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 before 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 same coin -in ugly scenes of people defending their right to infect others, and governments readily rescinding constitutions in acts 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 all 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 the miasma of biological lawlessness, that something only as epic as 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 be 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. I never did get the infection.

One day we will look back on this with tales to tell. What position we come to feels like the flotsam on some 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 13

Monday 30th March 2020

 

Well, I came across this today, that’s doing the rounds on social media. Very heartwarming, and oh so together in our time of collective need. I’ll add a lovely little transcript below.

 

I can’t wait for a year’s time when all of this is a distant memory. And there’ll be a corona baby boom because all the lovers were loving. And there was a rise in small businesses because all the entrepreneurs had a moment of stillness and creativity.

And all the children remember nothing but a time when all the mums and dads were at home drawing and playing ballgames. And be the time we all got to stop and be present.

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We will remember the time when health was the first priority. And we learned new ways to use fresh produce to feed our families. We will remember the laughter and fun on Tick Tock, Facetiming with our friends and family each day.

Date nights in the house and home P.E. workouts with Joe Wicks. A time when our real heroes in the NHS urged us to stay at home for the greater good. And our country showing us hope by turning Wembley and the Angel of the North blue.

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And we were all forced to think outside the box and dream of new things and reinvent old ways. And for once even amongst the chaos there was community. There was a global rise in togetherness. And as the streets were quiet our homes were bustling with love and laughter.

That time is coming soon, just like any other crisis before it. This will all be a distant memory. Things we’ll listen to our children discuss in the classroom that we share with our grandchildren.

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So to you: I know it’s unsettling, but focus on the silver lining. We’re all in this together. And there’s so much beauty to see.

 

Ah bliss, what happy memories. How we’ve all misconstrued this time together as a global catastrophe, when we coulda just framed it as the middle class Western staycay it really is! Yes, laughter and fun on social media, online workouts with hot C-list celebs, our homes ‘bustling’ with love and laughter. No Indian states to cross, no windowless Jo’burg shacks to stand in, no queueing outside US gun shops, no anti-Asian racism, no decision on which Italian patient to let die, no Iranian mass graves to dig, no parents or grandparents to watch succumb, from afar.

At a time when spousal and child abuse levels are skyrocketing, when the internet is saturated with finger-pointing, hate speech and pandemic politicking, when state after state is refusing to help its neighbour, and near a thousand people a day are dying in Italy alone, this may well be all that’s needed. Ah what a breath of fresh air! Let’s sweep it under a lovely chenille rug, all cuddly and warm, the betrayed social contracts, economic exploitation, global posturing, political corruption and massive societal cracks that had always lain beneath, all gone! No matter that the chintz-happy carpet’s now scraping the ceiling.

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Maybe they should do one for the Syrians about long distance hiking, timeless desert vistas, dieting opportunities, natural tans and the great outdoors with daytime fireworks. And the lucky 5% who can afford the average $20,000 for a Mediterranean cruise + tour package after, discovering new cultures and selfie ops across Europe. Whilst playing British bulldog with the authorities and organised crime to the tune of 10,000 missing kids by 2016 alone.

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Or the hale, healthy spirit of togetherness that is the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border right now, where millions of happy hikers are about to embark on a historic reenactment exercise, in memoriam to the holocaust trails of Partition.

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https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/nishitajha/india-coronavirus-lockdown-migrant-workers

As a random snapshot of our socially distant spirit today, word is the EU may dismantle from sheer selfishness given how moot it’s suddenly become: so-designed for precisely these scenarios yet refusing to help when presented. Given that Germany and Netherlands have blocked a rescue package (claiming the Southern states too greasy, too profligate with their spending and can’t be trusted, as they die in their thousands), Italy may well bow out, taking along Spain and Greece.

Retail may collapse en masse around the world, as does the gig economy, a Great Depression, mass unemployment, extremism and instability, while Russia and China look to make headway using the crisis. And the US, like a beauty contestant trapped under a beaching, floundering Trump, made ballast by big business and an army of enablers, don’t even get me started.

