Plague Diary, I

27 March

Walking to the office this morning, first day of daylight savings. Cold spring wind blowing gusts along Whitechapel High Street. Today is the first day I can remember where the debris being blown is mostly blossoms and leaves rather than garbage.

The floors around the Kaaba in Mecca are white. I didn’t know that because I’d never seen it without thousands of worshippers surrounding it.

The pope prays alone in St Peter’s square in Rome. That’s a first in history, perhaps.

29 March

The signs in shop windows telling you they’re closed are a perfect expression of that shop’s character.

  • Small but officious travel agencies or optometrists, ‘Due to government advice, because of the Covid-19 regulations around social distancing, we will be temporarily closed, apologies for the inconvenience.’
  • No-fucks-given Indian restaurants, ‘CLOSED due to VIRUS’
  • Hipster art gallery with pangolin paste-up, ‘Closed til further notice: U Know The Score’
  • Bars, ‘We are filming you right now and there’s no money on premises, don’t even try it
  • And the Genesis cinema, which I walk past every day and which is giving me a little sense of positivity, has turned its cinema sign to just say: ’tis but a scratch’

Today I flipped between imagining that it will all be over and back to normal, then having moments where it sinks in that it will never be the same again.

Fri 3 April

Single plane in the clouds on the way to work, made me realise how quiet the skies have been. Feels like the air is clearer. I know that air pollution is way down, psychosomatically it feels like the outlines of buildings are clearer in the distance.

The Australia Council for the Arts announce 4 year funding. A big tranche of arts orgs have lost out, more than I expected. Places starting to go under. I felt myself wishing, on the walk home, that I could just see all the destruction now, that I could just know how bad it’ll get, and therefore just work from that, rather than continually revising expectations and having to readjust my expectations one week at a time. But uncertainty is part of the package, isn’t it?

Sun 5 April

Buses with signs on them advertising movies that are still to open in cinemas long closed. ‘Dark Waters with Mark Ruffalo, in cinemas now!’ No, no it is not.

Handwritten sign taped to the bus door by the driver, ‘please enter by the back door’.

The Old Vic have put posters up all around Mile End saying PLEASE BELIEVE THESE DAYS WILL PASS

Every day I hear the call to prayer from the East London Mosque echoing out through Whitechapel, which I’ve never heard before all the years I’ve been working here. Eerie and strange and lovely.

7 April

The Australian Rugby League has announced they’re ‘open’ to the possibility of quarantining all their players on one island away from their families for the rest of the year in order to enable them to get back to playing rugby. Why not? Why not anything, as of this week?

Work meeting to talk about furloughing today. I didn’t know what a furlough was a week ago.

10 April

Outside the Co-op supermarket, two young guys wearing huge gas masks with side filters, holding plastic-gloved hands and carrying groceries, maybe medical students from Queen Marys University? An old dude with white stubble stands on a doorstep in shorts and a singlet smoking a cigarette and looking at them in contempt. Two dudes listening to trap on their phone walk past, each with a face mask, each tugging it down to take a hit on a joint before passing it to the other and pulling the mask back up. Each of us pandemics in our own way, I guess.

12 April

A note in the coronadaily points out that parts of the lockdown are certain for months still to come, but many Americans have less than one month’s savings. There will be food banks soon, he says, the government needs to be honest about this.

14 April

Today was the first time I read the phrase ‘No Mask No Service’

16 April

The Tesco staff now wear t-shirts saying ‘Please keep 2m distance.’ In future years, when people hold Covid-themed fancy dress parties, that’s what I’m coming as.

Today I learn that the challenge of managing headphones, sunglasses and facemask was designed for people more coordinated than me.

17 April

Before, I had lots of lives: meeting friends, working in cafes, catching the train, early mornings at the gym, date nights out to see a show, curled up trying to sleep in a plane seat… more than I could count. Now I have three lives: at home with Rebecca, alone in a deserted office working, and walking up and down Whitechapel High Street in between the two. Not complaining, three is still a lot.

Dan Hill says: ‘According to Instagram, everyone is baking bread. According to sales figures, they’re not.’

This is the bit of the post where I’d normally talk about what I’ve got coming up, and right now I can truly say: not a lot. At least, not a lot I can invite you to. I’ve been busy, in that way that a lot of freelancers are busy, trying to handle the impact, save what can be saved, plan what can be planned, and keep writing in the midst of it because writing is what makes me happy.

I’m hacking away at redrafts of 44 Sex Acts In One Week, my awful romantic comedy about a mismatched couple trapped into a week of endurance stunt fucking. If you’re curious, there’s more about it on the website, and a short script extract – which is now out of date, given that I’ve been rewriting and fixing and editing. So I’m looking forward to sharing more of that soon.

In my maker-on-retainer role at Coney, I’ve been working with Tassos Stevens to prototype a series of new Remote Socials, digital gatherings that explore different kinds of interactive play, regularly on a Friday night. There’s three more coming up, more info here if yr curious.

Most exciting, though, is that my partner Rebecca’s book is coming out! Fathoms: The World in the Whale is launching in Australia at the end of April, in the USA in August, and in the UK in November. Ed Yong (who btw has written two of the most essential big-picture pieces on the pandemic, here and here), said:

‘Fathoms took my breath away. Every page is suffused with magic and meaning. Humanity’s relationship with nature has never been more important or vulnerable, and we are truly fortunate that at such a pivotal moment, a writer of Rebecca Giggs’s calibre is here to capture every beautiful detail, every aching nuance. She is in a league of her own.’