A Journal of the Plague Year Day 57

Thursday 14th May 2020

Spent the day doing paperwork, cobbling together the insurance claims and chasing refunds for three holidays we’d booked over this period. Had never planned so many trips in short succession and in one year, having suddenly gotten antsy in January. -Embarrassingly in hindsight, so stricken with wanderlust as to fully exemplify both compounds of the word. We’d been flushed with newfound, short-lived wealth (A finally getting a job) and a bid to revive things. In another life, back when we had money.

It took 6hrs, umpteen phonecalls and chasing up on emails and missives. Never again. At about the 5hr mark started getting tetchy, something long promised I’d never do in life. All too often people get stressed then take it out on others, which is what keeps the world’s psychiatrists in career. Reined it in, but dear lord, half a day of joyless graft, pressure, complexity and concentration without a break changes you. Start off as a guitar-singing nun, end up as crack wrestler Numbnutz Jack.

But things are better than yesterday, that’s for sure. The household drama, the tears, the tightly closed doors, the crying through haircuts. Lockdown doesn’t help domestics.

The work took so long we barely ate, just sloughed through it. Six flights, an overnight train, a stay in a youth hostel, an Airbnb and 5 hotels, to cancel, ask for refunds, liaise with travel agents, booking companies and credit card providers then put into claim with the attached evidence of a refusal of refund. All the while harbouring these empty experiences to mourn, lost to vicarious dimensions when asking a receipt from the Hallstatt Lakehaus or the Lower East Side Digs.

AirBnb is meanwhile laughably still selling rents and experiences, despite you not being able to be there in person. You can have virtual participation via scrolling deleriously through someone’s house, perhaps stare at their sofa or play spot-the-cat. Maybe watch one of them wedge their wobbling arse into a deckchair and sun themselves for an all-inclusive fee. But strangely after noone ever took them up on that (actually I bet some fuckwit somewhere, some time did), they’re now investing in online sessions of say yoga, or a drawing lesson or storytime for the kids. You can watch a middle-aged couple make shitty cupcakes you’ll never taste or interview someone about the wonders of their insurance firm job, at up to £85 a pop.

Okay there are some that look genuinely clickable, such as the cocktail class by Lisbon drag queens (nightclub-in-my-bedroom setting, lots of glitter), someone who set up a 1.5hr long escape room (there’d better be skeletons in the cupboard, or nudity), and various online concerts, from Provencal piano playing with a view to speakeasy Jazz clubs.

Others however looked graspingly doomed -how to propagate houseplants (pic of man watering a plant) for £30 and 1.5hrs, or a woman cooking in her French kitchen (looking exactly like any formica-happy kitchen anywhere, trying to lick the whisk suggestively), or the hour long lecture on how to cut a champagne bottle with a sabre. You can imagine these poor denizens of ex-hospitality thinking, now what is it that I can offer to the world, if not my overpriced, neutrally-colored bedroom?

One that I woulda picked if I absolutely had to, was a Plague Doctor’s Tour of the deserted streets of Prague, the guide dressed in full Black Death monk-and-crow-skull costume. Not sure if it’s legal and he’ll have to streak down alleyways or into bins whenever the copshop shows, but that does resonate right now.

 

Anyhoo, I procrastinate, back to the weeeeerk. Ah yes, that dish of sweet, pure fuckery. We’d done half the graft the week or three before, this was now the chasing up. Godawful werk you cannot avoid or rebrand as anything else. I’d genuinely rather polish shit.

Spent my childhood being hammered into my skull that werk is misery, werk is shite and something to scream at the moon about, that so long affected my every approach for years after, and fought to overcome. But now I see it true.

Fuckjugglers:

J’s feeling better thankfully, though somewhat islanded in the house with us locked into our rooms the past two days, furtively only out to forage from the kitchen. We treated ourselves after to a trip to the supermarket, the highlight of the day like any granny with no mates, the kind who talks interminably, pitiably with service staff. I would’ve hugged everyone on the street if it wouldn’t now be counted as murder.

Things have been opening up recently with a relaxation of some of the rules, and the lack of a queue seemed to show less people shopping -perhaps a dip in having to stock up. Bought a large, chocolate cookie in Lidl, in recompense for the middle class Riesling I’d otherwise be pretending on the vistas of the Salzkammergut. It’s become properly chilly these past few days, enough for a return to longjohns, squirreled away in the blanket box, but the air itself is sublime, like a blade of cold and life. It burns zephyrs in my head.

