Wednesday, 26 June 2013


They all shouted Surprise! and someone stretched out a cake towards me, a big beaming smile on their face illuminated by the glow of the candles.  I dread to think what expression those multi-coloured candles brought to light on my own mug.
    A friend of mine once told me that I have a Fuck-Off vibe, and this was why I found it hard to make new friends from strangers when we all went out.  I would sit enviously, perched in the corner of a nightclub, staring out into the little gatherings of people, laughing, chatting, getting to know one another, and many, ultimately, slobbering across one another's faces.  I was partially envious, but also full of contempt.  Perhaps the second expression registered more strongly, and that is why nobody approached me to engage me in conversation?
    I don't think contempt is the face lit up by the birthday candles - 30 of them - I find it hard to muster any kind of feeling at present, because despite their joyous cheer this is anything but a surprise.  Sure, I wasn't expecting it, but a birthday surprise is, to some extent, an entirely forseeable inevitability.  Of the limited range of things that could occur on a person's birthday this is probably one of the most obvious.  Especially on a so-called milestone like this.
    It's hard to be surprised when you think about things as much as I do, I mean, there's very little that can genuinely surprise you.  If you're crossing the road the chances of being hit by a car are greatly increased, so you think about that, you look both ways, you do your best not to be hit by a car, but there is always a chance that you will be, so it can't really come as that much of a shock.
    More so than that though, if a friend is late I will begin by assuming the worst - they have died somehow - I will list the many ways in which they could have conceivably died - hit by a car, mugged and stabbed, a slate fell from a rooftop, choked on some food, etc. - and follow this train of thought to reasons why they may be late, right up to them just being not very good at time keeping, so that by the time they do arrive I have already imagined every possible excuse they could possibly have presented outside of the absurd.
    Only the absurd is left to shock me, and things like that never happen, and I mean it would have to be truly bizarre, not even the arrival of an alien species could throw me, because it is entirely probable that one day this might happen, and, unless the aliens took on a form so utterly impossible to imagine there is no way that I would feel at all disturbed by their presence.
    I think I began to really take things in my stride when she broke up with me by accident.  A mis-sent text, it all seemed so inevitable, I guess suspicion can act as a cushion, plus I'd had my heart broken before.  It didn't really bother me, I figured that she should be happy, and if she's not happy with me then that's fine, she should leave me and seek happiness wherever it may be.  So, for me, it was all so simple, meet up, finalise the termination of our relationship, and move on with our lives.  I was surprised she cried when we hugged goodbye, but some people cry when leaving one job to go to another better one, such a strange emotional expression.
    When I felt the urge to cry, which I haven't in years, I would stop myself, it seemed like such a waste, usually because I was alone, so firstly why should I perform these crying theatrics for an absent audience, and secondly I should probably save my tears for something really devastating, and not just splurge them frivilously on my petty depressions.  But, events that other people might perhaps consider devastating came and went, and I did not cry.
    However, it's cheap of me to wish to only use my emotions to effect others, though I'm not sure how else to ever derive a reaction from people.  I feel so utterly unnecessary as a part of any human interaction, that I have often found myself slowly edged out of circles of friends, often literally - a conversational circle was close in front of me, meaning I am standing on the outside, facing someone's back, peeking hopelessly over their shoulders.  Whenever I speak the enthusiasm on other's faces seems to visibly vanish, leaving a bemused expression expecting me to say something to reassure them that I'm not devoid of character, and consistently I fail.
    Why, I think, should I even continue to attempt to become a part of groups that don't want to incorporate me?  But how will I ever meet someone if all my efforts are in vane?  Though why bother at all?  I enjoy my own company, I can entertain myself and I don't need the approval of someone else to live my own life, do what I want to do, and why should I have to share my time, my needs?  But, the choice to share, that'd be nice.
    They cut the cake into large segments, start passing it around on paper plates, I try my best to avoid taking a slice, I don't really like cake, but there's this pressure upon me - as the cake was made, without my consent, for me - that I should eat a piece and enjoy it, offer approving noises, and everyone will watch, take photographs, and make ridiculous cooing sounds as I am forced to shove a stodgy lump of icing encased sponge into my maw.  I don't want to, but I oblige.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013


I had been drinking.  I was depressed, things weren't going so great with Lucy, we'd had one of those awkward conversations that feels like a precursor to us breaking up.  Right now, it seemed so inevitable, it almost felt like we had broken up.  All I could think about was how much I loved her, how much I didn't want things to be over.
    So, sitting here, toast growing cold on the plate in front of me, cup of tea doing little to dull the throbbing in my head, and me, swimming in shame that I went out last night, got drunk, and kissed a girl I met in a bar.
