A Journal of the Plague Year Day 23

Thursday 9th April 2020

 

 

Emily Maitliss opened Newsnight yesterday, following 938 new UK deaths, with one of the most prescient statements in a long time:

“The language around Covid-19 has sometimes felt trite and misleading. You do not survive the disease through fortitude and strength of character, whatever the Prime Ministers’ colleagues will tell us. And the disease is not a great leveller, the consequences of which everyone – rich or poor – suffers the same.

This is a myth which needs debunking. Those on the front line right now – bus drivers and shelf stackers, nurses, care home workers, hospital staff and shop keepers – are disproportionately the lowest paid members of our workforce. They are more likely to catch the disease because they are more exposed.

Those who live in tower blocks and small flats will find the lockdown a lot tougher. Those who work in manual jobs will be unable to work from home.

Her opener made headlines on every broadsheet.

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As mentioned recently the US infections -currently the epicentre of the pandemic -has seen an unfair slanting in Black and African American victims of the disease, Chicago reporting 70% of their cases despite the city only one third Black, with similar skewing in Louisiana, NYC and Detroit, places where race and income level strongly correlate. The BBC today has also turned the lens to our own country:

 

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Once again it appears more of the same. This seems mainly due to London being the epicentre, where 40% of residents are non-White. It also does have that correlation with class to some extent -for example 30% of Bangladeshi and 15% of Black households are classed as overcrowded compared to 2% for the national average, where it’s thus less likely to pass on. As Maitliss mentioned, minorities are also much more likely to be key workers, from the NHS (where one quarter of nurses and almost half of doctors are non-White), to transport staff and supermarket workers.

 

Yesterday’s film was also about exposing social injustice, writ into a daily life thriller. The showing was Bombshell, starring Charlize Theron (with prosthetics, playing news anchor Megan Kelly), Margot Robbie (Kayla, a new intern) and Nicole Kidman (fellow anchor, Gretchen Carlson) as the women embroiled in the sexism and sex-for-promotion scandal that overtook the Fox News network in 2016. Terse, edge-of-the-seat stuff, though lacking the fun and humour of the recent Apple offering, The Morning Show (Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon) that seems based on it. The film does miss out on what could have been some delicious exposées on toxic news avenger Bill O’Reilly, who gets a bit part, but concentrates on the fall from grace of Jabba-like media tycoon and former Nixon-courting politician, Roger Ailes.

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Apparently, the writers and producers from the start had the challenge of making the audience like the victims, or at least identify with them -stalwarts of a right wing, populist and propagandic news empire. They did this using Fleabag-like monologues, confiding with the camera while interacting the entire time still with daily life, a voice in the audience’s head despite it being evil altruistically alternative. Constant reminders of their family lives intersperse the film, complete with blonde, gurning children happily vulnerable to hate mail and reporters, then glossing over the rest, such as Kelly’s open racism or Carlson’s anti-gay rhetoric. A lowdown on what constitutes a Fox News story helps, as relayed by a secret Democrat working as a writer there. It starts off the trailer:

“You have to adopt the mentality of an Irish street cuff. The world is a bad place, people are lazy morons, minorities are criminals, sex is sick but interesting. Ask yourself what would scare my grandmother or piss off my grandfather.”

This is of course the opener near the start, that winks at the viewer to say, yes we know they’re morally corrupted, please play along. From there it introduces the two entirely fictional characters -the secret Hillary-supporting, lesbian staff writer and her one-time fling, Kayla -the generic Bimbo-dressed victim, who help to paint Fox staffers into a softer, more human and inclusive place. The fact they had to make them up entirely speaks volumes (perhaps unable to find anyone that wasn’t into animal sacrifice or KKK weekenders). The film makes for criminally good viewing, though there is no dramatic flourish at the end, or bible-thumping comeuppance to savour -true to life: Fox ended up paying $50 million to the dozens of victims, and $65 million severance to the three men accused.

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Also true to life, an icon for the film trailer on Youtube shows Charlize Theron, mouth open, about to ingest a side-on pizza slice – a screengrab deemed enticing enough to target another demographic it appears, even if it is a tale for the #metoo generation. Not unlike Aisle’s use of short skirts, excessive angles and transparent news desks to draw in the punters. Art mirrors life. And life goes on. Badly.

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This morning A got an allergic reaction. Going bright red, itchy and bumpy, hard to look at. Poor thing. But it is as always, a passing fad -within the hour it was gone, as he is strangely adverse to all sickness ever. Though when he does get sick (once every couple of years) it is very.

Went for a bike ride, the sun winking through foliage and air crisp and cool. People were dressed for summer, admiring the heritage poking above the trees, and placid waters mirroring the strolling, enough to add an atmosphere of convivial relaxation. There are only a few places I’ve been where every direction is beauty -usually in natural format, though humanity does raise a built landscape every now and then. Lauterbrunnen Valley, Symi, Lazise, Ko Phi Phi Leh, May in Virginia Water. The Ringstrasse, Burano, dusk in the Gardens by the Bay.

