Digital Ischemia

28/11/2017

In the Dark: Office

Two colleagues unravel a socio-technical faux pas.

PATRICK: Do you see what she did?! Why’s there no lights?
SOUND: SWITCH CLICKS RAPIDLY, TABLET CLUNKS ON DESK
NEIL: Turn it till I see, then…
SOUND: TAP, GLINGLE
NEIL CHUCKLES
PATRICK: Every time I go to get my email, this…daft picture pops up, jiggling!
NEIL: Very guid. Very guid.
PATRICK: It’s not good! It’s technical harassment!
SOUND: TAP, GLINGLE
NEIL: Sparkly wand! (GIGGLES) It’s like you have magic powers.
PATRICK: Yeh, magic. Why are you in here with no lights?
SOUND: TAP, GLINGLE, TAP, TAP, GLINGLE
NEIL: Aye, it’s like it’s you making the app come up. (CHUCKLES)
SOUND: TAP, GLINGLE
NEIL (CONT’D): The smug face is totally you.
PATRICK: Had enough?
NEIL: Naw.
SOUND: TAP, GLINGLE, TAP, TAP, GLINGLE
PATRICK: OK, OK. Come on, now. How do I get rid of it?
NEIL: Who cares? It’s brilliant! Patrick the arrogant magician.
PATRICK: Can you stop laughing at my trauma here and… I’ve been hacked!
NEIL: It’s no’ really hacking, is it, if you hand over the device yoursel’, no’ even locked?
PATRICK: I thought tablets were supposed to be unhackable?! Where did she get that picture?
NEIL: Probably took it. No’ difficult, seeing as you’re a’ways pointing at some puir wee soul, barking orders. Here, see mines.
SOUND: TABLET SLIDES ACROSS DESK
NEIL (CONT’D): She must’ve recorded me when I was chuntering over those dire business proposals.
SOUND: TAP
NEIL: (D) No, we’re no’ doing that. No’ doing that either.
NEIL CHUCKLES
SOUND: TAP
NEIL: (D) No, we’re no’ doing that. No’ doing that either.
NEIL CHUCKLES
PATRICK: You can’t do that; you can’t record people without them knowing! It’s illegal!
NEIL: How is it? You have a picture of yoursel’ on your own device: call the cops. (CHUCKLES)
PATRICK: This isn’t funny! This is frightening! Surely that’s affecting your productivity: every time you go to do something you get that daft message.
NEIL: No’ really, if you think about it. Setting aside that you definitely need to lighten up, so much of what we do online is knee-jerk; you dinnae really need to do it, or no’ right that moment. You’re addicted! You need to sit back and organise your thoughts.
PATRICK: “Organise your thoughts”?!
NEIL: Aye! So let’s sit back and—
PATRICK: In the dark.
NEIL: —think this through. What, are you afeart of the dark now?
PATRICK: I’m in a state of high alert! I’ve been threatened!
NEIL: The on’y thing getting threatened is your pride. So, what exactly did you say to her?
PATRICK: I said, “Neil says you can sort my email.”
NEIL: Ah, well, nae wonder.
PATRICK: What?
NEIL: Nae preamble. Did you no’ think to say who you were? Ask who she was? How her day’s gaun an’ that?
PATRICK: I did sort of explain: I said I was really busy—I was right in the middle of rehearsal and it was going all wobbly—so I needed my email sorted by the end of the day.
NEIL: Sweet.
PATRICK: I don’t have time for niceties! I don’t have time for the stupid helpdesk! Plus, obviously, my email’s hoofed. I had two thousand and sixty unread messages! I was on every group! I couldn’t see the wood for the bees!
NEIL: Did she say anything?
PATRICK: Er, she asked me to set it not to lock itself or something.
NEIL: Ah-ha.
PATRICK: Then I had to go back to the unattended imbeciles in the hall.

NEIL: Did you get it back by the end of the day?
PATRICK: In a plastic bag.
NEIL: Gubbed?
PATRICK: No, it’s just a bit odd, isn’t it? It’s like getting your dry-cleaning back in a fancy plastic case with a hanger when you just took it scrumpled in a bag.
NEIL: When do you get dry-cleaning?
PATRICK: Never mind, it’s suspicious, like: why are you polishing the turd?
NEIL: I think you’re taking the wrong things to get dry-cleaned.
PATRICK: So I asked. And she said, “security.” So I said, “pretty obvious what it is.” And she said, “yes,” in that patronising way, “but when the forensic team arrives, my fingerprints won’t be on it.”
NEIL GUFFAWS
PATRICK: That put the wind right up me! I’m looking down at my big greasy paw wrapped right round it. Right enough, the rest of it’s totally clean.
NEIL: Can you see where you went wrong?
PATRICK: In ever coming to speak to you today?
SOUND: TAP
NEIL: (D) No, we’re no’ doing that. No’ doing that either.
NEIL CHUCKLES