    There's a text on my phone from her, though I'd drunkenly put her name in as Aabygull, I'm assuming I meant to type Abigail, but I daren't read it, because it seems - from the few previewed words - so full of joy and happiness, and I know already that I have to tell her it was just a thing, just a drunken slip, because I'm in love with Lucy.
    I ignore the message for too long, to the point where I'm starting to think that maybe I can get away with not replying, but then another text comes through, and it shows no diminished sense of optimism, instead it looks like she's suggesting evening plans.  I'm going to have to respond.
    Sure enough, it's a buoyant, bright message asking if I want to go to the cinema.  I hate cinema dates, you have to sit there in silence with this person you barely know, concerned that the film isn't entertaining them, that you're not entertaining them, but, at the same time, you don't want to talk all the way through the film.  On the plus side, at least it gives you something to talk about afterwards, but what if they don't really like talking about films?  You assume they must if they're going to suggest a cinema date, but... Wait, it doesn't matter, I've just got to make this a clean cut thing, we can't keep seeing one another, I made a mistake.
    But I hesitate, she wants to see a screening of John Carpenter's The Thing at the Prince Charles Cinema, I'd love to see it on the big screen.  Maybe, I think, I can negotiate this into a friendship, I mean, I've kissed girls before and become friends with them, good friends.
    So I reply, say that'd be good, we arrange to grab a quick drink beforehand.
    Lucy sends me a text an hour later, apologising for the argument yesterday, though I didn't quite frame it as an argument, we were just discussing what we wanted for our respective futures and the contradictions that threw up, which had ultimately lead me to believe that things would have to come to an end to allow either of us to move on with our lives, at least as far as our non-romantic ambitions were concerned.  Yes, in the midst of that debate I was thinking about things cynically, I was taking our relationship for granted, and it was only afterwards that the full potentiality of what I stood to lose presented itself clearly in my mind, and it was then - as I drank - that my love for Lucy was ever more cemented in my head and my heart.  But, it's ok, I've got everything in order now, I know what I want, and this is a good sign if she's reaching out, offering the olive branch.
    Abigail texts back, a happy face made of letters, she says she's looking forward to seeing me and puts an upper and lowercase kiss at the end.  This is going to be difficult.
    All I can think about when Abigail and I meet up that evening is Lucy, I'm aware of myself conversing with Abigail, but it feels responsive rather than an engaged process, nevertheless she doesn't seem to be aware of my distance.  We have a couple of quick beers, head to the cinema, watch the film, half-way through I can see her hand moving gradually from her lap, onto the arm of the chair and then fingertip-toeing onto my arm, down towards my fingers, and then we're holding one another's hand.  When I return her grip she lets herself ease back into her seat a little more.  I wish Lucy was here instead.
    Lucy and I meet up the next day for lunch, and I'm overwhelmed with guilt and shame, I can't look her in the eye because I keep remembering Abigail's hands on my skin, how, when we kissed goodbye, they pulled me ever so close to her, clutching my shoulders, and I let the kiss linger, I let it mean more than it should have, but not to me, to me it was just a nice kiss without deeper meaning, but how do you explain that to someone, someone who seems so smitten.
    She can sense my awkwardness, and it affects her immediately, makes her uncomfortable and suspicious.  She keeps asking me what's on my mind, and I can't tell her.  Eventually, I'm so evasive, that Lucy suggests we take a break, and I don't think for a second it's what she wanted to say, I feel like my attitude today has coerced her into having to make this decision, and I suddenly come to life, pleading with her desperately, but it's unconvincing.  She doesn't cry, she doesn't show any emotion, she just gets up, gives me a sterile hug and a kiss on the cheek and leaves.  When she's gone tears silently fall from my eyes and refill my coffee.
    I'm so full of virulent anger, chastising myself over and over in my own mind, standing on the tube, trundling furiously home, and I can feel it infecting the other people in the carriage, I can see the little huffs and puffs of nuisance becoming magnified when someone opens their paper into another's personal space, or turns with a backpack nudging the back of someone's head, or bitchy little remarks made under the breath as someone doesn't ask to get by and has to lurch awkwardly over someone else.  I know that I am responsible for this atmosphere of contempt, that it is radiating out of me like a leak at a nuclear power plant, that I am the toxic centre of this little universe.
