Saturday 29 June 2013

Handwritten Notepod entry. MOBCOM No.872 -7685-6245 2nd December 20—


If you are reading this, it means you have found the MC you have been using to trace us in a litter bin by the roadside, this last notepod entry uppermost, the stylus very pointedly broken in two. I am done with this device.
By now, you will also have surmised that I do not intend to give myself up. Pedro is not a party to any of the alleged crimes of which I am accused. I therefore ask that you exclude him from your thoughts whilst you attempt to find and arrest me. He has not made any of the decisions that bring me to this point beyond wanting to stay with me for whatever fate or the B & C have in store.  The gun is a memento, but useful in that it is the only accessible form of defence I could find in the AW. Pedro now tells me I could have had an AK47 from one conversation in a Hackney pub.  But I doubt we had the cash for that. I know for you it conveniently raises the stakes, but Pedro is no part of the battle between us.
The story you told me lacks conviction, smacking as it does of half-remembered science fiction and barely credible cinema scenarios. You know as well as I, that I am no clone or genetic experiment. We will no doubt meet again, but I think it fair to say that I regard you, along with everything else in this fantasy, as a figment. Therefore, you will catch me or not according to my own subconscious whim and it seems that neither your or I are wholly in charge of that.
You see, I know full well who you really are. In effect, Detective Inspector Gerry O’Brien, guileless literary taunt and gaunt authoritarian, you are disease. A living, breathing tubercule, chasing me across my dreams as you harried me in my waking life, a constant reminder that whatever fantasy I may harbour about a life with a woman, a child and a house by the sea, you will be lurking somewhere, trying to leech the breath from my lungs, the joy from my love, the light from my life. But I am not ready for you now. There is so much I still want to do. I am awake. I am alive, even if it is only in my mind. You shall not have me yet.


PS: Have you noticed how no one mentions the significance of your surname to me? Another salutary reminder that many people have heard of my work, parroting phrases like the lyrics of popular songs, but not a single one of you has actually read it. One might almost cite this as evidence of the fantastic and hallucinatory nature of the world I am in. But regrettably, I suspect it may be further evidence of this fever world being rooted in some sort of reality.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Fever Diary – 25th November 20--

