Perfect Storm

Do you remember where you were when you heard they’d called the 2017 General Election?” she asked. Of course, it came flooding back.

I was on a beach in Wales, helping my daughter to fly a kite. The day was bright but chilly, a perfectly steady westerly wind holding the kite stock still, high above us. It was the first proper day of the holiday. I was scanning the horizon for something, anything that might quieten the inside of my head. I was desperate for a break from reality.

The news had become a deadly addiction, a barrage of 'look what a mess these politicians are getting us into now’. 24 hours a day, it took over our lives. You’d check Twitter (remember Twitter?) before you settled down to sleep, and five turbulent hours later you’d peel your eyes open and check it again. But nothing had changed overnight. We were still screwed.

My wife wandered over and said quietly, almost conspiratorially, “Theresa May’s called a General Election for June.” The kite flinched as the wind twisted slightly onshore. “Hmmph,” I replied. “Here we go. So much for us getting away from it all.” I knew in my bones that election was going to be the tipping point.

We lived in Sheffield back then. The Tories got their majority in Parliament, but with almost no MPs from the big cities, so the places with the skilled workers, the universities, the big hospitals, theatres and sports were hardly represented at all in the government, in the cabinet. At the same time cities were getting elected mayors, and they were mostly Labour. We already had Sadiq Khan in London, then Andy Burnham in Manchester. The Labour big hitters were mayors, not MPs, so suddenly the fight wasn’t between opposing parties in Parliament, but between national government on the one hand and the big cities on the other.

The cities had been clamouring for more power for years before that and the British government had always resisted. Britain back then was one of the most centralised countries on Earth. All the wealth and power was in London and everywhere else just felt left behind. Places like Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham and Newcastle wanted to raise their own taxes and make their own export deals with the places in the world they did business with. Newcastle wanted to trade with Scandinavia and Japan, Sheffield was more interested in China, and Manchester in India.

After the 2017 election, the public turned against the government. Most of the protests had a party atmosphere, especially the ones in the Peace Gardens during the summer, though there were a few times when things got nasty. Successive governments used to just close their eyes and ears and carry on, but when there were strikes and street demonstrations at the same time, they couldn’t ignore it.

That was when the cities made their moves for independence. The mayors got India and China to back their ultimatum to Parliament: give full autonomy to the cities or there’ll be no international trade. London could only stop the banks moving to Europe by cutting its own deal with France and Germany. It gave birth to the Inverse Empire, the British Isles made up of satellite states of powerful, faraway nations. A new world order, and it happened so quickly, only two or three years.

The city states are still in their infancy, but I think they’ve mostly worked out OK, apart from the odd outbreak of corruption. If I’m honest, I’ve come to treasure the fragility of it: none of that jingoistic ‘Rule Britannia’ complacency. It had become embarrassing to be British. Now that we’re frontier territory again, the edge of the map instead of the centre, it’s quite a relief. And whenever I see a kite flying, I always think of that summer.

Andrew Wood

Do Something Weird

For the sake of the Thin White Duke,
whose otherworldly feats are being left undone,
I urge you
not to weep or pray.
Just do something weird today.

Have that raucous entrance you’ve always wanted,
complete with smoke machines and lasers
for no fucking reason
Don those heels you can’t quite walk in,
that accent you can’t quite talk in,
do a pirouette on the fork in the road that terrifies us all.

Do something weird today, use that vivid, brutish scrawl
to rip a hole in the history books.

Go on, you weirdo. Do what you do best.

For the sake of the Thin White Duke
and every other hero lost, do not ever rest,
and do not be at peace with those
who’d keep your freakish fervour in little boxes.

For your sake, and his, and mine,
go out tonight
with your carcass caked in glitter
and your heart undressed.

Genevieve Walsh

Taken from her latest book, The Dance of a Thousand Losers, available now on Flapjack Press.

Listening Again

An old friend lent me this album
back when we were almost kids.
Meandering b-sides. No radio play.
Just wounded creatures confessing each other
further and further from home.

But it could not tear into me then
the way it does this morning,
sitting alone at the shop...

Yesterday I spoke with my brother.
He's living on whiskey and cigarettes.
Last night I lay and laughed with my wife,
reading small changes on maps in faces.
This morning I awoke early,
watched our daughter as she slept:
headlong into the woods,
fingers closing round infant dreams.

Now, under pale blue-slate dawn skies,
I walk to work, mix the dough,
set each loaf to rise
with the day and the slow
gathering noise of something
so forgetful, so ordinary.

Alone at the shop with these songs:
thin voice of a mermaid, stranded here
among the lesser forms,
all limping toward that piano climb,
where the ache of a weary soul's undone
by the alchemy of our accidents.
Smiling back on hungry youth,
remembering you
old friend. 

The cold wet midnight pavements we wandered,
fences we hopped, windows we broke
all those incarnations ago.
How could we have known
why it felt so familiar,
trespassing on the people we would become.

David Wood