None of you seem to understand

I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with me.

Rorschach’s best line from ‘Watchmen’, a good film but a much better graphic novel. You want to hear it in real life, with the rage dial turned up to 11? Take away the tobacco or vape from the smoker/vaper you’re self quarantining with. Take away all alcohol from that heavy (or even moderate but regular) drinker you’re locked in with. Force your somewhat rotund family member to diet.

That’s what the Nannies want you to do. They want to lock you in with people who have nowhere to drive and nothing to do and they want you to take away the last of the things that alleviate their boredom. Does that sound like a good idea to you? Oh they might be a little bit healthier but you’re locked in with them while they go through a forced withdrawal and have nothing to replace it. Better sleep with one eye open and hide all the sharp things.

Actually they won’t be healthier. Their stress levels will increase massively if you remove the booze and smokes/vapes controlling their stress at this time. Same goes for the overweight – try to force them to diet now and you will not only increase their stress but they might well get so angry they lash out.

And I wouldn’t blame them. Not one bit. The link between overweight and coronavirus is tenuous at best. There is no link at all between smoking or vaping or drinking and coronavirus, whether susceptibility to catching it or severity of symptoms. The major risk is underlying conditions, especially diabetes, cancer and heart problems. Those are the ones suffering the worst and dying the most. And you can’t fix those things with rules.

In fact, smokers are under-represented in coronavirus cases in ICU. I have no data to hand on vapers or boozers, which is a pity since I partake in all three hobbies. Nobody, as far as I know, has even mentioned heat-not-burn.

Sudden lifestyle changes, especially when forced upon someone rather than letting them do it by their own choice, is extremely stressful. Stress reduces your immune response. At this time, do you think it’s a good idea to do that? Stress puts pressure on your heart. At this time, do you think it’s a good idea to do that? Having one stressed-out person in a locked-in household will stress everyone else too. Is that a good idea?

Of course not, but then Public Health are hardly famed for having good ideas. In the midst of the biggest threat to public health in a hundred years, they have no ideas at all. Just more nannying.

Donnie Trumpton, Great Orange King of the Oompa-Loompas, has ideas. He is using this to wipe out his opponents’ voter base. By telling them the truth. It’s despicable, it’s evil, he knows what he’s doing, but it’s something even Ian Fleming didn’t think of in a villain.

He mentions chloroquine. Long known to have antiviral properties, long used in treatment of malaria, lupus and other things, very cheap, no side effects worth worrying about with proper dosage. Trump knows nothing of this, he spent his life in business, not medicine nor science. Someone advised him.

The anti-trumpers invent all kinds of side effects and demonise this common and easily obtainable drug. They will not touch it.

Today he mentioned zinc. Again, he won’t know about this from his own past. Someone advised him. Zinc oxide cream is the wound healer of choice for minor wounds, zinc sulphate is the internal version, helps the immune system and can break the cytokine storm that could kill you with this virus. Twitter is full of people calling it shamanism,idiocy, betting he has just bought shares in zinc, relating side effects (from overdose,they don’t mention that part) and generally inducing Trump-haters to have nothing to do with it.

His methods are so evil even I couldn’t have written it. But they are remarkably effective. Trump supporters will be on zinc sulphate supplements, and more, already, while his opponents will scoff at the idea. So if they get the virus, his supporters are already primed for treatment. His opponents are not.

All you need do is read the label and don’t overdose. You can in fact half-dose and increase to full dose when (if) you get sick. Probably best, you don’t want to be on these things long term.

Trump sounds like a bumbling idiot when he speaks. Some of that is because he doesn’t really understand the science he’s been told, some of it is, I think, an act. He (or his advisers) know that his opponents think he’s a complete idiot and he’s playing to that. Tell them the solution and watch them ignore it, even ridicule it.

I think he’ll tell them next that forced respiration is a bad idea and it’s better if patients lie on their stomachs for a while each day. It’s turning out to be true, but they’ll say it’s because he doesn’t want to buy respirators. And they will refuse to do it if they get sick. They will demand forced respiration and refuse to touch Trump’s shamanistic drug regime.

There are some things he will never tell them. Smoking reduces cell surface proteins the virus uses to attach, and gives the smoker a regular dose of virus-killing nitric oxide. There is emerging evidence that propylene glycol, used in vapes, is also antiviral. Trump will never mention those things because he is a rabid antismoker and has recently shown his antivaping credentials.

