A Journal of the Plague Year 3.0 Day 3

19th December 2020

Have been spending my time in the company of a computer game recently, chased down metal corridors on a spaceship and crawling through air vents as some evil extra terrestial hunts me out and tries to bite my head, as do creepy androids with steel punches. I’m not sure why but the joypad is the only thing known to science that gives me energy. The rest of the time I have a malaise in my bones, especially when waking where it manifests as a gnawing ache, and dear god it’s such an odyssey to get up for work, each and every damn day. Thankfully which I don’t have right now.

Before the age of 20 I never felt fatigue, even running up hills on my commute, now it’s an absolute constant -some call it age -is it just me? Or some kind of chronic fatigue, or the after-effects of Lyme’s disease or summat. I mean, who the fuck wakes up in a ray of sunlight each morning, stretching their arms with a smile on their face and bouncing out of bed in cereal ads? Pyschopaths, that’s what, on their first day of a killing spree.

So I am tinkering on whether to just dive into a bit of gameplay on waking, in order to boost mind and body, a bit like immersively violent yoga. Blasting people in the face with a glock, getting chased through industrial steam vents, and malleting labourers in the back -there’s nothing more brightening to start your day. Now, I’ve been known to get quite immersed into gaming (one of those people who sway to the side as the pixelated road takes a turn) and I reckon it’s my mind just switching onto threat, and pumping the adrenaline. I don’t think anything in modern life does that anymore, unless you are genuinely besotted with the idea of customer service, or commuting, or pigeons. Jizzing on the keyboards with the latest figures from Marketing and texting work mates about it, at home.

It was 4.30am (my usual waking hour) where I ended up beached, watching youtube foodie vids, then frying up some curry noodles by 10am and falling back asleep as per usual. Till waking again at 3pm. FFS. In 5 minutes I was hauled into the local community pool (ours still runs, given entirely to ourselves in separate sessions) and sitting in the hot tub with A and An, which we’d booked the day before. Swimming I must admit, does give one energy. It’s just the getting used to the cold bite of winter on one’s naked skin each time (changing, creeping into the waters, looking for sharks), akin to a Westeros saga or the 1993 film Alive, where in a cut scene the acid snow comes up and eats them as punishment for cannibalism. Or as a northern European calls it, air.

In my untold decades living in the UK I have never been able to get used to the weather. Ever. For 9 months of the year I feel cold to the bones, no matter how clad, and why it’s such a mountain to climb to throw the duvet off each time. Even my arm creeping out from under the covers, like a pale, angular creature to tap at a keyboard feels dead within minutes, until it verges on pain. People always remark on just how rigor mortis my hands are when they touch them, and I want to scream it’s not me it’s you, fuckers! I’m tropical, my family’s from the jungle – poison darts n dinosaurs n shit. You people are eskimos, happy to be bathing in glaciers or fighting bears or whatever you do every morning. It’s not normal. 15C is not a balmy room to luxuriate in, with a small boy fanning you with a palm leaf. FFS.

The UK has a distinctive tine of humidity plus temperate weather, that makes the cold penetrate. I’ve heard rumour that many people from more northerly climes (the kind where they actually get snow) find it colder here, and people with muscle and bone problems, such as arthritis, hurt more. When I lived in Finland, where it plummeted to -15C as per norm, I found it true. The cold there kinda makes a ‘wetsuit’ reaction of the skin, encasing you in a shell of numbness while inside you stay warm -I found I was even able to nip out in a T-shirt if I had to, through metre high drifts, or jump into snow after sauna.

That’s never been the case here where I keep a hair dryer by the bed (body produces no warmth so it’s still cold underneath) for a few seconds respite from unending discomfort. It constantly feels like I’m soaked in a puddle, in November, in Manchester. Not so much bathing in snow after a spa session, more chucked out nightclub > alley with a kebab stuck to the side of your face. It’s tough for me here, constant fatigue, constant cold while everyone else is having a bit of light tennis. I am an alien.

J is convinced I have some kind of disease, like Raynaud’s, when he sees how icy my hands are and he’s breaking into sweat. It’s not that, rather the fact -if anyone’s noticed -that every other animal but us at these latitudes is tightly encased in fucking fur or feather. Exposed skin is not for these parts. It is not fit for humans.

