Britain is, of course, no longer 'broken' - it is ruined. And it remains my 'job' as a wrITeRr-er (w/out portfolio) to fucking point that out'. Soooo, here's a (n overl-ong, badly-written) extract - a short section of a bigger whole - that's gone off-zeitgeist-piste. I'm sure I could write better / shorter now. (Even an extract is too long for an internet post - my bad // ) Some o'you'll get it. It doesn't matter either way; there'll be something else along tomorrow. Un-enjoy.
APPROPRIATE GAP... BROKUN BRITUN EXTRACT:
I opened my eyes. Outside the car, a thin plume of smoke was corkscrewing its way up into the sky from a Forestry Commission plantation. It was like an anorexic tornado or some other freakish micro-weather-event. I did a double-take: no, it was definitely smoke. A protest against German Zone wood-tariffs, perhaps? Or maybe anti-eco-extremists. There were so many now. Carbon Liberators, GW Deniers. Tree-haters. Or maybe someone was just burning some rubbish.
Either way, it reminded me of the washing-machine – my newest nadir, my latest nemesis. I rubbed my jaw. These days, smoke was like my mission-statement or something. It seemed to be a constant companion: an omen, a portent of impending disaster; my spirit familiar.
A torpedo-shaped UAV with translucent, SMP-printed dragonfly wings appeared and shadowed us for a few miles, then veered off at 90°, almost uncannily, towards Castle Norton Services.
We broke down on the M47c toll-road.
The car began making a noise that sounded exactly the same as the one that Laura had mime-assigned to the washing-machine; and my brain, slurred by half-sleep, imagined that they had both been infected by some terminal audio-disease. A noise-illness that infected consumer-products; one that picked off the weak, the infirm and the uninsured like pneumonia. Some sort of cyber-ailment that a rival nation-state had created to infiltrate and cripple the - what was it that Jack had called it? – the ObjectNet. Actually, it didn’t sound that far-fetched to me. Though wouldn’t breaking our stuff actually boost the UK-PLC economy and make us more productive?
The Zapruder juddered and lurched as the transmission’s cog-spheres ground against one another in unexpected new configurations. The noise was awful; it jarred me on the cellular level, implied that some catastrophic, unavoidable form of disaster and death was only seconds away. My face slid across the fauxglass as if it were snowboarding down Ben Nevis on spittle.
“Oh, f’fucksake…” muttered Gary, hanging onto his Kindle for dear life. He gripped it tightly with both hands, twisting it from side to side as if he were wrestling with the wheel of an out-of-control turbocharged F1 Ferrari. For a moment I thought he’d actually taken control of the car, that he was the architect of our calamity.
Then the Zapruder’s infinitely-variable transmission uncoupled completely and everything went ominously quiet as we sailed onto the hard-shoulder like a small boat running aground. A strange silence fell over the car, interrupted only by the inane background babble of the Andy Solomon Breakfast Slot. “...and next up is Michael from Whitby who claims to have bred a new species of GM dog in his garden-shed...”
We were marooned, engineless and alone, in the shadow of the Brownlands Heritage Colliery & Themepark. A grim-looking FauxVictorian tower loomed over us, topped with what looked like an enormous bicycle-wheel. The buildings were simulations, of course - frames dressed to appear old and ruinous - but there was something sinister and unutterably alien about the architectural mock-ups and the starkness of the landscape that surrounded them. They unsettled me in some way. I had to remind myself that none of this was real, that they were just harmless, backwards-pointing signifiers, plywood representations of some long-gone culture that was as incomprehensible to me as the Paleolithic Era. I could barely imagine it. Had human beings once toiled in such inhospitable conditions, browbeaten and exploited by pitiless union bosses?
The pixelated face of Lady Thatcher, saviour of UK Coal, smiled down from a large animated flatboard that stood defiantly in amongst the mounds of fake anthracite. The hoarding’s motion- or audio-sensors spotted us milling around the Zapruder and Maggie T’s head swivelled slowly to confront us. “This country’s not for turning!” it boomed in a pompous Iron Lady avec-accent VoiceFont, then began reciting a list of its corporate sponsors.
