Britain 2020

Britain 2020

 

David Jackson

 

 

I

 

            The year is 2020, and the world is still crap. We all still wish we were rock stars, we all still can’t figure out which sub-culture we really belong to. We all still dye our hair black and pretend no-one understands us anyway. We all wish we were hard-core, but listen to mainstream pop regardless.

            But now we can have in-car espresso machines; fuck, now our cars can fly. Now we can get bionic cocks that screw for us while we sleep. All is Bladerunner, but with better haircuts. These days, you can be more human than human …have more inches than twelve inches. These days, the dreams they sold us a decade ago have all fallen apart. You can’t have your in-car flying cock or ‘Gaggia- Reflex’ auto-deepthroat espresso machine or whatever – unless you’re in the Overclass. But above all these things, all these luxury commodities made for the post-humans made by the super-humans bought genes by their only too-human parents, nothing comes with a bigger price tag than talent. You can buy better, faster muscles or a gland that synthesises mescaline from your nipples, but one thing’s still the same: you can’t buy a Name. Not just any name, a Name – that’s right, with a Capital – Signifying Prestige and that most rare of things in this time, Talent. Even though the world people like my grandfather struggled to rebuild after World War Two (and of course, no-where outside Europe counts as The World here) has long since rotted and fallen into a pit of dishonesty, a fake can still be spotted. Or so I thought. I had a name, but I lost it, even though it says it right here on my old passport.

            My name is Taylor. David Taylor, but usually I’m classified merely as Taylor. I was Taylor to my teachers during compulsory education, Taylor on the computers that recorded my tutoring fee payments – or at least those made by my local county council on my behalf – at the university where I studied English Literature, and now I’m Taylor to the unemployment bureau too. I considered changing my name from Taylor to, let’s say, Eldritch, but that had already been done. Unless I should change my name to Darth Vader, but alas that had been done too – and instead of changing my name I should have changed my course. But now it says Taylor on my degree certificate, and Taylor it must stay, since I can’t be bothered to keep track of the paperwork that would prove who I once was. Who I am, or who I’m stuck with being.

            I thought Who I could have been once was a writer, a luminary of modern science-fiction, a reformer. You can be an intellectual, a man who lives in far off abstract worlds who can only wish that people might understand what you were writing about; the secrets of the universe can flow from your fingertips, but if you don’t have the down and dirty animal smarts to get a grip on the market, you’re dead meat. I used to think a lot of things. I used to be good at a lot of things; at a time I could have been an actor, I could have been an artist too. I still could be, or so say the closer-by voices that come through the neon haze and the acid rain. But you can’t be any of these things unless you started off in the right places with the right connections and the money. To put it simply, you can be good at all sorts of things – but it only pays to be good at the things that count.

            So much for the golden future; I can’t even start. There was a government once that sold meal tickets in the form of degree certificates, higher education, training schemes, subsidies, expensive luxuries for those with the economic class to carry self-betterment off as the hobby that you soon discover it is. But it was a debtor’s economy, and debtors can’t see a way to buy that BMW and ride down the highway by the side of the ocean, heading for sunset. On the poster there was a healthy planet, a bright world. I see a black planet, black world. That government – led by a post-Thatcheresque mechanoid with a Cheshire-cat grin – is long gone, having lost its own meal ticket when it failed to provide ours. But at least it shows that, in some capacity, Democracy works. Surely that is a Good Thing.

So you aren’t depressed yet, but you are losing your way. That’s understandable; but you do have to ask yourself why you ever looked at this text at all, in whatever form it came. I’m sure I’ll post it to some form of Blog, or maybe it will receive a good old-fashioned paper pressing. If so, then you’re reading it anyway. Fortuitous happenstance for me, bad mojo for you – especially if you have a lot of money and don’t want to read it. If it bothers you so much, I’m sure you’re quite capable of switching off the screen or closing the book. But then again, you whinged about the X-Factor fifteen years ago, and never switched off the telly. And so, read you must. You’re caught by the same grim fascination that keeps me living, keeps me listening to the voices that tell me there’s hope, keeps me getting up off this mattress that lies small and pathetic and ragged on the floor. It also keeps me checking my account to make sure that the benefits are coming in each week (after the agency finally told me, a month ago, that my money from 2005 was ready to be paid), and when they do I’m sure that’s what really keeps me going. Gotta love those vicious cycles.

            Therefore, I am going to keep stalking the streets in this black leather jacket and matching jeans-boots-shirt ensemble, stumbling through the Catherine-wheels of streetlights, scalded from above by the vertical take-off jets of the skimmer-cars that the rich folks taunt me with (not that I can drive, legally), with the sunglasses seemingly fused to my face twenty-four seven out of pure narcissistic affectation steaming up as the puddles in the broken streets boil over in the midsummer rain… and you’re going to keep on reading, as much as you hate it, because shortly before I stepped in through that cold, dripping apartment-block doorway and shed my second skin of darkness, I discovered something most curious in nature.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

II

 

I have to revise what I said before. I mulled over what someone told me yesterday – and to a desperate spirit like me it makes sense. It’s not fortuitous happenstance for me and bad mojo for you especially if you’re rich. Quite the reverse in fact, but I figure no-one rich would lay claim to such chipper, accessible and illuminating prose as this, so I’m going to go some way toward discussing an idea that I came into contact with anyway.    

