A Journal of the Plague Year Day 97

Wednesday 24th June 2020

Mum rang this morning. We talked about her furloughing, and the likelihood they will be making her redundant, then about family and the past. Laughed, cried. We’re gonna look at this positively, despite her ongoing imprisonment for the foreseeable.

Did actually go out with some friends from work who I’ve not seen in ages, making use of the 30C sunshine. The grounds on the estate were already packed by morning, every available spot sequestered by sunbathing residents, some on deckchairs or reading on benches, or lolling like dead bodies in the heat, from morning till night.

One of the workmates, A, told me she’d had the lergy, the first person I know who’s been diagnosed -she’d gotten sick back in March and was told by the 111 hotline it was unlikely despite losing her smell and taste. That was back then, when they thought so little of the pandemic, and a sign of how they were sweeping the problem under the carpet, which to this day is still the national pasttime. She only just told her parents 3 months later, and her mum, so distant in Italy, cried.

Meanwhile C turned up as a beautiful stranger, whose lockdown has made him tanned and svelte from the jogging round in his spare time, with perfect locks and Italian shades. He’s been trapped with over-excitable housemates and is now looking to move, while also juggling work politics, such as getting the go-ahead for a trip back home then having it rescinded. We are to reopen soon, with the government okaying museums from the 4th of July.

Drank a wee bit much, about 5 pints plus some wacky in the Subtropical gardens of Battersea National Park. It was populated by the usual crowd peacocking their bikini lines and six-packs, plus another workmate we happened to plant our picnic blankets next to; small world. She’d just graduated from Goldsmiths, but the end of year exhibition -vital in making your name -had been canceled for an online-only showing. Class of 2020 eh. Every generation has a tragedy to stain their prospects -WWI, the Wall Street Crash, WWII, the Cold War, 911. And the Millenials got not just that but the 2008 Recession and now Covid 19 on top, a triple whammy wherein they’re unlikely to get steady work or ever own a property. They have time and time again been paying for the sins of their fathers, with Global warming still to look forward to. No wonder they’re protesting.

But was great to catch up and get immersed again in all the gossip, swapping stories into the night -whodja fancy? Who’s a twat? What’s Grindr like? What’s your star sign? Felt much like a teenager again and in a good way, the kind of night where life still lay ahead.

A joined later, then it was a midnight walk back through town, through baking streets and that dark, lurid blue in the night skies. There’s a lot to be said about how rested and enjoyable it has been recently, while things play out beyond our grasp, blinkered as we are by the immediate. The deaths from C-19 are now down to only 15 a day, but we all worry for the second wave, as the US is on trend to experience right now. It has to end some time, this lockdown, and we come crashing back to reality.

Weeeerk. Two weeeeks.

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 96

Tuesday 23rd June 2020

Was trapped watching Sense8 on Netflix by J; the show a product of the Wachowski Sisters, the gothy minds behind The Matrix trilogy. This time round it appears the siblings have been given carte blanche and the equivalent of a bottomless credit card in terms of creative license, that worked so well back in the day, to the tune of $1.6 billion in takings for their franchise. So the premise this time is a bunch of strangers across the globe who are able to telepathically connect -they feel, talk to and see each other in real time -while stalked by a hellbent organisation trying to kill em off.

The Wachowskis are a pretty left wing, inclusive bunch, having themselves transitioned in gender and being staunch advocates of LGBTQIA rights and free lovin’, which inhabits this storyline with gay and transgender characters throughout. They also bring together disparate personalities representing multiple forgotten countries outside the North American bubble -Kenya, India, South Korea, Iceland, Germany, Mexico. Well so far, so diverse.