The alcohol? No idea yet but there is nothing to say it will make things worse.

So I think I’ll have another.

Cheers.

A new theory

It’s clear that pretty much everyone who died from the Flu Manchu had a serious underlying condition. Those who the news claimed had no other illness all later turned out to have an undiagnosed illness. It is indeed possible to have heart problems or diabetes or many other things without realising it. Naturally, if it’s severe you’ll notice it but many conditions can be a long way down the road of developing before they really hit you.

Several things seemed strange though. Why is a respiratory virus causing multiple organ failure? Why are those with diabetes getting hit really hard? Why does blood type seem to matter? Why is it acting like a septicaemia when it’s really a kind of flu? Why on Earth would an anti-malaria drug work?

It has absolutely devastated the lungs of those it has killed. Not just normal pneumonia, it’s shredded the lungs entirely. How can it go so much further than even swine flu or SARS?

Well, this might help explain it. I haven’t yet found the original studies he refers to, there are no references on the article and it is on a site that does not fact-check what people put on there so I’m going to call it a hypothesis. One that really should be tested, but it’s certainly plausible.

Basically, it says that the virus proteins mess up haemoglobin and release the iron from them. This isn’t just iron, it’s a positively charged ion, a very dangerous thing to have in your body in large amounts. However, it has to be there because that’s how haemoglobin transports oxygen. So, the iron is encased in the haemoglobin molecule in such a way that it can catch oxygen but cannot go all free-radical on the rest of your body.

Some of the virus surface proteins react with haemoglobin and break it so the reactive iron atom is released. In amounts too large for the body’s defences to deal with. It isn’t part of the virus’ ‘plan’, it’s not useful to the virus, it appears to be accidental.

This reactive iron is what wrecks the lungs. Then you also have red blood cells that can’t carry oxygen no matter how well ventilated you are. Multiple organ failure is then inevitable. Also, any blood/circulation-linked underlying condition is only going to make it worse.

There is no malaria vaccine. If you are travelling to a malaria-risk country, you take the malaria tablets daily for a month before you go, while you’re there, and for a couple of weeks when you get back. It does not produce antibodies, it blocks the parasite’s access to haemoglobin. This is not a permanent solution, you have to build it up and keep topping it up until the risk has passed.

Since it blocks access to haemoglobin, it seems it does the same to the virus proteins.

As for the blood type, well, it seems malaria has the same response as the virus. Blood group O is safest, group A is most at risk. There has not been time to sequence the virus proteins, maybe nobody has thought to do that yet, but if they are indeed the RIFIN proteins from malaria then this virus will look very much engineered. It would be one coincidence too many.

The first article linked to does point out that the reason so many news outlets and lefties want to disparage the hydroxychloroquine treatment is because Trump said it would work. Even though nobody on the planet believes he worked it out himself. I can believe that because the world, especially politics, really has become that petty. There are also deeper reasons involving (as usual) money and control.

Pharmers are working on a vaccine, the Billy Gates Gruff has seen this as an opportunity for his long-drooled-over ‘chip everyone’ scheme, the communists see it as an opportunity to end capitalism, the Kissinger (yes, he’s still alive!) has already pushed for a one world government to deal with it, Piers ‘I’ll scweam and scweam until I’m thick’ Morgan wants to bring back every failed Prime Monster, the Greens want to install this, the tobacco controllers want to take the opportunity to ban vaping and smoking (even though it has been shown that smoking/vaping has no effect on catching or getting sick from this virus) and the Temperance Loonies are trying to use it to ban alcohol.

If there is a cheap, simple cure for this virus, all of that and more falls apart. So there is a hell of a lot of resistance to this cure.

Doctors, meanwhile, are saying it works. I’m going with the doctors.

Against stupidity…

…the gods themselves contend in vain.

I don’t know the source of the quote, I only know it from a very-long-ago reading of this book. Blimey, a new copy is expensive! I hope mine is still in a box somewhere here. It could be, I’m something of a packrat with books.

