The view beyond thunder dome

THE WRITER’S LIFE

My last few non-fiction posts have been about me, which might seem somewhat selfish. But I’m a writer with mental health issues, writing about being a writer with mental health problems. And it’s my blog. But I also write about the things which fuel my personal anguish, in a wider world, where I have less influence or control. Today I looked outside, at all the other people, and everything that will affect them personally today.

human-sufferingPixabay

Today someone will lose a parent, a child, a family member, and a friend. The person they lose will say farewell to them all, and someone will have to deliver the news. Many more will live their final day, in countries fractured by conflict, while at home, relationships will fall apart.

Today someone will find out that their partner, parent or child has cancer, or a degenerative neurological disease. At home, a father no longer remembers his children.

Today someone will visit a food bank, hoping there might be some tinned fruit to put in a child’s Christmas stocking, and a parent will go without food so that their children can eat.

Today forests will be cut down to make way for palm oil, and thousands of animals will be made homeless or killed, to feed human greed, while other humans starve. People will murder their fellow humans, in the name of an unrealistic ideology.

Today we will continue to exploit oil and gas reserves, while our planet becomes more sick from the cancer of humans. We’ll add to our pollution of a planet where every living organism is now part-plastic.

Today friends will fall out over ecological and political issues, as their worlds grow further apart and left and right become polarised. Today someone will be verbally or physically abused, because of their colour, religion, gender, sexuality, or opinion; because they’re human.

All of this will all happen again tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. The world spins on its axis. One man struggles, while another relaxes.

I’ve had much cruelty inflicted upon me, when I was homeless, and lately by the Department for Work and Pensions, who regard any quality of life as a luxury to be earned, when food and shelter ought to be a human right in a developed nation with one of the richest economies in the world. But I live under a fascist dictatorship, in a country with a colonial, imperial history. I’m ashamed of where I’m from and what I represent.

Mine is a human shame, and although I feel guilt and remorse for things I inflicted on my fellow humanity in the past, the penitent man inside makes living with everything more difficult. That’s what being human feels like.

But my suffering is nothing compared to countless others. So when I look at things like this, outside my own world and into the wider one, which I care about enough to make it personal, I see millions to whom my life would be a luxury.

I realised that however personally devastating my illness can be, made worse by stress and worry about money and my dad, my world is tiny and simple compared to many others out there. We can’t take time back, but we can think forward, where anything could be possible. We’re lucky to be down here, so let’s not waste our time.

We’re all different, but we’re born the same. We are one race, but the human species has a tendency to forget.

Inside angel

The message inside this card reads ‘Only our wings are broken.’

 

A Christmas stuffed by fascists

THE WRITER’S LIFE

These last couple of weeks, I’ve been trapped in the worst depressive episode I care to remember. The human memory is selective about these things, so I can’t be sure if it’s the worst ever, but it’s a contender. This Christmas will certainly be one of the worst.

christmaswar

I’ve never been a big fan of Christmas, ever since it stopped being fun when I was a kid and I had to start buying presents. Like a wedding, it’s a day when the pressure is on everyone to have a good time, and where most of that responsibility falls to the host. In reality, everyone’s glad when it’s over.

Christmas was fun again for a while as I watched my own kids open presents, then gaze in awe at some new piece of plastic. Then I had my alcoholic breakdown and Christmas 2013 was spent on the streets. The following year I remained estranged from my family, so I went to a church do for the homeless.

I rejoined my parents for Christmas 2015, when the black cat was cautiously welcomed back into the family home, and when I’d been homeless for two years before finding the rooms above the pub. It was like any other Christmas, where everyone was obliged to have a nice time, and with the responsibility for that falling to my mum, while everyone walked on eggshells around the elephant in the room (me).

My sister stayed away that year and I’ve not seen her since mum’s act of courage when she threw me out of the last chance saloon. My sister blames me for the upset it caused our parents, and rightly, except it brought them much closer together. As far as I’m aware, my sister blames me for my dad’s Parkinson’s. He says it’s nice to have me around, that it’s good for him to have some different company to engage his mind. Mum drew a line in the sand a long time ago now, placing the past where it belongs. But my sister can’t find it in herself.

