17th March 2020
I intend to keep a rough journal of sorts in order to detail the current predicament.
A few months ago a new coronavirus, Covid-19, started to break out in Wuhan, a city in Hubei in China. This has subsequently spread across the entire globe.
Covid-19 spreads, or transmits, really easily. Easily spreadable viruses tend to be less dangerous on an individual level however, so the mortality rate could be as low as 0.01% of all cases; the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 was anywhere between 3 to 10% of all cases.
It has begun to spread across the UK. #London - my city - is apparently in, or close to, the ‘peak’ phase in comparison to the rest of our beloved Kingdom. Strict measures have arrived, and most businesses are encouraging employees to do work at home.
A few initial observations from the author:
- Our Prime Minister - Boris Johnson - seems genuinely to be elevating sovereignty to expert advice. This seems sensible and also seems vastly different to the undermining of said experts in the USA.
- The danger of the Italian approach - mass lockdown - is that there will be a pendulum of peaks in diagnosed cases.
- All strategies are risky. To make this point as a form of criticism against a strategy is frivolous.
- Panic buying has reinforced my view that crowd mentality is the single most flawed characteristic of human beings.
- Due to the above, it is now paradoxically ‘rational’ to panic buy.
- The mass and popular media is, as is often, more interested in hyperbole than banal truths.
- An example would be the idea that 7.9m of 65m people will ‘fall unwell’. The government is planning for this as a worst-case scenario, not an expected scenario. This is not even a nuanced distinction.
- The number of infections may rival the 1918 Flu, but not the mortality rates.
My partner has asthma so my priority will be ensuring her good health.
N and I journeyed, with urgency, to a local hospital at 6 am this morning. She had shortness of breath, and was recommended to an emergency ward.
We arrived and saw likely no more than 10 people in and around Whitechapel. We put on hospital masks and waited. I cannot tell you how fearful I was at the start. I tried to remain calm for her sake.
She has steroid tablets that have helped dramatically. Crucially, she had no high temperature. I have a slight cough but I have confidence in my constitution.
Only observation today is the sheer amount of false information being circulated about every hour. The democratisation of news is at its absolute worst.
I am writing this on the 20th. I am finding it exceptionally difficult attempting to view my home as my place of work.
My slight cough is now a rare occurrence, fortunately. N also seems to be physically better.
There is a claustrophobic sense of helplessness about this completely invisible threat. We are not occupied by an invading army and nor are there disease-ridden rats outside our doors. The threat is something only microscopes can see.
Our government is behaving rather feebly. Instead of enforced measures, they seek to ’recommend’ or ‘advise’. Regrettably, many fellow Brits often deem their own medical knowledge as equivalent, if not indeed superior, to educated experts and practitioners.
Italy currently has the highest amount of deaths. Then again they also have, by comparison, a much older population.
I expect London, that city of constant life and noise, to be in lockdown by the end of next week.
It is just past midnight, hence my dating.
It is strange and unsettling to see London in this way. Our flat has a view of Canary Wharf and of the actual City of London (not Westminster). The former is noted for its lanky corporate buildings that nearly always shine throughout the night. The City view is less consistent, but then London is not a consistently built city. I am already noticing that there are fewer ‘affirming flames’ to borrow from WH Auden.
From some further reading I did today:
- Countries such as China, South Korea, and Singapore are dealing with the virus better because of the stricter but therefore shorter-term lockdowns.
- Italy, France and Spain appear to have left it a little too late.
- The United States and the #UK are in between the two.
- An issue I hadn’t considered is that if all the critical hospital resources are directed to the virus, it means people will also now die from entirely non virus-related illnesses.
- Healthcare systems could therefore collapse.
Soon will be the first full week of being employed from home.
We, the Nation, are essentially now in lockdown. Only crucial or needed shops are permitted to be open.
I can see the tube trains from my balcony. I think tomorrow I shall get my binoculars and see if they remain busy. Our mayor has reduced the service, which may ironically make it busier.
I can also see the City and the old Isle of Dogs. This may seem fanciful but those grey and dominating buildings look as if they are waiting for their workers. There is an odd quiet and stillness to them.
I have a slight cold however none of my symptoms indicate I have the cursed virus.
Some views and thoughts:
- I have used this time to broaden my musical life. I have finally listened to a full Pink Floyd album, along with David Bowie, Led Zeppelin and more recently PJ Harvey.
- I am also reading more, notably dipping occasionally into Defoe’s Journal of a Plague Year, to which this is an obvious tribute of sorts.
- The tendency of the British to be rebellious in a stubborn, consensual, rural sort of way, may make the lockdown tricky.
- I will be immensely cross with anybody who attempts to compare, and in my view conflate, this experience with the 1939-40 bombings by the Luftwaffe. I will concede that this enemy is less visible and therefore perhaps more horrifying, and less manageable. I may expand on this at a later time.
- The increase in the number of deaths is not presently on par with Italy, as it was previously. This is somewhat pleasing.
The weather is pleasant and I am writing outside, which increases my appetite to continue. I am usually extremely lethargic.
My birthday was two days ago. N ensured it was pleasant however it furthered the sense of collective solitude everyone across the world is experiencing.
My sister regrettably lost her job. I am hoping my circle can assist her. She is bright and confident, thus I am not panicked.
Our Prime Minister has the virus along with our Health Secretary. I imagine this is deeply shattering for their most ardent and passionate supporters.
The case and death rate - and hospital admission rate - is, apparently, stabilising. If true, we will not witness the extreme numbers currently seen in the USA, Spain, Italy and Iran. China seems to have hardly any new cases however it is always tough trusting statistics from a dictatorship.
My sense of taste and smell have declined and this is supposedly a symptom.
My attempts to grow a beard are proving futile.
I am missing the London noise. I miss the sound of the tube abruptly breaking. I miss the incoherent nonsense overheard in pubs. I miss the tangy smell of the cheap coffee I rush to buy every morning. I miss rushing to work. I miss wearing a tie and I miss the exciting apprehension felt before an important meeting. I miss collective laughter. The random glances and talk for no reason in particular. I even miss the raucous, awkward, stressful journey home from work.
There are so few lights in the city now. It may as well not even be there.
I feel an immense lethargy when I wake in the morning. This is actively self-imposed. I have not replaced my morning walk to the train, nor my walks to work and home again.
N had trouble breathing last night. She came through it. She is tougher than she knows. We talked which I think calmed her down a bit.
At 8pm, we had another round of applause for our country’s health workers. My view is the more frequently these tributes happen, the less valuable they are. Still, that we have an almost human right to healthcare is brilliant when one considers the USA.
I am missing pubs most of all I think. The mindless chatter one has when infused with some overpriced lagers. The noise, the sense of unknowing. It has dawned on me that the spontaneity of London is on a temporary freeze. There is no last-minute pint right now.
I am beginning to sympathise with the ‘cure is worse than the disease’ argument. That is, that the measures in place will have a worse impact than the actual virus. Economically, socially, culturally and psychologically I am aligning slowly towards this position.
My symptoms have essentially disappeared. N is exercising and also seems in decent health.
I imagine, due to the lockdown, that a lot of people are exercising far more than they normally do.
My employment is quiet, and some colleagues are on furlough. This is effectively doing no work but being paid ⅘ of your salary. It is not a terrible deal however some are uncertain about prospects post-pandemic.
There is much war rhetoric which is, at best, not productive. We have an ‘enemy’ and therefore need to ‘fight’ and ‘beat’ it. It reminds me of ‘fighting’ cancer and how it is a ‘battle’. The vast majority of cancer patients dislike the language for two reasons - first, it implies a will, or an ability, to personally - through sheer war-like courage - beat cancer and second it implies, to some extent, an incompetence or lack of bravery on the part of those who perish to it.
Some more thoughts:
- Our Prime Minister was in intensive care and currently is in a stable condition. If he were to pass, I would be concerned at the possible chaos that would ensue.
- The lockdown appears to be working and the bulk of people are adhering to it.
- I am hopeful I will return to the office in May.
London has a tranquillity to it that I would normally experience in my visits to my mother, who indeed lives in a rural, fairly disconnected area of Essex. It no longer feels like the constantly and excessively active and loud capital. All the trades and our commerce, for which our capital is known, are confined to the thousands of homes and colossal modern flats dotted around our city.
From my balcony I can often hear the occasional halting of a tube train. It causes a physical pang and need to return.
The Nightingale Hospital - completed in 9 days I believe - has only just begun receiving patients. This is because they have not had the need for it. There are always some glimmers of light in the darkness.
The lockdown rules remain in place. N and I are both fine regarding our health.
I anticipate that I, and many of my colleagues, will be put on furlough. Sadly my labour depends upon the labour of others, and therefore we are all doubtful of any activity.
I am drinking almost daily yet not heavily. This is a likely combination of boredom, the comfort of home, along with the lack of morning dread one experiences when one has the office looming in the distance.
