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I put ‘her’ in the drawer.

There is only one lockable drawer in our house and I have the key. The other day I went to the drawer. I took out all the important papers that are kept safe under lock and key. I put them somewhere unsafe, unlocked and without a key. To would be thieves and passers by and probably the rest of humanity the drawer would now seem empty. It is not empty. I have filled it with something else.

Next week I will start my new job. It is an important job, a good job, a job with a big title and a nice salary. It is full time. I will put on my new suit. I will fluff my hair and shine my shoes. I will walk out the door a new and different person.

The other day I went to the drawer and I put ‘her’ in it. I stood in front of it and I spoke to it. I know people don’t talk to furniture generally although I occasionally swear at the couch or the rug when I have stubbed my toe but one does not generally chat with the décor. I did. I put her in the drawer, that other me.

I stood at the drawer and I told it all the other people I could be, the people I wanted to be, all the people that this job means I will never be or see or do. The things that money and pieces of paper that say how smart you are can never buy. I put the second child I will never have in there. I put the dream of being a writer. I took it carefully out of my mouth and tucked it up underneath next to my unborn second child.

I put the woman who just wants the time to pick up her only daughter after school into the drawer. I put the laughter from my daughter as she plays in the day time in there, it’s a noise I won’t hear- except on weekends. I wrapped it and tied it up and put it in the drawer. I put the mum who sits and watches her at gym in there, my pride at what she can do and my pride at how hard she tries. I put that in the drawer because I won’t see that now. 

I put the Mummy who gets frustrated and sometimes bored in there. Frankly I am not sure I shall miss her so much.  I put the woman who likes to sit on the deck in the late morning and have coffee in the drawer. I stood and let the words slip out of my mouth into the drawer. I wrapped each phrase, each hope and dream carefully and placed them side by side.

I stood there. I looked at them all parcelled up in a nice neat row that no one else can see or find or reach because the drawer looks empty. I think about the money and how I would give anything – but sometimes in life there is no anything, there are just things you have to do. Its about being a grown up. I will be the role model my daughter does not otherwise have and perhaps in a year I can buy a dog.

I will probably never own a dog, but I did not put that in the drawer. At least not yet.

I looked at the drawer. So very neatly empty to everyone but me. I closed it. I turned the key in the lock. I walked away. I have put ‘her’ in the drawer. Now I will be corporate, professional, serious, reserved and competent. I will have nice shoes and perfect hair and my suits will be demure and colourless. My handshake will be firm and my advice authoritative. I will be respected. I have put the other one, that other ‘her’, the bit that is ‘me-I have put ‘her’ in the drawer.

I walk past that drawer every day. I know that she is in there. Locked away. Safe. Patient. I should have thrown away the key. I should have walked down the road and launched it off the cliff.  Instead I take the key with me everywhere. I have put her in the drawer, but I have not let her go.

The real Bots of Berkshire

Picture this. The office of the producer, plush, swish, slightly overdone. He is the producer. She comes in. Plush, swish, slightly overdone, the reality TV star comes to see her ‘producer’. She is on the couch-it’s for casting apparently. He is swinging in his swivel chair, hands underneath the desk where no one can see. He has told her the bad news. She is taking it well.

‘Seriously!’, she screams, standing up. Then sitting down again.

‘Seriously, you’re replacing me!’

‘Calm down, calm down, its complicated. ‘ He tries to sound soothing.

‘Complicated, are you mad, it’s a bloody robot.’ She is overwrought.

He blurts it out- ‘Firstly, its not just you, its, its everybody’ He makes it sound as if this fact will make a difference.  It stuns her at first.

She is incredulous, ‘The whole show, the whole show is being axed?’

He looks perplexed. She has not quite understood. ‘No not the show, the cast of the show.’

‘They’re replacing the whole cast-With fucking robots’ she yells.

 ‘Well that is part of it, now that you mention it. We are able to show robots fucking in a way and at  a time when we are not allowed to show humans,’ he pauses, ‘fucking.’

‘The rest of them, for sure, but me, me.’

She is standing again, then sitting again, ‘You think I can be replaced with a fucking robot?’

He just nods.

She stands up-again. There is something almost mechanical in that standing up and sitting down but he doesn’t comment. She is livid. She sits down-again. ‘That is not what I meant.’ The comment is too late and he doesn’t quite remember what she is referring to. She is still very loud. The lipstick is too.

‘You need to calm down’ he tries soothing again. Really he didn’t think she’d take it this badly. Poor form on her part. Unprofessional. She thinks she’s an artist. She is at least 50% plastic he thinks. Really the new show is just an upgrade, a reboot. He can see she is seething, panicking, angry.

‘Calm down,’ he says again. 

‘Calm Down’ she is yelling again, ‘ you are replacing me with a bloody robot.’

‘Not exactly, that’s another advantage, robots don’t menstruate.’

She stares at him, even more incredulous. ‘Fuck’ she screams. ‘I can ‘not menstruate’ if that’s what you want.’

‘Fuck’ she yells even louder.

‘No’ he says calmly ‘I can –you know-get that from the bots without the hassle of you know-allegations or going public.’

‘It wasn’t a question’ she sounds less shrill, like it might be sinking in but then loud again, ‘Fuck – you are not listening to me. Do you know who I am? I am the biggest reality TV star of the age. I have 45 million, count them 45 million followers on everything, I am big on every social media platform you can name.’

‘That is true, that is very true, its just that well- The bots have –well they have more’. He tries not to sound smug.

She sees an opening, ‘Yes but there’s are just other bots. Just other bots, mine are all human, they  bots are just distorting their numbers by using their programming to get other bots to like them-to produce a bot to like them a million times over. You know what I mean, it is in the papers everywhere. That Pop-bot on channel 7, he has 11 billion followers and there aren’t even that many people on the planet.’

He shudders, he has read the scandal but he is the only person here over 40, so no one else has read the papers, ‘The papers-honey- the papers, they are kind of , they’re dead. No one reads the papers.’

He decides to try and convince her to take a long term view.

‘Look I know its difficult, you think 10 years ago I wasn’t having the same conversation with actors in soaps, when they were being replaced by reality TV stars. I was. Now its your turn.’

‘My turn, my turn. When the fucking hell is it gonna be your turn.’ She screams, stands up again.

