A Journal of the Plague Year Day 100

Saturday 27th June 2020

Today is the last day of the blog, after these 100 days of solitude. Lockdown has eased itself out into less and less restriction, and ceased to function for a while now, without us having noticed too drastically. Life is not back to normal, but there is quite a semblance of it outside, traffic jams, shoppers, foodies, drinkers -the only obvious difference being the masks and the queues outside the shops. Deaths are down to the single digits while we await a second wave, possibly a second lockdown too if things get bad again. But for the time being, that semblance of normality is with us again, enough to take stock and hope it continues.

 

In retrospect:

The virus

At its worst C-19 was killing over 1,000 a day in the country. It’s still yet to peak abroad, notably the US, Latin America and now India. The strong sense of doom in the dark days of February contrasting with the sunny shores of late June now, having never reached full blown societal breakdown, and the burning horizons envisaged -though in the US it came close at times with the riots. To date, the virus has killed over half a million worldwide and infected ten million more, and multiple times more undetected. Some countries have managed to control the outbreak, including many we deemed in the West too poor to have done so -Vietnam, Senegal, Ghana, Venezuela, Greece. While the illusion of superiority has come crashing down from badly coordinated responses and deadly politicking, in richer states such as the US, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria and here in the UK. Those in the scopes have changed with time, but generally the old and sick remain the most at risk, while those younger are the ones who most spread it. The responsibility is with everyone, and individually.

 

Racism

This year has marked a racial reckoning across much of the West, the coming of age of generations too suffering of the sins of their fathers. The world needed to change, and it did. The rot embodied by cold-blooded murder so in danger of becoming an accepted norm -were it not caught on film and amplified by social media -that something had to be done, or we would never have been able to justify our cultures again. Thousands of protests around the world, and billions of voices have shown the might of people power, and made the corporations, governments and institutions rethink their long exclusionary policies. The spotlight on history revealing the hypocrisy of our modern day hidden in plain sight -in glorifying statues and dismissed atrocities, in open bias long peddled by the media, to the fact our hierarchies, for all their touted sophistication, rely not on merit but looks and connections. The anti-Asian surge during the pandemic, the state-posturing, the sabre-rattling and populism had already formed a backdrop, common to pandemics through time, and now followed up with the authority atrocities. George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, remember their names. Igniting the presidential picking of sides, the street battles, the tearing down of icons, and the record for history to come. As Noah Yuval Harari points out, we have an undiagnosed crux: culturalism -not just racism on race, but prejudice based on culture; this ‘clash of civilisations’ invariably pits both sides as thinking themselves the only civilised ones. And how it has come to pass.

 

Politics

Trump has been the name of the day, and the tyrant at the helm taking down the bad ship the USS United States. It is not so much the world laughing at the country any more but worse -pitying it. The US is no longer pax americana that the Hollywood propaganda machine has so long promoted, rather the opposite -a warmonger that gives the democracy a bad name, insofar as it can even be called one. Vote a sociopath into power and you’ll see the gaudy, unabashed fireworks singe the gathered throngs, the huddled masses. Seeing the world so affected by every move from above, translating directly into your everyday has empowered people to take a stance, but also one in which partisanship saturates every call to arms and tears societies apart. The oneupmanship between nations, burning their bridges as they battled over PPE, or declared trade wars, exacerbated by opportunistic brinkmanship, from Hong Kong to the Himalayas, Venezuela to the Vietnam coast. Trump and Xi have both been major players, but within many countries a degradation of democracy to create overarching power has also manifested itself, notably Hungary, Brazil, Ethiopia, Turkey. We have seen two sides of the coin -in ugly scenes of people defending their right to infect others, and governments readily rescinding constitutions unconnected to protection. Politics is eating itself from the inside out.

 

Economy

Personally, it’s been tough as well as easy, up and down. The anxieties of costs, future, health and those of loved ones too balanced with a huge amount of free time and no more rigmarole of commuting, weerking and hell being other people -plus the guilt that comes attached. I applied to maybe 15 jobs in the time, with naught a reply, and a promise to change my name. My family out of work next month, but on a magnitude that applies beyond just those we know. A coming recession looks inevitable, that for this country alone will be the worst in 300 years, not just crippled by the pandemic but already hobbled by Brexit (with a look to mask that loss of face with biological lawlessness, that only a pandemic will excuse). The horizons seem darkened, though somewhat distant in the sun. What awaits the global economy for the decade to come, and the destabilisation of societies remains to be seen, but it doesn’t fare well -it almost cannot.

Will return to work this coming week in a bittersweet homecoming of sorts -a semblance of normality but entering an uncertain future, an outlook that applies to the entire economy beyond firsthand experience. How much can be clawed back, and how much needs to rewired, and endured? How much support will we need, and how much can we give?

 

Life

Well one cannot deny the rollercoaster of mind and body. No more exercising, no more waking to panicking alarms, no more structure to many a day. Worry and freedom in a perpetual chase of emotions, dependent on how much one loses themselves in the present, or past. There’s been argument, division, reconciliation, laughter, so much love. A realisation of what is important in life. At times working for 18 hour days, but mostly not working at all, where time drifts between periods of sleeping. And always, the need for money, the abandonment of family to an uncertain fate, abstracted over some far horizon and haunting one’s dreams. One day we will look back on this with tales to tell. What position we come to rest on, feels like the flotsam on somne wave, with perhaps a promise of land to beach on. That promise can never die, even if it never transpires. Society has changed, and it is up to us to make it anew, to sculpt that form we wish it to take. There’s never been a better time, and neither has it been so precious; I thank you for giving it.

All the best and stay safe.

 

Signing off.

W x

 

Yesterday

 

 

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.

s

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.

s

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?

s

 

Yesterday

Tomorrow