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.

s

Brighton:

ss

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.

s

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.

s

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.

s

 

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.

s

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:

s

Now gone

sss

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 Day 4

Saturday 21st March 2020

Last night was the swansong for pubs, bars, clubs, theatres, gyms, and leisure/ community centres, not to mention schools. Restaurants are allowed to operate only with takeaways. Going out for a final pizza (Francomanco’s) we waited patiently for nearly half an hour as the small team stacked up orders, the pizza chef sweating in the empty restaurant -business seemed solid. In a few restaurants singular couples sat, candles burning.

Witness these epic, unreachable scenes, now worthy of National Geographic covers and coffee table books exalting exoticism. People, clumped.

S0083127

S0093131

The streets were almost crowded, people still commuting to work with every bus stop packed as per norm, but also a deal of footfall towards the boozers, each one full. A lone man ran a treadmill from a window in the highrise gym above, spreading the last of his copious body fluids before hibernation. It was almost a snapshot of London at its norm, nowhere near as crowded but a semblance of old -a few hundred people populated the streets around the station, people with toddlers, family groups, commuters, shoppers and pals in arms.

The supermarket trawl was its usual self-defeating offering of stuff no one else wanted to buy, but you got one or two of anyway, just in case. Some cigarillo-like wafers from Poland (cheap looking but amazing, creme filled), a big bar of Turkish Delight (how does that company even function, everyone hates it yet is ubiquitous in every shop -evidence of one laureate winning marketing team) and some butter, very much needed. No crispbread, pickled goods, Vitamin D or paracetamol, or anything carby, tinny or cleany, which was the original intent. Vitamin Dee is the new big thing, the It girl that not only gives you that 5 minutes of sunshine required every day for a good mood (in UK level climes, 5 minutes of sunshine equates to an hour naked in an X-shape in the middle of the road, well until mid-April), but is also purported to reduce respiratory infection by up to 70%. It is of course now mythical, on par with Bigfoot sightings and right now, God. I was reminded of the timeless words of George Bush Jnr, to a painfully smiling Hispanic family: “I know how hard it is for you to put food on your kids.”

At one point, trying to wrangle my camera from a ridiculously over-engineered bag, I picked out the black-wrapped butter and put it to my face. A snapshot of society indeed.

S0113134S0103132

The new estimates for the government’s current approach of gradual infection is 250,000 dead – lower than the 800,000 if the viral spread is left unchecked but also significantly higher than the 20,000 figure if quarantine is instated. One hospital in London – Harrow, is already breaking capacity with its ICU’s and wards overrun. Everywhere on the fora, people are intoning: It Is Coming. Yet life looks as if getting back to normal for a few, or at least a last Churchillian gasp and bevy down the boozer, typical. It appears a few days of self-imposed lockdown is undoable for many Londoners. Even when the tube looks like this (photo courtesy of J, one of the last workers in the city today):

IMG-20200321-WA0000

A is off for a bike ride today, in Battersea Park, a semblance of normality and his need to get in exercise otherwise his mind will go barmy. I’ve asked him not to talk to strangers, and not to hug them. Yesterday he put the pizzas in the oven to warm them gently, complete with boxes. A few minutes later smoke was billowing out of the unit, and a thankfully non-existent fire alarm was screaming in my head. Pizzas were saved, while I held every nerve not to castigate in a big shouty display as the lesson appeared well learned. The whole flat still reeks of smoke and is freezing from the windows being wedged open (barely a few inches thanks to 60s modernism coupled with noughties Health & Safety); I lied to our flatmate J that there must have been olive oil on the cover that got ignited when it rested on a still-hot stove, easily done. As opposed to putting yards of paper into an oven. Alanis could easily have penned out a belter about us dying in a fire after surviving a pandemic, back when it was ironic, rather than a viable option.

It does not bode well.

s

The world of the internet is still well and truly alive, and feeding, with finger-pointing, political competition, sabre-rattling and divisiveness making up almost every comment. There is far less of the sharing of helpful information for all, the comfort, sympathy and jokes we kinda need right now -less of the support networking overall. As a great woman once said, Life is like a fucking giant sinking disaster, you’ve just got to enjoy the view while rowing.

 

But I do get it, there is quite a history of cataclysm bringing out the best and worst in people. I had a horrible dream, one of many recently where I was willing to do anything to protect my loved ones, including repeatedly punching some woman in the eye. With a chair leg. However if that were to transpire, I wouldn’t boast to all and sundry about it, rather quietly stuff the crawl space.