NEIL: How’s your email?
PATRICK: Oh, that’s lovely: all sorted, tidied up, all the pish banished somewhere.
NEIL: There you are.
PATRICK: At what price?!
NEIL: So you have a wee animated caricature that maybe gets a bit annoying.
PATRICK: And an email in my inbox called ‘kiss my osud’.
NEIL: I beg your pardon?
PATRICK: I think I slightly incited that.
NEIL: What did you do?!
PATRICK: When I came up at break, she was—
NEIL: You came back up?
PATRICK: Yeh?
NEIL: Where was I?
PATRICK: How should I know?! I can’t even operate my tablet! I don’t have a tracking satellite!
NEIL: Well, this’ll be it. Gi’es it, then.
PATRICK: Ah, she was just sort of swaying about, bending.
NEIL: How do you mean?
PATRICK: I don’t know, it looked like contemporary dance. Maybe she was doing yoga. Wasn’t work anyway. So I got a bit annoyed.
NEIL: Oh, aye.
PATRICK: I asked her if it was done yet. She glances over at it and says, “fifty-five percent.” So I say, “can’t you speed it up?” No, apparently it’s ‘synchronising’ so we’re at the mercy of the electronicary.
NEIL: So you were a wee bit tetchy, ya arrogant arsehole.
PATRICK: No, that was when I said something really foolish, considering— Do you know, I really hate how these techies basically hold you to ransom! Like, ‘lick my arse or I’ll accidentally wipe your life’s work—’
NEIL: Is it no’ ‘click my arse’?
PATRICK: Why is this a massive joke to you?!
NEIL: Because it is! What stupid thing did you say?!
PATRICK: I said, “I hope you’re not reading my emails.” I was pretty snotty.
NEIL: Aye. And her witty comeback?
PATRICK: How do you know?
NEIL: I have a sense of impending doom.
PATRICK: She glances at the screen again and snaps back, “yeh, I’m getting moist for your thoughts on… Jane Ace.”
NEIL: Jane whae?
PATRICK: Janàček. One of the emails that I did want. That just tipped me over the edge into haughty overload—
NEIL: Naw!
PATRICK: I just barked, “I need you to finish this—” She spits back, “can’t rush those security checks.” So I said, “just bring it to me before five.”
NEIL: Aaaiihhhh!
PATRICK: I know! Calm as a sanddune she asks, “can I check where you’ll be? Or should I just follow the glow of your specialness?”
NEIL SUCKS HIS TEETH
PATRICK: So I snap back, “hall six,” and stride out.
NEIL LAUGHS HYSTERICALLY
PATRICK: You don’t even know… I knew I’d been offensive, I just couldn’t stop. It never hit me till I saw the ‘Osud’ email: she kept saying ‘check’.
NEIL: Ah! Your yanar-check?
PATRICK: And Czech, the nationality. Osud is one of his operas.
NEIL: Well, that was worth waiting for. It must be braw to finally meet someone on your twatty, cliquey, trivia wavelength. While pissing them right aff.
PATRICK: Totally outmanoeuvred. But I think she likes me: “Dear Mr So-Frightfully-Busy-and-Important,” it starts…
SOUND: TAP, GLINGLE, TAP, TAP, GLINGLE
NEIL SIGHS

PATRICK: Where is the malevolent harpy, anyway?
NEIL: After she fixed your tablet, and helped me fix the power, she really had to go away and do her own work.
PATRICK: What do you mean: fix the power? We’re sitting in the dark!
NEIL: It broke again. Well, I broke it. I just couldnae leave it; I should’ve left but I couldnae stop myself going to press a button: FIZZT! Then you turn up with your light entertainment so here I still am.
PATRICK: What other job?
NEIL: What?
PATRICK: You just said she had to do her own work. What work?
NEIL: You’re still thinking she’s ‘just a techy’?
PATRICK: Obviously she’s not just a techy; techies are frighteningly powerful, plus she has scary special powers.
NEIL: Why are you so threatened by a woman with independent thought?
PATRICK: Because: look what she did to my tablet!
NEIL: Heinous. On’y it’s hilarious.
PATRICK: By the way, didn’t you want me to meet some woman?
NEIL: Oh, seriously? What’s this – seven hours later? We finally come full circle.
PATRICK: Yeh, that was why I came to see you in the first place, because my email was all clogged up so I couldn’t get the details but I knew I needed to speak to you about something, someone you thought, I don’t know, you thought I could work with? I was whinging about my email, you said you’d had the same, blah blah, then you pointed me at this bint under the table all tangled with cables.
NEIL: You are incredibly easily misdirected, do you ken that?
PATRICK: How?
NEIL: Thought I’d kill two burds wi’ one stone, or kill one stooge twice wi’ the same burd, as it turned out. Hello? Aye, there it is.
PATRICK: The… Medusa! She’s let me hang myself with the massive loophole of my assumptions!
NEIL: I think she let you embroider it a guid bit first.
PATRICK: Ah, shite. I need… I need… I need to get my head… When’s she here next?
NEIL: Dinnae ken.
PATRICK: I don’t mean to the minute. Tomorrow?
NEIL: There’s nae plan for her to come back. Thinking about it, I dinnae ken why she would come back, seeing as her day was totally hijacked by technical distractions and arsey demands.
PATRICK: She was only here today? I need to make reparations! I don’t know who she is, what she does, where she might be…
NEIL: I wouldnae worry; she certainly has your number.
PATRICK: Yeh, massively wide berth.
SOUND: TAP, TAP, GLINGLE
NEIL: Inbox, pillock.
PATRICK: Oh, right, good; I can’t wait for her to torment me some more.
NEIL: Och, wheesht your havering. If you really pissed her aff she could’ve totally scorched you.
PATRICK: (LAUGHS SARCASTICALLY) Yeh, I feel so comforted about all the stuff she could’ve done that I’ve just not discovered yet.
SOUND: TAP, TAP, GLINGLE
PATRICK (CONT’D): Will you give that a rest?
NEIL: I like the comforting glow of your specialness.
PATRICK: All your fault.
NEIL: Let’s just sit here a wee while, in the dark.
PATRICK: Why?
NEIL: For the metaphor.