Francoise crouched down on the gravel and stared forlornly into the dark, unknowable space behind the front left wheel-arch. “Shit. I don’t like the look of this,” he said, his face pale with worry. He had signed the hire-lease and the 5-hour third-party insurance-chitty, so was therefore legally responsible for the well-being of both the car and its passengers. He had also programmed the Route-Meister and braved the labyrinthine Risk Assessment App. We had drawn digital straws and he had lost.
I gave him what I hoped was an encouraging look. “Maybe we should ask the car what’s wrong with it,” I said, helpfully. “Maybe it could, you know, tell us what’s what...”
The others either ignored me or didn’t hear; I wasn’t sure which. Everyone was staring at their shoes, waiting for Francoise’s response. It was his call. “We may have to push,” he said. “Maybe I can get the damn thing back into Drive-Mode if we all push hard enough...” He didn’t sound convinced; the alternative was financial ruin, insurance black-balling and five month’s worth of form-filling. Worse, we would all probably be brown-listed as accomplices.
“Come on!” yelled Sanjeev, clapping his hands as he jogged on the spot, “let’s do it! Let’s go!” The idea of pushing the car appealed to him; he was desperate for something to do. He signalled his approval by lowering himself down in a sort of pseudo-Sumo crouch and wiggling his arse at passing traffic. His eyes were bulging now, almost popping out of their sockets. He was so pumped on caffeinated suphonic acids that he looked like he had hyperthyroidism or Type III Rabies. “Come awwwwn!”
So we pushed, while Francoise sat upfront at the wheel. It only seemed fair.
“Faster! Harder! Faster!” said the Zapruder, impatiently, as it inched across the gravel. Francoise had been fiddling with the dashboard and had somehow woken up the car. Now it cajoled us and took the piss in a sarky, blokey-sounding, generic White Van Man VoiceFont that I recognised, but couldn’t quite put my finger on.
“I knew this bloke once, right - ?” said Darren, as we shouldered the Zapruder over yet another rut, “who changed the VoiceFont on his Samsung FamilyBus so it sounded like Carole Vorderman. Remember her? – that scrawny old bird: ‘The Thinking Man’s Crumpet’, they used to call her. Anyway, it sounded sexy as fuck.” He aped what he thought was a suitably breathy-but-brainy woman’s voice: an archetypal, classy, glasses-wearing, shake-your-hair-down Porn Librarian Type. “Oooooh. Harder! Faster! Change my oil!”
He laughed so hard he collapsed into a phlegmy-sounding coughing-fit. “Christ, I’m so unfit. Need to shift some of this weight.” He looked down at his paunch and his moobs, then thought better of it and resumed pushing. “So, anyway, he tarts up the old bus a bit and winds up hiring it out to blokes who like their cars...”
“Everyone - hfff - likes cars,” said Hugh to no one in particular.
“No, you know: blokes who really like their cars...” He pumped his hips and made a sex face, the palms of his hands flat against the Zapruder’s boot as he pushed. “Petrolheads and pervs. People who read Auto Sport. He put plastic sheeting down on the back seats. Had it valeted afterwards. Later, he started putting black satin on the seats, leather ‘n’ stuff - whatever the punter was into. Made a bloody mint. Talk about Pimp my Ride...”
“Is that, you know, legal?” I asked.
“No. What is it with you and the - hnnnt - law?” grunted Sanjeev, his face now so bloated, red and belligerent-looking that he looked like some mythical Hindu God of Bulls -- if such a thing existed. He was straining so hard against the Zapruder that I was convinced he was about to crap himself.
“Inside Voice, Sanjeev… Inside Voice,” said Gary. He was still reading his Kindle while he pushed. “We have rules about volume levels, remember? Some of us have secondary jobs to do on the way to our primaries…”
“Don’t fucking patronise me,” snarled Sanjeev. He muttered something in a thick Urdu-Brum patois. “Besides, we’re outside…”
“Car-pool rules are car-pool rules,” said Gary, flatly. He never knew when to let things go. “If you don’t like them, then you can always walk.” He made a complex and arcane Gesture, as if he were summoning up a demon from the depths of his Kindle to do battle on his behalf. God only knew what function the Gesture invoked. Gary had always been pretty cagey about what Job No. 9 entailed.
