A Journal of the Plague Year Week 4

Sunday 5th April 2020

Yesterday we caught up on two episodes of Drag Race. Well, I must admit I go through quite an emotional rollercoaster whenever I watch reality tv, and avoid it each time. I remember one of the first ever broadcast, called Caraway or Castaway or Harringay or summat, whereby a whole bunch of specially selected, convivial people were dumped on a remote, uninhabited island to create a functioning society fresh for the new Millennium, eked from the atmospheric wilds of the Hebrides. Self, sufficient, eco-friendly, communal, inclusive and a template to what could be, cherrypicking city traders, croft farmers, immigrants, family groups, LGBTQ members and their kids from across society.

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Classed as the nations biggest ever social experiment, but also a new concept production, hot on the Science Fiction movies from the 90s about how everyone would become a star one day, with everyday life propelling TV into a new and futuristic concept (‘Real World’ debuting in that decade on a bunch of trendsters moving into swanky new apartments around American – then European cities). Well Hi-hi-hideaway overnight became the nation’s raison d’etre, a force propelling change for much more than the happy campers. There was indeed a tiffle between the God crew and the gay guy complaining about their ‘foreign muck’, but they persevered. But then, a terrible development, all going tits up when some cantankerous sea dog got into an argument, got isolated, then went mad and sabotaged the stores. The result -pure TV gold making the headlines on every tabloid -and broadsheet -the next day.

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We’ve not progressed further ever since that fateful day they found out throwing lions in with the zebras makes for great I Like To Watch (and that the Romans had a good thing going) -a nation of drama and monstrosity connoisseurs born overnight. Well I tend to get too invested. I’m unable to watch singing, dancing drag queens parade in failing outfits, or horror-of-horrors have their jokes and improv fall flat, not just to the immediate room (cringe) but the millions watching beyond (scream). My heart beats as if upon that same self-same stage, I perspire. When things go well I’m a little giggling child strangling the pillows, when the tension rachets up I’m biting my knuckles to agonised squealing.

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Well, poor Aiden got kicked out, an outlier from the start -rural, Southern, inexperienced. I’d likened her to a pretty slug in a few posts beforehand, but the rounds of abuse she endured in every episode, as those deemed less befitting were kicked off wasn’t endearing to the complainants. Her increasing isolation, the behind-the-scenes (and to-the-face) bitching, then outright bullying made me hold a candle for her, if not gladly substituted by a flamethrower. When she was finally booted off, and over-dramatically screamed on stage (many truths said in jest), I screamed with her.

Is this normal? Yes there is empathy, but reliving an onscreen representation vis-à-vis as if it was yourself being publicly trammeled by drag queens, or enduring elongated episodes of cringe to the point of self-harm, seems like a projection. I am perhaps taking it all too seriously.

Coming out of hibernation for the first time in a week, we decided to take a bike ride to the local park and back again. And my golly goodness, how sunny and free it all seemed, and unserious. The frolick police nowhere to be seen (perhaps inundated by block parties in Brixton or conga lines in Essex), what with the great UFO finally out from the clouds in what seems like a good 7 months. Temperatures climbing to a whole 22C. This is what I mean about the UK Spring and Autumn being complicit myths, allocated to a handful of days inserted between a tooth rattling, windswept grey and a meadow-filled Watchtower cover. This latter occupies about 2.5 months before more of the wasteland, and is thus a major reason to partay.

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People lazed around as far as the eye could see, chatting openly in circles and collecting in drifts at crossroads, blading, biking, frisbee chasing to their heart’s content. One estate had table tennis in their courtyard and what looked suspiciously like an audience having a giant picnic, while fainting victims were sprawled liberally across the lawns, occasionally reading or texting. Such is life, a strumming, purring rendition of individuality regardless of what’s happening out of eyeshot. This may be why we’ll continue to have a lockdown, and why people continue to get infected and die. But what we can’t see appears unable to hurt us, or at least dampen the itinerary.

One of J’s friends apparently walked into his local police station to report the dozens enjoying the carnival atmosphere on Clapham Common. I’m not sure how that went down.

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There is a great unsaid, stalking the land. And I will hold my wavering hand up to say I am legion, and take that cliff fall down from the moralist soapbox. That – the thousands of deaths aside, the millions to come, the worry for our older loved ones, the income insecurity and panic buying forgotten -this experience is almost enjoyable.

No, in fact, there are times… where. I . Have. Actually. Enjoyed. Myself. There, I said it.

At home, Netflix, a chance to write my book like some wilderness cabin, plus read some, a little dalliance outside each day, and no weerk. Like pretending autumn is all about rollicking through scarlet foliage, and Spring all flowers and lambs, when really it’s a continued spell in Colditz.

