Monday, 25 October 2010

Best Things Ever #12 The Air Conditioned Nightmare

I hate complacency. Complacency is the tool through which special interest groups convince you that your way of life is under attack: And then they tell you who is to blame. Curiously, those responsible usually turn out to be the self-same people blocking the route to power of these special interest groups. Complacency leaves you vulnerable and once vulnerable the individual disappears beneath the weight and the inertia of the mob.

I’ve been thinking about complacency a lot recently, having reread Henry Miller’s sublimely cynical rant, The Air Conditioned Nightmare. Written in the 1940s, Miller had just returned to his native United States after a decade spent slumming in Paris. War was raging in Europe, America was about to enter the fray (late, as usual), and Miller set off on a journey across the continent to assess the state of the country of his birth.

What he found was a nation in decay. “Never has the status quo seemed more hideous to me.” he wrote. “This is not the worst place to me. But I am here and what I see hits me hard.” Actually, he just meant Pittsburgh, but his assessment was as bleak in Boston as it was in Los Angeles; New Orleans as in Mobile. Miller understood only too well the dangers of complacency. “Nothing is deader than the status quo whether it be called Democracy, Fascism, Communism, Buddhism or Nihilism.”

Today, as then, Americans feel that their way of life is under attack. We in Britain have often been jealous of the American capacity for boundless optimism and certainly during times of unending growth, when there is more than enough food in the trough, it is a fine attitude to possess. Yet the quality that many Americans have always lacked is a healthy sense of cynicism. When recession bites, when the rich plunder and the poor are blamed, well then a lack of cynicism is like having not been exposed to illness as child: You have no immunity. You become sick and put all your faith in snake oil salesman, like the oddly named Tea Baggers.

Reading The Air Conditioned Nightmare is an antibiotic shot to the arm. There are those even amongst Miller’s fans who describe the book as being uncharacteristically pessimistic and negative, but I don’t find that in its pages. What I take from it is a sense of realism, a sense of perspective on the American dream, which has always been just that, a dream. Miller observed his nation’s fears that its very institutions and way of life were under attack and his conclusion was damming:

“[T]here are things which ought not to be defended, which ought to be allowed to die; there are things which we should destroy voluntarily, with our own hands.”

Before you can start changing your life for the better, the first thing one needs to do is enter into a period of reflection and self-assessment. America is a country which from the outside looking in is tearing itself apart through tidal forces. The institutions which laid it low, dragging the rest of us with them, are now the ones who now ask the poor and dispossessed to have faith in them. The American Right is somnambulistically sleep walking into fascism, when what it really needs is to wake up and take stock of its place in the world. “How to become conscious?” Miller rhetorically asks us:

“It’s very dangerous you know. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have two automobiles and own your own home with a pipe-organ in it. It means that you will suffer still more – that’s the first thing to realize. But you won’t be dead, you won’t be indifferent, you won’t be insensitive, you won’t be alarmed or panicky, you won’t be jittery, you won’t throw rotten eggs because you don’t understand. You will want to understand everything, even the disagreeable things. You will want to accept more and more – even what seems hostile, evil, threatening. Yes, you will become more and more like God. You won’t have to have to answer an advertisement in the newspaper in order to find out how to talk to God, God will be with you all the time. And if I know what I’m talking about, you will listen more and talk less.”

This is Henry Miller finally reengaged with the world, a work as near to a restating of the principles of the Sermon on the Mount as anything written in the twentieth century, which is probably why, like the actual teachings of Jesus, it is almost entirely ignored in America. And yet there are passages contained within The Air Conditioned Nightmare that should be recited every Sunday in every church up and down the country. The American Right would have its followers believe that Barack Obama has destroyed America, and yet Miller observes that even by 1940 it had been a broken nation for a century or more.

What Miller reminds us is that there are no easy answers to life: There is nothing in life worth having that is easy to come by and those who claim that there are should be treated with suspicion and dismissed. “It’s the democratic way.” Miller reminds us:

“And so the future, which is always imminent, gets aborted and frustrated, shoved around the corner, stifled, mangled, annihilated sometimes... a world of finite curves that lead to the grave or to the poor-house or the insane asylum or the concentration camp or the warm, protective folds of the Democratic-Republican party.”

Henry Miller was far from perfect. That’s ok, none of us are. To err is human and Miller was certainly that. However, to live with one’s own imperfections is to be open to the possibility of being wrong. Only with that important precept in mind can one start to move forward, freed from the inertia of prejudice and paranoia and mindless patriotism, which another great American, Ambrose Bierce, called, “Combustible rubbish ready to the torch of any one ambitious to illuminate his name.” It’s almost as if he’d met Glen Beck. Then again, opportunistic chancers fill the pages of history. Men like Glen Beck are ten a penny and they are worth even less. People like Henry Miller are stardust in comparison.

Besides, there is always hope. “If you have a dream of the future, know that it will be realized one day. Dreams come true. Dreams are the very substance of reality.” You just have to be awake first.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Modern Fable

"Have you not learned, my esteemed communicator,
 That the created is not the creator?"

