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.

s

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:

 

ss

 

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.

s

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.

s

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.

s

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.

s

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.

s

Yesterday

Tomorrow

 

 

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 16

Thursday 2nd April 2020

Needing

A

Break.

Increasingly lethargic to write. Headachey all day, writing all day. Fuckers.

Stuck in a rut.

I imagine about 12 hours worth, of which 1 hr on admin (weeerk emails and texts), 4 hrs on the book conundrum (so hair-tearingly stuck I’ve had to contact a stranger to help), an hr on this blog and about 6hrs doing sweet FA on news forums where I’ve taken full time employment as a keyboard warrior. I mean who still does that? Chatrooms were sooo noughties. Boomers obviously, emanating great globs of social division as they crawl through cyberspace like giant pale, male slugs of patriarchy. Writing crappy articles in effect, as a post that will be argued by one odious oversized mollusc and looked at by another five, before sliming over to a new page.

s

I am of course being sucked into the black hole that is the algorithm laced Internet, where I’ll be later bombarded by more material to further polarise my views, perhaps unintentionally -or not -but to further partisan up the great unplugged. This is how the giant slugs came about in the first place, once fellow victims with kitchens and friends and everything. With algorithms ruling every roost, you’ll never be surprised into new things, and every echo chamber only ever gets deeper. That’s how Netflix gets positively boring. I’m currently stuck in a purgatory of low budget horrors, food porn and lots and lots of immersive Americans standing round talking to, with and about each other. No other suggestions come forward.

s

But no. Don’t settle -the world is bigger than that.  Go, seek out that animated history of the Slovakian harp, or some shorts from the Saudi indy scene, or just anything waaaay out there ker-azee, unwatched by anyone else ever, the most obscure offering you can eke out of the molehill of Mongolian film history. Then maybe things will spice up, hopefully.

CATS

Also watched a mix of the Big Brother contestants only now being informed of the C-19 pandemic (Germany, Brazil and Canada, last week), without a clue as to what they were saying, just seeing their shocked expressions in close up. It must be terrifying to be launched straight into it, without the creeping build-up we’ve all been privy to these last weeks. The Germans were most shocked when they found out people were self-isolating, the Brazilians that every non essential shop and business was winding down, and the Canadians that the US border was closed.

There is something macabrely intriguing about seeing the dawning realisation of something on another. From a position of safety, or prior knowledge beforehand, makes it perhaps a position of power. Not quite sure about that ethically, but I thoroughly enjoyed every second.

s

A following vid (as you do, clicking randomly through your algorithmic menu) was of a brother and sister discovering each other on another BB show in the States, who realised they had the same father when cross-referencing names and descriptions (war vet, missing foot). I mean bizarre, yet amazing, and warming, though a little inbred in that Southern charm kinda way. Then followed up, just as randomly by PM Julia Gilliard’s rousing 2012 speech against sexism and misogyny, voted Australia’s most unforgettable TV moment. Impressive viewing once again, which I dawdled a delicious hour through following up on the issues she’d been specifying, on sordid texts, lascivious expense scandals and bullheaded villainry. I think the algorithm is targeting my emotions, the act of getting jawdropped in a sea of domestic mundanity.

s

She keeps the world turning, even from seven years ago.

For a large chunk of the day Netflix’s docurama Rome played in the background, a haze of murder, nudity and intrigue that kept making me look up over the screen as it flashed tit and blood and Doric columns. Annoying.

Then the 8pm Clap-A-Thon for the NHS, echoing across the land and this time people were playing instruments (bugles, horns, drums). I kind of had that very awkward Britishism, caught in a window full of other windows facing me, and dragged into clapping alongside rather than looking like an emotionally stunted Billy No Mates. It’s not that I don’t support the NHS, or didn’t find it genuinely magic, I’m just not the kind to clap or hoot or do anything other than sway a little, even if I was front row at America’s Got Motherfucking Talent, my cat just won and the camera on me. So I pretended to clap. Yes I did. Though genuinely smiling. Anyhoo, for what it’s worth, Thankyou NHS x

s

In similar circumstances the people of Brazil took to their pots and pans, but this time to express their outrage at the leadership of Jair Bolsanaro, the outspoken far right president, similar to Trump, who’s been valiantly holding the virus at bay by diagnosing it as the sniffles, refusing lockdowns, and maintaining it a bad dream we’ll soon wake up from, to a strong coffee and some light tennis on the beach. That is till this biggest protest of his rule to date, racketing out from a few hundred million balconies. Democracies have increasingly been shown to be undemocratic and graspingly unprofessional in all this -it should never reach this stage.

