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I like to be touched. Don’t most of us like to be touched? Nothing relaxes me like a good massage, or a lover stroking my skin; fingers slowly snaking through my thin grey hair, nails gently raking my scalp. And isn’t so much “alternative” medicine about this? The simple relief of human contact, flesh on flesh, soothing our various stresses like a mother soothes a fractious baby? And aren’t we all fractious babies, somewhere deep inside, so we are suckers for this stuff? Sometimes, just hold me. No sex, no excitement, no thrilling arousal and erogenous electricity. Just touch me.
Once again, the concrete plain of green, yellow and white lights. Bright boxes bearing cryptic codes like A4, SL, KS; mysterious black arrows next to some of the letters. We taxi through this eighties video game zone, pausing now and then, starting again, negotiating the illuminated routes according to the esoteric rules known only to pilots and air traffic controllers. And those inside the big tube mostly ignore this pre-flight journey, but I don’t. It feels like escapology. The pilot is Houdini, loosing the lit locks and glowing chains so that we might finally speed away and fly free.
I run hot.
We land, taxi, stop. Then, the irksome wait for the dilatory ditherers to get their goddamned shit together, because they are too useless and inconsiderate to have prepared themselves before the final descent. We hit the jetway and I am immediately sweating. On the interminable tube ride from Heathrow I sit in my shirt sleeves amongst people wrapped in heavy coats, scarves and woolly hats.
I run hot. I still sometimes say it makes me very popular with the ladies, because it made you laugh all those years ago, on a cold night in a cosy bed.
Looking through old - and not so old - photos makes me realise that for all my regrets and self-criticism, I have had a fairly interesting life; certainly compared with many people from my parents’ generation and background. Church choir; grammar school; violence; university; music; a little sex, drugs and (punk) rock ‘n’ roll; London; love; travel; skiing; getting quite good at a sport; marriage; Greece; heartbreak; divorce; trauma; radical change of job; renaissance; transatlanticism; New York; passion; temporary wealth; more travel; splendid food and drink; crises; recoveries... maybe this is not really interesting. But the photos make it feel so.
I often get impatient with people who use “identity” as a knee-jerk excuse for someone being criticised, attacked, or failing. You know, the kind of irrational fool who squeals “anti-semitism!” whenever the plainly inexcusable atrocities perpetrated by Israel are called out. But it is hard to avoid the conclusion that ingrained American sexism played a large part in Elizabeth Warren’s collapse. Not the only factor - some “Democrats” are clearly anti-progressive to the bone - but certainly a big one. To favour that poor stumbling, gaffe-strewing has-been Biden over such an articulate and capable person is absurd.
Cats are beautiful. Their gemstone eyes; their sleek, sinuous movement; their soft fur, the soothing sound of purring. Yet they delight in torturing and killing small creatures. Their beauty is subjective and accidental; their cruelty is instinctive. It is more complicated with people. Not about the beauty part, but the behaviour. We can choose to be cruel, or kind. Yet the more I read the news, the more I observe humans in action, the more I experience humanity making stupid, wicked decisions, over and over again... the more I see that we, too, are too often creatures of dumb instinct.
Things that demonstrate that you are a goddamned imbecile:
- Panicking about coronavirus.
- Being unconcerned about climate change.
- Not understanding that overpopulation is the root cause of most of our major problems.
- Being religious.
- Being conservative.
- Being anti-vaxx.
- Being a Sun, Mail or Express reader.
- Believing anything you read or hear that tallies with your beliefs and preferences.
- Not being able to write and speak in your mother tongue to a reasonable standard.
- Thinking that the above does not matter.
- Doing anything simply because “That’s what everyone does.”
- Especially having children.
- Cycling on the pavement.
- Whining impotently on the internet.
I wish I could take people into my cab when I drive a train; let them see a whole new perspective on train travel. I wish I could point things out to them, and explain so many features they will never have seen, read about, or thought about. I wish I could tell them what I’m doing at each moment, and why, and what I’m having to think about and take into account. I wish they could see the blank platform faces, staring at the front of the train, not seeing
. I wish they could understand my job better.
It actually makes me somewhat afraid when I read about the number of people panic-buying toilet roll, because it reminds me forcibly of how profoundly, jaw-droppingly, shatteringly rock-stupid so many people are. Quite apart from the fact of the hysterical overreaction to this virus, if you were going to stock up for it, why in the name of all that is sane would you prioritise arse wipes? Why not non-perishable foods, drinks, medical supplies? There are tons of ways to wipe your arses, you arses. Honestly, you terrify me, in between the bouts of scornful laughter.
I believe in boycotts. I have my doubts about their efficacy, although I broadly believe they can help. I think boycotting apartheid South Africa in the seventies and eighties had an effect, eventually. I have been boycotting Israel since 1984 but I am far less convinced about the effectiveness of such a boycott, not least because of the extent to which the USA consistently props up that wicked state. But there is a personal, moral justification for boycotts, too. I will not support evil. For this reason I also boycott any business that uses a “funny” misspelling in its name.
