Action Monday

A news presenter on radio has just wasted several precious minutes of air time wibbling about ‘Blue Monday’. Apparently that is today, 18 January 2021.

The slot started off moderately light heartedly but rapidly drooped into the usual misery about the ‘last year’ and how we can all avoid our suicidal depression.

Well I’m not in one.

I’m sure there are some people who are down about life, and I sympathise but there are obviously a lot of people who are not and designating a day at random as ‘the low point of the year’ isn’t helping anyone.

I’d never even heard of ‘Blue Monday’ as a concept until today, and thirty seconds of searching online revealed what I suspected. There is no evidence for this as a real thing at all. It was a creation of a psychologist, Cliff Arnall who was suckered into the idea by Sky Travel in 2004. They were seeking a way of getting people to book holidays early for that summer and used this concept to prod people into parting with their hard earned cash. Arnall has since asked people to ignore the whole thing as irrelevant to real life. But as Dr Frankenstein found out, these monsters are harder to slay than create.

So here we are then on the most depressing day of the year (not). And you would, under the current circumstances, be mad to book a sun packed overseas beach holiday any time soon. So do you end it all now?

No.

Lift your head up and look at the glory of creation. Whether you ascribe the wonders around you to a God, or to a Gaia type concept or to the random chance events of scientific evolution they are pretty amazing and so are you. Your sheer existence is a wondrous victory over chance. Celebrate it.

Vaccines are on the way to offer a hope at least of a path through the Covid-19 minefield for many of us fairly soon so we should bear up under the strain and keep a clear head.

Actually if we are looking for something to be less than happy about, it might be that idea of vaccine rollout.

I am fortunate enough through happy circumstance, nothing to do with me, to live in a rich, self absorbed country, that had the money and opportunity to bung loads of cash relatively early on to pharmaceutical companies and ensure fairly early access to large numbers of doses of these lifelines. But what about the rest of the world? There are billions of people out there who will not have lifesaving vaccines for months, probably years the way things are going. The Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine is being made available to low and middle income countries at cost. Which is great but still expensive and supplies are currently being snapped up by rich ‘first world’ countries before they can rollout to these other needy areas.

So if you want to shake off the imaginary Blue Monday lethargy, write to your MP and suggest we stick a couple of billion in the pot to help pay the ‘cost’ price for our fellow human beings to be safe. And maybe we could build and licence production facilities elsewhere to stop countries rich from the previous exploitation of other countries snaffling all the available doses first?

‘No man is an island…’ and all that.

BREAKING POINT

I’d like to end 2020 on an upbeat note.

But I have no desire to stick my head in the sand

Civil society in Wales is not in a good place.

Our Covid figures are the worst in the UK nations and the NHS is falling, or probably has already fallen, over.

And political accountability on a range of issues is non-existent.

Starting with the small stuff first, the idea that the majority of people pay the smallest amount of attention to various enjoinders or rules about the Covid situation is a joke.

I see secondary school children, old ladies and athletic looking middle aged men without masks in shops unchallenged by shop workers while pre recorded voice messages play over the tannoy system telling us all how there is a one way system in force, everyone must wear masks and assistants will enforce the rules.

Families have extended family over to visit from many different households and not just in the Christmas window and way beyond those limits.

And why would they pay attention when the rules change seemingly from day to day?

And when someone writes to ask a question via email about the policy, the system, its implications for a Welsh student studying and living in England and whether they can and how they should return for essential services still registered for in Wales, and might the Welsh Government apply a little more thought to those in that position, they are ignored.

The official system my daughter used to contact Mark Drakeford some months ago specifically says that the enquiry will receive an answer. She wasn’t expecting a personally signed vellum scroll in reply, but not to receive even an acknowledgment, as required, undermines belief in even the most basic lip service to democratic accountability and engagement.

But politicians and officials seem to care little about what the pubic want. We have recently had a new superhospital open in our area, The Grange at Cwmbran – the one recently in the news with no beds for A & E and patients sat overnight in ambulances waiting. Which is odd as it is the A & E hospital now for the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board. This has a huge catchment area and is not on the established public transport links in the area. Newport is the focal point for transport links in the area. Cwmbran is up one of the valleys and if you need to get there you have to change buses or trains at least once, in Newport, to get there and then the hospital is nowhere near the station in Cwmbran.