Okay, bitching over. I still love the UK. Despite the fact it’s Colditz. Warm pubs, glowsy fires, tinkly lights. Hot chocolate and warm blankets. It’s just till May you have to get used to it, wearing the longjohns.

So last night the announcement came, London is now Tier 4 as of midnight. A, who went out on his nightly bikeride in the rain (like a nutter) reported on the streets crammed with traffic within hours, as a good few million people made a break for Xmas before the giant sharpened shutters came down (Mad Max patrols, helicopters, flame throwers). Queueing outside shops -many whom stayed open till 11pm -booking all rail tickets and clogging up the motorways out of town. 21 million people have been affected, with Wales entering a Tier 5, which means even transport shutting down and birds being shot for moving. The main rail termini, of which London has 7, were all equally clogged up, St Pancras had a queue that went the entire length of one of the world’s biggest buildings.

1,200 miles worth of traffic surrounded London within hours

The city will likely enter Tier 5 at some stage too -we have in the past two weeks been infected by a new strain, said to have emerged in Kent, and similar to one in South Africa, though not the same. It’s 70% more infectious, but not more deadly -yet what’s worrying is the one in SA targets younger people than the norm. Our strain (there’s 4,000 different mutations out there) is being closely monitored by WHO; it’s in London, the Southeast and across Wales at the mo. The exodus last night may well have spread it, similar to how word of the first lockdown in Lombardy got leaked into the universities, and thousands of asymptomatic students took it across Italy.

We finished the day watching Silver Bullet -a Stephen King werewolf movie, very 80s and TV-movie-esque (in a good way), though quite a departure from his novelette. J is quite down, islanded from his beau now stranded in Wales, and no longer entranced by his work. We talked at length about these dark times and our dark pasts, over a flickering screen and some beer, it seems we’re both in the same boat. I watch horror movies when I’m sad, he sleeps. A smokes. Building up his case for cancer and being put into the ground one day, as will we all ha fucking ha.

I’m feeling quite dissonant to the world recently, the umbilical in my lap.

I’m angry. That I wasted my life, that we thought we could make it. Those futile dreams fresh out of uni, so many years trying to get our careers as writers or artists that might as well have been mf astronauts on our way to Pluto. Even onto any rung of the shitting housing ladder and nothing to show for it but two emptied decades, no money and fresh mental health issues. Not wanting to end on a downer here but fuck it, the world is a lie. Who the fuck wakes up for it?

Okay, down time for Aliens and armageddon. Blue steel for breakfast.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year 2.0 Day 26

1st December 2020

Pinch punch first day of the month. Here’s a kick for being so quick. Here’s a blow for being so slow, no returns.

Tbh am now writing this last entry from a few days after, having been unable to face it really. As if the coming tide that is Werkkk and a return to normalcy is also the end of days. Even despite the masks, the social distancing, the blaring headlines, the closed up shops and job insecurity, everything looks pretty normal: in crowded streets and buses, happy drinkers and restaurant meals, screen time and XfuckingXmas. Billed as a return to the windswept plazas of the first lockdown and the malaise of interior worry this second outing only ever morphed into a new normal of same-same-but-different, and Keeping Calm and Carrying On, with little change on the streets or everyday. …Just more politics to it all, enshadowing every move.

The politicisation of a pandemic has now divided the country between regional displays of intent and governance, not just tiered systems paying heed to the science, but regional differences paying heed to political autonomy as in Wales, Northern Ireland, London, the Isle of Man, Scotland and England. It may be a show that the United Kingdom really is a collection of proud countries in league with each other -or it could be a coming fracturing, as autonomies try out their muscle to break away post-Brexit. They say 2020 has been a true test of a nation’s governance, as seen in the facadism of the US being world hero (peddled by Hollywood’s propaganda dept), and similar falls from grace in the trendy progressives of Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, and Austria, also riven by a certain selfish disregard. The UK one can firmly put in the disaster pot alongside, quite the panto villain with currently 60,000 dead and the 5th highest toll and 5th highest (city states aside) fatality rate in the world. Whilst countries such as Brazil, Belarus and Mexico have played out their parts on cue. -Not so much lampooned due to poverty and disorganisation, but belligerently thick leaders intent on portraying it all as a seasonal cold, and sacking their scientific advisors if they don’t play along.

