Saving Your DNA With Tinder

From the world of global media craziness comes news that Sudan, the endangered Northern White Rhino, is looking for a date on Tinder. Yes, as part of an attempt to save the species, the hook up app is trying to show its humane side by helping to raise $9 Million for an in vitro breeding programme.

$9 Million eh? That is one expensive date. It seems bizarrely out of place on Tinder, one of whose selling points is surely the urge to minimize costs by eliminating thorny issues about second dates, dinner, breakfast, moving in or, God forbid, marriage.

There may be sons of Sultans or reigning US Presidents who’ve spent similar amounts on dates, but it’s very unlikely they go on Tinder.

Sudan is 42, which is apparently pretty old for a rhino, and a combination of age and low sperm count mean he has thus far failed to be fruitful with the two female white rhinos who comprise his sort of harem. Being the last of his kind, Sudan is surrounded by armed guards all day and night at his compound in Kenya. Between that and the babes, he sounds a bit like a rapper, though hopefully all the weaponry isn’t putting him off.

You’ve got to love his Tinder profile though, which says things like “I don’t mean to be forward, but the fate of my species depends on me.”

Apparently, if you ‘swipe right’ – which is Tinder speak for ‘yeah, not a total minger,’ or ‘I’m so f*****g bored and desperate I’m about to propose marriage to the table’ – you’ll be taken to links which enable you to donate to the preserving Sudan’s genetic legacy fund.

Now, I’m not on Tinder so have probably missed the point, but I wouldn’t have thought it had all that much to do with preserving your precious genetics. Maybe I’m wrong.

Maybe there are profiles that run something like “I am a middle aged Botanist whose best friends are a tree named Ralph and a cup named Gerald. I am terribly worried that unless I meet someone very soon, the unique strands of my DNA will be lost to the Universe forever. All responses considered. Frankly, if you’re a bunny boiler (bunnies aren’t plants, after all) or a former cast member of TOWIE, I really don’t feel like I can be choosy.”

One assumes also that people are always looking for a new angle on Tinder. By now, one expects people are used to completely misleading photographs or wildly exaggerated claims about earnings or sexual prowess. You’d nearly expect people to lie, wouldn’t you? It’s almost like there’s something wrong with you if you don’t.

But Sudan, or those seeking to preserve his genetic legacy, may well have stumbled across the greatest Tinder angle of all time. Surely there are people at work right now on variations.

“I am the very last Timelord / Martian / Gary Glitter fan left alive in the Universe. Please think about this: if you don’t swipe right and go on a date with me, you are dooming an entire species to extinction. If you don’t swipe right, it is tantamount to an act of genocide. Are you really that much of a monster? How can you sleep at night? P.S: My turn ons include little models of the TARDIS that make noise and Gary Glitter records.”

It might sound like a particularly cruel and manipulative sell, but is not all fair when it comes to love, war and getting your rocks off, which some people will tell you are all aspects of pretty much the same thing?

The other aspect of the story which piqued my interest was a quote from a spokeswoman for Tinder, who apparently said “we’ve heard countless stories about Tinder babies, but this would be the first match to save a species.”

Really? There are Tinder babies? I wouldn’t have thought Tinder had all that much to do with babies. Maybe I’ve been doing it wrong. Are there a lot of Tinder babies out there? What’s that like? Are they, you know, well adjusted and stuff? Someone should be carrying out a study right now.

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Zuckerberg’s Glasses: The 7 Billion Futures of Man

So the High Overlord of Facebook apparently vowed last week to bring about the death of the smartphone. This is the way things go these days. No sooner has something become arguably the most powerful device in the Universe than someone, somewhere starts plotting to kill it. It’s like a hyper tech version of Game of Thrones.

According to those who claim to understand these things, Mark Zuckerberg wants more and more of his customers to have more and more of their reality mediated directly through Facebook.

It’s not enough anymore to groan murderously at yet another pic of a puppy in trouble, or yet another PC rant from someone who wants to sue reality for making them swallow yet another bottle of pills, Facebook has bigger plans for you, or at least for the way you perceive the Universe.

Basically, you’ll get yourself some kind of mobile device, like a camera or, I don’t know, a paper clip or a pair of glasses, just anything but a smartphone, hold it up against some everyday scene or object, and instead of the simple object or everyday scene, you’ll see all kinds of things that Facebook has put there.