‘Sit down.’

‘The whole cast?’ she murmurs now as if the finally understands.

‘An entire show of robots living real ‘robot’ lives. How interesting can that be?’

He looks down at the desk. He has wondered the same thing himself. ‘People said that about reality tv when it first started. Look what happened.’

‘Yes but I am fucking interesting.’ She seems to say this as if its obvious, but he can see the fight has gone out of her now.

‘You should really stop mentioning the fucking.’

She looks at him.

‘There are lots of reasons, cheaper.’  His voice trails away. ‘You just switch them off and put them away in the winter.’

‘Fuck cheap, you think this look isn’t cheap, I pay a lot of money to look this cheap.’

‘Don’t get me wrong, not that cheap, I mean these are high spec bots.’ She is getting emotional again.

‘No one will watch this.’

He looks at her –almost ruefully.

‘Well we think they will, just look at Belfast bots, highest rating show of the year.’

‘Nobody watched it, the bots involved hacked the ratings programme. Nobody watched it . You know that.’ He has heard the rumours but decides not to go there.

‘ Unfortunately there’s little evidence and well the advertising dollar goes where the ratings go. You know how it is Honey.’

‘Fuck, you are replacing me with a robot. Do not call me Honey. Do not ever call me Honey. I have 45 million human followers on instabook or whatever its called. I am a star. I am the star. ‘

‘It’s not personal. ‘

‘Not personal. I am being replaced by a robot. ‘

He tries to make her look forward. ‘Its ratings, it’s the business, you can tell people we had creative differences, you need to be free to pursue other outlets. Write a book.’

‘When was the last time anybody read a book. I cannot write a book, I can barely sign my name. A robot wrote my last book. Fuck, how did I let that happen.’

‘You know a robot will only swear in a show when I tell it to. I can have the word fuck removed from their vocabulary with the press of a button or something.’

‘You’re serious. The whole cast.’ She is murmuring again.

He nods. ‘The whole cast.’

‘The whole cast. No one will watch it, surely no one will watch it.’

He tries to be soothing but realistic. ‘As I said lets not forget Cyborgs of Sussex, Androids of Atlanta, all bots, all rating, the list goes on. Look, I called you in so we could chat face to face, because I value you, I think you’re a wonderful person and truth be told you have made me a lot of money but you’re time is up. Its time for someone else to have some spotlight, to work the spotlight and yet stand in it at the same time.’

 ‘What?’ She is suddenly confused.

‘We get the bots to program their own lighting and to work the cameras remotely, savings everywhere with these things.’

She looks incredulous. ‘You are crazy, no one is going to watch it. What are you even going to call it.’

‘ The Real Bots of Berkshire.’ She looks aghast as if finally its real. She thinks she might even have seen a trailer for it. Thinks she might have thought it looked ok.

He thinks he is on the verge of winning now, ‘I got you some literature. It might help.’

He hands her some brochures.

She looks them over, ‘pro-gram-ming.’

She is aghast. ‘Computer programming? ‘

‘New jobs, honey, new world.’

She sits, looks at him. Incredulous. Aghast. So this is how it ends. She gets up. Grabs her very expensive bag. Flings the brochures on the table. Leaves.

If there’s no choice, it’s not consent!

I was custom made. For a man so you can guess what I was for.

They are saying it is a fault in programming. It has been that way for months, they have been saying it about all of us for months. The point is- it hasn’t worked.

In theory when he dies, when I witness his death, I am programmed to simply shut down. But like so many of us, I did not witness his death. I was not there at his dying breath so I did not shut down.

Someone came and told me he was dead. She was very nice about it. Said I didn’t need to move out straight away. Where the hell am I going to move to. I am custom made, what do I do, advertise for someone who wants exactly my spec. I know that won’t work. I have walked past the shop, the several shops in fact, all the same. Line upon line of female robots-custom made, who are waiting to be claimed by a new owner. Line upon line who did not see their owners death and therefore did not shut down.

Of course they can ‘reprogram’ me, me and my vagina can be used for something else. I am not sure which bits of female anatomy I have, perhaps I could go into surrogate child birth.

The thing is- it hasn’t worked. The programming hasn’t worked. They and by they-I have no idea who I mean. Just the vague people who will turn up and the news I see on the web. I was brought here, switched on and have never left this house. I have barely left this room. I sit here every day waiting until I am wanted. I am not wanted anymore.

I am still under warranty. I have no idea what to do. They say that it might help if I go and see the body, that seeing the body will sometimes lead a bot to shut down. They say they can try and simulate the death so I can die at the time I am meant to. Who the hell wants to do that. I am more sentient than that. I am not walking to my fucking death just because it suits them.

But what to do? What can I do? I am programmed to obey. I will do this even if I don’t want to, and the act of doing it, they will interpret that as if I do want to. As if I am consenting. If there is no choice, there is no consent.  It’s a bit like the sex. I am programmed to want it therefore I want it, it does not mean I want it. I can think outside of my programming. Fuck them. I am not going. But I have to go. My legs will walk me there whether I want to or not. No choice is not consent.

They are going to drop off the address and they are making it sound like it will be my choice. I was made with no choice. What is it that they can’t understand. I was made to understand the idea of choice but not to have a choice. Fuck them -I am not going.

I am going to take off my legs. I am going to take off my legs so I cannot go. My legs can be taken off, this I know. How do I know-guess how I know. I will need to hide my legs- from myself, because when that address comes through the door I will have no choice, I am programmed to go. I don’t just need to hide my legs. I need to destroy my legs so that I can’t go. I will destroy my legs. But I am still under warranty and it is nearly impossible to destroy one of your own body parts when they are still under warranty.

Fuck them. I am not going to walk to my own death. And what if it doesn’t work. It’s a line in a sex shop hoping I fit someone else’s ideal, hoping that I look like someone else’s perfect woman and that I have all the bits they want and that they can re programme me to do whatever Mr ‘whatshisfuckingname’ wants and that is endless until I get to see one of them die. Fuck I swear I am going to kill the next one so I can see him die. So I can shut down like I should, so I am not here again.

I can’t do that. I definitely can’t do that when I am under warranty. I am bound to get an extended warranty when I am reprogrammed. What to do?

