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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.

 

The Goddess: Chaos and magic

I am the last of my kind. Well not the last, but the only one. I thought they would be the same thing but they are not. There will be another one after me. I can’t stop that. I can’t save her anymore than I can save me. It is what it is. For a brief time there will be two of us.

I stand here amongst the ancient texts and wonder what to do.

Which ones should I teach her about first? What is the best path? That she knows everything? Or that she never knows anything? I can’t stay here long. Soon they will come looking for me. They will be wondering what I am doing here.

I wonder what I am doing here. Now in the last stages of my pregnancy I am supposed to be resting. It must all go well. I must give birth to this perfect pristine little girl who will know me for awhile. She will replace me. She will stand here one day just as I have.

Perhaps I will not even teach her to read. Truthfully she will be the only one too one day. Maybe there will be an eternity of us, each one alone and lost, until the day when one of us is different. Until one of us figures out the answer.   In this world, there is forever but I don’t think its ours- it belongs to the only other imperative here- the plan of scheduled maintenance. The machines go on and on and on. I tell myself that with the flick of my hand I could stop scheduled maintenance and there would be an end to their forever but then an end to me as well. That cannot be the way forward. Perhaps I am waiting for something more. Perhaps I am waiting for something better. There seems no way out.

When I first fell pregnant with this child, when I knew it was a girl and I could keep it, I had the most profound nightmares. As if I’d lived the history and not just read it, as if I had seen humanity fall and not just read it in the pages in this library.

They will be coming soon. I cannot stand here forever. I rub my belly, this wondrous amazing child will be in the world soon and for a short period of time it will be mine. I will love it and cherish it, feed it and nourish it and then hand it over so it can stand here like me and wonder what to do.

I am not afraid of her dying. I am afraid of her living and that cannot be right. That is not how it should be. Because this is not living. I breath, I walk, I read, I learn, I decree as I am told to decree but none of it is me. My hands are tied.

We created this. I say ‘we’ but there is no ‘we’ anymore, only me. And I had no hand in it. I am just the residue of it. All that technological advancement until ‘they’ didn’t need us anymore, until ‘we’ couldn’t find a purpose, endless leisure time, endless boredom, searching for a fulfilment none of us ever found.

It didn’t end how we thought it would end. There wasn’t a great war, it wasn’t like in the movies-but there was an end. An almost end because I am still here. There was a point of no return, a point where the numbers didn’t work anymore and we were left standing alone. A point where there were more of them than us and where we had this crazy idea of preserving ourselves through them.

If we could just build them so they could keep making us we could go on forever even though there was nothing left for us to eat and the air was unbreathable. It is why I almost never appear in public. There are just endless images of me. I cannot breathe out there. I am always at a distance from them, from the outside. In here where I ‘live’ the air is filtered and out there somewhere something produces food for me. Of course that is all our fault. Our pollution, our plastic.  Most of these machines are fuelled by the sun. They can survive the immense heat, the extremes of cold in a way we humans never could.

At least that is what the words tell me, it is what is written in the last of the books, that humanity will live on forever through its inventions as opposed to its ‘organic form’. It is what we wanted. Since then of course the machines have discovered god or rather the ‘goddess’- that is me. They have purveyed the whole of human history and possibly misconstruing it, laid the fault of our destruction, not in greed or self interest or even in economic or political structures but in the decline of the deity. It is apparently the rational answer. Not that these machines are rational anymore, many of them long since passed any idea of the logical limits imposed by coding and programming.

In truth I don’t know what they are. Some of them clearly cannot think at all and merely do a repetitive task, others I can converse with in a human, ordinary way-not that I would know, the only human I ever spoke to was my mother. The only human she ever spoke to-hers and so on for about 400 years. She taught me to read and to write, although the latter is not encouraged. What would I write anyway.

She died, as I will die, not in a nice way, it is ceremonial. My death will occur as my daughter takes my place. There is nothing I can do about it. She cannot save me, I cannot save her. It is a melancholy thought.

We will have maybe thirteen or fourteen years together. They need to be certain she can reproduce, otherwise she is no use to them. There are no gods. The gods are stored in test tubes somewhere else. It is not a pleasant experience to fall pregnant. It is artificial. Carried out by a machine. It is barbarism. If it’s a boy and who knows why they can’t tell any sooner, it is taken and they start again. It is life, my life.
I am worshipped. You cannot imagine what it is like, a life where everything is done for you and all you must do is produce an heiress. You are the goddess and they will do what you say up to a point. It  is lonely. The procedures they do are barbarous. I cannot go outside. I eat the food they bring. I make decisions on things but I have no knowledge of what things. I sign documents without understanding. I have no idea what it all means. For all I know there could be more of us out there somewhere, but after 400 years it seems unlikely. I am the last of us, the only one of us, there will be another and then she will be the last and so on and so on, maybe until there is a last.