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We may all be in this together, but you don’t get to see ‘so much beauty’ by sticking your M&S tote carrying, Sky-subscribing, Hollyoaks-watching, window-twitching, wife-swapping, Mail-reading, Chelsea-supporting, Starbucks-swilling, picnic-making fucking head in the sand, after you took your fam in the 4 wheeler to Dover, against the govt advice. Yeah bring a flippy kite and pretend you’re exercising you highly entitled VIPs.

Now is a chance to change in this reset button, to fight for your livelihoods and your kids’, not believe this is all just another global funnel of experience upon you – just you -to temporarily waylay your Godgiven lifestyle. Yes, how ‘unsettling’ it’s all been. The fact the insecurity and destitution we live in now, is what billions live through as a norm all their lives to supplement and supplicate you. And it doesn’t have to be like that and never did, and we can change it together.

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The earnest, beseeching Geordie accent (voice o the workin people, aye!), brimming with righteousness (imagine her as a proud, overworked nurse) grates to say the least. I think that’s what got me most, the way they picked her and their idea as to what she should embody. Swear to God, they’re targetting people who don’t read.

Someone commented after the vid: ‘Everybody doing their part to help the greater good. I cannot think of anything more British’.

How apt, the white picket walls already outlined as the rest of the batshit diseased battle it out beyond (and on that note the most charitable populace happens to be the Iraqis). Play this to the Syrians, Venezuelans or Iranians, who are fucked to the nth degree without ICUs, masks, scrubs, sanitisers or meds thanks to our sanctions, let alone a billion sub-Saharan Africans and claim we’re in it together, for the greater good. That Joe Wicks puttering about in his pistachio sitting room and denizen to a better you, will lift their spirits.

They could at least have used better examples, rather than the usual offerings catering to our self-serving, facile narcissism, borders drawn.

Gwaaan, pay it forward. I dare ya:

 

 

In short, it is an embodiment of everything that is wrong with our world. That Toon nurse satanic, probably poisoning babies. It’s just too much of a cliché that we mollycoddled Westerners get blindsided to everything, everyone else, even in this circus of shit on our doorsteps, busy laying our scented candles in a trail to the vast sucking arsehole that’s become the bathroom.

Bah fuckin humbug.

Ok, sorry. Really need to get out more. Rant over.

And in other news…

Let’s get closer to home. And breathe.

Yes, people need support. People need a lift, in a time when we’re under house arrest. We need something to look forward to. Even if it is an idiotically entitled video, though a coupla kittens playing with a giant Malteser of shite would have had a greater impact, sensitivity and societal brainwork. Imagine their little mittens all pat pat patting it, trying to get it through the cat flap, that little, little gaawjus little tail, rubbing their lickle fat faces in it! Ah, togetherness.

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On that note, last night was a true, slightly jarring respite.

Thanks to watching Beauty and the Beast (live action version) with an ecstatic J, who has a big thing about objects coming to life and being invested, similar to his antiques work and art degree and everything ever (the fab scene where the operatic armoire jumps off a balcony to battle bad’uns being the best thing that’s ever happened). Doing our best to ignore the dodgy CGI for Beast and Emma Whatserface’s constant earnestness, but the singing and dancing and the fact it was candlelit elevated it into every tealight-burning vigil for world peace. I even took a snap, to show my grandkids one day.

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So yes, thoroughly enjoyed that, cosying up on the sofa like a giant fat dormouse, while cuddling my M&S tote. Flipping channels on Sky Box Bundle Badass News, on the way to catch my Hollyoaks Xmas Special 2004 re-run, I heard 25 million people will fall back into poverty (classed as surviving on less than a fiver a day) in China alone after this month, and that India is now seeing a humanitarian crisis the largest the world will likely ever see again, stories with less hits than the shocking issue that millions of garden centre plants will have to be binned across our great and beautiful land.

Thank you Simon Jack, business editor for the BBC:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-52098436

I hear the Little Mermaid’s next. Can’t wait!

So hey, that’s the way things are. Let’s be together, or maybe let’s not and say we did.