But obviously if you need to get there in an emergency you will use an ambulance to get you there in time to save you without the bother of public transport.

The 86 year old grandmother of a friend of my daughter had a fall a couple of days ago. She was in agony and the family couldn’t move her themselves as they suspected she had broken her hip. They rang for an ambulance to take her to the new state of the art centre of excellence that is the Grange at Cwmbran.

26 and a half hours later an ambulance arrived. The ambulance driver said he would complain as his patient was by then in a bad way and he had not heard about the call until recently. That obviously stops the press stories about waiting in ambulances for a bed.

As suspected, she as a broken hip, and will have an operation tomorrow.

I’d suggest writing to someone to complain, but as nobody is even likely to acknowledge it, it hardly seems worth it does it?

In case anyone thinks Covid and/or teething problems with the new hospital in Cwmbran are to blame, nearly two years ago my GP rang for an ambulance for me when my heart went into atrial flutter and I had a resting pulse of c150 beats per minute. I waited for a couple of hours and rang to see what was happening. There were no ambulances. They sub contracted a taxi.

Fortunately my wife got back from hospital and drove me to hospital. The ambulance/taxi never did arrive.

There were no beds. There were no trolleys. I sat in a chair in the waiting room overnight, eventually hooked up to a drip to see if they could get my heart rate down before I saw someone about sixteen hours later and I eventually got a trolley. I moved up through the hierarchy for a couple of days until I eventually got to a cardiac ward bed, got my heart rate under control and was discharged for cardioversion at a later (five month) date.

There was no Covid. There were no teething problems

I’m not having a pop at the NHS staff, but at the failure to finance, organise and direct their efforts while talking gibberish about how brilliant everything is.

A little less effort on the ‘message’ front and a little more at getting the bloody thing right would help.

It’s not just the NHS, and it’s not just Wales.

Underfunding, poor planning and a desire to egregiously lie about how ‘World Beating’ everything is at every verse end is infecting every facet of public life in the UK. And it is not ‘public service inefficiency’ that is the problem. The efficacy of the Government’s remedy of choice, privatised sub contracting, can be seen in the woeful performance the World Beating private test, track and trace system in England. It is undoubtedly setting records but not at the end of the leader board you’d like it to be.

A little more honesty and genuine attempts to fix problems rather than ‘perceptions’ would go a long way.

MEDITATION ON A LOST YEAR AND A NEW CROSSROADS

There’s been a lot going on in the world over the last nine months, despite the narrow parochial view from a small town in a corner of Wales in varying states of quarantine. As much as Wales has big cities, (Cardiff? Swansea? Newport?) where I live is most decidedly not imbued with a big city perspective. So the closure of one of the local supermarkets, last trading day Sunday 6 December, has been the big, and miserable, news of the last few months. The other has been the remodelling of the crossroads at the centre of the village finally finished, sort of. What was supposed to be a three month job was strung out with Covid and its response into nine. It still hasn’t got all the promised bells and whistles and frankly at the moment looks like the biggest waste of money on a cosmetic effort since the rage for trout pout lips some years ago.

The USA has had an election. Result not quite confirmed. You have an election to elect people who have an election that happens six weeks later? Probably worked in the nineteenth century before modern transport and communication systems, but now? Six weeks? And then another month to move the furniture for the new guy?

Of course that has all been exacerbated by the present incumbent’s approach to elections and news. I guess the combination of Donald Trump and a system that means the nation has got used to ‘mainstream’ media outlets being the ones to ‘call’ the election, was asking for interesting times if it didn’t go spectacularly in his favour.

Most commentators seem to believe it is all over bar the shouting and that Joe Biden is President-Elect, and will take up residence in the White House. President Trump is still tweeting ‘we will WIN!’ and saying he will vacate the White House if the Electoral College votes for Biden on 14 December. Am I the only one wondering what that means? I’ve heard of ‘faithless electors’ where College electors don’t follow their state’s popular vote but apparently (and I am no expert on US Constitutional Law, so don’t quote me) it is also open to State legislatures to appoint College Electors who will vote against the popular vote if that legislature is convinced the original ballot was flawed in some way. The Electors would not then be ‘faithless’ and laws constraining their voting (in some states only) that automatically invalidate ‘faithless’ votes, would not apply. The Donald may still have a technical route to that second term.

With me so far?

I can see why the demise of Waitrose here is the main point of discussion round here.