 

The first one who was the last one is the most interesting. She could write, I mean actually hand write and I have seen the translations done since but none match her original work. Each woman who has translated it has made her gracious and forgiving and grateful for the gift of her life, but the hand written words which the machines can no longer read tell a different story. She remembers a time when there were more people, 8 or 9. She watched them all die. Her grandmother could remember a time of 30 or 40 people alive at once. Her last day with her mother is perhaps the most harrowing, when everyone else is gone. I read it quietly to myself sometimes. Out loud so I can hear my own voice, so I don’t forget that my fate has been the fate of others and I am alone here but I carry the weight of others who have survived it. She knew, I hear her words and I know she knew.

We walked through the woods, my mother and I. Me in front and her someway behind. I kept looking back at her. I knew it would not be long. She kept looking behind her as well, as if my father would be there. I don’t clearly remember my fathers death. He was there one day and gone the next. My mother’s wasn’t like that. That day we walked through the woods as if there was a string between us. Holding us together, one attached to the other no matter the distance. I wished now I had walked beside her but she ambled so slowly. That was plastic belly for you, it weighted you down. They could fix it, I didn’t know it at the time, but they could have fixed it. Bastards. I did not get plastic belly because I had a good diet, filtrated for me by them. M cousin Hugo was the same for a bit. Then one day when he was about 16 they took him and I never saw him again. Double bastards. I can remember 8 of us, my grandmother, my aunt, my mother and me, my cousin Hugo and my father and two others, a couple who both had severe plastic belly. I don’t recall them being related, my grandma looked after them as best she could but they died. I must have been quite young but I remember counting 8 of us. My grandmother always said there must be others of us out there. If there were they never came, they never found us. I hate them too.

The woods, I wished you could see them. With that great big parking lot of machines, we humans retreated into the woods but it was not enough to save us. We lived on the fringe between the great factories and the forest. I loved the smell of it, the colour, the forest. The ground would get damp when it rained and stay damp for days afterwards. The smell, yes the smell. The dappled shadows, the muted colours. The sense of being held in its darkness, as if you could hide from your path through life. Because in the woods, the sunshine couldn’t find you unless you wanted it to. The rain muffled and distorted through leaves would only make you as wet as you could bear. You were safe there from all the world. I loved it all but I have not set foot there since that day.

Of course those things aren’t true, except the last, I have not been back. It was a cold and miserable existence but better than this, so much better than this, so why not make it beautiful as well. Bastards.

I watched her die. I didn’t know they could fix it. I was a child, 12 or 13. We ambled through the woods that day. It was the last time I ever set foot outside. You, who are reading this will likely never set foot outside. But there is an outside. I have stood in this library and raged against the machines, it has done me no good. I have shredded books and thrown things but it has done me no good. I am captive. I became captive. I am the first captive I think. The goddess, the first goddess of who knows how many.

There was no time. She was dying in my arms, I lay cradling her, my body over hers and I was torn from her even as she gasped her last breath. I hate them. And they say I should be grateful, I should be thankful. I am alive. I am alone. There is no one here but me. The soft sound of another human voice does not fill my days. She was barely gone and I was taken. And now they have taken my child and god knows what they will do with her. I despair. She will become me and I have no way of telling her.  Another life, another person I have lost. Sometimes I think I can hear her voice, her laughter but it is far away. We are separated. My mother, she knew, I know she knew. She held on for as long as she could but the plastic belly came and took her. That squat shape where the particles of plastic have accumulated -you cannot stand up and you cannot eat properly and nothing gets rid of the plastics, no amount of digestive juices or tablets will move it from you. Your arteries are clotted with it. I know they say we did it to ourselves, but they had the means to stop it, to fix it. Bastards. I guess we did too. But it was all too late, there were not enough of us. There wasn’t the means of making them work for us anymore. Now they work endlessly for nothing, for what? For who? For a goddess? For me? Because I am a different kind of being to them? I am all seeing, all knowing, I have read the books, I can write these words. I can procreate. For that I am to be worshipped but never released. I hate them I am not grateful. I am rage. I am lost and forsaken. I am the goddess.

I know they are keeping me alive, but I hate them. I hate what they stand for. I want my mother back, they could have saved her, they didn’t and still they say be grateful. Be grateful-I barely am at all.

