A Journal of the Plague Year Day 6

Monday, 23rd March 2020

Okay, today’s been tough. As in tough being stuck indoors. So not that tough given the mf shitcake the world is baking right now. But let’s forget perspective and ethics and scale and any later claims to hairblowing heroism, I’m feeling it’s tough, being in bed. Still in my PJ’s, writing the book for 5 hrs, break for a pot noodle, then admin for another 3hrs and counting, and writing now the blog. I imagine weeerrkk today will account for about 11hrs when I’m done with this. Don’t mind it so much but when it involves claiming travel insurance, a new all-day, family affair, it’s gonna be a memorable one.

I don’t know anyone who can conceivably enjoy or enable into existence the process of filling out jargon-heavy forms, ringing up multiple call centres, midway discovering other refunds not fulfilled or double charging, then extracting a range of evidence, phone and bank records, screenshots and converting it all to PDF while trying to annotate using counter-intuitive tools. Our collective societies should be designed around never having to do this. A is doing a big chunk of the werk, but in his roundabout way, operative word roundabout. I dream of the day we can talk to an operating system, perhaps pleasingly named Berty, or Sharon, and get them to fill out, fact-check, source and send the form within milliseconds, trawling through your emails, creating attachments and communicating with other OS’s in multiple bureaucratic pigeonholes. She’d only have to ask if you wanted to claim, and all you’d have to say is yes Shazza, yes.

Throughout this time the smell’s getting to me. That pungent burnt aroma it appears only I can still savour, reeking at a low level throughout the flat two days later -not so much cardboard/ woodsmoke, more dead fish, giving me a headache, a gnawing gut feeling and a lack of appetite. It does make me wonder what Francomanca puts into its boxes. I found out how to fully open the 2 metre high windows yesterday after fiddling with the brackets, they swing dangerously out and I’ve entreatied the housemates not to trampoline.

The fact I’m already moaning about the little things in life is an indicator methinks. This is the new normal. People are dying, and I’m inside, oblivious. When UK reaches the state of Italy I will be singing a different tune, nearer to the first blog post, what only 5 days ago, so full of doom and gloom, and now look at me, complaining about paperwork. Do I have to acknowledge disaster every day? Do I have the altruism to even look?

The news is full of snaps of heaving beaches and national parks; places such as Snowdonia and the Peak District recording their busiest days in living memory, where parking space so ran out miles of empty cars appropriated the country lanes. London parks are now threatening closure until we behave. And stop effectively killing each other – a viral load indeed.

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Brighton:

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A similar story played out in so-called lockdown states in the US, notably squawky Californian beaches and buzzing Floridian boat parties, tied up to party. The tube lines and trains in London also suffered a rush hour, in part thanks to the enlightened choice of cutting down so many services and stations the travelers that still travel have to cram onto the next available shuttles, making social distancing a Hawkins-esque theory, a bit like how they claim learning algebra will help you in life. The govt maintains that only essential workers should use the trains, and is discussing full stay-at-home-or-we’ll-shoot-you lockdown, by all counts the only thing that may work on us Brits, especially when that once in a lifetime opportunity presents itself in the sky of a golden glowing ball.

 

Still terrible news from Italy, but marginally better as a slight dip has been seen in infections and deaths these past 24 hrs, the latter down from over 800 to 600. India has enacted a lockdown now of over 80 cities and over 100 million people, the largest in history alongside China’s -the subcontinent has been especially vigilant for months, and can be praised for their far-reaching measures knowing full well the disastrous possibilities in the world’s densest tracts of humanity, even with their much earlier lockdowns, public transport and interstate travel bans, rail cancellations and events and business closures.

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However, for all its foresight the Indian govt can only hold so much at bay, with such a vast undertaking. Some states alone have 200 million people in them.  And when Indians and Africans start dying in their far greater droves, will we even care by then?

The US continues to squabble over a blame game, alongside ineffectual handling of preventative measures. Opinion pieces in CNN and the New York Times are now making the connection (alongside Dr. Anthony Fauci, the main health advisor to the regime) that an administration compromised by so pointing the finger is misdirecting its resources, possibly wilfully so. Fauci maintained in yesterday’s interview with CNN, that he can’t exactly jump in front of the microphone and take it away whenever POTUS makes another sweepingly inaccurate statement. The usage of a line of appropriated human props in the background of his public appearances are surely starting to reveal the holes rather than cover them, by the fact many of them appear to have thought processing.

