A Journal of the Plague Year 2.0 Day 16

20th November 2020

Home comforts

Today bedbound as usual. My sojourn into gaming has ended, though I will likely start it up again during the week.

In fact spent much of the day adding to yesterday’s post and prepping to meet some friends in the north, at the farther end of the Piccadilly line. Thus a shower, shave and comb has been in order, plus a pack or two of beer and chocolates.

A made a nut roast for lunch, which was smoky and quite the highlight. -Though the thing with nut roasts it’s all very nice but when paired with the other veg it starts to resemble a plate of roasted salad, with gravy.

Our friends C and K bought along some home-made vegan cake. I dunno but I’ve always found the vegan bakes an improvement on the originals, notably chocky gateau. Today a gianduja level richness and buttery, yet still light. Highly suspect and something the vegans aren’t disclosing, a cabal intent on keeping the good shit to themselves. Probably pumpkin tears.

Has anyone noticed that Magners Pear cider (worst on the market) tastes surprisingly like champagne? Or maybe mine had low sugar in some industrial accident, involving fingers.

Wood Green was dark and damp by the time we hit the street, with a bevy of long time drinkers asking for change, or cadging 40p off a corner shop that refused to allow it. In the end a crusty, angry looking guy in a neighbouring queue gave it to the bloke, and told him ‘yeah but don’t you take the piss outta me again’. Big hearted though he didn’t look it, in a cold place.

We bought some chocs -Thorntons Xmas selection they were begging shoppers to leave with, alongside a whole range of painfully discounted Xmas stock. And it’s only November. R said he reckons the lockdown will be extended and Xmas badly affected, though unlikely it’ll ever be really off the cards. Even if there was an Xmas ban (no tinsel, no trees, Santa and his flying venison to be shot), it would be unenforcible. Other countries though have proven it can be done, despite our need this year more than any other to get together and be with our families.

India just canceled its own biggest festival Divali, as did the Islamic world with Eid. Chinese New Year (CNY), annually the world’s biggest migration, went kaput early on -though having a lockdown coincide with a month-long national holiday where most businesses would have shuttered up anyway certainly helped in the greater scope.

Normally CNY is planned expertly -all tickets sold online, well beforehand. Every terminal built like an airport with stadia capacity, and 700 extra train routes put on as millions cross the country to their homesteads, notably 400 million ex-ruralites. However when bad weather hits, and staggers departures, as seen in the 2017 blizzards, the knock-on effect can be terrifying.

Even without disruption these pics show the volumes of people we are talking about, that can spread a disease across thousands of miles and to saturation point within days. We can be thankful this never came about, or that we’re not any of these poor bastards.

In Guangzhou South, the world’s largest station tried to cope with a crowd of 100,000, many who spent the night outdoors. Tickets had to be distributed to even approach the terminus.

Anyhoo, back to 2020, back to life, back to ryalitee.

Our’s was a more intimate setting and the night progressed with lovely company and swapping stories, many on yesteryear. They have the bestest garden, and rare-looking plants everywhere including into the house, as C was a former botanist. It’s a veritable jungle. We got reminiscing randomly on the sexy, gender-fluid Antoine De Caune (and his sidekick Jean Paul Gaultier). Then Eurotrash, The Word, Terry Christian, Amanda de Cadenet, Magenta de Vine, the Rough Guide, Katie Puckrick -remembering their D List names being quite the game. Ah, icons of a certain generation and a vertiginous mix of art, bad production, tongue n cheek and sleaze -whatever happened to that lot eh? But a welcome glow of nostalgia, crossing from time.

Also got talking with C about families and how universally the set-up’s pretty shit if not unworkable. That the best catalogue-ready examples I’ve ever known still harbour deep, dark secrets like the time Daddy strangled Tommy, or when Mother gets the gin out. Basically it’s our animalian genomics at fault, this evolutionary psychology currently at in-betweener stage. An arrested development due to only a couple of hundred years -or even a few decades -that collectively we started living in cities, and forced society to function with them as template. These vast reefs of experience -good and bad -with crowds to feel lost in, or battle.