China appears to have shrugged of Covid-19 like a bad dream the rest of us are still enduring. Do we believe that? Is smoke and mirrors really the cure for SARS-CoV-2? Or a draconian social control that would make Winston Smith’s ‘1984’ look like an Ecstasy fuelled Rave? Facial recognition and re-education camps, fight Covid, Uighurs and Democracy?

Hong-Kong had its flirtation with post British colonial democracy prematurely trashed (see above) and the Brits use some really harsh words. Being in hock to the largest manufacturing economy in the world (which is doing the trashing) doesn’t help truth justice and the mother of Parliaments as it is about to crash out of the lee of the EU of course.

All the usual wars rage in the Middle East/Horn of Africa, different names, same people dying.

Covid of course is still with us, though vaccines appear to be on the way. Let’s hope they are not the false dawn so many other promises turned out to be in 2020. And can we please not give equal air time to ‘anti-vaxxers’ in a spirit of ‘balance’? Andrew Wakefield and his cronies did enough damage 20 years ago without more of his insanity flooding the airways and newsprint. It’s bad enough his corrupt stupidity will be perpetuated through social media and unregulated websites without giving this idiocy access to the validation of mainstream channels.

Having got that off my chest I can look forward to my isolated winter festivals of Hanukkah Christmas and Saturnalia (sorry Diwali, you have already happened) with a light heart. Can’t I?

Happy Winterval.

What I have (Not) Been Doing During Covid.

It has been an odd few weeks, people I know going down sick with Covid, my daughter having a couple of close shaves with friends testing positive and on-off circuit breaks, lockdowns etc.

I should have been writing lots, not a lot else to do, and yet somehow I find, or often family find other ways to occupy my time.

I have been wrestling with a couple of Covid or post Covid society pieces which seemed very easy to start but much more difficult to finish without ending up very dark. I’m not against dark endings, or beginnings and middles for that matter but they haven’t felt right, as if I were forcing the endings.

Which brings me on to the other thing I’ve been doing, which is a piece about a quiz team in the north of England in the 1980s. Pub quiz leagues were very big for a while, and indeed may still be in some areas, but generally the advent of social media, computer games and video game consoles has absorbed a lot of people’s spare time and of course mobile phone technology and Wikipedia have exponentially increased the capacity for cheating.

Who would bother cheating in a friendly pub quiz I hear you ask? Yes, times have certainly changed. Quizzing was serious business back then, and indeed you could make a fair amount of money with cash prizes for the bigger events and resaleable goods often handed out as prizes elseewhere. It got so big that electronic quiz machines were placed in pubs, for a brief time rivalling fruit machines (one armed bandit gambling machines) and Space Invaders as a way of getting extra bodies into bars.

I have mentioned that I am wary of the ‘And this is a true story’ boasts on works of fiction, so I am very clear that my short story ‘Shoot Out At The Red Horse Bowling Club’ (to follow very shortly) is most decidedly not a true story. But all fiction is inspired by element of fact. Isn’t it?

COVID? WHAT COVID?

I took my daughter to the train station on Saturday and she went to England to meet a University friend for a meal.

She was very careful to make sure she had her mask with her, that she didn’t hug her friend, they did air hugs instead, and that they were as responsible as they could be about how close they got to other people.

The rest of the UK however, seems to have given up on the idea of social distancing and bothering with recommended practice.

On the station few people were wearing masks, and I can understand that in the bright sun on an open platform with no buildings in sight, that in itself was okay. I wasn’t wearing one myself. But when the train arrived, many people boarded it without masks, which is a requirement. While we waited people stood talking to friends up close and personal, no two metre distancing, still the separation distance in Wales, and obviously not the same household and how many exclusive ‘bubbles’ can you inhabit?

When I picked her up later the same (lack of adherence to) rules were in evidence. Talking to her she was amazed that there were people on the train with no masks. And no censure. People had them hanging loose from one ear, more concerned with being able to put it on to avoid any censure (not worth the bother apparently).

In England there was no evidence apart from mask wearing in shops that there is or ever had been any Covid. The great English public have apparently abandoned their conception of what a metre is now they have left the EU and the ownership of a mask absolves them from any other measure designed to thwart the spread of the disease.

In one way this reassures me that we are not yet about to succumb to a form of draconian dictatorial stroke from the sinister offices of Dominic Cummings. On the other hand it makes me wonder about what the future holds for us in a winter return to the spread of Coronavirus.