I am tempted to write about the sad collapse of Sanders’ support in the primaries, and the truly depressing rallying of the asses behind that poor, doddering old dotard, Biden. I am tempted to pour scorn and contempt on the craven, gutless hypocrites who, during the early stages of the contest, used Biden’s obvious cognitive impairment as a weapon against him, yet who now decry those of us with the ill manners to still mention it. I am tempted to opine that Trump will blusterstorm and batter Biden like a bald-headed stepchild. But I won’t. Oh wait... I did.
If you are panic-buying toilet roll, you are a fucking moron. If you are an anti-vaxxer, you are a fucking moron. If you support Trump, you are a fucking moron. If you support the second amendment, you are a fucking moron who doesn’t understand what the word “amendment” implies. If you think Sanders is some sort of commie, as opposed to a decent, principled human being whose humanitarian principles have never been in doubt, you are a fucking moron. Understand? You don’t, do you? You think I am an idiot. I think you are. Civil war. Bring it.
I notice when people go quiet on Facebook. You have someone who posts and comments fairly regularly, and they become part of the pleasant background noise of your life. You have enough of these people that you don’t fully register any single one until they go quiet. Then it’s like one of the instruments in the orchestra has stopped playing. Something sounds off, and it may take a little time before you figure out what. Oh. The bassoon has gone quiet. Where’s the cello? This part normally has cello. And then you wonder what they are dealing with right now.
Is it, perhaps, simply a feature of age that we start to enjoy being alone and unconnected more? One hears about lonely old people but... what’s the real trend? I have always been okay with my own company, but here in the foothills of my sixties I seem to relish it more and more. People are so... hard. I do not understand why so many of them seem to want to be in near-constant contact with each other. I am not unfriendly, and I do enjoy company, but man... the ubiquitous cellphone is my idea of endless Sysiphean torture.
Well, it seems this irksome little virus might, for once, be a bit more sociable than the ones that featured in numerous previous, similar scares. So be it. It is still ridiculous and cowardly to panic, or to panic-buy toilet roll. Or indeed, anything. Most people who get this will recover within a week or two. Some will die; so it goes. Face masks are largely useless when walking around in public. Take sensible measures: thorough personal hygiene, don’t get closer to people than necessary, self-isolate if you show symptoms. Now calm the fuck down and carry on.
But I am feeling, yet again and very powerfully, the preciousness and fragility of our long-distance connection. Right now the physical side of it is completely broken, and we have no way of knowing for how long. It could be a few weeks. It could be forever. I have never been complacent about this; now I am just sad about it. Again. And yearning. The desire for us to find a way to be physically together has always been passionate in me, now it feels urgent, and necessary. But what are we to do? What are we to do?
It is just after four in the morning. The night bus is perhaps eighty percent full. As all the “normals” witter on about “self-isolation” and working from home, the real workers just have to get on with it. It would be good if this little crisis made people truly understand who really matters when it comes to keeping the basics of civilised society going. Bus drivers, train drivers, lorry drivers, nurses, medics, cleaners, manufacturers, labourers, waste disposal workers, supply distributors and sellers. Not you and your silly little meetings and emails. You are largely superfluous. You do not matter.
We “real workers” have pretty much accepted that we’re going to get it. I am touching surfaces touched by hundreds of others, every day. We are told that gloves are no help, because they carry the virus just like your hands do. Masks are only of minor use in reducing spread from those already infected. We wash our hands as often as we can, but it cannot be enough, because we have work to do. And what strikes me is we’re all upbeat; not panicking like the selfish, shelf-stripping “normals”. We’re just cracking jokes and getting on with it.
I was wrong about this one. I always admit when I am wrong, and it feels strangely good to do so. I thought it likely that this would behave similarly to SARS, MERS, swine flu, bird flu... so many previous nightmare scenarios that didn’t happen. I guess it
likely, based on that history, and the knowledge that as a species we love to overreact and panic about stuff. But I was wrong. And the problem isn’t so much the still relatively low virulence of the thing, it’s the numbers hitting the health services. I didn’t think that one through.
I hope to goodness these entries - mine and those of other contributors - do not become some sort of interminable plague diary but right now it is extremely hard to think about much else. It’s everywhere - and I don’t just mean the damned virus, I mean the endless, streaming, hugely irresponsible media frenzy about it and, increasingly, the physical evidence of its sinister effect: deserted streets and stations, closed pubs and restaurants, the smell of people’s fear and worry; about themselves or their loved ones getting ill, and about how they will make enough money. The fear of a collapsing world.