It seems so appropriate today. The UK government thinks we will all be driving electric cars in ten years. There isn’t enough cobalt on the planet to make enough batteries for the cars needed in the little UK. The batteries gradually die, the car’s range gets shorter and shorter and in just a few years it’s a lawn ornament. New batteries? The old ones can’t currently be recycled and there’s no cobalt left in the ground. What then?

How big a battery do you need for a truck? Or a tank?

You know the best thing about these cars? The drive is permanently coupled to the wheels. There is no neutral. If it stops, it stops dead. No matter where you are or how fast you’re going. If you’re doing 70 mph on a motorwat and it dies you don’t coast into the hard shoulder. You stop as if you hit a wall. That’s going to be fun, especially when the ones coming behind are still going.

We have people proudly advertising their electric building equipment, a small digger that runs for two hours on one charge. A charge that is replenished by running a diesel generator for eight hours. So the diesel engine runs for eight hours instead of two, and that’s good?

To make Scotland green, we have cut down 14 million trees to make room for wind farms while governments claim they want to plant more trees. That’s just Scotland. You can barely see it on a map of the world. The windmill parts are not recyclable, they will, along with all those solar panels, be in landfill in 20 years or so. Leaching extremely toxic waste into the soil that will be growing a future vegan world’s food.

Oh don’t worry about the animals. The vegans want to kill them all to save the planet. So do the ecoloons. The animals must be scratching their heads and wondering who the planet is being saved for.

The Swedish Doom Goblin has been to Bristol to talk about how the planet is burning up… in a country beset by flooding, in the rain, while wearing two coats against the cold. Her parents should have been prosecuted for child abuse long ago but they are being allowed to continue on a massive scale. The only thing Extinction Rebellion achieve, all they have ever achieved and all they will ever achieve, is destruction. They have utterly ruined every single place they have ever visited. In the name of saving it.

Now we have coronavirus. The name is not new, there are many coronaviruses, but in the modern world nobody can remember beyond five minutes ago so there are people wondering how Dettol can claim to kill coronavirus ‘before it existed’. This variant is new. Its biggest danger is not its kill rate, it’s that someone could be spreading it for weeks while showing no symptoms. It will overwhelm medical services and close down supply chains. It doesn’t need to kill more than enough to cause panic. The asymptomatic carriers will increrase exponentially. A million Typhoid Marys. The perfect blind assassin.

Most of all though, what is the Left of politics doing? On the right we have Trump and Boris, both of whom appear to be bumbling clowns but they aren’t. They are very calculating people. Brushing them off, underestimating them, is a big mistake.

The Left, both in the UK and America, are in the process of choosing a new leader. The lineup in both cases looks like the starting gate of the Olympic window licking competition. There is no Tony Blair in the UK or Barack Obama in the US. It’s as if they raided the Shady Rest Home for Weary Minds and put up the most insane candidates they could find. Are they trying to lose? Is this really the best they have?

If there is a God he must surely be reaching for the reset button now and maybe he has already pressed it. Pestilence and Famine are loose upon the world and one look at the Turkey/Greece border will surely have the shadow of War over it. Turkey and Greece have been enemies for a long time, mostly because of Cyprus. So war there would be no surprise. Erdogan is as mad as Hitler was. Opening up a new front with Greece when he already has war with Syria would not surprise me/

Notably absent is the new ‘EU army’ that the EU claims they have command over. Also notably absent is the UN. Greece are members of both but they are being left to deal with this alone.

This level of stupid has appeared and accelerated in only a couple of decades. There is so much more, I could extend this post to whole book levels! Ten years ago there were two genders, I have no idea how many there are now. It’s as if the entire world has gone insane, as if we are being set up to destroy ourselves while thinking we are saving ourselves.

I’m sort of getting used to the fiction coming true, you know…

Virus science

Tomorrow, midnight, is the end of the quarter at Leg Iron Books and author royalties (if any) will go out on time. The anthology is going ahead too, it will close for submissions on March 31st although editing and publication will be delayed because of my father’s funeral. The delay on that has also put a complete stop on my own writing and on any kind of marketing.

I’m estimating mid to late April for publication on Anthology 11. It doesn’t affect this one too much since it’s not tied to a specific event like the Halloween and Christmas anthologies. It will be the Spring anthology, just a little later than usual. Spring is going to be delayed too, if there is any accuracy in the weather forecasts.

