I’ve two oddball pieces in two collected editions by Pavement Books. “On Paper” is a short story, included by Jack Boulton in Hand Picked: Stimulus Respond, and “We hate humans!” is an article on skinheads and the demonisation of working class violence in Return to the Street, edited by Sophie Fuggle and Tom Henri. There are far better pieces in both collections and I recommend a quick peek, and the other publications of this relatively new press.
I’ll be travelling through Northern France for the next few days, and to honour the journey, here’s an interview with André Breton I undertook for a recent French assignment. When I’m back I’ll be overhauling this blog and introducing some new projects, but for now, I’m off to indulge in the new sins of modern times, unproductivity and idleness.
L’existence est ailleurs: une interview avec André Breton
«C’est vivre et cesser de vivre qui sont des solutions imaginaires. L’existence est ailleurs.»1
– Manifeste du Surréalisme, 1924
Dans cette interview unique, nous parlons avec le romancier et poète André Breton, qui est connu aujourd’hui comme le fondateur du Surréalisme. Malgré qu’il meure en 1966, nous pouvions communiquer avec M. Breton grâce à une modification secrète de la technique de l’écriture automatique, qu’il a découverte et a développée lui-même dans Les Champs Magnétique (avec Philippe Souppault) et le premier Manifeste du Surréalisme. Nous avons demandé son opinion sur la politique, la beauté, et la vie après la mort.
Moi: Dans votre roman Nadja de 1928, vous avez écrit que «La beauté sera CONVULSIVE OU ne sera pas.»2 Ces mots ont inspiré des générations de jeunes romantique à poursuivre une expérience plus intense de la beauté c’est impossible, qui ne peut pas être réalisé, sauf à travers une transformation profonde dans l’esprit, qui déstabilise les normes sociales restrictives dans l’expression de son désir. Se souvenir de ces mots quatre-vingts ans plus tard, je me demande si une telle idée de la beauté est possible dans cet âge anxieux et hyper-numérisé?
Breton: Non, l’idée est toujours possible, même aujourd’hui. Pour moi, le surréalisme est un engagement de l’esprit à l’expérience de la meilleure partie de l’enfance, de ce désir illimité pour explorer tout ce qui nous intéresse. Sans égard pour les obligations de politesse. Cet engagement à la liberté sera toujours politique, à toutes les époques, et en particulier à la vôtre.
Moi: Avez-vous des regrets?
Breton: Je ne regrette rien. Mais, je regrette que ma génération n’ai pas réagis plus catégoriquement contre l’autoritarisme, qu’il soit fasciste ou stalinien. Notre inactivité et manque de prévoyance a eu un impact dévastateur sur l’imagination politique depuis. Je regrette le sort triste de mon ami et collaborateur Leon Trotsky.
Moi: Décrivez-nous la vie après la mort.
Breton: Je peux la comparer seule à la poésie de Paul Eluard ou les divagations du Marquis de Sade: improbable. Je suis maintenant totalement persuadé par la philosophie de George Berkeley, que tout ce qui existe sont les esprits et les idées. Hier, j’ai pris un café avec un Walter Benjamin, qui a pris la forme d’un chat euphorique. Aujourd’hui, je méditais sur la texture du Saturne fondée sur une photo de visage d’une femme par Man Ray. Si ces choses se sont produites dans la réalité, ou ont été imaginées par mon esprit, n’est plus importante.
Moi: Qu’est-ce que vous pensez des écrivains aujourd’hui, par exemple Michel Houllebecq, qui traitent de sujets similaires de désir et la culture populaire dans leurs livres, mais dans un but moins politique et plus cynique?
Breton: La vénération des racistes radins et narcissique comme Houllebecq démontre la nécessité de maintenir une recherche collective de la beauté, sous toutes ses formes imaginaires, impossibles et oniriques.
Moi: Certaines personnes accusaient votre œuvres de sexisme, en considérant les femmes comme des objets sexuel, qui sont souvent présentes comme un « l’Autre», qui sont chassés par un protagoniste masculin triste. Comment voulez-vous répondre à cela?
Breton: Ma vie, je vivais comme une provocation, pour découvrir et réaliser la liberté de l’esprit sous tous ses formes. Je ne vais jamais m’en excuser.
Moi: Autre chose?
Breton: une fois, il y a plusieurs décennies, j’ai écrit que «Tout porte à croire qu’il existe un certain point de l’esprit d’où la vie et la mort, le réel et l’imaginaire, le passé et le futur, le communicable et l’incommunicable, le haut et le bas cessent d’être perçus contradictoirement.»3 Je peux vous dire aujourd’hui, hier, et demain, la vérité de ces paroles. Je découvrais la nature fictive de ces frontières. Il est ou n’est pas, ou à être ou ne pas être, et alors? Si la vie est un rêve ou une réalité elle est aussi pertinente qu’un conte de fées, charmante et absurde.
1. Manifeste du surréalisme” in Œuvres complètes, tome 1 (Paris: Gallimard, 1988), p. 346.
2. André Breton, Nadja. Texte intégral, dossier par Michel Meyer (Paris: Gallimard, 1988), p. 161.
3. Breton, Manifestes du surréalisme, (Paris: Gallimard, 1971), pp. 76-77.
My story ‘Learning how to disappear’ will be read at the Albany Theatre on 16 August for a free event organised by Lewisham Talking Newspaper.
Stories and music about Deptford and the surrounding area will be brought together before a live audience, and recorded for visually-impaired people who the organisation helps, with the aim of raising awareness of Lewisham Talking Newspaper, a valuable community organisation running since 1977.
The story is about two people and their association through the Deptford Psychogeographical Association. It’s a dark and disquieting story – what one ain’t? – but suffused with a burnt love which I think carries through. There’s hope there, and not that desperate hope which demands not to speak of doubts, but something of a different species, the kind of hope without imagination that comes in the pure submission of one’s self into something other. Like cheap caffs, bad tattoos, signing on and grimey mattresses. The finer things!
It’s an honour that it will be heard in and by the community which inspired it. The event is free and tickets can be booked here.
Find out more about Lewisham Talking Newspaper, the organisers.
Or read the original story in Nyx, a Noctournal issue #5, with an excellent illustration by Andy Blundell.
I have a friend who tells me how much better I look each time he sees me. ‘You used to look terrible! Really pale and skinny, haunted, you know!’ He assures me it’s a compliment, though as regular as a morning’s mirror mantra he repeats each time he sees me. This is the story of NY fucking E.
To write better and travel more: this is what I strive for. For 2012 saw the completion of the rest. I learned to drive, formed a band, and learned to write songs and sing in my own voice. I worked my soul away for 6 months, set up the London campaign of a charity that ended up winning awards and securing its funding. There’s still a bitter memory of it all, and I am relieved I left in the way I did. I took a break, wrote some bad stories, then started work at another charity, taught myself how to write winning fundraising bids and at last joined a union. Was it worth it? I gave up meat and drink. I started combing my hair and shaving. I didn’t watch a single bit of the Olympics. It’s as solemn and profound as all that.
To see this one out, this is the final story I wrote over 2012. It’s way too long for a blog-post and is left here inexplicably like an abandoned child’s toy in a roadside gutter. Possibly it provides nourishment for wild animals, and for the rest, it’s a note to self to write something better next year. Toodles.
Nervously even for him he clambered up from the sweaty pew, arse sliding against the bare wood where he had sat alone by the altar, apprehensively, ceremoniously and most properly, the moment marked by the shriek of new shoes against marble, and ice-cold tingles rippling along his spine as he awkwardly shuffled sideways by the casket, experiencing something akin to vertigo whilst ascending the larger-than-life lectern to the rows of eyes of Ben’s friends and family. Celebrate life. In the midst of death we are in life. God would not be found in a place like this, in cold churches where people could go to feel good through feeling bad, through compartmentalising their actions into good or sin, but this is for the family’s benefit, so keep it positive. Work – football – generous – tragedy – celebrate life. Annie, Ben’s sister had asked him to do the second eulogy last week – “you are his best mate, you knew him”, but he’d only sat down to write it this morning, with an online template doing much of the work, aided by several Scotch-laced coffees.
“There is no antidote against the Opium of time, which temporally considereth all things; Our Fathers finde their graves in our short memories, and sadly tell us how we may be buried in our Survivors. Grave-stones tell truth scarce fourty years: Generations passe while some trees stand, and old Families last not three oaks.”
– Sir Thomas Browne, Urne-Buriall, 1658.
And I hope you too will remember Ben as I did, as a fun-loving friend who always loved a laugh, and as a kind, generous and warm-hearted man, whose life was tragically taken short … now he’s up there with God.
The second page had come to an end and there was nothing on the other side. As he glided back towards his empty pew he looked up momentarily, catching Ben’s extended family looking so empty, his sisters holding their elderly mother, and by the very front, Michelle too, with her family, not catching his eye, thankfully. By the time he had sat down he had to stand up again, as the congregation began attempting ‘Abide with me’ with pitiable faint-heartedness. Someone was singing very loudly in a baritone voice by the back, who like everyone else there he struggled to recognise.
