A Journal of the Plague Year Day 100

Saturday 27th June 2020

Today is the last day of the blog, after these 100 days of solitude. Lockdown has eased itself out into less and less restriction, and ceased to function for a while now, without us having noticed too drastically. Life is not back to normal, but there is quite a semblance of it outside, traffic jams, shoppers, foodies, drinkers -the only obvious difference being the masks and the queues before the shops. Deaths are down to the single digits while we await a second wave, possibly a second lockdown too if things get bad again. But for the time being, that semblance of normality is with us again, enough to take stock and hope it continues.

In retrospect:

The virus

At its worst C-19 was killing over 1,000 a day in the country. It’s still yet to peak abroad, notably the US, Latin America and now India. The strong sense of doom in the dark days of February contrasting with the sunny shores of late June now, having never reached full blown societal breakdown, and the burning horizons envisaged -though in the US it came close at times with the riots. To date, the virus has killed over half a million worldwide and infected ten million more, and multiple times more undetected. Some countries have managed to control the outbreak, including many we deemed in the West too poor to have done so -Vietnam, Senegal, Ghana, Venezuela, Greece. While the illusion of superiority has come crashing down from badly coordinated responses and deadly politicking, in richer states such as the US, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria and here in the UK. Those in the scopes have changed with time, but generally the old and sick remain the most at risk, while those younger are the ones who most spread it. The responsibility is with everyone, and individually.

Racism

This year has marked a racial reckoning across much of the West, the coming of age of generations too suffering of the sins of their fathers. The world needed to change, and it did. The rot embodied by cold-blooded murder so in danger of becoming an accepted norm -were it not caught on film and amplified by social media -that something had to be done, or we would never have been able to justify our cultures again. Thousands of protests around the world, and billions of voices have shown the might of people power, and made the corporations, governments and institutions rethink their long exclusionary policies. The spotlight on history revealing the hypocrisy of our modern day hidden in plain sight -in glorifying statues and dismissed atrocities, in open bias long peddled by the media, to the fact our hierarchies, for all their touted sophistication, rely not on merit but looks and connections. The anti-Asian surge during the pandemic, the state-posturing, the sabre-rattling and populism had already formed a backdrop, common to pandemics through time, and now followed up with the authority atrocities. George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, remember their names. Igniting the presidential picking of sides, the street battles, the tearing down of icons, and the record for history to come. As Noah Yuval Harari points out, we have an undiagnosed crux: culturalism -not just racism on race, but prejudice based on culture; this ‘clash of civilisations’ invariably pits both sides as thinking themselves the only civilised ones. And how it has come to pass.

Politics

Trump has been the name of the day, and the tyrant at the helm taking down the bad ship the USS United States. It is not so much the world laughing at the country any more but worse -pitying it. The US is no longer pax americana that the Hollywood propaganda machine has so long promoted, rather the opposite -a warmonger that gives the democracy a bad name, insofar as it can even be called one. Vote a sociopath into power and you’ll see the gaudy, unabashed fireworks singe the gathered throngs, the huddled masses. Seeing the world so affected by every move from above, translating directly into your everyday has empowered people to take a stance, but also one in which partisanship saturates every call to arms and tears societies apart. The oneupmanship between nations, burning their bridges as they battled over PPE, or declared trade wars, exacerbated by opportunistic brinkmanship, from Hong Kong to the Himalayas, Venezuela to the Vietnam coast. Trump and Xi have both been major players, but within many countries a degradation of democracy to create overarching power has also manifested itself, notably Hungary, Brazil, Ethiopia, Turkey. We have seen two sides of the same coin -in ugly scenes of people defending their right to infect others, and governments readily rescinding constitutions in acts unconnected to protection. Politics is eating itself from the inside out.

Economy

Personally, it’s been tough as well as easy, up and down. The anxieties of costs, future, health and those of loved ones too all balanced with a huge amount of free time and no more rigmarole of commuting, weerking and hell being other people -plus the guilt that comes attached. I applied to maybe 15 jobs in the time, with naught a reply, and a promise to change my name. My family out of work next month, but on a magnitude that applies beyond just those we know. A coming recession looks inevitable, that for this country alone will be the worst in 300 years, not just crippled by the pandemic but already hobbled by Brexit (with a look to mask that loss of face with the miasma of biological lawlessness, that something only as epic as a pandemic will excuse). The horizons seem darkened, though somewhat distant in the sun. What awaits the global economy for the decade to come, and the destabilisation of societies remains to be seen, but it doesn’t fare well -it almost cannot.

Will return to work this coming week in a bittersweet homecoming of sorts -a semblance of normality but entering an uncertain future, an outlook that applies to the entire economy beyond firsthand experience. How much can be clawed back, and how much needs to be rewired, and endured? How much support will we need, and how much can we give?

Life

Well one cannot deny the rollercoaster of mind and body. No more exercising, no more waking to panicking alarms, no more structure to many a day. Worry and freedom in a perpetual chase of emotions, dependent on how much one loses themselves in the present, or past. There’s been argument, division, reconciliation, laughter, so much love. A realisation of what is important in life. At times working for 18 hour days, but mostly not working at all, where time drifts between periods of sleeping. And always, the need for money, the abandonment of family to an uncertain fate, abstracted over some far horizon and haunting one’s dreams. I never did get the infection.

One day we will look back on this with tales to tell. What position we come to feels like the flotsam on some wave, with perhaps a promise of land to beach on. That promise can never die, even if it never transpires. Society has changed, and it is up to us to make it anew, to sculpt that form we wish it to take. There’s never been a better time, and neither has it been so precious; I thank you for giving it.