Anyway, science. I am/was a bacteriologist, not a virologist. I specialised in intestinal disease, pro- and prebiotics and in developing farm animal feeds mainly. Also, intestinal simulations, so I could run experiments on gut contents without animals messing it all up. So this is going to look a bit simplistic to a virologist who will have studied this in far more detail than me.

The current coronavirus is generating all kinds of conflicting reports, from ‘oh it’s just the flu’ to some serious tinfoil-hatted conspiracy theories. I read one that claimed the Spanish flu was bioengineered, some 30 years before Watson and Crick and around 70 years before DNA sequencing became a viable lab procedure. This somewhat dented the credibility of that story.

First, it is not the flu. The first round apparently has mild flu-like symptoms and will kill maybe 2% of those it infects. I have seen heartless bastards on Twitter type ‘yeah, but it’s just the elderly and the sick who die’. Will they say the same if their parents get it? Oh, and the doctor in Wuhan who died was 33 and in fine health.

The problem with this one, as compared to flu, is that it has a long incubation period where an infected person can shed the virus for around two weeks (or possibly more) without showing symptoms. Flu doesn’t do that. It also seems to have a gene or two from HIV which means it’s much more likely to infect anyone it comes in contact with.

It also appears that you don’t develop immunity, as with the common cold. You can catch it again. This means that even if someone does develop a vaccine it will be irrelevant. You simply do not develop immunity. The vaccine will achieve nothing. Or… it could make things much worse.

This one seems to do most of its killing on the second round of infection. It seems to be able to use antibody-dependent enhancement which means that the second time it infects, your immune system can’t kill it even though it’s trying to. This might or might not be the case, there is still a lot nobody really knows about this thing.

As Delphius says, it is possible that the first ‘infection’ was really normal flu or a cold, misdiagnosed. That would be understandable. The Chinese medics are overwhelmed and the authorities are dragging anyone with a temperature or a cough into the coronavirus hospitals. So, maybe they only caught the coronavirus after they arrived. The deaths could then be due to already-sick people getting stuffed in with those infected with coronavirus, and simply being overloaded with two respiratory infections at once.

So it is not flu. It has a remarkably long incubation period during which it is infectious and it is much, much easier to catch than flu. If it is true that you cannot develop immunity and that the second infection is far more serious than the first, then it really is nothing at all like flu. It’s too early to be certain on those last two points.

So, is it a bioweapon? Well it would be a really good one but only an idiot would release such a bioweapon in this age of global travel. You could get several times around the world before showing symptoms. Bioweapons are not going to stay where you put them, that should be obvious. There is a very good chance it will come back to bite you.

A bioweapon should not have a high kill rate. Your victims would simply bury or cremate the bodies and move on. A bioweapon should debilitate, while killing just enough to scare the crap out of everyone else. Loads of sick people will have exactly the effect we are seeing – medical facilities overwhelmed,infrastructure collapsing, travel and supply chains shut down…

The theory that it is a bioweapon comes from the HIV-like genes in it. Could that have been made in a lab? Oh hell yes. Building a strand of viral DNA or RNA is no problem. There isn’t much of it and we have machines that can do it overnight. It has in fact been done – poliovirus has been created in a lab. But that doesn’t mean someone made it, only that they could.

The other option – could it arise naturally? Viruses do not mate within their own species, much less with other species. They only reproduce within a host cell. They change due to mutations and errors in copying their genetic code and in assembling new viruses.

When a virus infects, it dumps its genetic code into the cell. That code, DNA or RNA, then uses the cell’s own mechanisms to read its genes and assemble new viruses. It’s like someone getting into a factory with a set of blueprints and making their own stuff using the factory’s tools.

The thing is, they are idiots. They have the blueprints to make new copies of themselves but the mechanisms they are using are not set up to make viruses. Oh each cell might make hundreds of viruses, in an infection there might be billions of new viruses produced but a lot of them will be wrong.

In the case of this Coronavirus it will create protein coats and stuff RNA into them. Some of them will be missing genes and won’t be viable. Some protein coats won’t have any RNA in them. Some will be filled with RNA from the host cell. Some will have a mix of virus and host RNA. These will attach to other cells and inject whatever they have inside, which will do… nothing, usually. This happens with all viruses. They make loads of copies in each cell but a good proportion of those copies are failures. Doesn’t matter, as long as they make enough good ones.