“Thank you Alex, that was just right.” Annie and Sylvia, the youngest of Ben’s four sisters, had approached him by the kerb, sharing cigarettes taken from Annie’s handbag. Alex instinctively fished around the unfamiliar black suit for his lighter. They were both very cool, and silent. He could hear their mother wailing somewhere in the background, crowded by consolers. Beyond the gutter and the parked cars, the congested terraced street, the alabaster noon skies of a day which hadn’t somehow been able to start, everything feeling frozen and weightless since entering the church, since waking up the morning after. Perhaps in space too there were no emotions. The cigarette brought him back to earth. The last time they had all been together was outside the police station after the incident. Since then everything had been done by phone, very formal, usually Annie’s sweet faintly-cockney voice, but Alex feeling as if they had in part blamed him for the series of events that had unlikely resulted in Ben’s death. The hearses were pulling away, traffic queued behind, and Elena and Harold began to approach them. “Oh mama,” said Sylvia crying, and now the girls were crying, and Harold too, and Alex could feel his insides beginning to melt, tears forming, and without thinking his arms had wrapped around the family, head awkwardly facing the skies to keep the cigarette in his mouth from burning them, the pale sun glowing dimly through a cloud, a telegraph wire and an airplane high up, journeying somewhere it would never reach with unknowable hope.
Ben’s family were Armenian and had organised their own kind of reception that would coincide with the disposal of the ashes into the Thames three days later.
He’d built up a wicked desire for something to drink, and with the automatic impulsiveness that precedes any self-destructive gesture, he found himself ordering large scotch at a quiet pub by the railway station, which was quickly sunk and discarded. He drifted out and bought himself some ciders for the journey back, then staggered confusedly towards the platform, just in time to board the incorrect stopping train back home.
Dazed by hunger, passing one Tesco town after another. The great secret of these places is their void of a future. Nothing would actually happen there in thirty or forty years time. The malls and new-builds would be bulldozed and forgotten much sooner than that. With supermarket trolleys jutting out of the Thames mud. Objects indiscriminately laid out in the circumference of an invisible circle, without focus or centre. A world belonging to old men with ale-udders, mismatched sports jackets and beige chinos.
It was the early afternoon and the carriage was deserted. The cider tasted like two copper coins had been left inside it, tart yet refreshing. Alone, light-headed, here he was safe to think about the last few awful months. Michelle hadn’t said anything to him. The pregnancy showed. Ben and Alex’s lives had both run in parallel: friends since Year 3, when Ben’s family moved to Woolwich from Armenia. They both improbably supported Leeds United, were a similar height, and had surnames beginning with G-, meaning they sat together most of the time, which continued through secondary school, where they chose the same classes, bunked together, shared their first cigarette together, and drifted into the ignorant certainties of early adulthood’s stream of brainless jobs and relationships together.
They always used to sleep over at each other’s houses. The good thing about staying at Ben’s was that they could watch his older brother’s 18-rated horror videos like Hellraiser and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. They used to get so terrified that they couldn’t sleep, and would stay up all night talking about fantasy football teams and debate the probable victors of fights between superheroes and movie characters. They always had the same type of lunch box, and both their mums always put in a bit of extra food for the other boy, knowing that they loved to trade and share each other’s crisps. When Ben first started at his school the other kids had mocked him for his poor grasp of English and ‘Russian’ accent, but it only reminded Alex of his gran and cousin in Cyprus who he loved spending summers with, and he liked Ben anyway, and taught him all the best swear words he knew, like wanker, twat, shitbag, prick, arseprick, dickface, slag, felcher, and later, the C-word. There’d been only one falling out, when they had that big playground fight in Year 6 when Alex was pasted by Ben after some kid, Ashley B-, had jibed that the pair were ‘gay for each other’. That, and what had happened a month before that ill-fated stag-party.
They’d both been into girls from an early age. When they were 13, they had even started saving up together for a prostitute in the West End, their big dream, but before they’d reached £1000, how much they estimated she would want, they started to work out how to talk to girls at parties. They had even shared girlfriends some of the time. He remembered when they were 19, ‘D’ her name was, Dorothea, who had been with Ben first, and who had told him how Ben liked to play heavy metal music and ‘wrestle’ with her, that’d been her words. It felt dirty but strangely thrilling being inside girls that Ben had been with. They would sometimes talk about them afterwards, “a bit kinky”, “nice tits”, but usually more in terms of what they were like to be with, “hard work”, “control freak”. As they’d entered their twenties, the years accelerated and temporary settlements became patterns – Ben couldn’t go out without first getting drunk, and then taking coke later into the night to keep going. Alex had had a string of failed relationships which usually ended after the girls found out he’d cheated on them then threw him out.
Alex had been working most recently as a security guard, his dark too-serious brow rendered by the vexations of insane drunks, possibly with undiagnosed aspergers’, and their vain attempts to steal confectionery from the store, followed by their absurd defences of innocence or necessity outside. Ben also had talked about starting his own business since the age of 16 or 17, though like most there was no clear plan or strategy, and ten years on he was still selling insurance over the telephone to dementia-suffering biddies in Aberdeen and elsewhere. Ben had got together with Michelle in his early twenties. Her early pregnancy and their fear of her dominant father required getting married young, a number of low-skill jobs in Michelle’s dad’s company. That early pregnancy later turned out to be a miscarriage, but by the time it’d happened the wedding was booking. Ben was unhappily married and the relationship seemed to have all kinds of problems. They weren’t from the sort of background that were supposed to or even thought about going to university. Both Alex and Ben carried their resentment like a club card into masculine life.
The train was starting to get a little busy. Alex put the empty can back in the carrier bag and pulled out a fresh tin of cider. When he and Ben were fifteen they had made a non-resignation pact. Neither was going to become like the other’s father, these clapped-out, taciturn and miserable men who had amply failed to provide any positive role-model to them. “We ain’t gonna give up like that old bastard”, Alex had announced, sharing ecstatic reveries with Ben on a package holiday in Majorca, the end of a wild long night. He saw the outline of his face against the mirror, gargoyle-lined, stubbled, puffy-cheeked, more rough than tough, with dark eyes suggesting little animation. On one side of him sat a few early-finishing commuters, distracted by Coldplay, Facebook, Angry Birds and other contemporary dross. Beyond the window leaving behind the suburb satellite station, a familiar and remarkable urban landscape of buddleia punctuating smears of suburb town, factory town, gas reservoir town, Christian ministries town, cosmetic surgery town, cash for gold town, doner kebab town, Argos town, Ladbrokes town, Tesco town. Resignation’s so easy. “Not like my dad”, said Alex. “Yeah, not like him”, Ben replied.
Michelle wasn’t attractive in the conventional sense. It was more her value to Ben – she had to be special – and the thought that his friend had had her and enjoyed her in the past was what turned him on. Alex was already seeing a woman, Carlie, but she was still hung up on her ex, and Alex didn’t have the patience or interest in her existential problems, and had retreated into his usual bored behaviour of casual flings with women he met on singles dating websites. One evening, Michelle had come round to his flat to drop off something he’d lent, he couldn’t remember what it had been now. Carlie was staying with a friend in Bristol, most likely her ex. Michelle was sad, like she’d been arguing with Ben, and seeing that they had little else to do that night, they both started drinking beer and talking about what they were all like before Ben and Michelle started going out, all the wild times they’d had, while she talked about some of her exs and her early life, growing up and looking after her mum, about all the cats she used to have and their names. Michelle was always a lightweight, it explained why she and Ben always argued when they went out, and after a couple of beers the meaning of her sadness emerged. Alex wasn’t really the ‘sensitive type’: love was something you said when you wanted to get with a girl or end an argument. He couldn’t remember how it had started, but he could remember being on the sofa with Michelle, kissing her, their hands mentally mapping out each others’ bodies, then soon after, their clothes pulled off. She wasn’t beautiful in the conventional sense. She didn’t want to look at Alex, so he took her from behind, and pulled her hair with one hand, and massaged her clitoris with the other, as requested. The sheer wrongness of it turned them on immensely: Michelle, to get revenge on Ben, who apparently hadn’t fucked her for months, and for Alex, the chance to enjoy something out of bounds that belonged to Ben, like reading his diary or climbing into a scary neighbour’s garden together in search of a lost football or fantastical treasure, like when they were kids. They were drunk already and neither had a condom. As Michelle was coming she asked Alex to choke her with his belt, the way Ben did it. He was worried he was going to accidentally kill her, but she wanted to go further and further, taking each other deeper into that dark night of confused, impulsive, beautiful souls.
Alex quickly crossed one leg over another, and replaced the empty can with another new cider, still chilled. The train was pulling into another busy station, the passengers now boarding had expressions like they’d just interrupted their parents, engaged in mutual coprophagia.
Everyone always says in a funeral about what a ‘fitting service’ and a ‘good send-off’ it was, and when it’s someone old, what ‘good innings’ they’d had. It was such shit. Bad poetry read out of library books. Why should he have to celebrate someone’s life, why couldn’t he just be sad that his best mate was fucking dead? Ben didn’t even believe in God. How could they let that bastard priest who had never met him, never, talk about Ben in the most intimate tones, about what had happened to Ben’s soul? He could see Ben there, sat at the back after the service, with a fag-ash stained suit and a cheeky red or polka dot tie, legs stretched out wide, inappropriate cuff-links, short hair spiked up, a look of proud derision, his lips uttering silently but the words reaching his mind.
Geezer. What the fuck mate. What was that shit you said about me. What was my life. You know what happened that night. I was out of it. You should’ve looked out for me. You shouldn’t’ve done that. I knew that feller had a knife, I knew what he was gonna do, and I didn’t care.