All the best and stay safe.

Signing off.

W x

Yesterday

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 91

Thursday 18th June 2020

Went on a health drive today, inspired by a pair of Irish twins on Somebody Feed Phil. In the episode, gurning foodie Phil goes to London and runs into the inordinately good looking brothers (youtubing vegans Stephen and David Flynn) on their whole urban ‘gymless gym’ thing, after which they proceed to tear up the leafy streets of Hampstead with infectious cross-fit. They make a point to climb trees, do press-ups on the pavement and nourish themselves off anything edible sprouting about, including pavement weeds that Phil reminds them must definitely have been pissed on near the doggie park. The bit where they do the crocodile on the ground piqued me, a kind of crawling press-up where your knees touch your elbows, like Crap Spiderman.

s

Thus at some stage I found myself doing similar between the kitchen and front door, akin to a child possessed. I also got the skipping rope out -bought a good five years ago as a Rather Good Idea and never used for fear of looking twattish. I remember those rosy days in primary school being one of the boys who excelled at the girly sport of skipping, I could hop, I could criss-cross the rope as I jumped, and do it backwards.

s

The reality this afternoon was somewhat different. Many years ago there was migraine special on telly, and they spoke at length about how many sufferers had a tiny hole in their heart, hence the blood not really getting cleaned. The solution being they could fit a teensy umbrella into the puncture and you’d get cured. Ever since I always figured I might have one, hence why I’d feel close to passing out after one length in the pool, or when getting into a warm bath (jacuzzis a gut punch, with the likelihood of being found face down in). Or like today, feeling fluttery after about 15 skips of the rope while trying to look manly. In contrast to being able to lift my weight in books, up and down two flights of stairs and across the museum every day -raaaar! That’s always been the rock to fall back upon, having a heroic condition rather than admit that unspeakable to every man -that one is weak.

s

The fact I had to prance like a Viennese showpony at times didn’t help, the rope a tad too long and delaying the jump. After about 5 minutes it broke from being repeatedly stepped on. Undid the batons (small weights inside), tied a knot and screwed it back up again. The entire time some woman across the way, jogging on the spot and watching me like the fucking zombie bunny. At times I felt like running at her screaming but I doubt there’d be any change in her dead, jiggling stare.

Also tried ‘patball’ a return to a childhood craze throughout middle school -essentially squash without rackets. Very addictive, especially if played in teams where we numbered ourselves between 1 to whatever, bounced the tennis ball off the ground onto the wall, and tried to remember our order with everyone else shouting out the numbers. Miss the floor or the wall and you’re out, if the ball bounces twice you’re also out. By counting everyone gets invested, and the excitement builds when your number comes near. You can do a safe, easy hit for your following buddy to keep the momentum, or a massive whack after which they’ll have to run back and try to return, or fake it and do a tiny hit that goes so low to the ground it’s almost impossible to follow up, though doable. There’s also a civilised tennis version. In short it gets you running, stretching and springing for hours.

s

Unfortunately the fact there’s a thin veneer of gravel on the tarmac proved no matter how hard you hit the ball it only bounced a couple of feet on a diminishing return. So that was that, the only available wall and space scuppered, and A rather happy to go back inside. I could try and sweep the ground of every little bit of grit but who’s got time for that? And I’m not crawling about outside like a spider. Fuckit.

Stuffed myself with a takeaway straight after, after obsessing about Chinese food for a week. It’s a paltry substitute, my local being one of the worst establishments that claim to sell it – where you pick your sauce and your meat, which is a no-go for the cuisine and a sign the gravy drowns out any other flavour, or is an unsubtle clash for an undiscerning clientele. I had to do with crispy noodles with roast pork in a choice of generic sauce or black bean sauce, none of which quite go together.

s

But it sated me somewhat for two meals (wokked up my own additions to the melange, such as fried veg and raw onions, and making it a rice dish with the leftover meat). Still yearn for dim sum, still yearn for going on holiday, to the city of Shantou and ordering their meatball noodles. Ah, in another life.

Film for the night was Artemis Fowl, which I’d long thought was one of those tiny World Book Day books that JK Rowling released back in 2001, and that got milked into franchises (Fantastic Beasts) -their covers look a lot alike. Eoin Colfer’s doppelganger is rather a fairy fantasy series involving Irish nymphs, trolls and dwarves and a poor little rich boy. Colfer cannot, cannot be happy with the film, directed by Kenneth Branagh, unless it was his input as the power behind the throne -where do I start? I literally can’t -the ham acts, the dirge-like explanation of a narrative, the appropriated roles, the appropriated cycle helmets, the script for idiots. I could go on for days -just don’t do it.

This image embodies everything you can expect:

s

From now on I’m ignoring every kids film ever. They cater to the stupid, and kids are often not that. Arrgggh. If your kids walk out of the cinema with warming glee, I’d worry. Send them to borstal and psychiatrists, or tell them fairies are lies and we’ve just long been fucking with them, like Santa. You can thank me later.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 89

Tuesday 16th June 2020

One thing I miss most is eating out. My friends agree we are reaching the stage where it’s fuck the pandemic, fuck the police, let’s go out to get irradiated in the name of a kebab, a shag and skag, preferably all three. For me my vice is currently in the form of Singapore fried noodles (vermicelli), from the Tai Tip Mein palace in Woolwich. TTM is a small local chain that specialises in the cheap and cheerful. As with ‘Chinese’ food the world over it caters to local tastes, notably tweaked for a multiethnic South London population.

