Friday, 21 December 2007


Wrightson was first, shotgun ready. Adams was behind him, with the industrial magnets; Cardy was next, stumbling sometimes under the weight of two full rucksacks, packed with leads, cables, laptops and USB memory sticks. Covering the rear was Thomas, another shotgun, backed up with a worn Heckler and Koch machine gun, Velcroed to his chest, for emergencies.
Thomas thought about his job before this one, IT Helpdesk Analyst, working for a law firm situated in London’s Blackfriars. That had been three years ago and things had changed since then; reminiscing, for instance was just a distraction. The distinct sound of two people, somewhere in the distance, trying to establish a network connection was his objective now.
Wrightson crested the remains of the base of the Brunel designed water pump, overlooking Crystal Palace Park. He signalled for the others to join him. From where they stood they could see groups of safe modes on foot, they tended to be harmless even as they orbited around the objective, drawn by the couple attempting to network, hoping for their turn, a link that would establish a connection and download the life they once had.
‘Same old scene,’ remarked Adam.
‘Would be nice if we could save the woman this time,’ said Cardy. ‘I miss the difference a woman makes.’
‘You mean’, Thomas was quick to add, ‘less swearing, farting and burping.’
Wrightson subdued a hearty laugh into a chuckle.
‘I just bet the bloke’s in safe mode with networking and she’s just in safe mode.’ Cardy said. ‘As per usual.’
‘Only,’ Wrightson started to move away for the remains, ’one way to find out.’
They followed him down towards their targets.
‘Thomas, watch the group over there on our right, they all look to be in safe mode to me but keep them under obs, okay.’
‘On them, Wrightson.’ And then to himself: I have been for some time. Oh great and distinguished chief; leader of what’s left of the connected world.
As the group had done many times before they formed a loose circle round the woman and the man. The woman was on top of an old looking man, probably in his fifties, a network cable had erupted from her wrist and was plugged into the man’s neck port. She was the one in safe mode with networking.
This was confirmed when she addressed the team members directly: ‘0001110101000111110,’ she said.
‘Okay, ‘said Wrightson, ‘we were expecting that. Let’s get to work then. Thomas, I’m on the left flank you stay on the right. Any other safe modes with networking form an assault team shoot them down. And make it a head shot, that’s were the bio processing chip, hard disc and motherboard are all located.’
Thomas did not reply, it was the same old routine, day in day out. Why, he wondered to himself, was Wrightson trying to make it sound fresh and new? It wasn’t and the outcome was going to be the same as it was every time.
The incompatibility of a dead monopoly.
Why not shoot them all, have it over and done with and retire to some shopping mall, spend the rest of their lives catching up on old fashioned DVD TV series box sets. Die happy, rather than wasting time on this pointless crusade, trying to reboot South London into the networked population it used to be.
Laughably, to Thomas, it had not always been this way and he was keen to pin the blame on something. So, in Thomas’ mind, where better place to start than mobilephones or cellphones, as what’s left of the United States of America used to call them. But that was not completely true, there was that DoreWare™ Operating System to factor in as well, running on 95% of the world’s personal computers and 99% of the world’s mobilephones.
The phones got smaller and people said their mobilephone ran their life, it was indispensable, lose it and they were nothing, disconnected from the social network.
The phones became diminutive enough to fit inside craniums. And, in less than a decade, where the mobilephone had gone, the personal computer followed. Human eyes became the start up screen and everybody was connected to everybody else; email, txt message and relationship Nirvana.
And William Dores, founder of the DoreWare™ Operating system that ran on 95% of the word’s population, was the jovial face of corporate success and human beneficence.
Except for that remaining 5%, not convinced by DoreWare™ or that popularity alone made something reliable. For that remaining 5%, like Thomas and these men now, the Operating System of choice was Braeburn and whilst that had brought them ridicule from DoreWare™ users, Braeburn users had the last hollow laugh on that one.
Thomas looked quickly back at Adams, moving the magnets between the woman and the man she was rocking back and forth on, separating under the magnetic field. Cardy was a few feet away, setting up his heavily shielded laptop, uncoiling a loop of networking cable.
Thomas thought about the virus that had come bowling in from God knows where and shut down the entire population of the world running DoreWare™ software in their heads. Left them wandering around and in two distinct zombie classes, safe mode and safe mode with networking. The latter were both dangerous and needed; hazardous because they only knew one Operating System to network with and that was gone now. But required because there was a chance of re-networking them with a version of the Braeburn OS.
Mostly, though, it was just fatal errors and blue screens of death. They had yet to bring the DoreWare™ dead back.
Thomas looked back towards the groups milling around in the park. He thought it was funny how they liked open spaces. And it was the last thing he thought. A catapulted laptop caved in his head and he was disconnected long before he hit the ground.
The naked woman and the man were on their feet, their own network cabling shooting out of their wrists. Laptops were raining out of the sky above all their heads, selectively aimed at Wrightson and his compatriots. Wrightson got one shot off before a laptop smashed into his face. Adams was trying to get the machine gun off Thomas chest but Thomas has slumped sideways and was not giving it up.
Cardy was running.
The woman screamed, ‘1010100111100011100.’
Adam’s almost had the weapon free. The cable fastened round his neck and pulled him off his feet, machine gun rounds arced into the air. The woman had her cable jack into his port before he was on the ground. The hacking software tore through his firewall and disabled his defence software. DoreWare™ OS, complete with its virus reformatted Adam’s brain.
