Plague Diary, III

3 June

The most London thing: an ad on the side of a bus advertising an event at the Marriott promoting Pakistani bonds (‘Invest in Pakistan!’). & of course it’s three months out of date, bc London 2020.

5 June

I’m not a big Nando’s fan, I can’t eat most of their food, but I have a soft spot for it ever since I lived above one in Sydney back in 2009, and occasionally I’ll stop in to one in a shopping mall and eat a haloumi burger and chips, maybe after a long day of work or performing a show on tour or something.

Anyway, what I’m saying is: I’ve really indexed Nando’s reopening to my happiness, and the fact that I can now get a takeaway burger and peri-peri chips is a sheer fucken joy.

8 June

A taxicab repainted to say ‘Sanitised interior, partitioned, safe to travel’. This world, this world.

11 June

Four kids in the Primary School playground today, the first in months. They’re running around in a kind of ecstatic overload, so much playground, so little time.

Deaths dipped below 100 a day this week. Maybe they’re cooking the stats, maybe not, but it felt good.

12 June

In the Philippines, Duterte has passed an anti-terror bill allowing the police to detain anyone for days, weeks, months, on suspicion of terror or ’supporting’ terror, essentially installing martial law in all but name.

The horror of that: and then, suddenly, all my friends have found sudden swarms of fake facebook accounts in their name. 2, 3, up to 20 different accounts all using your name, suddenly all over Facebook, sending friend requests to people you know… Someone from the administration said the tactic is to replicate your account, to copy posts and mimic your account in every way, and then to add in additional new posts that are incitements to terror – give the govt an excuse to peruse your account, invite facebook to kick you off, smear your name as a provocateur. Awful times right now.

I’m balancing the logical certainty of more awful shocks against the irrational hope for better times.

14 June

A construction worker coming out of a closed-up betting shop near Stepney Green carrying most of a dead tree. Has it turned into a forest indoors?

15 June

Shops open today, with physical distancing. The queue outside Sports Direct stretches for several blocks.

The VR place ‘CYBERPUNK VR WORLD’ remains closed.

The guy in the Asian supermarket is doing shoulder presses behind the counter with a band, wearing his facemask, bless. (That might not be lockdown related, specifically.)

20 June

Today, for the first time in over three months, we caught a train and left our little strip of East London.

Everyone required to wear masks on the underground, not everyone obeying that rule. Next to us in a carriage, three young unmasked Italians chatting loudly, I was so conscious of the tiny particles from their mouths filling the carriages.

On the train I remembered the sense of dread and despair I felt when I caught the tube from Mile End to Heathrow Airport at the end of January to fly to Manila, how I thought that this might be the last time I catch the tube, how London might be decimated, the plague could destroy us. The virus is very, very bad, but not as bad as I feared back then.

I remembered – different but equally awful – in early March, when the virus was loose in the UK, cases were escalating, and the government blithely ignored it. Day by day I was  more scared, knowing that our window to deal with it was closing and we were fucking it. And in retrospect, I wasn’t wrong to be so scared.

So now, even though it’s bleak and will continue to be bleak, it didn’t feel as bad.

We went to Crystal Palace to see the dinosaurs. On the Southern line from London Bridge to Penge West, Rebecca says, ‘it feels good to be moving through an overgrown industrial environment in a machine again.’

22 June

Streets back to life round Aldgate, flirting couples on a Monday evening, a big group of cyclists talk to the Imam outside the mosque, they overtake me, twenty big bearded men, I pass them again outside a grocer’s, all drinking the same flavour of ice tea and wiping sweat off their brow.

Last night slipped trimming the back of my head and now I have a tiny bald patch – and on the street a guy passes me with patterns shaved in the side of his scalp and I guess the barbers are back and I’m jealous

23 June

A man hassles me near Cephas Street to buy him an oyster card, when I offer him the snacks in my bag he could not be less impressed.

White kids in their twenties all in tight white t-shirts and sunglasses pass carrying house plants in backpacks.

Yesterday a couple by Brick Lane, two kids with great quiffs and mullets, tight-fitted coats down to their ankles and doc martens, and man, bless all the people whose creative practice is their personal style, what have you been doing these last few months?

25 June

Today, a mistake. The last few days catching the train to work in the morning, quiet on the District line, only one or two other people in the carriage. Today though it was 31 degrees in the late afternoon so I thought I’d catch the train home.