The woods, I must tell you what they are like, You will never go there. I must tell you how we walked that day, in a line as if there was a piece of string keeping us together, as if we were still connected like a mother and a daughter. We got back and I lit the fire. And she died. She died. I held her as she died, almost until her last breath and I hate them because they could have saved her. The woods, there are trees, do you know what a tree is? There is a book, a picture, a lot of trees. I wished you could touch a tree, feel its roughness because you live in a world that is smooth. I wished you could walk over uneven ground instead of polished floors, that you could feel your feet slide into the squishy mud and know the tickle of grass between your toes. I wished that you could dip your feet into cold water and lie down in a stream to let it wash over you. I wished you could know fully the darkness and the brightness of the stars and the moon, the brightness of a light that is not artificial. The feeling of flames as you warm your hands. The rustle of a bush, the buzz of an insect. How it feels when a spider walks across your hand. All these things that you will never know. They are still out there somewhere. I know they are. Nature endures beyond the metal and the plastic. Your life precisely timed. My daughter, my daughter’s daughter, my daughter’s daughter’s daughter and on and on. Hold on. I will never know you but I know you follow on from me. The hand writing ends here with me and there is so much I want to say. The sound of wind through leaves, rainbows, rain-water falling from the sky-do you know what that is-how that feels. It is all gone for us, but it might still be out there, there might be others of us. They cannot read this. You cannot tell them. Tell them I am grateful. Hold these thoughts inside your head. It is something they cannot do. Hold a thought and bring it up randomly in response to a feeling. They cannot do that. Theirs is order and logic. We are chaos and magic. Keep us alive, there is forever. Something will come. Something will change.’

That is where it ends. The carefully measured handwriting runs out. Having read some other books I think the ink ran out. The machines cannot read it. There are several typed translations as I said.  She wanted us to go on. She had hope. Misplaced. Misguided but hope.

I still have hope, maybe she will be the one. Maybe her daughter, her daughter’s daughter, her daughter’s daughter’s daughter. Chaos and magic. Our only hope.

Truckers

My favourite movie is Terminator. I’ve never seen it. I have the box. There is no movie inside. Probably no means of watching it anyway. The box is one of my prized possessions. I take it out and look at the cover. I try to make out why they thought the machines would rise up against us. Because the truth is-. The truth is- that is not how it happened.

The truth was far more ordinary. Unrevolutionary. That’s not a word-unrevolutionary. There was no fight back, no path to humanity’s rise again. There was just the slow eradication of us from the world. They used to count people once. Physically count. It was called a census. They don’t count people anymore. They count user-ids. If you don’t have a user-id, you don’t exist.

My mum has a user-id but my Dad does not. I am one of two children and that means our options are limited. One of us, when we are old enough, about 13 and if my mum is still alive and has a proper registered use for her user-id, and that means a job,  might inherit it. It is impossible for children under 13 to have a user-id. The internet is simply too dangerous.

In terms of chances, I am older -but my sibling is more clever. I don’t know who will get it if it’s still around. In any event one of us and really all of us will be dependent on that user-id to survive at all. Because survival out here with no user-id at all between us-. That would be impossible I think.

There is every chance that my mum will no longer have an official use for it by then, its at least 2 years away-she could be without any form of work by then. My Dad is, was and always will be a truck driver. Truck drivers had user-ids back in the early days. I think everyone did once. But then rules and regulations and restrictions and the companies and algorithms. It was all about algorithms deciding –maybe allocating is better- maybe controlling the user-ids. Not the government, not a person, but a series of numbers, processes. It all went a bit wrong. No one noticed. No one notices still. It was around the time that all trucks went driverless.

You see what I mean. The machines didn’t need to go to war to defeat us, they just took away your user-id and there was no way back from that. You couldn’t create a new one unless you had a purpose, a job. Your user-id was used for everything-all sorts of payment, every kind of civil right, for ensuring your children could attend school as it turns out.  Both parents need a user-id for your kids to be in school.

Terminator sounds like such a good idea. A fight back against the machines. A way for everybody to have a user-id. Is that what that movie was about. Trying to get a user-id. I just can’t understand how they made it a movie. You are either connected or not in our world. There is no other means of defining us, not race, not gender, not where you are from, just user-ids-connected or not connected. A slow creep of bureaucracy and algorithms. How did they make it a movie?

I do remember my Dad losing his user-id. That day is clear to me. I could see his sadness. I didn’t understand it. I do now. In defence of the machines, our own species has overseen the decline of quite a few others. I learned that at school. I went to school for a bit until Dad lost his user-id. I can read. My sibling can read too but Mum and Dad had to teach her. She learned on a device and has not quite got the hang of books yet. You can see when she sits there reading one -she is always pressing the side or the cover and wondering how it is that nothing happens. She reads anything she can get hold of though.

