Happy? Politicians Just Sold Your Privacy

In case you missed it during the now weekly tsunami of supposedly apocalyptic ‘news events,’ something pretty important happened in the States this week.

Basically, US lawmakers, the supposed guardians of their citizens’ liberty and constitutional rights, have voted to give ISPs (Internet Providers such as Verizon or Vodafone) the right to sell your browsing history to the highest bidder.

All the stuff you do on the Internet, the sites you visit, whether you have a medical condition, whether you’ve ever thought you might have a medical condition, the days you’re home from work etc., are now all on sale to whoever is willing to pay hard cash for them. In other words, any right to digital privacy you thought you enjoyed – along with any notion of individual rights – just went out in one puff.

This wasn’t Trump, by the way. Yes, he expressed support for the bill and is thought likely to sign it, but the measure originated among so called ‘real politicians’ in the US Houses of Congress.

The measure is thought to be worth between $35 and $70 Billion to so called ‘big cable,’ though this seems a bit conservative. Their paid mouthpieces have argued that it puts ISPs on a ‘level playing field’ with Google and Facebook, who already earn satanic amounts by flogging the personal data of their users to God knows whom.

Apparently, the standard Google and Facebook mantra that their hyper-profits are all down to advertising and product placement is actually a load of shit (in fairness, to anyone who knows anything about advertising, it always seemed a bit far-fetched). It’s all about the moolah they make from selling your digital laundry.

It seems that Orwell was right. Big Brother is watching you. What he didn’t realize was that all Big Brother wants is to flog your suspect linen to someone, anyone with filthy wads of cash.

Oh, in case you’re interested, what’s the true value of the privacy that’s just been signed away by your protectors? What is the price of what you once thought was your private life? According to one article I saw, it’s about $30 per month for a mobile ISP connection, rising to $60 a month if you get your Internet through a cable network, which apparently most Americans do. Sometimes it can be good to know these things, though I’m not sure why.

Strange, though not surprising, to think that Julian Assange is holed up in an Embassy and Edward Snowden is in Russian exile for doing to Governments exactly what politicians have just voted to do to you, but I guess that’s just a weather vane of the age, more of that horrible graffiti we call the daily news.

A couple of thoughts occur. First, no one but the most cerebrally challenged, narcotic dependent citizen has any excuse for not realizing that your politicians are basically bought and paid for. They don’t even call it corruption any more. If you still don’t see it, there is no hope for you. Cynics might argue that you deserve to end up as cabbage or soylent green or whatever ultimate fate they have in mind for you.

Something you thought was yours is worth something to somebody with loads of money, so those people to whom you contract out your rights are only too happy to hand it over. That’s the way it works now. Maybe, in a sense, it always worked like this, but there’s so much money and urgency and bling these days that it’s more in your face than ever before.

Political establishments, demonstrating that limitless capacity for self-delusion, have failed to spot that most people increasingly know their democracy is bought and paid for. That’s why people vote for things like Trump and Brexit. They know that virtually everything they’re being told is a giant scam.

I know because I live in a country (Ireland) that’s basically been a fictitious democracy for decades, but it turns out the so called ‘greatest democracy’ is just as big a fraud. Heigh ho, let’s hope your Congressman or woman got a decent price for selling the remnants of your liberty. It’d be tragic to think they gave it away for peanuts, wouldn’t it?

Second, there’ll be those on this side of the pond who’ll argue that it can’t happen here, that the EU’s tradition of protection for its citizens will always be stronger than Daddy Bigbucks. Maybe, but I wouldn’t bet on it. One of the reasons the EU project is unravelling lately is the increasing awareness that it’s basically all about money, or more specifically, finding more ways for the hyper-rich to suck out what remains of the marrow from their citizens.

The notion that our already hugely paid MEPs and senior bureaucrats are above a little corruption is, well, I used to enjoy Mary Poppins as well.

Privacy is over. It’s gone. It’s been sold for thirty dollars a month. The Congressmen doubtless aren’t thinking beyond the few extra bucks in their pockets, but they have lazily agreed to something that will alter society beyond recognition.

It’ll add an extra frisson to my local convenience store (See ‘What if Life was like The Internet’) where I’ve been queueing to buy the same pint of milk for, oh, about six months now. The unflappable reality hostess is still smiling, my pointless obduracy troubles her not a whit because she knows (or her hivemind does) that just like Congressmen, I have to fold eventually.

“Ok, so I can’t interest you in any gambling or lap dancing or chocolate opportunities, so what about … Oh wait. What’s this? Fond of the nudies, are we?”

“Cough … Splutter … Burp. Uh, how – how dare…?”

“Oh, it’s ok. Honestly, live and let live. I mean, it’s all a spectrum, isn’t it? Or whatever the politically correct thing to say is this week. Still though, there’s a few people who might like to know, your ex-wife, for example, or that politically correct NGO you just started working for, or…”

“Ok, ok. I give up. I surrender. What do you want?”

“Well, your data provider’s awfully interested in some real estate developments in Ulan Bator at the moment. They can’t attract much support on the open market, so they’re looking for anyone who’d be willing to invest in a genuine blue sky opportunity.”

They’ll take what remains of my money and then sell the shit on anyway, because there’s nothing to stop them, and we live in the age of the sociopath.

There is, perhaps, only one way to derail all this lovely progress, to spike that wheel that wants to crush anonymity for everyone except drug barons, bankers and other major criminals.

If everyone, at more or less the same time, simply took to the Internet and uploaded and confessed everything, every murky thought, every dodgy photo, every dubious peccadillo, every social disability, every less than brilliant moment, overwhelming the planet’s servers in a tsunami of naughty slime.

There’d simply be too much data for them to cope with, to sell at once. It would be the ultimate pre-emptive strike. It would, to paraphrase the 45th Prez, be beautiful in its own sleazy way, the ultimate act of rebellion. But it can’t happen, can it?

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Spontaneous Eruptions Of Holiness

“‘Twas in the middle of the last Eucharistic Congress of 1932 that I witnessed a demonstration of utter holiness, as ‘Twisted’ Murphy performed a dance with his feet fully six inches above the table in Bubonic Kelly’s pub.”

The Realist is holding forth to all and sundry at our favourite haunt. I hold my peace. I don’t think I’ve heard of Bubonic Kelly before.

“What ye don’t realize is that such things were as common as wet muck, commonly known as mud, in the days before our country went to the dogs. There were spontaneous outpourings of holiness everywhere, before all the drug addicts and feminists and nudists and property developers. ‘Twisted’ Murphy had just been down at the Mass, you see, and so filled was he with the joy of the spirit that a mere three pints of Bubonic’s Old No. 1 later and he was levitating.”

“Pubs were havens of holiness in those days too. That’s because there were no women, no Eves to distract us from the contemplation of transcendence. The pub in those days was akin to the cloister.

“And it so happened there was one of them talent spotters from the States in Bubonic’s that night. Oh loads of them there were in those days, roaming the Earth to find fellas who could swallow their own feet or eat their own weight in lard, so as to put them in one of the freak shows, y’see. And didn’t the fella sign ‘Twisted’ up that very night, he did.