Have you ever noticed how a number of celebrities – or should I phrase that differently, famous individuals, as it means something quite different, less degraded – have, well… got crapper as time has moved on? No, no of course you haven’t, it’s a stupid presumption of mine, and I whole-heartedly apologise to my non-existent audience. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s transition to comedy from a genre he was much better suited to – a logical step. The reduction in usage of John Hurt’s considerable actual talent; a master stroke on his agent’s vast canvas of contract negotiations. Hell, you think a guy like him would throw away his agents and choose to make dumb decisions for himself? Seriously… starring in The Elephant Man, emoting flawlessly through a ton of prosthetics… to being sidelined to a supporting role in V for Vendetta by a rather stiff Hugo Weaving in a fucking plastic mask? Picture the scene if you will:

 

Split screen. In the left divide there is a casting director’s office, a broken down fan ticking away in the background, a metronome of panic as the pre-production period speeds to a close. On the right there is an agent’s office, cool, air conditioned, with polished leather furnishings.

Casting director: We need a weathered patrician figure. You’ve dealt with Arnie –

Agent: He’s still on the books…

Casting Director: Okay, he’s old, past his action prime, but he’s still got presence and that stony look we need has matured with time. And he’s the governor of California. That political connection could be exploited for this role –

Agent: There’s just a few small problems with that –

Casting director: What?

Agent: Well, whilst he has come out of politics one last time to do acting, he’s already tied himself up with a studio doing a tired family comedy based on the hackneyed ‘action-man goes soft’ premise that annihilated Hulk Hogan’s already useless career, and digging up the corpse of a once mighty tale of technology and hubris for a quick buggering –

Casting Director: …So who is available? And who’s Hulk Hogan?

Agent: John Hurt. He’d be perfect, and I –

Casting Director: John Hurt. The John Hurt. A man so capable and versatile he should be playing a Samuel Beckett character drawn on each of his toes in three different productions simultaneously and still fooling everybody?

Agent: The same. I’ve already put him through a very successful non-verbal role in a tin-pot Voodoo thriller, so recycling the ‘steely- eyed, gravel-voiced aging politician-hanging-desperately-onto-power thing’ is the next sane step in pushing on his meteoric career.

            Fade to Black.

 

            …And while I’m on the subject, who decided to ambush the mighty Alan Moore in a darkened alley, beat him with a cast-iron replica of his own reputation, and choke out his last esteemed breath with their genetically-engineered studio phallus? I’m actually glad that they canned Watchmen for the eighth time in 2018.

            The point is that, if you think hard and engage the brain that Evolution and not the Burger King Trust Fund gave you, common sense will tell you that age and experience, barring considerable senility that drowns out even the most honed of instincts, will make actors, writers, artists and musicians more –rather than less – competent in their craft. Why is it that so many fine people become so shit with time?

            I discovered the answer from a dustman I met at the local rock pub. His name was, or rather, should have been, Arthur Giddens, and he possessed a doctorate in Applied Nuclear Physics. About seven years ago, he revolutionised Hydrogen Cascade principle, and made unlimited flight possible, along with very compact, powerful engines that led to the production of the many flying cars that dog pedestrians with their driver’s catapulted KFC boxes today. After this feat, he was removed from his post … kicked out of his home … and found work hauling away the household waste of very, very rich men and women – one of whom possessed a name very familiar to him.

            So what did Arthur Giddens spy through a pint glass darkly?

 

            The rain let up briefly on a muggy Wednesday night in summer, casting up a slightly clichéd Chestertonian-London mist across Station Road. The atmosphere worked hard to set up a sense of tension and mystery – blurred, distant lights, the faint screech of tyres in some other backstreet, a streetlamp-mounted flyer flapping intermittently, as if toyed with by some unknown hand. But I could already hear the thump of bass and the skipping of discs on dodgy decks from the tut ‘n’ shive pub that was my destination, and the occasional laser-green whiz of a local spook clumsily practising with her day-glo poi across from the door.

            ‘’Right, Pip…’ I drawled, just as matter-of-course as tipping my head to the left and avoiding immediate ear-severance by the spinning garrottes she crossed from hand to hand, and pushed on the handle of the peeling red-painted door. I cursed, as I had done a dozen times before, since the fucker had been deliberately been put on the hinge side of the door by the pub’s ever-so-zany designers, and wouldn’t open that way.

            Everything was in place, as it always was of a Wednesday night, at about ten past nine. The customers were sparsely placed – two at the bar chatting with the largely ignorant barman (for I did not have knockers monstrous enough to attract his attention), the customarily overdressed Ozzy-a-like cradling his pint of strongbow and glancing periodically at his spangly silver watch (the one with interlocking skulls around the strap), and in the corner beneath the decorative breakers-yard grabber-claw descending from the ceiling the red-headed gangrel and her bemused, clean-cut and obviously uncomfortable male drinking partner. The music was as always a confused mash of German techno, bleak eighties rock by obscure Leeds and Manchester based bands, and thunderous metal. A baritone singer declared that all of his words were second hand and useless (ask your grandfather for clarification), and I sympathised with his disposition.

            Only one thing had changed – as it did roughly every four to six months – which was the landlord. This time it was an out-of-depth townie, fumbling his way uncertainly toward the door, a little basket in his hand. The light in his eyes said, ‘cover charge’, while the trembling of his hands said ‘please don’t smash any more glasses’. His mannerisms were very well practiced, as was the disdainful shaking of my head as I brushed past him, deftly skipping over the mysterious sticky patch by the third bar stool that had a longer, more accomplished work history than my own. I reached my usual spot –up the dodgy step, at the wobbly table, under the plastic rhino head the bursting from the ‘shattered’ brick-work. As usual, five pounds and ten pence – the going rate for a Guinness in the mid twenty-first century – made its way from my right trouser pocket to the table, and I banged my fist on the wood, so deeply and intricately etched with graffiti that it resembled a Dwarfish artefact, until Tony the Ignorant, son of Ken the Chainsmoking, resumed his barmanly duties and brought me the nectar I desired.