Cardy stopped. He had made it to the shelter of the athletics stadium, they was an entrance close by. He slipped through its battered doors. Down the passage way he could hear a faint noise. When he got to the opening into the main arena stopped. They were everywhere, men, women and children, moving with a purpose Cardy had never seen before in safe modes with networking. There were networking cables flying around, in and out of neck ports as if they were downloading something in turn.
Cardy started to back away.
He turned and came face to face with the man from the park.
‘There’s nowhere to go,’ a voice without inflection or nuance. ‘You can’t be different anymore.’
Cardy had never heard them speak before. He tried to run. The man was on him and accessing his networking port.
Cardy was milling around with the others now, passing spreadsheets, text documents and presentations to the other safe modes around him.
Food was mostly what grew in the wild.
Cardy hung around apple trees but he was never going to know why.


Pugh looked around the Soho bar with a developing sense of disappointment; it appeared, cleverly, cunningly, like a normal place, a blithe place. People would have come here to listen to the latest, approved, beat combos, with their jolly music and cheerful, inspiring, jingoistic lyrics. But, Pugh knew from being at the sharp end of the edicts and regulations that stabilised this great country, conventional pastimes were increasingly under attack from subversives.
Pugh eyes eventually settled on the bar owner, a Mr D A O’Neil, who seemed to have obtained the knack of being able to scuttle around whilst standing still. An irritating habit, which Pugh duly noted, was born of obvious nervousness and complete guilt. Pugh took a step closer to his quarry and regarded him dryly, with the detachment that officialdom had groomed into him as a necessary asset to perform his duties and convey Parliamentary Acts. He mentally sent out a stream of tsk tsks to the two policemen, located by the café entrance; AK47’s held tightly to their gold braid incrusted chests, medals for gallantry and confirmed kills glistening with national pride.
‘It’s me here and now,’ Pugh began, addressing the bar owner, whilst walking towards him, ‘or the knowledge reclamation boys when you get charged back at the station.’
‘I know my rights’, O’Neil spluttered, with the conviction of a condemned man.
Pugh stood facing him.
‘You’d do well to forget about all that sort of talk and debilitating liberal opinion; this isn’t France you know. Think about it, your full confession, here and now, emailed ahead of us would save me the paperwork and you, well, if you don’t have a dental plan, a lot of money.’
‘I’ve done nothing wrong.’
‘If I only got a shilling for every time I’ve heard that from the lips of the culpable.’
Wallace, Pugh’s advance track trainee, came out from a doorway behind the bar, his black trench coat, unfolding into leathery wings as he hurried towards his mentor.
Pugh stepped away from the red faced O’Neil.
He was pleased to see a very hard-set smile welded to Wallace’s face and a discernable metallic sparkle that glinted from his eyes. Pugh knew he could take this man and turn him into a fully functioning, dispassionate metronome. But only if things had been different and not so obviously under review.
Wallace saluted his superior, arm out stretched, fingers pointing somewhere over Pugh’s left shoulder.
‘Hail to a green and pleasant land’, he stomped out with the right volume of vim and vigour, as was taught in every school classroom in the land.
Pugh returned the salute and the greeting, making sure he was staring into Wallace’s eyes to assure him that he was sincere in his absolute devotion and dedication to all things Imperial and just. Pugh was after the extra brownie points.
‘I’ve located the cache, sir, much as we suspected.’
‘Good work, Wallace.’
Then Pugh turned and addressed the two police officers, ‘Manacle that man.’
The club owner flinched; his eyes darted toward the fire exit at the end of the bar. Maybe, he thought there was a chance. Then there was an arm around his throat, restricting the airflow through his windpipe and pulling his head back.
He was forced to the beer stained floor and he could hear the clinking of the chains and then felt them tighten round his ankles and then his wrists. A metal collar was snapped around his neck and the chains were fed through its loops before being padlocked tightly together. The two policemen made a show of dusting themselves down. One snorted some phlegm, gurgled it in his throat and expelled it on to the barman’s upturned face.
‘Nice shot,’ commented the other policeman. ‘But they say, you know, that this works better.’
He propelled his steel capped, black boot into the barman’s ribs. The resulting scream rebounded off the walls, drowning out the voices of contestants in a reality television show that was being broadcast in the background that nobody had taken any notice of.
The reality was it was not this reality.
‘Hold it.’ Pugh ordered. ‘You know full well that that kind of behaviour is not approved of outside the interview rooms.’
‘Yes, sir,’ they replied together, as one unified whole.
Pugh smiled, ‘It’s an easy mistake to make boys, don’t punish yourselves too hard for it. This gets to us all.’
He turned and addressed Wallace. ‘Lead on MacDuff.’
There was a poorly lit corridor accessed from a door leading off the bar. Mid way down was an office, opposite there was a staff toilet and at the end of the corridor there was a fire exit. Wallace stopped in front of the toilet door. A multi-coloured but crudely drawn ‘Staff Only’ sign was hanging by a single, rusty staple.
‘Not the most original hiding place,‘ noted Wallace.
He pushed the door open.
Pugh’s nose wrinkled on contact with the air in the confined space. He inspected the bowel out of professional pride and noted, with a mild depression, the stains and browning of neglect and the obvious lack of a basic, after use, cleaning discipline. The toilet roll holder was empty too and Pugh tutted.
Wallace, feeding off of Pugh’s body language and unmistakable expression, voiced his concern, ‘The Department of Sanitation and Living Standards would have a field day here. This would go way beyond a suspended sentence too don’t you think?’
‘Yes. Yes it would, ‘ Pugh replied, briefly lost in a moment of nostalgia for his time as a young Executive Officer, at the beginning of his Civil Service Career. He had started work in the Home Visits section (HV3) of the Sanitation and Living Standards Dept., smashing down doors and ensuring that the public health was, under the remit of her Britannic Majesty’s Government, never compromised or sullied.