Life will become a sort of waking hallucination. Maybe you’ll see fairies or dragons or Donald Trump chasing some co-ed around a cloud. You will – presumably after paying your few dollars – be enabled to have all kinds of experiences that used to get people labelled as schizophrenics.

You’ll be tripping without mushrooms, having visions without being, you know, a visionary. You can become your own DIY Nostradamus. You can be like William Blake watching angels singing in a tree.

It will seem strange to some, but the technology to do what Zuckerberg is talking about has actually been around for a while. For some years now, Nintendo have been producing so called AR (‘Augmented Reality’) cards. They look for all the world like ordinary collector cards, but place them on a table or other flat, bright surface, point a DS at them, and all sorts of outlandish 3-D figures start mushrooming out of the table.

The same thinking went into the global, but bizarrely brief craze known as Pokémon Go. Nintendo seeded a virtual version of the entire globe with Pokémon figures, and teenagers and arrested developers the world over caused thousands of traffic calamities every day by running around trying to snap them with their smartphones.

It seized the world for four weeks and then stopped. In retrospect, the most amazing thing about the Pokémon Go craze was its brevity. People lost interest so quickly. Presumably, billions are being poured into trying to find out why.

One further presumes that Zuckerberg has something more elaborate in mind, but what? The most likely way to access his new reality would be through some kind of goggles, gizmos that look and weigh the same as a pair of glasses, or maybe even contact lenses. The reality they bring you has to be a great deal more absorbing than a simple hunt for cartoon figures.

Maybe you’ll be lost inside your own insanely detailed version of ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘Star Wars.’ Maybe you’ll turn a corner in your favourite park and be assaulted by some kind of dragon, or chased down the street after the pub by a gang of Stormtroopers.

There’s no point, by the way, in wondering whether any of this is a good idea or not. People gave up doing that about tech a long time ago.

But it does raise some interesting questions. One size won’t fit all. The short life of Pokémon Go seems to prove that, so maybe we’ll all have to sign up to our own, individualised realities. Maybe I want to go exploring Ursa Minor while I’m at the gym, or hike up Olympus Mons while sipping coffee in the shopping mall.

The longer we all become absorbed in these ‘realities,’ and let’s face it, focusing on that ‘reality which is supposed to be real’ is already tough, it’s so damned boring and unpleasant for so much of the time, the more we will cease to agree on the basics of what is real or not.

Most political fractures at the moment are fuelled by the fact that opposing parties don’t even share a common definition of reality anymore. Your ‘fake news’ is my ground breaking revelation. ISIL inhabit a different Universe to the one inhabited by everyone else. Even in so called western democracies, it has become virtually impossible to verify a single objective fact.

The generations are already warping away from each other at light speed, like galaxies in a speeded up Big Bang. The life experience of someone who grew up as recently as the 1960’s is as alien to that of someone growing up now as putative life forms under the ice sheet of Enceladus. Not alone is this going to continue, it will accelerate in ways we can’t even imagine.

Every age has its prophet. Every day that passes seems to prove that the prophet of ours was Philip K Dick, the American sci fi author who wrote what ultimately became ‘Blade Runner,’ ‘Total Recall,’ ‘The Man in the High Castle’ and others.

Most of Dick’s writing is preoccupied, even obsessed with, with the question of what, if anything, can truly be called ‘real.’ One of his most famous short stories involves a man who discovers by accident that he is a robot, and that what he thinks of as reality is actually contained in a stream of punched tape moving through a chamber in his chest.

He tries sticking a pen in one of the holes on the tape, and the walls of his house disappear, another hole, and a flock of pigeons flies through his kitchen etc.

In a lecture delivered at Berkeley College (where else?), Dick spoke of his interest in Gnosticism which, very roughly speaking, holds that most of the small, day to day ‘reality’ you see around you is an invention of the Devil, and exists simply to blind you to the ‘Higher Reality’ of the kingdom of God.

Dick tells the students that he went on to have a full blown Gnostic experience. A girl called to his door, selling or surveying something. She wore a fish symbol around her neck, something Dick recognized as an emblem of the early Christians.