            Time passed. All was right with the world. The downwardly spiralling thrum of synths over loose guitars complemented the swirling, galactic light-on-darkness of my calorific meal-drink each time it tapped back down on the table.

            Then, just as I was reaching into my pocket for the notebook which would eventually provide you, dearest reader/ zombified post-shift cabbie (possibly having misspelled ‘auto-gynaecological porn’ as ‘auto-biographical scorn’ on UberGoogle), with this illuminating text, I noticed something was wrong. Very wrong.

            There was someone else in the snug. A non-regular.

            My hand froze in the inside pocket of my tatty old biker jacket. My eyes peered coldly over the Aviator sunglasses perched lopsidedly across the bridge of my nose. I tried to look calm.

            They say that when confronted with an aggressive beastie, for example a feral dog, that you should assert dominance. Stand your ground; absolutely under no circumstances show fear. The same people also say that if chased by a bear, one should chuck away one of your precious belongings – presumably that elephant gun with one precious shot that your grandfather had given you on his death bed, and never told you why, which you had dutifully dragged around until you found a decent excuse to let it ever-so-accidentally slip. The bear is meant to stop and investigate it, thereby giving you a chance to make good an escape. Or so they say.

            I was in the middle of deciding which of my current paraphernalia were expendable, when my body automatically withdrew with a start. The thing’s lips began to move, and a low, moaning sound approximating human verbiage emerged. Misty, languid eyes slowly slipped up from the depths of a half of Hobgoblin and fixed on… me.

            ‘It’s the poles, you know,’ it said, with a cracking half-laugh like old leather tightening around the neck of a startled Charing-Cross prostitute.

            I hesitated. The first thing that came to mind sprang past my lips, a vomited cloud of confused and panicked words.

            ‘It can seem like the… international community is taking over at times. But I assure you that Parliament remains 100% British with…’ I began to trail, realising the multitude of holes I was digging  myself – what if the argument was unsympathetic, what if … ‘the exception of…’ the guy was a political-correctness crank … ‘the Prime Minister…’ who had never experienced the pleasure of travelling through outer London. For a moment, so intense was the fire in his gaze after I began my pretty cack-handed, yet admirably luke-warm response, I thought he was a crazed BNP supporter getting ready to glass me.

            No.’

            I felt kind of relieved for a moment. The tension dissolved with that word; the angry fire died. He continued.

            ‘The nerve axons become blocked, and there is no sodium-potassium interchange. Depolarised. Beta-signals retarded. The depressor area functions abnormally.’

            I got what he was saying, but I really don’t think it was accurate. I regarded him cynically, I think – the haze was setting in – and asked,

            ‘You’re saying I’m drunk?’

            ‘No again. I’m saying I’m getting … there. It’s the best place to be, when the ground comes up too fast … too fast to meet you –‘

              – and you can rest comfortably numb on a bed of damp concrete. I was a student once.’

            He looked down into his Hobgoblin, pondering the dark yellow foam atop the ale. He stroked the side of the glass with a faltering forefinger. He glanced up at me, recognition – a flare of humanity – in the depths of those eyes, and said,

            ‘Yes. I was as … as was I. And now we find ourselves here. Both of us, in the same dump.’

            This pub was no dump. There was love in the sticky, unmopped flooring and peeling red paint. This was no JD McDonaldspoon’s Gastro-experience; this was a piece of reality, imported from my youth. Coke cost twice as much as beer –as it should – you could choke on the tarry miasma of cheap cigars no matter where you stood or sat, and the only food you’ll find is pork-scratchings or bust. I pondered the slur, but my fingers pulsed with something more urgent … the need to write. I snatched my notepad and pen from my pocket. As always, the hands detect the levity of a moment much quicker than the mind.

            And then the bastard paused. Again. Shit. An impulse to produce seldom lasts. The creature before me paused, a taunting daemon before a man awaiting divine inspiration, instinctively measuring the moment before delivering. From this, I knew that I would pen a document of great length and importance.

            An eternity passed; and finally golden judgment broke through the black clouds.

            ‘I’ve ‘ad me identity nicked.’ He growled through a throaty burp. ‘Yes, I too was a student once. Twice. Three times. Then a prominent researcher. And now I spend my Wednesday mornings hauling away other people’s rubbish. I think, maybe, I can be proud of the fact that I still give an essential … thing, service, to society. But whose society?

            Is it British society? Is it immigrant society? Is it even human?’

            This is a man’s world, but it ain’t nothing, nothing without bionic enhancement

            ‘Maybe it is better this way. Technological progress slowly drops off, and I’ll tell you why. We shouldn’t be proud to manufacture replacement hearts. We’ve only equipped a new overclass for a take-over.

            You’ve got Arthur Giddens to thank for the shaking of every wall in your house every time a rich seventeen-year-old buzzes the roof in his hovercar. I read an article about him in twenty-thirteen. Clever bloke; genius, they said. Perfected principles of nuclear energy seeded in the forties of the previous century. Engineered a way of turning water, or even this,’ at which point his trembling hand upturned the last of his beer, drawing a circle on the floor with a single blob part-way through its arc, ‘instantly into electrical energy. Two litres of tap-water could power a jumbo-jet from Heathrow to Hong Kong.’

