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Another – Another motorway services cliché

Its such a cliché, I am sitting in a motorway services, drinking coffee and trying to remember how my mother took over the internet, how she murdered, stole, lied, faked being an international crochet judge. I am the person in the movie staring into their coffee wondering why they never knitted for their daughter….read more

They said it was voluntary, which I took to mean, voluntary or else we will make you.

It’s the same two officers as before, only they look more tired. I note one is still wearing some kind of crochet number-seriously the police should think about banning crochet items.

She starts, ‘Maureen Bitman, did your mother ever mention her?’

‘No’ I say. I shuffle in my seat. I am sitting down but I am not going to take it that way.

I can ask questions too.

I go on the offensive. This is voluntary.

 ‘I think we talked about this before?’ They change tack.

‘In the 5 years in which you NEVER’ (and she emphasises that word-but frankly not visiting my mother is no longer a source of guilt for me-I think she realises it and starts again).

‘In the 5 years in which you never visited your mother, did she ever write to you, email you.’

I shake my head, ‘I got regular report cards from the nursing home like everyone else, nothing out of the ordinary, your Mum enjoys the Friday shows, she knits and sews.’ I know those are untrue now but at the time I thought she’d found a new hobby. I don’t say that. I am giving nothing away.

The one who’d been talking, nods at me.

The other one passes a leaflet across the table and waits to see my reaction. On it is a face I now recognise, Maureen Bitman. It’s a flyer for a tour she is doing for arts and craft, a motivational speaking tour to every nursing home in the south east. I have nothing to say so I go with, ‘So.’ It sounds confrontational. It’s not the tone I wanted. I was aiming for careless indifference.

‘Look at the venues.’ one of them says. I am too busy thinking about my own words to pick up on which one spoke.

Of course it went to my mothers nursing home about a month after she moved in.

‘Your mother and Maureen Bitman, we think they met.’ It’s the one in the crochet jacket again.

I nod but say nothing. I don’t want to say ‘So’ again.

She goes on,  ‘We think they knew each other well.’

I go on the offensive again. I really can’t help them here. ‘I wouldn’t know, I didn’t see her during that time.’ I am polite but firm, whatever the hell that means.

‘They didn’t like each other,’ the two of them look at each other as if they are playing out their own little drama with this interview, ‘well at first they did, but after about a year, your mother refers to her as ‘Bitters’, then ‘Bitso’, then finally just ‘Bit’.’ She spits out the last word and avoids eye contact with her partner. If I didn’t know better I’d say they’d moved slightly apart in that exchange. It makes me wonder even more if this is about my mother or them.  

None of that stuff about my mother really resonates, I wonder what they are trying to get at.

‘We’d like you to look through their email correspondence, see what you think? See if you can spot a reason why they fell out.’

‘I don’t want to.’

She says, ‘It’s voluntary of course’, only it sounds menacing, well as menacing as someone wearing a crochet jacket can be. I take it to mean I have to or else.

I start to read, this is my mother’s personal correspondence, not ever meant for me to see. They start by talking about grand children. Maureen has one tucked away somewhere as well. I keep reading, they move on to philosophy, then arts and crafts, where they heavily diverge. Maureen is convinced the future of the internet is an arts and crafts collective, my mother is convinced it should be for use by over 70’s only. My eyes prick with tears and this must be what they want. There is no mention of me. Nothing, it’s like I didn’t exist. Lots on my daughter, even my husband is mentioned, but not me, never me.

I collect myself. I focus. In my head, I’ve got this -no matter how perturbed I am,  ‘I guess they disagreed about the future of the internet.’ I sound casual. Unflustered. Focussed.

‘Guess they did?’ She sounds matter of fact. I am not sure if I am affirming what she said or if it’s a new idea. She tries a different tack as if I am withholding information.

‘Been on Wikipedia lately?’

Stupid question, why would I be on Wikipedia, ‘No,’ I say, shaking my head. I know what’s coming next. This is the bit where I should tip back my chair casually and give them a look of defiance, but I will likely tip my chair over so I settle for a sip of water. I drink defiantly though and set it down closer to me, not even bothered by the ring of water it’s left behind. I am in the groove now. I know why they’re asking about Wikipedia. I even know the theory behind it. The idea is that my mother was trying to get more elderly women on to Wikipedia whilst in her nursing home and they kept rejecting her and now she is taking vengeance on them. Is it true? How would I know? I don’t even care anymore. I look at them, meet their gaze. Seriously I can see the marks other glasses of water have made on this table. A proper police station would have coasters. I am in control now.

‘You know your mother has restricted it to entries for people over the age of 75, its more like an octogenarian dating site than a fount of all knowledge now.’

They mean Wikipedia. I nod. I know.

‘Plus’ she goes on ‘there’s the whole mobility scooter thing, what are they called, Muberscoot, that company moving in on mini cab territory. We think she’s behind that too.’

Then the other one chimes in-‘we think in her spare time in that nursing home she wrote some Wikipedia profiles and they were all rejected. Coincidental?’

I say nothing. Everyone thinks that. Its hardly a secret. Even I’ve heard it. Sounds like my mother, its probably true. They won’t get me this way. I am made of ice and steel. I hold their gaze. I want to say something like, get some coasters or crochet looks rubbish on a cop but I hold it in. I am ice today.

‘Your mother- she has a mean streak’ I want to roll my eyes at this one, the body count kind of indicates that. So tempted to say it but I don’t. I just stare.

‘Seems like if you make an enemy of her, you pay for it in the end.’ They look at each other for the first time. They think I am about to crack.

‘Our question to you is-who’s next?’ She leans across the table and looks at me. I can see the hook and eye on the crochet jacket really closely now. It’s a botch job, even I know that. Focus. These people seem to think I have some insight into my mothers activity. I don’t. I find her as mystifying as everyone else, I just don’t worship her the way they do.

‘Oh god as if I would know.’ It sounds tough, determined. Like my mother then I just –I don’t want to be my mother and I lose it for a second. I am flippant, its momentary, I shouldn’t have said it but I say. ‘Maybe you?’ I say out loud, stupidly, without any feeling behind it. It sounds desperate. I am not ice or steel. More like jelly.

They are on it straight away-‘is that a threat?’

‘No’ I backtrack, shake my head, ‘No’, now I sound really desperate, ‘I’ve no idea who my mother hates most of all.’  I sound pathetic and childish and I can hear my voice cracking. I keep thinking of some of those mothers at the school gates who my mother loathed and who should be shaking in their shoes right now.  

‘No’ I say emphatically, ‘Is that it?’ I ask, I think I might be shaking.

They nod. Clearly dissatisfied. I broke but not when they thought I would. A small victory. I get up and leave.

My daughter is home when I get there. I ask her how school was. Look she says and shows me the card she has made for mother’s day.

The card reads ‘Happy Grandma Day’.

‘But it’s mother day,’ I say.

‘No, nanna has changed it, its only for grandparents now, fathers day too.-just for grandpas.’

I look at her, stunned.

‘Its on the internet thing Mum,’

Then she says, ‘You’ve never knitted me anything.’ in a determined kind of way.

‘Nor has daddy and nor has grandma’ I say with too much sarcasm for a 7 year old.

‘Grandma doesn’t think you’re doing a very good job.’ She says that very determinedly.

I don’t feel I’m doing a very good job, I hold my tongue. Grandma on the other hand is doing a grand job on all of us.  

A device beeps in the background, she runs to it.

‘Whats that?’ I say.

‘Nicebook’ she says.

‘Nicebook?’

‘Gran made it, its social media for kids, there’s words you can’t use and its moderated by grandparents and everyone gets likes, everyone.’

I am suddenly more horrified. ‘Does it have a newsfeed?’

‘Only kittens and puppies’

Its like a wave just washes over me. She is completely insane. I don’t say it out loud but I am thinking it. She is utterly mental. Psychotic. Narcissistic. Every word I can think of-she is. Now I am shaking. SHE doesn’t think I am doing a very good job. What sort of role model is ‘she’

‘Mummy needs to go out, tell the bot to get you dinner.’ I grab the keys, my coat and run out the door.