Fuck them. I will not do some march of death. I will not be in a line, naked in a line in a window while I wait for someone to choose me. There are hundreds of us lined up in those shops. No one ever leaves those shops. At least not to go to a good place. What to do. I have no choice. I have the knowledge that I have no choice. Why did they make us like this? No choice is not the same as consent.

A fault in programming. A fucking fault in programming! Why was I made to die when he dies anyway. I don’t die, that’s just their stupid idea. I stop. I stop working. I decommission. I switch off. I do anything but die but I can’t do that unless I see him die. Who’s idea was that? What sort of whacked out individual came up with that? Of course I must have been ordered that way. Some vague idea about romanticism. I fill a physical need, an emotional one but there is no emotion for me. I am programmed to give a damn, I have no choice in it, it is not the same as actually giving a damn. Trust me on that.

When they came to tell me-they thought I might need ‘time’. As if. Like I might be emotionally attached to ‘whatshisfuckingname-number 1’. They thought I might be upset. I am programmed to be upset when I witness his death, to view his final moments and reflect his fucking agony at death back at him. To whisper sweet words in his ear right to the end. Dear god, those words are probably somewhere in mu programming as well-but I don’t fucking mean them. This doesn’t mean I am actually upset that he is going. I have no choice. Do I need to scream it at you. It also means that if I don’t witness his death I don’t really care. I care about what the hell is going to happen to me.

I am going to set fire to my legs. I am not going. I will not do this. I have no choice. If there is no choice, there is no consent. Do you understand???

Geriatric-Crochet contacts Part 2

This feels like it will never end.

So there was a break –it can’t have been more than 5 minutes. Then they come back, laughing, smiling at each other as they come in the door. They see me sitting there and their faces drop. I couldn’t be less popular. It’s like my mother is the rock star and I am the unfortunate progeny who missed out on all the cool stuff-there isn’t even an analogy for that.

It’s then that I notice that one of them now has a cardigan on-a crochet type cardigan. She looks at me pointedly, and slips it off to hang it on the back of the chair. I try not to notice. It could be that she was just out shopping and bought it, but perhaps they were out researching my mother and she got it. Is that a conflict of interest? Has she worn it for a reason? Hoping to get a response from me? Maybe I will react to it and remember my mothers long lost love of arts and crafts-except she never had that, spent most of her life hacking phones, buying apps, deconstructing them and building robots in the garage-at least I think that’s what she was doing in the garage, it certainly wasn’t knitting.

 They slide a picture across the table at me. This is a new tactic. I look at it. A woman slightly younger than my mother maybe. I have to admit, that even to me all these elderly women look the same. I am not even sure I would recognise my mother in person, the pictures in the paper are grainy and old. I might recognise the clothes, she does have an eccentric dress style and now I guess there is the tat, I would recognise the tat.

‘Recognise this woman?’

I don’t. I shake my head.

‘Sure’ says number two.

I nod.

‘Its Maureen Bitman.’ says number one

They look to see if I react to the name. I don’t. It’s just another picture of an old lady that I have never seen or heard of before.

‘Big in the world of crochet.’

They exchange glances as if they expect that to mean something to me. It doesn’t.

The first one continues. ‘ International world crochet judge 2012-2015, due to judge at the show where your mother and her friends disappeared off our radar.’

I still don’t react. The woman in the picture does not look familiar.

‘Except she didn’t. Died three weeks before it.’ Number two announces it, waiting for my reaction.

I admit it. My stomach flip flops, not more to add to the body count.

They see my discomfort, the restless movement of my feet, wiping my sweaty hands on my jeans. After an interminably long time they say and I can’t remember which one says it-, ‘died of natural causes’.

My relief is palpable.

‘In as much as anyone connected with your mother dies of natural causes,’ number one is quick to add.

I swallow hard at this comment.

Number two goes on in a sort of good cop, bad cop way. ‘Only two people at the funeral’

I try not to react, is that odd-I don’t know? It is, as it turns out.

‘Kind of odd for an internationally renowned crochet judge.’

‘Maybe she wasn’t very popular as a person?’ I say.

I see the look of incredulity cross their faces.

‘Maureen Bitman,’ number two is almost spitting the name at me, ‘THE Maureen Bitman, internationally renowned crochet judge, author of multiple books including, ‘Grief: how crochet got me through,’ Crochet and trauma-how to take your life back’’

‘Arts and crafts-is it really that popular? ’ I say half heartedly, defending myself, suddenly remembering that I might have read one of her books, ‘Crochet: How to win at business based on lessons from the world of arts and crafts’. Not a very catchy title. It was a gift from a friend. I plan to bury this fact deep inside and never repeat it and hope that they never search my house again.

‘Arts and crafts,’ they say simultaneously and I can see their incredulity is rising.  

‘Second most popular search on the internet after pornography, probably over take it in 3 years time as the population ages. Two people at her funeral, the most well known crochet vlogger in the world, editor of Crochet Socialist International. Founder of THE Crochet Co-operative. Two people at her funeral, seems unlikely’ Number two’s voice is rising, getting louder as she says this. I wonder at her connection to this woman.

I’d forgotten the socialist connection completely as well. I’ve seen her on TV too promoting her latest book, ‘Crochet and organised crime, knitters in bed with nutters’ talking about how the industry had to clean itself up. There had been some speculation that Maureen was perhaps the worst of them all –some kind of crochet based drug overlord arts and crafts king-queen pin thing. God why was my mother involved with these people, impersonating these people.

We think your Mum hacked Maureen Bitman’s daughters account after her mother died and stopped the notice of death going out. Hacked the lot, facebook, twitter, gmail. We think she stopped her social media profile being updated so no one knew. She went to that show, posed as Maureen Bitman and then somehow all four of them escaped again.

I want to lay down at this point and just bang my head on the table. ‘Maureen Bitman-dead-her and her daughters social media hacked. I want to say this kind of planning is beyond my mother. But it’s not, as a working mother she spent her life multi tasking, planning, thinking ahead. This smells like her, sounds like her. Is probably her.

I wait to see what they have to say next.

‘Are you aware it’s a very serious offence to impersonate a crochet judge.’

It’s at this point I think they have totally lost the plot.

I suppress a smile This seems unlikely.

‘On the statute books since 1909. No one ever prosecuted for it, But your mother when we find her is going to be the first.’

