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



A Journal of the Plague Year 2.0 Day 15

19th November 2020

Today I got the controller out (buried in a heart-shaped box) and played a GAME on the computer, it’s been a while old friend. Like how ex-smokers hide a final cigarette in wall cavities /floorboards for nuclear outbreak.

Increasingly I’ve realised internet addiction is a thing with me. They say more than 5 hrs a day and it’s a problem, so yes, I definitely have a touch if I’m on it waking to sleeping. If one’s resorting to gaming as a step up and out, that’s the state I’m at. My name is Wenzhe Chen and I am a Netaholic.

Thing is I used to be addicted to gaming too. Streetfighter IV Ultra Super Sonic The Hedgehog III.0.com is my go-to each time I ever dabble in the dark arts. Memories to when it was only on an arcade machine and I got so hooked as a kid I’d miss my lunch each day in order to save the quid (which afforded me five games). The venue was the tiny little video shop down the street from the gates, and those five goes would eat up a good few hours, coming home in the dark, still in uniform.

If I ran out of money, like any skaghead I’d search the streets for dropped change -once finding another quid, which was possibly the best moment of my life ever. I’m sure any longer on that road and Ida been mugging grannies, ransacking phoneboxes (remember them?), shoplifting and feverishly selling my gear/ body for one more hit.

I dreamed of one day saving up the £3K for a machine, with my £2 a week pocket money, though I worked out I’d maybe need to find an elixir to eternal life beyond the year 3492. Then it would be just me and my tiny empty flat, living the dream machine forever and ever. I saw beauty on the screen, in the way the graphics moved and correlated with the sounds -total ASMR. The way Chun Li thrashed her thunderthighs doing the Spinning Bird Kick, to the throb of a helicopter. The way -for a split frame -Dhalsim would vomit a sparkling cascade when you kicked him in the balls, and an elephant would trumpet. Such exquisiteness.

I even bought a magazine/ booklet thing for the game, equivalent to a Special Edition of Skag Heroin Monthly.

When we finally got a computer under the roof it had been the same story, same game too, played out on a keyboard with such gusto it creaked. I’d even start waking at 5am each day to put in a few hours before school (dragged inert through the carpet, raking nails). This was when the Commodore Amiga was the best thing since the Tele-Vision, as you could copy games (floppy disks) and swap em with your mates. Back before Se-Curity. We had an Amiga 500+, respectable as it had the sheer power of 1.5 MEGA-Bytes -and that Plus was very important, granting 500 bytes more than the lowly, laughable 500. Though Dan DeLancefort, living it up on the hill, had a 1500 – a whole TWO MEGA-Bytes his family had paid thousands for, that drew a respectful hush whenever he passed.

Commodores were a significant step up from tape decks (no, really -cassettes were your denizen for information storage and transfer). Plus a fat booklet that was the mode d’emploi to a better life, whereby if you wanted to play something you’d have to copy 14 pages of code from it. One typo or extra space would be catastrophe, resulting in the Matrix collapsing (tsunamis, fire tornadoes), and you’d have to feverishly check your script line by line. It was often easier to just start again. If you got things facistically perfect you’d then be able to throw a dot back and forth (the world’s bestselling game from 1982 till 1991), or cross a road through traffic, as a frog.

Years later the consoles came out. A step up with proper “Graphics” (256 colours! Three dimensions!) that would dim the lights when they loaded.

Also it was the budding shoots of a new line in porn, that would of course go on to overtake the majority of everything online to this day (like how they say the vast market for robots will likely become swamped, perhaps one day replacing real partnerships). To this day Pornhub has more viewers than Netflix, and one third of all traffic is Sexy Time.

Back then it was a dangerous series of zeros and ones glowing on screen to make a distinction -and form. So that you could walk to the other end of the room and squint, and wank over the vague outline of a boob. Later on as the march of technology roared on it was a frenziedly duplicated disk entitled ‘Animal Farm’ that spread like wildfire through the school. It took ages to load but the result was a series of haunting gifs, involving animals and humans very much in conjunction.

History in the making, bitches.

So now kids, you look at your laptop or phone and be very fucking appreciative. Remember walkie-talkies, now coming back in fashion? Back when Jamie Doggering bought one in to become an overnight sensation. He’d entice us crowded in the locker rooms, rapt around the receiver, WHILE HE WAS IN THE PLAYGROUND. Describing Chantal Naylor, what she was wearing and doing in real time (chewing gum and scratching her leg), seeing a pigeon flying past. Telling us what the weather was like in a live, rolling feed. Locating at all times scary Mr Mountforjoy, even following him to our absolute squeals of delight.

Ah that was the war spirit, children.

Well now we’ve all grown up a bit and after a few stabs and a lot of frustration (about 15 goes to beat the end boss baddy), I decided to hang it up. Rocking, intense, sweating profusely as if executing the super secret moves myself.

But then who should come calling a little further down the list: Alien Isolation. A horror offering that’s flipping perfect for lockdown. Switch the lights off, send up the sound, then steal round a creepy ship somewhere near the belt of Orion. The others have just gotten jettisoned in a freak docking accident, as they do. So it’s just me, Ripley versus the beast on an abandoned mining station, all dripping cables and industrial dark. Some say it’s the best horror game ever, even 6 years after release.