This has contrasted with the displays of strength from the usual expected dictatorships such as China, Venezuela and Cuba, but also small nations such as New Zealand and Finland, Brunei and Taiwan, Togo and Benin. Many societies led by a woman at the helm have correlated into quite the trend in defeating infection, with the foresight to marry a strict lockdown as an economic argument too. The toxic masculinities of other powers meanwhile appear too entranced by short term dramatics. Pushed by blindsided businesses and lobbies in dick measuring and bravado, self interest and stupidity, the caving in has proved murderous. Mass-murderous.

Poor states in the Global South have done exceptionally well to upend the assumption they’d all die by the million with little government aid. From Tanzania to Nigeria, Papua New Guinea to Haiti, Bangladesh to Uzbekistan they have benefitted from higher temperatures that seem to make things less infectious, plus younger populations less at risk. But also coupled with army-enforced lockdowns and billions pumped into the latest tech, from automatic temperature gauging in every public building to track and trace. The latter carried out by the latest apps, or volunteers and Private Investigator firms hired to do it manually.

Czechia has straddled both sides, enforcing excellent counter-measures in the first wave -but then celebrating with nationwide End of Covid parties complete with crowds and parades, and now lumped with much higher infections this second time round. The same with India -the world’s densest tract of humanity that enforced the earliest, strictest measures over the largest populations, in-step with China, but that stood to lose heaviest with the larger amount of poor and degraded infrastructure. Some of the greatest successes have occurred here, including the tracing of 20,000 people at a religious festival when an idiot returning from Italy broke quarantine to shake hundreds of hands. Plus ridding infection in the world’s largest slums, such as Dharavi that holds over a million people in ultra-high density. However it hasn’t been as successful to maintain it, now with numbers climbing into the third highest deaths in the world (though still firmly low per capita). India is just too large, dense and complex to maintain it for nine months and counting. China only managed to pull it off with an army of volunteers knocking on every single door in the cityscapes of Wuhan (18 million) to get the same mix of pleas for help, cooperation and argument as anywhere else in the world. But then rolled out to all other cities before it became too unmanageable. The use of effective early track and trace, border closure and highest level, sustained quarantines has paid off.

This second wave appears to be more deadly for many, with increasing evidence it’s a Mediterranean mutation that’s more infectious. Also that it was already in Europe and South America from as early as March 2019 which historic sewage sampling is showing many cities (Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, London, Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Milan) as having that year, perhaps as a less infectious strain. The China hawks and conspiracy theorists (just as idioted on that side of the spinner as anywhere else) have latched onto the fact Wuhan was the arena for the 7th World Military Games just before the first outbreak surfaced in the countryside where some events took place. And not just that it may have come from a visitor abroad, but was intentionally laid as a weapon by some Black Ops soldier, usually, of course, American. While conveniently forgetting the whole pantomime of how it spread from Wuhan after, or that such an exercise would fuck up every country on the planet as has shown, not just China. That’s how pandemics go, it doesn’t willingly differentiate, try as we might ourselves.

And is this what it all just fucking boils down to? A sabre-rattling of political entities, borders drawn and fingers pointed? A list of countries measuring their deaths like the Eurovision Song Contest or Olympics, both canceled but now replaced by a grimmer tally? The so-called universality of the world has been found wanting in the first real test of its strength since WWII, with division sown between countries denying or blocking funds and aid, and even stealing them off factory lines and airstrips before they depart. Even the entity managing the global efforts -the World Health Organization -had its funding cut at the worst possible time mid-global-fucking-crisis, by the Trumpist demagogue -for being too praising of China (rather than blaming it), and thus in league.

So to put all that in perspective, I dwindle the lens down, very down, to the effect all this politicking in the corridors of power has to the common person, on the street, doing our little life thing. It’s a real fapping bummer that politics affect our everyday -we don’t always see it so much in the West, sidelined by buying shit up, endless nine-to-five and garish social media to notice, but it does. The division in society is showing up most obviously in a growing collusion among friends and acquaintances that this is all an overreaction. Though many have given up on the ‘It’s Just The Flu’ line (it’s killed at least 4x the amount of the worst influenza epidemics, even with lockdown and in less than a year), the argument’s now replaced with ‘Let’s Just Leave The Old Folk To Die’, which we could perhaps ice a cake with and give out. The conspiracy theory that it’s fake or government/ multinational ploys to infect us with mind control is ever alive and well -and all too real in places where civil rights and democracy have genuinely given way to dictatorship **cough, Hungary, Ethiopia, /cough **.

