Categories
peste

# Peste 3 – Conditions for Living

A collection of diverse observations from the last week:

The kids are all right

On the last day of school last Friday (lockdown -4), I walked through the park, and there was a large crowd of GCSE-aged schoolchildren – about 120 I made it – all collected there with more arriving. No adult supervision: this was clearly for and instigated by the children, one of those self-organising things – half entirely lark, half entirely serious – that teens can do, and do very well. It was of course in total contravention of recommended behaviour, not that they would possibly care about that – this was ‘it’s the last day, in really unusual circumstances, let’s get together, we may not see each other in person again for a while, let’s do a bit of planning [tho for children that age, the distinction between in person and digital, unless you’re going out, seems a lot less distinct than for pre-internet people like me]. A group of that size would have surely included smaller groups that wouldn’t perceive themselves as part of the main socially/hierarchically central group too. It was all oddly heartwarming.

Vegetable Loves

I was talking to my local greengrocer – this was on the Thursday (lockdown -5), and although he was flat out (‘4 times as busy’ though it ramped up even the next day), the store was full of fresh produce. He said it was a pain: he had to get to the wholesale market much earlier, because the wholesale market was closing much earlier (half three rather than half six), because the hospitality industry simply wasn’t ordering anything. Loads of fresh produce, but no one to buy it. He said he was just loading up the van as full as it would go. He was having to make quite finely adjusted supply and demand calculations and said it was very difficult: 2 weeks’ worth of leeks, gone in a morning, can’t get enough eggs, squashes going out quickly, and potatoes. I panic bought some radishes and an onion.

What was notable, though, was how full of fresh produce his shop was. Although his shop was four times as busy, this is four times as busy on his fairly quiet weekdays. Literally across the road there are two express supermarkets – Tesco and Sainsbury’s – vying for business, and their shelves are empty of fresh produce. People go in, stare uncomprehendingly at the shelves, and buy a forlorn shroomdog. I think there may be an irony here, which is that one pull factor for supermarkets i suspect is some people’s desire to avoid interpersonal communication. You can be cynical about this and say the middle-classes don’t like to be made aware of the fact that they’re being served. But in a multicultural society, uncertainty about language and etiquette, and the formal ecumenical processes of the modern supermarket can make it the easy option if people are lacking in confidence or uncertain, something self-service tills have facilitated further.

This cuts the other way, as the lex pointed out on twitter, multicultural supermarkets are also stacked with good things, but get very few people going into shop outside the community they serve.

Young turks

To take another example, my local corner shop, run by a Turkish family, is absolutely stacked to the rafters with cleaning items, baked beans, milk, bog roll, though they are running desperately short of Ritter Sport, which is extremely distressing, 10% discount for all NHS staff, and in response to Covid they’ve put this sign up in their front window:

Love those crazy turks (and mean crazy – if you’d seen them howling at the moon one New Years’ Eve absolutely off their faces you’d know what I mean. Very friendly though).

Also, the only place I’ve heard any Covid jokes. I mean I’m not getting out as much as I used to admittedly. And although yerman behind the counter found them very funny, ymmv. Still, for the record:

  1. ‘You know there have been no incidents of the corona in Turkey? Do you know why Corona doesn’t go to Turkey? Because of all the germs already there, it would die!’ (30 seconds or so of uncontrollable laughter)
  2. So Turkey said they didn’t have any cases, and then the newspaper reported one, and the government said no, no this is a mistake, there aren’t any cases. Then you know the IMF, they said that if your country had Corona you could apply for aid [i haven’t checked any of this btw], and suddenly the government said ‘We have Corona! Look at this person!’ (prolonged laughter)
  3. You know how you can get the virus on cash, so they say you shouldn’t use cash – that’s the reason they haven’t had any in Turkey because there isn’t any money! (doubles over with mirth)

He was going to carry on, but someone else came in and I made an exit.

Sundries

In other sundry news: supermarket cut flowers die almost immediately (to refer to the Barthes’ cataloguing of the spatial, temporal environments and æsthetics of sequestration), as the florist has now gone. I may just rely on daffs from the grocer.