                                             Arthur Conan Doyle, To An Undiscerning Critic           

Chapter One

There once was a town in the north of England. In days gone by it had been a giant of the Industrial Age: Now those dark, Satanic Mills were shrouded in dust. How dismal it was in the bleak mid-winter and no amount of gaudy lights or glass baubles on plastic trees could mask the pervading air of pessimism. It is here that our tale begins.

On this grey afternoon, a group of lads rode into town. They came with the flag of St George rippling in their wake. They parked, descended into the precinct and prepared themselves. Their self-appointed leader stepped forth to speak:

“We have come here today to issue this town with a warning. We are in danger; danger of losing our identity. There is a growing threat to our town, a dark cloud that looms over us, threatens to wash us away. It is threat of immigration. A threat that has been clear and present in our once proud nation from before I were born.”

“Both my grandfathers fought in the fields of France. Fought and died, I tell thee, that Europe could destroy fascism forever. And for what? How did our leaders reward us for defeating Hitler? Huh? They filled ships with foreign garbage and dumped it on our shores to stink up place. Britain has become a dumping ground for everyone else’s unwanted junk. Well I say enough is enough. Shut the borders and ship them out: All of them.”

“Now, a man will ask, ‘I was born in this country, but I’m Muslim, can’t I be both?’ And I'd ask him, then what cricket team do you support?” He smirked. “Obviously he would reply, ‘Pakistan’.” He emphasised the first syllable of the final word. “Then you are Pakistani. Go home, your country needs you. Mine does not. Go, worship your heathen god in your own land and I will do same in mine. This…” An oblong of Islamic green was held aloft. “This is his flag.” A white star and crescent at its centre, a white bar at its seam. “It is not my flag and it is not yours. I will not let it end up mine. If you feel the same as me, you must stand with us, arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder on cliffs and shores of this still proud nation and protect it from barbarian hordes.”

The others applauded their leader, bolstered by a single pair of hands from the crowd. Half a dozen people had stopped to listen. Most wandered off at the end, reluctantly accepting the leaflets that were foisted at them. Only one remained. Two women, previously unseen, approached the group. They stopped in front of the leader.

“Michael John Brown,” said one, “you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

“Too right.” said the other. “That young Asian lad’s not two minutes out of hospital and here your lot are back on't streets preaching hate.”

“Ladies, ladies.” Mick replied, calmingly. “We ain’t preaching hate to no-one. We’re exercising our democratic rights. We’re standing up for our right to live in a white Britain. To not have it swamped with bogus asylum seekers who scrounge off social, then blow us up in return.”

“Oh yeah,” rejoined the former, “and what about young Rasif, eh? Who had he blown up?”

“Now Maggie, you know right well that case hasn't come to court yet and I’d be in contempt to talk of it. When it does, my lads will be acquitted.”

“Oh please,” Maggie said, “everyone in town knows you lot did it.”

“Aye,” said the other, “though I see you managed to get off scot free as usual. You always were good at letting others take blame for you. Like our Chris.”

“Your brother got expelled ‘cause he got caught. Had nowt to do with me. As for that Paki, he had it coming, whoever dealt with him.”

“What, because he stepped out with our Ashley? Where was t’arm in that?”

“Where’s t’arm? Where’s t’arm? What if they had a kid? We need to keep this country white, our blood’s already thin enough from all the fucking Jews we took in. No, whoever dealt with that little shit stinker deserves a medal. If that’s what it takes to stop us from turning into mongrels, like them, so be it.”

“Oh, now your true self comes out, Mick Brown.” The argument had attracted far more attention than the speech that caused it. “You say your stopping us from becoming mongrels, but your t'ones that roam about place like pack of dogs.” There were many nods and noises of general agreement. “Your mother would be ashamed to see what you’ve become.”

All pretence vanished. “Never, EVER insult my mother again.” Mick towered over the women. “If you do, I will make sure you regret it.” Unbowed, Maggie made some reply, but another of the gang was speaking at Mick’s ear and pointing to the far end of the precinct. Two policemen were striding towards them. “Mick, let’s get out ay here.”

“I don’t fear no pigs.” Mick sneered.

“Aye, me neither, but see us three, we’re on parole, Gaz here is on probation. You, ya jammy cunt, you can stay and stand up tae them if ya like, but we canny afford nae more trouble from police.” The last word sounded like, poll-eece, in his thick accent.

“Fine, go.” Mick commanded. “But I’ll not forget this.” The others pushed through the swelling crowd, using its mass to obscure them from their pursuers. Once clear, they jogged off. Mick turned to the crowd, raised a fist in the air and declared in a proud, clear voice, “No surrender to Paki-fucking-stan.” Then he ran.

Their captain may have missed a penalty, but the crowd of the George and Dragon were philosophical about the 0-0 draw. “I’d rather be a Paki than a Turk.” they sang. “I’d rather be a Paki than a Turk. I’d rather be a Paki than a Turk.” Someone started a chorus of Rule Britannia, the rest quickly joining in. “Britain never, never, never shall be slaves“

Centre stage, Mick’s gang occupied their usual table. A sheet of bronze coloured material overlaid the MDF. Pools of beer had formed between the bumps, the ashtray smoked from the continuous supply of half-finished cigarettes.