For as a great poet once said:

Down here all the fish is happy
As off through the waves they roll
The fish on the land ain’t happy
They sad ’cause they in their bowl
But fish in the bowl is lucky
They in for a worser fate
One day when the boss get hungry
Guess who’s gon’ be on the plate?
.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

 

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020

Wednesday 18th March

Today I woke to the same routine these past few weeks, increasingly set every time I opened my eyes and reached for laptop or phone. Then to scroll bleary-eyed through the news of ratcheting tension, emblazoned in headlines on school closures, lockdowns, crashing markets, panic buying and ghastly figures updated every hour. They say the higher a death toll gets the less people can conceive it, the scale of destruction getting more abstracted the worse it is. I don’t think it applies here, in this instance where we’ve tracked the gradual rise into exponential reaches that double every three days. The lists of countries multiplying alongside, the imagined scenarios fueling a sense of global doom.

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source

At one point last night, after watching a mindless action movie on Netflix (Pacific Rim II, lurid, banal, unlikely to have a third) I stopped and my ebullience suddenly ebbed. Was this the end of times, was I unlucky enough to be living now? A once in a lifetime experience they say. But then we should remember that millions have had this same clouded prospect, not just clouded but tornadic – Syria, Iraq, Yemen, DPR Congo, Libya, South Sudan as society was whipped away around them. These conflicts prove just as abstracted to this day, when we are a mere spa break in comparison of worry and anguish, and the uncontrolled, unaided death of your loved ones.

sLIS2017003D | Aleppo After the Fall

 

My partner A is now out of work as of yesterday, my flatmate J awaiting his fate in an announcement today, where he works as head of silverware in a West London auction house. We drafted a letter to the agency about our situation and their avenues of support available for us not being able to pay the rent in these trying times (yes we used that phrase, at John’s historicist suggestion). They must be inundated. Then it was the phone call home, that phone call I’d been dreading all day, to find out the situation with The Family. Mum, 77 and still working in a factory, in part to support my sister (long story, do ask) may be quarantined as high risk for up to 4 months according to the government advice, or should I say, hint of what is soon to be imposed. My other sister in the process of moving back to the UK from the Netherlands, and possibly also out of work. Well, that escalated quickly. Almost overnight faced with the prospect of four grown dependents plus myself on the one wage.

Thankfully, although the Natural History Museum closed its doors yesterday for the foreseeable next two months, I will still be paid. Turns out so will Mum, and my sister in the Netherlands. She started her own company in science writing (I’ll just namedrop Atria Communications here) and is working with the disease experts, and now mobile. The acronym WFH has become suddenly relevant and widespread -though commonly misread as WTF, it correctly shares the same impact of the word. So down from a possible four to just a plus one. I should be very, very thankful, I’m lucky enough to be waged with the government, and my mother and sister are in the science sector.

Most people I know are not so lucky, living from paycheck to paycheck, often abroad from their homelands and familial support. It’s stark how very quickly the gig economy has been so exposed to economic ruin, not to mention the fragility of property bubbles and rental market. Notably in London where no one working, middle or even upper-middle class can realistically afford to own a property, unless you like converting a walk-in closet, complete with a shower under your bunk bed that dribbles onto the toilet. Or a bed-in-shed in Slough, one in a rash of tens of thousands now hidden throughout London’s leafy suburbia of illegally built, money-making favelas. Thus a vast proportion rent their abode, and a vast proportion are now looking at homelessness. How did it come to this?

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I saw four homeless people today, three I suspected of being the variety who beg but find sheltered accommodation at night (appearing well fed, dressed, clean, I know a roster of them), but one who was genuinely sleeping in a streetside alcove, wreathed in soiled camping gear. I have no idea what will happen to these people. I also saw the very old, frail, and the heavily disabled, all of them on their own, clutching empty bags on the way to the shops, and the circus that awaited them. Yesterday a woman in a wheelchair blocked everyone from getting baskets as she tried to get her goods into one (she was buying a large houseplant, I have no idea what for), but I almost caved right there and cried. I helped her out, but later heard others asking her if she was okay. Thankfully there’s still that. The mood was tense, every face deeply serious from staff to shoppers alike, but no one busting out into arguments, slappy fights or racing down the aisles, nor complaining about the epic queuing or emptied shelves.