    By the time I've reached my stop I feel like my reserves of hatred have run dry, and they've been replaced by a longing and despair, that somehow I've been the root of all this, that over the past two days I've sabotaged my own life obliviously.  I feel, even moreso than I did previously, that Lucy is lost to me, that love is gone from there, it has moved somewhere else, it still exists but it has been passed like an infection from Lucy to another, and I realise that the love she gave me I have given to Abigail, that I was foolish, drunk and cowardly, that instead of being honest with my emotions, going to Lucy when I needed to, I spread the disease of love to Abigail and I must deal with the consequences.  I cannot get her to love another, we don't choose who we love, but we must be responsible for those who love us, and I resent Abigail, I resent her for the love she has for me, because she is not the person I want to love me, but I'm afraid of being alone and maybe, until the love is cured, I can cope with this.  I shall let the love wither us both, because that is all it is good for, like all emotions love is a wasting disease.


All the hands had shot up in the air, each face lit up with eagerness, backs stretched and bottoms lifted off the seats, as if not being picked to answer would cause them to lose their flimsy purchase.  Helen was quite pleased, she had become all too used to an awkward shuffle, an audible inhalation, or a pensive murmur whenever she usually asked a group of children what they want to be when they grow up.
    Carefully, with exagerrated precision, she pointed to one boy whose name was Jamal.
    "I want to be famous," Jamal beamed.
    "Ok," Helen nodded, he must have misunderstood the question a bit.  She picked another child, a girl called Susan.
    "Me too, I want to be famous as well."
    Quickly glancing around the circle, and at the slackening in those raised limbs, she began to suspect that every child was planning on saying that.  Just to make sure she picked another.
    "I also want to be famous," Magda bashfully smiled.
    Helen lowered her clipboard, usually she would have written each child's respective choice in the box next to their name, but today they all remained blank.
    "Does everyone here want to be famous?"
    "Yes miss," a boy called Ben said, "who doesn't want to be famous?"
    Helen sighed, clicked her tongue, "It's not really a career though.  That's what today is about, finding out what career you'd most like to pursue."
    "What career did you pursue, miss?" Susan asked, well-meaning but ultimately infuriating.
    Helen, you see, had wanted to be famous too.  When she was eleven she'd even been in a few adverts after a friend of her parents, who worked as a casting director, 'spotted' her at a birthday party.  Helen had gone to drama clubs after school and at the weekends, been the lead in a number of school plays, taken singing classes twice a week, and auditioned for a great number of stage schools.  But the auditions were unsuccessful, she found herself doing a theatre course at a mixed discipline University instead, though she never really wanted to be a stage performer.  Sure, she managed to wrangle her way into a few student short films, but the scripts were clunky and whatever efforts she made to raise their level just seemed futile at best.  Ultimately she grew bored, her course offered nothing of any real interest, and besides she'd made some good friends and started seeing this guy called Luke, and she thought there could be a future there.  They'd talked about moving in together after University, somewhere just outside of London to suit both their needs, because despite her apathy the only career path she really knew to pursue was her desire to be a television actress.
    So, when Uni was over, and after a couple of Summer months spent at their respective family homes, they moved to a small flat in Walthamstow, where she would commute into the city to try and attend whatever auditions she could scavenge and he would drive into Essex to intern at a nature reserve.  But Helen didn't really care for any of the roles she went for, she restricted herself to only film work - be it shorts, adverts, television, low-budget features, etc. - and each part seemed to offer nothing, no progression, no light at the end of the tunnel, and she was conscious of unintentionally building a resume littered with bad credits.  She would look at the filmographies of actors she admired and see the intelligent progression of their career, compare her age to theirs and worry that it was already too late.
    This began to impact her confidence, she knew she'd need to get a job to tide her over whilst she waited for the good parts to come her way, but she wasn't so keen on doing something ultimately unfulfilling like waiting tables or tending bar - it's not that she felt like she was above these jobs, having done both whilst at Uni - so she got an administrative role working in an online shop.  She made some good friends there, friends who really helped her when Luke ended their relationship after four years together, she moved into a house share in the city and then one of her housemates, who worked for a recruitment agency, told her about a vacancy within the company.  A little tired of the online shop's somewhat repetitive nature, and looking to work face-to-face with people, she applied and got the role that would eventually lead to her going out to schools to meet children to help advise them on pursuing the right career for them.
    "What do your parents do for a job?" she asked the children, leaning forwards and gesturing enthusiastically, trying to steer the conversation in a more productive direction.
    "My mum's an accountant, and my Dad mends electrics." Jamal responded quickly and proudly.  After a pause he, unprompted, added, "But my mum's mum was a baker and her dad was a taxi driver, and my dad's mum was a nurse and my dad's dad made furniture."
    "Very good," Helen was rather impressed, she couldn't really recall what her own father did, something in an office somewhere.  "That's impressive that you know all that."
