Tasting With Somebody Else's Tongue
© Denis Murphy 2003/04/05/06
The Big Match Build-Up: A Brain of Two Halves
The Right-Hand Side's Mix
The Left-Hand Side's Mix
Both Halves Pulling Together
Both Halves Still Pulling Together Instead of Apart
Look, why don't you let me give you my version. What happened is sort of well-known and well-documented, and yet, it isn't. A lot's been distorted. And a lot of what isn't distortion is made up. And I know where some of the fabrications have come from. This isn't a sob story, and I'm not blaming the media. But I happen to know that there's been some resentment and jealousy from some circles. And they've not been slow in using their means to drop little nuggets of lies into the mix. Which I'll admit was always controversial to begin with. I just want a chance to tell my version, I'm not asking you to believe me or to think my truth is the real truth. Nor any truer than anyone else's truth. Just suspend your judgment for a while. Then, after you've done me that favour, you can go back to believing what others say. Is it a deal?
It did all begin with the three of us, Chris, Spen and me, on holiday in Lisbon. That much is true. Well, one morning we were in… what was that place? Oh yes, a bar. Having a drink, of all things. We'd just hit town, had already checked into new digs, dumped our gear and rushed out for a recce and that first Lisboa beer. You know the feeling, you've been there, done it. We were taking time out to sort out our wallets, go through our pockets, rip up coach and bus tickets, restaurant receipts, put stamps on postcards, weed out calling cards with the addresses of old pensions and unneeded street maps, sort out our money, with me doing my sums and the other two handing over further money injections for the kitty. We were sweaty, scruffy and unkempt, out of place and out of breath, but nevertheless we were in high spirits. Sitting at a rickety-looking table, several sizes too small for us, swigging our Super Bocks. Brows wiped all round, satisfied grins, chin chin, glug glug, ahhhhhhhhhhh! Can't beat it! We were in beer-for-brekkers mode, before starting on the pre-midday post-where-to-go-for-eats-decision pre-food-red-green-wine palate-cleaning white-green-wine aperitifs. Spen was explaining to me about MiniDisc recorders. He'd just managed to buy something in FNAC for his MiniDisc player which he said he couldn't get back in Leicester. An optical jack for an optical lead, for recording digitally from CD players to MiniDiscs. Apparently. It was all Greek geekspeek to me then. But not now. I was totally ignorant of MiniDiscs. I'd never used one and I had asked Spen whether they were any good and worth having, or just a dinky-looking fad. So Spen was explaining how it can record from anything. Any external source. Anything you care to connect it to. In fact, back home he was going through his record collection, putting all his vinyl onto MiniDisc. It was quite a revelation to me. I had loads of stuff on vinyl. Tons of stuff on tape. And my CD collection was starting to grow quicker than I could work to fund it. I couldn't decide whether record shop websites all over the world and eBay were a boon from the Devil or a curse from God.
We were probably having another Super Bock by then, knowing us. That's not a documented fact. But I could produce any one of a whole series of photos taken of us drinking Super Bocks every day and say, 'See? There we are in that bar having that Super Bock'. And nobody would be any the wiser as to whether or not it corresponded to that precise moment. Me and Spen talking MiniDiscs and record collections. On holiday. In Lisbon. Chris? No, Chris isn't sad like that. Chris was occupied with the girl behind the bar. No, that actually, in all probability, may not necessarily be true. If you're one of Chris's women reading this. Believe me, please. Sort of. Then again, if you are one of Chris's women reading this, and this news would come as a shock to you, how on earth did you get to be one of Chris's women in the first place? You'd surely be one of Chris's exes by now. I mean where've you been? This is Chris we're talking about. Where were we? Oh, yes, Chris being far from sad. If there's anything about Chris that can be said to be sad, from the point of view of an outsider, it could be the lack of time he seems to have for himself. Too busy giving of himself to others. I couldn't hack it. Such are the demands on his time. He's the only flesh-and-blood martyr I've ever come across.
No, I don't actually remember anything involving Chris along those lines on this trip. But then again, he doesn't hang about, doesn't our Chris. In the five nanoseconds it can take me to nod off in a crowded jumping nightclub, Chris will easily have done more damage than friendly fire from US troops on a peace-keeping mission, graduating to the 'Denis, wake up, time to split, her girlfriend's brother and his homies want to get friendly with us' stage. Only, I realised that I haven't mentioned Chris much so far. So I thought I'd introduce him. Dramatically, as befits him. Say the first thing that came into my head. Something gratuitous. Might be something Freudian in there. But true to character. So if it isn't true, anyone who knows him will know it's at least plausible. Especially any of Chris's women reading this. And they would have expected it anyway, whether I'd mentioned it or not. And whether or not it had been true. Especially any… Language barriers? Bah! Yes, if you're a mere humanoid with puny humanoid powers like the rest of us. But Chris?
No, hang about. I remember now quite clearly. Yes, the three of us, Chris, Spen and me, and nobody else, were sitting in this bar. Absorbed in this conversation, we were. So what did I go and do? I only went and had an idea, didn't I? But one of the easy ones. A what if? idea. Yes, they're a cheap, crowd-pleasing trick, I know, but they do work. And I was on hols, on Super Bocks. Was playing to the gallery and frankly was not up to much else. After hearing about MiniDiscs, I said something whose consequences were to change the lives of the three people at that table.
—Wouldn't it be great if there was some sort of Walkman or Discman which recorded the ambiente?
—Is that like the craic?
—What, this bar?
I held my arms out, marshalling the whole of the bar and its grubby stock and grotty flora and fauna into my imaginary ambiente-distilling device on our table, like Mickey Mouse's sorcerer's apprentice in Fantasia.
—Especially this bar we're in now! said Chris, as it dawned on him.
—It's not much to write home about. But I suppose if this is the kind of place that inspires him… Spen was right, it wasn't much. But.
—Spen, babe, you're right on both counts. Take no notice, Denis. I know you. I know you'd rather be in this bar than most of the pubs back home.
How well Chris knew me.
—In truth, there's not much to set it apart from the rest of the bars in this square, or in any of the places we've been to so far.
Indeed there was not. Good old Praça Alegria, Happiness Square. Happy home to so many Putty Clubs. How about that for a coincidence! I'd never have believed it if I had read it in some story! The only feature that seemed to distinguish one daytime bar from another was that each one seemed to close on a different day, though we hadn't been in Lisbon long enough yet for me to suss out the cycle. But believe me, I was on the case. Whenever you need to rely on somebody to plough their energies into vital areas of cutting-edge research, there I am in the breech, with not a thought in my mind that isn't selflessly trained on the needs and suffering of my fellow citizens and the betterment of society.
—But the point is there is nothing like this back in Liverpool.
—No, nor in Leicester.
—And it's precisely this kind of place that I've really missed since I've been back in Britain.
Me and Chris had lived and worked for years in Spain, where we'd met, but were now both based back in England.
—So you could distil it. The essence.
—The sights, the… erm… smells. The Oporto-Boavista derby on the telly in the background.
Barman! See, I told you there were no shenanigans, there was no barmaid after all. Ahem.
—Him and his pensioner cronies shouting at the celebrity guest commentator to shove… what was that?… up his where?… oh, yes of course, "cu", his arse!
—Then back home, when you're back at work and all stressed out and pissed off with Britain, you could just buy a couple of Super Bocks…
—Can you get it back home?
—Yes, Oddbins do it.
—I think the Pump & Tap has got it on draught.
—And just… chill! Flick through your ambiente collection, pick this Lisboa one out…
I pointed at the imaginary device on the table, busily imaginarily recording away.
—And put this bar on. And you'd be here.
—No, wouldn't this be there?
—We'll have to sort that out. Fine-tuning.
—Over another Bock?
—Tell you what! You could have different ambientes recorded at different times. Imagine Saturday nights in this tiny bar.
—The bog in back home in Яevolution's bigger than this whole bar, but there must be a couple of dozen us crammed in here.
—And there's even more jostling each other to get in. Wicked! Reckon Sunday afternoon'd be jumping here, like in Spain?
—Reckon you could get recordings of both Saturday midday and Saturday night on the same disc or tape? How much could you fit on one?
—These bars must buzz around noon. Cuadrillas of 20-plus Iñakis. One cuadrilla coming in, everyone going '¡Aupa, aupa!'…
—That's Bilbao, Chris.
—…and another cuadrilla going out on their way to the next bar, making way for the new cuadrilla, going '¡Aupi, aupi!' back at them…
—Chris, has there been a Basque landslide in the geography section of your brain?
—I think you'll find that that is Bilbao, Chris.
—And St.Turkey. And Donosti. And Romo and Portu and Mondragón and Gernika, Bermeo and Mundaka.
No response from Chris. Oh well, if you can't beat them…
—A different Iñaki ordering the round in each bar, I added.
Too late. Chris was off, leaving Spen behind on the starting blocks.
—Wait a mo, Lisboa ain't Basque. Is it? Have you two been hiding something from me?
—I reckon bars here are much the same. But what would Portuguese Iñakis say to each other?
—Don't tell me. You know the Basque jargon in big boy's Spanish, but not…
—Yes. You see, your Basque Iñakis…
—…at this precise moment in time…
—…what, in every single Basque town and village?
—…will be busy shitting in the milk each other suckled…
—…calling each other sons of whores…
—Shame you can't find no local Iñakis to teach you milk-shitting and whore-suckling jargon in big boy's Portuguese.
—But I don't half miss that Basque ambiente, though. A different Iñaki ordering the round in each bar.
—So do I. '¡Aupatú, cunt! We'll have 25 whites, 5 blacks, a zurito and an apple juice for Iñaki el Maricón. And make it quick or I won't pay. ¡Aupa, aupa!' It'd be cool, wouldn't it…
—…to have those ambientes recorded? Too right! At least then I could play them back and know what the hell youz two are on about!
—Wish I'd had a device a few years ago to distil a few ambientes.
—And be able to tap into a dose of them any time you wanted. It's one thing to experience them yourself, but you can never do them justice, can you…
—…when you try to explain them to someone else? No. I got plenty of photos, but it's not…
—You could have Befores and Afters. If you know your favourite spit'n'spit bar is gonna be made over and all poncified, with soundproofing, double doors and poncy spit'n'sawdust shit, you can make sure you get in quick and record it.
—Preserve a bit of what made it special for you.
—Distil its essence, for your own consumption. Every time you go back to it, you can do a new recording.
—But would they be on discs or floppies? What format? MP3s? MPEGs?
—We'll have to find a different word. 'Recording' sounds old-fashioned.
—Teething-troubles. Bound to have them. We are so at the cutting edge that vocab hasn't caught up with us yet.
