How I Flip-flopped On Flip Flops

The internet roared and I was listening: have you ever flip-flopped on an issue, DO you ever flip-flop?

Well no, I’m not an American presidential candidate – where I’m from we just call it changing your mind.  But then, where I’m from we’re suspicious of anyone who changes his mind – anyone who takes such a cavalier approach to holding opinions must be a spiv and a cad, and possessed of unsettling weaknesses of character.

And he must be avoided at parties.

Or at the very least one must make a wry comment at his expense over one’s dry martini.  It’s our way of saying ‘I don’t like you, you make me angry.’

Where I’m from we don’t need oppressors – we censure ourselves.

But, to my chagrin, I must admit to being one of these charlatans – for I do in fact flip-flop.  Not for me the granite certainty of opinion.

Thusly:

At first I wasn’t fussed, then I liked them, then I hated them.  Then (again) I softened up, and then one gave me a blister so I threw it in the sea.  Then I felt guilty about its partner, now devoid of both companion and purpose, so I fashioned it into a boat for a wandering group of anthropomorphised animals who were seeking the way back to Toad Hall.

Clearly I was possessed of a mercurial temperament, and if I wasn’t careful I might incite the wrath of my society and end up like Anna Karenina (ie Keira Knightley would someday play me in the movie of my life).

So nowadays I hide my shame and simply steer clear of that whole flip flop debacle;

I wear espadrilles.

Smartphones Are A Blessing And A Curse

You know what everyone loves?  Lists.

  • In 1948, George Orwell’s 1984 basically foreshadowed webcams (cameras in the tv screens enabling Big Brother access into every home).  But no video phoning.  Fail.
  • In 1966, Star Trek posited a time in which people have portable flippy communication devices.  But no angry birds app.  Fail.
  • There’s no jerky, pixelated, handheld footage of the 1968 Paris riots.  Fail.
  • 1971’s Harold and Maude didn’t include a scene in which the titular protagonists bond over a shared cat-based Youtube video.  Fail.
  • In Wall Street (1987), Gordon Gecko’s murder weapon of a cellphone couldn’t scroll down up-to-date stock information.  Fail.
  • In 1989, Back To The Future 2’s Biff couldn’t lay bets on sporting fixtures using a mobile phone.  Fail.
  • In 1989, Back To The Future 2 reckoned we’d still be widely using fax machines.  Epic Fail.
  • In 1991’s Home Alone, Macaulay Culkin couldn’t use his dad’s iphone to post a “Free House – party at my gaff hashtag lollz” update on Facebook.  Fail.
  • In 1993, Demolition Man suggested that Taco Bell would in time own all restaurants.  But no means of ordering takeaway food without the need to speak to another human being.  Fail.
  • In 1999, The Matrix claimed that year to be the pinnacle of human society.  But there were no Samsung whatever-friendly social networks like Twitter or Instagram.  Fail.
  • In 2005, James Bond got a mobile phone instead of an exploding pen that was also a submarine.  Fail.

Pride and Prejudice (2005) – no Tatler app. Wilde (1997) – no Grindr. Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer (1986) – no Craigslist. Dawn of The Dead (1978) – No Plants vs Zombies. Amadeus (1984) – no Virtuoso Piano Free 3.

…Actually, come to think of it…

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Take some musicians, marinade them for 10,000 years in a mix of bourbon, tar, methamphetamines, nicotine and the essence of John Lee Hooker, Charles Mingus and Howlin’ Wolf. Dab them dry with a paper towel and set them up with a trumpet for emotion and a guitar for rage. They stare numbly at the page then creak into a rattling, minor key take on the 12 bar blues.

A piss and vinegar voice cuts through, part mumble, part howl.

Basically, the Cheers theme tune if it had been written by the band Morphine.

