A Journal of the Plague Year Week 2

Sunday 22nd March 2020

The sun is out. People are on the streets, and in the parks, basking like how you’d expect in a perfectly normal day on Planet Earth in the early 21st century, and in groups too. From the older lady I spied statuesque in the carpark, soaking up her Sunny D, to the gaggles of teenagers manning street corners and park benches, impervious to care and often reason. A. who has been going for a normally lonesome walk every day due to anxiety, reported on the sudden herds. No wonder the govt has had to close down pubs and cafes, throwing heed and germs to the wind appears endemic.

In short, it looked like a quiet Sunday morning. The only difference being the distinct lessening of the traffic.

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I do think there is a libertine element still in London, a mix of Britons never ever being slaves (well, except under the Romans, and Picts, and Saxons, and Vikings, and Normans), and the anything-goes culture of a cosmopolis. On the one hand it lifted my spirits, seeing this semblance of normality, and a reminder that perhaps there is a focus beyond the infectious headlines, on another heavily gloved mit I felt uneasy about the varying options in contagion. A few of the food shops and small supermarkets operated short queues to get in (gone within 5 minutes) akin to exclusive, chichi nightspots albeit dampened by the homeless man sprawled at the entrance, sleeping it off to a sign asking for a hostel room. I’ve heard the homeless will be housed in the emptied hotels, and the Mayor will pay for it. I hope this transpires, that It Is For Real, as few people would notice, or care so much right now.

I managed to buy some face masks from a corner store, the owner having a veritable pile of them for £2.10 a pop at the till (highly suspicious, I’m never lucky). I bought 3, vowing to post them to The Fam. Along with the usual smattering of crisps, a tinned curry and packet of mystery milk, possibly camel. In the small Sainsbury’s opposite it looked normally stocked (read: amazingly stocked), I even got two packets of fresh pasta, which I may build a bidding website for.

Just outside our estate there’s an unofficial corner (read: cul-de-sac) where people leave junk to be collected by the council, or just leave junk. Tawdry closets, mangled sofas, desperately dated drawers, that kinda thing. Today’s offerings were a brand new leather and gilt armchair and a spotless new mattress, glinting in the sun. I’m wondering if anyone will grab them if ever, with the idea of contamination now imbedded as a poo stain, or murder scene. The last time this happened I moved two new chairs to sit them outside the charity shop a whole 20 yards further, but today even I was worried to touch them. I went down again to snap a pic and the chair had been taken, bless. Noticing a bargain is the last stand in functioning society.

There was suddenly something deeply inviting about the bed, in the sun.

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The air feels fresh. I made the mistake of wearing my shoes inside, twice now on the same day, when before I’d warned others about taking them off, the pavements being quite the vector for anything coming out of the human body, and absorbed when wet. I even put it as a Facebook post, like how grannies do the same on some kitten charity or the latest scam you must pass on to all otherwise it means you hate them and want them robbed.

Also sat through an online tutorial, about how the virus is covered in fat, acting a bit like an oil droplet which won’t come off with just water, but needs regular soap or handwash to break it down, and 20 seconds worth. Alongside a vid of how to wash, a short from China showing the bits you’ll likely miss using dye. I did it properly when coming home from my little sojourn, but popping out just now I halved the time. There’s a lot to be said about my enthusiasm for a cause when having relaxed just the teeniest bit, and the saddening studies on how punishment motivates people more than a prize. Or laziness, just sheer I cannot-be-arsed-right-nowness. Those people laughing in slow mo in the park, that could be me.

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I’ve not looked at the news today, though I did sink to trawling through a news forum. Once again there’s a lot of back and forth about Trump and China being in the sights for global blame. I did get involved, mentioning how China’s localised cover-up was not so much to blame (having informed the World Health Organisation -WHO – a full two weeks before ever castigating Dr Li Wenliang and his private Wechat group). What we can definitely shake a stick at China for is the fact it hadn’t quarantined the infections believing them only animal > human for nearly a month. The WHO is still haunted by a tweet on Jan 14th maintaining that no evidence had yet to be found of human to human infection. Likely from now on it’ll have to change procedure that any new disease be treated as human > human rather than waiting for a patient to turn up without any contact with wildlife, markets, handlers or farmers (about 3 or 4 new human viruses are discovered every year). Also Trump and his cronies insistence to call it a Chinese disease points towards a political tool, perhaps to dive from the spotlight accusing him of gross mismanagement, perhaps in reply to the equally idiotic Chinese General hinting it was all a US spy infection, planted during their joint Hubei exercises.

