between a far right future and 80s dreams of dystopia

It’s Friday 1st May and Bristol’s looking amazing in the last hours of sunshine. I’m all over south Bristol tonight bringing kebabs and pizza to the heartland masses. I’ve been finding enjoyment in the road names this week. On Wednesday when i was doing the shopping for E in Staple Hill I went down Shrubbery Road and was just admiring the ‘fuck the patriarchy’ graffiti on an abandoned pub and then I turn down Pleasant Road and feel like Bristol’s local geography is speaking to me and I drop off the shopping and head back through Fishponds to home. There’s some ships waiting in the Bristol channel and the Bristol Post has a nicely vague opening line to the story reporting it: ‘Six ships have recently appeared in the Bristol channel and people are trying to figure out why they’re there’. Theories include that they are linked to the drop in oil prices, and at least one is an oil tanker, and ‘it is not clear how long the ships, which vary in length between 75 and 229 metres, will be anchored in the Bristol Channel’. Recently the price of the US WTI crude oil dropped below zero as it became more costly for speculators to store the oil than its future price, a fact which surely shows up how ridiculous our financial system as well as how shaky the world economy is now that economic activity has ground to a halt. I think about if the ships are still there and search ‘mysterious ships’ on the Bristol Post and there’s one story from 2017 with the headline: ‘mystery loud music keeping residents awake all night’ and it turns out from reading the story that the music was in fact coming from a party on Ashley Road and I am not sure loud music on a Saturday night in Bristol can ever really be called a mystery.

I listen to news from the States as their death toll soars and Trump tells the world “while we mourn the tragic loss of life — and you can’t mourn it any stronger than we’re mourning it…” and the Trump presidency is the last gasp of a dying superpower. The United States of America, dying harder, mourning stronger than the rest of you losers. Where armed gangs can storm a state house with Nazi signs and demand their god-given right to have a haircut. And fighter jets do a flyover in New York City to commemorate and celebrate health care workers in what was named ‘Operation America Strong’. And farce to farce, and dust to dust. I think that the corona crisis might signal a permanent shift away from Western civilisation and the reorientation of world power to East Asia and to a high-tech, high-surveillance and maximum technocracy form of democracy on the one hand (South Korea) to high surveillance authoritarianism on the other (China). Either way, ‘Western’ style liberal democracy is not looking overly competent right now, particularly the decadent populists in Britain, US and Brazil. Half of the European Union states have turned into highly authoritarian systems overnight and rediscovered their dictatorial pasts (Spain, Hungary). I read a comment from two Polish historians that ‘In parts of central and eastern Europe there is a threat that [corona laws] will end in consolidating the illiberal order to an extent difficult to predict’ and listen to an Italian political scientist predicting the rise of the far right in the power vacuum left by liberal parties in the wake of corona lockdowns, and the demise of the EU. He states that Italy is bitter from the perceived lack of solidarity and help from the EU during its corona crisis, and in this mood of recrimination the far right can benefit. And I read TS Eliot’s wasteland: ‘April is the cruellest month…’

On Stokes Croft a man is clearing out stuff from doorways, involving smashing bottles in the street. An ambulance waits on the end of Picton Street, two police cars stop on Park Street, blue lights flashing. Last night I delivered a noodle dinner and two cups of freshly squeezed orange juice from Park Street to student flats in town and the cups are not sealed properly and they spill over and leak orange juice all over my bag and so when I deliver them they’re only half full and while this is partly my fault, at the same time, why are people ordering cups of orange juice by cyclist anyway? How did we get to a world where that’s an ‘essential service’? I remember a few years ago delivering a selection of tiny juices and no food from Wagamama to a student in town, and not that long ago I delivered two cups of tea with sugar and oat milk to a student on Gloucester Road. Come to think of it, most of the silliest orders are from students. Deliveroo has been sending out creepy emails reminding me that BJ says my work is essential and encouraging me to keep working despite the health risks so that they don’t have to take responsibility for me if I choose to protect myself or others by not working. And I want to keep working, but I would question whether getting noodles and orange juice brought to you, or a kebab or pizza, is an essential service. I’m reading a book on unionising in low paid zero hours workforces, called Class Power on Zero-Hours and they are writing about changes to food consumption over the last hundred years and the implications for class action. It details the rise of supermarkets and ready meals as more women moved into the paid workforce, and the growth of global procurement with air travel, and then the rise online delivery of food in the recent decade. The amount spent on takeaway home deliveries in the UK rose by 73% between 2008 and 2018, and that was during a national recession and the stagnation of wages. It goes on ‘the individualisation of consumption creates enormous amounts of extra work, which relies on a growing low-waged sector, such as delivery drivers. The return of such levels of ‘personal services’ is a sign of increasing social inequality and decadence of the system’. And I can’t help thinking about this statement now, and whether we are reaching maximum levels of decadence in Western societies, and whether we’re nearing the peak of late-stage capitalism, ready to be hollowed out and bailed out by China like in American Factory, and I retreat into 80s nostalgia and watch Robocop and Angel Heart and feel better in the 80s view of the future dystopia than the real one we’re living in. They couldn’t have predicted back then that the tech industry would lead to people ordering kebabs and beers by bicycle and not robots. What is clear is that the low paid workers in the ‘personalised service economy’ are now at the biggest risk of corona virus: new data out today by the ONS shows that men working jobs such as taxi drivers or chefs have some of the highest risks of dying from the virus, higher than health care workers who now have the same risk as the rest of the population. Men in ‘elementary low-skilled occupations’ had the highest risk of death from the virus than any other occupation, with professionals and managers having the lowest risk. Uber drivers have been dying of the virus, scared to make safety provisions or tell people they have the virus, fearing eviction or not being able to support themselves on statutory sick pay.

This night is busy and I’m doing doubles on Uber and Deliveroo, roaming all over the southern heartlands my bag full of pizza. I’m listening to a playlist I made called summer 2016 and think about how it was possible that so many things happened that summer: I quit my job, got my heart broke, cycled across the south of France and watched shooting stars, went to a festival in Spain and then turned down a job interview at UWE because I was partying with friends in Ibiza, went to Nepal, worked at festivals in Britain and fit in several unwise trysts with friends. How did I manage to do all of that? How lucky I was and I don’t think i realised it. After a long double-double that takes me to Bedminster then Hartcliffe and Knowle West and back to the city centre then Barton Hill I give the guy his flattened pizza that has been mashed into the bottom of my bag and feel bad but he is overly grateful and this was not the tech future they dreamed of in the 80s. There’s a huge St George cross with a Bristol city football club sign on it hanging proudly in the setting sun in Knowle West and at least it’s not VE day yet and I think about that far right future. A man in a white t shirt and shorts is stood in his doorway smoking a fag and watching the sun go down. In the fading light a man wearing a high vis and work overalls eyeballs me as I cycle past him and he’s got a look like he’s been in the pub all day but there’s no pubs around these days. A woman walks past carrying a teal lampshade and I cycle onto the Northern Slopes. A woman is sat on her own smoking and looking at the view and she’s joined by a man as I cycle down the hill back to town. At the end of the night I go into the Polish shop on Lawrence hill and buy dragon stout and ask if they have any cheese. He says, no, no cheese. I go to look in the fridges anyway and he says, no, except cheddar and gouda, and I see that they also have cream cheese and feta and I buy this kind of polish feta I wonder what kind of cheese he thinks is the proper cheese that they don’t have. And the night has fallen and it’s time to go home.

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