Life can be a gift (subject to status)

FLASH FICTION

Life in Tory Britain is subject to status. With social budgets cut, services out-sourced to the cheapest private bidder (usually a company one of the cabinet or a spouse is a stakeholder in), and parts of the NHS poised to be sold to US ‘care providers’, it’s nothing short of social cleansing. If you have money, you can afford to live. If not, the fascist regime will grind you down…

Ticks TowersGetty Images

TICKS AND CROSSES

To continue enjoying this programme, please top up your viewing card. Thank you for choosing Living Loans.

She’d embraced the Living Loans rep at their first meeting. So friendly, right down to the company logo, a smiling cartoon figure, with comically long arms. 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 and confusing subscriptions. Weekly loans were loaded onto a single debit card, which doubled as a viewing card. Her whole life, on one simple piece of plastic.

Topping up was a simple £2 call on her Living Loans mobile. The week just lived was paid for. Television 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.

To continue enjoying this programme, please top up your viewing card. Thank you for choosing Living Loans.

£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 the new contract, ticked the boxes, and regained her life. She needn’t fear the postman 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.

She signed where the crosses indicated, and ticked the boxes.

© Steve Laker, 2014.

My books are available from Amazon.

A Victorian game of bridge

FLASH FICTION

Sometimes I’ll sit at the typewriter for hours, and not write anything worth anyone’s while. Other times, an idea will park in my head and I’ll need to get it out. Like this one (800 words) about an event which began at London Victoria station, and ended up in Waterloo…

Victoria to Waterloo

A VICTORIAN GAME OF BRIDGE

People remember where they were when big news events unfolded. When one strands you in a place, it’s impossible to forget where you were. I was at London Victoria when the world changed.

It started like many evening commutes, with my train delayed, but no indication of by how long. Gradually more services were delayed, and the station concourse filled with people unable to get home. I stared at the indicator boards as more and more trains were cancelled, and the station became uncomfortably crowded.

Eventually there was an announcement: There were trespassers on the line. A mixture of thoughts competed in my head: Just run them over, let them electrocute themselves, the needs of the many… But then I realised they’re human, and that it might not be a prank, but a cry for help. Unable to assist, I grew claustrophobic and decided to find a nearby bar where I could kill some time.

Blinking in the dark outside, the indicator boards were etched onto my retina: delayed, cancelled. I hoped the lives on the line wouldn’t be.

I found a pub not far from the station, where it seemed quite a few people had the same idea as me. It was a curious juxtaposition, as people who’d just been staring forlornly up at indicator boards watched a TV mounted high on the wall, captive. The news was on, and Victoria wasn’t alone.

All London termini were closing, as they became dangerously overcrowded. No trains were coming in or out of London. Outside King’s Cross, a lone man sat on a railway bridge, dangling his legs over the track. There was a single girl on a bridge outside Waterloo, and reports were coming in of others. Was this coordinated?

The question of organisation wasn’t part of the TV coverage, but I couldn’t help wondering if this might be some sort of protest. The alternative was far too fanciful, ghoulish, romantic and far-fetched to consider. But I’m a writer, so I considered it.

This was the time of Brexit, of Trump, and the rise of the right. As a benefits claimant myself, I’d been abused by the government’s social cleansing agenda. I wouldn’t be too surprised if these people on the bridges felt the same as I had, just all at the same time. I couldn’t help wondering what might happen if they all jumped. Perhaps then an ignorant ruling dictatorship might listen. Too late for the jumpers, but they’d die martyrs.

The evening rolled on and the atmosphere in the pub wasn’t what I might have expected. People weren’t cursing impatiently at the inconvenience they’d been caused, they were phoning home to loved ones and finding places to stay the night. They were resigned to what was happening, and there was a feeling of togetherness about the place. For a moment, I felt humanity.