WARNING**** FOOD PORN ****

s

The outlet in Elephant & Castle is notorious for looking like the dodgiest, skankiest eating establishment ever by dint, a little unfairly, of its architecture. The one in Woolwich, marginally better, and the one in Greenwich possibly palatial insofar as you even pay after your food rather than before. Woolwich is a gem because they cater to the large African community, notably the Nigerian customers who form a solid clientele. This is a winning formula. Elsewhere round the world the ‘Chinese’ food ups the sugar and salt content for Western tastes, creating gloopy, jam-like sauces more reminiscent of a jar of chutney poured over a changing roster of meats.

s

s

Not so for Woolwich. Nigerian food reminds me of Malay -spicy, beefy, earthy with the chilli to boost, and little demand for the saccharine. Spiced rice like jollof and nasi goreng could be cousins, as could be the roast meats whether it’s beef suya with peanut coating, or satay sticks and peanut sauce. So hey presto! We now have Singapore fried noodles -not the limp, watery variety you get elsewhere, pale and inoffensive, but now the highly spiced version swimming in chilli oil and smoky flavours. It’s not the lovely lurid yellow variety that screams turmeric content, but a fuzzy warm hint of brown thrown in that shows the greater variety of spices. It’s also double a portion you’d expect and studded with the greatest hits -tender chicken, BBQ duck and two types of roast pork (one sweet, the other salty). I always add extra chilli as I’m one of those people. You can only get this version in this branch, winningly so, but do avoid their garlic sauce dishes, a flavour clash if ever there was one.

Nigerian:

s

Malaysian:

s

It’s often a surprise when people actually go to China and find the food tasting unrecognisable to their takeaways back home -and the variety on offer too. There are 15 distinct cuisines, of which 8 are official stand-outs, and a ninth is being added on.

Up in Northern style it’s salty, hearty fare for the colder climes, where the main staple is bread rather than rice, and influenced by the Steppe peoples, such as the Mongols. They gave rise to the wonders of open fire cooking -BBQ and roasting, normally deemed uncivilised by the rest, Beijing roast duck one famous example. Plus lots of warming soups and a surprisingly light and fresh touch by the coast, with a sideline in caramelising things in honey.

Local variations range from the wild Manchurian tribes foraging off the steppe and forest (bear paws anyone?) to the intricate haute cuisine of Imperial cooking, after the Manchus got used to the high end of 300 years in power.

Rou jia mo -‘Chinese hamburgers’, a 2,000 year old streetfood of smoky, spiced pork belly with coriander.

s

Beijing Roast Duck is sourced from a local breed, and cooked in a special oven over peach/ pear wood. The sweet, crackly skin should be served separately, and the meat parcelled into plum sauced pancakes. The remainder a rich broth.

s

Imperial menus employed delicate food carving

s

s

For the Southern style, Cantonese cooking forms the backbone of most of the Chinese diaspora round the world, and thus what many have been exposed to. However it’s not really authentic what we get here as the Cantonese rely on super fresh produce for natural flavour (all ingredients hours from the fields), imparted by the quality of produce and specific upbringing of plant or animal. Done well and it’s an unctuous, subtle play of layers of natural flavour (think steamed dim sum), done badly and it’s a bit plain. Overall, it can be likened to a subtropical version of Japanese, a cuisine of such simplicity yet finesse it has 700 varieties of salt. Rice as a staple. Although joked within China as the people who’ll eat everything with legs other than the chair and table (a famine cuisine), it’s traditionally regarded as the school of cooking par excellence. They may put something like snake or frog in it, but you’ll instead be tasting melt in the mouth chicken. The dog (now banned) will be a specially farmed variety that tastes sweet, the cane rat (a large rodent about a foot long from the rice fields, also farmed) a more expensive substitute for lamb.

s

 

The attention to detail is typical for every region -the meatballs they make in Shantou need to be pounded for 30 minutes nonstop with steel batons (different designs for different textures) that create bodybuilders; the local beef hotpot (meat served up and cooked in a broth at your table) has to be plated within 4 hrs from when the animal was mooing about and takes a year of training to carve up, some slices only 1mm thick. The fermented tofu mooncakes take a 25 step process and are designed to degrade so they can’t be transported beyond the city. Eating here’s pretty much a science, every stage exacted to break down certain types of fat, release different protein strands and get the right balance of texture that is so important for the Chinese palate -foods designed for the shape of the bolus, consistency and feel in the mouth.

Steamed dim sum

s

Steamed fish

s

Numerous offshoots include Hainanese -tropical but historically influenced by Western food thanks to its island trade -no heavy sauces or strong flavours, simple, direct cooking styles. Another one is Teochow/ Chiu Chow, a seafood-savvy cuisine that uses even less oil and is even more delicate, incorporating steaming, but not averse to flavour punches via its sacha sauce (salty with a hint of spice). It also has that rarity in China – a dessert menu. Macanese another one, combining the flavours of old Portugal, Africa and Cantonese cooking, for example African chicken (spiced up and peanutty), or baked, cheesy seafood, spaghetti instead of noodles followed with their version of pastel de nata (custard tarts).

Hainanese chicken rice (simple steamed chicken fed on rice and peanuts, with fragrant stock rice and dips)

s

African Chicken

s

http://www.omnivorescookbook.com

Due East and it’s now more reminiscent of Western takeaways due to the increase in sugar content (Suzhou more so, Shanghai less); lots of noodles and a penchant for seafood. It was historically looked down on by the rest of China for being sugary and unsubtle -but has recently seen a renaissance (thankyou Shanghai), that’s now featuring as the country’s most popular choice of restaurant when eating out. It’s come in leaps and bounds rediscovering its roots as well as reinventing the styles, from the strict regimen of the Anhui branch to the fresh flavours of Jiangsu, the smooth, ungreasy fragrance of Zhejiang to the high quality ingredients of Fujian. But beware, this is where you’ll find the ‘red style’ of cooking similar to takeout, but done much better. Though just as volcanic – you can’t do two in a row.