There were terrorists then too.
Pugh’s attention was brought back to the matter in hand when Wallace reached behind the dusty toilet system and pushed a panel with the faintest trace of an outline. Pugh was expecting a click, although dreamed of a whisper. However, he had to make do with the silence of steel moving over well-oiled steel.
He suddenly found the need to concentrate and he focused on Wallace. The man was looking pretty pleased with himself. Pugh knew everything would be tickerty-boo or, the even the more, nefarious, seldom used, hunky dory. Pugh blinked his eyes, once; controlled, in an effort to clear his mind of these extraneous estimations.
At which point he became aware of Wallace’s grinning face inches from his own. ‘Well, sir, there’s all the evidence we need. A damning find, Class ‘A’ stuff to boot. And if I’m not wrong, it carries the full mandatory sentence. It’s a good pinch for us sir without a doubt. This could be the one that leads us……’
Pugh had let him babble on, it gave him the necessary time for composure and equanimity. He let his eyes drift over to the secret compartment mid way through Wallace’s utterings and take in the view. He wasn’t surprised by what he saw, he had, he knew, seen much worse and on, occasion, complete examples erect in all their horrific glory. He sighed, but ignored Wallace’s sudden look of spurious concern. He was bothered by semantics again. And a reminder that Wallace’s personal file looked just ‘too bloody good’.
Time, Pugh realized to go back ‘on message’. But, he inwardly surmised, it was time to go on the offensive, the best defence and that entire kibosh suddenly appealed to him.
‘Frankly, ‘ Wallace said, putting the icing on his personal cake, ‘this could be the one that leads us straight to the ring leaders.’
He stopped and looked at Pugh and then back at the contents of the concealed compartment.
‘Go on,’ Pugh coerced, ‘if you want to.’
An inch away, Wallace halted his fingertips. He looked into the stained toilet bowel and then at Pugh.
‘Is this how you started out? Corrupting others.’
‘Yes, Wallace. As a matter of fact it is.’
‘You know that’s why I’m here don’t you.’
‘I was getting the impression that you were a little too top draw to be just a trainee.’
‘It gets to everyone, even respected officials like your good self. You know that’s why we have to check everyone, test them; see where their metal is.’
‘I understand that all, Wallace. But you and your lot can’t expect a job like this to be done without a little of the dirt sticking.’
‘That’s not an argument we subscribe too, Pugh. That’s just your lamentable excuse for not staying true to the cause. The United Kingdom needs true believers in these dark days, not those who trawl though the depths of their own depravity and excuse themselves because they think it’s how the job should be done.’
‘I have to cuff you.’
‘I’m sure you do, Wallace.’
As Wallace unclipped the plastic binding strap from his belt, Pugh grabbed his still out stretched hand and pushed it into the compartment.
Wallace stared at him. His mouth opened, there was an oblique effort to form a vowel but all that came out was a rush of air. Pugh withdrew the stiletto knife from Wallace’s ribs slowly, feeling it glide out from between the inert muscle and skin.
Pugh’s mouth smiled and his eyes watered under the strain of the emotional input he was feeling.
Wallace’s eyelids dropped down over his eyes, the final thing he saw was the velvet cover in the concealed compartment. It was covered in a deep red fabric that was held in place on the wooden frame by polished brass studs. It may have only been the seat, not the back or the legs but it was what their mission had been all about. The rest of the illegal chair was likely to be hidden in the houses of friends and associates. Names they would shortly have.
Wallace slumped over the toilet.
Pugh took Wallace’s hand and cut off the index finger. He sympathetically wrapped it in a monogrammed handkerchief and dropped it into his tweed jacket pocket. He slid his stiletto knife back into its black ankle scabbard. He preferred a blade to any other weapon; it possessed, for him, an intimacy, a proximity that would not be compromised by any form of detachment.
Like, say, a kiss.
Pugh got to his feet. He was well aware that the main supporting strut of a lie was not to prepare or work out in advance the words and actions of the duplicity but to fly it all by the seat of the pants. Doing so would make it look more realistic, more real, more like established truth.
The stuff that every child learns but every adult denies.
He left the toilet but not before flushing it. Pugh went and pushed the fire exit door at the end of the corridor open.
He took a deep breath and headed back towards the bar.
‘Terrorists, ‘ he shouted, nearly hysterical with the alarm, ‘Terrorists.’
He entered the bar and pointed back towards the way he had come. The two policemen were already moving towards him, machine guns switched to fully automatic. One of them shouted in his face: ‘Are you alright sir?’
Pugh nodded his head and did his best to look too frightened to speak.
‘Don’t worry, we’ll get them, sir.’
‘They got Wallace, ‘ he said. And, not lying, ‘He didn’t stand a chance.’
The policeman moved to catch up with his other half, least they be separated and perish without the sustenance of each other’s psychological disorder.
The bar owner was still on the floor. Pugh changed his demeanour and walked over to him.
He crouched down beside him. ‘Why, oh why, do you do it? Eh? It only leads to one place in the end.’ He pointed at himself. ‘Me. And now the charges for you are the illegal possession of a non-government approved chair, terrorism and murder. That’s a guest spot on the six o’clock public executions, without a doubt. After, naturally, your obligatory, trail without jury, which your relatives will have to pay for. Nobody in his or her right mind wants to be seen defending a terrorist these days. What would the neighbours think or stone? Eh? You’re not much of a smiler are you? ’
Machine gun fire acted as make shift grammar. Pugh stood up and walked over to the bar. He poured himself a glass of Imperial Empire gin and downed it in one. Its alcoholic content was minuscule and barely discernable, as it should be.