And outside, beyond my scope another 408 died today in the UK.

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I wonder if this blind-sided lack of empathy will become a thing now? Or is it just a reminder it’s always been a thing? The way we now find lives smaller in these four walls, cooped into our domestic rituals and immediate room-mates, while neighbours die behind the scenes or on our doorstep in their daily hundreds. Is it any different from the way we enjoy our normalised First World lives on the back of a vast underclass of the indentured? Where we each garner about 20-40 unseen slaves as per norm, sewing our clothes, picking our food, making our products, sourcing our oil and returning our astronomical, loan sharky interest repayments, with a light veneer of nail polish and sex. When our fledgling hedge funds began betting on an Asian financial crisis in 1997, 500,000 children died of malnutrition in Indonesia alone. Does that fact even make us pause, as yet another figure bandied about among bleeding heart types, too big, too distant, too gone to take notice of? Oh well.

I am of course just as guilty, enjoying my teenagery that year, while cycling through fellow Aztecan sunworshippers today. But don’t let that distract us now. I, like everyone else, have a godgiven right to be a shit, and not give one.

There appears to be increasing shade being thrown towards Netherlands (and Germany) recently, with its ‘intelligent lockdown’ (which means a half-arsed attempt) and its blocking of a bond-savvy bailout to the Southern EU nations, such as Italy, Spain, France and Portugal, who adversely prop up their northern counterparts.

The Dutch approach seems only plausible in such a libertine (the selfish kind, not to be confused with liberty itself) and individualistic society, whereby a full lockdown would be impossible to police without emergency powers -in turn impossible to stomach by a populace long held as a vision of democracy. However, the country once the postergirl of openness, freedom and a founder of the EU idea is becoming more self-centred it appears. A sign of morphing priorities and societal change, influenced by a touch of xenophobic politicking. It’s had a centre right government for some time now, with the far righters now smelling up the second largest amount of seats. The finance minister yesterday admitted mistakes were made, and that they’d lacked the empathy, and ‘did not succeed in conveying what it is we want to do’.

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What they want to do indeed appears the priority, but also seems veiled. The lack of a true lockdown is of course the approach to herd immunity that Britain so abandoned a few weeks ago when faced with a projection of 250,000 dead. The Netherlands is self-policing, with 99% claiming socially distant (oh yes, we concur) and a bit less saying they’re staying home as much as possible, though still popping out occasionally to flood the streets and every business by the look of things. However it also implicitly -perhaps complicitly -implies many more deaths. They are indeed higher than the norm, at 1,766 deaths (10% of cases) but for a nation of 17 million (0.1% infected by official count). It remains to be seen, like Sweden, what will play out. And what willingly -and perhaps worse, openly -sacrificing some of their own for the economy greater good will mean to that society.

We may well see the translation of national PRs after this. Whereby the Netherlands, Sweden and Germany transgress from an aura of the enlightened and progressive nations -riding their ecobikes through elegant towns in the blonde, summer sun -into the stage villains of cold and selfish societies, suddenly more prison guard and Aryan, with fake diesel emissions.

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On that note we had a fantastic evening, a culmination of lots of hard work from the boys who’ve spent all day shopping, cooking, polishing and ironing doilies (no really) for our evening meal, which we all got dressed up for. It does have a difference living with a silver antiques dealer.

Entrée: Soupe de rocquettes

Plat principal: Saumon en croute avec sauce Marie Rose. Pommes de terres rôties a la Grecques

Dessert: tarte aux prunes avec crème anglaise

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Ah, the bliss! Laughing merrily in our champagne flutes and toasting our health.

For that Scottish island (I’ve since looked it up and it’s called Taransay), the inhabitants ended up dividing themselves, with the ‘Taransay Five’ setting up a new territory apart, complete with flag and a refusal to work with the producers. After end of filming a few families and couples chose to stay. Although it did launch the career of lovely TV presenter and streaking rower, Ben Fogle, some claimed their lives destroyed. -Including a psychotherapist who was edited as throwing a chair at a woman and storming off forever (in fact the scene was cut from an argument with producers, for which he successfully sued for libel). By 2001 the island had been abandoned once again, going up for sale 5 years later. It’s still known as one of the Lonely Isles.

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As we all may have worked out by now, empathy hurts us more. The trick is to spread it out, with everyone sharing the crappy liver starter (who likes that seriously?) to get to the banana split fantabulous dessert. Or to just take it on the chin like a drag queen, whose heart still shines beneath the hisses and boos. Of course the same applies to the lack of empathy, spreading it out among a reduced guest list, so we all enjoy that piece of the pie, while one sucker (or vast amounts of them) fight it out under the table. This is a snapshot of life.