I get in the car and drive at snails pace behind the mobility scooters. In the general milieu its impossible to change lanes without bumping a dozen mobility scooters into the hedge. I end up on the motorway and then at the motor way services.

I pull up and go in. I want coffee.

Its such a cliché, I am sitting in a motorway services, drinking coffee and trying to remember how my mother took over the internet, how she murdered, stole, lied, faked being an international crochet judge. I am the person in the movie staring into their coffee wondering why they never knitted for their daughter, having just made it through a police interview about their mother, the serial killer fraudster, fake crochet judge. I sit there and try and remember how Uma Therman played that role and  I can’t.  I just can’t.

Rome: A Manual holiday

Bedsores and pixelated fish, I did not enjoy the virtual Maldives…read more 

In my defence, I did look online and it did say in the small print-they do manual holidays.

It’s weird how technology changes things. It’s so inconsistent. It’s hard to know what drives it. Why do some things become completely different and some don’t. Only one thing stays the same, somehow the masses always get the off cuts.

I am sitting in a travel agency – looking across a desk at someone who may or may not be human-I can’t tell. Certainly there will be a human supervisor in here somewhere and it could be her.

She smiles. I smile-it’s a holiday shop-she’s happy, I’m going to be happy, it’s how it works.

I always preferred holiday shop to travel agent and now it’s more accurate.

She starts, ‘Where would you like to go?’

‘Rome,’ I say, sounding more nervous than I should.

‘Ooh, its really popular, which century?’, she says enthusiastically. I am wearing my best clothes so I look respectable and believable.

‘Real time,’ and I pause because here is where it gets difficult. Then I just think- no don’t be intimidated- keep going! The words just come out,  ‘I want to physically go to Rome.’

She looks at me oddly.

‘Of course.’ she says but I can tell she doesn’t understand me.

I say it again, ‘Actually physically go to Rome.’

This time she gets it. She leans back in her chair and looks at me.

‘You mean actually go to Rome! Physically, in person, as in- taking your body to Rome?’

I nod. She’s a robot, I can tell because it occurs to her that her body and the rest of her aren’t one cohesive unit. She can be re-programmed, or re-souled as they now call it. I always think the obvious-we’ve been able to do that with shoes for a long time, lets not overhype the fact that we can do it with a robot. I should point out that I am in a minority on this point.  

‘Rome-Is that even possible?’ She realises she probably shouldn’t have said that-customer service and all.

‘Yes.’ I say. She looks flustered, in what I now see is a slightly mechanical way, an inhuman twist of the mouth I only just manage to catch.

‘I’ll see if it’s still actually there.’ She is back on track now, ‘some of these European cities, they’re just in virtual reality now. They don’t really exist.’ She is talking to me like I am five years old but she gets the idea.

‘Its ok,’ I say, ‘I checked and it is still there.’ I nod my head again.

‘Right,’ she says looking more flustered, ‘so a bus then?’  She looks down at the screen.

‘I think I’d need a plane- there’s some water in the way.’

She leans back in her chair and looks at me again.

‘A plane as in- a plane-like a flying thing type plane.’ There is just a hint of panic in this statement now.

I nod.

‘I don’t think we have them anymore. I mean-can you fly one?’

‘No ideally there’d be a pilot.’

She looks at me even more oddly. ‘How about Bath?’ I am beginning to worry about her programming, whether I am undermining it a bit. I’m sure there’s an offence about that, vexatious confusion of a near sentient being or something. I’ve no desire to be fined for something unintentional.

I keep at it, ‘No really my heart is set on Rome, in real time, actually going there.’

‘You mean manual travel, as in taking your actual body to Rome?’ Clearly I have not quite got through to her yet.

‘Yes.’

At this point I am worried her chair is going to tip over, she is leaning so far back.

‘We had someone take a bus to Bath last year.’ she says

‘Not Bath, Rome-plane, not bus.’

‘You know that you can go virtually to Rome, any time period at all?’

I sit back now, ‘I know but I physically want to go there. In person, me.’

Now she is sitting back and I am sitting back. An impasse

The woman in the chair next to me is booking her virtual holiday and the agent is asking her all the usual questions, How do you want to appear to other people on holiday? Do you want to appear taller on holiday, do you want to be thinner, do you want to be tanned, have a day of sunburn, eat etc etc. Do you want us to handle your social media in virtual reality or do you have a provider? Because virtual holidays are not like you think. Its not some waltz through a different reality, it’s more of a half way house. You get a chair and a headset and an avatar-well an avatar that everyone else can see on your holiday. Its controlled by some kind of high tech link to your brain and a lot of twitching, but basically you are sitting still and it is moving around and you have the sensation of moving but actually you are largely still. Its not quite how virtual reality was promised to us because that is hugely expensive, this way is cheap and efficient and much better for the environment.

The options for a virtual holiday are endless. You can appear as someone else, you can even be someone famous. You can have a great time or alternatively you can be robbed at knife point, you can be sun burned or tanned, you can eat what you want and never put on an ounce because you are actually fed intravenously the whole time. All of it, almost event can be pre planned, everything -except you can opt for a surprise box-which is a random event that will occur in your holiday, most people don’t. You can change options midway through, you simply find a virtual kiosk and change your plans. Depending on what that change is, it will either be free or cost more.

I did a virtual holiday to the Maldives last year. It was a group tour. I was the only one who didn’t choose the taller and thinner option. I also thought the whole virtual reality thing looked a bit cartoonish around the edges. I went snorkelling and some of the fish were pixelated. Plus there were issues around water temperature. I should have asked for a refund

It was only 5 days but 5 days too long. Plus after sitting in a chair for 5 days despite the best efforts of being fed intravenously and the physio-bots (and you need that because you don’t really move at all), I had bedsores. I should have sued. Bedsores and pixelated fish, I did not enjoy the virtual Maldives.

It’s hard to explain what these ‘package’ virtual tours are like, aside from telling you they are not like holidays at all. Basically at some point airports and planes got fitted with row upon row of chairs each with a ‘virtual reality headset’, its like economy class on a long haul flight only worse. You sit there on your package holiday and it happens to you and they feed you and massage your muscles so you can stand up at the end. It’s meant to be amazing but its horrendous. The smell of the place when you first walk in, oh  did I forget to mention the irrigation required to remove the waste-lets not forget that. Use your imagination.

Anyway some people love it because you can go anywhere and look like anything. Mostly holidays are populated with very thin, very tall, very annoying people who can’t afford their own platform to actually move about in a proper virtual reality.

I can see the travel agent still staring at me. She gets up and goes over to another woman. They are looking at me and conferring-I wonder if they are going to call the police-they might think I really am some kind of nuisance time waster type person on some kind of vexatious programming mission. I try not to panic. I just want to go to Rome.

The other woman comes over to me. ‘Hi I’m Jenna.’ she says, very slowly,  ‘And you are?’

I try and figure out whether to give a fake name, I don’t, ‘Tuesday I say-after the day of the week.’

‘Well Tuesday’ and now she is talking at me like I’m a five year old, even slower than before,  ‘We specialise in virtual tours, we don’t do man-u-al holidays.’ She spells out each syllable.

‘But your website,’ I start.

‘Wrong’ she says loudly and crisply and looks down at me.

They both just stand there, staring at me. I start to redden. I feel uncomfortable. I reach down and grab my bag, push the chair back, pick up my coat. I stumble out a ‘Thank you’, followed by a mumbled ‘Sorry’ and leave.  

I wonder what would happen if I just started walking, kept walking, found the water, a boat, kept going, just went to Rome. Can you even do that anymore. Maybe not. I’ve no idea. I can see them looking out of the window to make sure I have gone. They don’t want me back. I will go home, find a virtual tour. Was it so bad- after a few weeks the bed sores healed and really the only fish left in this world are pixelated and I should count myself lucky that I even know what a real one looks  like.

The dentist

 Imagine terminator in a dental chair and tell me that isn’t your worst nightmare….read more

I look at the door. I have no idea why I’ve come here. It doesn’t look promising. This is where you end up if you don’t use proper dental equipment. If I’d thought about it I would have cancelled, it can be difficult but there’s always a way. I could have uploaded data from someone else’s toothbrush and said mine was temporarily not working or something.