It’s a little known fact that my very own city is seeing almost weekly protests, that are culminating in riots every fortnight with hundreds arrested in other urban centres across the country. But barely reported -a sign that the media agencies (except of course, the Sun) are paying heed to not giving more fuel to the fire, in league with an embattled government. Yet also a sign they are not as free a press as they pretend, and that free societies operate our own propaganda. The narrative that democracy is unimpeachably peachy cannot be cracked, despite that the protesters, anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, conspiracy theorists, party-goers, ravers, Karens and Jeremies are killing others. Tens of thousands of others. The kind of angry people taking down quarantined products at the supermarket or barging into stores unmasked (even ringing 911 on the staff for not allowing them access), and forbidding their families to take precautions. I wonder if in a third lockdown anyone will even bother by then.

Okay there I go, rabbiting on too much again.

Dwindling down once again to my own experience I cannot, cannot possibly hold a high horse. Shocked at the crowds of drinkers clogging up my local high street and parks I was exactly one of them, holding a bottle. Like people complaining about traffic when they help make it up, or tourists moaning things too touristic, as if special sites should be fenced off from the rest of the worser dressed riffraff, for one’s sole enjoyment. I have entertained between more than one ‘bubble’, popped into a shop before without a mask, sat next to others on public transport, and any distancing in meeting outside is often undermined by a muppet hug or two. I’m increasingly lackadaisical at such a simplicity as washing my hands.

Overall this is a test on society, and our own selves -what we hold high and if we do as we say or not as we do. What is morality truly if we cannot be the change we want to see? Especially when it’s other lives on the line.

On the last day of er ‘freedom’ I met up with a good work friend, Al, who is everything you need in terms of reliability and some down-to-earth, existential natter and jokes to offset the climes. To dally a day on a bench and a walk in the retro Festival of Britain bit of Battersea Park -all 1950s modernity in formal lines and empty space, looking spookily atmospheric to our times. In a surreal symmetry of dead fountains and mist we caught up with stories on lockdown, culminating world events with our outlooks on them, and the hopeful end coming with vaccines rolling out. A beer or two on the benches, then a coffee plus bakewell tart at the riverine Peace Pagoda (how massive can a two storey building get?), as yoga and tai-chi fans used it as backdrop. It was very much life being lived, and a sense of history playing out beyond. I don’t think such scenes, such feelings can ever be replicated.

In the end the sun got low, the coming darkness emptied the views and a wind rose, shooing us off to our own respective ways. The paths we make out in life are ultimately our own, I’ve never felt it more strong.

It’s a sorry goodbye to the breathing space this disaster has unavoidably given, forgive the pun. Despite the haranguing, the domestics behind closed doors or open on the streets. The moments of exquisite cosiness and inflection interspersed with dark memories, haemorrhaging costs, and tears at windows.

I’ve spent a great deal of time hammering fists at impervious skies while scrimping on money or decaying relationships into heartbreak -as well as making a dormouse nest of beer, friends and domestic luxury. These privated sojourns into a dark and inviting forest of blankets, films, books and food.

Been quite a year.

And love. Worrying, denigrating, passing you by. Even in its cheesiest and most commercial renditions, so much motherfucking, shitty, stupifying, beautiful love. Bittersweet.

I will always remember these days. And everyone ever, all you lovely people.

Thank you. Signing off x.

FIN

Yesterday

Lockdown 3.0

Lockdown 2.0

Lockdown 1.0

A Journal of the Plague Year 2.0 Day 24

28th November 2020

Sweet FA all morning till A suddenly came home from a trip to the shops and announced a mate wanted to meet nearby. A sudden mash of showering, hairing, bearding, clothing and out within 10 mins where we met our neighbours and headed out to Wandsworth Common, walking both stretches (didn’t know it was connected by a bridge) nattering to my architect friend A about projects in a pandemic and corruption and the earthquakes in his Kiwi hometown. Well until the dark, seeing the glowing lights of the shops like some tinkly, doomed village, but very pretty.

The streets were rammed, as if everyone was out Xmas shopping but without the shops. I’ve never seen the park so packed either, with queues to cross the canal and zillions of dogs nipping about as lone darts or sudden, yapping flurries. One came right up, plonked itself on the ground, then flipped aching for his belly to be scratched -but in this day and age we shouldn’t due to infection. Literally the hardest thing to stand impervious while it lolled about.