“Nice speech that today Ian. Nice and short.” Mick told him. “Might even use it at demo tomorrow.”

Ian drained his pint. “I still say you shouldn’t have changed it to, ‘before I were born’.”

“We’ve been over this Ian, it were too long.”

“What did it say before?” Frasier asked.

“It said,” Ian replied, proudly, “’before the men who stand before you here today were born’.”

“Like I said.” Mick replied, sternly. “Too long.”

“Aye, right enough.” agreed Frasier, “that’s tae long son. Don’t want tae confuse cunts with tae many words.”

“See.” Mick said. “Even the Jock agrees. No offence Frase.”

“None taken.”

“Yeah.” said Tom, the youngest of the gang. “Jock knows something about speeches, ‘e’s always making ‘em at work.”

Frasier stared daggers at Tom. “See if you call me Jock again son, I’ll fuckin’ do you so I will.” He hooked a thumb at Mick. “That cunt there is the only one who calls me Jock.”

“Aye, ‘cause I’m the only one that would last ten seconds against him. Shut the fuck up Tom. Our Frase may be a Jock, but at least he ain’t a cockney fairy like you. Happen that’s as bad as being a fucking Paki.” The northerners laughed at their southern cousin.

“Hey Frase,” asked Ian, “can we call you a Scot then?”

“Sure son. That’s what I am, a Scot and proud of it.”

“And yet these Pakis hate being called Pakis. I don’t get difference.”

“Who gives a fuck what Pakis think.” Mick bellowed. “They’re Pakis and they can fuckin’ well lump it.”

“Hey.” said Gaz, returning fully laden from the bar. “Check out guy at bar.” A man in corduroy jacket and spectacles sipped from a cognac glass.

“Don’t know him.” Mick said.

“Apparently, that’s Carl Miller.” Gaz informed them.

“Carl Miller’s an urban legend.” Ian replied.

“Nah, Harry swears down that’s Carl Miller.”

“Who’s Carl Miller?” Fraser asked.

“Carl Miller, so it goes, married a spook.” Mick replied. “African she was.”

“He was a teacher at the college.” Ian joined in. “She was one of his students, Nigerian I reckon.”

“Does it matter, Ian? They’re all the fuckin’ same, wherever they got hit with ugly stick. Anyway, turns out she were only after a green card. Soon as her papers came through, she fucked off with another coon. Had a boyfriend all along.” Mick swigged at his ale. “Well that’s what you get for trusting a fucking nigger. Carl Miller, eh. Excuse me lads, I gonna have a word with Mr Nigger-Lovin-Miller.”

Mick picked up his pint and slammed it down on the bar. “You’re Carl Miller.”

The other turned his head, looked Mick up and down, then faced forward. “I know.” he said.

“You married a nigger.”

“Well, I was married to a woman of African extraction, if that’s to whom you’re referring.”

“Well, I hope you’ve learned your lesson. Coons will fuck you over soon as look at you. Just like the fucking Jews.”

“Very enlightened I’m sure.”

Mick sneered, “You’d do well to mark me lad. They’re not like us.”

“I know.”

“They’re different.”


“Ya hear me.”

“Yeah, yeah, Black people are different to white people, I get it.”


“Same as Muslims aren't like Christians.”

“Yeah. Bunch of fucking extremists.”

“And the French aren't like the British.”

Dirty, soap dodging bastards.”

Nor are the Welsh like the English.”

“Sheep shaggers.”

Or southerners like northeners.”

“Bunch of queers.” Mick's voice directed back towards his table.

“Or Yorkshiremen like Lancastrians.”

“Don’t even get me started on them cunts.”

“Or City supporters like Rovers fans.”

“Blue scum.”

Carl's laugh was filled with scorn. “Mick, is it?”

“Aye.” Mick wasn’t laughing.

Carl narrowed his eyes, “So, if I understand you correctly, you hate anyone who doesn’t live like you do.”

“If they ain’t white, aye.”

“So long as they're not French.”

“White, British, smart arse.”

“Unless their Welsh or from the south or Yorkshire or support the wrong team or, presumably, are gay or drink the wrong beer or live in the wrong part of town, eh.”

“Oh you’re a real fucking smart arse, aren’t you!”

“I am. See, this is my theory.”

“I don’t care.”

“I wasn’t giving you the option. See I think you’re so ignorant, your incapable of accepting that there might be any other way to live life other than the one you’ve chosen. Which must confuse you, yeah. You’re infallible, why aren’t you much better off? Well it must be someone's fault, right. So you look out of your window and what do you see? Muslims and Jews and southerners and Goths and City supporters, all living an alternative lifestyle to your's. Well, if you ain't to blame, it must be their fault. If they lived according to your creed, or went back where they came from, you’d be ruler of the universe by now, wouldn't you.”

Mick stared through Carl. “I am going to make you regret every word out of your fucking mouth.”