We aren’t lone animals, wanderers like the Great White Shark or Billy No Mates tiger. We aren’t singular couples either (though, how sweet) that mate for life and jettison the young (not quite as sweet, which Western society follows), such as albatross or magpies. We aren’t herding animals either like the verdant herds of wilderbeest or vast colonies of squawking seabirds. Our urbanities may resemble that but bear in mind towns and cities are a relatively recent invention, that until as late as 2007 were reserved for the minority. We are now becoming ‘metro sapiens’, but the growing pains and angst involved, like any spotty, emo-addled teenager is playing up in the flesh.

What is surprising is that we aren’t single family animals. And not for vast amounts of our history. The nuclear family has not been the norm for untold millennia. Look at our cousins, the apes: gorillas, chimps, bonobos and langurs. They hang around in mid-sized groups, made up of about 5 nuclear families and up to 30 individuals -classroom sized (12 -25’s a nice number). In other words a hamlet, and very tight knit. This isn’t to say discord doesn’t go on (one only needs to notice Frankie the chimp trying to kidnap his sister’s kid to eat it), but it’s infinitely helped by a larger, more immediate support network.

This is still the set-up in many parts of the world where cousins and castes live in the same neighbourhood. When mum and dad are too busy having a fight, shagging, or getting the bottle out the kids can run amok at uncle and auntie Flo’s instead. It’s never just one or two person’s responsibility to keep the entire household afloat plus raise them happy and stable and away from a lifetime of pschotherapy. An only child will have cousins as siblings, a single parent can rely on others to prop up support, old folk can be passed around and be surrogate parents themselves.

And yes, everyone will still annoy the fuck out of each other as is the leading hobby for humans in our natural environment, but there’ll always be an option of someone to turn to, others to get distracted by and remind one of a greater perspective on things. And less of an option of letting an issue fester if you are gonna get too close for comfort. Overall, beware toxic masculinity (read: bloodfeuds) that can upend all this anyway, but that society these days has mostly vanquished the worst of.

This has been the base M.O. since ever, though in the modern age some societies such as in Pakistan are increasingly having to marry their cousins to maintain the set up, and keep extended, garrulous families on the same street. -A culture built on never having to say goodbye, of never having to see one’s daughter head out alone for an unknown family, miles distant. Or everyone the same fate in an old folk’s home once no one can look after them. Smalltown Pakistan is attempting to bypass all this, but now starting to impose it through arranged, sometimes forced unions, alongside the genetic consequence.

It’s a sign that the nuclear family no longer works (if ever it did), that when people leave them suicide rates go down, as was recently seen in China when a generation of youth left for the biggest tier 1 or 2 cities. The modern world splits up these family groups every which way.

We also concluded we can set up our own family groups in a network of friends, some lifelong, some recent. That C with 0 kids has had more meaningful relationships than his brother with 9 from multiple partners.

So here’s to meaning, regardless of blood and lines and crowds. To mates and chocolate cake too.

Night was lovely, and very much needed as it was a damn good semblance of community, of whatever, wherever, whoever one may consider home x.

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A Journal of the Plague Year Week 4

Sunday 5th April 2020

Yesterday we caught up on two episodes of Drag Race. Well, I must admit I go through quite an emotional rollercoaster whenever I watch reality tv, and avoid it each time. I remember one of the first ever broadcast, called Caraway or Castaway or Harringay or summat, whereby a whole bunch of specially selected, convivial people were dumped on a remote, uninhabited island to create a functioning society fresh for the new Millennium, eked from the atmospheric wilds of the Hebrides. Self, sufficient, eco-friendly, communal, inclusive and a template to what could be, cherrypicking city traders, croft farmers, immigrants, family groups, LGBTQ members and their kids from across society.

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Classed as the nations biggest ever social experiment, but also a new concept production, hot on the Science Fiction movies from the 90s about how everyone would become a star one day, with everyday life propelling TV into a new and futuristic concept (‘Real World’ debuting in that decade on a bunch of trendsters moving into swanky new apartments around American – then European cities). Well Hi-hi-hideaway overnight became the nation’s raison d’etre, a force propelling change for much more than the happy campers. There was indeed a tiffle between the God crew and the gay guy complaining about their ‘foreign muck’, but they persevered. But then, a terrible development, all going tits up when some cantankerous sea dog got into an argument, got isolated, then went mad and sabotaged the stores. The result -pure TV gold making the headlines on every tabloid -and broadsheet -the next day.