I am reading more, and more widely. So is N. We are also playing those gentle trivia games you usually play during festive seasons. It appears the entire country is doing at least one of the following:
- Drinking more frequently.
- Baking bread. (Flour is sold out)
- Playing brain-based games.
- Ordering games consoles.
- More exercise than they would if not plague-confined.
- Seeking fame through domestic exercise.
I am reading Salman Rushdie and the quality of his prose is scarily brilliant. Midnight’s Children, specifically.
The lockdown has been extended for 3 weeks. This was expected but that makes it no less depressing.
I am struggling to find work to do during the day. I occasionally feel guilty about this.
The supermarket is stacked again. Early on in this pandemic the shelves were bare to an almost dystopian degree. Now there seems to be a tired, begrudging acceptance of this temporary reclusive way of existing.
Slavoj Zizek wrote an uncharacteristically hopeful article about how this will be filmed in future. The apocalyptic showbiz of it all. He quoted an editorial in the Financial Times - by no means a left-leaning ‘paper - stating the obvious necessity for governments to take a more active role in the economy. This is a bit like the Pope proclaiming doubts about his own piety. This is worth noting, in other words.
I did some exercise with N yesterday and am subsequently in severe pain.
I am however, pleased at my keeping - gerund - up with this journal. My own plague, though self-imposed admittedly, is that of chronic laziness.
25th April I think the growing infrequency of these entries is almost certainly related to the repetitive nature of each day. I often find myself beginning each day later than intended. I had been meaning to exercise but, hell, that can be postponed. That gives me an additional hour until I have to become vertical. I rush my breakfast, or I simply skip it completely, or I clumsily inhale ¾ of a banana and hastily make a coffee that is nearly always not strong enough. This is part of the problem of viewing your home as your office. It opposes my perhaps outdated opinion - that work and home should be as divorced as possible. Like church and state. I would even call them antithetical. I too, have succumbed to the new religion of Perennial Desert Making. At least in theory. I have decided to make an apple crumble. I have not made a desert in approximately 15 years. This is all theoretical and may well be rescinded. N and I often reflect on our privileged position. Though we have worked hard for our flat, nano-second moments of fortune are always discoverable in any success. For example we live relatively close to the centre of London, and therefore regularly walk by high-rise flats. They are startlingly different to our own, despite being within a 1 mile radius. These flats have, if at all, cramped and ill-made balconies. Dirty grey windows of a miniature size. These flats have no gardens and no green areas outside. People are not in the same boat. I also cannot claim to have any intimate connection. The worst situations I know are colleagues who live with people they literally do not speak with. And some do not have living rooms. There are no doubt single mothers - and fathers I am sure - struggling with multiple children all of whom must be wondering why their world has changed so dramatically and so suddenly. All of this reminds me why I vote the way I do. Across Europe some things are coming back to life. I have noticed the return of work to construction sites. Some junk food services have made a much needed restoration. There are rumours of a sports comeback though this seems a fantasy to me. Our PM has apparently deemed it good for National Morale. He will deem anything for anyone though when appropriate. Some further things: Oxford University has a potential vaccine, with a high chance of success. Trials are underway. Our ‘curve’ , as insensitive as it sounds to describe mass death rates, seems to be calming despite the best efforts of the media to whip up hysteria. I think even Hillary Clinton could beat Donald Trump this Autumn. Trump, to me, is an egomaniac finally facing something he cannot control. Joseph Biden is a borderline zombie, however. I mention the above because this will inevitably have political consequences. If the Democrats cannot beat Trump they may as well self-liquidate. I anticipate a lot of career changes after this. And separations. I read somewhere - I forget where but a reliable source - that divorce rates have risen extraordinarily in the Hubei province. I recall a quotation from an about-to-be-divorced woman lamenting her husband’s pernicious habit of spending too much time with their children. She was divorcing him for this crime. I expect many couples - and families - will fail to discern between a true, principled and meaningful argument versus a blazing row whose catalyst, subconsciously, is simply being in isolation. This may result in countless couples prematurely ending things. A lot of people will find themselves, and a lot will do the opposite.
1st May I suspect some people will ironically become closer as a result of this. Such as separate friends and colleagues. The crumble I constructed was a roaring success. I am not a confident cook and thus was disproportionately joyous relative to my actual achievement. Yesterday our recovered PM stated we are past the peak. The cynic in me thinks this is either a premature ejaculation on his part, or we have peaked long ago but it was deemed good for morale for the Lazarus PM to announce it. The data does suggest we are on the decline, however. The poetry of Philip Larkin is helping me. The repetitive nature of all this means I sometimes forget what has happened during the week. I recall: On Sunday, a damp and sullen and lonely walk to pick up a roast dinner for N and me. The air had that mildly hot and wet sweaty feel you always get immediately before or after intense rainfall. And then the weekdays just blend into one long day that is punctuated by inconsistent sleep and the odd burst of energy. This increases mental fatigue and the sense of helplessness. Work seems to fluctuate and depends entirely upon my mood. I recently started writing detailed lists of every single task, including trivial ones, and ticking them off as I complete them. An exit strategy is due next week. I would expect schools and some shops to steadily reopen. I remain of the opinion that the lockdown measures are overly draconian and unnecessary. For instance: Why can it not simply be that the elderly and the vulnerable self-isolate? Why must all shops close, instead of staying open but enforcing strict distancing and hygiene rules? I am convinced Sweden has this right. Unfortunately the only public voices stating these views are more eastward on the political spectrum. Right-wing in other words. It is obvious why. They would rather the State were as miniscule as possible. I don’t share those sentiments and yet I cannot help but be troubled by the powers enacted and by the massive reach now in the hands of the police, whom I have never liked. We still clap weekly for the NHS. I am concerned by this perception of the NHS in our culture. It is not only beatified but also is almost viewed as a charity. Hence the 32 million - currently - raised by Colonel Moore, a WW2 veteran. I view charity as both a cause and symptom of the widening gap between the rich and the poor. It is difficult articulating this because when one begins a sentence disliking charity, the immediate reaction is outrage - usually high-pitched exclamations - at one’s apparent snobbery. The audience is too occupied with being insulted than to listen to the subsequent case being made. I watched the National Theatre’s Frankenstein last night. I will reread the novel. To think she was 18 when she first conceived of this story. Even thinking about it makes me uncomfortable and doubtful about everything. The Modern Prometheus. Greek legend mashed up with 19th Century Britain, Switzerland and Italy. How Samuel Pepys did this for 9 years I shall never know. Then again he did have a more interesting life than me. I also don’t wish to see London as ashes for literary purposes. Pepys also did write about the banal daily activities though. And due to that, we can see what mid-17th Century London life was for an above-average person. He simply wrote and documented what he saw and experienced. I wonder if Orwell liked Pepys. I will find out. I suppose the difficulty is deciding how much detail to put in. Do I need to say what the NHS is? Do I need to expand upon the structure of our government. I am never sure how much I ought to say. This could all happen again soon and I will need another diary and a new, refined, wiser perspective. I did read somewhere that this disease is a prelude, an introduction, to a more vicious virus that will arrive within the next year or so. I have not thought of it much recently however sometimes Religion infiltrates my mind. I become more and more convinced of its total falsehood. This is a somewhat incoherent and fragmented entry. But I am finding this whole experience incoherent and fragmented.
6th May I now exercise a lot more. Almost daily. My daily exercise was previously weekly. This partly to get myself back into good shape but also because there isn’t much else to do. I remain of the view that the lockdown is an absurd overreaction. And the poorest will be hit the worst, as they always are. Why must the entire planet, let alone our country, totally shut down in order to contain a fairly non-lethal virus? The consequences of this lockdown will far surpass the virus that caused it. The virus will be a cakewalk in comparison, I predict. The Nightingale Hospital in London has many spare beds. This was good to read. I saw a comment on the BBC stating that not needing to use a parachute does not make a parachute a waste of money. An accurate analogy. I now find myself trying to listen for the faint noise of the tube or national train slowly stopping at a station nearby. When this began around 7 weeks ago, it would take some time before I experienced cabin fever. Now, I wake up and have it almost within the hour. This will become worse and worse. The paradox is I usually feel a little too lethargic to venture outside for a big walk. There is not much about America that I envy or respect. However they are not a supine, sleepy tedious political entity like the Brits. This is not an alignment with equipping oneself with a gun and marching to a town centre. I am in admiration of its spirit however. The British tendency is to politely but begrudgingly accept orders. If they are to be rebelled against then a strong letter, Tweet or Youtube video will suffice. And so it goes. I have always regarded the British - my people - as politically lazy. Full of hubris, followed by shock and outrage when elected politicians display these very attributes. I believe we need a better electorate. Ideally we could vote on this. There is still hysteria. Scientists in a lab - I think Arizona - have seen some mutations in the virus. This has predictably been reported using near-apocalyptic diction. Viruses mutate, they nearly always do. The issue here is mental health. The constant hyperbole of anything negative. I imagine some now do not check news stories. There is something to be said for self-fulfilling prophecies. There is a tautological smell to this that disturbs me. That incessant fear and paranoia will only mean that the lockdown becomes self-regulated. We will no longer require the Executive to moderate our behaviour, as we will do it voluntarily. Though I dislike the comparisons to war and especially the Blitz, I am now curious to discover whether similar propaganda and paranoia flourished during this time. I have no doubt that the Blitz Spirit is a complete myth. It is obviously easier to control a population if you hype up an outside threat. I do not believe there is any malice, caprice or tyrannical ambition behind any of the government’s policies as it happens. Boris Johnson is probably one of the most liberal Conservatives to have ever existed. I do maintain that the State response is still extraordinarily disproportionate. There is much introspection but this is then polluted by the perennial corporate requirement to appear successful. I suspect some of the hysteria is due to the near ubiquity of short-termism amongst people, especially ‘the young’. We all expect things to be rapidly restored. The idea of an 18 month wait for a vaccine is admittedly worrying. I have discovered that my life totally and utterly needs music. Pink Floyd, PJ Harvey, Fiona Apple, The Strokes and more recently the Who deserve their own 8pm nationwide clap. This is difficult. I know full well there are people in much more dire situations than me. But this is difficult.