Shortly, the policemen came back and reported the highlight of their day.
‘The ringleaders got away, sir. But there were some more in the ally the fire exit leads out to. Abut six or seven in total, sleeping rough and drinking, an obvious covert squad. We didn’t take any chances with them.’
‘Well done.’ Pugh said. “I’ll see to it that you get a special mention in my report for outstanding bravery.’
‘Thank you, sir.’
They re-shouldered their weapons and scooped up the bar owner in one fluid, well drilled, movement. Pugh watched them leave through the bottom of another glass, distorted and surreal.
After the ambulance had picked up Wallace, Pugh left too. The offending chair seat safely wrapped up in an evidence bag and in his possession. It lay on the passenger seat next to him as he drove through the neat and ordered streets of South London.
Near his sub office in South Norwood, Pugh stopped at a set of traffic lights. To his left there were row apon row of state approved chairs set out before a corrections screen on a public green just off to his right. A broadcast was due and people were already filling the robust and utilitarian seats. He was drawn to the chairs. Rough, wooden pieces of furniture, screwed together and barely finished off; splinters were common. It was for the good of the country and a good old British two fingers up to the shamelessness that had swamped the rest of the European mainland.
‘These were rough times.‘ He found himself saying, mimicking the political stance of the country and the opening of every broadcast. ‘Imported luxury, the licentiousness of the outside world will not corrupt our faith in national pride. We will fight them on the Internet, in print and on our television screens. In our houses and homes, on the streets and we will never surrender our Britishness, our way of life. ’
The lights changed to green and he gunned his lonely car towards his office.
He dropped the seat off at the cases desk. It was given a number and that was the last he would see of it. There was a public burning on the fifth of November of every year and Pugh wondered if he would catch sight of it then. There was that little chant for the occasion, it travelled through his thoughts and, while it lasted, it was his only reflection.
‘Please do remember the fifth of November, light up the sky with non standard furniture.’
Pugh sat down at his desk, there were a few faces around, busy like him. He acknowledged them and there were a few hellos in reply and one or two blank looks as well. News about Wallace would have reached them. Pugh’s handling of that day’s terrorists would have exonerated him from any further investigation. Everybody was subjected to an internal probe from time to time, if his superiors had more on him he wouldn’t be sitting at his desk right now.
There was an hour to go before he could officially leave the office. He spent the time skimming through that day’s terrorist integration transcripts. They made good reading. He found a juicy one, were the integrators had gone to town on their subject. He read it all, all twenty-two pages. It began as it meant to go on:
‘Oh, dear God not my fucking balls. AHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!! Jesus, Jesus. Turn the fucking current off you. AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!. No stop this. Oh God please stop this. You,,,,you fucks. AAHHHHHHHHHHHHH. No. No. No. My eye, my…….‘
And so on.
Pugh was too engrossed to notice that the integrators were not asking any questions.
The home time klaxon sounded throughout the building. Pugh locked his paperwork away and marched out with everyone else. Outside the building the traffic was heavy but the sea of identical, utilitarian, cars was a welcome sight to him as he stood outside the office. He thought the columns of unpainted bodywork were all melding together and appeared as mercury running through the city’s streets, draining away. It was the only illustrative contemplation he allowed himself, knowing how dangerous any more would be.
With no personal car at his disposal, he turned into the flow of people on the street and progressed for his home on foot. The stiletto rubbed against his leg and massaged his mind.
Pugh’s identity card slid towards him and the door to the block of flats he lived in admitted him, although the cctv cameras carried on recording regardless.
In for me, in for me.
The catalogue was carelessly open on Pugh’s lounge bench, highly visible from his apartment’s front door. He checked the corridor before carefully closing the front door behind him.
Pugh affected a jaunty step as he slipped into his compact kitchenette, filled a kettle with water and set it on the deluxe wood-burning stove. A few attempts with a standard box of Empire matches and the soft young wood caught. Back in the lounge, Pugh retrieved the finger from his jacket pocket, unwrapped it and carefully placed it on the catalogues opened pages.
A personal bookmark.
He came back from the bathroom, changed into his dressing gown and made a weak cup of tea with sterilised, seventy percent water, milk. Sipping from a roughly made and poorly finished (but uniquely British) cup, he made his way back into the lounge. He sat down next to the catalogue and noted that his make shift bookmark was holding up very well. He drained his cup with a sense of satisfaction and achievement. But he also knew his new bookmark was wasted where it was, like the others had been before it.
Pugh put his cup down and instantly forgot about it. He moved the finger out of the pages and picked up the catalogue. The catalogue was reassuringly heavy in his hands and he derived a sense of satisfaction from that. As if weight was gravitas.
He had seen dozens of crudely photocopied examples of this catalogue in his time, shoddily bound on inferior paper and dog-eared to pieces. But always hidden away by the suspects, in places where the poor bastards had thought it would be safe, undisclosed. Sometimes pages were hidden, but vaginal and rectal probes found them out. That had always been a part of the search that he had taken part in, with a sense of national pride.
Everyone page or catalogue he had seen had been incinerated because that was the law.
He flicked to his favourite pages, the chairs. He read out their names quietly, almost hushed.
‘Barkaby, Extorp, Jennylund, Tullsta, Klacbo (new colour), Fridene, Pello, Kungsvik, Malung.’
Pugh stopped, breathless.
He put the catalogue down and picked up the finger. Holding like a syringe he applied pressure and slowly popped the bone out of its wrapper. Back in his kitchenette he binned the flesh and cleaned the bone under a slow running cold tap of brunette coloured water. Satisfied with its cleanliness, Pugh licked the bone and held it up to the restricted voltage of a single light bulb.
