He looked at me funny, the delivery van driver I mean, when he realised that the only things that I had ordered were canned food and bottled water. I just smiled politely like I’ve learnt to do. After I had closed the door I opened the logbook that I keep on the little table by the phone and wrote the time and the date followed by the words; Tesco man acting suspiciously.
I watched out the window until he drove away and then I stripped down to my underwear and began putting everything away in its right place. Once that was done I vacuumed the whole of the downstairs paying particular attention to the doormat and the couple of foot of carpet onto which the man had stepped. After I had done this I ran myself a shower as hot as I could stand and scrubbed myself down for fifteen minutes.
These are unusual times we’re living in.
When I had dried myself I dressed in my favourite pyjamas and put the towel into the machine and ran it at a high temperature.
In my bedroom the television is always on. And I mean it is always on. And it is always on the twenty four hour news station. I think it’s important to keep up to date with what’s going on in the world. When I go to sleep I turn the sound down and watch the people mime out the stories of the day. I have taught myself to sleep with my eyes open, always watching. This way I don’t have to worry about missing something important. You never know when something important is going to happen.
I take a bottle of water upstairs with me and sit on the end of the bed and watch for fifteen minutes just taking in the headlines.
The Hospitals are overcrowded.
There are more cutbacks to the Police force.
There is another suspected case of Ebola in Scotland.
They are predicting more extreme weather over the next six months.
The terror alert is still on orange.
The terror alert has been on orange for three hundred and five days. Orange means severe. Severe means an attack is highly likely. This doesn’t seem to bother people as much as it should. Orange is one colour removed from red and red means that an attack is imminent.
It is important to be prepared.
Sometimes I think I’m as prepared as I can be but then something else happens and I realise that I’m nowhere near as prepared as I should be. My mother used to say “To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail.” That still sounds like good advice every time I say it.
When I’m finished watching the headlines I sit down at my computer which is next to my bed so I can still see the television and I look at the twenty four hour news website, just in case there are any details that they have missed. Or in case there is another story that they haven’t shown that I should know about. It’s important to be proactive about the news; you need to do your own research. Everybody has an agenda it’s just a case of figuring out what it is.
I do this for thirty minutes.
I only drink bottled water. Two litres a day, every day without fail. It is important to stay hydrated. The human body is approximately sixty percent water. The average human being loses about eight cups of water a day through urine and sweat. It is important to replenish the amount of water in your body everyday otherwise you will get headaches and feel tired. I don’t drink tap water because, and you should know this, because it contains fluoride and fluoride is very bad for you. They started putting fluoride in the water, and when I say they I mean the government, in the 1950’s. They did this because it makes your brain soft and susceptible to suggestion. Soon after they did this adverts started to appear everywhere and I mean everywhere. People stopped being just people and they became consumers. People started buying things just because they could and the whole world went mad.
Tap water also gives you cancer.
I know this because Sophie used to drink a lot of tap water and then she got the cancer and then she died. Sophie was my wife. Sophie was my friend first and then she was my wife. We got married on the fifth of September 2011 and she died the year after. I still miss her. Sophie used to say that it was very important that I look after myself so now I only drink bottled water. Two litres a day.
At exactly midday I eat lunch. I usually have soup. Today I had tomato. Tomato soup is my favourite because it is smooth and it tastes good. Canned food is the safest food in the world and it lasts a long time too. I once read that a boat called the Bertrand sank in the Missouri River in 1865 and it was carrying a whole cargo of canned peaches. When they raised the boat up in 1974 they did tests on the cans of peaches and found that they were still perfectly safe and fine to eat. One hundred and nine years old and still good to eat. I can’t remember where I read that but I haven’t ever forgotten about it. My cupboards are filled with canned food. You never know what is going to happen next.
After I have eaten my lunch I wash up the bowl and spoon and leave them to drain. They look untidy there on the rack next to the sink but I know how many germs get harboured on the average tea towel so I don’t use them.