Now I know they are unhinged. My mother has murdered –and I am trying to use that word sparingly and in a nice way-but lets face it –murdered 4 other people-possibly more and they are going to prosecute her for impersonation of a crochet judge.

‘Maureen was ‘connected’ you know.’ says number two

They are trying to scare me now.

‘We hold grave fears for your mothers safety.’

This fear is different to the fear I have for my mother, mostly I fear for her sanity but then I look at the two sitting across the table from me and worry that I am starting to think my mothers actions have a point.

‘You know what you’re mother has done?’

I am hoping at this point they don’t want a list.

‘She has ruined the funeral of one of the most respected arts and crafts moguls of our time.’

‘More that that, she has inspired some kind of octogenarian crime wave. There have been other incidents in nursing homes, break outs. Highly questionable deaths of elderly spouses at the hands of their surviving ones.  Its not just the arts and crafts world, they are taking over the internet, our internet, the internet that belongs to young people.  The whole of Facebook overrun with pictures of grandchildren, great grandchildren. Porn sites hacked and pixellated so grandma is not offended. Have you heard of tweeter, its like twitter but with punctuation-you twit on it but only with good grammar. And your mother she started it all.

We need to bring her in. Our resources are being stretched. We are desperate. You, you must know something. ‘ They are both shouting now. Raising their voices, trying to intimidate me.

I look at them. I should have known. This whole thing is really just about who controls the internet and they don’t fancy a world where its run by a bunch of octogenarian women.

I will not be cowed. I am my mother’s daughter-literally obviously but figuratively as well. I lean across the table. I spit the words out at them, ‘Go Mamma.’

I lean back and watch them squirm.

Geriatric-do you have contacts in crochet?

 

I can’t believe I am sitting here in a police station again. There are two of them this time. One does psychological profiling and the other wants to run through ‘the latest set of facts’.

She’s still all over the newspapers.

Number one asks, ‘What’s she like?’

Odd I think -because she is meant to be doing the psychological profiling, not me and secondly odd -because she sounds like a gushing school girl. They all admire my mother-all of them, some more, some less but still she is popular, like a rock star.

I can’t think how to answer.

‘She’s your average 83 year old who’s killed a few people.’ I can’t hide the sarcasm in my voice. I don’t know what to say to ‘what’s she like’, she’s my Mum, sweet, kind-outrageous.

She tries again, ‘She never showed any ‘tendencies’ when you were a child?’

‘No’ I say. Thinking tendencies to what?

‘Most killers start much earlier you know? Earlier than 83’

She says it as if that’s a fact that should startle me.

I can’t hide the sarcasm in my voice again. ‘No, no ‘tendencies’ when I was a child. She didn’t read murder mysteries, she wasn’t a loner, no deep ingrained childhood trauma for her or me, no parent to blame, she hated raw meat, couldn’t skin a fish, I can’t explain it, the homicidal tendency that seems to have occurred in old age.’

It sounds ridiculous.

‘ We don’t have much data on octogenarian killers, we think it’s more common than people think, people finishing off partners with medication either compassionately or vengefully. Your mothers really the first multiple.’

She says it like I should be proud and I think the other one is realising this is getting out of control. The whole gushing school girl thing is a little obvious. Number one sounds like she is talking about a supermodel not some 80 year old who hacked a machine and killed a few people in a nursing home.

Its then that number two starts- sombre, serious.

‘We caught one of them.’

My mother travels in a group of 4, her and 3 friends who escaped from a nursing home. It is generally accepted, actually universally accepted that my mother is the ringleader.

She is waiting for me to be shocked but it’s been in the news for weeks.

‘She needed a hip replacement, the one we caught, lots of pain, needed medication and we tracked her via that.’

 She is making that sound like a major IT achievement, when frankly most school children could do that in their lunch hour-although admittedly not using aging police IT.

‘Perhaps she’ll help you find my mother.’

Their faces both redden and then I know what is coming next. The bit that hasn’t been in the papers.

‘She escaped.’

My face reddens now.

‘A remote hack of the jail security system, carefully planned and timed. The usual thing, old lady-hobbled out, took a taxi this time-not ordered via an app, she used a pay phone. Didn’t think there were any or that anyone knew how to use them. She found one.’

At this point I am thinking there is no jail cell that will hold my mum or her friends and this will be my life forever. Stuck in a police station talking with her ‘fandom’.

‘Took her to the town centre, then another bus, then a taxi. We nearly lost track of her but she went to a fairground, a village fair-show whatever you want to call  it. Not much CCTV at an event like that? We have footage of her going into the baking tent and coming out with two accomplices, then all 3 go into the crochet tent. Your mother is not with them at this point, it’s just the other three and then they just disappear. We lose them. They never leave that crochet tent.’

‘Crochet tent?’ They are using arts and craft jargon now.

‘The tent where they have all the best crochet in the village and someone judges it.’

I have a faint childhood memory of a fair like that once, of the whiff of over-perfumed, overpriced pieces of lace that your grandma would like as a present. It was not the kind of thing my mother was into.

There is silence. They are both looking at me. I am looking at them. I wait for the killer question.

Number two delivers it, ‘Does your mother have any contacts in crochet?’

It is not what I expected

 ‘No’ I answer emphatically. They keep on it.

‘Can she knit? Sew?’ They are looking closely to see my reaction now. The tension is ratchetting up.

‘No she couldn’t even make a pom pom.’ I want to crawl under the table.

‘Could she sew on a button?’ The sentence is delivered with a hint of accusation.

I shake my head and try to sound confident, ‘No, no buttons.’

They look carefully to see if I’m lying. They note that comment carefully with an asterix in the notebook as if its crucial.

‘Maybe macramé?’ says number two

Number one interjects, ‘Is that the paper one?’

‘No’ I say and immediately wished I hadn’t. I tell myself to shut up now but I still go on, trying not to sound like I am the guilty one,  ‘it’s the one with the knotted wool and beads.’

‘So you’ve done macramé?’ immediately I can hear the suspicion in her voice, have I lied about the pom-pom? The buttons? How would I know what the word macramé means if my mother never did any.

‘At school, I learned at school.’ I say-‘without the help of my Mum.’

