Recycling the middle classes

FLASH FICTION

As I begin, I don’t know how I’ll end. After a gestation of roughly nine months., we’re in the latter stages of the pandemic. For many, the end of days. Tonight’s lottery is the last, so I have little time to write this…

Disposable People

REDUNTANT OCCUPATION

It’s all happened so quickly. The last year has seen situations develop and casualties rise, more than in any global military conflict. A year ago, we were fighting over toilet roll. Even then, Brexit had been largely forgotten.

Those of us who wrote conspiracies in the UK, theorised that Coronavirus was the perfect smokescreen to divert the media’s attention from trade deals the government was signing with the USA, China and Saudi Arabia.

With the mainstream news agencies diverted, a few of us took up unofficial journalism posts, writing mainly for free in the gig economy. We were certain that Corvid-19 was a population control mechanism of human construction.

Having recently made my way through the social cleansing apparatus of the UK benefits system, I was grateful to have won back my human rights, at one of the last tribunals to be held before the system was shut down. I had to put the freedom and liberty I’d regained to good use. I had to explore to be able to report.

After the government departments closed, the indirect death toll from the disease increased the overall figures dramatically. But there was a bigger story.

A man-made virus, designed to reduce the financial state burden of the weak and elderly, benefited the balance sheets of disaster speculators, spread betting on casualty numbers, as hospitals were re-purposed and operations deemed non-essential were postponed. Eventually patients with existing terminal diagnoses were included in this group.

We suspected that those with underlying medical conditions and the over-70s were β€œshielded” for three months to give doctors time to hasten their demise. The weak and costly were being erased by social cleansing.

Over just a few months, there was a ripple effect. Medical staff succumbed to the virus, so that a situation could be forecast where those needing care outnumbered those able to provide it. Then a financial tsunami, for the invested gamblers and their sponsors. In the last few weeks, despite curfews and marshal law, the streets have become post-apocalyptic, while the protected hide away with their money.

The shops closed months ago and there have been no deliveries for weeks now. The law enforcers have fallen just as quickly as those they’re meant to police and protect. Most stay home, like they were told. A few hunt the rich.

The now invisible government has published a guide, available only sporadically online since the telecoms infrastructure is burning out under the pressure of human want and need. I got hold of a copy, which is why I needed to write.

The document is entitled ‘Professional Education: A New Vision for a Revised Population’. It prioritises specific occupations, and plans to switch education funding to support those professions. They include lawmakers and medics, educators and builders; First and Third class.

And that’s why I had little time to write what may be my last journalistic dispatch. Because like everyone else not in those categories of jobs listed, I’m in the lottery. I may be needed to help care for one of those people in the other two groups.

This is the day of the lottery, when a knock on the door may herald the beginning of many new lives, as disposable people like me are taken to provide blood, limbs and organs for those who need them the most.

It was a financial as well as a public health catastrophe, for all but the disaster capitalists. Suicides increased the death toll but helped as donors for the survivors.Β They were just part of the gamble to reap the harvest.

Clinical waste, where once we were slaves.Β 

Β© Steve Laker, 2020

Set adrift on memories’ rift

UK NEWS | THE WRITER’S LIFE

We are free to choose, but we are not free from the consequence of our choice.

Recently I noticed some UK government forms now include ‘British European’ under ‘Race’ as an identifier. As a journalist without borders, I’m apparently guilty of treason for identifying as European.

I’m not proud of what I represent (a white, British male), but I reserve the freedom to choose how I see myself. As a benefits claimant, I’m part of the demographic which the UK government is keen to cleanse. As a socialist, I’m in the same boat.

borisbrexitmigration2S4RK (B3ta)

bCaAwHNTribs (B3ta)

Like thousands of other Guardian-reading arty-types, I’m an economic and social refugee, fleeing the persecution of a fascist dictatorship. I identify as a pansexual, from before the time of imposed genders, and with a black heart from the motherland. I’m a citizen of planet Earth, and a thorn in the side of dictators who’d gladly put a harpoon in my dignity dinghy.

I’m also an eccentric, and my queer self-expression needs freedom from boundaries. Once we’ve worked out what floats, we need to make sails. Curtains are good.

On platform two with heels

FLASH FICTION

Ghost train

FOUR COACHES OF THE APOLOGISTS

Yesterday I felt like I’d turned on my favourite group of animals. My guts told me I’d swallowed a snake, and now it was writhing around, trying to eat me from inside.

I was on my way for a health assessment, not for my knotted stomach but the root of that anxiety in my head. My presence was demanded by the fascist regime’s social cleansing machine, and if my head didn’t win the battle, the contents of my guts threatened to make me late.