            Tony paced over, breathed ‘Bollocks’ and chucked a beer towel on the puddle the pissed prophet had made. The old geezer who narrated ran a lined, rubbery palm over his balding head briefly, and looked up to the ceiling, emitting a weary sigh, before he went on. I thought I saw tears welling in his eyes.

            Then, inexplicably of course, he retired. Bloody typical. Create one masterpiece, and live off the profit forever. Sod feeding the third bloody world. No-one noticed either the irony or the fact his skin tone, hairline or accent had changed when he turned up at a charity gala six months later. He’d had surgery, drugs, bionics, obviously.

            Except he hadn’t. Because it wasn’t him.’

            I paused in scribbling. My lungs seemed gripped; my chest tight. I had faintly sniffed Hollywood conspiracy hokum brewing, and distantly I seemed to hear John Hurt’s agent picking up the telephone. The boozehound-cum-conspiracy theorist –cum-egotisticalenoughtoposeasareknownedphysiscisterist rose, glass in hand, muttering something about ‘making it right’ and headed to get another drink.

            I began wearily putting away my utensils. I wasn’t ready to re-write the Illuminatus! Trilogy tonight. At least it would save on the Guinness budget, though the corner-shop food the spare change could buy instead would hold less nutritional value. If I save my benefits payments hard enough, one day I might buy a twelve-pack, and live like a king for a fortnight.

            I rose. It seemed like an ideal time to escape this nutbar; and I had some nonsense written down which I could review in the morning, though without the necessary hangover as a muse. As I breezed toward the door, pulling up my jacket collar around my ears in a feeble attempt at disguise, ‘Giddens’ started, wide eyed, spilling the top of his fresh pint as it was handed to him.

            ‘Oi!’ He bellowed, and I gritted my teeth, not stopping. As I pushed at the awkward door, his hand took my wrist in a calloused grip. There was a certain sincere desperation in his eyes; I myself hoped my chagrin remained inscrutable beneath the shades. I said flatly,

            ‘I have to go … mate.’

            ‘Still don’t believe me? OK. I work the council rounds. I pick up all the shredded documents. I can prove that I was once Giddens, and I can prove that lots of people on the streets out there should be a lot more famous or wealthy than they are. Meet me at the bins outside Civic Centre, Wednesday, ten thirty-five. The gaffer’ll let me pull a sicky. I’m owed holiday.’

            I rolled my eyes, waiting a moment to ensure he’d finished, and said timidly,

            ‘See you there.’

            He gave me one last shove on my way through the door. I stood and smoothed my jacket, darkly and dramatically dripped on by the awning beneath a foggy mantle. I laughed to myself, before consigning myself to another night of boredom, alone in my flop-room, sitting in the mouldy darkness, trying to write, watching the electricity key-metre tick down as my computer eats power.

            Pip was no longer there; I somehow missed the light of her neon poi. Station Road seemed dead, the roundabout and carriageway beyond equally desolate. Outside the town that constrained me, lights lit up, like a distant hope. The grass is always greener on the other side.

            I knew that the people of those other towns saw their places as dead, too. I took a step out into the quiet darkness. Not even a wailing drunk could be heard. Time seemed to slow down; over an hour had sped by during the encounter in the Rising. I like the darkness, and the rain. They help me think.

            A Stella can hit me on the head, startling me, and I retreated turtle-like into my jacket. A neon-bumpered Ford Fiesta screamed overhead, and a monkey-like Chav-cry howled into the distance.

            Goffs are gaaay hur huuuuuuuur huuuuuuuurrrrr….

            Cunts.

            The key stuck in the lock of my flat door, and I gave it a tired wiggle. All these trivial routines, small annoyances, daily depressions. While I was at Uni, I never saw any of this coming. When I graduated, I should have stayed at home. Perhaps I was infected with some terrible self-loathing that made me stay. Perhaps I was naïve enough to think it all meant friends and happiness. Not so many of my friends had stayed the course. Two years, generally; one had gone on to do a masters.

            Where was he now? I thought of Giddens and what he had said, briefly.

            The door clicked open, and a smell of stale clothing and old washing up– though I battled daily with it all – wafted at me. I slammed the door and put the latch and deadlock on. Such attempts at ‘security’ seemed pathetic when a saw the door-shaped grid of light staring back at me. I stumbled through the small corridor into my living room. All that sat in it were a sofa (noted in the inventory as ‘slightly worn’, not utterly fucked and missing a good deal of stuffing), my computer, and some sheafs of paper with paints and brushes set beside them. I couldn’t be bothered to turn on the light. Electricity was for cooking and writing; the streetlamps outside flickered in through the window, supplying ample illumination to navigate by.

 

            I don’t know where you’re living. I’m assuming you’re better off than me. What did you do to deserve it all?

            Actually, that question works whether you live in a tower of ivory or a hive of flats; if you have the space to breathe or you’re choking on your own pants. Did you find this document stowed on a library computer? Hidden from forces of censorship? Is it now celebrated, required reading on every history course, almost twenty quid, even in paperback, long after my premature death and the time it could have done me any good?

            What did any of us do, or not do? How did we arrive here? Are gods punishing us for not giving enough to charity, is some shitbag working in secret catacombs beneath Whitehall dividing us up? Did he not know our dads when he went to Cambridge?

            There’s a man on TV, a reality- TV gameshow, who has a knighthood. He’s pointing and swearing at the contestants, telling them they’re all shits and freeloaders because they went to University, and he’s much better because he got where he is through hard work. He’s a businessman. He’s right because he’s rich.