    "But miss," Jamal innocently began, "doesn't that prove that what your parents do won't matter to what you do?"
    She was somewhat stumped, but then her point hadn't really been to give the children a sense of heredity through employment.  However, it had made her think about the cautious intake of breath that her mother had taken when she told her that she was moving near to London with Luke to pursue acting.
    "Are you sure that's a good idea?" her mother had said.
    Helen had rattled off their joint plans in defense, but also in defference, hoping to convince her mother - through her passion for the notion - that they were really going to try, that this would be the best for both of them, her and Luke.  However, ultimately it had proved to be their undoing, they found themselves two ships merely moored at the same port and with each day the different worlds they sailed into became their real homes, the city for her and the wilds for him.  But Helen couldn't help but think that her mother's sharp intake of breath had been the light to the touchpaper, sewing a seed of the doubt that would push distance between them both, like a tree busting through concrete.  But she never could have comprised, that's what she reiterated to herself there, right there in that classroom, she couldn't have turned her back on her acting and stayed out in the countryside for him.  Then she looked at herself, as much as anyone can, and remembered that she was not an actor, that she had not been to an audition in six years, that at first she had placed that dream on the backburner expecting to come back to it, but as time had wore on the notion had gathered dust, like so many things, and ultimately become like tinnitus, forever there, unchanging, and over time subsumed.
    Having been on that drama course she did know people who had continued to work away at it, hoping to become an actor, and she'd seen them rewarded with varying degress of success, and she'd felt bitter about it, sneered and wrinkled her nose when she'd seen the name of one of her contemporaries in the credits of some tv show, willing them to fail, sometimes masochistically watching the show and hoping that their performance would be so monumentally awful as to restore her faith in her own abilities, even though they lay dormant and unused.  If she could not be an actor then no-one, nobody but the pre-established celebrities she had no chance of knowing, could be.  It felt ok for the famous people she didn't know to be famous, because it was almost as if they were born that way, molded and designed for fame, they weren't one of us, they were Olympian Gods carved from stone, birthed into greatness.  She knew that she was formed from humbler stuff, so it didn't seem unfair that they had it all and she had nothing.
    That's what the reality shows changed though, they began to give people the impression that fame was a raffle prize, that celebrity was inside us all, and if we were there, if were lucky, it would be unleashed and once it had been discovered our trajectory would be unstoppable.
    But that was a world alien to Helen.
    These children though, they lived every day expecting some mysitcal talent scout to walk anonymously into their school, point their finger and hoist them - like a cuddly toy in an arcade machine - out of their squalor into a dazzling, glittering world of wonderment.  They could wave goodbye to their friends from the window of the limousine, perhaps come back to parade their newfound celebrity in their faces, bask in the fawning adoration, especially of those who once doubted them, laughed at them, pushed them over in the playground.
    Helen decided to grab a coffee from the staff room at the school, she stood listlessly stirring her sugar into the ill brown liquid, her mind wandering.  A teacher approached her, Ms. Cotton, recognising Helen from a previous visit.
    "How were they today?"
    "Hmm?" Helen responded, a little startled.
    "How were the children in the group, they've had a strange time recently."
    "Strange, why?"
    "Oh, did nobody tell you," Ms. Cotton edged the kitchen door closed a little, "one of their classmates died a few weeks ago."
    "Oh God, that's awful."
    "I don't know if you'd remember him, Billy Hudson."
    "Yes," Helen lied, she could barely remember any of the children she'd just been talking to.
    "Well, it's such a terrible thing, he took his own life."
    Helen froze, she was genuinely taken aback, "What?"
    "Oh, he was depressed, he was part of the school drama club and this casting director came in, looking for boys for this new film or something, well, Billy had a casting, but he didn't get the part." Ms. Cotton poured herself a tea.
    "And he killed himself?"
    "Yes," she said, adding the milk, "hanged himself with a scarf from his bunk-bed."
    "Because of the...?  Were things ok at home?"
    "Yes, as far as anyone knows, I mean, a lovely boy, wonderful student, really tragic."
    Helen finished her coffee, she talked with Ms. Cotton about other things going on in the school, about their plans for the summer, inconsequential things.
    Later that evening Helen sat on the sofa in her flat, a beer in hand, a dinner plate with the remnants of a Chinese takeaway by her side, and a talent search show on the television.
    She watched the hopeful file past the judges, each one giddy with the possibility of escape from whatever life lay on the other side of those doors, and she laughed unintentionally at those clearly lacking in talent yet full of delusion, she welled up at the awkward people who expressed unexpected abilities, or scoffed at the good-looking excitable groups who coasted through on - what the judges called - 'star quality'.