They’d never get what was going on with my head. It’s all in the mind, they say. Which of course, it is. But that’s where it stops with the machine. An incentive to make the appointment was to get that far with the contents of my stomach intact, ready to unload on any assessor who asked me how I was feeling.

You’re damned if you do or don’t with the machine. Clause 22 states that if you’re well enough to attend an assessment you’re fit for work. But if you fail to turn up (because you were struck by a panic attack, for example), you’re not engaging with the system, which is all the machine needs to cut you off financially, effectively ending your life.

I had a few minutes before my train was due, so I smoked a cigarette. A young girl asked me for a light and we struck up a brief conversation. She was going to London to visit her mum in hospital.

Back on the platform, the train was delayed by twenty minutes. I thought about phoning ahead to let the machine know I might be late. The smoking girl sat beside me, gazing at her phone. As the screen reflected her face, she could be sorry for being alive. I went out for another cigarette but we didn’t continue our conversation from earlier.

On the platform again, a mechanical centipede snaked around a corner in the distance, one minute away, according to the indicator. The train was formed of four coaches, so it might be a bit busy. Certainly I wouldn’t get a seat without neighbouring passengers.

The train pulled in at the other end of the platform (it only had four coaches), so I had to walk as others climbed into the mechanical animal. The driver smiled as I passed his cab. He was probably a man with a family, like all those in the body of the beast behind him. I watched the smoking girl board and decided to wait for the next train. I wouldn’t want to hold her up from seeing her mum, kept alive by machines.

I wondered if there was anyone else I should call. The next train was already going to make me late for sure. According to my phone history, there were only four numbers who’d called me lately anyway, and one of those was the machine.

The machine announces arrivals and departures, on the indicator board above the platform.

Alien chest (with instructions)

FLASH FICTION

Hellraiser Cube

As an alien visitor to this place, I needed to get rid of an old chest I’d been carrying around for far too long, so I tried giving it away for free. I found talking difficult, and I wasn’t sure anyone understood me.

β€œSorry, we’re just closing.”

β€œBut I’d like to donate this.”

β€œIs it broken?”

β€œI just can’t get it work. I figure someone else might make better use of it.”

β€œBut it’s yours. Doesn’t it have sentimental value?”

β€œIt’s pretty empty.”

β€œSo why would we want it?”

β€œBecause it’s pretty when it’s empty. You’re a charity, right?”

β€œWe are, but I think you might be better off going to a hospital.”

I couldn’t be bothered with the walk, so I lay down outside the British Heart Embassy, hoping they might find the manufacturer and send the antique inside the chest for repair.

facehugger02

My head felt better.

hellraiserfaceswab

Rupert and Theresa’s social recipe

POLITICS

mayfascistwitch

*The Prime Minister of the former United Kingdom isn’t recorded as saying any of this, but her record of being a racist cunt followed her from the Home Office. Shit sticks, and stinks.

A wish upon a turkey wishbone

THE WRITER’S LIFE

The shit sandwich finally arrived in the post last Thursday, and it’s taken me this long to compose myself to address it. This benefits process is exhausting by design, and it’s exacerbating my anxiety and depression. I haven’t quite lost the will to live, as that would validate the Tory social cleansing machine’s purpose. It actually says in the rejection letter, “Personal Independence Payment is not for visiting relatives.” I’m appealing, so there is much more writing to do.

NovaNaked Lunch, David Cronenberg

It took nine and a half weeks for someone to decide I wasn’t deserving of my Personal Independence Payment (despite being in receipt of it for the last four years), so denying me much of my liberty and ruining what might have been mine or my parents’ last Christmas. On behalf of myself and my family, we’d like to wish upon the bone of a turkey, a Christmas free of guilt and conscience to the Department for Work and Pensions. With nowhere to go, I’ll be an empty box, a vacant chair; I will haunt their Christmases.

With my benefit payment reduced to a statutory minimum, I’ll have to borrow money to buy my kids’ Christmas presents (why should they go without?) I can no longer afford to visit my parents (nor buy them gifts; they say the children come first), so I may already have seen my dad for the last time while he still remembers who I am. Last time I was there, he said how good it was for him to have me around. Now all we have is memories of Christmas past.

There were past Christmases when I was estranged from my family, after I’d steamrollered through their lives like a drunken shopping trolley, and when I’d be represented by an empty chair at the dinner table. My sister still bears a grudge, somehow having it in her head that I’m the cause of our dad’s Parkinson’s. So while she won’t pick me up on her way through to my parents, my Christmas will be spent with a turkey baste on a true story: That I couldn’t afford Christmas dinner.

I could do as I did in those years of estrangement, and volunteer to help at a church homeless do, provided I can get the transport. But that would involve other people, and this dehumanising process also threw fuel on my social anxiety. The signpost to Christmases future.