—Why not 'sess', shortened from 'session'?
—You could sess every derby match. Concerts. Maybe email them live to everyone in your device's address book as you sess them.
—So there's gonna be an address book built into it, then?
—With internet access?
—Why not? Bluetooth, satellite…
—…internet, ethernet, shake-it-all-about-the-net…
—Exactly. You name it, we can build it in.
—Parachute devices into war zones. You'd activate them by remote control, they'd sess the dispatches and transmit the reality by satellite. No more dead correspondents.
—You'd never need to go to a uni lecture. Just play back the year's highlight.
—It'd be good to use a device with Big Issue sellers. I bet quite a few of them have got stories to tell that'd be worth reliving from the safety of a recording.
—Experience Chinese opium dens without the daggers in your back. Give prisoners on death row the chance to leave behind their final version of their truth.
—Take a trip through someone else's Rio, safe in the knowledge that the syringes those kids are threatening you with as they mug you ain't gonna do no real harm.
—And you could throw an ambiente night, invite all your mates.
—A bring-a-Morocco party.
—With incense and couscous.
—And hubble-bubbles and camel shit.
—Everyone taking their recordings, comparing Moroccos.
—I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours first.
—Maybe you could copy something you especially like from someone else's Morocco and paste it into yours.
—Do a remix? So you reckon you could edit the recordings. Didn't Coldcut bring out that software for remixing video? I've never even booted it up, to tell you the truth. I'll have to check that out when I get back.
—You mean sampling and scratching ambientes? Ambiente-jockying! That'd be cool.
—Yeah, we've had DJs, VJs and eJs, so now it's the turn of the aJs.
—I can just see it. A spaced-out, laid-back, jazzed-up, sleazed-down, flipped-thru, trip-hopped remixed Saturday night rolling fat ones, ambiente'd in Lisboa, Barcelona, Amsterdam, and… dah dahhh!! Rio! The DJ Spen Narborough Road Mix.
—You could copy them and sell them.
—All you need is a network of friends. Everyone sessing away every time they go on their travels…
—And you could do travel agencies out of business.
—Just think, Chris. I mean, I haven't travelled that much. But all the places you've been to. And Kieran in Tibet and Thailand. And your Caroline, she even outChrissed you, didn't she, Chris? Going all over South America. And what if everyone else you know had recordings of all the places they had been to! Imagine the library you could build up of all those places.
—Shit, I never even get round to listening to a fraction of the music I've got under my bed.
—Yes, never mind having three-quarters of the globe's ambientes under there to experience.
—When you're undressing, careful what you chuck under the bed and what bit of your globe it lands on! Don't throw your dirty knickers over the States. Weapons of mess destruction, they are. You'll get Bush declaring war on you…
—Sending his daisy chains and clutterbombs into Leicester's Barclay Street rogue state.
—Hey, that couple role-playing a roll in the hay in bed in the Boddies advert! They could do with a session of the 9 Bar.
—Yes, would have got her more in the mood than any p-pump.
—You wouldn't need cameras any more. Just projectable recordings. No more of Chris's photos.
—Some people might still take photos. They'd have a certain kitsch value.
—I'd still carry a camera. Gives you some great excuses to chat up women.
—Since when did you need props?
—I know, but they still lap it up.
—Hey, Denis, said Spen, you know that session you're making of this bar? What would you say to erm, sessing the ambientes in a few of the erm, other bars in this square? Shame not to, seeing as we're here?
As you can see, it hadn't taken long for Chris and Spen to latch onto the possibilities opened up by my device idea. Above all, the cultural avenues down which I had gently nudged them. Bless! I'm a fool to myself. Professional deformity, I'm afraid. Some have said professionally deformed; my reply does not appear to be recorded either for posterity or for posteriors.
—If you can edit and remix, you can forge. Do you reckon you could conjure places up? Forgeries of the authentic flavour of the East.
—That happens now, anyway. All those exclusive holiday complexes, totally isolated from the local poverty. Holiday brochures and telly programmes have been conning people for yonks.
—But you could probably build in software to block any session that hasn't been cut through an external source.
The three of us stopped.
For the first time in a while. We were thinking. I'll tell you how affected we were, we hadn't even remembered or bothered to get more Bocks in, Super or otherwise.
The rest of the week was so eventful in comparison, especially the windmills' graveyard up a mountain north out of Lisbon, that we never mentioned the ambiente-distilling device at all.
Back home, I bought a MiniDisc Walkman and started putting all my CDs, vinyl and tapes onto MiniDiscs. I'd even started using it in work, using it with an external mike to record rehearsals. Shame, I thought, that MiniDiscs don't record images as well. And smells. God, how I needed an ambiente distilling device! I spent a lot of time imagining that I already had one, wondering how it might change my life. It couldn't not get invented. Somebody had to do it sooner or later, Sony or Philips. Could it be me? Us? It was such a good idea, despite being impossible by whatever practical criteria you cared to impose. I tried to forget it was impossible. Most things we take for granted now were impossible until they suddenly appeared on sale with extended warranties in Dixons.
My next trip down to Leicester was the first time we had mentioned the device since that initial Bock-sodden conversation in Praça Alegria. It turned out each of us had brooded over little else. We each saw that we had nothing to lose. So what better than join forces, pool our nothings and lose them together? It took just a handful of conversations and phone calls for us to set up the company.
We didn't know what we were going to do, nor how to do it. But we thought the first thing was to create the right kind of environment. But the bank said the big boys' office, fuck-off boardroom table and gurgle-gurgle water fountain would have to wait. The rat-hole we moved into, our subsequent progress and the development of the device have all been more than well documented. Thanks or no thanks to all the court cases and the Sunday supplement profiles. We were very lucky with the people who joined us or told us who to get in touch with. The luck with the change in the international laws covering intellectual property rights after the declaration of the Federal USEU did us no harm, either, after South Brazil & United Korea became the latest countries to join the then European Union. All we needed were people with know-how. And they came to us, in droves. Some volunteered their services, but all wanted a percentage of the profits. I could see us having more shareholders holding more percentages than the little old ladies in The Producers. But according to Chris, that would be a positive problem to have, compared with what else could go wrong, such as total failure. We weren't to worry, Chris would take personal charge of any Little-Old-Ladyland scenario. Didn't I tell you he was a martyr!
In the midst of all this office furniture choosing and photocopier rep baiting, I let slip one thing I felt very adamant about. Our company shouldn't have a name, nor should the device, nor should we advertise.
—What! exploded Spen, dropping a huge office partition catalogue on his foot. Are you going in for absolute plonker in the Eurovision Plonker Contest, or what?
It hadn't gone down well.
—It doesn't need a name. They looked at me for a few seconds.
—Denis, they're not going to retune their brains into our frequency, my brain whispered in my ear.
—Hang on, screamed Chris, let me get my brain round this! We've hocked our bollocks off, struggling to stretch the ashes of last week's phantom money into the ghost of next week's insolvency!
My brain was right about Chris. One down, one to go.
—Playing hide-and-seek with bankers, blagging them into believing we're thinking twice about letting them give us their money cos we've got better offers…
—While we're stalling to buy time to see if we can afford to breathe…
—And you object to us giving our ambiente-distilling thang a name?
—Plus, ah diddums is dead set against marketing it, too! I see where you're coming from. It's your baby, you don't want your precious idea sullied. Reeks of filthy capitalism, don't you reckon, Chris?
Spen in full sarcastic flow was not a pretty sight. Less so when you were on the receiving end. And his sarcasm sights were firmly trained on me. This didn't look as if it was going to be easy.
—Don't you both see? A few seconds after I had mentioned it in that bar in Lisbon, you had already latched onto it, discussing what you were going to use it for. Anyone would have sworn we had just bought one each in FNAC, and we couldn't wait to get them home and out of the boxes! We've been users of so many devices over the years that your imaginations hit the ground running and ran off with the idea.
Nothing. I carried on.
—It's such an instinctive idea.
—Instinctive? echoed Spen.
—Yeah. Once one person is hooked on the device and wonders how they've ever managed without it, they'll do the legwork for us and spread the gospel.
—Legwork? Spen shook his head. Chris, you do realise, don't you, he wants us to rely on buggering word of buggering mouth!!! You buggering knew him before I buggering did. You buggering brought him into my buggering life, you bugger! You buggering sort the buggering bugger out before I buggering bugger the bugger, will you. I'm buggering off for a drink.
Spen turned to me.
—And it won't be none of your buggering bleeding Bock beer, neither.
A few minutes later we were all in the Pump & Tap. Things were quieter though no less tense. It was Seconds Out and I was bracing myself for round two.
—Chris… Spen… I'm just basing this on your reactions in Lisbon, as if you'd been distilling ambientes for years. I see a bootleg element to this.
—Nobody controls what you listen to. Who tells you what you can record on tape or video? You burn whatever you like on your PC. You decide what you use your computer for or what websites you go to or how you spend your money, Spen. You're only restricted by the hardware and what you've got access to.
—What's this got to do with what I've been busting a gut over and sinking my money into since we got back? Am I supposed to be altruistic? You see this as some kind of charity work? Some weird way of getting me to plough my money back into society? See yourself as Robin Hood? I'd rather give Chris my flickering cashpoint card and say 'help your flickering self, mate'.
—Jolly decent of you, too. Couldn't have afforded fags, otherwise. Cheers. Had to change your PIN, by the way.
—You bollocking better hadn't of! spat Spen, clutching the wallet to his heart.
—No, we'll get our money back.
Their looks invited me to elaborate, an invitation I chose to accept. By elaborating.
—We've got no royalties to pay, no copyrights, nothing's patented any more. We're using technology that already exists, just that it's in a new way.
—Denis, my dearly soon-to-be-departed late ex-partner, with no bogging name on it and no bogging marketing, our bogging device'll be taken apart and bogging copied by every bogging manufacturer and their bogging dog.
—Yes, but for it to be worth their while they'll have to put their names on it and market it somehow.
—That's hardly gonna stop them, is it? erupted Spen. That's exactly what they want! That's what businesses' business is! That's how companies work, Denis! Maybe things are done differently on your separate planet of Liverpool, but here in the mere mortal non-European-capital-of-culture real world, companies put their names on their products and ram them down everyone's throat! We've done all the bogging donkey work for them. We're using existing technologies and we can't protect our bogging invention. So the very least we need is a bogging name on it, something to bogging well link it to us.
—But we won't need to protect it. Everyone'll know that if they see one with a name on it, it ain't ours. Original it ain't. What would you want? An original or a copy? And if anyone else brings one out with no name on it, we'll get the credit. We can't lose. I reckon we'll get companies offering to collaborate.