We tidied the room, revamping it to clear some clutter and make things minimalist rather than plain and messy. Minimalism only works one way, and takes no prisoners. Otherwise it looks shit. Part of our ongoing negotiations in the new set-up between ourselves, and a facet in the drama beforehand.

A is watching Ricky Gervais’s After Life, a swansong to depression and loss with a comedic bent. He loves it, but I see the pain. So much of it strikes a chord. Sometimes one has so much on their plate, with so little to lose, just being a cunt with zero tolerance is not only the last option but a liberating one. Gervais also demonstrates how it’s a self-defeating way to act, and a vicious cycle. That beneath every miserable card-carrying member of the wanker cub, there may be a painfully beating heart.

Oh but how lovely looks England in it all. Filmed in a glorious summer he does take pains to paint the place as twee and empty, but the peace and history still shines through. Filmed in Hemel Hampstead and Beckonsfield -lair of model villages and a young, bullied Colonel Gadaffi -it is an aria to smalltown Home Counties life, and a tainted amosphere (think moneyed Sky-watching Brexit-land) that Gervais grew up in (Reading) and I know all too well (Windsor). He infamously set The Office series in the black hole that is Slough; this time round he’s just as piss-taking, though quite conducive to leafy surburban life, perhaps from his more moneyed existence these days.

Swansea was deemed the ‘lovely, ugly town’ by hometown boy Dylan Thomas back in 1957, and translated into the ‘pretty, shitty city’ when the film Twin Town premiered 40 years later while I lived there – an opening gala and everything at the local UCI. Then an afterparty in the Barons nightclub, with Rhys Ifans and Kelly Jones turning up!

https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/rare-footage-1997-captures-premiere-16446798

My other hometown further south, once part of the ‘Staines Massive’ back in the Ali G days, I’d now dub the ‘bullshit beauty that is Berkshire’. Berk as in you berk; it famously came in at No 2 in the Crap Towns series (beaten only by Hull).

I am perhap getting old and nostalgic for an utter cultural shithole. For all its gardens and gracing milk bottles I have to remember Windsor votes as a Tory stronghold, effectively bans mosques (locals taking arms against ‘increasing the traffic’) and the Daily Mail is sold out even in Waitrose. It’s the most racially divided pair of boroughs in the London metro, the other being Slough with the highest minority-majority wards in the country. Maybe just call it as it is, Cunt town.

Turds, polishing, yeah.

Pub quiz fact, Rhys Ifans, before hitting screengold fame as the bod in Notting Hill, was a Versace model in Milan beforehand.

 

Yesterday

Tomorrow

 

What is the World’s Greatest City?

ny

Dubious question, and one that is contentious to say the least. In the past entire Thucydidean wars were declared over economic competition, trade, hegemony, religion, and culture for that title; today they are argued over endlessly  in annual criteria-based league tables, internet fora and in everything from Trip Advisor to The New Statesman. So why all the fuss? The title breeds geopolitical influence, soft power, tourist bucks and social media tags. Cities are that great coral reef of experience, impervious yet every growing and changing. They stand testament to our lives and livelihoods, our myriad cultures and collective consciousness– with the idea of a single pre-eminent city imbedding itself as a bedrock to contemporary society. A city is, if you like, a crystallisation of culture; the greatest city is the greatest place in humanity.

bjjjwww.johnlake.co.nz

Urban agglomerations are that great marker of history – touchstones of experience where entire eras become marked by their reign, from ancient Rome to Victorian London, Angkor to Edo – with surprising ‘entries’ that stand testament to time (if not in physicality), such as former world’s largest – the million+ boat city of Ayutthaya, Thailand to the present day hamlet of Gurganj, Turkmenistan, a glorious Silk Route nexus before it succumbed to history’s single bloodiest massacre under the Mongols.

ayuth

gurg

There are many criteria, or handfuls of monikers that can lay claim to the single greatest hit. Richest city? That would be Tokyo, followed by NYC, LA and Seoul by total city economy, to er, Oslo or Zurich per capita.  Most influential city? well that could be anyone’s guess – NYC, London, Seoul get bandied about a lot with the youthful limelight, whilst Beijing, Brussels and Washington DC have the largest bureaucratic sectors. And LA might have something to say about global entertainment.

