A Journal of the Plague Year Day 65

Saturday 23rd May 2020

We’d planned to go cycling this morning, all the way into Central London to see the ghost town, but it was blustery all day and whistling through the windows. A maintains it’s hard to ride when the wind’s against you, making it difficult to enjoy things, notably any scenery you pant your way past like Mutterly.

I imagine the place as dystopian, akin to the opening to 28 Days Later, where a fallen double-decker blocks Westminster Bridge. Apparently the scene was made on low budget by shooting at the height of a Sunday summer morning (dawn at 4am) and begging any drivers to wait a few minutes. I kinda just want to say I saw it, I was there, for history. A pretty ghoulish intent, but for a committed urbanist just too compelling.

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I expect the streets will be populated somewhat, with quite a few cars too compared to the start of lockdown, now that the sun’s out and the rules have been eased. A big furore’s kicking up about Dominic Cummings, chief Tory aide and mastermind of the Leave Campaign who was caught driving 260 miles to Durham after getting C-19 symptoms (apparently to have his kids looked after by his elderly parents). There’s also a lot trending on social media as to why media outlets initially refused to cover the story in a hope it would all blow over, notably ITV news. And how the govt is now desperate to reinterpret the wording of what staying lockdowned entails.

Downing St issued a statement saying it was going to ignore the story because papers such as The Guardian and The Mirror published reports that he’d been seen twice on other outings from Durham, and that they were false allegations. It’s since been forced to face up after Tory backbenchers have come forward to ask for Cummings’ resignation, seeing the party reputation and resources damaged otherwise. The PM maintains he’s backing Cumming’s position to stay in place as an advisor. Ah such farce.

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The day has been surprisingly health-moan free- no headaches, though a big achey arm by nightfall, perhaps from playfighting in bed as one is wont to do when bored. Other domestic newsflashes include thinking about cutting and dyeing the hair again (growing out), feeling old (seeing bad photos of me), feeding on a giant watermelon for days (paired with feta, as is traditional for Greek country cooking), and bickering about whose turn it is to do the cleaning this weekend (we’d been getting the order wrong and expecting each other to do it).

Apparently the trick is to not add the mint, onions, rocket, walnuts or olive oil as many recipes ask, but just the purist melon and cheese, nothing else, the Greek farmers way of taking a block of cheese while working  the fields, and for once ignoring the herbs around. That way the flavours combine into something new, rather than layer themselves distinctly. Also the seeds can be cooked after – they’re literally amazing with salt and pepper.

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I am also getting exhausted from the racism online. One of my favourite websites now overrun with it, as it has been for some years. Skyscraperpage is racist, oozes it -and that’s just a random architecture and urbanity site, who you’d think was populated by progressive IMBY’s. I’m increasingly resorting to watching Youtube vids on a range of algorithmic topics that are my own personal echo chamber, perhaps to cheer myself up that the world does support my way of thinking everywhere I look. But knowing inside that it’s just a damn foil I’m surrounding myself with every click.

It kept me up last night. The end to a good day scuppered by seeing the insults online, and the avid acceptance and support of them as an institutional reminder. I am yearning for history to fast forward, and just deal with the results rather than this limbo. My intended holiday to NYC, planned over a lifetime, will always be marred as to what to expect, sure -but it’s getting increasingly shadowy. I get that Americans are not all neo-Nazis and there are hundreds of millions of normal people, but the White supremacism -underhand, subconscious or overt -appears saturating in every public arena online, that currently rules its politics and laws. The country is battling for its soul, and the democratic rights of ignorance that now supersede facts.

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I cannot bring myself to watch the lurid videos of the racism, from neighbours shouting insults for hours, to demonstrators attacking, to the public diatribes. It’s hard to watch hate without feeling it yourself.

J has been getting down recently, the lockdown is getting him lonely -and we’re not helping by being holed up in our rooms for most of the day. I gave him a hug or three, but that’s not exactly a miracle cure. I try to have lunch with him on the sofa, and fixed the TV that’s been on the blink (goddamn Sony Bravia, planned obsolescence kicking in after 7 years), recalibrating every setting for half an hour, but all to little effect. He’s headed off to his partner’s place for a day or two to cheer himself up.

I got to remember things can be a lot worse, like skyline-burning worse, just like how we imagined it at the start. As America’s death toll climbs past the 100,000 mark the Great Orange Wotsit (thank you to my sister for the moniker -an item just as tainted and puffed up with hot air) going golfing on the occasion, a sign as to how mundane the disaster’s become. In better news New York state is significantly lowering in deaths, but the other states are starting to climb, notably North Carolina and California. A part of me wants to say fuck it, bring it on, goading on the end of the world order, another part knows it’s playing into the same role.

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Yesterday

Tomorrow

 

 

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 34

Monday 20th April 2020

I sent the book off today to two agents, feeling myself dandy for doing so too. Then had another long trek, this time into Clapham via the Common. In terms of rating London’s green spaces there’s not a lot to say about it, it would maybe score 2 or 3 out of 10. It’s first and foremost a common, delineating itself from parkland by being relatively open ground and unplanted. No acres of flowerbeds, no landscaping a hill to the right or left, though there are two pretty ponds, and a windswept one. Everything is left as nature intended, kind of, with a few statues here and there and a playground/ outdoor gym/ skatepark. The scraggly collection of woods on one side is pretty scant in terms of biodiversity, being mostly grass and small, young bushes, studded with condoms. It is of course a favoured dogging site, almost legendary, though these days populated by the kind who cannot pull online or via an app (read: old, unsexy and unkempt, possibly murderous).