The way he tells it, he instantly knew that all of the reality – the America of the 1970’s – around him was fake, that in the higher reality, it was but a short time after the death of Christ. The Procurator Felix ruled in Jerusalem, and Dick and his fellow early Christians knew that Christ would be coming back soon.

Any bios of Dick you find on the Internet will say that this episode occurred as the result of a period of pretty heavy drug use, but I wonder. Was he just ages ahead of his time? Did he somehow acquire an early version of Zuckerberg’s glasses?

Flash Fiction: ‘The Harvester’

After midnight, when the police cars go home and the city turns over and tries to forget, a shadow haunts the fitful sleep of the junkies and assorted vagrants who lie in the waste land between the river and the park where mothers and joggers patrol by day.

The shadow is already legend. Every so often, a baleful junkie will shriek the legend in a police station, raving about a vampire that harvests souls in the blackest pit of night. The less kind police simply laugh and taunt, others shake world weary heads and mutter things about the full moon.

Hardly any of the city’s orange night light falls on the waste land. Yet the figure moves through the dark without error, as if every rubbish heap and jagged shard of metal has been committed to memory. It seems possessed of inhuman patience.

The older hands long ago learned the value of huddling together. There is something about the power of numbers against the dark. But sooner or later a fight will break out, and someone gets detached from the herd.

The figure curls into a vantage and watches. So perfect is its disguise that victims swear it literally twists out of the dark. No one has come near the woman for over an hour. The figure rises, certain there is no one within earshot.

It is some time before the woman notices. The figure sits just a few feet from her. She is rocking to and fro and clutching something, an empty bottle. For some reason, it is important that she notices, that she speaks first.

“Oh no … oh God no. Oh Holy Mary mother of …”

“Relax.” The figure speaks in a voice painstakingly learned, something carefully honed to stifle hysteria. “I won’t do anything. Do you want something to eat? Some cigarettes?”

“What is it you want?” She tries to crawl backwards, trying to keep her face to the figure.  “I’ll do anything you want. Please don’t kill me.”

“Tell me what you want.”

“What?”

“I’m here to give you what you want.”

“I don’t want death.”

“That’s good. I’m not a murderer. What else do you want?”

She stammers out the street name of a narcotic. He obliges and helps her prepare.

“It’s totally clean. You don’t need to worry, not that…”

“It doesn’t matter anymore.”

“I see.”

There are deep, quivering breaths as she rides the first waves of the drug. When she speaks, her voice is deeper, calmer.

“Now will you tell me?”

“What?”

“You want something. Everybody does. What is it?”

“I want you to tell me about it.”

“What?”

“I want you to tell me how you got here. Leave nothing out, and I’ll give you all I have left. Tell me to go away, and you get nothing else, but I’ll leave you alone, no harm done.”

“You want … my story?”

“I want your story.”

“You’re crazy.”

“Maybe. Are you going to tell me?”

And after a few moments, she starts. There are occasional deep, gusting sobs which seem to well up from some epicentre of her, but he is amazed by how clearly she can recollect, how ordered the mind buried underneath seems to be. He listens – as he does every night – and says almost nothing.

Hours later, as the first grey chinks of day spy the wet hulk of the city, he will steal through the secret hole in the fence between the waste land and the park. Moving very quickly, he will strip out of his black clothes, hiding them in the holdall he keeps in a space known only to him. He will don his city clothes and walk without stopping back to his apartment.

He will go straight to his computer and write up the notes he has been taking all night. The rest of it – the showering and the breakfast – can wait. Already his awareness thrills with the quality of this night’s catch.

The young woman’s story could make a new novel, or at least an award winning short story, adding ever more to his reputation as the owner of his country’s most fertile, unsparing imagination.

No one at the endless award dinners, none of the worshipful magazine writers, no one in his circle, knows that it has been twelve years since he last had an original thought.

That is a secret between him and the souls he harvests every night.

Flash Fiction: ‘Ultra’

 

“Quite a sight, isn’t it? The other side of a cloudless sky.”

She nods without taking her gaze from the window. At first her eyes were stunned by the blast of bleached white from six hundred miles below. They have begun to adapt. She can make out details now: slightly darker clumps of rock, smudged freckles where – according to him – the ground has literally just collapsed in on itself.