I was gambling big-time. If I had brought all this up before we started rolling our sleeves up, neither Chris nor Spen would have gone with it. But now all three of us had quit our daily-bread-winning, sensible jobs, prior to setting the company up. I sensed that the two of them were at this very minute thinking of killing me. They just hadn't decided which of them was slowly going to do what to me with which piece of rusty, very un-sterilised jagged metal. I had a bit of breathing space. My brain of all things came to my rescue.
—Denis, time for the old Tan dynasty samurai ninja warrior ploy.
Sound advice there from my brain, which wisely I very swiftly followed.
Another round of Bock later accompanied by tequila treble slammer starters, a champagne cocktail goldfish bowl and orgasm test-tube chasers, surrounded by the debris of innumerable bags of crisps and nuts, I finally afforded myself a sigh of relief.
—We can't lose? So we can expect a call from Mr Sony-san saying, 'listen, chicos-san, I've heard what youz are doing, I've got this pot of money-san I want you to use'…
—That, or offer expertise…
—Labs, resources, whatever, butted in Chris. Unexpectedly, but very welcome nonetheless.
—Et tu, Chrissé? Spen gave Chris a mean, this-is-where-our-years'-long-friendship-ends look.
—If Sony think Panasonic or Philips might be muscling in and wooing us, it wouldn't make good business sense for them just to stand by, would it?
—We'd be freeing other companies of the R&D burden. They could channel their efforts into exploiting the bugger. You know, the software interface, the whole surround sound cinema experience bit, home popcorn maker, all the accessories.
Chris doesn't often say anything lucid. His lucidity prefers to lie low, rather like a reclusive celebrity limiting their public appearances so as not to debase the currency. But occasionally he can't help himself. God, I could have kissed him this time. I did.
—I hadn't thought that far ahead, but it makes perfect sense now you mention it.
—Sense? What the bonking fuck kind of little white Sense tabs have youz two been dropping! I must be missing out on some real good shit, here! Could one of you do the decent and give me some, please, so I can catch up!
I could sense Spen's titanium-clad, stainless steel will weakening. Chris had brought him round. That, and the faithful ancient ninja ale trick. Never fails.
—Spen, it just might work, said Chris. When someone wants some gear, they don't want nicely packaged, standardised, officially approved, sanitised stuff from a tobacconist's…
—…with an official Big Brother seal of approval, a sinister government health warning and a brand-name plastered all over it.
—Do they? They ask round and hope for personal recommendations.
—That's what people will do when they find out about our little miracle. They'll find us.
Spen looked at each of us in turn, taking in this double treachery, committing our faces to his unforgiving memory. Just in case he chose to hire an assassin and needed to describe Chris and me to him.
—So, we'll just be supplying people with the gear, I suppose?
—It's up to them what they do with it…
—…whether they call it bong, bhang, tea, weed…
—…virtual reality, cutting ambiente sessions, surround transfer or whatever.
—The kind of people we're going for won't want to buy one with a naffing brand name on it, for naff's sake!
—They won't? Spen's conversion or otherwise was teeteringly balanced on a knife-edge, with no safety-net underneath it. This was the keyest moment for our venture so far. If Spen pulled out…! Extreme tact and kid-glove diplomacy was called for. Cue Denis.
—Naffing hell! That'd be naffer than going shopping with your mum and letting her choose your DMs for you, I added gratuitously. One of those 'nice' tartan pairs, maybe.
The look on Spen's face told me I had unwittingly unearthed his worst, most cringeworthy secret. Chris mercifully rescued me and Spen from any further embarrassing exchange.
—No, our target audience will deffo want an original, with no name, just for what it can do for them. With no name, it'll be anonymous and private, like their use of it.
We all drank to that. Then again, frankly, we'd have drunk to anything. As indeed we did, I am reliably informed. Several times. Enough for Spen to come round to our way of seeing things.
Chris, Spen and me had succeeded in sessing our own brain activity quite early on. We had no idea to begin with that anything would come of it, but we had plenty of time for trial and error. We used sensors taped to our temples, those round, white ones you always see attached to patients' chests in hospital. Playing the sessions back, they reminded me of footage I'd seen of late 60s psychedelic concerts, Pink Floyd and all those herberts, with weird shapes and sounds going on around you. With a lot of training, patience and pure guesswork, we could even distinguish different kinds of brain activity enough to be able to guess what different bits of whose brain were doing what and emitting what kinds of signals. We even thought we could tell the left-hand side of our brains' activity from our right-hand sides'. The sessions of the three of us were very distinctive. It was scary. We got members of staff to play our sessions back one by one without telling us which was whose. And the rest of us had to guess. They were each very different, and we were freaked out trying to guess which was our own. What a trip! Subsequent sessions confirmed the differences, the brain activity was clearly as distinctive as an accent or fingerprints. It was so strange, I came to feel proud to know what my brain activity was like. I felt as if I had a kid or a pet, in a sad, Tamagotchi, Billy-no-mates kind of way. Your brain, after all, when all is said and done, is something that is both so inescapably yours and undeniably you. You can grow fond of it, protective of the little bugger.
One thing we had agreed on. No experiments on animals. Of course, once it was clear that the device worked and we had started to market it, we knew there was no way we could stop other people from thinking of experimenting in that area, nor preventing them once they had started. There was no way on earth of even knowing what people were using the device for. But that had been part and parcel of what we had envisaged for it. We were merely enablers, facilitators. We had thought of a wouldn't-it-be-good-if gap in our household and personal technologies, we had come up with the answer and made it available. We were just a cottage industry concern, every device was handmade, and the number of units we produced in a week depended on how much time we could devote to work. Extra-curricular activities took their toll.
Our sensor sessions gave us a buzz for a while. They even proved an invaluable and very novel chat-up line, and not just for Chris!
One night me and Spen were in the O Bar. I was at the bar, chilling out and Spen was sitting on his own, relaxing. Though it may have been the other way round. We both had round white sensors on our temples, connected to devices, scientifically sessing sessions in LoungeCore conditions, which we were to analyse with Chris back in the Factory. I looked over at Spen, who had all the appearance of someone listening to music on a weird kind of Walkman, and I realised I must look the same. A girl who was sitting with a group of people on the table next to Spen leant across and asked him what he was listening to. I watched him try to explain, then the girl insisted on trying whatever it was. Spen then stopped his device and played back what he'd been sessing. As was to be expected, a temple session materialised in the air in front of them, and Spen set about trying to explain what it was. She was fascinated, and left her friends to sit next to Spen, still hooked up to the sensors. Spen then put the sensors on the girl's temples, and started sessing her brain waves.
I started laughing to myself, when a girl came to the bar, ordered a drink and watched me for a minute. As soon as I noticed her attention, I fumbled to turn off my device and pull my sensors off.
—Hi, the girl smiled. Mind if I ask what you and him are listening to? Is it comedy stuff? Anything funny?
—Erm just… not music… brain waves… new machine… experiment…
—Funny brain waves that make you laugh?
—No, what it… I can imagine… my friend Spen… probably said… something corny… that girl.
—Corny? There's nothing wrong with corny. Corny's good, sometimes. Refreshing. If you've got the style to pull it off. Providing it's from a fellah who can at least string a whole sentence together. A lot to ask, these days. What kind of corn did your friend use on her, do you think?
—No, he probably said to her, 'If you want, you can come back to mine, I'll sess you, record your brain waves, and you can listen back to your brain singing to the rest of your body. It'll be beautiful, because you are'. Maybe.
—Wow. That's lovely.
—Lovely? I couldn't believe this girl.
—Lucky girl. Her, I mean. Better than the usual chat-up line drivel! I've never been 'sessed' before! The voice of my brain singing! Wow! Know anyone round here who might try that one on me?
—Erm, my mate… I turned to Spen's table, but him and the girl had gone.
—Not your mate! the girl growled as she grabbed me by the shirt. You, you idiot! God, fucking men, these days! Do I have to do all the work? Come on, then.
She let go of my shirt, and playfully put on an act of reluctantly explaining some dread routine as she smoothed my shirt out.
—First you ask me my name. 'It's Samil', I say. You ask me 'Would you like a drink, Samil?' I take you up on that and deliberately ask for the most expensive cocktail. You wince inside but smile delighted as you try to remember how much of that 20 quid you've got left from this morning, and whether you've still got your bankcard on you. Then I play coy for a bit about letting you sess these singing brain waves of mine. And…
Samil grabbed me by the shirt again, in mock frustration.
—God, my mum never had this much trouble, and she was a lesbian!
Samil then burst out laughing. She got the barista's attention and asked me what I wanted. Needless to say, I was totally floored by the whole episode.
So, there you have it. Buggering word of buggering mouth failing me completely, there. And women getting in the way of scientific research. If anyone ever tells you it's tough at the top, believe them!
We thought this particular use of our device was such a good marketing ploy, that for a while our no-publicity stance did some serious wobbling. Nevertheless, we held fast.
As well as our sessions, our staff had a go at sessing and playing their own sessions back. We all often stayed back in the factory long into the night, hooking someone or other up, with the rest of us witnessing their temple session, everyone offering interpretations, pointing to different parts of what they could see, applauding. There was a really relaxed, party atmosphere. Champagne usually oiled the wind-down into such session sessions, or wine-down sessions as they became known, and we'd send out for cured ham, olives, smoked salmon, bottles of Super Bock for old time's sake, pizzas and the works. Well, as entrepreneurs and employers, we learnt to look after our staff, if nothing else. Those LoungeCore sessions me and Spen had cut that night in the O Bar became notorious party favourites. Indeed, we all adopted the O Bar as an unofficial after-hours workspace. And the O Bar didn't mind, as the temple sessions being cut there live started attracting as many people as their open-mike acoustic nights. So much so, that the chaps and chapesses down at the 9 Bar asked us to do one night a week at their joint!
Anyway, 'buggering word of buggering mouth', as Spen had put it, did in fact bring us a small increase in demand from the hornier section of our underground public. But yes, as for the sensor sessions, it was infuriating to experience your own brain as it communicated with the rest of your body, yet not know what was going down! I felt slighted as I dumbly witnessed my own brain sending out orders, no doubt receiving damage reports from far-flung corners of my body, deliberating on complaints from one organ about another, assessing warnings of outside virus invasions and imminent bacteria danger and eavesdropping on body gossip. It's my brain, I have a right to know what it is saying! It was like listening to dolphins or humpback whale recordings, or static from out of space. You know it has to mean something, but what? You would need to speak brainese, and who can do that? Even if you thought you could read the impulses, there was no guarantee you would be right. Another frustrating aspect was that there was so much resonance from the sound boxes and speech organs, the nasal cavity, nose and mouth, with liquids and gases being hurled round and that tongue monster schlepping round like a beached whale. We joked one day that to bypass the interference we would have to conduct internal sessions, by inserting probes into the brain, to insulate them from the skull's cavities and background noises.
