regret in other words, that haunts you in the same way above, living under your pillow.

We’ve had to claim back for three holidays in 4 countries. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus 7 types of accomodation, and 2 insurance plans, one of which has taken nearly 2 months chasing to get a refund. This involves emailing back and forth, checking legislation, Tweeting, joining Facebook groups, negotiating with hotel owners and agencies, talking to chatbots and trying to ring up varying call centres round the world as if vicariously on those travels. Staffing mostly unreachable by now, and in different languages. Then throw in a few arguments between ourselves too. For the insurance it was all extracting emails, taking screenshots, phone records, filling out forms in German and more email tennis.

I finally did most of it today. Following up on the non-replies, putting together an attack plan. I now have vouchers for two of the flights, and two pending refunds, plus an overnight train reimbursement worth 114 Euros.

Word of warning: Carlton Leisure. The BA flight got cancelled, but they’re still charging us £150 admin fee, bless them, and it’s legal and impossible to contact them about it. Capitalism at its finest.

All of this is of course due to the dire state of the travel sector right now, the airlines trying to push vouchers while illegally denying refunds (all avenues to customer service are having interminable problems). I spent a good hour and a half in queues that were never to be answered. This is also partly due to the crash of the call centres, and partly due to the fact they can’t afford to pay customers back and don’t wanna hear any more about it, thankyou. Ryanair for example maintaining refunds will only be processed ‘after the pandemic’, and Easyjet pretending you don’t exist, while pushing voucher buttons under your fingertips. My worry is that these companies going down will try and reap all monies before they default on ever paying you back.

Watching Years and Years -the joint BBC-HBO series on a post-Brexit family facing a dystopian future in the coming decade. Although written a while back and released in 2019 it made for compelling viewing, albeit a tad sensationalist as economies collapse and Britain degenerates into a fascist state. However, rerun it to this year and it suddenly becomes heartstoppingly real, the drama playing out just beyond, the characters one gets so invested in. Perhaps too real, perhaps too gloomy. Yes, that really could happen now. The rise of populism in the digital age of the algorithm is what may define our era.

The UK death toll may now be as high as 53,000 as being reported by the Financial Times hot off the press of the Office of National Statistics figures for excess deaths these past few months. If that is the case it’s the exact same number for the entire world only one month ago to the day, and would put the UK with the highest per capita deaths by far. The official toll is however at 29,427 having just beaten Italy and now the highest in Europe. Hope appears on the horizon however with the closure of Nightingale Hospital, the vast new facility appropriated from the ExCel Exhibition Centre in East London, but now redundant due to no need for extra beds. Cases appear to have fallen, though 700 are still dying daily.

We can but hope for a better tomorrow.




A Journal of the Plague Year Day 15

Wednesday 1st April 2020


So A just told me about the coming powercuts next week from 11pm to 5am each night, the planned closure of the BBC and talks about the Internet going down to stop the spread of misinformation, and the fact its workforce is not an essential service. That we’d better start downloading films to watch. I was a bit nonplussed but not that bothered either (have plenty of books) but posited it could be the period when the shit hits the fan, and a crackdown on reportage would mitigate public unrest.

I was just about to fact-check it for the blog, sending feelers out already via WhatsApp, when it hit me what date it is today. The fucker.

Yep, hook, line and sinker.

I had to squash him a bit after that.


Dark humour, indeed. Some K-pop star (Jaejoong, from Girls L-Owed or ABCDEFG or sommat) got into a lot of trouble along the same lines, drawing quite some telling off from his 1.9 million followers after claiming to be stricken in hospital, from flagrantly ignoring the regulations.  He later claimed it was to draw attention to the rules we should all follow. Now, it’s one thing to be told off by strangers, another by someone who admires you, the scales fallen from their lurid doll-like gaze and replaced with character assassination. And another thing entirely to have it happen again and again and again, for hours of scrolling. Yes, the public spotlight/ social media is brutal, soul wrecking, personality changing, dark. And to lay it even thicker, now the Korean Center for Disease Control (aka KGB) is looking into punishing him. With a name like that you know they’re going to be very dour and formal about all this, like being taken to the principal’s office after filming him on the bog.

Oh you.


