Death and Croissants

The best thing about this book is its title. It really is a cracker and it sold it to me in one go. Unfortunately it’s all downhill from there. The plot is a bit simplistic, the prose is disjointed and built around various dad jokes  rather than the other way round and there is some shoddy, confusing dialogue on the other. Thankfully quite short so you can get through it nice and quickly but really, best avoided. Have a chuckle at the title but don’t be fooled to go any further than that. 

A Foreign Country

I sought this out as I read another of his books – Box 88 – and really enjoyed it. This lived up to my expectations. He writes very well and the action is tense, interesting and slick. I love the spy aspects it goes into and I will certainly be reading the other books he has written. 

Under The Blue

This was a random pick up in Waterstones. Cracking buy it was too. Although it was a classic cliched apocalypse novel, it was also a thought provoking account on the worth of humanity and how it regards itself. It carries an important environmental message and added to that, it is written very well. Enjoyable and I would recommend. 

Snow, Dog, Foot

An intriguing book, translated from Italian. This was gifted to me and can be read in an evening. I am no connoisseur of translated works but it seems to me they have done a marvellous job. The story itself is good. It charts the descent of a mountain man into dementia or madness over a winter, all in the presence of his dog. As things progress the dog becomes more and more human while the man changes in quite the opposite way and is a reflective account of humanity. Glad I read this.  

Trio

William Boyd is one of my favourite authors and so I was always going to give this one a read. As always he writes brilliantly. His prose is concise and seemingly effortless. The story in this case is not really very tangible however. It is a series of events in three people’s lives rather than an actual cohesive ‘story’ as such. Most would not be able to get away with this but his reflective way of writing helps get this over the line. Not his best by any means. 

The Tragedy of the Commons

 

The Black Tern is a wise creature, even if Uki’s uncle didn’t think so. Average taste and of little other consequence he would say. Uki disagreed. He would spend endless thoughtful hours at the shore watching flocks of the bird swirl above the abyss of blue that surrounded all he knew. How could it not be wise? Anything that had knowledge of what lay beyond the horizon must carry wisdom with it on the wind; messages from the Gods.

The statues constructed by Uki’s ancestors did not care for wisdom it would seem. Their broad volcanic backs were turned against the expanse of the ocean while their grim faces cared only for the barren island on which Uki’s tribe toiled and argued. They shunned the possibilities of that expanse, like ignoring time itself. They were concerned only for those who worshipped them and those who might hurt them.

However much Uki could not understand these stone guardians, he was devoted to them all the same. As inevitable as the black rocks and the whispers from the grassland beneath the mountain that demanded reverence from all, their presence was infinite from his perspective; a thing of nature.

Just like the others, he would join in the dancing when fires were lit at their feet, and would wonder whether his ancestors did the same. Just like the others, he would hope for favourable harvests born of the land they cared for so meticulously. And just like the others, he would experience pride in his tribe and any success that they experienced.

On one such evening, Uki gathered with others not far from the tight rows of farmland, planted in the dry dirt and shielded from the elements by great stone plinths that were larger than anything else in view. While the elders talked over the fire, Uki looked up to see vast swathes of speckled light smeared across the darkening sky; the eyes of his ancestors perhaps. His grandfather always said they were the birds that used to live on the island, flown off after they grew tired of this diminished world. If so, they were still flying and Uki wondered when they would reach their destination.

The hollow chops of his mother’s obsidian knife going through sweet potato and tarot onto the wooden board across her lap sedated him as low voices ebbed and flowed around the light of the crackling flames. The dancing was done for the night and their chieftain was reflecting on the hard winter ahead.

‘Tomorrow, Maku, you will go to the groves and take a tree.’

Uki noticed the look of disapproval on his cousin Tua’s face. The chief noticed also.

Tua, your face is as the sky on a rainy day. Do you wish to challenge me?’

Uki’s uncle bristled and laid a hand on his son’s shoulder. ‘Tua, quiet.’

