Had a horrible dream last night - a mixture of Skyrim overload, thinking-about-this-uni-shit overload, work overload, and a little bit of Zelda thrown in.
Basically was at work and everyone hated me, and I felt shit about my present scenario, so I 'waited' Skyrim style for the future because the future must be better than how I feel right now, but then because I waited, the moon from Majora's Mask was really close. And not only was it massively close to me, but it's eyes were gigantic, and rolled up to the whites with only the blood vessels showing. Fucking horrific.
All I want to do right now is lie in a dark room and not have to live for about a month. Stupid overreaction. Can't help it. I have moments where I get myself over it, but then I wake up and my mind's reset back to this stupid state.
Re-reading my old LJ entries from a few months ago and I realise how lucky I am. And how much happier. And that in the end a thing like this is just a thing.
Friday, 17 February 2012
It was not only in this class that Alan began to work his magic. The other year groups took more readily to his new-found vocabulary, viewing him as though he were some exotic, incredibly wealthy wizard. On occasion, he was asked why he was still teaching if he was so rich, a question he fobbed off with a polemic about the value of work. Other questions were more problematic, such as how he had recently acquired so much money. His reply was along the lines of a rich uncle. He began to realise he was digging himself into a potentially catastrophic hole. His mind began to expand like a red dwarf, and it would only be a matter of time until the whole thing came crashing together in an almighty Miltonian supernova. Like a junkie, his home life continued much in the same vein, nothing changing, apart from his developing relationship with Janet. In his blog he began to include her names in entries, amongst the babbling bitching entries of the average life of a secondary school teacher. This too was something he knew he would have to stop doing sometime, lest she or someone else find out about it.
But then again, life was not a predictable linear narrative. Nothing was guaranteed. Life, realised Alan, was made up in rotations. The entire cycle was circular – life to death, death creating life and so on – but within this greater circle were mini-revolutions, patterns of history that emerged, with all but the tiniest adjustment leading to the displacement of a billion atoms. For a while he had eaten nothing but peanut butter on toast, but that had been as a student. As an adult, he had told himself to put away childish things, and focus on growing up. But now, in this time of need and stress, he resorted once more to the habit. The mind of all of humanity required therapy to stop itself reverting back to old thought patterns established during childhood, but there were not enough therapists in the world. The online therapy programs established by MindSet were insufficient enough for most, apart from those who advertised the product discreetly in public, popping a mention of it into conversation now and then. The statistics were doctored, and the doctors were statistics. There were no real doctors involved in the program, no real patients. But the results were all that mattered. Like most systems out there, MindSet used effect to establish the cause. Placebo lives, fulfilled by the fullness of these empty promises.
Alan found himself entering a new stage in his life, shifting into a different gear, unsure of whether it was up or down, or indeed, whether such measurements were of any use to anyone anymore. Floating in space without destination, his mind’s edges blurring into the ether, dissolving the gap between the real and the imagined, the past and the future, he lived each day as though it were his last. And each day then passed behind him, never to be seen again. Only when he jumped off the ship of his own mind did he feel happy and free. Was that all that happiness was – absence?
Who cared when you were killing monsters.
He killed another demon on his new computer game and took another sip from his Lucozade. Janet was off somewhere. His friends were all offline. His lesson plans were all finished, but thinking about that depressed him. This was his weekend, his time. His space, shut away from the rest of his world, was the one corner of the world where he could feel free. Of course Janet had not visited yet. In all truth, he was ashamed, and anxious. Anxious that he wasn’t the man she thought he was, anxious that his ambitions weren’t good enough for her, anxious that he acted the buffoon far too often for her liking, and that sooner or later her patience would wear out and she would throw him away like a spent tissue. And then he would be back at square one. The phrase ‘square one’ originated from old football commentaries on the radio where the field was split up into eight imaginary squares. He hadn’t realised he had been playing a game of football until he had begun seeing Janet. And right now, he was winning. In the weirdest possible way. He had scored a goal which had come off his shin and hit both posts before going in off the goalkeeper’s arse.
After a month of events so banal that if his story were made into a film they would be summarised in a five-minute montage, Alan went to the toilet in the English block. The events had been defined by the mean average of Alan living a little happier than normal, and as a result found himself experiencing the rarest of emotions: superiority. He took it upon himself to revisit his therapist one bored Tuesday evening, just to see if this weather change in his mind was for the better or worse. It had ended up being a vaguely interesting event, along the lines of that time he peeled the lid off a Fruit Corner without any yoghurt appearing on it.
The doctor’s was located twenty minutes’ drive past the Arkenpol tourist centre, through the tunnel underway that beeped and hummed, over other tunnels that housed medieval artefacts only known to secret history societies, and over the Bridge of Golden Tomorrows, which was the colour of rainbows. Advert flies buzzed all around Alan’s car, splattering messages upon his bruised and battered bonnet, splashing wacky slogans upon his windshield, nearly obscuring his vision. He saw all the usual: Nick’s Pre-Grilled Sausages, Vuzo’s Biscuits, Luddite Trainers, Titanium Pyjamas, Fluffypoo Swords, Lord Lettuce, Mrs. Vasquez Plungers, Plonky Computers, and Jim.
The sky was a cerulean blue threatening perfection. Unnaturally happy vibes around the place. The place being a small sub-district, an almost-village-esque island of suburbian nothingville within the great metropolis. The main street was lined with dainty rows of identical shop faces, and couples strolled along. The buildings had red metallic roofs above their doorways, but the roofs were only frames, so their existence was entirely without cause.
The waiting room was weighed down by an oppressive air of observation. Necks craned round to inspect him for any outward signs of illness. Nothing to see here. Just the usual anomie.
“How are things going, Alan?”
“Not bad. Got a girlfriend. School’s going well.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“I’m not sure. There must be a problem if I’m not sure. That in itself might be the problem. Thing is doctor, I’m feeling a sense of isolation, and have on occasion resorted to hikikomori in order to assuage a feeling that after each day of work, of children incessantly bleating like over-aggressive sheep, that I need to just jump out of myself, to quote Douglas Hofstadter’s Metamagical Themas.”
The doctor stared at Alan. He held a pen slowly to his mouth, chewed on it for a second or two, before writing something down on a piece of real-pape, his eyes never leaving Alan’s.
“What, er, did you just write there?”
“I wrote that there was a possibility that you might have developed some kind of speech defect prompting you to speak gibberish. This often happens with patients experiencing what’s known as hebephrenia.”
Doctor Suitcase crossed his legs and sniffed, his eyes quickly scanning his screen for messages of some kind. “A disorganised form of schizophrenia.”
At this point Alan realised maybe the doctor knew too much about his illegal downloading of words. He shouldn’t have started talking about Douglas Hofstadter. Shouldn’t have mentioned Japanese phenomena. In fact, probably shouldn’t have said anything at all.
“Never should have come here,” he muttered.
“I shouldn’t have come here.” He stood and extended a hand. “Thanks, doctor. This was just a weird day. I’m in a weird mood at the moment. But I’m fine. Honestly.”
The doctor remained sitting and looked carefully at Alan. Alan resisted the urge to squirm. It felt as though the doctor was trying to see into his brain. A question formed on his lips: are you one of them? which even he could tell would probably be an unwise question to ask considering his doctor was suspicious of his non-existent schizophrenia. His psychology course he took and dropped a few years ago came back to him. Symptoms included paranoia, decreased emotional output, problems focusing, and of course gibberish. He forced himself to utter the one sentence possible that was the exact opposite of something a schizophrenic would say.
“I like sloths.”
“What I mean to say is, I don’t think anyone’s out to get me, but I appreciate that you’ll be there for me if I ever do act like that,” he said.
That blank face pierced into his mind. A buzzing overhead of the filament bulb. Overwhelming reek of disinfectant. The doctor scribbled noisily on his pad, eyes not going anywhere.
“You know that’s what a schizophrenic would say, right?”
“Right. The sloth thing or the other thing?”
“The other thing.”
“How’s your social life, Alan?”
“I’d like to go now.”
The doctor stood in his way, blocking the door. Alan cleared his throat. Part of his mind came loose and began babbling in his ear. This isn’t a real doctor. He works for GJ Yowaz, and he’s going to get you in jail. Or threaten your life. Or threaten you with life in jail. Or send a knife in the mail. Or banish you to Fife in hail.
“I’ll be honest with you, Alan.”
“This isn’t the only job I do.”
“I also do some phishing work for Sandcastles.”
“I work for the Sandcastles Company, occasionally advertising for their products when out with friends. It pays more than this job. I’m thinking about going full-time.” The doctor gestured around the office. “This place is owned by Fletcher’s Confectionery, as you know. I expect you took a free bag of Yummi Bears from reception.”
