The Typewriter Will Sleep When The Job Is Done

He went home and wrote his book to the end. His hands were cramped and shaking by the end; finger tips stained with typewriter ink. But he felt the satisfaction of a hard job done well. It had been worth the sacrifice of an evening out with his friends.

The next day at work he realised that he’d made a mistake in the first act of the story and that its pacing would ultimately derail the whole narrative. He resolved to … resolve … the issue. He realised he’d been in trouble two words into that previous sentence and wondered vaguely when he’d started narrating his own life story.  The day passed, eventually, like a kidney stone. But that evening he was there at the typewriter, feeding it his time and blood and sweat and every last ounce of creative energy he could wring from his knackered flesh.

Done.

But then it occurred to him in the shower the next morning that he had been a blind fool to go back to the first person, a blind, stupid fool.  Sorry boys, gonna’ have to ‘ixnay on the five aside tonight – the muse is trembling in my bosom.  He didn’t notice the unresponsive … response… from his colleagues.

The next day he left work at the very second his contracted hours were up. No post-work drinks for me; I’ve a book to write.  And the next day he did the same. And the next, until it was done.

He was excited then, at the end, so he sat back and lit his cigar he said, ‘Martha, now, how about that…’ but before he could finish, he had a revelation – it’s not a third person narrative at all; it’s a dramatic monologue.  He went to bed with the dawn chorus for a power nap before work.

And so it carried on, through the changing seasons and almost as many drafts as demurred invitations: I’m sorry guys, another time, how about on the 6th,  not tonight; sorry my only and dearest brother, I can’t come to the wedding, I’ve got to re-edit the climax – it’s so close, but not quite right.

Over time the invitations dwindled then stopped completely as, one by one, his friends came to the realisation that they’d lost him to addiction, that cruel mistress. It would almost have been better if he’d had a mistress, even a cruel one. At least he would have left the house occasionally.

Eventually the invites stopped coming, but he’d long since stopped noticing them in any event.  The years went by, one draft following another – what have I been doing, it’s been right under my nose all this time – it’s an epic poem.

Obviously.

His weight plummeted – he was too busy to eat.  In time, his pallid skin hung loose from his cheekbones, and his once proud mane of hair first became straggly then started to come off in huge clumps. The drafts would come and go – here a witty take on the book-ended structure of Madame Bovary, there a playful homage to For Whom The Bell Tolls.  The hipster’s typewriter became an executive’s MacBook Pro, then a desktop PC because an artist’s tools need not be a statement.  And then back to the typewriter, the one true implement of the writer.

Finally, after decades of work it was finished. His masterpiece.  His baby.  NOW he felt the full satisfaction of a hard job done well.  He scrabbled in the dust for his phone, before remembering that it had died for the last time back in 2039 and he’d not had time to replace it. That was during his ‘second person phase’, which he remembered with the sort of wry disregard one normally reserves for an ingratiating but wildly destructive king charles spaniel.  He felt a dull ache in the long-disused lizard part of his brain and a twitch he’d not felt in all the years since he’d decided to rule out including a saucy scene in the book. Hey Martha, he called out, how about that sex? Silence.

He found her decomposed corpse in the kitchen.  She’d been there 15 years last May.

It all came crashing in at once: the nights out, the weddings, funerals, get-togethers, reunions, anniversaries, date nights; all abandoned to feed the insatiable appetite of the typewriter.  He felt bitterness then – the return home after a difficult commute only to hear the typewriter’s guttural chant: feed me, feed me.  His body shook with the surge of long-suppressed tears, he tasted ash in his mouth and let out a savage roar that caused the neighbour’s cat to go into hiding for so long her owners thought she had passed away.  He smashed and crashed his way through the kitchen, an open wound, a primitive maelstrom; a writer unwritten.

Eventually he gathered some semblance of control over himself and staggered back to his typewriter. Use this. Use this, use this, he whispered to his racing heartbeat; this could be the real masterpiece.  One letter at a time, he began to type.

Is Nice The Meanest Word In The English Language?

(Or: Captain Obvious Rang, He Wants His Insights Back)

Nice guys finish last, so they say (although who ‘they’ might be remains to be seen).