—Spen, do you reckon if you could plug directly into the brain, bypassing the sensors, that the resulting internal sessions would be digital or analogue? I asked. Spen gave me one of his special looks, the I-was-feeling-OK-but-you've-pissed-me-off-now-because-you've-asked-me-something-I-don't-know irritated look. I loved doing this to him. It more often than not spurred him into coming up with an answer, as if his brain had a special Prove-Denis-Wrong warp drive that could kick in, just to shut me up.
—Internal sessions? Don't know. Don't care, he declared. But I knew him well enough to know he indeed didn't, and he really, really did. He must have cared, he wouldn't have been Spen otherwise. I could see past his scowl camouflage, through his eyes into his soul, and believe me, his brain's electricity meter was working overtime. I'd already reasoned it out, and decided to share the rewards with him.
—The way I see it, the old sensor on the temple is analogue. So are external sessions. Whereas there could be two ways of doing internal sessions, like recording onto MiniDiscs with either a bog-standard 3.5 lead into your brain, slotted in through your eye sockets or up your nose, or some sort of a modified optical lead with that optical jack you bought in FNAC…
—You're talking either analogue or digital sessing for brain activity? Thoughts? Analogue. Sessing thoughts in one long continuous session that you have to put the track marks on yourself, like transferring vinyl onto MiniDisc. Or digital, with automatic track marks neatly separating each thought, I suppose? sarckied Spen
—Yes. Stands to reason.
—It does? I'd be interested to hear your definition of reason, some time. Write it out and email me it.
—What you're saying might hold true in general, but not with your brain, chipped in Chris, poker-faced.
I was gob-smacked. What are they trying to tell me? They've made some breakthrough, I thought. The bastards have kept schtumm about it and now they're going to drop the bombshell on me.
—From the sensor sessions we've seen so far, Spen added, your brain's neither digital or analogue.
—More like steam-driven!
That gave them a piss-poor excuse to take the piss out of me, piss themselves laughing and suggest we pissed off to the O Bar to get pissed. I went along with it, but only to piss them off. But Chris and Spen had a point, I have to admit. Though our sensor sessions were distinctive enough for us to know which session was whose when being played back, Chris's and Spen's seemed to have more in common with one another. Mine were, well, more… maverick. More offbeat. I had offered the opinion that my brain activity had a laid-back, reggae beat, but Chris and Spen insisted my brain waves were more diddly-diddly-dee. What a downer! In fact, thanks to Chris's and Spen's jibes, I was christened Diddly-Diddly-Denis by the staff, some of whom took to greeting my arrival in the Factory with pathetic sober attempts at Irish jigs.
In any case we decided not to carry on down that brainese path. Inserting probes into brains seemed a bit ghoulish. As in 'not fun'. And we had got into this for the fun, the craic, whereas this 'sticking-things-in-brains' thang was as alien to any definition of the craic known to us as could be. That is, we thought we agreed that it was a no-go area.
Chris came across Spen one day slumped over a table, with two cables leading from a device, one slotted into his eye socket and another threaded into his ear. We later found out how Spen had been carrying out his own experiments. The autopsy report was unreal. Not only had he left notes which showed he was using his own body as a laboratory, he had camcordered each session. There was an enquiry, but no court case. In the company of judges, lawyers and police, we were forced to sit through hours of these excruciating camcordings. All the same. Spen sitting there, reminiscent of Alex's Ludovico's treatment in A Clockwork Orange, only self-inflicted. He had settled on using his eye sockets and both ears as pathways to plug into his brain. His nasal cavities had initially given him more practical access to his brain, but even with all his nasal hairs singed and plucked, the irritation factor was too strong to overcome, even stronger than the constant tears when he slotted the cables through his eye sockets, behind his eyeballs, into his optical nerves. The coroner had even found small breaches in parts of Spen's skull, like gnats' piss holes in the snow, and speculated that he must have tried drilling routes through to his brain. Mercifully for us, he seemed not to have camcordered any of that. The openings were as permanent as if he'd had them done for some bizarre, macabre, sexual piercing perversion. We sat through the camcordings and watched him pushing the cables through the holes in his head, and press the Record button. And sit there, grimacing, tears welling up through his eyes, but no sound. He invariably ended up slumped on the table, eyes and mouth open like some gargoyle. Chris said later he wasn't sure whether Spen made no sound because there was no physical pain any more, or whether he was trying to drown out as much interference as possible. What a trouper! But suicide by self-mutilation isn't a crime, there was no question of guilt, and people not involved in the mutilation and who didn't know about it couldn't be prosecuted for anything, much to the Sunday papers' dismay. Me and Chris knew nothing of what Spen had been doing. And the device wasn't to blame, so the initial rumours about us being closed down and production being stopped were unfounded. You can find more deadly equipment in every cutlery drawer in the country, yet cutlery drawers aren't illegal and you don't need licences for what's in them.
If you think of it, it wasn't a lot worse than actively damaging your brain by doing drugs for years. Just more intensive. It's just that seeing Spen on film, hooked up to the device, was shocking. No other word for it. Oh, yes there is: harrowing. Some people's substance abuse leaves them with brains like doped-out bomb sites, with craters, rubble, used syringes and scrawny feral dogs scavenging all over the place. Spen had certainly bombed his out. Speaking about Spen after his cremation over a few whiskeys too many, me and Chris both agreed we had noticed some strange bits of behaviour in him, but nothing that had rung any alarm bells with us, unless you count his twitching, nervous tics, vacant stares and all-round failing to respond in conversations. But we had put a lot of it down to pressure, excesses and lack of sleep.
I mentioned Spen to Silver Shee, a woman who used to drink with my mum and dad. I even showed her a camcorder screenshot of how Spen had ended up.
—Lucky bastard! Still, beats feeling cancer chomping its way through your bones every second of every day! Sounds great to me! When do we start? Hope you've brought enough blanks. Health & Safety won't have any objections to me drinking and smoking, I take it. Not in my own fucking house, they better fucking hadn't, or I'll be seeing them in that Court of Inhuman Rights!
I couldn't bring myself to mention my own sessions. Spen's were bad enough.
The first time I ever actually hooked the device up directly into a brain other than my own, as opposed to using sensors on the temples, was with Silver Shee. She had asked me for it. Well, not specifically to have the device plugged directly into her brain, she hadn't. But I did explain the options. You see, she was dying. Not that I use that as justification. But cancer was in all her bones and had spread to virtually every other part of her body, and she had long since failed to respond to what pathetic scraps of treatment that the NHS had thrown at her. She was now existing away her last days at home, with enough morphine to soothe a small town's worries. Though she preferred her own home-grown organic ciggies.
—I don't trust them processed ciggies. If I doesn't grows it, I doesn't smokes it. An orgasmic farmer, that's me. And they know where they can shove their morphine. Don't want nothing to do with no bastard poppies!
I had taken a device and a camcorder to Shee's. Between both appliances, their plugs and their chargers, there was a veritable octopus of cables for me to untangle before we could get down to business. Shee'd agreed to the camcorder, given the activity we were getting ourselves into. As well as hooking up Shee to the device, I was going to camcorder everything. The tape would be for the authorities, as would the letter I'd drafted, which Shee was now reading through while I wrestled with my octopus. My hands were shaking so much that I was getting nowhere. So I stopped for a second and served Shee an Aussie white. Shee had several bottles of Aussie white next to her bed, together with neat bunches of her ciggies, all immaculately rolled. Then I poured a large dock for myself.
—What have you got to be nervous about? laughed Shee. I'm the one going under the knife, remember. Mind you, I've got more anaesthetic than Soft Mick, she added as she slugged down her wine and smilingly sniffed her ciggie.
—Shee, you could get the Council to send a social worker round and you could dictate your story to them. The Echo might even do a piece on you. I could get some journalism student at the uni to bring a tape recorder. My… our device…
She stuck to her own agenda.
—Does it work?
I ummed and ahhed.
—You need a guinea pig. I wanna lay some ripples down.
—There's no guarantee that it'll work.
—No guarantee? Big deal! Denis, the only reason the doctors gave me so much morphine is to ease their conscience, 'cos they had no guarantees for me. I'm used to no guarantees. Never had one in all my born days! Wouldn't know what to do with a guarantee if a man gave me one. Wouldn't trust it, tell you that for nothing! But I'll tell you what! If a miracle happens in the next few hours… should God or the Devil decide neither of them wants me… or should the doctors find a cure… and should it turn out your box don't work… I'll fucking sue you, you bastard!
—It might even…
—Denis, I'm already there. That God bastard measured me up for it years ago. Quick, it's last orders, and the towels are going on for me. If I don't get a few large ones in for the trip, I'll…
You see, I'd blabbed about our little device to countless people in countless pubs. I was obsessed, and most people just edged away, unaware that I wasn't spouting a load of rubbish with my drunken talk of total wrap-around surround transfer. Any one of them with a bit of nous could have easily plied me with drinks and got all the information necessary to either ruin our business before it even got off the ground or steal a march on us. But as it was such a weird concept, I was generally left alone. One person who had listened was Silver Shee. She had seen one possible use for it that none of us had. I had argued early on against her undergoing our device.
She wasn't what anyone would call a remarkable woman, her life having been cut to the same pattern as so many people's of her post-World War II generation in Liverpool, as far as I knew. And the rest of the country, for that matter. Leave school at 14 and flog your guts out for the rest of your natural till you drop. That seemed to have been the order of the day, with no welfare support or social infrastructure during times of hardship. And with nothing for the lucky survivors to look forward to but a miserable pittance of a disgrace of an insult of a pension not fit to decay on, never mind live on. Except that Silver Shee had managed to bypass the miserable pittance stage, her cancers having fortunately spared her the ignominy of that particular insulting reward from her ingrate nation.
She said she wanted me to use the device on her because she wanted a chance to leave some kind of testimony behind. She'd never been one for writing, and she just felt that she had to leave her story behind somehow. Not because she had anything noteworthy to tell. Just that once she was dead, her experience and experiences would vanish off the face of the earth, as had been the case with so many people she'd known and lived and worked with.
I'd just set the camcorder up and switched it on before Shee had just finished reading what I'd given her. She then signed and handed it over to me. I signed it too, folded it, put it into an envelope and sealed it. All camcordered.