Sanjeev inhaled so noisily I thought something had fallen off the car. He inflated himself up to human-blimp size, showed Gary his teeth.
“My boy’s started writing,” I said, desperately trying to defuse the tension. “You know, with a pen. Kids, eh? What’s that all about, then?”
Shrieks and shouts in Chavsat echoed across the landscaped slagheaps behind us. I turned and was horrified to see a Romany salvage-gang swarming down the embankment, brandishing crowbars and panel-hooks.
“Uh-ho,” said Hugh.
Indeed. These fellows were worse than piranhas; I’d seen them strip a Toyota Volkvan down to its buckytube chassis quicker than a happy-clapper could recite the Lords Prayer. They were like a biblical plague of locusts – bottom-feeders who preyed on crops of pseudo-chrome, ceramic panelling and re-saleable black-market car-parts. Freebooting privateers of the four-lane tarmac ocean.
“Puuuush!!” yelled Francoise. He was desperate, close to tears now. He knew these scavenging bastards would stop at nothing. If we remained stationary, they’d dismantle the bloody car around him - take the driving-seat apart while he was still sat in it. Hard-shoulder salvage-laws were cold and unforgiving, a legislative mine-field. Motorway limbo-zones were the new deregulated legal Wild West.
But Marcus - good old, taciturn, wouldn’t-say-boo-to-a-goose Marcus - stepped up. It’s always the quiet ones, isn’t it? He stood his ground, held the gang at bay with a modified paint-ball gun, while the rest of us strained and heaved at the car, slowly building up momentum as we aimed it towards the slip-road, past the gutted carbon-fibre skeletons of abandoned two-litre saloons and Mitsubishi Mini-Vans.
But Sanjeev couldn’t help himself; all that taurine had turned him into a marauding maniac, a dervish: he bellowed like a bull and performed one last, desperate push that finally sent the Zapruder rolling off the shoulder and out into the slow-lane. Arms flailing, he peeled off at an obtuse angle, stopped suddenly and spun on his heels to face down the recycling gang.
He dropped back down into his trademark Sumo crouch, rotated his hips provocatively in a deranged fighting-dance stance, taunting them as he yelled, “Come awwnnnn!”
I looked back over my shoulder, watching in horror as he charged them. It was sheer, utter suicide. “Christ,” said Darren, in awe, “he’s gone fucking bonkers.”
It was insane - the act of a madman - yet I swear I saw them hesitate and slow as he ran at them, screaming random, four-letter abuse, his fists balled into a pair of enormous hams. “Come awwnnnn!” he cried. It was like Braveheart and The Charge of the Light Brigade all rolled into one. Dunkirk, the Blitz and the 1966 World Cup. As Brits, we could not help but be stirred by an act of such monumental folly. Heroic Failure was in our blood; it was woven in our national DNA.
One man against a sea - an army - of work-shirkers in stolen day-glo yellow tabards: it seemed impossible, almost beyond belief, yet they were teetering on the edge of disarray. Marcus’ aggressive use of compressed-air frangibles had been completely unexpected; these scrap-yard pirates were not used to encountering resistance. It had unnerved them, disrupted their chain-of-command.
I saw Sanjeev smack one down, head-butt another... two others turned and ran; it was crazy, but for one incredible, looong, drawn-out second I thought he might actually...
But the tide turned and they were on him.
I couldn’t watch.
“Leave him,” said Marcus, softly. I had never even heard him speak before, so it was something of a shock to suddenly realise that, despite the winkle-pickers, the beer-belly and luxuriant ginger beard, ‘he’ was actually a woman. Or a girl, or was transgendered or intersexxed or something, except I was now too spooked to do a double take. I mean, was that a real Adam’s apple or some sort of off-the-peg prosthesis?
“Don’t worry,” said Marcus, “He’ll be alright. Sanjeev can look after himself.” There was something oddly reassuring about hir velvety, indeterminate voice; its tone somehow radiated trust. A mixture of authority and compassion. S/he could’ve so totally minted it as a phone-worker.