So for the last couple of years I’ve spent Christmas home alone. I get together with my parents at various times in the year, when the pressures of the festive season aren’t upon us. I was hoping to return for a family Christmas this year though. Now that mum has her hands full with looking after dad, I thought it might be nice for my parents to have Christmas dinner cooked for them. Where I’d go without many Christmases past, this might have been the last when dad remembered who I was.

But that Christmas was cancelled, by DWP stripping me of my independence payment. I simply can’t afford one, even with just myself to cater for, and I’m borrowing money just to buy my kids’ presents. With no Christmas dinner, no cheese board, no chocolates or mince pies, and probably no heating, knowing my kids are okay will be a small consolation on the day. The silver lining is I won’t be contributing to the annual excess of human waste, further suffocating our planet.

Christmas will be lonely torture, but the faceless bureaucrats who inflict this suffering in the name of a social cleansing agenda won’t be losing any sleep. They don’t understand what it is to be human, because they’ve had humanity conditioned out of them, so that they can do the will of fascist dictators. They have no feelings or emotions. It’s like dealing with Vogons.

I’ve asked DWP for a mandatory reconsideration and they’ve sent me a 32 page report telling me why I’m not eligible for my money. I have to go through this, highlight and add comments to indicate what I don’t agree with (most of it: It’s as though they’ve sent someone else’s report. Actually, they may have done that deliberately, to further the suffering). Then it goes back to be reassessed, undoubtedly refused again, then I’ll have to go to tribunal. Again. And hopefully win, again.

I’m sick, sick of this pointless process. I’m mentally ill anyway (chronic depression and anxiety, which is why I got PIP for the last four years), sick of this country and its abuse of human rights, and made more unwell by a system designed to kill people.

I know how they’ve made me feel, and what it makes me think. But I won’t give them the satisfaction. Like Christmas, I’ll just be glad when this is all over. If the electric meter permits, perhaps I’ll escape with Jimmy Stewart and a reminder of a Wonderful Life which went before. I need someone, something, to get me out of here. I need an escape.

In any case, I need to write to live. I need to sell stories or hope for donations from readers grateful of my free fiction. £2.99 buys an eBook of Cyrus Song (the price of a coffee, which I’m always grateful for via the ‘Buy me a coffee’ donate button). I wouldn’t want the Department for Work and Pensions to think I got help from socialist propaganda, as it would defeat their self-purpose.

Christmas Donations

I’ll have plenty of time to write over Christmas (probably by candle light, while wearing fingerless gloves), and as a sci-fi writer, I can see a world unfolding around us which was prophesied. The Bible says that The Beast will have many heads (look at the rise of the right and the installation of fascist leaders around the world); The Antichrist will appear as a false prophet (see Trump); then there’ll be war (just look around).

Perhaps a new star will rise in the east, an extraterrestrial craft to unite our attention to a greater intelligence. Or maybe the aliens will kill the fascists.

Scroll down for free fiction…

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.

Crosswords and headwinds

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Among my sideline interests, I compile cryptic crosswords. Some of my favourite past clues for flavour:

1. Powered flight? (9)
2. GESG (9, 4)
3. DIM (5, 8)
4. (4,3,3,1,4)

The answers are in this meandering post…

dirty_scrabble

Today is nine weeks since I had my PIP assessment, and still I’ve had nothing in writing. I eventually got to speak to someone at DWP last week, only to be told that my application was still being processed. At least I haven’t been forgotten. Still I’m on a statutory benefit, sans a payment which permitted me some independence with my special needs. One of the freedoms taken from me is the ability to visit my parents, where PIP used to cover the train fares.

Dad says it’s good to have me around, and I know that contact with others can help with dementia and other degenerative conditions (he has Parkinson’s). So if I’m denied my independence, the system has already made me much more unwell, and quite possibly my dad too. If I’m declined, I’ll be unable to spend Christmas with family (and it could always be the last for my parents or me), no gifts for my kids, and unable to see my dad while he still remembers who I am.

I borrowed money to make the monthly visit to see the kids yesterday, but without my PIP payment, those trips may have to be reduced in frequency. A life is not a singular thing and there are people denied (or spared) my company. Despite winter approaching, I’m eating less and heating less.