If this laissez fair, not to say lackadaisical approach to Covid works, why did we destroy the economy? The problem is how do we work out what worked and what didn’t if the evidence we are given from Government statements and ONS survey bears no resemblance to adherence on the ground? Interested parties are notoriously keen to claim credit for solving a problem with tinkering measures that had no effect on a situation.

Analysis of this virus and the responses to it need to be free of politics, career progression and drug company profits, if we are to work out how to react to repeat waves of it and any new pandemic threats.

Given human nature; what are the chances?

GAMES

‘So! Dom. Dommy Dom Dom, the old Domster.’

‘What?’

‘Well, my old Dommeister in Chief, I was just wondering…’

‘Get on with it I’m busy.’

The head of the country looked up from his board game and surveyed the dithering Nominal Prime Minister.

‘Well. The er, thing is, not to er put too fine a point on it, the, if you will, crux, yes I think crux is the mot juste, is; do you think I should say something?’

Dom moved a piece on the board and paused, apparently lost in thought.

‘Well?’ The NPM prompted. ‘Tempus fugit and all that, and I think the populus Britannus may need a word from their Government…’ he hurried to qualify ‘…that is; me.’

‘Why?’

‘Well, panic aboard the ship of state, rats deserting the sinking, er, hand on the tiller, steady as she goes, into the eye of the storm, trim the sails and all that thing.’

Another piece completed the encirclement of yet another doomed enemy stronghold on the game board.

‘Yes. Good idea. Say something about masks. Go and get a briefing from Health.’

‘Yowser! Right to the point, good thinking , you are de man Dom! Health. Mask. Good film. Loved old Carey in that. Why can’t we have Archbishes like that now? Eh!?’

‘That was Jim Carrey, not George Carey. Now, go.’

‘Okay Dommy babes. One hot shot policy statement from Health, no wait, from me, on The Mask coming up.’

The NPM moved to the door.

‘Wait!’ came the imperious command.

‘What?’

‘Not Health, I haven’t purged them yet. Try Cabinet Office or Home Office. They haven’t got too many independent thinkers left there.’

‘Do the Home Office know a lot about The Mask then Dom Dom?’

‘Masks. No. Why should they?’

‘Well, if I’m going to make a speech about them, a bit of policy wonk babble can’t hurt can it? Can it?’

‘Just get a form of words telling everyone to wear them all the time.’

‘What even in, you know bed, rumpy pumpy time and all that?’

‘Always.’

‘Ooh er. I suppose the mem sahib might like that.’ He turned to go. ‘Hang on a minute Dom. Didn’t I make several statements saying there was no evidence they worked and the natural right of all free born Englishmen was to go to the pub and puke up over everyone? We had a party the weekend it happened didn’t we?’

‘Yes. So?’

‘Well, dash it! Aren’t I going to look a complete arse if I just turn round and say the opposite now.’

‘It will look natural. You’ll show you aren’t afraid to change your mind on a whim. That you may have been to Eton, Oxford and the Bullingdon Club dinners but you can be as short sighted, capricious and petty as any working class oik, but with rumpled charm.’

‘Good oh! Ad astra per leporem!’

Before he could go through the door, Dom threw some dice and removed the last opposing piece from the board in front of him. He turned to the NPM hovering in the doorway.

‘And Prime Minister, use more Latin. Everyone likes that.’

JUST HORRIBLE

I was having a cup of coffee this morning while trying to compose an email to a friend about a military history quiz he had set. So engrossed had I become in trying to draft the email in a way that didn’t upset him further than an earlier comment had already, that I was surprised to find the Radio 4 programme I had supposedly been listening to had ended. I started to get up to switch the radio off – I know, a radio, a bit of a giveaway as to my ancient status. Even more so when you realise it is an insurance replacement for the one stolen in a burglary c1995. It was advertised as a ‘ghetto blaster’, not something that sounds very acceptable nowadays I suspect. Still works though, along with the inbuilt cassette player/recorder. Get back to me in another twenty five years and check if this computer is still working.

Anyway, when the continuity announcer gave the title of next programme, I sat back down again. Homeschool History is part of the BBC’s approach to helping parents fill the gap left by the closure of mainstream schools in reaction to Covid-19. I’d heard a lot of fluff about this initiative but not caught any of it. The announcement had me worried even as I sat down: ‘Join Greg Jenner for a fun homeschool history lesson…’ The word ‘fun’ in this context in my experience tends to mean anything but ‘enjoyment’ and usually messes up the subject involved; be it science, maths or history, the usual victims of this faux cheery approach.