I do think if ever historians of the future look back on these archived comments -a rash throughout these past few decades ever since we each got an online podium and our entitled 15 years of fame -they’ll come to the conclusion we are a pretty nasty bunch. Judgmental, prejudiced, openly, knee-jerkingly racist, homophobic, fat-shaming, sexist, misogynistic, politicised, partisan and divisive. Just look at the Youtube comments from a few years back, before they got all un-toxic and started getting people to register their identities, or at least some form of societal appearance. Actually, Youtube in the noughties would be a great example of the winning human spirit, unsheathed from the shackles of social respectability and free to call Adele fat for page after page, regardless of her performance.

Japanese culture likes to distinguish between these ‘truths’, the honne ‘true sound’ of your inner, privated thoughts and the tatamae of what you present to the public. This applies to most places round the world, though the Japanese system goes one step further in debate class, whereby both teams, after their polarising exercise, actually find correlations between arguments and round on a respectable midpoint. Thus, instilling a unity of honne and tatamae – the great nexus of Buddhist and Ayurvedic teachings, whereby what you think, say and do are in line with each other, giving inner peace, and much more doable in Japan – cultural stalwart of politesse, yet honesty alongside. This is somewhat lacking in the rest of the world, as exposed on the Internet, where any respectability is much more of a mask. Don’t get me wrong the Japanese still snigger at videos of fat people falling over and will bitch about Sandra The Bitch In HR buying Rich Tea when it was her round. So not so kawaii as they make out (cuteness being a rebellion against sararimen conformity).

s

But they are perhaps less likely to spit from the balcony or get all warm and cuddly at the idea of foreigners dying -because if they do, they’ll politely mention they do and be gracefully accommodating if you disagree, as opposed to manning the barricades in Les Miz or shooting people from clocktowers until we all concur. It also helps that in Japan the kids don’t get any tests until the age of 9, because they spend the first few years largely learning how to live, rather than the usual mix of subjects interspersed with three daily lessons on where they stand in playground hierarchy.

It remains to be seen how they bow out of hosting the Olympics this year. In South Korea they set up signs and even protests forbidding Chinese, China is in turn playing the blame game, and in the US they’re already talking about recompense, and even war, rather than focusing on the job at hand.

s

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdr8nWm_lLG7QwnmqSvLe8A

I won’t even start on the utter lack of empathy, and often overt schadenfreude we have for Iranians at the mo’, now dying in their thousands under our sanctions, for a regime we put into place, back when we overthrew their democratic, secular government and reinstated their dictatory Shah (who in turn would be overthrown for a refreshing round of Wahabbism), in order to grab the oil in ’53. But then that would be gauche, me talking pollyticks after railing about getting all politicised at this no-dinner party of ours. I really have to look into it, it is perhaps a condition I suffer, a bit like Tourettes. Bring up say, popcorn flavours in conversation and I’ll then want to point out the mismanaged holes in globalised food production or the American health system, and why war is a bad thing.

s

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/2020/03/coronavirus-has-forced-iran-to-take-a-hard-pause/

We appear to be grappling on two fronts, as a collectivised audience to the WTF situation operating across the world right now, and getting deluged under. It helps if we organise our crazy fucking grab the cat fears:

Front Number One: interpersonal

  1. How our governments are dealing with this; what is being done, what is the approach, what are the worst/best case scenarios?
  2. How many will die?
  3. Where the blame is.
  4. What the reaction is in the populace, and how that affects the spread.
  5. How long will this last – the viral peak, the global economic meltdown.
  6. What lockdown is, and what is the new normal for societal life.
  7. How will all this Thunderdome shit affect the future?

Front Number Two: personal

  1. How bad is the virus, what will it do to me or loved ones should we catch it? What can I do to survive it?
  2. Where is my income going to come from?
  3. Where is my home and shelter going to come from?
  4. Where is my food going to come from?
  5. Who will look after my dependents?
  6. How do I protect myself if shit hitteth the fan and society becomes Chavfest Zombieland? Where did I put that axe?
  7. How can I protect my old folk, from afar, for the next few months, or even year? How will I stop it spreading to them?
  8. What will happen to my investments/ are my savings safe? All £55.78 of it.
  9. How TF am I meant to keep sane and healthy and all yoga-mat blissful under lockdown?
  10. Will I get my refund?
  11. How are my friends doing? Actually fuck ’em I got enough on my plate.
  12. Shoot, I forgot to fully switch bank accounts, am I being charged? I still have that phone swap thing to do. The cat needs to be de-wormed. I think I left behind one of the kids in Asda. Rent is due. My divorce papers are missing. I think I water-boarded my i-Pod. Something’s going off in the fridge. A bird just shat on the window.

I honestly think we should divide those further into What Matters (most or what matters today), and What Can Be Shelved/ Ditched. Basically an exercise in downsizing on all fronts -imho I’d jettison almost the entirety of Front Number One.

Come on kids, we have enough on our tiny, cracked Ikea plates. Cain’t we all, y’know, just geddalawnng?

s

 

Yesterday

Tomorrow