The day with the children was very much as usual: lunch and interesting conversation, then shopping and further debate on matters of the world, of nature, medicine and science. We question things, and yesterday I wondered how the Romans did maths, if they only had Roman numerals. An interesting aside too, as we noted that as well as having alliterative names, my eldest is taller than me (not difficult) and therefore the longest Laker; the youngest is just a little shorter than my mum, and the littlest Laker for now.

It was a day punctuated by escalators. The first was one I’d ridden hundreds of times before, and its brothers and sisters around the London Underground estate, possibly millions. And yet, after more than 30 years of working, living and just being in London, something occurred to me for the very first time: ‘Dogs must be carried’. I don’t have a dog. It’s a terrible sentence, implying that carrying a dog is compulsory for riding the moving stairs, and it will haunt this pedant for the rest of my days and every time I see it.

Back at Euston later, ‘Stand on the right’ is the first on the list of London Underground’s levitation instructions, and invariably some people don’t. I tend to walk down and float up, but I was anxious of time and chose to walk up the left of the escalator, to be greeted by a backside, talking to her friend on the right. “Excuse me,” I said, perhaps impatiently with someone too ignorant and arrogant to read signs. “How rude,” I was told.

I apologised for having excused myself so that I could travel freely and not hinder the transit of those behind me, but apparently that was rude and I should be more patient. I passed this down the line behind me, asked if she’d rather have my blood, and told her to get over herself, which elicited a tut. Finally I pointed to the signs at regular intervals on the way up: “Stand on the right,” I read aloud, and added “like fascists”. I was tired of walking by now, so I stood on the right of the escalator, in front of my verbal assailant. As I rose to ground level, I let one go silently and shared the scrambled eggs I’d had for breakfast.

I can only hope that more than nine weeks of stressing and growing more anxious by the day is enough for the dehumanising machine, that nine weeks is considered sufficient suffering, and now I can be returned to an independent life with sufficient funds to live it. If not, if I’m found undeserving for some reason (even though I’ve been on PIP for the last four years), that’s a pretty sick trick to play on someone. Those days out with my kids are about all I have now, and that may be denied by the Tory government’s social cleansing machine.

Life has changed over the last few months, ever since this benefit reapplication process started. Even if I am forced through the tribunal process again, knowing where I stand would be better than where I am at the moment. Right now I have not got a clue what the answers are.

Did you find them all?

Lifestyles of the disposable people

THE WRITER’S LIFE

It’s now eight weeks since my reassessment for PIP and I’ve still heard nothing. It could be that the Department for Work and Pensions are still processing me, but my money was cut to a statutory amount a month ago, when my last two-year benefit period expired. I’m surviving without the money I used to live an independent life (the whole purpose of the benefit), but I have nothing beyond essentials. Everything else, I can no longer afford. I’m disabled, dehumanised, and it feels, disposable.

Broken Dolls Heads

The timing couldn’t be more cruel. If I’m forced through the tribunals machine, the process could drag on for another 4-6 months. During that time there’s Christmas and my kids’ and parents’ birthdays. I can’t afford anything more than token gifts. I have just about enough money to maintain my monthly visits with the children, but little else. I’d like to visit my parents more, but I can’t afford to.

My dad’s diagnosis has changed. For the last six months, doctors thought he had hydrocephalus. He had fluid on his brain, which was drained, and everyone hoped he’d get better. But he got worse for a while. His condition was complicated by a serious neural infection requiring powerful intravenous antibiotics, and a fall resulting in three cracked ribs. All of which seemed to explain his long recovery. But although he’s better, he’s nothing like he was before this all started, when he got lost driving at night and I reported him missing and vulnerable to the police.

The latest prognosis is that dad probably has Parkinson’s, and I’d like to visit him while he still remembers who I am. But with my independence payment taken away, I can’t afford to. What a shame, that the UK benefits system is designed that way, to deny quality of life (independence), to aggravate mental illness with all this anxiety, and take away what was left of a life. A life is not a singularity, and each affects many others.