“But isn’t that fascism? Make everyone dress like you, think like you, worship you, and eradicate anyone who deviates from the norm. Then, and only then, can you claim supremacy, while the world inexorably regresses.”

“Did you hear what I said?”

”Yeah, yeah, I hear you loud and clear. You don’t have a coherent counter argument so instead you resort to threats of physical violence.” Mick made to speak again, but Carl silenced him with a raised hand. “Please don't delude yourself into thinking that I'm the least bit afraid of you, Mick. I pity you. But perhaps you're right. Get rid of the Pakis. Get rid of the Niggers too. And get rid of the Yids and the Frogs and the Queers and the Poles and the Reds and the Blues and the Green Eyed and the Trannies and the people who live at No 73. But keep people like you. Come the apocalypse, we'll need someone to sweep up.” Carl drained his glass dry, while his opposite stood frozen with rage. “Anyway, must be going, I’ve obviously been here too long, I can feel my IQ starting to dip. Besides, having witnessed your sing-along-a-bigotry earlier, I'm a little concerned you're about to start throwing faeces at each other.” Mick's face was bright red, but still he didn’t move. “By the way,” Carl said, spinning back ‘round, “you might be interested to know that I married Mbelina to stop her being deported back to rape and torture. I married her to save her life. A friend did the same for her fiance.” He winked.  “See ya around.”

After a time Mick seemed to emerge, as if from a trance. He looked about, but Carl was long gone.

“So, did ya give that nigger lover what for?” Frasier asked, as Mick’s sat down.

“What? Oh, yeah, yeah.” Mick drained his glass. “Who’s ‘round is it?”


“Right, Wendy, four pints of beer, as you’re still drinking that fizzy, queer shit.”

“Now look Mick, I don’t mind a joke, but don’t call me queer.”

Mick grabbed Tom by the jaw and pulled him close. “When you sup a man’s drink then I’ll call you a man. Until then, I’ll call you whatever the fuck I like and you’ll take it.” Mick released him. “Don’t make me add your name to the list of people who are gonna get my foot up their arse. Like those two witches, and Carl fucking Miller. Move it, bummer boy.” Tom sulked off to the bar. Four sets of bitter soaked lips laughed.


The ale flowed and time marched on. Last orders came and went. Ian was the first to leave. 'The Wife' texted him home. “Come in number four, your time is up.”

Aye, you’re just jealous. Night lads.” He wrapped himself in a German Army and jacket and slipped out the door to much laughter and pressing of thumbs to foreheads. And when, an hour later, the landlady insisted it was time for bed, there was much innuendo.

The gang bundled out into the winter chill and splintered into three. Mick went his own way, as did Gaz. Frazier and Tom staggered down the street together. For a time, neither man spoke, each lost in his own intoxicated thoughts, boots against pavement the only sound as long, rubbery strides brought them closer to home.

They came to an alleyway to piss. Frasier crashed his hand against Tom’s shoulder. “Listen son,” he said, his neck no longer able to support his head, “I’m sorry about before, showing yous up in front of them cunts.” He clumsily buttoned his fly. “They nae more respect me than they do yous, y’know. It’s no respect son, it’s fear. See if they didnae know I could do the lot of them, they’d treat me nae different.”

“Mick, ‘e don’t fucking respect you though, Frase.”

“No, son, but I ain’t about to mess wee that cunt. The man’s insane. Y’know what he tells me? He tells me he writes, ‘I Hate Pakis’ on fivers wee one of they ultraviolet pens. Then he pays for drinks at the George.”

“So?” Tom replied, the two men balanced against each other in a wobbly triangle.

“So? So some daft wee cunt pays wee a twenty and gets one ay Mick’s fivers wee he’s change.”


“Right, so he goes tay buy fags at the Paki shop and they’s one of they ultraviolet lights Pakis use to check you’s no slipping ‘em fakes.”

“Shit.” said Tom with a dawning realisation.

“Aye, Paki checks the guy’s money and it says, ‘I Hate Pakis’. At best he gets a mouthful ay abuse. At worst three ay they cunts work there kick shit out ay him. Happened to Wayne Archer last week.”

“Fuck.” said Tom, incredulously. “What did Mick say?”

“Nothing.” Frasier replied. “Says it’ll teach cunts no tae buy from nae Pakis.”

“Jesus man, cunt’s fucking tapped.”

“Hey, none of your blasphemy. And none ay your jive talk neither. Just ‘cause ya smoke that shit, there’s nae excuse for talking like nae nigger.”

“Sorry Frase.”

“Nae problem son. What I’m saying son, what I’m saying is it’s one thing beating up a Paki, but when it’s our own kind, that’s bang out ay order, ya get me? I disnae give a fuck who cunts is buying from, you don’t turn on your own. My old dad taught me that.

“Agree with you there Frase, bang out of order."

"Listen son, I’m sorry about showing yous up before.”

“Ya said Frase.” The Englishmen patted the Scot on the shoulder.

“Aye, right enough. You’re a good lad, Tom. Stick wee me and I’ll see ya go far.”

“Cheers, Frase.”