“I don’t eat sweets.”
“Oh yeah, I remember now. Point being is that I follow the money. I do care about my patients, but I care more about money.”
“Right. So are you going to let me go? I appreciate the bad guy explaining his motives thing, but really I’d rather not hear - ”
The doctor laid a friendly hand on Alan’s shoulder. “I know what you’ve been up to. You’re one of those word pirates. You gave yourself away. Now, because I’m your doctor and have been for a few years, I’ll give you a warning. Don’t use big words in big places, only amongst friends.”
“Can I trust you?”
The doctor cocked his head. “You’re not actually schizophrenic, are you? Because that would look bad for me if I had failed to pick that up in the four years I’ve known you.”
“No. You’re right, what you said. I like sloths.”
“Good. My point is – I know better than most how these people work. I could get paid a lot if I called the highest-paying police branch around here, which I know for a fact is the Rainbow Clan situated in Georgeborne House. They offer the best rates for hackers.”
“I didn’t do anything hacky.”
“Nor did you not do anything. Sort yourself out, or I’ll be on the phone the next time I see you spurting words out like they’re disposable. It looks arrogant, it erodes the society we live in, and it won’t make you any friends. I’m saying this as a friend. Get a grip.”
Alan resisted the urge to spurt linguistic gibberish out at him. “Fine, doc. I’ll ring the police tomorrow.”
“See to it that you do. Who knows who else has cottoned on to your mischief? You’re a good man, Alan. You were a good kid when you first came here.”
“I wasn’t a kid. I was like twenty-one.”
“Don’t ruin your future. I have hopes for you, like your dad used to have hopes for you.”
“You know my dad?”
“Yeah. He used to come in here for his piles.”
“Wow,” said Alan, misting up a little. “How was he the last time you saw him?”
“Oh, right. In the mortuary. Well.” He clapped his hands and leapt to his feet, inching sideways towards the door. If he could strafe the doctor, he would find it easier to escape. “It’s been great. Say hi to... whoever you want to say hi to.”
The doctor watched him go, eyes squinted and mouth turned down on one side. Stubble drizzled from his grizzled chops, and white hair clung staunchly to his skull, a skull that suggested that he would have made an excellent army officer attuned to the rigmaroles of –
“You’re thinking using long words, aren’t you?” said the doctor.
The doctor ran a hand over his jaw. “Oh right.” He nibbled a sweet. “Best not to do that, son. Or if you do, keep it simple. Keep it safe.”
The doctor sat down sadly. “You feel happier for it? Being wordy?”
“I don’t know, really,” said Alan, as he stood in the threshold. He slumped a little in relief. “Probably not.”
The doctor scrutinised Alan, as though seeing him for the first time, seeing through the outward layers into a possible interior that glowed with a little potential. “Well, if you do – use it wisely.”
“I thought you told me not to...”
“Go,” said the doctor, waving a dismissive hand.
What a confused man, thought Alan as he walked out of the doctor’s. Seemed like he had two different moral standpoints going on at the same time, each vying for his attention. Both of them seemed like they were the right way to think, and the wrong way to think. Maybe that was the point, he realised, as he stood at a red light, before dashing over because a randomninja had leaped behind him trying to sell him ninja wares. Maybe the doctor was trying to open his brain up to the possibility that life was not black and white, and those who attempted to force dogma of any kind down his throat are always going to be problematic.
He wondered whether the doctor was calling the police right now. Interestingly, he found that he no longer cared anymore whether he was arrested or not. Once something was dreaded for a long enough time, it became meaningless. Best to just ride the wave of interest, and not get too worked up about anything anymore.
“You ok mate?” said a tramp down to his right.
“Yeah, I’m alright... just stuck in a moral and linguistic quandary, where as my words reflect my mind, I find myself forced to choose between self-censorship or total freedom of expression, and realising that I’m probably going to make a career-altering mistake either way so I guess I might as well just go for it and start using big words because we only live once, and if I can blow at least one kid’s mind out there before I get arrested then I will have been a better teacher than I have been for the last six years.”
“Not sure what you’re on about mate. Spare a cred?”
“Why not.” He flicked it towards the tramp, who caught it in a hand, before holding it up to his face as though it were a butterfly made of gold.
Bricks burned by amber lights illuminated his way along well-set grimy pathways, along a sea of suburban ennui and ill-advised architectural concepts. Alleyways pounced in wait. Alan had a bus to wait for. Strange area he now found himself in. For some reason he wanted to go see Shut Up, You, an interactive artwork situated in East Shoxten, a part of London that no one but the ones in the know knew about because a) it was hip and b) it was a decrepit shithole. Probably wouldn’t go. See what Janet said.
“Looking to score tonight?” said the voice.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Fancy some words?”
“Yeah. Got the best quality infinitives, cheaper than anyone else. Set of colloquialisms only a fiver. Loanwords shipped in from Europe, Asia, Africa, America.”
“I don’t need words, thank you.”
“What, you think I don’t have big words, do you? Just because I’m a dealer I can’t speak the language? Well fie on you sir! You flatulent flouncer! Eh?”
“I’ve got all the words, already,” said Alan, no longer caring who knew.
“Yeah, right. What’s the word used to describe gaining pleasure at the expense of others?”
“Everyone knows that one. Schadenfreude. I used it to the other day.”
“Yeah? Well, you’re about to experience it.”
“What? Wait - ”
The man grabbed a gun from out of his pocket. Alan felt a numbness creep over his testicles, threatening to make its way up into his bladder, and into his legs. Before Alan could react it, the man had fired it. Alan felt something pierce his skull. It was no bullet. But it felt as if he had been given a stroke. A fizzing sensation wrecked his brain and he watched as his body allowed the man to take his wallet. He attempted to speak.
“Hwat rea uoy goind...” he said. “Hwat hte kcuf?”
“It’s called a word-mangler, mate,” said the robber, grinning as he ransacked Alan’s pockets. “Won’t last too long. Just long enough for me to do what I have to do and then get out of your hair. I’m not a terrible person, really. I just need some money. Dosh. Wonga.”
“Tbu...” began Alan.
“You’ll be fine tomorrow.” He patted Alan’s cheek. “Little tip for you - next time you get approached by a word dealer, buy some fucking words, alright? Being a smart arse doesn’t make you many friends.”
“M’I tno a matrs eras,” said Alan, indignantly.
At least sensations had returned to Alan’s body. He somehow go back onto the bus stop seat and waited for the bus. If the man wasn’t lying to him, this wouldn’t last long. But who could tell? His wallet was gone. What the man didn’t know was that he kept nothing of value in his purse. Before Alan got the chance to panic about whether the man would come back, the bus arrived like a lighthouse in a stormy finsternis evening. The driver beckoned him in with a nod. Nothing here but a kid at the back inside his music.
And the bus set off, penetrating through the night’s dank smoke and fog, making its intrepid way home.
When Alan got home, he picked up the phone and called 999.
“What service do you require?”
“I eend a codrot.”
“Are you in any distress?”
Alan grunted. “Sye.”
“Can you describe the problem?”
“I cna’t kpeka porrelyp.”
“An ambulance is on its way.”
“What brand of ambulance do you require?”
“Kcuf uoy, I nod’t caer.”
“Do you have adequate insurance for LifeSavers, Inc?”
“Upon arrival, please present your account name and PIN with this branch. If you have forgotten your password or are unable to speak properly, your medical treatment may be forfeit and you may be required to pay a fine, or, if according to the statute of the company’s individual contract into which you entered, you may be forced to undergo a jail sentence. If, however, you can produce the details within five days, there is no punishment. If, however, no documentation is produced after that time, we are legally entitled tor buttfuck you and ruin your life.”
Monday, 13 February 2012
Monday, 6 February 2012
I am acting like an absolute arse these days. I am feeling stressed in ways I haven't since I was a kid at high school. I feel afraid in ways I haven't felt since high school. I hate this. I think I need to either get some Prozac, or not be a teacher. Or tell myself again and again that I'm OK and this feeling will pass. I don't know which one is the correct thing to do.
Thursday night. Memories night. Alan dwelt upon memories. Memories piled meaninglessly upon memories like a hermit playing snap. Eastenders played in the background. Someone was about to be murdered.
It had been a hard few months. Then it had been an easy few months. Swings and roundabouts. Ups and downs. Shits and giggles. Prolonged computer game use brought on a semi-psychotic state of total awareness a while back (he began analysing the pixels of reality), a faculty he was only able to rectify through prolonged therapy, a course of antibiotics, and a subscription to Good Housekeeping magazine. The therapy had cost him a lot, but the subscription had cost him 200 CR. Nobody used real-pape anymore except the elite of the elite. A magazine instead of a zine was crazy, but somehow cool, like going on a steam train or listening to vinyl records. Or listening to vinyl records whilst on a steam train. Or listening to a vinyl record of steam trains. But, as his therapist said, in order to rise above the ordinary and see yourself in a better light, you need to start acting the role of elite, even if you don’t feel like an elite in your mind.