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However, look closer and it starts to jar, notably the storylines. The Indian woman is of course caught in an arranged marriage, and battling local corruption, with a sideline in her family curry restaurant. The Kenyan man lives in a vast slum of local corruption, gang crime and HIV infection -killers at every corner. The South Korean woman is a martial arts master with a Masters in Economics, sacrificing all for family honour (wrongly imprisoned, battling -you guessed it -local corruption plus honour-bound chauvinism, to the extent her family lets her take the fall and her brother’s trying to kill her). The Mexican guy -a telenovella star (perhaps the closest the Wachowskis got to a Mexican experience) is in the closet, battling machismo stereotype, the church, wifebeating, blackmail and the vapidness of fame.

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It can be tough sell for those non-White or non-Western, try as you might. At first I made myself believe this was a wonderful cherry-picking take on every major social problem in each territory; that the Wachowski’s had done their research and were consciously raising awareness. But by the second episode it was pretty obvious they’d done quick Google searches or just put down a veneer of what’d rubbed off some passing media trope. To make it more obvious if a Black American character was up for the stand, and his raison d’etre was ghetto gangs, police brutality, drugs and trying to win back his disowned son, while aiming to be the new rap/ hoop star of the ages, it’d be cringe level 10, especially coming from the usual rich, White penmanship.

In contrast the White characters are multi-layered, do not perform to stereotype, and do not have long, lingering sidelines in their tale to prove they’re more than just a number. Laugh for hours as you discover the Korean woman likes beans on toast, or the Kenyan guy drives a homemade bus in ode of Jean-Claude Van Damme! By comparison the Icelandic woman is a DJ and living in London (not a Viking helmet or geyser in sight), the German guy’s a safecracker for organised crime (not what you’d equate with Germania), while the Americans are safely disparate as bloggers and policemen and hackers and ecologists.

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The script is derisory to say the least, although the valiant acting helps to blunt the edges, despite dooming their careers. The long, lingering shots of nookie at every turn is another seller, albeit it becomes quite an obsession. At several points throughout any given episode the characters will down tools (maybe take up new ones) to have a transcontinental fumble, often swapping bedpartners or becoming embroiled in one big orgiastic flexihump, that makes one reckon it’s wish fulfilment on the directors’ behalf (remember the weird, fluid-spraying rave in Matrix?). I see these characters -at every opportunity away from the henchmen -prowling the alleys, peeking through windows, looking for jizz.

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One character, the fellow actress/beard/fag hag/PR/PA/agent/secretary/housemaid/manager/fan vetter/letter opener/rooftiler of the Mexican couple is so laughably, vicariously infatuated with her housemates, and devoid of any life of her own she openly friggs herself off from the corner of the bed as they get manmansex-time. This seems to mirror the veritable well of navel gazing stupor the Wachowskis may be immersed in, in how blinkered they are to anyone’s experience other than their own. When Nomi (Know Me) makes the Maid of Honour speech at her sisters already compromised wedding, she hijacks the entire loveletter to make a diatribe on her transrights. One feels like yelling at her, Nomi it’s not all about you, all of the time.

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But then again, am I not wallowing in the selfsame mire? Were I long-suffering of trans abuse would this not be a revelation of a series, and a breath of fresh air for an ignorant world? While overlooking the corny national stereotypes, suddenly unimportant or forgivable. Would I be publicly standing up and voicing this diatribe to override their struggle?

ANYHOO, enough bitching. The world is stupid and so am I. Back to life.

Went out for a breath of fresh air and a touch back to reality, the real version not the utterly, ludicrously fantastical. Life sometimes is too much lived vicariously or not at all, even if it is to brandish fists at the skies.

The sun was high today, the weather cool and the fields a riot of wildflowers, even for urban, unkempt commons. And leaving it all behind.

To end the day:

btybtybtybty

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 95

Monday 22nd June 2020

Cut my nails. It was amazing.

Cancelled a park meet up.

Went out to sunbathe in the grounds.

Made some maps for Reddit, for which I have a new obsession (something about the globalisation of our pandemic has imbedded in my mind). It will likely last a few days:

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^India 1.38 billion, Pakistan 218m (in that catchment), Bangladesh 165m, Nepal 29m + Sri Lanka 22m = 1.814 billion

China – 1.2 billion in that catchment, Japan 125 million (in that catchment), Koreas 78m + Taiwan 24m, + Vladiviostok metro 1m = 1.428 billion.