In more sobering news, 563 people died yesterday in the UK, our death toll starting to approach Italian levels -that dark marker all countries are now measuring themselves against, having taken the baton from China. Spain, where over 900 died, is likely to grab it tomorrow, or perhaps the US. For the UK, infections are now plateauing, with a good response thanks to enforced social distancing and lockdown, but the deaths will still climb, whereby the fatality bulge follows a week later. The finishing touches are being put to the vast new, 4,000 bed Nightingale Hospital, appropriated from the ExCel exhibition centre in East London, and built with army labour.


My German friend linked me to a Swiss conspiracy theory she’s heard, about the fact C-19 is not more deadly than a seasonal flu, just more contagious, but governments are taking the chance to redact our civil rights -and that they won’t be withdrawn after (all eyes on Hungary when this is over). I am however at the stage where whatever happens happens, dangerously apolitical at a time when we might need to be. One day at a time.

I’m now with a new routine. Wake, internet, br/lunch, siesta. Read, internet, shower, Netflix, exercise, write, dinner+film. Sleep. I feel a giant fucking slug. The randomisation of a siesta offsets the afternoon shower, a battle between structure and sloth. Today’s national toll is keeping me indoors, for a time I’d envisaged as a critical infection period. The sun came out today, we planned for a bike ride until I heard the stats, and the sun had gone by then too.

But it did light up this motherclucking feather. How beautiful, this little thing.


Tonight was Terminator night, the latest edition with Arnie (tick), Linda Hamilton (tick) and everyone else new, with a terrific role for Mackenzie Davis, a semi-termie, who sadly won’t be reprising her role (no spoilers!) due to an er, plot technicality. And ba-limey, does it drag out the nonstop action, plane, trains and automobiles, though Mexico City (and country) still suffers that malignant orange filter and a strong aversion to the swanky city centre, and its skyscrapers, Old City and elegant street cafes. No, what we want is dust. Dust! People smuggling (tick), dodgy cops (tick), desert scrub (tick), guns (tick), legions of the poor/ refugees (tick), oh and a US car plant replacing Mexican labour with robots (tick). But easily backgrounded in the roller coaster ride, and a welcome lesson in losing yourself, even if it is to an oily, shapeshifting robot throwing javelins at your face.



And after all that gunsmoke pizzazz, silence. Like a sudden cliff; I even felt bad to end the credits with the score meandering comfortably to a stop. When night falls, the city is a tomb. There is no longer that murmur of traffic, the endless shunting of trains in the station opposite, the chatter on the street from the local bars, the clip-clopping of the late night commuters, or the planes cruising ever skyward. We look out the window at the lights, and it is in every sense of the word, a deafening silence (I’m not gonna say Dark Fate, but greyish trajectory maybe). I worry about the pigeons, who’s gonna feed them? Are they dying en masse, without our trash, crumbs and vomit to peck at? Maybe we should empty a few bins liberally over the streets, also for the foxes, which I used to see every time I stumbled home late.


Netflix’s World At Night nature series, narrated by an insanely annoying woman oozing righteousness with every cadence, had an episode on the city today. Notably a section on leopards, the night stalkers of Mumbai, which now happens to be the world’s largest concentration of big cats anywhere in the world, counting no less than 50 in town, along with the 20 million humans. Chillingly the night cameras track them in the shadows, sometimes as they brazenly follow people around, though they’re really out for piglets. Other CCTV footage shows them creeping onto verandahs, balconies and through front doors to grab dogs, of which 1,000 are killed annually. Now that is some other level of exotic I need -other segments showing the elephants in ‘southern Africa’ (they didn’t even bother with the country, as hey, what would that matter) rumbling through a darkened town centre to stunned pedestrians and window peeping kids. Or in Halloween, where huge moose (meese?) invade Alaskan streets that one night to get at the jack o lanterns, before melting away again for the year.


Then to Singapore, which is the vision of the future, and where animals now frolic openly as part of city life, where even otters have returned to the busy city waterways, sharing pavements with joggers every morning. I look out, and it is another world, another time. And all I see are streetlights with everyone home. Dang, I wish there was a black bear rooting through Recycling; I’d maybe settle for a ferret under some leaves. Or a rat holding a condom. Reality is all a bit too mundane, even in these most surreal of times, and I feel myself too demanding. That I am healthy touch, touch, TOUCH wood.  Though perhaps a fool to want otherwise.

To finish off, the Mexico City we don’t get to see. We really should give the place her moment.