8th May The fact that the prospect of making a rhubarb crumble produces a feeling of genuine excitement, is all the evidence I need that the lockdown has truly devastated my social life and dented my ambition. This is hyperbole of course. Yet I still get a dual sense of accomplishment and shame about the above. This Sunday (10th May) our PM is expected to introduce some incremental relaxing of some of the lockdown measures. I do not anticipate it to be anything more than an increase in current allowances. I often think, in a big cloud of ambiguity, about whether our government is doing well or not: There have been countless comparisons with other countries. I am sceptical as to how useful this is. Stockholm doesn’t have the pop density of our Capital, however it isn’t far off. Yet Sweden does not have the measures in place that we do. I am unsure what data to believe, or rather accept. You can often use statistics to back up any argument you want. Our mainstream media - press especially - has behaved both irresponsibly and sycophantically. I did not think that these attributes were compatible until now. They ask the same dim questions, subsequently decorating the front pages with hysterical platitudes. The issue of contention would, I suppose, be the Imperial advice. There appear to be many scientists still convinced that the Herd Immunity strategy was the way to go. This was then derailed and thus lockdown happened. Who is to decide the ‘true’ science here, if not in retrospect? London looked like a painting this evening as I looked at it during dinner with N. It has been nearly 2 months since I have been to its centre. 2 months since I have marched off - I tend to march - a rammed cramped tube carriage into a rammed Bank station and into that vivacious city.
11th May 2020
My sleeping pattern has become inconsistent. The extended weekends, the odd day off here and there tend to make a lot of days indistinguishable from one another. Fortunately the hellish nocturnalism of my university days has equipped me with a resilience against totally ruining my sleep habits. If I only have 4 hours of sleep, I draw upon my Blitz Spirit and push on through the day. I often jump from one mental state to another. Some days I will utterly embrace Lockdown as a catalyst for individual pursuits. I have an even more obsessive relationship with music and reading. N and I are constantly broadening our dietary creations. And then some days I simply wait for the day to be done. That extends to simply waiting for the Lockdown to end. A sort of Grecian stoicism. Some Cornish cheese, and a bizarre apple liqueur, is in the post and soon to reach me. I am stupidly excited for this. Were my existence in its pre-pandemic state, this would not even trespass upon banal territory. It is now going to be the highlight of the week. I ordered it from a non-mainstream website, and thus the purchase feels morally rewarding. Our PM announced today a gentle relaxation of some measures. Essentially, I can now go for a run twice instead of once. This will have no impact upon my routine. Today for instance, I ventured outside 3 times, none of which were essential venturings. I subjectively regard picking up a delivery of shirts as essential however. I looked at Twitter - that orgy of self-importance and foamy-mouthed ideology - and was not surprised at the reporting. People who like our PM thought the message was clear, and vice versa. And so it goes. I read, I think in the Guardian, that our PM is a ‘hawk’ on lockdown. That is, the cabinet is divided between pro and anti lockdown. Hawk is obviously anti, I think ‘dove’ is pro. I follow the guidance on distancing yet I remain amused by its stringency. The single file walking for example. The virus’ ability to transmit airborne is virtually non-existent. I sometimes believe I live in some dystopian farce. Another duality of the mind exists. One is the need to put your life on ice. The other is the urge and desire to continue and to even flourish. It is also odd that in this age we face this. That despite our technological success and medical advances, the human race can still be silenced and crushed by a microscopic malady. That this thing, that the naked eye cannot see, can cause the entire planet to throw its economy, politics and culture into total paralysed chaos. A friend sent me a video of a lamp post announcing and reinforcing the rules at a London park. The Orwellian comparisons are evident. One I would make is that 1984 is about a State that enforces its law and order by way of convincing - with vicious propaganda - its citizens that they are in a constant state of war. It is the accidental, clumsy slide into a police state that most worries me. I shall not have it. A well-intentioned dictatorship is harder to argue against.
15th May 2020 Technically the 15th but really it is the 14th. My temper, and its fuse, is shortening each day. I do not mean that I am easily irritated, but I am very vocal about the various and infinite stupidities that are mainly Lockdown-based. N has displayed considerable patience in tolerating this. Despite the reports of apparent exoduses of people from their homes to the beaches, I have not seen any actual change in behaviour. I suspect these photos and stories are either exaggerated, distorted, or simply wholly fabricated. Our press has a rich history in all 3 practices. About 40% of people I see are wearing masks, however rudimentary the design. People still narrow their walk to pass by in single file. As disparaging as I am of my fellow Brits, I suspect 99.5% of them are deploying their fabled obedience to state authority. I am in something of a culinary agnosticism currently. Having achieved the rhubarb crumble, I am unsure how to seek further exultation. I feel I have peaked cuisine-wise. My playing of games consoles has increased and sadly this coincides with a decrease in reading. This perhaps explains why the quality of my writing has rapidly declined. Video games are more interactive, and therefore less lazy, than watching television. This consoles me. Work remains especially strange and is maybe the strangest part in all of this. It is the total almost Cartesian antithesis of presenting yourself as an eager, productive professional versus the stark reality. Video games have at least introduced me to more music. Namely late 80s early 90s hip hop. Slick Rick and Rakim are beginning to play an important cultural role in my confined state. I continually dip into Larkin. And also Percy Shelley - I suspect because he is probably the most imaginative in the literal sense, even supernatural of all the poets I have ever read. Presents a nice juxtaposition to being a hermit. Video games do introduce a sense of order and teleology that is currently lacking during these plague-ridden times. It is more than escapism. The games I play have a clear beginning and ending, with lots of drama, ambition, volition and moral dilemmas in the middle. This applicable to all the best games from sports to shoot’em ups. They also give the chance to be useful : you can take down a rival gang, win racing championships or defeat the evil Axis. I predict there will be papers on this matter in the future. Yes, I am still anti-lockdown. Yes I still think the consequences of Lockdown will be worse than the disease. I saw a Tweet asking a question to pro-Lockdown people. If a vaccine is never found - which is perfectly imaginable - when, if ever, do we end lockdown? I have not yet seen a satisfactory answer to this. This will ultimately have to end at some point. Canary Wharf and the City now resemble some anonymous rural town. I see tube trains less and less frequently. There is an atmosphere of both resignation and stoicism. Weirdly I am in great physical shape. Home exercise has the advantage of not having other people involved. And given my rampant misanthropy this domesticity has proven useful. I went without drinking for 2 nights in a row for the first time since this all kicked off. A 3rd night proved insurmountable.
My clandestine attempt at a contraband haircut has been sadly stifled. I received the cancellation notification this morning. Thus, my globe is now furnished with a hedge of hair now dangerously close to being described as curly. I had this hair when I was a teenager because I thought I looked like a member of The Strokes; later, I grew it again at university out of fiscal necessity. Since then, I do not allow my hair to expand beyond 6 weeks, 7 if extenuating circumstances occur. It has been nearly 4 months since my last.
The weather has improved somewhat. I have observed more people strolling, and more people near our flat sunbathing in the communal area, talking and exercising.
A few days ago we walked past a birthday gathering held in said communal garden. It pleased us both to see it.
I felt like I was walking by an exhibit in a museum, the gathering that is. It looked so alien. And then I felt uncomfortable because it felt alien. And then discomforted further by that discomfort. I think technically they broke Lockdown.
My leisure is packed with pre-plague-nostalgia. I recently bought a video game I completed over a decade ago. I enjoyed playing it more than the more recent, flashy, modern version. I have even voluntarily watched Friends, which is a comedy that peaks around 10-15% into its 10 seasons.
