Hayfever

I’m still trying to persuade myself that this is hayfever despite the fact that every hour I’m feeling worse than the hour before. It’s not respiratory though. It doesn’t respond to any expectation of this Covid bollocks. Trust me to go and manage to get something else instead. My left eye is leaking like somebody left the tap on and I can’t look at screens which is tricky considering I’m on a break about an hour and a half into a creative zoom for The Tempest, and I’m trying to write this on my phone.

I switched off my laptop video, muted my sound, and have been listening to people being thoughtful and clever while constantly wiping my weeping eye and occasionally swearing roundly. Now I’m writing this as I have a feeling that the more time that goes by the shittier I’m going to feel. Hayfever or cold or just screen-allergy after endless talking faces, who knows. Maybe this is how my immune system interprets this plague of ours. Either way I’m feeling pretty sorry for myself and my head is starting to hurt. Noise is annoying me. It’s hard to think or to look at this phone screen to write. But it’s definitely just hayfever. I just want the noise to stop.

Tickets are live for this Tempest that we’ll be doing. https://www.creationtheatre.co.uk/book-virtual-tempest/  I’ve got time to get over this hayfever before I have to be the king.

It seems that the zoom meeting is back. They’re all talking on the screen again. Normally I don’t feel so misanthropic but I just want to shut all the light off and bury myself with a hot water bottle in clean sheets and quietly mumble to myself.

I’m going to plug back in and do my job. I’ve had a paracetamol which might help.


Oh I’m leaking. This whole current culture of doing everything through a screen is made a great deal harder when the light makes you melt from the inside. Also my sense of smell is not good. This hayfever is worse than usual for march. I kind of want the meeting to be over so I can make a batch of bolognese in case I collapse into a hole overnight. I’ve still got a good pile of food at home so I’m not going to starve if this is the onset of my two week rollercoaster. I guess if this is my version of this bullshit I can tick it off in a fortnight or so, get tested for antibodies, and go do stuff in the real world. But it certainly feels like I’m about to get sick now despite all my precautions. At least I’ve got plenty to read, plenty to eat, plenty to think about. I’m not in the best creative place right now though as the more my eye leaks the more it feels like the tears have been replaced by brainsuet.

This is my rehearsal room today. I can really look at it. Dammit. I hate being sick.

It’s just hayfever it’s just hayfever…

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Snakeface

I’ve been feeling a bit peaky the last few days so I haven’t left the house. It doesn’t feel like captain C is supposed to feel, and right now every time a baby cries somebody wrongly identifies a symptom in themselves. I’m staying at home though because if I got a cold then I got it despite all my precautions against crownyface. And if I’m just a bit run down then my immune system will be compromised so it’s probably best to take government advice and try not to be a vector. Thankfully I’ve got a pleasant home to be shut up in.

I never thought I’d say it but I’m glad I’ve got a friendly snake shut in here with me. Reptiles are not known as cuddly creatures. They’re more about expedience and basic needs. Still, Hex is a living being that moves independently and is capable of surprising me. We have tangled up with each other a fair amount in his quest for warmth and my quest for sentient life that isn’t on a screen. I’m fed up of faces. Screens full of faces. Face after face after face, saying all their person things to my face. Hex is mostly body, with a tiny little head that you can’t quite believe he is capable of dislocating so completely that he can fit a whole great big mouse up there. He doesn’t talk. He just moves slowly and deliberately, and has a cute habit of blowing in my ear as he assesses it for a potential burrow. He’s pretty crap at being a snake though, even if he has recovered from his eating disorder now. He’s good at the lying under a rock bit, which is definitely part of snaking. But I’ve seen his attempts at constricting a dead mouse. It’s vigorous, willing, but not in the slightest bit effective. More in the realm of “playing with your food,” or even “happy cuddle time”.

There are living mice in this flat as well, so I’m being careful with this crap snake as I don’t want him trying to eat one. I’d put my money on the London mouse in a straight up fight to the death, and even should Hex somehow prevail, they are likely made out of digested. poison by now and I’d have to take him to the vet.

London mice. Generations of breeding have made clever trap averse mice. They are completely ignoring my one ingenious humane trap, and I haven’t got any snaptraps, but they’re pretty good at avoiding and even unbaiting those as well. I’ve just got glue pads leftover from an old flatmate and I’m not going there because the things are absolutely vile and leave you having to drop a rock onto a panicking rodent that has already eviscerated itself over hours of futile struggle. Those fuckers work because they work so well that there aren’t any mice that have evolved strategies. If only they weren’t so cruel. They’re staying in the draw. The mice can keep me company for now. Unwelcome mice, a snake and the faces on the screens that tell me things.

On the plus side I haven’t set an alarm for a week.