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A Journal of the Plague Year Day 7

Tuesday, 24th March 2020

Lockdown. As of last night, PM Boris Johnson came on to let us know that we’re no longer allowed out other than one exercise (type) a day, to go shopping (only food, pet stores and pharmacies) or to work (essential workers, or if you ‘absolutely have to’). The Telegraph of course emblazoned its headline this morning as ‘The End of Freedom’.

We’ll get fined otherwise, and if we hang out in groups of more than 2 it’ll get broken up, similar to the days of Thatcherism where more than 8 people around a radio constituted an illegal rave. I don’t however see myself joining a Reclaim the Streets brigade.

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It’s not so much that the lockdown is now in place, but why it took so long, given the track record of not acting quickly enough in Italy and Wuhan, alongside the proven benefits that South Korea, Singapore and the rest of China managed to pull off (for the time being -reinfection is still a fear, albeit with standard testing at every corner). Opinion posits this late joining to the party has been BoJo’s long championing of personal liberties; he famously wrote in his former Telegraph column that the ban on public smoking was akin to killing Iraqis to free them.

Well after the droves of people witnessed across the country’s parks and beauty spots over the sunny weekend, he had to bite the bullet. It sounds like in the West that’s exactly what is needed in order to keep the population indoors: guns, with the army having to be called in across the continent – Italy alone has had hundreds of thousands of people fined already. The army helicopters did a flypast over our estate last night, spotting some chinooks out of the eight before we stopped counting.

As mentioned before, us Brits are a libertine bunch, a bit too entitled since the days of Empire, and in contrast to a Germany where the death toll per capita is lower than its neighbours, perhaps due to a more heedful populace in a regimented Germanic stereotype. Albeit Austria -more specifically the apres-Ski resort of Ischgl -has now been pinpointed as a main source for infecting much of Mitteleuropa, notably a majority of the spreader Germans and Danes and as far away as Iceland. All thanks to a sick barman (who blew whistles to clear the drunken droves engaging in body fluid beer pong), and an ensuing cover-up, the management and council in cahoots. Austria had consistently denied the link until it became too obvious, with hundreds of patients sharing that same hand-warming, shoulder-rubbing vector-point.

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The US too appears ever hassled, with its right to bear arms in a similar cultural quandary as the UK, whereby it’s populace may now prove to be its own worst enemy. It’s one thing to have 165 million people left with a month’s worth of money before facing homelessness and destitution, as the current fiscal roll out is promising, it’s another to give them guns to go with their desperation. The Stateside press is fervent with calls to take out Nancy Pelosi, who undid the emergency draft of economic measures after noticing it did nothing for the common man and a lot for uncommon, big business. Predictably so -barging into DC and plonking down her 1,400 page amendment as a rebuttal to much more rebuttal. Going by what the Republicans had intended your average white collar worker would get $1200 a head, while blue collar families $600, as a random example.

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Meanwhile the Democrats took the opportunity to attempt a sea change in policy to come with the draft, from affirmative action rolled out into the corporate echelons to gender/ minority equity in the payscale, from halving greenhouse gases to increased union power, freer healthcare to free internet. This has of course stymied the fast-tracked path of the bailout, as businesses continue to fold and a large chunk of the population waits in limbo, attack rifles readied.

The fact that for most Americans keeping yourself in work is vital to paying for your healthcare, has become a vicious Catch 22 in these climes, whereby even the threat of illness negates work which in turn negates any chance of proper treatment, or will further indebt you for decades. This is what Obamacare, increasingly indentured, attempted to bypass. It seems the end is nigh for the American Dream of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, even if that entailed for some, the white picket fencing off from community and a God-given right to bear arms. And it has come not in the shape of the Red Scare, foreign attack, immigrant takeover, economic overshadowing, nuclear war or a Hollywood alien race, but a mere virus exposing the flaws in every society so far. Plus a global, capitalist system utterly reliant on unceasing spending, no matter whether you’re in Louisiana or Lusaka.

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The fact Trump is now seeking to reinstate this system to the tune of untold dying is a sign of our times, and the monster we’ve nurtured, whereby dollars > death. The House Senate is now looking to shorten lockdowns, if even have them in place, which isn’t exactly democratic in any way given the commercial lobbying (read: corruption) and the lack of people voting on their own fates.

