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Covid Positive – Part 2

Strange being able to taste but not to smell. I think it’s my preferred way around, if I had to choose. Which I’d rather not. Smell is great too. But it has its ups and downs. I have a lot more control over what I put in my mouth. And I’m a big eater. Am I a big eater? I don’t mean I eat a lot. I mean I enjoy it.

A friend who shares my appreciation of quality food drove round and brought me shopping last night. There was a symmetry to that, as well as it being a lovely act of kindness. I felt cared for as well as nourished.

Given that I am a sense down and my movement is limited, the remaining senses are responding eagerly to any stimulation. This reminds me again of being on retreat, where mealtimes are the most exciting moment of the day.

I’ve also been noticing my sense of touch. How soft my pyjamas feel against my legs – and I’m wearing them all day. As I gently exfoliate my skin in the bath, how enriched and revived I feel by that sensation. How marvellous it is to have a body.

As I get out of the bath, the cool breeze on my warm wet skin brings to mind a moment exactly a year ago, when I was fighting for my health in a different way, being in an extreme state of shock and trauma following the sudden death of my housemate.

They call it a grounding practice but like many of those things a lot of people discover them intuitively. After my shower at night I would open the window and lie on the floor, letting the freezing cold air immerse my naked body and for a few seconds. The exhilaration gave me a few moments of relief from my mind.

Those moments quickly dissolved into anxiety, panic and the recurrent intrusive thoughts that almost drove me to self harm. But the value of that brief experience was that it planted a tiny seed. Yes, I can still feel pleasure. Some part of me is not embroiled in this nightmare.

Pleasure of any kind was not easy to find last winter. And using the word pleasure in the loosest sense, that’s also why I started running. In the snow. With a hat and gloves. Because outside with my body moving and all manner of weather pelting my face, I just felt alive, and it almost felt ok.

The body has a wisdom.

Now a year on, I’m finally living the very thing that caused all the problems, I’ve joined the Covid club. Somehow I escaped it up to now. It’s not heaps of fun, but it’s a hell of a lot less awful than last year.

My attempt at creativity in isolation

Covid Positive – Part 1

Arghhhh. The double line appears and you realise Christmas is cancelled, again. Here in self-isolation, day…? I have plenty of time to contemplate things. Having been a Buddhist I am not unfamiliar with solitary retreat. And sickness is like meditation in some respects, since pain and discomfort tend to keep you in the present moment. The main difference is a rather heavier reliance on Netflix.

I am noticing… I am noticing an absence of strong emotion, as if recovery takes up all of the existential bandwidth and there’s no room for anything else. For a person like me that is … somewhat relaxing. Obviously I’m disappointed. I know I’m disappointed. But I don’t feel it yet. There’s something refreshingly one-pointed about my purpose. The control room has shifted to the immune system and the body is calling the shots. My job is to get it what it needs. Steam. Paracetamol. Kefir. Soup. Tangerines. Netflix.

Also…do I really like Christmas? Or do I actually have a secret horror of the whole thing and on some level feel a kind of relief that I might be given a legit excuse to avoid it? It’s just so loaded. I do enjoy ritual and celebration. Just the expectation of having an amazing time always seems like too much pressure.

And family is a potentially incendiary affair, more easily appreciated at a distance. But there can be a healing quality to family too, that I forget sometimes when I’m not with them. Kind of like a cold shower or a hike up a hill. Bracing and a bit of a slog at times but ultimately rewarding.

I’m curious about the relationship between sickness and acceptance. Maybe it’s surrender that leads to a kind of acceptance. I like how in Georgia, songs are sung to the lords of illness, beautiful inviting songs about strewing rose petals and offering them tasty food and drink to make them feel at home. None of that hostile language that we often use around sickness. More loving than fighting.

Then come all the thoughts about what I could do with the time. Tidy my room. Wash the sheets. Finish the album. Sew up some clothes. Listen to the entire Beatles Catalogue. Do my tax return. Learn all the words to Chakrulo. I’ve already mentally apportioned the whole ten days.

But I’m not really doing any of those things yet. I’m just chilling. Because the body says rest and I am in the body. I’m learning how to do nothing again.

Chill.

This is where I rant about the struggle to find a place to live in London post/during pandemic times.

If you are also homeless and scouring Spareroom.com daily in the offchance of scoring a viewing then this may be a place where you can get some catharsis.

Everyone is so chilled out! It’s great to see that while the world is burning, so many young professionals find the time to be so deeply relaxed about everything. It’s odd, because the last I looked, there was an epidemic of anxiety and depression, but apparently not amongst those renting out rooms.

We are chilled, sociable and relaxed. It’s a relaxed house. I wonder what they are doing to achieve such perpetual relaxation. I’m guessing that they don’t watch the news. Or engage in relationships with other people. Or have families. Or jobs.