He smiled, an emotion that was more inside of him than out; least his mask slip.
Pugh’s bedroom was very Spartan, devoid of any furniture that was associated with its function. He was quick to lock the door behind him and turn the handle to reassure him that it was locked. He was looking forward to an undisturbed sleep.
The chair was in the middle of the room and he had no hesitation in sitting down on it. The backbone of it caressed his own and its arms, bleached white and smooth supported his own. He reached down and picked up a tube of glue that was almost empty. A drop squeezed out onto the end of the finger bone that Pugh was holding.
With a sigh, he stuck it into place on the hand of the chair.
It was almost complete now and that hand was done now, Pugh just needed to complete the left one.
Pugh sat back and the partially straightened rib cage accepted the broad expanse of his back. He was very proud of his accomplishment, in the face of adversity and office politics. He believe that carefully concealed beneath the cover of his job he was rebelling. He was a dissident, a subversive. He gripped the arms, the tight white bones, comfortable in his fight against the oppressors.
Just above his head an opened mouthed skull had other thoughts, lost and frozen in the regime, and screamed into the silence and the void.
Or was it just hysteria?


The final photo call, for the Blair family, outside No.10 Downing Street, on the 27 June 2007 looked overdue. Like finding a bag of Marks and Spencer pre-packed salad at the bottom of a fridge, way past its sell by date, the packet still bright looking and naturally, deceitfully, colourful but the contents, were shrivelled and mouldy, tainted and corrupt.
As the family stood for their final photo-call they appeared gauche and unwieldy, their dress sense finally syncing with their actual personalities. Cherie Blair in ‘fallen-women’ red, the daughter in a self-loathing, high-street floral print dress, both sons in ill fitting and blandly coloured suits; as if they were all at great pains too make their disrespectfulness look respectable to the long gone Ford Mondeo man. The youngest son, sharing with his father, not just a poor choice in clothing (gaudy chic), but also a bemused child-like expression of not really understanding the political punch line they were participating in.
I would like to think, in the intervening decade, that it had not always been so with this particular family and its father, that at some point I did respect them and did not, like I am here, firing off ‘cheap shots’ because it’s cathartic or whatever excuse I can slip passed you.
Then again, maybe I should have started with those cheap shots sooner rather than later.
Hindsight, it turns out, is a cruel master and it’s own time machine, which it likes to drag me back regardless of my protests.
The hesitation was gobsmacking, it was a fairly straightforward question: What is your password? The Higher Executive Office just stood there, fidgeting in a way that only seniorish civil servants could. I was sitting at his desk and he could have easily come round and entered the information himself. But whilst it was his desk, his banker’s lamp, his countless files tied up neatly with red ribbon and his over inked and over used Top Secret rubber stamp, it was my PC and he had reported a problem with it. And it was too early in the morning, with other calls probably piling up, contractors to deal with, and, I suspected, it was going to get a lot busier too on this 2 May 1997 and Tony Blair’s move and first day of work in No.10 Downing Street. A tourist stop, immediately adjacent to this one, No.70 Whitehall, a building housing most, but not all of The Cabinet Office Department of the Civil Service.
I tried again, inserting a please this time to avoid sounding like a broken record. The HEO looked down at his shoes as if they might somehow divulge the necessary information. He had boasted to me a few times about his wizard wheeze of buying cheap brown shoes in the sales and dyeing them black. With that anecdote it had just been a simple case of amusing him.
He looked back up at me.
“Wanker”, he said.
It seemed obvious now I thought about it and I typed it in.
IT problem dealt with, I left his office and headed back to my own. Midway there I got a call on my mobile, a novelty then. The call was from our central IT Dept in Office in Government Offices Great George Street, fondly known by its abbreviation as GOGGS. The Civil Service had abbreviations for everything, some new and some dusty archaic that probably belonged to the time when the Civil Service ran the Government, rather than the current situation.
The voice on my mobilephone belonged to Robin Berryman, my IT Manager. He was part hippy, part middle class conformist. He still carried his Woodstock ticket around in his wallet as a conversation piece, although when pressed on whom he saw on stage he confessed to be overcome by the moment and vague on the stage roster. Or, as I liked to think, high as a kite.
His usual jovial tone was gone this morning, replaced by a usually suppressed lack of social skills and a flat, emotionless tone. I suspected he had voted Conservative out of fear for his home and mortgage, a tactic that had always assured political harmony for bricks and mortar in the past.
Robin told me to get all the computers out of the departed Deputy Prime Minister’s Office, like now.
The inner and outer minister’s offices reminded me of the Mary Celeste. People had been here once, and not that long ago. Chairs were swivelled away from desks as their occupants had got up and departed. The desks were scattered with impersonal stationery and order forms for reprographics and faxing. Filing cabinets were empty though and any official looking documents were long gone. Maybe it was not the Mary Celeste after all, here were all the hallmarks here of a very successful coup.
I piled up computer base units and monitors onto a trolley that had been abandoned in the middle of the office floor.
This had been Michael Heseltine’s workspace, in a deal thrashed out with the now ex Prime Minister, John Major; Heseltine had become Deputy Prime Minister. I admired Heseltine, as I had Labour’s Dennis Healy, two men who should have been Prime Minister of their respective parties but allowed themselves to be sidelined or embroiled in diversions.
A month back I had held the door open for Heseltine, when exiting the Gent’s down the corridor from his office and he looked not just surprised but shocked. It took me nearly a week to work out his reaction; I held doors open for everyone regardless of grade or conscience. But I suspected that Michael was getting used to doors being let go of in his face. His party’s policy toward public sector workers had always been to reduce the numbers, cut the red tape, remove all these pen pushers and their cost on the public purse. Outsourcing had become the word that Civil Servants dare not speak of.