estoniaeurovision-addict.blogspot.com

Most beautiful city? Once again, the arguments range on everyone’s tastes as collectively supportive for Rome or as individualised to Brasilia. Sydney, Sana’a, Venice, Havana, Fez… the list would be endless. Many would agree the most beautiful megacity would be the complex elegance of Paris, but that would discount the myriad voices calling up the canyonscapes of NYC, the natural wonders of Rio, the futurism of Shanghai or the glorious, pluralist mix that is Istanbul/ London /Beijing/ Singapore. Moreover, how many actually visited, and how many base their opinions from received sources?

paree.jpgblogs.ft.com

ital

yem

Well the proof is in those voting with their feet some say – the most visited city, a rotation between Hong Kong, Bangkok, London, Paris and Singapore for international visitors, might be good indicators. But even with this seemingly narrowly defined criteria – based on numbers of overnighting foreign visitors – doubt still creeps through. Paris only counts its centre in the league (take that EuroDisney!), while Hong Kong is heavily skewed by the large amount of travelers coming in from over-the-border China, essentially the same country.

-And what about those domestic travelers? Are their views not as valid? Places like Kyoto and Orlando see in over 50 million visitors each year, double the top spot of the international-only league, while Shanghai, the freak, welcomed a whopping 70 million during 2010’s Expo year.

rioowww.telegraph.co.uk

Ratings? Well Kyoto, Charleston, Florence, Siem Reap, and Rome are all up there (Leisure and Travel Awards), as are London, Marrakesh, Istanbul, Paris, and Hanoi (Trip Advisor). Sun kissed, party mad Beirut makes sporadic appearances near the top depending on its security situation, whilst several places are as much loathed as glorified (ahem, Dubai, Macau, Seoul we’re looking at you). It’s pretty obvious there are too many cooks – whether they be trumpeting the Michelin stars of Tokyo or the street food of Tbilisi.

Beirut Residents Continue to Flock to Southern Neighborhoods

Beirut, http://www.worldpressphoto.org/collection/photo/2007/daily-life/spencer-platt

Plus there’s Quality of Life. The Nordic, Canadian, Oceanian cities doing swimmingly, but the perennial winners being a rostrum between Vienna, Munich, Auckland and Vancouver according to Mercer (39 scoring factors including political, economic, environmental, personal safety, health, education, transportation and other public services) with nods toward Sydney, Melbourne, Singapore, Toronto for the larger cities, and a whole 37 places before the first megacity over 10 million (Paris) shows her pretty head.

vienna

Vienna, travelaway.me

Meanwhile, Monocle magazine puts a megacity right up there, climbing from 5th to 1st was Tokyo (due to its ‘defining paradox of heart-stopping size and concurrent feeling of peace and quiet’), but recently usurped by Copenhagen, with Vienna, Melbourne, Munich and Berlin (a rise of 11 places since ‘after dark’ living was taken into account) worthy of mention. It’s 22 metrics include several that look at housing and the cost of living, from the price of a three-bed pad to the cost of a glass of wine and decent lunch, plus access to the outdoors, with notable upsets when seasonal changes and ambience were taken into account in 2010 (Copenhagen, maelstrom of wintry existentialism, still managed to buck the trend).

copenCopenhagen, exithamster.wordpress.com

But then there are those places with the x factor, the je ne sais quoi regardless of manicured lawns and the price of middle class, middle aged lattes. We must bear in mind cities function in the mind as well as body, that they are a cumulative, inclusive experience. The good, the bad and the ugly. It’s not just how pretty or rich or even popular you are.