“And ‘Twisted’ became a huge hit all over the States, he did, dancing and doing cartwheels in mid-air while singing hymns and the national anthem to the eternal delight of millions of drunken Klan members. Oh, on the way to Hollywood he was, till there was a bit of a scandal involving an actress and a monkey.”

I excuse myself and heave outside. Our under the sky and the bubonic Irish summer. To my south is the ugliest cloud I have ever seen. It resembled a giant airborne whale about to barf its lunch all over the benighted Shannon Callows.

I cut short the smoke and head for the loo. One of my favourite things about this place is that, when you open up and let loose the liquid of daily disappointment, a blast of forest fresh air flies up to greet you. It’s like a big olfactory hug, insisting that your pee and you are great and life affirming and that everything is going to be ok.

I am accosted on my way back by The Realist.

“Eric Sykes died,” he says with suitable foreboding.

“Yeah? Still though, a good old innings.”

“You don’t understand,” he says.

“I don’t?”

“Eric Sykes has died at least twice already. I’m sure of it.”

“Really?”

“I’m telling you, the cracks are appearing. Thins are falling apart. You watch.”

“Better have another pint so.”

The Fizz Of Night

Night is when the gristle in my brain comes into its own. Night is the fizzing time. It’s always been like this really. Are you another of those fervid souls whose brains won’t keep office hours? How we suffer. How painfully are we misunderstood.

Night thoughts come much freer and clearer, even madder. It’s as if they are unburdened by the gravity that afflicts us during the day. But if the brain exults in its greater abandon, then the balm of sleep becomes ever more elusive.

It’s like trying to collar a child who’s just learned to fly. I try to calm myself by imagining a wave of sleep looming in the Central Asian steppes and sweeping hour by hour towards Europe and America.

In my turbid state of detachment I see Europe lurching through dreamstate, a lumbering colossus of dreams rising from the death black steppes, curling round the cold old Warsaw Pact streets, through Germany and its smog breathing forests, its forests that have to cough and retch in the morning.

Sleep falling on Belgian biscuit makers and Dutch dykes, on Pernod blasted French Detectives and Austrian nudists with Nazi body dreams. Sleep warping over the dull moody Atlantic and its sleep secrets, sleep preparing to invade America. A wave of blissful, blank unconsciousness passing over the world.

Except that now, of course, the world is never really unconscious anymore. The world is wired up all night from frontal lobe to rectum.

Planet Crank is wide awake: fizzing on its fibre optic madness. Planet Money is clinching dream deals. Planet Money is lying awake, palpitating on the pleasure of the Dow or the Dax. Planet Money is making imaginary bargains with the future.

Why can’t the world sleep anymore? What’s gone wrong with the wiring?

TROIS NECROLOGIES

According to the Internet, something like 153,000 people die on the planet every day. Each death presumably wreaks its catastrophic effect on those closest to the person who has passed. One of the depressing markers of your time spent on the planet is the increasing number of deaths which strike some personal chord. It’s part of what enables the young to be so impersonal.

The older you get, the greater the chance of wincing at each day’s new toll, the diurnal catalogue of necrology.

Someone tried to contextualize last year’s brutal cull of celebrities by claiming that our sense of shock was simply a matter of statistics. More people on the Earth became famous during the 20th Century than ever before. These are in the main people we have never met, but with whom, in that plangent human way, we want to feel some sort of connection.

We have seen them on the news, consumed their media, shed tears of second hand joy or frustration at the calamities of their football teams. At different times, deluded or no, we like to feel a famous person has touched us personally. Somebody’s book contained something that seemed to speak personally to me. At some point in a long presence before the cameras, some politician seemed to say something I personally identified with.

No matter, perhaps, that she then went on to do things I hated. The subconscious never seems able to forget anything. Like an old relationship, it’ll ensure there’s a part of you that’s never entirely able to forget the good times (I used to believe Hillary Clinton was kind of hot, for example. I wonder would her and my life have been different, had we ever met? Well obviously they would have been, but you know what I mean.).

The sudden decline of Martin McGuinness, the self-avowed IRA commander who went on to become joint First Minister of Northern Ireland, was alarming, sobering, a nagging reminder of all those things we don’t like to think about. Whatever your personal view of his career – and it is hard to think of anything more controversial – McGuinness’ public persona was that of a titan, the ultimate ‘hard man’ of Irish politics.

Just as only Nixon could go to China, only McGuinness could win the majority support of all those other ‘hard men’ for making peace with the British and Unionists. But we never know the day or the hour, and to hear that voice – always so full of strident conviction – so suddenly stripped of vitality and strength, was unnerving in the extreme, as if a known presence was suddenly ceasing to be present.

We are constantly – to an extent that almost induces suicide – exhorted to be positive, to bare positive smiling teeth in the face of multiple adversity, but those of us who’ve picked up a few things over the years knew too easily what the scary new fragility of that voice really meant.

He both gave and took life. It is unquestionable that hundreds – perhaps thousands – of people are alive today because of the bravery shown by McGuinness and others in that excruciating labour to craft peace in Northern Ireland, just as hundreds of others probably died on his orders.

But as I listened to the various tributes and condemnations over the last 24 hours, a thought about McGuinness struck me. A senior Irish journalist told of having driven to ‘Free Derry’ in 1970, at the very height of the Troubles, and being semi-officially ‘greeted’ by McGuinness, who couldn’t then have been any more than twenty.

Presumably, only a few years before, that 20 year old had been a child, kicking a football or daydreaming at the side of some hill. Whatever private life of the soul he might have tried to enjoy, his life was entirely defined by conflict. There can’t have been a lot of time for happiness, for kicking back.

Sometimes the life contract can seem like a peculiarly awful deal. If the world of the pre-born has lawyers worth their salt, one would assume they’d advise most of their clients against it (“I mean, look at all the lawyers in there, for f***s sake”).

It was while some of this crossed my mind that I heard of the death of crime author Colin Dexter at the age of 86. Dexter was the creator of Inspector Morse, the misanthropic, opera loving, basically alcoholic Detective brought to life on TV with such grandeur by the incomparable John Thaw.

Dexter’s novels were enigmatic little crossword puzzles (like Morse, he was a lifelong devotee) and the writing style was fusty, even a little maddening. They were probably geared towards a particular kind of middle brow English readership, the kind of people who listen to BBC 4 and write letters to the paper about litter, but they were entirely true to their own world, consistent with their own internal logic, which is all that is really required for a work of art.

“And suddenly, unexpectedly, Morse found himself thinking he’d rather like to meet the mysterious ‘K.’ Then, just as suddenly, he knew he wouldn’t; unless, of course, that ambivalent lady held the key to the murder of Felix McClure – a circumstance which (at the time) he suspected was extremely improbable.”

[from ‘The Daughters of Cain’]

It’s unlikely such prose would get you through the door of a publishing house these days, but then nothing – apart from celebrity or some sort of sexual connection to celebrity – seems likely to pull off that trick today (maybe it’s not too late to call Hillary).

There’s more than a tinge of misogyny about the Morse novels. That and other gritty details – such as the fact that Morse smokes cigarettes and is an avid consumer of porn – were excised from the ITV series which ruled British TV during the late 1980’s and 1990’s.