In the event it was sort of okay. There was a little too much of the gee wizz approach, what a teacher of my acquaintance used to call the ‘WOW’ factor, in it for my comfort. There were sound effects to emphasise jokes and ‘amusing’ points and the usual attempts to make incest, murder and brutal battles ‘fun’. This approach (the WOW factor made such an impression on the teacher I mentioned that they actually imported the word into lessons all the time, with hand gestures, with bemused looks from the children in response) makes me cringe.

Now I know I have a problem in that I am on the autistic spectrum* and don’t always easily understand the appeal of some neurotypical interactions but why does ‘fun’ have to equal crass humour? The ‘story’ being told was that of Cleopatra. That’s another thing by the way. Why are we still telling history through the lives of great men/women? Good to pick her rather than Caesar or Mark Anthony I suppose but why reduce Greek/Macedonian and Roman imperialism to individuals? I thought we had moved on from this approach. Anyway, her rule, fight with her sibling/husband and manipulation of and by Rome for control of Egypt is surely gripping enough without interpolations of the equivalent of whoopee cushion effects?

Now I am obviously wrong as Mr Jenner and co have made a reputation and a lot of programmes based on Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories books. So this approach works.

Or does it?

There have been a lot of books sold. A lot of programmes made. But how much actual history has been conveyed. And what type of history? I haven’t read or seen a lot of them. Some, but the approach as you will have gathered drives me crazy. It’s like having a really annoying uncle, someone who was told a long time ago he was amazingly funny and great with kids, probably as a wind up, who now insists on reading you your favourite book but with his own added fart jokes. I talk to parents and they extol the virtues of these books. I talk to the kids and they go: ‘Nah mate. Silly.’

To be fair I have met a couple of children who have read and enjoyed them (though I have my suspicions they were saying so because their parents were present). I’ve met a lot more who have got them, been given them by teachers, parents, grandparent, aunts, uncles and family friends desperate to find a responsible present which also seems cool. Those books remain unread or flicked through and unremembered.

I was bought ‘1066 And All That’ by a much loved cousin when I was about ten because I was interested in history. It was too soon. I went off and did O levels and started on A levels before I came back to it one rainy afternoon. It was and remains a very funny take on history and historians. But you have to know history before it makes sense and you get the jokes. My feeling is that the Horrible Histories approach is trying to short circuit this process.

I worry this approach to history teaching is more about the ‘fun’ than the history. Those who don’t ‘get’ history will take the jokes and those who like history will either, like me, be put off the history, or get a really bizarre interpretation of what the subject really is about. Don’t misunderstand me; there was nothing ‘wrong’ about the history in the programme. The insight into Cleopatra being farther removed in time from the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza, than she is from us was brilliant. The view of late Roman Republican power machinations as solely interpersonal relations however was one that may take years at best to disentangle and in many cases will remain the sole, erroneous, takeaway point of the exercise.

That may not matter much if we are solely bothered about why the battle of Actium was fought, but if it reduces our approach to understanding current geopolitics to whether Donald Trump and Xi Jinping get along, we probably deserve all we get from our understanding of what history can teach us.

*Yes I do. Not self diagnosed, I have a note from a very nice consultant psychiatrist. High functioning but as weird as a fruit cake apparently – not the phrase she used, but you can read between the lines. It was a relief after all those years of wondering why I had to work so hard to understand what the hell was going on in normal life.

NEW WORLD ORDER: AGAIN?

BBC Radio 4 is running a series of radio programmes, podcasts and snippet articles linking them, under the umbrella label of ‘Rethink’ about what the ‘new normal’ could, and perhaps should, look like as we come out of our immediate reaction to Covid-19.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p08gt1ry

It is a very worthy enterprise in many ways but I wonder if anything good is likely to come of it.

The whole idea seems to rely on a feeling that such momentous events have to be meaningful. In our past, and no doubt in some societies now, we would have said that they meant something in themselves. Meant perhaps that God was punishing us for some error in living our lives, individually or collectively, and we needed to change to avoid repetition of the harsh lesson being given us.