The priority on that dire day was to either dry our clothes or obtain replacements.  The cold cloth was debilitating in the wind and slowed progress. In the end, I found, to my shame, that I could go no further and huddled, utterly miserable in the lee of a dry stone wall, waiting for the end. When one is profoundly end-of-tethered and cold to boot, there is something comforting in the slow shut down of exposure. They say the feeling of cold slowly recedes and a kind of drowsy numbness takes its place. Nature’s blanket gently being drawn over the head.
However, just as I began to find the sleep of the eternal an altogether attractive prospect, (and one I may well have experienced before) Pedro, to his everlasting credit, took charge and disappeared towards a distant farmhouse. All in all we had travelled less than five miles from Shiplake and I knew that they would track us down soon enough if we couldn’t leave the area rapidly. All seemed lost and, in truth, I wasn’t entirely unhappy. I had died once. I could do it again.
He returned within half an hour carrying two pairs of running shorts, a pair of baggy jeans, some army camouflage trousers and two heavy woolen hoodies, the legend ‘Working for the Clampdown’ on the back and ‘The Clash’ on the front of one and the superfluous legend ‘HOOD’ on the other. He had wrapped the shorts around each hand and draped the jeans and trousers over his shoulder.  Balanced on his swathed palms was a foil tin that smoked slightly. He placed it down to reveal a portable disposable brazier of smouldering charcoal beneath a wire mesh upon which rested two of the most delicious smelling pork chops I had ever seen. 
We fell on them intermittently as we stripped off from the waist down and donned the running shorts beneath the clothes.  I eschewed the baggy jeans and chose the army trousers as they felt more natural. Although I hated the hoodie and its eccentric, indecipherable decoration, I was cold enough to find its material a comfort and relief.  I was loath to put the soaked boots back on, but Pedro produced two rolls of long socks from his pockets and I almost kissed him. His raid on an empty farmhouse had produced nothing, but a foray to a temporary caravan in the field behind had produced the contents of a washing line and a barbecue whilst the inhabitants squabbled over a TV programme inside the tiny mobile home that apparently played host to a pair of raggedy builders converting the abandoned farmhouse into a habitable holiday home.  The chops were still warm and we ate like pigs, the juices coursing down our faces until, warmed by this and the new clothes, we felt we could go on and find shelter.
What happened that evening as we entered the town of Shipston-on-Stour will now be well known to most of the Interverse. It might appear from the footage of my impromptu appearance on the hustings, (now ranked as the most viewed vid in the Europe section of the Viewsites) that I had intentionally sought out this meeting to put my point, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the rich and mostly undercooked meal stolen from the builders had an unfortunate effect on the stomach and the only reason we entered the community centre was to use the lavatories. Viewed historically, it might be seen as entirely appropriate that some political passions may be put down to the bowel and the stridency of some speeches to diarrhoea.
Having availed ourselves of the facilities, we noted that hot teas were being dispensed at the rear of the political meeting that was taking place in the main hall. We quickly snaffled a scalding beverage in an inadequate plastic beaker with a slice of fruit cake and sat with some relief on a pair of free seats at the rear.
Only then did I realise that the four main political parties were hosting a local debate on the most vital (!) issues of the impending election. Four representatives and a dowdy chairwoman sat on a shabby stage before drab red velvet curtains tied back either side to frame a painted flat of the London skyline on the back wall that had obviously been used for a recent ‘Dick Whittington’ pantomime. 
The drone of uninspiring discourse had the usual soporific effect and I sat drowsily aware that both the sitting MP and the three challengers could all be described as sitting firmly on the centre right and centre right right of the political compass. One younger fresher faced candidate tried to curry favour with a slightly libertarian view undercut by an emphasis on home security that seemed guaranteed not to frighten the horses.
However as the debate went on, I noticed that all were focusing on the situation in China, terrorism and the need for constant awareness of all manner of potential threats. The Chinese debacle, of course, was not described by any of the politicians as a war. The phrase ‘peacekeeping’ was used throughout, despite the news reports of active British campaigns against various factions in the territory since the break up of the country into its respective UN cantons after the collapse of the Revolutionary Government. There was an underlying implication that the Altay disaster which precipitated the fall of China could very well happen here in Europe and that the security of nuclear power facilities needed to be ramped up and improved against those who sought to bring about change via the atom. No one but the quasi-libertarian suggested closing them, of course, and he was quickly shouted down.
All in all, there was few of what one might call ‘local’ issues, the emphasis being entirely on outside forces. All of the whey-faced career politicos darkly hinted at impending threats against which we would be defenceless unless a new Government were elected or a ‘fresh approach’ to security introduced. At the same time, technology and the Interverse were cited as the tools to empowerment and change that would make ‘Digital Democracy’ a reality at last, with even the Olders assisted into participation. At one point, in a rare departure from the enemies without and within theme, a candidate seemed to be suggesting, to much applause, that 3D wallscreens in every home was not only some kind of civil right, but a necessity for any functioning democracy.

It was at this point that the local Mayor who was chairing the farce threw the floor open for questions and I committed what may now be regarded as the most foolish act of my life in the AW. At a time when we were effectively public enemies, on the run from all manners of covert authoritarians and with a need to be as invisible as possible, I got to my feet, Pedro pulling desperately on my jacket. I did not know what I was going to say. In fact, without notes of any kind, I was not as incoherent and rambling as I expected. Nonetheless, in the end it was ridiculous, nebulous nonsense. The kind of thing one might say in a dream. 