    But more than that, she wondered what any of them could hope to gain from it all, what did they want?  One young boy was crying in the hallway, having just failed his audition, the presenter put a comforting arm around him and thrust the microphone to better capture his sobs, and the boy wailed; "I just want to be famous."  Not earning any sympathy from Helen, but that's all any of them wanted really, they all just want to be famous, and all Helen wants is to feel better than them, that no matter what fame the successful ones may find she can feel, in the pit of her stomach, that it is a fleeting fame, a transient glory limply afforded to the naive by a triumvirate already caluclating how best to package, market and - ultimately - discard the performer singing, dancing, trying before them.
    When she was little, and the teacher had asked everyone to draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they grew up Helen had struggled.  In the end, on that day in primary school, before the casting director had unearthed her, she had chewed the end of her pen, lost in thought, trying to sneak a peek at the drawings the other children were busy scribbling.  Eventually, in an effort to try and relieve her creative block, Helen had just drawn a picture of herself as she was right there and then, no uniform or scenery, nothing to indicate any sort of designation, and then when the teacher had come around and asked her what job she had given herself, Helen had shrugged and said she didn't know.
    Ms. Cotton, earlier that day, had off-handedly referred to a five year plan, she hoped to become the head of the Science department, she had some ideas for changes she hoped to put forward when she achieved this goal, and she'd asked Helen what her plans were.  Helen had shrugged, tried to visualise herself in the future, but, like that primary school precursor, all she could picture was her as she was in that moment, nothing new.
    Fame, she thought, for those eager children, was merely a way of staying in that moment, that lazy moment, but being removed from the responsibilities of a world that refused to acknowledge.  A way to be given a gift of apathy, you don't need to try, you don't need to worry, you're famous, you don't have any problems.  To not be famous was to be burdened with everything, all the impossible misery of the world, and if that was the only alternative then that is why Billy Hudson had strung his scarf around his neck and hanged himself.  For all the good Helen felt she contributed to this world she might as well do the same.
    She took another slug of her beer and turned off the television, finding her reflection replacing the reality show, and she sat there and watched it until she fell asleep.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013


She doesn't seem to be into me.  I don't know what I'm doing wrong.  I mean, we've got loads in common, and we flirted really well via messenger, but there's something off now we're face to face.  I excuse myself and nip to the bathroom.
    In the cubicle I take a quick snap of my outfit and post it: Pretty snappy?
    By the time I've finished my wee it's already got 15 thumbsup and two shares.  That's pretty good.
    I wash my hands, run a bit of extra water through my hair, touch the mirror and drag the snapshot square to frame my face, pull my most alluring expression, grab a shot and hit share.  I can feel my mobile buzzing with approval as I walk back to the table.  I've set it to chatcatch in the hopes of capturing a few exchanges, to make sure that people don't think I'm saying anything stupid.
    She's just finished her Mojito, so I order us another couple on the tabletop.
    "You said that you work in the music industry?" she smiles.
    "Yeah," I pause for effect, "I work in a record store."
    She doesn't laugh.
    "Nah, I'm joking," I glance down to my pocket, I want to see if anyone on chatcatch thought that funny or just lame, "I do P.R. for up and coming bands."
    "Cool, any I would have heard of?"
    "Probably not.  But, hopefully you will one day soon!"
    She doesn't seem impressed, I got some thumbsup for that from a few followers though.  I wish I could find a moment to nab a quick shot of her, get some feedback.  Or, maybe I can try and type-up something she says and post that.  I wish there was an update to chatcatch that posted things other people said to you automatically.
    "You work in a bar in East Ham, right?"
    "No," she smiles at the waiter who brings over the two fresh Mojitos - more of a reaction that I've got so far - and takes a quick sip, "I'm taking my Bar exam."
    "Oh, so you're a mixologist or something?"
    "I'm going to be a barrister."
    "In a coffee shop."
    "In a court."
    "They have coffee shops in court?"
    She snorts a little laugh, straw perched on her teeth, and takes a quick glug.  It feels like a little victory, I hopes she knows that - aside from the first genuine mistake - I was playing dumb.  I decide to make sure.
    "You specialize in, um, human rights law, yes?"
    "Ding! Correct.  Well done Mr. P.R."
    I mime doffing an imaginary cap humbly.  Wish I could have videYOUed that, it probably looked super cute.  Still, maybe things will loosen up a bit now.
    She checks her mobile, her face drops a little.
    "Aw, shoot! My friend is staying with my this weekend, well, I thought she was getting in around ten, turns out she's just landed.  Look, I'm really sorry," she's already gathering her things together, "but I can't leave her stranded, so I'm going to have to head to meet her."