This has actually been considered as a treatment for some genetic ailments, such as cystic fibrosis. Create viruses containing the host’s missing gene and hope the cells take it up. I haven’t heard any more on that for years so I don’t know whether it progressed.

Right, so how does it get HIV genes?

HIV is a retrovirus. It contains RNA, but on entering a host cell it uses an enzyme that’s only found in retroviruses, called reverse transcriptase, to turn its RNA into DNA.

I should digress a little here… Living cells above viruses store their genetic information in DNA. The proteins it codes for are made on little machines called ribosomes. The cell has to get copies of the blueprints (DNA) to the machines (ribosomes) without using up its only original copy, and if it wants to make a lot of one particular protein it will need more than one copy anyway. This involves an enzyme called transcriptase which makes RNA copies of the DNA blueprint. The ribosomes use the copies, not the original, to make proteins. There’s a lot more to it but I’m retired from lecturing 😉

So, HIV gets its RNA in, turns it into DNA and now it has a master copy to make multiple RNA copies for the ribosomes.

But wait – HIV has another trick. Once it’s turned into DNA it can get into the host DNA and hide there. It can then send out a few copies as RNA to make just a few viruses at a time. The host doesn’t get sick, doesn’t even know it’s there, possibly for many years.

Now, if a coronavirus infects a cell that’s already infected with HIV, and the HIV is currently making a few copies to send out into the world, it is possible that a few of the protein coats contain full coronavirus RNA plus a few genes from the HIV RNA. Most of them will contain genes that don’t help but a few might contain the genes that give it a new site of attachment to the host cell.

Attachment is coded into the protein coat, how it sticks to cells depends on the proteins on its surface. If it picks up the right HIV genes, its next infection will produce protein coats with the HIV attachment sites built in.

It really doesn’t need more than one per billion to get this new virus going. Out of the billions sneezed out, only one single enhanced virus needs to get into a new host and the new host will sneeze out billions of the new virus. It has an advantage over its ‘parent’ in that it is now better at attaching to host cells.

Yes. It could have arisen naturally. Mutation and development of any creature is simply a numbers game and viruses produce numbers that will make an astrophysicist’s head hurt.

That just leaves the long incubation period.

The classic school-level teaching of viruses is very basic. Virus gets in, makes loads of copies of itself, bursts the host cell and infects other cells. Many viruses do this.

Not all. Some viruses ‘bud off’ their copies from the host cell so the host cell stays alive longer and therefore makes more copies of the virus before it dies. A HIV virus hiding in the host DNA will do this for years, and we already know the new coronavirus has acquired some HIV genes.

So – and this is pure theory – suppose it’s budding off viruses but not killing cells for a few weeks before it goes – ahem – viral. You don’t get sick yet. It doesn’t have all of HIV’s genes, so it can’t do this for years, only weeks. It has the gene that makes it a more efficient infector and maybe a gene or two for the slow release mechanism. That could have been engineered without much difficulty using modern equipment but it could also have arisen by pure chance.

If the chance of it arising is one in a hundred billion… that’s one infected HIV patient. Just one.

It’s not flu. This is far more dangerous.

The biggest problem is governments. Governments are fixated on money and viruses don’t care about money. Governments have no idea at all how to control a new virus, they only know about ‘the economy’. I am not talking about any particular government. I’m talking about all of them.

There is much wailing and gnashing of wallets over stock markets plummeting. The virus does not care. You can’t bribe this thing any more than you can bribe the climate. Oh they’ll try throwing money at it. It will achieve nothing at all.

If it has a reinfection level like the common cold then vaccines will not work. If second infection is really worse than first infection then vaccines will kill you. The vaccine counts as the first infection.

Nobody cares as long as they make money.

I wonder what they think they’ll spend it on?

Ninja Mouse

So, Boris has achieved sort-of Brexit. It’s a good start but now he has to negotiate a trade deal with the EU. The EU don’t want a trade deal, they want a total surrender. If Boris has any sense at all he’ll say ‘Okay, we’re off, let us know when you want to talk about an actual sensible deal’. and that would mean almost all EU countries giving the EU parliament some serious grief.

