A Journal of the Plague Year 2.0

5th November 2020 Day One

Today is the first day of Lockdown 2.0. Work closed for me a couple of days ago ( I sadly missed our last day to the world’s smallest violin), as did many of the shops one by one on our local High Street. I spent yesterday seeking out board games to help us bide our time, like a middle aged fanatic. At first scouring the local charity shops, then the TK Maxx, pretending to be a caring Dad in the kiddy aisles. It’s been a good few decades since I was ever inspired to traipse down these plastic coated ways, full of lurid lights, mystery noises, shocking pink, glitter and dazzle -my adult antithesis -but it took approx. 6 seconds before I felt again that inner frisson of excitement. As if I was that 7 year old gobshite once more gurning for a glo-in-the-dark She-Razzle Death Worm plush. Every time I passed a certain aisle an automated fart sounded from one of the stealthy, plasticised offerings. I didn’t find a thing but bittersweet memories of Windsor Woolworths.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So this is it, priorities, priorities. Beyond me standing staring at Hazmat Barbie, daily infections somewhere in the ether have risen to 20,000 for the UK though it may be as high as 80,000. Rumours abound this is a more contagious mutation from Barcelona, that landed some time in July, while highly hidden death rolls are topping 400 a day by now. Meanwhile there’s the big countdown in the US as the election appears on a knife-edge of results and a civil war, to a backdrop of 230,000 dead, and the highest ever infections registered for a single day -over 100,000. And Sainsbury’s just announced a whopping 3,500 job cuts, including almost all Argos stores and its fabled catalogues that were once the bestselling tomes since the Bible. Stalwart of childhood fantasies for 48 years, once described by Bill Bailey as the Laminated Book of Dreams.

sss

s

And yet we party, for that Last Gasp throwing heed to the contagious wind. Taking a bike ride later that night the streets were awash with social undistancing -London Bridge with its ancient but trendy pubs, indy cafes and historic diners a hive of candlelit activity, street drinkers and packed restaurants with queues outside. One after another in a smorgasbord for infection except for the gloomy respite of the White Cube gallery, like the haunted house in the neighbourhood that everyone eggs then runs away -yet also a promise as to what lies in wait for the rest of the strip tomorrow. The building resembled the zombie apocalypse of windswept brutalism, strip lighting and barriers to prevent entry to its Sainsbury’s-esque Carpark of a forecourt. Hardly anyone throughout, pint in hand, was masked, while a few lone men sat at empty tables looking emptied. Alkies a mile off.

s

A busker band under fairy lights churned out some 80s chart toppers while a large crowd of coated partygoers chatted appreciatively from three opposite bars. It looked positively radiant, were it not for the fact the band was dressed in biohazard gear and it was 2020. I carried on through, holding my breath.

Much later, approaching the midnight toll the streets had emptied and pedestrians scurried off into drunken stupor. A few cars cruised by, one parking onto the pavement and unloading dressed up women in need of another prosecco and utterly nowhere to find it. Soho I heard was rammed, as were the East End nightlife districts -Dalston, Hackney, Hoxton, Brick Lane as well as other offerings in the south -Clapham, Peckham and Brixton which I’d turned down invites for. Scenes played out across the land. Strangely muted though according to the police, who didn’t record a single major incident but a convivial atmosphere. The young feel genuinely invincible, emboldened by mates or celebs who had it and were fine.

ssss

Problem is these days a convivial atmosphere gets into your body, lungs and bloodstream and kills you. Like in the joke, pianos that fall out of trees. I dunno, kids these days.

I never did find a discounted Monopoly. Who knew that board games now are £30-40? One highly priced one was called Pandemic, which seemed promising but on closer inspection was a format in which all players colluded to rid the world of infection. Yaaawn. Plague Inc The Board Game was much more with it, based on the bestselling download 130 million strong, in which each player becomes a deadly disease intent on world annihilation.