SE Asia Thailand 70m, Myanmar 55m, Singapore 6m, Malaysia 32m, + Philippines 110 m+ Laos + Cambodia 24m + Indonesia (in that catchment) 265m + Vietnam 98m = 660m

= 3, 902m (50.0001% of World population 2020 -7.8 billion).

Or if you prefer (spot the difference)

x2

Worked out I could get rid of Borneo and Sulawesi entirely (42m) by substituting it for:

urban Gansu province – 25m (the pert nipple on China)

Tajikistan – 9.5m

incursion into Afghanistan to capture the Kabul region -7.5m

=42m

Some notes:

  • The traditional rice growing regions of the world could support 2-4 harvests, and the nature of growing it (lateral thinking, constant tweaking to fool the plant into thinking it’s constantly drowning) meant feudalism/ top down management was hard to implement = replaced by trading cities, and the planet’s densest tracts of them. Which in turn led to most of the world’s megacities and no less than 7 or 8 megalopoli.
  • Vladivostok (top right corner), long the Siberian banishment beyond the pale, is actually part of the centre of humanity. It could stand to reap in the tourism for much of the world looking for a shorter haul connection to the ‘European’ experience, especially if dolled up/ rebuilding its historic architecture.
  • This is the ‘centre of the world’ in terms of humanity. It shows how cities like Delhi and Beijing are often more important than they’re given credit for.

The Mercator version

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Watched Godzilla, the 1998 version. Shit, not what I remembered it as.

Finished a book, Sapiens by Noah Yuval Harari. Great.

Had lots of soup (A is on a soup-only week, trawling through myriad exotic recipes). Ukrainian borscht.

Went to bed.

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 90

Wednesday 17th June 2020

Cooking disaster. The kind where you have so little of a life having been kept indoors for 3 months it’s a life changing event that bleeds out tears. One in which you’ll launch on a public tirade, fists to the air and life in tatters.

Lidl. Big expensive pasta of their ‘Luxury’ range. It said put it to simmer for 8 minutes, when it actually needed 4x more to even reach Al Dente. A spent a good 45 minutes preparing the sauce and mince, only to have the dish ruined when we bit in, the inside of every giant shell dry, white and uncooked.

I envisaged writing a sternly written letter from Tunbridge Wells, calling them utter cunts, or taking up witchcraft and a hex that they become weaselly (pinched nose, whiskers, small eyed) to reflect their shitty, money grasping acts. Launching on Twitter to worldwide acclaim and letters of support. Or better, youtube, filming the unbroiled results like a product unboxing to hundreds of appalled comments and a testament for years.

After microzapping it for 3 x 2 minutes to no avail, had to clean each shell under the tap and dunk it back into the pan. Spilled boiling water over my foot while doing so and swearing the house down. FML. They are to blame.

In the letter I’ll big it up that I was throwing a dinner party, possibly entertaining a European prince, and a baby got splashed. And sign off as a Viscount.

Such is life right now, any small bump becomes horizon-levelling. The trip out to get the damn thing was as bleary and unconscious as any trip to the supermarket is these days -after a run of socialising almost every day this week it’s been quite a letdown, the weather. Stormy and insipid in equal measure but wet throughout. Canceled my future engagements (another haircut for a friend and a meet up in Battersea park), and have resided into doing more of the same old same old.

Slowly, surely I’ve reached my limit with news sites and forums. This a good thing, social media also now off the list. This leaves movies and reading as more productive distractions, though the phone has perked up, having been neglected for so long. It is as if you kill off one vice and another replaces it, waiting in the wings all this time.