Road bridges were next, as jumpers sat above key motorways. No-one had seen this coming. The police didn’t have time to close bridges to prevent them being occupied, as the jumpers all came at once. Britain’s transport infrastructure was crippled. The number of lives threatening cancellation was estimated at around 900 up and down the country, and the situation was at a stalemate. The police had suspended most other operations to concentrate on the gridlock and the jumpers.

#WeWantOurLivesBack was on a banner draped over a bridge on the M25 between two jumpers, and the strangest thing: apart from one guy telling them to just jump and let him get home (he may have had pressing reasons), the stranded motorists below started getting out of their cars and slow-clapping. Others were sounding their horns, and still more were blasting music from their cars. Down there on the road, these people had become as resigned as we had in the pub. It wasn’t so much join them if you can’t beat them, but genuine empathy and support.

There’d been no response from Downing Street.

The pub was growing restless, but it didn’t make me anxious. Outside with the smokers, people clearly the worse for drink weren’t fighting each other, but chanting. There were no police on the streets. “Vive la Révolution.” The peasants were really quite revolting. Someone pointed out that Downing Street was just around the corner.

Marching through the streets of London in the dark, with no police, there was no looting, no criminal damage. It was anarchy, peace and freedom. This is what I’d dreamed of. We needed to make the most of it before the government sent the army in under the martial law which was surely coming. We’d made our point though. Those martyrs were detained, delayed but not cancelled. They will not be forgotten.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité was still far away. But we’d made a start.

© Steve Laker, 2018

A little anarchy defines democracy

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Today is seven weeks since my PIP assessment, and still no word of a result either way to calm my anxiety. I’ve had to learn not to worry about something until it happens. If I hadn’t adopted that bit of Buddhism, I’d have ceased to function by now, the awfulness of the last few months compounded by the state of the world outside my head.

Democracy is freedomCrimethInc

Much has been written (by me) about the need for a common foe or collective focus, to draw humans from different sides and of different opinions together. Lately the Brexit issue has become precisely that. Besides being a complete hatchet job by an incompetent government, this weekend it had the handy side effect of reacquainting me with some friends I’d fallen out with. We hadn’t become estranged because of Brexit, but that was the common focus for those on both sides to agree, we need to talk.

I didn’t go on the People’s Vote March, though I’d have liked to be among the voices of dissent. No matter that they’re mostly like-minded people, my social anxiety wouldn’t have coped with the estimated 700,000 crowd. Instead, I was at home, commenting on social media and joining in conversations.

The main argument in the ‘Leave’ camp is that Brexit is the will of the people, it was voted for in a referendum, and that should be respected. The ‘Remain’ camp holds that the referendum wasn’t a mandate to sell out the country and set us adrift in an unsteady wider world. When it’s clear the government is incapable, surely we, the people, all of us, need to take action? What the Brexiteers are advocating is simply standing by while a nation falls around us.

“Any idea that a second referendum would be an affront to democracy died on Saturday afternoon” (Independent).

In my opinion (on Facebook), ‘Democracy’ needs to evolve, now that it’s been hacked and redefined by a capitalist fascist ruling (not governing) political party. Throughout the history of humanity, we – as one race – have found better ways. Brexit, as it was steamrollered through us, was a wake-up call to the otherwise-blinkered.

The right to fight against something we don’t believe in remains, regardless of the vote. Parliament, your elected representatives, recently voted on your behalf that animals feel no pain. Are you happy to let such a result, made in full compliance to the constitution, stand?

Or, do you fight for what you believe in; by any means necessary?

Why should we accept what our politicians say when they’re murderers anyway, not least at home with their social cleansing agenda?

There’s a much bigger conversation which needs to take place over the next few decades, as we recover from this divisive episode. Brexit was sold on lies. This time, we’re more informed. And those who still believe in ‘democracy’, not that dictated by a fascist regime, need to move on together with the rest of us.

It all started in 1945, when our forefathers, and our allies in Europe and around the world, liberated a neighbour European country of people just like us from a fascist dictator and mass-murderer. History repeats.

