Not to be too
Shakespearean about it, this is a simple tale of twins, separated at
birth, mistaken identity, lost children and hidden kingdoms. One daughter
brought up by a rock star and a super model, another dragged through
The computer had sensed her I hate men, mood by the way
in which she had slammed the door when she walked in. By the time she
had entered the lounge, the stereo had begun to blast Gloria Gaynors
I Will Survive at her, there was a large box of chocolates
on the coffee table, the drinks dispenser had made her a large whiskey
and coke, and the TV was flashing a message to say that her favourite
soap would begin in half an hour, at about the same time the oven would
finish preparing the individual portion of Thai Green Curry which the
fridge had sent. In the bedroom the wardrobe had sorted a pair of comfortable
pyjamas to the front, ready for when she kicked off her heels and wanted
to change out of the suit she wore to work. Ella downed the whiskey.
I dont want to survive she yelled at Gloria, who was
reaching crescendo. There was no response, so she ate some chocolate,
and then some more.
Are you sure
itll take half an hour for the food? she asked.
If you gave
us some warning other than the door slamming... Computer responded.
All it takes is a push of the button to send the signal youll
be home in so many minutes.
Ella pulled a face
and asked for her glass to be refilled. More whiskey this time,
doesnt think thats a sensible idea. She says if you space
your drinks by half an hour and alternate them with glasses of water
then it will be possible to drink over a four hour period and not feel
any after effects in the morning. It is currently 2 minutes since you
finished your last drink, and 28 minutes remaining before it is recommended
you have another. May I suggest some ice cold Colorado Spring?
Ella said, and was handed a drink, Whiskey and Coca-cola.
you then? Computer asked.
Ella ignored the
question. Kill the song, she said as it became clear that
I will survive had been ordered to play on a loop. It wasnt
enough to not have a certain singer in your collection to ensure you
never heard their songs. Computer could hook up to the on-demand radio
station and play almost any cliche it liked to suit the mood it thought
she was in. If a computer could think, or if it just reflected the values
of her father, who had had the apartment installed, she wasnt
sure. Sometimes it sent the tunes to her through the phone chip in her
earrings - the days when she could choose her own personal soundtrack
by recording compilation tapes for her walkman were long gone, along
with her school days. She rarely had to think for herself now.
I want some
TV - find me something brainless, she ordered.
The screen came
to life. A door was kicked in and four poker players were gunned down
before they had time to realise what was happening. The surround sound
blasted through the walls of Ellas apartment and made her jump.
but not mindless violence, she said. Find something...just
Do not fully
comprehend command...setting to default..
It was a news and
documentary slot of some kind, and a mans voice was droning over monochrome
images from the suburban ghettos, the soundtrack playing a maudlin,
whining track called The Fear by a late last century pop
What is this?
Computer read from
the TV Today break-down on the Grid First in series slot where
people look back at the wishes they made at the beginning of the century
and reflect on the ten years since.
said Ella. She remembered what she had wished for ten years ago. She
had been fifteen and the memories made her cringe. But the man in the
film looked vaguely familiar, so she carried on watching.Kim
Kim was watching
the children leaving her local school. She couldnt have explained
why. Her own children had stopped going last year, and the child in
the push chair - her one year old grandson, Junior - wasnt at
that stage yet. Kim couldnt read or write, and she wondered how
many of these kids could. She watched them, their tatty designer labelled
coats hiding torn, worn uniforms, hollow cheeks, unwashed hair, untended
sores and bruises. She couldnt envy them - at twelve or twenty
five, everyone had their paths already set. Hearing their heedless tussles,
shouts, fights, hurls of abuse and excitement, she knew. Nothing changed,
and there was an overwhelming sense of no hope. And no one missed it.
She walked home, ignoring Juniors wails, as large lumps of Northern
rain slanted their way into his push chair, into his face.
She couldnt remember the exact day or moment she had known for
sure she was pregnant. She knew she had been thirteen - she couldnt
recall what school year that made her, her attendance had already become
sporadic by then. She didnt remember fear or horror or shock.
She had wanted her babies. The horror had come thirteen years too late
when her twelve year old daughter, Lou, became pregnant with Junior.