In the early seasons - I would say up to season 5 - Friends is a nuanced, clever and interesting comedy with lots of different comedic devices being deployed. If one watches the later ones, especially season 8 onwards, Friends has essentially become one of those tiresome Yank comedies where the entire 25 minute episode is snappy comeback after snappy comeback, and then a bit of sentiment thrown in here and there. It becomes stupid in other words.
The virus in London is more or less dead. The much discussed R rate is 0.4. This means it would take 3 infected people (or 2.5) to infect 1 person. Or I suppose 2.5/3 repeated interactions with the same potential infectee. Anyway this is encouraging and frustrating.
Unless people want 0 infections in London - which would be impossible in my view - then I think London should, to borrow from Trump, be reopened.
The more I read about our former colony, the more convinced I am that Trump will be re-elected.
I experience severe anxiety when I combine my drinks. This historically was not a problem. It must be Lockdown-related. Especially when I drink whisky, straight, after going through a number of lagers or a bottle of red. I wake up feeling paranoid and confused. I often do not know what time it is, nor what day it is, nor whether or not I have work that day. I then try to fake sanity when talking to colleagues during the day. Being a naturally heavy drinker, I have increased my consumption during this plague.
N and I watched a video of an old Christopher Hitchens debate. I wept like I had lost a family member when Hitchens passed. The planet badly misses him.
I think of Hitchens often. Mainly whenever I see someone bending evidence or information so that it clumsily fits into their worldview or ideology. It is the supreme mental laziness of people that most angers me I think.
It is just past 1am so this feels more like the 20th.
I think I will reread 1984.It is often debated alongside Brave New World in terms of prescience and accuracy. BNW is obviously more so with its ultra-consumerist warning - the reliance on Soma etc. The commercialisation of mental health. 1984 has become more relevant here though, because of its story about a State that can compel - regulate, even - its citizenry to modify their behaviours based upon a perceived external threat.
Anyway. As I have previously written, I do not believe our government desires a police state. The British tradition of liberty - back to Locke - may see us through. And our PM is a literary man despite his infinite vices.
Politically this whole scene is a little chaotic. Most anti-Lockdown people (me) are of the political Right (not me). And most pro-Lockdown people (not me) are of the political Left (usually me). It makes sense. The Lockdown is - in theory - designed, broadly, to protect the vulnerable in our country: that, broadly, is what the Left stands for, or at least ought to. This means that a lot of our PM’s supporters on the Right have problems with the strictness of this Lockdown because it gives the State an unreasonable amount of power over its subjects, a big worry for the Right. I think the Lockdown both harms the most vulnerable and is also an overreach of State power. I am therefore some sort of Schrodinger’s Cat aligned with both Left and Right simultaneously whilst also not aligned to anyone at all. I prefer the latter. I dislike groupthink.
It is likely nearer to 60% of people wearing masks now. I refuse to partake. The medical advice is not clear. I would also like to know how asthma-sufferers are supposed to deal with wearing a damned face mask restricting their breathing even further.
I have suggested a Family Quiz and everyone has consented. I feel oddly proud of this. I think it is because I can often be very lazy and passive with my family.
We also did a pleasant video call with my mother and her partner. He has grown a splendid beard. I resent him for this.
The monotony of Lockdown has truly set in. I now struggle to write anything remotely interesting. I refuse to fabricate things however.
I have not listened to any new music, nor read any new poems or essays, and nor have I embarked upon any new culinary voyage.
I feel strangely grateful to Dominic Cummings. For he has, seemingly unknowingly, demonstrated how laughably draconian his own Prime Minister’s Lockdown measures are. That a parent can be chased by journalists, be shouted at by neighbours, and have to speak to police, because they decided to make a long car journey to best take care of their young child.
Kudos to Cummings for rebelling against his own Lockdown, I say. He had clearly had enough.
I am, and will always be, pro-EU. I regard Brexit as nostalgic folly, at best. And not voting Conservative last December was one of the easier decisions in my youngish life. And yet I cannot watch this hounding of Cummings without feeling physically anxious. This is stocks and pillory stuff.
I became angry at the coverage also because it ignores other developments: infection rates are down, especially in London; death rates are continually declining; also, no Second Wave has thus far hit anywhere else where the Lockdowns have been eased. I, perhaps controversially, regard this as of greater significance than an ill-timed trip up North.
I was requested to pay an urgent visit to the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. I shall not divulge too much on the nature of my malady, suffice to say I was in excruciating pain to the point of being unable to sleep or even sit down. For a moment I thought the virus had mutated and I was Patient Zero for Covid-20. I had a very ad hoc and rushed Covid assessment at the hospital and was then seen by a doctor - the very same doc who had in fact called me earlier that day - who, with amazing lucidity and humour, treated and diagnosed me. There were more civvies about this time. I found this more encouraging than worrying.
I am on some short-term strong medication. I would expect to recover within 4 days especially if I stay away from certain types of drinks, which will be a major test of my resolve.
We headed to Canary Wharf a couple of mornings prior. The consequences of Lockdown have caricatured the Wharf’s tendency to sometimes look like a clinical, metallic 22nd Century metropolis. There were markers - with instructions - every 2 metres lest the virus spread and ravage us all. All doors were open to stop the virus from latching onto the metal handles. Ironically there were no almost no people around to which these guidelines would even apply.
We bought coffee from Pret a Manger. The slightly acidic, almost smoky, essence of the boiling tar-like drink made me immediately think of walking casually around the City.
Many things do this to me. Coffee. Watching trains from my balcony. I sometimes even reread the London passages in Eliot’s The Wasteland to conjure up detailed images of our Capital and in particular Bank, that throbbing and lively economic centre. Eliot wrote those lines clearly massively affected by - even though he did not fight - the Great War. Most of the Wasteland is about it either explicitly or implicitly. That morbid and surreal atmosphere, the feeling that nothing would ever be quite the same again. ‘Never such innocence again’ is how Larkin ends his own poem about WW1. Reading Eliot through Larkin glasses is probably the most useful domestic exercise you can do during all this.
2nd June 2020
The headlines have altered now. In the US currently, there is mass lockdown, curfew and military intervention synthesised with mass riots, protest and defiance. These antitheses have made coverage extraordinary to read and watch.
In many ways the US is an exceptional country: it is a secular republic, it has a – broadly-speaking – enviable and sensible written constitution and system of government, and they have a total fetish for individual freedom mixed with an, in theory, healthy scepticism of State interference. Yet it also possesses primitive tendencies that sometimes crawl out of its sewers: the obsession with guns, its ludicrous reverence and admiration for Religion, and lastly and most relevantly, its ongoing racial issues. They did after all have a civil war about this pretty recently in historical terms, then 100 years of Jim Crow.
I am pleased to report that my own illness has essentially gone. I am now able to get back to my fortnightly exercise.
Ventured into the Wharf again. I now simply enjoy the journey as an end unto itself, rather than a tedious necessity. I find I enjoy ostensibly trivial things like this about 5 times more than I would pre-plague.
I may commit heresy here. I do not wish to work from home either temporarily or permanently. I view the purpose of ‘home’ as the opposite of the purpose of ‘work’. I miss my office. And yet I seem to be in an extraordinarily tiny minority of people who think this way. There appears to have been a mass conversion to WFH. Or perhaps, its exponents are simply the loudest, which I suspect they are. Social Media addicts and devotees – the bulk, I would guess, of the pro-WFH cult- are constantly clogging up my account (which I only have for work) with WFH propaganda usually followed by a list of 10-15 ways of working from home that – to a non-lobotomised human– should be really jolly obvious but get universal praise as being revelatory in their advice. My misanthropy is at least flourishing.
I need the fluctuating cacophony that a vibrant office can bring you. I need the last-minute haphazard preparation prior to an important meeting. The asinine pleasure I get selecting my tie for the day. Working from home has none of this. It has no urgency, no rush, no excitement and no spontaneity.
Regarding Albion, then. Deaths and infections continue to fall. My City is gently approaching Corona-free status. We can meet in groups of up to 6. In Italy, there are reports that the virus does not clinically exist anymore and is losing its potency. As I think I wrote previously, viruses can simply burn out.
I helped my closest friend move some furniture across London to his new home. It required us to drive through the centre of London towards its hilly Northern areas. It was the first time I had been there since the middle of March.
London did not seem like a city on Lockdown. Yes, there were queues outside supermarkets and yes, masks decorated many faces. Aside from this, people were pleasantly strolling on a pleasant day. If I had been in hibernation the last few months, I would not have seen any real difference. There was an activity and vibrancy which I have spent weeks missing.
Larkin writes that the innocence lost during WWI happened ‘without a word’. I sometimes internally recite that last stanza and I have done it more frequently since this all kicked off. Then I just sit and think about it for a while and see if it fits what I am currently experiencing. I suppose it will not be obvious until several decades after this pandemic whether something gigantic changed in the collective consciousness. It may well be more nuanced than a global war. Regrettably I must leave these matters to posterity. Larkin did pen the above about half a century after the first shots were fired. The Great War was continually romanticised for a long time – even (in fact, especially) by those in the trenches - before an effort took place to properly and objectively evaluate the disaster. Anyway, I could write about this period of history for several thousand words. Point is, we may be undergoing a colossal transformation without knowing it.