Monday 24 June 2013

Fever Diary – October 10th 20--

We ran out of money around Heathrow. I checked my account on the MC and was not surprised to find that benefit payments had been stopped. The Hackney & Haringey Advertiser however, had faithfully deposited my extremely modest fee for the last column and this allowed us enough to buy a new butane bottle and some provisions.
As we sat out in front of the tent in a patch of green called Cranford Park, I calculated that we had enough food for another three days before becoming completely destitute. This didn’t fill us with despair. Both Pedro and I had been in this position on the road before (albeit in different centuries) and knew that there was always a way of picking up work for cash in hand. In addition, we sought out supermarket back alleys for the usual scavenged items among the daily food dumps, so we were a long way from starving. If we were in Kent, I might have found us some hop picking, but when I suggested this to Pedro he just laughed.
At Pedro’s suggestion, a tour of the industrial estates surrounding the airport produced a couple of days working alongside a dozen illegal immigrants spraying car windshields, windows and other glass surfaces with a coating of what was described as ‘permeable nanomaterial’.  The Turkish supervisor of the crowded workshop was harassed by an impending deadline and happy to see another pair of hands. We received a quick safety instruction that consisted mainly of a warning that failure to wear a thin waxed paper overall and flimsy face mask would render the firm’s insurance invalid. No one commented on the unlikely prospect of any of us being covered by any sort of legitimate policy, whether we wore a paper overall or a beekeeper’s outfit.
The work was hot and stifling but lasted just over a week whilst we ‘drummed up’ in a different corner of surrounding fields every night. One day whilst smoking a cigarette on the forecourt of the warehouse, I overheard the supervisor being warned of an impending B & C raid on the entire business park that had us cycling quickly towards Datchet, leaving that day’s wage irrecoverable.
We camped that night next to a reservoir at Wraysbury where I despatched my column to the Hackney & Haringey Advertiser. It contained an account of my escape and informed readers that I would, in future, be submitting via the Carolan Portal. I had read that this alternative to mobnet afforded a more secure method, making it impossible to reveal our location. But afterwards I fretted that I had given away too much information and contemplated throwing away the MC in case it contained a treacherous element that would help the B & C to track our progress.
It was then that I experienced a wholly bizarre sensation. Despite standing at the water’s edge, the device in my hand, Pedro urging me on, I couldn’t destroy it. I likened it to the pang I felt when they confiscated my Remington in the sanatorium. I realised I had developed a peculiar attachment to the smooth lines of my MC. To drown it, seemed like sacrilege. I have not been averse to pissing on the altar when the need arises, but this seemed altogether different. More like pissing on myself.
I had taken the precaution of establishing an Interverse mailbox that functioned as the equivalent of a ‘dead letter drop’ using the ID tag ‘Winston’ for my own absurdly romantic reasons. I rationalised the decision by convincing myself that the B & C were not aware that I had an MC, although I could not be certain that Emily’s brother hadn’t revealed this to them. I assumed not, as he messaged me to say that he still regarded himself as my representative should I wish to ‘turn myself in’. He emphasised that my offence was a comparatively trivial affair in monetary terms. The benefits fraudulently claimed under the name of Allways would not bear a custodial sentence, although it could mean me spending some time in a detention centre whilst my identity was established.
In a way, I can see the advantages of this. I cannot prove who I am, no more can the authorities. There is a temptation to let them sort it out and bugger the consequences. But something tells me that the wheels of bureaucracy turn ever more slowly here and I might be rotting in chokey for a long time before they found a suitable explanation for my existence. Not a sensible option.
Also, I am very eager to be on the tramp again. I knew it would come to this in the end and it’s almost a relief to be forced to rely on one’s own resources and cunning to get by. I am challenged to evade the many methods that now exist to pin a citizen down to a fixed space and I am curiously cheerful at the prospect. It feels like the old days in the LDV in St John’s Wood, where we planned a British Resistance trained to attack and evade an occupying German army.
I find my many conversations with Scratch have given me a picture of the complex and subtle structures of authority in the AW that isn’t immediately apparent to the casual observer. Of course, I noticed the surveillance cameras, the armed police officers, the press reports of random censorship on ‘security’ grounds, the hyped menace of armies of Chinese/Islamic/Zionist/Uiguyr/Russian terrorists threatening everything we hold dear and the obsession with identity, immigration and nationality. But he made me aware of the more ethereal battle going on in the Interverse for personal data. In so doing, he helped me to find the missing context that has been nagging away at me for so long. Previously, it seemed that every time I thought I had a grip on what the primary issue was in the AW, it slipped away from me in a shower of disputed history and fact. In a sense this was entirely expected. If the AW is a delusion of my madness, then it seems only right that I should tilt at a few windmills before finding my true quest.
I knew fundamentally that the real driver for authoritarian behaviour was capitalism, but Scratch (wish I knew his real name) made me aware of how this manifests itself. Under the guise of anti-terror measures and efficient delivery of municipal services, more and more information is required on each individual. The technology for obtaining this information, and indeed the administration of it, is handled by corporations. The Government, driven always by a creed that suggests private companies are better administrators than civil servants, has auctioned off the job to a dozen or more favoured corporate giants who are, as always, beholden not only to the dividend takers, but to their patrons within the Government itself.
Inevitably, capitalism demands more than one method of exploitation and most citizens don’t appear to have consented (unless implicitly) for their personal details, credit record, purchasing choices, health, wealth, secret perversions, criminal records, DNA, sexual preferences and political beliefs to be hawked amongst the corporations as currency. By this method they are approved or denied insurance, employment, housing, benefits, education, health services, transport, passports and patronage of any kind.
At the same time they are touted by the same corporations or their clients for everything from luxury apartments to pile ointment depending on the ‘profile’ the accumulated data procured on them draws in the ether. I had thought the frontier of this battle against intrusion and personal liberty lay in the area of identity cards or passports. In fact, the authorities do not need such things. Everything a citizen does or says, every offence committed, every book purchased, every trip taken, every song composed, every article written, every subscription, every Saturday night observed on camera, tells them all they need to know.
The only problem the state has, is managing the scale of the information gleaned from so many people in so many forms. Judging by my experience at UCH, the fault lines lie in the technology used to collate or collect and the inefficiency or competing interests of the corporate systems and processes that interpret that information. In a sense, and perhaps not for the first time, the bureaucracy is the citizen’s best bulwark against intrusion.