All in all people everywhere, though it’s not like I can complain, being one of them. So much for a national lockdown.

Northcote Road more resembled a pre-pandemic Soho, cluttered with street drinkers all down its considerable length, the most popular place being a fish and chip shop doling out endless cans of lager and Spanish bottles. The other establishment opposite had the world’s most enfuriating app to download, which set out an array of options that when clicked on, helpfully explained what a menu was rather than offering one. Their loss, grasping pandafucks.

J was bubbling with the kind of post-work energy of someone freed from a prison of dying animals and bitching colleagues (works as a vet), one of the most high stress jobs and highest in suicide rate. He recounted in one grouping how one vet managed to off themselves and two colleagues tried it within the same week. Make a mistake and a cute bunny dies, then everyone loathes you -while all the time the casualties keep rolling in every 15 minutes. I surmise, unlike human patients, the workers tending to them have far less support, despite feeling every pain still at negative outcomes. Vet has to be nurse, doctor, surgeon and counsellor, while nurses double as secretaries, cleaners, social ombudsmen and a critical, political eye with vials of gossip to unleash should one set a paw wrong. And to J that day, rabbitting incessantly on the dismalities of smalltown life and twerks of celebrities while he tried to operate.

So drink or four was a welcome respite. Later at home we continued with an entirely new gang: housemate J and ex-housemate Jk, which soon dribbled into drunken singing, dancing, endless retro music vids and J crashing into his 200 year old painting, silver plates and tv. D smoked out the window and there was a alot of banter between Wales, Northerners and Wherever I Come From. I was called Penang Curry, J was Pontypridd and Jk The Face of Exeter 2011 (no seriously, winning a modelling competition back in the day -we even sorted through the internet to find the page). D was just ‘Northern’ or ‘Lancs’, which he hates as he’s from Yorkshire apparently and constantly lying that it’s a different thing.

At 4am unable to sleep, having necked so much rumncoke, took out my laptop and proceedeed to try and optimise it, as one does when starved of no-holds fun. Ended up deleting an app called ‘Xbox Something Or Other’ which has nothing to do whatsoever with a game console I don’t own and everything to do with Windows not working and being replaced by a white screen of death every time I restarted. A good 1.5 hrs later, after sifting through a spidergram of functions and services to reignite, it got back to normal. Fucking life, a banging headache that catches up.

But another one under the belt at least. Need some sleep.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year 2.0 Day 22

26th November 2020

Headed out today for drinks with an old time mate, B, out in the wilds of the South Bank. We were scheduled to meet romantically beneath the big clock in Waterloo but salubriously ended passing each other at the exit to the station bogs. He’s dyed his hair blue, a new colour each week though I’m adamant a honeyed brown will be best. Had some beers by the eternal river, and thoroughly enjoyed the outdoors until it got too cold to stay.

London’s South Bank, once a heaving epicentre for tourists as well as Londoners alike (a rare thing as never the twain should mix) was a veritable ghost town, tumbleweed in its public squares, though the crowd stayed hemmed in walking up and down the viewpoints. A few food and booze vans catered to them, with some buskers almost as normal. Though the big book and food markets were gone, the fairgrounds were fenced off (normally a German, fairy-lit Xmas markt by now) and ‘London’s Living Room’ that is the Royal Festival Hall was closed -all its acres of carpeted free-for-all, comfy sofas, exhibitions and caffs to loiter many an hour in (without having to spend a penny). The same for the similar functions of the National Theatre and Queen Elizabeth Hall next door, the latter one of the ugliest buildings in the city (if only they’d just paint it white) but one of the homeliest inside.

We ended up by the London Eye, looking up at the big wheel in a rare daylight stasis, its pods empty and yearned for, as were nearby ‘igloos’ – glass pods laid out by some swanky restaurant to be hired for a few hundred squid, but now wastefully unused. A very inviting playground beckoned -the kind with wooden climb-a-thons, heavy logging and rope nets everywhere -but the minute I approached some worker informed me brusquely it was closed. I chose to pee round a hoarding instead. The pocket park was pretty full, well used on every bench and tree with the kind of people who loop a big rubber band round the trunk and shimmy about pulling it. A strange spooky, child sat in a bush (literally inside) staring out at us.