Well, for a few choice moments Battersea Park yesterday was that coffee table cover, something you spend years looking for. Just the right amount of people not to bespoil it, the perfect weather (cool yet sunny), and the optimal clarity at this time of year. For an everywhere that was crisp, gentle and swaying in the light.

This is the imagery strong enough to obscure the beyond, and deliver that long fought-for moment of peace.

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But of course I can’t really sing of anything nice without subsequently having to stylus-scratch it back into reality, with the looming elephant out of shot. This is the running theme so far, for this blog, for life and how we interpret it.

-We were one of the only few wearing facemasks, it’s still not a thing apparently among the youthful and healthy, who exclusively populated most of the paths. Strange summer.

This weekend will be geared towards heading off the holiday crowds. I like to think on one hand we are enjoying the view from the lifeboats -life’s great promise. On another, we need to remember not to push under the drowning.

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Yesterday

Tomorrow

 

 

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 4

Saturday 21st March 2020

Last night was the swansong for pubs, bars, clubs, theatres, gyms, and leisure/ community centres, not to mention schools. Restaurants are allowed to operate only with takeaways. Going out for a final pizza (Francomanco’s) we waited patiently for nearly half an hour as the small team stacked up orders, the pizza chef sweating in the empty restaurant -business seemed solid. In a few restaurants singular couples sat, candles burning.

Witness these epic, unreachable scenes below, now worthy of National Geographic covers and coffee table books exalting the exotic. People, clumped:

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The streets were almost crowded, commuters in every bus stop, but also a deal of footfall towards the boozers, each one full. A lone man ran a treadmill from a window in the gym above, spreading the last of his copious body fluids before a flabbygasted hibernation. It was almost a snapshot of London at its norm, nowhere near as crowded but a semblance of old -a few hundred populating the streets around the station, mums with toddlers, family groups, commuters, shoppers and drinking buds in arms, couples in embrace.

The supermarket trawl was its usual self-defeating offering of stuff no one else wanted to buy, but you got one or two of in case. Some cigarillo-like wafers from Poland (cheap looking but amazing, creme filled), a big bar of Turkish Delight (how does that company even function, everyone hates it yet is ubiquitous in every shop -evidence of one laureate winning marketing team) and some butter, very much needed. No crispbread, pickled goods, Vitamin D or paracetamol, or anything carby, tinny or cleany, which was the original intent. Vitamin Dee is the new big thing, the It girl that not only offers that daily 5 mins of sunshine required for a good mood (in UK level climes, 5 mins equates to an hour naked in an X-shape in the middle of the road, well until mid-April), but also purports to reduce respiratory infection by up to 70%. It is of course now mythical, on par with Bigfoot sightings and right now, God. I was reminded of the timeless words of George Bush Jnr, to a painfully smiling Hispanic family: “I know how hard it is for you to put food on your kids.”

At one point, trying to wrangle my camera from a ridiculously over-engineered bag, I picked out the black-wrapped butter and put it to my face. A snapshot of society indeed.

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The new estimates for the government’s current approach of gradual infection is 250,000 dead – lower than the 800,000 if the viral spread is left unchecked but also significantly higher than the 20,000 figure if quarantine is instated. One hospital in London – Harrow, is already breaking capacity with its ICU’s and wards overrun. Everywhere on the fora, people are intoning: It Is Coming. Yet life looks as if getting back to normal for a few, or at least a last Churchillian knees up down the boozer, typical. It appears a few days of self-imposed lockdown is undoable for many Londoners. Even when the tube looks like this (photo courtesy of J, one of the last workers in the city today):

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A is off for a bike ride today, in Battersea Park, a semblance of normality and his need to get in exercise otherwise his mind will go barmy. I’ve asked him not to talk to strangers, and not to hug them. Yesterday he put the pizzas in the oven to warm them gently, complete with boxes. A few minutes later smoke was billowing and a thankfully non-existent fire alarm screaming in my head. Pizzas were saved, while I held every nerve not to castigate in a big shouty display. The whole flat still reeks of smoke and is freezing from the windows being wedged open (barely a few inches thanks to 60s modernism coupled with noughties Health & Safety); I lied to our flatmate J that there must have been olive oil on the cover that got ignited when it rested on a still-hot stove, easily done. As opposed to putting yards of paper into an oven. Alanis could easily have penned out a belter about us dying in a fire after surviving a pandemic, back when it was ironic, rather than a viable option.

It does not bode well.

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The world of the internet is still well and truly alive, and feeding, with finger-pointing, political competition, sabre-rattling and divisiveness making up almost every comment. There is far less of the sharing of helpful information for all, the comfort, sympathy and jokes we kinda need right now -less of the support networking overall. As a great woman once said, Life is like a fucking giant sinking disaster, you’ve just got to enjoy the view while rowing.

 

But I do get it, there is quite a history of cataclysm bringing out the best and worst in people. I had a horrible dream, one of many recently where I was willing to do anything to protect my loved ones, including repeatedly punching some woman in the eye. With a chair leg. However if that were to transpire, I wouldn’t boast to all and sundry about it, rather quietly stuff the crawl space.