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The rest of the park is plain – large empty spaces of green or gravel, popular for sports aficionados and event staging. It is dare I say it, boring. The Attenborough equivalent of an Asda carpark. Inside the ponds we saw a dead and rotting fish ( a fat, white carp), studiously being ignored by a heron, and two potatoes, possibly jettisoned by fleeing BBQers. The fun police were out in force, cruising ominously along the running paths and stop-searching drivers for evidence of commuting or shopping.

I did spot an interesting tree, as pique among dross. Very Easter. J said it may have been diseased (apt). I may come out and start worshipping it.

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Then it was Clapham Old Town, a nondescript part of London tarted up into prettiness. Although every building is not that old it’s been done up as if they are, even the 20th Century additions, complete with flowerboxes and fabric awnings, scrubbed brick and pistachio paint. This is what all of London could look like with a spirited makeover, given this end was also traditionally poor throughout the centuries. Mostly residential but gracing a tiny corner of shops and businesses, almost all closed but for the delis, organic cafes, bakeries and ultra-expensive grocers each with a queue (how very Clapham). Sainsbury’s had a very long line outside, Tesco directly opposite nary a soul, not even a guard. UK has a curious hierarchy of supermarkets/ grocers not always evident abroad, from the department store emporia at one end who deliver in 1920s horse-driven cabs, to the panic buying, zombie-baiting megamalls at the other:

Fortnum & Mason

Harrods (formerly top spot but they lost their royal charter ever since Dodi, son of arms dealer Fayed, got into the car with Diana. It’s now owned by the Qatari royals)

Harvey Nicks (do they even do food?)

Selfridges (the best imo, far more choice, and surprisingly, deceptively affordable)

M&S (can be swapped with below)

Waitrose (far more choice than above, which only does it’s own brands)

Sainsbury’s (can be slightly naff, all the usual brands but pricier for no reason whatsoever)

Tesco (naff, but all the usual brands)

Morrisons (normally bottom of the pile. Wide use of the cheapest sugar, the offcuts, the sweatshops, despite rebranding)

Asda (the new low, having seen the kind of supermarket sweep and panic at the disco behaviour relevent to these climes. Part of the Wal-Mart fam)

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Once home I was face-down and asleep, as is usual nowadays whenever popping out, as if the toll of sunshine and fresh air weighs upon the shoulders, along with possible contagion. Out of it for hours. Then cut my hair, and joined a group chat with some buddies via Zoom, the place to be this season. Despite all that had a low mood, surly even. A part of me is constantly worrying, one housemate becoming a hermit, the other needing contact, and myself trying to provide both or neither.

I miss going out to have a meal, going shopping, going on holiday. The NYC trip for May is now a no-go (had that coming) as BA has finally canceled the flights; the supremely dodgy travel company wanting to charge us £150 for an admin fee still and that’s eating me up. Canceled the Airbnb – with now over £400 in vouchers to use. Also found out the museum is looking at July or even as late as October for a reopening, so I’ll likely be furloughed.

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Across the US people have been demonstrating to reopen the country, and get rid of lockdown, plus the usual barmy anti-vaxxers. There’s been a counter-demo by two fearless healthcare workers, dressed in their scrubs, standing in the street to block the traffic from joining. In the face of hooting car horns and a woman leaning out and yelling at them to go to China if they wanted communism, and that it wasn’t fair they got to work and she didn’t.

Health care workers stand in the street as a counter-protest to those demanding the stay-at-home order be lifted in Denver
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Democracy is being given a bad name. This pandemic is showing the flaws in the system, when ignorance is given equal standing as information, when the leader himself goads it as a device to keep himself in power. We kinda forget Nazism was a democratic rise.

This is why we need constitutions, as we the people can’t be trusted, as history has shown. Of course we’re going to vote for ourselves, of course we’ll step over others to get to the top, of course we’re going to lie, cheat and steal to furnish our bigger piece of the pie. I do wonder why giving freedom so often means giving free rein to abject competition.

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I’ve looked at the news fora for the first time in a while today, and the comments are starting to die down, less demands for lynching, less arguing, insults and vitriol. It appears we’re getting used to the new normal. C-19 may be on the verge of getting boring.

Another 823 died last night in UK hospitals. Deaths in general have doubled -a 20 year high, added to by unconfirmed virus fatalities and a great deal of people avoiding hospital treatment for fear of cross-contamination, or thinking they’re overloaded (the reality is that beds are now at record vacancies due to this). They’re hoping the worst is over despite the high tallies. The city remains silent to the core.

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News of vaccine trials to start next week are encouraging, though we’re still a good year off from being able to medicate it should it succeed. The orders for more tests and PPE are being stymied by bureaucracy, the govt promising new supplies from Turkey for the following day, then realising they’d forgotten to formally request it even. At times like this paperwork fuckups can kill, on a huge scale.

The night’s film was Fantasy Island. I wouldn’t call it run-of-the-mill despite using the usual jump scares and idiot decision-making (let’s split up! Let’s stage an argument now!) from the dwindling arsenal of Hollywood storytelling. The film’s premise is each vacationer gets to live out a fantasy, but of course one that turns sour and increasingly deadly. There’s a refreshing lack of gore and overt sadism, and an interesting landscape of a storyline (SPOILER) in which one finds the disparate scenarios for each guest are related. Large plotholes withstanding it was an interesting enough watch, and a big part of my life for 2 hrs, becoming the highlight of my day.

I need to get out more. Maybe all this was just some numpter wanting a bit of me-time.

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Yesterday

Tomorrow

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

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