“A teacher,” his therapist Steve had said a year ago, “Must be an elitist. He must project an air, not only of total knowledge, but of total reluctance to let anybody into his world without them conforming to his rules because only the best are allowed inside his Zone.” He walked back and forth in front of Alan in his measured way, not caring that Alan was at that particular moment studying a deusant walking along the floor. “Make yourself a little inaccessible. Currently, you are going around like a Walls ice cream.”
Alan lifted his head from its slumped position between his legs. “A what?”
“Walls. Everyone has had Walls at some time in their lives. You have, I have.”
“Fuck. It’s like you’re inside my head,” he said, returning his head back between his legs.
“Everyone liked them for a while. I know I did. As a kid those cylindrical white vanilla things were the best. I fancy one now,” he said, staring out the window in case a flying ice cream man might come by, “But that’s not the point. The point is, you grow out of Walls. What once seemed a classy, exotic prospect appears rather ordinary after a while. And,” he emphasised, leaning on the back of his arch red leather chair, “You even start to feel disgusted just thinking about it. You start wondering what you ever saw in it. You berate your past self for not seeing past its facade.” A sweeping turn. “This is how people see you, Alan. How your kids see you. You are a Walls ice cream. People like you at first. And then they see you for what you are. What people don’t realise is that actually we’re all just ice cream. We’re all just frozen milk.”
“It’s a slightly more complicated process than just freezing milk. What happens is - “
“But it’s how you package and market it that’s what counts,” continued the therapist, holding out a palm. “Those cylinder things were actually extremely delicious. The hell were those buggers called?”
“Mini milk,” said Alan, as he played with a Rubik’s Cube.
Steve sighed and made a pointy-finger wagging gesture. “That’s the kind of information a man shouldn’t know from memory. You need to prioritise what you know. What kind of a teacher are you if you can still remember Mini Milks?”
“A psychology one?”
“Don’t be a smart arse, Alan.”
“But you told me to be smart.”
“Smart arse is someone who thinks they’re being smart when they’re not. Smart is someone who pretends not to realise they’re being smart. Smart arse doesn’t know what to forget, to cut out. Smart accepts his limitations and emphasises his strengths.”
“Cockiness is what happens when someone successful lets everyone know about it. But as you know, cockiness isn’t available as a life perk until you reach a million credits. But yeah. Cockiness goes against the rules.”
“So you can be a cocky smart arse?”
“Yes. There’s another word doctors use to describe those sorts of people. Wankers.”
That had been a sad time in his life, reflected Alan as he leaned back in his bed, reclining in a manner that he imagined looked quite debonair from outside his own head. Now times were better. Now he had a house of his own. Well, a room. Well, a pokey room. The room and the bed were practically the same thing. He was watching Eastenders whilst eating Doritos and drinking ginger beer. This was what his ancestors had fought for.
On the right side of the room were the bath and toilet. On the left side were his drawers. These came in the form of boxes on the floor. On top of these boxes was a chair and a desk. A tiny spiral ladder directed the user on top of these durable drawers to the desk-chair area. Directly behind this drawer/chair/desk combination was the bed, which lay on a slightly higher level than the desk and chair. The chair swivelled round – one way to face the desk, another to land Alan on the bed if he directed the swivel with enough force. The gap between chair and bed was half a foot. Beneath the bed was a tiny door and a den area, inside which he stored his music system and bean bag. A light system was installed giving this tiny space colours of wondrous hue. Under the bed he would like to sit cross-legged and meditate. From the ceiling above the bed hung a television which could be retracted up and down according to the remote. Inside this compact space Alan was perfectly happy. This room was all his. No clutter. He could not afford to let a single aspect deviate, otherwise the entire room would be uninhabitable. Tidiness of a type that didn’t exist in his head. But it was fun to pretend it did sometimes. Fun to sleep and pretend he lived in a utopian society where nobody had to think anymore and everything was run by computers and flying spaceships and shit.
Tomorrow was his big night. A date. With Janet. Janet – the woman of his nightmares. But then sometimes his dreams. For instance, the other night he had a dream that he was sitting in a shopping centre, and for no reason at all, he was shopping for spaghetti. Inside Top Shop he found the spaghetti, and as he did, Janet crashed down through the ceiling, landing on his head, riding him around whilst screeching horrendously. He attempted to study the dream in detail but could only imagine a naff Freudian reading. But then came the dreams where he would be walking through the same city and a Twiglet would come dancing along towards him and the entire scene would turn green before he was suddenly on a stage performing a Bee Gees number entirely in Spanish, but it wasn’t really Spanish, and Janet would be there, but she would be kind of like a dog, like a dog’s body and the head of, well, not even Janet, more like a tortoise, but it was still kind of Janet somehow. Those were the dreams about Janet that he liked.
The phone rang.
“I dreamed about you last night.”
“That’s very creepy. But sweet. Kind of. What did I do?”
“You were a dog with the head of a tortoise.”
“Oh. You didn’t shag me or anything?”
“No. I’m sorry it wasn’t anything romantic.”
“That’s fine. I prefer my men not to be into bestiality. Or at least not tortoise bestiality.”
“What did you want?”
“What did I want or what do I want?”
“What did you want?”
“I wanted scrambled egg on a baguette with butter and a light addition of pepper. Nothing more.”
“I want you to tell me what you’re doing tomorrow night.”
“Groucho’s at eight.”
“Stop watching Eastenders.”
“I’m not. It’s just on, that’s all.”
“Turn off your TV then, if you’re not really watching. What’s the point of doing anything if you’re only doing it half-arsed, eh?”
“That is the point of doing anything. Otherwise it’s too much stress if you fail. Look, Janet. If we’re going to go out you’re going to need to stop bossing me around.”
“You putting your foot down?”
“No, my feet are lying on the bed as usual.”
“Right. Well I give in. I will stop bossing you about.”
He hesitated. Onscreen a gangster man shot a normal man then said some dialogue interspersed with panting and general hoarseness.
“You really mean it?”
“No. But I’m willing to let you win.”
“You don’t get it. You don’t let me win. I win. You concede that you’re wrong and only then can I win. That’s how humans argue usually.”
“Okay then. I was wrong to boss you around. Back to your Eastenders, Alan.”
“Now you’re being condescending.”
“I am, yes. You’re right. Well done.”
“Are you going to apologise?”
“You don’t go out with many women, do you?”
“How long did your last relationship last?”
“Who said anything about relationships?”
She hung up the phone. Probably trapped in a tunnel or something. He probably had to plan a lesson for tomorrow. She probably wasn’t annoyed. It probably didn’t matter. School was going to be a drag tomorrow. Why did she hang up? It was like he couldn’t think for himself anymore. Was she annoyed at him? Dual worries set in. A fugue state that didn’t help anyone, least of all himself. Maybe this whole date thing was going to be too much stress. Maybe he could just stay in his bed forever and ever until the day he died and his skeleton was found ten years later clutching his cock.
A voice emanated from the computer. No windows were open.
“What is this?” said Alan.
“Hey. Listen. I can see you but you can’t see me. I’m a rogue program. A virus. If you shut down your computer, your computer data is wiped. If you pick up the phone or try to email anyone, your computer is wiped.”
“But I haven’t done anything. Viruses only happen when you look at porn.”
The virus ignored him. “Right now you need to listen to me. This is a package sent by the Merchants. We are a group dedicated to freeing the citizens of this fair city from the tyranny of this society, of its corporations, governments, and irritating foxes that wake you up with their midnight fucking. We are the salvo to the disease.”
“Don’t you mean salve?”
“It’s a pun reinforcing the guerrilla nature of our organisation. But the fact you pointed it out shows we have correctly targeted you. You, Alan Flatten, have the sort of mind that we admire. You are free. You are open minded. You seem like a pretty cool guy. How do we know all this? We’ve seen your Lifestore profile.”
“Shit,” muttered Alan. Hadn’t used that damn thing in months. Who could tell what hideous gangs could have hijacked his account? Probably hadn’t been a good idea to use ‘380rtuv38ty3bfr23yr32fyrbEr7vykdsucgsjddjgchfbwuHsogd3j84u34215ywDllhugBl4832thu’ as his password. Any criminal worth his salt could guess that.
The screen stared at him with a dumbfounded look on its face as the rest of the monologue continued.
