This is a four-part story set in the Transition period between the Old and the New Earth – the time we’re just about to move into.
This was how Peter addressed his son Kevin across the Christmas lunch table, in the presence of his wife and five aging relatives:
‘You bloody arrogant sod. Your mother’s been working her fingers to the bone for days and there’s a magnificent spread in front of you. Couldn’t you set aside your preferences for one solitary day in the year? So as not to upset everybody? Eh?’
And this was how Kevin responded to his father, over the plate of cheese and biscuits which he’d just fetched from the kitchen:
‘What?’ spluttered Peter, while Aunt Susan shielded her plate from his spit.
‘Not preferences, principles,’ replied Kevin.
‘Do you really think so?’ Kevin asked, tilting his head and smiling condescendingly. (He knew exactly how to annoy his father.) ‘I must say, this is exceptionally fine cheese. Where did you get it, Mum?’
‘Are you trying to tell me you’ve turned vegetarian?’ pressed Peter.
‘No, I’m not trying to tell you I’ve turned vegetarian. But I did tell you – some time ago, actually – that I’m no longer prepared to eat meat, poultry or eggs unless they’re free range.’
‘So you expect us to fork out for free-range turkey, just to pander to your fancies?’
‘No, I did not say I expected you to stop buying factory-farmed food. I just said I wouldn’t eat it.’
‘You’ve got pretty expensive tastes for someone on Benefit.’
‘Peter!’ protested Maureen.
‘Not at all,’ replied Kevin, calmly. ‘I spend less on meat and chicken than most people do, because I don’t eat so much of it. And have you watched that documentary on factory farming yet, Dad?’
‘Not at the table, love,’ cautioned Maureen.
‘Okay, Mum. Anyway, you know how I feel. The thing is, I refuse to be complicit in an atrocity.’
‘Which means the rest of us at this table are complicit in an atrocity?’ demanded Peter.
‘I’m not saying anything more.’
‘Peter!’ said Maureen.
Her gentle remonstrations continued for some days afterwards.
‘No one was upset about the cheese and biscuits except you, Peter,’ she pointed out. ‘The rellies were curious about it, that’s all. It would’ve just been an interesting topic of conversation if you hadn’t…’
‘What? A conversation about factory farming?’
‘… well, maybe not. But even if he had talked about it, it would have probably gone over their heads. They were mostly half-cut anyway.’
‘Well, it seems we’re just another statistic, Peter. It was on the radio. An epidemic of families falling out over Christmas.’
‘I’m sorry, pet, but he got me riled and I couldn’t control myself… Alright, maybe I could have tried harder. But I hate to see you disappointed. After all you’d done.’
‘Yes, maybe I was a bit disappointed. But better to be disappointed than have a row at Christmas.’
‘Sometimes I wonder if you actually like Kevin, Peter.’
‘Well, he certainly gets me riled. You know, I wouldn’t have been quite so pissed off at Christmas if he’d made some kind of contribution. But he hadn’t. As usual. No cards. No presents. No wine or chocolates. Not even a packet of biscuits.’
‘Darling, you know he hasn’t got any money.’
‘Well of course he hasn’t got any money, because he won’t get off his backside and get a job.’
‘But there aren’t any jobs. It’s not like it was in our day. And if you haven’t got any qualifications, it’s worse.’
‘Well, whose fault is that? He just idled his way through school like he’s idling the rest of his life away.
‘Of course,’ he continued, getting into his stride, ‘Part of the problem is that he refuses to sully his hands by working for anyone he disapproves of, like the banks, the insurance companies, non-organic farmers, estate agents, the police, the military, the oil industry, and on and on it goes. In fact, there’s precious little in this world that he does approve of.
‘And more to the point,’ he added, ignoring the warning look in Maureen’s eye, ‘He doesn’t agree with work on principle. That’s what he said, Maureen – you heard him. That it’s absurd to think we have to earn the right to live on this planet. And that he refuses to be a slave. Which implies, of course, that the rest of us are slaves. Me in particular.’
‘So you don’t like him, then,’ said Maureen.
Like a lot of children, Kevin had an uncanny knack of trampling on his Father’s sore spots. Such as having to work for a living, for example. Such as banks.
Peter was head of a computer team at the headquarters of Darklys Bank. He hated the job, and couldn’t wait to retire. He’d fallen into computing as a young man because he needed to learn a skill and it seemed a good idea at the time, but his heart had never been in it. And he’d ended up at sixty in a humdrum nine to five job that bored the stuffing out of him.
And there was Kevin, intelligent and able-bodied, refusing to work. This infuriated Peter far more than it warranted. Why? Because, deep down, he envied his son. And to be called a slave just rubbed salt in the wound.
And banks. That was another sore spot. According to Kevin, most of the ills of the world could be laid at the door of the Banksters, as he called them. Oddly enough, his father was in secret agreement with him. The difference was that Peter knew the banks were culpable, because he had seen the evidence first-hand. They didn’t care what they did or how much ordinary people suffered so long as they maximised their profits. Which, he had come to realise, went straight into the coffers of a small bunch of multi-billionaires who used it to foment wars, impoverish nations and pollute the planet – the Cabal, as Kevin called them.
Now Peter was an honest man, who believed in justice and fair play. Unfortunately he had become dependent on the bank for his financial survival before he realised what a monster it was. And there was no chance of another job at his age, so he was trapped. Even worse, the fact that he worked for Darklys meant that he was their agent, and therefore morally compromised. And that hurt more than anything.