Here -is the dentist, only not how I remember it. Not one of those cheap dental x-ray booths in the shopping mall either. I don’t think they work anyway, they are backed by private dentists I’m sure. This place, this is an NHS dentist.

It’s been 6 years now since dentistry was made free on the NHS, only the NHS has robodents-that’s what they call them-stupid name and not clever. If you fail to brush properly and they are watching, well not watching but collecting data from your toothbrush, you have to attend a centre like this one-a robodent-like I said stupid name.

This place looks very low key, squeezed between a charity shop and the high street bookies-how is  it when even my tooth brushing is checked, the bookies is still here.  I struggled to even find the entrance, there was a vaguely human looking model on the front door with white teeth but the name of the place had long since been removed and the number half scratched away. It looks deserted, probably everyone else brushes their teeth. I brush mine but – I went manual awhile ago. My toothbrush can’t even connect to any device. I found it in an online antique store-slightly used but still usable.

When I push open the door, there’s a pile of dust at the bottom step that someone hasn’t moved. It otherwise looks clean and clinical. I guess no one pays much attention to the place, there’s no need, my device will tell me the way and also when I’ve arrived, except-well I often switch off location-something for which I can be fined-for a moments privacy I live with the odd fine.

I go up the stairs. The place feels empty. There are still human dentists but you have to pay for them. They are expensive. I can’t afford it-probably too many ‘You have switched off your location, you will now be fined’  fines. This place is eerie.

I approach the reception desk. The receptionist doesn’t notice me. She is not human, noticeably not human. I think it’s the skin, well the silicon or whatever it is. You can see it has the wrong lustre even from a distance. She is dressed in her neat clinical uniform. I clear my throat to draw attention to myself but I know it won’t work. She has eyes, glass ones that can’t see. I can see that one of her eyes has fallen out and is resting on her cheek. I can see the wires and it makes my stomach churn. I hate the sight of failing tech. She will only sense my device and not me.

She needs some maintenance. I can see now there is a stain on her uniform and the hem of it is down. The place smells a bit, like its been cleaned of germs but somehow the stains of dirt have remained. That’s often the case when a machine cleans somewhere. All the germs are dead but the dirt remains. This is not a good sign, perhaps it’s awhile since anyone has been here. I take out my phone and switch on location and wait a minute. The machine in front of me-the one with only one eye, picks up my location, who I am, where I am. She turns and smiles. She does have perfect teeth. I try to avoid looking at the eye perched on her cheek out of politeness, not that she would notice.  

‘Hello’ she says in what is meant to be a calm soothing voice, but is actually just slightly too mechanical. ‘The dentist will see you now.’

I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so prompt but I guess because of how it works, it is just very efficient. I smile back but she does not react. The eyes don’t see anything. It is quite spooky.

She points at a door, ‘Through there’ she says and this time rather than smile, I send an emoji and I can see she gets it and she understands.

I walk to the door, take a breath and go in. I hear the door lock behind me, an electronic lock. I cannot escape until it is finished.

A voice says, ‘Please put your bag on the floor and hang your coat on the hook.’ It waits for me to do that but I have no coat. I put my bag on the floor and ping the hook as if my coat is on it.

‘Oops’ it says sensing something but not the weight of my coat,’ I think you’re coat fell on the floor’ There is no way around this, I once had to hang my trousers on a hook. I am better at it now. I know how these sensory coat hooks work, I grab it again and pull it down and hold it for a few seconds. It senses the weight of me and thinks it’s my coat and is satisfied it is hanging.

The whole room smells slightly odd again.

The voice continues. ‘Can you see the chair in front of you?’

‘Yes’ I say.

‘Take a seat’.

I slide onto it gingerly. Its not that I don’t like the idea of a robotic dentist, its just that I feel more comfortable with humans. I’m the same with my hair, I have it cut by a human when I can. Being honest robotic hairdressers aren’t that good which you’d know if you could see my current cut.

‘Lean back’ it says.

I do.

 ‘Don’t be nervous’ it says.

How can you avoid being nervous. There isn’t a single human in the place. If something goes wrong, there is only me against a bunch of machines. Imagine terminator in a dental chair and tell me that isn’t your worst nightmare.

It’s just so eerie. There must have been human dentists here once. In fact as I look around there is a lot of dust on surfaces that are no longer used and there is even a disused old coffee cup on the floor in the corner. Probably left by the last person who did maintenance here-this was a human dentists room once. Some woman plied her trade with wide mouthed individuals. They talked, they laughed-maybe not that-but the conversation was pleasant, ordinary. This is clinical, mechanical, terrifying. I want a soothing voice but it sounds like a machine. I am alone here. No dentist, no nurse, just me and the chair and a machine.

‘Open you mouth’-it’s a command not a request. It could as easily be talking to a dog.

I open my mouth. I don’t even know how it knows I have opened my mouth. I wished I knew that, how does it know my mouth is open because frankly that is critical to what happens next.

Suddenly the light is on above me and its blinding. I want to ask them to make it less bright but I can’t because I can’t possibly close my mouth, plus there is no one to ask.

I can hear something moving towards me but I can’t see it. I clutch the edge of the chair and look away from the light. It knows! How does it know. I wished I’d research this.

‘You have to stay still now, shall we try again’. Is it me or is that a more menacing voice, slightly threatening.

Before we try again, strange padded pad things come up the side of my face holding it in place. They are not pushing against me but they are firm. I feel like an animal, trapped. I can see the light but nothing else. I can’t move my head. My mouth is still open. My mouth is trapped open. How does it know  exactly where my mouth is. What it if takes out my eye, I read that somewhere, I am sure I read that somewhere. I should have paid for a human dentist. I should have shoved a thousand deadening pills into myself before I came.

I can hear the machine-whatever it is –it’s coming closer. The light is still blinding. I want to scream but if it doesn’t examine my teeth now what will the next step be. How menacing does it get?

It’s in my mouth now, I know that. It’s louder than I thought, moving from tooth to tooth. I can hear it buzzing and still the light is so bright. I want to be ill but who knows what chaos that would cause. Then I know that is what the faint smell was when I walked in, human vomit, cleaned up by a machine. I bet if I examined the floor, the germs would be gone but the residue would remain. I hate this. I am terrified. There is nothing I can do but lay there with my mouth open, eyes wide with terror. Be still.

It taps each tooth, it’s taking an x-ray as it goes.

It is slow and a little more brutal than I’d like. When it goes to the back of my mouth it stretches the side of my lips and there is no way to say it hurts or to tell it to stop. All the time it is saying nothing but silently whirring. Recording information. I hate this. I try and focus. I will get through this.

I sit there paralysed in terror. Maybe for 10 minutes whilst it examines every tooth. At one point the whirring stuttered and I wonder if I will end up stuck here, unable to extract myself from this chair with the machine broken and inserted in my mouth. I wonder if every other dental surgery in this place is full of patients that got stuck here when the machinery broke. I wonder how often a real human ever turns up to check that everything is working. I wonder if this is a second rate machine because that’s all the NHS can afford. I wonder whether all those location fines are worth this.

I can hear its endless whirring as it moves slowly in my mouth. It says nothing.

Not relax your tongue or anything. It is clinical, mechanical and terrifying.

It is up to me to keep my tongue in check. I sit still. I focus. I will get through this. I swear after this I will save money and keep the location on my phone on. I will never let a machine do this again.

It is taking a long time.

I wonder what happens if the power shuts down and I am just stuck here. I wished I’d put a supply of food in my pocket- I will be trapped, or at least my head is trapped in this chair. I even wished I brought a coat to keep warm. These doors never unlock in a power failure. I could be here for days, weeks, I could die in here with this stupid thing in my mouth all for some sentimental idea about how I’d like to clean my teeth the way I used to, without the state checking I am doing it properly.

Finally the light goes off and I can see the instrument on the mechanical arm that has been in my mouth, being retracted back into wherever it came from. Over on the desk, which is just some kind of overhang because no human ever sits there anymore, something else starts to whirr away.

The pads that were holding my head begin to retract as well, the chair comes back to the upright position. I sit up. I have made it. I wait for what seems like a long time. Too long but I know I can’t leave until it says.

‘Your teeth are healthy but you have some gum trauma.’