—Friends of mine have had to do some things to get by that you youngsters wouldn't believe. But they're dead now, and everything they ever done has been lost and forgotten. None of them ever wrote anything down. No-one ever interviewed them. One fellah I was at school with was a miner who got called up, got stationed in Egypt and was sent to Argentina as a spy. He got into drugs, made a fortune, retired and bought his way into the Cuban mafia in Miami. Never looked back. The fellah who lived opposite got out of priest school by going off to lay water pipes all over the Middle East and Africa. Picked up Arabic, Portuguese, French, Swahili and a Zulu chief's daughter, was apprenticed to the medicine man before the tribe was wiped out by British-backed South African mercenaries. Him, his missus and their eldest daughter ran guns against Franco in Spain and were killed by Mussolini in Eritrea. Their other kids moved over here, the older ones brought up the youngest, taught them themselves, and now they're all working for charities and drugs cartels all over the world, one of them is high up in the UN and the youngest is one of the top political prisoners in Zimbabwe. My next-door neighbour was married to an asthmatic drunk when she was 14 who was always beating up on her whenever he was conscious. But she begged and stole all the coal she could, blocked the flue then burnt the coal while he slept the ale off and rested his knuckles. She killed him with a sulphur overdose, tore his lungs to shreds it did, then she ran away and ended up starting a school for battered homeless deaf kids in Colombia. Mind you, some kids down our street did go through school. They had all their fight and ambition beaten out of them, like that Johnnie Lennon sang in that working-class tune of his. Their get-up-and-go got up and went. They gave up the struggle and got normal crap jobs. Like the rest of us. Like me. Still, I'm not bitter, me.
She had obviously had this on her chest for some time. She wasn't boasting about the achievements of these people she'd known, but I am ashamed to admit I couldn't help wondering when she would get round to 'young people today'. She did, but she had no bitterness in her. More regret and pity than anything else.
—Young people today are kept so bleeding drugged by the bleeding government conspirators, that they can't see the metal battery cages they live in, for the barbed wire bars the bleeding government puts round them. None of them get to live the things my generation went through, for better or worse. What little fight they've got in them is directed at the wrong people. At us, instead of at them. How them bleeding Nazi Windsors have never been booted out, I'll never know. Bleeding disgrace, it is! When they wake up every morning, the first thing they must do is peek out the window to check there's no angry mob with guns and pitchforks waiting to lynch the bleeding leeches. They must thank their God every day, oftener than any Muslim. That's why they've got so many bleeding chapels in all their bleeding houses, more chapels than bleeding khazis, them bleeding Windsors, with hotlines to their upper-class twit bleeding blue-blood WASP God. If only the fucking proles in this country would take the blinkers off their eyes and wake up to fact that they're being shafted up the arses! There'd be some fun round here, believe you me. But I won't bleeding be here to see it! Still, je ne regrette rien, it'd never happen anyway. Never did and never will.
She still hadn't lit up. She was still absent-mindedly waving her first ciggie in the air, like a conductor, waving her baton in time with her thoughts. What must Silver Shee be like after one of her organic ciggies, I wondered. I was about to find out.
—Take that First fucking World War. How many innocent lads went over the top for king and country? A million? Two million? Depends what expert you're listening to.
She lit up. First couple of drags.
—Innocent, defenceless, prime, noble little British lambs, frolicking off to the continent to be slaughtered by the Germans while fighting to keep democracy in their homeland and in the free world. That's the official spin, innit?
I said nothing. I suspected from Shee's tone that she would have a different spin to the official one. Another couple of drags and a couple of slugs of Aussie white. I waited. She didn't disappoint. It came.
—Don't make me fucking puke! Stupid cunts, more like, ignorant dick-heads slaughtered by their own gentlemen generals and upper-class twit politicians, never mind the Germans! The bunch of fucking bastards!
—Who? The Germans, the politicians or the lambs?
—Still, I'm not bitter, me. You know why? It was their own fucking fault that they got killed, stupid fucking cunts. They've only got themselves to blame. Two million young men, all with rifles and ammo. That's not very innocent, is it? Not very defenceless, if you ask me. No, not by any stretch of the definition. Now, 85-year-old blind Mary Mac from number 45 who got her head smashed in by crackhead burglars last week. They raped her, stuffed paraffin-soaked rags in her mouth, her arse and her cunt and set fire to her. 'Juss for the krak, luv, no ard feelins' they sprayed all over her back kitchen. She's what I call innocent. As in 'defenceless, in no shape to fight back'. But two million young men, in the peak of their prime, all armed. That ain't innocent! Defenceless, my arse! Don't make me fucking weep! That's power, that is. Raw power. That's a power as can stand up and be reckoned with. That's lethal. Demands from a force like that would have to be given some serious consideration. But by agreeing to go over the top, they all let themselves be shafted up the arse by their commanding officers. That's what I call fucking stupid! What a ripping yarn! They deserve what they got, the cunts. They could have used their force and their ammo to stop the war. They could have had a word with their German oppos, and between them called off the whole shebang. Then marched on parliament, all two million of them with their rifles, grabbed the fucking prime Kaiser minister and his politicians by the balls. Lined them up against the wall, and they could have said to them, 'Listen you useless fucking fat cat bastards, me and my two million mates here are gonna count to ten, and either youz lot pull your fucking fingers out of each other's arses and start addressing once and for all the social injustices in this country, get rid of unjust privileges and sort this fucking war of yours out another way, or we'll shove our two million rifles up your fucking arses and fucking shoot your fucking livers out though your fucking eye sockets!' Couldn't they? They fucking should of. They had the force. Two million people with rifles. I'd sit up and take notice of two million angry people with rifles coming at me, forcing me to change my ways. Wouldn't you? The Germans could have gone home and done the same with their fucking Kaiser. But no, what did they all choose to do instead? Go over the fucking top for fucking king and shitting country, like fucking baa-baas to the slaughter.
Shee stopped for a breath and a drag. She forgot the breath and just went for the drag. Then another and another. And another.
—And what gets me is that the stupid cunts are still fucking remembered! Like heroes! Every fucking November the fucking queen, or king or whatever the fuck they've got these days, and the fucking government laying fucking wreathes of fucking flowers down. What the fuck for? Remembrance from a grateful nation? Fuck that. The nation might feel gratitude, I don't deny that. All the old bags who aren't dead yet, who you see wearing their gongs and selling poppies, might feel a genuine sense of remembrance, fair enough. But what you see the government doing in front of that bleeding Cenotaph on that bleeding Sunday is thanking their fucking fat cat God that those soft dead bastards were too fucking stupid to ever realise they were being used. And we porking fall for it, being too fucking pig-shit thick to porking cotton on! We fall for the whole Honour Our Noble Dead shite, with the telly service and the whole palaver with the wreathes and poppies. And why fucking poppies?
—I don't know. Which I didn't. But I was sure this gap in my knowledge was about to be filled, Silver Shee-style.
—You know what governments does with poppies? Turns them into opium and heroin and crack. And what does governments do with opium, heroin and crack? Gets their secret services to train teams of drug-dealing secret agents to flog the shit to the plebs. Why? Why not? Haven't we always fucking proved to them that we're porking thick as porking pig shit? And they has to somehow claw back all the porking dole money doled out in state benefit handouts to porking scroungers, don't they? And they want us to be too fucking drugged up to our eyeballs to notice the governments all conspiring to shaft us proles up the arse and keep us in our place and them in their places with our wealth stuffed in their pockets. Makes sense! Nice little earner for governments, drugs is. All thanks to fucking poppies. Then comes… Remembrance Sunday! One big government promo for hard drugs, that is. A call-up for anyone who wants to join the pusher army and earn serious money. And the governments flaunt these tools of our own destruction right in our faces. Like wiping a dog's nose in its own shite, which is about as much as we deserve, with them conning us into believing the fucking poppies represent our gallant selfless dead. Thanking their fucking collaborator upper-class twit God that us proles were too fucking stupid to cotton on to the power we would have to change things if only we weren't thick as pig shit. That's what happens once a year. And we think they're showing solidarity with the proles, respecting us for one day a year! Remembrance? The only fucking remembrance I gives them stupid fucking dead wankers every year is I goes down to that fucking Cenotaph down town and I fucking spits on the graves of all two million of them, fucking cannon fodder.
Quick breather. I had by now hooked Silver Shee up. She hadn't flinched for a second, nor had her pace faltered. Her increasingly vitriolic outburst might have been her brain's way of channelling her senses away from the pain and anaesthetising her against it. Then again, any pain from my brain probes might have been child's play compared to Shee's cancers gnawing their way through her like unstoppable Pacmen.
—And I spits on the graves of their stupid porking fucked-up mothers, who should have known better. They should have steered their sons into social disobedience and forced them to march on parliament. Instead, they let them get fucking wasted in the trenches. But that's not the worst of it! Worse than stupid, you know what they were? Fucking selfish! By not thinking, by letting themselves be conned into going over the top, they were selfish, they deprived this country of a work force. A vital, two-million-manpower driving force. Two million men who should have been here, helping to pull this country together to build a better future. But no, they went and took the easy way out, they let the fucking upper classes use them for fucking target practice like fucking birds on a fucking pheasant shoot. Great War! Who called it Great? What the fuck was Great about it? What a brilliant bit of fucking spin that was, eh! Whoever coined the Great War probably got a knighthood. Only the fucking upper classes and the politicians called it Great. Bleeding trying to brainwash us plebs into thinking we done good. Stopping us realising that it was a fucking war crime against humanity and the politicians should have been hung, drawn and quartered. Great Con, more like! Would have been called the Fuckingest Load of Shite War Ever, if I'd had anything to do with it. Anything but fucking Great. But the spin worked and the Great Con did its job. Even those that survived the war and came back started calling it the Great War. They had to buy into the lie, didn't they? They chose to believe the government spin, 'cos if they hadn't, they'd have been forced to acknowledge the truth. And that would have involved taking action and bringing about a fucking revolution. But they preferred to carry on being led like sheep. Like sheep, over the top. Like sheep, into a depression. Into degrading living conditions. 'This is the way, youz poxy, proley, working-class, plebby, porking, crab-infested sheep. We knows best, youz load of manky, low-life, twatty bastards'.
This mightn't necessarily be Shee's ciggies talking. They mightn't be having any actual effect on her, the pain must be so far-gone. The ciggies might just be a kind of prop, to help bring her out of her shell and be able to express herself.