Around this point, conversation turned to the debate on poppies. As a liberal lefty, I was asked if I could explain why a group of Cambridge students had sought to ban the wearing of poppies on their campus. Firstly, the story is only partially true and has been twisted by the right-wing tabloid press. Secondly, I couldn’t explain why they’d want to do such a thing (if indeed they had), but if they had, that was their human right, to have an opinion. They’re not preaching hate.

Jez Hunt

There was equal unrest on the right over the decision by the British Transport Police to not allow stickers on company vehicles:

How do we know it’s poppy season again? The foaming rage of war-hungry gammons – and I say that as a veteran” (The Independent).

On social media again, I pointed out that like the majority of us on the left – even the pacifists – I don’t have a problem with our fellow humans who defend us (our country). We respect them just as anyone should (and I’m humbled by them), especially as many are fighting against their political will.

We understand that they’re doing a job. Also that thousands of Muslims (but why should I single them out, when Christianity has more blood on its hands?) fought for their country (Britain), and that together with our allies, Britain liberated a European neighbour from a fascist dictatorship in 1945. History repeats, and so do I.

Our problems – and they’re all of ours – are with the politicians who use those humans for political, religious and financial gain, often with a personal invested interest. It’s the same political system which repeats lies until we believe them to be the truth, blinkering us with protectionist propaganda about invisible outside threats.

And that’s what we should all have a problem with: Being pawns in a global game of chess. Or poker. Game theory holds – right up to the universal scale – that success favours the long-termists, those who can think ahead and see a bigger picture.

The time for a people’s vote has arrived, when our politicians have messed up and screwed us. If they’re too arrogant to listen to the estimated 700,000 who turned out on Saturday in London, and the millions who were there in spirit, then the next demonstration could be bigger. It might be a people’s revolt, the revolution we so badly need in our political system for the survival of our species.

If the people did rise up, the ruling fascists would most likely impose martial law. We could end up face-to-face with all those soldiers ordered into conflict by their government. Maybe we’d all sit down for a cup of tea in London, the public and the armed forces, questioning the common foe of a dictator. It might make for some ‘up-lit’ sci-fi at least: an uplifting near-future imagining.

AnarchyInTheUK

I put a label on Saturday’s march and the conversation surrounding it: I called it ‘Anarchracy’ (and it was entirely peaceful), because a bit of anarchy can change definitions.

A horrid little newspaper

POLITICS | MEDIA

Daily Mail

In another part of my life I’m a B3tan: a member of an online community of “Guardian-reading media types”, introvert activists who disrupt social order satirically, mess around with images in Photoshop, and make things. A fellow B3tan ‘spellingmistakescostlives‘ (AKA Darren Cullen) is making a satirical scale-model Daily Mail, which he originally distributed in Liverpool as part of a residency with RRU News.

Daily Mail Front

A miniature, boiled-down version of the full paper, it’s like the Daily Mail, but distilled to its angry, horny core.

At time of writing, the project had raised over twice its original goal on Kickstarter.

Daily Mail Page 2THE PAPER

This compressed, hand-drawn paper draws attention to the glaring hypocrisies baked into a rag that claims to care about things like moral decency and the sexualisation of children, while also regularly publishing photographs of underage girls in bikinis or low-cut dresses. A paper who’s bread and butter is collecting the kind of ‘wardrobe malfunction’ upskirt and nip-slip photographs of strangers that would land anyone else in jail.

The Daily Mail is the pervert the Daily Mail warned us about.

Daily Mail Page 3

DIANA PULL OUT

This 24 page version of the regular paper inevitably comes with a Princess Diana pull-out, ‘DIANA: THE ENEMY WITHIN’ which details the paper’s historic opposition to any of the issues Diana came to be lauded for. From her work against landmine arms sales to humanising the victims of HIV/AIDs, her relationship with a Muslim migrant to her meeting with the “terrorist” Nelson Mandela; the Mail had terrible things to say about all of it at the time, but now Diana is dead, the paper can safely exploit her memory for cash without having to deal her inconveniently liberal politics.

