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

If we can break it…

CHRONICLES

village_of_the_damned

A still from Village of the Damned

This time of this year is now the first of what I’m sure will be an annual three-day period of reflection. Today is the limbo day. Yesterday, David Bowie was born and tomorrow, the Starman died. His life was art, and even his death was a performance.

Bowie’s music was autobiographical, just like my stories. The easiest way to record my life is as a series of fictional works, just as Bowie did with his music. There is a part of me or my experience in every story I write, and one of my planned books is a fictionalisation of my autobiography. I went to quite some lengths to have stories to tell, and stories only happen to those who are able to tell them.

Those who think and write are the ones who are more likely to be remembered, not necessarily immediately following their departure but many years after they died, they might be discovered. Right now, those people can start to change things. The problem we have, is that people don’t listen, or don’t have the patience. So us thinkers and writers need to be interesting, to counter the typical response to anything educated: “Boring!” (For another commentator’s opinion on this phenomenon, see this article by David Hopkins: How a TV Sitcom Triggered the Downfall of Western Civilization).

Social media shares some blame for this dumbing down, especially Facebook. I sometimes tire of a newsfeed populated by “X will get pregnant in 2017” and other such completely unscientific bullshit. What is wrong with these people? They are at best naïve. These people may not work, but do they not have anything more to do in their lives? Like learn? I only use Facebook to keep in touch with friends and sometimes see something interesting posted by one of the more educated ones. Generally, I prefer Twitter.

But then, the power of humanity sometimes gives me reason to be grateful:

Not long ago, there was a very unpleasant trend on Facebook, where people were posting pictures of individuals whose physical appearance didn’t fit some sort of “ideal” and who were in many ways different. So those people were ridiculed and exploited by a disgusting “Tag a friend” craze.

I’m a bit of an activist sometimes and this phenomenon really repulsed me. So I joined groups, lobbied and generally spoke out in defence of the innocent victims of this practice in various fora. A combined effort appears to have worked. Facebook haven’t banned the practice because it doesn’t infringe their editorial guidelines, which are basically free speech governed by algorithms (For the official human rights definition of free speech and my own editorial guidelines, see the Amnesty link on this blog).

It just goes to show that if you believe strongly about something and if you join forces with others, you can make a change.

As I said in my most recent story, Cardboard Sky, we are at a stage in our evolution where we can either guarantee our future as a race, or become history. There needs to be a change of global rhetoric and a focus on a new agenda. It’s a new world order which could be 200-250 years away but if there is to be a future, we need to start the conversation now.

There’s another world, another possibility and it’s within our reach: As more and more white collar jobs are automated to computers and AI, just as blue collar jobs were to machines and robots, there will come a point where paying benefits claimants JSA is a pointless exercise because they will be looking for jobs which don’t exist any more. As such, that part of the benefits system becomes a waste of money and resources. The computerisation and replacement of jobs with AI will impact jobs up to a certain level and even those in relatively well-paid “middle class” jobs, such as some lawyers, may find themselves made redundant by machines. This is where the idea of a Universal Income comes in: A sum of money paid to everyone, so that they can live a sustainable (if not luxurious) life. This then frees them to re-train for the remaining professions, or to develop themselves into something: Perhaps a writer. There will be more minds available which are free to think and then the conversation continues. Canada, Finland and the Netherlands are at various stages of discussions on a universal, or basic, income for all.

The two biggest political stories last year were Brexit and Trump’s presidential election victory. Both were the results of a disillusioned electorate, frustrated by what they knew but not knowing what they wanted. The far right used this unease to gain traction and the left were found wanting. It was a perfect storm. Both campaigns were based on lies but false journalism and people not checking facts were equally to blame. I have lost count of the times I’ve seen a friend post something on Facebook, only to have to tell them it’s not true. A recent example was this one:

(Questionable, unverified claim begins).

PIN NUMBER REVERSAL

If you should ever be forced by a robber to withdraw money from an ATM machine, you can notify the police by entering your PIN # in reverse.

For example if your pin number is 1234 then you would put in 4321.

The ATM recognizes that your pin number is backwards from the ATM card you placed in the machine

The machine will still give you the money you requested, but unknown to the robber, the police will be immediately dispatched to help you.

This information was recently broadcast on CTV and it states that it is seldom used because people don’t know it exists.

I checked with my Bank of Nova Scotia to see if this was correct and staff said yes this information is correct.

Please pass this along to everyone possible.

(Questionable, unverified claim ends).

Really? Great if it’s true but improbable. As I’m not so gullible as the person who’d posted, I checked the facts; I did some research (It’s false, as confirmed by Snopes). The original poster hadn’t, and what that meant was quite simply, a lie was spread. Nothing major in this instance but this is partly how Brexit and Trump happened, because the uneducated allowed it. It just goes to show how important it is to research and verify facts before publishing something in a public forum.

In one respect, the bottom line to all of this is that if people in general just fucking thought a bit more, the world wouldn’t be in such a mess. I lost some friends in the run-up to the UK referendum vote, simply because I could no longer tolerate their ignorant and closed minds. A typical comment would be, “My granddad fought in the war.” Yes, against exactly the kind of fascism you now spread. But as soon as I started to explain this in a more diplomatic way, I was branded “boring!”

“I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human.” David Bowie.

He was my hero, my influence and my guardian angel. He was the one who told me it was okay to be expressive, even if others might not approve. He taught me that it’s okay to be myself. Everyone mourns their idols but Bowie was more than that, for me and millions of others: He was a way of life. “At the centre of it all.” At the centre of many lives and mine. Blackstar: A black hole.

It’s not beyond the realms of possibility, future science and contemporary fiction that I could resurrect my mentor. I have a signed copy of his Diamond Dogs album. There will be microscopic fragments of his DNA behind the glass of the frame.

It’s okay to be expressive, for expression is freedom, the very ethos of this blog. Just check the facts. Question, read, learn, and write. We can all be writers and make a difference but we have to ensure that what we add to the conversation is valuable.

It will be a long conversation, which future generations will need to continue. But if we don’t keep talking and educating ourselves and others, there will be no future generations.

And finally, “We did something extraordinary. Someone called it a revolution…Musicians from all over the world came together…With passion, dedication and fucking hard work, we can transform our lives. So stick together. No more conflicts. And play rock and roll.”