They’d both completely failed on that non-resignation pact, perhaps because they’d both allowed their own lives to landslide into a peculiar blend of passive hedonism and cynical grumpiness. He remembered his fear shortly after he and Michelle had got it together. Never again, they vowed, though they both had very much enjoyed it. Carlie was with him, they’d gone to a friend’s wedding, and Michelle and Carlie were away for a little to talk in one of the reception rooms of this fancy mansion. Alex was absolutely terrified Michelle was going to blab to Carlie, though in hindsight she would have had far more to lose. So, totally idiotically now, he crept up behind the door ajar to listen in. He heard Michelle’s voice, she was saying about how men were ‘disabled’, that was her word for it, they were disabled because they always wanted to fuck strangers, that was all they could think about, yet 6 months after getting it together with the same person they lost complete interest. They’d rather masturbate than have sex with them. “Alex!”, Carlie said startled, sat on the edge of a luscious red sofa, Michelle close by on a mismatching floral-print armchair. “Men and woman are both disabled”, he imagined himself uttering, bursting into that charged room now, rather differently to how he’d really behaved. “You girls are disabled too, in your menstruation maybe, but no, in your desire to bear children into this fucked up world. Why? Why not just fuck, or have relationships.” And he imagined Michelle looking up to him, beautiful in that black dress, glaring viciously, also turned on by the infliction of wounds, and replying confidently, completely out of his imagination again, words without sounds: “Men and women are both disabled by that deep sexual hunger that frees our bodies and restricts our minds into these crazes. But how we both find sexual satisfaction is through a gradual concentration and narrowing of earlier sexual pleasures. Think of your first time Carlie, or no, maybe your first really good time. You want that again and again, that same type of male or female experience, and fucking in that same kind of way, rough, violent, tantric, from behind, on top, with the first one that really opened up your mind sexually. That’s why you still want to be with your first ex Carlie, and why you keep sleeping with him. “Yes,” Alex replied suddenly, “we’re the same, different but equal”. “Yes, and that’s why you and Ben are so close.”
It was Alex’s stop. He scrambled up, accidentally kicking the empty cans over into the path of the congested train. He couldn’t remember how long he’d been asleep for. But he wasn’t worried about the spilt cider all across the commuters’ brogues and heels, as he was more concerned with hiding all the tears that had collected in his eyelashes.
Alex had got out of the habit of waking up early after the last few months of night shifts at work. The flat was freezing. He was starting to run out of clean clothes. The milk too had gone off, but he chanced it anyway for his tea and cereal, adding a little water and sugar to conceal the sour taste. In the three days since the funeral service he hadn’t heard a word from anyone, until Annie called again to ask if he was still coming tomorrow to Woolwich Reach, for the send-off. He dug out his only other suit, and hoped no-one would notice he was wearing the same shirt from the service.
After a silent twenty minute journey across the deserted riverside footpath from Thamesmead town-centre towards Woolwich, he turned a corner where, in the distant sands of the brown Thames beach, two white marquees incongruously stood and, flitting about them, twenty or thirty of Ben ‘Benyamin’s’ extended Armenian family, some playing violins in some kind of gypsy dirge. He joined Annie, Sylvia, Mila and Hermione, Ben’s sisters and family all together for the first time in years. “So, what’ve you been doing with yourself these last few years?”, Hermione asked, her words slowing over the final part of the utterance as if she were asking himself what had become of those last few years. Drunk. Unfaithful. I should’ve looked out for him that night. But how did I know that psycho bloke was just gonna stab him like that, blades shouldn’t slide in so easily. He shouldn’t’ve died, he could’ve kept going, but he didn’t want it enough. The ambulance took centuries to come. Lost in traffic. “This and that?”, he replied, with a faint smile. “And you, the baby, right?” “Well, dad wants you to go into the water with Yuri and the others to say goodbye to Ben. He was more than a brother to you.”
He joined Harold, Ben’s father, and Yuri his uncle. There were a few others there too playing music, some weeping, all in black. Harold used to say that the English were a depressed people and this explained their behaviour and politics. He had never given up his customs and ways from the old country, but never really let Ben into them either. “You’re coming with us Alex,” he said, cheerily. “Now is not to be sad. Now we go into the Styx to say goodbye to Benjamin, my son, your friend.” He put his arm around Alex’s shoulder, the first person to touch him since the brawl that Saturday night. He felt almost hysterically light-headed, like he might topple over if a wind caught him unawares. Beneath the marquee was a small table with some pastries left untouched, and a jug half-full of some iced fruit-flavoured moonshine, oghi, which the company were liberally sinking in small plastic beakers. Alex filled one of the cups up and downed the concoction. Soon after his brain was whirling, light-headed yet elated, teeth chattering like demented magnets, and he followed the sound of Yuri’s accordion towards the tide, wading waist-deep into the Thames’ icy embrace, where it was now time.
Yuri began a plaintive, beautiful dirge on the accordion, joined on the violin by another man in the water who he didn’t recognise, a cousin or uncle. Harold came in a little later, carrying the maroon plastic urn, his eyes scanning the crowd by the tide, then the four of them in the water. He handed to him the urn, which was larger and much lighter than he expected, and like a bird, Harold’s mouth opened, and a rich, sorrowful bass voice emerged, singing some song in Armenian, which after certain intervals was joined in chorus by the women on the tideline. He glimpsed the Woolwich ferry in the distance, the post-industrial abysses of north Woolwich and Silvertown, piles and piles of multicoloured containers and tiny golden lights, which when he scrunched his eyes up, which the tears compelled him to do, became much bigger, their rays of light radiating in every distance.
His friend had died because he was tired, he had resigned his game far too soon because he had lost faith in a quick victory. Perhaps Alex had too, he was only 28 but felt three times that. He had a heart, he did, everyone did, but his was soaked in hate, and the source of hate, fear. His fear was death, like everyone else, of getting it wrong, of not being someone before he was old, but in temper of this fear of death he’d become afraid of living, of being able to love, or do, or act as he was, as he truly was, and have the courage to live with the consequences of this. It made little sense, but the truths of life’s studies were demonstrated in experimentation. The water was freezing, the music continuing, a faster song now. He and Ben had forgotten what wonder meant, of that openness of mind that one has in one’s early teens, like they had. All he had known in his twenties was decay, war, stress, anger, migraines, the bankruptcy of everything, only one reality of many. Back when they’d been young, they could’ve invented a cure to cancer or discovered the meaning of god or impossible if they’d wanted, why not? They were bound that way, had that wonder, but of course they wanted to play, to fight, to get together with girls, and that was alright.
There was a young boy on the tideline who was pushed forward by the sisters, and began to play an solo elegy on the trumpet. Ben too used to be able to play trumpet, and was in the school choir when they were kids. “Now, Alex”. The urn was profanely easy to open, its cheap plastic packaging almost blasphemous. Inside a white carrier bag, the ashes, which he now shook out with urgency, like putting out a deep fire, against the wind, towards the other side of the river. The family began to wail, as his ashes are wrapped tight in the whirl of the wind, then sucked into the swilling waters, thick and almost peppery are the remains of what once housed his presence, his soul. The urn was still quite full, and as he kept scattering them towards the river, wide grey smudges momentarily filling the air like Hades’ fireworks, the wind now blowing them into his mouth and eyes, and against the onlookers. As Ben’s closest friend, it was his responsibility to mutter a few vaguely profound words to bring the ritual to its climax. Gingerly the word “hope” is repeated: sceptically, optimistically. He handed the urn to Harold to scatter the remaining half, and looked out at the water, the ashes washing into that other London that might reside tranquilly below the water, on the other side of the river like a mirror-world, a land of London dead beneath the old Thames, a community infinitely greater than the living, still present in the lime and the slime of the banks, still despatching to the living their black-humoured gifts, ministered by gulls: the typewriters, tobacco pipes, shopping trolleys, plastic bags, cut-up corpses, messages in bottles, torn-up letters, wedding rings, and the occasional bit of ironwork that all wash up on the banks, some of which are claimed by the desperate combers of the beach, impoverished junkies still plying an ancient trade, sold on as scrap in exchange for escapism and food. Alex turned again at the onlookers, and back at the waters again, the distant lights. Silence, emptiness anew.
Mate. I forgive you mate. Look out for her. Don’t give up on yourself.
It was late evening now, and they were back at Annie’s flat in Thamesmead, close to where her parents still lived and where the reception had been. They were all wasted and wearied by all the singing, dancing and heavy-duty drinking of the morning and afternoon, and Alex, Michelle, Sylvia, Yuri and some of the others had come back to hers to carry on drinking. “More oghi!” – “Music!” – “That shit’s crazy” – “Ah man, I’ve got work tomorrow, ha ha ha!”. They were jumping round to old skool UK Garage and rave music, hysterically play-grinding and pogoing to those wondrously innocent, sensual dance songs from years ago, the nursery rhymes of generation of Thatcher’s children. Later, when he was out in the kitchen fixing Michelle and himself a final shot of oghi for the road, she followed him, and leaned against the fridge door, his back against her as he washed more glasses in the kitchen sink. “You know I’m pregnant right,” she began, her harsh-sounding estuarine upbringing bleached away to a more softly-spoken, sleepy drawl. “Well you know Ben had tests yeah, his sperm. What you call it, they weren’t fertile enough. That’s why we never had any little ones even though we’ve been together for like five years.” He handed her a full glass, which she put on the counter. “What you trying to say?” he replied. “It ain’t yours Alex, it can’t be, don’t ask me why, but trust me, it’s how it feels. But all I’m saying is, I want you to stick around and help me. For Ben”.
Alex looked into her bright, deep-set brown eyes. For a second, he could feel such immense sadness, uncertainty, vulnerability, that compelled him to come close to her, and hold her. She was crying into his shoulder. Another feeling then blistered inside him, through her – hope, that there was hope, that the right thing could be done. Her hair felt soft against him, beautiful smelling, not artificial like perfume or conditioner, it was the natural smell of her he was drinking in. He could feel an erection inappropriately forming, and began to pull away. “It’s ok”, she said, attempting to laugh, her forearm wiping away at her eyes, taking off her remaining mascara in the process. “I know all you men are disabled like that”. Alex remembered his dream with her and Carlie, it couldn’t be real. He finished the oghi, and she finished hers. “I swear down, is that “I’m a Dreamer” playing?” he said, smiling fierily. “His favourite”. And so Alex took her hand back into that sitting room, their bodies roaming closer and more intensively intimate than either had felt before, charged in space with the real hope that maybe, against the grain, they might know a happiness and a truth denied to Ben, and Alex, up until that moment.