She had accepted her own mistake, not even thought it was a mistake,
until she had seen patterns repeat themselves, and then she had known,
it was all wrong, and all too late.
Abortion was for
rich people. Other people. Not only because they could afford to skip
the NHS waiting list (longer than the term of a pregnancy, unless you
could afford the necessary bribes) but because other people had lives
to lead, future plans which babies might disrupt. Kims daughter had
no future except the one she had gained from her mothers example - motherhood.
People like Kim didnt have choices - the world just happened to
them and they had to deal with it.
Kims son Jarvis
was eleven. She received a recording from him once a week, which he
was forced to make. Phone calls were banned - there was a danger of
spontaneity in them, and the authorities liked to be able to monitor
what the residents told their relations. They called them Training Schools.
Originally they had been sold to the public as places to which the long
term unemployed would be sent for re-training. They had become a place
to send all the uncontrollable elements in society - the people who
did not quite fit into the governments vision. That now included children
who would not stay in school, and hung around the concrete desert at
night, scaring people, hijacking deliveries, encroaching onto the safe
society most people lived in, making them nervous. They said she couldnt
control him. Well, she'd done her best. It wasnt that she didnt
care. But with four children, and always having to worry about whether
the weekly budget would stretch to food, rent, the loan sharks..and
Lou's pregnancy and then Junior...She couldn't do anymore than take
him to the school gates and hope he stayed there, could she? And she
couldnt keep him indoors could she, when they lived in a few gloomy
rooms in a scum flat and there was nothing for him
to do? People who disagreed with them called them Boot Camps. That was
the All New Third Way Party. Always opposing everything, never doing
much. In fact the training schools had begun with an idea from when
the New Labour Party was in government. They had been so determined
that the underclass should be eradicated, that there would be no stowaways
in society's progress. Everyone should pull their weight, and state
benefits should not be seen as a long term income provision. Everyone
had to be rehabilitated to become a useful member of society. Mr Gadgrind
would have been so happy. That was when the emphasis on Training had
begun. Training whether you liked it or not. It seemed under the new
Tory government that a natural continuation of that philosophy was to
be Training Schools. Anyone who did not cooperate with the new society
vision was sent away, for re-training, rehabilitation, so that one day,
probably, they could return and take a place in society as model citizens.
Kim found it difficult to imagine anyone she knew with a place in society.
When she thought about it she couldn't remember meeting anyone who had
returned from Training School.
Manchester and Liverpool
had once been a part of Lancashire until they had been given unitary
status as city boroughs. Now history had reversed itself, and the Federal
State of Manchester incorporated most of Lancashire. In the far north
of the State was the Kingdom of the Ribble Valley. It had begun as a
joke. April 1st 1997, the Clitheroe Advertiser and Times had run the
front page story about a statement of UDI, electing a Queen, setting
up passport controls at the border. Among certain elements in the region
it had been less of a joke, and the underlying feeling that Country's
going to the devil, old man, be better off out of it?had remained
among the people who mattered, the people who owned the land and paid
the bribes. So in 2004 the new Manchester State had struck a deal. The
State would acknowledge the Ribble Valley as a separate kingdom in all
matters excepting Federal Laws, and in return the new Kingdom would
play host to the Training Schools necessary to fulfil the rehabilitation
needs for the whole expanded Manchester State Region.
Sending the underclass
to mingle with the tweed and green welly wearing Landowners Association
was not as unlikely a proposition as it sounded. To begin with, there
was never going to be any mingling. The Ribble Valley is a wilderness
in the north of England, the paradise of the hunting, shooting, fishing
brigade. There is plenty of space for undesirables to be hidden, out
of sight, out of mind. The kingdom as it is in 2010 is divided into
roughly three main areas. Leaving the border town of Blackburn, passing
the strict border control you pass the high wire fences of the Clayton-Le-Dale
Suburb with its direct armoured Metro Line into Manchester. It
is commuter-ville for people who dont mind showing a passport
every day on their way to work and want added snob-value. You enter
the first wilderness, a landscape of moor land and bleak hills which
wouldn't quite earn the distinction of being called Mountains, even
by English standards. The SmartRoad runs directly through and few people
choose to stop. Most of the farms and houses that used to be here have
been deserted in favour of more secure developments This is where the
Training Schools are.