The woman on the stage
Screws her face up with such passion;
She can barely get the words out
But she can sing after a fashion
She tells you Christ was here last night
Standing same place where you are
She smiles at your disbelief
At the prophets to be found in bars

Your drink is coward weak
At the bottom of your glass
If liquor comes in grades
It’s the bottom of its class
But it does the trick;
It makes you sick
Like a lover so forgiving
You feel you deserve a better life
But life is for the living

A place that’s open 8 ’til late
A place where the light won’t penetrate
Where everybody knows your name
But nobody cares

In this place we’re all disgraced
I won’t repeat the things I’ve heard;
These people will embrace you
But they’ll never say a word;
The burning man, the broken man
The cuckold man; the damaged man
The godless and the ungodly
And then there’s you and me

So raise your glass I’ll raise a toast
To the people and things I love the most
Where the holiest spirit is not the Holy Ghost
And everybody knows your name

Everybody knows your name

Dystopia

I’m startled by the chilly cleanliness of the street, taste the incredible freshness of the air.  The buildings are uniform, blank and alien.  A phrase I don’t recognise drops neatly in my mind: reinforced concrete.  I should feel more terrified.  A ragged man with a ragged beard bends down in front of me, muttering incomprehensibly to himself as he picks up what I recognise as a…cigarette butt.  I nibble the concept, trying it on: cigarette butt.  He pockets it – a filter with a meagre film of unsmoked tobacco.  He glowers at me in kneejerk hatred then boards a. 

A.  Bus.  A beautiful image of a near naked man adorns the side.  The technique of the painting is exquisite, but the picture is debauched, disgusting.  Women can see this, as can that poor degenerate who apparently wanders freely in this brightly lit Eden-city.

“Mr Sutcliffe?  Mr Sutcliffe.  Hi. I’m Peterson, I’m calling from SoCal; I represent the Time Warnburg conglomerate.”

I don’t recognise the accent.  The words feel strange; an obscure dialectical English, but unsettlingly familiar.  Like deja vu.

“You’re probably feeling a little, uh, confused right about now.”

“It’s Dr, actually.  And who are you, Mr Peterson?  More to the point, where are you; I can’t see you.”

“That’s, aah, a little, uh, complicated.  You were the victim of a little, uh, temporal disalignment.”

“Excuse me? A what?”

“A temporal disalignment, a TD.  Look, I’m a producer and we’re making a movie about your time and we, ah, there was some unpleasantness a few years back and, basically what I’m trying to say is, uh, we’re legally obliged to have unimpeachable consultants for any period movie we release.  Even then there are disclaimers and all kindsa’ hoops; you know what I’m saying?”

A young dark-skinned man knocks into me and walks away shouting obscenities, clearly he’s part brute, one of those vicious savages we hear so much about.  His costume is shapeless but garish: he should be sequestered away from decent folk.  I feel an odd stab of guilt but force it away.

“Mr Peterson, I’m a little unsettled.  And confused.  Could you be clearer, perhaps.”

“Nausea, right? Light-headed?”

“Well, yes.  But also, your idiom is, forgive me, a little bizarre.  More to the point, so is mine.  Where am I?  How did I get here?  And why am I not, um, freaking out?”

‘Freaking out’?

“Whoa there, Mr, uh, Dr, Sutcliffe.  That’s a lotta’ questions and I bet you gotta’ whole lot more.  Ok, the language thing, it’s complicated but it’s a side-effect of the TD.  We took you from your time and place in London, 1852.  Like I said, we’re making a movie about Jack the Ripper and we needed a medical consultant to advise on Victorian medicine.  We also needed one or two Victorian perspectives, that whole accuracy thing I was talking about.  Unfortunately there was a problem and you got landed a little too early and in the wrong universe.

Jack the Ripper? But my mouth frames a different question, “I’m sorry, wrong universe?”

“Uh, yeah.  Look, this is a little embarrassing.  You’re familiar with the many earths theory?  Goldilocks theories about radiation levels and general viability, sine waves, that sorta’ thing?”

“No.”

An elderly lady with a small dachshund on a knotted string gives me a pitying look – I must sound as though I’m talking to myself.  My word, is mine a demented mind?