Some pics to finish off with:

indJodhpur, www.theatlantic.com

issTel Aviv, www.allphotobangkok.com

lonnn.jpgLondon dalstonsuperstore.com

hanoiHanoi www.gettingstamped.com

ind

05 People Second Place Photo and caption by Yasmin Mund / National Geographic Travel

Jaipur, India

Continued next post…. The World’s Most Diverse City

EVERYTHING THAT’S WRONG IN OUR LIVES

So what is it about our daily existence that brings us down? Yes, you, face down in the porridge, only 8 in the morning but already thinking of slitting your wrists to emo grunge, except that you don’t have time to end it all as you have to Go To Werk. Then putting your make up on after, like you forgot to take the face mask off -and why not? Why can’t we go around the daily commute looking like the Joker on a pub crawl? Why can’t we just lie down and go to sleep when we want, where we want? Does it actually cause harm? No.

christmas-couple

www.ukmodels.co.uk 

But because we’re meant to be good looking (tick). Nice (tick). Educated (tick). Clever (tick). Rich (tick). Successful (tick). Respected (tick). Popular (tick). Loved (tick). Stylish (tick). Funny (tick). Well traveled (tick).Happy (tick). And the life and soul of dinner parties (tick). People are meant to dance at your funeral because it’s like, a celebration of your life. Innit. And you don’t want people to be sad at your passing. They want to remember you for all your glorious thingings.

– No, actually fuck dinner parties. You’re now the life and soul of transvestite all-nighters on boats. N shit. On fire.  And fuck nice. You got Edge, baby.

We’ve heard it all before: falling down the stairs is an uphill battle. Life is an untrammeled disaster, just remember to sing while you’re in the lifeboats. If life gives you lemons make a fucking lemon grenade for your window twitching, wife swapping neighbour. All this points to the social construct, The Man, the social media representations we send out like invites. The irritating, exasperatingly heedful force of expectation. Yada yada yada; we’ve got all that to juggle with. Cow, listen, rebel, don’t rebel. Fuck it. Don’t fuck it.

Then throw along family too. That endless source of amusement, camaraderie, and Christmas arguments. People we once touched. They have a whole set of expectation alongside, nuanced with finer colours and strands, cloying in ever more subtle ways to resurface at opportune times when you’re least armed. Memories, worries, yearnings, realisations and occasionally shared dreams that forge our daily identity, whether we’re in the middle of chatting up the hottie from Accounts or drumming one’s head on the bus window as you slumber the petit mort of the overworked and oversexed. We’re meant to love them. We’re meant to honour them. We’re meant to forgive them. And they’re meant to reciprocate – but even if they don’t we should be gliding about like a motherfucking sunbeam of forgiveness and charity anyway. Oh how they tease!

 

 

a1

www.wholeandwell.com

But bear in mind  the lesson from China. Once one of the most suicidally prone societies, sharing Goth music right up there with South Korea and Japan, but who embarked on a 400 million strong sojourn to the coast with its seagulls and Nike factories and skyscraping businesses away from the village. Tens of millions of families divided and sacrificed, who sent back money, cried over lost childhoods, lost parents, exacerbated by the two child rule, and making stark photo ops as they flooded the transport networks every New Year to tearfully reunite in their homesteads. Yet this wrenching of a generation away from their family units resulted in a phenomenon – a rapidly falling suicide rate. Is this a giant, nationwide flood of crocodile tears? Well no, those are indeed heartfelt longings, with the concept of family the cornerstone of the world’s oldest surviving civilisation. And there’s a whole generation of angst-ridden kids missing their parents that’s baiting society these days into questioning its sacrificial soul. But it appears the pressure is undeniably lessened, that love is also all too often cloaked with expectation.

 

Apple-BigBrother-1984

http://www.thecorsaironline.com

 

And why this East Asian triumvirate (the former China, Japan and South Korea) that so often tops the leagues in people topping themselves? Yes life is hard, there’s a lot of pressure to succeed, and they don’t take a lot of holidays – but then neither do any of the Developing World, who often don’t have the luxury of choice in the matter, and work multiple times more. Mexicans work harder than anyone else FFS. Well East Asia, thanks to mister Buddha and mister Confucius, operates on a ‘shame society’ (it’s not that bad, we in the West -thanks to Mr Jesus / Abrahamic religion- operate on a ‘guilt society’). The difference between a guilt society is that ultimately one can, if one so chooses, forgive ourselves, or at least work toward that. On a shame based society  you have to work the wider community in order to attain that forgiveness – and it’s much harder to convince an entire town to do something than one person (yourself) to play along. I mean seriously, good luck with that next time you suck at becoming a film star –  here you listen to self loathing music and do more lines on your tea break to get over it,  while over there you do the same but apologising the whole time to your family, friends, dealer and maybe customers for your lisp and gammy hand coz hey, Joaquin Phoenix managed to pull it off. Just sayin.