—And we're still fucking peasant sheep today, as far as I can see. Fucking drugged sheep, to boot. The Government deliberately refuses to legalise certain substances. The more they do, the more us fucking drugged sheep use them, thinking we're being cool! Stupid cunts! Playing into the Government's hands, we are. So it's no surprise we can't do fuck-all today, fucking fucked-up and drugged-up to fucking fuck as we porking are. If we didn't do anything then when we had the chance and were all healthy. Well, healthy. Apart from TB, scrofula, mange, rickets and plagues. Plebs' diseases. You wouldn't get no fucking Windsor queen or fucking prince getting fucking TB or fucking rickets, would you? Their teeth don't drop out from lack of vitamins. They don't catch anything proley. Oh no, their diseases is all in-bred. I've been to so many ordinary people's funerals, where you remember the buggers over a few whiskeys too many, after the fuckers have fucking died and taken everything they ever did with them, sinking without trace, without no ripples. What's the point in bloody living, if you haven't managed to leave a few ripples behind you by the time they dump you, with the cockroaches carving your soul up, and other people's gods and devils nibbling your nipples off? Wasted, innit, all that experience? All that living. Lived for what? Still, won't be bitter much longer.
I witnessed hardly any of Silver Shee's internal session. She'd expected to be giving some sort of dictation into a mike. I had told her I wouldn't be staying, that I wouldn't actually be her audience and she wouldn't be talking. I was just setting her up and would leave her. It would be just her and the device: her thoughts, her orgasmics and her Aussie white. I refrained from saying that it would be just like going to confession, that she would be meeting her Deus ex Machina, in the shape of our Device-like Maker. I knew how much she abhorred absolutely everything religious. Plus, I didn't want to take her mind off the task in hand. Nor belittle her last wishes.
Shee's session had started out like my first, except she was a million times braver. You feel you should be dictating and there should be a mike, so you start off talking. You soon overcome this. Then you think you are taking part in something notable, so you compose your thoughts. But none of this does any good. You have to chill out and let your mind go walkabout. It may be mental fatigue which sets you into a rhythm of thinking, as you think you can feel your energy being sapped. That's all you do. All Spen did, and all I did. You think. That is, I think you think you're thinking.
I won't say that I had been inspired by what I had learnt of Spen's sessions. It was more that it had made my mind up. For all of the most interesting uses that had been occurring to us, we joked we'd need a direct hook-up to the brain. And that had been where the three of us had decided to draw the line. Nevertheless, I decided I would try the Spen methods. I took courage from the knowledge that he had been acting in the dark and behind our backs, whereas I was at least aware of Spen's experiments. To start the ball rolling, I needed to manage what hadn't been achieved in the inquest: get to the bottom of Spen's internal sessions.
The problem was, how? When you do conventional ambiente sessions with the device, it functions triggered by external stimuli, and sesses everything. Every living thing can respond in some way to external stimuli. Seeds respond to certain conditions of temperature and moisture. Enzymes are triggered, which activate chemical activities and so on. Sunflowers follow the sun's rays. Birds are inspired by something to flock and roost together until another something triggers another impulse and suddenly they set off on migration to somewhere many of them have never been to. Why? Why migrate? And if some birds did have to, why shouldn't all birds do it? And all to the same place? Like those eels that migrate to the Sargasso to spawn. Some of them go from Europe, some from America, all meet up in the wide Sargasso Sea, bonk themselves silly then die. But once their elvers are born or hatched or whatever, both elver populations make their way back to either Europe or America, homes none of the buggers have ever been to! And scientists say that they've looked at the eels' genes, and the two populations don't even interbreed when they're all Sargassoing together! Explain that! Our bodies follow inbuilt instructions. Bones grow where they do and the way they do and not usually in any other way. Brains' behaviour has its instructions. Brains have to endeavour to make exterior smells, sounds and temperatures presentable and tangible. It was while I was guiltlessly and selflessly helping Chris to drown our sense of guilt over Spen in whiskey that Chris started slurring his understanding of Spen's take on how and why the device worked.
—Brains brainify everything, which is a kind of digitalisation. Everything. Sound waves. Light waves. Chemicals. Colours. Smells. Tastes. Emotions. Feelings. Hints of this. Soupçons of that. Even shadows, ghosts and figments. They're all mashed up and turned into brain juice. They all violently and indiscriminately bombard us in a constant assault from our time in the womb, and it is down to our brain to wrestle them and slam them all on the decks, producing a mix which we call our perception. Brain activity is produced and it leads on to different results. Chemical messages push electrical impulses from some parts of the brain along nerves to parts of the body and make things move and work, but some sections of the brain store electrically and chemically generated info, converting events, sounds, sights into brain-friendly digital info.
Right. And our device recorded it. How clever is that! And to play it back, you just pressed Play. Cool! Funny, innit, Mr Dolby got rich from charging companies to put his name on their gadgets, but nobody ever patented the idea of a Play button on electrical devices. They'd have been rolling in royalties by now. The problem is that Spen's internal sessions played back were in an impenetrable brainese code. Messages on a frequency beyond our dials, which we couldn't tune into. Either there would be some way of cracking the code and tuning in or there wouldn't. I had to go back over Spen's sessions.
My Jameson's was by now drowning in technical jargon, so I gave safe harbour inside me to as much of it as I could, Compassion being my middle name. Chris continued.
—This is the brainifying nature of the brain. A Spaghetti Junction of different activities going on. Some ephemeral, transmitting impulses, others retaining data over time. Maybe in a similar way to how batteries store power. Which I don't understand, but my ignorance of that doesn't stop them from storing it.
Neither did I understand, but I didn't interrupt his flow.
—Two cells fuse, two tiny chunks of throbbing meat start churning and slurping their chemical juices together, and by the time you get back from the bar with the next round there's this foetus formed with its living brain. This brain creates living complex, multi-faceted and multi-stimuli sense out of inert waves and chemicals.
This ain't like Chris, I remember thinking. Then again, as Chris's behaviour is so consistently unlike what anyone expects of him, any deviation has to be accepted as the nearest you are likely to get to a norm for judging him by.
—That's when the trouble starts, and we have to start analysing what the hell is going on around us and why. Do you know why your average Amoeba Joe doesn't envy us? asked Chris.
He had me there. Ducking and weaving, switching from talking about brains to amoebas. Well, my brain might have known, but I didn't, and I wasn't on speaking terms with my brain at that time. It was too busy passing what Chris was explaining through a special slur-enhancing filter.
—At any point in their development, do single-celled creatures have the choice of becoming as multi-celled as us? Are we what other stimuli-responsive life forms are all gagging to be? Or do all your plankti, bacteriae and virums breathe a sigh of relief that we drew the short straw?
Chris was starting to sound semi-mystical, privy to nature's secrets. He was reminding me of T.H.White in The Book of Merlyn. I half feared he would engage me in debate on humans' place in nature and what differentiates us from animals, asking whether I see our specialisations as evolutionary or divine gifts. Rather than wait for me to give a reasoned response, he preferred to carry on haranguing me a bit more. Smart move there on Chris's part.
—After all, as Spen said, why get bogged down in futile, stuffy, ulcer-inducing, anally-retentive intellectual, complex, multi-cellular arguments about life and perception and meaning, when you can spend your single-celled life chilling out on a beach, enjoying the bounties of nature, watching tall and tanned and young and lovely, sweet but dangerous Lady Evolution swaying past you in her Ipanema bikini?
I couldn't answer that. The right-hand side of my brain scribbled a mental Post-it to its companion left-hand side to remember to shake my head for me.
—You can't answer me, can you?
The left-hand side of my brain received the Post-it and shook my head for me.
—So? I asked Chris.
—So, that means it's your round, then.
Ah, I seemed to understand this, we were back on more familiar territory.
—If you followed that, you can understand the device. The device does the same basic job as the brain, except that it doesn't have the Impose Interpretation knobs that are so prominent on the brain's mixing desk, and which we sometimes overwork, reading things into events which we needn't. The device just reproduces. External sessions digitalise the 3D spatial coordinates and the physical and temporal separation between all the waves and chemicals present, so when it plays them back, they're recreated in their original 3D positions relative to the device. The package which our brains eventually send though to our conscious mind, our perception, is a weird mixture of light waves, sound waves, chemicals, mixed in with the odd phantom and poltergeist of the brain's own devising. Not only do our brains receive, record and store, they then go into Collate-Tidy-And-Tie-Loose-Ends-Up. Our brains can't help it, as it's built into them.
I wanted to show Chris I was following him, so I threw in a drink-sodden analogy of my own.
—Like the way wondering is built into wondering albatrosses' brains? They're programmed to… erm, wonder… about the nature of things, rather than just take everything on face value.
Not ungenerously, Chris refused to take the easy route and diss me. He tried instead to rise above the obvious and incorporate this last remark into his own finishing flourish.
—Right. Our device, unlike your brain, stays put. It just receives. It has no filters and no criteria to impose. It doesn't go walkabout, unlike that diddly-diddly-dee bi-valve that passes itself off as a brain inside that cockleshell of a skull of yours.
—No axes to ground, I muttered, summing up to myself what I thought Chris had been saying. No sour grouses to grind, no grapes to gripe, no chipped shoulders.
Yes, yes, it was all seeming clear. And I was amazed, I had never known Chris to be so technically knowledgeable and anoraky. Spen would be proud of him. Spen was dead, long live the new Spen. Imagine my surprise the next day when Chris failed to show up.
Chris had beaten me to it. Not to the death bit, but the playing-back-Spen's-sessions-and-following-his-example bit.
There were a dozen different shades of brown hell raised, but this time more from the authorities than the media. It mustn't have been newsworthy any more. Just nerdily weird. The verdict? The camcordings showed two grown men shoving electrodes into their brains. The sessions showed nothing but weird noise. That was the whole problem. Obviously, the police had played back internal sessions as if they were ambiente, as we had been doing. If sense could be made of them, none of us had found the way yet. I could have told them that, and indeed had done during both my friends' inquests. But would they take my word? Not that I can blame them. I wouldn't have, either. They were dealing with something that nobody was qualified to explain, much less the very people who came up with it. Chris's confiscated sessions, camcordings and notes were shown not to hold the key, and were then given back to me. As long as I didn't advocate brain-electroding as a hobby -a brain barbie, as one policeman called it- or try to impose it on or even divulge it to members of the public, I was free and blameless.
I had steeled myself to plough through Spen's and Chris's camcordered experiments again. Chris too had found the easiest routes to follow to be the nose and the ears. He said he couldn't not try it. He'd played back Spen's sessions through his brain and found nothing in them. Apart, that is, from an uncanny yet unsurprising Spenness. Then again, hadn't we found our external sensor temple sessions distinctive right from the start? Chris tried sessing his own brain activity and playing it back. Garbage. He tried sessing his own through one cable while feeding a Spen session into his brain through another cable. More garbage. But recognisably different garbage, he commented to the camera, as his no-longer bright little eyes managed to sparkle like an innocent kid's on Christmas morning. Chris found this really exciting. Maybe it was nothing more than self-deluding wishful thinking, a desperate attempt to clutch at straws and find something to justify what he'd gotten himself into. He so must have wanted Spen's brain activity to be having some effect on his own. Poor sod! I find it quite difficult to express how excited Chris was by this. And how alien this enthusiasm was to me. Nothing he'd ever said or done in the 14 years we'd known each other had ever been so, well, unChrislike as this new-found nerdy enthusiasm. He almost oozed evangelistic born-againness.