“We are not here to hurt you. We will only hurt you if you do not listen to us. Listen now. If you listen and do nothing untoward, we will allow you to scan your computer for this virus and delete it. But if you attempt to delete it before this message ends, you know the consequences.”
“Alright. Just get on with it.”
“We all know words are a commodity. We all pay our money to be offered the privilege of pretending we own words. But words should not be possessions. They should not be goods. They should be an essential part of the fabric of life. There should be no monetary value attached to language. No political or capitalist organisations should be given association with a word. Words have been written before history, before politics, before a consumer society. Language is not theirs for us to borrow or pay credit for. It is ours and has belonged to us for millennia. Until the last fifty years. We let this happen. We can blame their leaders, blame Darren Tropp, blame your parents if you must. But it is happening now, and we are sitting back on our beds, with our left hand touching our face - ”
“Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu,” said Alan, looking at this left hand in new-found wonder. “How did you?”
“No time for that. The final message is this: visit freespeech.com. Download for free. They call it piracy. They call it illegal. We call it a basic human right. Speech is free. Expect us.”
The computer went silent. For twenty seconds Alan listened to the whirring fans, half-expecting it to self-destruct. It did not.
Numbly he opened up his anti-virus program, expecting it to have grown horns and turned into a monster. It was the same program as ever. He ran a scan, expecting to find nothing. Instantly an agent popped up.
Delete this. It will implicate you if the police raid your computer. You are one of us now. I promise that this is the only trace we have left. In case you are wondering, I did not see you touching your face. It is impossible to watch someone through their own webcam. I just guessed. Delete this, and visit freespeech.com.
He deleted the file and typed freespeech.com into his browser without thinking. A sign appeared:
The domain name associated with the website Freespeech.com has been seized pursuant to an order issued by a sub-country District Court. A federal grand duty has indicted several individuals and entities allegedly involved in the operation of Freespeech.com and related websites charging them with the following federal actions:
Conspiracy to Commit Racketeering, Conspiracy to Commit Copyright Infringement, Conspiracy to Commit Burglary, Marijuana Possession, and Loitering.
Well that was that, then. Just some wackos who managed to hack his network and plant something that had nothing to do with anything. He changed the password on all his various accounts and changed his wireless password. Maybe tomorrow he could call the police and report this freespeech.com to them in case they needed additional information. It didn’t sound like something he wanted to be mixed up with. All that nonsense about choosing him because he seemed like a pretty cool guy. They probably said that to every sucker out there they snagged.
Anger stirred in his veins. How dare they find his name, and his IP address? How dare they infiltrate the last bastion of personal space available to him in this bossyboots world? Would they disturb a hibernating vole? A snoozing sloth? Probably. Those sorts of people put their noses in other people’s business.
He sighed and flicked the channel. You can’t change the world by trying to force things on other people. It didn’t work for Millhouse, it won’t work for anyone else.
Needless to say, the date with Janet went awkwardly and tediously. Alan, having decided to wear a tuxedo, found himself inside a pub full of cocaine-heads somewhere in Bank. He had met her outside the station, holding a bouquet of flowers. Usually flowers provoked a reaction of at least feigned flattery. But, on this cold and sombre November night, Janet’s first reaction to seeing the flowers was to grab and throw them into the Thames, before looking Alan up and down and sneering contemptuously.
“Why are you James Bond?”
He peered down at his attire. Tourists walked past. One dude stopped to take a photo as Janet laid into him.
“Hey man, it’s James Bond!” said the American to Janet.
“He’s not James Bond. He’s just a nob.”
“Awww...” said the American.
“No wait – he is,” she said. “But you have to pay a pound to be photographed with him.”
“Seriously?” said the American, eyes lighting up and mouth gaping. His eyes were a little bit too close together – a feature which instantly made Alan feel advanced and yet racist for noticing that to be a typical American trait. “Hell, I’ll pay a pound to be photographed with James Bond.”
And so the next hour was spent with Janet saying “James Bond” over and over again until some passing tourist overheard, and Alan stood shivering gradually but over the course of the hour began feeling that maybe it was true and that he actually was James Bond. He began inevitably doing James Bond poses, and finding himself pouting for the first time in about fifteen years.
“Don’t go overboard,” said Janet, as he posed and pouted alongside a set of Norwegians. “When’s the last time you saw James Bond pout?”
“Plenty of times,” he said.
“Shut up, James Bond – you’re not meant to talk. You’re an agent with a license to kill,” said Janet, from behind the camera.
Bond squinted, wondering if he could kill with his eyes too. “If looks could kill, you would be dead now.”
She peered round. “Some date this is.”
“You started it. I’m not a commodity. I’m a man. Flesh and blood.”
At that point the tourists began to realise it might be a ruse and a bunch of them got shirty. Bond grabbed Janet and pulled her behind him while he reached for an imaginary gun. The crowd dispersed, screaming. He grabbed Janet and pulled her towards him for a passionate kiss. Just as he was about to kiss her, they didn’t kiss. Janet shoved his face away.
“I want to eat. We can do the Bond role play shit later in bed.”
“Fine,” said Alan. “Wait, in bed you say?”
They strolled. Along the Thames floating advert islands advertised the latest and greatest words. A pale blue streak flashed by, illuminating the water around it. COOL WAVE, it said. THE COOLEST WORDS FOR THE COOLEST PERSON IN THE WORLD. YOU. A list reeled down the side of the advert. The word ‘synchronicity’ was half price this week. Alan pondered as they strolled. Synchronicity was a false concept because it depended on the subjective experience of the observer and as everyone knows subjective observations are not related to anything concrete. Something such as love for example was unquantifiable, and therefore did not exist. The only aspects that mattered were dependent upon maths, statistics, and empirical evidence. League tables, for example. They were the only true basis for measuring whether children in schools had achieved anything whatsoever. Never mind enthusiasm, and memories that lasted forever. Only the numbers spoke the truth of the experience of every single child in schools.
They had stopped. Janet put her arm upon him.
“Thinking about work, aren’t you?”
He blushed. “How could you tell?”
Her pale blue eyes scanned his forehead. “Your forehead’s creasing.”
“Oh, shit,” he said, lowering his skull to avoid her gaze. What an ugly person he was. Old, and ugly, and useless, and idiotic.
She kissed him on the mouth.
At that point, words failed. His thoughts stopped for an infinite instant. In that moment, he realised what it meant to be human; to be connected to a circuit of beauty that flew above and beyond all the pettiness of this so-called reality, with its so-called discourse. Janet had somehow seen through his veil and had perceived something in him that wasn’t expressed through his words. Something good, it seemed.
“You’re very - ”
“Shhh,” she said, laying a finger on his lips.
The process began again and for a while Alan didn’t need to think anymore. It was great.
Another morning arose a while later. Some time had passed. Alan’s mind had skipped over reality like a stone on a pond. To be lifted from the water de-emphasised the importance of his existence before and after that moment. The phone alarm brought him back to himself. Thoughts threatened to run riot in his mind once more. Thoughts of deadlines, grades, behaviour, imposition, resolution, and neatness.
He pressed snooze and drifted back into dreams.
Bliss happened for a while.
Then he woke again, for real this time. His body rose from the bed like Frankenstein’s monster. Another day in the world of the mechanical. All was mechanised now. Humanity was robotic, responses measured, precise, and efficient. Responses were devised by the school of rationality. Everything made sense; and because of this, nothing made sense. To be free from this was the reality. He had been free. He would still be free. She had taken him away, out of all this pre-set narrative, into a world only they knew. There were cameras, but they did not record, for no one watched them. No screens could capture the experience, no footage could define every pixel of this divinity.
He was experiencing an emotion that humans called love.
He got in the shower and listened for the usual greetings and music messages that pummelled their way through his ego into his sub-conscious mind, seeping into his serotonin zones to pluck out the fruit of pleasure and own it for the rest of his waking day. But there was nothing.
Alan, foam lashed upon his head, stopped midway through the shower and stood. Nothing but the sound of running water. Turning the shower off resulted in a silence so complete and total that he realised how noisy his life had become.
A quick finish, a dry off, and he stepped into his room. The wall, upon which usually blared the news, was pale white, apart from one tiny sentence, written in the middle, a stain of pure dirt:
YOU ARE FREE.
He gawped and gaped at it, jaw dropping cartoonishly and eyes bulging slowly open like a man experiencing a divine but troubling revelation. Something was wrong. This wasn’t normal. Grabbing the remote, he frantically pressed all manner of buttons, but nothing changed. Those people had hacked into his system. Those who called themselves The Merchants. He belonged to them now. He was not free. He was a slave to their ideology. Horror overwhelmed him; his hand reached for his phone to ring the police, but just as his finger touched the button, the message changed.