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22/10/2017

Grandparent File Download

LYLE: Sure you want the whole file?
MARIE: Absolutely.
LYLE: I mean—sorry to be patronising, just to cover everything, you know—it’s a massive file; it’s about…ten and a half years’ worth of usage allowance.
MARIE: I’ve saved up.
LYLE: Aye, I see you have the credits.
MARIE: It’s not something you can chunk up. That’s not how the data’s organised.
LYLE: Even if it wouldn’t work in chunks, you could still download it that way? Just to be safer if one chunk got interrupted?
FATHER: Where are you based?
MARIE: Dad! I’m dealing with this.
FATHER: I’m not interfering. Simple question.
LYLE: Sorry, what?
FATHER: Are you a person or a robot?
MARIE: I’m sorry; my father is online too.
LYLE: Ah, OK. That’s good if you got him connected and working.
MARIE: Although obviously he does like to be involved.
LYLE: Right, for the record, then: I’m a real person and I’m at the Onlineage Support Centre in Glasgow.
FATHER: Jolly good. Is that the new establishment in Dumbarton?
LYLE: Er, I can’t actually give any details – for security reasons.
MARIE: Dad, could you just imagine him in Dumbarton so we can move on?
FATHER: I’m not sharing my information with some ‘clown’ in Anniesland. Or Mumbai.—
LYLE: Did he just call me a clown?
FATHER: (OFF) —Or Dubai. Or Arizona.—
MARIE: I think he meant “cloud” but it was disrespectful; I’m sorry.
FATHER: (OFF)—Or Wales.
MARIE: What’s wrong with Wales?! Never mind. Pipe down, eh, or you’ll blow all my credits hijacking a support call.
FATHER: Willco. Dumbarton it is.
MARIE: Onlineage has all your information already. Those cats are out the bag and clawing open all your cans of worms.
FATHER: (OFF) Cats didn’t eat worms in my day.
LYLE: Er, most folk like to get comfortable with the parent file before installing the grandparent files.
MARIE: Aye, in an ideal world I’d be twenty-two and fizzing with vitality, but I have to be pragmatic. This is as comfortable as I get. I don’t have the luxury of time.
LYLE: Fair enough.
MARIE: I’ve saved up for this four times already; each time life got in the way and I had to start all over. If I’d had my parents and my grandparents linked up sooner maybe things would’ve been different. If, if. I’ve had to get through without them. But no more. I have the credits. I’m ready.
LYLE: No bother. Like I said, sorry to be patronising; I just have to check.
SOUND: BEEP
LYLE: OK, that’s the transfer started.
MARIE: Which one?
LYLE: Both, sorry.
MARIE: My grandparent files go “beep”?
LYLE: Aye, just the final confirmation.
MARIE: I can see it coming through! Fantastic. Thanks so much.
LYLE: Welcome. You want to stay on the line till it finishes? Just in case? Won’t cost you any more.
MARIE: Thank you; I’d appreciate that.
FATHER: I say, getting rather crowded in here.
MARIE: Recognise anything yet?
FATHER: That’s not what happened! My memory may not be fully polished but this is clearly faulty.
MARIE: You’re going to need to relax. It’s all just perceptions, same as yours. Somewhere between all these bits of information is the truth. There’s so much to learn.
FATHER: (OFF) Bunkum.
LYLE: So, what are you going to learn first?
MARIE: Gaelic.
LYLE: That’s one I never heard before.
MARIE: I want to learn Norwegian and I reckon there’ll be some overlap. There are some old cultural connections I want to get at.
LYLE: Isn’t Gaelic really difficult?
MARIE: Less difficult than English. Every day I think in English and some daft peculiarity strikes me.
LYLE: But you’re fine at English.
MARIE: Aye, and that’s taken me decades to get this good at. It must be torture for non-native speakers. And when I die: zap – all deleted.
LYLE: I’m sure you’ve got plenty time to use it before then.
MARIE: I’m ninety-two. What odds would you give me?
LYLE: You’re joking? (PAUSE) What age is your dad?! (PAUSE) No, obviously it’s in the file. Shite. A hundred and…twenty-eight? That wasn’t him…
MARIE: That was your excellent Synthesis app.
LYLE: Shite.
MARIE: I have no children. I need to integrate my knowledge so it’s not wasted. Every new person shouldn’t have to learn all this stuff from the beginning.
LYLE: You’re combining your lifetime of experience with your parents’ and their parents’?
MARIE: Isn’t that what this technology’s for? It’s not idle nostalgia: see the world through your ancestors’ eyes. You have to give it forward. Think what we could be if we weren’t restricted to sharing experience only by communication through the filter of societal behavioural norms?
LYLE: Er…
MARIE: Speaking, mostly.