In Austen there are basically 3 types of male love interest: the PHWOAR-gasm – charming, sexy probably-a-soldier (bad guy); the guy she misjudged but she didn’t realise it at first cos’ he seemed like a total dick but actually on second glance is totally a good guy with a rockin’ bod; AND…

The obviously-a-good-guy, but he’s just too nice so that ain’t gonna’ happen but if he’s lucky he might get amongst a supporting character. Alan Rickman played him in Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility. See also: Mr Bingley – good enough for Jane maybe, but then again Jane’s equally insipid so doesn’t really count.

And before we start to sound like one of those vaguely misogynistic blogs by and for men who can’t get girls to fancy them and blame it on their inherent ‘niceness’ as opposed to their inherent personal failings, men are exactly the same, for exactly the same reason:

Here’s a list of things that are nice: BeeGees ballads, vanilla ice cream, pastels.

It’s not exhaustive, obviously, but to be fair it’s also not representative. Because we’re trying to demonstrate a point here. And that point is that ‘nice’ is the compliment people give when they can’t think of anything meaningful to say.

Nice is bland – it’s fine but nothing to get excited about or put any thought into, so far so, well, nice, right? But that’s not why it’s possibly the meanest word (alright, adjective) in the language.

This is: as it happens, nice hasn’t always meant, well… nice. Its archaic meaning around about the 13th century was ‘foolish, stupid or senseless’; your average Kate Hudson movie in other words.

Over time nice came to mean timid or uncertain, before developing to mean fussy or fastidious, then ‘dainty’ or ‘delicate’ (as in ‘of a fragile disposition’) and so on until the 16th century or so, when it primarily meant ‘scrupulously exact’. Which is a quality one expects in one’s accountant, prenuptial agreements and the taxman. Again, not exhaustive/representative, but you take my point.

The latter usage has been preserved in phrases such as ‘nice and early’ (ie punctual), incidentally.

So more or less until it achieved its current meaning of ‘pleasantly beige’, the word nice has signified a series of characteristics that most people would view as faintly insulting, like having your looks favourably compared to Predator.

And when you use the word to describe something, your implying of that narrative of meaning means that you’re being far meaner than you might have meant.

Meanie.

How To Be A Blogger of Repute

Bloggers of repute write knowledgeably and engagingly about topics people are interested in. Here’s a recommended example:

4th Street Review

I on the other hand write this sort of thing:

“Gather round folks. Women and chillun to the front. I see you guys at the back there; pretending like that’s you on the ID. What is that, your brother’s driving licence? It won’t work, not with that chubby little baby face. You’ll be happy enough with it when you’re 40.

Now, I didn’t get where I am today just by drinking more white wine than is good for me. I had to get here first because here’s where they serve the sauce. To clarify, I’m not a white wine drinker, can’t even call myself an equal opportunities drinker – it’s red all the way or else.

I don’t believe in compromise.

But I digress; you want to know my secret, the secret of my success? Hey that sounds like a Bob Dylan lyric if he ever wrote a blog about how damn good he is at stuff.

Firstarters I like to give advice. Like advice on how to be so successful that every now and then one person will read your blog or at least find it. Here’s how to give advice:

1) ‘Doing’ is for people of little or no education or imagination – if you want to give advice don’t ‘do’, ‘think’. Thinking is how clever people with higher levels of education differentiate themselves from non-thinking ‘doers’ who lack the requisite sophistication to use words such as ‘requisite’ and ‘sophistication’. And remember: experience is over-rated.

2) In order to demonstrate that you are thinking (they will assume about their problem), scrunch your face up really tight, like you’re trying to fit it into a really packed cupboard, or you’re remembering the bitter aftertaste of sucking on a lemon that’s been soaked in iodine and isn’t really a lemon at all but is in fact a weak black hole that’s winning the fight.

3) Laughter is the best medicine. However, it is considered impolite or even insensitive to begin a course of treatment while the advicee is explaining his or her problem.

4) Platitudes are your friend. If you can’t think of any, just say ‘oh no you deserve so much better’ putting the emphasis on so and much and pausing slightly as you say those words (that’s the secret). Then distract them with a magic trick.

Secondly, I like non-sequiturs. “Later traitor!” yelled the Queen as she had someone beheaded for high treason. Just like that.