Squirrel-shaped fish makes use of an explosive frying technique, literally a sugar bomb.

s

Dongpo pork in ‘red style’.

s

Zhejiang’s Longjing prawns can only be eaten between April -when the Longjing tea (finest in China) is budding its best -and early summer as the local prawns are harvested. The unusual dish created accidentally when an emperor spilt his cuppa.

s

 

In central China the heat starts –Sichuan uses its native peppercorn (really a local type of flower bud) to create a different kind of spiciness, one in which the burn of the tongue is replaced by a numbing, tingling sensation in the lips and mouth, known as málà. It still liberally adds chilli on top, and may often call on an entire bottle of chilli oil (yes a whole bottle) as part of a dish, eg boiled fish soup. It relies on dual flavour combinations of spicy, sour, sweet, bitter and salty (eg hot and sour), but which can produce over 40 types of taste sensations depending on the mix.

Boiled fish + pint of chilli:

s

Don’t worry, not all the pepper in a standard dish has to be eaten

s

There are two types of cuisine -one in which the natural flavours come to the fore (eg Cantonese, Japanese, Greek), or the type where a world of flavour is added to compliment or possibly mask the natural ones (eg Indian, Thai, Turkish). Sichuan is decidedly the latter, everything looking geothermal -but it steadfastly maintains the Chinese tradition despite of having super-fresh ingredients, obsessively sourced.

Sichuan hotpot is a shared meal divided between spicy (outside of the constantly bubbling tureen) and not spicy (inside), where you dip your ingredients to cook. As the meal progresses the soup flavour intensifies.

s

Next door is Hunan, once considered an offshoot but more coming into its own. Instead of using peppercorn’s mala, it just throws in voluminous amounts of fresh chilli, purported to be the world’s hottest cuisine and what killed Chairman Mao off with stomach cancer. But so worth it. It is a fresh and aromatic counterpoint to Sichuan, with added onus on smoked and cured goods. Although one of China’s ‘furnaces’ in summer, the chilli is meant to open up the pores and help you cool, in the format of cold appetisers. Yeah, right.

s

Salad, Hunan style:

s

 

Other cuisines are the minority foods. Xinjiang, deemed quite accessible for Western tastes due to the preponderance of bread and dairy, such as cheese, but beware the nose to tail eating, such as sheep’s head. Lots of roast kebabs, spiced beef and lamb, with noodley Chinese influence and Middle Eastern piquancy via the Silk Road. Hui is another Islamic cuisine, but more sinicised with street food wonders beyond meat-on-a-stick, taking the best from both worlds in roast meat patties, date and rice cakes, crumbled bread n’ beef soups (THE definition on unctuous) and chilli lamb noodles.

Xinjiang kebabs

s

Hui date, red bean syrup and rice sticks

s

Tibetan and Mongolian are considered beyond the pale to many. Tibetans are partial to the wind dried variety of cooking (invariably yak jerky), surprisingly spicy as everything comes doused in chilli similar to Korean gochujang and washed down with butter tea. Tibet is a high altitude desert, aka the Third Pole, as if the summit of Mont Blanc was spread out to cover Western Europe – so little veg. Doable though a bit one noted.

s

Their bready dumplings though are a big hit, notably having taken over India as a moreish snack.

s

 

Mongolian is about as out there as you can imagine. If you like meat this is for you, but don’t expect veg or spices or marinades -simply boiled, perhaps served in a plastic bucket. And every part is eaten, from eyeballs to tail tips to hooves. This be warrior food Stage 10.

s

s

There is a version of Mongolian BBQ – a range of meats, veg and sauces fired up teppanyaki style in different combos as spectacle to awaiting diners, said to be sourced from the way the invading Mongols would cook up their feasts on shields, accompanied by broth in upturned helmets (Mongolian hotpot, almost identical to Sichuan’s). However, it appears these formats were a Taiwanese invention, who changed the politically sensitive ‘Beijing BBQ’ to a more palatable Mongolian moniker. The dishes are popular now all over the Chinese province of Inner Mongolia, but not in Mongolia itself.

s

The ninth cuisine people wanna add to the greats is Yunnan. The tropical, minority-happy eating of the steamy southwest. Once derided as poverty food (a jungle has less available protein than a desert), unvarnished presentation and tendency to catch any little thing trying to scurry or crawl away (river larva, snails, insects) it’s now elevated into a healthy eating bonanza, full of fresh salads, flowers, raw ingredients, open fire cooking and banana-leaf or sugar-cane steaming, all to organic sourcing. Very trendy right now, similar to Vietnamese.

s

s

 

Thus ends a brief rundown on the Chinese cuisines, whether divided into 4, or 8, or 15, or 40, or 400 dependent on where you split hairs. That it’s hard to find genuine Chinese food outside the country, where freshness is king and you don’t have to rely on pre-packed ingredients nor cater to local tastes.

And to cut a very, very shaggy dog story down to size, I fucking want one.

 

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 86

Saturday 13th June

STILL SICK OHMIGAAHD. It has not come to pass.

But then, woke again a few hours later, sweaty, stained and strained. And it had, miraculously ache-free. Well enough to be up and about and feeling healthy in the first time in weeks. Bizarre.

And well enough to go out by the afternoon to meet some friends who live across the way, first time we’ve seen them in ages. Making full use of the lockdown ease in restrictions.