But of course they have jobs! Everyone is a full time professional! Full time professionals only please! People who go out of the house and don’t come back for a very long time preferred! And don’t forget to reappear relaxed after fighting your way home through a London commute.

We are easy going people. Looking for someone easy going. So that when I say, hey dude – do you mind washing your pubic hair out of the bath after you’ve had a shower, thank you very much good day, he can say – OMG chill babe. This is a chilled out relaxed easy-going house. Pubes are like whatever.

Or maybe I say – isn’t it awful that the police think that the onus is on women to protect themselves from mad rapist serial killers rather than say, the society that creates and enables them – he can say <roll eyes> here she goes again angry woman alert! We are a relaxed house? We don’t get upset about stuff like injustice, inequality, climate change, racism, transphobia – all that rage is a total vibe killer. Let’s be chill.

I can be chill. But as the popular bible passage goes, there’s a time for everything. A time to relax, and a time to get really fucking angry. Like for example every time you accidentally hear Boris Johnson say something. Or when you think about Brexit. Or the fact that the majority of emissions destroying the planet are created by a tiny proportion of its inhabitants. And that the highest concentration of wealth is owned by the tiniest group of individuals. Or that a full time minimum wage does not cover the price of renting a flat in London.

It’s kind of hard to be permanently relaxed when you don’t have a home. It’s kind of hard to be super chill when you are in competition against hundreds of people for the chance to spend £800 a month on a bedroom. To be easy going about one’s own security would be counter to the human survival instinct. But apart from all of that, it’s kind of inhuman to occupy any one emotional state indefinitely. Things happen and we feel stuff. It’s how we know we exist. Human beings are complex and unpredictable. Sharing a house with them is a mixed experience, but unfortunately most cats cannot pay rent.

Single People Can Now Get Screwed

As I progress through life I become more aware of the costs of living a lifestyle that is considered to be unconventional. I have been documenting my recent trials with renting, but this week I have encountered a new hurdle: the HMO licence.

Let’s back up. As a freelance self-employed artist, music and media producer, mid/post-pandemic depending how you look at it, I cannot afford to rent a place by myself in London. It might have been just about doable with the help of Universal Credit, but the government in their infinite wisdom have now lifted the suspension on the Minimum Income Floor, (clearly post-pandemic is the way they look at it.)

The Minimum Income Floor means that as a self-employed person if you don’t manage to find enough work in one month or another, they will assume that you earned a full time minimum wage, even though you didn’t. They will then only give you the amount of benefits that you’d be due if you had earned that amount. Which you didn’t. So in a bad month you could be left unable to pay your rent. Essentially this means you’re better off unemployed than self-employed.

During Covid they suspended this MIF because they rightly assumed that self-employed people would be royally screwed by the pandemic – I’m not suggesting that other groups were not screwed as well – so they gave us a bit of leeway. But come Freedom Day that leeway is over. Nevermind that the budgets of those who employ us have not nearly recovered yet, and that many of us will never get back the regular jobs we lost that used to keep things ticking over.

So the dream of the solitary creative attic is suspended too, for now. At least until the producers of Outlander finally pick up my recent Scottish-inspired track ‘Coming Home,” and I become a household name. Ideally in time for me to have my own household…

Speaking of households… So now I managed to team up with a couple of other wandering musicians looking for homes in one of the most expensive cities in the world. And we found this gorgeous house. A family house you could say – tastefully decorated, spacious, nice garden.

Excitedly I pick up the phone to request a viewing. “Are you related?” says the agent? “No,” I say, “we are friends who wish to share.” “This house is only available to family.” “Well, we are all part of one human family aren’t we?” That’s not how it works though.

HMO is a house of multiple occupancy. This means it contains more than one household – wait, I hear you say. How can you have more than one household in a house? Yes! It doesn’t make grammatical sense – or any other kind of sense.

So one household could constitute a single person, or a couple, or a family. Three single people who have chosen to live together and share space, as a family might – and in some cases a whole lot more than a family might, especially one with teenagers – are considered to be three households.

In order to rent to two or more “households”, a landlord needs to purchase an expensive licence, and change every door to a fire door and install industrial fire alarms. So naturally some landlords are not keen to do this, and therefore we find ourselves in this situation where landlords and tenants alike are worse off.

But why?? Well let’s refer to everyone’s favourite brash high street letting agency. According to Foxtons:

“The purpose of licensing, especially for HMOs, is to ensure that residential accommodation within the Private Rented Sector (PRS) is safe, well managed and of good quality with a particular focus on safety.”

Ah safety. That word again. Stay safe! Stay at home. Stay safe. Except when you don’t have a home. Or you’re a victim of domestic violence. Or your home is the site of a trauma that you are forced to revisit daily. No safety then.