Nothing moving from Aldgate East station, obstruction on the tracks. Waited on the platform with masked people, stretched up and down, mindful of being trapped indoors with the virus. Sat on an unmoving train for five minutes, then stepped out and walked to Liverpool Street to catch the Central line instead.

Ten station attendants out the front of Liverpool St Station holding big foam hands with pointing fingers, directing traffic around the station – there’s now one entrance and one exit, foot traffic flowing in one direction. The Central line was quieter than I’ve ever known at this time, but still, one in five people not wearing masks, caught in this tiny unventilated chamber with all these bodies, I felt like a fool for risking it. Headphones playing Andy Stott’s Faith in Strangers, I laughed when I realised, truly I put my faith in all those strangers tonight.

26 June

In Australia, Victoria was averaging no new cases a day, then there was a sudden outbreak, now there’s 53 or more, double figures and rising and the state in lockdown.

Israel was down to 10 new cases a day, they ended lockdown, now there’s been an outbreak and they’re back up to 532 new cases a day.

The US is peaking, Houston’s hospital capacity is overwhelmed, Florida is spiking, Arizona, it’s desperately bad.

The UK reopens almost completely on 4 July. We’re at more than 1,000 new cases a day and we’re reopening. There will be a major new spike, there will be a massive outbreak, of course there will be. If there’s a plan when that happens, it hasn’t been communicated. What are we doing here, suddenly it feels insane.

On the way to the station tonight I thought, I know this feeling – this is the feeling of hyper-alertness I have when I’m travelling somewhere unfamiliar, the sense of fear and caution around every possible encounter. I never relax it until I’m back somewhere I know is safe. And now maybe I’ll never relax it again.

27 June

Wearing this black cloth mask means I can silently sing along to tunes on my headphones on the train and no-one can see

28 June

Grimy sweaty heat. At lunchtime, working in the office, someone left the carpark gates open, and suddenly a group of 15 people rushed in to conduct a heroin deal directly under my window, maybe 10 feet from my desk. One man selling, everyone else buying, and it was hectic, shouts and arguments and threats. One man yelling ‘My six fucking pounds, my six fucking pounds!’ and it was over in ten minutes, they sprinted back out into the heat, and it was strange and sad.

That evening on Whitechapel High Street, heading home from work, on the street opposite the East London Mosque, a man lying on the pavement, his head jutting out into the bike lane.

A cyclist had stopped and was watching him, concerned. I ran over and got the guy’s head, drew him off the bike lane on to the pavement. He was unconscious, breathing shallow, overdosing on something, muscles tense, so skinny. The cyclist called the ambulance – but was overexcited, giving incorrect info to the hotline (‘he might not be breathing! he might be dead!’) and I knelt on the pavement and held the man’s head and checked his breathing.

Someone stopped by and gave us disposable masks to put on, and I felt like a fool – I’d been there holding this guy for 10 mins and hadn’t thought to put a mask on – and then of course I put it on upside down, which didn’t make it seem like I had command of the situation. But he was okay, unconscious and trembling but stable, and the paramedic arrived, an Australian lad, who was calm and chill and told the excitable cyclist who was regaling passers-by with the story of the situation to please be quiet.

The paramedic drew the guy’s t-shirt up – he was so, so thin – and found a needle in his pocket, tho thankfully still sheathed, and a tag somehow affixed to his belly – a blue plastic tag, like it had been pierced to his skin somehow, I don’t understand. The paramedic told me, this means he’s been in one of our ambulances already today, we’ve already given him narcan. Another set of paramedics arrived and I helped load the guy up onto a stretcher, helped strap his feet to the bed and wedge his bag in there too for him, and then farewelled the paramedics and walked on my way.

And only as I walked off did I realise that I’d seen the guy earlier that day, scoring drugs under my office window, and I felt so sad, two overdoses in one day, and it was such a hot day.

1 July

My favourite cafe on Whitechapel High Street are serving takeaway coffees, but this weekend they open fully. The barista is trying to be happy about it but he is clearly nervous.

Leicester just shut down again after a big outbreak. The stats the government are sharing were not the full stats, it seems.

On the train in the morning, some people wear masks, some people don’t, and I can feel the clock ticking in my head. Enclosed space, two people sitting opposite each other – if neither are wearing masks, less than 5 minutes to infection. If both are wearing masks, maybe 10 minutes at most.