Not many in Europe would buy that interpretation now. The concept of a beneficent, all loving God wiping out between a third and two thirds of the world’s population (Black Death 14th Century) as a random hint to do better would seem odd today to most rational people.

However, we seem to need these large events to signify something. My suspicion, from experience however, is that we should be very careful of the idea that things ‘have to change’ and how that emotion is used in fact and by whom it is used to change things.  After the attack on the Twin Towers in the USA, within minutes of the attack in fact, people who were close to those who had been frustrated by the ‘gloves on’, ‘softly softly’, ‘apologetic’ approach to dealing with terrorism were using the mantra ‘this changes everything’.

Well of course it did, as it hadn’t after the other attack on the Trade Centre (failed), and the years of Irish terrorism and relatively minor attacks on western assets by various Islamist groups. It did so because it killed a lot of people and shocked all who watched it on television. It worked because the will and the ability of those in power or near enough to power to know how to push the right buttons, was there in abundance to seize the opportunity.

So we clung to the illusory promise of safety through the erosion of our civil liberties. We embraced the surveillance state, and the biggest crime of all, yet the one that receives least attention in the west, used the pretext to bring war and death to populations unconnected to the attack on New York and Washington, kidnapped people without trial and assassinated others on our belief they deserved it without recourse to any form of justice. We pushed back understanding between civilisations and created a climate of justifiable grievance and terror on both sides of the divide. A climate which of course justified more coercive control of society in the name of ‘protection’.

So forgive me if, when I hear the phrase, ‘things have to change’ I reserve my approval of that statement until I know how that change will be planned and what it will entail. Most (I haven’t listened to all the episodes of Rethink) of the thoughts I have heard about what the world should look like, are well meaning plugs about the concerns liberal thinking people in a western democracy have had for some years and didn’t know how to achieve: response to climate change, fairer distribution of wealth and income, racial equality and justice etc. all good aims as far as they go.

But for every 6 minute podcast on BBC Sounds as part of Rethink, you can bet there are a hundred meetings in board rooms, cabinet committees, senior police and security agency meetings wondering how to get round those residual problems of civil liberties that get in the ways of controlling populations, avoiding bars to ‘agile entrepreneurial response’ to crises and making sure the complete failure of the way business is structured does not crash the money train.

Yes, and again yes, we do need to change the way the world works, but just because ‘things have to change’, doesn’t mean they will necessarily do so for the better. I’m not against using this as an opportunity to build a better world, I just want to read the small print about what ‘better’ actually means. If it seems too good to be true: it isn’t true.

Let’s make changes by all means, but remember, the people currently with the power to make them made the old system that wasn’t working. And nobody sent Covid-19 as an opportunity for us to respond to; it’s just a virus out to replicate itself. It doesn’t signify anything.

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ONWARD MOVEMENT OPPORTUNITIES

My Dad had always said get the qualification. It was the letters that counted not the ability to do something. I’d thought that a cynical approach to life. Indeed when he said it, it was not necessarily true. I knew loads of people doing apprenticeships and jumping straight into jobs.

Of course there were lots of others doing courses that gave them a bunch of letters that said they had been on a course. It didn’t mean they could do the job any better than me. It didn’t mean they could do the job. It meant they’d been on a course.

That meant when things went pear shaped they could wave a bit of paper and lazy employers or admin types or, increasingly, effing algorithms, gave them a tick in the box. That meant people like me had ‘limited evidence of transferable core skills’, whatever that meant. We’d been doing it for fifteen years, better and faster than anyone else, but we got nothing. Or, if we were lucky according to the snotty auto generated text sent out by the World Beating Regeneration Alliance, we got some shitty job they couldn’t be arsed to programme a bot for yet.

I said “yes” to every question on the forms and so they gave me Health and Care Throughput Assurance, and more specifically made me a Loved One Onward Movement Operative.

The Distributive Handling Centre was as you’d expect, handling a lot of former Loved Ones, and let’s be honest, a lot of former Unloved Ones, but it wasn’t departmental policy to acknowledge that side of things. The Final Resting Place Assistance Operatives came every day to move the Loved Ones to the next stage of the process, and we didn’t get to see any of those who had been the generators of the love for the Loved Ones.