WE HAVE ALREADY GOT TO THEM. YOU WILL BE ARRESTED IF YOU TRY TO CALL THEM. JUST GO WITH IT.
A single word was added, before a complete fade to white:
His stomach rumbled. What could that mean? Coffee usually did the job for him, but somehow his mind felt as though that’s what they wanted him to drink. But then it occurred to him as he stared blankly at the screen: there was no they. Not anymore. He really was free, inside a vast prison, big as a hundred thousand cathedrals. And you couldn’t get much bigger than that. He was helpless, in thrall to the whims of madmen; but at the same time he had been given free rein to think and act for himself. There was no true freedom, not anymore – only good and bad kings. Maybe these were friendly monarchs. At least they didn’t get all up in his grill.
A tiny icon had appeared in the bottom right of the screen. He kneeled down and peered at it.
He prodded an apprehensive finger at it. What was this ‘dictionary’?
What he saw staggered him. Literally: he nearly crashed into his desk/bed/drawer combo. Along the top of the screen were the letters A-Z. Was this possible? Were these... all the words? He tried A, and from A stemmed several sub-categories. AAR-ABA. ABB-AGG. It seemed the list was endless.
And now not only did his stomach growl for food. His mind growled too. Words – all for him. Words that he could eat up and use anytime, forever.
“How is this possible?” he spoke.
No answer. Only the evidence presented before him, a gift from the omniscient, but no longer omnipresent Merchants.
Terror overwhelmed him. He reached for his remote to get rid of it. He could be arrested right now, if anyone could see him.
He sought sanctuary in a bowl of cereals garnered from his mini-kitchen adjacent to his bedroom. The television provided no answers, but nor did it ask any questions. The world went on as before: catastrophes, deaths, followed by life-affirming stories about children learning how to write despite having no arms and only one hand. No mention of an illegal terrorist organisation called the Merchants. Google provided no answer either. Why should it? The name didn’t exactly sound terroristic. Terroristic? Was that even a word?
His hand crept to the remote and roved towards T in his dictionary. Yes. Yes it was. He had just learned a new word.
“Terroristic,” he said out loud, before clamping a hand over his mouth. How was that possible? How was there no resistance, no electronic voice warning him that this was only a trial word and if he didn’t purchase it within 30 days, he was liable to prosecution? “Terroristic.” Still nothing. “Motherfucker.” Nothing.
For some reason he couldn’t quite explain other than it just felt like the right thing to do, he gazed at his hands as though they held mystical power. This was incredible. This was more than incredible – it was, it was...
“Fabulous. Implausible. Far-fetched. Absurd.” A pause. “Inconceivable!”
And still the silence watched on approvingly.
In the corridor that morning, the hubbub of students seemed greater than usual. Students gathered in packs, ready to pounce on any kid that appeared to be different – not different in a ‘oh look, I’m such an individual’ way, but a kid who was different without deliberately making themselves so. The ginger kid. The gay kid. The fat kid. But not the black kids, obviously, because it was bad to be racist. The bullies hand-picked their morality according to the social contract, according to what they felt they were still able to get away with. They would stop once society deemed certain groups protected. It was society’s fault, really. Society should have laid down the rules for earlier, like when they were little, because then they’d know it was bad to pick on the ginger kids. As it stood, teachers walked past, absorbing and ignoring bile and hatred, because acting against these meant acting against a tide of society’s indifference, a society who, because it still had part of its brain in school, felt as though some members just deserved to be abused because, well, why not. Someone has to be picked on. Otherwise how would the rest get by? Bullying requires insecurity; it cures the insecure by giving them an outlet. Without bullying making a bunch of students feel better about themselves, then everybody would be insecure and confused about themselves, which, if you look at the numbers, just wouldn’t make sense economically. Got to have bullies in this world, just to shake things up and show the rest of us what we can ascend to if we only develop a little backbone. If you can believe in yourself, then forget what other people think. Tread on the weak. Make them suffer. Just win. That’s all that matters.
Alan’s head spun with the implications of his new-found vocabulary. Words, which had once been a crippling hindrance to his ability to express himself, suddenly felt more than adequate. Ideas flowed around his head, buzzing, blocking out the detritus that threatened to overwhelm the school cosmos. Those who spat vitriol were not free. Those who cussed people’s mums, those who moaned that they were bored, those who said they couldn’t be arsed... those were the kids lacking the expression not only to understand themselves, but understand the world.
“Lol, lost in thought again, Alan?” smirked Tony Reece, the head of IT, as he walked past.
Alan spun. Something about his face must have startled Tony, for suddenly he stood like a rabbit in headlights.
“I beseech you sir, to consider your tone of voice, for your qualia is greatly undermined by the fact that I don’t know you well enough to think anything else but ill of your comments; and, as a result, my person has become deeply offended by your stature, your gait, your tie, and your tendency to use Schadenfreude in order to convince yourself of your innate superiority, when in fact you are a rather petty, obtuse, defunct and inchoate man.”
Tony gawped, dropping his paperwork.
“Bloody hell,” he said.
He picked the papers up as he backed away, never keeping his guys off Alan, shrinking into his room as though a vampire presented with a cross. “Bloody hell,” he repeated.
Alan smirked as he strode.
The classroom noise hit him like a steam train hitting a diamond hedgehog: unsuccessfully. With a wave of his hand, he dismissed the noise, sending it flying out the window.
“What malignant ill-tempered cretin opened the window?” he asked.
“What what, what?” said Vanessa Hybrid-Glocke.
The class’s jaws dropped as one.
“It was Crisis, sir,” said Elizabeth.
Crisis Numptie sat haphazardly perched backwards in his seat, glaring out the window, wondering where the shield of noise had gone. But, like a caged tiger, he was more dangerous this way. Best to take it down to his level. And, now he had the power, Alan could summon up the correct socio-linguistic apparatus to get through to this child, whose name Crisis was an apt reflection of the academic achievement the boy was currently operating at.
“Right, shut that window, and look at me, you idiot.”
Crisis’s head turned slowly, before clicking into place. Eyes locked upon his.
“What you call me?” he said, voice dripping with repressed rage.
“I called you an idiot. You gonna do something about it, plork?”
“Plork? How do you know that word?”
“I know the streets, don’t I,” said Alan, comfortably, as he clicked the remote to begin the lesson.
“Lol sir, you’re funny,” said Crisis, with a face unmoving.
“You ready to learn?”
“Ready to listen?”
“That will have to do. Right. Today, children, we are doing more poetry.”
A groan rose once more, but, his mind prepared for such a possibility, Alan silenced it by starting a video. Behind him, like an iconoclast booming out an explosive blockbuster to a rapt audience, a poet sat patiently upon a rocking chair, clutching an old book.
“Real-pape?” yelled George. “You serious?”
“Cease your rambunctiousness!” replied Alan.
George frowned and stared down at his desk, presumably trying to think about what he had just heard. Alan could read the boy’s mind: first, wondering what the word was, but more importantly, wondering how the teacher was able to speak a word that they all were able to hear, despite it not being an official part of the lesson, and used only in something as meaningless as a telling-off.
“What was that word, sir?” said Hattie, appearing from underneath her fringe like a mouse emerging from hibernation.
“Rambunctious. It means boisterous.” Blank faces. “Difficult to control or handle.”
“Okay, sir,” said Hattie, writing it down in her book. “Sir, it doesn’t appear when I try to write it down.”
“Oh,” said Alan, disappointed. He tried writing it down on his own book. It appeared. “Try now.”
Her face lit up into a contented smile. “It works.”
“In fact, all of you write it down.”
To his pleasure, the class noted the word down, even Crisis.
“Right, ladies and gentlemen. This is a video of Dylan Thomas reading out ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.’ This is a poem primarily about death, but also about life, and how we fight against apathy, against indifference, and hopelessness.” Through the speech converter software that he now used for the first time in months, what he just said appeared on the board. “Copy down what I just said.”
“Sir, just put it in our books for us,” said Scott Puemmaeb.
“You learn better if you write it yourself. And you need to learn how to write. It increases not only your skill in writing, but also your overall dexterity. Next time you play a computer game, you will find that your fingers perform the necessary movements better, because they have been loosened up by your application of them hitherto up to that juncture...” Perhaps he was going a little overboard. Was hard to resist. Best to keep it simple. “Write. Stop being lazy. “
“Fine,” said Crisis, putting virtua-pen to virtua-paper.
“One more word about this poem: it’s more about how it makes you feel than what the words mean. Don’t worry about not understanding a word – only worry if you can’t capture for yourself a feeling that you feel the poem was attempting to get across.”
Silence greeted this, which Alan took to be obedience.
Then he played the video of the poet reading out the poem.