So now, it was payback time. We were such revolutionaries!
After wheeling the computers back into the office I checked the answer phone. Nothing, which I was not expecting given the day. There were two contractors due too but so far they were doing a very successful no show.
They were from a company call Digital Equipment Company, DEC, which had won the contract for running the Cabinet Office’s IT Helpdesk. DEC were a big and flourishing presence in the IT world and I would soon be working for them. I, along with my colleagues, had been outsourced.
However, it was crucial to understand that it was all really just governmental smoke and mirrors. Although DEC would pay our salaries the actual cold hard cash would be coming from the public purse; ‘pen pusher’ numbers would be down (five in this case) but the cost, on the public, would be the same. It was a magic trick really and everybody I knew brought into it wholesale.
There were a few more calls, mostly word processor related, where civil servants still thought in type-writer mode and the shock of the new, much like the photocopier and the fax before, had bewildered them greatly.
Back in the office and still no contractors.
The cheering started at full volume, naught to a hundred decibels in two seconds flat. It penetrated the single window in the office and it’s, weighed down with lead shot, bombproof curtain.
The new Prime Minister was arriving; driving through the gates that I had walked passed that morning. Those gates had been erected on the orders of one of Tony Blair’s icons, and would be going soon, of that I had no doubt. New Labour, as it had been re-branded, would be the people’s party and would welcome them back with open arms and freedom to walk down all the streets in London.
I wondered it the outsourcing to DEC would be stopped. Although maybe it was too far down the track for that, agreements had been signed, our bodies had been purchased and our ride well and truly pimped.
The cheering grew louder and I contacted my girlfriend, who was at home and pregnant with our son, new fangled mobilephone. Jackie sounded impressed and so was I. I held the phone above my head so she could hear the country more clearly.
An hour or so later, when the cheering had subsided the two contractors arrived bewildered and worn. On their way here, via No.10, some one had stopped them, plonked flags in their hands and told them to start cheering when the cavalcade arrived.
It figured really, that the private sector would be press-ganged into rejoicing while the loyal and cheap workers held their positions.
I went before I was outsourced, taking my IT skills into the public sector.
Now though, watching the Blair’s departure from No.10, on YouTube, without too much gloating, it feels like a coup but still looks like a circus.
And those gates across No.10 never did get taken down.

The Fuhrerbunker's Only Mother


Magda Goebbels, according to unnamed sources, was fond of humming the German national anthem along to the steady hum of her new residence’s air conditioning, the inauspicious, bunker, buried in down town Berlin. And she could hold a tune too, much to the ‘delight’ of those around her.
Where the muffled impact of the Red Army’s continued shelling fitted in with the musical backdrop was a mute point though. It was probably not the subject that was discussed over tea and iced cakes with her second husband and the man she once described as a deserving a love stronger than the love she could give to her husband, Joseph Goebbels. Usually, and certainly today, that would have been grounds for divorce.
But this was 1945, February, and the second full month of life in the underground complex that The Fuhrer had retreated to, for a well timed lull in the burgeoning development of the Thousand Year Reich. And while boy soldiers and old age pensioners fought experienced, battle hardened men of the Soviet Union, not known for making any age allowances with their artillery, machine-guns or bayonets, Hitler strolled around the Führerbunker galvanized, like a man on fire. Magda was never far from his bootstraps.
Expect for one day, after the Fuhrer’s eighth cup of tea that morning Magda excused herself from the informal shindig, with her husband, Propaganda Minister and full-time ego masseur to the Fuhrer, and went back to her bedroom. Once she was on the other side of the five-inch thick door, Joseph’s fixed smile dropped and he apologised then and there for Megda’s unbearable humming. It was he pointed out, quite maddening. The Charlie Chaplin moustache twitched twice and then took a swim in some more weak, milky tea.
The corridors back to the Goebbels’ bedroom were crowded with sour-faced guards, frenetic doctors and ashen-faced administrators. The high-ranking pen pushers were loaded down with haphazardly piled paperwork, some of which was singed and some of which detailed, in coloured, hand-drawn, graphs, the throughput for Bergen-Belsen.
All their smiles to Magda were fixed and, stretched over malnourished skin. Her smiles, in return, where equally rictus like.
The SS guard outside Magda’s bedroom looked apprehensive as she approached, his clandestine, back-handed, knuckle rap on the door alerted those inside that Goebbels’ wife was too close for comfort. His two accomplices, young but very industrious female nurses, began to arrange the room back to its former state and make their search for the papers detailing the location of all the gold, money and priceless paintings and antiques that had been hidden somewhere in the Fatherland, look like it had never happened. Of, course, neither woman should have been in the room. But they were used to thinking on their feet.
They loosened their clothes and invaded each other’s personal space.
Magda tried to look disapproving as the two nurses jumped up from their posed embrace and tried to put each other’s uniform straight. They both started talking at once but Megda silenced both of them. She spoke at them rather than to them; a personality peculiarity that she had picked up over the years.
War, she said, did strange things to people. She was willing to forgo reporting this instance this once and only this once.
When they left both nurse’s gave the guard a knowing wink.
Meanwhile, Magda sat by her bedside table and opened its one and only draw. Light from a human skinned lampshade illuminated this little tableau scene. She stared into the draw and remembered Nietzsche’s view on the abyss. She counted six cyanide capsules, one each for her six children.