The letter box opens and from the kitchen I can hear letters scrape through and fall down onto the doormat and I hold my breath. A week after 9/11 there were Anthrax attacks across America. Nobody ever remembers this. I go to the cupboard and pull out the claw thing that I keep in there. I don’t know what you call it. It’s what people use to pick up litter, a claw thing on the end of a stick with a trigger on the handle that controls the pincers. Next I put on a disposable face mask, like the ones that surgeons wear and I pick up the plastic box which I keep next to the little table by the phone.
They never caught whoever sent those Anthrax letters.
Slowly, very slowly I walk over to the little pile of letters and one by one I pick them up and very carefully place them in the plastic box. There’s a lot today. When this is done I take the box outside to the passageway down the side of my house and empty the letters into the black bin followed by my face mask.
I can’t remember anything before 9/11.
I had just shut the door behind me when I hear the phone ring. I feel my heart beat quicken up and the blood buzz hotly in my ears. Slowly and quietly I creep over to it and watch it until it stops, after this I go around the house and make sure that all the curtains are closed. You can never be too careful. Once I have checked the curtains I open the logbook and I write the time and the date followed by the words; Phone call.
Do you know about the Mayans?
You should probably know about the Mayans. They were an ancient people in South America and they’re all gone now. But the interesting thing about them is that they predicted the end of the world would happen in 2012. Of course it’s now 2015 so you probably think that they made it all up or were wrong or whatever. I have this theory though, I have this theory that something happened in 2012 that will lead to the end of the world, like something was put in motion back then only we don’t know what it was. Not yet anyway.
It’s my birthday today. I know this because first thing every morning I cross out another day on the calendar on my wall next to my bed. I don’t celebrate my birthday anymore, I used to when I was a little kid but it doesn’t feel right to celebrate things, not these days.
In the living room I sit down in my favourite chair which has one of those plastic covers on it and I just sit for a while and listen to the comfortable noise of the clock ticking and stare at the empty fireplace.
I do this for fifteen minutes.
I open the top drawer of the chest of draws next to my favourite chair. Inside there is a stack of sealed envelopes. The one on top of the pile has 2015 and a kiss written on it in pretty handwriting. Very carefully I open the envelope. Inside there is a card with a picture of a frothing bottle of champagne and HAPPY BIRTHDAY! written loudly in capitals, in an arch, like a rainbow but without all the colours. The background is blue and the writing is white and the bottle of champagne is dark green. I open it up and read what’s inside.
“Happy Birthday Bobby, hope you are having a good day and have done something nice. Remember when we went and fed the ducks? That was a really good birthday. I enjoyed that a lot and you did too. I’m sorry I’m not there with you to celebrate but know that I am always looking over you. Please look after yourself and stay healthy. All my love always, Sophie.
P.S. remember to take your medication.”
It’s nice to get a birthday card from Sophie. I read the message over and over for fifteen minutes. It’s a funny thing, I can remember when we fed the ducks but I can’t remember what medication she means. It’s a funny thing memory.
I put the card up in the middle of the mantelpiece above the empty fireplace and go back to my chair and look at it until the clock chimes one.
In my bedroom I sit on the end of the bed and watch the headlines. There is nothing new and I begin to relax a little bit. I allow myself to flop backwards and lie there just staring at the ceiling with my legs dangling off the end of the bed. Suddenly I feel very tired and I think about taking a nap.
Downstairs the doorbell rings
My body twitches and stiffens up. My breathing becomes shallow and I can feel panic fluttering around in my chest. I sit up and breathe deeply for sixty seconds, counting it out in my head.
The doorbell rings again.
I stand up and put on my dressing gown and stare at my hand until it stops shaking and then I go downstairs.
I can see the distorted silhouette of somebody standing the other side of the frosted glass and each step I take to the front door feels heavy and straining and final. I force myself to take one last deep breath and it judders out from my chest like crumpling paper and then I open the door.
There’s a man standing there who I don’t recognise.
“Hello mate,” he says, “Got your shopping delivery here; do you want me to bring it through?”
These are unusual times that we’re living in.
The kingdom of hysteria stretches as far as the eye can see. From the grey plains of printed media through to the decadent and delirious realms of social media, everything has become drenched in it. The twenty first Century unravels in increments of technological advance locked in step with social decay and deprivation of every kind. There is rampant solipsism on one side and earnest politicking on the other, there is a grey area of a very loud nothing very much in the middle. Exaggeration defines the discourse of everything from holidays to sickness, to social ills and injustice. Words such as humble, humility and mild have become redundant; there is no volume to the meek. In the kingdom of hysteria it is he who shouts loudest that gets the most likes.