“Fucking hell,” spluttered Darren, in between bouts of coughing. I hoped it was just the exertion and he hadn’t caught that new type of tuberculosis that was going round. “Is he a… bird?”
I shot Darren a look, as if to say, yes it’s creeping me out too, but don’t be so, you know, disrespectful… but he said nothing – and neither did Marcus – or anyone else, for that matter – s/he just looked at his feet, dug down deep into hir inner reserves and carried on pushing, along with the rest of us. The subject would never be broached again: Marcus’ gender, hir genitals and genetic make-up were now officially off-topic, they would be brushed under the carpet and remain there forever. Out silence was a consensual male hive-mind acknowledgement that Marcus’ selfless, solo paint-gun stand-off – hir Rorke’s Drift moment - had earned hirm Honorary Blokedom status and the undeniable right to continue peeing next to us at the urinal.
Sanjeev’s sacrifice, however, was another thing altogether. Energy drink-deranged or not, his actions had bestowed upon him a form of abstract martyrdom. He had been our mate, someone we had known - an actual 'real', living person with all the annoying little flaws and foibles that entailed - but it was as if he now no longer existed on the physical plane; he had ceased to be a mere mortal like the rest of us. Sanjeev had evaporated - vanished - in front of our eyes; he had been taken from us and was now more like some sort of post-physical concept or a memory. It was like he was on the telly or something.
The Vedic equivalent of angels had beamed him up into their mythic mothership. He was the stuff of legends now, a fearless warrior-prince from the Mahabharata; something to be summoned up and celebrated in a mate’s kitchen over a bottle of Tescom Côte de Jurassique ’17: “Hahaha, yeah... and remember the time he twatted that security-guard in Wilkinsons...?” Sanjeev had now attained a form of crap, beige-collar sainthood in our eyes.
A sort of awkward bonhomie settled over us, a lumpen oneness. We were the car-pool. No, sod it, we were the Car-Pool! The A-Team of flexi-workforces. The Zero-Contract Expendibles. Together we would... well, not triumph, exactly; but get through this wearisome shit somehow.
“Keep going!” shouted Francoise. “I think it’s trying to spark or something...” He was as vague about the workings of the newest generation of internal combustion engines as the rest of us. Modern car-engines were sealed black boxes; mysterious, unknowable spaces welded shut by car-manufacturers and guarded with tamper-proof security-alarms to discourage amateur, non-corporate-bonded mechanics and garden-shed tinkerers.
But he was right: something was happening. The car was making a noise, a different one than before. It sounded like an incontinent time-machine starting up.
Buoyed up by anticipation, we pushed harder and the car picked up speed, began to coast. Our spirits lifted. Perhaps this terrible day could be salvaged, after all. Sanjeev’s sacrifice had not been in vain. Even the sun came out for a couple minutes.
But it was hard going. My legs were aching and my lungs burned as we yomped down the M47c.2 splitter-road towards Under Colhampton, shunting the Zapruder along in front of us like an old-fashioned locomotive. The others puffed and wheezed as they pushed, apart from Gary who was still engrossed in his Kindle. Darren’s face was deathly pale, his skin covered in a thin sheen of perspiration. He had a nasty, consumptive-sounding cough. I wondered if I’d get a referral fee if I got him work with Sayid at PlayDead.ly.
An ex-surp Bradley with the G4S Securitas logo on the side rumbled past us as we limped towards the nearest car-rental station. Its crew were in heritage uniforms, dressed as Roundheads, sat on the gun-turret, eating sandwiches. They made dismissive hand-gestures, laughed and yelled “Wankrrrss!” as we wobbled in their backwash.
Sanjeev would’ve sorted them out - if he’d been there. He would’ve kicked off; balled his dark, gammon-sized fists and raged at the heavens on our behalf. Instead, we turned the other cheek, as if some small, but hard-fought victory had been won or a vague philosophical lesson had been learned. We had broad shoulders; we would soak up this abuse along with anything else this world could throw at us.
Ten minutes later, the clouds turned the colour of tikka masala and fist-sized nodules of clay began falling from the sky.
“Harder! Faster!” said the car.