“Honours, monuments, all that ambition has commanded by decrees or reared in works of stone, quickly sink to ruin; there is nothing that the lapse of time does not tear down and remove. But the works which philosophy has consecrated cannot be harmed; no age will destroy them, no age reduce them; the following and each succeeding age will but increase the reverence for them, since envy works upon what is close at hand, and things that are far off we are more free to admire.”
– Seneca, On the Shortness of Life, 41CE
CARRY THE HEAD. BEGIN
Next to the lectern was a yellowy human skull, warm and wet to the touch. The rolling script continued, and with that due diligence and discipline that had forever been my strong point, I began shouting aloud each word as instructed.
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, how are we doing tonight? Cheering”, this last section I accidentally read aloud too, causing the text to begin flashing red wrathfully. I continued. “You’re all looking very lovely tonight.” More cheering. “I hope you’ve all been good. Welcome to The Talk Shop, the chance for you to have your say. Tonight, is love in the air?” The audience began cooing and ooing. “But first of all, we begin with a serious topic.” Some sad strings music began playing from some corner to convey a change in gravity. “In recent times there have been problems with user experience of the post-life period.” The audience erupted in groans and awwing. “Some people have said that the manager shouldn’t have made them, or the afterlife, or that even the master doesn’t exist.” At the bottom of my vision began running past a small blue banner, with white text, saying something like
HAVE YOU BEEN AFFECTED? SEND IN YOUR VIEWS NOW.
My vision was otherwise restricted to the small lit focus of the tablet and beyond that, a vague comprehension of the audience, otherwise such intensely bright lights glared in all directions at me, preventing me from looking around. “Today we’re going to talk about this. And with me, I have three guests who I’ll be talking to in a moment. With discontent growing by the day, one thing the manager cannot do is change human nature retrospectively. But is eternal consciousness the happiness that each of us had come to expect? Or, as critics claim, is the manager wrong, or is wrongness itself the manager?”
I looked to my left as the glass auto-cue instructed. A white European man stood there in a bluish-grey suit, with dark hair and silver glasses, perhaps in his 30s or 40s or 50s, possibly the most dull and most generic man of the mid-20th century one might imagine. “My first guest is Dr. Henrick Peabody.” Great clapping. “He believes that the eternal sadness is just a misunderstanding, isn’t that right doctor?”
“Yes that’s right Mr. Gameshow host. Now, there once was a story of a man who was very sad.” The doctor had the audience wubbing and awwing already. “Now this man was very sad because he was cold, he was hungry, and last of all ladies and gentlemen, he was very lonely. And this man thought that maybe the answer to all his troubles was somewhere beyond his means. And so he waited and waited, and hoped that through all his thinking and wishing maybe in the end he might get what he thought he wanted. And the moral of the story is, he already had everything to make him happy all along. The end.”
Perhaps the doctor had finished too soon, or had gone off-script, in any case, the crowd were for a moment silent, before beginning to boo, and to hiss, and to curse and swear. Coins and pebbles began raining down on the stage. The skull in my hand cracked and the doctor too was struck early, and had collapsed behind his desk, face-down in a pool of his own blood, before being quickly consumed by fire. “Order!” I shouted. The rage immediately subsided.
The autocue began running text again. “Our next guest is Terry Wide, who rejects Dr. Peabody’s view.” Hearty cheering. “Mr Wide, you believe that the manager is a self-contradicting fallacy, isn’t that right?” I couldn’t quite make out this figure, but he seemed to have been stood next to the first person.
“Lissen yeah. See this right, see this here, this is wos facked up abat the after-life. Every blimmin day we’re told shit about why we’re unhappy, when the truth is, we never even ad anything to be appy abat in the first place, til the manager came and told us that this was all of it, when it ain’t.” Cheering. “See me yeah, I don’ even think we’re dead yet, but we ain’t alive no more either. All my life yeah, people tol me be appy wiv this, be appy wiv that. But I ditn’t buy into that, no-one did. I watched TV, ate shit, drank shit, got fucked up, ad kids not for the sakes of appiness, but because there weren’ no choices otherwise. Every day I used to ahks him for help, tell him my worries yeah, but nothing.” The audience were clapping and awwing in consolation and admiration.
“But I’m here with a warning to people about the manager. There ain’t one!”
Silence now. “And lissen, if there is one, he’s a cunt, and not the one you was expecting.”
The autocue began flashing in red, but I was unwilling to stop him. “When I first got here, it weren’ too bad, ain’t that right ladies and gentlemen?” Hoots and affirmation. “We all thought, this is a bit of alright. But, not long after the cocktails, rest, and meditation on your life’s doing and memories, I was thinking what next? I could see there was shit in my life I wanted to go back to and relive, or fix. But I couldn’t. And this is it. We can’t do anything. What I don’t get yeah, is how the manager, who I ain’ even seen right, can’t do anything. Like, if he was around, and he’s able to do anything at all, because he’s the manager, then why can’t he make us all happy? Or, why can’t he do something about all the evil in the world, the kids going murdered, the wars, the genocides n shit? I know you’ve eard this before. Ok, maybe he doesn’t want to get involved, thas’ humanity’s problem. Then how can he be a loving and caring manager then? That don’t fit. So maybe he can’t do anything, maybe everything in the past and future’s already written, like fate yeah. Well that’d mean that the manager wutn’t have free will to go change anything, which would mean he either ain’t all-powerful or he ain’t got any free will – either way, not exactly the manager we was expecting?”
I felt a buzzing in my ear. Apparently one viewer had emailed in a response to Terry, which began streaming on the autocue. “Hold on for a moment Terry, we’ve got a question from Mrs Ethel Ball from Camberwell. Ethel asks, ‘what if the manager does exist, but not in the way you imagine?’”
Terry laughed. “Don’t get lemon wiv me sunshine! You think I ain’t thought of that?”
I continued reading. “Say perhaps the manager doesn’t exist, but she’s no longer a person. Maybe people’s happiness comes from imagining the manager to have human qualities, like compassion, or physical strength, or wisdom. What if the manager is the hotel, is everything here – is basically everything, and the source of everything that is? Thank you very much for that Ethel. And remember, if you’ve got something to say, contact us now.” I was getting into this malarkey. I turned back towards Terry’s distant figure. “How would you respond to Ethel?”
“Don’t get me a wrong, it’s a fair point yeah. But why bovver sayin there’s a manager in the first place then innit? I don’t get why it’s now needed, if it’s just everything that bloody well is, like the fackin periodic table. It’s an unnecessary position. And it just goes to show that all the stuff that was supposed to tell us right from wrong, all them inconsistent and violent cults from all over the world, were just talking shit.”
“Hold on, if you don’t mind me interrupting.” The third figure on the most distant desk who I could not make out at all, but who had the voice of a young woman, began speaking. “If it’s all just talking shit as you so colourfully put it, then where are we now, talking?”
“That’s a great point, err…. Soph-Charlotte, Charlotte! Charlotte Smith.” The autocue was beginning to get confused with the great uproar and unrest that continued to rage and cheer away. “Charlotte Smith, how do you respond to the problem of eternal consciousness then?”
“Thank you Mr. Gameshow host. While I’m also unhappy like the gentleman here that the after-life hasn’t really lived up to expectations, I don’t think we can really blame the manager. All she did was give souls a chance to comprehend their lives after death. It was the way we lived that’s causing us all these problems.”
There was some less enthusiastic clapping from the audience, and the glaring lights seemed to dull a little, revealing a tall and lean black man, perhaps middle-aged, wearing a green vest and baseball cap, and to his left, a young and pretty-looking woman with dark hair. In the course of my distraction I’d lost track of what she was saying.
“…Hierarchies of status and symbol are intrinsic to our individual formation. We couldn’t escape them, nor all the madness and misdeeds of our lives, the prejudices, the repressions, the habits – we took them with us. But what would be the alternative? To leave behind the addictions and restrictions that made us the persons we were? Is that what you’d like, Mr Gameshow host? But then, that would be an afterlife without consciousness, of use to no-one, as joyous as – to use that lady’s example, the molecular reactions of elements in the periodic table. We deferred hope for after the limit of the end. We’re now faced with the impossibility of hope, of future for something beyond. No face to wash, no intoxicants to disorientate the senses. No redemption in rage or sex, or the gratitude of a infinite father who exchanged punishment for grace. The wrathful and benevolent Man or being, or beings, people were expecting was always absent, replaced with an abstract and missing energy that soon became infinitely disappointing. Who knows, maybe even the manager was all those things, powerful, wise, loving, but in order to complete himself, she had to die and become one with everything?”
The lights were now too dim to read the auto-cue, which didn’t seem to be functioning in any case. I could no longer see the audience, or the jerky figures which had been dancing and parading about with the cross and tick cue-cards. I suddenly felt overcome by a very heavy sadness and a great tiredness too, as if all these debates had happened repeatedly in different tongues, with slightly different cultural inflections, but ultimately to the same effect. Perhaps I had let the contestants speak for too long without interruption, and had once again profoundly failed in my task, which was far beyond my limited abilities.