This Century really began when two planes smashed into two towers and changed the world. Everything before 9/11 was just millennial hangover. In terms of global events September eleventh was without precedent. Never before had such a spectacular and devastating event been seen from so many angles by so many. The precursor, of course, is the Zapruder film which captured the Kennedy assassination and electrified a generation. One minute and twenty six seconds of low resolution camerawork heightened by its uniqueness, singular and almost mythical in its depiction of a culturally significant event. 9/11 was bigger. Multiple angles repeated from multiple media platforms, wall to wall coverage for weeks on end. This was disaster and atrocity packaged up neatly into one coherent package, the ultimate news story set against an impossibly cinematic clear blue sky. And put on repeat. Everything after is, on some level, just trying to be bigger.
Brutal wars and economies that bloat and burst and roll back leaving only scummy residue at the high water mark, causes fought and forgotten, holidays in the sun; all of it important. All of it not as important as what comes next. We’re in the pressure cooker now, on the up-ramp and everybody is shouting about how great their lives are or how shit their job is. Nobody is just doing alright, at least not that they’ll share. It’s not relevant to be alright, it’s just not as important. Nobody takes a selfie in a mediocre room unless it’s too show off how great they look or how gruesomely injured they are. Everyone has an agenda which is infinitely more important than anything anybody else could possibly have to say. The days of discretion are as jobless as VHS, an angular lump with no slot to fit. There just isn’t the machinery for that flickering kind of romance anymore.
Intellectuals and that define ours as the age of information and information saturates our everything. It’s blasted at us from all sides with increasing hostility and we adapt to it in the way that people do but the voice of reason is a quiet one and easily drowned out. So too are the voices of morality and decency. The internet, the web, the matrix, the whatever you call it, is in its adolescence and it’s loud and it can turn in an instant. This is a new frontier for humankind one that will fast become tamed by the suits and the smiles and harnessed for “the greater good” whatever that maybe and whoever that may serve. We are crying out to be manipulated in one way or the other. We’ve become a people whose compassion is momentarily piqued by tragic photos shared down a newsfeed and then cast off in favour of Candy fucking Crush. It’s all the same, it’s all just pixels. It’s about shouting the loudest and that is all it’s about.
In the kingdom of hysteria the Daily Flail is the most popular newspaper and every morning it screams something terrible about something or other. People, it seems, need this kind of energising just to get through the day. Why is that? It’s almost as if focusing everything down into a newsprint slick arrow of a headline allows that hysteria valve to wheeze open; if everybody else is buying into it… And from here the only way is bigger. More outrage, deeper sadness, higher class scandal, higher pitched support of the flavour of the month. A million dead children if it sells the rag.
Late Capitalism has revealed itself to be nothing more than a carnival barker selling tickets to the freak show concealed in the house of mirrors. We’re trapped in the kingdom of hysteria alright and we’re going down shouting as loudly as we can.
Terra Trans Terram they say
Meaning land beyond the land
We’ll build them an island faraway
With our machines and work-worn hands
Our rich earth we’ll give to them
Measured out by the ton
We simply haven’t the room for them
There’s nothing else to be done
We’ll build them Terra Trans Terram
A place for their own dreams
Over half of them are on the scam
Not as desperate as they seem
We’ll fashion an island just for them
And we’ll even give them clothes
They’re lucky we’re doing this for them
In their swarms and in their droves
They make me feel a little unwell
I’ll be glad when they are gone
That horrible sticky immigrant smell
Those nasty refugee songs
Look at all we have done for them
And look at all we give
I haven’t heard a thanks from them
Even though we help them live
Terra Trans Terram’s afloat
Square miles of our charity
A British built arc, an island boat
Our compassion in clarity
Homes and hope we give to them
Filtered water and their crops
Lord above we’re good to them
Our goodness knows no stops
A truly exceptional people are we
There’s no one on Earth like us
To take a people and make them free
With the minimum of fuss
Perhaps we’ve done too much for them
At the expense of all our own
We wouldn’t want to soften them
I quite fancy a brand new home
Let’s leave behind this slate grey place
Let’s leave behind our jobs
Let’s start a Terra Trans Terram race
Without those immigrant slobs
It wouldn’t be right to give to them
Now I don’t want to sound too harsh
It’s not our place to give to them
Terra Trans Terram is ours
The North Sea and associated weather systems regard the Norfolk coastline with a kind of rugged ambivalence all the year through. August was tepid, September was a washout, that’s just the way it goes round here. God is clumsy with the weather machine in this part of the world despite the massive church built in tribute in the middle of town. There are constant hurricanes. The locals with their salt whipped cheeks call it “bracing”, Jane Austen called it “very pure air indeed.” Not many people dress appropriately.