Is he that sensible? Well, he wants to press on with a single train line that will cost more than I.K. Brunel’s total budget for the Great Western Railway in real terms. He wants to build a 20-mile bridge between Ireland and Scotland and at the same time wants to ban us plebs from having cars. So what’s the bridge for, eh? A UK version of PyongYang’s grand hotel?

Oh yes, it’ll be a ban on car ownership. I couldn’t possibly afford an electric car that can get up the farm road here. Second hand? Forget it, the batteries will be worn out. In 15 years, all new UK cars will be electric. The price of fuel for the old cars will make Warren Buffet wince so they’ll be off the road too. The thing is, to replace every car in the UK with an electric one requires more cobalt for the batteries than exists on the planet. And that’s just for the UK. The rest of the world will have to stick with gas guzzlers which makes Boris’s virtue signal utterly pointless.

He also wants to get rid of gas central heating and replace all of that with electric too. And install 5G and smart this and that which will be always on, powered by part-time electricity from windmills and solar panels.

The powergrid takes a surge in the advertising break in Coronation Street. With all the stuff he wants to power with almost no reliable electricity, nobody is ever going to see the second half of any episode. We’ll be singing dirges by candlelight and partying like it’s 1599. We can keep warm around the fires burning the climate heretics.

Well I can use a bow, a scythe, brace and bit (remember those?), chisels, hand saws, and more non-powered things. I’d be fine.

Anyway I have much more important matters at hand. In the kitchen lives Ninja Mouse. This little bastard has ignored traps baited with commercial bait, dog dry food (he’s been stealing that), Nutella or peanut butter. He has twice escaped the dog who has quite a scorecard where mice are concerned. Especially since we started paying her in bacon and/or ham for every mouse caught. I have put down poison blocks, he is currently munching his way through the third one. The little swine is indestructible.

I have considered sitting in the kitchen all night with a swivel chair and a crossbow. Or maybe a borrowed shotgun.

I have resorted to the dog water bowl. It has caught three so far, in the living room. Dog has long hairy ears so the bowl is deep and narrow. Her ears fall on either side of it and don’t get wet. If a mouse gets in it can’t get out and drowns. We can’t give the bowl back to the dog anyway without disinfecting it so for now, it is (hopefully) going to be Ninja Mouse’s nemesis.

Every scrap of food is in plastic or metal containers. The only thing for the mouse to eat is the poison blocks. He’s thriving on them,

It’s going to come down to a sleepless night with the crossbow, I just know it. Then a day of filling holes.

Panoptica Chapter 10

Well, it seems Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard from Star Trek) has declared that the next series of Star Trek will cover both Brexit and Donnie the Trump.

That’s going to send it into the same ratings tailspin as the nonsensical politically correct lecturing of the latest Dr. Who. Another programme I used to like, gone. No point having a TV these days. There’s nothing left worth watching.

Star Trek is set so far in the future that both Brexit and Trump would just be footnotes in history books. Furthermore, at the time of Star Trek, there is one world government on Earth and even that is superseded by the Federation of Planets. Nobody in that fictional world is going to give the tiniest spatter of shit about past presidents of a country that used to exist, nor the separation of a country that used to be part of the EU but is now, like every other country on a whole load of planets, subsumed into the Galactic Union.

Bringing modern politics into that far-future fiction will kill it stone dead. I’ll re-watch the Kirk years on DVD, I think. I was so desperately disappointed in the political crap they injected into Dr. Who, I am not even going to try watching the new Star Trek.

Still, there’s always Panoptica. That’s only a generation or three into the future. And no, I am not going to add in Trump or Brexit or the EU because they are all dead by the time 10538’s story happens, and nobody in that world is taught any more than they absolutely need to know. A part of the story that is already here, for many people.

So, 10538 already has doubts about what he’s seen on TV. Let’s give him a bit more reality to consider…

Panoptica : Chapter 10

Click-clack. Click-clack. The train made an odd noise that cut through 10538’s muddled thoughts. Retirement. Pensionville. 11712. The cold grey warm colourful room with no windows and windows and hard seat, soft seat, the bus… 71556. Why was that unit’s designation drifting in the mess in his head? They could never have met.

Click-clack. Click-clack. The train shifted to one side. 10538 grabbed his seat on either side, his eyes wide.