Uki was much younger than his cousin but if anyone was wise, it was Tua.

My chief,’ said Tua, brushing his father’s hand away, ‘we can burn herbs and grasses to keep warm. There is no need of the wood you speak of.’

‘We keep warm by staying alive Tua. We keep warm by knowing our numbers swell and by knowing we have power over our territory. We keep warm by maintaining our dignity in the face of the others. That is how we keep warm.

He dismissed Tua with a wave of the hand. ‘Besides, we need more shelter in which to house our children and shelter them from the rains. These children then will help us farm the land and defend it. They will honour our Gods and one day, we will make more Moai, just as our ancestors did. Do not speak unless you know what you speak of. That is for me as your chief.’

‘But we struggle as it is. If there are more of us…’

‘If we do not do this, we will be overrun but the others. Our way of life will be over. Even now, the Majuriki eye our lands and our sugarcane. They deface our idols more and more even though once they were our friends. What would you have me do? You would seek to disadvantage us?’ He sniffed. ‘This would only hasten our demise. You are enlightened in some ways Tua but you have much to learn. Until that time, you will learn to respect this tribe with me at its head.’

Though Tua remained silent, he did not look placated, even with some of the disapproving glances from around the fire.

The next morning, Uki approached Tua as he inspected the crops. Uki asked about what Tua had meant the night before. Tua seemed pleased that someone would listen.

We revere our ancestors Uki, but I sometimes wonder whether they deserve our devotion. Their legacies are the idols that we so triumphantly protect. But I have come to realise that these idols do nothing but judge us.

Mother says they protect us,’ offered Uki, confused.

From what? Our past? Ourselves. What protected our mighty ancestors Uki? Where are the wonders they tell of in the stories? Where are the vessels they took to sea and the vast creatures they brought back? Where are the forests filled with happiness and plenty?

‘In the stories?’ replied Uki. Tua had lost him and the older boy realised it.

Tua looked up to the barren slopes of the mountain and the bitter whip of the salt air squeezed his eyes tight. ‘The chief is right. Without these things, we will be at the mercy of the Majuriki. The problem is that no one sees the real problem at the heart of it all.’

‘What’s that?’ asked Uki quietly, not expecting to understand the answer.

‘No one is happy with what they already have. That is the problem Uki. Maybe one day you’ll understand. I’m not sure that will change anything though.’

Uki was desperate to help his cousin, who seemed sad. All he could think was that the black terns might hold the answer – after all, they were as wise as Tua was, no matter what his uncle might think. Uki looked out over the beach to find them and it was then that he saw it. Upon the line of cerulean blue that marked the boundary of his existence was something new. Balancing like the brightest white feathers were three fluttering beacons, all in a line and hazy in the morning sun.

*

Years later, when recalling the events of that time, Uki would tell his own children stories of his cousin Tua. ‘He taught me a lot but I think my greatest lesson is something I realised for myself,’ Uki would say. They would sit at his feet, staring with wide but unknowing eyes as he spoke. Our wisdom is not determined by those few most gifted in that respect but it is instead limited to that of the lowest ebb of our society where human nature triumphs above all.’ Still the children stared. ‘I’m not sure that will change anything though,’ he whispered.

 
 

The Motor Car

Since my wife, Betsy, died a few years back I felt, as I imagine many do in similar situations, as if a large hole was yawning beneath me, ready to swallow me up at any moment. It hit me hard, I don’t mind admitting. The Company had been a great help, and had even arranged for her to have some special treatment, but even they couldn’t do anything in the end. When I heard that she had died I was near inconsolable. My son were a great help mind, and slowly I got back to the day-to-day stuff although the gap in my life was hard to ignore.