s

s

There’s something to be said about sociopaths in power… I mean it’s a no brainer literally just stepping back and letting the medical experts advise you on what to say. And look grave, possibly even upset at press meetings on people dying. Just so long as you maintain that serious facade and try pretending that people’s lives equate to say, a dollar in your pocket, then you’ll likely be bolstered by sweeping support from all sides, as seen in countries under siege mentality. Such as the noticeable uptick in adoration exhibited for the Great Orange Dolphin (G.O.D.), even from Democrat hills, that has him at his highest ratings ever (49%). Even when all he can think to talk about are the ratings for these briefings, as thousands gasp it out.

Like he literally cannot see what that looks like, literally cannot fathom a logic that hundreds of thousands of human lives are more important than his spotlight. Look at that little facial icon in the corner, ready to fight on the beaches. A look of cold steel to the wind, hair catflapping madly as he raises the flamethrower. Then he opens his mouth.

s

Yet given the set-up, script and role these arrivistes still seem unable to tear themselves from their tried and tested MO on or off stage: of pathologically lying on any given subject, and making for the usual pfaff of bluster, disbelief, grandiosity and unimpeachability (God complex). Until the last minute when they lose grip (cold, dead hands, crowbarred by an upset secretary), at the untold cost of thousands of preventable deaths. Imagine Trump, embattled, washed up, squeak-screaming again under the presidential desk as the staff try and tease him out with oil contracts and Fox cameras, maybe some Russian ladies of the night with incontinence issues. It will take till then, that delicately held point in time and history books – possibly a black and white Newsweek cover of the whole Benny Hill scene- before we ever get to turn the corner on this thing.

Amazon Pink River Dolphin or Boto Inia geoffrensis Underwater, Rio Negro BRAZIL

Amazon Pink River Dolphin or Boto Inia geoffrensis Underwater, Rio Negro BRAZIL

Am stuck increasingly with nothing to do. No board games, no one interested in computer games either -it’s the soul sucking internet, or Netflix for most of the day. We contemplated going out for a walk, but the kind of cold, dark, empty walk you’d get at 10.30pm during a ghostly pandemic lockdown of a not particularly pretty part of town, all train tracks, brick terraces and highrises to the tune of litter confetti and plastic tumbleweed. Like Dune, but a budget where they had to make do with Felixstowe for location. Noone cleans the streets anymore.

s

In the end we opted to have our souls sucked, promising tomorrow to be a constructed, constructive day full of tasks, shopping and prep for a Sunday dinner party we’ll be throwing in honour of ourselves, for which J will get his antique silverware out. Tomorrow morning will be a conference call for work, to vote on some products for the new Wildlife Photographer of the Year comp. Kind of looking forward to doing something, anything again yet tentative to rejoin public life, like a first day of school encore. Will even have to get out of my one-piece, all-day bathrobe, which now looks like one of those over-the-shoulder numbers cavemen always wear, or a large, splayed cat.

Lunch a milkshake and chicken kiev (overcooked, popped and fizzled away), dinner 3 slices of bread and some ineffective painkillers. Life’s a little bit shit.

Currently it’s Fool’s Gold, Kate Hudson, Matthew McConaughey, and a youthful Kevin Hart chasing Conquistadore treasure in the Caribbean. A camp, long-winded ‘action-comedy’ set in crystal waters that’s particularly refreshing after a steady diet of horror, arthouse and psychological/ historical drama. I’m not sure what’s going on but I am peeping up whenever Mr McCona-heeeyyy is going shirtless, which is like in every scene ever, even when shopping or arguing over divorce papers. I’ve heard he’s always crossing his arms across his lovely chest, or generally gesticulating as he talks, because if he puts them to his sides you’ll see they’re preternaturally short. Like a baby penguin.