Discovered Wandsworth Common in all its glory.

The streets through Clapham very much resembled a socially distancing block party, all the pubs, cafes and restaurants doling out custom while the punters resided in doorways and on household chairs, available ledges and walls. Northcote Rd enjoyed a black van with a DJ pumping out the BBQ choons, apparently entirely independent from any business.

Everyone on one side of the street partied, the other side stopped, stared then decided on joining them.

davdav

The park is the usual Common scenario – blank grassland with trees at its edges, popular with sports but these days taken over by the picnickers and drinkers, notably ourselves.

Plenty of the local teens were out loitering, circling with digital boomboxes and the hot bods -the kind who still wear their baseball caps backward, circa 1987/ 2017 -with their tops off and throwing varieties of ball.

By late afternoon the clouds were gathering on this first day in a week with sunshine, doom-laden with a double rainbow appearing. Some parts of the space resistant to shadow shone bright even as it rained. It must be odd playing ball, the wind blowing, hands freezing, refusing to put your pecs away and pretending you’re still in Rio, and not Wandsworth in the rain.

Nothing will ever dampen those horizons, or get in their way.

dav

Then it was back to theirs, a sparkling place of modern living and luxury simplicity segued into a historic building -all minimalist de-clutter offset by lone artpieces, historic detailing and orchids. The kind of place you think, one day my son… Designed by the architect who makes one half of the couple, the other a yoga instructor having given up being a vet due to how dire and depressing the industry is. By all accounts riven with death, intrigue and bitching like Game of Thrones with abducted pomeranians and murderfied gerbils – it has the highest suicide rates of any other industry. -I remember a mate who was a veterinary nurse, his little flat dotted with occasional squeaks, hairballs and furtive burrowing sounds at every turn, from the rescued animals he couldn’t bear to put down. He regaled me on the practices that happened.

For example, if some kind soul brought in an injured squirrel, perhaps rounded into a soft ball in delicate hands, you were meant to thank them graciously and wait awkwardly till they left. Then take the furball outside, and pitch it like a baseball at the tarmac or appropriated Death Wall. For the government insists you do it as guidance -as an invasive species from North America it demands annihilation, having sent the native Reds (smaller, tufty ears, red) into ever shrinking outposts in Scotland, as they get outcompeted.

s

sss

There is another line of conservation, that treats invasive species beyond a certain timescale as acceptable (as almost every wildlife habitat was created by being an invasive species at some stage). The city is currently seeing in a small colony of teeny Yellow Tailed Scorpions in East London, near the old docks where they jumped ship from the Med.

s

We also have mitten crabs (yes, another Chinese biological import) -more problematic as they’re killing off all local species in favour of one. However, we may have hope -put a price on anything, and the human er ‘spirit’ will suddenly come to the fore and vanquish the impossible multitudes. As seen in the port city of Qingdao just before the Beijing Olympics, when a disastrous algae bloom turned the local coast a brilliant green. The government, having exhausted the army, eco groups and local do-gooders, then added a price for every bucket hauled (it can be used as fertiliser, food additives and fuel) -within days the seas had been cleansed and every grain of sand scrubbed as thousands of humans with greed on their minds descended.

s

Mitten crabs are of course a prized delicacy in places like Shanghai that holds them as a star dish of the city, winning Michelin wreaths for their sweet flesh. In Europe however they haven’t caught on because of the offputting look of the growths that grow on the pincers (hence their name, and another moniker being ‘Hairy Crabs’). Also, they’re Thames dwelling, sieving through 20,000 tonnes of annual sewage dumped after every heavy rainfall, and thus not quite as salivating. The Mayor is currently building the enormously overpriced, already-late ‘Super Sewer’ (at 5 billion smackeroonies its ballooned to 5x the original cost thanks to money-grabbing contractors), a 25km tunnel under the city that will be able to take the overflow of raw shit. Until then it’s unlikely to be on any trendy menus.

It was so nice to socialise again, progressed into light drunkendom and gossiping about everything lockdown, riot and race related. It’s almost a social nicety now -to catch up on the current events, protests and pandemic at the start to get it over and done with, though now slowly becoming like Brexit B Word -something not to mention in polite company and ambassador’s balls. It segued nicely, and divisively, into how much of a colonialist twat our sacred Churchill was after 3 million died in the Bengal famine, that a 2017 study on the soil samples now affirms was engineered by his actions not drought (and the fact he denied them aid even after Canada and the US offered).

s

At some stage we moved on to the hot topic of upward mobility (welcome to party-mad middle age, guys) and I stated it was noticeably easier in the UK, touting not just the figures but anecdotes on how many of our posho mates and creatives came from chavvy, knifey fams in caravan parks or refugee trails. But then J pointed out, we’d never even have that convo outside the UK, where class isn’t such a big fucking hang-up. I looked at it, he was right.

We later tried the homemade kimchi -fermented cabbage swamped in chilli (horribly pungent, spicy, and superb); Korean food is not like Chinese -it punches as a single note without so much the differing layers of flavour or texture, but in a good way. We finished the night with more wine, a surefire path to migraine and hangover for me, but what the hell. I need it. The food’s made me as reckless and unapologetic, likely to fight on the beaches.

Not so much a block party, more a fizzy, enjoyable slump into foreign sofas.

s

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 83

Wednesday 10th June 2020

The small vagaries of life in a domestic existence start off ephemeral, but soon grow especially once they recur.