            He’s no better than the bigoted thug down the pub who rants about how hard he works and how all niggers must hang and how all children and fags and people who can actually spell their own names must be soundly thrashed if they’re ever going to learn what it is to be a man in the so called real world.

            The same man, different lives.

            You didn’t do anything to deserve this, whatever it is that you have. You don’t deserve it. Chances are, you literally didn’t do anything.

            Was it a lack of grooming, being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

 

            The present time. I couldn’t quite remember when I got in. My computer whirrs; I stare blankly at the screen and its blankness stares back at me. The tears are coming again; and with them come the words, and because the words come, the tears stop. Then I can’t write any more.

            I have to be full of hate to function. I think I’m slowly coming to the realisation that despite my education I am no better than that man, bellowing and pointing and justifying his own existence with the shitness of others. There’s a wonky and fucked up version of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man playing over and over in my head.

            I collapse onto the sofa. My head turns to the window, streetlights and vehicle headlamps pulsing over my face. It’s comforting, being stroked by the town that holds me down, like the needle in the hand of a crackbaby’s pimp.

            Some time passes; I don’t feel much. I wake up but I’m already putting this down, as if my body locked itself off from my brain, doing what it knew was necessary – taking care of business while the mind wrapped itself in self-pity.

            The hands. The hands are writing something about Giddens, saying that he makes sense. I should read over what they’ve put down …

           

            ‘It’s an appealing concept that could easily be made to exploit the vulnerable – very ironic considering Gidden’s position. He should write for tabloids; though I wrote him off, cynical and ignorant enough not to stay for the full story, I feel eroded by my own sense of failure. It’s the perfect sop. The daily rags exist to make the wretched and the stupid feel bigger and smarter than they are. My defences will wear down. His words give justification to any failed existence – ‘genius is either ignored or systematically abused’. I knew a lot of dumb kids at school whose dads were in business and so forth. But they weren’t thick. They were comfortable. Their futures were assured. The dumb ones were the people who thought they could make a difference by doing something; and so they worked and they worked. They wrote, they tried, they had grand visions, they were unsullied by the arrogant certainty of their success.

            They were fucking idiots. Where are they now? The flat next door, sucking on their last potato, making it last until next month, thinking about how to erase third and fourth world debt. The comfortable kids, the one’s who didn’t care – their dads had bought out all the good ideas. A nest egg. They’re fucking the impoverished, mainly because they always thought it would be funny at school. They can buy good ideas, like playground bullies snatching lunch money. The dynasties go on. Tradition itself is a British tradition. It must be enforced; must go on.

            Giddens’ tale tallies with this truth I have seen. He had a good idea but it got bought. Yet in this day that’s not enough. There’s a lot of financial muscle flying around. He had to be bought. Not paid for the private service to a company, people would ask, ‘why should a man of such talent prostitute the blinding power of his invention?’ but asset stripped at the height of his reputation’s development. That way his name could be played forever and always. Respect and admiration are priceless; even the pathetic little spoilt rich-kid socialite hookers who became TV presenters and pop singers at the start of the century – I remember the phenomenon of the Camden Caners – faded from view very quickly. The public is fickle.

            But by buying yourself into history, you live forever, and your pathetic children can stand in that light too. There will still be nutters who admire Hitler in another hundred years, another permutation of the BNP, but no-one will give a shit about Kev who works at Sainsbury’s, struggling every day to put together enough money so that his daughter can get textbooks for college. She works hard – but I know no-one will ever know who she is.

            It makes sense. Could the same man who generated the theory of relativity – observing what had always been there, too small for our arrogant dimness to perceive – really have thought it was such an awesome idea, befitting the potential of his realisation to reform civilisation, to commit his knowledge toward the development of a weapon that could turn living, breathing people into scorched shadows on the ground?

            Something awry has been happening for a long time. There was a switch then, and there have been countless others since. Why would a man who fled from the extermination of his people purposely develop a means to annihilate the world a thousand times over?

            The bones of the real Einstein are crushed under a landfill site somewhere in Manhattan.

            The more I think about it, the more I come to realise that it really was the real Arthur Giddens at the pub.’

            This is dumb, I have decided. Time to sleep, David. Your mind has gone very wrong.

            I didn’t delete these words, and now – so much later – I’m relieved. I won’t even change the tense. It should stay part of the Here and Now, not become history, as it would surely be thrown in with Mein Kampff.

 

           

 

III

 

 

            I have realised, in re-reading these passages, that my … document, has no particular timescale, or any logic in its narrative structure. You cannot tell for instance that any of my missives were written in real time, that they reflected the moment I was living in, or whether they were added later. This very passage could have been, or is being, inserted at any point. As I write this I may be experiencing the existence of a living folk hero, installed in a stately home that does not belong to me, being massaged by five blonde virgins (but you can infer for yourselves whether they are female or male), masturbating over my own success, suddenly unaware of the irony of my position in light of the words you may or may not have just read. In this state I am a product of a very British proclivity – the self-abasing hero-creation that gives men who kick a ball around for a few weeks a year the power to buy ten houses in one go that a man such as Kev –who has or had a key role in helping put food on our tables (remember, you can’t actually live without food. I’ve tried) – would struggle his entire lifetime to buy just one of.

            But I’m getting ahead of myself. What should have been a short paragraph became rapidly overweight.