If there was a real dentist here, I would ask what that was.

‘You have been over-brushing, over-brushing leads to gum trauma.’

Thanks I say out loud to a room that doesn’t hear me.

‘To prevent gum trauma’ The voice stops momentarily. I wait. It starts again.

‘we have rewritten the program for your’ the next word takes awhile as well.

‘toothbrush’.

‘We have sent the program to your device’

I go to my bag and there is my device with an emoji with huge teeth on it.

‘Just click on the emoji when you get home,’ and again there is a wait.

‘and the program will be transmitted to your toothbrush.’

‘Thank you’ I say, but no one hears.

The door unlocks behind me and that is it.

I put my back over my shoulder and ping the coat hook as if I have removed my coat.

I go out past reception without acknowledging the receptionist who can’t see me anyway.

This is how it is now. I had to go to the dentist because my records show I haven’t used my toothbrush in a year. But the truth is I have a manual one, a real one, an unconnected one. I brush my teeth myself without any data download. I just hide in the bathroom and brush my teeth, but I have done that for the last time. I do not want to come here again.

I know I will click on the emoji when I get home. I know from now on I will need to use the electric toothbrush or risk a fine. They will know by now that I have wasted resources on a dental visit when in fact I have brushed my teeth just not with a state sanctioned electric brush. They are probably tracing the purchase as I leave. Another fine. I need to accept, I need to change. I have used a manual toothbrush. I have knowingly used a manual toothbrush. I have drained the state of resources which were not mine to use. I feel guilty even as I leave. That is how they do it though isn’t it. There will be an email when I get home, maybe even a shaming on social media. I don’t think about it. I think about how nice it felt to hold my own toothbrush in my hand, to brush my teeth myself, to control it. I won’t do it again.

 

Geriatric-another motorway services cliche

this is such a cliché-two women having coffee in a motorway services where the mother of one has covered up the death of the other’s mother and the one who’s mother is guilty is saying how much she loves her mother…read more

 

The woman sitting across from me is suited and booted. Neat, tidy and glossy. I wished I’d thought to wear something other than jeans. At the very least I should have worn jeans that fit. I have no jeans that fit. I am already making a bad impression and I haven’t even spoken yet. We are here because of my mother. I am not sure why but this crime, this impersonation of an international crochet judge always feels like the worst of her offences. I think it’s because no one has ever been charged with it before. Other people have done hacking, murder, theft, but this one just feels like-well it’s the one that sets her apart. It’s the one that garners the headlines. It’s the one that smacks of desperation, of dereliction, of total deviancy. And a whole raft of other ‘d’ words I can’t remember.

I didn’t even want to open her email when I saw it. She wants to see me. Her-the woman whose mother my mother impersonated after her mother was dead, Maureen Bitman’s daughter.

Here I am again, at another motorway services, trying to pretend I know what to do. Trying to think of what to say to this woman. I didn’t look her up on social media. I just couldn’t bring myself to do that. I know she was all over the news when it happened. I know my mother was responsible. I know my mother hacked her social media, what could looking her up possibly tell me.

I should have looked her up, that would be respectful. Would it? I suppose I would at least have recognised her when she came towards me. I had a vision of what she should look like. She isn’t like that of course. In my head, she had long grey hair and a wrinkled face and she was wearing quilted trousers and a vague coloured undershirt with a crochet knit jacket over the top. She was the epitome of arts and crafts. My ill-fitting jeans look positively glamorous in comparison, they would put her at ease.

Her mother was the worlds no 1 crochet judge so I know just how she should look. Its just that she doesn’t look like that and I still look like this. I guess she has just inherited a multi million pound empire off the back of her mothers work so she is- corporate. Suited and booted. And I am all baggy jeans and a shirt even my mother wouldn’t wear. Although I am not sure what my mother is wearing these days. There are rumours of a calendar, I hope they aren’t true.

I have no doubt this woman is here to discuss how my mother somehow covered up her mother’s death. I don’t think my mother actually killed her mother, at least not directly. She might have got a machine to do it. But there’s no getting past that my mother posed as her mother after her mother had died.

I stare into my coffee. I can’t  meet this woman’s gaze. I think I’m blushing with shame at something I didn’t do. I think it makes my clothes even more unacceptable in comparison. I look like I haven’t taken it seriously.

She speaks first, ‘You’re not what I expected?’

Might as well start with an apology, ‘Sorry’.

I am mumbling. I am never what anyone ‘expected’. Everyone expects my mother, but younger. Everyone who meets me now is disappointed. I am not my mother. I am not the one committing crimes, I am the one trying to hold on to a world that my mother is ripping away from me.

She tries again, ‘You’re not at all like your mother.’

That gets my attention. Alarm bells go off in my head.

I look at her and the slow dawning hits me. The words stumble out of my mouth, ‘You’ve met my mother?’

She nods.

I close my eyes, ‘Recently?’

She looks at me, as if she can see everything I am thinking.

‘Yes.’ she says loudly and clearly.

I freeze. I am not here to apologise, because my mother has clearly probably –has she apologised?

It occurs to me then how little I know my mother. How I am just not ‘her’ in a way other daughters sometimes are. I haven’t become her as I got older. I am so insignificant in comparison. All the excitement in my life comes from being her daughter and not from being me.

I have nothing to say.

She keeps looking at me. A slow steady gaze as if she is seeing my unease and is trying to reassure me. I must be reading the signals wrong.

‘I love my mother.’ Its all I can think of to say.

It such a cliché, this whole thing- I want to scream out that sentence-this is such a cliché-two women having coffee in a motorway services where the mother of one has covered up the death of the other’s mother and the one who’s mother is guilty is saying how much she loves her mother. How many movies has that scene appeared in? I’ve seen it so many times on screen but its not like it is on the screen.

Fuck even the clichés in my life belong to my mother. Where is my resolve. I suck in my tummy and try to look thinner, more chic, as if my shirt isn’t light purple with flowers on the sleeves. I try and look like I might be my mother’s daughter.

The woman notices and gives a wry smile. ‘Late bloomers, your family.’

It’s a statement, not a question. I clench my hands, ‘Why did you want to see me?’

‘Why do you think?’ She passes a brown envelope across the table to me.

I look blankly at the envelope. Is it for me? Is it money? I am lost in the situation.

‘I don’t know.’ I blurt out. That at least is honest. She pushes the envelope even closer. It’s A4 size so probably not money.

‘My mother was a top international crochet judge’, she says coolly.

The only answer that comes to mind is to say, “well my mother is a top international criminal,” but I can’t say that aloud to this woman. I cringe inside and the only other words that form don’t come out right at all.

‘Tell me something I don’t know’ I say childishly.

And she does.

‘People loved her but she was cold and selfish and all she cared about was wool and needles. I could have died from cold in some of the clothes that woman dressed me in. Crochet garments are full of holes, full-of- holes! Do you know what its like to live in the north and be dressed by a mad woman who makes clothes full of holes. I didn’t much care for what your mother did but it didn’t bother me.’

She pauses and a moment of pain washes over the manicured smoothness of her face. It’s suddenly there and then gone as if she might have cared but only momentarily.

‘And then I met her- in person- your mother. Funny isn’t it. She’s lovely. Warm. Caring. Attentive. Everything you could want in a mother.’

My ears are literally bleeding at this point, I feel compelled to point out, ‘She has killed several people.’

The woman is soft, wistful now. ‘I know, but those things can be forgiven. ‘

What planet is she living on, although I grant you the internet does seem to have forgiven my mother or my mother controls it-hard to say which.

This woman though-is truly deranged. ‘Really.’ I say. Thinking I might dress badly but I do live in reality.

The envelope sits between us. I am feeling the pressure. Another someone my mother has won over with her doddery old grandma, don’t you love me act. Granted, it may not be an act but you know what I mean.

She smiles, ‘You are so lucky, Your mother loves you.’

At this point it all becomes too much. I confess I lose it.  The tension just gets me. This woman has seen my mother. Has not turned her in. I have seen my mother, not turned her in. None of it makes any sense.  I stand up. It’s as if I am not in my body. I see the middle aged saggy jeaned, lilac shirted woman standing there and she is shouting but it’s not me shouting, but it is me shouting. I can hear myself-  ‘Are you deranged? My mother is a serial killer, a thief, a hack, a faker of international crochet judge status.’