Pretty dark, but I know which one I wanted. In the end I settled for a less guilt-inducing hand-me-down from the British Red Cross called Dixit (bear with me). It looks like a French (where else?) artsy fartsy card game of surrealist pictures, which players try to emote into words. Much more civilised, Marjorie, this may be our saviour when things start to wear thin. I also worry it may also look like life imitating art by then.

s

Also managed to grab some flour, the last two packs of complete eggs in Lidl (cracked but easily swapped, the other slimed over with yolk but sorted by a handy food bag) and a few too many bottles of cider to go ker-azee with.

Riding for miles into the night on 5 pints is perhaps not the best way to say ta-ra again to civilisation, but it was a good idea at the time, and dare I say it, a little bit epic. The vaulting skyscrapers in Vauxhall really are a sight, doomed and half built like giant tombstones, with Kenny G’s sax in your head. But this lockdown I’m intent not to guilt-trip about that I’m not contributing to, or personally resolving, like pandemics or World Hunger. I will take it easy. I will lie in bed. I will watch movies. I will wear the same clothes, perhaps adult nappies. I will appreciate the smaller things, like detail, talk, fruit, chocolate, blankets, fluffy pillows, walks, drunken cycling, plush. As they promise, it’s time to Enjoy Life For Less. Just remember to stay safe from fuckery, and look out for our loved ones and all that.

s

Tomorrow

Lockdown 1.0

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 79

Saturday 6th June 2020

For the last week the protests round the world have become increasingly large despite the lockdowns, and proliferating.

London

It started 2 days after George Floyd’s death – a small march through Peckham by an association affiliated to BLM (though BLM UK discouraged participation due to social distancing and C-19 risk). There was also a small gaggle of people outside the US Embassy.

s

The next day it grew immeasurably as the weekend hit, with a march from Trafalgar Square crossing the river into Vauxhall for the embassy.

s

s

s

The next day more of the same, with a few hundred in Hyde Park too. Scuffles broke out in Downing St, the Prime Minister’s residence. It had all come midway through his leadership scandal.

s

s

Wednesday’s Hyde Park gathering, organised by the splinter group #BLMLondon was the biggest yet.

s2

John Boyega made emotional speeches outside Parliament and in the park. “Black men: it starts with you..”

s

When police took a knee outside Downing Street, the crowd roared their approval

ss

Arrests were made in scuffles in the evening there, after end of the march.

s

The protests have continued throughout the week, and now larger than in American cities:

s

Every day making their way to the barricaded US Embassy.

s

A policewoman was injured after a line of mounted police charged the crowd in Whitehall (she hit a traffic light).

Across the country the same has been happening.

Manchester

s

s

Birmingham

s

Glasgow

s

Edinburgh

s

Cardiff (one of the world’s first protests)

s2

Leeds

s

Sheffield

s

Belfast

s

Bristolians tore down a statue of a notorious art patron, responsible for 80,000 trafficked into slavery. Taken from the city square and dumped into a local canal:

Even in small cities and towns, from Oxford to Oxon.

This is Shrewsbury

s

In Watford heavyweight boxing champ Anthony Joshua was spotted in his local rally

s

Cities across the nation lit their public buildings in purple as a sign of solidarity to the cause:

s

Including police stations

s

In 1993 a Public Enquiry found the UK police force ‘institutionally racist’ after they botched the investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence (a racist killing by a far right gang), which allowed his killers to walk free.

The Lammy Enquiry in 2017 found Black people are a whopping 9x more likely to be stopped and searched, 3x more likely to be arrested and 5x more likely to have force used against them. The Angiolini Review on the police in the same year found:

“The stereotyping of young black men as ‘dangerous, violent and volatile’ is a longstanding trope that is ingrained in the mind of many in our society. “

s2

There were no less than 200 demonstrations across the country in the weekend alone.

Other cities round the world have been doing the same.