            My prose is fucked up. Good. Art imitates life. Age-old argument ended. What the good doctor Giddens will come to evince is that life is not a linear charged stream, but an infuriating Moebius loop of ionic exchanges. We go back and erase ourselves continually, re-write what was there, while in the background some bureaucrats are furiously typing out their official version of us, the truth of our existence that not even we are privy to, while someone else is deciding who they are, or were, and what as a direct consequence they will become. We’re all trying to move faster than the next guy, to define ourselves before they define us, moving backward and patching up the cracks that either party has made. A bit like filling out a tax return.

            Time for some perspective. The night at the pub –when Giddens made his preliminary revelations, like Moses with stone tablets, blissfully unaware of the casual approach of Jesus and the ‘Well, actually… Um, that is to say … I uh … am the Son of God’ timebomb that he would so Jeff Goldblumly drop – became Yesterday. Go back to the start of chapter two and check.

 

           

 

            Some more days went by, I drank some Guinness. The Guinness began running out. I pondered getting a job, briefly. Then, again, it became Wednesday. I got up at about 9.45 that morning. I’m writing this Wednesday evening –almost  Thursday morning, but what we are concerned with is the bit in between. Nine- forty –five is not an odd time for me to get up, though I am mainly nocturnal; In fact, I’m often up just before nine, and somehow get through to just before midnight before I go to sleep.

            It’s time to go see Giddens. He said he had proof that people were being … repossessed. I have nothing to do, so I pull on my clothes, feeling the stiffness of old leathers breaking down again. I slept with my sunglasses on. None of this is unusual. I pick my way through  the flat, stumbling on a pile of non-descript clothing. As I leave there is something unusual happening. Something breaks through the windows as I begin down the stairwell. Though I am wearing my Aviators, it hurts my eyes. The stairs feel quite normal, but there’s heat in the air, a dry heat. Opening the flat block door …

Searing, sudden, bright. Shit! I throw my arms up in front of my face, and I’m quite sorry about what I wrote about Einstein and the Manhattan project. A nuclear blast. They’re wiping out an entire section of Berkshire, to ensure I cannot escape. My benefits! That’s it – they found out the benefit fraud I committed in two thousand and six, and now they’ve deployed the only countermeasure suitable for the evil fraudster!

Something brushes past me. I assume it’s debris thrown up by the shockwave; but – I’m not dead. The world assumes an ethereal quality. I have ascended.

So why are the Angels muttering in Polish?

I lower my arms, and find it’s just the guy from flat thirteen pushing past me. Sun. The light was from the sun. I haven’t seen that for a while. After crouching in terror, shielding myself from the council’s wrath, I felt a little bit silly.  A step down onto the pavement … that’s better. A walk in the daylight; I can do this. I remember.

The flat block that I live in is built in an old gravel pit, left over from the ancient days when this town was famous for its production of red bricks. There are myriad Kiln Lanes, Kiln Roads, Kiln Estates here. I imagine it being like a pre-historic Bladerunner, with towers spewing fire into the sky. The kilns don’t exist any more, and just over two-hundred years ago isn’t prehistoric. Around the top and to either side of this pit stretch roads lined with council-estate homes and other crooked semi-private tenements made into multi-occupancy cash-cows by Indian landlords after the Thatcher era buy-outs that continued to ass-rape the housing market for thirty years thereafter. I hang a right and head townwards, following the landmarks –the little cornershop of overpriced horrors, the kind-of Irish pub. The population density increases as I move closer to town centre, along with higher incidences of sneers, funny looks and drive-by pram rammings by fifteen-year-old mother-things. Brood queens.

Is it really so odd that a man living in a modern democracy might want to walk around in the height of summer dressed from head to toe in black leather? Why should I be regarded with such suspicion, when there are still scum roaming around in archaic puffa-jackets, when eleven-year-old girls clatter around in four inch stiletto-heeled boots, when you must be battered by mindless, noisy holographic-polyphonic rap videos projected from mobile phones the size and shape of a flick-knife?

A town is a fortress, with rings of social defences. It seems to protect a hidden royalty. The common peasantry guard the outer walls; their main aggressive capacity lying in an abhorrence to difference. They are terrified of foreign colours, both in the racial sense that is perceived as a key problem these days, but also in the traditional sense of an enemy army’s uniform. My uniform is dark, north-gothic, Germanic to some. It speaks of a Gestapo outlook to the world and a tact to match. The more rictus the sneer it evokes, the more ignorant and distant the terror of the peasant footman.

These are dangerous in numbers, and dangerous because they don’t care, have nothing to care about. If you could change their minds, you might save them from the path they wander. It’s a casual hatred they hold. The racism they think they have doesn’t exist; I see so many black, Indian, white denizens in the same uniform with the same interests, same behaviours. Their infighting serves only to establish whose subcultural leanings are the strongest. They always turn to a real outsider when they see one, and the response is often violence. The victim is often someone who, in their soul, is not unlike them. In medieval times, a Frenchman might take his pitchfork up against an Englishman’s rented Welsh longbow, and they’d all kill eachother. But it was only ever because they couldn’t kill the people they really hated – the people who marched in and told them that they owed service, that they lived on someone else’s land, even though it was the peasants who grew the food, bred the animals and generally sustained the place. In a battle, a siege like the one that might someday befall this town, the nobility would generally just capture eachother after wearing one another down in personal combat. To the businessmen of today, this is more like head hunting. When a corporation goes under the workers lose their houses and the chairmen get golden handshakes and start up somewhere else. The peasants, like these track-suited desperates, are beaten down and their homes burned indiscriminately. Is it any wonder that if they got hold of a stray, wounded noble, they’d kill them? They can’t take a ransom for them, there is no reward for rescue, and they represent everything that holds them down. Everything that keeps them living in shanties at the outer walls.