The people are panic buying -game theory really, if one person does it everyone else has to, or they’ll lose out. Then we complain about everyone else, like how we moan about the traffic while sitting in it ourselves, or how the lovely tourist sites are overrun with tourists these days, as if we have a privilege to experience it over any given member of that yappy, sportswear-laden tour group. These days is a potion of concern, for ourselves, our families and the disadvantaged, in an uneasy mix of conflicting priorities, as we go for that last toilet roll, as we see the pensioner standing destitute behind us.

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The UK government, to much fanfare, had recently announced it was following an experimental policy of mitigation rather than extending the containment stage. Hence why, in contrast to our European neighbours, there has been no lockdown, not of schools, of pubs, of gatherings, of farming festivals and horse racing stadia, of incoming visitors, or people in general when it could have made a difference. Despite that China already provided an MO in the form of Hubei Province, roughly the same size and population of the UK, that has proven to work, where we can learn from their open-sourced mistakes and successes. However one of these scenarios also happens to be cheaper on the economy – for all the talk on  ‘sombrero flattening’ no measures have been taken to effectively do so, as yet:

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The proven path so far is lockdown, infrastructure to feed that lockdown, ICU’s, and draft hospitals, with strict quarantining (where the staff get suited up 2 or 3x over, and no object entering those wards can ever leave again, hence why many healthcare workers had to buy new phones to discard later). It saved China, but took out two months of its economy. Britain seems to have tried to have its cake and eat it in contrast to the rest -to let the infection move through the populace while the elderly would be housed away, thus saving the bedspace. However, the Imperial College yesterday released its models on what this would result in, to both the UK and US govts it advises, alongside publishing it to the press. Over 200,000 dead and a healthcare system overrun to the scale of 8x over, and possibly 10x that for the States. This is why the government is about-facing to change tack once again, and why a lockdown is likely to be imminent.

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I cashed in an electronics voucher today, £100 worth, to buy an upgraded phone I didn’t really need, but in order to save my purchase should that company tank during the lockdown. Everyone in there was doing the same. The three workers were gloved up to the max, and wiping down everything passing over the counter, while thrash metal played apocalyptically. A young Spanish guy bought the phone I wanted, his old phone recently kaput and having little choice but to buy a new one before his replacement could be sent (if ever it would reach him), in a time when he could contact family, and where communication would be the last link that cannot, should not fail, no matter what.

Trying times indeed. I often think of what is important to me in life, often. Everyone is saying it’s like a film. Yet this is not so much a Hollywood disaster with gung ho renegades, rousing speeches and wavering flags in the background, to fistpumping and flowering explosions  -rather it’s more a surrealist study in existentialism. The world is increasingly looking black and white, and poignant. I’m not looking forward to an increase in pace, though admittedly holding out for a Deus ex Machina (my First World privilege right there) to throw some contrived lifeline. We can but hope, to Keep Calm And Carry On.

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Just try not to remember that the phrase was dreamt up by a wartime government facing imminent invasion and, unknown to them, the planned execution of the entire adult male population. Thankfully that never transpired, and if we keep our heads level and remember we’re not facing Mad Max or alien armies here -and at worse 3% mostly will succumb at or beyond their given life expectancy anyway -we can get through this together. Game theory once again applies: help out your neighbour or stranger, and the same will likely happen to you or your loved ones wherever they may be. But know this, we’re in this together whether we like it or not. There will be forces, currently garish in the press pointing fingers between countries, races, candidates, exacerbating desperation in desperate times, but we need to collectively fight from the same ground against a common enemy. Hand washing, WFH, WTF, losing support networks, social distancing yet looking after those in need have all already united us in a collective experience, we just don’t need more rule and divide. And neither should we enable the pathologically inclined who do so -those on the sociopathic spectrum in power or with a podium, cannot help it, bless em. We however can. Don’t feed those clicks.

In short, we have enough on our plate for going political or divided right now (if we must, we can enjoy all that later). By all means, exert your pressure, demand, let your voices be heard when things are found wanting, but do the finger-pointing later. Let’s just get through the damn day.

 

Tomorrow