In all, 33 feature length episodes were filmed before the Detective met his end in ‘The Remorseful Day.’ Each episode is effectively a self-contained movie, and some of them – ‘Second Time Around,’ ‘Who Killed Harry Field?’ and ‘Masonic Mysteries’ are examples – attain a level of excellence far beyond most movies.

Sometimes, all too rarely, the quiddity of human contact produces results far more sublime that the individual components would ever have led one to suspect. The fact that TV Morse vastly outgrew his original creation was partly due to the input of directors like Danny Boyle and Anthony Minghella, but mainly because of that mystical union between Morse and Thaw, a man with more demons than the prose Detective could have shaken his cigarette at.

Dexter, to his credit, always acknowledged this, and paid generous tribute to the extra riches Thaw poured into his creation. The author himself appears in every episode, a la Hitchcock, and the appearances are always more interesting than you’d expect. You wonder should they have experimented with making him a minor villain.

The void left by the passing of Morse is illustrated by ITV’s desperate attempts to keep the franchise going, with both a sequel and prequel. In ‘Lewis,’ the excellent Kevin Whately reprises his role as Morse’s faithful sidekick, now the main act, while ‘Endeavour’ features the so so Shaun Evans as an improbably twentysomething Morse, back in the early 1960’s.

Both series’ opt for fantastically complex plots which eschew both credibility and the operatic grandeur of the original. They are both vaguely comforting and vaguely distressing, just like all tribute acts.

John Thaw did not long survive his defining character, dying at the age of 60 just months after the completion of ‘The Remorseful Day.’ Dexter was apparently told back in the 1980’s that he had only a few years to live. He was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes, a condition he eventually bestowed on his Detective, and suffered from deafness throughout his life, a disability which also features in one of the novels and episodes.

If the prose quoted above might not inspire the avarice of a 21st Century publisher, then it might be a good idea to read some original Tolkien, and speculate on just what chance that elderly Don might have of getting his big break today. Dexter, to some extent, inhabited the same world as Tolkien, of stone courtyards and real ale and hearty conversations which beguiled the emptiness of so much around them.

Like Tolkien, he was able at his best to sketch out a Universe both comforting and occasionally ennobling, and there aren’t too many who can say that.

The cull continued with Ronnie Moran, who spent his adult life as a soccer player and coach with Liverpool FC. Moran was an integral part of Liverpool’s famous ‘boot room,’ where iconic manager Bill Shankly gathered some likeminded souls around him and began a series of conversations about the philosophy and purpose of the game known as football.

Just as the famous pub conversations between Tolkien, CS Lewis and others helped shape an entirely new genre of English literature, so the ‘boot room’ talks went on to change the entire nature of the world’s favourite game, though like everything connected with Liverpool FC, including and especially Moran, they don’t get anything like the credit they deserve.

The doctrine of ‘pass and move, pass and move’ which emerged from the conversations led to Liverpool dominating English and European soccer for two decades. But it changed the way other teams played the game as well. Prior to the boot room, soccer – at least in England – had been a lot like other contact sports, such as Gaelic Football, depending a great deal more on brawn than brain.

Nowadays, fitness, speed and strength are still important, but so also is a grasp of the principles behind a dynamic, lightning fast form of human chess. Those gatherings of a few, mostly unassuming, middle aged working class men has led in its way to the form our biggest opiate takes today. Teams like Barcelona and Bayern Munich play according to ideas the men of the boot room would have theorised about fifty years ago.

Ronnie Moran was always a backroom figure, more at home perhaps, as a coach of players rather than a manager. It’s hard to imagine him playing the media like  Jose Mourinho. He did serve as caretaker manager during a couple of the crises which rocked Liverpool in the 1980s. He was apparently in the frame to become full time manager in 1991, before the club opted to appoint former player Graeme Souness, who then set about completing the process of Liverpool’s long term decline.

It is tempting, for supporters of Liverpool at least, to wonder how Moran might have done, not that much worse surely.

Ronnie Moran was the last living link to the original boot room; the others – Shankly, Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan – are long gone. The crushing emotional blows of the Van Heysel disaster in 1985 and Hillsborough in 1989 must have taken their toll.

The incredible teams Moran helped create now live in their pomp only in the re-runs massively expensive sports channels are forced to churn out during the close season, but they can still look sublime today. Moran and those he served with didn’t have access to the biggest chequebook to secure the biggest names, so instead they created the best machine, and watching that machine today inspires both awe and depression in supporters of today’s Liverpool team.

These three passings, like so many before and after them, serve as markers in time. Is it a special cruelty of today that we are granted roughly the same amount of time, but an infinitely greater number of markers?

A Little Whack For Paddy

“So. Yer all set.”

“I am. Bejaysus I feckin’ am. Just let me at all them lovely creamy pints, them licks o’ whiskey. Craic. Bejaysus. I’ll be pukin’ lumps of pure green with the best o’ them.”

“That’s the feckin’ spirit.”

“Spirit, yeah. Loads o’ them. And gin makes yeh sin, and brandy makes yeh randy.”

“Shur yeh can’t beat the best lines. The great poets.”

“Yeh can’t. Yeh can’t. Yeh feckin’ can’t.”

“Sad about yer man though. Bishop whatsisname.”

“Sad, yeh. Sad, sad.”

“A true Irishman.”

“He was. He was. He feckin’ was.”

“Sure I can see him now, the owl chubby face and the big owl gormless smile. Now there was a man of substance.”

“Loved the cars. Feckin’ loved them.”

“And the women.”

“And the feckin’ craic, which is what it’s all about, the feckin’ craic. Sure I was only havin’ de bit o’ craic, as the bishop says to de actress.”

[Loud guffaws followed by several minutes of coughing and retching.]

“Shur if yer wan had kept her feckin’ mouth shut, the way people do over here, shur he’d a been grand.”

“People know ta keep their feckin’ mouths shut here. God bless all the lovely solicitors and judges. May He shine down on them from Heaven. But shur she was a feckin’ yank. That’s where he went wrong, Bishop whatsisname.”

“Yeh can’t stop them shootin’ their feckin’ mouths off.”

“Yeh can’t. Yeh feckin’ can’t. But Auntie Grey, Lord rest him, did a good owl job of puttin’ her in her place.”

“He did. But shur ’twasn’t enough.”

“Poor owl whatsisname.”

“Ah shur, that’s life.”

“Wonder how Enda’s gettin’ on with blondieballs?”

“That’s Mister Trump to you.”

“Oh? Tell us.”

“Yeah. The TD was on ta some of his people on the QT. We want ta get them interested in the owl field, y’know? Set up an owl casino or something.”

“Shur that’ll be feckin’ brilliant.”

“Spondooliks boy. That’s what it’s all about.”

“‘Tis feckin’ true for yeh. Enterprise. That’s what the Irish is all about.”

“‘Tis yeah. ‘Tis yeah.”

“Take this feckin’ Brexit shite, for example.”

“Yeah?”

“Why spend all yer time whinging about it? Shur some o’ de lads is already investin’ in those – whatyehcallem – people traffickers. Just drive a hundred fellas cross the border in trucks marked cattle or machinery, and yer feckin’ laughin.’ Few pound, few pound.”

“A few pound feckin’ aye.”

