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This content was not paid for by HM Government
As a one-time music writer, I’m crapping it, which is what every horror writer wants their readers to do, as they feed them to obesity in a crowded field. When I write fiction, there are parts of me in every story or character I create, but I’ve rarely lived the actual events in the stories. Now I’m seated alone in Green Inferno, a joint which prides itself on being carnivorous. My first observation is that if you’re in the story yourself, it’s not so easy to make it up as you go along.
The place is cavernous and filled with greenery, so that the experience is one of dining in a plastic south American forest, alone. As I look around, it’s hard to make out many other diners for the dense foliage, which eases my anxiety. Anyone walking through the bushes around me could be a customer, a lost tribe member, or one of the dishes. I hear running water but I can’t see a toilet. I turn my attention to the menu, which is the other point of this place.
It’s a meat restaurant, but with its focus on food provenance. All their dishes are locally sourced, and every cut of meat is traceable to an individual. Reared by organic local farmers, each animal was once a friend, and so every dish comes with a story, like Peter Davidson at The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, describing his lifestyle and how that’s improved his finer cuts.
Mine is a shallow hunger, so I browse the appetisers. Among them, I’m intrigued by the pygmy cutlets. The beast once burdened by these isn’t described by species (I assume pork, from a pig), but as a character:
He (we’re told that much) was unwell for much of his short life (not terribly appetising so far). Bullied by his siblings and shunned by his elders, he’d been adopted by other animals. They stop short of actually naming the individuals here, but I gather this little chap had a bit of an identity crisis (I know how he felt).
Another of these pygmy things sounded a bit of an arse: His partner and children had fled his abusive patriarchy, then he’d been ejected by his drift (the collective noun for swine) and become a nomad (and no mates). For years he wandered with lonely guilt, until he died of a broken heart (impaled). In some respects, I could relate to him too.
The stories of the menu certainly make me question whether I should be eating what was once a sentient, self-determining being like me. As a horror writer, I’ve sometimes reflected on the act of consuming dead flesh, questioning if it might be both the most and least respectful way of disposing of a body. On the one hand, it’s everything which was in that living body being taken on by another (so a bit like holy communion). Conversely, it’s power over the body of the lost soul as it’s consumed (not unlike holy communion then).
I decided on a cut from each, whoever they were. While they remained nameless, they’d be just like any other meat on my plate. As food, once the organism has ceased to function, it becomes organic. It’s consumed, drained of its nutrients for the nourishment of the host, then what’s left is excreted as waste: Life as pulp fiction, picked up on airport news stands, consumed in the air, and cast into the bin on different shores, like so much human waste. Perhaps there are beach combers there, and some stories live again, but I was growing distracted in the plastic green inferno.
My stomach was growing cramped, like my surroundings; vegetation everywhere, but not a leaf to eat. And yet, the dishes I’d ordered were once living beings with stories. I owed them enough respect to eat them while they were still warm.
I’m not sure if it was a server or a customer who ran through the foliage behind me. I couldn’t tell if the sound of flowing water was from a distant stream or the glass now being poured beside me, as my food arrived. I couldn’t wait.
I dined alone as always, with only myself for company, pondering publication of this review. The writer who shit himself.
“Door open or closed?” It made no difference, as I passed an effigy of me. It appeared to smile as I flushed it away to some distant beach.
© Steve Laker, 2018
THE WAY I SEE IT
The second worst thing that ever happened to America was the invasion of the (mainly white, British) ‘Pilgrim Fathers’, who trampled (figuratively and literally) over millennia of history and the spiritual beliefs of native Americans. The worst that ever happened to America was Trump. And he’s more than a man (although not in the way he imagines): He’s a happening.
The science fiction writer will look at possible near-future and more distant time frames, ideal, apocalyptic and everywhere in between. Some visions come true, and others we hope never will. But while they remain possibilities, we might also look for a different way, a means of changing things. In Trump’s United States, I see what many others do looking in from the outside, but which those inside the glass dome are oblivious to.