“An ultra-desert. They had to invent the term, just for this place. Incredible.”

Even in the old days, Garner had loved the sound of his own voice, could never let a silence be. It was one of the reasons why …

“Imagine,” he will not be silenced today, “at high noon down there, the temperature tops three hundred degrees centigrade. Then this planet turns and it’s one fifty below. There’s even a kind of frost.”

She frowns. “Water?”

“We think it’s mostly methane. Some inert gases.”

She shrugs. “No point asking about life so.”

She knows without looking that he is smiling. It bothers her that she is still that attuned to him.

And yet. “What about that report? Mills seemed positively excited. I wouldn’t have tagged him as a hothead.”

Garner shrugs. “Too much time down there,” he says. “Even with the best suits, the radiation you know.”

She turns her head to him. The reflected glow of the ultra-desert, six hundred miles below, makes him seem a kind of spectre, as if he is bathed in pure energy.

“I’ll take his remains back with me,” she says.

“Of course.” Now he turns towards her. There is a quality to his smile that she does not recognise, something both wistful and serene.

“I was glad when they sent you.”

“Really?”

“How have you been Jenny?”

“Oh, you know,” she cannot stop herself passing a hand through her long black hair, “fine, really. You?”

“I’ve missed you.”

“Really? Well that was your…” Her heart begins to flicker. She wants to shout at him. Years have passed. Why is he doing this? He would never have said this type of thing before.

“Amazing things have been happening here Jenny. I’ve never felt more … alive I suppose. But there’s been a gap all along, a kind of void in me. It was the fact that you weren’t here to share what was happening.”

“What?”

“But you’re here now.” And he does the smile again, the smile that dizzies her with the knowledge of how much he has changed.

“You mentioned about life.” He has turned his gaze back down upon the planet.

“Yes?”

“Before he got sick, Mills came up with some exotic theories.”

“Did he?”

“He tried to solve the problem of how a living organism could survive such violent changes in temperature. I mean, change our environment by thirty degrees or so, and we’re in trouble, right?”

“Of course.”

“He came up with something that could change its molecular structure very rapidly, existing as a gas one minute, a clump of dust the next. There’s no food to speak of on the planet, so he suggested it could metabolise pure energy, literally live off sunlight and storms. He did a lot of research, came up with a lot of equations.”

“We never saw them back home.”

“We weren’t sure what to do with them. You can look them over.”

“Any evidence?”

Garner closes his eyes, opens them slowly. “Not … at first.”

“Oh?”

“What’s most amazing is … How quickly it learns to change into a new shape, one it’s never encountered before. We’re talking about a process that’s much faster than evolution.”

“Yes?”

“It is intelligent Jenny. It can cling to a space suit as dust and survive the vacuum somehow. It can change itself to particles that aren’t picked up by the ship’s detectors. When it finally connects with a human host … It is capable of the most beautiful thoughts Jenny.”

“I know, my love.” And her eyes fall pregnant with tears as she levels the gun and blasts him into atoms.

Is It About Nothing But The Beauty Of Our Weapons?

The most powerful country in the world proudly announced last week that it had just dropped the biggest bomb in the world. And it didn’t just drop it on some nameless piece of desert, oh no. It’s only worth a positive headline if you drop it on some actual people.

Not alone did they drop the bomb, they shared pictures of the giant hole the bomb made in the Afghan earth. We were invited to boggle and hark at its interesting contours. Doesn’t it look like someplace? Like a new country perhaps? Like the terrible, blood crazed new countries these bombs have been making for decades now.

Sooner or later, some po-mo artist will win something like the Turner Prize for an exhibition of the diversely shaped turds his body has excreted over the years (if this hasn’t actually happened already). He will attract nothing like the admiring comments directed towards the most powerful man in the world for dropping the biggest bomb in the world, and this already feels like something of an injustice.

Trump was supposed to change all this, you know. There was supposed to be some kind of great bloodless war between him and the military industrial complex, a bit like the war in Harry Potter, we Muggles wouldn’t be able to see it but would somehow know it was there. How quickly things snap back.

How quickly we are back to the language and agenda of the neocons. How quickly are we back to the fetishization of weaponry. How long before we hear some CNN clown crooning again about how beautiful explosions look in the night sky of some Arabic city?