“Oh and Tom.”

“Yes Frase.”

“See if you tell anyone what’s been said here, I’ll cut ya fucking balls off.”

“Yes Frase.”

“No even me, ya here.”

“Yes Frase.”


“Come on.” Tom said. “Let’s get fucking ‘ome.”

“Aye, right enough.” The men staggered on their way. A pair of eyes watched them from the darkness.

The door slammed louder than expected upon Tom’s return. A curse escaped from his lips, but no sound echoed from above. He slipped on the chain and crawled upstairs.

Tom crept into his room and switched on the bedside lamp. He kicked off his aging trainers and threw his Burberry cap on the floor. Then he removed the pint glass from his bedroom table and tiptoed across the landing. Here he rinsed it, filled it with water and drained it dry, before filling it again. It clinked heavily on return to its original place. His hand slipped under the mattress, removing the cigarette papers and brown material hidden there. He burned one edge of the eraser shaped lump and crumbled the pieces into the cigarette paper, adding tobacco to the mix. The lot was rolled into a tube and his tongue ran down the rim. He roached one end and twisted the other to a point. Then he drew the curtains, turned two handles at either end by ninety degrees and pushed the window open. Once his head was clear, he ignited the cigarette pursed between his lips.

“Allo” said a strange voice.

“Fuck me.” Tom jumped, the joint nearly falling from his fingers. “What the fuck are you doing there?” A face had appeared at next door’s window.

“Err, I am sorry, I am new ‘ere.” A slow, hesitant voice.

“Great, that’s all we fucking need.” Tom replied. “Fucking Poles moving into the area.”


Tom spoke loud and slowly, “Are… You…  From… Poland..?  Why…  Don’t…  You… Fuck… Off… ‘ome..?

“Err, no, I am Engleesh.”

“No offence mate, but you don’t sound very English to me.” Tom took a toke and blew smoke in the stranger’s direction.

“I am, how you say, born in this country, but my family move away when I am enfant, no.”

“Yeah? Funny, ‘cause I was born in London, but ma dad brought us back up ‘ere, where ‘e was born.” He sucked on the spliff once more “So 'ow come you come ‘ome?”

“Err, I do not like France so much, so I come ‘ere, to my ‘ome, no. The French, they are too arrogant, no.”

Tom laughed. “Ha ha, nice one. Nah, seriously mate, good on ya. We need more guys like you, coming ‘ome, ‘elping us to stand arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder against these black cunts swarming in.”

“Pardon?” said the man, furrowing his brow. “I do not understand what you say.”

“Pakis, blacks, coons, ya know. From Africa and Iraq and that.”

“Ah yes, I understand ‘ow you say, you do not like black people?”

“Nah, some of the coons are alright I suppose. Guy I get my stash from is half-caste. ‘e’s pretty sound. For a nigger. By the way, don’t tell anyone you seen me smoking this shit.”

“Smoking sheet?” The same baffled look.

“Yeah, weed, y’know.” Tom replied, taking another pull. “’Ere son, get on that.”

“Thank you.” the man replied, pinching it by the middle. “You are most kind.”

“Sorted. Keep it quiet though. Jeez, Mick would ‘ave my balls if ‘e caught me smoking weed. Nigger poison, ‘e calls it. ‘E’s one to talk. Cunt snorts so much coke, swear down ‘e’s the only one keeping them cunts going.”

“Ah, I see, this Mick, ‘e is your frère?”

What's that? My frère?”

“Oui, your frère, your, eh, ‘ow you say, brother.”

Tom laughed again. “Mick, my frère. Ha ha, nah, I ain’t related to that twat. ‘E’s just a guy I know. Nasty fucker, too. I mean, fair enough, I ‘ate Pakis, right, but that cunt ‘ates every fucker. Pakis, coons, Jews, cockneys, queers, the lot of ‘em.”

“Pardon, I still do not understand, what is, ‘ow you say, Paki?” The man handed back the spliff.

“Cheers. Pakis, from Pakistan, Muslims like. Y’know, there are streets in this town where whites like us get our ‘eads kicked in just walking down 'em. Not that you’d want to go down ‘em, smelly bastards. Cunts are too busy blowing themselves up to bother to wash. We go down for a rumble though. Bang a few Paki heads together like, teach cunts a lesson.”

“Ah, I see. So I ask, if you were in charge, no, ‘ow would you do them?”

"Sorry mate, I don't get ya."

"Err, if you were in charge, the, 'ow you say, ruler."

Ah, right, you mean what would I do with the Pakis?”

“Err, yes, these Paki.”

“I’d ship ‘em out, get rid of them.”

“Get reed of them?”

“Yeah.” He smiled at the thought. “If I ‘ad my way, Pakis wouldn’t exist.” There was a moment’s silence. “’Ere,” he said, passing the joint over, “finish that off will ya mate. I ‘ave to go to bed, my ‘ead’s gone all furry.” He giggled.

“Most kind.”

“See ya ‘round.”