So it’s for our own good. Because as intelligent free-thinking adults we are incapable of making a decision about what we will or will not put up with in terms of living conditions. And it’s fine obviously if you’re all members of the same family, for the standards to be lower.

And somehow these so-called standards did not extend to the flammable cladding that caused the horrific deaths at Grenfell. Something is broken. The system is failing.

In reality what happens is that everyone suffers. As an agent I spoke to said, “the landlords suffer too because a lot of the time a family is not able to afford a house that three professional sharers can. It’s ruining my business.”

This morning it happened again – the second nicest house we had seen – called up excitedly – nope, families only.

I suddenly had a recollection of the 1990’s movie Greencard. That film was sold to me as a romantic comedy, and it never occurred to me at the time I watched it to question the disturbing premise that a solvent single professional woman was not allowed to rent an apartment because she didn’t have a husband.

What is happening here is not entirely different. As in many areas of life, those who do not follow the traditional heteronormative path are penalised. Remember in lockdown when single people basically weren’t allowed to have sex. No one talked about that at the time. Those of us with physical needs had to sneak around feeling ashamed by the intense messaging that we were basically killing old people by seeking out a completely necessary human intimacy.

Not in Holland though incidentally – and other countries, where single people were encouraged to take lovers. But here in the uptight UK single people just didn’t get a mention.

And here it is again. Had I got married and had a child I could rent the apartment of my dreams, like Andie MacDowell’s character in Greencard. But since I chose to pursue an artistic career and stay single, I can’t. Why can’t three single people opt to create a household, or a family together? Why in 2021 is a romantic or sexual relationship the only legal basis for partnership?

It’s hard enough to live in this city as an artist. Like many of my friends in this position I occasionally drool over the rents in other cities and ask myself why I don’t move to Aberdeen or Liverpool or Leeds. And I could, I could. But London is my home. I made it so and I’ve built a life for myself here. Not in the way that some of my friends have, by owning property and having kids. But by the networks I have created, the connections I have formed, the many communities I am part of. I love this city. I love the multiplicity of nationalities, ethnicities, genders, I love that it is a place people from all over the world can come and feel at home.

I love that when things are open, as is starting to happen again, I can find all manner of obscure and delightful art forms, performances, galleries, things I could not have imagined, but somehow exist. This variety feeds me, inspires me to keep creating myself.

Do I want to become an expert on Houses of Multiple Occupancy regulations? You’re damn right I don’t. I want to find a place where I can sleep relatively undisturbed and get cracking on my 4th album. But life deals us these cards and that dictates the game we have to play. So here I am, playing it, once again, not giving up because for me there’s no option.

The Ideal Tenant

Docile Females Wanted For Social Isolation

The ideal tenant is a single non-smoking female. She may well be white, but we are not allowed to discriminate openly about such things nowadays. She may also be heterosexual but we are not allowed to discriminate about such things either, plus she is single so it doesn’t really matter since ideally she will not be having any sex anyway. She will be young, but not too young – late twenties, early thirties, max. The younger ones are generally easier to intimidate than the older ones, but too young and they cannot be trusted. Besides not having a partner she will not have any pets. She will desire the company of no one, human nor animal. She will be very easily pleased by the indoor entertainment system we have installed. She will live mostly on convenience food that can be prepared with minimum mess using the microwave that we have provided in the kitchenette in place of a proper oven. She will be in full time employment, with a boss who can vouch for her good manners and lack of problematic behaviour which would be unwelcome. She will not be self-employed. Self-employment suggests a worryingly anarchic tendency that could lead to rebellion of some kind, which would be unwelcome. She will not work from home. This is because despite paying an arm and a leg to rent the apartment it is much preferred that she spend as little time in it as possible, in order to minimise wear and tear. When she is in it, she will preferably be sleeping, showering, watching television, or eating food that was prepared with minimum mess or delivered by someone on a bike. The shower-room is ensuite. She will be sufficiently impressed by the Frenchness of this word not to notice that in actual fact all it means is that any guests will have to walk through her bedroom to use the toilet. But, ideally she will not have any guests. She will not sing, play musical instruments, DJ or produce music. Musicians are great! We love musicians. We just don’t want one living in our house. We absolutely enjoy consuming their work for free or at a fraction of a penny, however we do not wish to be a part of making their existence possible. We prefer to imagine that artists emerge from the womb fully formed, already able to perform at a high standard without having to spend hours perfecting their discipline. They live on fresh air and creative ideas, and in any case, it is not our problem. We do not seek a woman with ideas that need to be expressed. She will be too busy working, sleeping and showering to have ideas of any kind. She will not be in receipt of benefits to help cover the rent that we know is extortionate and cannot really be justified. Our sympathies go out to those on low incomes whose livelihoods have been destroyed by the pandemic, but we don’t want them living in our house. Similarly we appreciate that artists sometimes struggle to find enough work, and might need to top up their income with Universal Credit. But we don’t want the government’s money. We want the crisp, clean, well-ironed, privately earned cash of a woman who is in full time permanent employment, with no desire to have sex, children, or animals, no family, no music, very clean, surrounded by devices that will keep her occupied, quiet and docile. If this is you, fill in the application form, telling us why you think you deserve to have a roof over your head, and send it back to us along with copies of your bank statements, letters from your employer, photos of your underwear drawer, and a statement signed in your own blood, acknowledging that art is dead.