Armitage tapped his watch; it was an irritated gesture and a few intimidating, inches from Toth’s suddenly immobile, inflexible face. Toth wanted to respond but in the cramped confines of their white unwashed, unmarked van Toth decided against it. The armour-plated surround was, he felt, like a coffin and festered with top-notch surveillance equipment, set in sea of blinking red sores.
Best, Toth considered, letting pressurised air out of his lungs as a barely audible sigh, just get on with the job at hand.
For now. `
Shanks was outside relieving himself over some peripheral relics from some non-history period that had been rendered pointless and meaningless by the current state of play. Unseen by the other two, because he was in the ‘known’ blind spot for the vans on board CCTV, he was particularly keen on leaving his acrid, deep yellow mark on a bent piece of pitted and rusted ironwork that looked, in the early morning washed out sunlight, like one sideways triangle on top of another upwards triangle.
Whatever, Shanks found himself thinking, as the shape, and its resonance, became too problematical for him to think about.
Zipping himself back into place in his fatigues, Shanks did the coded knock on van door that would get him back inside. There was a pause before the door opened and Shanks found the barrel of an automatic weapon inches from his nose.
Shanks pushed it aside and was quick to establish his authority amongst the three of them: ‘Oh for God’s sake, Armitage. It’s me ya prick. Put it away before we get rumbled by the locals.’
Armitage grunted but followed the order and stomped away and sat in the driver’s seat.
Shanks opened a Stars and Stripes packet of cookies and sat down in front of the bank of screens that revealed the outside world in all its glory; also in its infrared, thermal imaging and microscopic detail. He shovelled two of the double chocolate cookies into his mouth at once. A sideways spewing volcano of crumbs and chocolate chips issued from his mouth. Some of it he brushed away, other bits he just left.
Halfway through the ultra king-sized family pack, he looked over at Toth, who was on the other side of the van, making a reasonable fist of studying the latest intelligence information on five flat screen monitors. There was not, from what Shanks could see, too much local or national unrest in the queues. There were ‘known’ flash points and they were, in their camouflaged cage, monitoring one such point.
But Intel was ropey at best and too often, although officially not admitted, ‘sexed up’, but rightly so, for important security reasons.
For King and Country.
Toth had mentioned to Shanks the cyclical nature involved in that kind of reasoning but Shanks had reminded him that ‘Careless talk often caused lives. And that often ‘loose lips sink ships’.
Toth’s ‘free thinking’ could, Shanks construed, sometimes, considering the world in which they all lived now, just be a little bit too free.
Shanks yawned and stretched. He peered lazily at the screens continuously recording a hopefully uneventful world.
Out of encroaching boredom and a dwinding supply of imported Uncle Sam double-choc cookies, Shanks decided on some team building. Armitage was here because it was either prison or the army. Armitage had, how did the medical NCO put it, varying degrees of psychological disorder. Which Shanks thought was just fine, seeing as these days you didn’t have to be mad to work in the His Majesty’s Armed Forces, but it helped.
Toth though, Toth was a different kettle of fish. He was on the ‘fast-track’ programme to officerdom (which Shanks did not hold against him……..much) and was a graduate too. He would probably end up in the Homeland Queue Intelligence Corps, behind a desk with a bimbo of a secretary.
Shanks was well aware of which one he would prefer to have next to him in a ‘fire fight’.
He rolled the empty packet up into a ball and threw it at Armitage, who on impact of the packet, stood up brandishing a pair of knuckle dusters and a black, slim, double edged boot knife.
‘Oi,’ Armitage shouted, ’what’s that for? That’s fooking dangerous that. I could have killed everybody in here just’, he stabbed the air at waist height with his knife, ‘Just like that.’
Toth suppressed a smirk and any mention of ‘idiot servants’ or Tommy Copper for that matter. One of his father’s troop of forgotten comedic heroes. There was not much call for comedy nowadays, very little was a laughing matter anymore. When though, Toth thought, sometimes it should be.
‘Just keeping you on your toes, Armitage, would not want you getting rusty now would I. Who knows, when the chips are down I might have to depend on you. You know what these queuers can be like and how quickly they can kick off.’
Armitage sat back down, keeping his knuckles in brass but relocating his boot knife. He liked the pleasant sound it made; steel into leather; a blade into skin.
On the second knock on the van door Armitage was on his feet, arming and aiming his fully automatic machine-gun as the third knock sounded.
Shanks got to his feet, he turned and addressed Armitage directly, ‘As much as this pains me to say, put it away. It’s the Limey.’ He pointed to a CCTV screen. ‘See.’
The disappointment on Armitage’s face seemed to fill what little space there was in the van and was like an overblown balloon, waiting to burst.
Toth let the Limey in.
‘Hi ya, boys. How’s tricks and things, my good buddies?’
The Limey stepped into the van. Armitage retreated back to his seat.
‘Bout time you showed up’, said Shanks. ‘We’re here because of you. So hand over the ID and then get out of my sight.’
The Limey, one of the new strain of helpful and patriotic citizens of UK plc, was dressed accordingly, double breasted Union Jack suit and tie, Union Jack bowler hat, tightly furled Union Jack umbrella and patent leather Union Jack shoes. They all talked with a mid Atlantic accent as a homage to the country that ‘bank rolled’ this one. Some were better at the twang than others and the worst, like this one, was guaranteed to grate. More than their white, middle-class aspirations were going to.
‘Hey, buddy, can those negative vibes, man. I’ll dish the info but not before I gets my check. That’s the deal we squared away with the ‘man’, remember.’
Shanks gritted his teeth.
Armitage checked his spare ammunition magazines.
Toth reached into his pocket for his army issue cheque-book.