That poem by Larkin begins with a looming unknown disaster. He compares the draft lines to football (and cricket I think) queues outside stadia. At least we do not have the sanguine ignorance of those hopeful soldiers. In some ways we had an opposite approach to the sentiment of Larkin’s poem – we have been, if anything, massively overly cautious in our behaviour and rules. I would perhaps apply those optimistic draft lines to ardent adherents and supporters of our Lockdown policy: they are totally unaware of the impending chaos and misery that will cut through their no doubt well-intentioned carefulness. I am laying it on thick here, but I think the argument is cogent.
I realise I may have subconsciously avoided music I normally listen to whilst I am commuting. For example, there are songs by Queens of the Stone Age, Kendrick Lamar, Radiohead and Oasis that I have not listened to since Lockdown. I would usually listen to said songs 2/3 times per day. And now, when I go through them, images and memories of packed trains, humid platforms and sometimes the smell of fish from Billingsgate market enter my bush-festooned head. Put on a song by Steely Dan, for instance, and I am at once transported into the sweaty depths of Bank station at 8-12am, with me, not really awake, wondering if my tie is affixed correctly and hurriedly shuffling off the train carriage, thinking about whether I have enough minutes – as I march past people who have the temerity to walk slowly - to grab an excessively strong coffee before my morning meeting in 18 minutes time. The office is about a 6-minute walk from Bank. 8-9 minutes if the station is crammed with people. The timing and importance of my morning journey is wholly contingent upon my ability to get a coffee before stuff happens at work.
I attempt to be as honest as possible when I write in my journal. Christopher Hitchens – via Nadine Gordimer – often spoke of the importance of writing posthumously: essentially, write as if you do not need to be held accountable to public opinion, to trends, to commerce and so on.
I think a lot of people are finding all this extremely difficult. This is stifled by the absurd British requirement to show a steely reticence when confronted with sadness or hardship. This is where the Blitz nonsense gets brought up again and again. Yes, we are not bombed daily but this does not mean we are in a good position. This seems totally lost on many.
Anyway. I try not to get into theoretical debates with people who do not understand history. I become irritated with the lack of intellectual effort. This misanthropy is one reason I could not be a politician.
8th/9th June 2020
It is likely – 99.5% probability – that the author will be furloughed.
Last Friday I received a call from The Boss. Early in said call allusions were made to senior talks, whereupon I immediately deduced that your humble servant was possibly in the we-may-furlough-you-but-maybe-not-but-probably-yes purgatory. It was a strange Mexican stand-off of a conversation. I could not proclaim the relative relief I felt potentially being furloughed and they could not state the absolute commercial and financial necessity of doing it. Anyway, it was presented as a choice for me in the lightest fakest possible way. I think I am ok with it. The paradox of WFH is that – in contrast to my inconsistent office activity – it has made me genuinely want to be genuinely occupied with genuine work.
We remain in Lockdown aside from mass protests. This whole experience is surreal. Pub gardens cannot open, funerals cannot be attended (or couldn’t be), and there is the completely arbitrary 6-person rule. But thousands of people huddled together is fine. I personally vote for all the above to be permitted. Evidently a lot of people have weighed up the risk of living as if one is a free human being versus the danger of contracting a virus with an extremely low mortality rate.
I saw Churchill’s statue was defaced accusing him of being a racist. He possibly was. He also remains the essential statesmen of that era and the main moral lead against actual fascism.
WC was a complex character, emphasis on character perhaps given his tendency towards solipsism (History will be kind to me for I intend to write it, I am an English-Speaking Union, whether my Maker is ready to meet me and so on and so forth). He was – and in context this is a surprising moral achievement compared to other prime movers – against the Third Reich from the off, recognised Hitler’s Napoleonic/Caesarish ambition, and saw it could not co-exist alongside a democracy like the UK; he saw appeasement as the suicidal policy that it so obviously was (in retrospect that is, which makes it even more impressive.)
His iniquities are clear and well-documented though. The Gold Standard. The colossal military disaster at Gallipoli. His obscene and odious views on both India and its inhabitants. I do not subscribe to the Churchill Myth, nor to its surrounding hagiography with its chief champion currently residing at 10 Downing Street, nor to this primitive habit of deifying past figures. I still do not think scrawling a platitude on his statue is the way to go, and I suspect its dramatists knew and know this.
As for the protests I have little to say. I am interested to know if the Protests will be framed within the setting of the Pandemic, or whether the Pandemic will be contained within the story of the Protests.
Social Media is such a bloody bubble. When I kept up with it as an observer not participant (Twitter, mainly) back in Autumn last year, I was utterly convinced we were about to see some sort of Atlee Victory 2 over the most Hard Right Tory cabinet in history. This is what happens when you just bounce your own views off a wall. It also follows axiomatically that anybody challenging this safehouse must be dangerous, threatening, perhaps bigoted (Right or Left). I have long found it frustrating that Mr B. Johnson is seen, in many circles leftwards, as this extreme massive Tory who makes Thatcher look like Trotsky, when he really ain’t. I find that Social Media types tend to route out the shameful facets of people – a daft sentence in an old article, an ill-timed photo with a meat-based bap, a substance injected when in their younger more vulnerable years – dig them up, broaden them and then make them mainstream and thus representative of the person holistically.
A contact of mine advised me that the gigantic HSBC building in the Wharf is, despite my observations, essentially empty apart from one floor. Any lights displayed on the monolith (and there are many) are purely incidental or accidental/the cleaners cleaning/a horrific waste of money from a bank associated with money laundering. This has dampened my evening visuals. It means the supposed ostensible life I saw in that building is totally artificial and a mirage. I am surprised at how much this saddens me when I think about it.
I am reading (and re) a lot of David Foster Wallace right now. It is impossible to overdo cheerleading DFW for how to write and how to tell a story: he has many other literary virtues, but I would risk an extraordinarily large tangent here. His essay on pornography and specifically the traumatic and greasy and hilarious attendance at an annual porn awards ceremony (or perhaps THE not ‘an’, as ‘an’ suggests a frequency and variety of porn award ceremonies that I suspect is not the case due to, if nothing else, some mighty scheduling conflicts), is the best non-fiction composition I have ever read. DFW also has the golden duo trait of being stupidly intelligent and interesting whilst also being mind-numbingly self-effacing and modest. His essays read like a loquacious version of Orwell at times.
It is the hope of the author that this pandemic will shift a lot of people (voters) Left. Or, that they will see the necessity of government intervention into public health and economic management (and the safety net implied by that). It is a chance for the Left to ditch the nonsensical identity politics and make principled cases for the above. The reverse of this could easily happen of course which is why I say hope.
This is my worst entry by far in terms of any coherence or actual points or language. I think I am better when enraged by something. I am more bored than angry.
12th June 2020
Being furloughed – especially the actual point, ie the femtosecond you are told – is an odd and unique experience. You get (or I got) a feeling of relief, disappointment, delight, then melancholy, clarity, some anxiety that turns to hope, then determination and then a general ambivalent meh-ness about the whole thing. All these moods occur within around 4-5 seconds.
If intense ennui is the worst outcome of my own pandemic period, then I can count myself fortunate. I read articles about millions of Brits struggling with both insomnia and oversleeping.
Covid now competes for headlines with global protests and riots. In Blighty, it is now a matter of national significance whether we should have statues of slave traders and general bad eggs like Cecil Rhodes.
People who line up to defend these statues remind me a little bit of those apes you get whose sole annual assertion of the existence of International Men’s Day only takes place on the day that is dedicated to women. In other words, they aren’t really sure what they are opposing or what they are arguing for when they defend the slave trader statues or loudly mention the IMD, but it seems intuitively fine and the statue-removers/feminists are probably nefarious in their aims.
This is not to say I am a card-carrying member of the Statue Toppling Into Rivers Association. I simply think the other side who want to keep them propose fantastically dim arguments. They say for instance that it erases history: how taking down a statue equals (or leads to) the censoring or suppression of historical study is yet to be shown to me. I would also be willing to gamble the entirety of my living cells and soul that the people wishing to keep them spend at least 15 minutes a day in a nostalgic reverie about our former Empire.
I do think there is a prominent anachronistic collective mindset in the UK about the Empire, and about the 2 Wars. Compare us to the 2 main losers of the second War – Germany and Japan, and see what modern, liberal, rich (in every sense) countries they have become. We seem content to lounge around and dine out on former glories that are way past their sell-by-date; a lot of this rhetoric came to the foreground during the Brexit campaign and has stayed there under the floorboards ever since.
I managed to get into my old Twitter account (about 5-6 years old I think) and delete it. That website is completely bonkers. I become more and more convinced that Social Media (SM hereafter) will annihilate us all.