So after an hour or three I’ve gotten stuck quite ‘early’ on. I’m now stranded on a sister ship and just made my way though an abandoned baggage depot via the conveyor belts. But there’s something I’ve missed. I’m a neurotic gamer, one that checks and double checks every cranny, opens every drawer and gazes out every damn window, to take the same vista.

Yet now I’m stuck. After consulting the oracle of Youtube and watching some other dude do it, there appears a trapdoor I’ve missed in the shuttered café de creep. Whoopdie doo I can progress, but maybe tomorrow. Maybe tonight seeing dark into day, fingers clamped in sweat.

It is a little spooky with the lights off. Every time some motion sensor pings I jump, or the ship rattles it starts to unstitch somewhere in my chest. I’ll literally scream if the Alien’s shadow even so much as darts across the screen or passes a lone lightbulb in the distance, making it flicker, which has happened. If it attacks me I’ll probably lunge about in real life, real time sending shit flying. Hyperventilating, possibly crying.

In retrospect one of the best presents I’ve ever gotten; thank you sis x

The whole Oculus thing (wraparound Virtual Reality) apparently can give you PTSD.

Back in the real world A has made some peanut butter and hazelnut cookies smothered in dark chocolate. They’re the health guru variety, made from protein-packed flour and sugarless, and surprisingly pretty damn good. The bed has become a tabletop for most of the day and I sleep in crumbs.

I tried to sweep my hair back yesterday as it’s almost the length enough to stay, if you dry your head under a hat. Didn’t work so half of it stands straight up now while the other half migrates the other direction to escape. But I’m beyond giving a shit. Even answered the door like that in my dressing gown (for a delivery), looking like Howard Hughes shortly before his demise. The richest man in the world discovered naked in his Vegas penthouse like Robinson Crusoe, nails like curlicue knives and a beard past his knees. He hadn’t been on the ground in a decade, and no one had seen him in years. But when you think about it, having every want in the world trollied up the 30-storey dumbwaiter, canyer blame him? Without want is without hope is despair.

Any deeper into this game and it’ll only be a matter of time. Of course in the future things will only get more realistic and immersive with the rise of VR and AI combined, part of the fourth Industrial Revolution. It took quite a few millenia between the ages of Stone and Iron, but now we’ve seen the Industrial Age rise only two centuries ago, the Information Age 50 years back with computers, and now already it’s Digital Age with robots and AI.

Computing is getting so powerful nowadays the batshit crazy idea that The Matrix film is real, and we’re all just trapped in God’s computer game while she’s off having a shit or getting told off by Mum is increasingly gaining credence, from scientific pontification to philosophical circles. At our current stage we have reached such advancement we can passably recreate about 70% the complexity of our living, dimensional universe, while growing exponentially as we speak. Bear in mind back in 2000 all the information of the entire World Wide Web could just about cover a streamed music vid today. Think Anaconda being the summit of 100,000 years of mankind.

The next step is when we start combining, at first having a handy smart phone imbedded, say in your hand. Then, why not, your mind. -So slowly, creepingly: the Replacement, whereby your avatar overtakes physicality -that pesky, imperfect blob of flesh that needs periodic feeding and watering and shitting, keeps getting cancer and instigating mass extinctions. But hopefully at some stage, bodiless and self-extinguished by our Age of Abstraction, we’ll all be living our lives in some amazing matrix as programmes. Perhaps jetting off to catch a Balinese sunset on a whim, or too busy exploring the sex coding caverns of the Pluto cloud.

Maybe someday we’ll replace our own personalities, so personalised can we perfect things. Who needs aquaphobia, or anxiety, or jealousy, or addiction? But surely then that risks us becoming typical nodes with no wants, nuances or meaning and we’ll just end up agreeing to end the whole fucking exercise, via Singularity. So maybe not, we’ll put in that Law, like how Robots Cannot Harm Humans.

Yes, a treatise forbidding a nirvana of non-emotive, non-want stasis of perfection, which would otherwise be an inevitable endpoint. Buddha so many thousands of years before, charting the continual chase and progress of perfectionism, saw it coming.

Please pay attention, this is where it becomes new age cult territory.

-Maybe some day these avatars will be static, no longer procreating, gleaning only from those who have ever lived, and every memory resurrecting new life. Maybe what I’m writing into the ether will recreate me years from now. Yaaay.

**Edit * If I’m starting a cult it will be called Streetfighter, or maybe Cedric. We accept all major credit cards.

Meanwhile through all this, some lonesome solar-powered gobot will be tasked with keeping that little drive running, and the 50 billion lives stored within, bless.

-But what if he accidentally trundles over a cable and the programme switches off? And we’re all bloody stuck there, floating in darkness for the next few millennia because of the stupid little fucking fuck. Maybe this is what the promise of Heaven and Hell has always been, lying in wait so long and separated only from us, and each other by Time and twowheels-titface there.

Can we ever, ever get away from physicality, really? Insofar as the laws of physics rule our universe, it looks unlikely.

Oh well. Here’s to the whole Multiverse String thing.

Well, that was quite the rabbit hole. From Streetfighter II to the laws of the universe, God, Nirvana, and the state of existence.

Howard, once a great explorer and pioneer of human flight, was just born in the wrong era, to miss the meaning. So see y’all in Bali maybe, sometime. Or meet, embarrased in Darkroom 42, and pretend not to recognise each other.