Imagine Trump diving. Like a fat dolphin, squeak-screaming under the kitchen table and toppling no end of shit.

There are other diseases out there with place names such as Spanish Flu (rather unfairly, it didn’t originate there -Spain was just the country not under media lockdown during WWI and openly spread the word about it), and West Nile Virus, itself a branch of Japanese Encephalitis. However all these were named from the 1930s backwards, or centuries before, and the practice has died out -we don’t call HIV the African disease, nor the Los Angeles Disease, where it was formally identified. To do again in this day and age is courting xenophobia, as if East Asians or anyone who looks like them don’t have enough to deal with right now in a surge of viral racism.

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This ends today’s public announcement. I’m weaning myself off the pollyticks. Really I am, promise. That was only two paragraphs; It really does help when you avoid the screaming headlines. I have no global update to post today.

Mum rang yesterday, she opted to take leave from work, the proud firm of Keeler Ltd, provider of opthalmic equipment round the world and so far protected by being in the private health sector. They’re doing the honourable thing and keeping her on the payroll till it all blows over. She joked with the HR woman’s noncommital gestures -that if they had suggested a course of action (stay away /don’t stay away) and Mum subsequently popped her clogs they’d become liable. I told her not to be mean, that the nice HR lady was doing her job, but Mum maintains the woman found it funny. I can imagine that pained, whooping laugh and beseeching niceties while they stood metres apart.

But joking aside, they are a fantastic, refreshingly humane company that consciously chose not to outsource to a sweatshop in the Global South, and I beseech the world to each buy a retinal scanner when this is over.

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At 77, with multiple health issues, she’s high risk and may have to be cocooned away for quite a sentence – 4 months to next year even according to the official hints. Enough to get cabin fever and drive herself and my sister up the tiny cramped walls of the ’60s terrace, stuffed to the eaves with things hoarders hoard. Before she seemed calm, and was going to keep working until I persuaded her otherwise (there’s a legendary 83 y.o. lady who vows to carry on on the factory floor, now laid out so worktables occupy separated rows from each other); she’s now a little more fearful, having seen the numbers in town rise from 2 to 20 almost overnight. That a doctor in the next town over was caught with the disease while treating patients. The fact there may be 20x more infected than officially tested for round the country, it all really hit home, her home.

I felt distant, in every way, and wonder when I’ll next see her.

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My daily structure is becoming less regimented, but still there. Rather than me sitting rod straight on the table tapping away, I’m on the sofa with Netflix in the background. Yesterday  we made the disastrous decision to watch Leisure (pronounced Leezhur) Seeker starring Helen Mirren (Golden Globe award nominee for the part) and Donald Sutherland as an aged couple kidnapping their own camper van to enjoy a vacay to the umbrage of their kids. Was kind of expecting a delightful mix of Bad Grandpa and Dukes of Hazzard, but it was of course a timeless study on our slow and inexorable act of dying from a largely Italian arthouse team. Donald is a former arts and lit professor deteriorating with Alzheimer’s, liable to accuse his wife of polygamy as he is to burst into quote on Hemingway; Helen his long-suffering, perky Southern belle of a wife liable to chat endlessly to strangers as she is to take up shotguns. No spoilers here but she’s dying too. Oops, may have fudged that a bit.

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Like you were ever gonna see it.

At the end I felt like shooting myself in the gullet. In one scene they enter an old folks home and point an unloaded shotgun around at several members of the bedded community, then get told off about it and offered a price leaflet. If that happened here it’d be ten years just for possession, and the rest of the fucking story would just end there. Fin. And we would not have had to watch them die and pretend everything was absofuckinglutely fine behind those walls.

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The whole thing felt like a demise mere days from now, dripping slowly worries, fondness, memories and saying goodbye to a sacrament of decaying time -rather than an exercise savoured for your twilight years multiple decades in the future. I may have cried for an instant. Right now America’s Got Talent (AGT!) is playing in the background, by contrast. By very very fucking contrast. So full of cheering and trashy pizzazz I want to reach through the screen and slap everyone of the goobers with a brick. How can people be so very whoopingly supportive, so very worshipping of any given status quo? Does the studio director say jump and they fucking imbed their heads in the ceiling? While Nipplepants Cowell lords over them like an arsey, stuck up demigod, hovering from his red buttoned throne. How can people be so willing to submit to hierarchy, to appraise or condemn from their exalted, cup-holding audience seats? This series will date badly, to the point of becoming historical reference. Culture, society, economy.