Should just go cold turkey and stare at a wall, take up all those enlightening things such as meditation, yoga, exercise, learning something, cooking from a cookbook without fuckery. But it all seems so far-fetched and these days it’s all about the cold hand of realism. I’m thinking of skipping. Downstairs, in some hidden corner, and putting the damn rope to use for the first time in 5 years since I bought it. I wonder if I’ll look like a tit. Maybe 4am, in disguise like a mummer, or mugger.

But seriously, as if. Another day, hey.

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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 Po-lice, 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 ****

I will pay good money to lie quivering on a table and be covered with dis shit:

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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 in building stakes, and the one in Greenwich possibly palatial insofar as you even pay after your food rather than before. Woolwich however is the gem of all three because it caters to a large African community thereabouts, notably the Nigerian customers who form a constant 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 mystery meat special.

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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 that screams turmeric content, but a warm brown tint 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). If you want a centrefold, it’s the one at the top ^.  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:

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Malaysian:

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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.

Let me lead you on a culinary journey, I’ve prepared a magic carpet and silverware. But we’re not eating the monkey:

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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 people, such as the Mongols. They gave rise to the wonders of open fire cooking -BBQ and roasting (normally deemed uncivilised by the rest), with Beijing 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. Can’t go wrong with dat.

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

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

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Beijing Roast Duck is sourced from a local breed, and cooked in a special oven over peach/ pear wood. It’s actually a three course meal: the sweet, crackly skin served separately, and the meat parcelled into plum sauced pancakes. The remainder a rich broth.

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Imperial menus employed delicate food carving. I mean look at the little squidgey, delectable fuckers:

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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 as the Cantonese rely on super fresh produce instead of having to look dispiritedly through piles of dried, mass-packaged ingredients at the Asian warehouses you see over here. It’s all about the natural flavour (all ingredients hours from the fields, either still braying or unwilted): 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, dare-I-say-it… plain. Overall, it can be likened to a subtropical version of Japanese, another cuisine of such simplicity yet finesse it has 700 varieties of salt. Rice as a staple.

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Hong Kong public art

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 oops! slip something like a snake or frog into the breach, but you’ll instead be tasting melt in mouth chicken. Fido will be a specially farmed breed that tastes sweet, the cane rat -a big stonking rodent about a foot long from the rice fields -also farmed and a more expensive substitute for lamb.

Before:

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After (and I’m not telling you which one’s which):

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For Lassie lovers who complain dogs are too intelligent, loyal, friendly and adorable to be chased round and cleavered, yet still find it within their hearts to eat pork -don’t worry it’s now banned.

The attention to detail is sovereign for every region -the beefballs they make in Shantou need to be pounded for 30 minutes nonstop with steel batons (different designs for different textures) that create the world’s bounciest meatballs and bodybuilders and meatballs again. The local 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, some slices only 1mm thick. The fermented tofu mooncakes employ a 25 step process 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’s so important for the Chinese palate -foods designed for the shape of the bolus, consistency and feel in the mouth.

Steamed dim sum

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Seafood fried rice, Michelin style:

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Numerous offshoots include Hainanese -tropical but historically influenced by Western grub thanks to its island trade -no heavy sauces or strong flavours in simple, direct cooking. Chinese soul food.

Hainanese chicken rice -simple steamed fowl fed on rice and peanuts, with fragrant stock rice and spicy dips

Another one: 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.

Chiu Chow Steamed veg dumplings and lotus wrapped sticky rice

Macanese a rarer gem combining the flavours of old Portugal, Africa and the Cantonese diaspora. Signature plates being African chicken (spiced up and peanutty), or baked, cheesy seafood spaghetti (instead of noodles) followed with their version of pastel de nata custard tarts.

African Chicken -grilled then baked in coconut chilli

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 as its staple 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 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 sweetly volcanic – you just can’t do two in a row.

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

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Dongpo pork in ‘red style’.

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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.

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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:

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

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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 even 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.

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A popular proponent of the cuisine is Liziqi, a former DJ who grew tired of the city lights and headed back to her farmstead to be reborn as peasant polymath:

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.