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Home again home again again

Yesterday I was looking at the edges of the box. Today I’ve been closing the lid. I guess we go in cycles. Days like today serve a useful purpose in a week more ordinary. I plugged in my battery by switching off my communication. I’ve barely spoken to a soul, and even the messages I’ve sent have been terse and for communication purposes only. Even Hex only got a little bit of hands on time. He’s spent most of his day literally under a rock. My rock is more figurative. But I’ve been under it.

In the normal scheme of things this would be the winding back before the springing forth. There’s the concern. I’ve been instinctively preparing myself all day for some leap into another unfamiliar social or work situation. A temporary office or a rehearsal room or a film set or the party of a company where I’m the entertainment, or I’m the award ceremony or I’m running an exam with 150 people or I’m going to a party with people I don’t know or a date or an audition… None of these. I’m winding back in order to wind back. It feels fine today but tomorrow I’ll have a load of pent up social energy and nothing to spend it on. I’m in my bath again with a glass of red wine again winding down again after another day at home.

I’m not a creature of habit. My habit is basically the absence of habit. Home is a recharging station for the many different shapes of world out there. I’m fully recharged now. No world is possible. So I’m at home again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day.

And so are we all, the world over. Winding back but unable to spring. Problem is, like my old clockwork mice, if you wind back too hard they stop working altogether. I need to spring.

There’s stuff in the diary tomorrow. That’s something at least. Online teaching, information to learn, a rehearsal. It feels like an ordinary weekday of sorts but for the fact that the three different points of focus will all take place in the same physical location, in front of my sedentary laptop in my living room. That’s the thing I’m sure many of us are beginning to struggle with.

I can’t work more than a few days in an office without going mental, but that’s mostly to do with insincerity and unnecessary miniature demonstrations of power. It also doesn’t help that if I can’t move while I’m thinking I say things out loud instead. In zoom meetings I frequently have to mute my microphone, or switch off my screen as I get up and walk around the room and mumble things to myself. Innocuous things as often as not. But out loud and to nobody in particular.

But I’ll be banging around my living room like a pinball tomorrow. I think we are still allowed exercise outside, in London. Perhaps I should hit the streets in the morning and have an actual run. But I literally haven’t opened my door for two days. If I hold out then eventually I’ll know I’m clear…

I’ve been avoiding Battersea Park. The one time I went there it was like going to Oxford Street in the January sales. In terms of maintaining distance between people it was harder in the park than on any road between my flat and the park. Oh how I wish they’d kept Chelsea Physic Garden open. A members’ only garden would be just the ticket right now in the absence of a garden of my own…

I should get more plants. But how?

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Enforced hibernation

When I’ve thought about the possibility of an outbreak of this proportion I’ve always imagined I’d get myself to The Isle of Man. As it happens I’m still here, in Central London. It’s not the right place to be in a crisis. If society is gonna collapse I’m either gonna burn or be burnt, and living as I do in Chelsea the smart money’s on the latter.

In my zoom rehearsal today we were talking about comparative quarantine in the various places people have ended up. In parts of Spain you get informed on if you make unnecessary journeys. The police are enforcing lockdown hard. In parts of Ireland you aren’t allowed to go more than 2km from your home, and you might get stopped and asked what you’re doing if you’re moving about at all.

Here in London, the security and hygiene in shops is through the roof, but the disaffected are using the atmosphere of fear to deliberately sneeze on people, and police are being kept very busy while being spat on. Because the streets are so empty, police presence is much more noticeable. But they aren’t yet getting involved despite often being the only traffic on the roads.

The next week is likely to be a changing time in London as the number of people presenting symptoms starts to skyrocket. Right now we are largely complacent still although most of us know a few people who have been on the whole 12 day rollercoaster. It would be lovely to think that we are over the worst of it. But I fear that it’s yet to come and then some.

The chancellor has thrown together measures that, so long as this doesn’t last too long, will prop up the economy. Even the self-employed have had a bone thrown our way. For a long time we were worried we’d be thrown to the dogs. It’s never going to be perfect, but for now there’s no rioting. There’s no looting. It feels lighter than dark. We are all still bemused, going into hibernation, slightly surprised this is all happening.

Many of us are trying to find ways to bring this to the positive. Enrolling in online courses and reading that book or meditating or putting your poems up on YouTube. Long may that continue even as we get used to the new structure, or lack of it.

It doesn’t much feel like the weekend here. I’ve been doing a bit of basic cleaning and changed my sheets, but I’m feeling a little run down and coldy so I’m going to get an early bed with a hot water bottle. Today’s the first day that I literally haven’t left the house. Just video conferencing, eating and thinking about The Tempest.

When this is all over it’ll be like when Winnie the Pooh eats so much food at Rabbit’s house that he gets stuck trying to get out. Maybe I should get into one of those online workout classes that many of my good friends are starting to schedule as we move everything online. Meantime I’m getting in the bath with a whisky lemsip.