There is a strange animal outside making a noise every morning and often through the day. Often at dawn. Starts off as a squawking, progresses into dying seagull, and whining into oblivion. Occasionally screams. Enough to have gotten me up at 5am searching in slippers for some injured bird. During the afternoon you’ll hear a hoiking noise like a fat bloke clearing his throat, which degenerates into a yapping cough. I looked all of these up, and it’s a fox, which J, brought up on a farm, regards as vermin but I think magical, but then again I think pigeons are magical. The grunting cough it does is called ‘gekking’ (onomatopeic – the word sounds like what it means), one of a large retinue of noises the animal can make, most infamous of which is the death scream, pealing into the night when it’s supposedly mating, or just bored imo:

Deer also scream, not to mention make pinball noises

It is with this extra time on one’s hands, chained to a screen for hours, and having exhausted every favourite site that you begin to explore. I went for a random meander down the problems of cursive writing in the Russian script.

Lishish – (you will deprive) Лишишьs

s

s

s

And the traditional solution to the problem:

I have also been following travellers as they visit London the first time:

And lightshows in China:

The largest of which comes from Wuhan, a city you might have heard of recently. It covers 900 buildings:

Peeps trying Marmite the first time:

08:35

07:37

14:02

And Surströmming

Which naturally segues into vertigo vids:

Until 2007 this climb was done entirely without safety harnesses for millions of pilgrims, many who’d do the plank walk. A favourite suicide spot in recent years it’s now frequently closed as they launch investigations.

Welcome to the rabbit hole that is lockdown life by this stage.

So need a life right now. I’m sure Bezos sells one on Amazon.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 82

Tuesday 9th June 2020

Two films, one risible the other invigorating. The first was very promising: Proximity, what looked like an indy Strange Encounters. Everything quite subtle and fresh, steadfastly unformed or formulaic, and that kept you guessing -was it purposefully redolent of a 90s film in style and format? At first I thought the crux of the tale was to be on the human condition, ignited by obsession, fear, misrepresentation and fame (the protagonist documents an alien abduction). The lead decidedly averse to Hollywood translation -a science nerd and his mates who genuinely look like ones, and not say Chris Hemsworth or Anne Hathaway with specs. A Canadian flick surely -like a version of Hollywood with more pathos, desolation and nudity, to a smaller budget (it is actually American).

s

But then midway through the stylus scratch. The minute the Men in Black showed up complete with wraparound shades and penguins suits it became a laugh-a-minute meme, so riddled with ham robots, ant-head aliens, odious villainry, bad FX and grossly inaccurate gunsights (‘lazer’ guns haha) it became unwatchable thereon. The jarring deus ex machina was too much -coming across an internet wizz in the Costa Rican jungle, and one willing to throw life to wind to tag along, plus inveigling a brief flight from jungle to the Canadian Rockies without payment or passport. The fact the love interest is love interest (that’s like so pre-2017), falling coyly, titillatingly in love despite the fact they’re on the run from dark forces and share nothing in common but having been beamed up, her make up immaculate even waking up, or under interrogation. Others have called it a ‘film school film’.

s

The follow-up flick was The Hunt. BEWARE SPOILERS AHEAD

Universally slated as it was offensive to both sides of the political spectrum, it portrays a group of right-wing nutters (the kind who shock jock) kidnapped and hunted down by sick left-wing elites (the kind who argue about representation during their deaths). All very tongue in cheek, but drawing criticism from the right (notably the Trump) for the premise of gunning down their compadres, and the left for the negative, comedic portrayals of hypocritical SJWs. Neither side ever noticed the balance it appears. When one such elitist is asked, gun to face, whether she should get deferential, kinder treatment for being a woman she starts off with ‘no…’ and is subsequently shot in the head.

s

This effect on the audience is its winning card. As a fellow social justice warrior it was amazing seeing the change in my own reaction when realising midway through the killing, that those being mercilessly hunted down were from the opposing camp. That these previously hard-to-watch, violent scenes suddenly became camp and comedic, as intended. True to life, both sides never let up and give the other any shred of humanity, even after realising mistaken identity. They just have to win, at all costs. It is something to question what we deem human, humane and inhuman.

Hero of the movie is Crystal, played by the inimitable Betty Gilpin, whose name could not be more opposite to the character she portrays – a sociopathic, unrelenting southern ‘hick’ as brave and intelligent as can be against all societal and weapon-based odds: ‘Why’d they wanna kill us? Who gives a fuck.” We’re never sure what side of the fence she stands.

s

The film flopped thanks to being put back (after the ubiquitous monthly gun massacres Stateside), then released shortly before lockdown. It’s now on Netflix, having resorted to that as a debut. A must-see in my book.

Other films from the day were Labyrinth (don’t remember it being so hammy, a bit queasy every time Bowie’s jockstrap hoves into view or the 14 year old Jennifer Connelly gets sexied up), and Muriel’s Wedding (hilarious, seminal coming of age flick for an entire generation, laying the ground rules we see in our Millennials today).

Sooo, back to real life… The weather’s shit, as always, and looks likely to stay that way until July – quel surprise for the UK, international doyenne of scullery skies. Life at the mo is but a scroll of windows.

A mate the other day complained he’s stopped reading, and I concurred. Three other avid bookworms seem to be suffering the same fate as of late, myself included. When faced with so much interior life the lure of screentime on your phone, akin to some Mughal courtesan in a night-scented garden, glittering with diamonds -or Shazza/ Brent the town bike behind the bikesheds with some bicycle grease -jumps straight to the nitty gritty. No need to waylay them into a date, some Joop!, a rendition of your perfect life, some light jazz, a coffee, a cuddle and maybe an introductory handjob. Now a screen will ignite within seconds what a book takes several chapters to build up to. -Watch as Maria gets molested by a dolphin, a squawking crowd flee a tsunami, Mark gets jizz in his eye, or Gavriil ploughs into a moose on the autobahn. Swipe right, swipe left, swipe up and down and all around repetitively till it hits the spot.