There was no need
to build new developments. The Ribble Valley already had the Colonies,
and had been looking for something to do with them for the last two
decades. From the Victorian Age until the 1980's they had been Lunatic
Asylums, in the later years referred to obliquely, just as Institutions.
There were three - Langho Colony, Brockhall Colony and Calderstones.
Each was a large community, complete in itself, with wide tree lined
avenues, large hospital buildings, a church, railway station, daily
food deliveries, a cemetery. There was no need for anyone to leave them,
and with a few adjustments they could be adapted to the needs of Training
Schools. They were secure, remote and all the residents were electronically
At the centre of
the kingdom is Clitheroe, the small market town which now serves as
a capital. Here the Union Jack flies over the Conservative Club, the
church and the small Norman Keep. The Queens picture still hangs on
walls and the children are still made to sing the National Anthem at
school every morning. Nobody sees the contradiction between this and
the towns UDI status. The Important People make up the rules, and they
were not rebelling against the established order, but against the changing
modern world. They stood up for their right to keep their class system
and their Grammar school in place. Beyond Clitheroe is the second wilderness,
a world of pretty villages and picturesque scenes, where the rich live
in remote mansions and keep their own version of the feudal system going
through their tennantry. There is again a bleak edge to the prettiness,
which hints at a barbarism, never quite extinguished. In the sixteenth
century they burned more witches in this region than anywhere else in
England. It is this ruthlessness and determination to pursue the course
of justice as they see it which makes the people of the area the perfect
custodians of those society wants to disown. They have no mercy.
Jarvis was not due
to send another recording for a few days yet, so Kim returned to her
flat with little to look forward to. At this time she might have watched
the digicasts if she hadn't sold her wallscreen to stave the Loan sharks
off for another month. So she missed the broadcast.
[ Transcript of
- Ten Years On
In ten years time I hope there will be no homeless charities.
I hope there will be no need for them. CRAIG BROWNE, DAY-CENTRE
WORKER, JANUARY 2000.
It was ironic, really. In the year 2000 I wished my job away. To an
extent I have got what I wanted. There are no hostels, day centres,
emergency funds or drop-in centres anymore. The reason for this is not
that there has been any drop in the numbers of the dispossessed and
homeless since 2000 - on the contrary in the last ten years the extent
of the population we define under the term underclass
or socially excluded has grown significantly - but
because there is nobody left brave or foolish enough to take the risks
involved with working with these people who society has disowned.
When the millennium turned, the warning signals were already there to
point the way in which Britain was heading, for those who were either
willing or forced to see them. Personally I remember December 17th 1999
as a landmark in our descent into a two tier society. It was on this
day that Ruth Wyner and John Brock were sentenced to five and four years
in prison respectively. Wyner was the director of the Cambridge-based
charity Wintercomfort, which ran a day-centre for the homeless,
of which Brock was the manager. They were arrested and then imprisoned
after an undercover police operation revealed drug dealing on a large
scale was taking place in the day-centre. The two were not accused of
dealing drugs themselves, encouraging drug deals or profiting from them
in any way. Nor was it said that they had done nothing to try and prevent
drugs deals in their day centre. Their crime was that they had not done
enough to combat drug dealers having access to their premises.
Their defence was that they were not aware of the extent of the dealing
which was taking place in the day centre. They could not be, it was
only detected by two undercover police men, pretending to be homeless
and calling themselves Ed and Swampy.
One of the main dealers was a man who regularly complained to staff
about the drug addicts. Another dealer kept her drugs hidden in her
crotch, and was only revealed by the police surveillance camera. Wyner
and Brock made it clear drug dealing would not be tolerated, operated
a strict drugs policy and a system of bans from the day centre for anyone
they suspected of dealing in drugs. The reason they did not hand the
names of these people over to the police was because they were only
suspected - there was never any proof.