LYLE: Right, right. I thought this was mostly for, like, instead of ‘how was your weekend?’ you just experience the whole thing. Eech.
MARIE: At first I wondered how folk’d get along without the liberty to embellish, but seemingly that’s factored into their perceptions.
LYLE: Like, if you want to believe you had the best time, that’s what others will get from your experience, too?
MARIE: Nobody will care that my father always kept fifteen spare packets of toilet paper, but they might benefit from his experience as a child during wartime. They can feel his psychology and understand how he attributed a lifetime’s hyperconsumerism to suffering rationing. I have this theory…
LYLE: You may as well tell me; we’re only at thirty-four percent.
MARIE: Last century our cultural evolution suddenly got turbocharged. Industrialisation, commercialism, technology raced away with our beliefs about success and happiness. ‘Can do’ completely overtook ‘should do’. We started making demands on our bodies that would take generations for physiological evolution to deliver. Bombarding ourselves with information and materialism. At the same time it became apparent that this hyperconsumerism was equally unhealthy for us and the rest of the living world.
LYLE: This is where technology solutions come in?
MARIE: Aye and no: we have to ask if, now a robot prepares your tea, are you happier? Saves you twenty, thirty minutes, right? Time you could use for something more useful? More useful than appreciating where your food comes from? Savouring the smells as well as the tastes that are part of the full experience for your body? More useful than the mental downtime of a simple task?
LYLE: I don’t know if that spiritual stuff is for everyone – all that overanalysing stuff.
MARIE: I think that’s where our lives are generally: chronic overstimulation, poor mental and emotional agility, constant analysis of marginal information.
LYLE: So you mean, like, get implants?
MARIE: They just enable you to process more and more information of less and less value. You still have to work out what that vanishingly small value is in order to make use of it. More and more work to get the same quality of information.
LYLE: Surely adding your parents’ experiences in to the mix is just more stress then?
MARIE: Only if you don’t learn from it. See the lessons they learned from their lives; see what worked for them, what they figured out.
LYLE: You’re pretty bright for a ninety-year-old.
MARIE: I’m still learning. How’re we doing?
LYLE: Sixty-two.
MARIE: Humans have been grappling with the same life problems for millennia; wouldn’t it be good if we learned from others more efficiently – the benefits of their experience?
LYLE: Isn’t there a point to, you know, working it out for yourself?
MARIE: Sure, and maybe you come up with an even better solution, but why not see what your predecessors came up with first? Minimise that struggle, that suffering?
SOUND: BEEP
LYLE: Er…
MARIE: Finished?
LYLE: No… Some block. Your system has stopped confirming the request for download.
MARIE: Ah, I bet I’m using too much processor being online.
LYLE: That shouldn’t be an issue. Can you check you’ve shut down absolutely everything apart from our app?
MARIE: Oh, I have, really: I checked the processes before I called. That’s all that’s been running this whole time.
LYLE: OK, you’ve filled in all the criteria in the form, all the technical specs; you have plenty memory, enough processor capacity. What else could be using up the system?
MARIE: Your Synthesis app.
LYLE: Your father? Can you suspend him?
MARIE: (laughs) Aye, but that won’t be enough.
LYLE: Wait: I have a mirror pane; it’s showing another person running… Is that…you?!
MARIE: The very one.
LYLE: I’m speaking to a Synthesis?
MARIE: Indeed. Died a while ago. Something snapped. Who cares? This is far too important for a hurdle like that to derail the whole project.
LYLE: Er, if there’s any indication that you’ve reverse engineered our software, I have to invoke a non-compliance procedure…
MARIE: Don’t be daft: I’m ninety-two! How would I ‘reverse engineer’ anything? Couldn’t even reverse my tea trolley without cowping the last fifteen years. I haven’t broken any of the agreement I signed. But by all means check. And while you do that, consider who you’re going to prosecute. Hah.
LYLE: But how— How can you— How am I having this conversation with you?
MARIE: Your Synthesis app! Onlineage is really very good. You should probably be promoting your products a bit more.
LYLE: But it needs something— How can you launch it?
MARIE: Ah, the combination of all these experiences, knowledge, so on; it takes on a life of its own, so to speak.