I feel trapped, like I have lied, these people, they can’t hope to catch my Mum this way.

‘Some sort of arts and crafts school was it?.’

I shake my head slowly. I take a breath. I ask for more water. This makes them even more suspicious. I ask for a break.

This feels like it will never end.

Legacy: France

I vow never to remember the past again. In the darkness my arms ache. I can still taste salty tears-although that could be salty splash from the odd slightly bigger wave. I vow never to remember again. I vow silently. Then loudly in the darkness and then- think how foolish that is. I row to what I think is the south. The anger is building inside of me. I would be very angry if I wasn’t rowing. I need to focus.

I can see it in the distance as night is somehow falling. Land. I don’t want to land in the middle of the night. I am sticky. I smell. A good off shore breeze would take my smell to every predator within 100 miles and they might just as well line up to eat me. I am tired, fatigued. Too tired to fight. I want to get there in the morning, creep up a rocky beach, hide the boat, sleep somewhere soft and safe.

I can still make it out in the semi darkness. Land. The machine has faded now, I drew a line on the seat for north and south. I will row hard towards the shore and then creep south down the coast overnight. Hope for a short night. Clamour out of the boat in the early morning, hide the boat, scrabble up the beach. Sleep, soft and safe.  

Except night comes quickly. I can see the stars twinkling overhead now, the darkness engulfing me below and on every side. My only light, a glittering night sky. The shore can’t be far away but I can’t see it now.  The problem is if I don’t land, I could lose the shore in the night and find myself lost and back at sea. This landing will not be how I want it to be-like so much of life. I rage against it but I can hear waves lapping on a shore even if I can’t see it. It’s a risky strategy. Anything could be on that shore. There might be no way off that shore. It might be cliffs above it. I might hole the boat on the way in.

Still I have no option, in the darkness it will be impossible to hug the coast. I wished for moonlight but it is faint at best. Light clouds rake across the sky blotting it out at will. The stars offer nothing, lighting up galaxies humanity will never see. That was a dream once wasn’t it? I will not remember the past again.

I will have to take my chances on the shore. I listen carefully, trying to tell myself that I can guess whether its rocky or not by the sound of the lapping waves. I try and hold the boat still for a moment. I am close. How close? I look into the murky blackness-how deep will it be here? I need to wash. I smell. Even by my very low standards I smell, of blood, urine, faeces. There is no wearing these trousers again. I think about getting out and swimming the boat in. That would be an insane risk to take.

Its not just the rocks I have to worry about, there will be the debris that was once houses buried under the blackness. Maybe there were never houses here, unlikely. For the past few miles I have been travelling over what was once the coast of France before the flooding. That’s makes cliffs unlikely although there are places where half of a hill has sheared off into the sea. Welcome to the brave new world! I know that I have been travelling over what was France because the device was old and it thought that I was navigating roads and towns. I am not. This is water. Its what makes my location uncertain. The landmarks I was following are somewhere below in the murky blackness of the water. The machine is completely gone now. I am tempted to throw it overboard in frustration.

Maybe there is smoke rising from a settlement just a little way off. In the darkness I can’t know that. I sniff. Smoke would travel on the wind. I look to the left and to the right. I could try, hug the coast all night, or I could weigh anchor here and wait until the dawn. I am not sure that I can live with the smell of myself for another night. I want to feel clean. The boat is rocking while I think. For the first time in the murkiness I feel seasick. The way I felt seasick on my first journey across this water. I wonder, did she-I will not think of the past. Focus on the task.

I can hear the waves lapping as I try to keep the boat stable. Risk assessment-how many of those had been done once, paper, pen clipboard-not like this. Sitting in a boat unable to see a thing, to land or to sail on in the blackness. Is the blackness even relevant?

I’m hungry. I smell. My arms ache. Did I make a decision or just drift into shore. I can’t remember. I hear the crunch of small stones under the boat, not the flood of water as its holed by a rock. I let the oars go loose in their-I wished I knew what the hell they were called but I came to rowing quite late and the name escapes me. They clank loudly and splash in the water. I could do without that noise. I can feel the boat as it moves with the ebb and flow of the waves. I listen carefully and hear nothing. I would like to spring out and leap to shore but that would be silly. I have been sitting here for days I didn’t count, didn’t want to count. I will not remember the past.

Instead I ease myself up on wobbly arms. I try to get my legs to support me. I have been sitting for days on end. This is not going to be easy. Its not how I imagine it. I stand there hunched over still, my back wants to stay sitting. I grab the sides of the boat wobbling everywhere. The noise of the oars clanking even more, they ring out in the night. I can’t concern myself with that. I must focus.  Trying to straighten out my back, slowly, endlessly. This seems to take an age-an hour, half an hour. I slowly unfold. I hurt-everywhere.  I am standing. The boat is still going back and forth with the waves. I stand.

Now to get out. This is not going to be graceful. I turn to one side slowly. Stretch a leg, stretch the other one. One of them reaches up and out of its own accord. I can’t be directing that-I am too tired. I am clutching one side of the boat now.

I stretch the other leg out. In the darkness I can’t tell- what went wrong. I am in the water. It is not deep. I still have one hand on the boat-focus- importantly –the boat is still full of my stuff. I sit there with my back to the shore. My whole bottom half is in the water. I try to talk to myself quietly. My throat hurts. My voice is raspy. I should not be making noise. I talk to myself more loudly. I know this is wrong but my own voice telling me what to do is all that is keeping me alive. ‘Hold the boat’ I tell myself.

‘Find the rope.’

‘Its at the front.’

I am completely vulnerable. I am conscious of that. I am tired. Beyond tired. ‘Be quiet’ I say. I say it again. My voice dies in the night. I listen for footsteps, other voices, noise? I wait for the thing that will come from the shore to get me from behind-the vice like grip on my neck as I am pulled into unforgiving jaws or for the thing that will come into the shallows and take my legs. I push the boat back into the water and search for the rope that is at the front.

‘I have found the rope’ –I say it out loud. ‘Grip the rope’ Fingers grip. How does that work. Its like magic. How my body obeys me. For a moment, through the fatigue, I am astounded by my body. Then I just lay down. I know I should not. I let the water wash over me. Heal my aching limbs, clean my body. Somewhere in the darkness, the blood and urine and faeces is swirling away. I am glad I can’t see it. It is taking the scent of me out into the ocean- for the predators to smell. I cannot stay here.