Remember, having an actual point to make is bourgeois, demonstrating or imparting knowledge is a waste of time because lies are prettier than facts and we all love the pretty things.

Never give in, never compromise. Eventually the world will see that you were entirely correct to dedicate a blog to alternative uses for old, soiled doilies.

Best of all, write crap like: The world is flat – it’s your perspective that’s round. People love that shit cos it sounds deep but it means nothing.

Go you.”

Party Animals

The flowers were, of course, beautifully arranged. “The lily represents both marriage and death. Such a heavy weight of symbolism for such a delicate thing.” Goose said to Badger. It was the sort of thing he said.

“I heard the old man died in bed, not his own, and not from sleeping.” Hyena was such a gossip. Hummingbird slurred in agreement – poor thing was a nervous wreck, what with her condition and all. And she had noted that everyone had noted that they’d seen that little blue dress  before, at another party a few months ago.

“Why yes, thank you,” Badger accepted another drink, “I find it helps the old writing.” The others tittered dutifully but averted their eyes; everyone knew Badger was a lousy writer and a red-eye drunk with wandering paws.

Cat glowered in the corner smoking a Gauloises; he’d been stood up by Arthur Miller. Or at least someone who said he was Arthur Miller (and why would he lie). They were going to talk about Cat’s screenplay, a bittersweet coming of age tale, which he’d been working on for much of the past 7 years. It didn’t help that he was tripping balls off some violent, violet opiate. Pig had fixed his last gin, and everyone knew Pig liked his little practical jokes.

“Taste this,” he’d said, “the secret is lemongrass.” Not much of a secret, but Pig lacked opposable thumbs, so to get a cocktail at all was nothing short of astounding.

“You should see my new personal trainer,” said Rabbit, “Almost obscene the things he wears. And so much…orange…I swear his skin matches his outfits.” She glanced meaningfully at Hummingbird’s indigo feathers. But Hummingbird was too busy distancing herself from sobriety to notice. “Hummingbird, darling, are you sure you’re not overdoing things?” But Hummingbird was too busy distancing herself from sobriety to respond.

“I don’t know where you put it all with that figure,” said Cow, not quite green with envy, “I wish I could eat whatever I wanted like that.” Spider laughed a tinkling laugh (Goose would describe it as mellifluous) “Darling, you’re too kind, but if you listen closely you can hear the creak of whalebone.”

She tapped on her crystal champagne flute. “My late husband would’ve hated the funeral – he was never one for pomp, but he’d have adored the wake – he always was a party animal. I’d like to thank you all for coming to this little send-off. It’s been difficult these past few weeks.

(“I heard she did the old man in herself,” whispered Hyena)

Spider broke off, she didn’t like giving speeches. Badger teetered towards her, wrapping an octopus arm around her waist. “If you need anything…” he said to her cleavage. He stank of whisky. She dismissed him in an Elizabeth Taylor voice: “You’re too kind, dear Badger, far too kind.”

“Have you ever killed a man?” asked Cow. “No.” replied Wolf – he was a creature of few words. They stood in awkward silence for a moment, Wolf stirring his drink with a yellowing stalk of lemongrass hoping to mask the unusual flavour (Pig had made it for him as an olive branch over all that unpleasantness with the real estate last year). Wolf was a mystery – he’d made a lot of money doing something no one understood. And, even more baffling, he never talked about it at all.

Hummingbird and Pig walked back into the room, taking care to appear nonchalant. But her dress was ruffled and her eyes were glazed. It was an open secret that she’d been bankrupting herself even before her husband had been laid off.

It was time. The ladies took it in turns to rummage in the bowl. Spider went first; it was her party. She pulled out the keys to a Mercedes and looked expectantly round the room.

“You know she’s four times a widow?” asked Hyena to anyone who would listen.

Michelangelo And The Statue Of Frood

So one day Michelangelo is walking along the streets of Florence thinking idly about how much he hates anchovies on pizza when he comes across a bloody great lump of marble.

‘Cowabunga,’ he thinks to himself, ‘who would have thought that one teenage mutant ninja turtle  could come across two free large blocks of marble in one lifetime?’  Well last time this happened he’d hewn it down to recreate the Biblical David, of David and Goliath fame.  David was an informal symbol of Florence, part of its self-image as the plucky underdog against the greater size and weight of Milan and Venice.