“It’s wha’ I never understand about all these whingers, all dem feckin’ Tribunals. Well, I can understand the lawyers – God grant light upon them – I mean they’re just tryin’ ta make a few pound right, of course they wants ta spin it out as long as possible like.

“As long as possible aye.”

“But shur: why would yeh put a public job out ta tender when Uncle Ned has the van and all his penalty points newly quashed? What’s feckin’ wrong with people?

“Eejits. Feckin’ wastes o’ space. Turn dem all inta feed for cattle, that’s what I say.”

“Oh yeah. On that subject, any word on – eh – my little bit o’ trouble there?”

“Shur yev nothin’ to worry about. Nothin’ at all.”

“Surely?”

“Surely. Shur isn’t the judge a good personal friend of mine.”

“Ah shur that’s grand so. ‘Nother couple o’ small ones there please Maurice. Drink up so.”

HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY EVERYONE!

 

When Kenny Came Loose in Time, Final Part

If you find you’ve liked this, then do puh-leese like and share and tell your friends, and even your enemies.

And then the visits from Kenny stopped. There were no more sneak peaks into mine or humanity’s future. I lost track of him for a long time.

At first I was concerned, but it was a well established fact of life in Loonford that stories didn’t reach proper endings, they just winked out of existence one day, and for every day after that, it was as if they had never existed. Soon, the trannies and drunks started reappearing in the shop. My life, my half life, my whatever it was, went on.

It was frustrating, but it was something I had spent long years learning to deal with. Besides, it transpired that over the months and years that followed, I had very little time to think about Kenny.

My family went through one of its occasional sustained paroxysms of violence and insanity a few years later. Like sunspots, they reached their cycles of most intensified activity every eleven years or so (perhaps, indeed, they were connected with the sun in a way scientists have yet to fathom).

When the spots began subsiding to more muted levels of murderousness, three members were enjoying extended stays in hospital. Two sisters had flown the nest utterly, never to speak to another family member for decades. The shop had almost been sold.

For months afterwards, I brooded behind the counter on this singular fact. I had almost attained freedom, almost managed to slip out unnoticed at the height of the trouble. But now I seemed more firmly entrenched than ever.

Every other relative was either too young, too ill or too imprisoned to take up my burden. I thought of sneaking back in and shaking petrol around some night, but was pretty sure the place was uninsured. Anyway, deliberate burning was the first thing that would be suspected, and imagine trying to fight off the other harpies for my share of the ill gotten gain.

Then, as I contemplated a future without end or hope, disturbing news reached me about Kenny.

As always in Loonford, real, as opposed to fantastic details were hard to come by, but it seemed that he was in Hospital recovering from a serious stab wound which had led to blood poisoning.

It took weeks to track down the Hospital ward where he was lying. He was over the worst by then, but taking a long time to mend.

“It’s all those drugs in his system,” the hassled looking staff nurse explained to me, “they’re having a devil of a job clearing them out.”

It was clear from her manner that she thought she meant illegal drugs of the backstreet variety, rather than the economically virtuous, legally sanctified drugs of the UROK kind.

No one claiming to be a relative or friend of Kenny’s had visited the Hospital before me, but I did discover that a couple of representatives of UROK were looking in now and again. It seemed Kenny was to be released to their clinic once his time in Hospital was up.

I wondered how they’d managed that, before realizing that there would have been no one else to claim him, just as there would have been no one for me to object to on his behalf.

He made a wretched sight in the bed. All the solidity I remembered from school had been leached out of him. His skin was stretched and almost translucent. His hair had turned a lifeless grey. His voice, when he spoke, was limp and brittle. The staff nurse told me that Kenny had been exceedingly lucky.

“These people and the fights they get into. We don’t even know what he was stabbed with, only that it was huge and very, very rusty. He’s obviously one of those creeps with nine lives. And we have to go on saving those lives. How’s that for a use of resources?”

As I looked down at him from my bedside chair, the ludicrous flowers I had bought dying rapidly in the high hospital heat on the table between us, I thought of how obscene, how insanely unfair it was of anyone to describe Kenny as “lucky.”

Over the course of that afternoon, as he warped in and out of sleep, I sketched out his story.

UROK had altered his dosage again. The RAPs had started working backwards as well as forward, and all previous limits had been abolished. Like a hapless and unwilling Doctor Who, Kenny had been propelled millions of years in both directions.

He described a long afternoon wandering aimlessly through what sounded like the Permian or Devonian epoch of ancient Earth, feeling hot and sleepy and occasionally having the shit frightened out of him by mosquitos the size of cars.

He’d floated above the distant Earth amid variegated blobs of light, and after a time, he’d formed the idea that the blobs were talking to each other. He’d wandered over a scorched and wasted Earth, blank and grey apart from the occasional tiny husk of a building.

Then he’d spent a pleasant day inside the medieval walled town of Loonford, which he described, coughing and weak, as ‘fuckin’ deadly.’ It was the day of a Fair. The mud streets were festooned with people and stalls and animals and animal droppings.

Kenny had sat outside a tavern under the shadow of Loonford Castle (which still existed, in pretty much the same place, in our time), getting skulled on a mixture of locally brewed beer and heavily sweetened Norman wine, before getting into a fight with a Gaelic speaking wild man out of the west, who’d stabbed him in the side. The blade had been rusty, hence the poisoned blood.

The company had become alarmed, and taken him off the drugs. Kenny wasn’t sure how much they knew about the time travel. He’d been delirious for weeks, he reckoned, and could easily have spilled something without remembering. The worst part of all, the bit which terrified him, was the fact that he was probably off the programme.

“Maybe it’s for the best,” I suggested weakly.

“Fuck you.” For those who have never heard it, the sound of a ravaged, utterly exhausted voice saying ‘fuck you’ is one of the most strangely affecting in the Universe.

“When um I ever gonna see dat kind o’ dosh again? I’m fucked. I’ll never have two cents ta bang togedder.”

“But the drugs were killing you.”

“Fuck dah. Wha’s so great ’bout life anywah? Answer me dah?”

Trees? The living colour of flowers? Wind over freshly mown grass? The sway of a woman’s hips? The laughter of a child? These things were about as relevant to Kenny as amoebae dwelling in the heart of Saturn. It would have been unseemly to introduce them to his sick room, so I let it rest and tried to share his utterly hopeless silence.

We went on like that for quite a while. I couldn’t be sure if he was awake or sleeping, but I became slowly aware that we were not alone. I looked up.

Two blonde presences loomed in the doorway, smiling down at Kenny and me with ominous benevolence. They were a male and female, clad in seemingly identical blue business suits. They gave the bizarre impression of being twins. The male advanced on me, racking up his smile a notch and extending a hand.

“Hi. I’m Carl.”

I rose in spite of myself, but enjoyed for years afterward a ridiculous pride over not having taken his hand.

“Yes. Somehow I figured you would be.”

The brightness of the smile was unaffected by the muted flash of puzzlement which passed over his blue eyes. He ran his gaze, still smiling, with a palpable air of possession over the room, the bed, its occupant.

“So..,” returning the smile to me, “are you a relative?”

“No.”

“A friend?”