I’ve been avoiding the news, but like the ghastly spectacle it is, on your doorstep, I looked. Infections now over 1 million, and Spain with another 950 deaths, UK 569. Morgues are being set up all over the country, in makeshift tents and every purported ice rink which noone’s ever going to return to. The US grabbed something like 5 million masks destined for France, by paying 3x the price in cash and redirecting the plane just as it was about to taxi off from China. Trump also invoked his emergency powers to get 3M to stop its mask shipments, destined for a SE Asian locale from their Singaporean factory, to be redirected to the US of A. And to stop making them for anyone other than their own. They refused, but were brought to task by the G.O.D. via Twitter, who is now vowing they’ll ‘have a big price to pay’.

x

At the same time, CIA documents show China covered up infections near the start (the thing with the doctor), and on human> human transmission, or at least was too delayed in announcing it, as if not to be outdone in the panto-villain stakes. Not promising.

The Thucidydes Trap between the two posers looks ever more worrying.

But to bed, to bed. For another day, and another keyboard offensive.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 9

Thursday 26th March 2020

A few minutes ago they started yelling. I thought it was a party, the clapping alongside, and when I went to the window another woman in the old folk’s home opposite was doing the same. We ignored each other (thank God).

The shouting rose, and rose, till I was running to the kitchen for a better view from the tower block. By then it had risen to crescendo with an army of car horns you could hear reverberating across the city; every window in the block opposite had people doing the same, all 24 floors of them standing in silhouette, backlit, most of them alone.

S0223152

I found out from J it had been organised on social media which I’ve avoided for days -that at 8pm tonight there would be applause for the frontline workers, the essential services from healthcare to police, soldiers to postmen. It was quite the sight, especially knowing it was nationwide too. We watched in wonder.

This was started in Wuhan where the first lockdown was, from sporadic yells of people trapped indoors for so long, that evolved into balcony bellowing and cheering, encouraging others to keep going. In Italy the same, cheering for emergency vehicles and police vans. It’s times like this we learn the power of community, and the value of spirit in trials of hardship. The NHS has now filled its 450,000 volunteer positions within less than a day.

Italy is hard come by, it’s toll climbed again, bucking the trend of a decline seen in the last 3 days, with over 700 succumbing last night. Rumours are Italy is not just handicapped by the older populace, but the strain is more virulent. News too, that the US will likely overtake both Italy in China within the next 24 hrs, and will become the new global epicentre for the pandemic.

s

Today I applied for Tesco jobs, inspired by a colleague now out of work and asking for a reference. I’m only applying for branches that will be reachable, with minimal commuting and thus exposure -it helps that I live next to such a busy station, so my radius is quite a catchment. There were literally 8 pages of positions for the company alone, all asking for immediate work on a temporary basis.

I’ve made some noises in the way of volunteering, though A says the NHS needs no one any more, and my working is volunteering enough to support my dependents. I’ve offered by CV building and job application services to some of my colleagues who don’t have as good English skills, my first foray into putting my money where my mouthpiece is. As opposed to endlessly writing about community spirit while popping out to forage, avoiding all contact and coming back with having done anything but purchase goods.

S0203149

The streets were sunny, spotless and mostly quiet, though occasionally a bottleneck of a whole 7 people would clog up certain crossroads and shop awnings. I posted off my collection of masks to The Fam (they’d run out entirely of envelopes so had to bop over to the last corner store), then it was the trundle through Lidl, which had restocked itself post-panic buying. Though of course bogroll and cleaning products is still mythical. Paracetamol was found, in a heavenly ray of light.

S0193148

A has spent a good few hours on the phone trying to get through to BA (who had charged him twice for a fictional flight), and the jobcentre, neither of which were ultimately reachable. We’ll try again tomorrow. Apparently they’ve been inundated with hundreds of thousands of calls, the latter likely in the millions, so cannot even accept new ones. It’s all left to a Tweet to do the talking, and like everything money related, has occupied a worrisome purgatory of loss.