    I'm a little caught off-guard, "Oh, ok."
    "I had a nice time," she leans forward and gives me a little hug and then heads for the door.
    I take a quick pic of myself with the two half-drunk Mojitos: Oh well, more for me... :(
    I get a shoutback: Hey, you're geotagged in Bad Soup, I'm 5 mins away, don't move!
    I reply: Ok. But don't expect the drinks to still be here! LOL ;)
    By the time Katy arrives I've done a pretty decent sweep of her profile, we've not got a lot in common really, like films and music and telly and stuff, but after earlier it's nice to have someone to drink with so quickly.
    We get on, nothing special, though I play act it up a bit, take a fair few shots of us with ever increasingly more elaborate drinks.  We head to a bar with bowling lanes and get some great pics of us messing about there too.  After that we jump into a taxi and go to a party some friends are throwing in a riverside warehouse.
    I've had loads of thumbsups and shares, not just of the pics, but of some videos I put online out the sunroof of the cab and of my reflection in the river getting splashed away by my own piss!  Someone commented on a shot of the party: Well jelz.
    The next day I wake up next to Katy, we're on a sofa still in the warehouse, I manage to get up without disturbing her and head to the bathroom.  They've got a snapshot mirror here, so I quickly muss up my hair and take a pic: Hangover face!
    Aw, hot.
    Oh yeah, totally ruff. :D
    Then I notice I've got a text from Anne, it says: Hey, sorry I had to dash off last night... GRR, FRIENDS!!!  But I did have a nice time, and it would be good to see you again?
    And for a second I think that's sweet and all, but then I remember how much work it was just trying to get her to seem like she was having a good time.  And I look at the thumbsup number rising next to my last picture and smile, because I don't need to try, people like me.

What's Next?

A meeting was called of those who had, as far as any could recall, been regarded as the best brains on the planet.  All those great thinkers, or, at least, their descendants, gathered together in one giant meeting room to try and figure out what was left.
    Every idea that had ever been imagined had been thought and attempted, and not just attempted, but pursued doggedly to the point of exhaustion, just to make absolutely certain that the idea wasn't just a fanciful notion, but, those ideas that hadn't been made reality people had to - after decades of trying - finally give in and admit that they were merely flights of fancy.
    So where did that leave us?  Seventy two years ago the last new idea had been realised, it was a teleportation device, but it was limited to transport matter on this planet and this planet alone, only via a single pod-to-pod transference, and, to teleport oneself, was one of the most singularly painful experiences any human could wish to put themselves through.  Furthermore, the human at the other end, whilst retaining all physical attributes of the initial self, lacked the memory - or "soul" if you will - of their pre-teleportation counterpart.  Whilst matter could easily be zapped to and fro, living matter never retained its neurological qualities, and the scientist reponsible for the machine was taken to court for having essentially murdered the souls of a number of his peers.
    But that was it, that was the last invention, that was the last idea, and people ummed and ahhed, racked their brains, incapable of coming up with something that hadn't been done before.
    People turned to speculative fiction, hoping that creative imaginations might feature some long forgotten concept that could propel the human race forwards into its next glorious era.  But, no, most speculative fiction had already informed the progress of science - as much so as the reverse was true - and eventually the two had cancelled one another out.
    We had hover cars, jet-packs, cloning, life-like virutal reality video games, all types of sex toys, space travel (but no means of sustaining human life out into the far reaches of the universe), new energy sources that had allowed us to keep our world powered once the oil had run out, cures for previously incurable diseases, plastic surgery so good you couldn't tell the difference, nano-technology, prosthetic limbs controlled by the brain, everything.
    All we were left with was depression, a sense of utter hopelessness.  Why had we done all this?  That's what people kept asking, and it was a futile question, because nobody could answer it.
    People argued that life was not a puzzle that had to be solved, it was merely a coincidence, just as we were the chance creation of circumstance so too were our creations; inevitable off-shoots of our own being.  Though these people were surprised that we had managed to beat the extinction of our species and find ourselves in a creative cul-de-sac first, they had - optimistically - hoped that either nuclear war or the death of our sun would have occured first.
    Some said that the eradication of our species was probably a good idea, that perhaps the only way to move forwards would be to start over.  People argued that the planet Earth was not some etch-a-sketch that could be shook and re-doodled upon, that the remnants of all human progress would still scar the surface no matter what and it'd be a deliberately idiotic measure without even taking into consideration all that genocide.
    Others were more patient, believing that inspiration would eventually come, that there is - at least - one great idea yet to be had and this time of creative stagnancy was precisely the right gestation period for such a thought.  Whilst less patient people turned to religions of various shades, from the merely worshipful to suicide cults.