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Lack of clarity

I try to think about the extent of the business with this virus and it makes my head hurt. The amount of work that has stopped. The way in which, in London, this quarantine situation has become normalised already. There’s tape on the floor of the shop, telling us where we stand. Most people are in masks. We keep distance from each other. And yet we talk. I’ve had more conversations with strangers than usual, even just in the corridors of my block.

I guess it’s because we are all sharing this unusual circumstance – pretty much worldwide. Everybody is at home most of the time. We are adopting new technological means to play with each other remotely even as we are all getting either starved of contact or fed up of each other. Part of me is glad to be alone here. Although it does engender bad habits. I had a load of early “zoom” meetings from two companies both of whom are using the software to do something Shakespearean. I’m starting to think about the new mediums as opportunities. Zoom is a good bit of software for talking in large groups, but how do we use it to tell stories? And for how long will we need to be thinking like this? Turns out if I take a picture off the wall then I’ve got a good greenscreen. So I’ve learnt something useful.

It seems ages since I’ve been in a crowd. I was being careful for a while before it was official. But now I’m wondering when and how this will end. Bearing in mind what I witnessed yesterday, that there are people with full blown symptoms who still pop to the shop, this quarantine cannot contain it. Does summer kill it? Or are we just locked in until they perfect the vaccine?

Still, this morning about twenty of us logged into zoom and tried to read Shakespeare in a group. We were originally building towards a show in Wales in summer, but the feeling is that it won’t happen now. But if all the theatres lose their summer season, will that be it? So many arts institutions are hanging by a thread anyway.

It’ll be a new world at the end of this. And the thing to remember is that it’s global. I’ve been talking with friends in Eastern Europe, deep far north and west coast USA. We are all asking the same questions. In the absence of a precedent, what do we hope for?

Boris has been diagnosed. Ditto the heir to the throne. They’ve been able to get tests. More of my friends on Facebook are documenting their symptoms and I can tell you for sure that I don’t want it. It sounds miserable, even though none of them have had an official test. Most people can’t get tests. We just have to stay clean and hope we don’t catch it at peak, when there’ll be no beds and no ventilators.

I’m off to bed after a very unusual Friday spent almost entirely looking at faces on screens. My head hurts but that’s because I had a bit too much to drink a bit too early. Hopefully there’ll be clarity before long… But how?

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Clapping the NHS

My body feels strange. I’m not used to being so inactive. I’m worried about the sprightly old folk who can’t so easily go for their daily accidental exercise. I normally get my accidentals running for buses or ramping up heart rate to crazy levels about almost completely pointless things when viewed from outside.

Now I’m here in my flat surrounded by tech, wine, mice and food. I’ve been improving my cooking and teaching myself to edit videos and now I’m involved in a production of The Tempest that will take place totally online. It’s a recurrence of the bonkers one I did at the beginning of this whole run of work, so it makes sense that it’s what I end up doing again now we have all momentarily retreated into our homes. I can remember the warmth of last summer whilst I’m in strange isolation in my home.

This evening just before 8pm I went into Kitcat’s room and threw open the window. She’s in the countryside somewhere so the temperature drop won’t bother her. I threw the window open wide and felt the wind rush in from the river. At 8pm I started cheering and clapping, thinking I’d be the only one. There was a social media drive about clapping for the health workers. I respect that. There are a lot of people I love who are staring down the barrel of this nasty respiratory virus. The next week is likely to be the worst time for them in their work, and while many of us sit at home playing games and drinking wine, the people who will do everything to stop us from dying are turning up to work and making the world a better place. Some friends are even working as cleaners in specialist Corona-wards. Chapeau.

I stood in my window overlooking the river, while to my left the majestic Edwardian blocks thronged around. I didn’t really expect much. A jogger was pounding the pavement as I started, and moments from my first “whoop!” I heard cheering and clapping from all around. Directly below me Christine was in her window clapping as well. The whole crescent lit up with noise. The jogger stopped short, momentarily confused as the whole world cheered at him. Then he just started clapping as he ran, automatically, clearly aware it was “a thing”.

It was very moving, to feel the connectivity. Just for a moment to be more openly part of this nebulous sea of linked humanity even here in the “fuck you!” part of London. There were people standing in the porches where their windows look on nothing.

To my right is opus dei, now fronting a school. To my left and opposite is depressed sheltered housing where the fire trucks needlessly come once a week. My direct neighbor to the left is the Lithuanian cultural attaché. Directly in front of me is the Thames. My crescent proves to be a single line of houses leased by The Royal Hospital.

With all that in mind, there was a lot more activity and noise than I would have expected from this sleepy line of houses. Good on you, Embankment Gardens…

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Shopping in a time of Corona

Her shopping list is very specific. I clutch it as I walk through the sunny morning in mask and ski jacket. We are not receiving pathogens today, thank you. We have a stranger’s shopping to buy.