The crisp air was gorgeous, occasioned with sun streaming from passing clouds. If one squinted, and looked only at the river and nowhere behind, it appeared almost normal. A lone woman wailed by the waters, holding a fake microphone -possibly a milkshake carton -without any semblance of skill other than her bravura. I imagined she was either worryingly desperate or just caged up too long to care, and fair dues to her. She was irremediably awful though, snippets of moaning on the wind like a cat in the Thames.

In turn we decamped back to the station, complete with lights and a roof, settling on the upper level where lovely empty tables from a closed cafe gave us shelter. We drank steadily with a fab Where’s Wally advent calendar -down to £2 in M&S -depicting a morass of winter wonderland folk (hundreds of Santa Clauses, many passed out and drunk) and 24 window dates to get through. Every date had a chocolate, every chocolate came with demands to find something on the picture (eg a pair of tiny binoculars, an angry elf), and every find came with a timed challenge set by ourselves. If we didn’t find those binoculars within a minute a terrible fate would befall one’s person.

I ended up losing all but two. It is for this reason that the world will now have coronavirus until 2022, Trump will stay in power, I will never be a writer, continue to fuck up my relationship, never be content, never have sex again, have a stroke, get cancer, get AIDS, stay forever in the closet and work at the museum for the rest of my life, until I die of Covid, likely tomorrow. So, no difference then. -B though will get an unsealable anal fissure and have his firstborn molested by a family member, so I think that’s fair. We were astounded there was no chocky for Xmas Day itself, the calendar likely dreamt up in some pan-European format, where the continentals all celebrate and give pressies on Xmas Eve instead. Freaks.

The govt has informed London we’re on Tier 2 when we come out of lockdown on December 2nd, so I’ll likely be back to work in the next few days, for prep (though how much lifting of dustsheets can we do in a week?). I do reckon though, with near 700 dying daily, this Tier will change for the worse nearer Xmas, which is the date predicted for a culmination of infections. The only reason we’re not banning the holiday entirely (up to three households allowed to meet up) is everyone will group up regardless, and a revolution otherwise. In other European nations they’re enforcing the ban, including enter and search powers in Benelux.

Had a burrito from a great looking Mexico streetfood van (Wahaca), though as always they damped down on the spiciness for local tastes, thus changing everything in 500 years of tried and tested flavour balance. I don’t know why (actually I do) but it’s always a struggle to convince people that I want extra spicy, and can handle it. That I like vindaloo and ghost peppers, despite their judgement. Remember once politely arguing with the woman in Halal Brothers I could handle the extra sauce, even if she couldn’t.

So it was a pleasant surprise when he lavished on the ‘very spicy’ level 3 habanero without another word, but on actually munching into the lovely mess, found it about as hot as ketchup with a dash of tabasco. Oh Wahaca, you can’t even spell your name right. If catering so much to local tastes, to the point you’re renaming a region, you’re not really representing it. Oaxaca is meant to have the best food in Mexico; don’t think Wahaca should pretend that banner.

Film for the night was The Eye by the Pang Brothers. Creepy AF, and based on a real event -a nightmarish gas tanker explosion in Central Bangkok that killed ninety. That plus a blind girl who inherits donor eyes from a suicide victim, one who could see dead people. It’s quite the nerve shredder and deserves to be a classic -apparently it was remade by Hollywood but that was dire, as to be expected. The one remake that’s an improvement I reckon is The Ring, and now on my to do list for tonight.

All in all a much better day, do very much enjoy B’s company. Cheers bud x

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year 2.0 Day 18

22nd November 2020

Have been binge-watching The Crown, and drinking in the backdrops, often missed. The most expensive series ever made ($130 million and counting) it is deceptively lavish. The crowds in impeccable period costume, glimpsed by the thousand as they line the streets, occasionally waving flags (recently they’re resorting to CGI, perhaps due to C-19). The endless parade of candelabras and gilt, Old Master paintings and landed estates, hired at great expense. Armies of peripheral servants, guards, horses and courtiers, sporting precious metal and polished antiques that emanate through the low light.

Even did a thing where I went through the big regalas, stopping, rewinding, on the adornments of anthropological, exotic ceremony. -The weddings (Queenie and Di), funerals and coronations, and their glittering cascades of cloth, furs and diamonds to a constant echoing of choirs.

But once again, it is all background. To the lives lived out regardless as focus to all the pomp and ceremony. Their loves and losses, trials and tribulations, affairs of desire, fears and dreams. Displayed in gilded cages of spectacle and expectation, whereby they are rulers of all but their own lives. It’s not like they actually appreciate the thousands of man-hours that go into sparkling up those backdrops.