Yesterday’s film was The Lighthouse, starring that good looking Cedric-from-Harry-Potter. Plus the vampiric looking Willem Defoe, now haggard in a strikingly accurate rendition of a grizzly Newfoundland seadog (they have a similar accent to the Irish), salt o the shanty-shaking blarney sea. An aria in solitude and madness, and how very close to home. The relationship between salty sea master and monosyllabic lug lurches between hate and love, sometimes within seconds, as they increasingly deteriorate into alcoholism. Entertaining past demons through their solitude, sometimes to memories of murder, or visions of mermaids and sea monsters (tentacles and all). Heads in lobster baskets, dripping jizz, that kinda thing. All very black and white, shot on a 5:4 format redolent of silent films, for which a great deal of this brooding study is.

s

A lonely island (a rocky New England shore), a haunted past and present, a backbreaking, mindbreaking roster, littered with secrets and intrigue, notably the semi-mythical light in the house itself, like a glowing gemstone. It doesn’t end well. Perhaps neither for us.

The performances of these actors are astounding, studded with rambling monologues that become increasingly poetic, ad hoc craziness and a certain sexual tension. I was glued to it. I wouldn’t call it enjoyable, but is one to savour, rather like a storm. Bat down the hatches; the city is once again, unearthly silent at 8:55pm.

Today’s offering was Gemini Man, starring Will Smith and Will Smith as himself, clone wise, and thirty years younger. From the start, the predictable hi-jinx of hi-fiving US spies acceptably murdering foreign subjects, notably the typical Hollywood East Europeans, casually evil (you can just tell as they sit in awkward, unshaven dourness on intercity train journeys). Then the usual ludicrous examples of American heroism: pinpointing a single passenger on a packed HSR from a couple of miles away, dodging hundreds of bullets hippo-sprayed by trained marksmen.

s

Oh and a British villain, of the craggy fifty-something suit and tie variety. Plus one of the spies is female, brilliant and beautiful (ssshhhooocker!) erm and at uni, where she’s studying Marine Biology, like most American students do and that hints at a lovey-dovey, swimming-with-dolphins-while-partially-dressed sprituality as well as sciencey, cerebral prowess. If I was an Orange County gal wanting a few million more hits on social media but also indicate I’m more than a candle-lit face, I’d lay out my paperwork next to stroking a dolphin.

s

Will Smith Jnr is sometimes quite accurate, other times a cringey CGI mould, gurning over a plasticised trajectory, as are the fightscenes, the kind where they speed things up a little too much and it looks like Tekken. Oh Ang Lee, master of suggestion and cinematography, where did it go wrong? I mean Hulk shoulda been a lesson.

ss

But hey, worth the respite. Nothing like a bitta mindlessness and killing to get you not thinking about the mindlessness and killing. Dinner has deteriorated – cold rice, soya sauce + sesame oil, and hammy sausage slices. Took a whole 40 seconds to prepare, and about the same time to consume in front of the box, eating and watching baloney. Must try harder.

I don’t know what isolation does to people, but the message is clear from Hollywood so far, put any two people together and they will compete, and make life Sartreanly hellish for each other. I do wonder if there will ever be a film without the struggle, about say two people being plonked on an island and just getting along. No giant apes, no sharks, no killing piggy. No bloody social stereotyping. The Netflix reality series, ‘Terrace House‘ does just that, whereby they get a bunch of Tokyoites from disparate backgrounds into a household, who aren’t lamped with pressing personality disorders or opposing political views, who aren’t say a lion pride holed up with sassy zebras. And hey presto! They chat, show their fears, their heart, and fall in love at their own pace. Not Love Island, not Big Brother (of whom the German and Brazilian editions only found out about the pandemic a few days ago).

If I wrote a book where Once Upon a Time They Lived Happily Ever After would anyone even pick it up, let alone enjoy it? If there was no global crisis, would I even be writing, or you good friend, reading?

sss

Yesterday

Tomorrow