Such was politics; Michelangelo had been charged by his patrons to glorify the city and by extension themselves.  But art and commerce make for uneasy bedfellows (like me and a woman, he thought to himself ruefully) and they’d told him that next time he found a random block of marble that he could do whatever he wanted with it as long as he did it in his free time and it didn’t interfere with his work.

And now here it is.  ‘I should have plenty of free time,’ he thinks, thoughtfully. ‘All I’ve got planned at the moment is a quick job down Rome sort of way to repaint some chapel ceiling.’

And as history records, Michelangelo set out to fashion in marble an image of his favourite blogger of blogs about random shit that most people couldn’t care less about.  But then history shuts its trap – no one knows what became of perhaps Michelangelo’s greatest art work, what it looked like or even whether it was ever finished.

Today the statue of Frood is one of the Renaissance world’s great lost treasures, like Botticelli’s dogs playing poker mural, which once proudly adorned the Palazzo Vecchio (or Palazzo della Signoria as it was called then) overlooking the Piazza della Signoria.

Scholars have argued for centuries about how it might have looked as the cartoons and sketches tell very different tales.  In one Frood is wrestling a sea otter, in another he is seen reading bedtime stories to a yeti.  In yet another he is seen heroically n’ stoically leading a pack of wolves to the promised land (Denver, Colorado).

I can’t comment myself, being far too modest.  But what I can say is this: if there’s a lesson to be learned (and there is), it’s that the finished product is not the be all and end all.  The journey counts; and the dream.

Cowabunga.

Falling For Autumn

It’s like in that movie Almost Famous – thousands of miles up in the air and I feel I’m about to die.  No, they haven’t asked me to pay for my drink, nothing so extreme as all that.  But it’s occurred to me that I’m bidding adieu to the sun.  It’s autumn now in the land of my birth.

One week away: it was nice.  No, it was better than nice – once again I thought to myself

“Bryson, why d’you live in the UK? It is warmer here on the continent; the food is better and cheaper too.  Why, from 1 shiny 5 Euro note one can procure a packet of cigarettes, an ice cold lager and a cup of coffee that bears only the slightest resemblance to that filth they serve in Blighty.  Add in some bacon for another Euro and you’ve covered the British-standard four food groups (alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and processed meat).  One demurs at the thought of paying for the soothing balm of an afternoon in the arms of a representative of the oldest profession, but no doubt the kneecapping lawyers are less costly here too.”

Crass generalisation time, but no one worships the sun like a Brit.  We whine about the weather: it’s too cold, it’s too hot, will this rain never end, drought warning.  What can I say – we like to have our cake and complain about it.

But take your average Brit, stick him or her in a climate most would consider cool-to-moderate, and they’ll be out of their clothes quicker than you can pour their drink, fanning themselves ostentatiously and becoming irritated at the low standard of English spoken by the locals.

Variations on the theme of heavy cloud and ill wind – that’s what we know – insubstantial light.  The meteorological equivalent of a shrug.  But there’s one thing we traditionally have going for us.  We have seasons.

I’m a big fan of seasons, or at least the start of them, ringing the changes.  Winter is a time for heavy coats and natty jumpers, fires (which means splitting logs, one of my few ‘man’ skills) and euphemisms – ‘cozy’ being predominate amongst them.

Round these parts winter tends to hang on a little too long, although contrary to popular opinion January is in fact the bleakest month, not February, which is more like a houseguest that refuses to take the hint.  But when winter fades, the world comes alive again and we rediscover an emotion that other cultures refer to as optimism.

Mornings come with a dawn bombardment of birdsong, flowers happen and it’s lamb season, which is great for those who enjoy a side order of cruelty with their gastronomy.

Then at some point we all agree that it’s summer, ie it starts raining more heavily but us Brits are under starters orders to get out there in our shorts and undercook sausages in a perverted facsimile of a BBQ.  Summer is my favourite season, even if on average only about 2 weeks of it counts.

Or is it? Because then there’s autumn.  Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness as Keats would have it.  Before the leaves change colour when the UK is all lush greens – the one upside of our damp little climate – there’s a slight chill in the air, but nothing to get upset about.  There’s the smell of it, especially as the leaves start to change and then fall.  Regular season sports kick off in anger; school picks up again (ha ha, suckers).  Everything’s a little more alert, a little less sleepy before the long winter nap.