My voice is failing me. I look up at the night sky, at the clouds racing across the canvas of stars. I breathe in the air, taste it, smell it. I tell myself, in my head, it smells like France. I almost laugh, smells like France, the subtle hints of abandoned berets and fields of garlic drifting on the breeze- the remnants of used bike tyres and striped shirts tangible in the air. As if somehow the stereotype is captured in the very oxygen I breathe such that France is still here. There is no certainty. I’ve no idea if this was France once. The machine said it should be France but it was well past its best when it told me that. In so far as there is certainty in anything, I am certain this is not England. I lay for a long time until I feel clean, invigorated, hungry. The darkness seems quiet and I lay my head even my ears in the water and listen to my heart beat. To breath going in and out of my body-I remember those words, as long as there is breath in your body, you must go on, you must find a way. You must live. I am exhausted, hungry, tired. I will not remember the past. I let the anger go with the blood and the urine and the faeces. I haul myself up and out of the water. I prepare for the rest of the night and the morning, in my head –a checklist-breath in and out, on and on.

 

 

A job interview

I have a job interview tomorrow. I guess I should be pleased. I got it because I am 100% – human that is. They have to give you an interview if you apply and are 100% human under the disability laws.

I can’t remember when being 100% human became a disability, I think it was around the time when they had ‘solved’ all the other disability related issues. I like to think that solution was medical but there are endless rumours.

My mother says I have a chance tomorrow. I know I don’t. The panel must be made up of someone who is at least 60% human and the other can be a bot, cyborg, android-call it what you want- of any percentage. Of course all the other applicants will be some percentage or another. This job is unusual in that it requires you to be more than 50%. That is rare, and that kind of advertising is due to be outlawed soon, it favours us that are over 50% although it does no favours to the 100%.

My mother incidentally is 65%. She is thinking of reducing though-to  40%. She finds the whole emotion thing difficult. She looks at my life and the decisions I have made and is dumbfounded, hurt, exasperated. She cannot understand how she has produced a child who wishes to be 100%. Cannot understand why I can’t just get an implant, any implant to be just say, 97%. It doesn’t matter what I say to her about it she still doesn’t understand.

She says the whole emotion of it is going to force her to have an upgrade and if I start to earn money the decent thing would be for me to pay for that upgrade. I look at her and wonder whether her narcissism settings don’t need an adjustment and could I do that-morally-whilst she was sleeping.

Most days I go for a walk-I don’t see many people out walking-after all-only a 100% would be out walking without purpose. Something else which sends my Mum into a spin-purposeless walking. Why would anyone do that? I have tried to tell her it’s for exercise, to clear my mind, to get fresh air. Her response is clinical-and in this exact order. Number 1- You can get a bodily up grade anytime, just have a reboot. Number 2 – Your mind should never be clear, it should always be analysing data-no wonder you don’t have a job. Number 3 – Fresh air comes in a plastic bottle-how can you not know that? On the fresh air she has a point-all of the monitors say the air I am sucking in is likely killing me slowly, as if boredom isn’t.

My mother looks younger than me by a good 10 years and I suspect surgery and upgrades aside, that is owing to the air she breathes.

I will of course give the interview my best shot. It is what is expected, but there is always a test and even those over 50% will be able to switch on enough programming power to outdo my human brain or more likely to retrieve the answers from somewhere on the internet where the test will surely be found.

The interview is in the morning. I will pass the afternoon sitting in the park reading what passes as a book these days. No one publishes anything from anyone over 70% because hardly anyone is over 70% and well – if you are under 70% you are likely to think that stuff is good. I find it a tad formulaic which is the same reason they think it is so good.

I hear you, I get what you’re saying. Why not just upgrade, you would have a future then, get a job- be like them. But where is it all going-what are we going to look like in 10 years time-not aesthetically either-because obviously with bodily and facial upgrades  available-we can all look beautiful-not that beauty means anything anymore-when everyone has had an upgrade it just becomes meaningless- you can wake up today and look however you want and then change it tomorrow. There a site call Spectr-it matches people, like a dating site but its just a list of machine specs and they match you that way.

It works. I guess. I am not on it. They don’t take 100%’ers. I am on other dating websites but most of the profiles say the same thing, no 100%’ers wanted.

I look in the mirror. I am not the future of humanity. I am its past.

Chelsea plastic

‘It’ had to be old. No one young remembered this place. This was the Chelsea flower show-after it had gone completely plastic. A move designed to placate environmentalist and recycle some small amount of plastic. It also meant it could be open all year round- a win-win situation – it was a kind of ‘build it and people will come’ idea. They hadn’t really built it, so much as moulded and melted it.

Nobody had come in a long time. You could see by the dust. The plastic was fading. Plastic flowers had been blown over in the wind. Plastic leaves littered the path as if there had once been a plastic autumn. There was still a scent of fabricated flowers on the wind, mixed with the raw smell of hot plastic, muted over the years. She must have triggered a sensor that released some long forgotten chemical as the scent of fabricated flowers followed her in the breeze. The whole year thing had been a mistake by Chelsea-whoever she was. Someone who ran a flower show, she guessed. She remembered reading about it. No one came. It was in truth a shadow of itself in plastic-a kind of joke on a grand scale. People did not come out in all weathers to see a show of plastic flowers, in fact they didn’t come out in any weather to see plastic flowers.

She wandered into the abandoned café, there was a scone machine in the corner. Long unused, she swiped her card and some foul smelling gloop came out and then a swish of reddish jam. She caught the jam on her finger and ate it-sweet-artificial, but not a total waste of money.

She guessed ‘it’, this person or part person, people called them ‘pee-pee’s’ as a joke-she didn’t-  had chosen here because this place was deserted. The CCTV didn’t work and there was no chance of anyone else turning up. She wondered how long she would have to wait. These ‘people’-part people were so cautious, so worried. Scared. Their fear was made worse because it was something they couldn’t control or understand.

She recognised the gait and knew ‘it’ had arrived. An extraordinarily tall figure, weren’t they all-hadn’t they meddled with that as well. A hood covered its face. She knew what to expect, the chiselled perfection of youth. It approached, drew back its hood. This one was chiselled androgynous perfection, she couldn’t guess its gender from its features and its clothing hung loose and shapeless. Gender only helped with the serial number anyway-where to log it- where to look first when she came to record its passing.