Twitter is the political equivalent of a Bruegel painting that has been remastered and interpreted by an inebriated having-a-bad-day Jackson Pollock. An intergalactic-scale amount of incoherent, confused and thoughtless behaviour that would not take place if not on an internet domain. Who for example, walks casually down a street fiercely proclaiming their – usually ill-informed – views on a salad of topics sans being asked to do so, with the maximum of certainty and vulgarity, and with repetition thrown in too? I suspect such a person would be politely discouraged, and perhaps asked to whom they are addressing their saliva-covered remarks. Yet this is what millions of people do on SM every single day and often numerous times every single day. SM has not enhanced anything politically, culturally or socially: it defames and dilutes it.
N’s birthday yesterday. I had planned a surprise breakfast, but this was torpedoed by an earlier-stated dietary preference that caused a great mental collapse in the author. Thus, a fresh box of doughnuts – varied to the point that I struggled to even know what I was choosing when tapping the order – was spontaneously presented to her. This was then followed by a succession of gifts, treats and cards many of which were a pleasant surprise even to me. The face of shock and elation topped off with the eyes glistening when I presented the ad hoc breakfast-cum-snack will stay with me for many years.
For the first time in around 3 months/100 days, I arose with a sense of proper urgency and purpose. It was the author’s mother’s birthday last week, and we were to courageously make the arduous voyage out to rural Essex. Maldon specifically, a town notorious for its formidable and enviable salt-based economy.
The Lewis and Clark-like journey involved a switchover at Stratford, a place I have long wished to see totally extirpated. Then, a 30-minute journey out of my beloved city and into the heart of Essex territory. Chelmsford to be exact.
Chelmsford is essentially the acceptable face of Essex-ism. Popular because it is commutable to London without being too close to Londinium fumes and vices. Hence, a lot of youngish families reside there. Its economic and commercial hub is also spread out despite having an official high-street, which in itself is broken up mainly due to the 2 rivers – Chelmer and Can – cutting through the centre. This makes it physically tricky for the sort of high-street youth colonisation seen in my childhood at Southend-on-Sea, the HS of which is just one long strip. C’ford also has a number of peripheral suburban mini-towns (but not quite villages) with expensive housing combined with Ye Olde pubs. It is a safe Tory seat.
It is also usually full to the brim of people doing all sorts of things. Whilst there on another changeover however, I suspect we saw no more than 20 people or so: it would normally be around 5 times this. Notable sights included but were not limited to: a pair of smiling strolling cops, a teenage girl with a banner whose use was likely for a protest, and an old woman sans shoes silently walking to seemingly every bus stop in the city. The latter was disturbingly hypnotic.
My inference from the above experience is that normality is a bit nearer in London than elsewhere, taking Chelmsford as a microcosm for the rest of the UK, which I think reasonable and logical particularly as it seems London peaked way before non-London places. I am also fully aware that I am positing said theory on approximately 55 million people based upon a 20-minute detour into literally one other place in the UK which isn’t London. I still think I'm correct.
What followed was an uncharacteristically short bus journey. I say this in both absolute and relative terms. Relative: the journey pre-pandemic is about 40 minutes, whereas it took 20 this time. I say absolute because I regard all bus journeys as criminally long due to the sheer frequency of stops, viz. my experience in Peckham with its insane number of bus stops cramped together on a high-street probably no longer than half a klick in distance.
I have booked another haircut, this time in Essex. It is timed so that, should my original appointment in London be cut or postponed, I can attend my Essex trim; or that, if my London shearing does go ahead, I am still within regulation time to cancel my Essex app. I am pathetically proud of my arranging all this.
I am optimistic that the 2 metre rule will be altered, hopefully halved. There is no evidence of a Second Wave - despite misleading (obviously) headlines about Germany’s R value etc.- in any country easing Lockdown or reducing social distancing. I often think some people – namely certain morning television hosts – secretly pine for a SW in order to be vindicated. There is also a degree of credibility to the theory that Spring was the SW which we wrongly believed was the First Wave: many reported what we now know to be symptoms back-end of last year. This seems plausible to me.
Many shops have reopened, but not all, with strict hygiene measures in place. Could this not have been done 3 months ago? Why does the label of “essential” matter more than “safety”? Why indeed this fetish for what is 'essential'? Why couldn't a non-essential shop not simply open with the current safety measures in place? I have not yet seen a cogent or logical answer or counter to this point.
I have been on furlough for just over one week. I am beginning to miss even the banal routine of a morning team call and some of the corporate propaganda that gets sent around. I think I miss the rage I feel when reading it. Furlough increases that sense of isolation: you are now cut off from your occupation as well as most of actual life. And despite my insatiable and eternal dislike of humankind, I would often be the first, or perhaps second, to suggest an evening pint upon leaving the office in the City.
Eliot is great for this:
‘And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea.’
This is the Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock. I remember disagreeing with a tutor during my university days about the nature of this poem: I saw it as a tragedy, and he saw it as comedy. Upon reflection they are the same thing and our difference of views was more or less a semantic preference: the best comedy is doused with tragedy and vice versa.
Anyway. I feel like Prufrock in the above passage. I think others may do too. Lockdown and especially furlough give you the unique opportunity to procrastinate – and then revise as Eliot says, and have various visions too about your day, how you will seize it etc etc. - about a thousand major and minor things before you have even begun to think about breakfast.
I used to be obsessed with that poem. Everybody ought to read it now. Yes, J Alfred is a middle-aged sex-deprived balding bloke. If not taken too literally though, the poem provides a lot of consolation and perhaps some unpleasant truisms you may have tried to ignore in your own life. His crippling self-awareness about his physical appearance latched onto my being several years ago.
Reality is partly on ice and partly completely normal. This is mentally puzzling to compute. Canary Wharf was as busy as it normally is but it was also dominated by draconian rules namely which direction to walk in so that SD can be adhered to. We looked through a shop window which necessitated crossing the mall floor which was split two-ways like a road to encourage one-way traffic. We were then reprimanded by security upon turning back to continue our saunter, for disobeying the one-way system. Were we supposed to do a 2-hour circumnavigation of the entirety of the Wharf’s labyrinthine plaza in order to briefly look through the glass pane of a well-known jeans store, only to then do an about-face for a further 2 hours in order to return to our original destination, which would have been about 4 metres across from said store?
Domestic football has returned and I am surprised to feel somewhat indifferent about it. Boxing and UFC have fully entrenched themselves as my favourite sports.
I put a match on the television primarily to restore and replicate some kind of normality and pre-plague ambience, for which I hope N was grateful.
The absence of fans – and therefore atmosphere – has made the games look like a training session where money is on the table. Competitive but not that competitive. It also makes the ludicrously lucrative Premier League look visually and financially identical to a game in the first division of the Belarusian league, which I have actually begun to follow.
UFC has been a lot more enriching to watch. For one, with no fans, you hear the crack of fist-against-skull along with the odd gasp and pant from the combatants when grappling or even sometimes throwing a strike. It totally amplifies the brutal nature of the spectacle. I often wonder if either fighter changes strategy on hearing some disapproving remark from one of the commentators – who are usually emphatic in tone and volume -yelling vaguely in their direction.
The main challenge is to distinguish between days. Or maybe I ought not to do that. Maybe the Pandemic is a chance to repudiate the archaic view that one must structure one’s week by weekdays and weekends, and then sub-structure the days therein. I think avoiding boredom will be my primary objective, but then that is always my primary objective.
I am contemplating taking the day off to watch the US election this November. J. Biden is now thankfully a very narrow favourite. Yet I still think D. Trump might annihilate him in the debates. Biden’s possible lack of cognitive acuity worries me and Trump is an exceptionally gifted demagogue; his jail barb to H. Clinton was probably the most (in)famous line in their horrendous trilogy. Then again, is there any proper data or evidence about people deciding their votes based upon, or influenced by, the Debates? Maybe JFK v Nixon but that’s about it.
Main concern is that a lot of the less wealthy Trump voters might have voted for Bernie S : I am less convinced they will switch sides for Joe.
I view having a GSOH as being a key requirement for being a politician. B. Johnson has one, J. Corbyn less so. Barack Obama had a fantastically varied and ironic sense of humour. Donald Trump does not. He cannot laugh at himself. He makes GW Bush look like Oscar Wilde. I become immediately highly suspicious of anybody who cannot joke about themselves.
Saying all this, you can’t tell Trump not to have a rally in Tulsa because of Covid and then support protests in spite of Covid. This is simply not a tenable position. Devotion to ideology wrecks critical thinking.
All this makes me miss Christopher Hitchens again. It makes me also want to fill the galaxy-sized void he left, though I guess that would miss the point of being an independent voice.
An all-time favourite aphorism of mine is from Samuel (Dr) Johnson : ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’ This is not hyperbole.