“Ah yes, bonne nuit.” The window shut and the man was left alone. He took a single drag on the butt and flicked it out into early morning air. “Never existed.” he said, in perfect English. “Interesting, very interesting.”  An instant later, he was gone.

Modern Fable


In the valley in the wintertime, the sun is a late riser. Barely has it poked its head above the surrounding hills than it is already sinking. What little light lifts above the bowl is quickly absorbed by a bank of perennial, pregnant cloud, which lauds it over the town like an overseer. In the valley in the wintertime, will spring never come?

Tom too was a late riser that next morning. He had twice woken, groaned, swigged at his water and dropped off again, before eventually emerging from beneath the quilt. He pulled on the same pair of black tracksuit bottoms from the night before; there was a rising smell from the socks he still wore. He removed a football shirt from the drawer with the number six emblazoned across its back. He put it on, pushed on his trainers and removed the cap from the floor, applying it to his closely shaven skull. He walked out to the landing.

“Oh Thomas,” his mother said, “must you always come down like a herd of wild elephants?”

Before he could offer a reply, a loud voice bellowed from the living room, “’Ere, speak of the devil, here he is now. How do, wog whacker?” The man laughed heartily, his spectacles jiggling with satisfaction.

“Alright there Uncle Fred. Nah, this guy weren’t a wog, ‘e was a Paki.”

“A what now?”

“A Paki. A Pakistani like.”

“Sorry son, you’ve lost me. What’s a Pakistani when he’s at home?” There was a tinge of nerves to his chuckle.

Confusion flickered across Tom’s face. Then his mouth opened and his eyes scrunched together. “Yeah, very funny Fred. Like you don’t know what a Paki is, enough of ‘em work at your fucking place.”

“Thomas, language.”

“Sorry Mum. Fred, I know you like a joke, but that really is piss poor right.”

“Sorry son,” his father chimed in, “I don’t know what a Pakistani is either.” A half filled room of people stared blankly at him.

“I can’t fathom how you kids keep up all these new words you come up with.” his mother said. “Bakistani indeed.”

“It’s Pakistani mum.” he snapped, spitting out the words. “Pakistani. The place is fucking crawling with ‘em.”


“What place?” his dad asked.

“Crawling with who?” Fred added.

Tom sighed, loudly. “This fucking town is crawling with fucking Pakis, dad. Sorry Mum.”

“Pakis? Hang on, do you mean the Asians?”

“Yes.” Tom said in frustration.

“Well I wouldn’t say there’s a swarm. Mind you, they reckon a couple of streets up Whalley Range is all wogs now.”

Tom starred at his dad in amazement. “A couple of streets? A couple of streets? Whalley Range is full of Pakis.”

“Now son, I don’t like them being here any more than you do, but you shouldn’t exaggerate. There’s a couple of hundred at most.”

Tom gave an elongated sigh of rising impatience. “Na,dad, I ain’t buying this. I’m away out, ya doing ma fucking head in.” He turned his back on the bewildered room and slammed the door behind him.

“Tom son, just in time.” Fraser shouted, as he walked into the vault of the George and Dragon. A twenty pound note was wafted in his direction. “Go tae the bar for me will ya son.”

“No probs Frase.” The teenager smiled. “You’ll be wanting ya change in coins.”

“Aye, too right.” The burly, red faced man returned his grin.

“What the fuck are you two going on about?”

The men exchanged a look. “Nothing Mick.” Tom said.

“Aye.” agreed the Scot. “Shit! Ah havenae shown yous what ma boy sent me.”

The others were huddled around Fraser’s phone as Tom delivered the drinks and a pile of small change. “That’s top.” enthused Ian.

“Aye, shit hot.” Gaz agreed. “Hey Frase, you couldn’t Bluetooth that to me could ya?”

“Bluetooth!” Mick exclaimed. “I never knew you were such a nerdy fairy Gaz.”

The big man looked positively shocked at the suggestion. “Nah, I reckon Gaz has got a good idea there Mick.” Ian said, leaping to his friend’s defence. “If Frase were to send it to all of us, then we could all set it as our background. Be like a badge of honour.”

“That’s no a bad idea.” agreed Fraser.

“What ya on about?” Tom asked.

“Hey, Tom ain’t even seen it yet.”

“Here, get ay load of this.” Fraser said, passing Tom his phone. On the small screen was a photograph. Two men of Middle Eastern extraction lay horizontally away from each other. They were both dead. Embedded in the foreground was a bomb, intact, its propeller sticking up at the viewer. Dripping red lettering above and below read, ‘Kill All Wogs’.

“That’s top.” said Tom. “Where’d ya get it from?”

“Ma youngest sent it me. See it's of when Saddam gassed he’s own people.” His expression was melancholic. “Tam’s unit got shot up the other day. Pal of his got killed.”

“Well you know what I think Frase.” Mick said. “They shouldn’t be out there.”


“When that war were over we should’ve pulled out and let them sand niggers fucking well kill each other. Then we could’ve taken all the oil we wanted.”

“Wee ya there Mick.”

“Hang on.” said Tom, staring at the image. “Frase, you reckon this is from when Saddam gassed them people?”