Daily Mail Diana

Containing all the misogynistic, racist, war-and-fear-mongering you’ve come to love and expect from the Daily Mail, this Kickstarter campaign is to raise funds to reprint this miniature fun/hate-sized paper so people outside of Liverpool can get their own copy.

Daily Mail Supplement

Pledge and reserve your copy here.

Daily Mail Pet Advert

All artwork (except masthead) © Darren Cullen.

Posting towels into letterboxes

THE WRITER’S LIFE

This blog entry sees me fresh from the shower, wrapped in a towel, for no other reason than to remind myself of the usefulness of towels in times of insecurity. “A towel,” The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy advises, “is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have.” It goes on to expound the towel’s many virtues, including – crucially for this article – its protective properties against noxious fumes, and conferring an ability upon the wearer to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (such a mindbogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you).

TowelTowels are also handy for last-minute fancy dress party invitations

Meanwhile, somewhere in London, a young Muslim boy is sitting in a cafe, wondering about life and idly browsing Facebook on his laptop, when he sees a video, purportedly showing Muslim men selling their womenfolk from a market stall in London. He knows it’s fake. The men were highlighting their religion’s persecution to those who were ignorant of the facts. But the boy daren’t point it out.

They hate you,” His mentor’s voice repeated in his head. “The people who post this stuff, your neighbours, they hate you. They don’t want your kind in their country, because they’re afraid of what they don’t know and can’t be bothered to learn anything outside their blinkered life. It’s not worth arguing or trying to teach them. They’ve been conditioned and you’re not welcome here…”

Is it any wonder children are radicalised, when the multicultural country which once welcomed them turns against them? That’s the way they see it. The perverse truth, is it’s a process fuelled by the far right, breeding the home-grown terror they seek to eradicate. Who are the real terrorists?

Right-wing political rhetoric is designed to heighten fear and discourage debate. Trump did this in the US then seized power, and Boris Johnson is on a similar trajectory. In recent weeks he’s described women who cover their faces as “letter boxes” and “bank robbers.” In refusing to apologise (and his boss is too terrified to call him to account), he seeks to normalise racism and Islamophobia. It’s okay to hate, and it’s the golden goose which keeps giving, sucked up by the right-wing tabloids and fed to their readers, who tell their kids. Who are the real radicalised?

Those who choose to believe, do. Those who don’t are accused of liberal elitism, of being enemies of the state, and traitors who spread fake news. To those of us who peer deeper, it’s clear that their brand of fake news is the real fake news. But they try to silence us.

It’s a twisted cartoon world, where empires and leaders create their own enemies, and where children are being groomed and radicalised to protect their dictator’s interests, even on the computers where they seek escape from the real world outside.

Like social cleansing, like Grenfell Tower, like fitness-for-work assessments, and local government cuts through removal of central government funding, it’s a system designed to wear us down. So that we die. Like in wars. This isn’t fiction. Open your eyes and you’ll see what I can.

I can see what those who won’t listen can’t: All of us having a veil pulled over our collective faces. Part the curtains and see through it. I can, and that’s with a towel on my head. Either that, or I’m just a paranoid, anxious mental case.

Those of us on the left, the liberal elite, the silent majority; the misfits, the queer and the disabled by disadvantage, are seemingly invisible to right-wing politics, and I wonder if we might learn something from The Hitch Hiker’s Guide. We might even be able to use fascism’s ignorance and gullibility to our advantage.

While we struggle to be heard over the noise, we need to create an alternative narrative of hope: a visible one, and if we write about it enough, it’ll become the truth. We need to convince them we’re invisible and breed insecurity*.

There’ll be a war soon, and the resistance need to protect themselves. While I’d no more question a woman’s choice to cover her face than whether she’s wearing underwear, more of us need to wear towels on our heads.