Monday. Intoxicated with the above spirit N and I decided to walk the 3 miles into the City, as far as Leadenhall Market. Go to LM on any normal weekday and from around 4pm onwards you are guaranteed to see a score - minimum - of Insurance Grey Suit Blokes alongside their glammed up Heel-affixed Juniors and overly eager and ballsy Essex Boy Pinstripe Suits loudly chatting over a mainstream beer and crinkle crisps and about a 1000 cigarettes.
One reason I view London as a close friend is its endless surprises: we wandered along an obscenely pleasant cobbled street in Stepney Green which we totally accidentally happened upon. I saw bright flowers, compact and delicate balconies protruding from neatly terraced angular symmetrical homes. A tiny gated grassy area ran adjacently. Just a couple of minutes later, we were in the middle of Whitechapel with its cornucopia of noises and activity. It was the closest to pre-plague atmosphere that I had witnessed. It meant I was both simultaneously close to retching due to the dearth of Whitechapel hygiene, whilst also feeling somewhat enraptured at seeing people not seemingly living in fear.
Speaking of things that make me vomit, I would like to see people imprisoned and then electrocuted for using the following lexical inventions and/or phrases: unprecedented times, difficult situation, difficult times, new normal/new normality, we will see a Second Wave if we relax Lockdown, what about Spanish Flu/Influenza/1918, what will the new/post-Covid office look like, reckless behaviour, non-essential, 50 (number varies hence hyperbole for comedic effect) tips for working from home, 100 (see prior) things to do during Lockdown.
I expect the above list will be expanded. Anyway. I felt rejuvenated after the City hike.
Tuesday and Wednesday. Both of these passed by in that Lockdown style. I doubt I am alone here, though perhaps this is wishful thinking on my part. You get up later than you intended to. You then spend about 30 minutes in silent fury and self-hatred at your own lethargy. Suddenly it is 5pm and you genuinely become confused and disturbed by the apparent absence of the previous 8-9 hours. I have often been in this mental state. This then makes me sincerely forget which day of the week it is. These lazy and somewhat nihilistic days are a frequent feature of my Lockdown experience. I then become anxious at the terrifying idea that it is only me that is going through this : that 1 to 2 days feel like 2-3 hours, and that they exist in a vacuum, and that everybody else apart from me is being super-humanly productive.
If I still smoked I would be inhaling at least 40 a day. I speculated on cigarette consumption with N.
Theory being this : people do not simply smoke because of - or to relieve - stress, anxiety or just the addiction: they also smoke due to boredom. I would often smoke my way through a dull day in order to combat ennui. Conclusion here is obvious : I would submit that fag consumption amongst adherents (current not new, I would be surprised if people have taken it up as a hobby) has increased by 30-50%.
Thursday was London again. And perhaps the best day I have had since our Prime Minister put us all under house arrest.
It began with the Thames Clipper from Canary Wharf to Embankment. It was -unbelievably given my adoration for London - the first time I had been on the Clipper. Despite having to wear a mask (which I took off regularly) the experience was as good as anticipated. My head was primarily filled with imagined images of what the Thames would have looked like 200-300 hundred years ago, ie when the UK was at its absolute peak in terms of naval power, therefore likely full to the brim of warships, old clippers and frigates. I enjoyed the strange juxtaposition of modern tech and old maritime necessities : I boarded easily with a quick tap of my bank card and yet later I watched - in awe and with mild amusement - at the staff using a thick rope to literally lasso the boat in order to dock at the next stop.
After a walk around Covent Garden, we crossed South via Westminster Bridge and - to the author’s delight - discovered a large number of people spread out along the riverbank with plastic pint cups filled with what looked like a heavenly libation.
With groups orbiting us, and with everyone in good spirits and good spirits in everyone, we sat on a bench by the Thames and talked over a pint for the first time in over 3 months. I estimated there were approx 40-70 people nearby all drinking. In what I assume was a tribute to British Pub Culture, a lass clad in what I think was gym gear despite her obvious non-membership, drunkenly attempted to converse with us in that uniquely fragmented, slurred, staccato way that one does when pissed. It was a sight to see that ubiquitous situation of one member of a group being astronomically more drunk than the remainder of the posse. It was probably the most touching scene the author has seen in several months.
Shamefully I engaged in exactly the same decadence though on my own. I drank the rest of my whisky and was relieved to find that I woke the next day with none of the crippling anxiety I usually get when mixing alcohol.
Friday. An Aristotelian medium of inactivity and productivity. N and I travelled to the Wharf with its mall drones still enforcing the hilariously impractical one-way system of walking. I bought a couple of novels.
On these various journeys I think about 80% of people wore masks. My own mask - a stylish black number - was laughably tight around my oversized head, thus I removed it after around 5 seconds. I remain unsure on the regulations around this, and around the actual effectiveness of said masks.
I had a video-call with colleagues. It was predictable but nourishing. I felt almost emotional on being invited. The author’s severely hungover state was brutally referred to by a couple of colleagues, namely due to my inability to form coherent and cogent sentences without an elongated errrrm or pause.
I am listening to Philip Glass a lot. Steve Reich is also good. Minimal music is a fascinating genre. The music has an empty amoral tone that sometimes switches to a feeling of complete exaltation. Forgetting by P. Glass is the best example of this. I think perhaps I like it because it has this unpredictable pendulum of a soft melancholy and emotive intensity that I continually experience during this Lockdown.
The last week has been a blur. This is not due to intense and profuse activity: quite the opposite. The vacuum days about which I have previously written have morphed and expanded into a grotesque nihilistic 7 days. I reflected on what I actually got done since my last missive. I began and finished a pretty fine dystopian novel. And I created a lemon sorbet from scratch.
Much of the week was spent in stoic and static anticipation. The tyrannical, OTT Lockdown was to be further relaxed on the 4th July with the more intimate stuff like pubs and hairdressers being able to open with strict measures in place. I have 3 haircuts booked, the latter 2 of which will obviously be cancelled should my original cut go ahead as planned. The author now resembles Richard Ashcroft during his prime days with the Verve in the mid-90s. I say ‘prime’ generously given what I imagine is an ocean - allegedly - of substances inhaled and injected by RA during the peak Verve years.
We hosted N’s parents for a roast dinner. It went extremely well, 95% of this was due to N. The author did his absolute best to not be a waste of oxygen : drink? Lemme get that - with the valiant 1 metre journey to the fridge; opening and closing windows to ensure optimal ventilation and temperature; and considerately carrying a previously food-covered plate back to the kitchen. These were the ways in which I pathetically attempted to be useful, whilst N cooked up a meal the presentation, taste and care of which were Michelin-esque.
I often - 6 of 7 days - write a list of tasks the night before said duties are due completion. I am currently scrolling back through the pages to see the colossal lack of progress. I normally tick off a minimum of 80% of these jobs, which can be a grand as ‘finish X novel’ and as trivial as ‘shave face’: if one adds minor chores to the inventory it makes it a lot longer, therefore making the author feel more enriched should more ticks be decorating the page. Ostensible self-validation is key during this pandemic. This past 7 days I have likely ticked off around 30-35% of my daily occupations. I frequently annotate the page scribbling things like ‘good day’ or ‘great’. This week’s examples include: meh, average and simply ‘no’ to describe my fruitless days.
This is probably why I arbitrarily decided to make a lemon sorbet ex nihilo. I read around 5 or 6 recipes online all of which were fundamentally contradictory; there seems to be a lot of controversy in the sorbet industry and culture about sugar/flavouring ratios, with some people commenting - with genuine fury and incredulity - on the insanity of having more ml of sugar versus quantity of lemon juice, as this would essentially just be a massive glucose iceberg. This is a little like an article G. Orwell penned about tea : having sugar in tea means you might as well just have sugar with boiling water and forgo the pretence of adding milk and a teabag. I was pleased to see these pro/anti sweetness disputations have continued on in different forms.
Anyway I did what I imagine actual chefs do which is to logically wing it whilst deploying the sensory ‘experimental’ approach. Ultimately it tasted good. I was prouder of this than my rhubarb crumble mainly due to my having to think independently. All RC recipes are basically indistinguishable and prescriptive with the rare quirk or variation, viz. Mr J.Oliver’s revolutionary addition of a vanilla pod. There isn’t much thought needed.
Thing is I ought to be excited. Pubs reopened this weekend. N and I attended our local on resurrection day. The chap who I think co-runs/owns the place with his father - paternal and proprietary theory based solely upon their identical haircuts and mannerisms - came over and chatted with us due to him recognising the author. This, along with the fact that we objectively clearly had the best seat in the venue (think if Graham Norton had been the set designer on Game of Thrones and you get a decent idea of the get-up), made me feel a bit like a king/mob boss/general overlord/all 3.
We dined on a couple of American dishes, it being USA night due to the anniversary of their erroneous decision to confirm independence and I assume also a tribute to the US of A being a country of extreme culinary innovation and nuance.