Autumn is traditionally associated with a kind of melancholy, with ageing; the possibilities of summer fade, and the depths of winter appear on the horizon.  There’s a final blaze of colour before all turns to greys and browns.  The nights draw in while the world packs up its things and turns in on itself.  Moody introspection rules the day.

Also, it’s back to school.

Personally, I don’t find it melancholy – that comes later when stepping on the scales in the post-Christmas period.  I’d hate to admit it, given my feelings towards the man’s predilection for the rhyming dictionary, but I’m with Keats on this.

For those who like their trivia trivial, autumn is the more modern word, not fall.  A certain type of Brit enjoys getting sniffy about American intrusions into ‘our’ language, ignoring the heavy influence of French, German and the like on modern British English.  Our rucksack is probably derived from a German word that is itself a conjunction of back and bag.  Other words we’ve purloined from abroad: disgust, manage, formidable.

As for autumn, there are some instances of its usage in the 12th century (it’s likely Latin in origin via old French), but it became popular in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Up to that point the most common word for the season August-October was harvest, similar to most of the rest of Western Europe.  The other word used was likely Norse in origin, via an old English word feallan, meaning to fail or decay or… fall.

But whatever one chooses to call it, and however others might choose to characterise it, it’s a fantastic (French via Latin) time of year (Old High German).

And I have a hunch that parents might agree.

__

PS: My word it’s my hundredth post. What have I learned? Nothing.

Celebrating 60 Years Of The European Convention On Human Rights

When I was 13 I was taken to the concentration camp Auschwitz and Auschwitz II-Birkenau.  My family lived in Poland at the time, and it was felt by my parents that it was important for me and my education to see the lingering scars of our shared history.  It was mid-February, frozen and grey with a desolate wind.

Auschwitz has been maintained as a museum, but Birkenau – always a temporary facility – had been largely left alone.  It was a hideously affecting experience – there are no words adequate to describe these chilling monuments to the darkness of which mankind is capable.

What I learned was this: true evil lives not in hatred of one’s fellow human beings, but in the ceasing to recognise the humanity of others at all.  True evil, if there is such a thing, is banal.

The Nazi ideology was based on the concept of superiority, of race and ideology.  Their actions were justifiable because they were strong, and others were weak, and it was natural for the strong to dominate the weak.  In fact, it was better than natural – it was right.

In that sense the ideology was simply a perversion of the imperialist attitude of 19th century Europe.

The 13 year old me followed in the footsteps of other, much better men and women.  They witnessed not the lingering scars of the old but the livid wound of the now.  The result of their revulsion was a document that entrenched the rights of man most cherished by our forebears – of freedom from torture, of the right to self-expression, association and belief, of the right to private and family life; and of the right to a fair trial, among others.

And recognising that rights without teeth are as useless as no rights at all, they established a court in the city of Strasbourg to interpret and determine those rights, to bind states with their decisions; to offer protection.

60 years ago today, the European Convention on Human Rights came into force.  Today it stretches across 47 nations in Europe, covering roughly 800 million people.

One of the myths of democracy is that it is tough rather than fragile – that come what may it will survive intact, that governments will always respect the ultimate will of the people, and that words like ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ will never become empty sounds.  But political ideals are not hereditary, and no system is impervious.

Many journalists and members of my government (and the opposition) regularly attack the Convention; they decry it with spin and falsehood, they conflate it with the European Union (a separate entity altogether).  Above all they loathe the bastard child that is the Human Rights Act 1998, and the insidious fingers of continental intrusion into British affairs.

Unforgivably, some claim to seek to withdraw from the Convention altogether.

They point to so-called abuses of the system – prisoners suing for better food and a ‘cushier’ life.  There are whispers of other such undesirables using the Convention rights for their own aims, without regard to the spirit of what those rights once stood for.  Incidentally, Dostoyevsky wrote words to the effect that one can judge a society by observing how it treats those it does not need to treat well.

For tub-thumpers for the sanctity of the United Kingdom, her sovereignty and many successes, it’s interesting that they ignore the significant hand the UK played in drafting the Convention.