So when Kevin went on about the iniquities of the banks and the slavery of the workforce, he was actually causing his father pain. Maybe it was accidental, but Peter didn’t believe it. To him, it felt deliberate. Spiteful. So of course Peter didn’t like his son. Who would?
Kevin stayed away for the next couple of months. He finally paid a visit on a Sunday afternoon in February, and it was unfortunate that Maureen was out, because without her moderating influence, a row was almost inevitable. On the other hand, she was spared the pain of witnessing it.
The visit started okay, with cups of tea, harmless exchanges about the weather and football, and the reading of Sunday papers in the lounge. But then Kevin saw something about the Libor scandal, and that set him off again.
‘Banks are just thieves and parasites on ordinary people,’ he said. ‘And when it all goes wrong, who pays? The ordinary people, that’s who. Whether it’s bail-out or bail-in, it’s the ordinary people who pay and the bankers keep raking in their bonuses. Of course, in the financial crisis of 2008 they were bailed out by the taxpayers…’
‘But you don’t pay tax,’ said Peter.
‘… And next time,’ Kevin continued, ignoring him, ‘they’ll use the bail-in to steal people’s savings.’
‘But you haven’t got any savings,’ said Peter.
‘Oh, so what you’re saying is, if it doesn’t affect me directly, why should I care? Why I should give a toss about anyone but myself? Well, don’t judge everybody else by your own standards. I’m not like you, Dad. Thank God.’
‘Oh, so you care about other people, do you?’
‘Yes, I do.’
‘Don’t make me laugh.’
‘I’ll try not to.’
‘So what exactly do you do to help them? You sit around all day pontificating and drawing Benefit at the expense of the rest of us. You don’t make any contribution. The world could fall down around your ears and all you’d do is stand on the sidelines and say how rotten everything is. But you don’t actually DO anything about it.’
‘Get a job.’
‘How’s that going to help?’
‘You’d be making a contribution to the economy. And at least paying for your keep.’
‘Show me a job that actually contributes to the overall wellbeing of the people and the planet, and I’ll do it. Willingly. But the vast majority of jobs are doing exactly the opposite.’
‘What about medicine? With your brains you could have been a doctor. If you really cared about people I’d have thought it’d be right up your ally.’
‘And become a pawn of the pharmaceutical companies? They control western medicine, Dad. For profit. Wrecking people’s health and impoverishing them at the same time. End of story.’
‘So what’s wrong with education? You could have been a teacher. With a captive audience. I should have thought you’d like that.’
‘What? A teacher restricted to a curriculum that promotes a pack of lies and half-truths, and helps to brainwash another generation of good sheep? No thank you.’
‘And the Law? Go on, surprise me.’
‘So who makes the Laws, Dad?’
‘And who controls Parliament?’
‘The people. Through our elected representatives. For those of us who vote, of course. Some people just can’t be bothered.’
‘Or some people refuse to participate in a farce. Wake up, Dad! It’s all a pretence! The whole thing’s controlled by the puppet-masters, and they’ve duped the population into believing they’ve got a voice. And before you suggest banking, bankers lead the field. They’ve stolen the wealth of the world and turned humanity into slaves.’
‘Now you’re being simplistic.’
‘Well, it is simple,’ he replied. ‘I know you bankers like to blind us with your jargon, but basically, it’s theft. And slavery.’
‘But what about the future, Kevin? I’m struggling here, because personally, I can’t see what sort of future you’re going to have. And I know it worries your mother.’
‘Well, I didn’t think it was going to worry you – nice to have that confirmed. So you can’t see what sort of future I’m going to have? Well, take a look around you, Dad! What future do any of us have? What future does the world have? It’s all going down the drain. And no, I don’t have a solution. I didn’t ask to be born into this mess.’
Nor did I, thought Peter.
The irony was, that in terms of what they believed, Peter and Kevin had a lot in common. So why didn’t Peter say so?
It was partly due to the habit he’d got into as a young man, of keeping his own counsel. He’d become a fan of Westerns at an impressionable age, admiring their strong and silent heroes, and wanting to be like them. He couldn’t really pull it off, because he would get too cross about things and blow his top. But that’s the archetype he aspired to.
So he’d got into the habit of keeping his deepest thoughts and feelings all buttoned up inside.
And this may have been part of the reason he had no close friends.
He loved and trusted Maureen. But he felt it was far too late in their relationship to start revealing thoughts and feelings he’d never given voice to before. And if he were to share his concerns about the bank, it might worry or frighten her. Yes, he might be underestimating her, but he couldn’t risk it. Because he didn’t want a worried wife. He wanted a warm, contented and motherly wife. Which is what he had.
Nor was there anyone at work who knew what he really thought of the bank. Young Raymond his deputy was constantly talking Revolution, while at the same time pretending to be the bank’s most devoted and enthusiastic employee. He didn’t seem to feel any guilt about this two-faced strategy; he just had a lovely time smarming up to the bosses and plotting their downfall behind their backs. But to Peter this seemed both dishonest and risky. And the fact that Raymond was so open about it with the rest of the Computer Team seemed downright foolish. So although his and Raymond’s views were pretty similar, Peter didn’t trust him enough to say so.
As for his relationship with his son, somehow they had got into the habit of pulling in opposite directions, of blaming and undermining each other. And that way of behaving had become so entrenched, that Peter wouldn’t have known how to change it if he wanted to. Which meant he couldn’t share his true thoughts and feelings with the very person whose world view was most in line with his own.
And that’s why Peter had absolutely no one to confide in.
Part 2 soon.
© Sue J Davis 2015
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