I only visited America once, on a business trip in 2001, and we were in Chicago when the world changed on 9/11. We were due to fly home that day, and I switched on the news just after the first plane had hit the World Trade Centre. It was surreal, but when the second plane hit, it became almost unbelievable, but for being there.
As a sci-fi aside, it’s why I find the film Cloverfield so effective: It was that moment of not knowing; fear of the unknown, the unseen and the unprecedented. It was confusion, panic, and a creeping blanket of terror, placing a transparent stone cover on the USA as all planes were grounded and human life in the skies was placed on hold. We were trapped beneath that cathedral dome, our home only seven hours away but the only means of transport had been swatted from the sky.
We ended up spending an extra week in the USA and apart from the global event which had just unfolded, what struck me most was how insular the country had either become or always been. It was incredibly difficult to find much news from home or anywhere else outside the US, it’s national resolve and self-reflected image of strength and pride.
A lot has happened since then (including the oasis of Obama) and now we have a caricature occupying the most powerful political office on the planet, like a lobotomised sack of Cheetos as the hero in a pulp fiction graphic novel. Like a cross between Richard Branson and Stelios Haji-Ioannou painted in the latter’s livery, Trump is an advert (and infomercial) for himself. He’s the self-aware star of his own Truman Show and the film set is America: Infana Kolonia (infant colony in Esperanto), filmed by Fox, of course.
A man who lives in his own biopic will have both fans and critics watching, and like many a stage queen, he’ll grow impatient with anything which holds him back. On his recent trip to Singapore, The Donald was reported to have tried to move everything forward, itching as he was to develop melanoma in his own orange glow. He apparently backed down when made aware of the time difference with the US, and how that might affect audience size.
The summit went ahead, the two leaders of the world’s most precarious nuclear powers swapped details of hairdressers, and not much else, according to more in-depth analysis than Fox. “The summit statement is big on hyperbole and short on substance,” said Suzanne DiMaggio – a senior fellow at the New America think tank who has led back-channel contacts with North Korean officials – in a Guardian article, “it reads like it was written by the North Korean negotiating team.”
Back in the day, if Barack Obama had attempted something so bold, Trump would have been among the leading voices (on Fox) denouncing the president for being ridden roughshod over by a dictator. But now Trump is both president and dictator, glorified on America’s TV screens by the national approved broadcaster (like Korean Central Television, and RT in Russia).
The Donald previously said he wanted to be treated like Kim Jong-un: “He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.” (HuffPost). He was referring to ‘his people’ in The White House. His captive home audience beneath the dome already do this, like disciples in a monumental cathedral of worship. Trump has already done what Hitler planned in Europe with New Order Nazism. The great architect will leave their mark on the landscape.
Back home in Infana Kolonia, Trump is separating children from their parents with his zero-tolerance (insular, frightened, paranoid, protectionist, ignorant) immigration policy. On a recent visit to a detention centre, NBC and MSNBC correspondent Jacob Soboroff noted that the walls are covered in murals of President Trump, bearing down on his subjects like a supreme leader.
Despite being immoral and inhumane, Trump’s government claim that separating parents from their children is in accordance with the bible. Religion has become law in Trump’s America (which has an irony all of its own, given America’s ‘War on terror’, actually a war with opposing religions). I’m an atheist (based on science), but if this is “In God’s name”, then those who believe in that God should question their faith: That God: their God, and how that has been twisted into a faith system, only so far removed from extremism, by fear. From where I’m sitting, that’s terrorism by any other name.