Yesterday we watched Doomsday Preppers straight after BoJo’s speech, which wasn’t the best choice in hindsight. I ended up yelling at the screen after having every button pressed repeatedly in seeing grown men (all terse, overweight and suburban) bring up their kids and inveigle other families and long-suffering wives into a life of unputdownable threat and big boys’ army games. Which got me triggered, so to speak. Watching white-socked wannabees bowling round pristine lawns armed with uzis and a well-tended fear of cityfolk, or the sweaty ranch-owning narcissist who puts his kids in life-or-death scenarios as per norm, in preparation for a terrorist takeover. His hiring of local law enforcers -constructively nurturing more trigger happiness -to stage a shouty ransoming of family members, guns to heads was especially revealing. All in aid of seeing what the 7 year old would do (he caved and put the shotgun down, bless his little warm, living hands).

I honestly think there is an unsaid link between our sociopathy spectrum levels with a hangover from our predatory evolution. That those on the far right have been shown to share nightmares of being hunted, hounded by constant threat (darkies chasing them with machetes, feminazis throwing tampons, trees getting hugged) -and that we ourselves demonstrate when put in the corner. When forced to defend our loved ones the last feelings of empathy or concern for the Other (side) goes well out the reinforced window. It’s a certain mix of cold disregard with wheedling attention and premonition that is a pathological condition methinks, and the series is making the most of it. I was shocked to find it was from the National Geographic, though of course majority stakes went to Rupert Murdoch a few years ago, and the channel’s always been in bed with Fox since 2001.

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Anyhoo they must be loving life right now. So I am not convinced this world deserves us, and that we deserve the world, regardless of how glossy a cover it makes and how, like most relationships in life, we pretend to care and support each other.

More commuting horrors of the tube were snapped this morning – but before we tut our middle class tongues, look again at the pics and note this is just the normal 5-7am rush hour for the poor as it is every day – construction crews, supermarket shelvers, carers, caterers, cleaners, transportation workers who have to come in from far to service the centre. Take away their trains and frequencies and it can only get worse -it’s a telling sign that somewhere like Denmark puts on more trains to enable social distancing, and we do the opposite to systemise it. Is that plain stupidity or just the usual punishing of the poor, at best callous, at worst intentional?

These people are not wilfully there, they are not congregating at sunrise for a latte in the park. They are trying to survive, and running a new gauntlet to do so; choice being a luxury we may have and they do not.

In short this is more a picture of desperation than disregard.

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There is always an underlying economy beneath our everyday, the background workers shunted into fruit picking, manual labour, cleaning and human exploitation from nail bars to prostitutes to garage workers to sweatshop droves in territories beyond. The fact most Londoners have no idea there is a peak travel time at dawn, where it’s standing room only on buses and trains, so long as you live out in Zones 4-9, and are up early enough to witness it, perhaps when catching our flights to more aspirational destinations.

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You can actually work out how many slaves work for you here; take note that by namedropping you live in London you actually entail more indentured labour than if you opted for Dubai, pariah of a vast underclass behind the steel and glass, just less hidden. This appears to be our question in these days of our lives, do we look out for that unseen economy? Do we worry for and change habits for the untold numbers at the edges of society, the shadows in our peripherals, blocking the sun? The old, the sick, the alone, the homeless, the vulnerable who will be dying soon in forgotten wards and warehouses across the country in the next few weeks.

Italy has seen a fall in deaths again today, though still in the hundreds. It may be over the worst, though Spain looks soon to take that mantle. The UK waits in the wings, and a judgement on what our policy of half-arsed mitigation has sown. When push comes to shove, and for all our navel-gazing entreaties, how much will we look out for others, or take up arms against them? There’s a lot to be said about being alone in a crowd.

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In other news J, who was a photographer and artist in another life has had his image on valuable items, for an upcoming auction (online of course) added to the Chiswick house feed where he works. Very apt, and a sign of the times. When I saw it, jaw-dropped, I did actually ask where he got them from. What is it that we hold dear, no really?

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John Rogers, @durbinlewis

“Right now in today’s world our perception of value might have shifted somewhat since 1766, when Sir Thomas Broughton and Mary Wicker had their coat of arms engraved upon this soup tureen as part of their marriage silver. Nevertheless the timeless quality of the silver sold through the Wakelin partnerships continues to captivate collectors and aesthetes alike.

Lot 580 on the 25th March Silver & Objects of Vertu auction

Just saw two of our neighbours from the window, coming up with their shopping (Sainsbury’s looks like), and proving life can be normalised despite. The sun is out and it almost looks a vision of lost mundanity, with their produce and smiles and nice clothing, all satisfaction arising in a time of want. They’ve even managed to find loo roll.

The stairs, that’s where we’ll get them.

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