71556 turned to face 10538. “Something wrong?”

“That noise. The clacking. And it felt like it was going to fall over.”10538 swallowed. “Is something wrong with this machine?”

“You’ve never been on a train before, have you?” 71556 stared at the window again. “It’s perfectly okay. Safe, at least until we get to the end of the line.”

“Pensionville? You’re going for retirement too?” 10538 blinked rapidly. Something in his head had linked 71556 and retirement but it tried to tell him that was in the past. It made no sense. He pushed the thought away.

“You could call it that, I suppose.” 71556 sighed. “It’s the end of the line, that’s for sure. You won’t know what’s coming, of course. Just as you never connected what you saw outside the train with what you’ve seen from inside it.”

Puzzled, 10538 stared at the window. The city limits passed, the red flashing lights warning of crossing into the deserted lands ran into the distance, along the tops of the fence they had just passed through. He shivered. He knew Pensionville was a long way off, of course, but it had not occurred to him they would have to cross the ravaged lands to get there. He hoped it wouldn’t be too long before the train crossed another, similar fence and returned to civilization.

What had 71556 meant about him not connecting outside and inside? He had seen the platform pull away, and now seen the edge of his city as the train passed it. What could be different outside? The sevens were scientists, he knew that. Although a seven-one was not a high-ranking scientist, they would still be able to understand things that a one-zero could never hope to grasp. 10538 shook himself. Such matters were above his rank and he had enough confusion in his head already. No sense adding to it.

Outside, the world was a bleak and horrible place. Twisted stumps of trees, smouldering grasses, decaying animals. Just as the TV had shown him. The sun beat down through a red haze, the flames on its surface licking at the sky. He had seen this on TV many times, but faced with its reality he found it hard to bear.

10538 stared at his hands. He saw faint red bands around his wrists and wondered where they had come from. His brain tried to tell him but could not, as if some ethereal hand covered his brain’s mouth. They told him this would all pass in Pensionville but how long would it take? How long before he felt normal again? How long before the thoughts in his mind could connect rather than bounce around aimlessly?

He stared at the window but found no comfort in the twisted stumps and decaying animals. He glanced at 71556 and wondered why his mind pushed and pushed at that designation as if trying to warn him of something. The train. The bus. Running. Movement. Trapped. Noise. Silence. Windowless windows. Inside and outside. Something was trying to get through but something else swatted it all aside. Click-clack. Click-clack.

Perhaps if he talked, perhaps the sound of his voice would silence the roar of his thoughts.

“I guess you took retirement too. Isn’t it great? We get to do whatever we want for the rest of your lives. Although…” 10538 licked his lips, “I’m not really sure what I want to do. My job was pretty much everything. I guess yours was too.”

71556 leaned back on his seat and closed his eyes. 10538 tried to ignore the obvious snub.

“I’ve been granted early retirement. I’m going to Pensionville. No more work for me. It’s all because I can read barcodes, well it wasn’t hard, I’ve been a camera watcher for so long now, I started to recognise the patterns and how they fit with the numbers. I have a special talent. So I get early retirement.” 10538 bit his lip. It was clear 71556 was ignoring him. One more try.

“I can read your code. You’re 71556. So you’re important. I can understand why you don’t want to bother with me.” 10538 lowered his head. It seemed he was not going to make a new friend today.

71556 opened one eye, then the other. “I can’t read barcodes. Who are you?”

Elated at getting a response, 10538 grinned. “I’m 10538. I’m amazed that a Seven-One can’t do what I do. So did you get retirement too?”

“Same as you.” 71556 turned his face to the window.

10538 followed his gaze. “It’s awful out there, isn’t it? Global warming has destroyed the planet.”

71556 snorted, then pointed at the scenery. “See that tree? The scorched one, twisted over? Look hard at it.”

“I see it.” 10538 shook his head. “What about it?”

“We’ve passed it many times on this trip already.” 71556 half-smiled. “You’ll see it again in three minutes.”

“Oh come on.” 10538 leaned back in his seat. “You think we’re just going in circles?”

“Wait three minutes,” 71556 stared at the window. “Also take note of that pattern of five blackened stumps.” A minute later: “See the way that decayed badger lies? Remember it.” Then: “The smoke from that smouldering grass. Remember the shape it makes.”