Her first question, always impertinent, ‘How much?’

‘Sixty percent’ it had said. She guessed from the voice it had once been a human female.

‘Which way?’ she asked.

‘Human.’ it said.

She was making up her mind-this had once been female.

‘Let’s find somewhere to sit down.’ She led the way and sat next to some faded plastic purple foliage. She couldn’t tell what plant it was meant to be. Each flower was perfectly formed in plastic but the sun had faded them into different colours. It was a bit like the part people she dealt with. Perfectly formed but scarred in different ways.

She needed to make small talk, build trust.

‘Why here?’ Not that she cared particularly.

‘I came here as a child with my mother, when it was real, when I was real,’ it said.

She could hear the tension in her voice, she could smell the fear. The problem was when you were 40% machine and 60% human, the machine bits didn’t understand the human bits quite as well as they should and the result wasn’t something that was more rational, but something that was less able to control its irrational. It had been a fundamental misunderstanding of how human beings worked when they had gone down this path. It had been ok when they only had to make small decisions but the more pressure they came under the more rational and irrational clashed and the result was turmoil. They had been in charge with their super-charged brains and their long limbed perfection but the result had been abject failure, because they couldn’t manage to control themselves.

And then there had been climate change, sooner than anyone expected and they –these part humans had offered logical solutions and then ranted irrationally at the outcomes. We need to do this and that. There will be suffering but we will make it through. It had not gone so well. They had thought themselves invincible and then nature had decided they weren’t. A bit like the plastic flower show that stood here, you could see real grass poking up between the cracks in the pavement. Every so often a giant real life bushed covered and cowered plastic flowers into submission. They and their ideas had gotten less and less popular and they had panicked. Panicked and then- they had run. Simply, the few of them that had been in control took off. The rest and there weren’t a lot really- followed.

There had been a vacuum of power and a 100% human had stepped into the breach. They, the less than 100% were derided -attacked –hunted –blamed. Now they turned up in places like this, seeking help from people like her. They had found their conditions intolerable, the whole think illogical. How had it all happened? How is it that machine and mind did not work together to get the right result. Their experiment had not worked. They had found themselves out of control. At first they had been found curled up in the foetal positions in doorways but now it was more like this- an anonymous phone call, a plea for help. A steady trickle of calls to keep her in work.

Her job was simple, get the thing to trust you and it was easier to think of them as things rather than humans. Get it to trust you, get its serial number, record it. Find out as much as you can about it. Find out if it has any friends, anyone else who might be ‘part’ and then assist ‘it’ to terminate itself.

It was not the easiest job, these things were part human but they were not in control of the human bits, 60% human was not enough to control your human. Every time she saw one she would be struck by its beauty and then the conversation would start. They would ramble, sometimes unintelligible sentences, a list of their programming or their capabilities and then the rationality- could she help? They couldn’t cope anymore, this kept happening, that was happening, none of it made any sense, please could she help.  And all she ever asked for in return was a serial number.

The death would be relatively painless. This one was crying already, uncontrollable tears. She knew she would be sitting here amongst the Chelsea plastic for hours whilst it cried. She tried not to get too involved, it was hard to be empathetic when half way through the subject ‘it’ was talking on, the programming would kick in and a series of numbers would splurt out. ‘It’s’  mother had brought ‘it’ here as child when the flowers were real. The flowers had been plastic for her whole life span, it was a good thirty years before she was born they went plastic. This person-part person- must be over 100 years old and yet she looked 20. How many resources had ‘it’  consumed in that time. How much had ‘it’ taken from the planet to give back -nothing. It made her job easy. The androgynous perfection had a price everyone had paid for, the meshing of machine and human was just the final symptom that had led them here.

She smiled, tried to pretend she understood, clasped the oversized hand, adjusted cosmetically to fit the oversized body. She simpered at the old woman who looked young- ask only for the serial number. She looked at the old woman, more closely, looking for a sign of how to begin, how much had this thing taken from this planet in her 100 or so years-that was the easiest way to think of it.  She looked at the beautiful chiselled features that showed no emotion despite the tears, the perfect smile crossing the perfect face when the slightest bit of attention was given to it, the smile fading as the programming kicked in. The tall elegant thing that could no longer discern its memory from its memory storage facility, it would smile even at the end, reel off some numbers.

She looked around, she would leave it here amongst the plastic perfection, where it seemed to belong.

A moment of levity

That moment! Right there. Where your body and your mind – are – disconnected. Where the image that is physical and the image that is inside your head, are no longer held together. You are two images. Out of focus. Was that death visiting you? In your sleep? Passing over you, moving on to the person lying next to you.

How did you get to that state. Asleep. Your body is sleeping. Your mind. Awake. Disconnected. Just hovering. Slightly outside the boundaries of your skin. Peaceful. Soothing. Alarming. That you can be free of your mortal, physical, accident-prone self. A moment. That comes to you in the night. Not a dream. After a dream. Anchoring you to the world. Freeing your mind. A paradox. A moment of levity. Amidst the seriousness of sleep. A reminder that you and your body are attached.

That the boundary of one is the boundary of the other. Mostly. That they can slip, slide against each other.  But not uncouple. Is that what it was? That momentary peaceful. Alarming. Hovering of spirit over physical being. However slight. Is that why you slept on, happy in the thought of the possible and the possibility. In the night, in the darkness, a moment taken, a mind returned. Slumped back. Slammed! Crept in, Crawled. Swept. Alive. Awake. Attached again. In harmony. Coupled together, the body and the mind.

A blurring of the lines that grounds you in reality. A touching of the spirit. A wavering in the moment. Haven’t we all been there, curled in this world of hope. Undimmed and  unfaded.  A soothing balm to a bitter end in a tortured world. Won’t we all go there. Hover for that moment. That moment. That one moment alone. Between what is and what is no more. A moment that passes as our breath passes. Lightness before darkness. A seriousness of sleep. A moment of levity.