Now I'm going through the pain of sticking the probes in my brain. Only the knowledge that both Spen and Chris had done this has let me go through with it. Taunted me into doing it, if I'm honest, I didn't want to be the safe wimpy one left out. Not for me the stigma of being the only one of the three not to have gone through with the inevitable, died and triggered that ultimate of useless status symbols, an autopsy. Not that anyone but me would ever get to know. Plus, the fact that their deaths had been the result of something other than the actual electrodes in the brain was comforting, in a weird way. They seem to have died from 75% mental drainage and exhaustion and only 25% trauma and GBH to the head and brain. I found that less daunting, more take-on-boardable. I stupidly figured that somehow I would go one better and find something they had done wrong, some chink in their sessions which I could benefit from long enough to prevent me from dying as they had done. I reckon the problem was that we had just been too embarrassed. We'd never discussed any of this. Spen and Chris had obviously been as ashamed of what they were doing as I am. By digging a moat of secrecy around our activities, we were isolating ourselves instead of trying to pool our efforts. More to the point, we had been harming ourselves to the extent that two of us had died. And I was following in their footsteps. Maybe in the near future, if I survived, I could find open-minded surgeons who could drill handy holes through my skull for easier access. Have sockets installed! Then again, why surgeons? As you can get virtually any part of your anatomy pieced, any tattooist that does piercings could do it with a Black and Decker. Yes, that would be the obvious way forwards. If I managed to succeed where Chris and Spen had failed, i.e. the small but not insignificant matter of not dying, then internal sessions might become everyday. Everyone would have sockets fitted, they'd become more common than tattoos. Of course, people wouldn't take long to want to do it their own way, going in for weird designs to outdo everybody else. And customising your own skull would become the next part of the craic. In keeping with the individual freedom element that made our device so popular in the first place. Sockets would be decorated with studs, chains, padlocks, crucifixes, silver Jack Daniels bottle keyfobs, Harley Davidson badges in your skull, solid gold marihuana leaves, platinum knuckle-dusters and the regulation heavy metal death goth regalia. After all, you can't go to the extreme of having your skull pierced and socketed and not flaunt it, can you? Why hadn't any of us thought of sockets before? If only we'd had the balls to discuss this instead of being so secretive!
As I sit here both sessing and camcording my session, camcording everything on the same camcorder that both Spen and Chris used, I want to write a mental Post-it to myself to find cosmetic help for next time. I will get various sockets fitted around my skull to feed into different parts of my brain. Sessions recorded from different parts of the brain might even give you different insights into yourself. It might give a voice to parts of you that would usually remain silent, bringing different personalities to the fore with different opinions, like interviewing different employees of the same company and getting different views of the management. I'd be a latter-day Dr Dolittle, able to communicate with the various parts of my own body! Never mind poxy human genomes, I'd be able to interpret the human body and that Holy Grail of modern science, the human brain! Imagine, a brain of two halves. I could have separate devices plugged into either half of my brain, with live simultaneous commentaries on everything each side was doing at any given moment. There'd be no more secrets left to puzzle medical science. All diseases would have their days numbered, all thanks to me and my device! What? Oh, yes, I'd give Spen and Chris a mention. I'd win more Nobel prizes than Mark Spitz won gold medals, and I wouldn't mind sharing two-thirds of them with my dead oppos. I hope there will be a next time. I should have postponed this session. Too late now, surely. The device is doing its job, the pain of the cables pushed into my brain has me paralysed. I mightn't know if my eyes are open or closed, or whether I'm alive or dead, but at least I am still aware of my consciousness. God, couldn't I have waited to get a tattooist or a surgeon to help me with a socket!
Hang on! If I am alive and the session is being cut, it'll be a washout. All there'll be on it is me complaining. I should be as calm as Buddha, tranquilly meditating on the meaning of life, transcending physicality. Instead, I'm moaning about the pain. And panicking. Have I pushed the boat out too far? Burnt too many bridges? That is, I would be moaning if the pain didn't have me paralysed. This is the last time I go pushing any envelopes! Of all the people in history who could have cut sessions with the device, how wicked would it be to be able to play back Buddha's sessions while he was receiving his Enlightenment! Moses talking to God on Mt Sinai! José Afonso, in London in 1970 to record Traz Outro Amigo Também away from his stifling, native Portuguese dictatorship, meeting up with Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, exiled there by their stifling, native Brazilian dictatorship. Peter Cook meeting Dudley Moore for the first time! Then again, would brain activity sessed in one era necessarily be understandable in a later era? Even if I had made Spen's and Chris's sessions mean something to me, maybe all they'd be transmitting would be pain: help, let me out! Or maybe they attained enlightenment, like Buddha. I just can't decipher it from their sessions. It must be in all of us. If it is, it's well hidden, hiding behind all this pain. Maybe that's it, you can't reach enlightenment without breaking the pain barrier first. God, what a bummer! You never get nought for nothing, do you? Nought worth having, that is.
There'll be nothing profound on any of our sessions. No insights. Just our souls screaming out in pain. Self-torturing souls rambling senselessly. Assuming anybody ever played them back and managed to make the slightest bit of sense out of them. If not, my session will simply be another suicide stat, like Spen and Chris. I can't even remember whether I inserted cables into one part of my brain or two. Nor whether I had set up what I had intended: an input cable from one device, feeding a session of Chris's into my brain, and an output cable from my brain to another device, sessing the mix. No, I remember nothing about what I set up before the pain became too paralysing. As long as I've got an output cable, this mightn't turn out to have been a complete and utter waste of time. It'll be registering pain. And confusion. It doesn't seem to get any more intense. Just more permanent. More inevitable. More eternal. This is it! This is what eternity is going to be: pain. But… wait, it's not a hurting pain any more. It's just an element. Simply there, surrounding you, bathing and cosseting you. But it doesn't harm you. It's… nice. Very nice. You have to… I'm going to hand myself over to it and forget everything. This nice pain will take care of me and look after me.
Chris's friend Nadira came up with the goods. She'd come to visit Chris, but nobody had told her that he'd died. She had missed the inquest, but she soon caught up on the ins and outs. Not knowing what to do, she had let herself into his flat to take stock of the situation. It was our flat actually. Chris, Spen and me had splashed out and bought a whole building's worth of flats in one of those flash inner-city renovated ex-derelict Edwardian warehouses.
—When you've got it, flaunt it baby, flaunt it! That was Max Bialystock's philosophy in The Producers. I had persuaded Chris and Spen to let it be ours. After all, the fact that we did without a company name, logo and advertising slogans didn't commit us to living like new age travellers and buying into a hermit lifestyle, did it!
Anyway, as Nadira had time on her hands, she patiently started to wade through the accumulated mess of his belongings, in particular the devices and session discs scattered over his desk, the scene of his last moments.
Nadira's English was already really spot-on, but she had decided to come here to do a doctorate and improve her English at the same time. Chris was a part of her reason for being here, too. Or had been. They'd finished up. He had had no time for her any more, she said. He was too busy. She knew he was obsessed with our device, and that there wasn't another woman. Which bothered her. Very unChrislike. Having known what he was like before getting involved with him, she'd have found another woman more natural to contend with. But a stupid obsession! A machine! Understandably, Nadira was in the middle of reassessing whether she wanted to carry on her studies here, or make a clean break and go somewhere Chrisfree. Or home. Now Chris had gone and unwittingly wiped himself out of her equation definitively. And here she was, alone and Chrisless. In the company of what had robbed from her the attention and time he should have been devoting to her. This device he had set so much store by.
She later told me that the first session she played back was one from when we were celebrating moving into the warehouse we'd taken over and had renovated. I didn't remember the occasion very clearly, and I certainly never played back that particular session. That isn't surprising, as the three of us took to sessing virtually everything, amassing tons of sessions. This particular ambiente was Nadira with Chris, Spen and me in better times, in Chris's immaculate flat, slap-bang in the city centre, with magnificent landmark buildings everywhere to be seen. There was bunting strung around the flat, with banners proclaiming 'Congratulations', 'Bugger buggering word of buggering mouth!', 'Against the odds', 'When you've got it, flaunt it baby, flaunt it!' and '……. would be our motto if we had one'. The real Nadira said she wept as she saw a beaming session Chris, champagne bottle and Leicester City mug in hand, put some music on very loud on a state-of-the-art music system, as session Spen cracked open an umpteenth bottle of champagne, which he ritually poured over a group of already sodden devices on a coffee-table they were standing around. Nadira told me one of the devices had a red light on, so it must have been sessing that ambiente. Session me apparently opened another bottle of champagne and sprayed it Formula 1-style all over everyone, which sounds like a Denis thing to do. Session Chris came over to session Nadira, put his arm around her and kissed her on the cheek. Though not drinking with them, session Nadira took a bottle of champagne and sprayed it over the three of us. The real Nadira said that by now she had lost herself in the session's irreality, and reached out to touch session Chris just as the session cruelly flickered and faded. The device sessing that particular ambiente must have shorted due to the champagne being poured over it.
Nadira wasn't one for drinking. Never touched the stuff, in fact. She had resigned herself to the fact that whenever she went out in this country with friends from here, drinking was to feature very large in the proceedings. She would go along with them, but not surprisingly their alcohol intake during the course of an evening would distance them from her. She thought it was a pity they needed such a crutch, while they thought she was even sadder than they thought she thought they were. But Nadira confessed to me that on that first night alone in our building, she started on Chris's stock of tequila. And played back the other session discs. She hoped there would be a message on one of them. How was she to know of the differences between internal and external sessions? All attempts by everybody to understand brain sessions had failed, but how was Nadira supposed to be put off by that if she didn't know? Sure, Chris's notes were there. But nobody reads the manual before having a go at a new device, do they? She longed to be enlightened as to why the device should hold a greater attraction for Chris than she had. The alcohol lullabied her unconscious, and she woke up few times during the night as the tequila wore off. Each time she would then put another session on and drink herself back away from reality.
And that in a nutshell was all that was needed. Sleeping Nadira's subconscious had simply absorbed our internal sessions. The mistake that Chris, Spen, me, the police, the courts and the tabloids had made with our brain sessions was to be conscious when trying to make sense of them. Nadira woke up at one point in the early morning, and decided to check out Spen's flat and mine. She tells me she hadn't realised she hadn't seen me since she had arrived. She said Chris and Spen had each warned her that I might be trying to do the same as them. When she came into my flat she found me slumped silently over the worktop.