There are some capitals in the shopping list. JUMBO rolled oats. NAIRNS oatcakes – (just like dad). I even know the breed of chicken that laid the eggs she wants. There are brand names and enough evidence to teach me that I am going to Waitrose whether I like it or not. “Duchy organic x.” “Waitrose brand y.” Despite this she’ll get out for under £35 and there’s smoked salmon in the order. This shop is a learning experience for me. I have expensive tastes.

I stand in a queue outside Waitrose in my gas mask. I listen to a creative conference call that I’m part of as I’m waiting. It’s a long queue. The numbers in and out of Waitrose are strictly monitored. The wind is blowing from me to the people behind me in the queue. (This is significant).

There’s a fuss that I’m mostly oblivious to as I get near the front of the queue. I don’t really understand what’s going on, but it’s something to do with the woman behind me. A woman in an electric wheelchair has been speaking very actively with a security guard and pointing at her. I notice the woman behind me sheepishly leave the queue after all this time, but I’m in my own island full of noises, thinking about strange fun and theatre online and tech and paper darts.

I get to the front. Men in masks let me in. It’s like an airlock. I’m suddenly playing Half Life 2 and I’m part of The Combine.

There’s a man whose job it is to clean the handles of trolleys. There’s an employee talking out loud to anyone who’ll listen. “She had full on Coronavirus and she was trying to get in the shop! Jesus! Who does that? Who actually does that?” she asks the world. “Who had?” I reply and immediately she’s into my eyes. “The lady right behind you in the queue! She has full blown Corona!”

I stop a moment. She was 6 foot from me and wind was blowing DOWN the queue from me to her. And then to everybody else patiently waiting.

“How’s she going to get her shopping?” is still my first response, before, very quickly “Thank God the wind was in my favour.”

She points at the woman in the wheelchair: “Her helper’s getting it. They’re neighbours. Why did she come? Who does that?”

I missed this whole thing as I was into the video call. Hopefully I missed the pathogens as well. Certainly I was very careful about hands to mouth and eyes, handles etc. And the wind was right for me, but … the people behind her …”

There are many staff members spraying anti-thing-stuff on bits of the Waitrose. It’s refreshingly empty in the shop but people still visibly tic if you get too close by mistake and then notice. It doesn’t help that I look like a blue tank in my skisuit and mask. About 45% of people in Chelsea are unmasked now. Compare that to a week ago when it was about 95%. The cretin behind me in the queue is a good illustration of why we should all have masks, I guess, even though – from memory – she was thoughtful enough to be wearing one of her own. That’s where those little white masks really come into their own. That’s the point. They’re to reassure others.

But yeah if you’re sick AND you’ve managed to find someone to do your shop for you… What the heck are you doing showing up anyway, mask or no mask? Too embarrassed to ask the wheelchair lady in your block for 8 bottles of vodka? But then if you’ve got full on symptoms surely you don’t still want the vodka?

The whole situation was weird on both sides and I wish I hadn’t been on a video conference so I could have used instinct to smell the truth of it…

I got a black cab from Waitrose to Jacqi’s. £8.00 for a short hop.

I drop my headcontents to the cabbie and “You’re just doing this out of the kindness of your heart?” he asks? It makes me feel good when he says it, because I hadn’t thought of it like that and he sounds impressed, like I’ve discovered a new thing.

“Yep. We all need to do this sort of thing these days.”

“Where do you live? Lemme take you home after!”

I laugh and thank him. “No mate that wasn’t me leading you – you go find another fare. It’s a lovely walk for me down the river and I need the exercise. Hats off to you guys though – you’re protected in there, it’s perfect for London right now, the black cab. Thanks for showing up to work.”

Work.

I’m home and I’m thinking again about my own creative output – my work. What am I making? I’ve been generating content but I might not broadcast it. I’ve been learning skills but I might not use them. But this is the perpetual motion with me. I have a million blind alleys. Somehow, this thing. This lump of words. This daily splat. This is the thing I somehow allow myself to put out unmonitored. And it’s rarely bitten me and never too badly.

My lesson now is to quieten down my other output monitors so I can start making things with actual impact and power in mediums other than this stream of consciousness style I have honed for for years out of early adoration for Virginia Woolf and Douglas Adams..

 

We can all learn from this. I put this stuff out because I’ve decided I have to. No matter what. Daily. It allows me to bypass the “what if” thoughts.

I heartily recommend this – a lot of people are doing it now suddenly in different forms. Regular, unmonitored content. Why the fuck not? Make it. Judge it once it’s made. Too many times the things that people have really connected to have not been the curated bits in this blog, they’ve been the bits that showed under the face. Even the bits that I might have questioned if I’d noticed them.

This was meant to be about shopping.

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