There was a quick glance back at his twin, who now advanced slowly into the room, coming to rest at his shoulder. They looked like something Kenny might have encountered on his travels in the future. Had they come to demand payment for some exotic bar bill? Were they taking him to some future zoo?

“I’m slightly confused,” the menace in Carl’s voice was slightly less muted.

“We were at school together.”

“Ah…oh.” Carl seemed to breathe a little easier. He left his twin to keep her smile levelled at me.

“I’d say that wasn’t yesterday, eh?”

“Pardon?”

He looked back at me. “School. It was some time ago, yes?”

“Yes.”

Carl looked back at Kenny, apparently satisfied that I could be discounted for now.

“He’s been through the wars, has our man here. But he’s going to be just fine. We’re going to take extra special care of him from now on.”

I looked at the twin. She, like Carl, bared a big row of clinically carnivorous teeth when she smiled.

“What are you going to do with him?”

“Only what is right.” Her faintly American twang varied from Carl’s only in pitch.

“He does have rights you know.”

“Of course he does.” Carl stopped hovering over Kenny and came towards me, teeth bared in corporate friendliness. “And those rights are now the exclusive responsibility of the UROK Corporation. He couldn’t wish for a better friend, believe me.”

It was my turn to be puzzled. “I don’t understand.”

“The Corporation went to court,” Twin Two explained in clipped, chirpy tones, “in the absence of any friends or family to look out for him, the court agreed that he should be returned to the care of UROK. We’re going to take very good care of him,” she echoed.

“As good as the care you’ve taken already?” I worked hard to keep a tremor out of my voice. Neither smile varied even a notch as Carl and Twin Two recited a joint mantra, bits of which I recognised from the UROK tapes.

“Without risk, there is no discovery,” said Carl.

“UROK’s mission is happiness,” said Twin Two.

“Those who work for UROK are trailblazers in the field of human evolution.”

“We cherish our trailblazers.”

“We take care of all our people.”

“Everyone at UROK is part of a global mission of joy through achievement.”

“Everyone is valuable.”

“UROK is about recognising the value of everyone.”

I would have liked to stop them with some magically shocking obscenity, but I suspect they’d just have smiled with a little more luminosity, and kept going. By the time they reached the end I felt suddenly drained, expunged of anything except the desire to leave.

“And now,” said Carl, bringing his hands together, “I think our man needs to sleep, don’t you?”

“Kenny. His name’s Kenny,” I replied sulkily.

“Of course it is,” Carl was an embarrassment free zone. I turned to go, but he stopped me with a noise. His hand was extended again, but this time it held a plastic card.

“You might – uh – give me a call the next time you plan on visiting our friend here. We don’t want him getting too much excitement after all.” I took the card, stared at Carl’s smiling plastic face, stared at the card.

I suddenly brushed past him towards the bed, half-expecting to be thrown against the wall by some superhuman force, but instead, Carl and Twin Two simply parted and hovered, as if wondering what to do. I took a long, last look at Kenny’s ashen, wasted form. He seemed to be asleep.

“So long Kenny.” My voice was breaking. I suddenly felt horribly moved.

“I’ll see you around ok.” And without another word, I tore past the four blank eyes of Carl and Twin Two and hurried down the corridor and out of the Hospital. The staff nurse had been hovering a few feet from Kenny’s door. I suppose she must have called them. Needless to say, I never saw of heard of Kenny again.

There is, of course, no chance that any of this will ever be made public in my lifetime. Once they’d cured Kenny, or maybe just put him on a different RAP, the company tracked down every single acquaintance and made them sign a document swearing never to divulge anything, no matter how barmy, Kenny might have said to them at any time.

Even by writing all this down I am, I think, committing an illegal act. But it’s ok. I’ve got a plan, or at least a coward’s way to a less putrid conscience.

There’s a small shop up the road, a place nobody ever goes. In a corner of the shop is an ancient locker with a secret compartment containing a message from William Shakespeare to the King of Portugal. Don’t ask me how I know about it. It’s secret knowledge, special, the right to own it earned through my sweat and despair, through my twenty seven years.

It won’t be discovered for another three hundred years. I’m going to hide my message in there as well. I think the two discoveries will provide some fun for those who come after. In fact, I know they will.

Before his misadventure in Loonford of the 1300s, the slack security regime at the testing centre meant that Kenny was able to walk out with some of the RAPs in his back pocket. I have always been terrified of drugs. But one day the terror of my hopelessness became too strong. I got a glass of water, closed my eyes and went in. My travels told me some interesting things, before I ran out.

I’m leaving town tomorrow; I’ll never be back. I may not even hang a closed sign on the shop. I wonder how long it’ll take them to discover that I’ve skipped.

You see, I remembered that poor Kenny had been a disaster in school, not just because he was maladjusted, but because his poor, prematurely haggard brain couldn’t remember a single fucking thing, especially numbers. I’ve had loads of time to remember numbers. My head is full of numbers I wish I could forget.

I need to be in a South American country by a particular date, to pick the winning numbers in the biggest lottery ever staged on the planet. It is the last lottery that will ever be held in that sultry nation, because paying me is almost going to wreck the entire economy.

After that, I’ve got plans. You better believe I have plans. But I can’t tell you about them yet, not here.

THE END

DAS KRAPITAL And The Death Of Trust

Ever a man of my word, here are some more opinions.

I wonder just how many devotees of the religion of capitalism realize just who came up with the name? If you ask most, including the traditional media’s pet economists, they’ll probably give you some meandering answer about Adam Smith, someone loads of us have heard of, but almost certainly never read, and no; it wasn’t him.

As an aside, and bear with me a little here, I’ve never read Adam Smith either, but if you think about it a minute, isn’t what he said a bit silly? Let Governments stay out of economics, and somehow the divine market will regulate and control itself, according to immutable laws of balance which may very well have been laid down by God. That’s it, pretty much. The principle which drives the ideology underpinning our entire economy has its roots in a kind of pre-Victorian mysticism, and no one seems to have a problem with this, except of course, those who don’t get a vote, like the millions of Irish peasants who starved to death in the 19th Century because the British Government refused to sin against the sacred market.

Isn’t this exactly like believing in creationism? But no: to invert Orwell, four legs are good and two are always bad. Better to be a starving, stressed out capitalist than a well fed, content Commie etc.

The term ‘capitalism’ was actually invented by its supposed mortal enemy, Karl Marx, and if you think about that for a bit, it’s even weirder. The bulk of humanity worships at an economic church which was named by its enemy. It’s as if billions of us are devil worshippers and we don’t even know it.

Marx coined the term to describe the dominant economic system in the West in his (and our) time. He described it as highly dynamic, resulting in both higher levels of innovation and higher levels of inequality than ever before. A lot of the guesses Marx made were actually spot on. He is seen to have erred, however, in one key prediction.

To old Karl, the logic flowed as easily as the locks on his impressive beard. Never mind Adam Smith and all that mystical market stuff, capitalism was so unequal, so much about a tiny minority cannibalizing everyone else, that it simply had to fall apart one day. As the insanity at the core of human nature asserted itself, fewer and fewer robber baron scumbags would appropriate more and more ridiculous quantities of wealth out of the mouths of the starving, so that inevitably the masses – who would be far more numerous, after all – would rise up, throw the barons into the sea, and institute a new and far more just age.