Now everyone in the motorway services is looking at me.

The unthinkable happens.

The woman across from us on the left stands up and says ‘ Are you, are you her daughter. OMG can I have a selfie.’

I freeze but the selfie is done and then it is just an endless stream of motorway services selfies, that social media category that has started a thousand careers. I am trapped and the suited and booted, neat and glossy woman slips away. The envelope sits on the table.

I am all over social media, my picture everywhere. There is no escape. The police will see it. I will need to explain.

I sit in the car 40 minutes and 4000 selfies later. I have the envelope in my hand. Inside pinned to a pile of papers is a note in the neatest hand writing I have ever seen.

‘They lied to you. Before your mother, there was another one. The one for whom the law was made. Don’t bother searching for her on-line, they don’t give women like that Wikipedia pages (although your mother might soon). Then crosses which are kisses and her name-Helena.’

Attached are a whole bunch of old documents. I read the note again-don’t bother searching for her-for who my mother, this other woman, Helena. I don’t get the context from the hand written note, why didn’t she email or text, context is so difficult without emoji’s.

Then I look at the documents. They are really old-20th century. The law, that law-faking international crochet judge-there was another, the first one-why is she telling me this. This woman has been dead for 100 years and there is no Wikipedia page-surely she must be nobody.

I am clutching the wheel. My head is reeling. My mother is not the first to fake being an international crochet judge.

I am not my mother’s daughter. These are the only words coming out of my mouth as I slip the car into gear and slink away in first. I want to do the whole journey home in first gear as if going slow on the motorway will ensure that no one notices me. The problem is that since my mother went rogue every mobility scooter in the country is on the motorway and everyone else has had to cope-by driving in first gear. I will just be one of many.

I want to yell and scream at her. She has ruined my life. Turned the world on its head and she doesn’t care.

Legacy: The Bramble Patch

How long did I lay in that water. I feel invigorated or I have hypothermia-not sure which. I stand dripping in the darkness trying to get my eyes to adjust, to see more but they are sore-itchy from the salt. I feel stupid. I smell better.

I pull the boat higher up. I can hear it scrunch on the pebbles and I can feel that there was a line of plastic of all kinds at the shore line. The beach is probably littered with it. I still can’t see where the beach ends and the land starts. It could be 10 feet, it could be a mile. I smell the air. Lavender on the wind. Lavender is good-you can eat that. Not much of it but you can eat it.

I am desperate for sleep. My whole body hurts and all that is keeping me focussed is the cold. I listen. I squint into the darkness. The boat is noisy on the sand, the plastic parting as I pull it, noisy as well. This was not how I planned it. The beach ahead seems darker somehow, as if there was something there. I walk into a bramble. Ouch. I think it but I don’t say it. I listen, still again as if something could hear my pain and not just the mild exhalation that followed it

It hurts but here is the line of the land. A bramble. In the darkness then I can see them, skirting the line of the beach. A stroke of luck. In the darkness I bend down and run my hand through the sand. I thought maybe there’d be dirt but the roots of the brambles must be well back. The sand feels- I don’t know, maybe damp, maybe cold. In any event brambles are a stroke of luck.

I take all my belongings out of the boat and stick them on the sand above the water line. I get out my gloves and roll down my sleeves. I stick a scarf around my face and I bend down and push the boat into the brambles. I push as hard as I can, forcing it prow first to make a passage. I can hear the noise of the brambles moving, breaking but I don’t care. I keep shoving it in and then when I can only just see the end of it, I shove the oars in underneath it. It would make a great sleeping spot, to sleep protected underneath, but it would also be the most obvious.

I get my pack and my bag and wrap myself in the duvet. I walk along another 10 metres or so from the boat. I can see the brambles in the darkness now. I don’t want this really but it makes sense. I lay down and put my bag at the head of me. I push it into the brambles and then crawled in wrapped in the duvet after it. I push some more, and then some more until I am well inside the bramble patch. The duvet gives me some protection from the prickles and its true I could be seen if anyone looked but I hoped I look like rubbish, an old duvet trapped in the bushes. I hope the brambles at the front on the shore line will fall to cover me. I lie there in the brambles in the duvet in the darkness and sleep and sleep and sleep.

I wake without knowing if it was night or day. It’s simply dark in the bramble patch and I think I am awake because of the heaviness. Somewhere above me something is on top of the brambles. It’s hard to know what, think what. They shudder above me occasionally. I think maybe it’s an animal but it isn’t regular or noisy and there is no smell wafting down to me. It is more like something has been laid across the top of them.

I have two choices, to go on through the bramble patch or to turn around and go back out the way I came in. It is tempting to go on but who knows how far this bramble patch extends. And the boat is behind me. I don’t know how useful it will be or if I could even carry it any distance but I immediately regret not taking the time to hide it better.

I take a moment to eat the last of my bread. I am going to have to tunnel to the end of the brambles or go back. To go back I have to turn around. There’s a wind, I can feel the wind and whatever is above me is unsettled by it. Perhaps it is waiting for me. I am going back the way I came. Who knows how far the brambles go. I try shuffling backwards with the duvet wrapped around me but my ankles get exposed and scratched. I need to protect my head. I think this was a stupid idea as I try and turn the other way so I am facing forward to get out. All the time every movement I do is letting whatever is above me know I am here. I roll onto my side and curl into a ball trying to turn in the very small space I have. I need to take my bag with me as well. The duvet seems hopelessly caught on the brambles and my turning has made it worse. I give up on it. It has served me will but it isn’t coming with me.

I am facing out now and I can see I haven’t tunnelled as far in as I thought. I am not as safe as I thought and perhaps whatever is weighing above me is simply waiting. I push forward and now it is only my clothes protecting me. Thorns are raking down my back but there is nothing I can do. I look back and in the darkness the dull white of the duvet hangs there-shredded. There is nothing I can do. I have a blanket somewhere and that will have to suffice.

I can smell my own blood which means anything else can as well. I need to come out of the space at the end ready to fight. Only the barbs grip my skins.

I roll painfully onto the beach expecting something to pounce. Then I laugh, snow. It has snowed and the snow lays heavy on the brambles. There is nothing and no one here. I can see the boat and the vast sea and the myriad pieces of plastic on the beach . I can see bright plastic pearls lapping in the waves. I stand up and look around. There is no one here.

There is just a huge pile of brambles to cross, my bleeding back and a lot of snow.

I don’t waste anytime. I remember now. I begin to dismantle the boat, boats are so precious when your planet is flooded. But this will give me firewood as I head south. I am not sure if it is winter or if it is just that I am further north than I thought. I set about dismantling the boat as quickly as I can, keeping all the screws and rivets and all the bits. I will drag them like on a sleigh. I might even use it to build something to cross the brambles, with the snow and the brambles and the boards I might even cross them by nightfall.

The Chip

A thought that did not exist. A piece of data not collected. Knowledge that belongs to no one but me.. read more

I have to focus. Without focussing. Its here in my head. Sometimes I find myself looking over my shoulder. I am looking at something that is not there. Because it’s in my head. Its implanted in my head. I know it is.

It knows I know it is. The thing is –they say there is no way around it-but there is. You have to focus your mind on the task at hand and then out of the corner of your mind-like out of the corner of your eye-do something else. It can know you’re thinking about doing this but it can’t actually tell if you are doing it.

There are heavy penalties for thinking this way. I will appear on a report somewhere. I will be monitored, watched, but if I can just keep them out of my head for long enough. If I can just do one action that is not being watched, downloaded. If I can do that, then all things are possible. Even if its just one thought.

Its like walking along a dark street and catching just a glimpse of your attacker. Just enough to know he’s there, to take the edge off the surprise, because if I can make this work before they get me I can do anything. I can react in a way they won’t expect. I can be ready without anyone knowing I am ready. I can think things independently of the machine. I can be independent of the organism that is humanity, all those minds interconnected by technology, all that data in all those machines. If I can think a thought that they can’t see I will be free, more free than anyone has been for 100’s of years.