The Great Dictator has brainwashed his followers to believe anything he says, while everything he doesn’t agree with is fake news (climate change), and anyone who challenges him an enemy of the state. His subjects are beholden in suffrage, blinkered, blinded and unaware of how they’re being manipulated. Those of us on the outside looking in can see this, but that microcosm experiment – an infant colony beneath a glass dome – can’t see beyond their world which needs no other. Swingeing import taxes mean foreign goods find it as difficult to get in as asylum seekers and refugees, while Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord to protect America’s oil and gas industries. The fewer monitoring bodies the US is a member of, the greater the opacity (and secrecy).
Trump’s United States knows little of its American history, pre-1776 and the signing of the Declaration of Independence (from British rule). The preamble to that new constitution bears little resemblance to what America has become:
“We the people of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty for ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Now a fascist regime, manipulating its subjects with terror. In his fantasy biopic, the psychopathic, sociopath star of the show always has a way out, no matter how the rest of the story goes: He can nuke the rest of the world to make his problems go away, and gain his own world peace.
As a science fiction writer, at the moment a happy ending is too great a stretch of my imagination. The real terror is that Trump is so deluded, and his followers so smitten, that they can’t see what I can.
It’s all a fairy tale: The emperor’s new clothes. “God” save the queen. He ain’t no human being.
All over the country this weekend, in the few remaining places where social tenants manage to survive, stories will be played out and never told by those who live them: blots on the Conservative social cleansing landscape.
Unable to put them down through the Department of Work and Pensions’ dehumanising of benefits claims assessments with “medically-qualified assessors” (my last one was a midwife), the Tories can’t rid themselves of their shame.
Local councils clad their social housing to spare the views of the rich, on the cheap; and accidents happen, the Tories say. They sell off the NHS, bringing healthcare into line with everything else in Conservative Britain: It’s okay living here, if you can afford to…
How social housing looks in Denmark.
TICKS AND CROSSES
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A lifeline company, and so friendly, right down to the company logo: a smiling cartoon figure, with comically long arms, reaching out to help. Short-term credit loans were just the icing.
The cake was the free Smart TV: fifty inches of ultra high definition, with all the streaming services her and the kid could eat. The rep installed it for her, and did away with complicated subscriptions. Weekly loans were loaded onto a single debit card, which was a viewing card too. A life made of plastic.
Topping up was a £2 call on her Living Loans mobile, and the week just lived was paid for. TV time would have to be rationed, and food for her and the kid would come from the bank.
With the kid fed and asleep, she microwaved a ready meal, with an extra 30 seconds, ‘just to be sure’. She lit a candle, and got cosy in a Onesie for Eastenders.
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£2 can do so much. With a quick call, it can summon another human soul, a friend to talk to and sort out problems. A chat with a smiling person, with long arms to reach into their pockets and help. She eagerly signed, ticked the boxes, and regained her life. She needn’t fear the mail any longer.
Dear valued customer,
There are insufficient funds in your account to maintain your contractual agreement with Living Loans. We understand that you may be experiencing financial difficulties and we are sympathetic to any partner who finds themselves in this position, so we would like to assist you in any way we can.
To ensure that you continue to enjoy the benefits of your Living Loans membership, we simply ask that you join our exclusive Living Lives Health Plan. Members are automatically contracted out of the National Health Service and benefit from private healthcare in our nationwide network of clinics. Our clinics offer one-to-one consultations, treatments and surgical procedures.
What’s more, initial consultations are free, so that you can get a feel for the level of care which we offer at our clinics. Thereafter, to receive ongoing medical care, simply insert your Living Lives membership card into any of our on-site drug or treatment administration terminals, located conveniently around our facilities.
The Living Lives Health Plan, brought to you by Living Loans: Loans for Life.
“Mummy, can I stay in bed today? And can you read me Mr Tickle? Because he can reach into the kitchen and get food, without having to get out of bed and get cold.”
She went to the kitchen, signed, crossed, and ticked where indicated on the form.
© Steve Laker.
My latest anthology – The Unfinished Literary Agency – is available now.