It was a few months after she had passed that I came upon the motor car. Some old fellow from up the lane had had it there for years supposedly and had never been able to get anything out of it. I’ve always been someone who likes a challenge. I’m up with the sun and the chickens in the morning, raring to go and if I don’t have anything to work towards, if I’ m honest, I feel a bit lost. Work happened to be slow around that time. Only now do I realise that it was all the folk around me going easy on me. Which I must say I am now rightly grateful for.

So it was that I had some time free. I knew that, if I weren’t careful, it would set me to dwelling on my lovely Betsy more than I should. The motorcar was sat there, all decrepit and finished. Everyone had given up on it.

It’s dead Tom” they’d say. “It’s just a load of metal that would be put to better use elsewhere. It won’t have run for centuries.” That got me thinking about all the stories that had no doubt gone with it. I wondered on the people who had driven it the last time it had worked – what their lives must have been like and what they would think if I were to give up on it like everyone else.

So I decided I would try and get it working again. I remember the first morning I dragged it down outside my house using two of the biggest horses in the village. I took a closer look at it and all of a sudden realised I had my work cut out. Rust most of it, on top and underneath. The tyres were gone obviously but when I looked into the engine, there was still a bit of oil in it. I couldn’t believe my luck. Not much mind, but it was there. The battery was a different matter – all clogged up and useless. So I had to set about getting around all of this. I spent a bit of time reading a book on engines and I was down at the market whenever any new stuff came in from the convoys. I would select anything I thought might help. Even times when I could do nothing more than scrape the rust off the old engine felt like therapy of a kind.

Over the months, people began to take notice of what I was doing. They would gather around and sometimes poke a bit of fun at me for trying it. All in good nature of course. I loved spending that time with my boy as well. I started at a good time, just as winter was turning into spring, so by the time I had assembled what I thought was a working engine, made myself a make-shift battery and put on some new tyres, make-shift as they were, I thought I was on to a winner. The first time I plucked up the courage to go, I did it in secret. Maybe subconsciously I knew it wouldn’t work. And I was right. A little puff of smoke was all I got. But that was enough to tell me that I was on the right lines.

A few weeks later, after making a few alterations, I tried again. This time, I had a bit of a crowd who’d cottoned on to the fact that I was a bit more hopeful this time. The sky was blue and it was right hot. The first time I put those wires together to turn on the ignition and start the engine, nothing happened. But the second time, it burst into action. The cheers went up and the way my son’s face lit up when the engine jumped to life for the first time in a long time made me hold back a tear or two. I took it straight out onto the field and gave it a right good outing. Everyone would run around behind us and chase us down. I let some of them have a go even.

It only lasted a few days of course. I always knew it wouldn’t run for long. But for that fleeting moment, I felt alive again. I had brought it back from the dead. I’ll never forget those days. Not for the rest of my life. The way the air smelt, the way the seeds in the grass jumped out of the way of the wheels as they churned on by. And when it did finally come to a stop for the last time, I didn’t feel sad. Just proud. Proud that for a short time, because I had not given in, I had reached my goal. I can still see it out of my window now, in the field where it stopped, up the hill a ways. It’s a nice reminder of that spring and summer. And I sometimes like to think that, somewhere, Betsy’s face lit up just the same as my boy’s did when she’d seen what I’d done.

The Children Are Our Future

 

The phone rang just after 6pm. John left it for a few rings having just started an episode of The Simpsons. He glanced over at the caller ID Neil”. He sighed and reached over to pick it up.

‘Alright?’

Neil’s voice is breathless. ‘No, not really. Have you seen the news?’

John shook his head. ‘Just watching the Simpsons.’

‘John, they’ve really gone mad, I swear.’

‘What? Who have?’

‘The government.’

John laughed. ‘How many times have I heard you say that Neil? It feels like most days.’

‘No but this takes the biscuit. You’ve not heard then?’

John stretched out his legs on the footstool. He heard laughter from the kitchen where Sienna was baking cakes with their daughter Siobhan. ‘Go on then, enlighten me.’