A real journalist – assuming there are any of those left – might make you switch off by pointing out unhelpful truths, such as the things flying metal can do to the flesh of a child. But no, that’s not what this is about. Look at the beautiful explosions. Listen to the godawful prose poem the CNN clown tries to hammer out while thousands of invisible people cry out and are silent forever.

It’s about the beauty of the weapons, the phallic sleekness of the jet, the microchipped precision of the Cruise Missile, on its way to destroy a Hospital (because they still do that, you know, in spite of all the fetishized tech).

What a comment on the unspeakable evil at the heart of traditional media that the uniform piling of excrement upon the head of Trump turned instantly to praise once he started bombing places. All of a sudden, the unforgiveable scorning of Queen Hillary was forgotten.

We’re back to the Bush / Obama agenda. We’re back to making and dropping all those beautiful weapons on people because that’s where the money is, stupid, and traditional media rises as one and says ‘Amen’ and ‘look at all the beautiful explosions.’

In fairness, one supporter of Trump pointed out to me that he could just as easily flip back again. Maybe, but hope is as rare a commodity as wisdom these days.

In the meantime, what boggles the mind is the sheer apparent stupidity of those who would lead, and I’m not talking about Trump, but those ‘experts’ who pretend to advise him.

We are being sleepwalked into war with somebody, anybody. Is it Russia? They’re still the big bad demon. Oh wait, no. It’s actually North Korea: those weirdos have been asking for it for ages. But will it still be them next week, or will it be somebody else? What about that new asteroid? I don’t like the way it’s looking at me.

The Russia thing is instructive. The Cold War ended back in 1990, yet the mindset of the US military industrial complex remains as anti-Russian as ever. NATO, a Cold War organization desperate to hold on to relevance after the disappearance of its official enemy, the Warsaw Pact, was allowed to expand, not just into Eastern Europe, but the former Republics of the Soviet Union as well.

No one seems to have sat for a moment to consider whether this was a good idea. Was it worth feeding the Russian paranoia about encirclement simply so highly paid NATO bureaucrats could hold on to their salaries and budgets?

This is how decisions get made these days. It’s why the EU would rather lose Britain than make itself democratic. It’s why the world is being blundered into a war nobody but senior military bureaucrats and their neocon political mouthpieces actually wants.

Let’s go back to North Korea for a sec. How is what’s going on with North Korea now any different to anything that has gone on with North Korea at any time since the official end of hostilities in 1953? We didn’t pay much attention in the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s. What’s so special about now?

The other night, I heard a commentator on CBC argue that ‘the Chinese are worried now, because the Chinese know something.’ Really? Any chance he or they could let the rest of us know what it is?

George Orwell wrote in ‘1984’ that a totalitarian system pretty much depends on keeping the population believing that it’s in a state of constant war. You need people to be in a constant, low level state of fizz about ‘the enemy.’ This gives them virtually no time to think, and also renders them more amenable to whatever crap the rulers want them to swallow this week.

Every so often, the people are strung along on a potage of hope, with regular press releases about how the latest ‘victory’ has brought the endless war ‘within measurable distance of its end.’

Many people in the West today would be offended by the notion that they live in a totalitarian system, but consider: hasn’t the West been in a state of fairly continual war since the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003? Who benefits from this war? Who has reasons for making it endless?

And at least Orwell’s war had something to do with ideology, our one appears to be about nothing more than bureaucratic inertia and the shifting of units. The armaments industry is mega-huge, and forget about putative Kazakhstani bad men for a moment, the biggest players are actually the United States, Britain, Germany etc. You need opportunities to show what these weapons can do, the lovely explosions they make, you need constant war.

And it’s probably not even just about arms. Each new manufactured crisis makes people rush home from work to watch the latest lovely explosions on the teatime news. It massively boosts TV viewing figures. There was a time when the suggestion that TV networks’ coverage of global emergencies was totally governed by the need to boost ratings would have been righteously condemned as beyond the pale cynicism, but no more.

People fly home to watch the news. They’re in far too much of a fizz to cook dinner. I bet the sales of convenience food go through the roof whenever there’s a so called global crisis. Later on, insomnia generated by the latest panic causes them to surf the Net till late in the night. There are new mini-booms for gambling sites and porn providers.