THE WRITER’S LIFE
With London recording its 50th murder this year, and crime on the rise nationwide, I wonder what can be done, and I think about what I could do. Not much on my own, but there are gathering voices on social media, calling for an end to the violence.
Agendas vary between groups (and possibly within), but the most effective activism is always unified, and I hope that those within the groups can overcome differences to unite against a common foe. I’d propose coordinated silent marches, children and adults walking together, reclaiming the streets throughout towns and cities across the UK.
The enemy is the country we’ve become, and while many may hark back to days of empire, I see my country’s proudest moments when we were far more united. I remember the pride which surrounded the London Olympics in 2012, as we welcomed all nations to our inclusive country. Now we’re a fractured, disunited former kingdom.
There’s the ever-present danger of such a movement being hijacked by the far right (that’s why I thought the silent protest most appropriate). Racial tension is only one element of life on our streets, stoked by those very people.
It’s partly about drugs, but the biggest drug problem is that they’re illegal: Legalise, tax, regulate, boost the economy and reduce crime in a stroke. With illegal drugs come weapons.
Much of our youth feels disaffected, left to do nothing. Round after round of government cuts mean there are next to no youth facilities. It’s a problem of poverty, of the UK wealth divide, underfunded police, and a government not taking notice.
If you have money, you can afford to do things with your children, or give them money for a pursuit of their own. But if you’re broke, your kids have little to do besides hang around in groups of peers, quickly growing bored and disruptive as they find amusement: Gangs, drugs and violence.
A nation’s tragedy could be an opportunity to fundamentally change the way we’re governed, and how we think, of ourselves and our neighbours. People might find themselves talking to someone they associate with a conditioned stereotype.
They’d learn more if we all walked together: The family of Britain, young and old, of all colours and religions. Together, we can get our country back. Then we can talk about the other stuff.
Maybe we should get to know each other better. One country, one planet, one family, one race. We are humans.
COMMENT | SATIRE
The Department for Work and Pensions’ definition of each benefits claim
A 47-year-old, able-bodied, straight white British man, has begun a campaign against himself, because what he stands for is different to what his appearance represents. With diagnoses of PTSD, depression, anxiety and personality disorders, the man’s protest aims to highlight invisible disabilities to those who make fitness-for-work assessments in benefit claims.
Lee Verstak (not his real name), a little-read left-wing writer, explained: “Everyone thought I was jumping on bandwagons, supporting everything I’m not: BAME, LGBT, and everyone else who’s discriminated against. I tried inventing minorities, transcending them even. But when I made a case for pan-sexuality being someone who understands, even if they don’t take part, people got confused. How are you supposed to participate in a debate if you try to think for everyone?
“So to prove everyone wrong, I’ve started this protest against me doing that sort of thing. I’ve always been capable of actually walking a short distance, but I never enjoyed doing it anyway, because of my paranoia and anxiety.
“I handed out some leaflets locally, with me on them, telling people what I was doing. Before long, people stopped taking them, and eventually ignored me altogether, saying I should be in a home or something. So I sent myself home.
“I found out that technically, you can arrest yourself, in a logical extension of the powers of citizens arrest available to us all, to prevent a further breach of myself. I’d encourage others to do this, to help the system so that we may be more easily dealt with and ignored.
“I’ve told the authorities where I’m holding myself, but even the departments for indifference and ignorance can’t help, so I’m just sweating it out. I’m on strike from being me, sort of like a hunger strike, but without anyone to force feed me. I might have wasted away in a few months: Problem solved.
“Meanwhile, it’s an opportunity to reflect on how others see you. For me, it’s going well: I fucking hate myself. Hopefully I’ll get through it, like I did the last two tribunals, and I’ll feel even more dehumanised and with an even lower opinion of myself.
“Yeah, it’s quite life-affirming really. Then I might write a book or something, about finding a way out when life traps you: Imagine you’re in a room, with no visible means of exit: how do you get out? Well, you could stop imagining, or you could use your imagination.”