Needless to say, I did not throw the MC into the reservoir. Had I done so, I would not have been able to collect a message from Emily. It was short, but expressed concern and a healthy dose of guilt for my ‘predicament’. I replied with some reassurance that I did not blame her at all and that all choices had been made by me alone and with a realistic knowledge of the consequences. She asked to meet and although I long for this, I had to put her off for now. I think there is a danger that she will be followed and I am not ready to surrender my liberty so soon. I have been in the AW for ten months, but I feel as if I have only just woken up. 

Sunday 23 June 2013

Fever Diary – May 9th 20--

I have solved the mystery of the disappearing newspaper. I have hungrily searched for them on the streets, but soon after acquiring purchase, they become blank and I find myself absurdly gloomy about the failure of my imagination in this one regard. I laboured, often reluctantly, at the coalface of journalism for a very long time, but now found myself with a literary blind spot. Although the fancier MC’s deliver a bulletin digest daily, many people do still desire a solid paper in their hands on the tube or the bus, but I can’t seem to keep one in my eye. 
I told Pedro of my experience. He looked at me in the usual pitying manner, picked up a discarded paper from the pile of waste in the Council recycling compactor kept in the front garden and took me down the road to the paper kiosk at the entrance to Stamford Hill station. Inserting coins into the kiosk he showed me two black dots in the lower left hand margin of the paper and placed them in a gap between two protruding spurs of metal on the side of the kiosk.
The spurs came together over the dots and the newspaper’s surface instantly filled with text, colour photographs and advertisements. He showed me how I could make certain pictures move by tapping them to trigger a short documentary. It seems my imagination did not have a leak after all. It had filled the gap with something even more alien than the overt sexual language and depiction that seems ubiquitous in the media of the AW. Now that I know the costs involved, I will have to budget for a daily paper reload as well as everything else.
However, there are other allocations in our meagre economy that are probably more urgent. This afternoon, I visited my preferred Scandinavian chain store and invested in a tent and a small rucksack. Tomorrow I am going to search through what the AW calls Hackney’s Civic Amenity site, which, in the BW we called a rubbish dump.
Five Nigerians hold sway over the site and sift the goods arriving for disposal like city antique dealers at a country auction. I have cultivated their leader over the last few weeks and am promised a robust recycled bicycle for Pedro. Preparations are almost complete. I have felt for some time that our time here is almost at an end. I sense surveillance. I am almost certain that I saw the middle-aged man in the flat cap again hanging around the station. Once again, the lower face was covered so it is difficult to be certain.
Yesterday, there was a knock on the door around lunchtime. Pedro and I were washing up after an Irish stew that had left me feeling indolent and bloated. A young woman stood on the doorstep, a tartan coat over a pair of white trousers and tousled red hair above startling green eyes.  I guessed she was in her twenties and almost certainly from the west of Australia, judging by the twang. She introduced herself as Helen Boden, a reporter from the Hackney & Haringey Advertiser. She held out her MC and said, ‘I wondered if I could talk to you about this? ’On the screen was a picture of myself in the dock at the Inner London Crown Court beneath an article headlined ‘Orwell in the Dock’.
I invited her in and she sat sipping tea whilst I read the rest of the piece – a mocking sketch on the kind of entertaining eccentrics that occasionally pass through the Courts. It reminded me of Dickens’ ‘Sketches by Boz’ and perhaps this was the intention. It instantly sent a frisson of foreboding down to my belly as I realised that I was now attracting far too much attention for my own good. The most unsettling part was a reference to a ‘Stalinist Hit List’ for MI5. My game with Rees was hardly that, but it seemed to me as if Celia might well have had such connections.
‘It’s been picked up by quite a few people’ she said. ‘People like the idea, you know, that he’s still alive somewhere, watching us all.’
I observed that she was wary of the madman, but also clearly wanted something. I presumed it was a story and told her bluntly that I wasn’t interested in being interviewed and parodied for the benefit of the local newspaper. I told her, somewhat unconvincingly that I no longer laboured under the delusion. This was not helped by the act that we had purchased new razors that morning and, for the first time in the AW, I had shaved all but my favoured line above the top lip. She looked at me with an impishly amused scepticism and told me that she wasn’t really thinking of rewriting a national story for the locals. What she really wanted was for me to write a weekly column for the paper. I was taken aback and slightly suspicious. What made her think I could even write? She read from my impromptu meditations on the nature of existence in Court and pointed out that it sounded like a writer speaking, if ever she had heard one.
 ‘You may not be him, but there’s an angle here. A view of the world from an unusual place.’
‘Diary of a Madman’ I suggested. She smiled and said she was thinking of something more like ‘As I Please’ or even ‘Blair’s Diary’. I told her coldly that a literary bedlam where readers passed by to see the mentally defective rend their garments was not an attractive proposition. In truth, I was intrigued by the idea of having a column again, but not the attention that it would bring. Pedro, ever the pragmatist, asked how much I might be paid. She told him and he did a little mental gavotte as he juggled with reducing our benefit payments over being comparatively better off.
I cut them both off by saying that we would be leaving the area soon. It was not the best way for Pedro to hear of my plans, but he betrayed nothing to the journalist. She seemed un-perturbed and pointed out that I could write from anywhere I pleased. I quickly, but politely, declined. But as she was leaving, she left me her card and told me that if I changed her mind, all I had to do was send the first column to the e-dress listed.
After she left I apologised to Pedro and told him my intention. I made it clear that he was under no obligation to go along with it. After two hours of wrangling, he convinced me to wait and see how the B & C interview went, before making a final decision. Conscious of how long he had lived without comforts before I came along, I reluctantly agreed. I hope it will not be too late by then.