I turned to the audience, my lectern gone. My task had always been alone, and unique I expect, but I won’t be able explain how that parliament decided to come to such a disturbing consensus without telling you a little more of this infinite sadness. Suffice to say that the incidence of you reading this account is not mere chance. No word or thought must survive of this, and these words will be the final testimony and message of our zone before I close it.
On account of my stoicism and due diligence and discipline for the task at hand, I became responsible for overseeing the collectively-agreed closure of the afterlife.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you heard the three contestants, what do you think? In a moment, you’ll have the chance to vote. Should the after-life be closed and immortality ended? Has eternal consciousness been beyond the limits of our souls endurance? Has the manager made a serious mistake in even conceiving an afterlife. Fingers on key-pads…”
The key-pads connected to nothing, and no-one voted, and no-one was there to count votes or clap or cheer or cry for shame or anger. Through consensus, it was perhaps agreed that the infinite would be annulled, shelved, postponed. The intense and breathless claustrophobia of this space abated, to the point where only souls who did not desire their own end remained, til they to began disappearing, their vain clinging to their apartments taken with them, echoing under bridges, in cellars or abandoned houses, where they still continue their lives as inconsolable spectres.
The young man came forward, the last of them all, and wordlessly, conveyed this song.
That Moon’s abandoned, like myself and my laughter,
But let’s just pretend for a moment that there’s peace,
That we can burn, so willingly and lovingly
Becoming fire to each other.
Love is not apologising for tears or silences,
The clay died, what’s left to be done
For the spirits of mere pots?
But we doubted, like the manager and her dark star
Permitting lies, the god-hawkers reported
That circumstances change with time’s passing,
When time itself never passes.
Through love and deeds, I learned nothingness.
And everything that now eludes me is nothingness.
Take it back now, sweet fire I never knew.
How had we come to this point?
It was only years later that I could return to begin to make sense of these things. I say years, but time is just a metaphorical concept in these parts now, as basic and impossible as a god, or the existence of omniscient shadows orbiting the stratosphere. That god we had feared had been of our own making, a devil of sorts we had done service to in those lives of ours, supped on hunger, beatings, and cheap mysteries. Had I not such a venerable and well-regarded responsibility in the collective restructure of the post-life period, I scarce would have bothered telling you the sorry story of our collective self-termination.
With the advantage of an eternity’s reflection, my life had contained little worth re-examining. I had known the laughter of my children playing in the streets outside a small suburban townhouse. My hand had written and signed deeds in languages like French, Russian, and possibly Latin, using words now even more absurd for their fetishised regional inflections. People often congratulated me, but in them I only saw the image of my schoolmaster and father humiliating me in front of my older brothers, and that success did not feel valid. I had known my wife deeply, had first come to distrust and then love her simple heart, had found domesticity in the punctuality of Sunday evening love-making, in her fretting over the one aspect of control she had in the upbringing and morals of our seemingly-wayward children. With age came both an uncomfortable combination of a heightened need for romantic comfort and love, and an increasing callousness in obtaining it. Affairs became intense, distressing but ultimately boring things, as both parties realised there was no remedy to escape the scorch-marks of past mistakes. I was like the others, one man and no man, knowingly devoting my life to a name that would disappear within a generation, preserved only accidentally in the names of hospital wards and libraries within which my accountant had deceitfully pressed the firm’s profits into.
The moments after my physical death came like awakening from a long sleep. Not conscious of crossing the threshold between dropping off and dying, I awoke in the space after life, infinitely passing. Like the eye that can never see itself, nor never know the edge of the horizon.
The first sense that everything that we had come to expect may have gone awry came at the river-crossing, where a suffocatingly large group of huddled figures, seemingly cloaked in the same coarse-cut cloth of brown and grey, groaning and grumbling together in the most pathetic fashion on the edge of a long harbour. Dock-side and restless, boots dragged over the barren muds and sands, soles crunching over mountains of broken crab-bits and oily fishes choked up by the seas. The atmosphere was fevered, humid, the air humming with an earthy sourness, like wood-rot in abandoned mushroom-picking sheds. Maybe some epidemic had ravaged their former homes, and these refugees now sought little more than a gentle place to collapse? The ferry-man had not come, had not been known to have ever arrived. Perhaps we were waiting in the wrong place? But it was too late to move forward or to move back, as the figures continued to assemble under a dirty dull-blue sky that seemed to become one with the ocean.
But even those murky waters contained some other life like that of women and men, grasping at the surface of the water before submerging back into the sub-currents. This tide-scene shifted continually, its features and figures temporarily magnifying and oscillating to the centre of my extremely disorientated ‘sight’, before shifting away again, as if in a kaleidoscope of memories. It was here that I first came across the first of many paradoxes of the post-life period, and perhaps one of the least difficult to grasp, which I will attempt to recount to you now.
A man without face or form told me a story of a wanderer. The wanderer had long left his home and had travelled through unknown lands, finding bread and shelter in the teaching of riddles and seditious doctrines. A president had asked him to summon the devil: under threat of death, he had relented, composing his usual shadowplay of glossolalia, light-trickery and street-magic. But in some rip between chance and absurdity, the devil did indeed creep out of that grotto-scene and took the form of a burning fire, impossible to comprehend without lasting blindness yet compellingly lovely to see, blinding all of the spectators in the grand council assembled in that huddled, smoky assembly, and the president with his long black moustache and pointy accusations.
The devil then took a more familiar form to this wanderer, who had always invested superstitious significance in the form of the goat-man, as had many of his culture. For the pleasure of summoning him, the wanderer had already been punished – had he not already known? – to wander for infinity, desperately clinging for pathetic emancipation in some enlightenment that would take him to the end of one long dream’s journey, and into the beginning of another. An infinite chain, which he must pass through for eternity, that is, until he could discover true faith in the credulous belief in the devil’s double, God. For aeons then this wanderer desperately did all he could to know the innocence of faith and love of God, prostrating himself before the altars of deities of all hues, shapes and caprices, but at each point he was reminded that this task was only guaranteed and instructed by the vanity of such a vocation. His burden was infinite knowledge, and with that, the capacity to judge and administer lives. With that weight, the wanderer was condemned to journeying through an infinite corridor of dreams, to the point where even that first detail of the wanderer, his meeting with the goat-man, just seemed another detail from another dream, sandwiched between lives as equally lustrous and luckless as all that preceded and exceeded it. ‘Who will announce to this sorry wanderer that here is the end of his journey?’ I replied, after a long silence between the two of us. ‘You would have to tell him that’, and with that, the man disappeared.
There was unrest at the harbour-side. Some demanded compensation, others, mere release. The narrative of guilt, worship and absolution still dovetailed the frames of comprehension. Although we had each probably long abandoned our expectation of ever realising or being released from the ultimate object of our desires, we had at least expected some promissory note or some bread and circus distraction. Finally, came a visual means of interpreting our situation.
I was inside a small lit bathroom unfamiliar to me, a probable feature of some deep-placed memory, facing the reflection of myself as an elderly man. I ran the taps and went to splash some water on my face, water which I couldn’t feel, and which ran through my bones. I looked up, and saw my thirty-year-old self confidently splashing water against its cheeks. Outside the bathroom was a small beige room with fairly archaic interior fittings. My wife was making love with my close friend, whose name now escapes me, a scene which had affected me deeply at the time. My children were fighting, scratching and pecking away at each other. They could not hear me, and I could not hear them. I picked up a solitary brochure from a desk by the door, which seemed to suggest some kind of hotel, but in my hand the text disappeared. On the back was titled a note of apology:
THE MANAGER REGRETS TO INFORM RESIDENTS THAT HE WILL BE AWAY FOR SOME TIME. ALL INQUIRIES SHOULD BE FORWARDED TO THE RELEVANT DEPARTMENT, VIZ. SEE OTHER SIDE. ETC.
On the other side of the brochure was the same message, again. I went to return the brochure to its place when it at once became a key, which the locked door refused to give back after insertion. To the left and to the right were corridors which proceeded without pause for an incomprehensibly exhausting direction. Small doors of each chamber faced each other, with figures opening these doors in both distances, figures too small and inscrutable to properly attend one’s focus to. All I could tell was that each had a grievance, a story, like those in the chamber I had left behind. And had there not been another entrance opposite the one I had left, on the other side of the children? And immediately I knew that that door would open onto another corridor like this, with fairly archaic interior fittings of varyingly dull and translucent hues, and an ever-expanding caseload of unanswerable questions by figures one could neither focus on nor distinguish between, each wanting to similarly realise what was most improbably possible and at the same time probably impossible, happiness, in spite of themselves. I collapsed in tiredness.
I awoke in the hotel lobby, where a young man was wordlessly addressing me, his animated eyes communicating some happy and very important message. His hard brow and raised cheekbones glared towards me, commanding me to check my appearance in case of shabbiness. I looked down to find my body had disappeared. “Now you are beginning to be able to see things”, I heard, “as they are.” I went to reply, but wordlessly we both instinctively agreed that anything I might say would be unnecessary, and certainly counter-productive. He continued: “the manager has left behind instructions that a man like you be recruited to solve the problem of misery, given your knowledge of worldly things and their passing.” But my suspicions were later confirmed, that they had captured the wrong man, but had lacked the will to reappoint my brother, he who had counselled souls into death and might’ve known something of this after-life. Still, I attempted to proceed with the task at hand with due diligence and discipline.
My first task was to comprehend the infinite scale of the after-life. Although the manager or one of his team seemed to have generated some clever equation to ensure sufficient capacity to accommodate all residents, there had been no strategy to address the welfare of the residents, provide some kind of activity programme, listen to their feedback, or provide information on other activities outside the hotel. I had begun to voice my misgivings about the hotel’s mismanagement when my investigation was consigned to just my room again, where I had to work with the background of my bickering children. I had no means of summoning witnesses other than randomly dialling numbers on the hotel’s room-telephony system and summoning whoever answered and could understand my tongue. Those that were then able to find the room had never seen that brochure nor anything else I had described.