2 July

This week the tide went out in me. I’m okay, and I’ll be okay, but I feel like I don’t have much to say or give.

I stopped reading. I have too many thoughts swirling around in my head, no energy for projects, no momentum. Instead of opening a book or looking at my computer I came home from work and sat on the couch and looked at the wall, out the window, for hours. I wasn’t bored, I had thoughts, my head was full, but no energy to do anything with them or to take anything more in.

Last night I sat on the balcony and looked out over the gardens below. In one of the gardens where a fox has made her den, three little fox kits came exploring out into the garden in the twilight. They poked into flowerpots and ran back and forth along the fences. One of them crept through a gap in the fence to the fancy rock garden of the middle class couple that live behind us. It looked up and saw me. I waved, and it ducked under the porch with just its snout showing.

Three fox kits playing in the evening doesn’t mean that anything good will happen, it’s not a promise, but it happened.

3 July

The city fixes it, when I feel flattened out, it always does. I see a guy in the passenger seat of a van take a deep draw on a cigarette and laugh, or the girl in the fancy jewellery store furtively ducking behind the counter to eat the hot chips her boyfriend has brought her, or two girls dressed up all glam for friday night pass by Altab Ali Park, and all the men stand up a little straighter, including me – and just that is enough to make me feel better. Humans, I love you, you weird fucken animals

4 July

A lady in a WOMEN FOR MIKE 2020 t-shirt lining up outside the supermarket this morning. Still no explanation for that.

5 July

City back to life today, shops reopened, restaurants and bars, everything back to normal, typical London summer weekend, it feels like the eye of a storm.

6 July

This morning, a police officer (community support officer? what’s the difference?) stopped the train and gave the woman in the carriage down from me a mask, and we didn’t move again til she put it on.

7 July

I’ve run out of momentum. The roads just aren’t there for me. I know intellectually that it’ll be alright, it’s possible to find a way forward, but right now I can’t see it. Friends have been kind to me this week.

9 July

The new routine. Train to work in the morning, mask on in the quiet sparse carriage, District line from Mile End to Aldgate East. Working in the office. The building is open again, there are people down at the ginnel welcoming you in in the morning.

In the mid-afternoon, walking to a cafe for a takeaway coffee. The place is open again for dine-in service, there are fewer tables but they’re all full. The baristas wear facemasks or shields. People sit maskless inside, eating meals, reading books, chatting. I envy them, except I don’t envy them at all.

I take a coffee and sit in the courtyard outside the studios, and I don’t read, I don’t write, I sit with the coffee in my hands and look at the sky and for a few minutes don’t think.

It’s been a surprisingly busy month, given all the venues are closed. We get by.

The biggest thing to share is that I now have a newsletter. I’ll be sharing about 10-12 posts a year, with news on upcoming projects, new writings, and other dispatches from the world of climate science and the arts. Please subscribe!

I’ve also published a series of essays about my practice entitled New Rules for Modelling. This is an attempt to capture some of the lessons from the last 10-15 years of projects with Boho, Coney and Sipat Lawin, working to explore complex systems and possible futures through narrative, design and gaming. Very curious to know what you think, if you have the time to read.

Last month, Jordan Prosser and I presented a short digital season of CrimeForce: LoveTeam, our interactive police procedural looking at the future of genetic surveillance and boy bands. We’re now diving into making a new work, this time exploring some of the fascinating scenarios being put forward for the post-covid world. The new work is called Broken Hearts 2035: Politics and post-pandemic romance, and we’re doing a short season at the end of August – RSVP now if you’re keen.

Last week I did a short digital run of Break Into The Aquarium, my solo performance about rewilding and the future of eco-activism. This was a lot of fun, and thank you to everyone who came, including/especially the people who have taken on the job of caring for snails.

At the end of the month, Jordan and I will be hosting a conversation with JK Anicoche and several other Filipino artists/activists entitled Green Manifesto. We’ll be discussing the current state of affairs in the Philippines, and what that might mean for the future of the country in the next 5-10 years. Strongly suggest you come along, this will be fascinating.

And lastly, I was stoked to be shortlisted for the Griffin Playwriting Award for 44 Sex Acts In One Week along with four other beautiful works by Australian writers. The award went to Dylan Van Den Berg’s beautiful Way Back When, which is stunning and which I am very excited about the future production of.

That’s all for now. It’s choppy waters out there, wishing you all a lot of love and care, look after yourselves, I don’t know what this world is coming to