I put Miss Boden’s card in the small pouch that contains my puncture kit below the saddle of Rocinante. 
Fever Diary – March 18th  20--

I met ‘Scratch’ when I was caught short one day after a disappointing visit to the Scandinavian supermarket on the Upper Clapton Road. One feature of the AW is the lack of any public conveniences. The nearest one has been converted into a Chinese butchers and another further down Kingsland Road is now some sort of underground nightclub.
I had just toured the aisles of the shop looking for anything that might constitute provisions for the week, only to realise, not for the first time just how little the money we receive could buy.  I decided to abandon my search and walk down to the market at Ridley Road. But, emerging into the cold wind, I was driven down the side alley next to the supermarket to the rear where I hoped to find a discreet corner to relieve myself. 
As I finished availing myself of the lack of facilities, I noticed a young man in a woollen hat sorting through one of a trio of large metal bins next to a set of fire doors belonging to the shop. This was my first sight of Scratch. He was olive skinned, with dark heavy eyebrows, a slight figure and large emerald eyes. His features were delicate and his teeth misaligned at the front, but he was handsome and young and healthy. Rather too healthy, I thought, to be grubbing around in bins.
I don’t know why I walked across to join him. Maybe I was curious about the plastic trays he was studying with such intent before stuffing them into a battered green rucksack covered with scribbled drawings and mysterious slogans. Maybe I was just drawn to his smile as he glanced at me in his amiable way as he sorted.
I asked him what he was doing and he looked me up and down, no doubt taking in my battered shoes and the mud thrown up from the bicycle on my trouser cuffs.  He decided, there and then, that I needed educating.
Later, much later, he told me that unlike most people his age, he often spoke to ‘Olders’ on the street and that I seemed so skinny and lacking in means that he instantly felt responsible for me. So it was that I was introduced to the stunning level of waste in the AW and the art involved in taking advantage of it.
For nearly an hour, I learnt the arcane symbols, colours and dates on the labels of the film-shrouded food items and what they signified. I learnt to discard mostly according to Scratch’s own set of rules that involved not indulging in any product he disapproved of ethically and ones that were obviously rancid. Products from certain countries were not even offered for consideration and at the end of my impromptu lesson, I realised he had sorted two piles, one for him and one for me. I noticed mine were primarily meat based and when I queried this he held up his two index fingers in a cross formation.
‘Don’t eat the flesh, mon cop. But I know most Olders are cannibal protein monkeys. Got you some veg too though, look. Those tomatoes just need the black bits cut out and that jar there is pickled red peppers. No sense dating them really. But they got a corporate policy, see?  Every day around this time, they clear out. You got to be here though. The good stuff is gone by tonight. S’cocktail hour. You wanna come down the towie for a drinkie poo? What’s your tag, Older?’
I smiled, engaged by his cheery, cheeky charm. ‘That’s currently under debate. But you can call me George.’ He cackled in delight and held a mango in his hands, stroking it gently and intoning in a low American drawl, ‘I’ll hug him and I’ll pet him and I will call him George’. I laughed and pointed at his dazed expression.
‘Steinbeck. Lenny from ‘Of Mice and Men’. No?’
He stabbed his broad nose with his finger and pointed back. ‘Zackly. And a Warner Brothers classic cartoon of course. But we are literary men, right?’
We sat shivering at the gouged metal tables outside the ‘The Moon Under Water’ down by the canal so that we could both smoke. We drank cheap dark ales and spoke for some hours after our finances ran out and the lights above the tables shone sodium saucers in the water.