As you get closer to town centre the colours and armaments change with the social strata. Tracksuits give way to semi-middle class jeans, white shirts and brown slip-on shoes. It’s all what I call the uniform. And they’re totally unaware of it; unaware of the fact that they all look totally the same. They daren’t call it the fashion that it blatantly is, because they’re above superficial things in that way, really guv, they are. I don’t know what you call these things. Praetorians, maybe. The sneers are no longer of outright hate, but of derision. They understand you no better than the peasants, but the attitude changes. The hatred is static, not blaring through the middle channel. Where the peasants hate and attack in large numbers, becoming irresolute and insecure in their purpose and the supremacy of their bubble of culture as their numbers dwindle and they are beaten back, these creatures are stubbornly hateful, though no stronger. Rather than fall back into the shadows, muttering about you being gay, these ones prefer to move past you as closely as they can. They brandish cynically arched eyebrows and flared nostrils.

It’s a joust. A contest by which the lower nobility can establish a foothold, climb the ladder of respect. With the passing sneer of derision, they seek to knock you off your own ideological horse and take the lady’s garter for their own.

Sod her. She’s not a lady if she derives entertainment from this thinly veiled ego-masturbation. I’d prefer to dismount and smack you to the ground with my morningstar. Here’s my manhood, beating at your helm, about to permanently disfigure you. As for they ‘lady’, I’m due to dismember her and douse the crowd in arterial spray.

Mixed among the praetorians are the knightly businessmen in shiny linen armour. Their uniform is different, more expensive, but the pomposity is the same. The two breeds have been moving in the same courtly circles all the time. The condos and the semi-detached terraces with the nice front gardens stand no more than an hundred metres apart. Climbing the job ladder is like a series of strategic marriages. It’s no wonder that the richest areas breed rotten sinkholes and keep them close by. The people of quality like to remind themselves of their superiority, and the wretched creatures like to hang close, waiting for an opportunity. Maybe a quick mugging.

But they exist mainly because the wealthy enjoy slum tourism. Drugs, prostitutes, you name it. They aren’t people in there; they’re objects, made to be used. They can’t do anything. It’s funny; I once lived in a semi-country area. It was home to a drug baron of sorts. The drugs move from wealthy suburbs into the hands of the desperate and self-destructive, and are picked up again by the monied. As for those selling themselves; it’s the best money they can get.

Timeslip. I discovered a lot about these people while the words to come were being lain down. I ask one thing of you: don’t be surprised to think that the posh-looking woman down the road clawed her way up that way. This is a symptom of the world, and you can’t blame people for their aspirations, and you can only blame yourself for their means. Suffice to say, if you think you have the right to buy someone’s last shreds of dignity, they have every right to try and buy them back. They’ve worked harder for it than you.

I keep walking. In this place, high-rise offices and retail domains rub shoulders. Did you think there was any real opportunity for you? Hundreds of years on and the world is still feudal. Just as a King might have surrounded himself with manservants, either scurrying nigh-invisibly or putting on airs of higher status like a minstrel or chef, but still living in relative squalor, so today the great and good maintain a hive of low-rent entertainers and producers, all struggling to undercut each-other to attract business and survive.

News-flash for all those in that position, as I have been: you’re being laughed at. Even if you charge at the higher range, you won’t dent their finances and they won’t notice the difference; and at the lower range, the poorer people still won’t afford your service. You eat behind the scenes at your own restaurant because you can’t afford one that’s exactly the same sixty feet away.

The sun is still shining brightly, and I’m sweaty, beleaguered, out-of-my element. By day, I’m in someone else’s town. You get walled in by the obviousness of other people’s thoughts. A mind is the easiest thing to read.

I cut across Gun Street; there’s a bus shelter on the other side of St Mary’s Butts followed by a line of trees – it’s generally shady there, I remember, from when I was studying for my degree and still walked in the daylight. It’s a place worth stopping to ponder in; one of the only places where you still can. There’s a large square of concrete just across from the bus-stop. On market days, there used to be a regular fruit ‘n’ veg pitch there –this practise still may persist- but otherwise it was a strange void where people refused to tread. Just an empty area in a town full of clutter and stinking anthropoids. Even now I am struck by its purity. The cracked paving slabs and the poorly poured cement around them are strangely serene. I’m calm for a moment.

By turning my head forty-five degrees to the right I can look up the side street toward the edge of civic centre. It’s about ten-thirty in the morning now, and the rubbish cart that Giddens picks up with is in place, doing its rounds. I get up and walk towards it. There’s a figure rifling through the paper recycling and I know what this must mean.

Giddens. He glared up at me from his position, heel to haunch on bended knees over the wastepaper, sunlight glancing from his pate. His hand rested warily on a wedge of papers until he appeared to recognise me.

‘Excellent, you came.’ He said – sounding more academic –Stentonian?- in inflection that when he was drunk.

His creaky frame quickly alighted from the pile of crap by the brown dumpster, and I noted the wedge of what appeared to be hastily sellotaped shreds grasped in his sweaty palm. He stepped up to the rubbish truck. I said,

‘So what about the th-‘

‘Patience, my friend! Just have to put my tabard in the cab. Then we will segue to the Pavlov’s Dog!’