As today’s capitalists and neoliberals glory in pointing out, Marx turned out to be wrong, so far. He was wrong because of one thing he couldn’t possibly have predicted, and another which he doesn’t appear to have thought about.

First, although Marx wrote about the dynamism and innovation inherent in capitalism, he couldn’t possibly have foreseen just how far and quickly that dynamism would propel the human species. When Marx lived, there were no aeroplanes, hardly any cars, no telephones, no radios, no TVs, dodgy sanitation, no central heating, hardly any electricity etc.

Just as no one who lived in the 1990s could have foreseen the smartphone and all of its implications, Marx could not possibly have imagined the changes these things would bring to the lives of billions, or how future ‘opiates of the masses,’ such as TV and Internet porn, would go on to alter the nature of reality itself.

Likewise, in common with every other serious thinker in the 19th Century, Marx took it as inevitable that we’d simply run out of food some day, that a time would come when there just wouldn’t be enough to go around. Quantum advances in things like grain production in the 1940s were utterly beyond the imagination of anyone back then. Bottom line: we haven’t run out, not yet.

Second, Marx didn’t grasp how 20th Century capitalist countries would seek to counter the so called ‘red menace’ by, on the surface at least, altering their own make up. The notion that Britain, for example, would turn around in 1945 and invent the NHS was something he could not have predicted (yes, Britain! The same country which a century earlier considered it preferable to let millions starve to death rather than tamper with those precious mystical markets) and there’s no doubt that innovations such as this, coupled with increasingly sophisticated systems of social welfare, staved off the kind of change Marx had predicted for at least a century.

But that was then, and this is … what? The hyper-rich never went away, and indeed they’ve stepped out of the shadows to flaunt it baby. After all, what’s the point of all that hyper-wealth if you can’t let everyone know just how fabulous you are?

In Marx’s day, it would have been tricky to put faces and names on his ‘owners,’ the so called captains of industry. Now, as the annual love letter to money that is the ‘Sunday Times’ rich list reminds us, they’re all too out there! They are Yeats’ apocalyptic beasts, slouching, not towards Bethlehem, but towards some newer, ever more exclusive paradise where they can be photographed and envied.

Perhaps their ultimate destination is some self-propelled city in the sky, a la Elysium or Star Trek, but we know when they get there that it won’t be enough. It’ll have to be about somewhere else.

That’s the mystical part Adam Smith overlooked. There’s nothing mystical about his markets: they’re just dumb and greedy and hysterical and careless like all the worst parts of human nature. The real mystical bit is that empty place wherein was thought to dwell something that used to be called a soul, but which was really like one of those spots on medieval maps where cartographers wrote “here be dragons.”

But meanwhile, down the other end of the great consumerist tract, there’s a problem, something both Marx and Adam Smith seem to have missed; it’s called ‘trust.’

This might sound insane, particularly given all the stories about corporate rape and cannibalism and psychopathic banking that we’ve been hearing every day for the last ten years, but capitalism is actually incapable of functioning without some kind of trust.

To return to my boring old conceptual grocery (happily without any internet avatars offering to sell me sex, milk or gambling See: ‘What if Life Was Like The Internet’) for the moment, every time you commit a capitalist act, you are engaging in a process of trust.

You’re trusting that the pint of milk the shopkeeper is selling you doesn’t contain anthrax or glass. You’re trusting that the raw meat has been subjected to all sorts of reliable processes to strip it of ecoli or any of the other inconceivably horrible things that can live in meat. You’re trusting that the tub of yoghurt contains actual yoghurt and not, I don’t know, cat puke or something.

Unless you’re a master biochemist who happens to carry all sorts of portable tools around, you have no way of verifying any of this on your own, you have to take it on trust. And if you for some reason cease to trust the shopkeeper, or rather the processes which underpin his claims, then it all comes crashing down, including the cities in the sky.

Capitalism as we thought we knew it actually died on the day the most right wing US President for eighty years, George W Bush, carried out the biggest nationalization in the history of the world, of the mortgage providers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

But all that really died was the notion that capitalism contains any sweets for you or me. We were exposed, for a few moments, to the great global pyramid scheme, the game which everyone must play until there’s the merest danger of the hyper-rich losing part of their shirts, at which point – in what has been very accurately described as ‘socialism for the rich’ – Governments will step in and take the toys away.

There’s a brilliant film called ‘Margin Call,’ starring Kevin Spacey and a host of others, which attempts to capture that pivotal moment in history, a single night, when it all started to go south. A gifted analyst at a hypothetical Wall Street firm accidentally discovers that the mathematical algorithms they’ve been using to quantify risk (ah, our Holy algorithms) are useless, and that the firm itself will go pop the instant this fact becomes widely known.

That same night, the wizened high colossus of the firm (played impressively by Jeremy Irons) decrees that in order to save itself, the firm will offload all its useless stock to unsuspecting investors the very next morning. It will spend decades of trust in just a few hours, knowing as it does so that this will set off a chain reaction, the consequences of which the non-wealthy are still living with today, and will be (it seems) for many years to come.

Don MacLean used to sing (and presumably still does, whenever he gets a chance) about ‘the day the music died.’ This was the day the trust died, and we haven’t seen all its consequences fully unfold yet, but there is just a chance that by the time they have, old Marx might turn out to have been right after all.

When Kenny Came Loose in Time, Part 5

The continued adventures of Kenny.

I realized, of course, exactly what I had to do. Kenny had told me, months before the event, that my mother would fall out of a tree in our back garden, shattering the spine of my Uncle, who had run towards the point of impact, whether to break her fall or club her cranium on its way to ground zero was never entirely clear (although he was carrying a baseball bat).

While it was never difficult to predict some misadventure befalling my family at any point in time, his precise apprehension of every detail surrounding the event, including the splash from the small mound of puke into which they both landed, convinced me: UROK’s drugs were working, even if no one had foreseen the way they were working.

I closed and bolted the door of the shop, put two chairs for myself and Kenny, directly facing each other on the stone floor, and implored him to concentrate.

“Now Kenny, you have to clear your mind of everything, ok? Everything.”

“Yup, but I dunno if…”

“Forget that, ok? The future. Do you understand what I mean by the future? The real one, ok? Not the thing you see every now and again, the real thing, what you and I will actually have to live through, it all depends on this, ok?”

“I know whacha mean, I’m not fuckin’ stupih, but…”

“This is not the time for misgivings. Forget doubt, banish it. Doubt is your enemy.” I’d been reading Part 10 of the UROK Corporation’s Advanced Self-Motivation Manual. “Just focus on what I’m asking you, ok?”

“Yeah. Wha’ever.”

“Now, on the night of Saturday the 23rd, ok? You see it? You see Saturday the 23rd? The Lotto jackpot will be over eight million, right? I need you to see the numbers. The numbers, Kenny. Nothing but the numbers.”

“It’s…”

“Come on Kenny.”

“Ok, ok … Five.”

“Ok, five.”

“Seventeen.”

“God this is great Kenny. This is finally it. Yes. Five. Seventeen. Oh God yes. What else?”

His square face almost imploded in the effort of concentration, and then he shook his head violently. “It’s no good. It’s no fuckin’ good.”