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We’ve not progressed further ever since that fateful day they found out throwing lions in with the zebras makes for great I Like To Watch (and that the Romans had a good thing going) -a nation of drama and monstrosity connoisseurs born overnight. Well I tend to get too invested. I’m unable to watch singing, dancing drag queens parade in failing outfits, or horror-of-horrors have their jokes and improv fall flat, not just to the immediate room (cringe) but the millions watching beyond (scream). My heart beats as if upon that same self-same stage, I perspire. When things go well I’m a little giggling child strangling the pillows, when the tension rachets up I’m biting my knuckles to agonised squealing.

S

Well, poor Aiden got kicked out, an outlier from the start -rural, Southern, inexperienced. I’d likened her to a pretty slug in a few posts beforehand, but the rounds of abuse she endured in every episode, as those deemed less befitting were kicked off wasn’t endearing to the complainants. Her increasing isolation, the behind-the-scenes (and to-the-face) bitching, then outright bullying made me hold a candle for her, if not gladly substituted by a flamethrower. When she was finally booted off, and over-dramatically screamed on stage (many truths said in jest), I screamed with her.

Is this normal? Yes there is empathy, but reliving an onscreen representation vis-à-vis as if it was yourself being publicly trammeled by drag queens, or enduring elongated episodes of cringe to the point of self-harm, seems like a projection. I am perhaps taking it all too seriously.

Coming out of hibernation for the first time in a week, we decided to take a bike ride to the local park and back again. And my golly goodness, how sunny and free it all seemed, and unserious. The frolick police nowhere to be seen (perhaps inundated by block parties in Brixton or conga lines in Essex), what with the great UFO finally out from the clouds in what seems like a good 7 months. Temperatures climbing to a whole 22C. This is what I mean about the UK Spring and Autumn being complicit myths, allocated to a handful of days inserted between a tooth rattling, windswept grey and a meadow-filled Watchtower cover. This latter occupies about 2.5 months before more of the wasteland, and is thus a major reason to partay.

S

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People lazed around as far as the eye could see, chatting openly in circles and collecting in drifts at crossroads, blading, biking, frisbee chasing to their heart’s content. One estate had table tennis in their courtyard and what looked suspiciously like an audience having a giant picnic, while fainting victims were sprawled liberally across the lawns, occasionally reading or texting. Such is life, a strumming, purring rendition of individuality regardless of what’s happening out of eyeshot. This may be why we’ll continue to have a lockdown, and why people continue to get infected and die. But what we can’t see appears unable to hurt us, or at least dampen the itinerary.

One of J’s friends apparently walked into his local police station to report the dozens enjoying the carnival atmosphere on Clapham Common. I’m not sure how that went down.

S

There is a great unsaid, stalking the land. And I will hold my wavering hand up to say I am legion, and take that cliff fall down from the moralist soapbox. That – the thousands of deaths aside, the millions to come, the worry for our older loved ones, the income insecurity and panic buying forgotten -this experience is almost enjoyable.

No, in fact, there are times… where. I . Have. Actually. Enjoyed. Myself. There, I said it.

At home, Netflix, a chance to write my book like some wilderness cabin, plus read some, a little dalliance outside each day, and no weerk. Like pretending autumn is all about rollicking through scarlet foliage, and Spring all flowers and lambs, when really it’s a continued spell in Colditz.

And outside, beyond my scope another 408 died today in the UK.

S

I wonder if this blind-sided lack of empathy will become a thing now? Or is it just a reminder it’s always been a thing? The way we now find lives smaller in these four walls, cooped into our domestic rituals and immediate room-mates, while neighbours die behind the scenes or on our doorstep in their daily hundreds. Is it any different from the way we enjoy our normalised First World lives on the back of a vast underclass of the indentured? Where we each garner about 20-40 unseen slaves as per norm, sewing our clothes, picking our food, making our products, sourcing our oil and returning our astronomical, loan sharky interest repayments, with a light veneer of nail polish and sex. When our fledgling hedge funds began betting on an Asian financial crisis in 1997, 500,000 children died of malnutrition in Indonesia alone. Does that fact even make us pause, as yet another figure bandied about among bleeding heart types, too big, too distant, too gone to take notice of? Oh well.