‘Well the PM just announced his intentions to put forward a bill in Parliament lowering the legal voting age.’

John took a sip of tea before he answered. ‘Well, maybe he’s on to something. The young are our future and all that.’

‘He wants to lower it to 6.’

John raised an eye brow. ‘6 years old?’

‘6 years old.’

‘Well OK that is a bit odd.’ John put his tea down on the side table.

‘Odd! It’s downright bonkers! Honestly sometimes John I wish I’d followed in Dad’s footsteps like you did.’

‘Says the man with five bedrooms and a flat in Soho.’

‘I would swap that for a quiet life John, honestly.’

‘So what’s going to happen? Do they have to vote on it or something? Do we get to vote on it?’

‘I don’t know the details yet, my editor is calling a briefing soon. On one hand, I can’t imagine how something like that would ever get through but after what we’ve seen in the last few years, I don’t know any more. I have a bad feeling they’re up to something. The election is 6 months away and it can’t be a coincidence.’

‘Well, you have to be impartial remember.’ John was grinning now.

Obviously, that’s why I’m calling you. I have to vent somehow. You do realise it’ll mean Siobhan will be eligible?’

The grin faded.

‘I’ll leave you with that thought, my other phone is ringing. Speak to you soon.’

The line went dead. John sat there for a moment, Homer Simpson’s yellow head filling the screen in front of him.

‘Who was that?’ called Sienna from the kitchen.

‘My brother.’

‘What was it this time?’

‘Apparently the government want to lower the voting age.’

There was a short pause and his wife appeared in the doorway. He looked up at her, befuddled. She was wearing the apron with a picture of a bikini clad woman on it. It was covered in flour as were Sienna’s hands and she used her pinky finger to clear a clump of blonde strands of hair from her face. ‘Sorry baby, what was it?’

‘They want to lower the voting age.’

She looked at him blankly.

‘To 6.’

She laughed but then saw the veracity written across John’s face.

‘To 6? That will mean Siobhan can vote!’

John shrugged. ‘So he says.’

As if on cue, Siobhan followed her mother through the door.

‘We made cakes Daddy. Come and see!’

Sienna looked down at her fondly. ‘My little Vonny, God they grow up so fast don’t they?’

*

John Didn’t read newspapers. He didn’t really watch the news. He wasn’t sure whether that was because his brother was invariably on it or if he just preferred not to get involved in that sort of thing. What he knew about current affairs he got from the headlines as he walked past the newspaper stalls at the garage, or what people talked about at work and of course from his brother. It was rare for these three sources to converge on something that might resemble consistency leading, at first, to confusion in John’s mind, followed by indifference.

He had met Sienna through work 7 years ago; one of his colleagues’ friends who visited from time to time. That colleague was now long gone, but for some reason, there had been a connection between John and Sienna that couldn’t be ignored; at least that is how Sienna always explained it. John had simply fallen for her obvious beauty from the off and found himself able to tolerate everything else that came with it thereafter.

Rather than being the extroverted overconfident type that so often tried and failed with someone of Sienna’s outward appeal, John was laid back to the extreme. His boss called him “Horizontal” Hogan (Hogan being his and now Sienna’s surname).

As he walked to work the next morning, he thought about the news his brother had brought him. Most of the time when Neil called him with some perceived controversy, John didn’t really see the issue. He found it mildly interesting that his colleagues at work (a printing company) often had a very different spin on the same piece of news. John didn’t really get involved. It seemed futile and boring. These supposedly big issues being discussed in faraway halls seemed so detached from the real world and never really impacted on his day to day life as far as he could tell.

Thus John’s surprise that he found himself thinking about this latest snippet more than he might usually have done. As the traffic crawled past him in the grey suburban morning murk, he supposed it was because it could impact on his daughter, if only very marginally. Since becoming a parent, John had noticed a tendency to develop interests in areas that would have been completely alien to him in his younger years (School curricula and league tables, conversations about local parks, gossip about teachers, the latest seat belt technology and clever ways to iron and fold clothes). His thought process that morning was therefore a symptom of parenthood he decided. A strange idiosyncrasy that he should probably ignore. There was nothing he could do about it after all and it would probably never come to anything anyway, he thought. Just another one of Neil’s storms in a teacup.

