Saturday, January 16, 2021

Mini Story: A Million Miles

(Drafted before Christmas.)

Mask up, lost in thought in the queue, I overhear a fragment of a conversation. Two letters dart out like fingers: A, and E. But it's nearly Christmas, I think. All the people here in the supermarket are busy picking up chocolates, decorations, drinks and the daily newspaper. The annual selection of festive chart toppers is seeping out over the aisles in an attempt of normality. ("Last Christmas"?) A vaccine is on the way. How can anyone be in A&E? Didn't the world just stop this year? It must be the virus, surely.

Mask up, I load my basket onto the conveyor belt. It reminds me of a crematorium, except the items slide conveniently behind the clear plastic screen in front of the cashier. Transparent, cut off, the screen feels like a window, as if I'm being gently reassured that there's no embezzlement going on. I switch to thinking of an airport security scanner, uniformed guards peering into people's lives through oversized x-ray scans. Is it me rifling through the cashier's day as I pass by, or is she assessing me and my intent?

"How are you today?" I ask, muffled by mask cloth and nine months of conscious distancing. (Lockdown babies must be being born soon, "a decree went out that everyone must return to their birthplace".) She passes a loaf of bread to me. "Not too bad, thanks. How are you?" That polite, programmed response that comes out of all of us instinctively, a script that weaves us together and stops us going insane on an hourly basis. It jars awkwardly wih the conversation I just heard. The bread is too big for this bag, so I start filling a new one.

I can't help myself though. Maybe it's curiosity, fear of awkward silences, or an awareness of Christmas spirit. "Did you say you had someone in A&E?" I ask, trying to sound clear from under this mask. Without lips, my eyes and the inflections have to do the real talking, a tilt of the head carrying some hint of concern against the flow of incoming vegetables. From where I'm standing, I can talk to her without the screen in the way now. The lady in the queue behind me has started loading her shopping on to the belt - bottles of water and a glossy magazine. The thin aisle of the checkout lane acts as both a wall and a checkpoint between me and her.

Not Covid. Crohn's disease. I've heard of it but I'm a passer-by, a shopper, not a doctor. It's her son, in his twenties, taken in last night. Tests. Always tests. She hopes to hear something about the tests when she gets her lunch break. I mentally check my watch - lunch must feel like a million miles away right now. Meanwhile, more bread and chocolates and Christmas jumpers rolling past, more lives and small talk. Wham and Jesus.

The conveyor belt pauses sometimes, the never-ending line of processed goods being held up momentarily by an invisible thread being broken by something huge and global getting in the way. The lady in the queue behind carries on piling up her things into a neat stack while the belt remains motionless. As I watch, the stack turns into a tower - meat and yoghurt and tinned fruit form columns and terraces, dwarfing the line of waiting customers, all growing smaller as the heap gets higher. It looks stable even though I have to crane my neck to see the top. How does she pile it like that without it wobbling? I want to send a message down the space in the aisle, despatch a rodent with a letter asking her to wait. Even though the cashier is passing me more loaves of bread, the conveyor belt is still static and pensive.

I'm not a doctor, I can't fill the silence left by lab checks and sterilised floors. Hiding behind my mask again, I grab the bread and fill up another shopping bag. Seeded baps. White cobs. Baguettes until break. Loaves until lunch time. Bread. Always bread.



Blurry monochrome photo of a  silhouetted figure against the sea

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Amazing sunset today

Use Signal

Great to see Signal getting a bunch of recommendation in light of WhatsApp's latest unprivacy move. I should note that I've been on Signal for a few years, and will happily take contact requests from people I'm in touch with regularly. (Currently Signal needs a phone number, hence the level of trust required here, but they're working on user IDs, according to this Reddit AMA.) Just drop me an email, a DM via Twitter, or via XMPP.

Mini Photo Essay: Winter Garden

Making extra effort to get out into the fresh January frost this week. This morning, all the birds are crying out in the haze, like they're reasserting their collective territory in the absence of traffic and planes. Seagulls, blackbirds, chickens, sparrows, all casting an aerial net over us. 

 I think of church bells trying to join in, either in impersonation or in some attempt to dominate the clouds.

The frosted dew is melting faster than yesterday, sending percussion notes falling from the sloped roof of the shed.

Pyracantha berries, guarded by spikes, waiting to be eaten by wood pigeons and blackbirds.

Remnants of frost on the branch cuttings from the tree that was cut down over the road.

Dustings lurking on the uneaten sunflower seeds. A fox has visited the other night. Perhaps the seeds are too low down.

The leftovers of last summer's tomato plants, nearly forgotten about.

The stems of the purple broccolli, a gift from a stranger, don't seem to bear their own weight any more.

When will the broccolli sprout?

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Service Status 2021-01-03

Apologies if you saw a bunch of old posts appearing in the RSS feed -
the feed stopped working the other day and while the actual problem was
that I'd pasted in a screenshot from Firefox*, I monkeyed about and
think I switched a redirect unnecessarily.

I've switched it back now, which either means things will be as they
were before, or all my posts will get re-published AGAIN.

2021, huh? Can't live with it, can't get basic open standards right
without it.

* Don't paste images as raw data, kids. I hope they teach that in
schools these days.

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