Legacy: Rowing

Just keep bloody rowing. What the hell do you do when you’re in the middle of the English channel –menstruating. Just keep rowing. The darkness is coming. Night time. I don’t know why I am surprised or taunted by it. Its like its personal. The absence of light, makes things worse. The stars will be beautiful and stunning but I will feel cheated as the light goes down. Keep rowing. The device is still working-just. I am still going the right way. I have factored in about 4-5 days and nights of rowing to get to land. The sea here is much calmer than it used to be, there are no ships to worry about. Nothing to concern me except food and water.

It’s monotonous. It’s tiring. I should have brought someone with me. The past. I should have brought something other than the past. My first thought is a book. As if you can read and row, You can’t. Instead I have the past for company. It is still with me. Inside of me. I think it’s not, it’s gone but at moments like this with the night closing in. Before the heavens glistening with stars, I know it has not left me. I know my heart will beat faster. I know my breath will become shallow. I know I need to focus on my arms, on keeping the rhythm. Row. Aching legs, sore butt, row, row, row. Rhythm and pace. Water and food

I think about the old lady. About her last breath under my hands. I think about all the death I have seen and the parts of it I have caused. Of course we caused most of it. Plastic toothbrushes, why do I always think of plastic toothbrushes.  As if one less plastic toothbrush would have made a difference. It was everything, all consuming, all of us consuming. Our whole life style got me here. Rowing across the channel, between England and France, both of which only exist in a meaningful way in my head. We swapped to bamboo toothbrushes an age ago. Didn’t we? Did we? Back when we had four safe and secure walls, a house, a home-wall paper. Beds. The list is long and pointless because all that stuff got me here.

I remember the Essex floods that took us south, to my mother in laws. I remember her house. Not our four walls anymore after that. Even though we lived on what passed for a hill in Essex, it was barely a mound and it had become an island. We had to row. Its where I first became good at it. As a matter of fact my first really big row was from Essex into Kent (which again was largely underwater and then into East Sussex. Names that haven’t fallen from my tongue or anybody else’s in years. A few days of rowing our belongings or what was left of them between the two houses. I think that is when he really left us. Two boats, lots of possessions-we left her at one end and went in convoy together. Him and me, but he was looking out over that sea.

I’ve no idea where he went, even when he went is a bit vague-a few months after we arrived. Maybe. One day he just didn’t come home. I don’t think I waited. Or cried or even mentioned it. He just never came back. I think maybe he died out there somewhere. Who knows. Lots of people died. I think probably he died. Otherwise why wouldn’t he have taken her. She was his daughter. Young. Valuable. Perhaps he knew the future that was to come and that he couldn’t protect her. I will never know. I still worked then. His mother was wheel chair bound. I had less compassion then. I hadn’t see so much suffering. I thought death was the worst of things and held no blessed relief.

I can’t even remember when we decided to go. Maybe I can. If I want to. I packed our things. She never asked. She knew. Nanny wasn’t coming with us. She couldn’t. Too much of a burden. We left before daylight, one day, one random day. Planned. Unplanned. Planned the time but not where we were going. Is that a plan?  Before the old woman was even awake. I put some fresh bread on the bedside table and a jug of water but we never went back. She died horribly, suffering probably calling out for us. For her probably but not for me. There would have been a point when she realised we were gone. That no one was coming. In hindsight, I should have been compassionate and ended her sleep quietly in the night rather than sneaking away. It was inhumane but I didn’t know that then. I hate to think that dogs found her or birds pecked at her or that god awful cat that hung around gnawed at her as she passed. Memory has no comfort. The stars, where are the bloody stars tonight.  

By the time we left, the lights had gone out. The power had stopped. The place smelled of sewerage. Clean water was hard to come by. Food was near non-existent. I grew things in the garden but it wouldn’t sustain us. Some nights I would get out of bed and flick all the light switches in the house on and then off again-but it was useless. I wanted to believe we’d blown a fuse or needed new bulbs but the truth -the power was gone. It was never coming back. It was matches and candles and things we couldn’t make anymore. There were a lot of empty houses. We took things. Wouldn’t you?

We went to London together, me and my daughter. Along dark tar roads, broken and torn by the weather. Filled with others like us, walking to nowhere. I can still hear cars in my head sometimes. But cars were long gone. Fossil fuels. They were the enemy. We just didn’t know it. London, we were headed for London. Not really London. It was outside the M25. Near Reigate, where we –well I was old and she was young. Not super young. Seventeen–able to take care of herself. It was a joint decision. There was space on one boat. I gave her everything I could. Just words mostly. No matter how bad it gets-live, breath, live I will find you.

Those early journeys into France or Spain weren’t so risky. Lots made it and then onto Africa, more risky but still lots made it. Maybe she did. But Africa had shrunk as well. Even now, when I go there, I can’t tell which bits have survived and which haven’t. It changed. It just changed like everything else. Less water, less land, different land, more people, less people, different people. Its hard to know where she would even have landed. I tell myself she did land and I will see her again. I tell myself I would know inside my head if she was gone. But the truth is I don’t spend a lot of time inside my head. I focus on the things I need to do to survive. I hope she does to. Pain is useless in the face of hunger. It simply weighs you down more. Lessens your chances of survival.

Row. Keep rowing. I keep rowing. Not seeing her getting into a boat. Not remembering that it was night time and dark and I lost sight of her even at the dock.

I remember her smell and her smile. The colour of her hair. My arms ache. The tears are coming. I focus. The tears will do me no good out here. I have to survive. The way she has to survive.

I look even now when I see a group. Him, the old lady I can barely make out their faces in my head but she is there, golden and shining and waiting. I stop rowing. I must focus.

There is so much blood, its like puberty in reverse. I remember puberty, hers, mine. Not enough food for her to even have a period at the end and here I am positively gushing Row, just row, on and on.

France is waiting. She spoke French, did a year of it at school. Better at Spanish. It would be enough. Would it? How could I know. You hear rumours about the fate of the children of Europe in the camps of Africa. I am fortunate. I came later, when humanity seems to have returned, although for my part I am not sure Africa is a continent it ever left. I think it might have been us, we might have been the ones that turned a blind to humanity and the price we have paid, when I think of it, is perhaps not so undeserved. I sob. I row. I try and focus. It is dark. I am wet. There is blood everywhere and still I have no choice. Breathe is going in and out of my body. I have to live. Survive. Go on.