“Aye, son, that’s what he’s text said.”

“Shouldn’t it say, Kill All Pakis then?”

The others stared at him. “What the fuck is a Paki?” Mick said.

“For fuck’s sake.” Tom exclaimed. “You boys aren’t in on this too?”

“In on what?”

“This kidding on you’ve never ‘eard of Pakis.”

“I’m no kidding son, I don’t know what you mean.”

“I’ll say again,” Mick didn’t like wind ups, “what the fuck is a Paki?”

“Pakis, Mick. From Pakistan.”

“Is this a fucking dream you’ve had, boy? Where the fuck is Pakistan?”

“Listen, what do you call Muslims?” Tom persisted.

“I call them stinky little wogs.” The others laughed.

“No, no, no, wogs are Indians.”

“Aye, Indians are wogs.” Fraser agreed. “And Muslims and Hindoos and Iraqis. All they cunts from Middle East.”

“Err, India isn’t actually in the Middle East, Frase.” Ian said.

“Shut the fuck up Ian.” Mick commanded. “Just ‘cause you’re the Quiz Night Queen, this is no time to be a smart arse. What I want to know is what the fuck this Cockney cock sucker is on about.” He stared hard at Tom. “Well, bummer boy, what the fuck is Pakistan?”

“Nah, sorry Mick, I ain’t ‘aving this. Paki-fucking-stan, Mick. Pass me ya bag.”


“Ya Adidas bag, pass it to me.”

“This better be going somewhere, I am not fucking amused.” Mick leaned over and picked up a brown sports bag, circa 1978.

“See, I ain’t as thick as you all think. You forgot about the flag boys.”

“What about it?” Mick said.

“Aye, what about it?” parroted Fraser.

“Ya always carry a Pakistani flag, so you can shit people up, Mick.”

“Really.” Mick said. “Well this should be good. I’m looking forward to seeing a flag from a place I’ve never fucking heard of.” There was extra venom in the f of fuck.

Tom unzipped the bag and pulled the rolled up cloth out in lengths, like handkerchiefs tumbling from a conjurer’s pocket. He grabbed two corners with his fists and held it out at arm’s length. “See.” he said. Mick’s eyes had fixed him throughout.

Mick smiled thinly and nodded down at the cloth. Tom followed his gaze. Three stripes of saffron, white and green ran horizontally, a blue wheel central to the rectangle. Tom’s face fell.

Mick rubbed his temples. The pub had fallen deathly silent. “Lucky for you, we’re due up at Whalley Range.” His words were slow and heavy. “But I swear, if that wog flag isn’t back in my bag in the next thirty seconds, I’m gonna sack off the demo and go to work on you instead.”

“Yes Mick. Sorry Mick.”

“Damm right you’re sorry.” The others shook their heads at him. “I’ve already got one spastic in't gang, I don’t need another. No offence Gaz.” The apology was made for comic effect. It worked.

While Fraser and Ian laughed at Gaz, Tom packed the flag away in record time. He zipped it up and handed it back to Mick. Mick received it and clipped Tom ‘round the back of the head. Then he span him ‘round and kicked him up the backside. “Get out of the fucking door. And you three, hurry up, I haven’t got all day.”

It was still early as Tom headed home, but already dark. The street lights cast an eerie sodium glow across the underbelly of unbroken grey. Tom crossed a car park and climbed a ramp and came to a dimly lit stretch of canal. He traipsed along the bridleway, his face red from the bitter north wind. The water's surface was as black and as still as obsidian, swallowing all light that fell into it.

The path took Tom past the old industrial heart. The waterway had once served as main artery to mechanised kingdoms up and down the country. Now those dilapidated mills littered the bank-side, like corpses left to rot in the street. The embankment bushes were decorated with discarded shopping bags and rusted solvent cans. Graffiti adorned the underpass of every bridge. Craig sucks old mens cocks. We R All Just Pawns In There Game. UP THE BLUES.

The lock ahead marked the point at which Tom left the path for home. Sat on the lock gate arm, a figure was clearly silhouetted. It hopped down at Tom’s approach, leaning upon a cane. Tom stiffened, his fists clenched. “Ah Tom.” a voice called, “Hello there.”

“Oh it’s you.” he replied. “’ey, what ‘appened to your voice?”

“Well, I went to try and see a dentist, but they said I had to wait for a cancellation. There were no cancellations, so I sat there all day and watched this thing you call television. It was very good, I learnt much.” He flicked a piece of fluff from his greatcoat.

“Yeah? ‘ey, where’s there a dentist open on a Sunday?”

“Ah, it is a special dentist, a long way from ‘ere.”

“Right.” Tom said, suspiciously. “’ey, what you ‘anging around the canal for? You ain’t an arse bandit are you?”

“Arse bandit?”

“You know what I mean.” the teenager replied, menacingly. “A queer boy. They ‘ang around the canal looking for cock. Fuck me, don’t tell me I shared a spliff with a shit-stabber.”

The stranger smiled. “Well I hardly think a few pulls on a cannabis ellocigarette is the same as sharing the pipe of peace. Lovely alliteration though. No, as a matter of fact I was waiting for you, Tom.”