That was a pub not more than twenty metres away. From the way he spoke, I wasn’t sure this was really Giddens…

I grasped my half-pint of Guinness – the cool glass perspiring visibly in the straw-yellow light of the student-ish establishment – with a mildly trembling, impatient hand. Giddens licked a calloused finger and began to unfold the shiny-tape ridden conglomeration of crud carefully beneath his cautiously hunched frame. I seemed acutely aware of the patrons around us, feeling their gaze even when they were looking the other way…

…I was buying into the conspiracy theory bullshit. Have you ever shook your head, like a double take, and sighed to yourself? You know the feeling that goes with it? Well there you are.

‘OK Giddens,’ I began, ‘you are aware it’s daytime outside and I don’t tend to cope with that? So if that old trash is a leaked list of names sold off –‘

His index finger darted up and thrashed his lips as he emitted a loud ‘Shhhh!’ which, typically, served only to make people pay more attention to us.

‘This,’ he whispered, the room seeming to grow closer and more dim, ‘is indeed a leaked list. My … identity repossession was orchestrated at the local Government level.’

I leaned back a little, narrowing my eyes. One of the staff screwed in a new light-bulb a few feet away and the room was no longer so dim. ‘What does the council want with the career of an award winning physicist? Arthur Giddens – assuming you’re a nut –  isn’t even in this borough.’

‘You think they can afford public amenities after they’ve extracted the councillors’ monthly bonus from your £300 base-rate council tax? No my boy,’ Giddens intoned, slightly mystically, ‘Another source of revenue is required.’ He slid the list to me. I think I recognised a name or two – one M. Charman; I think he’d written a fantasy epic at one point and New Line bought the rights last month. Pretty rich and successful by all accounts. The name was coincidental with a 36 year-old living on London Road. ‘And a quicker way, faster than donations or ties to corporations still flying the ‘corporate responsibility’ flag, is to sell out your citizens.

His finger panned across to a blurred selection of words, striated with a shredder’s tooth-marks. I think it said:

Writer. Three million.

I looked up cynically. ‘Doesn’t prove too much.’

Giddens sighed and folded the document back up.

‘Look,’ he said, ‘The economy is rough the world over. Commodities markets are rock bottom. Very few people are making money and the discrepancy between rich and poor is fucking feudal, okay?’

‘And…’ it dawned on me, ‘Capable individuals only seem to start realising their financial potential when they’ve had TV exposure…

Giddens pointed sharply at me with a cracked smile.

‘Bingo. Go on TV, say something stupid, watch the bank account expand. Then mysteriously disappear from the public eye for a while and come back having apparently had a good deal of surgery. Not every celebrity is that vain, before or after.’

My mind exploded. Shards of improbability punched through the soft grey tissues of my brain. How old was Mick Jagger? One hundred and twelve? Ten years ago he’d had surgery and his age had frozen. His hair colour was lighter, his mouth… smaller.

Rutger Hauer? I swear he wasn’t black before.

And the talents of all who came to mind had dried up long ago. Why had we all taken it for granted?

‘The modern proclivity for regeneration has turned our hard-wired sensitivity to aging on its head, that’s why!’

I snapped from my reverie, staring at the old dude. What had he said? He produced a small black box attached to an ear-piece.

‘Internal monologue detector,’ he said, ‘my own prototype. When we can build another, I’ll issue you with one –

We..?’

Four inconceivably large men with Cro-Magnon brows – the look of middle managers – squeezed through the doorway, sinister in their suits. I think I’d just stepped into the fucking Matrix.

‘Don’t stop there gawping like Joel Silver just produced a good movie – we gotta blow this Popsicle stand!’

No sooner had Giddens hissed these words, I turned to see his astonishingly sprightly frame whisk through the rear doors of the Pavlov’s Dog and boost over the wall of the beer garden.

Adrenaline squeezing through my aortic sphincter, and my rectal sphincter clenched, a followed suit, the fat soles of my New Rock boots scrabbling for purchase against the brickwork. When I thudded to the ground on the other side…

Giddens was gone. The papers lay wedged in a storm drain, and I heard the shoes of the Cro-Magnons clatting away in a different direction after a voice that cried,

‘Einstein is alive and well, and writing songs for My Chemical Romance!’

 

I’m now alone in my flat again, basking in the bluish light of my computer’s monitor. The sheaf of sello-taped paper is in my hands. I’ve read the names; compared them to a phone book. Impressive.

On the back I had discovered a name, scrawled in biro: Andrew Jackson.

I typed it into Google UberSearch, which revealed articles on some cult novels written in the late 90’s by a sociologist of that name.

 

Day of the Lords. Concerned with neo-feudalism, or how Britain, with its massive socio-economic divisions, is reverting to a feudal state where huge multi-national businesses like noble families, literally crammed with the daughters and sons of the head honchos (to guarantee their families work in an overstuffed and vicious job-market), send said progeny out to fight one another for regional market supremacy while workers on the lower echelons, despite their qualifications and merits, scuttle like mice and get caught in the crossfire while no-one high up suffers any wounds except to their pride.

 

A Means to an End. Satire concerning the ailing and eccentric landed gentry of England, who fight their way back to social supremacy through participation in pub sports.

After that… nothing. No actual bibliographical detail; no info on the man himself. No way of purchasing the books, or knowing when they were last printed. The only scrap of info is that they were propelled into the public eye – and economic success – by acclaimed art-movie director Peter Jackson’s somewhat irrelevant cover quote.

 

…to be continued.

 

 

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Published in: on January 1, 2009 at 10:45 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. Nice Site layout for your blog. I am looking forward to reading more from you.

    Tom Humes


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