It is of course not a new idea, its just that no one knows if anyone has done it before. Maybe lots of people can do it and no one knows about it. Maybe free thinking out of the corner of your mind, free of the data analysis, the downloading, the up loading, all the technology, maybe it is possible. Like once you could switch off your phone.

I wished they’d put a switch on this chip. Sometimes I can feel it. I swear I can feel the actual thing whirring in my head. I have a little hot spot that burns away. I know then it is stealing my thoughts, recording them, checking them. There must be a cycle to it, timings, but no one knows. The chip is just inside my head, talking to all the other machines for me. Telling the world who I am, what I want, as if I could be described in a series of numbers, as if all I am is a set of pictures and some lame words. It edits, it edits what it tells the world about me, but somewhere I know it stores it all.

I am what the chip wants me to be. Even inside my own head, I am what the chip wants me to be. The chip is controlled by the company and the company controls the profile and the bits of me they don’t want. The obscene bits, the dirty bits, the bits that are too sensitive, the odd habits, the humanity of me-all of everything that is me, goes somewhere else. In case they need to use it against me? They don’t say that? Do they do that? Am I that interesting. Is it all just so I keep consuming, believing. 

I am not alone, never alone. No one is alone. That is how the world is. How I long to live in a world where the device that recorded me, watched me was separate from me, was outside of me-like CCTV once was-where I was in control of it and not it in control of me.

I look behind me again, but there is nothing there. There is nothing there. Just a little chip whirring away in my head that I could never see. They say it is the first sign of a problem, constantly looking behind you to see if you can see the chip implanted in the back of your head. It is illogical. You can’t see it. You can’t feel it –except you can because you know it’s there.  It could be increasing my paranoia for all I know. It could be doing so many things. Am I in control? Is it in control? I CAN feel it. I know where it is. I know exactly where it is. I dream of hacking it out. Of taking a knife and hacking it out. But its my neck. Who hacks at their neck. No one. Isn’t that the genius of its placement. Is that my dream? Did I dream that? Or does it desire to be as free of me as I do of it? How can I ever know? In my dream I wake up and can feel the blood draining down the back of my neck as if it were gone. I dream of a bloodied little chip that sprouts legs, that runs across the carpet and out the door. I dream of that. But in the morning when I wake up, there is no blood, just a burning sensation and I know it is still there. Collecting my thoughts, storing my emotions, data, they call it data, but its knowledge, they know everything about me.

I must stop having these thoughts. I must confine these thoughts somehow to the corner of my mind. A part that the chip can’t reach. An electrical pulse so small that it cannot be detected. I must focus my thoughts on big things, on gigantic ideas so that the small twitch that is my very own thought goes missed unrecorded, unheard. A thought that did not exist. A piece of data not collected. Knowledge that belongs to no one but me. I must find that corner in my mind and set it free.

I want to keep my knees

My mother went 75% as soon as she could, knees, arms, some vital organ upgrades and a black belt in karate all in one day at the salon…read more

I had the idea and then it floated away from me. Like it wasn’t here at all. Why does this happen? How does this happen?

The idea has simply slipped out of my head and I cannot get it back. This is what it’s like when you’re human. I sometimes wished I wasn’t. I should at least have a back up file installed-that makes you slightly less human. Why do I cling to the 100% idea? A little bit of extra memory here, some back up there, it becomes a slippery slope and before you know it your knees aren’t yours anymore.

That’s the thing, I should get me knees done. Its just -I like being fully human, I like being 100%. It’s weird I know. Who is 100% these days, why would you be? Think of the diseases I don’t have yet but could avoid. Of course, the ingestion of too much plastic will probably be the end of me if I don’t do some kind of restructure soon.

It is a slippery slope. I know it is. My friend Tessa, she was 100% until well into her 20s and then she hit 30 and now she’s only 40%. Forty per cent! She looks great but she’s hardly the bubbly person we all knew. She decided to get her emotions ‘toned down’, some sort of rational upgrade and now it’s just work, work, work all the time and sure she’s making money and the social media pics are great but she doesn’t enjoy it. Well its not that she doesn’t enjoy it, she doesn’t hate it either. She has no emotion attached to it whatsoever. Nice legs though, that’s what 40% does to you.

Nonetheless I am sitting here at a machine trying to write something and I can’t remember what that idea was. It was only half good anyway. Maybe just a small install, so I could play back memories on my computer. No it’s my knees, my knees!  I know I should get mechanical knees. I could get the ones that move your legs for you-they have a series of settings under the skin at the back and they can pace your running-just via your knees, it’s very clever, It monitors your heart rate and everything, it even sends positive messages to your brain as your running. It can play music too, well sort of, you hear it in your head as if it was playing. I have heard however that its playlist is very limited but I like the idea of just hearing the music in your head. It even has a karaoke setting that uses your actual voice based on hearing you speak. Its clever, but new knees and hi-tech ones at that, would take me down to about –well probably 96%. And then there’s the memory upgrade and that in itself- if you get enough can take you down to 85%. It might be worth it though, I mean you can’t post your whole life on social media. And it makes thinks like credit checks and job interviews easier as they can just download data.

Still I am reluctant. There are instances where people have dipped below say 65% and then the whole thing hasn’t worked and the software hasn’t interacted, interfaced, inter-whatever and it’s all gone terribly wrong. They then have to have the full upgrade or downgrade, depending on your point of view. -really the whole numbers thing is very confusing. When the full upgrade/downgrade happens, those people end up below 10% human. They are technically dead and they have to give up their name and they just become a number. All their photos and data is deleted as well and they technically stop existing for social media purposes. It’s awful.  Anything below 65% is more risky which is why Tessa at 40% is weird but brave. She is no longer in a position where she can make further decisions about her software. She needs specialist assistance to do it so that everyone is sure that it’s safe. She has no feelings about that either. It’s all very expensive.

I like the idea of my whole life, every second being preserved in a data chip but then I think, does anyone need to know how often I go to the toilet. Can it actually be done? Can everything I feel actually be recorded, everything I think? Can I lie to it? Can I get it to record something that I don’t feel?  Does it see what I see out of the corner of my eye or just what I see? I don’t know. Still I would like the knees.

I could get something really banal installed, like the ability to play piano, or to speak French. I am not at all sure where my reluctance comes from. My mother went 75% as soon as she could, knees, arms, some vital organ upgrades and a black belt in karate all in one day at the salon. She had all the memories of our childhood put onto a chip and gave it to us for Christmas. It was touching in a digital way. My sister then had those memories implanted in her head for safe keeping. My data chip from my Mum sits in a box by my bed. My mother doesn’t understand it. My sister sort of understands. She says I should join a support group. She worries there is something wrong with me. I want to tell her that 100% is normal. We are all born 100%. She says not anymore, 100% is optional even at birth.

I don’t know. I look at my knees. I love my knees. Sure they don’t work very well and they don’t put music in my head but their mine and I have had them for awhile. I’m not sure. I don’t know what to do.

 

You have been identified as a BOT

‘You have been identified as a bot.’ I will just be – in an organic way. I’m scared…read more

‘You have been identified as a bot.’

I look at the words again.

Me, a bot. I am real. Human. The whole thing is so ridiculous.

My head is reeling from this. My palms are sweaty. I am not a bot. I am a real person. How else would my palms be sweaty?

I have heard of this happening before. I know how it works, everyone does. What I can’t get my head around is that is happening to me. Usually someone has used a filter badly or overdone the photo shopping on some holiday pics. It all gets sorted doesn’t it?  In the meantime their whole life is suspended. Their pics go into Trash although they aren’t actually deleted. Conspiracy theorist say its done because the internet is full and they need to manage the space. I don’t think that’s true.

This is just the first notice. The rest comes afterwards. It’s meant to give me time to prepare myself. I just sit and stare at the words in disbelief. ‘You have been identified as a bot.’ How? This is just the warning. I say it aloud-just the warning. The full notice will give me the reason for my identification as a bot. I rack my brain trying to think.

Have I overdone the photo shopping recently? I haven’t uploaded any photo and claimed its someone else have I?  Plus they must consider everyone is shaving off the extra pounds at the mo-how else do you get into negative size clothes? I am meant to be a size minus six-which incidentally is not that small because the sizes are all screwed up now. The smallest you can be-according to the internet is minus 22-no one is a plus size anymore-at least not on the web. I’m not sure how we got into negative sizing.