I need to get out more. I think rather it was just a reminder of a simpler, freer time that pissed me off so much. History envy may be a thing now.

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What is happening out there? What is happening to my friends and family and everyone I’ve ever known, outside of re-run land where what we see is no longer there, and always Has Been? What is reality from a different lens?

A welcome respite is not really one, when that breath of fresh air is deepening a chasm. It’s not so much a list of cliches: living for the moment, putting off the inevitable and all that jazz, but that we can enjoy ourselves, the air, the sun, and others with social distancing. We need to learn now how to do it, not later, not too late. 800 people died today in Italy, and a week or two ago they too were sunning themselves on passegiata. Eight hundred.

J came home shortly after in a huff, wiping down the door handles on everything -a blindsided colleague of his had admitted his wife had the lergy, yet had come in 3x to work, plus met clients. Well I suppose, I’ll swap that guilt for the kitchen fire last night. J’s working again today, apparently before any auction the dept heads have to work an unpaid weekend, to put in the extra time and commitment. Illegal surely, but suddenly acceptable in these current climes. We wound down with two episodes of Drag Race, all bright colours to bitchiness which J is obsessed by, and is infecting us with. Sakura was kicked out last night, rather unfairly I may add, especially in comparison to that rather uninspired Emo-Minelli, who resembles a pretty slug.

A car in the lot below has a bookshelf tied to its roof, liberally balancing an assortment of heavy boxes, houseplants, coat stands, bench tools and books on top. Looks like a tenant is moving with his father, back to the country where they can hold out longer, perhaps in a castle. It can’t end well, an opener for Final Destination if ever I saw one. Plus I know how it’ll end for the survivors.

I’m bored. As fuck. I took a picture of the flowers outside, just like little old ladies on social media are wont to do. We can pleasure ourselves for hours over this: I think it’s Spring.

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Yesterday

Tomorrow

 

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 3

Friday 20th March 2020

 

The trains are running. It seems a morning thing. They’ll stop soon. There are reduced train services due to staff shortages, in turn due to ‘health issues’. Pray, what fucking health issues could those possibly be?

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So, so far no lockdown. I’m wondering if this is just a delay, or the status quo will be normalised from now on. I had a dream, rather tellingly of being in a train wreck where an old lady subsequently got her legs trapped by a concertina-ing row of seats (I laid her on a makeshift gurney, she was fine). -A rather obvious symbolism there -a straight trajectory into disaster for the elderly, though they’ll pull through in the end. Also, a similar scene cherry-picked from memory in the film Alive, an opus on the Andean air crash where the survivors had to eat the dead to survive. Well, we’re not there just yet.

Yesterday I slunk out to forage some more – the fridge’s been so overstuffed the door fails to close half the time, and the UFO light stays on inside, like a raygun heating up the perishables for hours, to the aroma of gently heated cream and fish. The supermarkets were everything they promised to be from the media, disparate shoppers pottering around acres of empty shelving  -all animal and plant life clear cut, cleaning products swiped, dairy and carbs burned. Alcohol was stacked fine, as were cakes and thankfully, the Greek yoghurt aisle – I grabbed the last two tubs that were actually Greek. Along with a large container of mystery seasoning; I think it’s Bosnian, whose people enjoy the world’s largest spice intake thanks to an optimised stock mix from the 70s, that overnight got smeared onto everything, ever. I figured that shit’s got to be good. Oh and herring, turns out no one likes herring.

Outside the lights were on, but everyone’s home.

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J is worried about his workplace, the owner increasingly unhinged, threatening and enjoying his power, laying off workers and oozing job insecurity from every pore; they got an email today demanding all heads of dept account for their actions of the past week. A has had no structure to his day, having spent a large part of it surfing the newsfeeds in his PJs, as I’m sure a great many people have been. I do wonder what industries are actually being bulked up by this crisis – the internet at large, streaming TV, video servers, news agencies, supermarkets, food producers, big pharma, cleaning products, telecommunications, social media, funeral directors. I’d hazard booksellers would normally be enjoying a bumper season, but there aren’t enough shops to sell them. Oh and porn apparently is doing reams of trade, at server crashing levels. All else is failing, and the banks must be absolutely shitting themselves. I see adverts now, harking back to a different time -holidays, beauty products, bosomly ladies in your area desperate to come round, sanding tools, when really we should be algorithmically targetted right now with face masks, Vileda supermops, guns, chainsaws.

