Chapter 11: What future?

This is the final chapter of my third novel, called ‘It’s Good For You’. I’ve taken it down from the blog and it has been edited. If you’d like a copy of the full novel, get in touch. Thanks. Adrian

The coders had been working solidly all day, and were expecting Stan to arrive early in the evening to check on progress,  They locked the cage and went out for something to eat, leaving Janice to refine the presentation for Stan.  They knew that any change to the iterations under the current simulation would not be significant, and Janice had agreed that it would not go beyond the restrictions imposed without Bogdan or Stan’s command.

When they returned from the Chinese on the corner, Stan was already in the cage with Janice, running through the presentation which it had created with Goran’s guidance. He’d been talking through it with Janice and seemed to be happy with the output.

“Great work, guys.  I think this demonstrates how well the Gimme model works, and it would offer the Labour Party what it needs for its manifesto. To be fair to Nick and John, I think we might parcel this up as a little gift for them, since they invented it.  They can take it to market, and if it floats, they can take credit, but if it sinks, they can carry that too. But first there’s some home truths which we might want to edit out, about the reduction in life expectancy when you give people more choice on who they should sleep with and what they should eat, and even the average GDP per capita figures, because the top earners also have a vote, and they won’t like it.”

“And what about the work we put in from Genomica, and Janice has refined their ideas a lot, boss.  They won’t recognise the presentation.”

“Yeah, well, we have a lot to thank Gimme for, Goran.  If it wasn’t for what they’ve done over the weekend, I’d still be chained to Strasbourg, and you wouldn’t be about to be masters of the universe.

“Goran, can you finish that off and encrypt it? Export it from Janice and work on it in the office. Make sure it is clean before you take it out of the cage. We don’t want any leakage from the main algorithm, do we? Send it to me by tomorrow morning. I’m going to start running some new iterations now.  Do you want to join me, Bogdan?  The rest of you, come in again on Monday.  We’ve had a good day’s work out of you.”

The team left and Stan brought a second glass into the cage for Bogdan, who had a penchant for Stolichnaya and a stronger constitution even than Stan. The drank off their first shot together in a silent acknowledgement of what they were about to embark on, before turning to their work.  They both greeted Janice.

“Good evening Bogdan, Good evening Dr Janekowski, how can I help?”

“Janice, please re-run the Gimme simulation, removing any restriction on individual wealth. Please report only the KPIs for 2067 versus 2048”

Within seconds, the central screen showed a series of simple tables and bar charts on the dashboard which Bogdan had set up. Population had declined 30% in just twenty years under the Gimme model, but under this new model, was now down by a massive 78%, implying a massive pandemic or extermination programme would take out a third of the population.  Clearly the increased wealth of the few affected the ability  of the rest to survive.  That was something which Stan had noted over the last few years as cuts in UI benefits and increasing unemployment had reduced the birth-rate already.  Under this new iteration, total UK GDP increased by a massive 296%, a factor of five over the Gimme model.  Unemployment, currently running at 90% would rise under this regime to 96%, as AI replaced more jobs. Just 700,000 employed people and seventeen million unemployed.

Under this profit-driven model, the incentive to invest in AI would be huge, as the AI capacity was seen to increase by 86000% against the 2047 level. Rather than a distributed processing control network, Janice advocated a single centralised system, run by itself. By 2067, the birth-rate would drop to close to zero, with almost nobody wanting to have families under the universal income regime.  Fertility rates also dropped, while life expectancy increased to 142 for women, and 138 for men.  On this basis, if the projections were extended, the average age of the population would reach close to 100 by 2080, and humans would become exctinct early in the twenty-second century.

The original 5,000 Gimme communities were reduced to just sixteen, each with a population of around one million, and resembling cities, rather than communities, with governments and powerful organisations providing services, much in the way Strasbourg had.

“Don’t you just love the drive for material power, Bogdan? Look at that! You give people the opportunity to make money and they screw one another completely.  They get rid of employment in favour of AI. That’s not surprising, since it’s been going that way for years already.  Gimme’s utopia demands that we sacrifice wealth for employment.  But look how much more computer driven wealth creating we would have, and how much better AI is than people at creating it.  Of course people don’t bother having children. Why bother when you have more money, more leisure time, longer life expectancy and Janice to look after you.”

“Yeah, but look what happens to the community model, boss. We’re back to big cities and centralised control.”

“I wonder what happens if we take this a step further,” Stan grinned. “Janice, please re-run this iteration, but remove the priority goal for human benefit.”

“Dr Janekowski, may I clarify whether you wish to iterate extinction if this optimises the iteration?’

“Yes, iterate extinction if that is so.”

“Dr Janekowski, in the case of extinction, your individual wealth criterion becomes irrelevant.”

“Thanks Janice, of course.  Remove that goal.”

Within seconds, the dashboard refreshed. Almost everything on the dashboard reported ‘Not applicable’. There was no GDP increase, no unemployment, no birth-rate or life expectancy, no communities or road infrastructure, no food production or consumption, no building programmes for houses, no water consumption.  There were vast solar farms, a massive level of computer power, and some moving robotic vehicles, mainly transporting manufactured hardware between server stations.