The twisted tree came into view. 10538 blinked. It couldn’t be the same one. Five blackened stumps. The badger. The shape of the smoke from the smouldering grass.

10538 sniffed. “Coincidence.”

“Keep watching.” 71556 waved him back to the window.

The twisted tree. The five stumps. The badger. The shape in the smoke.

10538 slumped in his seat. “We are going in circles.”

“No.” 71556’s voice was gentle. “Those are not windows. They are screens, like the ones on your buses and trams. They show you what you are supposed to see, not what’s really out there.”

“So what’s really out there? Something worse?” The chaos in 10538’s head intensified. Tears of confusion and terror welled in his eyes.

“Something better.” 71556 inhaled sharply as the train wheels squealed and their movement slowed. “Something I might not see again, and something you’ll probably never see. I think we’ve arrived at the end of the line.”

“I don’t see a platform and we haven’t passed an environment fence.” 10538 looked at the window. “We’re still in the ruined lands.”

“I told you, those are screens.” 71556 rolled his eyes. “Nothing to do with what’s out there. End of the line. It’s time to say goodbye.”

“Goodbye? Aren’t you going to the same place as me?”

“Yes. And that’s why—” 71556 froze, eyes wide, as the door opened.

“Are we there? Is this retirement?” 10538 pulled his onesie tighter at the neck. “They didn’t say it would be cold.” All he saw was white outside and little white flakes drifting in through the door.

A voice shouted from the white void beyond the door. Mary. Run. This won’t work for very long.

“That’s Terry.” 71556 stood and grabbed 10538’s onesie at the chest. “You want to live? Come on, this is your only chance.”

“But… Retirement.” 10538’s mind filled with contradictions. The warm place. The cold place. Noise. Silence. Did he retire twice? 11712. The one-way window. The twisted tree. The badger. Red marks on his wrists. The ghost. The ghost!

“There is no bloody retirement. You are an anomaly. You showed initiative and you learned to do something beyond your station. They will take you apart, analyse you, and whatever’s left will go into the power station furnace. If you’re lucky you’ll be dead by then.” 71556 pulled 10538 to his feet. “You want to see past those screens you call windows? Come on then, let’s go look.”

“It’s all burned out there. Nobody can live there.” 10538 struggled but 71556 pulled him towards the open door. “It’s all blackened and dead and…” They reached the door.

Green shoots through a white landscape. People, living people, not wearing barcodes. The sun, a gentle yellow orb with no flames. The sky, blue not red and with white patches moving over it. No blackened stumps. No smouldering grass. No badger.

It was impossible to deny this. It was impossible to correlate it with what he had been shown his whole life. Impossible to make it conform. Impossible to adjust this sight to reality. He could not achieve CCC no matter how he tried.

His mind overloaded with contradiction, 10538 passed out.

Will Big Ben Bong for Brexit?

Who the hell cares?

Okay, it’s a momentous occasion – if it happens. There’s still time for a stitch-up. Sure, have a party in Parliament square, I’m north of Aberdeen and have never liked London so I won’t be there. But then nobody will notice my absence anyway and they might even have a good time.

I don’t mind at all if there is a vuvula chorus, dancing llamas and a Pin the Lie on the Politician competition. I’d quite like to see the long promised Bonfire of the Quangos – I believe that was the Cleggeron Coagulation’s promise, many years ago. I doubt it will ever happen.

Apparently it will cost half a million beer vouchers to make Big Ben bong. I’d bash it with a hammer for half that price and a month’s supply of whisky. There is much mumbling about how half a million quid could be better spent and I’m sure they are all quite correct, but Big Ben is undergoing maintenance. If it costs half a million to get it bonging in the next three weeks, it’ll still cost half a million to get it bonging in the next three months. The money is irrelevant.

Nigel Farage has said that the UK will be a laughing stock if Big Ben doesn’t bong to mark our departure from the EU. I don’t, personally, give a shit if it bongs or not. Neither does the rest of the world.

What I am waiting to see, and what, I suspect, most of the world is waiting to see, is one thing and one thing only.

Does the UK finally have a government that is going to do what it said it would do?

If it doesn’t, then the UK will be a laughing stock, bongs or no bongs.