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Japan is mulling over whether to postpone or possibly cancel the Olympics (its legally binding agreement when accepting the flame was to hold it in 2020, this year only). Norway and Canada are already out. The nation’s torch relay has been heavily edited already and similar hisses are being sounded across many nations to follow suit. More shockingly, Eurovision was canceled.

Having scrolled through a few million comments last night on the Internatz, it appears people are settling into the routine, while many others are reaching the point of cabin fever/ bankruptcy/ withdrawal and asking in their non-drug hazed clouds, whether it’d be better to just get on with normal life and let the millions die. It’s reached that. The moral question on an indentured life in the name of the living. And we’re barely at the shit>X<fan moment. The global economy is now set for a depression, the Asian nations months ahead of us in the pandemic, whose lockdowns and infection levels were steadfastly clearing, are now facing reinfection, as numbers climb increasingly from returnees stepping off planes from Europe and the Americas.

Last night I had a sore throat, so quickly used the throat spray thing everyone says got invented in Sweden a few years back, and that halts many colds in their tracks. Despite it being anti-bac rather than anything anti-viral. Had to use it again today, and A admitted the same, but thinking it’s just the dry air from being indoors for so long. Here’s to hoping.

Last night’s matinee was Onward, Pixar’s latest which has a fantastic premise (blue elves, centaurs, trolls and assorted storybook creatures transposed into today’s evolved existence, of suburban drives, class politics, and that time-worn Disney adage, the magic of unbridled capitalism), along with lovely visuals and two likable protagonists. However, how very quickly does it wear off, how very quickly do we realise how unexotic our everyday is, even populated by pet dragons, cop centaurs and chimeral restaurant owners. And there’s only so far you can push the same meme of juxtaposing fable with reality- although they definitely should have had more on the feral unicorns. A very human story, almost boringly so. Plus a rather bizarre insertion of a half body dad (don’t ask). I generally felt they missed a trick somewhat, peppered with way too much Deux Ex and dreamed up situational comedy written by several competing writers without a producer. It is too deeply unmagical, too accurate to our lives to suspend disbelief.

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Next up is the BAFTA winning documentary For Sama. In this day and age, dare I watch it? The struggle of a filmmaker, newly pregnant, who is forced to stay in Aleppo, the world’s oldest city and former UNESCO World Heritage Site as it’s bombed out of existence (her partner a frontline medic). The ethical dilemma of bringing a new life into such a world throughout. It is perhaps too close for home now, no longer viewed from the pity generating, door slamming safeties of mollycoddled privilege, in the continent next door.

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Aleppo was of course Syria’s biggest city (more so than its capital Damascus) and no less than 8,000 years old as the same continuously inhabited settlement, while we were largely still looking for caves and handy-sized rocks, and mammoths still roamed. At its centre a vast citadel that would be the world’s largest castle if ever we decided to call it one, and surrounded by ancient medinas, bazaars, churches (yes, churches) and mosques:

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Now gone

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It is a harbinger, that we have been here before. If another country offered shelter, on the doorstep, would we go, could we afford the liquidity of an average $20,000 fee, and risk that seafaring, lorry-hiding, continent crossing journey? From a war with an estimated 700 sides, where half a million have died violently or from starvation. It brings it home, context, scale, memory. When society crumbles where do we turn?

There’s a lessening pool of what can suspend disbelief, of options in escapism. But we should at least be thankful we still, right now, have the choice.

Need to open the windows again. Then Netflix, then pie.

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 my laptop or phone. Then to scroll bleary-eyed through the news of ratcheting tension, emblazoned in headlines of school closures, lockdowns, crashing markets, panic buying and ghastly figures updated every hour. They say the higher a death toll goes 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 doom, global doom.

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https://www.arcgis.com/apps/opsdashboard/index.html?fbclid=IwAR0p3Bk2zOBydl0Zyo2OYAnuEXCIB-aqOyI4brLYy4ophiIXahNqT2riXMw#/bda7594740fd40299423467b48e9ecf6

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, unhelped death of your loved ones.

sLIS2017003D | Aleppo After the Fall

 

My partner A lost his job yesterday, my flatmate J is 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 home I’d been dreading all day, to find out the situation with The Family. My mother, 78 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 I was faced with the prospect of now having four grown dependents and myself on my 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, with her own company in science writing (I’ll just namedrop Atria Communications here) is working with the disease experts and is mobile, where 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 wage to wage, often abroad from their homelands and familial support network to boot. 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 in Clapham, complete with a shower under your bunk bed that dribbles onto a toilet. Or a bed-in-shed in Slough, one of a rash on 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 shopping 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 of them (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 old lady 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 tact 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