The Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska said that writing is the revenge of a mortal hand and today is Friday 22nd May and I don’t know what day of the lockdown it is but the lockdown seems like it’s bled out into a hazy grey area where we’re encouraged to get back to work but not if it’s going to infect anyone but maybe it’s ok if you’re poor and working in the service industry because we’ve got to get the economy back up and running and we’ll clap for you once a week and say thank you but not pay you properly for the risk. I noticed a poem about the NHS someone had put in a window of a shop on Park Row that ended with the lines ‘we are not heroes, this is not a charity, we are not martyrs.’ Last Friday night I was delivering in St Werbergs and there was a note in someone’s window saying ‘stay alert! It’s your fault if you get ill!’ and I like this sarcastic way people have been treating the latest government advice. I was interested by this post on PRSC about the changing visual culture of the city under lockdown. My favourite is the Boris series, especially ‘Boris is a binbag’ messages popping up around the place. Adding to those noticed by PRSC, in Bedminster I saw graffiti on a billboard that said ‘France out of Africa’ in huge blue across an advert. Off trend, but I liked this one. In the city centre there was an ad for a burgers and someone had graffitied over it ‘don’t buy ecocide’ I think in reference to how fast food in the UK, particularly through meat farming, is fuelling deforestation in the Amazon. Anti-police state and mutual aid posters have popped up around the south Bristol fringes.
Everywhere I see small kindnesses and notice this sign in Fishponds on Wednesday saying ‘Thank you to all members of the public who stopped to help me when i fainted on this crossing on the 10th March your help and kindness was so appreciated’. I think about when I was cycling into Istanbul at the end of my two month trip from Bristol three years ago, and was navigating endless highways and busy roads in rush hour in the rain, and the pollution was terrible, and a scooter pulled up beside me and the rider gave me a face mask to wear to help with the fumes, then he drove off. I still think about people like him who would stop and give me something or want to help me for no particular reason. The world is full of them and on a day to day level I think we tend to be kind to strangers just because. Another day I was cycling up a hill in Albania going towards the Macedonia border and three guys on motorbikes pull up and they’re from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and we chatted a bit and spoke some things in Arabic and they were happy to hear I was going to Palestine and they gave me some nice leather gloves and a balaclava to keep warm in Macedonia and I still have the balaclava. I can see love and hate in the time of corona. While people everywhere are often silently kind without expectation, elites take opportunities to persecute and control. The US government ramped up spending on riot control gear lately, citing the covid outbreak. China is trying to take full control of Hong Kong under the cover of corona restrictions on public gatherings, attempting to thwart the huge protest movement in the past few years. Just before the outbreak hit the UK, in February, the government awarded Israeli arms company Elbit a contract to help ‘secure’ Britain’s sea borders. I remember last summer when we shut down the Elbit Ferranti factory in Oldham for three days and look forward to the day we shut them down for good. The people and their kindness and solidarity will prevail over the corporate death vultures like Elbit.
Picking up from a chicken shop in Easton last week the man gave me the food and asked me ‘where are you from from?’ I said I’m from from Bristol. Originally? Yeah originally from Brexit island, formerly known as the United Queendom. Just Bristol, via Devon and Ireland and further back London and more Devon and Ireland. He’s asking me because delivery couriers are often migrant workers so sometimes people assume I’m from Eastern Europe. And I’ve written before about how many of the jobs we now realise are critical to keeping the country going are often performed by people not born here, something that the government is catching up with slowly, now announcing that it’s scrapping the ‘migrant surcharge’ for NHS workers and care workers. For me, the exception proves the injustice of the rule and why should any migrant worker pay a surcharge to use the NHS? National insurance seems to work fine, and if that’s all I’m paying to access the NHS that’s all anyone should have to pay. I don’t see why I’m any more entitled to get NHS services just because I was born in Bristol.
This week the summer feeling of joy has returned to the city and is partly nudging out the lockdown feeling of torpor and dystopian unease. I meet up with H in a park and we talk over lockdown gossip and crow flies over us carrying a KFC box. Bristol is back in action and the birds can feast on our leftover takeaways and I’m not sure if that’s exactly a good thing but fed birds are surely better than unfed birds even if it’s KFC boxes that they’re eating? Maybe it wanted to make a KFC box-based nest. As I’m cycling down Park Street later on in the week I stop at the traffic lights and a seagull swoops down next to me and stands in the middle lane. On Brunswick Square I saw a seagull peck into three discarded tupperwares full of food. On Wednesday I swim in the river in Hanham with my housemate, and then log in for work and take a Thai curry from Hotwells to the other side of the river and happen to see H again and we sit and watch the sunset in the golden hour and what is that feeling, is that a small joy? Then I log back in and work the rest of the evening until 11, until after the sky has turned that last light blue at the horizon and Venus is high again. While I’m waiting for pizza on Hotwells Road three guys come down the street on electric scooters the wrong way and one shouts ‘you can deliver to me any time’ and I think in his dreams, and I know that the people of Bristol are out enjoying themselves just a little bit. I watch this short film made by the Cable with some nice footage of Bristol in lockdown and with people’s thoughts on how the pandemic has affected the city and it makes me a bit proud to be from from Bristol or at least belonging here for now. The sheer chaos of the ecosystem has made a mockery of our linear human plans and robbed us of future dreaming just for a little while and this has been tragic and dangerous for some and just inconvenient and boring for others. If in all that we can grab a small moment of joy in the company of a friend then I’m happy.