At this time of year there are no holidaymakers, it’s all day trippers. Coachloads of elderly folk are shuttled in for one last suck of life extending gale force before everything finally shuts down. They’re tearing up strips of the promenade with a gaggle of orange diggers, the sort of maintenance work which would be folly during peak season and impossible at the bottom of winter. The Fairground went to sleep weeks ago and in the evenings and at the weekends the diggers gather round it, protecting peeling helter-skelters and canvas clad teacup rides. There was no lust to extend season into the fickle territory of a British Indian Summer. The adjacent arcade stays active a little longer, sucking in the dregs of custom with its kaleidoscope lights and sirens. Toddlers demanding to be lifted by fast unwinding parents, so that they might feed half a lifetime’s worth of change into the 2p machines. Somebody wins a tired lollypop, somebody else doesn’t. It doesn’t matter, what’s important is the smell of candyfloss and the traction of sticky carpets.
At the base of the pier they’re lining up a dozen deep to buy ice creams and even longer at the toilets. There is something grimly British about a queue, especially when it’s for ice cream in the drizzle or for public convenience. But queuing up on a pier is heaven for some people and even more so as the rain thickens and stiffens against a brisk north easterly. The professional Crab people are gearing down to go dormant but up and down the pier the damp masses are casting off their rigs festooned with mouldy bacon and hamster heads. Somebody reels in a tired lollypop, somebody else doesn’t. It doesn’t matter.
Booming clouds of headache grey are knitting themselves together above the Hotel De Paris and somewhere above the empty caravans of West Runton firecracker thunder echoes back off the sea. There’s a mild apocalypse on top of Cromer town today but you can only see it if you’ve got the right kind of eyes. I do the only sensible thing and head to the Pavilion Bar.
I order a poorly poured Guinness (for the vitamins) and take a seat by the window. The wind is whipping now and the hoods of people’s anoraks are flipping up and down as if on strings. Sideways rain smashes into the old and young indiscriminately and ice creams become unmoored from their cones and splat the wooden struts and die uneaten. There is no queue for the toilets in here. There are reasonably priced muffins.
I’ve been in here for a while now. Nobody knows how to pour a Guinness, nobody has bought a muffin. Outside it might very well be the end of the world. I fear for George the bastard cat in these conditions, Mercedes Man never checks underneath his motorcar, a natural hide for the felines. But I’m loath to go home, dressed as I am in shorts and T shirt.
What our illustrious leader did or did not do with a dead pig’s head is of little relevance in today’s world of hysteria and hashtags, it’s the idea that matters. It’s the imagery conjured up collectively by anybody who fires out ham-fisted puns from their keyboard into the online arena that is at play here. It’s disposable, distraction humour at its most base and effective, a social media frenzy that expands and consumes and then pops, leaving behind nothing but the detritus of redundant hashtags and forgotten memes. Welcome to the future, now, what’s next?
The Daily Flail, who have serialised the tell-all biography from which the allegations have come will be lapping it up as the promise of further revelations pumps up circulation. Nobody is talking about that communist swine Corbyn anymore. Nobody cares that Lord Ashcroft’s book is self-declared revenge because Cameron didn’t give him a job in exchange for his millions of party donations. It’s pure lurid headline but it’s always nice to see the Right wing shooting at itself. Finally a bit of balance in things and further evidence, if indeed any were needed, that the Flail is a populist trash rag dressed up as a grown up newspaper.