He was a musician of some sort and lived in an abandoned house off the Seven Sisters Road. He was, as he said, a literary man; a voracious reader currently obsessed by Baudelaire and Kurt Vonnegut. I had just started Vonnegut from my reading list, drawn by his experience of the Dresden bombing and we talked for some time about ‘Slaughterhouse Five’, debating the advantages and disadvantages of the author’s fey mannerisms.  It was the first literary debate I’d been able to have since I woke up. Pedro didn’t read and grew impatient with any serious discussion on politics. Scratch’s knowledge was mostly derived from an eclectic and somewhat chaotic self-education. His mother was a Filipino cleaner who barely spoke English but his father had been a Cambridge don and therefore his reading was wide and varied, taking in everything from Gissing to the ‘The Hotspur’ comic from my own era and much else besides. He was appalled that I hadn’t yet been to the cinema and insisted that he would ‘score’ us a couple of tickets one Wednesday.
I didn’t fully understand his name. He told me it was derived from his habit of fighting with his brother in a manner that resembled some legendary animated cartoon combatants. His friends found their frequent wrestling bouts amusing and christened them after a particularly destructive contest in a lounge bar of a hostelry that had subsequently barred them for life. He refused to give his real name saying it gave people ‘power over you’.
At one point he mentioned H.G. Wells and I let slip that we had once had an acrimonious lunch after which he had written me a letter calling me a shit. Scratch looked at me with some amusement and passed no comment. But as we parted, promising to meet again at the bins the following day, he pulled up my hair a little at the front and put his head on one side, his eyes twinkling.
‘That’s better’ he said. ‘Makes you look more like the man.’
‘Who?’ I asked.

He laughed and walked away, waving. ‘The only George that matters.’ 

Saturday 22 June 2013

Fever Diary – March 6th 20--

I have abandoned my reading list today quite by accident. Wandering around the charity shop on Stamford Hill for a decent pair of Wellingtons, I browsed the dusty paperbacks at the rear of the store. A copy of ‘Crime & Punishment’ fell to the floor as I attempted to lever out a neighbouring collected edition of the ‘Girl’s Own Paper’. Under the admonishing gaze of the fearsome Frau Leiberman, I bent down to replace it and found that it had fallen open on a page that instantly drew me.  Before the murder, and after a drink of vodka and the consumption of a pie, Raskolnikov turns off the road into the bushes and falls asleep.
‘In a morbid condition of the brain, dreams often have a singular actuality, vividness, and extraordinary semblance of reality. At times monstrous images are created, but the setting and the whole picture are so truth-like and filled with details so delicate, so unexpectedly, but so artistically consistent, that the dreamer, were he an artist like Pushkin or Turgenev even, could never have invented them in the waking state. Such sick dreams always remain long in the memory and make a powerful impression on the overwrought and deranged nervous system.’
Standing in the 21st Century in a charity shop on Stamford Hill after waking in an alley behind Upper Street, this passage held more than a little resonance for me. The final stages of tuberculosis could definitely be described as morbid and there is no doubt that the AW appears substantially real. However, Raskolnikov’s feverish derangement seemed a world away from the way I have felt since billeting with Pedro. I am content to participate whilst still standing slightly outside all I experience. At first I was profoundly angry that I could not get back to my own rationed, grey, grubby little world. Now I am simply grateful for an unpredictable dream existence where I am seldom surprised by the twist and turns of my fate, being conditioned to expect some things to be unfamiliar and conforming to a certain internal logic.
It is no surprise, for example, that this particular book fell open on this specific page and that I happened to read this passage at this time, in this place.
Re-reading that last sentence, I realize the AW has turned me into the kind of superstitious idiot I despise.