Harajuku Kids (26)makehairstyles2013.blogspot.com

 

Hence why people kill themselves more over imagined failures, or being a ‘burden’ on their family and loved ones, especially those who are mentally ill to start off with. How dark. Suicide is improving now in Japan, despite Hollywood and Youtubers’ attempts to cash in on the Suicide Forest or all things creepy and long haired that come out of mirrors. Things best forgotten that stand by the bed at night and wait. And wait. Yet are best ignored. As in China, people are starting to find themselves better by turning over, and paying less attention to social or familial diktaat.

 

a2

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/environment/article2908273.ece

 

They say we’re not lone animals like tigers. We’re not herding animals like cows. But we’re not single family unit animals either. If you look at the kingdom of monkeys, apes and primates, they tend to function in groups of families – lets say, 15-25 individuals. Think a hamlet where everyone knows each other, a large extended family where a child being brought up can run to her aunties and uncles as surrogate parents when Mum’s menopausal and Dad’s on the shots, or where you can let the little shit go wild with his cousins as you have your chocolate and fag and an episode on Netflicks.

So I’m not saying families are bad. But absence makes the heart grow fond, especially if you’re one of those rare, rare souls whose family didn’t step out of an Ikea catalogue. And the lack of domineering parents, judgmentally distant aunties and uncles and frankly trashy in-laws does lend a certain grace to freedom and finding oneself. Like a bell that chimes for itself alone. Get that out of the way- or at least at facebook arms distance-  and you only have to deal with The Man.

 

im1

http://www.fandango.com/movie-news/why-apes-are-scary-again-748118

But what a Man that is. Squatting there like a vastly overweight, pinstriped Hedge Fund Manager displaying his Type A balls to everyone his Eames chair can swivel too. There is something fundamentally wrong with society. Go look back at the chimps. On one side of the vast, sweeping Congo, second only to the Amazon as a giant riverine system, and uncrossable to those without a pirogue, live the Chimpanzees. They may seem cute, but they also mirror man’s failings and intrigues. Despite being affectionate, tender and individual, complete with personality types and functions, they also eat meat, hunt, declare war on each other, form cliques, remember grudges, bully, cannibalise, rape and murder.

This is a patriarchal society ruled by the old men – and don’t forget for all that cuteness Bubbles was 5-8x stronger than your average human (hence why Jacko tried multiple times to leave him behind at McDonalds Kids Parties). One little gangly ape named Suzette in Bronx zoo even wrenched 1,260 lbs in a rage, another pulled  800lbs one handed. – That’s a lot of damage one can inflict – so we shouldn’t judge them too harshly. Chimps are pretty much a race of Superman, who like eating grubs and throwing their shit. Angrily when coerced. It could knock you out with the force if it’s especially lumpy. So compared to humans Chimps are actually a glowing example of self control and not having wiped each other out a long time back, whenever Sandra stole the termite twig and you got a bit cross and tore her arm off.

chimp

 

But look on the other side of the river and another species operates – the Bonobos. Vegetarian, peace-loving and non-murderous, non cantakerous. Why don’t we hear more about these svelte little creatures? Why are the chimps the one to have garnered all the Goodall fame over the years? Well, the Bonobos spend every waking hour humping each other and playing with themselves for wont of anything better to do. Point your National Geographic lens on this side and you’ll likely see practices that would make a German orgy blush on Gimpstrasse. Kids on their back getting bored with the same ride. Group sex. Group wanking sessions. Male on male, female on female. Male on Female on Male on Male. Kid on Kid. Incest. Food. Sticks. The proliferate and inventive usage of tools so endemic to our Family. There haven’t been any reported cases of necrophilia (leave that to the penguins, who are likely to hump anything that trips or bends down to tie its little penguin laces), though I wouldn’t put it past the little hairy blighters.  The difference: these folks are matriarchal. I know I’d miss bacon and all that, but I know which side of the river I’d be batt(y)ing for.

bono

http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/craziest-sex-lives-animal-kingdom

There are only a handful of matriarchal societies left in the world, one or two in Africa and one or two in Asia, and it’s interesting to note they also operate in polygamous love. Lets go back to China, great denizen of the mystical, toy-making East. The Musuo hold regular village dances in the ancestral halls of their forested hill villages. In the West we call this Tindr. Lets say you’re a fit young man resplendent in your tribal colours and totemic tassles, with a dab hand at skipping to the beat and jumping higher than the average red blooded jungle hunk. The girl you dance with – if she likes you – will tickle your palm with her finger as you hold hands. This is secret sign language for : “hey hot-stuff I need you bad. Come to my place at night after mum’s gone to bed and I’ll open my window for you to creep inside and we can then make sweet loving. Bring root vegetables and Whatsapp.”