I do think if ever historians of the future look back on these archived comments -a rash throughout these past few decades ever since we each got an online podium and our entitled 15 years of fame -they’ll come to the conclusion we are a pretty nasty bunch. Judgmental, prejudiced, openly, knee-jerkingly racist, homophobic, fat-shaming, sexist, misogynistic, divisive, politicised, partisan and petty. Just look at the Youtube comments from a few years back, before they got all un-toxic and started getting people to register their identities, or at least some form of societal comportment. Actually, Youtube in the noughties would be a great example of the winning human spirit, unsheathed from the shackles of social respectability and free to call Adele fat for page after page, regardless of her performance.

Japanese culture likes to distinguish between these ‘truths’, the honne ‘true sound’ of your inner, privated thoughts and the tatamae of what you present to the public. This applies to most places round the world, though the Japanese system goes one step further in debate class, whereby both teams, after their polarising exercise, actually find correlations between arguments and round on a respectable midpoint. Thus, instilling a unity of honne and tatamae -the great nexus of Buddhist and Ayurvedic teachings, whereby what you think, say and do are in line with each other, giving inner peace. It’s much more doable in Japan -cultural stalwart of politesse, yet honesty alongside. This is somewhat lacking in the rest of the world, as exposed on the Internet, where any respectability can often be a mask. Don’t get me wrong the Japanese still snigger at videos of fat people falling over and will bitch about Sandra The Bitch In HR buying Rich Tea when it was her round. So not so kawaii as they make out (cuteness being a rebellion against sararimen conformity).

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But they are perhaps less likely to spit from the balcony or get all warm and cuddly at the idea of foreigners dying -because if they do, they’ll politely mention they do and be gracefully accommodating if you disagree, as opposed to manning the barricades in Les Miz or shooting people from clocktowers until we all concur. It also helps that in Japan the kids don’t get any tests until the age of 9, because they spend the first few years largely learning how to live, rather than the usual mix of subjects interspersed with three daily lessons on where they stand in playground hierarchy.

It remains to be seen how they bow out of hosting the Olympics this year. In South Korea they set up signs and even protests forbidding Chinese, China is in turn playing the blame game, and in the US they’re already talking about recompense, and even war, rather than focusing on the job at hand.

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I won’t even start on the utter lack of empathy, and often overt schadenfreude we have for Iranians at the mo’, now dying in their thousands under our sanctions, for a regime we put into place, back when we overthrew their democratic, secular government and reinstated their dictatory Shah (who in turn would be overthrown for a refreshing round of Wahabbism), in order to grab the oil in ’53. But then that would be gauche, me talking pollyticks after railing about getting all politicised at this no-dinner party of ours. I really have to look into it, it is perhaps a condition I suffer, a bit like Tourettes. Bring up say, popcorn flavours in conversation and I’ll then want to point out the mismanaged holes in globalised food production or the American health system, and why war is a bad thing.

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https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/2020/03/coronavirus-has-forced-iran-to-take-a-hard-pause/

We appear to be grappling on two fronts, as a collectivised audience to the WTF situation operating across the world right now, and getting deluged under. It helps if we organise our crazy fucking grab the cat fears:

Front Number One: interpersonal

  1. How our governments are dealing with this; what is being done, what is the approach, what are the worst/best case scenarios?
  2. How many will die?
  3. Where the blame is.
  4. What the reaction is in the populace, and how that affects the spread.
  5. How long will this last – the viral peak, the global economic meltdown.
  6. What lockdown is, and what is the new normal for societal life.
  7. How will all this Thunderdome shit affect the future?

Front Number Two: personal

  1. How bad is the virus, what will it do to me or loved ones should we catch it? What can I do to survive it?
  2. Where is my income going to come from?
  3. Where is my home and shelter going to come from?
  4. Where is my food going to come from?
  5. Who will look after my dependents?
  6. How do I protect myself if shit hitteth the fan and society becomes Chavfest Zombieland? Where did I put that axe?
  7. How can I protect my old folk, from afar, for the next few months, or even year? How will I stop it spreading to them?
  8. What will happen to my investments/ are my savings safe? All £55.78 of it.
  9. How TF am I meant to keep sane and healthy and all yoga-mat blissful under lockdown?
  10. Will I get my refund?
  11. How are my friends doing? Actually fuck ’em I got enough on my plate.
  12. Shoot, I forgot to fully switch bank accounts, am I being charged? I still have that phone swap thing to do. The cat needs to be de-wormed. I think I left behind one of the kids in Asda. Rent is due. My divorce papers are missing. I think I water-boarded my i-Pod. Something’s going off in the fridge. A bird just shat on the window.

I honestly think we should divide those further into What Matters (most or what matters today), and What Can Be Shelved/ Ditched. Basically an exercise in downsizing on all fronts -imho I’d jettison almost the entirety of Front Number One.

Come on kids, we have enough on our tiny, cracked Ikea plates. Cain’t we all, y’know, just geddalawnng?

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Yesterday

Tomorrow