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Salad, Hunan style:

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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

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Hui date, red bean syrup and rice sticks

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Lamb noodle soup, one of Xian’s signature dishes -crumble the bread yourself, but it has to be the right size

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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In reality with modernisation and the after effects of a turbulent 20th Century Mongol cuisine now has influences from its culturally invasive neighbours, from creamy potato salads and flatbreads to kimchi or mustard fired sauces to stir fries and dumplings. Its a meat lovers paradise these days, rough and ready, with potential for greatness if ever it cared for that, or cutlery even. As a vegan you’d perhaps have to graze on the garnish every time or ask for a lemon.

The ninth cuisine people wanna add to the greats is Yunnan. Long overlooked, this is the tropical, minority-happy eating of the steamy southwest. Once derided as poverty food (a jungle has less available protein than a desert), its unvarnished presentation and hobby for catch any little thing trying to scurry, crawl or squirm desperately 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.

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Hot on Liziqi’s tails is Dianxi Xiaoge, another former policewoman turned rural farmer (she returned when her father got sick) who’s now made it big on the internet the world over. Oh and her giant fucking dog:

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. And that it’s hard to find genuine Chinese food outside the country, where freshness is king, where 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.

Plus he’ll look great on a plate.

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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

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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.

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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).

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Now do swipe right.

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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.

 

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A Journal of the Plague Year Week 10

Sunday 17th May 2020

Battersea, the coming dusk at 8pm.

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The crowds headed home but for the animals reclaiming.

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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.

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

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Dying of the light

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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.

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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.

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 47

Monday 4th May 2020

Took a walk, a first for me on my own. A part of me can’t be bothered to entertain myself, as if, well, what’s the flipping point? I tend towards the home, the computer, the indoors and domestic, living vicariously through a screen due to a crippling lifelong condition called Laziness. The time I do want to experience things trekking about and getting canoodley with life is abroad. As they say, joy is doubled when you share it with someone; I just don’t think it, feel it otherwise.

I’m built to spend time on my own, but not to experience happiness that way.

The streets are as to be expected -the place quiet but nowhere completely empty or like a ghost town. There’s a steady stream of odd cars, and a handful of people on each thoroughfare, with often a queue outside whichever shop that’s open, even the small family-run ones.

Many stores are shut, some looking permanently with newspapers over their glass, or hand drawn signs of desperately discounted pricing, one place wallpapered with A4s of £2. I had no idea what it once sold, the name itself giving no clues. Other places as if momentarily left. The ones still surviving were very much like the old fashioned stores before supermakets took over -bespoke service, specialised produce and community based chit-chat.

Others had added little touches, from antique points of sale and off props, to signs of human misjudgement, not just banal marketing campaigns and identikitted salon design.

Then from the streets to the parks, also slightly unkempt, but beautifully so.

Battersea Park has an odd expanse which looks a lot like a retro exhibition gardens. I couldn’t place it as to whether it was 1950s or 70s, though it was refurbed in 1994 according to the sign. They were fountainless with the flowerbeds starting to overgrow, the squared off trees untrimmed to lose their cubism. A landscape to myself.

There was a sense of an elegant decay, almost spookily so. No animals added to the scene, just the rustling of leaves and water becoming a momento mori.

Gardeners had obviously been laid off or furloughed, with pavilions starting to muddy up, the flower beds dying or getting invaded with weeds and grass. Some cages round the back were populated only by signs touting that the animals would be back soon -metal keeps all profuse and jungled. Hopefully whatever once dwelled there will appreciate the new foliage on return, if still alive.

The rest of the park was gloriously overgrown with nature returning. The parade police were nowhere, but weren’t really needed, with nary a soul for stretches. It was a Monday -everything was just getting on with it. Was good to get out, I see that now.

There’s something to be said about what you notice, about the conversations one has with themselves on a privated walk. Notably the fact you see, feel and experience more than what’s there.

I hope we’re all okay, that we go in peace.

 

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