    But it wasn't the awkward and clumsy segregation of a soceity bereft of ideas that rankled the most, it was the lack of entertainment, people had become dulled by the derth of new literature and music and film and games, everything just seemed so samey, so 'done'.  There was no way to surprise anyone anymore.
    People had tried raising their children to be as ignorant as possible, but popular culture was so vast, so prominent - much like the impact of the human race itself - that it was impossible to avoid, and closeting someone from it only made their desire to know all the stronger, their hunger greater and their come-down, once they had filled up and got bored, all the harder.
    For seventy two years people had kicked their heels, shuffled around, waiting for something new and there was nothing.  The malaise had convinced people that their jobs were pointless, and, indeed, many of them were.  This is a planet that had no place for advertisers, marketing executives, thinktanks, policy departments and such like.  Nor, as things wore on, was there a place for professional footballers, actors, musicians, writers, comedians, chefs, fashion designers and their kind.
    With nothing but boredom people began to pull at the threads of the ideas that had formed the basis of our society.  Money lost all value surprisingly quickly, people were more willing to exchange food or skills, even without keeping a record of what was 'owed' them.  As long as you were nice people were eager to help.
    But not everyone was nice, people rushed to assume control, seeing an Earth left unchained and ripe for the swiping.  But there was such a sense of detachment that threatening to take away someone's life no longer had the same impact that it once did, and imprisoning somebody offered little threat, with the prisons that had been created quickly forming a sense of community just as charming as that outside the prison walls.  These new wannabe dictators found themselves floundering like a fish plucked from the sea.
    Because freedom was the next concept to blur, as everyone accepted that nobody had chosen to be born, nobody had chosen what form their life took, how they looked, what ailments afflicted them, and at the core of most people was a desire to be accepted, to get along with others, to be good.  People had realised that no matter where they found themselves after their birth they had immediately become a prisoner, embroiled in some system that they had had no part of forming and could do very little to rattle the walls of their cage.  Most people had just accepted things for how they were and tried to do their best within the confines of that.
    Greed had to be eradicated, and this was easy now that everyone knew there was nowhere else for the human race to go from here, no whispered secret that only those with everything could aspire to achieve.  Instead, the only secret that the powerful had had previously was the knowledge of their own flimsy hold on the billions beneath them.  If anything, ideas and innovation had to keep occuring for the population at large to be distracted, because without the latest gadget or gizmo people would get restless.  Ultimately, the powerful had tried to stagger human progress as much as possible once they saw things drying up.
    They had hoped that maybe people had faith in them, but faith - they realised - is a by-product of fear.
    So, after seventy two years perhaps the world was shook like an etch-a-sketch, but it was not totally erased.  Instead, like a centrifuge, that which was necessary had clung on, shown its real importance, all the distractions that had dazzled the human race drifted ignominiously into obsolesence.  Leaving a simple, almost unconscious, structure, one with a stronger core than the flimsy have/want culture that had sunk its claws in over centuries of misguided progress.  These were not naive times, they were truly enlightened, and now devoid of the burden of having to wonder "What's the meaning of life?" people were finally free to truly enjoy it.

Saturday, 1 June 2013


I conducted a test, to see what it would feel like.  I blocked my sister, and sure enough, as soon as I'd added the block I was no longer aware of her at all.  After five minutes I unblocked her.
    "Did you feel it?"
    "I tried to poke you."
    "Nope, didn't feel a thing."
    "That's crazy!"
    Sure enough, it was.  People had gradually become more and more intolerant of one another, and the technology had arrived just in time, otherwise I'm sure people would have constantly broken out in fights and riots or enacted passionate hate crimes without any consideration for the consequences.  I mean, this stuff was going on, but there was a sense that it was escalating, that the boundaries between right and wrong were starting to fall.
    Fortunately, the blocking tool was an effective way of ignoring people whose attitudes you disliked, and if they tried to cause you any physical harm then the sensor would give them a rather nasty jolt to the brain.  This is why my sister only attempted to give me a little prod, rather than anything more substantial.
    "What did I look like?"
    "I couldn't see you."
    "At all?"
    "Well, there was sort of a wavy area, like heat rising off of a desert road."
    You see, the blocked person can still see you, but, often, once someone realises they're being blocked they'll often block you back, it's just easier that way.
    To begin with it was very rare that you'd feel like blocking someone, I mean, people say stupid things without thinking, or being aware of, the consequences.  Perhaps they're just ignorant, and need to be told why what they're saying is wrong.  Of course, after a while, it's just easier to block some people, as you realise that talking to them is getting nowhere.