10/09/2017

Play Me

SCENE 1
SOUND: phone rings
HARRIET: Hey, Vin. Alright?
VIN: (D) No, sorry, need you to come through. Drew’s really upset. He’s locked himself in his office.
HARRIET: Upset? At what?
VIN: (D) No’ angry; he’s wailing, greeting even.

SCENE 2
SOUND: footsteps approach, taps on door
HARRIET: Drew? Can you let us in?
SOUND: door handle clunks, muffled groan, sob
HARRIET: My love, we’re really concerned. Please let us in. Drew?
VIN: Come on, man. Need to let us help.
SOUND: taps on door
HARRIET: Drew?
SOUND: footsteps recede
HARRIET: (whisper) At least he’s conscious.
VIN: (whisper) There’s no’ anything up wi’ you two, is there?
HARRIET: No? Totally fine till you called. Was he alright with you?
VIN: Aye, seen him first thing. He just didnae come through for lunch. Will we burst the door?
HARRIET: He might be right inside. OK, what I’m about to show you… Never mind. I trust you. We’re going back along, but totally silent, OK?

SCENE 3
SOUND: door clicks
HARRIET: Nicely done.
VIN: We’re in a storage cupboard.
HARRIET: Aye, I found this one time he had me wait in his office. I got bored, peered about, seen the wardrobe—why is there a wardrobe in that office? Turns out the back of it’s like Narnia except it’s just sort of joists and maintenance scaffold between the walls. Anyway, it comes out here. So, we walk along the planks and sneak into his wardrobe.
VIN: Do we need anything?
HARRIET: Torch. There.

SCENE 4
SOUND: breathing, click, rustle, swish, steps burst from wardrobe
DREW: No! Get out! (gasp)
VIN: It’s only us, man.
SOUND: shuffle, rustle of kneeling
HARRIET: My lovely man, what’s happened? Can you sit up? Look at me.
VIN: Did he collapse?
HARRIET: I don’t know yet. No smell on his breath, eyes are fine, pulse a bit rapid. Can you look about if anything’s out of place?
VIN: I don’t want to touch his stuff.
HARRIET: Don’t. Just scan. You’ll see something.
VIN: Why’s that flashing? Must’ve been unplugged. There’s a CD in, paused. Who has CDs still?
HARRIET: Maybe that’s why it was unplugged.
VIN: Will I unpause it?
DREW: No!
HARRIET: Drew, my love, can you tell me why? Just tell us, please?
DREW: No. (moan)
SOUND: caress
HARRIET: OK. Why plug it in..?
VIN: Guess we have to listen—
HARRIET: No! Wait. No, don’t touch it. Don’t touch the buttons, any CD cases, anything.
VIN: OK, what?
HARRIET: What do you do when some mailbox you don’t know emails you a file unexpectedly?
VIN: Bin it; virus.
HARRIET: What if it’s an audio file?
VIN: Probably a fake file extension; bin it.
HARRIET: What if it’s on a CD? Can’t infect the stereo, can you?
VIN: Shit! Sonovirus?
HARRIET: Don’t touch anything. Come away over here. We need serious polis. Nobody needs to listen to that. They need to Fourier analyse it or something off-line. No audio.
VIN: You think Drew here got like hypnotised?
HARRIET: I know: I have a rush of paranoia now. But we do it to ourselves plenty: atmospheric music, trance, using vocal tone, pitch, pace to match mood or subtly altering it to lead mood. No wonder we’re stressed-out insomniacs. Applied maliciously you could use sound as effects, tunes, speech to match subconscious thought, brainwaves even, then disrupt them. Not much of a leap to someone twisting it to an audio weapon.
VIN: He maybe thought it was a promo track?
HARRIET: Call the polis—ambulance first. Say he’s maybe been hypnotised into some sort of mental breakdown.
VIN: Psychotic?
SOUND: phone tapping
HARRIET: I don’t know the psychiatry, it’s mood-altering sound. I don’t think he’s scrambled, just maybe acutely depressed or paranoid from suggestion or non-verbal sound.

SCENE 5
VIN: On the way. Eight minutes. Can I touch the door?
HARRIET: Why?
VIN: Unlock it?
HARRIET: Aye, good point.
SOUND: bolt drawn
DREW: (gibbers)
VIN: You’re alright, man. Help on the way. Why Drew?
HARRIET: That’s not how terrorists work, is it? It’s random, innocent folk.
VIN: There’ll be more then? Shit. They won’t show their hand without an impact.
HARRIET: That’s my paranoia ramped right up. Maybe it’s just one random nutter. Oh, my poor boy.
VIN: How desperate do you need to be to go to these lengths to get attention?!
HARRIET: I’m not feeling sympathetic to anyone’s cause right now.
VIN: It’s just nasty stuff. Twisted sociopaths.
HARRIET: Want to head out to meet the medics?
VIN: Check they are who they say they are?
HARRIET: Cannae do this conspiracy shit. I just need to see my man safe.
VIN: Still trust me?
HARRIET: Have to trust someone. Have to trust each other? Otherwise they win.
SOUND: door clicks
HARRIET: My poor love. We’ll be alright.
DREW: (sigh)