It is not just Britain that has suspended capitalism. It is the whole first world. I admit I take some satisfaction from that. I hope this will demonstrate that capitalism is now a fundamentally inappropriate model, and one that is increasingly flawed with increasing population. It is simply untenable if we truly wish to make secure, decent societies. One crisis of a type requiring the suspension of "normal" social behaviour, and the whole house of cards crumbles. Suddenly, what is basically extreme socialism has to take place. How much better if we'd had a humane socialist system in place already!
14:45, Sunday, and the 319 is empty except for me, on my way to work. To say this is abnormal is a huge understatement. Typically, this bus would be full, or very nearly so. That said, there is still a depressing number of people playing football on the common, or walking around, often with kids, clearly out for no better reason than the weather is nice and they’re damned if they’re going to stay in just because their thoughtless behaviour might help kill a few old and sick people. This one is serious, people. Wise up and start acting accordingly.
This is an unfamiliar feeling I am experiencing, and I had to stop and think in order to realise what it is. It is a sense of personal responsibility for society. Yesterday, seeing Clapham Junction almost deserted on a sunny Sunday afternoon, made the feeling come into focus. I am a misanthrope, but apparently not so much that I don’t feel this responsibility. So I have ordered masks, though I still doubt their efficacy. I use sanitiser liberally. I wash my hands like a medic, at every opportunity. But the weirdest thing is I am not doing it for me.
Walking home through the deserted city tonight, and the foxes were out much earlier than usual, and in much greater force. They know. Prowling the naked streets like they owned the place, and now they do. One slinked across my path and then stopped, not six feet from me. All slope-tailed and low-headed but... with an air. A new air. He stopped, sat down and looked at me. I said, "The streets are yours now, mate. You own the place, now. Take it. We've had the upper hand over you for long enough. It's yours now. Enjoy. Goodnight."
Jimmy runs the local cafe. It is one of those great, busy little places that’s often full. The neighbourhood yummy mummies love it. The coffee is good, the small but slightly quirky breakfast menu is lovely, and Jimmy bakes great bread, cakes, savoury snacks and so on. Jimmy is now literally running around the neighbourhood in his shorts, delivering bread, eggs, his baked goodies, and big boxes containing an absolute cornucopia of beautiful, locally-sourced fruit and veg. Jimmy has also invited struggling restaurant providers to sell their wares - including fresh fish - outside his cafe. Jimmy is a local hero.
We are divided in a new way. We thought the Brexit divide was as bad as it would get. But no. Now we have the divide between those who understand how serious the outbreak is, and how important the hygiene and social isolation/distancing measures are, and those who do not. The pricks ignoring the two metre rule. Touching everything and rubbing their faces. Dropping litter. Hanging around in groups. They are smug, selfish fucking idiots. I would honestly support arrest and detention-on-sight measures. If they won’t quarantine themselves let the state do it for them. By force.
I am more worried about Ann than about me. The infection and death rates in New York City have accelerated at a much greater rate than in other cities, including London. It’s a compressed city. People piled up on top of one another. And Ann has to be in a moderately high risk group, given her age, history as a smoker, and her not being that fit. I am really worried. And I cannot be with her. I wish we were riding this out together; preferably here, but in NYC if it had to be. This forced separation is terrible.
Thoughtless idiots: “Hey, only sheep believe everything the government says! If I think a law or a policy statement is bullshit, I ignore it. Pass the joint, Toby mate.”
Also thoughtless idiots: “What is your problem? It’s perfectly fine for me to be out as long as I stay six feet from other people! And yes, I’ve been out twice today - I forgot to buy bread, okay? And of course I’m jogging along the street and in the park with all these other idiots! It’s the government recommendation. Gotta get my exercise! Johnson says it’s okay!”
We are so fucked.
It alternates. Some Londoners are going out far too much, and clearly taking the piss with the “essential” shopping and exercise get-outs. I see too many people carrying just a few items in their bags. No. Go shopping as little as possible, get as much as you can carry and GO HOME AND STAY THERE. And if you really must exercise outside (hint: you do not have to) then fifteen minutes total. Okay?
But then there is the eerie railway. Deserted stations. Ghost trains gliding silently through untypical fields of green light. The world is genuinely bizarre right now.
"Losing". There's only one "o". "Loose" is an adjective. If something is not secure, it is loose. "That picture of my sainted mother fell off the wall today. The screw must have been
. I am so upset I may
my mind." Look, I know you ignorant fucks who can't speak your own language think this shit doesn't matter. That's the way you excuse your stinking ignorance. "Language evolves", you say; conveniently and wrongly assuming that evolution produces nothing but beneficial mutations. This will not do. DO BETTER. Take some fucking pride in your native tongue and respect it.
I keep drifting into a dreamlike state in which none of this seems real, and I just move through the ghost world on autopilot.
No. That's not quite right. Because I am also hyper-aware, which is not something associated with autopilot. Yet it still
like autopilot. Every so often this state is pierced by a sharp pang of immense longing for you, or a stab of abject terror that we will not see each other again. That's what really haunts me. These people I drift by are ghosts. I dread the thought that you will become one too.
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