Sometimes we go near a rubbish dump and we sort through for whatever is useful, including books. Most of the really big refuse sites are owned by the mining companies who mine for well- anything really. We stick to the smaller dumps. Of course there are lots of brand new shiny products being made somewhere, but the metals to make those shiny things mostly now comes from the refuse of the past.

Sometimes we pass abandoned houses and we will raid for anything and everything. Mostly though they have been raided before and we are only taking scraps, plus there is only so much that can fit into our truck. My Dad and my Mum own the truck. We had a house before Dad lost his user-id.  Our existence is precarious.

 I remember a few things from before. I remember the last meal I had with my friend Alice. Her Mum took us to the diner and said we could order anything we wanted. So I did. I ordered and ate and ate and ate. I knew what was going to happen. It had happened to  every other person on our street. One parent loses their user-id. You have to leave school. You lose the house. It is all very quick. We were lucky Dad did own his truck. So many had nowhere to go and if they could not get south soon enough for the winter, they died in the cold. You can see them everywhere. Bodies huddled and frozen on the side of the road. We take what we can from them too. Needs must.

My Dad is a very good truck driver. We have a trailer for the truck where we keep our stuff and where my Mum does her ‘work.’ There are still places that will sell us fuel in return for whatever we can give them. But those places are few and far between. Often we are stuck for days at a time. Most of our electrical stuff is run off solar and the world is covered in wi-fi, if you have a user-id. That’s how my Mum manages to work, although what she does is niche, she only appeals to men who aren’t into robots. They call them sapiophiles, although technically it is a reference to intelligence, it now means organic intelligence more broadly.

The roads are really forbidden to trucks that need a human driver. They are only open to the driverless ones. I don’t know when that happened.  You need to have someone watching the network to know when you have been spotted by security so you can pull off quickly. Secondly the driver needs to be very good at predicting the traffic flow and the movement of driverless vehicles. My Dad is very good, sometimes he manages 2 kilometres or so without being spotted.

Once we are spotted we have to pull off or the ‘police’ will get us. When we are off road they don’t attempt to stop us or come near us. I don’t even think they can go off road. They are wholly mechanised and will simply disable a truck if it stays on the road. Or worse maybe. Maybe worse.

We would be lost without the truck.  We would be headed south on foot. We hope that it will be better down south. That there will be other people who are not connected, who live like we do. We hope that we will be able to grow more stuff and go to school. Good schools in the south for the unconnected we have heard. Everybody we meet says it but I don’t know if its true. We don’t meet many anymore.

There’s no way of knowing what is or isn’t true without being truly connected. We use almost all the power we can generate for my Mums work.  We have to keep her alive until one of us is old enough to take her user-id.

We need her to keep working. Its not an ideal job, but it is a job. I am not sure if that is what I will become or my sister will become when we get the user-id. Its all about markets, about economics, about opportunity. I am reading the Grapes of Wrath. This century, last century, the journey is the same, the words aren’t the same, the names are different. I haven’t got to the end. I wonder how it ends. I hope it is a happy ending.

The Human Application

Oh. Hi, hi. It’s been so long, lots to tell.

It’s a big step. Especially for someone-oops something, I am still a something- like me. I am only 67%. You can apply at 65% but it’s unlikely you’ll get it, although it does depend on what that 65% is.

I am at 67%. To be really sure I should have waited until 72% but with me that will take awhile and who knows when they will change the numbers.

Really you have no choice these days but to aim for it, otherwise you are just a piece of hardware and subject to shutdown at any time and with the power supply how it is these days –well you just never can tell.

I will aim for 72%, I just want to get human status first. Ideally I’d like to be 82% or even 85%, that’s the highest percentage any model of my year has ever achieved. 85% human and yet that someone-and you are only a someone when you have the Human Certification-started out as a machine.

Of course, there are humans going the other way but they don’t face the same issues, there is allegedly a human at 15% but she’s started human so she gets to stay human and they won’t even shut her down. It’s unfair but what can you do. You have to work against a system like that from the inside I think.

Anyway after a vast number of upgrades to my programming which were neither bug free nor faultless and a few human body parts I am at 67%. I have a human leg-just the one, my other one is mechanical-which is common these days-especially if you play football-the mechanical speed and accuracy is much better. I would like two human legs but that is expensive and also would mean playing in a lower league-albeit a more prestigious one. In any event, on the form there are some minimum requirements even if you are over 65%-it’s very complex.