“Sheesh, what did you guys… Right, I’m no science guy, but it’s like this:  there’s a, a multitude of universes, it’s where we get the word multiverse, right?  Lots of Earths, lots of Dr Sutcliffes.  But not every Earth exists, least not as you’d understand it.  The, uh, laws of physics don’t apply uniformly everywhere, which is why we’re able to talk.  You were carefully selected after a long, believe me it was looong, vetting process.  You’re from a different universe – we can’t go back into our own past, not to before the machine was invented.  Ask a physicist.  Or don’t – those guys don’t speak English!  Ha. Sorry, just a joke.”

I remain silent.

“Where was I?  Oh just put it over there, Francis, yeah.  What? Not that asshole again, tell him we don’t want any more of his shit; he’s finished…What?… Come on, that was 3 years ago.  Fucking...Sorry about that Dr Sutcliffe.  No rest for the wicked, right?”

“You were telling me what this is all about?”

“Huh?  Oh right, yeah.  Can I just say Dr Sutcliffe, you’re taking this real well all things considering, even with the TS effect.  Ok. So.  My time is a long way ahead of your time now and your, uh, home time.  Except it kind of isn’t because of fractal universes or something.  Like I said, I’m no scientist.  That’s why you can’t see me; ‘cause I’m not really there.”

“Wait, TS effect?”

“Yeah, you see some people don’t appreciate being, uh we call it timeshifted, so the timeshift, or TS, is designed to stimulate certain receptors and keep you calm.  Don’t worry that at least is temporary. And some people find it, uh, euphoric.”

Machines pass before my eyes at terrifying speeds.  I recognise them but don’t know what they are.  Some idle in front of me belching…steam?  The noise is deafening. They feel intimidating, violent.

“I certainly don’t feel any euphoria.”

“Hey, buddy, I’m trying to help here, no need for the ice-queen routine…Look, we’re still working on the problem but hopefully we can resolve your issue.  Think of it like a story for the grandkids, only maybe not ‘cause I’ve seen your crazy people hospitals! Sorry.”

A barely clothed woman swims into focus.  She is perfumed and painted and showing so much flesh she’s no doubt a..hooker…odd word.  She is so brazen, no chaperone.  I’ve little doubt she’ll be raped by nightfall.  Again that stab of guilt. She notices my attention and screams gibberish at me as she retreats into the distance.

“We’ve pieced some of it together.  You got switched with a local girl about two weeks ago.  I say switched…we’re still working out who she is and when she is.  Right now all I can say is she’s a girl, sorry, a woman.  And it wasn’t a straight switch: I only hope she didn’t get thrown too far back because she’d probably get burned as a witch…  Anyway, that’ll account for why your surroundings are a little more, ah, familiar than they should be.  Also why you didn’t ask me what a movie is.”

I’ve been here two weeks? That can’t be right.  “Is that why I’m talking funny?”

‘Talking funny’?

“Uh…sorta’.  It’s like, you ever driven a car long haul?  What am I saying, of course you haven’t, don’t know what the fu..heck a car is.  When you go on a journey you pick things up, right, like parasites and bug splats.  This is what you got – only insteada’ a parasite you got the, ah…local vernacular burrowing into your mind.  We can limit that here to keep your, I guess you’d call it integrity, um, intact…but out in the field, sadly not.”

Panic rises with Peterson’s words.  A couple across the street stare through a window at brightly lit boxes.  Their child cries, a thin rasping noise accompanied by the stamp of tiny feet.  Why is he allowed to behave like this?  Another disembodied voice “There is a good service on the rest of the London Underground.”  Another bus, which reads “some people are gay, get over it”.  Well, I wouldn’t begrudge a man his joy.  I feel I may have missed some nuance.

“Look, Dr Sutcliffe.  It’s time to talk consequences.”

Consequences?  What consequences? A crowd of people pour down the – station? – stairs, like city rats.  They are people of many races and costumes, holding tiny boxes that blare tinny sirens. I shudder involuntarily.  Peterson returns, quieter now, more in sorrow than the previous jauntiness.

“Dr Sutcliffe?  It’s probably starting to sink in, right?  This is the TD – you asked yourself, yes, why you keep feeling guilty? Out of focus?  We’re doing what we can, but I gotta’ warn you, if we don’t fix it in time, there’s no point in sending you back, ‘cause you won’t exist. But we still got maybe a few hours to fix it before sending you back would be downright negligent.  Not negligent, of course – that’s not an admission.”