We sat by the window that looked out onto the street. We were spoken to by a gent who told us about the menu, drinks and general protocol. At least I think he did : he was wearing an incredibly tightly-fitted mask that muffled literally every word in an already very loud boozer; this total inability to communicate combined with his flamboyant gesticulations and demeanour, a confidence which clearly articulated that he thought we could hear him, caused a mental and physical paralysis in the author that eventually developed into me politely nodding along.
Aside from certain rules on entering, ordering and toilet usage, it felt like a truly normal loud Saturday night. And not ‘new normal’ either - that expression must perish along with its adherents who use it so favourably.
I am aiming to write in here more frequently, primarily because when I am forced to collate a whole week of doing nothing I feel shockingly enraged at my severe lethargy.
The look of anguish, misery and horror on N’s face upon seeing my post-haircut cranium will probably live with me - cropping up perhaps in the occasional nightmare too - until the end of my days.
The author - despite the view of virtually everyone - continues to believe that his hair (and its owner) looks at its best when at its very shortest. Thus, the locks were sheared and the irritating pointless hairs on my neck were obliterated. For those familiar with hair nomenclature, I usually go for a zero on the sides of my cuboid skull.
Thus, I leave the salon looking like an eager young recruit about to be shipped off to the Western Front. This, combined with my tendency to frown or furrow my brow along with my penchant for doing all the buttons up on my polo shirt, makes me look completely unapproachable to people. Maybe I subconsciously want this. More modern people will liken my trim to that of the Shelby brothers in Peaky Blinders, which is only a few years post-ww1 anyway. N remarked on the shock of seeing my ears for the first time in 5-6 months.
I confess I did not wear a mask on my journey to South London. Reasoning: simply not enough evidence/scientific consensus that masks actually work; given this, I don’t recognise the State’s authority to order me to wear one. A counter to this is usually - it’s just a mask etc etc. These are normally the same people who think it’s fine to give up all your privacy for anti-terror laws because ‘if you’ve got nothing to hide then what’s the issue, it prevents terror etc’. Problem here is that it isn’t the citizen who determines whether they have anything to hide in the first place: the law would grant the State that right. No State wielding of power is justified a priori. So yes, the mask dispute is important no matter the ostensible triviality. And the burden of proof rests on those who advocate it being compulsory.
Sometimes on Thursdays at 8pm I recall that we no longer clap for the NHS. I remember the mild, dark and cool evenings on our balcony enthusiastically cheering helped with the rare sound of bells faintly clanging in the background. I do not miss any of it.
I am nearly finished with the book series that founded Game of Thrones (A Song of Fire and Ice). I find a natural inclination to delve into the novels almost immediately upon awakening. I suspect this is due to the colossal amount of exposition and fictitious history that makes up a big old chunk of the book. And the more the series progresses onwards, the more G. Martin is obliged to expand on the past. Literature has kept me sane during all of this.
I fail at the first test of memoirs: I am not an interesting person.
As the Lockdown continues to ease I notice my entries become less interesting.
The slow and incremental and fragmented return of normality if anything heightens the weirdness of being on furlough. Intuitively one would think that more things being open and free would make one feel good : the opposite occurs. Now, I simply feel unemployed. This is then multiplied due to thinking well if everything else is open now and people are doing things, why am I not at work? Furlough has the unique ability to make you feel secure and relaxed and anxious and useless all at the same time.
The freer I am, the more tedious I am. Perhaps I was in my prime when all my liberties were put on indefinite hold.
I am also weighing up what to do with all this recovered freedom. I want to rejoin a boxing gym. I also want to swim again. I have many people - despite my general hatred for humanity - to talk and drink with. But I have work to do as well. And writing. I have countless short stories that demand elucidation. And I also need to go back to the office at some point. Holidays, too. I need to book some or at least think about booking some.
It is difficult to describe the sense of failure and pointlessness one feels when the following happens: you sit down at your desk or table, pen and ideas in hand, and think about what you want to write about. Then, for literally no reason, you find yourself physically - genuinely physically as in your pen will simply not move towards the welcoming blank page - incapable of transferring these thoughts from the cerebral cortex down through the arms into one’s veiny pen-filled hand. The words just do not arrive. They just do not. And you stare blankly. You hover over the page, pen grasped and mouth open, intermittently thrusting the pen down towards the notepad in the hope that the sheer muscular effort will produce something worth writing. I try a few sentences only to give up mid-clause. I then try the bullet point approach. Does not work. I get up and do something non-literary. Martin Amis said once that eventually your head and legs will simply march you back to your writing habitat once you are ready to continue writing. Then everything will gently and rhythmically flow. This didn’t happen either. What I find normally occurs is I look at the scribbled notes and conclude I am completely wasting my time trying to be a writer. I find this also happens when I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, George Eliot and Vladimir Nabokov: I peruse the pages with elation at the lexical beauty, only to then feel immensely depressed that I even dared to think I could also write something as meaningful. This is a form of masochism, yes.
Anyway the sub-Joycean (he’s another one) stream of thought is why - along with general laziness - I haven’t written much recently.
Management has implied I will be back to work in August. I am unsure if I want this. I don’t wish to return to work and have no work to do.
I am experiencing a surprising amount of FOMO re work. This might be me missing how work was pre-pandemic however. What I miss are not the irritating Zoom calls or conferences nor the ridiculous idea that a human can socialise via video link.
I miss the ad hoc post-office beer. Grabbing one’s notebook for an impromptu congregation. The colleague asking you last-minute to meet someone. You don’t get any of this with fucking Zoom. There is no spontaneity Working From Home.
Backstrokes are strictly disallowed. As are aggressively wide butterfly strokes. These were the new instructions the author was subjected to upon venturing to the local swimming pool. Its occupants seemed genuinely perplexed at these orders, with one old-ish man looking around seeking mutual facial bafflement (he got a knowing look from me) when the supervisor admonished him for having the temerity to, at a snail’s pace too, swim on his back. I managed an above average session.
Drinks later, by the Thames, with the work posse. They were somewhat strange. Then again, maybe that is my bias. Maybe I am predisposed to view all interaction as odd. Perhaps everybody else is totally used to all this and I am the outsider.
Still, I attended and would again. And St Paul’s provided a substantial backdrop as it silently loomed over the river and watched us. All the buildings along the water looked still, like a Canaletto painting. London on pause. I despised this. It is tricky to elucidate on this feeling. The Thames, ancient and modern buildings stood together with their histories constantly filtering into my head, and cold beer and decent company : I should love this.
The author has continued with swimming. I am insanely pleased with this. My experience is always tarnished by having an excellent front crawl technique combined with a farcically poor understanding of how to breathe properly when my head is beneath the water.
I often go through phases of thinking our planet is in total chaos and ruin, and then thinking the complete opposite: that everyone is existing normally. News websites are no longer dominated by the virus.
In the pool changing rooms the author was 99.8% sure that one of the few chaps who fancied a morning swim to start the day with a bit of oomph, seemed to be wearing what can only - as well as simply - be described as a silver ring that was circumnavigating his penis. Its wearer was probably in his late 60s, perhaps early 70s.
About a 1000 questions jumped around my mind both immediately and also on my journey home, and will no doubt continue until I one day perish. I sat silently on the DLR with a Somme-esque dead blinkless stare whilst cogitating about the above. Some of the Q’s were, but not limited to, the following: Was the ring a recent purchase? If it were not, did he simply forget he had it on? Can someone forget such a thing? Was it a totem of virility or perhaps impotence? Or neither? Does he have to buy regular replacements on a weekly, quarterly or yearly basis? Is it much of a financial or medical burden? Never such innocence again. Again Larkin remains a ubiquitous help.
I also rang an East London boxing gym to ask about classes. The owner - a former boxing pro, which immediately meant I subconsciously (or maybe consciously) spoke to him with a high degree of reverence - had that ominous synthesis of an Italian/East End accent and an unbelievably polite and jovial spirit.
I used to take lessons on the above martial art in Islington, the highlight of which was having my contact lens literally punched out of my left eye thanks to my friend and sparring partner’s despicable yet ingenious tactics.
Domestic exercise - the home stuff on Youtube that 100% of the Kingdom is seemingly doing at all times everyday - is agonisingly tedious. I managed approximately 6-7 videos before wanting to kill myself/the nauseatingly positive instructor who bores on about ‘good energy’ and ‘you got this’/every single person who has ever made a Youtube video.
I am also no good at yoga or pilates. There exist cruise liners with greater physical flexibility than me. I reflected again on the drinks with my colleagues. Can one forget what normality is? Peter Ackroyd has a passage in his adequate novel ‘Hawksmoor’ that watches a relatively ordinary young man lose his job and descend very slowly - but then very rapidly - into madness and homelessness. A return to normality for the young chap may well be physically and materially feasible, but is it mentally or spiritually possible? I have pondered on this chapter a lot since the easing of the Lockdown. The drinks, laughter, familiar people, London, the River, the anger in jest, the background noise of fellow boozers. Viewed out of context it seemed perfectly normal. Internally I did not share this view.