06/08/2017

My Neighbour’s Baby

The parents’ squabbling catches my attention. My quiet Sunday breakfast with a wildlife magazine shattered. Peer Gynt capers on in the Hall of the Mountain King. The squabblers slam from room to room, swatting and shrieking at each other. I lean to the window and pull back the gauze curtain, searching for explanation. One of their children sits on my front grass. Just sits, not playing, not eating, not moving, not seemingly hurt, but I don’t read children well. The parents barrel on. Another figure slinks by – another neighbour, inspecting the unattended child. My gut flips – some pre-verbal fear. In a reflex I knock the window. The neighbour starts and glances at me. I wave. Frustratingly her momentum carries her out of my sight. The parents separate, hurling only intermittent complaints. The child remains immobile.

I unlock the front door to look closer. Mostly I want to help, but I need more information: what happened? I seem to be too late. The neighbour is out of sight. The child sits on the grass, freckled and bewildered. I don’t want to approach in case this aggravates the situation. I don’t want to interfere. Or should I move her to a safer position? What would be safer? In my house is far too ambiguous. I have no relationship with this child. Her parents seem to be calming. I return indoors and glance out the window. The child still hasn’t moved. I can’t settle back to breakfast; I wander ineffectually about the front rooms, reviewing the incident, assessing my choices. I keep glancing out the window.

Suddenly the parents launch a fresh bout of shouting. I check the window: the child is gone – in a matter of seconds between my glances. I can’t see anybody, any movement. I open the front door and see the parents hopping and shrieking along the pavement. I can’t read their distress. Still no sign of the child. My eyes flit to another movement. Beneath the bordering hedge I see my neighbour’s legs saunter up the path and out of sight. The parents are hysterical. Why didn’t they do something for their child before? Why didn’t I? I peer again between the trunks of the hedge. I look very carefully to catch a glimpse as my neighbour’s path curves back into view. In a moment I see what I’m looking for: the shape of the child, carried away.

There was a moment when I could have acted. I chose not to. To let others’ choices play out. I may have delayed things by rapping the window, but that’s as likely to have increased the suffering as not. If I had the chance again, I’d lift that baby and bring it indoors. I’d suffer the guilt of upsetting the parents. My experiences lead me to believe that my neighbour simply wanted to play with the child. A distorted behaviour that has its roots in natural instinct but has become torture. I have some responsibility for that. I could do better.

If it had been my neighbour the sparrowhawk who found the young blackbird, I would be more comfortable with that. A reasonably quick death for food. A domestic cat I’m much less comfortable with. It doesn’t feel natural to me. Still, I have too little information. I had a moment and I only half-intervened. Bless her.

01/08/2017

Cold Call: Day 19

The last in a series of telephone conversations where truth comes away in layers – begins at Cold Call: Day 1

SOUND: PHONE RINGS, REPEAT, REPEAT
LACRIMOSA: You know I know how to escalate nuisance calls.
SìMON: (D) I wasnae a nuisance till you found out I wasnae a total stranger. That’s no’ even rational.
LACRIMOSA: You were a nuisance, even when you were funny.
SìMON: The end justifies the means. Just like it did for you.
LACRIMOSA: You kept calling me! I was lying in self-defence!
SìMON: You could’ve hung up. You did, even.
LACRIMOSA: And yet here we still are! You’ve created this whole idea of me in your head that’s not real!
SìMON: Aye, no’ like you’ve any experience of making up fantasies.
LACRIMOSA: Why did you call me?
SìMON: It really was because of the whale thing.
LACRIMOSA: No, I mean why did you call me after I left Dalry’s? – if you weren’t after a job.
SìMON: (PAUSE) I like speaking to you. You speak about interesting stuff, no’ boring shit like soap operas and celebrity gossip. You’re funny. Why did you no’ call me?
LACRIMOSA: You scared me. I don’t know why. Probably my subconscious alarms bells going off: here’s a guy that thinks you’re someone else!
SìMON: You cannae imagine someone just liking speaking to you? OK, listen: I’m sorry for the way the conversation went yesterday – and this conversation seems to be going.
LACRIMOSA: It’s not your fault I’m like this: shit-abled.
SìMON: What I was gonnae say was: it turns out it doesnae matter.
LACRIMOSA: It really does.
SìMON: No’ to me.
LACRIMOSA: You have no id—
SOUND: DOORBELL
LACRIMOSA (CONT’D): How can there be someone at the door?! I used to live a peaceful life then I started getting these nuisance calls.
SìMON: And those were just the ones fae me.
LACRIMOSA: They were all from—
SOUND: DOORBELL
SìMON: You should answer it. Could be important.
LACRIMOSA: No, it won’t be; it’ll be some chancer with a flat-bed wanting to mess up my path or mutilate my trees or ruin the roof or something.
SìMON: Could be Gordon, checking on you.
LACRIMOSA: He just walks in.
SìMON: Still, you should maybe just check.
LACRIMOSA: OK, but it might take me a while.
SìMON: I’ll wait.
LACRIMOSA: No, hang up! I don’t care. I want my life back.
SOUND: DOOR OPENS
LACRIMOSA: (OFF) But you’re on the phone!
SìMON: (OFF) I ken you willnae have much experience of these devices, since you’re no’ ‘mobile’, but—
LACRIMOSA: (OFF) Are those your aunty’s dead daffodils?