In short, everybody wins when there’s a constant almost war, apart from you, of course, and whatever remains of your sanity. Just forget about it and look at all those beautiful explosions, making you all a little bit more secure every single day.

Flash Fiction: ‘Rendezvous’

“You’re much too pretty for this,” she says.

I mortify myself by blushing. “Uh, thank you … Uh, what do you mean?”

“Just … I don’t know.” She vaguely sweeps a bare arm. “Maybe we’re all too pretty.”

The last thing I expected was philosophy. We are standing at a high window, watching but not watching the lumpen traffic of the afternoon. The cars look like disgruntled toys, parping at the weary ants trudging either side.

She is wearing a tank top and jeans that taper to sandaled feet. The key to the room is tied around her wrist. I don’t know why I find that strange. I am sweating. I want to stop but I can’t control it. Surely she must know. Can she smell it? Smell me?

One of my hands snakes to the side of my ear, lusting for a scratch. I halt it in mid-air. “So – uh – how do you want to do this?”

She turns her head to me. There is a slow smile, something almost sad. I can’t decide if she is pretty. “Colour of your money honey.”

My tongue darts around. My lips feel like carpet. “I .. uh…”

“Yes?” There is a sudden brightness around her eyes. Has she decided that she is amused, by my unease, my lack of poise?

“I suppose…” I’m touching the damn ear. “I suppose it might be nice to – uh – view the merchandise?”

“First?”

“First.”

“Isn’t that a funny word,” she says, turning from the window and commencing a slow, sensuous walk towards the double bed. I’ve noticed that she likes to walk slowly, as if deriving pleasure from the way her ass coils about its inner axis of mystery, round the source of power.

“Isn’t what a funny word?”

“Merchandise.”

“I guess.”

We are in a city hotel room. An age seemed to pass before she answered my summons from the lobby. I was terrified of meeting someone I knew. What to do if she showed up during the ritual of swapped pleasantries?

We rode the lift together to here. She didn’t speak until we were at the window. Now she stops at the bed and drops to her knees. She shoves skinny arms in underneath and pulls something out. There is a tiny grunt as she pops the case on the bedclothes.

I approach it, my palms now sweating profusely. “I’ll – eh – I’ll need a few minutes to…”

“Take as long as you like.” And she does the slow sashay again, off towards the bathroom. The case is made of cheap black leather. I almost break a nail pulling at the lock.

The package inside is wrapped in ancient paper. I can feel her return and hover behind me as my hands shake and pull and tear. I don’t look back.

It is there, buried under maddening coils and twists. The book. It is the book. I know even before I do the tests, check the secret marks I’ve spent a decade trying to identify. Seven hundred years old and it’s here, right here in my shaking hands.

“How?…” I can’t keep the shake from my voice. “How did you…?”

“Least said, soonest mended.” The expression seems at odds with my imprecise notion of her nationality. “We do business now?”

I turn to her and we crank through the agreed method of payment. At the end, she regards me with another odd twinkle and says “want a receipt?” When I look at her blankly, she says “just a joke.”

All the while I wonder at her confidence, the utter ease with everything. Did the thought not occur that a man might simply assault her and make off with the prize? No, of course not. She has back up. There are burly, shadowy figures she can call on if things get hairy.

She even assists me in wrapping the book back inside the elderly paper, supervises my bumbling efforts at packing it into the case.

I am ready to leave. We face each other, either side of the bed.

“Well uh …”

“Our work is done.”

“I guess.”

“You’ve got to take this someplace now.”

“Well, yeah.” A trickle of sweat begins to form between my shoulder blades. An ominous drumming begins in my gut. This isn’t part of the plan. Why is she stalling? I was supposed to just take my bundle and go.

“This might sound crazy, but …” Her eyes look metallic.

“Yes?”

“Would you like to meet after – after you’ve done? Have a coffee or something?”

What If We Just Turned Off The News?

Viewed through the prism of what we like to think of as our standards, the horizons of medieval men and women can seem cruelly limited. How, we ask ourselves, can they possibly have lived out their spans inside something so small?