For the two minutes in which the class silently listened, Alan had a vision of the class instantly becoming educated, enthusiastic, and guided towards a perfect future through the magic of words. He had deliberately chosen this poem, because in the film Dangerous Minds, the poem had helped contribute towards the success of the class, who had not only lessons in school, but also life lessons, and learned about who they really are and therefore never did anything naughty or stupid ever again.
After the poem finished, there was a silence. Then it was broken by a voice from the back of the class.
“That was shit,” remarked Scott.
Alan facepalmed. This was going to be more of a struggle than he had expected.
Wednesday, 1 February 2012
To own a word is to own the world.
- Darren Tropp, owner of GJ Yowaz
Along the river Dryas, down the hillside, round the Hypermart, and over the fake city centre, the city of Lealtad housed several million people. Split in two, its northern and western sides being the more affluent and its south and eastern sides deader than a joke about porcupines, Lealtad traded in reality. Outside the city borders lay a country composed mainly of sheep, pixies, gherkins, reptiles, fortune tellers, spines, and dragons. Occasionally people would roam, but only by mistake. For thirty years Lealtad dealt in trend-setting, defining the next wave of speech patterns, clothing styles, facial expressions, seating plans, religions, diets, moustaches, and anti-matter. Over time, Lealtad used currency to swing the world’s priorities to whatever it deemed suitable. A politician could turn from a hero to a villain within the space of a day, depending on Lealtad’s mood, and depending on whether it felt like altering the meaning of both words. An ostrich could turn into a banana if Lealtad willed it so. Dictionaries spelt out the shape and texture of words; qualia on a whim can be altered to whatever. For example, the word ‘whatever’ once indicated an overall summary of substances present in any given situation, but over time, the word ‘whatever’ came to mean a byword for indifference towards a given situation. This occurred in HY 435, when a young man named Glodiatu posted a blog which went viral, infecting the minds of whoever happened to be witness to it. Later a song was written about the phenomenon, which was going to be titled ‘Whatever’ but the writer of the song was so indifferent he couldn’t be bothered to say any more than the first two letters of the word so the song became ‘Wh’. The word ‘Wh’ quickly replaced Whatever in the lexicon.
Inside Lealtad, swallowed in its maw and rotting inside one of its acidic pools, sat the town of Arkenpol, a suburb of Lealtad, boasting a population of eight million people. The first ostentatious display a visitor would see upon driving down the A5 towards its vicinity would be an army of official town boasters, standing as a crowd either side of the A5, holding up placards upon which numerous signs hung, signs designed by students in one of the town’s largest schools. Drive three more miles past this bleating crowd and skid off Devil’s Junction onto the main roads (this junction being a test of skill, which many have failed, resulting in the nearby sculpture composed of piled cars, which now officially belongs to the town’s artist Mike LaBlatt), run the red light on purpose through the diversion (many drivers not realising this too was a test have waited for hours until getting out of their car and leaving it to nature and/or highway patrols to eradicate it), cross the Boulevard of Hate, pass by the world-famous Intricacy Museum, leap over the Obstacle Hedgehog, run a left, crash into a fake brick wall, avoid the poison arrows from the Mile-Long Jungle (never leave the car), instruct an actor as to the whereabouts of Gotternster (a fake town – but the instructions must be authentic), drive diagonally along a road, avoid a patch of oil, pass by muted houses in shrunken shacks, turn right, avoid the rich part of town lest you get your car stolen, pass beneath the shopping centre via Nel-Tun Tunnel, take another mile and do absolutely no speed apart from fifty, until finally when you stop suddenly in order to avoid the Mangled Granny, you will find yourself outside a school named Grimstead High. This is a decoy. It is in fact a cinema specialising in inappropriate porn. Drive further on until you reach Greystead Street, and there you will find the real Grimstead High.
Alan Flatten exited his Parlo and slammed the door. Monday. Shit. The day looked high in resolution. Bad sign. Kids looked restful. Worse sign.
It was precisely eleven thirty-minus-one in the morning. The grass outside was populated with indifference, and the pathways leading in were as grey as the face of a meth addict. The face of the school was brick-red, although it was composed entirely of poly-polystyrene. An unfortunate arrangement of the doors and windows made the front of the school resemble a silent scream, a fact reinforced by the history of the architect, a man who in his private time drew Munch’s Scream over and over again whilst living in a house designed to look like Thiepval Memorial to the Missing.
Pupils aged 12-18 strolled back and forth, until realising they were malfunctioning and turned their faces back on, alert once more to the prospects of their gold mine future. Espousing memes and gibberish as a test for their own status, the corridors buzzed with the latest words.
“How’s it going with your flange?” sprayed a voice from Alan’s right. The reply curved quadratically over Alan’s head.
“Word already in database. Definition: a non-desirable vag.”
“Shut up, that’s phalange.”
“No it ain’t.”
Alan like a corkscrew burrowed his way forward through the crowd, trying to get past the clamour. Had heard too much already. One of these days this corridor was going to swallow him. The vice-like grip of raw, unformed information. Phrases bent inside-out, like an exploded carcass. In this vacuum, time and space compressed, so that in slo-mo his body walked down pre-planned paths, seeking through the mayhem that space that in two seconds would open up, cutting through the fights that formed via sneers and ill-humoured jokes, scything through arms that reached over to steal a hat, unclip a bag, pinch a crisp from a reeking packet, punch an unsuspecting cheek, exploit an unusual accent, and finally emerge into the relative safety of his classroom.
He heaved a sigh of disbelief and slammed his bag on the desk.
The room bore the hallmarks of a teacher driven to distraction. Time had worn down the walls. How did it get so bad? Looking at these pictures always brought back the bittersweet memory of sticking these inspiring quotes and pictures up. What naivety! To think that a single glance at a picture of Martin Luther King would awaken a formerly dormant burst of inspiration from a mordant bored slumping rogue.
The desk was cluttered corner to corner with curl-cornered papers. Silence for ten minutes before the tutor group entered. He grabbed a piece – nothing more on it than the witless graffiti of Jake Couty.
SIR IS A CUNT
He scribbled it out and poured the thoughts out he had so far been gifted this morning. What an interesting morning it had been.
After he had woken to the sound of Greg from next door taking a dump (today’s dump had a more upbeat timbre to it than yesterday’s) he sat up in bed and ran a hand through his thinning hair. The InfoWall turned on, and greeted him with the usual indifference.
He had never figured out how to get it to change his name. This wasn’t how he wanted to be greeted. Joanna Oldmoney from over the road had somehow configured hers to speak in a husky female tone. That’s what he wanted. Why couldn’t he ever get stuff that other people had?
“Display credits,” he said, rubbing sleep from his eyes.
Enough for five new words.
He brought up the list of Randoms. The words that appeared were
Random lists were the most interesting. Because he was an individual, Alan never liked to go along with Today’s Most Popular, especially seeing as half the words involved were only there to be a plug for the company that owned them. GJ Yowaz owned this particular software, and they owned a quarter of the English lexicon. To prevent monopoly, the government owned one quarter, whilst various other companies and subsidiaries owned the rest. To the surprise of no one, the Most Popular word list never mentioned words owned by any other corporations, and only displayed words from the government on occasion, owing to it being official law as decreed by the Fair Use of Words Act. Today’s Most Popular were
3. GJ Yowaz
For whatever reason, these words were the most purchased within the last 24 hours. Often a word introduced successfully as a new neologism would make the list for an extremely long duration, such as the summer of 500 when through word-of-mouth and social media, the word ‘Hux’ grew in popularity. It was only seven weeks into its place at Number One that a new film called Hux emerged, which went on to make billions at the box office.
The other lists were of no use, such as the Ten Most Used, which hardly ever changed.
The only notable change to this list was when the word ‘I’ was made illegal by a new government that installed itself following a military coup in 415, and introduced a communist system that encourage the use of ‘we’ instead. Fortunately for the residents of Lealtad this regime did not last long. The violence of the counter-revolution was emphasised by the introduction of ‘kill’ into the Top Ten for a brief week or two, and, intriguingly, ‘sponge’. Historians even up to the present day have failed to explain why.
As he showered, Alan had a very interesting time trying to think of ways to incorporate the new words he had learned into his vocal vocabulary. Seeing as they were bought by legal means (unlike some terrible people who pirated words) they were subject to a month-long free trial, after which it would cost 0.3% of income to use; this payment would be sent by Direct Debit to GJ Yowaz, Inc.
Post-shower, he devoured his cereal, and forced down the coffee. He gagged as he brushed his teeth, an act he found to be a recent development, based on the coffee, probably. Perhaps it was just the early mornings that made him feel sick. There was an article about sea-sickness in the newspape the other day, which he was able to comprehend through the list of blanked out words. It documented the effects of tiredness on nausea, suggesting that tiredness increases the risk of nausea by precisely 19% based on something to do with the alignment of the ear and brain. Then he got tired of reading and let it evaporate back into the cloud for someone else to digest.