The Wellingtons available did not fit. 

Saturday 15 June 2013

Fever Diary – February 16th 20--

I have my Rocinante at last. Donated by Miss Statton’s brother, who apparently gave up cycling when he entered the Inns of Court.  A far cry from the touring bicycles of my youth, but a worthy steed, I think. The gearing is more complex than I am used to, but I was absurdly pleased when I saw it and couldn’t fathom why, until I realised that it represented a degree of freedom – a ticket to explore the changed city now that I seem to have regained my health.   
A further degree of liberty has also been afforded by the arrival of bi-weekly payments from the state. They seemed like a fortune until I discovered the cost of living, but this is to be expected. Tobacco and tea are my chief indulgences and oh, how I have missed them.
The process of applying for such assistance was possible only by accepting and acknowledging my identity as Lewis Allways. I objected to this, but as I retain none of my own identity documents, I could see no other option. In the end, rather in the manner of my acceptance of a position as a propagandist at the BBC, (making the message marginally less disgusting than it might otherwise have been) I came to an all too convenient accommodation with myself. Rather more persuasive than my own ethical pirouetting, Pedro pointed out that our rent and minimal living expenses would be guaranteed on the basis of my alleged ‘mental incapacity’. Armed with a written diagnosis from Miss Statton that was treated like a Papal edict by the local authorities, we were soon on Easy Street as far as I was concerned, albeit with an uneasy conscience and the perception that the decision was likely to come back and haunt us before long.
I find that cash is regarded as the currency of the poor and very much looked down upon even by the smallest corner shop. It used to be a sign of conspicuous wealth (or spivvery) to go around with a bankroll of crisp notes. Now you are regarded with suspicion and derision if you do not pay with your MC. The MC is a handheld device activated by a thumbprint (I am not entirely certain of this) that effectively supervises your entire life. The most common versions are thin rectangles of hard material, the more luxurious, transparent squares of indestructible ‘paper’ that can be folded or rolled. As well as communication, entertainment, projection and diary functions, it also serves as a means to pay bills. Transport is accessed by simply passing it across a barrier and shop purchases are made in the same manner. Simply proffering a note or coin across the counter is enough to provoke an exasperated sigh followed by a head to toe appraisal of your exact value in Eurodollar, creditworthiness and social status.
The crumbling converted Edwardian maisonette, in which Pedro and I are currently living, encourages an early exit after waking, if only to eat and get a little heat into the bones. Every Monday, a plastic container of milk and a wrapped loaf of bread are left by the landlord in the hall and apparently fulfil his legal obligation to provide daily bed and breakfast accommodation. These offerings constitute breakfast provision for the week and may be regarded, I think, as an inedible loophole in the contract he has with the local authority.
The bread is a an unnatural white colour that reminds me of the chalk and flour loaves meanly got up by famine hit villages in Spain during the worst of the blockades. There are few cooking facilities beyond an electric kettle and a luxuriously appointed pop-up toaster, a necessity when all of the existing fireplaces in the Edwardian house conversion appear to have been boarded up. Pedro has shown his ingenuity by use of the small metal frames that are built into the top of the device and enable him to heat broth in the opened can. It’s a perilous exercise which I am certain will eventually lead to a spillage that, if we survive, will see us imbibing a form of electric soup. He has since constructed a small grill with salvaged bricks in the tiny walled yard in front of the house facing the towpath.
The room itself is, of course, very small with a single bed covered by a puffy stuffed material that replaces the normal blanket and upper sheet.  There is a telescreen as there is everywhere, although it is quite small and battered looking.  The programming is commanded by the ubiquitous jukebox method of selection, which affords me a seemingly endless choice of viewing. Pedro is contemptuous and complains that it is a very restricted menu and that they only have one in the room because access to mobnet is considered to be some sort of civil rights issue. Evidently people are still allowed to starve, to be unemployed, to be homeless and to roam the streets baying at the moon, but they cannot be deprived of the right to a virtual world that bears no relation to their own. 
