Friday, 7 August 2015

Random lunch conversations

The promise of good greasy food, protein and carbs, alcohol and caffeine and some kind of pleasant, interesting, distracting ambiance and atmosphere. OK none of that might be possible. This is real life after all and in general it sucks. It was a burger restaurant, a bit up market from regular fast food but the burgers were the same and there was a choice of buns with fancy names and salad. Piles of salad, green and red and there were savoury sprinkles, Italian water and the cutlery was stylish and more importantly, clean, oh and table cloths. The waitress smiled but looked blank as we placed our order. It was a job, clearly a job and no more. Nero (his choice of nickname and one that had stuck) was about to enter full conversational flow. We were old mates, catching up, it could go in any direction.

“Judee Sill was the queen, the queen, never mind Joni or Carole or Buffy or what the fugg. Judee.” He stretched out the eee sound as if reading it aloud in class. “People still can't believe it. I have YouTube on repeat sometimes, for hours. No huge body of work like the rest, just those few songs and the wonderful friggin' darkness she conjured up. Black and tortured. The queen of singer songwriters.” He repeated his assertion a few times. “And she was no conventional looker, big nose and dumb glasses, greasy hair but then she was a lesbian in the seventies, a proper junkie dyke when that (dyke) was a term you could use but I would have had her anytime. Imagine waking up to her? What weird crap would she be telling you? Profound or crazy? It's a fine line I'll never cross. If I was a chick I'd want Jesus was a cross-maker played at my funeral...maybe I still will, just to confuse whoever turns up...that'd do it. All the bandit and heart breaker stuff and the irony. A person could make that fit, couldn't they? I'm just not sure if it would be the first or last tune. Then there's Sinatra. Imagine him doing that line in kiss, “love risin' from the mist”, with a big band backing, Vegas style.”

“I thought you wanted buried in the forest so you could become a tree, or a cross I suppose? Maybe some other timber based product?”

Nero laughed. “In the forest you can have any song you like, it's not as if the tyre centre next door or the mosque across the street are likely to complain. But I have never attended a woodland farewell to know quite how it works. There may be sensibilities; don't disturb the animals and the hikers with you funeral PA system turned up to eleven.”

The burgers arrived. Mine was blue cheese, a regular choice. The fries were fat, that was good. Nero was munching the burger, he held it with two hands and in between mouthfuls he continued with the Judee Sill conversation, more to himself and the burger than me. That was where his concentration was focused. He knew an awful lot about her life and her (untimely) death and all the graphic gossip that had led up to it. Then he edged towards the various theories and added a few more of his own that were obvious fiction and fantasy. I ate quietly, well I probably ate as noisily as the next person but I just didn't talk. I nodded and grunted. It was a good burger and I had two hands on mine. 

“I don't know who has her house now, it's not on the maps, off the radar, wiped clean by the hand of god.” I spoke. “I'm sure it's still standing and some D-lister is in it with no idea about those times as they have big drum and bass parties around the pool.” Nero looked at me, “she's bound to be a motherfucker of a ghost, think about, or a poltergeist or a wraith, howling like a banshee (or a wraith). I can't believe that she left this world on good terms or died easy. Way too much electricity in her, way too much. It oozed out of the grooves on the vinyl. I remember it at the time. Brave new morning.” He took another mouthful. “She was no Doris Day.” I sensed that our conversation was not going to move on now, Nero was obsessed it seemed. “So what was wrong with Doris Day?” “Well nothing it's just a kind of figure of speech, it's all the things she was not, not straightforward or showbiz or glamorous or Doris Day.” I stopped eating.

“Doris Day was more of an enigma than Judee Sill, you just don't get it. She was on a different level, she knew the system and she used it and beat it. Judee Sill was beaten by the system. There in the golden age of singer songwriters all you had to do was get past the third album and you were set. Movie stars had a different challenge; get past the first three films and they were on contract and moulded. They were sanitised. And Doris could do sultry.”