“I knew it.” Tom spat, backing off. “You are fucking queer.”

“Tom, I am not gay!” The stranger advanced a pace, his hands up in mock surrender. “If you will allow me to finish, I was waiting here only to ask you a question.”

“Go on.” Danger. “I’m listening.”

“How do you like your world, now it is free of Pakistanis?”

Stunned silence. “What’s that?

“Well, it was you that put the idea in my head. And after you were so kind to me, a stranger in your town, newly arrived from foreign shores, the least I could do was to grant you your wish.”

Tom laughed. “Sorry mate, I ain’t being funny, but are you a bit fucking simple or what?”

“Spoken to a lot of people today Tom?”

“Yeah, so what?”

“Any of them heard of Pakistan? Or Pakis for that matter?”

“No. None.”

“Then why do you doubt your senses? Examine a map if you don’t believe me. It doesn’t exist. It never has. It never will.”

“Serious?” Tom asked, removing a packet of cigarettes from his pocket.

“Yes, no thank you, though I should explain. When India gained independence, it remained a single country. Pakistan, and Bangladesh for that matter, never came into existence. I erased the event from history. Millions died in the ensuing violence between Hindoos and Muslims”

“Shit.” The end glowed at the lighter’s touch. “You’re really fucking serious, aren’t you?” He exhaled. “’ow can you do that?”

“I have certain powers at my disposal.”

“Yeah? Make me rich then?”

“Sorry, that’s not the game we’re playing. Think of me more as a removal man, if you will. Like Pakistan.”

“Look, ya daft twat, when I say Paki, I don’t just mean cunts from Pakistan.”

“You call Scottish people Scots, don’t you?”

“Yeah, the Jocks are Scots. But Pakis, they’re all the Arabs, all the Muslims.”

“Well which is it? Arabs or Muslims?”

“What fucking difference does it make? They’re all the same.”

“Well no, they’re not actually. Muslims are members of the world wide Islamic faith. Arabs, on the other hand, are citizens of any one of half a dozen countries situated on the Arabian Peninsula. Tom, you need to be clear in your terms of reference if you are to get what you wish for.”

“Right, but what good is sacking off countries if the cunts are still coming over here?”

“Well you have to admit there are far fewer than there were yesterday.”

Tom smiled at the realisation. “Yeah.”

“Besides,” the stranger continued, “Pakistan was merely an example of my work, a free sample. Of course I can erase any group you wish. Within reason.”

“And what?” Tom snorted. “You’re telling me you can just get rid of them?”

“Name your enemy and when you wake tomorrow it will be as if they never existed. Which they won’t. You will be the only one who remembers them. However, games have rules.” The stranger wagged his finger, like a conductor waiving a baton. “You need to be specific and strictly one request per day.”

“Right, well get rid of the Pakis then.”

“I think we’ve already established that you have.” The stranger made to speak again, but was cut short by a sound. A dog came padding down the adjoining path. “’arry’s dog.” Tom said, watching the spaniel scamper towards him. He turned back to the stranger, but he’d vanished.

A shape in wax jacket and flat cap walked down the path, resolving itself into that of a middle aged man. “Oh hello Tom, I didn’t know you come down here.”

“What? Nah, you got it all wrong ‘arry, I’m err, waiting for someone.”

“There’s no need to apologise Tom lad. Maybe we could wait for each other sometime, if you get me.”

Tom’s face became thunder. “Keep walking, Gaylord.” Harry’s head lowered in disappointment as he wandered off. Tom watched the man ‘til he was out of sight.

“May I make a suggestion?” the stranger said, causing Tom to jump.

“Fucking ‘ell, where’d you get to?”

“Just over there. It’s not a good idea that I be seen by too many people. Anyway, I recommend getting rid of the Arabs.”

“Ya reckon?”

“Yes. No Arabs, no Mohammed. No Mohammed, no Islam. And if I understand your vernacular correctly, that would mean no ‘Pakis’.” He made speech marks in the air around the last word.

“Yeah, right on.”

“And no Judaism either.”

“Even better. Big nosed cunts.”

“However, I am morally obliged to issue you with this warning. If I erase Arabia from history, I do so for all time. Any inventions, any contributions made by the people of that region will likewise be erased, never to be replicated.”

“Big fucking deal.” Tom snorted. “Cunts haven’t done anything for thousands of years anyway.”

“A very enlightened attitude I’m sure. Well then, all you need do is ask me formally.”

“What, to get rid of the pak, I mean the Arabs?”


“Ok, get rid of the Arabs.”

The man removed a glove, spat on his hand and held it out. Tom shook it. The man bowed. “It shall be done. Right, well I’ll go and set the wheels in motion. And pick up my dry cleaning.”

“Dry cleaning?”

“Yes, it is a specialist dry cleaners, opposite the dentists. I will check in on you tomorrow.” He threw his cane out in front of him and strolled off.

“Yeah, see ya later.” Tom replied, absentmindedly. He stayed for a few moments, then went on his way.