ENDS

31/07/2017

Cold Call: Day 18

A series of telephone conversations where truth comes away in layers – begins at Cold Call: Day 1 and ends at Day 19

SOUND: PHONE RINGS, REPEAT, REPEAT
LACRIMOSA: Why did you suddenly decide to call me?
SìMON: (D) I always call about this time.
LACRIMOSA: The first time.
SìMON: Just a spur of the moment thing—well, a spur of twenty hours thing.
LACRIMOSA: Meaning?
SìMON: I was on a boat, aff the coast of Iceland—place called Olafsvik – brilliant, by the way—so I was watching for whales, and that conversation we had – what was it—four, five years ago?
LACRIMOSA: This whole obsession is over a conversation five years ago that I don’t even remember?
SìMON: Aye, you do.
LACRIMOSA: Reading my mind now?
SìMON: You told me the beached whale story then, too.
LACRIMOSA: Norway?
SìMON: No, the rotting carcass.
LACRIMOSA: OK, because Norway was after…
SìMON: Alright? So, anyway, it came into my mind and I wondered if you’d ever been there—Iceland—and seen a live whale. Like, how it’d be weird if you’d been in the same boat or at the same exact point in the ocean. After a while I thought, why am I tantalising myself with ‘what ifs’ and pish? Why don’t I just ask you? Maybe you’d want to come with me somewhere. Maybe see a non-beached whale.
LACRIMOSA: So you just lifted the phone.
SìMON: After the twenty hours on boats, buses, ferries getting back.
LACRIMOSA: You weren’t planning to come back?
SìMON: No’ at that point. I just suddenly felt like, what am I doing here myself?
LACRIMOSA: When you could be making nuisance calls to someone who it turns out can’t go anywhere.
SìMON: No, it—

30/07/2017

Cold Call: Day 17

A series of telephone conversations where truth comes away in layers – begins at Cold Call: Day 1 and ends at Day 19

SOUND: PHONE RINGS
LACRIMOSA: What?
SìMON: (D) Er, how are you?
LACRIMOSA: I’m sure you have a satellite oriented at my window so you can see for yourself.
SìMON: Oh, aye, that’s you gi’ing me the finger, right?
LACRIMOSA: Near enough. Why the Mrs McIver charade? Do you even have an aunty?
SìMON: To prove you could like me, without preconceptions.
LACRIMOSA: Whose? No, I mean: who to?
SìMON: To whom?
LACRIMOSA: Aye, try the grammatical high-ground, since the moral high-ground is crumbling under your feet.
SìMON: Both of us.
LACRIMOSA: How is that fair? You knowing who I was?
SìMON: No’ kenning who I was didnae stop you making up your ‘stories’.
LACRIMOSA: That was fun.
SìMON: That excuses lying.
LACRIMOSA: Congratulations: you’ve taken cold calling to a whole new level of insult. So I’m hanging up now.

29/07/2017

Cold Call: Day 16

A series of telephone conversations where truth comes away in layers – begins at Cold Call: Day 1 and ends at Day 19

SOUND: PHONE RINGS
LACRIMOSA: Right. How did you get my home number?
SìMON: (D) Private detective.
LACRIMOSA: What?
SìMON: Kidding. Council Tax records.
LACRIMOSA: I tick the box!
SìMON: It only takes one wee slip one year and yer cooncil’ll flog your details to anyone that pays. Once it’s on the internet, that’s it: name, full address, age bracket, co-habiters. I already kenned which toun you live in.
LACRIMOSA: Hang on, Council Tax record—electoral register—doesn’t have phone numbers.
SìMON: I got the area code and just started trying combinations. All very logical.
LACRIMOSA: You are a fucking cold caller!
SìMON: OK, seriously, it doesnae take much searching to find some local site with your name and number on, like a community cooncil report with planning applicants listed, or, in your case, a freecycle site trying to affload some classy knick-knacks.
LACRIMOSA: You’re a fucking cold calling stalker. I told Gordon about you, by the way.
SìMON: Are you no’ flattered I went to all that trouble to cyber-stalk you?
LACRIMOSA: I suddenly feel very exposed.
SìMON: Good.
LACRIMOSA: How is that good?
SìMON: All your information is out there already; better you ken about it.
LACRIMOSA: So I can be even less trusting of cold callers?
SìMON: Am I still digging myself in a bigger hole here?
LACRIMOSA: I’m sure you can get yourself a ladder off Gumtree.