I started on the fat chips. I ate them slowly. The burger had done it's job and taken the edge away from my appetite. Nero was ahead, despite his chattering he could eat more quickly. It was a technique he had clearly mastered. I'd stopped eating the chips and was sipping water and watching two women at the table opposite. My Doris Day observation had temporarily stumped him. Doris does sultry. It was an odd comparison and of course it was really just a chance remark he'd made to begin with, I'd never thought of it until Nero brought it up and it made no proper sense. It was cheese and apples or cola and paraffin or bricks and chocolate. That was what I was thinking and I could say those things but I chose not to, I'd leave it.

“So at least we know what you want played at your funeral.” Nero looked at me. “Yeah Black Sabbath, the black princes of downer rock in some dirty, industrial location.”

Monday, 3 August 2015

Some other room

“We've been getting our revenge on the poor, bleeding the bastards and telling them lies. The truth is they'll believe anything, they'll take any shit, we just pile it on. You see politics isn't about systems or fairness or listening. It's about ruling and ruling your way. We're strong because we choose to be, we are relentless, we hear their voices but we block them out. Their words, ideas, hopes, ambitions (even if they had them) don't matter to us. They are fuel and fodder. They work, they provide, they get in the way and we oblige them a little and we control. We hold, we fold, we rip and tear and ultimately we prevail. It's as old as time, power is ours and no matter how you dress it up in media niceties and the illusions of  political righteousness, all power, exercised and run out is tyranny. Of course that's just an opinion I happen to hold and you'll not find it in any paper that I sign, no sir”.

“So I was sitting in my office, sipping port after lunch, listening to Django Reinhardt and thumbing through an art catalogue. I was looking for some pieces for the surgery and I looked up and for I moment stopped and just reflected on the room, my place in it, my surroundings, the view from the window, the warmth and the music and the good way I felt right then, right inside myself.  I'd experienced some success and now it was about two thirty on a Thursday afternoon. Tomorrow I was seeing some friends and at the weekend I was planning to head into the country, we have a place. I thought on these things, what I'd do, what I'd say, perhaps I'd write something, perhaps I'd get drunk. I'd see my wife, we'd sleep together and talk about the children and family business, I'd drive around the grounds for a white, maybe shoot something. It would be a weekend like the hundreds before and slowly it would be eclipsed by the up and coming week, returning to the city, some work, play and all the other things. This room, I'd be here, port, music, coffee, visitors, clients and the great and the good...the weekend would fly from me and I'd return to this pleasant but relentless treadmill.”

“Of course I'm one of the elite, I'm not a small person or a middle person. I'm independent and largely aloof. When I look down onto the street and watch those crowds and observe the traffic patterns I'm aware of my disconnection. They, that is nothing to me unless and in some abstract way they are a form of income for me or a way that I can exercise some change by my top-down influence. I like to keep the window closed. My fellow humans offer little in the way of comfort, not them. OK there sex and narcotics, food and alcohol and all the titillation that sleaze and commonality might provide. Occasionally I'll dip in but to be honest my appetites are less fierce less edgy. My peers often confuse and sicken me with their base behaviours, their lack of control you might say. I'll have none of that, I know my limits. Weekends are where I reach them. Here in the city it's meaningless. Their problem is they've allowed themselves to be overcome and ruled by boredom. That fetish that says that time must be filled by something, that state that requires sustaining and pushing forward and it's an endless and futile treadmill. I have tried it and I have been burned. Now I maintain a safe distance in every sense. Of course I talk and laugh, we share pleasantries and I hold firm with my veneer of approval. It's what they need poor darlings. Not for me though, here in my head in the afternoon, with my port and music and comfort and so close to an election for fuck sake.”

“Well I must have dozed off, my reading lamp was very hot when I woke and outside the light was fading. Quite a pleasant time really and I was glad not to have been disturbed by any of nonesuch or tittle-tattle. But I was a little stiff, cranky even, my mechanicals slowly wearing out. I finished the port and allowed the warmth to grip me, make me a little dizzy like a first cigarette, just holding the edge and staying upright. I liked this feeling. I looked at the note on my desk “don't bother to call” it said. I grinned and reminded myself, that was what she always said. “Leave me alone and I'll see you later...maybe much later.” That's what thirty odd years of marriage and money does. She does other things and we meet up on those weekends and crumple together like old dogs or pigs or farmyard beasts and then we go our separate ways in expensive vehicles with dark windows. It's a life I suppose and we're free from scandal at the moment, in that tense place as blank and unblinking as a hurricane’s eye.”