“What?”

“Oh don’t get me wrong, there’ll be a, uh, shell.  A person.  But not you – see it’s all about language, it frames how you articulate your thoughts, your prejudices, your memories, everything.  Even to yourself, especially to yourself.  Everything about you is the words you use.  We TS’d you but you got TD’d which accelerates the process.  Right now you got over a century of linguistic flux and all the cultural baggage that entails, 161 years to be exact, comin’ atcha. To you.  Right now you’re mostly the, the you that you know with a piece of someone else in you, but soon…you won’t recognise yourself.  She has it worse, wherever she is, believe me.”

I’m not going to exist?

“Can’t you just bring me to wherever you are? You said you could control it?”

Pleading now.

“If it were up to me, I’d TS you right here, but the lawyers got me, you know?  You’re contaminated so we can’t use you.  And we can’t TS just anyone, that’s tampering with the past, and that’s a crime, buddy.  I’m sorry, my hands are tied.”

“One other thing, I’m, uh, obligated to say this, don’t even try to sue, hell, right now you’re the one in breach of contract.”

“What contract? I didn’t sign anything, I simply turned up here. I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about.”

“Nice try, buddy.  Anyway, on behalf of Time Warnburg I just want to say sorry for the trouble you’ve found yourself in and we wish you luck with the future.”

“Wait, I thought you said you were going to help me?  You can’t just leave me here in this awful place.  Anyway wouldn’t the TD simply be reversed if you sent me home?  Wouldn’t I just go back to being me? Hello? Where can I go, what do I say?  How will I live?  Please, I have a wife and child.  Hello?”

__

Preston Peterson – how he hated his parents for that – took a sip of his expensive mineral water.  He pressed a few buttons on his phone “We’re probably gonna’ have to shelve ‘Jack’ for a little while.” He hung up then tapped in another, longer number “Hi, Captain Alloway?  You’re probably wondering why you’re in Gettysburg in 2226…”

Cage Match Special: Ebooks vs Real Books

The Victorians future-proofed their houses to enable residents and later generations to modify the internal space according to need.  By the 1960s the Victorian style was considered ugly and wasteful – the future was utilitarian, in any colour or material you wanted provided it was poured concrete. 

The 70s vernacular is now considered the architectural equivalent of swearing.  

Space in any urban environment is forever at a premium. And as cities become more crowded, modern needs demand that living spaces be more versatile to combat the cupboard-like proportions of the average home.  Builders these days, in London at least (or so it might appear), subscribe to the principle ‘stack ‘em high, sell ‘em expensive’. 

Luckily there are all these new-fangled technologies to remove the clutter from our lives – chunky vinyl gave way to nifty CDs to the slow death of the hard format.  No need for physical copies of music or film.  Virtual friends are the same as real ones with the added bonus that you don’t have to feed them. Same with books (not that I feed my books).

The ebook is not a thing of beauty, but it might be a joy forever.  Unlike Keats. 

It’s certainly convenient – no more will I have to chop down a tree, pulp it, treat it, turn it into paper, let it dry, bind it into a book and then copy out longhand whichever novel it is I don’t want to pay for.  And then weep bitter tears once I realise that I don’t have enough pages and will forever wonder what actually happened to Madame Bovary.

I like to think it all worked out.

I know what you’re thinking: you’re thinking “Profane Words! The ebook is a godless contraption, an abomination abhorrent to all right-thinking men.”  But hear me out: you can have whole entire libraries at your fingertips; you can take it to a café, or on holiday.  It’s light and you can wedge it into a special cover so strangers think it’s an iPad.

Best of all, if you find yourself wanting to read something that snobs like me call post-literate, no-one ever has to know.  Except that person reading over your shoulder, of course – there’s always one.  Fifty Shades of Dan Brown gets your knickers in a twist?  Age gap too great for Nancy Drew (“my god he’s old enough to be her father”)?  Some people, especially men, are too ashamed to read low end chick-lit in public – no longer.

Wait.  How old is Nancy Drew supposed to be again?