Towel dont panic

Oh, hang on…

*It’s all part of the plan: Where we, the public, destroy ourselves.

Twisted naked blonde ambitions

THE WORLD THROUGH A LENS

As we witness Boris Johnson – no longer the UK’s Foreign Secretary but our most visible liability abroad – caricaturing himself, it’s clear to me what he’s trying to do. 

Johnson-Trump

In this age of cartoon leaders and surreal news, the plots are transparent but the shameless actors win the adulation of crowds wherever they go (in their own minds at least). Johnson is trying to breed fear and normalise racism, grooming the country for BoJo as PM. You only have to look across the Atlantic to see how easily-led the paranoid and ignorant are. He’s playing to the far-right, just like his comic book orange hero.

Science fiction writers look to the world around us for stories, and for the most part we make them at least plausible. Although time travel is theoretically possible, in the current accepted model, space time is not a pre-determined block. The past is written and recorded, the present is what we observe, and the future is yet to be written (there are other articles on quantum mechanics and particle entanglement elsewhere on this blog). Sci-fi writers can imagine near- and far-future bright and bleak scenarios, hoping to help readers determine a future they’d like to live in, and spot the early signs of darkness approaching.

It’s August 2019 and Boris Johnson is Prime Minister of the UK. The Tory party split in the aftermath of Johnson’s comments in The Daily Telegraph about Muslim women’s niqabs making them look like “bank robbers” or “letterboxes”. Those on the centre-right couldn’t align behind an overt racist, and Johnson knew this. He’d whipped up enough racial paranoia among right-wing voters that joining with UKIP was inevitable, and expected by those of us who saw right through him.

The UK crashed out of the EU with a ‘No-deal’ Brexit. It was “The will of the public,” but the nation had been lied to. The no-deal scenario was part of the capitalist plan, as the UK became a country of little regulation, and a low-wage production centre for cheap exported goods. Like local and national services before, the NHS was privatised and became a machine to make money, saving lives only selectively: those who could afford to be saved. A biblical prophesy of Revelations, made real through social cleansing more visible even than the mass murder of Grenfell.

Brexit Bus Ambulance

No deal meant that Britain was, for a time, unique in the world (besides recently being voted ‘Most stupid’), having no trade deals with any other country. With so many global threats (nuclear war and climate change), the UK simply cut loose and set itself adrift.

The value of Sterling plunged and, coupled with strict border controls, the UK quickly dropped down the list of international tourism destinations. With their currency worth little overseas, few Britons could afford to travel and holiday abroad. Air travel became a luxury, and the preserve of the rich and entitled. It was a return to the heyday of British aviation in the 1950s and 60s.

As Johnson did his best to lose allies and alienate nations, swingeing import taxes were placed on British goods exported abroad. The Foreign Office once again created an intentionally ‘hostile environment’ for non-Brtish nationals, and the social cleansing was aided by increased hostility towards outsiders, normalised by Johnson’s party and overlooked by an underfunded police force. The UK had become a paranoid and insular society, groomed by Johnson on his path to power.

The Prime Minister resided over a prison state, terrorised by his false rhetoric of outside threats. It was a self-sustaining economy, feeding ownership and driving nails into the coffins of workers who could no longer afford even to bury themselves. It was social cleansing in full flow. President Trump had seen all this coming. It was part of a greater plan.

Trump offered an olive branch to the UK economy, with trade deals which no other country was prepared to sanction. With no other rescuer in sight, the US became saviour and the UK was indebted, becoming a de facto 51st state, where those who remain meat-eaters feast on chlorinated chicken and steroid beef, while living in dangerous public housing, hastily built in a deregulated market to solve the housing crisis. In reality, death traps to continue the social cleansing.