“Sir, what’s the point of this?” said Tony Blancmange.
Through his sozzled eyes, Alan glared at George Gibson, a boy with a face like a weasel. Not now. Not this early.
“George,” said Alan, pointing the learning indicator at the board, “We’ve been in here for twenty seconds.”
George Gibson held his hands up. “I didn’t say anything though. It was Tony.”
“That may well be, but it’s you I’m looking at.”
“Because you annoy me.”
“I wasn’t talking though.”
“That may be the case then, but you’re talking now.”
“How am I talking though?”
“How are you not talking?”
“How am I not talking?”
“Stop saying though, George.”
“How am I saying though, though?”
“I don’t know anymore. Just watch the film. Scotty, get the lights.”
For the next fifteen minutes the children watched a film about the mating habits of elephants. After fifteen minutes of trying not to fall asleep, Alan realised he was an English teacher and this was a biology video. He discreetly changed the video to something relevant. No one noticed. It was a video about the use of language in William La Hague’s ‘Ghost’, a poem that Alan had only read the previous day.
The lights went up. The class groaned. Some had fallen asleep. Alan could not be bothered to wake them from their torpor.
He froze the video on the final frame: the poem itself, written out in a neat and orderly font that may or may not have been an accurate representation of the garbled state of mind of the poet, a notorious opium addict and bonker of dogs.
Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay!
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.
Alas! I am very sorry to say
That ninety lives have been taken away
On the last Sabbath day of 1879,
Which will be remember’d for a very long time.
“What can we notice about this opening verse?” Alan said, walking up and down and back and forth, following the same pattern of alternating rows that had served him fairly well up until now because according to his Media Belt, this set path increased attention span by 33%. “What’s the poet used here linguistically to convey his message?”
Elizabeth Blazentwot raised a hand.
“Not you, Elizabeth. Jim.”
“No, I’m Elizabeth. Not Jim.”
Jim Bernable spoke in that dotty voice of his, that clanged like a misshapen bell. “Exclamation marks?” he said.
“Yes, good,” said Alan, rubbing his hands slowly together until he realised he looked like someone developing the opening stages of Huntingdon’s. “Yes – exclamation marks are a favoured stylistic device in fiction and poetry to convey an emotion in a way that normal words may not. The well-known critic John Slozenge said ‘exclamation marks are the final taboo of literature’. What else?”
Derek Futtonknoot spoke. “Rhyme.”
“Yes. Which words rhyme?”
“Say and away.”
“Well done,” said Alan. They were getting it. This was imbecilic. He pitied them. He swung his sloping walk back round the corner towards the class. Visibly they blanched and bridled. “What is the effect of that?”
“Er, it rhymes.”
“Yes, but what’s the effect on the reader?”
“I don’t know.”
She sat up straight, did a few quick fluttery blinks, pursed her lips and pouted before piping out a pretty shit answer. “To make them think.”
“Sort of, yes... in my opinion,” said Alan, addressing the mute class, “The use of rhyme gives the poem flow, maintaining the reader’s attention and drawing attention to the words ‘say’ and ‘away’, because – although of course don’t take my opinion as sacrosanct - ” Blank faces. “As true – these two words contain emotional resonance seeing as they are related to humankind’s daily experience. We all ‘say’ things, don’t we?” Blank faces. “Harold Guzzleton, are you paying attention?”
“Yes,” he said, staring bleakly out of the window.
“What did I just say?”
“You said say.”
“What about it?”
“Say is a word we say.”
“No. Wrong. Say is a word we use.”
“Wait, what - ”
“Say is common. Say is on the top ten most common words list.”
At this point a burst of noise rose like a wave, and it was all Alan could do to stop himself stumbling backwards.
“No sir it’s not!”
“Shut up,” said Alan, evenly, as he stabbed the table with his pen, using such brute force that the pen emerged on the other side and dropped onto the floor below. Another hole in that table and it would resemble Austrian cheese. “I was making sure you were paying attention.”
“Ah, smart, sir.”
“Like it, sir.”
The class settled back in on itself with a collective sigh. A few farts stirred the dust, sending it into the nameless recesses. The bell went for recess and the class did not move. This was the trick bell, designed to lure noob teachers out of their classrooms to be set up for the sack based on their inability to follow the rules of the school.
“So, as we can see, the poet uses the language of the common man to get his message across the masses. Readers like you and me through the ages would have admired this poet greatly for his ability to connect in an emotive way with the average Joe.”
“You and I,” said Elizabeth.
“Yes, you and me.”
“Sexist,” barked Josephine Nomnom from the back.
“What is?” said Alan.
“Average Joe. Women are average too, you know.“
“Joe is a name that can be applied to either gender.”
“No it’s not.”
For a moment he found himself dizzy with stupefaction. “Joe.”
He stood there in silence. The class turned to Josephine in anticipation.
“What’s your name?”
The class burst out in shrieks and whoops. A sort of mockery of laughter. Alan knew the difference between affability and menace, and this laughter carried the air of menace. He attempted to slam a pencil on the table again, but it went straight through a pre-existing hole. Carried by the momentum of the pencil, Alan’s hand slammed straight down onto its surface, crashing through the mesh, until it stopped with the table halfway up Alan’s arm. This was not a good lesson.
A silence. Alan said
The class fell even more silent. It was like throwing a damp cloth over a cold frying pan.
“What?” said Fatima Slicedhead.
They leaned forward.
“Sir knows too many new words.”
“You must be rich to be able to afford new words, sir.”
“How much money do you make an hour?”
“I bet you’re making a million credits this second. No, this second. No, this one. This one. This. This. This.”
He pulled his arm out of the table and held it up, inspecting it with a cold, detached air. Then someone shut the window. No scratches. No dents or bruises. In fact, there was nothing at all to indicate any sustained injury. Looked like another day where he wouldn’t be able to sue the school for injury. Probably for the best. Last time he had tried to sue the school for injury he had lost the case, and the judge ordered that the school beat him to within an inch of his life. In the end he was beaten whilst sitting an inch away from a computer. Then he counter-sued, claiming the Shylock argument, that because it was impossible for any living man to maintain a constant measurement of anything, he shouldn’t have had to undergo such punishment. He lost the case, and most of his savings, with the judge ordering that the plaintiff be beaten to approximately an inch of his life. So he was beaten fairly near his computer. He argued that football, not computers, were his life. Then he was beaten approximately an inch away from the turf of Plymouth Argyle.
“So sir, what word are you saying?”
“What do you mean? Gamp.”
“We can’t hear it, sir.”
“It’s just blank.”
“I can,” said Timothy Chainmanacle, the rich-looking kid whose father owned a mill made of texture.
“Who else can? Hands up.”
A quarter of the class put their hands up, whilst the rest sat looking befuddled. That was higher than the usual ratio. A good sign. It meant overall incomes were improving, and that the benefit of added school funding was kicking in. Ten years ago, only one child was able to access the word database, and that was only for a month. The words that kid learned? Bewigged, Gonad, Reticule, Caltrop, Xiphoid, Zyzzyva, Naysayer, and Syzygy.
Alan clapped his hand to indicate the first part of the lesson was over, and the second had begun.
“Good. That’s that entire poem analysed to A* standard. Have you all got it copied into your books?”
“Not yet, sir,” said a bespectacled boy at the back whose name even he had forgotten.
“Well, get that button pressed.”
The boy pushed a button on his phone and the text appeared on his book.
“Well done. Good work. Get the lights, Scotty.”
Light appeared once more in the room.
“Let there be light!” said Alan. “That’s from the Bible, you know.”
“We know sir, we’re not stupid,” groaned Isabella Phillipe.
“What’s the square route of 144?”
“That’s too high.”
“Square route of 9?”
“That’s not English. That’s unfair.”
Alan felt the twitch begin to gather on the right side of his face, just behind the eyebrow. Best not to speak out of his range. Best not to hear idiocy in a different medium. Enough stress already from English. It was a little embarrassing when that twitch was in full flow – it would make his eyebrow quiver, so that he appeared to be making innuendos out of everything. It wasn’t helpful when attending the funeral of a former teacher, and during a conversation raising an eyebrow involuntarily at every comment. The librarian hadn’t made much contact with him since she told she had taken it hard.
The class groaned.
“Bit of Milton just to change things around. Why not. Yeah, why not, why not why not why not.”
There was a pause.
“You alright sir?”
“I’m fine. Great.” He rearranged books on his desk for no reason, trying not to make eye contact in case the students spotted his twitch. It was getting worse. Get their eyes down, reading something. He pushed a button and transferred the opening lines of Paradise Lost onto their books.
