Gray’s Gauntlet

“At least now there is something we all have in abundance – time” – one of the truisms of the Corona era. But time is what we’re fighting for now; the Quarry’s been brought in to buy it, to put off the inevitable, to delay and elongate. It’s not in our possession though, not yet. People are scrambling to maintain themselves, to radically alter practices in order to survive – at least where they can. The infrastructure lags behind and innovation can’t fill every gap.

Never been a better time to write – another. There is time but what of it? One needs to have experience in order to process experience. Nothing will come of nothing. Hyperbole is of little value. This is no plague. These aren’t the long dark nights of an Icelandic winter nor Death’s inexorable advance. People just want a laugh. Light entertainment. Netflix in HD – though they might not get that if the EU has its way. Glad we got out of that one when we did.

How far has comedy evolved? Wouldn’t say much. Slapstick probably has the longest shelf-life. We’ll have bodies for a good long while yet, however disappointing that prospect is. Even our future cybernetic incarnations will probably stifle a chuckle at how fragile, sticky and slippery we used to be in smug superiority.

Is this what being on benefits is like? Money rolling in, albeit at a reduced rate, you at a loose end. On the payroll without the prospect of promotion. No. You’re not dependent on the whim of the government. You don’t have to be on the search fulltime. You won’t lose everything because you can’t afford the bus to get to the meeting to prove you exist.

Nothing’s on TV. Nothing’s on full stop. The stream is live though. Microchannels. Pop up broadcasts. DIY shows and the DIY shows but it’s charming. Thrown-together-ness reigns.

Doors open and close without close now everybody’s home. No opportunity’s going to come knocking now. The economy’s tanked thanks to a pangolin.

Messages are trickling in. People are bored and it shows but it’s nice to be thought of on nights like these.

2020 – the season that didn’t happen, the year that didn’t happen – let’s hope not. Hundreds of thousands of excess deaths predicted.

Each day begins with a to-do list, so I’m meeting goals still. Micro goals. Personal. Fursbreck’s likes are steadily climbing. Hitting targets. How far can it go on? We’re aiming to “flatten the curve” but I’m chasing after exponentials.

Everything’s been cancelled. No events on the horizon. No singing, no cycling, no marathon, no open day, no AGM, no speaking course.

Finally, I’m getting some reading done. Ali Smith again. Have I talked about her before? Not on here. She’s from Inverness and has written a tetralogy on Brexit Britain. The first thing I read of hers was Boy Meets Girl. My favourite novel, though, is How to be both, which looks at grief, childhood, art and sexuality from the perspective of 15th century Italy and 21st century Cambridge. Right now, I’m into three of four – Spring. Her characters are impeccable. One’s favourite song is ‘Heroes’ by Alesso, with Adele a close second. How can you write someone with such terrible taste into a literary novel? Here’s how – make them security at an immigration removal facility.

There’s the preternaturally intelligent child motif again; a staple of virtually every novel. The intellectual man who’s not all that. Impossibly brilliant relative or friend who’s newly died. Slightly off activist who launches into lives forcing people to recalibrate. Again, and again, the same characters in new guises, recycled and refreshed like Shakespeare’s Many-Faced God.

People don’t talk about Yarl’s Wood. Yarl’s Wood is a synecdoche. A part representing the whole; a whole system of Yarl’s Woods up and down the length of Britain. One of those things existing as a physical manifestation of rhetoric. And while we squabble over the correct words to use and the soft policy of welcome and hostility; infrastructure, orders, contracts and quotas persist.

I asked at the beginning of this year who would take up the gauntlet thrown down by Alasdair Gray after his death in December 2019. Now I have my answer in Ali Smith, whose synthesis of the Zeitgeist is so potent it makes you want to grab hold of your fellow citizen and shake until they come to their senses. A new age, new cruelties and these somehow the same old brutalities, archive footage of evil soundtracks the documentary of now. Art in the age of mechanical reproduction – repeat, repeat, repeat.

No overtime. No undertime. Contract revoked. Zero hours reduced to nil. Unreal. Dreamlike.

Facebook distributing masks. Vox critiquing for having too few. Why do they even have them in the first place? Multinationals as much and more a facilitator than governments. Nationalise international airlines. Internationalise. We’ve reached the point where language runs out.

About alasdairflett

German & English Literature graduate. From Orkney. Interested in alternative and indie music, language, writing and politics.
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