The atmosphere of the hotel felt always cold, breathless and stifling. There were the souls of all ages, some arriving, some ancient. To most, the languages we had spoken and images we had established our mental worlds upon were unknown and alien, a cause of mutual suspicion. The most common exchange between souls was that of shriekish heckling. For those that spoke to me of their grievances, a common experienced emerged. First a welcome state of immaterial bliss, one’s memories endlessly replayed, close and soft, filigree etchings around forms so wondrously beautiful to mentally conceive of, all flowing into each other and becoming one matter, like mind but feeling intensely close. That state of infinite delight would not last.
One posed in beatific reflection, of the kind performed perhaps by only a handful of prophets, embellished and brought to life by a mendicant’s hand. Few could manage. Without body, experience was mediated through the nerves and not through the senses. It was confusing at first, but soon one learned how to ‘feel’ and ‘hear’ what was nearby, but the inability to distinguish individual forms meant that the basic cooperation, feedback and social reinforcement of communication became frayed. What had once appeared as a hotel or dock-side had become something far more queasily cosmic. The intense proximity of other souls sparked resentment over privileges unfairly bestowed by the manager towards them and not us – arguments would erupt about whose afterlife this was, and whether it was heaven, nirvana, valhalla, or some biochemical effect of permanent neurological bliss in the mind of a higher being.
The manager had not yet returned, nor did return of any kind seem likely. My notes from the investigation continued to disappear, and I could not be sure if it was my elderly son or elderly daughter who were eating them, or some conspiracy of the two. Gazing into that bathroom mirror at the reflection of a forty-five year old Freud-looking figure, it became clear to me momentarily that when provided with everything it might need, man could not be possibly sustained by abundance. Idleness gave way to crime. Plenty gave way to greed, or to a compulsive and insatiable gluttony. Possession gave way to rivalry and war. Happiness, to the terrifying prospect of having no point to fear, no past to regret, no brutalised memory of famine from which one could then, momentarily, concede happiness. The human was not built for it. Personality, memory, desire, were all premised on lack, deprivation, and fear of punishment. The deferral of happiness for an after-life had been a gross miscalculation.
I did not have any solution to this matter, but when finally permitted to leave the war of my chamber to speak with the commanding figure again, I felt some sympathy for the now weary-looking boy, who distractedly picked his years and adjusted his sleeves as he glared at me. For his benefit, I generated some half-truths about an intrinsic flaw in human nature, that could link together these god-fearing Latins, war-loving Teutons and pill-popping Yanks. “Most interesting,” he finally replied. “And what do you propose?”
Later, an unsigned note had been pushed beneath my door,
I felt the uncanny intuition once again that this instruction had been delivered to the wrong destination, or that there had been some great delay in the arrival of this message, which on second-examination had become an unpriced menu of items that could be ordered from room-service. I fretted for several days, standing over that leaflet until finally I relented, and unlocked the door beside my children, who were now pointing ballistic weapons at each other, and my wife, who was weeping most grievously at her own looking-glass’s reflection. The menu became a key, and the door gave way to a long black corridor, its only exit – the faintest twinkling of a silver circle – facing me in the far distance, which I proceeded to follow for some time, but without ever getting closer, until after some hours I turned to look behind me, to its black nothingness, and then ahead of me, which was now too just darkness, until I could not be sure which direction I had first travelled towards, or if I had ever been travelling towards a direction at all. In the far distance, I could see again something, the faintest particle of a silver circle, like a very distant moon which, with an immediate shift in focus, became a white ‘on air’ cue-card. The parliament had not long been in session.
The audience sat in tightly-packed rows on a single stand facing the open arena, seemingly apprehensive for some kind of performance. The young figure from the hotel lobby was with two others, perhaps older sisters or brothers who were much uglier, and without word they pushed me towards the centre of the stage, which featured a colourful small lectern, which in turn faced three numbered desks behind which figures also stood. I couldn’t make out the text behind this lectern but it was most probably the name of the performance, given the overweeningly filigree fancy script. I could make out only the first row of the figures, who were the usual collection of physically shape-shifting spectres glanced in the hotel, none recognisable. Some figures hurried through the crowd and out to the front and lifted up more cue-cards with green ticks painted on. The audience erupted in cheering, whipped on further by the dancing and clapping figures.
What did they expect of me? Had I not already done enough? The lectern was even smaller once one was standing next to it, and what had seemed like fine mahogany was in actuality a flimsy paper mache effect. Upstanding on the lectern was a large glass tablet, on which lines of words continued to roll down, seemingly matching whatever phrases the dancing figures were shrieking at the audience.
My reflection now stood self-pitifully proud in the bathroom mirror of the empty apartment.
For a short time those unending hotel corridors were empty and silent, and I was able to stroll along them until I tired. However I had inherited a kingdom whose dimensions and laws I did not know, and I was unable to cease the equation that meant that after a time, new souls arrived, with the same new old doubts and wars raging within them. I was able to persuade these to congregate for their own safety in one apartment, which I was then able to lock, after which, after tearing around in the hotel’s plant room, I was able to smash the electricity power, which from thereon prevented the entrance of new beings. The explosion created a rip in the room. I fretted for a long time, until finally I chose to venture through that tear to the other side, which was a place much like that I had known alive, a small late-modern London suburb, whose dimensions realistically correlated to the laws of physical space, rather than carrying on in vertiginous circles of infinity as I had long known. I was as ancient as sand, able to see and preside over decisions of death and doubt that the lives of towns like these contained.
There must not be any repetition of that blissful suffering known after life, do you now comprehend? I closed that portal behind me, and determined to teach this world not of the after-life, but of the pleasures of destroying the self in servitude and collective hedonism. But I found few adherents to my ideas, reproduced occasionally in fringe publications of seditious or esoteric doctrines. I wandered for many years, vainly attempting to study the problem of human nature and writing down my story, of which this version here is just one of many accounts, all of which vary in circumstances and details as my limited memory and confabulation permits. Now, in this hotel quite like any other, with archaic interior fittings, I write these words again for the benefit of no man. The women and men of the era claimed that self-abandonment would not feed their children, and in their misery demanded justice, demanded witness, demanded compensation for every crime and insult against them. And who was I to deny them that afterlife? And if only it too would now allow me to return.
They must not understand that there is nothing more desperate than the space after the end.
A “print-out-and-keep” commemorative tale inspired by the late jobcentre plus in Camberwell.
A not-so-young man gingerly approached my desk. His eyes darted below and to the sides in an attempt to avoid eye contact with his destination, but soon he realised there were no features for one to be distracted by in this office.
I did not address him. He sat down in the chair provided. I clicked through my emails in a self-important manner, but these I had already read through some hours ago. I then scrutinised him intently. What a weasley scrounger. After some moments he laughed nervously, and took his dusty black suit blazer off. “Warm, are we?”, I announced. He nearly jumped out of his seat.
It was necessary to keep the candidates on their toes, otherwise they got soft.
“So, Mr. … W-”, I began, getting his case file onto the screen. “Ah yes, the client with the PhD in semiotics”, I looked up to express my disapproval, but he was gazing at his fingernails. “Well, I had a Marxist geographer in your place a few weeks ago, and he’s now happily working as a customer services intern for a major insurance firm’s call-centre. I take it there’s been no success with your job search?”
“No, err, I’ve been applying for this and that but…no luck yet”
“You’re not looking in the right places.”
“You’re being unrealistic.”
“But I have a PhD, that’s why I’ve been…”
“Have you tried teaching?”
“Err, yes, to postgraduates, when I…”
“How was it?”
“Well… they didn’t pay much attention, and they just wanted to repeat the same old clichéd student crap on Marx and Nietzsche….”
“Very well, this will be just right. A secondary school in south London requires a teacher.”
“Well, if it’s in philosophy, which I very much doubt, then…”
“It’s to be a teacher in misery.”
“Well, I don’t know if I could do that…. I hate children….”
“I’m not a morning person…”
“Not a problem.”
“I don’t think they’d listen to me…”
“My doctor says I have an alcohol problem. …I drink and I feel guilt, but I have to drink, to cover up the increasingly all-pervading sense of worthlessness and failure of my life, all the missed opportunities, wasted potential, and failed relationships. Day by day, I feel like a little bit more inside me dies….”
Finally the nervous candidate had begun talking with some animation. Clearly his own misery was a subject he’d be able to inspire the school-children with.
“Perfect. I have here the job description. It states,
‘Today’s young people are boisterous, naïve, excited about all life’s possibilities, and keen to take their place in driving positive change for tomorrow. This is not realistic. We therefore require a semi-skilled candidate who can train the young people for a life of draining and dull work by condescending, mean bosses. We need a candidate who can inspire the students to spend all their time working on computers simply because they cannot imagine anything else to do with their time. We all know life is not easy, but the young people will struggle after they leave school unless they can expect not to be paid for working, that settling for second best is ok, not to burden tax-payers with their costly anti-depressant prescriptions, but to find happiness in buying things on credit, and not to bother the government or corporations with their selfish and unrealistic demands for a better quality of life. The main part of the teaching workload will involve using a blackboard to write exercises from a textbook, provided, which will be the basis for lecturing the students for their idiocy, obstinacy, and bad behaviour. Enhanced CRB disclosure required.’
I think it matches your CV perfectly. Shall we call them now?”
“What have I told you Darren! Read the board: W . A . S . P. – no walking, asking, speaking or passing. Shut up Nathan! Put that phone down! I won’t ask you twice!