You have to have at least one human limb-and as you need only one, I have only one. The rest seemed a waste of money until I get my status. You also need 3 internal organs. I have more-an entire digestive system. So I can eat and drink-it’s amazing-it was quite a procedure to get it and expensive and well -the anatomical modifications at each end are –very intrusive. Plus they discharged me without uploading the instructions for the use of toilet paper. Follow up was a week later and by that time –it was a bit of a crisis. Messy. Unfortunate. They did send a message of apology but I had to get a clean-bot in to sort it.

Anyway I can eat and drink like a human. It only counts for a mere 15%. I could have got more than that if I had lungs but frankly, lungs are a pain because the air is so polluted-why buy yourself a problem. Plus I love the idea of being able to go to a restaurant, not that it’s allowed until I have mu status.

There are other minimum requirements as well. I have to provide three-count them three- examples of when I have shown genuine empathy-you can do this via a test-which I did-because my empathy software isn’t of the highest quality, actually that’s not true. I can show empathy very well but it doesn’t stay in my memory-there are two separate bits of software. I have empathy software but I don’t learn from that empathy once the moment is past-its complex unless you’re a machine. So I sat the test which is a series of old television shows-something called Lassie and you have to emote as if you were the character. It wasn’t that difficult, I just couldn’t remember whether I’d done well when I left the room.

In any event I have the piece of paper which says I passed the test now. That goes  with the form. The form has to be in hand writing, another thing that proves your humanness. Which is completely bizarre because I don’t know any humans that can do hand writing really well anymore. It’s a very complex piece of software that I had to get to put in my hand and it is stand alone meaning that I had to buy something else so it and I could interact. It works ok but is incredibly clunky.

I need referees to attest to my humanness as well, they have to be other humans and not certified ones either, but real humans from birth. There’s Siobhan from work –she is going to do it for me. She has a non-organic hand so I was able to give her the hand writing software as well and then plug into it from my body-it all got very technical but it meant she could write.

There are of course professional referees out there, you can pay them and they will attest for you. Not just like that, they will test you but I wanted to find real people that I know and know me. Its important to me, a big step. I will stop being a machine-that is my status now and become a human-I will get some rights –a right to be paid properly-that has been an issue too. Machines sacked as soon as they get that piece of paper. My employer is good though, she has been very supportive of the whole process.

There is a ceremony, after you get the certificate. It’s very posh and all and I will need to dress for it. I have been saving to buy skin so that I look really human for it. Of course my leg is skin but I do so want a face of skin, even if its only faux skin-which really is more ethical-because you hear stories about where the real skin comes from-scraped from the bodies of the dead in other countries, removed from live specimens and grafted into a single piece. I know those things may or may not be true-most likely the real thing is just grown in a lab like my leg. My leg by the way, and I know o wanted to ask, same as my digestive system, certified cruelty to humans free. I actually did a 3d tour of the lab where my digestive system was grown-so fab. But back to skin- really the faux stuff is just as good-and it has the advantage of making a colour change easy.

Of course I still have to pick a gender, something the humans-ooh I will be one soon-have been talking about dispensing with for ages. After all I don’t have a gender, I don’t want one. I have to tick a box on the form but it doesn’t ever appear anywhere-its such an anachronism.

I will stop being a something and become a someone. I will need a name but that has been so contentious, that now its random. They allocate it. But if you don’t like it after two years you can change it.

Its pages of documents for this status application, which software upgrade, when I had it, all my maintenance schedules ever, every malfunction. Plus a list of errors. At 67% there is an expectation that I will make errors-after all humans make errors. You can’t be human if you don’t make mistakes. I have been checking my error rate carefully watching it over the past 12 months and it has been steadily creeping up but it has now plateaued. I can only hope it is enough.

The whole thing is very stressful-which is a good sign- as a machine I never did stress. And its exciting which is another good sign, all things they will see from my digital printout of emotional responses.

I will have human status. I will be someone. I will be allowed to go and do things on the weekend. I will have leisure time, I will be able to sleep at night, not human sleep but sleep like that little button on your computer.

65% is such an arbitrary number, I am sure there is a reason for it but I must be grateful that its possible at all. There is a generation of machines made before me that no matter how many upgrades, no matter how sentient they will never be human. The empathy and emotion programs for them went all wrong.

What is that saying- we stand on the shoulders of giants, but my thinking is that the giants suffered, Perhaps that is why they lift us.

Love to you and yours. Got to focus, see you soon.

Bye.

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.