I am of course just as guilty, enjoying my teenagery that year, while cycling through fellow Aztecan sunworshippers today. But don’t let that distract us now. I, like everyone else, have a godgiven right to be a shit, and not give one.

There appears to be increasing shade being thrown towards Netherlands (and Germany) recently, with its ‘intelligent lockdown’ (which means a half-arsed attempt) and its blocking of a bond-savvy bailout to the Southern EU nations, such as Italy, Spain, France and Portugal, who adversely prop up their northern counterparts.

The Dutch approach seems only plausible in such a libertine (the selfish kind, not to be confused with liberty itself) and individualistic society, whereby a full lockdown would be impossible to police without emergency powers -in turn impossible to stomach by a populace long held as a vision of democracy. However, the country once the postergirl of openness, freedom and a founder of the EU idea is becoming more self-centred it appears. A sign of morphing priorities and societal change, influenced by a touch of xenophobic politicking. It’s had a centre right government for some time now, with the far righters now smelling up the second largest amount of seats. The finance minister yesterday admitted mistakes were made, and that they’d lacked the empathy, and ‘did not succeed in conveying what it is we want to do’.

S

What they want to do indeed appears the priority, but also seems veiled. The lack of a true lockdown is of course the approach to herd immunity that Britain so abandoned a few weeks ago when faced with a projection of 250,000 dead. The Netherlands is self-policing, with 99% claiming socially distant (oh yes, we concur) and a bit less saying they’re staying home as much as possible, though still popping out occasionally to flood the streets and every business by the look of things. However it also implicitly -perhaps complicitly -implies many more deaths. They are indeed higher than the norm, at 1,766 deaths (10% of cases) but for a nation of 17 million (0.1% infected by official count). It remains to be seen, like Sweden, what will play out. And what willingly -and perhaps worse, openly -sacrificing some of their own for the economy greater good will mean to that society.

We may well see the translation of national PRs after this. Whereby the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany transgress from an aura of the enlightened and progressive nations -riding their ecobikes through elegant towns in the blonde, summer sun -into the stage villains of cold and selfish societies, suddenly more prison guard and Aryan, with fake diesel emissions.

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On that note we had a fantastic evening, a culmination of lots of hard work from the boys who’ve spent all day shopping, cooking, polishing and ironing doilies (no really) for our evening meal, which we all got dressed up for. It does have a difference living with a silver antiques dealer.

Entrée: Soupe de rocquettes

Plat principal: Saumon en croute avec sauce Marie Rose. Pommes de terres rôties a la Grecques

Dessert: tarte aux prunes avec crème anglaise

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Ah, the bliss! Laughing merrily in our champagne flutes and toasting our health.

For that Scottish island (I’ve since looked it up and it’s called Taransay), the inhabitants ended up dividing themselves, with the ‘Taransay Five’ setting up a new territory apart, complete with flag and a refusal to work with the producers. After end of filming a few families and couples chose to stay. Although it did launch the career of lovely TV presenter and streaking rower, Ben Fogle, some claimed their lives destroyed. -Including a psychotherapist who was edited as throwing a chair at a woman and storming off forever (in fact the scene was cut from an argument with producers, for which he successfully sued for libel). By 2001 the island had been abandoned once again, going up for sale 5 years later. It’s still known as one of the Lonely Isles.

S

As we all may have worked out by now, empathy hurts us more. The trick is to spread it out, with everyone sharing the crappy liver starter (who likes that seriously?) to get to the banana split fantabulous dessert. Or to just take it on the chin like a drag queen, whose heart still shines beneath the hisses and boos. Of course the same applies to the lack of empathy, spreading it out among a reduced guest list, so we all enjoy that piece of the pie, while one sucker (or vast amounts of them) fight it out under the table. This is a snapshot of life.

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