Posted in Covid-19, Current Events, Politics, United Kingdom

Failures of State – A Book Review (but its really just an excuse to rant)

“Happy” Freedom Day.

Let this day go down in infamy history as the day when the UK decided to lift all covid restrictions, when masks can start becoming a thing of the past, when what was once policy starts to become optional, when the fate of thousands of vulnerable adults now rests on the wider British public’s ability to exercise common sense, and when unvaccinated youngsters can start to enjoy the glorious wonders of gyrating their hips and bopping their heads to house music in night clubs and bars around the country.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, we have people running around like headless chickens ensuring patients are being swabbed so they can have their planned operation, frantic managers wondering how the hell they can manage their workforce and deliver their service when half their staff are being pinged and told to self-isolate for no apparent reason, and NHS staff, who have been working their butts off for the whole of the pandemic, resignedly carrying on with their work knowing that its likely to get worse (again) before it starts to get better.

Yeah. Today seems like a good day to post my book review on Failures of State.

As the popular saying goes, history tends to repeat itself. I could not agree more, especially when those who are supposed to lead and serve the people repeatedly fail to learn from their past mistakes. Failures of State is the story of how Britain supposedly sleepwalked its way into the worst number of coronavirus cases in all of Europe, and the highest death toll amongst all the developed countries, except perhaps the U.S. who – at the time – had bigger problems on their hands (not the least of which was the fact that they had a buffoon with a blond wig and an orange tan running the country)

I knew that I was going to be annoyed and irritated whilst reading this book, there was nothing in it that I didn’t already know from reading the news, and from the endless cycles of lockdowns and tier systems and half-arsed measures that never seem to work. But what I didn’t expect was to move past annoyed and irritated and veer right towards being infuriated.

Maybe its because we’ve now lived with this for nearly 18 months and it still feels like some endless Groundhog Day nightmare of rising cases, overly optimistic outlooks and proclamations despite evidence to the contrary, and premature easing of restrictions/lockdowns. Maybe its the fact that I haven’t seen my parents for nearly 2 years.

Maybe I’m just sick of out-of-touch, privileged, elitist and (from where I’m standing) morally bankrupt men making stupid decisions that affect my day-to-day life while changing absolutely none of theirs.

Or maybe I’m just pissed off because I sat down today, after a really busy shift where I didn’t have the chance to so much as go to the toilet because I was so busy, and saw on Twitter that there were people around Westminster gathered for an anti-lockdown protest. On the day that lockdown officially ends.

You could not make this up.

Failures of State is an emotionally triggering book for those who have actually lived through the realities of the coronavirus: NHS staff, people who have watched their loved ones suffer, or worse, people who watched their loved ones die without even getting a fighting chance, because factors like their age and co-morbidities decreased their chances of survival, and hospitals apparently could not afford to waste precious bed space on people who are unlikely to make it.

Can you even imagine how that must feel like? And can you even imagine what it must feel like to be the one who has to make that call?

The book is incredibly informative, and whilst I’m not a good judge on what might be considered a good piece of investigative journalism, I like that the authors attempted to give context and background to the coronavirus story, with evidence and transcripts from China that shows how their government failed to notify the world in time that this virus could potentially have far-reaching (and fatal) effects. What the book does NOT attempt is any form of impartiality. This was an attack on the current Tory government and its fearless leader, full stop. And I for one think that the attack is probably deserved.

To be absolutely fair, one might be able to excuse the government’s actions during the first wave as the the actions of those who were caught unaware about the scale of the problem they were facing. I mean, they had Brexit to celebrate, who cares about some virus that’s hardly more dangerous than the common flu? This was a problem for Asian countries, it could never happen to us, and besides, the UK has one of the best contingency plans for these kind of things right? We can even afford to send PPE to China once it became clear they were struggling.

UGH.

I personally think that the whole reason for the mess we are in is that there are a lot of people in this county with a deluded sense of invincibility, not to mention an incredible sense of entitlement. It could never happen to us. That’s what most of us thought in December right? That the problem would never reach our shores, and even if it did, we would be ready for it and it will all blow away by the summer.

And then of course, once we finally went into lockdown after lockdown after lockdown, people started to complain because they were oh so tired of staying at home and not being able to go on holidays, or complain about the endless amount of time re-watching Friends on Netflix.

And when the vaccines were finally developed, some people cared more about their precious freedom – its my body and I’ll die if I want to – than availing of the one thing that can actually help us out of this mess. You just could not win.

And so now we’re back to where we started. Increasing cases, overly optimistic outlook throwing caution to the wind and lifting all restrictions, blah blah blah blah blah. As the great Taylor Swift said, I think I’ve seen this film before, and I can already tell where we’re going.

If it wasn’t clear, I have not had the best of days. I am quite aware that for a lot of people today is a day to celebrate, and I do not discredit the fact that 18 months of lockdown and isolation have had serious effects on people’s mental and emotional health. If I didn’t see day in and day out the toll that this pandemic has taken on my colleagues, if I hadn’t seen how harrowing it is to have to convert beds to ITU spaces and redeploy people to care for really ill patients, if I hadn’t just spent half the day helping to plan staffing so we could continue to deliver health services despite the shortage of staff, I would probably be more magnanimous towards those who waited until midnight to enter their favourite nightclub.