    So, you block a couple at first, just those people who really grate, but then the temptation is there to block others, sometimes you just don't want to hear the other side of it, I mean, it's not worth it when you know you're in the right.  Sometimes my friends will surprise me, we'll have known one another for ages, and then suddenly - because of something in the news - they'll come out with some ridiculous opinion, and, well, it's difficult to start a debate with some friends, so best to just block them.
    Similarly, I've removed some news providers from my social feed and added them to the 'restricted' list on my computer, there are certain attitudes I just don't need to see.  It's kind of the same with people, someone's attitude can just ruin your whole day, whether it's a grumpy person having a huff on the bus or some nutter going off on one about the government or something.
    I mean, I don't want to restrict or censor other people, but I'm not going to hang around with those I disagree with, it's not worth my time.  I guess that's why, eventually, most people have come round to the blocking tool as a good idea, it allows us to adapt the world to suit our needs.
    Over time I've started to become more aware of those wavy heat trails though, the blurred space that indicates the presence of a blocked person.  I guess as I've blocked more people - or used keywords to auto-block - then more space has been taken up by the artificial absence of people.
    I went home for Christmas, the key fit the lock, the door opened, my family were sat around the TV in the front room, though nothing was on.  I smiled, raised my arms and beamed; "Hey, happy Christmas!"
    But nobody turned around, they all stayed still, staring at the television.
    "Hey everyone!" I repeated, thinking, for a moment, that perhaps they were all napping, despite their eyes being open.
    I even moved in front of the television, standing right in their line of sight, before I finally realised that they must have blocked me.  My own family?!  Maybe they'd blocked me by mistake, I've heard about that, where you look through your list and find a couple of people who you didn't think you'd have blocked being filtered.  They're all expecting me to arrive today, so I guess by the evening they might realise the mistake?
    The day drags on, I grow bored, impatient.  There's very little I can do to get my family's attention, I feel like a disgruntled poltergeist, but they treat my random opening and closing of doors with a detached manner, as if it were some inconvenient natural phenomena.
    Eventually I realise that, at least to offer some distraction, perhaps I can't see what's on the television because it's content I've blocked.  I decide, for speed, to clear all my media filters and see what they're watching.
    Once the progress bar has finished unblocking the content the television springs to life, it's a news report of some sort, showing a protest somewhere, people holding banners emblazoned with big bold words demanding No More Cuts, Save Our Hospitals, Say No To Privatisation, Stop Banker's Bonuses, and such like.
    It cuts back to the studio, but it's not one I recognise, not like the BBC or something, it's more like a warehouse, and the people hosting don't seem like the usual television presenters, they're not as well groomed, their suits a little tattier, their diction less rehearsed.  They're talking about the government, talking about future protests and petitions that the viewers can sign, about some kind of bill that's about to go through government that they want to stop, I have no clue what half of what they're saying means.  But one of the presenters make a very passionate speech and I'm distracted by a sound, it's my Dad and he's clapping.
    I keep waiting, I wait all through Christmas Day, but my family don't acknowledge me.  I, quite brazenly, swipe some food, they can't have not noticed.
    On Boxing Day they all wake up early, I've been sleeping on the sofa in the front room because I can't find out where mum keeps the foldaway bed I usually kip on.  I follow them as they all pile into the car, fortunately there's space next to my sister, so I buckle up and we set off down the road.
    I can see my mum, as we drive out of town heading towards the city, looking into the rear view mirror, her eyes registering the space I occupy.  She must know I'm here, they all must.
    We have to stop in Camberwell, the Walworth road is blocked, police cars and barriers line the streets, but people are walking through.  My family get out of the car, it's not parked, it's abandoned, and they follow the crowd.  I try to keep up, finding myself jostled by the mass of people, at first I apologise, but as the buffeting continues I cuss, but nobody seems to care.
    The gathering grows more organised, until the throng becomes a march, a sense of unity starts to form as we continue up into the heart of the City, across the river and towards Westminster.  The very same banners and placards from the Christmas Eve news report waft and wave over my head, and people chant, punching their fists into the air, my family have joined them, they are part of this protest, they are part of the people.
    I follow them into Parliament Square, where the crowd seems to settle, the chants become a murmur of anticipation and then, like a tangible sigh, the crowd heaves forward, going beyond the iron gates, past the security boxes, past unmanned booths where guards should sit, into the building, into the halls of Parliament, into the corridors of power, into the offices and chambers, into our democracy, and it feels like the last day of school, as people whoop and clap and cheer.
    And I see a man cowering under a desk in an office, his tie loose, his suit damp with sweat, and he looks at me and whispers for help.