“Sir, what are we supposed to be learning today?”
“Right, err… today… we’re…”. At last, he found the right page in the textbook. “Today we’re talking about the future! We’re talking about expectations, and we’re talking about realities.” He wrote the three words across the blackboard. So, hands up, can someone tell me what they expect after they finish at school?”
Hands shot up. He selected one of the less disruptive boys from the back. “Get a job sir, get some money and buy a car and move into my own flat, innit”.
“…Get the ladies round!” said his neighbour.
“Yes bruv!” he replied. Their clenched fists knocking together in friendship.
“Very well. That’s the expectation. But can anyone see any problems with that scenario?”
Silence for a moment, then finally a dissenting voice from the back. “Craig’s a batty boy though, AHEM!”
The class erupted in hoots and laughter, tables banging and pieces of paper flying across the room.
“Be quiet! Does anyone have anything intelligent to say?”
“Craig’s too retarded to get a job though sir, no lie!”
The classroom went into frenzy. He could hear the teacher knocking against the wall disapprovingly from the adjacent classroom.
“Shut up! Now, Jonathan has a point. Craig expects to get a paid job that’ll give him enough money to rent his own flat and buy a car, but that’s not realistic. Now Craig will get some GCSEs, though probably not many, or not as good as the boys at St. D–‘s. He’ll look to get a job, but, what’s this? There are three million people also looking for a job. And who knows how many more millions working part-time or on temporary contracts, also looking for jobs? So Craig won’t get a job, unless he works for free. That’s just how it is. And because Craig will need to work for free for at least a year, he won’t have any money to buy a newspaper, never mind a car!”
And here, for a moment, Mr W.- allowed himself a chuckle, before continuing. “Now, because Craig doesn’t have any money, no-one will want to go out with him, will they? And his mum and dad will get sick of him, but he won’t be able to leave, until finally he acquired enough photocopying and coffee-making experience to get a very simple part-time office apprentice job.”
“My brother’s got one of them!” said another boy.
“Yes, you can get a paid job if you work very hard. But let’s carry on. And from that, he’ll work for a number of years, perhaps also working in supermarkets and coffee chain-stores to supplement his wage, until finally, around middle-age, he has a middle-manager job where he gets to hire and fire other interns like he was, many years ago.”
“Yes mate, hiring, firing, and perspiring!” cheered another boy.
“Yes… and, err…. Craig might be married, he might not be, but either way, he’ll be fat and depressed, and if he did get married, he’d probably be divorced soon after. That’s just the way it is! No-one cares about anything. Nothing really is interesting. People don’t change. None of you will become better people or more interesting people. Most of you won’t do anything significant with your lives, except add more to the general bill of human suffering. There isn’t a future out there, that’s what being realistic means.”
The classroom was silent, Craig was entirely subdued. Finally Nathan interrupted the weighty mood: “Sir, is that why you teach here then?”
The classroom resumed back to its usual atmosphere of heckling and chaotic disorder. “You got told sir!” “Sir, is it true you’re a paedo?” “I ain’t gonna be no pussyole like that”. Chairs and pens began flying around the room, some hitting Mr W- directly.
“You’ll see!” he said, quickly retreating out of the classroom to find the Deputy Head, his arms vainly shielding his face from the artillery of exercise books.
A not-so-young woman came gingerly approaching my desk. Her eyes flickered below at the smartphone in her hand, captivating her attention with unknown images, to the point that she almost fell over into the seat in front of the desk.
I did not address her. She sat down in the solitary seat provided. I clicked through my online purchases in a self-important manner, before scrutinising her intently. What a misguided oxygen-waster. After some moments she asked if she could take her jacket off. “That’s a nice coat, did you steal it?”, I announced. She nearly jumped out of the seat.
It was necessary to keep the candidates on their toes, otherwise they got soft.
“So, Ms … Y-”, I began, loading her case file onto the screen. “Ah yes, the client who thinks she’s an artist.” I looked up to express my disapproval, but she was gazing into the space above my left shoulder. “So, you’ve been busy exhibiting your work. It says here you have an MA in Graphic Design. Ah yes, and that for the last three years you’ve been doing various different internships at arts organisations across Europe. Very proactive, Ms Y-, but it’s not realistic.”
“Please,” she murmured quietly, almost inaudibly quietly, before clearing her voice, and speaking louder, continuing. “I’m in so much debt. I can only afford to eat one meal a day. I’m having to borrow money for prescriptions. I’ll do anything, please.”
“Don’t fret. I had a sex-positive feminist activist and part-time substance misuse counsellor in your place a few weeks ago, and she’s now happily working as a sandwich artist for a major supermarket’s bakery. I take it there’s been no success with your job search?”
“Not yet. I’ve had a few interviews for gallery assistants at different places, but I don’t want to do anything commercial…”
“You’re not being realistic about the job market.”
“I was thinking about doing another really great internship with…
“a community arts foundation…”
“At this rate you’ll make yourself unemployable. Now, how about advertising?”
“Well, I once promoted a friend’s show with posters and twitter…”
“That sounds more like it. I have a role that’s just come up from a West End advertising firm. It’s paid. They’re looking for creatives who can help develop leading concepts and sales solutions for their clients in the fast food industry…”
“But you’ve got to be really stupid to believe anything those adverts say…”
“Yes, that’s right. Good answer.”
“But I don’t know the first thing about food.”
“But isn’t it a bit…unethical?”
“Aren’t you being unrealistic, Ms. Y? Do you not want money for prescriptions? Now, here is the job description,
‘Do you have the wow-factor? Can you KO clients with communications that show oodles of style and pizazz? We seek advertising creatives who know that some bogus stats, infantile cartoon characters, racy innuendo and soaring indie landfill rock are all really great ways of selling produce. In today’s tough economic climate, the challenge of getting people to buy what they don’t need and cannot afford is even greater. Survival of the fittest! So if you’re a money-motivated self-starter who just needs a brief and a budget to sell sand to the Arabs and snow to the Inuits, then we want to hear from YOU! Payment is based on performance and successful meeting of targets. Candidates must be prepared to also work evenings, weekends and holidays, family funerals etc., as per necessary.’
The young woman looked pale. “Well, I guess I have been a bit unrealistic and a little self-indulgent about my career. And I certainly could put together brand packages…. if I can market Anarchist expressive body art to hipster Dalstonians, then selling fried chicken to retarded mums and dads from Liverpool and Lancashire can’t be that hard…”
“That’s more like it! It’s not every day I see a go-getting candidate like you, Ms. Y-! Let’s give them a call now!”
The clients, two sales managers representing Dollar Fried Chicken, were directed from the wide open-plan office with its sweeping London views, rolling news and playschool-coloured furniture to a private meeting room. As they entered the meeting room, clutching onto their complimentary cappuccinos, they were greeted by Ms. Y- and Charlie, a not-so-young brand manager whose lenseless glasses and checked shirt were a vain attempt to conceal a growing beer belly and the usual effects of ageing.
Now suitably awkwardly seated, Ms. Y- clicked her presentation on and began the pitch. “Okay gang. Let’s talk about ‘Project FeastNight™’.”
The two sales managers cooed and rubbed their hands.
“Ok, Charlie, can you give the clients the skinny on the initial brief. Shoot”.
“Thanks babes. So you came to us to talk about how to expand the market for your extra-large meals to new demographics. You were worried that parents and some journalists might object to the very high salt and fat contents of these foods, and the ethics of irresponsibly marketing to children – what we call in the business a media cock-block.”
“Lols Charlie!” Ms. Y- continued. “So we took the extra-large meals and gave them a brand overhaul. What we’re talking about is FeastNight. Simples. You take the four extra-large meals and establish a brand partnership with a leading comedian, actor or sports star for each meal. Personalise the boxes. Then you market it to the comfort bracket. Take a look at this 30-second ad we’ve put together.”
Charles switched off the light, and the clip began. A leading stand-up comedian, known for his somewhat salty and blue humour, is seen walking running down a high-street, chased by a gang of ethnic minority children dressed as vegetables, covered in flies and dirt, as well as an old-fashioned looking brass band playing a dreadful though somewhat catchy tune.
“Ironic, huh!” Charles sniggered.
Suddenly, a piano drops on the roly-poly comedian, and it looks as if our salad-dodging hero is done for. But inside is a former children’s television presenter popular about a decade or two ago, dressed as a butler, who serves the comedian one of extra-value FeastMeal boxes. Then another well-known comedian’s voice booms over: “Need to refuel! You deserve a break! Join the FeastClub!” His voice is immediately followed by a somewhat weedy but fun-sounding trumpet parp.
Here the screen changed to a hovering perspective of one of the extra-large meals in a large cardboard box, the fried chicken, chips, apple pies, doughnuts and chicken wings all piled up on one another with an almost rustic flourish. “Every day there’s a different Feast to try!”
The next screen showed a big group of primary-school children laughing and eating away, supervised by a couple of middle-class looking mothers. “Treat them today. And if you’re under the age of 12, buy one FeastMeal, get the second half price, limited offer now on, only at Dollar Fried Chicken! >”
The final screen, lasting no more than a couple of seconds, flicked back to the comedian inside the piano, who is now holding the Feast box, whilst the butler next to him titters and shakes his head in cheery disbelief. “Why not?” says the portly pub stand-up, in a very silly voice.
“>Why not? That is the topline message that the FeastClub meal conveys”, said Ms. Y-, switching the light back on. “We’re challenging the audience – tell us why you shouldn’t eat far more food than you need. And if anyone replies, ‘because it causes obesity and heart disease’, we outmanoeuvre them with the ‘Gag Defence’ – it’s supposed to be funny, it’s ironic, if you criticise it you miss being in on the joke and are therefore very uncool.”