But there’s a downside.  No, not the romance of pulped and bound trees with their intoxicating paper smells and lovingly crafted covers hinting at the boundless joys within.  Not the promise, or the anticipation of a pristine spine.  As the French say, the best part of the affair is the walk up the stairs. 

There might be no inherent romance to an ebook, but it’s the future, only now.  And just like in the 1960s, functional and utilitarian are once again the future.  Besides, who needs romance in their lives?  That’s positively bourgeois, and hipster moustaches tell me that 19th century philosophy is the big fashion trend this season.  And when fashion speaks, people listen. Power to the people, y’all.

Back to this downside.  The other day I spied a young man on public transport.  With his half-dreadlocked hair, his vintage-flavoured attire and hippy jewellery he was clearly a free thinker and an intellectual, spiritual but not confined by the narrow concept of organised religions, yeah?  In case anyone was in any doubt, he was reading 1984; the Beatles of the books wot make you deep world.  At this point you probably think me a grump and a meanie. 

You’re absolutely right, but in fairness, the reason I know what this chap was reading was because he was holding it up so that the cover was at the eye level of everyone sitting down (except next to him, which no one was because he was a wee bit smelly, soap being bourgeois and all).  It faced up slightly so that everyone standing up could see it clearly, too.  The cover had been fashioned to look like mid-20th century Soviet propaganda.  That wasn’t an accident.

I ended up moving further down the carriage (no reason), but when I looked up, there it was: the cover was facing me.  Moving again I noticed the cover followed me like the eyes of Mona Lisa.

What a poseur.  

I was especially pissed off because everyone was paying attention to 1984, and not my copy of WE by Yevgeny Zamyatin.

And it took me bloody ages to find just the right cover depicting the mathematical flavour of the novel while also portraying the sort of dystopian vision the USSR was to become.  It was banned there between 1921 and 1988 don’tcherknow.

So the moral is this: ebooks are great and all, but useless if you want strangers to know what you’re reading and realise how tasteful and deep you are.

I Wish I Were A Was

Was is great – he was feeling hungry so he ate a royale with cheese because it was Europe and they use the metric system and accordingly wouldn’t know what a quarter pounder is.  And he had a glass of beer, no plastic cups; an actual glass.

It was bliss.

If I were a was I’d mostly stick to the past participle rather than other, more exotic grammatical forms.  Oh, and preferably I’d be a was in New York in the late 60s so I could watch the Velvet Underground play live.

But occasionally I might decide to be part of a longer word instead, sort of like a collective.  Wasp probably wouldn’t be too pleasant what with people swatting at you and having to keep the local fly population down and all, except in late summer when the fallen fruit starts to rot and ferment and we get a little drunk.  Me and P.

That’s why wasps typically become more aggressive in late summer – because they’re mean drunks.  True story.

Or I could be George Washington, which might be nice, or a washerwoman, which sounds like hard work.

Or I could walk around backwards and be a saw.  Either way I’d be worth six points in a game of Scrabble.

To be honest, if I were a was I’d probably bully were out of sentences – I wish I was a star, for example, because while I might have a reasonable grasp of the rules of grammar, I prefer to ignore them in the hope they’ll go away.  Not unlike bullies, incidentally.  It’s how I was brought up.

Better to be a was than a were – they don’t call them waswolves after all.  Besides, there’s something faintly accusatory about were, a bit high-minded: oh you WERE, were you?  No, I wouldn’t swap being a was for a were any day.

Speaking of swapping, perhaps it might be fun to mix around my letters rather than sticking rigidly with the W A S plan.  I could be part of a swap.  Me and P.

And that in turn leads me to what else I could be if I were a was with a loose approach to letter order.  I could be all kinds of useful objects instead of just being wasted: a doctor’s swab, a lawsuit, an animal’s paws.  Me and P.

Wouldn’t even need to keep all my letters together.  That could be awesome.

Unfortunately I’m not a was, I’m a were.  On the plus side, I’m worth 7 points in Scrabble.  Take that, was.

And another thing, was, stop nicking my place when it comes to the subjunctive mood, was.

Punk.