Well, that was all from January and what a January it has been. All the horsemen of the Apocalypse dropped by except Famine because Famine’s never left. And that’s just the start of the year. Isn’t this exciting?
A life like a movie is what many girls and boys dream about but sometimes when this dream comes true it turns out they should have specified the genre in advance. Last week I saw a video made by an American living in quarantined Wuhan. The guy, who teaches English there, went to stock up on groceries for the next two weeks. He took a travel bag for the purpose. And he walked to the supermarket along empty ten-lane streets, along empty pavements with just the occasional bicycle, moped, or a car passing by.
We’ve all seen it: the empty streets, the abandoned shops, the silence. But until now most of us, I would imagine, had only seen it on a screen in a movie that is categorised as horror. Why, there is a TV show actually called Quarantine. It’s Belgian and it’s quite good. Life, it seems, is still better at doing horror, though.
Now, sober minds remind us that there are outbreaks like this in China every single year. That car crashes kill more people in a day than the 2019-nCoV has killed so far. And this is all true if we all stop and think about it. Only we don’t want to stop and think about it because fear is so much more exciting.
Of course, like the media who are doing their best to stoke our fears of death and the destruction of civilisation, conspiracy theorists didn’t disappoint, either. The virus was made in a lab. The lab was Chinese/American/Russian. The goal is to disrupt order for whatever evil reason. And then I read it was actually Bill Gates. I’ve no idea why conspiracy theorists like picking on Bill Gates so much. Why not Jeff Bezos? He’s richer.
And now for the human angle. This week Italy diagnosed its first two cases of 2019-nCoV, which could have got a nicer name but no, we’re all going to call it by an abbreviation. The government wasted no time being calm and reasonable. The government declared a national emergency. I’ve never been to a country in national emergency mode. This will most certainly spice up my trip.
I’m not particularly scared of getting infected. The epidemic is not quite there yet and, hopefully, it will never get there. But I’m keeping track of events. I’ve got a file with select news report links. You may call it cynical (though I don’t see why, it’s not like I’m enjoying people getting sick) but real-life book research doesn’t happen every day. Of course I’ll be keeping track with news reports and Lancet studies and WHO announcements. I just started writing the first draft of the disease novel I’ve been contemplating for a year now as the third and final part of the lamiastriga triptych. Triptych here means three standalone books that share some characters. It’s a pompous way of saying “It’s not a series but I wanted to see what happens to A, B, C, and D after the first book.”
For those interested in further reading on the topic, here is the Lancet-published study about the spread of the 2019-nCov (someone REALLY needs to come up with a better name). It’s a little scary. We live in interesting times.
Bread and yogurt
I’m not a good mother and I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m too busy with myself to be a good mother, at least in the sense some women seem to attach to the phrase with the argument that you’re only a child once. So, obviously, my daughter’s life is not as easy as it could be. She does chores.
The other night I reached a new low when I gave her bread and yogurt for dinner. Let me emphasise that she asked for bread and yogurt. The reason she asked for bread and yogurt was that I had only cooked one meal for dinner and she didn’t want that meal. Usually, when I make dinner and it doesn’t feature rice or broccoli, I make rice or broccoli for her separately. Not that night. So it was either my dinner or no dinner, so she had no dinner in the form of bread and yogurt.
A quick note about yogurt. It’s a staple in Bulgarian fridges. We’re not as big on milk (cringe, shudder) as other nations are. We prefer to consume it in other forms such as the ones that those lovely little bacillus Bulgaricuses make thick and slightly sour. Other bacilluses are welcome to our milk (cringe, shudder), too. So are cheeses and curd, and basically all things that milk (cringe, shudder) can be turned into with the invaluable help of bacteria or without it, even. I love butter and cream.
The thing is that while I wouldn’t argue the fact we are only children once, I don’t see why this should result in a master-servant relationship between the child who is a child now and the former child who is now a parent. I don’t expect Cat to snap into adulthood. It’s my job to prepare her for adulthood and this preparation involves chores and eating either what mum’s cooked or bread and yogurt.
In truth, she doesn’t mind it. She can live on bread. Not bread with anything, just bread. As someone who grew up on bread with butter, jam, chocolate spread and everything else you can put on a sandwich, this outrages me but there’s little I can do, except, you know, make bread.
Parenting is made up of hundreds of little frustrations. It’s one thing to proudly say “She has been her own person from the moment she was born”. It’s true. Cat was her own person from the moment she was born. It’s another thing entirely to have to live with this person who you sometimes wish was just a TINY LITTLE BIT more like you but in the RIGHT ways.
The reason, of course, is that we’re used to ourselves. We’ve lived with ourselves all our lives. We kind of assume our children will be like us, often unconsciously. Sometimes they are like us. But sometimes the fruit of your random decision to combine your genes with another person’s produces a someone so different from you that you occasionally have trouble believing he or she grew from one of your cells.
Cat did grew out of one of my cells and she’s got my genes all right, along with the prominent right ear. I can often see her granddad, my father, in her. I can see my mum in her. That’s great and all but I would have been really happy if she was quiet and introvert like me rather than curious, reckless, and sentimental as me. You know, take after me in the RIGHT ways. Sadly, no one consulted me on personality traits and tendencies. I’m stuck with an amplified version of most things I liked about myself before I was a parent but don’t like now who never stops talking. She could have a great future in law or stand-up comedy. There are worse things than that, I’m sure.
Has Anyone Read Terry Pratchett?
I follow several Facebook groups about fantasy and horror and this question popped up in one of them a few days ago. Naturally, my first reaction was a scoff and a lame comeback along the lines of “Have you lived at all?” that I kept to myself because I try to be polite online. But then the thinking part of my brain kicked in.
This was a genuine question from a genuinely interested person who was young enough to just discover one of the greatest masters of writing in modern history. I had forgotten I’m old enough to be a (very young, of course) mother to some of the members of this group. I hadn’t thought kids today might start reading for pleasure later in life because of all the devices that distract them earlier. Once I realised all that, I melted inside.
The joy of someone, a stranger, discovering one of your great literary loves is a special kind of joy. I hadn’t felt felt it before this week but I can say with a great degree of certainty it’s akin to someone saying a good word about your own writing. It’s like someone discovering your favourite band. It is a really lovely feeling and the tinge of jealousy because they will read all that treasure for the first time only makes it better.
By the way, questions like this seem to crop up regularly. People asking about Stephen King’s greatest works in the horror group. Has anyone read The Stand? Oh, baby, have I read The Stand. I read it with a cold and let me tell you that was an enhanced reality experience. And It? Misery? Or any other literary work of legendary status in any genre?
Dear child who hasn’t yet read the greats, you’re standing at a huge table overflowing with deliciousness and I envy you but much more than that I’m happy for you, happy that you are about to discover a wealth of words that will… Well, it will make you feel all sorts of things and it will make you a better person. Dig in!
P.S. I have a fascination with cranes against the sky. It’s probably the contrast between nature and humankind. In any case, I like seeing cranes against the sky but for reasons I won’t go into I haven’t been able to capture an image that does the contrast justice yet. Luckily, I have friends with better tech, better eye, and better luck, so that image is courtesy of Yo, for which I thank her.