Christmas will be cold, because I can’t afford heating. And it’s all thanks to the Scrooges who’ll be stuffing their faces at Christmas dinner, and counting all the money they saved through social cleansing. I’ll be present in spirit, at each and every table, wishing upon that wish bone, to stick in many throats.

Simons CatSimon’s Cat

That’s me in the corner (B-side)

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Today is four weeks since I was in the spotlight, having my brain prodded to determine if I’m entitled to Personal Independence Payment (PIP, which I’ve been receiving for the last four years). The social machine is tiring and I’m in danger of losing my head.

Losing head LegoSilvia Borri

I’ve been restless since the beginning of this year. It seems longer, but it was two years ago yesterday when a tribunal judge awarded me PIP, until September 2018 (reassessments are every two years). Ever since I’ve known it’s 2018, I’ve been more on edge than usual (and even my usual on-edgeness is not normal). For the last two or three months especially, I’ve been stumped, laid low and crippled, afraid to start anything lest my money is stopped, and unable to concentrate even when I do.

I’ve plotted stories but not written them, started some and not finished, and written endings with no beginnings. Nothing fits together and it’s all spare parts. None can be cannibalised and given life. I can’t keep my mind straight, and I may yet have to go through the rinser at another tribunal.

I’m hoping there’s a human in the system who sees I’ve been through it twice already and won, so they don’t put me through it again. Waiting to find out if you’re ill enough to be paid to be unwell is a cruel and inhuman process, but it’s designed to wear a person down so that they give up, the social and ethnic cleansing of those who were already socially excluded and only partially visible.

Kept in the dark, I’m cutting myself up, sawing bits off, and trying to reassemble myself. They hope I’ll fall apart, but I’m just about holding myself together. It’s all in my head, and they know this. It makes mental illness worse, and that’s the plan. Our Tory government are the real cannibals.

That’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight. Until they put me out of my misery, I can’t sleep.

Losing head Coffee

Getting the hang of Wednesdays

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Days like these are the worst, when you wish for the emptiness of the vacuum which is a typical day with depression. These atypical days are filled with thoughts. My mind is always full, which is why I suffer insomnia, but these thoughts are the darkness escaping the vacuum. For Arthur Dent, it was Thursdays he couldn’t get the hang of, where most of my problems seem to haunt me on Wednesdays.

Arthur and MarvinHeroes of fantasy and sci-fi (Stark After Dark)

I’m looking at everything ahead and I can’t see any bright horizon, just the red glow of dusk. The optimist and the pessimist have no control over an outcome, but the optimist has the better time leading up to it. As low as I’m feeling today, the optimist is a far-away stranger in that crimson landscape.

As the Marmite filling of my family’s generational sandwich, my main thoughts are with either slice of bread. Thankfully my eldest seems to be over the worst of his recent derailment (when you’re 13, you’re just looking for somewhere to go off the tracks), which means my dad is an even greater focus.

His health isn’t improving. Long story short, he was getting a bit forgetful, culminating in him forgetting where he lived one night when he was out in his car (alone). After much debate with mum, I phoned the police. I knew someone was always going to be β€œThe one who…” and seeing as I’m usually assumed to be, I didn’t break with stereotype. The police picked him up and got him home safely, but he subsequently had to surrender his driving license.

The whole family was disrupted as a result, and my dad’s lost a great deal of his freedom and liberty. The memory thing was found to be a build up of fluid around the base of dad’s brain. It wasn’t a degenerative condition and a simple drain should alleviate the problem.

He was admitted to hospital and the procedure was initially deemed a success. Trouble is, a succession of setbacks followed, as dad developed an infection which required intravenous antibiotics, prolonging his stay in hospital. Eventually when he returned home, he took a fall down the stairs. I can’t help thinking that I’m β€œThe one who…”

You wouldn’t expect someone to get better after all that, but the old man’s still with us, albeit never fully recovered from the initial diagnosed condition because of these complications. Mum and dad have made adaptations to their house, but dad longs to get back to tending his garden. I’ve suggested it might be quite nice to let it meadow a bit, to attract some wildlife, which dad also loves. It’s about quality of life now, and he’s probably got some years in him yet if he’s kept engaged by people and things around him.

Which all serves to reduce the importance of my own issues, which are short-term, relatively speaking. At worst (ever the pessimist), I’ll have my PIP application declined as it was the last two times. I have no reason to think otherwise, as despite claims that mental disability is given equal consideration to physical restrictions, mental illness remains invisible. Yes, I can walk a short distance to a local shop. I have legs which work and I don’t require a physical aid to walk. Sometimes though, the anxiety and paranoia are such that I simply don’t attempt it. That can’t be seen when you’re asked to walk up and down in front of an assessor.