PigGate has been an amusing distraction from the world. But with this world being in the middle of some sort of globalised, piecemeal, tepid war, it makes you wonder what the rest of the planet thinks about David Cameron and what he may or may not have got up to with a dead pig’s head. It makes you wonder how we really stand with the genuine powerhouses. I would guess at; not very highly. Cameron’s squeamishly hostile stance on the “swarms” of immigrants was only softened when a dead boy washed up on the shore of some God forsaken beach. Subsequently there were photo opportunities at a school in Lebanon, a country that has taken in over one million refugees from its stricken neighbour. And as EU leaders thrash out who has to take in what number of those in flight from atrocity, you’d be forgiven in thinking that Europe is bearing the brunt. As Piggate swills down around the ankles of the World Wide Web you wonder how seriously we as a nation are being taken. Are we actually being a “Great” country here?
Meanwhile, in Syria; Russia has been flying in troops and planes and choppers and equipment and all the other instruments needed to support Assad and to sustain a conflict for an indeterminable amount of time. The Western powers have hesitated and cogitated and procrastinated and Putin has moved into the vacuum with unerring determination to prop up the regime and avoid another Libya-type situation. Syria is imploding and by proxy we all move closer to World War Three. This is what happens when revolutions gather enough momentum to shake up the status quo but not enough to go over the hump. Of course the situation is infinitely sadder and more complex than any two bit blogger could hope to understand or convey within the confines of any two bit blog, still, I can’t help but think that somewhere along the line we have let a people down in the worst kind of way. Not once but twice.
Out of my window I see old ladies dressed as Zebras talking about UKIP in gardens overgrown by unkempt time and hang over weeds. You can feel the words rattling up their throats even from up here on the top floor. Mercedes Man has gone full Travis Bickle this week, some deep stifled rage has made him shave the sides of his head and buy a strimmer. He’s out there too. He’s in the alley though, not with the Zebras. Strimming his way through generations of tough rooted weeds and month stale cat shit. Cat Lady is ever present, sweeping away the debris and the ash from her perpetually guttering cigarettes. They seem cheerful enough.
Out of my window I can see over the wall and into the regular people gardens. I can watch that big old boy from across the way nailing tin signs into the side of his shed as his trousers fall down and bunch around his ample ankles. He might be shouting at God or he might be shouting at his wife, impossible to tell, his mouth filled as it is with protruding nails. His wife answers first and with time taught precision she hoists him back to respectability. This is not what I moved to the seaside for.
But further to the left, almost at the very extremity of my view I can see the Lighthouse, locked forever in its 4.5 second revolutions and I’m reminded of the holidays of childhood and the importance of keeping things to a regular beat. This isn’t a bad town to be in if you want away from the rest of the country. It’s not a bad town to be in if you like eating ice cream in the rain. You’ve got three fingers worth of second hand bookshops and enough pubs to get thrown out of to keep you busy. And you have that unquantifiable comfort of knowing that with your back to the sea, you can never get surrounded by idiots. If the worst comes to the not much better you can fill your pockets with rocks and go out Virginia Woolf style.
But let us not talk of such things, especially when Mercedes Man is attacking the gate post with a hacksaw. George the cat watches on, impassive and fat. Poor George, the bastard cat used to be the embodiment of cute kitten chic until it went to his head and he got fat and lazy. He got thrown off the roof of the Mercedes the other day by his buddy Sweep. I don’t really know much about this Sweep character but he sprays everywhere and he power slammed poor George off that car roof and they haven’t spoken since.
There are only two seasons in a seaside town; in and off. But the edges blur and mix and everything goes that dish water grey from sky to sewer. It’s romantic in that sad way that speaks of the lost and the nearly. You always end up where you’re supposed to be. Cromer is where you come to if you want to opt out of modern life. Acquire a substantial collection of vinyl records, by fair means or foul and blast down the A11 at 100mph and don’t stop until you can spit into the North Sea. Hole up in a little flat somewhere on the top floor and pretend like you’re in Greenwich Village circa ‘61. Shut it all out. Put Bob on the turntable and watch the lighthouse and watch the Zebra people and the Cat people. Maybe write a blog about it.