There is also the contrast, starkly so. The episode where reams of Londoners pop their clogs in the 1952 Great Smog, goes to pains to show a disconnect. In the dim dioramas of broken glass and brick alleyways, dingy bedsits and overrun waiting rooms, where the common people suffocate by the hundreds still resonant today.

The Smog, powered by coal fires closed down the ports, airports and all major roads, as well as sport matches, theatres and cinemas as the audience couldn’t see the action. Swans and wildife wandered the streets, unable to find the river or parks, while policemen carrying flares wandered in front of inching buses to light the way. The cloud crept into houses and left a slick of brown grease on the wallpaper, quietly suffocating the sick, old and young, notably babies -the morgues filled up within hours.

4,000 died in those days, but modern research puts it at 12,000 that spiked in that month, as those who contracted lung diseases succumbed after, some walled into their homes and not discovered for years. Many more may have died from cancer within the decade.

The episode where an intruder, Michael Fagan, breaks into the palace in 1982, and chats to the Queen at the end of her bed, also portrays a nation riven with unemployment, unrest and the scuddingly grey estates he harks from. He attempts to convey the truer picture outside to the Sovereign, residing over a country made too bombastic by war with Argentina, and the newer, crueller reign of Thatcher to notice. These were some of the darkest days in postwar history, when unemployment topped 3 million and took out 14% of the workforce (half of which it’s estimated was sacrificed by the govt to keep inflation low). A two year recession and separatist terrorism stalked the land, from the Irish Republican Army and the Welsh Army of Workers (who knew?). 400,000 council homes were sold in the Right to Buy scheme, thus ensuring a vastly diminishing pool for the genuinely needy, rising by the thousands every week.

So are we, these so-called have-nots separated by 40 years of economic rise and social progress, safely harboured in the First World, just as guilty as those pampered royals? Looking back on history, here we are living the millionaire lifestyles that back in the day everyone else yearned and died for, even from a few decades before. Warm goosedown duvets, central heating, double glazing. Video games, washing machines, microwaves, restaurant meals, plane tickets. Education, pensions, cars. Pot plants, pineapples, tea tree, pepper, bog roll. Living out life with the zest of being smallpox, syphillis, leprosy and plague-free. We even have slaves that make our clothes, paint our nails, service our vehicles, pick our fruit, and deal out handjobs in the Passat. Small black rectangles that hold all mankind’s knowledge -Library of Alexandria be damned -that we use to look at kittens and nudity.

Many of us even have ‘followers’ and quite the modicum of fame and attention, crossing borders with blizzards of posted Likes. Yet this is not what we notice. -Of course it fucking isn’t, constantly bombarded with capitalism and pop, exhorting us to try harder, buy harder.

Is the grass always greener? It’s no wonder that after some celeb dies we find out what a loser they were in lifestyle, chained to infighting, lawyers, wranglers, sycophants, fanbases, doctors, drugs, cults and contracts with no real interaction with real people. Shitting in the corners above the Chiltern Firehouse, getting 6ft Buddha statues hauled into private wards for their intravenous hits.

Lets pretend this is as good as it gets. It’s what you want to do with that fact that may change it.

Watching the empty streets of Central London swing by, at 5pm on a Sunday, now dark and rattling instead of the usual backlit crowds, I was struck by an eerie beauty to it all. Offices with huge artworks in their lobbies, designed to alienate and thus intimidate, lit for no one. Dynamic new shopfronts promising pizzazz beneath crystal walls of glass now frozen in bluish tinge. The buildings like long undiscovered monoliths, rearing into the gloom, lights off, their pampered residents flown to warmer climes to live out lockdown with a glass of Bolly by the sea. The wind blew, the bus trundled its roundabout way through a silent city, the only glowing node in a complexity of form. The other two riders like companions round a fire, or rolling shots on some film that I smiled at.

It’s the little things that make your day, and there’s something to be said in finding beauty in the nondescript. Even if it is the quiet drama of bleakness, and the sense of history pulling forward, interminably.

Chicken Kiev with cheese, now that literally can’t be beat. Coupled with crispy garlic sprouts (slice em, fry em with nuts, vinegar, rice wine, sugar, soya sauce, lots of pepper, sesame oil to finish). Happiness on a plate once home, in the soft glow of living room cosiness, and sitting down and talking to someone.