Is this it for now on?

s

s

s

Now do swipe right.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Week 11

Sunday 24th May 2020

Wake scroll eat repeat.

Another grey day, another wasted one. Has everyone reached the stage of lying in bed all day yet? That thing we swore not to do at the start of lockdown is now requisite. Not bothering to change, curling up with a screen for hours.

I’m entering the dragon, where even the phone’s getting neglected. I don’t care for social media anymore, what anyone ever is doing out there, the few messages increasingly unanswered and increasingly infrequent. The TV too, with Netflix just blaring out a side of Amerika that’s not timely right now, too full of bullshit and pizzazz that disgusts you rather than sucks you in. I’m not watching films, I’m not reading. While that one worry, whatever it is becomes like a rock sentinel in some desert, the only thing on the horizon you try and work around or blot out. But no matter how vast the plain is, how distant that monolith, it’s always fucking visible.

I have to chase up a refund, Cockhands Carlton Leisure, a company to always avoid if ever there was one, who’ve been promising it for a month now. UUURG. J is still absent, the silver clock in the living room ticks infernally so I’ve hidden it in the corner, where it can annoy the pillows.

There’s just so little to say.

 

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Week 10

Sunday 17th May 2020

Battersea, the coming dusk at 8pm.

dav

The crowds headed home but for the animals reclaiming.

dav

Mandarin ducks are so called as a pair are traditionally given to newlyweds in China as they mate for life.  -No, we do not subsequently eat them.

dav

The place has become overgrown, as it was always meant to be, making new dells.

dav

dav

Dying of the light

dav

dav

dav

This year this pen laid her eggs quite openly, and close to the path. An old lady waylaid anyone taking a look and entrapped them in convo. She was worried the foxes might nab the eggs, but as someone always says when you see a swan, they can break your leg. Pub Quiz fact, they, along with the Great Bustard, are the heaviest flying birds.

dav

Once home, it’s back to domesticity. I’ve noticed a thing, a health thing. My legs get tired and achey every morning. Also after every meal it’s straight to snooze time, the gradual dying of the fight. Just so cannot be arsed. A says it’s sugar sensitivity, J that it’s lying down too much. Everything I eat is packaged and carby and salty, I am apparently in need of salad forever. Life over.

Literally cannot list more than 5 veg that I will actually, actively like. Onions, potatoes, rocket. Er think that’s it. Is garlic a veg?

If it is some kind of congealing of blood, the fatigue makes me lie down more, and get cosy with a screen. Life becomes reaching distance. Not so much a vicious circle but a snug, blanketed one.

The hair’s grown out. Like it with a hat and the blonde poking out.

Snapchat-362376298(1)

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 58

Friday 15th May 2020

Slept a good night, woke at 8 then did some scrolling. Slept again at 10, then up for lunch, of a biscuit and cereal. The giant chocolate chip cookie I treated myself to the other day in Lidl has bitten back, so sweet as to be near inedible. Entered a sugar coma till 6pm.

In short have slept for 15hrs out of 24. Can’t be good. They say you need 8-10hrs a night for healthy brainwaves, which is come on, ludicrous with our modern lifestyles. -Working well past our recompense and any accrued efficiency, with that sesh on Netflix our only downtime (which is why we’re so addicted). Mine recently’s been about 5, an hour or two less than normal.

Will casually namedrop this while pretending to look for a spoon:

s

 

The day’s been a write-off. But been good to have time with A for a change, in bed and watching shite together on phone or tablet. Picking up the pieces, slowly.

Been witnessing especially lurid dreams recently, as have all of us. Perhaps there’s something in the air, or we’re all hitting a collective stage of isolation-spazz endemic to humans. I have recently, in the land of nod:

  • chased some old Karen lady out a library after she hit A with a handbag, she tried to escape in a getaway car, hissed at her that she was a cunt
  • seen the sunlight falling on A‘s face in the dark, woke up crying
  • getting caught watching porn, can’t remember who by
  • something about a painting, some woman, yelled in my sleep that she was a cunt too
  • midway in a dream a big thunder strike that woke me up, the sound equating to an explosion of colours, like a Holi fest. Turned out it was something/ someone falling over in the flat above. Am increasingly convincing myself dreams are another dimension beyond our understanding of 3D sight and timescale. Like a feeling of presence, form and being, inhabiting the space.

Okay, slightly worrying the repeat of calling women the C-word (though Ms Woolf does urge us to claim the word back). Perhaps misogyny embedded and rising to the fore, or as they say, the subconscious trying to tell you something you’ve not heeded, even if it is that you left the fridge door open. I hope it’s that some woman shoplifted from my basket, rather than schizoid serial killering. Or too much Ricky Gervais recently and his love of the word, or anything really that’s crossing the boundary. I just remember being outraged each time.

Was watching some podcasts on weeerk motivation -overcoming procrastination (do the hardest part first), pefectionism (a form of self-sabotage, don’t set your expectations so high), and selling yourself (and not being guilty/ fake/ grasping about it). Can’t remember who it was but it was nicely framed by an author, so she had several nice quips about the book business, albeit from too charmed a position. Namedropping one really should contact movers in the biz, or ask other successful writers to run things past, which to your average hack is far too readily immersive.