So generally it wasn’t possible to tell which was which in any case, except from the paperwork and which Assistance Operatives arrived to facilitate the onward passage. Loved Ones had the upmarket guys who fleeced the grieving for all they were worth but gave a shiny grim faced respect to proceedings. The Unloved got the low rent public service run by people who had the basic letters after their name and staffed mostly by those of us assigned in the current situation to whichever service needed live bodies. There was no difference between them as far as we were concerned except the shiny guys were a bit sniffier with us. Both came along, checked all the IDs with us and took the dearly or cheaply departed on to the next stage. There was not as much banter as you might think. They had heard or made all the jokes already and those of who were new to the game didn’t want to appear to be needy enough to be over familiar and keep trying.

Some of the public service guys who had been around before this was the only growth industry in town talked a bit about how things had changed. All of them, shiny and basic alike were contemptuous of the way their raw material was presented now. The problems with the Greens and plastics was a pain in the arse Wendy, one of the shinies said as were checking one of the wraps that had come through on the carousel.

Later I said this to Alice, one of the public service people and she sneered because it was Wendy who’d said it, but agreed that biodegradable starch wrappers weren’t as resilient and goodness knows what might leak if they tore on the automated transport belts.

We’d had a few snags and bad wraps and at the height of the last spike we’d run out of even those and had to resort to close weave double wrap cotton. The Assistance Operatives hadn’t liked that a bit and refused to take a couple until we’d sorted out some more wrap. The director had texted them to get the **** on with it, there was a queue and so we were working with whatever we had. We’d said a bit of a mess now and again was expected wasn’t it?

Alice was in again today and I told her my theory about it not being too much of a problem. She looked at me completely deadpan. A bit of a mess wasn’t the problem she said and ticked off another check sheet. What was the problem then I said. She stared at me as if I were dense.

‘How well are they doing their jobs upstairs?’ she said.

I didn’t twig what she meant so said nothing.

Her boss Steve came in at that point and asked if everything was all right. I said yes and Alice explained we had been talking about why there was a problem with non-plastic wraps and what might or might not be going right or wrong upstairs, He laughed. And as another client came through on the carousel he stopped laughing and said, ‘I think you might be about to find out mate.’

The paperwork said she was a fifty two year old woman who had succumbed seven days ago and had been diagnosed, examined, autopsied and neutered. She was ready for onward processing with standard distancing and treatment protocols to the safety treatment centre, formally known as the Crematorium. That should have required a double non-porous wrap, but due to a supply hiatus, authorisation had been given for a treated high density weave substitute to be used.

And there she was. Wrapped and ready to go. Or, apparently not.

The wrap was moving and suddenly the sheeting tore open and she sat up grinning. There was something wrong with her forehead and while Steve and Alice made for the door I stared trying to work out what was wrong. Apart from the fact a corpse had just torn itself out of a double layer of treated high density weave cotton sheeting. Alice grabbed my sleeve.

‘Move!’

I tumbled backwards to the door but death must have improved the 52 year old’s agility as she was up off the carousel and heading for me before I could move. Alice and Steve dragged me back and into the corridor. They disappeared left and I ran right. At the end of the corridor was another door with a combination lock. I messed up the numbers once before opening it. I heard Alice yell and turned to see the woman just feet from me. I threw open the door and dropped to the floor. The woman tripped over me and went headlong into the room. I grabbed the handle and slammed it tight shut, the lock snapping into place. The woman was up and pressing her face to the small square window in the door by the time Alice and Steve arrived.

Steve had a .357 magnum revolver in his hand, pointing at the woman’s head.

‘I don’t think that’s going to work with her Steve.’ Alice nodded at the woman and I realised what was odd, apart from a corpse walking around grinning with malevolent intent. The forehead gaped like an open envelope. The rapid autopsy and neutering had been poorly done and bits of brain matter were leaking from the trepan.

‘No, you’re probably right he said pointing the gun at the floor. Better get a doctor down and see what the hell is going on.’ He looked at me and raised the revolver. ‘And you had contact with her, so you need to get checked out.’ They backed away from me. ‘Two metres or else pal.’

CLAPPING IN THE DARK

And so ends April

In the Year of Someone’s Lord

2020.

A time of dreams

Of nightmares

Of spectres of the past.

In thrall to death.

We hide at home

Made afraid

Of each other’s touch.

Through fear of what

We will not say.

Shut up alone

Cocooned in doubt,

And though we clap

Each week

On the appointed hour,

Each week we fear,

Our neighbour guesses

We do not believe

In angels.