It wasn’t until a month later that he thought on the matter again. Other stuff had got in the way. There had been bills to pay, an issue with his motherinlaw which had caused a bit of friction with Sienna and a particularly good boxset that they had watched together as a form of reconciliation.

One day, out of the blue, he glanced at a headline in the Mail as he walked by with a chicken and bacon sandwich that read ‘Dawn of a New Age.’ Next along, another headline spelled it out for him. ‘Voting Age Bill Passed’. It was enough to make him pause for a moment or two. He had essentially forgotten the conversation with his brother a month before but the wheels had been in motion all this time whether he had registered it or not. The fact that this made him feel somehow off guard, bemused, perhaps even guilty for some reason tugged at him now as he went to pay. Should I have paid a bit more attention, he thought. Before, the proposed bill had been one amongst hundreds of distant whispers, all discarded as irrelevant. Now it was real.

‘You know Neil was talking about the voting age a while back,’ John said to Sienna as he got in that evening. Sienna was sitting at the small breakfast bar with a towel on her head, filing her nails.

‘Yes, the voting age. Lowered isn’t it?’ she said with an air of conspiracy.

John nodded. ‘Yeah, they’ve actually done it. Lowered it to 6. I even bought the paper, look.’ He dropped it onto the worktop and looked at her as if to say isn’t that fancy?

She returned his expression. ‘Look at you. Eat your heart out Neil.’

‘What do you think about it then?’ asked John as he went to get a cold beer from the fridge.

‘I think it’s great.’

John looked at her to gauge how serious she was being. He could detect no hint of irony or sarcasm on her face. ‘You really think?’

She frowned, obviously detecting the unease on John’s face. ‘Yes actually I do. Why, do you not? And why would you care, you never vote anyway?’

John raised his hands defensively. ‘Alright, alright. Sorry!’ He was smiling. ‘Neither do you remember?’

‘No but maybe we should. We’ve been talking about it and how good it will be for the children. Such a positive change.’ She nodded to her phone.

‘Ah, the mum’s WhatsApp group. To be a virtual fly on the wall in there,’ said John.

Sienna chose not to reply. John paced over to the window and took a sip of his beer. He glanced back at Sienna, assessing. ‘Don’t you think it’s a bit mad? I mean, I don’t have any idea about what we’re voting for let alone Siobhan?’

‘That’s not the point John. The children these days, they need to be empowered. They need to know they can do whatever they want, that they don’t have to conform. Now they are legitimised.

John began to feel rather uneasy as he heard his wife speak. He couldn’t hide the surprise on his face.

‘You don’t agree? You just want her to fall in line and get walked over her whole life? A hundred years ago, someone like me wouldn’t even be allowed to vote. Now even our daughter can. Look how far we’ve come!

Sienna, I don’t think…’

That’s what they’re all saying.’

John faltered. ‘Who?’ He trailed off as he realised she was probably talking about her WhatsApp group again.

Face it John, children are the future. I don’t want our daughter to miss out on that. You shouldn’t either.

John disliked any form of conflict so chose to remain quiet at this point, merely nodding. He glanced down at the paper and saw the quote from the Prime minister jumping out at him. Those words again. The children are our future.