POLITICS | COMMENT | SATIRE
It’s satirical, but it’s not particularly funny. As a science fiction writer, I look at many Utopian and near future dystopia scenarios, some dependent only upon a butterfly effect which could already be gathering motion, unknown to us. Sometimes I have to take a short break from fiction, so that none of my stories cross over unwittingly (even though crossovers are one of my trademarks).
In a radical plan to tackle the housing crisis in London, the Conservatives are quietly pushing through new legislation, which wasn’t announced at the recent party conference in Brighton. Theresa May insists she did announce it, but it was when she’d lost her voice, and the whole Tory vision was collapsing around her on stage.
The changes are two fold: New housing built underground, paid for with a new social tax on climate change. Whether or not the announcements were heard at conference, this journalist was given a copy of the PM’s speech:
I have seen Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour manifesto on housing and a social tax on personal data, and I wonder what the leader of the opposition has been smoking (smile, then look to audience for approval). London has a housing crisis, and with so many people in one place, tensions are bound to develop. It is unacceptable that the wealthy people of the capital, should have to witness, daily, what the poor have done to themselves (sad face). Their unsightly housing is a blemish on the otherwise rich tapestry of London boroughs like Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster. We tried to make the pauper housing more aesthetically pleasing, by cladding high rise towers. We did so in a cost-efficient way, saving money, so that the wealthy weren’t squeezed too hard. And look what happened (sadder face).
So we plan to build housing for the poor underground, out of sight. There is not much of London which we can build up from, so the only way now, is down. This will solve the problem of homelessness, and ensure that wealthy tax payers aren’t troubled by those people. Out of sight, out of mind (look rad, and down with the people).
Of course, big ideas need big finance, and it is unfair to tax the top-rate taxpayers any more than they are squeezed almost beyond their means already. So another way to keep the poor underground, is with a climate tax. Quite simply, they will pay a new dynamic tax, depending on the weather. If it’s a nice, sunny day out, those people should pay to enjoy what the rich have to earn, so that they can build their mansions above ground. We might give them a rebate on really miserable days, when no-one really wants to go out anyway (check audience reaction). We could let them see a sunset or sunrise for free on bank holidays (smile sincerely).
They’ll be completely self-sufficient underground, and we’ll give them all the facilities they need: We’ve already partnered with Coral and Wetherspoons, and someone’s bound to open a Londis down there (good for the economy and ethical companies). They’ll have no problems with employment, as the wealthy residents of London will ignore planning laws on digging down, to make luxury basements in their houses. If they hit an underground poor area while they’re constructing, they can hire slaves (check audience again, then decide whether or not to mention further benefit cuts). As the owners of the land, we will give them title to all which is below their property. It’s joined-up government, with all departments working together (air punch).
We caught up with Theresa May later, to ask her about the rumours of a disagreement between her and the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson. “The foreign secretary,” she said, “is behind me, just like the rest of my cabinet.”
Johnson contacted this blog to ask, “What the fuck were you talking to the mad witch about?” Told of her comment that she valued him as a cabinet colleague, Johnson replied: “I’m just waiting for the right moment to shaft her. It’ll be like fisting the old turkey at the Bullingdon Club. Is this thing on?” We pointed out that the foreign secretary had called us, then he hung up.
Later, we caught up with some Green Party members huddled around a fire exit. “We’ll tax and regulate this stuff, and it’ll be legal, first for medicinal use, then probably for recreation. You won’t believe how much we get through in Brighton.” Asked about other policies, and whether they might be ambitious: “Yes, big ideas need big money, and we’ve found a way to make a load of new money just appear. We’re proposing a new social tax to be levied on personal data. It’s a return of power to the people, where the internet giants fund a universal basic income, solving poverty in a stroke. Between us and the Tories, the British public just need to look at these new policies and decide which works best in the long term. Do you grow this yourself?”
None of the above is true, probably.
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