I have also had quite a revelation in chatting to K, who may be able to translate The Book for the Mandarin-speaking market, the world’s largest and something I’ve never thought about. Quite excited, not at the prospect, but just working together on it is enough, and feel things progressing.

Been waiting too long for the Grand Plan to start.

Despite the fact I’ve been in bed now for 3.5 hrs (writing to all you lovely people), my body aches all over (age), my arms are dead (no heating beyond the blankets) and I have an undying bitterness in my mouth (memories + morning breath) I will endure. Time to fucking get up.

A new life! A new me! I will exercise, I will eat out and walkabout. I will write, I will make cuppas and watch the birds and learn how to hold handstands (did actually try this out on the bed once and nearly broke my neck). I will watch a film and nap too, luxuriantly on the sofa, scratching my arse when the time comes. I will accessorise. x

Yesterday

Tomorrow

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.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

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.

s

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 and sociopathic parenting). The Mexican guy a telenovella star, is in the closet battling machismo stereotype, the church, wifebeating, blackmail and the vapidness of fame.

s

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 or their own race-based / cultural assumptions. 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.

s

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 wonder if it’s just 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.

s

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.

s

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

Yesterday

Tomorrow

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:

s

^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:

1. 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.

s

s

2. Vladivostok (top right corner of thr map), 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 dolling up/ rebuilding its historic architecture.

s

3. This is the ‘centre of the world’ in terms of humanity. It shows how cities like Delhi and Beijing, which operate the world’s largest bureaucratic sectors are often more important than they’re given credit for. The very, very centre of the world could either pinpoint itself on Shanghai (contiguous population 34 million) if you wanna do an urban bullseye, the largest city of the world’s largest tract of adjacent cities -the Yangtze River Delta, made up of 27 proximate cities and 163 million people…

s

s

Geza Radics, https://www.flickr.com/photos/radicsge/8398752602/

-or the regional Indo-Gangetic Plain if you prefer a tract of humanity regardless of borders or lifestyle, a vast swathe of northern Pakistan, India and Bangladesh that’s home to 400 million people, though not as urbanised (yet).

s

s

Anyhoo, the Mercator version

d

For the rest of the day…

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.

Fin.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

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. In the end after almost a half hour of boiling and microwaving it was soft enough to be edible, with the cold sauce. A had gone to bed by then.

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 rope into inauguration after 5 years. I wonder if I’ll look like a tit. Maybe 4am, in disguise like a mummer, or mugger.

But seriously, as if.

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 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:

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 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.

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 that screams turmeric content, but a warm rosy 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:

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.

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

s

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 homely touch of edible gold.

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. 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.

s

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

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 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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:

s

s

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

s

s

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

s

Seafood fried rice, Michelin style:

s

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.

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 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 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.

s

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. She’s young, healthy, beautiful, a genius, kind (Grandma, puppies), down to earth, humble, damn hardworking and an amazing chef, crafter, artisan, farmer, designer, artist, calligrapher, director, cinematographer, project manager, builder and even architect (gotta be a catch -she’s probably a serial killer, or into gabba). Though you do wonder if you ask for a cuppa she’ll look serious for a bit and disappear for ten months. To return with the world’s best organic, homegrown tealeaves of utmost rarity (a hill will have moved slightly to the left), and hand made porcelain of stunning design.

She started off with a simple camera and herself, now the cameraman and a mystery man and woman with a clipboard make an occasional appearance, sharing the food at the end. I give you some of the most beautiful vids on the net; I give you the one woman band that is Liziqi:

(this vid alone has been over a year in the making)

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 soup, and chilli lamb noodles.

Xinjiang kebabs

s

Hui date and rice sticks with red bean syrup

s

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

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, thick 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

In reality with modernisation and the after effects of a turbulent 20th Century, Mongol cuisine now has influences from its culturally invasive neighbours -Russia, Korea, Xinjiang, China. 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 catching any little thing trying to scurry, crawl or squirm desperately away (river larva, snails, insects) has 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

Processed with VSCO with fr4 preset

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. Another polymath exemplifying the fact that rural people the world over are not thick -constantly multi-tasking, project managing and problem solving, on top of being experts in so many fields. Oh and her giant damn 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.

Yesterday

Tomorrow