Very few people wandered any more than a few kilometres from the place where they had been born. Travel was exclusively the purview of the hyper-rich. A lucky few might get to undertake a once in a lifetime pilgrimage to some centre like Rome or Santiago di Compostella, but for the most part, everybody stayed put. The drunken pilgrimages to Spain or Mexico, which so many in our culture consider an annual rite and right, would have both bewildered and horrified our medieval ancestors.

Our medieval forebears had plenty of other things to concern themselves with, of course. There was the seemingly ceaseless drudge of crop cultivation and harvesting, oppressions from this or that noble liege (that’s ‘robber baron scumbag’ to you and me), bad diet, mother and infant mortality and the periodic recurrence of plague.

They faced, we are told, a plethora of local and often life threatening concerns which left little or no scope for the contemplation of what, if anything, might be going on outside their village.

Even so, I’ve often found it fascinating to wonder just what went through the mind of a medieval person when, through some accident or kink in the daily routine, they found themselves free for a few hours to indulge in what used to be known as ‘wool-gathering.’

I’ve tried fruitlessly casting myself into the mind of a medieval Joan or Wat in moments of excruciatingly rare idleness. Perhaps she took advantage of the break to go off on a bit of a wander, explore some previously unknown nook of nearby territory. Maybe she found herself on the prow of some hill, gazing down at meadows and forests shrill with birdsong.

Perhaps she wandered into the wood shaded bend of a nearby river, finding, by accident or design, a space that allowed for some form of transcendent contemplation, however limited we might consider such a thing today. What passed through her mind in the course of those few hours?

If it is a modern article of faith that all sentient beings, at times of ease taking, enter some Joycean stream of consciousness, then what were the most notable features of Joan’s stream?

Sadly, this is one of those components of the past now entirely lost to us. The chances are that Joan never wrote down what she thought (she was almost certainly unable to) and unless she went on to experience some form of direct visitation from a God or Angel, nobody else took the trouble to write it down either.

Those most private and arguably distinctive thoughts of those souls who walked the land under our feet are thus forever gone from us. Perhaps they were sublime in spots – exotic in ways we can only guess at – perhaps they were merely silly, but they are gone, like the information physicists once thought entirely lost to the Universe when it crossed the event horizon of a black hole, at least until the discovery of Hawking Radiation.

But while we have no real idea what thoughts furrowed the brow of a Joan or Wat during their precious solitude, we can at least make some educated guesses as to what they didn’t think about.

Joan or Wat, it seems fairly clear, never felt moved to worry about world affairs. Joan never thought about the French advances into Italy or the succession to the Spanish throne. The idea of worrying over who might or might not be the next Pope or what would happen if the Duke of Buckingham died without male issue would have been utterly alien to her.

Joan or Wat never participated in the ritual of world opinion, for the very good reason that, outside of a few tiny medieval courts, world opinion did not exist.

The forces beyond their ken were literally that. Don’t worry about what you can’t control. Don’t even think about that which is no concern of yours.

I’m not the only person to wonder if – apart from all the plagues, constant threats of mortality and frankly limited social life – Joan or Wat might have enjoyed a quality of life, or at least mental ease, superior to ours, their wired up but no less befuddled descendants.

Imagine if you’d never heard of Donald Trump or Cristiano Ronaldo. Imagine if you’d never heard the word ‘Syria’ and had no idea what North Korea was. Imagine if you’d never seen a picture of anyone named Kardashian. Imagine if you didn’t know what ‘fake news’ was, or for that matter, what ‘real news’ was either.

Imagine if you didn’t have to listen to advertising or interviews with so called experts spelling out in gory detail the latest way you’re shortening your life. Imagine if you didn’t listen to other ‘experts’ pointing out all the different ways you’re failing as a parent. Imagine if you’d never heard of ‘fat shaming,’ and indeed felt pretty good about that extra layer of lard under your bodkin, since it meant you were more likely to be able to fight off the next inevitable attack of plague.

Just close your eyes and think about how all this would feel. You’ve turned off the news. You’ve resigned from the body of world opinion. Feel better? You’ve also stopped playing along with the pretence that so called ‘entertainment’ or ‘advice’ shows are there to do anything other than sell you shit.

John Lennon once said everybody in the world should go to bed for a week, just to see what would happen. What if everybody turned off the news for a week, what unknown wonders would we encounter?