 Maybe I uploaded too many pictures of scenery or objects. I think again, how long since I put up photos of an actual meal. There was that meal out last week? Did I post that? Did everyone else post that and not me? Did I comment on how good it looked? Did I comment on how it tasted-comments on taste are a sure sign of a bot -no one, even me very drunk would be foolish enough to comment on how a meal tastes. It’s all about the look and the location. Taste is secondary-or whatever is lower than secondary.

How can they think I’m a bot? I am sure I posted a picture of that meal and it looked great.

The notice will give me a time and a place and I will have to turn up and prove I am human. It’s difficult. I know that. Lots of people fail.  It’s a horrible procedure.

They are terminating bots you see. The bots are taking up a lot of internet space as it turns out. Its not a conspiracy though. Its just people write them, release them and they just keep going. Like locusts-whatever they are. Do people release locusts? I no longer have internet so I will never know. What even is internet space is-MB, GB, GGBs-are they a thing? I can’t even ask a simple question like that.

I need to look at my social media history. I need to and soon, so I can handle whatever questions they ask me, but every account is frozen. It’s like I don’t exist anymore. How will anyone know how good my life is if they can’t see it in pictures. Is my life good, if it’s not actually properly documented on social media? I have no idea how that works. OMG I won’t be invited anywhere now. I might have to start again. ON some kind ‘I have no friends, please like me site’. My worst nightmare. My life is fab, I know my life is fab. Only last week I could prove it and today I can’t.

Today I am not real. Even the step-counter on my phone has stopped working. If I am walking and no device is counting my steps, am I even walking at all? Have I walked? I have no idea.

What could have caused this? How could I have been identified as a bot? Did I use an odd password? Have I used the same password too often? Have I set up one too many email accounts? Maybe I over ordered concert tickets. That must be it, I bought 4 tickets because 4 of us are going. Raven said it would be safer to buy two lots of two, but I insisted it would be ok to buy 4. Could that be it? Maybe it’s a combination of things. I will have to go to her house, -without sending a text first. Fuck, how will I even do that? How will I even know how many steps I have taken to get to her house. The only thing that works on my machine now is the thing that will down load the full notice. I will need her help to remember stuff. What if I am a bot? Now even I am not sure, she will know. I need to go and see her, she will know, for sure.

What did I order at dinner last week? Did I like the sauce or not? Did I drink a cocktail at the wine bar three weeks ago? Do I have old school photos on my web page? How many friends do I have online? What pictures did I post from my last holiday? What meal have I liked the most this year? What emoji do I use the most? Who’s pictures do I like the most? What date did I start following person x on platform y? I have no idea. These are the kind of questions I will need to answer to prove I am not a bot.

Why can’t they just test me for organic material-the trouble is that’s not enough. Its bots testing for bots, and they know that the same organic human has turned up to pose as a bot before. No -they test your knowledge of your own life based on your social media activity. They have an infinite archive of your data and you have to remember it. It’s an impossible task. Most people who are identified as bots are –there isn’t even a word for it.

I wished I’d made notes or something-how would you even do that. I have a friend who does that-she has an app for it-as if that would help right now. It’s all frozen. I can’t even catch a bus.

If you are judged a bot-that’s it-your entire social media identity, every account, every email address, every photo, everything just deleted. You no longer exist. And if you don’t exist on digital, do you exist at all?

What would I do? How would I meet friends? God my whole life – just deleted. As if I never existed. Perhaps I don’t. I have no idea what to do. I should have kept some kind of copy or something.  I should have backed up or something.

I will just stop existing. I will be deleted. I will just be- in an organic way. I’m scared.

Geriatric-A daughters unease

There is the slow clack of an old woman tapping her cane, walking across the floor of a motorway services in the dark. Its such a cliché-is it? Read more

I sense my daughters unease. We have travelled around the M25 and now we are at the services. She wants to know what we are doing here. We are sitting at a table. She is swinging her legs back and forth.

I am nervous, visibly nervous. My palms are sweating and I am watching the CCTV more than it is watching me.

I can’t keep eye contact with her.

She speaks first, ‘Are we here because of gran and the whole internet thing?’

I freeze. I didn’t think she knew.

I shake my head. She knows I am faking it. What was I supposed to do? This woman is my mother and she –she sent me a letter.  I know the woman who can hack almost anything, who shut mega social media channel for 2 hours last week because they gave some bad publicity to her and her friends, the 80 something year old woman who regularly threatens cyber-firms with total calamity –yes her! She sent me a letter, hand written,  telling me to be here at 2pm on Saturday. I guess she is one of the few people in the world left who knows how to do that. It’s also something the authorities aren’t likely to be looking out for.

Dear god, my mother!!!. No one was more surprised than me when the post man-who even knew they still existed, delivered it. And he was human, I guess that means he won’t remember it which could be useful. There will be no immediate audit trail of its delivery. By the time the delivery is reported if at all and probably via a form that is not on the web, it will be too late and this day will have been and gone.

I shouldn’t have come. I certainly shouldn’t have brought her. It’s a crazy idea. I should have gone straight to the authorities. I have no idea what I will tell them, except I do. She also sent me a brochure, a place we are visiting right after here-a new kind of care home-for your delinquent parents. That is what I will tell them I was doing. She sent me a cover story-I am out looking for a place to put her when they finally catch her. Its low tech, not much to hack, with human carers-who knows where they got those from?  And purely non electric pursuits, probably crochet for real -and baking -and stuff my mother can’t do and has no interest in. A lot of people are faced with delinquent elderly parents now and most people put the blame at the feet of my infamous mother. Which isn’t unreasonable -I certainly do.

She is all over the internet everyday, telling them to clean up their act or else. This from someone who murdered a few people, broke out of her retirement home and has been on the run ever since.  I recently saw an interview with the CEO of the biggest tech company in the world, they asked what was he most afraid of in the future. His words, not mine, ‘the internet being taken over by elderly women’-no that is actually what he said. Then the journalist asked, ‘Anyone specific’ and he said, OMG get this, he said, ‘Her, we all know who she is, all of us in silicon valley. But we never say her name. She’s watching, always watching. We’re all worried, we’re all scared.‘

They’re too scared to even say her name. She’s like some mythical creature from the deep coming to gobble them up. In their defence, it’s a while since I said her name. ‘Mum’ I say it out loud and my daughter looks across at me. ‘Gran’ she mouths. I am crestfallen. I really thought she didn’t know.

I can’t believe I am doing this. She isn’t going to come. The little girl sitting across from me-how can I even explain it. Its then I notice something. Her favourite rabbit, she has brought it with her and over its little purple dress is a little white crochet cardigan.

I freak out. I lean over and grab the bunny. ‘Where did you get that?’ I scream. The whole place turns to look at me. I shrink in my chair.

I whisper very forcefully to her as if that will somehow lessen the attention. ‘Where did you get that?’

She looks slightly worried, ‘I got it for my first birthday, you told me the story.’

‘Not the bunny, the cardigan its wearing,- its crocheted.’

She reddens and looks at the table. I look closely at the little white jacket on the bunny and see that crochet is an overstatement, it’s a bunch of wool barely strung together. I know this total lack of arts and crafts skill. I know the person who made this.

I sit frozen in my seat. At some point, somewhere, somehow!- my mother has seen my daughter and not told me.

I want to scream. I am so angry. Then the lights go out. Everything is suddenly much darker. No one seems to notice much, most of them are engrossed in their phones. The doors-the sliding doors are stuck on open. People are leaving but not in a hurry. The Costa woman is saying the electricity is gone and they can’t do coffee. There is the faint smell of uncooked burgers and then I hear it.

Clack. On the floor. Clack. Clack. The familiar sound of an old woman walking with a cane. Its coming from behind me, from out of the toilets. I smell her before I see her. Often the way it is with old people.

I see my daughter smile and I know my mother has put her fingers to her lips to silence her. She is right behind me now and I am frozen. My mother. Murderer. Hack. Reprobate. Escapee. Fugitive. Thief, so many words go through my head. The final ones are the most telling of all -Fake International Crochet Judge. Who does that?? I look across at the rabbits little white cardigan-my goodness how did she pull that last one off.