“Oh God Kenny. We were so close.”

“Yuh don’t gehhit. Deh future’s not like dah, least not de future I see. De numbers … I see loads o’ numbers, buh it’s all jumbled up, doncha see? De numbers could be from any week like, or differ weeks all jumbled togedder like, d’yeh see? Der’s no way of knowin’ which is right. Der’s just no way.”

“Ok Kenny, I understand.” I prepared to unlock the shop.

“Der’s udder stuff I see dough.”

“Oh yeah?” I stopped halfway to the door.

“I tink I seen de … de whachacallit? De Second Comin.'”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah, I mean I tink … Dis guy right,” he began to gesticulate. I couldn’t get over how bright his eyes seemed.

“Dis guy pops outa de sky on a – whachacallit? – a flyin’ wagon wit’ fire all around it.”

“A flaming chariot?”

“Yeah, wha’ever. An’ der’s dese flyin’ horses, least I tink der flyin’ horses, or shit made outa fire, or wha’ever, an’ dis guy, he’s holdin’ on to dem by the – the …”

“The reins?”

“Yeah. And he’s wearin’ dis cloak, an’ he’s got dis long blondie hair an’ dis big beard an’ dis friendly smile an’ he’s lookin’ down at everyone with de smile an’ I’m tinkin:’ dis is it. Dis is the de real ting. All dat shite dey tole us in Mass was true, only …”

“Only?”

“Wha’ if it ain’t yer man? Wha’ if it’s, y’know, Richard Branson or one o’ dem fuckers? Dah’s one ting I do know about de future. It gets awful hard t’tell wha’s real and wha’ isn’t. It gets so der’s almost no differ like.”

“Right.”

This was by far the longest speech Kenny had ever made to me. It may well have been the longest speech he ever made to anyone. I wasn’t sure what to do with it.

“An’ der’s udder stuff too, even weirder like.”

“Yeah?”

“I see dese cities, ‘cept der not cities, der like giant balloons, balloons de size o’ cities, an’ dey just float all day an’ night over d’earth, ‘cos no one can live on de ground anymore, d’yeh see? And de balloon cities are able to take food right outa de sky like, so nobody goes hungry, an’ everybody’s happy, buh … buh inside de balloon cities, inside dem, people are changin’ like, der turnin’ so der not like people anymore. Der arms and legs start disappearin’ like, an’ some o’ dem are startin’ to look like just big floatin’ heads like, an’… an’ a voice says to me, I tink it’s even a woman’s voice, says ‘dis is it. We’ll soon be free, free at last.’ An’ dah’s it. I don’t see anymore. Whacha’ tink o’ dat?”

There were tears in his eyes. I don’t think he was aware of them really. I’m not sure if he or I knew what they were for.

“I guess I think it’s kind of beautiful Kenny.”

“Yup. I tink dah’s wha’ I tink.” We looked at each other.

“Terrible fucking pity about the lotto numbers though,” I said after a moment.

Down With Opinions!

I decided some time ago to give up having opinions. It was tough at first. I’d formed the habit ridiculously early in life, at a time when I wasn’t even slightly ready. They have, without exception, brought me nothing but misery.

There is a wealth of scientific evidence which proves that opinions shorten your life. Who needs all these arguments? They can’t possibly be good for you. Opinions decrease your energy and age your skin.  They unquestionably reduce your sexual prowess.

How many times in my youth had a promising evening been ruined by the voicing of some unwanted opinion about something? No, I don’t actually like that particular type of perfume. No, I don’t think ‘Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance’ is the greatest book ever written. In fact, I don’t even think it’s a book. Everything had been going swimmingly and suddenly there it was, my unloved opinion, steaming away happily to itself like a turd on a table.

Opinions aren’t just bad for you. They colour your idea of everyone else as well. In today’s oh so civilized tone of fake consensus debate (at least until Donald Trump came along) the very worst thing you could say about someone was that they were entitled to their opinion. It was like saying he was entitled to that giant wart on the outside of his nose, or to the wearing of underpants outside his trousers.

Opinions are like fetish parties or getting into the bath with total strangers. There may be some people over there who go in for that kind of thing, but me and my civilized ilk would never be caught dead engaging in them.

Opinions made me terribly unhappy during the so called Celtic Tiger, when Ireland got drunk and briefly convinced itself it was the richest country in the world. Please understand that I’m not blowing my own trumpet here, far from it. This piece is really a form of public confession. Opinions are bad but public confessions are all the rage.

I seeking to lather myself in layers of lovely, lovely shame, and that is why I’m telling you that I used to rail against all the voodoo economics, the businesses that everyone knew would never turn a profit, the phantom shopping centres, the gas guzzlers, the lines of infinite credit that people would be paying for decades after they died. I quickly got struck off the list of people who got invited to Celtic Tiger parties.

On one mortifying occasion, I held forth that the best way for Governments to control the behaviour of banks would be through the creation of a State Bank, an institution bound by a code of ethics to behave in a certain way, influencing the rest of the market by presenting people with a safer, more predictable alternative.

The assembled Celtic Tiger party people shuffled nervously inside their ill fitting tuxes and burped into their Prosecos.  There was an embarrassed silence, something I was becoming increasingly used to, and finally someone chimed up ‘bejaysus, wha’ are ya at all, some kinda Communist?”

Our esteemed President, for example, is clearly a man of opinions. They won’t bring him any joy. It would perhaps have been better for him and us if we had elected that other guy, who didn’t have an opinion about anything, apart, obviously, from wanting to be President.

One of Ireland’s former Prime Ministers even proposed a somewhat drastic remedy for people like me. Those who were talking down the Tiger, Bertie Ahern suggested, would be better off contemplating their own future in the most lethal way possible. He was letting us know that it was time to shape up, to stop shortening the lives of others by making them breathe the second hand vapour of our opinions.

Turning out to be right, by the way, didn’t make thing any better. It is a fallacy that the greatest human pleasure you can enjoy is the feeling of saying ‘I told you so.’ Maybe you can enjoy this pleasure, but only if you don’t want any friends.

One of those gloriously spiteful Greek goddesses took revenge on a woman named Cassandra by granting her the gift of prophecy. Cassandra made prophecies, Cassandra was proved right, but nobody believed her, so all that happened was that she didn’t get invited to parties. No one returned her phone calls or visited her Facebook page.

I’m not claiming any gifts of prophecy, by the way. I thought all I was doing was using my brain. My sense of self-satisfaction lasted approximately twenty minutes into the bank guarantee. The worst thing you can do in life is turn out to be right when nearly everybody else has been wrong. Left to myself, with nothing to sustain me but my opinions, I just started getting mad again.

I started to look for ever more extreme opinionated highs. It is a curious thing, but you can actually become addicted to the horrified looks on other peoples’ faces. I began to commit the cardinal sin of denying that global warming existed. I talked about what I believe is one of the greatest ironies of this age: that we are supposed to have moved beyond religious belief, yet the number of things that people are willing to take on pure faith has increased exponentially.