‘Pay him,’ Shanks ordered.
Toth wrote out the sum of ten thousand dollars.
‘That better not be in bastard Euros,’ said the Limey, forgetting his acquired accent for a moment.
‘Do we look like arsehole Europeans to you?’ Shanks retorted.
‘Hey, buddy. Man, I’m just saying, ‘cause I heard some poo that went down a few weeks back where one of my people got ripped off by guys just like you. He’s in the hospital right now, you know, eating through a straw.’
‘Not the army then,’ Armitage observed.
‘Why’s that, man?’
‘Because he’d be dead and bits of him would be turning up a week from now in school playgrounds.’
‘He’s a crazy mofo,’ said Toth, handing the cheque to Shanks.
‘You are a bunch of sick, pecker-headed, purple veined dicks,’ said the Limey.
‘Photo first,’ ordered Shanks.
‘Oh right, sure, my main man.’
The Limey handed a glossy A4 print over to Shanks, who glanced at it and handed the cheque to the Limey.
‘Excellent my buddy boys.’
Toth opened the door and the Limey, whistling ‘I’m A Yankee Doodle Dandy’, was gone.
All three men poured over the photograph.
‘Well that’s our man,’ said Shanks, whose stomach rumbled in agreement.‘ He checked his watch,’ A good sized selection of queues should be forming up now. And I need all your eyes on this. So Toth, forget the intel reports and Armitage stop playing with your tool it’s likely to go off. And let’s bring this bastard in.’
Four hours crawled by like eight.
The three queues were going well; they were ordered and moved at a pace set by national and local county council agreements. There were a dozen or so uniformed Queue Masters to over see the proceedings. The queue for water was the longest, followed by the one for bread and then the one for sex.
‘There,’ shouted Armitage, ‘Right there. ‘On my fooking screen.’
Shanks and Toth both moved to see if Armitage was right. Shanks looked at his watch and barked out: ‘Target confirmed at 15: 47 hours.’
Armitage went up to the driver’s seat for his machine-gun. ‘He’s mine,’ he said opening the van door.
‘Not quite,’ Toth rejoined.
Armitage stared at him and the surprise on his face grew out of all proportion when Toth slid Armitage’s own boot knife into Armitage’s throat. The splatter caught Shanks in the face, as Toth knew it would. And Shanks quickly lost his footing on the van floor, falling backwards, arms flaying like a schoolboy’s who’s just worked out that life can be ghastly prank.
Toth left him for a moment while he extracted the machine-gun from Armitage’s corpse.
A quick burst of silenced Shanks.
Toth looked at the screens and the funny stuff was just beginning to the queues. He admired how one man could cause so much havoc to such a highly run institution as a British Queuing System. BQS.
He discarded the weapon and exited the van.
As Toth got closer to the three queues he started to laugh, he could not really help himself. Firstly, and somehow, importantly, the couples in the sex queue were having sex. The urban terrorist had explained to them all, with a single poster depicting he basic sexual positions that couples could copulate anywhere. He had bombarded the water queue with water bombs and the bread queue with cakes.
For that French connection.
Pandemonium was everywhere.
But the Queue Masters, initially caught off guard, where regrouping and requesting back ups. Three had the terrorist pinned down and were busy with their cattle prods, one Queue Master favouring his groin.
Toth ploughed through them. He retrieved the terrorist.
‘Quick,’ Toth shouted, ‘this way.’
Toth lead him back to the van.
He was in the driver’s seat and turning the electric engine over when the first couple of Queue Masters got in front and smashed in the windscreen. Toth floored the ‘go’ pedal and the front wheels drove over them.
Toth laughed his head off and said in a deep, affected voice: ‘Just like that.’
The terrorist looked at the bodies of Shanks and Armitage.
‘You did this for me?’
Toth spoke over his shoulder. ‘There are many sacrifices to be made to help the cause.’
His fevered eyes went back to the road.
Toth pulled over once they were out of New London. Off road, under a canopy of old English oaks Toth brewed some tea. Whilst the terrorist drank Toth disposed of the bodies. Drinking his own cup of sweetened tea Toth was very conversational.
‘They wanted you dead, you know. Another ‘kill’ to caulk up for King and Country, another nail in the terrorist coffin.’
‘What made you change? You’re one of the establishment aren’t you? One of the benign forces of power that keep ‘order’ in this septic isle.’
‘Well that was how I used to be. But surely there’s only so much to take before enough’s enough. We all have to queue. And I’m sick of it. I queue for the telephone, I queue for bread and water, and I queue for daily newssheet. I have to queue for the services of a prostitute. I even have to queue for the chance of a train to take me to see my parents. When the damn things are running that is. But don’t get me going there.’
The terrorist laid his hand on Toth’s shoulder. ‘You’re right, of course,’ he said. ‘It wasn’t always like this, there were freedoms and we had them all. You need to join us and swell our small number. Most missions are suicide missions but I guess you know that?’
‘Yes, I do. And that’s the nature of this beast.’
‘Okay. You drive and I’ll direct.’
The electric engine hummed into life.
They drove for the rest of the day and the night that followed. As dawn broke they were in the business district of some homogenised suburb. The terrorist got Toth to pull up outside a long aircraft hanger sized warehouse. It dwarfed the van and both men.
Rebellion was a big operation.
They entered the warehouse and both men stepped inside.
It was empty except for a long snake of men leading from just inside the door way to all across the floor and disappearing in the distance.
‘Are you ready to join the fight?
‘Yes I am,’ Tooth replied. ‘It’s a far, far better thing I do now for freedom and liberty, with some justice for all and not to have to queue for it.’
And both men stepped forward and joined the queue.