*

Later that night, John was flicking through the TV channels attempting to find something to distract him from the strange unease he been unable to shake. All to no avail. He switched to the iPlayer and it was there that he saw the Question Time from the week before. ‘Voting Age Special.’ John hated Question Time. The back and forth of it all, the hostility, the frustration, the use of empty and predictable phrases and slogans to dodge questions, the gushing applause from over eager sections of the audience – it left him feeling tense and unfulfilled. John liked a clean end to things. He thrived on making lists and being able to check them off. His line of work – project based for the most part – meant he was able to work towards a clear goal and could celebrate with his colleagues at the local curry house once it was reached before moving onto something fresh the next day. John thrived on resolution and there was none of that in politics. Only obfuscation. What one friend (a physicist) had once described to him as a high entropy career. John had nodded in agreement at the time having no idea what he actually meant.

Question Time was politics in microcosm for John. A week ago, he would have skipped straight over it but this evening, he pressed play. The panel were a predictable bunch. Four of them he had never seen before and the fifth he recognised as a prominent children’s television presenter. Most of the talking took place however between two roughly middle aged men. Both white, both with suits that looked as if they had seen better days. John quickly surmised the slightly younger one with a sallow complexion and intelligent eyes was a minister from the governing party. His expression was one of constant calm, almost meditative. His opposite number, an older, swarthier gentleman with soft eyes and greying hair creeping in around his temples already had the look of exasperation about him.

‘Doesn’t anyone go to the gym anymore?’ said Siena as she came into the room, gesturing absent-mindedly toward the older man. She sat down beside John with a magazine and a gin and tonic and her avid attention to both of these indicated her question had been rhetorical.

The man was quite portly John had to admit but none of them looked particularly healthy.

“Why not draw the line at five years old or seven years old then?” the second man asked.

“Well we have to draw a line somewhere don’t we Alan?” said the first calmly, almost condescendingly.

“We most certainly do but I am rather of the opinion that there must be a reason for drawing that line. The previous age limit for example was based on the principle that to vote, one might be able to work, pay…

Are you saying children don’t work hard?” interrupted the first man.

The man known to John now as Alan paused dumbfounded and wrong-footed. His eventual reply was incredulous. No, I’m,”

Well it sounds like you’re…”

The programme’s presenter cut through the interruption at this point. “Let him speak please, let him speak.

“But our right hon…”

“Let him speak!”

John was already tempted to turn it off and Sienna gave a short chuckle from next to him, looking up briefly from whatever she was reading.

“Thank you,” said Alan, clearly flustered. “As I was saying, the principle to vote is based on matters such as whether one is of legal working age, whether one is eligible to pay taxes, whether one is deemed to have lived enough years to begin to form and shape one’s own opinions and beliefs without the influence of others, primarily parents.”

“Ah well, if I may,” said the first man, still calm and appealing (successfully this time) to the presenter to intervene. “You’ve inadvertently hit upon part of the beauty of the plan Alan, which is that we enable children to bypass any interference by empowering them early on to think for themselves, independently, and therefore creating a brighter future for us all. Brighter, more confident citizens with the full power of democracy behind them. These children are our future.”

Alan shook his head. That is not an advantage whichever way you spin it.” It sounded as if there were more to come but the older man struck a helpless figure at that moment. The presenter stepped in. He was older than the rest of the panel, face lined with experience, in perpetual frown so you couldn’t tell whether he approved or not of what was being said. He’d make a good poker player John thought. “Let’s take some questions from the audience.

After some manoeuvring of microphones which had the air of amateurishness about it, the camera focused in on a man in the audience. He was probably in his early thirties and wore a crinkled t-shirt. He had messy blond hair, a gormless expression and his voice was that of a middle of the road southerner. Neither posh nor common in John’s mind. He read his question ponderously from a piece of paper held high in front of him and the tone varied very little throughout. He did not strike John as someone one might call intelligent, particularly when he struggled to read out the word ‘significantly’.

I have had confidence issues all of my life and would have significantly appreciated a chance to vote at a younger age so I could make my own decisions and build my confidence.” At this point, as if stage directed, he placed his arm around the shoulders of a young boy to his left who stood there like a rabbit in the headlights. “I would like to know why there are still some people that think my child can’t vote for who leads the country and, things like… and yeah.” He swallowed having clearly ruined this moment in the spotlight.”