In this they follow the lead of the previous Labour governments, who turned quickly away from championing civil liberties and inclusion to the perhaps excusable if more exclusive language of security.  A government that proudly trumpeted the Human Rights Act introduced long-stop detention without charge and a vast raft of criminal and terrorism offences.

I was born into a country which had enormous experience of terrorism, but which nevertheless sought to balance security and freedom.  This balance was never fully struck, and there is, of course, red on both sides of the ledger – such is inevitable.

But it was never portrayed as an existential threat that threatened every aspect of our way of life.

Nowadays, a ‘terrorist’ no longer conjures an image of a man with an Irish accent and a balaclava, but he is no less caricatured.  And the cycle of interdependence between extremes remains no less bloody.

After so many reminders over the past 12 years that violence begets violence, that war brutalises those who wage it, as it does those against whom it is waged, it is, I think, worth dwelling on the Convention.

Detractors claim to seek a citizens’ bill of rights – we’ll look after our own thank you very much and you do the same with yours.  But that utterly misses the fundamental point of the Convention:  what we all have in common is our basic humanity, and what we all need from time to time is the reminder of this fact.  Humanity is the issue, not citizenship – we’ve seen where such distinctions can lead.

The Convention and its court may be meddlesome, cumbersome and slow.  The court may make decisions that infuriate governments and popular opinion alike.  Its judges may seek to broaden their jurisdiction beyond what is appropriate on occasion; it may be abused from time to time.  But show me the court that doesn’t want to extend its remit.  Show me the legal system that is incapable of (routine) abuse.

I was born into a world that bore witness to the dying whimpers of the experiment in madness that was the totalitarian vision of communism.  I was too young to understand the significance of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  But throughout my life (and those of generations before and since), I have seen constant reminders of the need for the safeguards of the Convention and reasons for optimism, too; for celebration of those same rights.

Today, for now at least, we should celebrate those rights and the fledgling Council of Europe all those years ago that took such steps to enshrine them in the hope they might help prevent the horrors it had seen from ever returning.  It was and remains an important cause.

Happy birthday.

Virus

President Laithewaite’s right ocular augment was on the fritz and streaming.  He tried to swear but his nose was so blocked his words came out fudgy.  He straightened his tie with clammy hands and tried to ignore the pounding in his head.

An oily knock insinuated itself against his bathroom door “Mr President?” a respectful tone (how do they manage to capitalise the ‘P’ when they speak, he wondered).

“Just a minute, please.”  A quick smoothing of his hair – he had a good head of hair, one of his proudest features.  And that chin, statistically proven to appeal to the widest voter demographic.  There were rumours of surgery, but he had never confirmed or denied.

But his jaw felt slack like his dignity, and his shirt clung to his back like misery.

Good health, he had reasoned, was only missed when it was gone.  That’s why he’d paid for the full upgrade for him and his family.  But that was when he was just another civilian.

It was moot now of course – he had all the brains of all the government agencies’ R and D departments, as well as the tech they’d begged, borrowed or stolen from abroad, at his disposal.  And they’d created a bespoke package – personally tailored gut bacteria to maximise his digestive efficiency, modified t lymphocytes (and the rest) to combat any known microbe.  His vascular system, musculature, everything was monitored for the slightest weakness.

His body was a medical Fort Knox.

Except today it wasn’t.

He left the sanctity of the bathroom and strode to his office trailing symptoms and security as though he could outrun the sickness.  A man was there waiting for him.

“Mr President, forgive me but your olfactory unit is malfunctioning.  May I offer you a tissue?”

The man from the National Security Agency.  What was his name?  Laithewaite had never been good with names: that was what the recognition software was for.   He snatched at the tissue, designed to register traces of poisons and toxins – very useful for deskbound senior security types (he thought bitterly).  NSA man continued, with respect and reproach in his voice.

“Mr President, you should have informed us as soon as you felt unwell.”

“What and spend half the night with needles in my skull while your technicians reconfigured all the encryptions, changed the nuclear codes you swore would be safer locked up in my brain than some hard-drive and everything else at God knows what cost?  Like last time?  Remind me, what was it again?”

“Uh, hay fever, sir.”

“Hay fever.”

“With respect, the codes, affairs of state, private memories – all at risk sir.  We need to make sure you at least stay under the radar until we can fortify your firewalls, especially in this city – I doubt there’s a square inch that’s not covered by wi-fi.  And our initial reports suggest that this isn’t biological.”