Among those who write and speculate on such things, there are some who think Trump could hold the UK to ransom. In return for propping our economy up (and with a lot of nuclear weapons), he could demand sovereignty, make the UK a republic and sell the royal estate. The royals are the acceptable face of entitlement, and the good causes they support are not in keeping with the global social cleansing plan.

Brexit Mag2

Apart from that last bit, it’s all perfectly plausible.

A shaved Bungle from Rainbow

THE WRITER’S LIFE

If I were asked to describe Donald Trump in metaphors, I’d probably go with a cross between a head injury and a plastic sack wrapped around a lamp post in the wind. But I wasn’t asked.

Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris are the writers behind Charlie Brooker’s Wipe, but sadly Wipe 2017 was cancelled as Brooker was too busy making more episodes of Black Mirror. They’ve shared some notes they made which came from a brainstorm, “Describe Donald Trump,” and put them on a charity T-shirt, with all profits going to The Refugee Community Kitchen, a charity providing meals to displaced people both in the UK and abroad. The insults on the shirt are splendidly juvenile, and it’s all in a good cause.

Trump globe

My shirt arrived today, and the full text on the front (see below) reads as follows:

A man who looks like he’s constantly shitting. The face from a leaflet about blood pressure. Pig off of Pipkins. Father Jack. A guinea pig in a Toby Jug. Your first girlfriend’s horrible dad. The evil Beach Boy. Someone trick or treating as Paddy Ashdown. A kitten balanced on a Chelsea bun. A fist full of straw. A live-action reboot of President Business from the Lego Movie. A talking haystack. A totem pole made of fish paste. A cross between Silvio Berlusconi and Boss Hogg. A walking wig named after a fart. Worzel Gummidge after a spa weekend. A man who’s sprayed the top of his head with so much thickener, it’s got into his brain. The evil Bruce Forsyth. The Cheshire Cunt. Less a politician than a bag of hair through which stupid ideas could pass. Fascist Bagpuss. Primitive He-Man doll made by a feral child out of straw and turnips. Ageing He-Man cosplayer dressed for court appearance. A fist with hair. A home-made Alec Baldwin. A baboon’s arse poking out from under a fucked doormat. An American businessman from a Two Ronnies Dallas sketch. Hitler Simpson. Donnie Dorko. The sheriff from Live and Let Die. The crude bigoted mayor from a simplistic children’s film about racial tolerance. A shaved Bungle. A billionaire bigot who looks a bit sweaty because he’s trying to smuggle the prototype of a giant Shredded Wheat out of the factory by hiding it above his forehead. A Vic Reeves drawing of Jimmy Savile. Your dad, drunk on Boxing Day, but with a Tribble on his head. An orange supremacist. The words ‘HOW HARD CAN IT BE’ in a suit. The American Boris Johnson, but like their milkshakes, the American version is much, much thicker – and even worse for you. A man who looks like a clingfilm bag of tinned frankfurters that’s been kicked through a cobweb. A character that, had it been invented by Roald Dahl, wouldn’t have made it to the end of a factory visit. A lame 80s fish-out-of-water movie president. The furious orange. Mickey Blowoff. Gropey Doo. Buzz Shiteyear. Head like a cartoon cat squashed into a mailbox. His smashed handbag of a face. The sort of face David Cameron might stick his dick in for a bet. The kind of face that if it appeared outside your window might, ironically, make you consider building a wall to keep it out. If he kissed a baby, it’d probably just be a first step in a long game of going to bed with it in eighteen years. A soulless rich white male who claims to represent ordinary, hard-working people – in much the same way I could be said to represent the Brazilian grimecore community or the nineteen-headed creatures of the planet Blitheroid or the international carpet-eating association. It was surprising to find out that he was a juvenile, entitled, chauvinist locker room dick, because he looks more like a horse rapist. Farage compared him to a Silverback gorilla, probably meaning that once in captivity in the White House, he’d sulk in a corner, masturbating and going insane.

TheDonald Tee shirt

Support Refugee Community Kitchen and wear an offensive stream of consciousness upon your person.