Amsterdam

s

s

Berlin (also one of the first cities to protest after Minneapolis)

s

Frankfurt

s

Cologne

s2

Tokyo was the first city to march, the very morning after Floyd’s death

APTOPIX America Protests Global Japan

Osaka

s

Istanbul

s

Tel Aviv

s

Even in Iran makeshift street shrines have appeared and university students have rallied on their campuses.

s

s

Cape Town

s

Seoul

s

Athens

s

Lausanne, Switzerland

s

Brasilia

s

Krakow, Poland

s

Warsaw

s

Prague

s

Rome

s

Milan

s

Turin

s

Madrid

s

Barcelona

s

Paris, predictably, is burning.

ss

s

Copenhagen

s

Stockholm

s

Oslo

ss

Auckland, New Zealand

s

In Australia BLM has particular resonance with a history of police brutality against the Aboriginal and Torres Strait population

Sydney

s

Melbourne

s

Brisbane

s

Even in Khartoum, Sudan

s

And the tiny Pacific island of Saipan in the Northern Marianas

s

After people joined a one woman protest

s

A one man protest in Wellington, Florida too.

He had the police called on him:

Yesterday

Tomorrow

A Journal of the Plague Year Day 22

Wednesday 8th April

Have just returned from an evening walk -the Italians call it the passeggiata, where after dinner you put on your Sunday best and go for a stroll. Everyone tends to meet up in the town square and have a good old gossip, loiter and flirt in the lilting light. This is a daily ritual played out all over the Mediterranean and Middle East, and I see why. No pressure to spend in order to be happy, to drink to socialise, or be exercising to go out. No plan, no destination, no rendez-vous. You’re just out for a walk, and anything that may come your way, in mind and body. Also an English tradition to clear one’s head, practiced back from mid century and before. I do remember it in Wind in the Willows, where Mole always swore by going for an evening walk come rain or shine, and that everyone needed to do it. I thought it a splendid idea as a kid, but when faced with a treasure trail of bus stops and army estates it proved a bit more shite in reality. I think the timing’s key, when the colours begin to glow.

The place now is often a beautiful ghost town.

IMG_3557IMG_3563

We ended up by the river, the Thames Path full of joggers and couples, or lone people on benches, some just leaning on walls and staring mistily at the Danubian waters, beneath the vaulting towers of Vauxhall. The architecture a story writ in stone and steel offsetting each other in style, typical of London. Every street was varied, where centuries-old churchtowers faced off postwar highrises or glass condos, and making perfect photo ops, which I kept annoying A to borrow his phone for, or make take a snap, having forgotten mine. The skies were ethereal.

On the way back we got lost, finding some nice pubs and a French bistrot (for ‘when this is all over’), but then ending up in the concrete wastes that is so much of Battersea, riddled with pre-fabs that look alike. We walked in the entirely wrong direction attempting to head to our own block squatting on the horizon, before realising it just another ugly doppelganger. Brick, concrete, square windows, utterly functional and uninspired, in contrast to the high end views of the Thames, like sentinel ships.

By that stage it had been all hush -emptied streets and a languid summer feel, punctuated with glowing visions of warmth and other lives. But by walking interminably the wrong way then back again I got increasingly frustrated, a switch from an elegant, arm-in-armness. I have a deep-seated intolerance to such a pitch of inefficiency, the kind of bottled up anger that makes you want to scream, punch walls and upend bins. I imagined myself raking at the damn blossoms like a madman, stomping on people’s daffodils stupidfuckingword, their picket fences handy javelins into their shitty lives, framed by chintz. We’d spent a good 45 mins plodding a huge loop back to the river, while my dinner sat uncooked and going off.

s

At home still furious, made worse by having to simmer it beneath the veneer: that everything’s all right, and no one is to blame, and let’s all have a nice sit down, and not cleaver the TV, or use the wok as a fucking baseball bat. Dinner was veal burgers and rice, wrongly cooked, while film night got ignored until I masking taped everyone into the sofa. I’m going to go to bed with a brick, and will gnaw at it. Piece of shite. I think sometimes things culminate, and I know, know, know I don’t have the right.