John cringed. “Jesus,” said Sienna. “Where did they dig him up?”

The presenter stretched his arm coaxingly towards the audience member, palm open and to the side. “And…?” he said with a skilful combination of impatience and patronizing encouragement.

“…And considering how much it will empower him.” The audience member laughed nervously at having finished and sat down quickly.

The presenter summarised. “Alan, why do you think a child can’t vote and do you think it will empower them if they can?”

With a sigh, the second man adopted an apologetic expression. “Well, I’m afraid I need to be quite blunt here but children are fickle. They are impulsive. They lack any sort of context for decisions they might make. They have no experience or knowledge of what is actually going on or indeed the intricacies and complexities of government, of what might affect them either directly or indirectly. They are easily swayed and lack the wherewithal to know when they are being lied to or not. They also lack the wisdom to know that there is not always a simple answer to things; no definitive right or wrong; no definitive solution. They are,” he searched for the words, “philosophically naïve. They are inexperienced in compromise and are used to getting what they want, often with no concept of the difference between what they want and what they need. Shall I go on?” A few claps rang out in the audience but clearly from Alan’s face, the reaction had not been what he had hoped for.

The first politician, rather than interrupt had chosen to sit in silence during this. His calm face, John noticed, gained an extra glint of satisfaction.

“Do you want to come back on that?” asked the presenter.

“It would seem our esteemed colleague here is not a fan of children!” he chuckled. A few laughs from the audience.

“An air of the hard right too,” chimed in one of the other panellists.

“Quite,” agreed the first man. “Listen, your children might be used to getting what they want but I ensure mine have a much more favourable balance.” At this, an audible protestation was heard from across the table but he raised his finger and his voice along with it, enabling him to continue. “You used the phrase ‘philosophically naïve’ I think. Listen we’re not looking for philosophers here. People can do whatever they want. They don’t have to be a philosopher if they don’t want to be. What you’ve described there isn’t just a child, it’s all of us potentially. There’s nothing to say that an intelligent 6 year old lacks any more voting intelligence than our friend in the audience and I think it is an insult to all children out there if you argue otherwise.” A loud applause rang out. Over it all, he asked more emphatically, emphasising each syllable with his finger on the table in front of him, “Why is he allowed to vote and a child is not?”

The applause only deepened and the camera switched to show that the audience member who had asked the question’s applause was amongst the most vigorous.

 

*

Shit show isn’t it?” said Neil.

This time John had called his brother. “It’s something alright.”

A pause. “John, please don’t tell me you support this thing? Not you as well?

“Sienna’s on board with it.”

“Oh God.” Neil sounded tired. “Not that I’m particularly surprised,” he added, more quietly.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Sorry. It’s just it never ceases to amaze me how people fall for this sort of stuff. Come on, I know you don’t really have an opinion on this sort of thing a lot of the time but do you really think this is anything but crazy?”

John pondered this before answering. “Siobhan came down the stairs the other night in tears. She’d wet the bed bless her. I made a comment to Sienna afterwards about her being able to vote and she snapped back at me about dad and how he wet the bed before the end and that he could still vote. I didn’t say anything after that but I will admit there are some strange arguments going round about it.”

“You can say that again. I envy your calm about it John. I really do. I wish I didn’t care. Listen, this is the manifesto they’ve just released.” A sound of rustling papers. “Reduction of the school week to four days from five; the option to decline maths as a subject at GCSE; No school uniforms; Child empowerment programme to be rolled out nationally…”

“What’s that? The child empowerment programme?

“John, it does and means nothing. It’s what they use to sidestep questions about increased cost of childcare when they’re not at school. It’s supposed to enable children to look after themselves or something.”

“Oh I hadn’t thought about child care.”