Remembering my whale watching in the waiting area of UCH, I have successfully programmed the device to show me only wildlife documentaries and a single BBC News Channel. Here I can flip between the naked savagery of animal interaction and the natural history programmes.
The draughty window, stuffed around the edges with paper, looks out over the Lea Navigation Canal. The view in the mornings when the mist is rising from the Walthamstow Marshes is eerie but beautiful. It also means that the room is almost permanently damp. A heating panel against one wall affords a cosy but intermittent comfort after eight in the morning until around noon. Even so, I can honestly say that it ranks highly over my Canonbury Square flat in winter.
The Hasidic Jews congregate by the waters of the canal to feed ducks, ride bikes and to pray. I understand they even have a separate Stamford Hill ambulance service. There is something disorienting in the sight of people dressed as 18th century Polish aristocrats to a man wrenched out of my own century into an already chaotic future. Nonetheless, I find a curious comfort that they too are out of their time and have struck up many conversations as I loiter on the towpath, forced to smoke outside by a draconian and frankly mystifying prohibition on any inhalation of tobacco in areas that possess a roof.  It is in this way that I discover they have far more capacity to assimilate than I. Many have more devices in their pockets and in their homes than the average scientist. Nonetheless, they eschew them all on the Sabbath as they have always done and I was amused by the ingenuity displayed by one trader who employed a gentle Hindu tobacconist to press the required buttons on a Saturday when international trade dictated that some business courtesy had to be performed for his foreign clientele. The compromises of faith are evidently encroaching in the face of a society that never seems to be at rest.
I rejected the bizarre head protector offered to me by Miss Statton and opted for a balaclava from the charity shop in Stamford Hill. The formidable German lady who sold it to me remarked that they were seldom found these days and Miss Statton, seeing me arrive for one of our sessions still wearing it, remarked that I was likely to be mistaken for a burglar or paramilitary terrorist. This pleased me very much and I tried to ride my bicycle with the air of a seasoned fighter that should not be trifled with. Using some cable ties liberated from the lethal wiring in my room, I secured a stout stick beneath the crossbar and felt myself well prepared for any challenge encountered on my long canal towpath rides.
On one occasion, I rode past a group of black, white and oriental teenagers near the small railway tunnel that leads to High Hill Ferry and the pub at the foot of Springfield Park. They appeared to be rehearsing a complex rhythmic rhyme that combined percussive vocal impressions with a stream of unconsciousness narrative from a young girl with startling facial tattoos. Several of them accompanied themselves on MC’s that emitted string and brass simulations of remarkable quality.
I passed them slowly without meeting their eyes and entered the tunnel, only to find a group of Orthodox youths, their beards wispy and patchy beneath their long curled side-locks, doing exactly the same thing. I stopped and asked what was going on and a ginger-haired young Ashkenazi told me brusquely that they were about to ‘have a battle’. I reflected on the eternal verity of racial and ethnic conflict and contemplated which side I would choose to defend, until the ‘battle’ itself began.
I found the cable ties around my only defence extremely reluctant to release their charge. I am not sure I fully understood their construction. Given the police sirens and regular news bulletins of shootings and knifings amongst the youth of East London, I expected therefore to be ill equipped for the melee and tore off a branch of an innocent cherry tree that overhung the dull waters. By the time I returned, prepared for whatever injustice was to be meted out, I found myself in the urban equivalent of a chamber concert. The tunnel resounded to the sounds of both sides taking it in turns to improvise and expand upon a sophisticated melody with a reflection on the differences and similarities between them. True, their approach and demeanour were aggressive and a degree of insult was exchanged, but it never seemed set to develop into the physical.
I was both charmed and ashamed that I had misinterpreted the situation and when they perceived me standing in bicycle clips with a raised branch in one hand, I thought I had succeeded in raising the metaphorical to the literal. Fortunately I presented such a comical sight, that they dissolved into gales of laughter and the collapse of stout party was the only sensible response.

This is my life now, the betrayal of the senses.