“What are you saying, that this is a hack job of some kind?”

“We’re not sure.  Your immune system is kicking in, but it’s attacking everything – we’ve found no trace of microbial infection and we keep your malware defences fully up to date, so it must be something new.  We think there may have been some involvement by the Chinese, maybe the Indians.  Brazil’s a possibility, among others.  Maybe even one of our European allies.  Or the Russians.  Then there are some rogue political groups we’re monitoring.  Or the private sector. Some of your opponents in the House of Representatives would certainly be interested in your private files.”

He sighed.

“At this point we need information.”  He plugged an ugly looking needle into a hard line dock hidden in the crook of Laithewaite’s right elbow (the president was left-handed).

Laithewaite felt the remaining strength leave his legs and collapsed heavily onto his chair.  It had been designed by an award-winning architect and carefully selected to give the strongest possible indication of his quiet good taste.

It was depressing to feel so frail.  A strange thought occurred to him.  Was it…doubt?  In a small voice he said “it’s…it’s not going to be fatal is it?”  He scolded himself: stupid, stupid.

“No, Mr President.  We’re confident that we’ll be able to reboot your systems individually and isolate the cause.”

“How confident?”

“Pretty confident, sir.   You’re one of a handful of the most highly modified human beings on the planet.  If it was just you I’d be more concerned but the technology is fairly well understood.  And of course we have the finest people working to fix your issues.”

Laithewaite touched his internally mounted intercom with his mind like he’d been taught.  Nothing.  Sighing he tapped his outdated desk intercom for his secretary.  A tinny voice, vibrating with steely enthusiasm, answered as she’d been taught.

“What can I do for you, right now, Mr President?”

“Get me a.. a cola, would you? A Mr Krunk.”

“We’ve got Coca Cola or Diet Coke, Mr President.  You remember the campaign contributions.”

He found himself suddenly shouting – a tantrum like his daughter hadn’t had since she was 4 years old “I don’t want a goddam Coca Cola; I hate it! Always have, since, since… always.  Just, just do what you normally do – get me a Mr Krunk and put it in the Coke bottle in case anyone sees me.  And first thing we’re reviewing that deal because I’m not drinking that, that, SHIT, any more.”  His anger surprised him; his rudeness didn’t surprise her.

He realised he couldn’t remember her name either and he’d had her for, well, since the press got wind of what happened with the last one (a precisely co-ordinated campaign – maximum deniability of course – to remind the voters of his virility and irresistibility to young women).

‘The law of unintended consequences,’ he thought, ‘when they suggested that damn software as a way of keeping track of dignitaries at official functions I never thought a cold would make me forget the names of the people I see every day.’

Laithewaite turned back to the man from the NSA.  His face was buried in a smartphone, scrolling through Laithewaite’s most intimate details.  His face had lost most of its colour except for a yellowish waxy sheen.

‘He’s starting to look a lot like I feel,’ Laithewaite thought.

“Mr President I don’t want to alarm you but it looks like your heart monitor has gone offline.  I’ve alerted the response team.  Again, just a precaution, but if we can’t read your heart rate we don’t know what’s going on.  And in your current condition…”

Laithewaite stared at him dumbfounded, “If I was having a heart attack, or it just stopped, don’t you think you’d be the second person to know about it?”  In the circumstances he felt it was kind of droll.

“We just can’t take that risk, Mr President.”

Laithewaite’s secretary almost ran in, grabbing at the TV remote.  She did not have a drink for the president.  She didn’t even have the customary smile all staff were required to wear for him – a simple, professional smile that was neither too ecstatic nor too subdued.  Instead her face had frozen into a bleary rictus.

‘What I’ve got must be catching,’ he thought and found the thought strangely pleasing.

“Where’s my Mr Krunk?” he asked, pathetically.

She fumbled with the remote (why do we still have a remote in this day and age when even the unemployed have moved on?)  But eventually she made it work and flicked through the channels, before:

Breaking news now: the Washington Post and the New York Times have both published details of an alleged short-lived affair between President Laithewaite and his campaign manager, Taylor Stone.  They say their source is unimpeachable.  And later on we’ll be asking: is America ready for a gay president?  More after these messages.