“Exactly! This is what I’m saying, no one else has either. It’s all being glossed over. And just think I had to read all of this out with a straight face on television today. Sometimes I don’t think people even bother to watch our stuff anymore. It’s all on social media. If I hear the children are our future or this new buzzword, voting intelligence, much more I don’t know what I’m going to do! Honestly, the whole thing is like asking Baldrick what we should have for dinner.”

John laughed. “You should use that in one of your reports!”

“One of these days John. One of these days.”

*

Later that week, as he walked to work, John witnessed a group of schoolboys laughing hysterically at a something on one of their phones. As he got closer he recognised it as the video Sienna had shown him the night before – the opposition leader falling over a low fence at some sort of event. Neil’s voice echoed caution in John’s head but the clip was undeniably funny. The echoes of caution only grew louder as the days passed.

John had become somewhat of an expert on children’s television since Siobhan had come along. He could name all of the Teletubbies along with each of their accessories and he knew the theme tune and lyrics to the majority of programmes. His favourite was In the Night Garden.

Since the bill had passed, the content for many of these programmes had changed. There were references to voting and how important it was. The process was explained to children in very simple terms and the message of empowerment was clear. It was like watching a revolution. The language was often grand and implied an age of oppression was nearing an end.

As Siobhan sat enthralled at one woman (a child not so long ago herself) with over-the-top enthusiasm was reading out birthday cards one morning, John began to realise what was happening. “Thank you to everyone who sent these in. We couldn’t read all of them out but I promise you we read all of them and they were so good. Everyone who did one of these should be very proud. It just shows what talent we have out there and we always talk about adults but they don’t realise how special you children are. How exciting that all of you can soon vote like a grown up at the next election. You must all realise how special and important you all are and that you are just as important as all the adults out there too.”

Rarely, if ever, did John see content implying there was anyone else but the current Prime minister running for election. In fact, the man himself seemed to be a far more common site than he had been. His voice featured on one of the UK’s biggest pop star’s new singles. One morning, John saw him on an advert for a new remote control car and that same evening, he was reading the bed time story. John watched it with a sort of morbid fascination. Clearly from a posher than posh background, the Prime minister would always pronounce his ‘T’s impeccably whenever John had seen him. Here though, every now and again, he would drop them, presumably to fit in better. Only it didn’t sound natural. It seemed all the more rehearsed and premeditated. False.

He looked down at Siobhan, who was watching avidly. He paused in indecision before finally asking quietly, “Are you going to vote sweetheart?”

Her round eyes widened as she looked back at him, as if he had asked the stupidest question imaginable. “Of course daddy.”

*

The election was won by a landslide. John had chosen not to vote at all but knew that both Sienna and Siobhan had. He had briefly run the issue about childcare past Sienna who had merely brushed it aside. She had read about vouchers on Facebook for the child empowerment programme and had no time for what she called “fake news” about the childcare issue.

It felt strange to John, having never cared much for an election before. Such was the furore about this one, the biggest majority in history, that he had somehow expected things to be different straight away. And yet, life didn’t seem that different. Siobhan was the same little girl she was before. The school week remained at five days. They still wore uniforms. A while after the election, he asked her who the Prime minister was and she had forgotten.

Not long after, Neil lost his job. Apparently his boss had been made redundant first and Neil was the next to go. In his own words, he had been too concerned for his own good about the circumstances surrounding the bill being voted in by parliament. Something about the threat to remove the whip being just the tip of the iceberg as John recalled.

Despite his brother’s downfall, there was an air of triumph about the country that John could not escape. The message on television and in the papers was one of things being OK again. Reassurance was everywhere. Tables published about how the UK was the world leader in this and that. There are more billionaires in the UK than ever before. That must be good. John does wonder why the bills seem that much harder to pay though. Why he notices more police sirens at night. He notices Siobhan watching more and more television. She is turning into quite the portly little girl. Possibly because he drives her to school now since that new homeless man appeared on the corner. As John sits down to watch the Simpsons, he wonders whether everything really is OK.