“I reached down and put my hand into the black leather holdall on the floor. A nice, deep and dark stylish bag it was, it had been a birthday present but I couldn't recall the year. There in the side pocket and wrapped in a white cloth was the automatic pistol. I'd been carrying it around for a while, diligently avoiding security devices and unwanted encounters. Having it there close by did give a feeling of power, or empowerment. If someone I disliked came in here I could just shoot the bastard, in the foot perhaps and claim that it had been a terrible accident. I could see the headlines now. Somebody really offensive? Well I'd just take them out, straight between the eyes, down they'd go and there would be a bloody mess on the carpet and a bloody enquiry. I laughed. I knew who deserved it too, I had my little list saved up for rainy days. Anyway I held the pistol and checked the magazine; seven rounds thank you very much. I wondered what I'd do if one had been missing. The gun had contained those seven bullets for some time. Perhaps it wouldn't work. Perhaps these bullets have a shelf life or a defect?”

“About then I moved on from port to whisky, I was walking around the room and I was aware that whoever had been in the outer office would be gone by now and that security by the door were probably and most likely otherwise occupied. Nobody else would appear now. I liked that feeling. I put the gun in my inside pocket and poured three fingers of the golden malt into my favourite glass. I returned to the chair and slowly sipped. Each mouthful was a warm and burning pleasure. Albeit I could never quite picture the peat bogs, waterfalls and endless wind swished fields that the advertisers and promotors spoke about. All those blasted heaths and moss covered stones, the air and birds flying endlessly, more bloody time passing in some irritating way as fastidious experts wait on their whisky being born. Christ. My imagination was no good for that sort of thing. I focused on the hit and the blurry fog that came across my senses like weak heroin about to register and so numb the soul in all it's precious and broken places.”

“I has experimented with vegetarianism once, like sex with a condom I thought, lacking some final psychological pleasure and ultimately a let down. I'd never put those two illustrations together and I wasn't sure they worked. My vegetarian episode didn't, I stuck at it for a few weeks, maybe some girl friend was behind. I broke my fast with a rare steak, a fried egg, mustard and red wine I recalled. She left me shortly afterwards but I didn't care. That was all a long time ago and misfiled in my bank of misfiled memories. Sometimes I didn't know what to think. Tell that to anyone else, any younger person and they'll think you're quite mad. How can you not know what to think? Well you can when you get to be me but of course that won't happen to you within this somewhat psychically limited universe we're currently plodding through. More whisky. In my head I was starting to dribble, dribble those cracked and dangerous thoughts you get when you don't know what to think. Like a wave of replacement relatives for all the sensible ones now lost. A wave of crazy ideas and de-constructional notions that lead nowhere other than to a drop. A cliff edge, a ledge and numb nirvana.”

“If I was typing this as a document I should be saving it by now. Checking the spelling and grammar and polishing it. I hate those devices. God. People staring into little black envelopes or circuitry and plastic where their thoughts and wobbly photographs are held. Transmitting all the power of their  conscious mind into a black hole of hopeless and drone like banality and sending it across the word accompanied by a hash tag. What happened to ordinary telephones that rang in the room that you happened to be in instead of in your pocket when you're taking a crap? I pulled out the gun and put down the whisky. My fingers bent around the trigger. I felt strong and so did the gun. It was as if we were testing each other but neither of us spoke up of acknowledged the battle if there was one. There was a flash and a bang that seemed to happen right there, deep inside my head. No pain to speak of just a lurching sense of pure embarrassment, beads of sweat somewhere. Christ almighty, what have I done now?”

“ I woke up in a room, bright with light. Warm and buzzing. Like being inside a hive. I quickly decided that I was dead and you know there was no need to panic. I was sitting on a couch looking all around at blank walls and my ordinary clothes were still on me, no blood, no shock, no mess.  The place seemed very clean. There it is; death. One minute you're in one room, split seconds later you're in another, but don't take my word for it.”