Our estate agent runs a small set of properties, is extremely considerate to tenants, never charged any fees when I moved in, and is very prompt on repairs. Her husband is in King’s intensive care with Covid, and she is in self-isolation and understandably distressed. Wishing her very well.

Had to call her because our boiler’s packed in due to a power cut and surge last night. Me standing in front of the boiler while the… man who normally does the boiler… guided me through various tasks to find out that it was indeed bust, and that he would try to get a part but it would be tough and may be a couple of weeks because all the suppliers are closed fml.

Conditions for living in a time of Covid.

Categories
music

Keep Your Eyes on the Road Up Ahead – I Don’t Seem to Be Able to Use Mine

I’m going to try (once again) to write a bit more here. It will necessarily largely be stringing beads on the thread of the week, and I’ll need to work harder at writing better than comes naturally, but it is with the intention of plugging recent experiences into the wider set of more permanent feelings and thoughts.

Saturdays have become my day for catching up on bookmarked articles and things of interest held in abeyance during the week, so that’s also the time I’m likeliest to post.

Sometimes a song has a line or moment in it which seems to catch something about a moment now, or of another place, without it being clear why:

Pete Hammill’s Sitting Targets reaches a typical point of anguish, with the lines:

And I’m losing control of my body, and I’m running scared.
Oh, remember the black and white movie,
A positional state of affairs,
Of the fashionable interest in moving,
Just to prove that we’re there.

(In fact it is apparently, ‘We’re left with a black and white movie, a positional state of affairs, An obsessional interest in moving, just to prove that we’re there’ which is clearly right on a re-listen. but the line that’s been in my head has been that ‘of the fashionable interest in moving’.)

This is a propulsive song about escape, from an emotional trauma only defined by the terms of its escape.

If we’d been stuck just a few hours more
I’d have cracked up, I’d say.
No, you never can tell when it’s coming;
It’s so hard getting out of the way;

It is something impending that has brought about the crisis – and with the road and car the means of escape it would be wrong to say something coming down the road. It is more something that looms, something unavoidable, but out of sight, something which makes you feel like a sitting target. Target for what is the question implied by the title. I tend to feel that all art of mid-sixties to early 80s should be assumed in some way to be characterised by anxieties of possible sudden nuclear annihilation, and there is obviously existential fear here, but also there is a sense of the claustrophobia of your home environment, of society and time closing in.

Oh you never can tell how it’s going,
No you never can see how it’s been,
But to stay sitting targets is surely
No better than living a dream.

So that set of lines, which kept on surfacing in my head, work against the rest of the song, and critique the urge for escape – the motion is out of control, it is required for a sense of self and of agency, otherwise unavailable to someone staying in the same place.

That this song plays into a deep-seated set of my own anxieties – staying in one place, continuous building on something being an exclusion of other possibilities, ultimately stemming I think from fears of death – is certainly one part of why this song appeals to me generally.

But its point of specific application right now – the thing that caused it to snag on a hook – is harder to define. I find myself circling around the notion that ‘Of a fashionable interest in moving’ is suggestive of psychosomatic mechanisms at play in society at the moment – the need to express internal stresses in other forms.

A trick that Hammill pulls off quite well across his albums I think is to locate these particular moments of emotional agon into social/historical/scientific spaces, which allows for this sort of application.

It is surely not the motion aspect of the song though – a decade of Tory government now using policy as a way of rhetorically realising an apparently expressed desire for a permafrosted 1945-1948 country means it must be more the threat of stasis implied by the idea of sitting targets.

Perhaps it also links into anxieties I have about the debates taking place on the left – the need and indeed the opportunity to reframe for the future, of the possibilities of the new communities that will form, that are forming, identified in their literary expressions by John Self at the end of his piece on the Brexit novel (a phenomenon to which I am totally indifferent, unless it’s written by a John Lanchester of course). The song seems to warn of the need to avoid the stasis born of fear, and inutile movement for movement’s sake, which is not in itself progressive, but an escape.

As I say, I am fully aware these are, in proper Pete Hammill fashion, personal anxieties mapping onto the social and political space.