Renting in London: an Artist’s Guide

As always, I feel it’s important to find the humour in dire situations. Looking for a place to live in the Capital can be daunting and bewildering – so much choice but most of it completely off limits to anyone with a job in the arts. For the remaining properties, I’ve produced a glossary of terms to help fellow flat-hunters navigate this confusing world where words mean different things to reality. No, I’m still no closer to finding a home but I had some fun and briefly distracted myself from the consequences of my own life choices.

Good size – small

Cosy – absolutely tiny

Stunning – small

Spacious – you can walk around the bed

Petite – if you’re in the flat, you’re in bed

Bright – has a window

Airy – has a window that opens

Sunny – a dubious claim anywhere in the UK

Lovely – probably not awful, but small

Well-proportioned – we built a wall down the middle so we could charge more

Beautiful – has been redecorated since 1975

Charming – *hasn’t been redecorated since 1975

Lively area – don’t even think about sleeping

Luxury – expensive

Quirky – nothing works

Professional – not a self-employed artist

Professional couple – the mind boggles

Well-presented – we cleaned the stains off the walls, but*

Studio – not that kind of studio

Part-furnished – there are rodents

No pets – apart from the rodents

Patio garden – a sliver of concrete between you and the road

Private communal garden – private for you… and everybody else

Allow myself to introduce…myself

HOLA! Happy new year! It’s been a long time, but I have not been idle!

Something of a rebirth has occurred and I am excited to introduce it/her(?) to you now.

It started with death, and loss and grief. A period of space followed during which seeds flourished under the surface. Then came emergence from the pit of despair and new music! The new project desired a new identity, and so Luna Bec was born.

With her she brought a new lease of life, and finally, a new blog arose. It’s amazing that she has time to write a blog, given the numerous personalities she appears to be maintaining, but so it is.

I hope you will join me/her/us there, without delay!

Click here to visit the brand new blog and subscribe to follow posts.

And while you’re at it, why not check out the new music too!

Prove Me Wrong by Luna Bec

“The Rebirth of Venus” – cover art by Linzie Elliott for Luna Bec’s third single, “Prove Me Wrong” – listen here

Love

I do not trust the word “love”

For there are those that have used it against me

But I trust its vibration

Pulsating, a diamond moon

Fragile spindly or bold and delicious

And I have learnt to feel its absence

Even where I desire it most

A cold lack

Going to bed hungry

Turning the knife inwards

While my lover twists the blade

The stories we tell

I am not too much

I do not trust the word “love”

Slippery side of a black bucket of hope

There is nothing to cling to

But I have felt its warmth in the actions of others

Making tea, fixing a bicycle, lamenting the loss of a friend

It is the mundane that impresses me now

Listening

Sharing without agenda

Cleaning the oven

Studying types of tree, all of them sturdy examples

Of what I aspire to be

I do not trust the word “love”

With its myriad meanings and ways to mesmerise

I bought that book, a one way ticket to disappointment

But I know its radiance shines out of every cell

Riding the snow at sunrise

Alighting the faces of strange friends

Singing in company

The world is alive and dying to dance with you

Openly offering its richness

All the while searching and laughing

For what is most essential

Cannot be found or destroyed

With every breath I make love to the universe

As the tide suckles the dark shore

I feel everything and nothing

Those who took love and used it as a weapon

Cannot penetrate what is already air

Strange Opening

The gap you left
Must be filled
With a new kind of love
Your body
On my body
The perfect dance
Of how it should be
But things are
What they are
And we twist and turn
Caught in the knot of reality
How to surrender
Breath by breath
Without giving up?
A dive into dark
And a longing for life
Leads the way
Unknown
To a strange opening
Freshly lit
By a light touch
And a fledgling trust
That something
Will
Happen

 

 

Moon

This is me in your car
Looking at the moon
One of the few things we share
Her icy fullness a natural mirror of our strange familiarity
When the sparks rose from the fire
And the music played
I saw it peek through the branches
You asked me why I was laughing
It’s just that sometimes I feel happiness