Global warming, I said, is a prime example of this, where we literally deny the evidence of our own senses in favour of a truth imposed by people we have never met. I was waved away as a harmless eccentric, but then Ireland suffered its coldest winter in over 50 years, and I learned to avoid the murderous glances of others, who evidently believed – some of Bertie Ahern’s ideas take a long time to die – that I had somehow ‘talked down’ the weather.

So I’ve sought help. It was a long search. I’ve tried reiki and reflexology and herbs and yoga and yoghurt and putting crystals on bits of my body. The mere act of submitting myself to these therapies was, in itself, part of the discipline of steeling myself against having any opinions about anything.

It took time, but I’m happy to announce that I’m almost cured. I’m floating ever more serenely in my Zen like bubble of non-opinion. I haven’t quite perfected the political art of believing simultaneously in two mutually opposing things. I haven’t figured out, for example, how to be pro-life and pro-choice at the same time, but I’ll get there, and even if I don’t, I won’t get worked up about it. I won’t I won’t I won’t.

My social calendar has filled up. Everyone loves the new agreeable, opinion free me, and as for those who don’t, well, they’re entitled to their opinion. Granted, the conversations can sometimes be a bit limited, and like all addicts everywhere, I have to be vigilant against the possibility of relapse. Only the other day, I had to bite the inside of my jaw before venturing the awful opinion that shows like ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ show what sixty years of peacetime have done to Europe.

But I’m so much happier now. The abduction and murder of Irish democracy troubles me not a whit. Thinking about it was bad for my digestion. I can hear about banker’s salaries and hospital queues without breaking so much as a sweat. I have perfected the art of not vomiting whenever some Irish media chancer compares Westlife to The Beatles. I accept the right of others to consider Eurovision, The Voice and Georgia Salpa as somehow important.

I smile a lot more, often at absolutely nothing.

There are those who may think I’ve become lobotomized, hard-wired into the vacuous, googleized nothingness of everything. But these are people still cursed by their addiction to opinion. Some day they’ll see the great colourless light.

And even if they don’t, you won’t catch me expressing an opinion about them; not me, no way!

When Kenny Came Loose In Time, Part 4

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The continuing adventures of Kenny. If you like it, don’t forget to hit that button, or even give it a share. I’m not fussy.

Over the next gasping hours, the story, insofar as I could discard the inevitable Loonford wings and tails, began to congeal.

The guy was a Dublin miscreant who’d got some local girl pregnant and decided to leg it to England. Before heading off however, he’d decided to augment his nest egg by robbing a bookmaker’s in the next street (prior to the advent of UROK, bookies’ and pubs were the only businesses to ever turn a consistent profit in Loonford).

The robbery had gone dreadfully wrong. The intrepid Loonford bookmaker had shown himself less than willing to part with the cash. A couple of shots had gone off, the trog had escaped to his car, discovered that it wouldn’t start, shot out the windscreen as a gesture of … who knows?… and run off in search of God knows. A hostage? A place to hide?

I went through the next days like one of UROK’s finest, a zombie utterly disconnected from reality. I gave the remaining components of my family a good laugh by looking for some time off to recover.

Part of my problem, when I was finally able to think slightly, was the growing suspicion that my continued existence owed itself to, not luck or wisdom, but some weird perversion of biochemistry. I was desperate to get in touch with Kenny, both to thank him and ask what the fuck was going on.

The Loonford girl with the trainee American accent told me that no, the company did not give out the personal phone numbers or addresses of employees or subjects. They could shoot the guy full of time bending poisons, but they wouldn’t hand out his phone number.

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As it happened, Kenny remembered enough to collect my gratitude. He showed up about a week later, asking to borrow fifty quid (the price of a life?). I thanked him like a maniac. I almost cried. I think I might have even tried to hug him, a gesture which might very well have resulted in Kenny taking back the gift he had bestowed only the week before.

For the very first time in our intermittent contacts, I became forceful. Perhaps being so close to death had made me brave. I demanded to know what was going on. Was he now actually able to see the future, and if so, what were next week’s lottery numbers?

“It’s not like dah,” he said.

“What is it like then?”

“It’s all sorta – bunched up like … I tink I been asleep like, like I just had a nap or sometin’ like, an’ next ting I’m walkin’ round not knowin’ where I am … hearin’ stuff I know can’t be happenin’ like.”

“Like what?”

“Like de company’s gonna go bust like. Der’s gonna be some sort o’ scandal … an’ dey’ll lose billions like … and no more UROK like, de whole fuckin’ ting gone like … but I dunno when or how it’ll happen … when I see tings it’s already happened … an’ no one tells me how. Jesus, I don’t want de fuckin’ company to go bust.”

“Have you told them?”

“No. Yeh don’ wanna go round tellin’ dem tings like dat. Dey might bump yeh outa de testin.’ I mean fuck, I’ve never had dis much money in me life.”

“The drug, the one that makes you see the future. Is that what it’s supposed to do?”

“Fuck no. Dey haven’t a clue about any o’ dah. No, I tink it’s supposed to be for dem fellas like, de ones who go round tinkin’ der sick all de time.”

“Hypochondriacs?”

“Dat’s de one, yeah.”

“Jesus. Have you – have you seen anything else about me, in the future like?”

“Fuck yeah, dat’s wad I came to tell yeh.”

“What?”

“Yer gonna meet dis wan in a little while right, fuckin’ real stunna like. Yeh’ll meet her down de pub and go back ta her place, an’ she’ll be all over yeh like. An’ yeh’ll want ta chuck de lot and move in with her an’ stuff, but yeh can’t. Yeh can’t.”

“Why not?”

“‘Cos yeh find out after a few weeks dat she’s a fuckin’ psycho. She’ll start by follyin’ yeh round everywhere, throwin’ plates an’ shit, but later yeh’ll be asleep wan night right, an’ she’ll try an’ slice yeh balls off widda steak knife. Serious now. No messin.’ She’ll almost get yeh too. Yeh’ll be in hospital fer munts like. Yeh’ll never be the same again like.”

“What? All because of one night after the pub?”

“I’m only sayin’ like. Y’asked. Dat’s all.”

I met her only a couple of weeks later, with a group of people I vaguely knew. There’s little point in describing her, merely to record the fact that she was, indeed, achingly gorgeous and (it seemed) heartbreakingly interested.

1-amoebaethatk

I felt helpless under the frank stare she insisted on fixing me with, but then I remembered Kenny’s warning, pictured the sinews of my manhood being dismembered by her lovely little hand. It wasn’t even a question of it and I never being the same again (what was so great, after all, about the way we were?), it was simply the knowledge that I couldn’t sustain the piercing, unspeakable pain she was destined – whether she knew it or not – to wreak upon me.

There was also the deeply uneasy wondering about just how much of my putative private life Kenny had actually seen, even if what he saw was no more than a matter of quantum possibility, it was just best not to think about that, not think at all.

I summoned every nerve ending of resistance and invented a sudden family emergency that required my attention. Since the homicidal volatility of my family was well known around Loonford, it wasn’t difficult to convince the gathering. She regarded me with an expression which, I knew even then, would haunt me for many, many years.

I froze on the point of grabbing her, planting a kiss on her porn star lips, and telling her that I’d never forget her face for as long as I lived, but I knew this was far too risky, so I just left, my machismo dead but my mechanics intact, for now at least.