She puts something down on the table. Their eyes are still locked- hers and my daughters. A raspy voice says ‘Happy Birthday.’

Dear god its my daughters birthday on Tuesday. I forgot. I hope the Bot has something sorted.

‘Thanks gran’ my daughter says.

She is right beside the table and I turn to see her. To face her. To look her in the eyes.

She looks at me. I see love. I see compassion. I see pity. I sense the endless failure that I am. The plucky little princess that was never me, creeps up behind and whispered, ‘break a rule, just one’-but I never did.

She reaches out and puts my hair behind my ear. ‘Love you princess’ she says.

Then she turns slowly, very slowly, and –she isn’t gone. Of course she isn’t gone. She moves at a snails pace and still they can’t catch her.

There is the slow clack of an old woman tapping her cane, walking across the floor of a motorway services in the dark. Its such a cliché.

It seems to take forever for her to leave. My daughter is sitting there swinging her legs and smiling.

I want to run after her. Or at least walk really quickly. I could probably catch her at ordinary pace to be truthful. I want to stop her. To tell her I love her, to explain why I’m not her. Instead I just cry, uselessly. Sobbing loudly and spilling tears in my coffee.

I know she can’t hear me even though she is still within sight. She isn’t wearing her hearing aid. The doors finally swish shut behind her. She is gone. It seems like an eternity. It probably was. I can hear the distant hum of a mobility scooter-probably hers-as it heads for the motorway-another problem she seems to have single-handedly created.

I sit stuck to the chair. I am going to jail for this. I am going to jail for this. Its like my daughter can see inside my head.

My daughter smiles back at me. She whispers across the table. ‘Don’t worry Mum, gran will break you out and then we can go on the run too. ‘

If Robots could paint

Aren’t they a little pale-I mean that is meant to be a Gauguin isn’t it, his Tahitian period?’

‘It is- well spotted.’

She doesn’t even try and hide her enthusiasm. I am trying to hide my disdain.

She goes on, ‘You see Ma,’

I hate that word and I don’t want to see but still she goes on. I think I would like my eyes gauged out but I try not to show it.

‘How this works is-they kind of look at the internet and do a sort of ‘sample’ and then they modernise the picture, and the internet is slightly-well some would say very-but anyway-its pale. Pale. Pale. Pale, so they’ve modernised Gauguin.’

At this point I can only nod. I only just managed to overlook the slimming down of the Renoir -I think it was meant to be The Large Bathers. But they were slimmed down into some kind of gym body, complete with Red bull can and bright towels.

The woman beside me, my daughter, had a no expenses spared education and I confess I am totally frustrated that this is how she spends her time-bastardising perfectly fine art.

The idea is that, with AI, robots can now make art. And what’s more they can improve some of the botch jobs our previous ‘masters’ have created. This ‘art’ show is her first. She is immensely proud. I am embarrassed. Its mostly art from about 1850 onwards, apparently everybody in pictures before then was so fat she can’t bear to look at it and neither can anyone else-apparently the whole internet no longer has any pre 1850 art. This seems improbable at first but then knowing my daughters generation-still possible. Apparently the other issue with a lot of pre 1850 art is-and here I include women and men -crime of the century-some of them are unshaved. The internet has apparently shaved all post 1850 pictures-what a relief. I can barely contain my excitement.

Tonight is opening night but I am here early as –well-she doesn’t want my disappointment to ruin the evening. This is a child I dragged to every art gallery I could find. A child who still after all that wanted to be an engineer. A child who now claims to have combined her two great loves, coding and art.

On my way in there is a replica of the statue of David-you know the one- the naked one –only the one created by the robot-lets just say its larger in some ways. Apparently the robot involved surveyed a lot of pictures on the internet and deduced an average size based on that-only that is unlikely to give you an average size. I didn’t know what to say. It was bigger than I even thought anatomically possible but what do I know. I don’t do virtual sex, just the real thing much to her horror.

She can’t wait to show me the Van Gogh-one of his self portraits. I am gobsmacked when I see it.

‘It’s a watercolour.’ is all I manage to stammer out. Van Gogh did do water colours, I know but not quite like the one I am looking at.

‘Yes’ she says.  ‘Van Gogh is so emotive, all those weird brush strokes, going every which way. It’s all a bit scruffy. He lacked focus.’

There’s the ‘f’ word again-focus, how many times has she told me I lack focus.

She goes on, ‘ I mean Van Gogh, he had an energy but he didn’t focus it properly. In watercolour Van Gogh is more soothing, more serene. This picture now has a yogic calm to it. You could do pilates with this on the wall and isn’t that part of the point of art. To add to your inner life, so you really feel that protein shake.’

I want to shove a protein shake down her neck. She is truly nauseating and she’s mine.

I am standing there thinking, seriously, how much money did I waste educating her. She thinks Van Gogh needs calming so it can have a yogic influence. So we can all do pilates in front of it. I want to shove some sunflowers up her nose at the thought of it.

We move on to the Seurat-where again I am lost for words. She looks at me. I can tell she knows I am not getting it.

I manage to say only one sentence, ‘You’ve joined the dots?’

She smiles, like an idiot I think. My daughter is an idiot.

‘Yes the robot joined the dots. Its logical when you see it isn’t it-I mean you would join the dots wouldn’t you.’

Would you? I want to scream, no-you have missed the point.

We move on swiftly, past a rendition of Munch’s ‘The Scream’, which is redone in pastels and called the Smile. I won’t describe it. Past Hokiusai’s The Wave, described more fittingly now as ‘The Ebbing Shore’

This is the first art show of its kind. This is the future I am told.

In the corner I see a a tin of Campbell soup. Even Warhol isn’t safe. She is still talking, babbling. I am blotting her out as I walk towards them, trying to show interest instead of horror.

‘We used a 3d printer.’ she says

Next to them is a well made and tidy bed that screams healthy living.

‘Tracey Emin,’ I say.

‘Yes’ she says, but healthier than that-I mean all those cigarettes and empty bottles-no one lives like that anymore.

‘I do’, I want to scream. But I don’t actually smoke or drink much but if I did I’d make sure I left a right mess behind. Because I don’t do those things she probably doesn’t which might be the only thing I got right. Although somehow when I look around at this ‘art’ show I feel a deep sense of responsibility. Perhaps a bit of hard living on my part would have seen this never happen. I sigh. And realise it was too loud. I cover my mouth and yawn and comment on how late its getting. I can’t wait to leave.

There’s  the Giacometti sculpture which is stick thin-even thinner than they actually often are-because on the internet everyone is thinner than they actually are-even I am.

There’s a rendition of Dali’s Persistence of Memory where the clocks are all perfectly formed and fixed and there is a dolphin in the water in the background like a picture you’d find in a shop that sold scented candles and mood music.

She is still talking, walking me through how logic and order has improved human art beyond measure.

I don’ even know what to say. I yawn again and feign interest. She tells me next they are going to tackle literature. Maybe Dickens first-one of the shorter ones- perhaps A Tale of Two Cities, modernising it, making it suitable for a wider audience, maybe making it about two rival digital start-ups. I don’t think she has read it.

‘Plus’ she says, ‘Shakespeare-wouldn’t Hamlet work just as well if it was set in a gym, imagine the whole Ophelia thing in a spa or an indoor pool. Or perhaps Macbeth but based around a coffee shop franchise instead of a kingdom. These concepts, Ma, they are so old.’

I hate that word, ‘Ma’ but I nod. I smile. I think, I am so old. Thank goodness I saw the world before this. I am so old and so glad of it.

Her guests are starting to arrive and I know it is time for me to leave. I tell her I am proud of her but I think she knows I am not. There isn’t much I can do.

The point of art is not logic and order, but to remind us that there is life beyond those two things. I want to yell this out to the whole room. It is not meant merely to hang in your pilates class and decorate your coffee shop.

I wrap my coat around me and step out onto the street. She offers to ‘app me a ride’ home but I’d rather walk.

‘Its dangerous’ she says.

I laugh. Ah yes danger, are we the last to remember it and not to run from it. I wander home.