I bought hair dye, my little treat to check out what I’d look like blonde but without the embarrassment should it go tits up, though likely it’ll turn ginger. It did make me question the large chunk of my life that is ultimately spent on others, on courting what others think. Fashion and hair products have been too long a large chunk of my raison d’être, I’ve parted with them now like Kate saying goodbye to Leo. Oh and eating out, that’s something I’m going cold turkey on, stodgy AF.

The movie for the night was Last Christmas. And oh, how London looked so familiar yet such a foreign country. Shot in 2017 during -you guessed it -Christmas, it was all fairy lights, crowded streets and atmospheric tinsel, a place I’ve been missing for a while now. She even sat down at a market (loads of real punters in the background gaping at that lass from Game of Thrones having a coffee with Emma Thompson), and I witnessed a jawdropping shot of people actually in close contact with each other, a bit like how people smoking indoors in films pre-Millennium makes you think they gotta have CGI’d that.

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The film was actually quite enjoyable, portraying a London where race, class and role was interchangeable (accurate to real life), where love interest, comedic effect, support cast and background noise had no set mould (accurate), and unlike Hollywood offerings, made no such fuss about it (partially accurate, it’s still a statement in London to date beyond your class). Though they did appear to tick off reprazent for literally every stratum of society, like helpful porn categories: queer, trans, every race, interracial, religious, atheist, disabled, homeless, rich, poor, left, right, age gap, worldly, bigoted. Shots of the Brexit marches, and anti-EU tirades firmly wedged it into its time, but the storyline was endearingly classic too, though I’m aware many film reviewers baulked at the big reveal, which I blurted out beforehand, thinking it so unfeasible it was fine as a joke. But hey, it was a welcome respite to lose yourself into, albeit as a bittersweet, nostalgic piece of Brollywood to reminisce again and again, back when we touched each other.

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The schools closed today, a grudging first step as children are low risk (there’s never been a death so far, anywhere in the world below 15 years old) – yet super carriers in the adorable way they openly spread bodily fluids, wiping their snotty noses along guard rails, coughing at door handles and sneezing into cash drawers.  The government has been worried about the toll it would take on half the population having their kids actually live with them during daylight hours too, unable to WFH effectively and looking to throw themselves off a balcony within days. The ruling has exempted those whose parents are currently working on the frontline in healthcare and emergencies, which must make for some very awkward schooling, ranging in ages and lessons in a very empty room, with one-on-one teaching. I’ve read online about how a full-time job it is to keep the darlings entertained, fed and schooled on a daily roster, while working on the laptop, or worst, worrying about not working at all.

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There’s a lot being said about people spending so much time with each other, about the spike in divorces every post-holiday season (Last Christmas indeed), and recently seen in China. We need to give each other space, a new reality of being alone in the same room, alone in a crowded society, a single flat in a vast and multitudinous city of 9-25 million depending on where you stop counting. Social distancing might have to be socially distant in this case, for a time. Though saying that, to quote that bible of workplace posterage, there is no I in us.

In other news, Spring Breakers Stateside are launching full throttle regardless, California is in lockdown, Italy has now surpassed China in deaths and we’ve globally passed the 10,000 mark on that. Venice’s canals are becoming crystal clear, and populated by thousands of fish due to the refreshing lack of human activity:

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Day three.

Yesterday

Tomorrow

 

 

 

 

 

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 2

Thursday 19th March 2020

Today was to be the new routine I’d set out for myself to structure the day. The alternative being where you wake, spend untold hours in thrall of the internet, then drop out of bed log-like, and rustle something up in your underwear (who needs PJ’s?), perhaps staring at a microwave woodenly or eating jam back under the covers, to more internet, hours irrelevant, each day or night merging and drifting like clouds. To start smelling, hair/ beard/ armpits a nest, clothes a memory, monosyllabic, perhaps drooling.

Against this scenario I aim to wake, and:

  • check the situation online -the ubiquitous news sites and chat fora, an hour tops.
  • Then lug myself to wash, do my hair, choose some proper attire (avoid ‘comfortable’ attire), perhaps a hat why ever not.
  • No breakfast, I’m never hungry in the mornings and it’ll save on the food. Instead write, work on the book, the diary, creative stuff like starting a photo essay.
  • Tidy, the little odds and ends. To music.
  • Make lunch, sit down to eat, communally if plausible.
  • Learn a language – carry on with online French lessons, start Mandarin.
  • Exercise. Make use of all our gym stuff I salvaged from the communal one.
  • Watch an episode of something, hour tops. Take a very privated walk, if in lockdown just the gated area (the postwar Estate was fenced off in the Eighties due to crime, a process now illegalised in London but done so before the law came into force).
  • Write on the book
  • No tea, dinner.
  • Check in on the craziness online.
  • Movie
  • Wash, cuddle, sleep.