The scarlet silence – hot pink with embarrassment – was broken by the sound of the head of state falling off his chair (not even that comfortable) and hitting the ground.  Tom from the NSA sprang into action, running into the corridor to find that goddam response team.

Laithewaite’s secretary Angela stood there a moment, paralysed into inaction.  He’d always made a point of complimenting her beautiful name – she’d always made a point of spitting in his coffee, which was as ersatz as the rest of him.

Tom returned with some serious men.  Security formed a perimeter, speaking confidentially into ear-mounted speaking devices; medics prodded and poked at the incumbent, sopping mess on the floor.

“He’s fine, just in shock, needs some sugar.  Someone get him a cola, a, a… Mr Krunk.”

Angela, by now regrouped, said “We’ve got Coca Cola.  It’ll have to do.”  Which was a lie:  she’d picked up a Mr Krunk on her way in this morning.  It was hidden in her bag; the security guy owed her a favour.  The phone screamed out in anger.  Thoughtlessly, she picked it up, “President Laithewaite’s office.”  She listened for a moment to the automated switchboard.

“Sir I have three calls for you.  Line one is Mr Stone’s attorney who sounds very upset.  Line two is your press officer who also sounds very upset and line three is the Secretary of State and guess how she sounds.  Who would you like to speak to first?”

A commotion picked up volume in the hall outside, “I’m sorry ma’am, this area is currently restricted.”  “Let me in, I’m his fucking wife,” came through clearly enough, as did, “that fucking asshole better have a goddam good explanation for this or I’m taking his goddam fake balls along with everything else when I divorce the fuck out of his fruity ass.”

Angela, still holding the phone, leaned down and sweetly said “Your wife is waiting in the hall outside for you, Mr President.  Would you like me to let her in?”  She was starting to enjoy this.  Maybe the next guy would have some manners.

But all (snotty, sickly) President Laithewaite could do was sit on the floor, sobbing boiling tears.  Why’d it have to be coke?  All he wanted was a Mr Krunk.

__

Roughly 2300 miles to the West, the nation’s youngest CEO pops the cork on a bottle of champagne and opens his expensively encrypted virtual conferencing network.

“Gentlemen, this has been an unqualified success – our client’s sales are spiking through the roof; they couldn’t be happier.  Literal viral marketing uploaded direct to neural networks and spread through wi-fi.  See to it that our young genius gets a bonus, wouldn’t want him jumping ship now.” 

“We’ve really put this agency on the map, boys.  More than that, we’ve just made advertising history.”

Who Wouldn’t Want A Pat On The Back

“What’s that on your back?”

“That? Oh that’s just Pat.  She’s pretty tired.  Been running around all day climbing trees, eating bananas, picking parasites and eating them.  You might say she’s been monkeying around…”

“Ha. Very clever.” (deadpan) “She looks heavy.”

“Oh no, she’s just been on my back for a while is all.”

“She looks pretty dug in.”

“Yeah she’s like that – gets comfortable and then clings like a limpet.”

“Are you sure she ever gets off, because I’ve known you a while and I’ve never seen her running around.”

“Oh she does, she’s just shy around you is all. You can be pretty intimidating I guess.”

“I guess.  Look, it’s not really right you having Pat on your back all the time.  You shouldn’t have to cart her round all the time like you’re her minder.  It must get in the way of you living your life like you want.”

“It can do I suppose.  You must understand though – I never see you without all your baggage.”

“These? Oh it’s just a couple of weekend bags.”

“Yeah but they’re leather, must get pretty heavy having to cart all that around all the time.  Don’t you ever put it down?”

“Someone played a joke on me once and put superglue on the handles, so I couldn’t let them go even if I wanted to.”

“That’s awful, but I have some white spirit, which might help dissolve the glue.”

“That’s very kind of you but I wouldn’t really feel comfortable leaving them lying around – you never know who might be around thinking ‘oh I could do with a new holdall.’  I’m pretty used to lugging it all around anyway.”

“Fair point.”

“Ok, well if you need help getting that monkey off your back, let me know.”

“Will do.  Thanks; you’re a good friend. And likewise, if you want someone to help you let go of your baggage I’m always around.”

____

Bye-bye July – I never did really get the hang of you.  Maybe next year.