The two sales managers were spellbound by the pitch. They had this one in the bag. Later that afternoon, she’d pair up with Charles again for another presentation for a major high-street betting shop. They’d put even more work into the superhero-themed antics of the ‘Have a go, hero!’ online poker campaign. Although the job still offered no securities, the boosted income now meant that not only could she keep buying the latest gadgets and afford even more prescriptions for anti-psychotics and tranquilisers, but she was now able to live fifteen minutes closer to her workplace, though once more still struggled to pay the rent each month.
A not-so-old man came swaggeringly approaching my desk. His steely-blue eyes darted not below or around but dead towards me, with the commandeering leer of a man unfamiliar with disapproval.
As he landed on the solitary chair provided, with the grace of a great bird plummeting from a migratory height, he slapped his palm onto the desk. One of his thick silver bands clacked with a peculiar trill. Using his other hand, he rolled his smartphone from his inside suit jacket and slapped that on the desk, the phone falling and bouncing onto my keyboard. “Oh, ever so sorry”, said the man in his expensively-bred voice.
I did not address him. After clicking through some of my Facebook friends’ profiles, I turned to the man and scrutinised him intently. Little Lord Buttfuck the Shareholders. But he returned the glare, until I called a truce and switched on the electric fan. “It can get rather stuffy in here”, I finally uttered. He folded his body back into the seat and gave me a look of disapproval, as if he had been tested to a draw by an inferior opponent.
It was necessary to keep the candidates on their toes, but some were more easily intimidated than others.
“Mr… S.-P-.”, I began, loading his file onto the screen, which presented a rather unimpressive history as an investment banker. “Now, according to this, you’re not looking for any work at all. Is this correct?”
I raised my eyes to express a look of disapproval, but he had beat me to it, and was probably fantasising about inserting sharp objects inside my intimate cavities.
“Look, Mr….” and he craned over to read my name-tag, which was in fact blank. “Err… I make money. That’s what I do. I don’t work, and I never have done. I pay other people to do that for me.”
He snorted like a goat, as if the word work were as scatologically-suggestive as plaiting one’s anal hairs.
“I meet people every day who don’t wish to work Mr S.-P.- Now, according to your record, you’ve primarily worked as a … partner, and an…. investment banker for S.-P.- & Sons, and before that, at various other investment banks, it seems.”
“I’m done with that”, he replied, brushing away the suggestion with his hand.
“For what reason,” I replied, typing in my own name into a more obscure internet search engine, to compare results.
“I’ve played the game. Played it very well. Got bloody loaded for a while. I was the UK’s 14th billionaire under the age of 25 once, bet you didn’t know that. But the game eventually played me, because I played the game, and the game plays those which plays it, play to win… umm… You know what, it was because of people like you. Little bureaucrats with their little desks…”
By this point, he’d picked up my stapler and had begun rapping it threateningly against the edge of the desk.
“The nanny state nearly stifled my entrepreneurial spirit with an unpaid tax bill and some chumped-up charges of gross mis-selling and fraud, which my father’s lawyers were fortunately able to settle out of court.”
“Does that mean you still have a clean criminal record?”
“Oh yes, of course. The only people prosecuted these days are chavs and hoodies who can’t afford a good legal team. But, the settlement does mean that I cannot have any involvement with financial services.”
“What are your views on politics?”
“I have none.”
“Very good. Do you profess to have any ethical or religious beliefs?”
“My one vocation is making money. I’ve never given a thought to anything or anyone else.”
“Perfect. Now, what are your views on the NHS?”
“Filthy beds, nurses who can’t speak English, incubators of diseases in the feckless and workshy underclasses…it’s a socialist sham, political correctness gone bloody barmy.”
“Do you enjoy any sexual practices that might be considered deviant or indecent?”
“It depends what you mean sir. I sometimes do enjoy a bit of dress-up with a couple of dirty escorts…”
“What do you dress up as?”
“Well you know, errr…. officers from the Waffen-SS, that kind of thing? I like the escorts to dress up in those stripy blue-pyjamas like the whatsits used to wear, though I prefer it best when they play camp guards, and give me a ruddy good hiding…”
“Yes, that’s quite enough, thank you. From what you have just relayed to me, I think I’ve found just the right opportunity. Have you ever thought about going into politics?”
“I don’t know the first thing about politics.”
“That’s not a problem. This is the job description,
‘Can you persuade a captive audience that the sky is green and the grass is red, in total sincerity? Could you then persuade that same audience that the sky was in fact red, and that you had never said it was green, and that only lunatics and political-correctness-gone-mad would say such a thing, still in total sincerity? If so, we want to hear from you. We are a very prominent media and infrastructure conglomerate that seeks a representative of our commercial interests in national and international government. Candidates must be confident communicators and networkers, able to immediately suss and indulge whatever mirage each demographic wishes to hear. Connections to major financial institutions and journalists, preferably through school or university, are essential to succeeding in this role. The successful candidate need not possess political views of their own, but must be able to consistently represent the interests of aggressive entrepreneurialism throughout the echelons of civil decision-making and policy. This is a customer-facing role, dealing with a potentially hostile electorate: experience of plying gullible and self-centred groups (e.g. shareholders) with greedy incentives and appeals to maudlin sentimentality (morals, patriotism, etc.) is essential and we will expect previous experience in this area. Although we are an equal opportunities employer, we are only recruiting candidates from a white British male background who have been privately-educated and have attended either Oxford or Cambridge university.’ ”
A wry smile had crept up onto the side of his face, beneath his buttoned lips. “I suppose it could be a possibility,” he offered, after a few moments silence.
“As I thought. Let’s give them a call now”.
The press room of Q.- MediaCorp was now dangerously full. Beneath a palisade of microphones, the MP could see a small army of interns arrowing about, attempting to persuade journalists at the front to part with their seats in order to accommodate more reporters into the room.
The MP for Thorpeswaite and West Cumleigh had become something of a ‘rockstar figure’ in British politics, and had charmed much of the apathetic electorate. His aristocratic brashness, cheeky contempt for parliament’s ‘bureaucratic bobbycock’ – his term – and his almost mercenary approach to flogging the interests of large corporations and financial institutions had won over hearts and minds. Here at last that here was a politician who could be trusted, to the sense that he made little effort to conceal his untrustworthiness – “we can trust him about that at least, that’s honest of some sort!” was often the feedback reported from focus groups. In particular, he had consistently advocated for the Q.- MediaCorp, which had first funded his electoral campaign into a safe countryside seat, followed by an aggressive promotional campaign which had smeared his rivals to the point where he was parachuted into the role of Energy Minister in the current government. Rumours circulated, usually via Q.- MediaCorp channels, that he could be the next Prime Minister.
One his PAs approached him from behind the stand, he could never remember her name, but she had a great figure. Pert. Absolutely lovely. She was fretting about some complaint by one of the local constituents about their right to die from some dreadful condition. He brushed her away with that same gesture of her hand. “Can you sort it”. It was much easier having the secretaries run the salons and business of the constituencies, as he later boasted at one of his expensive dinners.
The MP had successfully obstructed a Commons bill with a rambling four-hour speech. The rambling series of generally unrelated peregrinations and autobiographical anecdotes had often bordered on farce, forcing the eventual end of the session, causing a scandal. The press were already calling it ‘Ballsgate’ on account of his frequent use of that offensive term. “Balls in a tea-cup!”, he announced.
A bill had proposed to set up an independent commission that would establish further committees, staffed by impartial experts, to effectively re-regulate financial services, property and currency transactions, as well as media and information fairness. “More quangos! More red-tape! Not in my name!” he shouted again, a bead of white froth gathering below his lower lip.
He was repeating the slogans from an ambient media campaign his team had used with a popular West End advertising agency, which utilised revolutionary-looking street stencils and a viral video game to attack red-tape and monstrous bureaucrats. “Simple. Rip a new orifice in the liberals, and fuck them into unconsciousness.” said the young marketing woman behind the campaign.
“Sir, does the torpedoing of the bill related in any way to Q.- MediaCorp’s proposed buyout and takeover of the BBC?”
“Pure coincidence. Next?”
“Sir, footage was leaked out yesterday that recorded you selling lands across the country to an international luxury property construction firm, land which had previously been used for school-playing fields, public parks, and former nursing homes. How do you respond to charges that you’re just a stooge for big business?”
“The era of top-down government Whitehall dictatorships is over! Next question!”
“But sir, those lands were sold without prior consultation or even official approval.”
“I have no memory of that. I will request my lawyers investigate. You?”
“Ballsgate has seen your popularity spike ten points higher than the prime minister. Can we expect you to stand as leader in next year’s election?”
“It’s certainly something we’ve been considering. That’s it, thank you!”
After the press conference, the Rt. Hon. S.-P.- was dining that evening with the head of a major petrochemicals company, some favoured journalists and MPs, and a couple of advisers. “You’ll be leading this country by the next summer, I count on it,” said the oligarch. “How do you do it?”
“It’s just like banking. All I do is sell other people’s property at inflated value to my friends, and I get away with it. Money is the only real thing. Eventually everyone, even the doubters, believes that. You know what I say to my liberal critics? I say ‘that’s fine for you to think, but who can disagree with power?’”
“Money, what else could there be?” laughed the oligarch, shaking his head.
I have a short story in the new Omen edition of Stimulus Respond. ‘On Paper’ was written as part of a double, the second being ‘Doilum night’. Yes it’s weird, and still a little clunkily written, but sadly I can only write like this. There are more out there, more I hope to publish in other places, but it’s the main kind of writing getting done at the moment.