The true injustice of the charge was that the government needed charities
like Wintercomfort to work with young people with problems, they even
encouraged them, because they provided support that didnt come
from anywhere else. The state was not prepared to deal with these people,
it was easier to leave it to the charities. Wyner and Brock were arrested
for doing the very thing the government had always desired them to do
- be on the front line in societies war against poverty, long term unemployment,
substance abuse and all the other problems associated with social exclusion.
The conviction of Wyner and Brock in effect said that the government
did not want anyone to work with these people. Once someone had fallen
into the underclass there was no point to working
with them - they were unsalvageable and could not be reclaimed into
society again. The way was being paved for two separate societies with
no interaction apart from unmerciful repression, and no chance of climbing
out of the underclass. In the twenty first century societies safety
nets were to be eroded until they no longer existed.
The conviction of Weiner and Brock had little mainstream press coverage
or reaction, and so it is hard to convey the sense of utter shock and
disbelief felt by those who worked with the homeless or drug users at
the prison sentences. No one had believed the charges against the two
could be sustained, or that if they were the sentences would be anything
other than nominal. Any charity or organisation which ran a policy of
confidentiality towards their clients was worried by the precedent this
It seemed clear by 2000 that things were only going to get worse for
the homeless. My wish that the homeless problem would be solved was
not one I believed possible - the wish was a wistful one which belonged
to another era. Pre-1997 we had naively believed that everything would
change, when we had a new government. I define this time as the time
before I grew up, when I had only the big, bad Tory in the wood to hate
and fear. Disillusionment was already a familiar feeling by the end
THE CALL TO REVOLUTION
What the government really wanted me to say when they allowed the TV
company to commission me to do this programme is to say, yes, fabulous,
my wish has come true, there are no homeless in the United British States.
And maybe theyre right, when was the last time you saw a tramp
sleeping in a doorway, a beggar asking for money? But shouldnt
we be asking ourselves where these people have gone to? You dont
think theyre all respectable members of society now, do you? Doctors,
Lawyers, new Grid media moguls?
So the futures so perfect, as perfect as the present, and why
should you care about those who dont quite get it, who havent
been able to keep up? We live in a country where there are two societies,
but the government says that this is going to change. You wont
have to be scared to go to certain places, you wont have to have
huge electronic fences around your property anymore. Why? because theyll
eradicate the underclass. How worthy that sounds. But what
does that mean exactly? Lets talk definitions a minute.
Ten years ago an American called Charles Murray who had done academic
research into the underclass in his own country came over here to do
a similar investigation in Britain. This is how he defined underclass.
By underclass I do not mean people who are merely poor, but people
at the margins of society, unsocialised and often violent. The chronic
criminal is part of the underclass, especially the violent common criminal.
So are parents who mean well but cannot provide for themselves, who
give nothing back to the neighbourhood and whose children are the despair
of the teachers who have to deal with them. This is the stereotype
we have largely been left with, despite the passage of time. Murray
took for his study 3 indicators of an Underclass; Crime, Illegitimacy,
Employment, or lack of it. These three are still in use by the government
for the purpose of definition. People are blamed for their misfortunes
and made to feel guilty for existing.
Once again we blame single mothers. Children of as young as 12 find
they are pregnant. Instead of reacting with fear and horror, they desperately
want to keep their babies. I want a baby to love, said a
twelve year old from Sheffield at the turn of the century. They want
the responsibility, the purpose, the attention, the love. A child who
felt they had a future would worry about having a baby interfering with
that future. Children are savvy enough to know about contraception.
The problem is that children feel they have no future except the most
basic and obvious - procreation.
We give these children no choice, no options. They are born into an
underworld, and there are no bootstraps for them to pull themselves
out. What purpose to life are they supposed to have? The girls have
babies, the boys get guns.
And what is the answer? The government says it is Training Schools.
And have you ever wondered what happens to people once theyve
arrived in these places...
It was not an envoy from the Tory government who ordered the slot to
be pulled off the air. The message came from the HQ of the rock star
who was now running to be the new leader of the Labour Party. Nobody
was listening anyway. There is too much space in the Grid for anyone
to listen to the unstructured ramblings of a madman from another era
for longer than two minutes.
Only Ella watched for longer, wondering if she recognised in the features
of Craig Browne the only picture she had of her biological father...
© JAYNE SHARRATT