Well one out of two ain’t bad. Will try harder.

Yesterday it had gone swimmingly, I genuinely felt better for having done all of that. Today I spent hours online in bed, fell out to brush my teeth then fell asleep again for 4 hours. Not the best start, tapping away in my dressing gown, but onwards.

Today’s chart:

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Roylab Stats, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDGiCfCZIV5phsoGiPwIcyQ

Yesterday I got news from a Civil Servant that they’d been told not to enter London from today, and that the M25 was about to become a new non-porous border. Then frantic messaging to all I knew on the coming lockdown. It even got leaked to some of the papers within the hour, not just in the UK but in Italy, who printed that London was falling. Coupled with that was footage of soldiers marching down our local High Street, that set Twitter aflame with rumour of the impending sanction.

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However we’ve all woken up, spied people on the street (shopping as per norm) and realised this has not come to pass. The soldiers snapped in Clapham were cadets, off to a local training centre, and apparently they do that every week. Well, now I feel a bit of a plum, having told everyone that’s dear to me (and discovering only then that some of them had fled to their native France and Australia), but assuaged by the fact they then probably did the same. The papers are now hinting it will come in force tomorrow, Friday. Luckily we’ve done our hoarding already, and will miss out on the shopping circus every supermarket must now be in, their shelves emptied and customers only allowed 3-5 purchases a pop.

I saw a video today of East Asian women in a supermarket being harrassed about wearing face masks, and why they were covering up they were sick. The accuser then summoned the staff, after which the group were thrown out by the security guards. I can’t describe how palpitating a mix of rage and sadness I felt watching that, especially with a bit of a familiar past to draw on.

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East Asians are the most likely to be racially harassed, to have racial violence upon the person, and the least likely to be promoted despite having the best grades, performance, and education levels (aka the Bamboo Ceiling). East Asians come shackled to the idea they are meek and thus an easy target, and living as one is a minefield, that directly affects your life plan no matter how hard you try and ignore it. Their ancestral culture an automatic mockery from the sound of the language to the food they eat to the way they look, to the regimes they entertain, to the usual alienness of blood libel – in short no matter how laurel-lying they are, they will always be lesser -in emotional intelligence, or EQ, in culture, in viability. Any intelligence is the semi-autistic variety, those world-beating grades or IQ scores passed off as rote learning, a stark lack of higher job prospects is excused by a bundle of ‘studies’ projecting it’s their Confucian upbringing and cultural cues to blame (despite the fact there exist managers across Asia, and they function just as well) and not the usual workplace bias as suffered by women, other races, LGBTQIA, the disabled, the overweight, the accented, and pretty much anything that’s not the Tall Heterosexual White Male. Sorry if you happen to be that, but you get a privilege that’s not in your control -to be treated more as human, the rest more as sub. Not your fault, but ours, we treat you better, all you 5%’ers of the world.

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And don’t even get me started on relationship prospects, where the swipe is the last great bastion (and indicator) of socially acceptable racism. How EA men fall short, so to speak, tarred by the same tiny brush that refuses to entertain the thought it might not always be the case for every er, member of a 2 billion strong people. I’d get it out, but that would be positively louche. -While women are rocketed way higher, in the objectification kind of way, you’re either a gogo girl or geisha, just don’t take your make up off. And never, ever burp or fart or nowadays, COUGH.

I could go on for days about this, thanks to an upbringing on a skinhead /army estate in the metro’s most racially divided wards, in their glory years of Thatcherism. The kind where, like missiles of a bygone age, bricks, sticks and stones came over the wall, 6 year old sisters got beaten up, shit got smeared,  words got sprayed, cars got leaned out of and flob got thrown. Where walking past any playground was to be avoided, and every street heads swivelled to wherever you were GPS located, meerkat style. Then your schools and oh-so-open-minded art college accusing you of plagiarising books because your essays too accomplished, while your mate who hastily copied your notes last minute would get the grade. Even after I left I’ve come across it in almost every workplace I’ve had, sometimes overt, most often insititutionalised. And no one fucking talks about it, how it’s acceptable to say and do certain things to one race but not the others. A facade I sometimes feel only I see.