Satisfaction Factor

“Dawn of the replicants” was what it said on the leaflet title. Then it appeared in the headlines. The papers blamed the migrants. The people blamed the government and the government blamed the rest of the world. It was the migrant crisis that started it properly. The questioning. Why was it that politicians, in office, with all the powers they have couldn't decide how to act? Why did they freeze? They said a lot, they said they were doing “everything they could” and that “everything that could be done was being done” but in fact, out there amongst the people on whatever side or colour, who needed help, well, nothing was being done. Nothing. That's a powerful word to apply to a serious situation. We are doing nothing.

We all thought, nothing is being done because there is no right answer but we still thought there was a right answer. We thought; let the migrants in in some “controlled” way and alleviate the suffering, now. They are not (all) bad people so let them in. The politicians however could not be so clear. They had to think strategically, they had to think about the next few steps and they had to think about their policies and beliefs and about the opinions of their supporters and what might happen next. We were not so bother with any of that. We wanted a fix...and better weather.

So the system stalled, faltered you might say. Nothing was being done and the pressure increased. The public were unhappy and the press and the media, infiltrated by industry (we now suspect) began to say “what's the point in having politicians running things if they can't act or be decisive because they are worried about their popularity and their reputations and standings. That's not a good system, that's how dictatorships form, right there in a power vacuum.” I wondered what to make of it all and watched.

The migrants, well they rioted, some were shot, some learned to speak French, most made it over  and the tunnel was burned up, quite badly. So badly it was no longer used and the UK and French economies suffered. The prices of food and fuel went up in ways nobody could quite explain for reasons nobody understood. Some firms went out of business, others boomed and the banks groaned. The migrant people still came across and got jobs or claimed benefits. Truly there was no way of knowing what was going on and no way to be sure who was telling the truth. The government just liked to say that the crisis was “ongoing” and that people had to be “on their guard” and “vigilant”. This type of language was used exhaustively as if to promote fear but without explanation and thought migrant types were still criticized and vilified nothing really bad seemed to come from them being here, ever.

It all happened quite quickly really. It was about six months before the general election that the corporations explained that they were infiltrating the political parties with “synths” (robots); convincing, human like beings with a partial-consciousness feature who could and would govern us via logic and fairness in ways that humans could not.  There was fear and scepticism to begin with but the truth was it was hard to tell the synths from the humans, on TV anyway and really none of us ever met real or artificial politicians up close anyway so did it make a difference? They all seemed pretty reasonable and slowly the humans started to take a back seat, they said and did less and the synth campaigns turned out to be powerful and more articulate and sensible than those of the humans. It was an emotional night, the night when the polling results were released. The synths won in most areas by sizeable margins. Less well off and ethnically diverse areas seemed to like the synth's cross party ideals: Freedom, fairness, sharing and an end to corruption and as far as we could believe their programming they would deliver on these things. The human MPs were now in the minority, some with the synths and some against. Those who were against were a colourful bunch and the held a wide range of beliefs. The most extreme being religious based thinkers who felt that the synths were “against the will of God”. Occasionally acts of violence were perpetrated agains the synths – as yet it was not a crime to terminate the life of a synth that you owned however as synths cost over £250k each few ordinary people owned one. The synths fought back but were mostly defended by groups of the lower classes and ex-migrants who, despite being suspicious of the synth's makers believed in the “Ethos of Synth” as it was described. 

As for me, well like a few  others I saw the writing on the wall. We moved out from the urban sprawls and set up camps and communes as far as we could get from the drones and patrols. It was not to be an easy existence. I was never convinced of the synth's ability to govern according to the so called ethos. Deep inside their artificial intelligence there was a masked allegiance to the corporations that had made them and the simple of move of bringing in the synth administration had handed the power base over quickly and efficiently. The country was being run by a set of washing machine programmes fronted up by stem cell and latex based figures who cared not a jot for the outcome of their policies. Or did they? Six months later in the depths of Wales on a pub television I watched the figures come in for the country's budget, for industry and the economy and for the psf  “people's satisfaction factor”, a new measure that the synths had introduced. Everything was coming up roses or headed that way and in such a short time. Maybe the humans just needed a bit help.