On that subject, didn’t mean to leave this lying around.

s

Made some fajitas, substituting the chicken with Quorn chunks. The tortillas were too bready and a bit like eating a rubber-paper mix, the ‘meat’ flavourless other than the BBQ coating, the packet sauce way too sweet, sour and pungent. Adding lime and raw red onion to it just created a chemical attack. Gawd, supermarket packet food. AVOID.

Never had a good Mexican in the UK, every time they stimp on the chilli, (the WASP repackaging) which is vital to the flavour balance. Also over a hundred ingredients traditionally go into your average fajita, from the spice mix to the dough to the guacamole and sauces, many of which get dismissed. It’s one of the reasons why it was the first of only two cuisines UNESCO listed as world heritage status (the other being pan-Mediterranean). Peeps from the Americas often complain about the starchy, bland substitutes over this side of the pond and I’m inclined to agree without ever having tried the real thing. Even in Mexican run establishments it’s all watered down or catering to local tastes as they lose custom otherwise, the old adage for Asian food the spectrum over, notably Chinese that comes in over-sweet, gloopy sauces unrecognisable in the homeland.

 

In other news the UK death toll from C-19 is lowering, albeit still 400-500 daily. A curious thing happens each week, the numbers fall encouragingly with each new day, hitting a nadir by weekend -then shooting back up again Monday.

It remains to be seen when we open up, how much it will again rise. As reminder, the UK has the second highest amount of deaths yet recorded, behind the US, at over 34,000 and 240,000 cases. Our strain appears deadlier than Italy’s.

It’s amazing how we’re used to it now, it barely registers anymore. We are perhaps too engrossed in our domestic lives, the screen that is our inlet now tiresome from the same single note, with a new normal at play. Doom! Gloom! So now we’re knowingly ranking our small dramas, whims and recipe suggestions ahead of the fate of the world, even when we’re the ones so threatened. I’m sure it’s something we all do as per norm, but so brazen and acceptable these days it’s how a sociopath must live. The other option? Lighting a tealight in vigil? Taking to the barricades?

Rather just soldiering on, defeatist to all that shit hitting the fan, from the protests against lockdown to the casual racism, the ineptitude of governments to the people fallen by the wayside, or willingly sacrificed to it.   Worra buncha Cunts.

Oops.

s

Meanwhile: Has Jeff Bezos Become a Trillionaire During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 55

Tuesday 12th May 2020

J got sick, feeling back pain and a headache. Then he woke up drowsy as if a hangover, enough to have to get me to do his shopping. No runny nose, cough or fever, taste and smell fine. But still.

So we had to have that conversation, something we should have had way before any of this, months ago: what to do if anyone gets it.

Standing 2 metres away from someone at all times is pretty awkward in a flat like this. J cocooned on the sofa in blankets while we stood in the opposite corner by the door, I might as well have gotten a stick to prod him with, maybe a crucifix.

So we’ll isolate him in his room, and do all the feeding and tending, though J’s idea is to go his partner’s place and sit it out there. I advised against, considering there are other flatmates on that side to consider, who may get infected.

We then awkwardly retired to our bedrooms for the early night; the living room feels a bit in bad taste now.

Next morning we checked up and no sweats, chills and headache had gone, no blue ‘Covid toes’ and the pain had moved down his back. We think it’s been back pain all along.

Lockdown is easing now across the country, people now allowed out for as long as they can exercise, and commuting set for tomorrow. Life is starting again, but it remains to be seen how fast and how large a second wave will be. In Seoul, one super-carrier out at the newly reopened nightlife, visited 5 clubs in one night, infecting dozens. They’re now trying to trace nearly 2,000 other punters.

Greece, a vision of how to do things, with 2,700 cases and only 150 deaths, will reopen for tourism in June. Brits will be allowed by our government to partake.

In contrast NYC is still hammered down, whose death toll is now past 26,000. By contrast San Francisco, who locked down on the same timescale, has only 35 deaths. That’s no mistake, not even a week’s difference, and change in population density take into account such a discrepancy. They believe more strongly it’s due to different strains, NYC infected from a more lethal, contagious mutation from Europe, California a milder one from Asia.

The bungled efforts of the government has doomed much of the nation -epidemiologists say 60% of the 83,000 deaths (about 50,000) so far could have been avoided if they’d lockdowned a week earlier – a clock has been set in Times Square advertising the fact. The BBC has looked in-depth at the response, comparing it with other nations, and finding that Democrat governors locked down on average after 2.5 days when deaths hit 1 per million. Republicans locked down on average 13.5 days – nearly two weeks later.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/embed/p08cx0s7/52622037

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-us-canada-52622037/coronavirus-the-lost-six-weeks-when-us-failed-to-contain-outbreak



New York is currently the world’s deadliest place per capita
. The global Top 20 at the mo:

New York – 1,397
San Marino – 1,208
New Jersey – 1,074
Connecticut – 853
Belgium – 756
Massachusetts – 746
Andorra – 621
Spain – 576
Italy – 511
Louisiana – 505
UK – 482
District of Columbia – 476
Michigan – 468
Rhode Island – 419
France – 414
Sweden – 328
Netherlands – 322
Pennsylvania – 306
Republic of Ireland – 301
Maryland – 290

The excess deaths in New York are six times the average, and very likely c-19 is being undercounted. The same for the UK, which if connected would almost double our current total of 33,000 dead. Both New York State and the UK are now seeing a decrease in cases and deaths, but in Italy they are rising again. Russia now has the second highest amount of global cases.

In other words, we’re knowingly opening up again, knowingly killing. Like at the start of the pandemic, we can see it coming, we can work it out personally. But we’re trusting our government to take action despite.

Yesterday

Tomorrow