If my application is declined, then I’ll appeal at tribunal, as I did the last two times, and both times I won. It hardly seems worth putting me through it, but I suspect there’ll be another attempt at social cleansing by wearing me down in the hope I give up. I didn’t the last two times.

So the worst case scenario is I’ll have my benefits reduced throughout the appeal process, then reinstated and back-paid afterwards. I might just have to adjust to a lesser quality of life for a while. Then again, the ‘Medically-qualified’ PIP assessor might not be a midwife this time, they could be a psychiatrist or psychologist, who is more likely to confirm my various conditions, thereby sparing me the ordeal of the appeal process. If government out-sourcing fulfilled its function properly, a simple thing like appointing an appropriately qualified assessor would save the state considerable funds.

But it doesn’t work like that. The savings are made by getting claimants off of benefits, and subjecting them to an extended dehumanising process is one way of thinning out the numbers, when some people just don’t have it in them to fight. My last two appeal processes made me far more unwell than I’d been at the outset, but I didn’t succumb to the social cleansing machine.

Beyond the small sphere of me in my sandwich, there’s the world at large and plenty to worry about, not least of which is the rise of the right. Those of us on the left, and anyone who cares about the planet we all share, we need to find our voices. Fascists will not be reasoned with, so there’s little point trying to debate, negotiate and be democratic with the blinkered and socially-conditioned.

I’ve written of positive outcomes for humanity and our home, just as I’ve doomed them both in other stories, where the right’s solution is population reduction. Being an optimist or pessimist about such existential things might actually determine the outcome. At the end of it all, that thought strangely perks me up, as it’s more a duty than a choice.

I feel slightly more hopeful about the coming weeks and months now than I did when I started writing. Sometimes it’s nice to talk to myself as I type, just to relieve some pressure. It’s always been my only real therapy. Thanks for reading.

Unfinished stories of austerity

FLASH FICTION

All over the country this weekend, in the few remaining places where social tenants manage to survive, stories will be played out and never told by those who live them:Β blots on the Conservative social cleansing landscape.

Unable to put them down through the Department of Work and Pensions’ dehumanising of benefits claims assessments with β€œmedically-qualified assessors” (my last one was a midwife), the Tories can’t rid themselves of their shame.

Local councils clad their social housing to spare the views of the rich, on the cheap; and accidents happen, the Tories say. They sell off the NHS, bringing healthcare into line with everything else in Conservative Britain: It’s okay living here, if you can afford to…

Jagtve-69-Vendepunktet-by-WE-Architecture-and-Erik-Juul-00How social housing looks in Denmark.

TICKS AND CROSSES

To continue enjoying this programme, please top up your viewing card. Thank you for choosing Living Loans.

A lifeline company, and so friendly, right down to the company logo: a smiling cartoon figure, with comically long arms, reaching out to help. Short-term credit loans were just the icing.

The cake was the free Smart TV: fifty inches of ultra high definition, with all the streaming services her and the kid could eat. The rep installed it for her, and did away with complicated subscriptions. Weekly loans were loaded onto a single debit card, which was a viewing card too. A life made of plastic.

Topping up was a Β£2 call on her Living Loans mobile, and the week just lived was paid for. TV time would have to be rationed, and food for her and the kid would come from the bank.

With the kid fed and asleep, she microwaved a ready meal, with an extra 30 seconds, β€˜just to be sure’. She lit a candle, and got cosy in a Onesie for Eastenders.

To continue enjoying this programme, please top up your viewing card. Thank you for choosing Living Loans.

Β£2 can do so much. With a quick call, it can summon another human soul, a friend to talk to and sort out problems. A chat with a smiling person, with long arms to reach into their pockets and help. She eagerly signed, ticked the boxes, and regained her life. She needn’t fear the mail any longer.

***

Dear valued customer,

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To ensure that you continue to enjoy the benefits of your Living Loans membership, we simply ask that you join our exclusive Living Lives Health Plan. Members are automatically contracted out of the National Health Service and benefit from private healthcare in our nationwide network of clinics. Our clinics offer one-to-one consultations, treatments and surgical procedures.

What’s more, initial consultations are free, so that you can get a feel for the level of care which we offer at our clinics. Thereafter, to receive ongoing medical care, simply insert your Living Lives membership card into any of our on-site drug or treatment administration terminals, located conveniently around our facilities.

The Living Lives Health Plan, brought to you by Living Loans: Loans for Life.

β€œMummy, can I stay in bed today? And can you read me Mr Tickle? Because he can reach into the kitchen and get food, without having to get out of bed and get cold.”

She went to the kitchen, signed, crossed, and ticked where indicated on the form.

Β© Steve Laker.

My latest anthology – The Unfinished Literary Agency – is available now.