Congratulations, you have just become a ‘walking husband’. In the West we call this a fistpumping motherfucking RE-SULT. So okay, so far so monogamous. But the thing is the lady in question can have as many walking husbands as she pleases. And if one reads between the lines, you can be the walking husband of as many esteemed ladies of the Fragrant Nocturnal Emission Chambers as you can get. If you have a child with one of these women, you are not considered the father, merely the sperm donor, or if it makes you feel better, sweetie, the ‘birth-father’. The woman will be that child’s mother, her brother will be that child’s father. Luckily for the Musuo, Chinese minorities are exempt from the one/two child rule, so a brother is almost always present in a family. If they’re not fuck it, the kid’ll live.

a22

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2014/04/pictures-kingdom-women-2014430152323376208.html

 

So there you have it. Give the reins to a woman (no, really) and sex becomes no longer something to possess for either gender, and decorate with to one’s social status. There are less rules and stricture, less possessiveness. I know here in the West we all went through the Sexual Revolution in the Twentieth Century, but it’s still  a revolution based on a linear frame as always.

We went from God> Arranged Marriage > Children > Love of God > Whips and Bondage  in the Middle Ages

to Arranged Marriage > Romance > Children > Love of God LOVE >  after the Enlightenment

to Handkerchief Dropping > semi-arranged Marriage > Romance > Children > LOVE in the Nineteenth Century

to Romance > Sex  > Love > Marriage > Children Wifeswap Parties in the 1960s Sexual Revolution.

Today we’re morphing towards that slight tweaking thanks to hook up apps, and already rampant in the gay community:

Sex  > Wifeswap Parties Open Relationships > Romance > Love > Marriage .

The way the matriarchal societies work is take any of those concepts you like, just get rid of the: >.

 

If only it could mow the lawn too…

1918

http://www.planetorganic.com

But let’s harken back to reality. The Musuo are currently inundated with sex tourists from China and beyond due to their increasingly publicised reputation for polygamy – and well, seeming ready availability of sexually open females – a dearth in polite, yet barely masked patriarchal societies the world over. They however, do not share that vision of being part of a shining El Dorado to the creepy, fidgetty old men  who can’t make eye contact or the gung-ho, braying backpackers who turn up with prophylactic arrays on their mountains. And it would be obtuse to portray matriarchal societies as any less war mongering or hierarchical ( for example the Musuo operated a slave society until the Chinese outlawed it, and the language is still skewed to have female words meaning greater and male words as lesser). -But it’s interesting to see how a society plays out a different version of reality, modernity and the daily commute with women at the helm. Go south of the Tassili n’Adjer into Libya and Algeria, and see the Arab men who cover their faces (meekly nibbling at their food behind the cloth) while the women are unsheathed, and who hold the gold by inheriting matrilineally.

a21

http://www.forumbiodiversity.com/showthread.php/2906-Tuaregs-(West-amp-Saharan-Africa)

 

Anyway, I digress. I don’t think I’ve actually solved what’s wrong with our lives, just went on on one about sex and monkeys. But I think germs and war and interminably having to Werk come in there somewhere. Anyhoo, kill your family. Kill the president and put a woman there, any woman; Sandra from HR will do. Avoid chimpanzees.

Put off your death, switch the emo music off and put on your tie. Bitch.

 

DISCLAIMER

Ignore what I said about people dancing on my grave. I want everyone unhappy. A national day of mourning; maybe a parade. I want people throwing themselves on my coffin, cloaked in black gowns while the crowd streams in tears, like in Mafia movies.

 

Thank you. I have spoken.

 

 

beach

http://decider.com/2014/08/26/my-first-time-watching-beaches/