“Right. Ten minutes, read that by yourself, and write something down about the language. First of all we will read through it together in class. And then we can go through it together in class. And then we can analyse it together in class.”
“So sir, what’s the point of telling us to read and analyse it alone if we’re going to read it in class?”
“Enough from you, Sir Henry of Funkville.”
“That’s Sir to you.”
“I don’t care whether you’re a Sir or not, I’m not calling you Sir. I’m Sir, not you.”
“Say it, otherwise I can call my dad and he will make you’re fired within one day.”
“Don’t mess with him,” said Herniae Ganja, curling her hair on a finger, “His dad is a right tough cookie.”
“Well done! You used metaphor!”
She stared at him, chewing gum, with less gorm on her face than Anthony Ley. “What.”
“Fine. Sir Sir Henry of Funkville, shut up.”
“That’s better sir.”
“Scotty, get the lights.”
Scotty obeyed, plunging the room into hellish darkness. Attempting to inject enthusiasm into the class, Alan began reading out in a dramatic voice, until someone muttered ‘no, sir’ and he stopped. They read in silence.
Of Mans First Disobedience™, and the ███
Of that Forbidden ███, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of ███, till one greater Man™
Restore us, and regain the© blissful Seat,
Of that Forbidden ███, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of ███, till one greater Man™
Restore us, and regain the© blissful Seat,
He sighed. “’Disobedience’ is a registered trademark of RebelWurdz, Inc. All rights reserved. ‘Man’ is a trademark of People’s Phrases, Inc.”
“Sir, why can’t you afford to put all the words in?”
“School budget. We can’t afford all the words.”
“Why do you have to say trademark for this poem but not the other one?”
“Some poems are more expensive than others because they’re better. Anything that’s more expensive means it’s in more demand. It’s the market. This poem is popular – everyone wants to read it – so the price per word is higher. You remember this from primary school.”
They all shook their heads.
“I’ve smoked too much?” said Gary Yoddish, his hangdog face flopping onto the desk. “Yes.”
Alan checked his watch. Still there.
“This poem is officially being used for personal use. Keep this quiet, but what I’m doing right now is slightly illegal.”
“We know, sir. All the teachers do it,” said Geraldine Flompe. “We won’t say anything.”
“Why is it like that, sir?” said Hattie Curiosity, face emerging from behind her mop of brown hair.
“I’m... afraid I can’t continue this conversation.”
“Why?” she squeaked.
“I could lose my job.”
The class sank into stunned silence, before realising emotions had to be ironic now and so lapsed gratefully into carefully nurtured indifference. Apathy: the last tool of the powerless. The only defence against all of this. All this shit. The whole system was like a stack of books in an old cupboard. It had to fall sometime, but only if someone entered the cupboard and shook up the dust. Otherwise it would stay there forever and ever.
The bell went.
The class left.
“That was a good lesson,” Alan said out loud, hoping that if he said it out loud it might be true. It was then he looked to the door.
Janet stood there, a look on her face a mixture of pity and smirk.
He swallowed thickly. Why did she always have to appear at the worst moments?
“Talking to yourself again, Smith?” she said, gliding snake-like to his desk, before curling herself around its corner like a cat with a bug up its arse. She strode around the room, her eyes surveying the scene in a manner that resembled someone inspecting a crime scene involving a car, a driver, alcohol, a road, and a pigeon.
“Seems that way,” he said, slumping backwards into his chair, forgetting it was on wheels, crashing into the wall behind him. “Ow. My head.”
“You should get some Pronene Plus,” she said, saddling herself up onto a nearby desk, swinging her legs back and forth like one of the students.
“Too early in the morning for advertising.”
“What? I was just saying.”
“Not now. Not like this.”
She kicked her shoe across the room, where it cannoned onto the wall, its heel neatly ripping into a poster depicting a quote from the great philosopher Manuel Secosa (“Life is not to be lived, only endured”) and ripping it down the middle. The entire event was frankly a catastrophe. Even the chairs seemed to heave a sigh.
“Free lesson now?” he said.
They stared at the chairs. Those chairs, who, moments ago, had been weighted down by the collective gathering of life that had infected the cultured environment of the room with their linguistic foulness and infested the clean air with their greasiness.
“Sir Sir Henry said something to me just now,” she said.
“What, about the poem?”
“What about the poem?”
“Yeah. What about the poem?”
“Oh,” he said. “What did he say?”
“I’m kidding. It was about the poem.”
A shiver ran through his back. The little fucker.
“What? Wordsworth? We don’t read - ”
“Don’t try to pretend.” She leapt off the table and was suddenly in his face, all up in his grill with her coffee breath and swishy hair. “You know as well as I do you’re already on a warning. You need to learn some lessons.”
“So do they!” he said, suddenly feeling the most human he had in months. He stood up and breathed dragon-fire through his nostrils. “This bullshit we’re supposed to teach is a joke!”
“You’re a joke!”
There was a pause.
“That’s lame,” she said.
They stared at each other for a while.
“You’re going to lose your job,” she said, disapproving look still on her face, but a softer tone. “Big time!” she snarled.
“Yeah?” he said, pretending he didn’t jump.
“Well, I don’t care,” he said, sitting back down.
“You sound like one of your kids.”
“Maybe that’s not a bad thing.”
Bored, she planked herself upon a table.
“What the hell is going on here, Janet?”
“What, with us? Because I’m so over that.”
“The students. The curriculum. The whole thing. Everything seems wrong.” He doodled a picture of a cock on a textbook. No one would notice.
“That’s what teachers have been saying since forever,” she said, walking up to a poster of Bob Marley and inspecting it as though she hadn’t seen it before, which she had, at least three times. At least. “You’re just getting old, that’s all.”
“I’m twenty-eight. I think I think too much.”
“You’re a teacher. It’s your job to think.”
“No it’s not. It’s my job to teach. It’s their job to think. I already know everything, apparently. I provide the answers.”
“You shouldn’t provide your kids with the answers.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah I do. Anyway,” she said, grabbing her handbag, “Dinner at eight?”
“I usually eat around six.”
He couldn’t help thinking about that Sir Sir Henry kid. Stupid prick. Why are some people so mean? What sort of a world was this? All Alan ever wanted to do was teach children, inspire them, and – hell – maybe even have a little fun along the way. Was that -
“Alan!” she said, dive-planking his desk, sending paper everywhere.
“What about it?”
“I’m asking you.”
“You’re asking me what I’m having for dinner?”
“No. Go out with me, you fucking idiot,” she said, smacking him over the face with her handbag.
“Ow. Wait. Fuck. My desk.”
“I’ll give you a minute.”
He frowned. A lot happened in the last ten seconds. She planked. His paper went everywhere. She hit him on the face. There was something... something else important, interesting even...
“Wait, did you just ask me out?”
“Because you’re a dickhead. Now you meeting me at Groucho’s or not?”
“Erm, okay. What time?”
She stared at him.
“Right,” she said, flying off the table and out the door. Paper flew up and around in her wake. “See you then.” Then she was gone, with only the settling paper evidence she was ever here.
He stared at the door, gawping. Was that real? Did that happen? She liked him? She was a teacher and she had actual feelings? But... why? Why him? All she had ever done was bark at him. Maybe he was actually stupid and hadn’t read the signs. Then it occurred to him. Yes – he was stupid. Profoundly, deeply stupid. That time he and Janet had been in the stock cupboard, and she had whispered into his ear that he could put his hardback inside her shelf any time. She had not meant it literally. Of course! Now he understood why she had done nothing but glare at him when he crept into her classroom and put a copy of War and Peace on her bookshelf during the middle of her English lesson. His protest of ‘you did say any time’ was met with stony silence. By everyone.
It all made sense now. Janet liked him. And yes – she was nice. Her hair curled eloquently around her shoulders, and was part of her head, she had a head, and her arms were attached to her shoulders correctly, and her eyes were both there, as well as her legs. Whilst he had never seen her belly button because of her clothes getting in his way, his brief education in the nature of empiricism and logical reasoning suggested that she probably had a belly button too. And other working parts. So. A date. Hadn’t been on one of them for a while. Not since his last date. Two days ago.
At this point, when he was musing over this in the middle of the corridor, he grabbed the nearest human to pass him by and shouted in his ear
At this point, when he was musing over this in the middle of the corridor, he grabbed the nearest human to pass him by and shouted in his ear
“I’ve got a date!”
A terrified-looking seventh grader nodded and smiled with eyes as wide as socks. “Well done, sir! Can you let me go?”
“Thank you!” said Alan, wondering whether he would be sacked by the time he returned tomorrow. Probably.