28/07/2017

Cold Call: Day 15

A series of telephone conversations where truth comes away in layers – begins at Cold Call: Day 1

SOUND: PHONE RINGS
LACRIMOSA: Listen: this isn’t the Fetish Warehouse.
SìMON: (D) Oh, really?
LACRIMOSA: It’s just me stuck in the house.
SìMON: Aye, I figured, you’re too…caring to inflict pain.
LACRIMOSA: If you only knew me.
SìMON: No, OK, I just couldnae hear any chains clanking so I kenned you were—
LACRIMOSA: Pulling your chain?
SìMON: Hah!
LACRIMOSA: The fetish BDSM thing just was stupid. It was a spur of the moment bit of nonsense. It’s not even funny.
SìMON: It worked for me.
LACRIMOSA: Doesn’t say much for you.
SìMON: I don’t have anything against that, er, ‘community’; it’s good for bad puns – the stereotype.
LACRIMOSA: We’re all stereotypes. So, you rumbled me. Can we stop doing this now?
SìMON: My name’s no’ Sìmon.
LACRIMOSA: Mine’s not Lacrimosa.
SìMON: Oh, really? What is it?
LACRIMOSA: Does it matter? Can we just hang up now?
SìMON: Probably no’; you could say anything.
LACRIMOSA: Henrietta Soleil Buckminster-Fullerene the third.
SìMON: Aye.
LACRIMOSA: Your turn.
SìMON: It’s Simon.
LACRIMOSA: How utterly dull. Try again.
SìMON: It really is.
LACRIMOSA: I don’t care. Can you not invent something?!
SìMON: Simon Gillespie.
LACRIMOSA: There must be thousands of those. I think I used to know one—well, work with one.
SìMON: That’s me.
LACRIMOSA: What do you mean?
SìMON: I’m the one you used to work with – at Dalry’s.
LACRIMOSA: Wait, there, you don’t know who I am, never mind where I worked!
SìMON: Actually I do. Mind I used to call you, at your new work, after you left? You thought I was after a job. Then one day you didnae answer. Then someone else picked up and it was all careful wording about you being oot the office. Then eventually they just said you didnae work there any more. (PAUSE) Hello?
LACRIMOSA: How many times did you call?!
SìMON: Several.
LACRIMOSA: Hello not-the-person-I-thought-I-was-speaking-to – pointlessly-lying-to.
SìMON: So we were both lying.
LACRIMOSA: I’m sorry.
SìMON: What for?
LACRIMOSA: For not calling you back. I still have your number.
SìMON: Thanks for no’ lying there. I hate that ‘I lost your number’ shit.
LACRIMOSA: Oh, I definitely still have it. I just can’t get at it.
SìMON: On a shelf you cannae reach?
LACRIMOSA: Hah. I thought you were a ‘professional contact’ so I saved one of those fancy files with all your trivia to remind me who you were, you know, and how often you pestered me about ‘doing lunch’. I saved it and backed it up and copied it to my external hard drive at home. Then I got the sack and didn’t have hundreds of pounds to furnish myself with Microsoft Office and all its security botches and flaky instabilities. So now I have a dot-VC-something file that my dear old second-hand open-source PC has no idea what to do with.
SìMON: That was a pretty convincing story.
LACRIMOSA: OK, good, because yours is so totally full of holes and creepiness that I’m not going to speak to you anymore.
SìMON: Fair dos.

27/07/2017

Cold Call: Day 14

A series of telephone conversations where truth comes away in layers – begins at Cold Call: Day 1

SOUND: PHONE RINGS
LACRIMOSA: Still speaking to me?
SìMON: (D) Ah, I suddenly thought ‘oh shit, that’s why you were so…reticent about your personal life: you’re married’ and I just felt totally inappropriate.
LACRIMOSA: Right, because I couldn’t have any other relationship with a guy and usually I’ll tell my entire history to any weirdo that calls.
SìMON: Who is he? A friend?
LACRIMOSA: Neighbour.
SìMON: Just good neighbours, eh?
LACRIMOSA: Not your business, but aye, actually.
SìMON: Even though you’re at work?
LACRIMOSA: Wow, good accusatory tone there, like you’ve just uncovered organised fraud!
SìMON: He’s the neighbour of the ‘Warehouse’?
LACRIMOSA: No, I’m working from home. And no, my home isn’t a Fetish Warehouse; twenty-first century telephony allows you to route calls pretty much anywhere you want.
SìMON: Plausible.
LACRIMOSA: By all means hang up and give me peace.
SìMON: I’d best let you keep the line free, then. Get back to filing your nails to a sharp point.
LACRIMOSA: I’m sure you have an aunty to visit.
SìMON: Aye.

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