Yesterday 850 died in the UK from the C-19. About 60 of them were from outside the hospitals, and there may be more not yet counted in a daily lag. The way things are going, any rumour of a release from lockdown in the next few weeks is now off the menu. Another report came out today, based on the daily figures, that the UK may be in line to have more deaths than France, Italy and Spain combined, at 66,000.

s

Meanwhile, The Great Orange Dolphin (GOD) plated up a tumultuous, rambling briefing, following the highest death toll so far on a single day from any country -1,800 – despite many hints of undercounting. The reporters endured an embarrassing diatribe throwing barbs on all sides to deflect their questions on his recent leadership (or lack of), mixing messages, before rounding on the World Health Organisation (WHO). He went on to claim he’d no longer fund the organisation tasked to bring nations, their governments and their science together to collectively fight infection, mitigate the spread, treat the sick and protect the healthy. His reason to withdraw US contributions (about 1/8 of its $4 billion budget) being that it was too ‘China-centric’, though many see it as a typical sociopath’s deflection of blame by pointing at another. Basically show up at the party for cake, and the G.O.D. who was meant to bring it will subsequently deflect, suddenly pointing his harpoon at the birthday girl and squeak-screaming how she prefers pilot whales, and he wants his pressie back.

Despite that withdrawing funds for this global organisation in the middle of a pandemic would be a major attack against domestic and international recovery, this is now being sold as protectionist realignment by the American right, notably Fox News, in the spirit of a just and superior power not to heckled, and not to be made a fool of. The WHO is now the sudden posterchild of villain and hero, for both sides, and is desperately  sending out public requests to end the politicisation of a pandemic. That one cannot have your cake and eat it, then kill everyone.

U.S. President Trump leads daily coronavirus response briefing at the White House in Washington

In other news the victims of C-19 in the US appears unfairly slanted to Black and African American groups, in Louisiana for example making up 70% of the deaths. There is a questioning of the different forces at play, from the higher rates of obesity and illness that contribute to the fatality rates, to the lower income thresholds that are more unlikely to seek or receive help. To the fact many Black Americans complain that using bandanas/ cloths during the face mask shortage is tantamount to being framed as criminals, from being turned away from stores to getting shot, hence why they’re reluctant to do so. The papers are also still full of opinion pieces on how the US got into the position of having to rely on China as its saviour (via providing Personal Protective Equipment and Intensive Care Units), and the Chinese propaganda machine now repainting itself as such. They are of course brimming with rage, both left and right, justified and unjustifiable, at China’s role in its spread in the first place, while receiving millions of donated PPE and ICUs.

s

Today I promised not to write so much, limiting it to the morning, then embarking on a sojourn into gaming. Set up the laptop, unpacked the controller, and reloaded Steam. I’m not much of a gamer, though was seriously addicted to Streetfighter II as a kid – but have mostly missed out on a huge round of development, whereby gaming is now overshadowing the film industry itself, and the graphics are no longer cubist, or a floating world.

s

Skyrim: Elder Scrolls was the choice. Now, I’m not one to know what the fuck I’m doing half the pixelated time, battling with the controls more than on-screen baddies, and occasionally screaming or throwing TVs out the window, so opening up the veritable universe of such a game is a risk. The complexity of it is galling, with a million different functions, controls, options and tasks. For example collecting various shit in various locations to make various spells for various occasions, via an encyclopedic menu. Or trying to kill that giant flipping spider with shitty little arrows, while nipping in and out of a corner, while the controls freeze up then change. It all sounds too much like hard work.

s

There were those early Playstation ads where they basically inferred gaming was akin to a new life, being able to experience unimaginable things, from a conqueror of worlds, to just a platform, or a golf swing. Well, if they did a version of modern life, imagine walking around trying to access menus whenever having a thought or move, carrying round untold baggage like any trolley-pushing, homeless granny, and a good few scrolling options to find out whichever bag it’s in as the queue waits fuming. VR’s gonna be the future, you just reach to your abstract pocket on the side to grab that axe, or ray gun or shrinking potion as that tentacle whips towards you, as opposed to pausing and going through an Excel sheet each time. Ah, life, virtual, imagined or real – still stuck with the same bureaucratic shite.

When computers start simplifying life will be when they actually lift off as useful to humans.

Tomorrow I’ll probably take up Streetfighter again (now on it’s fifth offering), and my days will effectively cease, the lockdown being the rest of my life, when I’ll have starved to death, swaddled in adult nappies. Cold dead joysticky hands.

Yesterday

Tomorrow