Monday, 15 February 2016


I don’t dream much, mainly because I don’t sleep much. But when I do, and can remember it, I make a note of it. I’m looking for clues, really. I know from bitter experience that there’s nothing more boring than being told someone else’s dreams, so feel free not to read this post. I haven’t tweaked any of the details, but I have, at least, tried to make it short and to the point.

I was in a holiday camp. It reminded me a little of the Butlins holidays I used to have as a kid, but it was all enclosed, so it may have even been a cruise ship, although it was apparently situated in Lancashire. At the top of the building/ship there was a large auditorium where loud but inoffensive techno music was playing. I looked at my phone and saw that the home screen had been replaced by a countdown – 29, 28, 27, etc.

When it hit zero, the room exploded with light and noise and I became weightless, as did everyone else. I wasn’t expecting it, and wasn’t quite sure what to do. Around me, people were enjoying the process and dancing and grooving in the air. It looked like fun, so I tried a few tentative moves. After sixty seconds we all floated slowly to the ground, all smiling. I looked at my phone, the countdown had begun again: 4.45, 4.44, 4.43…and I was filled with great excitement about shortly being able to fly again.

This went on for a bit and was very enjoyable, and I became ever more daring in my aerial choreography. Then a girl I used to go out with twenty five years ago came in and said she had a job interview and would I tuck her blouse in for her.      

Thursday, 11 February 2016


Fifteen years ago, I worked for the Civil Service, in one of the huge provincial offices that used to be dotted around the United Kingdom like a necklace of bee hives. This one was in the North of England, but not to its farthest and fullest extent. The Department of Work and Pensions building was on a site where social housing had once sat, and, a few hundred years before then, it had been the hill where public executions were carried out, so there was a fairly high probability that it was haunted by at least one disgruntled working class ghost. Around 1,500 people worked in the building, and there was a shop and a pub and a gym and a canteen and a dentist’s and hairdressers and, right in the middle, a swimming pool. This building was a public sector citadel, a hub of hubbub, a palace of bureaucracy nicknamed (by me, it never caught on) ‘The Ministry of Love’.

As the staff swarmed in each morning, they were met by three immutable things: two chunky security guards, both called Ken, looking at every single ID, and a sign that, rather like the menu outside a bistro, displayed the day’s specials – the BIKINI STATE, the alert code that indicated how close the UK was to war, terrorism or civil disorder. The alert codes ran from white to red, white being stable, red meaning that shit is either coming down or is on its way, scudding across the clouds to take out this building and everyone in it in a flash of blinding light.

In the five years I worked there, the alert state was always at Black Special, an intermediate level that meant that there was an increased likelihood of attack, but no defined target. It could have been worse, of course, but, instead, was just incredibly sinister. Something awful was in the air, but it was also secret, unknown, undesignated, undiscovered. It was a constant, low hum of foreboding. But, ultimately, there was nothing you could do, so we did nothing – or, rather, we got on with our jobs, working towards a future we couldn’t be sure would arrive. 
The peril of the world situation has not improved since I left the civil service, but they have changed the way it is measured. The Bikini State was replaced in 2006 by UK Threat Levels. The Threat Levels rely on words rather than colours, and run from Low to Critical. The current level is Severe, and has been since August, 2014. This means an attack is highly likely. It’s worth quoting the expected response to such an alert, remembering that perhaps a hundred people were consulted around the wording of the definition:
‘Additional and sustainable protective security measures reflecting the broad nature of the threat combined with specific business and geographical vulnerabilities and judgements on acceptable risk’.

In other words, just do what you can and be afraid, be very afraid. In other other words you are probably fucked, but we’ll have to let you know. I preferred Black Special, with its cheerful pink lettering, slither of hope and diplomatic inversion of Lottery logic that, hey, with a thousand targets out there, it might not be you.

Thursday, 4 February 2016


It is impossible to quantify the depth, breadth, height and area of man’s desperation to fill the gaping existential void of life with knowledge, with belief, with stuff. In some cases, this hunger may lead to positive things, like discoveries that benefit mankind, or sacrifice, or kindness, or greatness in the arts. These positive things cannot fill the chasm, but they can bridge it. Welcome as they are, they act only as appetite suppressors, sticking plasters. Mostly, however, this bottomless want manifests itself in manic but ultimately pointless activity, a time squandering fixation on trivia, ephemera and miscellany, a search for pieces of an infinite jigsaw that in no way resembles the picture on the box.  

I found out recently that there were human beings who were obsessed with warning sirens. This did not particularly surprise me (there will be someone somewhere who has every type of hoover bag, or collects the autographs of Micronesian heads of state), but it made me wonder. A warning siren is a harsh, horrible thing – deliberately so. You’re not supposed to like it, let alone stand there filming it go off for ten minutes before uploading it to YouTube to share with others. A warning siren evokes panic and fear – screams and disorder, children being trampled underfoot, short notice and long odds against survival. Yet, there are men (I’m assuming they are all men, I’m almost certainly right) who have made it their mission to seek out these clarions of chaos, and travel from county to county, country to country, to see examples, document them, and to place a tick against their name and location on a list. It seems crazy, doesn’t it?
And then I watched the films and heard the sirens for myself. They are extraordinary. I can’t say that they would ever become an obsession for me, but I felt more than a little of their baleful gravitational pull, and remembered that the original siren song was powerful enough to lure men to their death. These eldritch shrieks, infinitely varied, but all full of dread and doom, and the simple but effective convolutions of pipes and horns that deliver them, are utterly compelling – although I'd happily live my life without ever having to hear them again.


I don’t know the protocol, the series of events and orders that might finally set the sirens wailing. I don’t know whether they will serve as an actual warning or merely as melancholic countermelody to our destruction. Perhaps they will be the final annoyance on this infinitely annoying planet: we won’t even be allowed to die in peace. What I do know is that The Crisis is coming, and the sirens will have their part to play.

And therein lays the dilemma of the true obsessive. When the sirens go off, we are all finished. But there are those amongst us who will welcome this as a fair exchange for hearing those sirens en masse, for finally filling that hole within them, albeit for perhaps only a few seconds. Given the well-established link between extreme obsession and sexual stimulation, it’s horrible to think that, when The Crisis comes, so will these men, absolutely in their element, capturing the chorus of doom on their expensive recorders and furiously wanking their way into Armageddon.  

* My thanks to JPa311979 for the film clips. His interest is clearly sound in general, rather than simply being mad for sirens and, as such, he is absolutely NOT the target of this post.