Shame on some of my so-called friends, who I loaned money in their times of need, but who never repaid me. I hope they enjoy their family Christmas, but that it’s marred by the prickly guilt of knowing they denied a friend what might have been his last. If a house is exorcised and you don’t pay the priest, will your home be repossessed? Karma can be a bitch of a haunting, but exorcism is easily arranged by settling debts (There’s a ‘Donate’ button on this blog).

Like most social tenants, my electricity is on a key meter, so like most poor people, I pay more for electricity and have to pay in advance. I won’t be troubling the meter too much, just putting on extra layers of clothing. A cynic might call it another social cleansing measure, by a fascist Tory government intent on population reduction by writing off costs, like disposable people.

I’m struggling, but I’m still here, hoping to find some humanity in the Department of Waste and Recycling that’s the benefits system. I’ll keep fighting to get what I’m entitled to, and hopefully regain my independence. Don’t forget me dad.

Computer says no, you must die

THE WRITER’S LIFE

After keeping me waiting for five weeks, throwing petrol on my depression and anxiety, The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have refused my re-application for PIP (Personal Independence Payment). They didn’t even have the decency to send a letter, and I found out when much less money than normal went into my account. No doubt the shit sandwich will arrive in the mail soon, after it’s gone through further bureaucracy.

VogonA relative and employee of Theresa May at DWP, yesterday

I’ve been in receipt of the independence benefit for the last four years, and at my last assessment I must have seemed in worse health (because I am), but some appointed worthy who’s never met me, sitting self-importantly at a computer, has made a life-changing decision, to deny me what I’ve been entitled to for the last four years, and which I used to live an independent life. I can’t do that any more.

I may not be able to visit my kids or parents so often or at all. But what does DWP care? They know I’ve failed to kill myself before, as it’s on my hospital records. It couldn’t be that they wish me more success next time, surely? I hope they sleep well at night (and one day, don’t wake up).

Now I face the appeals process through to tribunal. I’ve done it twice before and won. This was a re-application, for a benefit I’ve been paid for the last four years. It all begs the question, why do this? Why incur all the extra expense and waste their time (and mine)? Because they want to wear people down so that they give up, roll over and die (it’s the Vogon way). But like a bad smell, I won’t go away.

With about £5 a day to spend now, I’ll have to be very creative with meals. And as the appeal process takes around three months, that’s Christmas nicely fucked up, possibly the last one I spend with my parents, thanks to the DWP and the Tory government’s social cleansing project. The last five weeks have made me ill but it didn’t kill me, and I won’t be swept from society by fascists. Apart from the roof over my head, the next few months will be like it was on the streets, and I survived that.

The singular, only, sole, lone, individual good thing I might be able to salvage in all of this, is that with nothing to do (eat, drink, or smoke), I might as well spend some time at the keyboard. If I can’t afford heating, I’ll get some fingerless gloves.

I have a tribunal process to document in fiction. I need to write, of the psychological horror this has been, of poverty, of the perverse torture by sick and twisted Nazis, and of exacting, violent and bloody revenge. The story of an impoverished writer, an irritant irritating, and literally (in literature) fisting some arseholes and scratching around inside.

To make science fiction reality, simply imagine

DEAR DIARY

Despite mankind’s technological advances, much of life remains in the 20th Century. Much that we made then is becoming redundant, obsolete, or simply ‘old-fashioned’: The internal combustion engine, fossil fuels, factories and farming. Our politics are certainly arcane, based on unfair electoral systems, political skewing by finance or fake news, and for the most part, disconnected from the electorate, many of whom live in perpetual poverty or ignorance, which aren’t mutually exclusive. We need to evolve, and we have the tools of change to hand…

CyberPunk Hammock
Image: Khang Lee

There is good to be made from what we have, and we only have to look at history to see where we went wrong, or need to change our ways. Everything we need to make big changes, is around us already. The problem for contemporary politics, is it’s all a bit radical. But for radical, see long-game. This one’s mainly about where we live:

Recently I wrote of an idea to levy a new social tax on the collection of personal data, then to use the revenue raised to finance a universal basic income. To cries of ‘It can’t be done!’, I ask, why not? Like all big ideas, it needs a lot of work to implement, but the resources are readily-available. If big companies really do have altruistic humanitarian ideals, even they have to admit that global corporate domination will eventually be limited by the size of a planet and its population. Sustained economic growth (the shareholders’ ideal) on a planet which is not growing, will surely mean an eventual environmental limit is reached (assuming such things remain important, and that sustainable really does mean that: the long-game).