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Says it all really, you not only have to battle the damn street, but the establishment, and a complicit society. That was the Eighties and Nineties, when people were less ‘woke’, yet now I see it re-emerging again in the Twenties, in light of this first globalised disaster. I see how this spread from a culture that apparently tortures animals as per norm (that evidence of low EQ, inhumane), eating them in disgusting ways (alien, blood libel, civilisational war, dirty, laughable), then spreading it through complicit government cover ups (not to be trusted, inscrutable, indoctrinated). Not that most people go around thinking all those things, but it does reinforce the assumptions they make when coming across it.

When I tell people the things I’ve seen over the years they’re appalled, and all this build-up over the past few months is bringing it to a crux. The Taiwanese girl at work who a customer was ‘disgusted’ with, and dropped her money on the till in a show of non-contact, the unremitting stares I get on the street, Benny Hill style seat-swapping on the bus, then reading the stories of the randomised people assaulted (often women), the humiliation of public tirades, avoidance and harassment on PT (to the point many changed their commute), the pupils being sent out for coughing or getting their jaws broken in the playground, people turned away from every hotel and now more, of complicit businesses backing up the racism.

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A bitter note in the fear. It doesn’t help, these divisions, those attempts at blame. I do see that people can’t hack it and have to take it out on another -a show of weakness rather than strength that’ll always manifest our societies, on all sides. From the idioted Chinese generals hinting the disease was left by the US Army during their recent training exercises in the area (with reminders the U.S. spread Mexican Swine Fever that killed 1.4 million), to the insistence it’s a ‘Chinese’ disease by POTUS and his inner circle. All alongside the usual calls in the press for who to crucify even as we wallow with greater priorities right now. My friend who has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is finding things harder, his fear of germs ratcheting to a peak on top of everything else. This is similar for East Asians, myself included, the layers of fear on top of fear.

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Ok, breathe (through face mask I’m too scared to wear).

I suddenly feel now I’ve written too much on this. A Pandora’s box I always look back on and get embarrassed, if ever I pique on the subject. It’s a bit like name dropping Dinosaurs in earshot of Richard Hammond from Jurassic Park. But let’s not talk politics, despite it being so Right Now. I even castigated finger-pointing only what? a whole 24 hours ago in the last post. Some notes:

  • The tenancy agency rang back (sound of numerous phones going off in the background), sounding annoyed and terse -I cut to the chase and got him to say basically nothing had changed for anyone who couldn’t pay, as if coronovirus wasn’t on, and that we’d contact him from there if we couldn’t. The government announced shortly after there would be some provisions of people like ourselves, private renters without income/ new dependents, which we await the deets with bated breath, excuse the pun.
  • The streets were yesterday moderately populated (although nowhere near as London normally is, which has nothing but crowds all day and night), of the usual hoarder hordes but also quite a few trying to make the best of their new time off, with the parks and cafes full and the pub to boot, a group of men carrying packs of lager somewhere. The sun had come out. Today is grey, the train station that faces our window silent, when usually it’s a constant bevy of noise and announcements – it’s the world’s busiest with a train on average every 30 seconds, a vast interchange rather than a main terminus, of which London has nine. It’s obsolete now, along with 40 tube stations closed.

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  • I am thinking of cutting my hair. Maybe dyeing it, my one chance to go all K-Pop and crazy without work to worry about. But then I want it long on top for my trip to New York, a holiday planned pretty much all my life and set for May, though likely it’ll be canceled. Such a distant perception these days, almost surreal when you scroll back and see images of people outside enjoying themselves, even just vague figures in the streets doing their day to day without such a specific care in the world.
  • Some leading members of government over the other side of the pond are calling it now the end of America. The effect of that on the populace, dealing with no end of shit right now, is not heartening, at a time we need it most.
  • China has announced zero new cases, for the past few days its handful have been coming off the planes. The web is alive with disbelief and recrimination in light of this, rather than hope.

Oops, there I go again. Politicising thingies.

On a smaller scale, got some tidying to do. J will likely want to polish his silver, a thing he does for his work which I see in a sense of calm, and the appreciation of detail, and beauty. We need this right now.

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I will get changed. I will do my hair. I will cook lunch. I will write some of The Book. I will not look at the news. I will read a book. About a house in the forest.

It’s only fucking Day 2.

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 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