I am still having hospital treatment for the damage to my eyes and ear, the torn optic nerves should scar over, and there seems to be only minor loss of vision, though that might right itself, they tell me. And it is too early for them to tell about my ruptured eardrum. As for the holes I tried burrowing through my skull into my brain, they're fewer and less deep than the ones Spen and Chris hollowed out. Nadira had caught me during one of my first attempts, whereas the Dynamic Duo must have had at least a dozen attempts apiece. It is still too early to know whether my various paralyses are a kind of temporary knee-jerk trauma reaction from my poor body or whether I will have to get used to it long-term. As far as I am concerned, anything less than total death and less painful than the pain I experienced is a consolation, so even permanent paralysis would be a boon. There doesn't seem to be any permanent memory impairment, nor language loss other than speech articulation. And none of my various paralyses interfere with my ability to communicate by writing, though my sensory response is very limited.
Once I had come round in hospital after Nadira's rescue, I listened to her account of how she came to look in on me, and at first I failed to take in what she said about Chris and Spen warning her. I thought maybe she meant some written notes that she had unearthed which the coroner's reports had overlooked. When she started talking about Silver Shee, however, I felt cold shivers creep across my skin. The sessions that the three of us had perpetrated on ourselves were our individual business. If Chris, Spen and me had chosen self-abuse, that was our sordid business. But to put another person through a process that in some small measure might have speeded up her death was something that the police surely couldn't ignore.
—How do you… Silver Shee…? I asked Nadira cagily.
—From her 'session', as you call them, my dear.
This was bad. Very bad. God, things could hardly get any worse.
—When you say everything…, I didn't want to come right out and ask Nadira what, if anything, she knew about Silver Shee's death and whether there had been an inquiry. I rather thought there couldn't have been, otherwise the police surely would have been to question me in hospital. Fuck! Maybe they already have, and I was unconscious! Fuck! Fuck! What will I say when they come back! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!
I remembered sneaking back to Shee's when I judged her session would be well over. Shee looked dead, though some slight breathing was perceptible. I gingerly set about removing the cables and unhooking Shee from the device. She didn't react. I switched the camcorder off, removed the tape and left it on her bed with the envelope.
I was bursting with questions, but had to play it cool and hope Nadira would feed me titbits of information. That Nadira had played back Shee's session, I had no doubt. But had Shee's body been discovered yet? Her will and letter of consent should cover me. But even so, the camcording I left as evidence must make me look like some macabre Hammer Film renegade, prime villain numero uno…
—What a life that woman had! Even so, she thought of herself as being comparatively lucky, for a woman outsider in this country at that time. Unusually for a poor woman, she never got herself shackled to the typical burdens for women in those times.
Nadira must have perceived a puzzled look on my face behind all the bandages, as she expanded on this.
—You know, the millstone of a flea-bitten house around your neck. The life sentence for any woman: a feckless husband and horde of poxy kids to thanklessly drag up and feed day after day until she drops dead from exhaustion. None of that was for our Shee. She worked her way through private houses then went into the restaurant and pub trade, did you know? Managed lots of pubs. She was a truly independent woman at a time in your country when even native women seldom achieved any independence, never mind immigrants. She had to be tougher than men.
—Just knew her as a friend of the family. But as for her life…
—You could do worse than play back her session. She eventually rose to maitresse d' after working as a silver service waitress with the White Star line. That's how she got her name, you know. Hardly anyone knew. She told everyone she got her nickname when she was the only silver miner at a time when everyone else in North America was prospecting for gold. Travelled all over the world. And as for the famous people she met and had affairs with…
—I know she never did do what was expected of her.
—It's a shame more ordinary people don't get a chance to sess their stories. She told me everything, had me crying all night. I wish I'd met her. I bet if my mother and father cut sessions I would learn more things about them than they have ever told me. There'll still be things about them I won't know after they are dead.
—I wouldn't call Shee ordinary… but I know what you mean.
Nadira actually felt Silver Shee's presence as if it had been real! As if she had been side-by-side with Shee during those experiences. None of it could have been more vivid to Nadira if she had downloaded information direct to her brain. Or experienced an external ambiente session. And despite the traumas she has been through -losing Chris and Spen, and coming across me on death's door- Nadira can still talk about how beneficial a brain session could be. She obviously doesn't mean to put her parents through the trauma of a real session, but she would like the outcome. That was exactly what Shee had wanted, and Nadira too lamented the fact that so few of the people she knew had ever had the chance to leave behind some record of their experiences. Interesting, very interesting. Hang on! Nadira's English is shit-hot, yes. But Shee's accent? Not to mention her unique expressions and customised grammar!
—She had me crying with laughter, though, most of the time. How on earth she ever managed to bite her tongue while waiting on rich people, I'll never know. And how her employers tried to tame her spirit! But she was too good at her job and too popular with the men she served. The very ones who were maintaining the status quo she so abhorred, maintaining the infrastructure that perpetuated privileged resources in the hands of the few. Those superior caste generals and aristocrat idiot statesmen never once found out what Shee used to put in their food. She had them eating out of her hands, and out of a lot of other places! She seemed more chilled out and docile when she was younger, before she started devoting her energies to her tobacco orgasms and her Australian sherry.
Orgasms? Oh, yes, I remember. But maitresse d's and doing things to the food? I was only present at Shee's session till the time she became subdued and went silent, so what Nadira is talking about must be from the rest of Shee's session. What the hell am I talking about! All of this means Nadira must have managed to decipher the session and understand Shee! I must be delirious. Wait a minute! Didn't Nadira say immigrant? Outsider? Silver Shee? Wonder why! What else did Nadira know about Shee that I didn't?
—Aussie white, Nadira, not sherry. Shee would never have called…
—Whatever. Shee said she was infamous for her Memorial Sunday displays. Is that right?
—Memorial? Oh, Poppy Day! Yes, for the first twenty or so Novembers after the end of the war they used to try and arrest her. But they gave up on that and the BBC became very reluctant to broadcast any proceedings from the Liverpool Cenotaph. Radio broadcasts were even banned.
—Frankie Goes To Hollywood even sampled her. There were a few 'Two Tribes Silver Shee Cenotaph RantMix' white label promos pressed up, but the band themselves withdrew it at the last minute. Too controversial, they said. Relatives and family friends would never have spoken to them again. Worth a fortune now, though.
—Now everyone who she offends no longer has to look the other way and pretend she isn't there. The few that have outlived her, that is.
I thought back for a second to how fired up Shee had been during the session, ranting on all cylinders as if she was on her first legs, never mind her last. I remembered how hard it had been for me to follow her. I had just nodded, saying yes and no in what seemed to be appropriate places.
—Listen, Nadira, don't take this too personally, and I don't mean to offend you…
—So dying on me isn't offence enough! There's worse to come? Then she laughed. No, go on, Denis, I'm only kidding.
—How can you be sure about what Shee said?
Nadira looked at me blankly.
—Well, she wasn't the easiest person in the world to understand. Even I… And your English…
—My English? What are you talking about?
—How could you understand Shee?
—Shee? Nadira went to laugh at the mere suggestion, but frowned at the monitors I was hooked up to.
—Shee wasn't English! She spoke Arabic! You have heard of Arabic? And of course I understood every word.
Nadira then sarcastically waved her hand in front of my eyes.
—Hello, Sleeping Beauty Denis, time to wake up! Sorry to shock you, but Arabic is my mother tongue, my dear.
I took the blank expression from Nadira and put it on myself. A perfect fit.
—She must have lived in England so long that I admit I couldn't place her Arabic accent. That's not surprising. English? Have you played back her session? Are we even talking about the same person? Maybe I should call a doctor, you need more drugs!
She smiled at that, and it relieved a little tension.
—Yes, you British like that, don't you!
—Well, what about Spen and Chris? They each warned you I might be trying the same experiments, didn't they?
—Yes, of course.
—And that's how you thought to check in on me? Did they write notes to you?
—No. Nadira paused, and looked worried again. I played back their sessions. I was looking for help, information. Anything! I was desperate! I didn't want the same to happen to you. You can't all leave me, selfish men!
My throat was dry, my heart pounding, my hands sweating, my face going scarlet, burning up…
—… do you remember what language their sessions were in?
Nadira checked herself, puzzled, not believing what she was about to say. She had genuine fear in her eyes. I could tell she felt the same ghosts breathing all over her that I did.
—Nadira, Shee was from Liverpool. As Scouse as they come.
—And Chris and Spen didn't speak Arab-…
That day when Nadira came into my flat, she thought I might already be dead. But she noticed there were tears still dripping along the cables out of my eye sockets. She didn't stop to wonder what would be the best thing to do. You never do, do you, if you find yourself in some extreme situation, such as coming across an epileptic in full fit or an idiot with cables poking in his eyes, ears and temple. You just either react or you don't. Nadira reacted. She tried gently teasing and twisting the cables out but they stayed put. Then, ignoring her initial fear that she might rip my face to shreds or pull my eyes out, she yanked the cables free. The courage she must have needed! Mind you, she was running on a full tank of dutch Mexican tequila courage. I'd done the same to Silver Shee, but her flesh was as soft as blancmange.
Nadira has decided to stay on for the time being. We have both played back all the brain sessions together since then. It is possible to experience them simply when asleep, but there is nothing that can beat flat-out alcohol intoxication for maximum brain session absorption. Though I hereby declare the playback problem solved for brain sessions, the niggling doubt we had about the temple sessions has no solution. They still don't make sense even when you are unconscious. They simply remain weird and psychedelic. I find them soothing and very curious, because of their personal nature, which I have explained. They are a fly-on-the-wall glimpse of your own body going about its business. You feel like a peeping tom.
There is still the question of the brain sessing to be addressed. By somebody, perhaps. At some future date. Maybe not by me. There is no doubt that the recordings work. But I can see no way of carrying them out other than plugging directly into the brain. Not only don't I feel like carrying on that line of investigation, not for the moment in any case, I daren't anyway, not as long as Nadira stays here. It wouldn't be fair to her. And I can't exactly publish our findings, because some people might go for this mutilation in a big way. I wouldn't want to be accused of promoting our kind of self-abuse. Yet it would be negligent of me not to give a warning about the dangers. There must be some kind of benefit to be derived from all this. It might occur to some people to conduct experiments into sessing things other than the craic, and for their own safety, they have a right to know about our failures. Fuck knows what people out there might be using our little device for at this very minute. Spooky!
Copyright © 2005-2011 by Denis Murphy. All rights reserved. Revised: 04 Oct 2012 04:03 .