But I have seen and have done all those things. And as it is, all I can say is…

£%@$^^&!!!!*$%

And also, read this book. It might help some of us make some semblance of sense from the chaos of the last 18 months. If nothing else, you might probably find the smoke and mirrors that this government attempted to weave around its public mildly amusing and entertaining.

Posted in dating, poetry, relationships, women

Table For One

“Can I help you madam?”
the server asks
as she steps
through
the automatic doors.

As if a single beam
of stage-light
has shone
on
the vacant space
by her side,
she starts
to sweat,
self-conscious,
wary
of being judged
by this stranger.

This used to be easy,
something to aspire to,
a defiant gesture
in the face of
society’s expectations.
A bold statement,
I am
a
strong
independent
woman.

I don’t need a man
to share my meals with.
I have
a perfectly
working
digestive system,
thank you very much.

Now,
it felt like there was
a ticking clock
over her head
telling the world:
“This woman
has reached
the limits
of her best-before date.”

“Madam,”
the server persists.
“Do you have a
reservation?”
She shakes her head.
“That’s alright,” he says,
“Would you like
a table
for two?”

He asks this
as if it were a given,
as if it were the norm,
and it probably was,
and she was the odd one.
But godammit,
she just wanted to have
some kimchi pancakes.

Taking a deep breath,
she held her head high
and said,
“No.
Table for one.”
And she looked him in the eye,
daring him
to judge.

Posted in Books, Fantasy, relationships, Reviews, romance

Book Review: The Kingdoms – Natasha Pulley

Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns and flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day.”

Great Expectations, Charles Dickens

What. If.

Two words that independent of each other don’t amount to much but when combined, form one of the most powerful phrases in the English language.

As I grow older, and with lockdown causing me to have A LOT of time in my hands, I often pause and wonder about what could have been if I had made different choices, if I had chosen to go left instead of right, if I had walked instead of taken the tube on one of the days when I felt lazy, or if I had invested in Twitter when it was just another start-up.

What if I had never met this person, or never fallen in love, or if I’d had the balls to tell the guy I fancied I had feelings for him?

What if COVID never happened? I’ve spent a lot of sleepless nights thinking about the opportunities not taken, the road no one got to travel, and the lost acquaintances, friendships and relationships that never had the chance to form because of the year we all spent apart instead of together.

The Kingdoms is a book that feels like one long episode of What if. Emphasis on long, because this is not a book for the fainthearted, clocking in at just under 500 pages. However, let me just put it out there that I couldn’t care less what her critics say, I have a soft spot for Natasha Pulley’s writing. Do some of the scenes meander? Are there times when you feel like nothing’s really happening? Is too much importance given to making tea and just sitting side by side with the person you love? Yes, yes, and bloody hell YES.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You see, even in a plot as ambitious, twisty and thought-provoking as the one we have here (imagine a world where England had lost the Battle of Trafalgar and Napoleon had been made emperor), what Natasha achieves time and time again in all of her novels is a sense of intimacy. The kind that lives in the silence of words that need not be said, that kind that finds happiness in simply being near a person, that loves without conditions, understands without judgment, gives with no expectations and trusts, with no reason or proof that the trust is earned or deserved.

Her characters are always well developed. I can’t explain it, but because of the patient way she introduces them to readers, and the way she lets everything unfold without rushing us, allowing us to discover what we each love in the Joe Tournier’s, Missouri Kite’s and (still my favourite) Keita Mori’s of the world, I always end up feeling like I really know these people, and I end up falling in love with each of them, every single time.

I feel obligated to just drop a few lines that would actually be considered a proper book review rather than just me gushing about how great this book is. The premise is reminiscent of The Man in the High Castle, and I spent about a week watching the series just because I was inspired to give it another go after reading this book. I found it just as boring as the first time I bothered to watch the first episode. Great premise, terrible execution.

The Kingdoms, in contrast, was so well-crafted and well-plotted, and all the elements just fit. It was atmospheric, like all of Natasha’s works are. I could almost feel the chill in my bones, the salt air and the breeze coming from the ocean. I could smell the gunpowder from enemy fires and feel the smoke in my throat. And do not get me started on the feels. Everything was just so painfully beautiful, sometimes I had to stop reading to keep myself from getting overwhelmed.

If the superlatives weren’t enough to clue you in, then let me say explicitly that I really really loved this book. There is a different sort of happiness that can be derived from the simple things, and at the core of this fantastical book is a simple story of love being love, and being strong enough to withstand the literal test of time. Despite being Katsu-less (bloody hell, I loved that octopus), The Kingdoms is still a masterpiece, and one that I will quite happily (and probably) re-read over and over again.

Rating: 5 stars.

Posted in poetry, relationships

The Seat

Today,
I saved you a seat.
And watched
with bated breath,
as you came in.
Late,
as usual.

You catch my eye
And I wonder
what you see
in the seconds
it takes
to get from the door
to the seat next to mine.

Do you see
The hope,
warring with fear
and the dawning realisation
that you are the tide,
ebbing further and further
with each return.

You are the minutes
and seconds
of every day,
slipping through my fingers.
I cling to the light,
but the sunset always comes.

In your eyes,
I see restraint
a constant push
and pull
toeing the line
between leading me on
and breaking my heart.

Is today that day?
I want to break out of my skin
the moment
feels infinite.
Can you walk a little faster,
Please?

Finally,
You reach the seat
You pause,
breathe in
and sat.
I breathe out,
Relieved.

A reprieve
A stay of execution
And tomorrow
This dance
starts
all over again.