We’re already witnessing a technological shift, with a far greater long-term impact than the industrial revolution. Humans are being made redundant by machines. In factories, robots have replaced many humans, and of the latter who remain, most are robots by proxy of AI monitoring. Artificial intelligence is encroaching on the jobs of the mind too: Doctors, accountants, and even some areas of law. So humans are going to need a longer period of (free) education, to gain the qualifications needed for the remaining jobs, which (for now) are the preserve of humans.

But as humans become more redundant, they have more spare time, and for many this is spent in misery and poverty. The problem was, mankind made robots, at the same time as robots wanted to become humans. In a few years in some of my darker sci-fi stories, that situation could turn on its head (AI is one of the greatest threats to our race, and Stephen Hawking and others agree). Now, we need another shift, before everything settles into something we really wouldn’t want to be, or to live in.

A universal basic income would solve problems of housing and poverty. In all of this utopian thinking, we have to disregard entitlement mentality. At a human level, I believe it’s the basic entitlement of an individual in a civilised society, to have shelter, warmth and food. We also have to hope that the recent rise of the right in politics isn’t something the quieter left has lost sight of. Given the right social and economic foundations, there need not be many dissenting voices in a society.

A new approach might be to start with a concept like public luxury and private sufficiency. It’s a mindset, and a monumental shift in indoctrinated thinking, but like all big ideas, it requires different thinking, and promotes discussion. I’m trying to find ways we can all live together.

Where we are, there isn’t enough physical or environmental space for everyone to enjoy private luxury. Private luxury creates a border, it removes or closes spaces, creating deprivation. Public alternatives are usually poor in comparison, even in the places they’re provided. But nevertheless, public parks, playgrounds, sports centres and swimming pools, galleries, theatres and cinemas, including some very fine examples of each, create space for everyone, at a fraction of the cost.

There is the system of common ownership, where public assets aren’t sold off and managed by a private market, nor the state, with such assets owned instead by communities, in the form of commons (much like we know public ‘commons’ now). In its truest form, a commons is a non-capitalist system, which controls a resource in perpetuity, for the shared and equal benefits of its members. Like many other leftist, centrist and radical (and anarchist) ideas, it’s one which has been operated successfully in other countries, notably the Nordic states.

The gross imbalance in housing could be addressed with the introduction of a tax as radical as the one proposed on personal data, and again this would be a social tax, specifically, a Land Value Taxation. A form of this already exists, with ground rents on leasehold properties, which is open to abuse and used as a cash cow to milk funds from the economy and hide them abroad. If this right to charge rent on ground was returned to sovereign control, or communities, then the rent collected would be retained within whichever system, national or local, to fund public services, or to develop communities further. It’s a politics of belonging, which is the political system I became involved in when I was homeless.

Whatever the value of this, political or otherwise, I’ve written it in the hope that it might be read and perhaps discussed further by others. But surely there’s something to talk about here, in a nice, lefty way, rather than reactively kick it into the long grass in ignorance. These ideas and others, of my own and many more besides, require big thought, including at a political level. We can make a change, even with what we have now.

But then humans are a species which is dependent on the milk of another, so it could be an evolutionary growth stunt, like when a kid gets to the point where things are so interesting that it takes longer to move on. I’m trying to find answers. I’m trying to solve problems.

I’ve got this brain that I found. And I’m trying to find out what it’s for and what it does.

Fact or fiction, Earth is the organic computer designed by Deep Though to find out why the answer is 42. We’re all part of that. All we need to do, is keep talking.

A book critic recently commented of my sci-fi novel, Cyrus Song: “Who knows—if you’re looking for the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, you might just find it here, or in the ‘Cyrus Song’ of our planet. In the meantime, taking Steve Laker’s and Stephen Hawking’s advice, we all need to ‘keep talking’, and as long as there are books like these—keep reading.”