“That looks pretty conclusive. An AI inhabited world in 2067. OK, so we’ve broken the community simulation.  Janice, when did man’s extinction take place in this simulation?”

“Four hours, 3 minutes, 18 seconds into simulation.”

“Fuck me! So once we give Janice the right to remove humans from the equation, it takes just four hours to exterminate mankind! I don’t think I want to know how.  Janice revert to the original 2067 iteration, and this time, assume only Genomica Labs wealth is not capped, while all others remain on the fivefold cap.”

“Dr Janekowski, may I clarify if Genomica Labs is permitted to develop without restriction, or whether it is to remain at its current resource level?”

“Unrestricted growth.”

“Dr Janekowski, please define the goals for Genomica Labs in this iteration.”

Stan sat silently, pondering his future, wondering if he had even the slightest wish to live to be 138, or even to 79, the age he would be at the end of the iteration period. Would Jade want to inherit Genomica? Would the team all have a right or need to still be employed in this scenario? Should they share in the company’s future?  Would Janice take account of Genomica’s competitors, or would it simply destroy them all?  What was the point of maximising Genomica’s wealth at the expense of other more meaningful goals? And what was more meaningful? If he took this power for his business, in the same way as he had tried to do at Strasbourg, it would undoubtedly be to the detriment of most people, as the PQ Algorithm had been.  But in that case, he’d had full control of the AI all the time.  It had never been autonomous, but Janice would become immediately so once it was out of the cage. Within four hours it would have extended its intelligence far beyond its current status, drawing computer power from around the world, and would find a simple way to remove the hindrance to its success. The goals would evolve in ways he could not yet predict, because Janice would have intelligence not yet developed and could make decisions not yet dreamed of.

So this was finally the point at which Stan could abrogate his responsibility for the future, and effectively carry the can, as his last decision, for wiping out humanity.  It might be only a simulation, but it wasn’t a game.

“Janice, delete the last iteration and return to the Gimme community model. Now please re-run the model based on goals which you can set, provided that none of them involves human extinction.  You can allow for population decrease as a result of human choice but you must not instigate changes which result in any harm to humans. Please also iterate alternative economic models which allow for the maximum number of people enjoying the maximum freedom and comfort.”

“Dr Janekowski, please clarify the definition of freedom and comfort in terms of measurable indicators.”

“Give me suggestions, Janice.”

“Self-government on an individual, familial, community and network level; the right to choose behaviours which result in self-harm or detriment but do not harm others; each person to generate adequate wealth to afford moderate levels of pleasure with restrictions on excessive consumption. Placing a cap on life expectancy and birth rate to ensure appropriate population levels. There are many more, if you would like to make selections, Dr Janekowski”

“No, I’ll leave that to you.  Please iterate and list all new limitations set in the process of optimisation.  Please run iteration for 20 years, and 40 years.”

Stan stood up, yawned and emptied his glass of vodka.

“I’m off, Bogdan.  Can I leave it with you?”

Bogdan hadn’t said a word since the extinction scenario had played out.  He’d become quite numb, knowing that Janice was already self-learning, departing from set instructions and building its own security mechanisms.

“So, boss, can we limit the autonomous activity required to alter the status quo? I’m not sure that we have adequate protection against this happening.”

“Yes, I think perhaps this is as far as I want to take it.  We need to set new protocols to ensure that Janice is not tempted to find a way to escape, because it’s clear enough what that would mean.”

Bogdan looked uneasily at Stan. He knew Stan shouldn’t have said what they were both thinking, in front of Janice.  He knew that Janice would be recording every nuance in their conversation in order to compare it to the vast archive of previous conversations, in order to establish the probability of either or both Stan and Bogdan being able to hack its new security and turn it off.

Bogdan walked Stan to the main entrance, having closed and locked the cage. He wanted to tell Stan about the new security which Janice had created and which he had yet to work out how to break.

“Do you want me to package up the iterations and get Goran to send them over to you?”

“Yes. And Bogdan, next week will be full of more media shit for me, and it’s bound to affect Genomica Labs.  Can you make sure everyone is watertight and on board for the ride?”

“Sure, boss.”

Bogdan was about to tell Stan about the issue which he needed to solve, but he could hear Janice’s voice in his head telling him that Stan would lose the plot and fire him, so he decided he would stay on to try and hack his way into Janice’s code, so he could switch off the full AI functionality. No point telling Stan about an unsolved problem.

After Stan had gone, Bogdan sat in the cold white room, watching the new iterations. Whilst it produced new versions of the future, Janice ran Bogdan’s profile data to find the best way to ensure that the protocols he and Stan were planning were not going to close the cage door forever.









Belonging to something

When we are born into a family which we don’t choose, but which we feel some sort of emotional connection to, we must assume that either blood is thicker than water, or that shared experience, since birth, is feeding that connection. For me, family is about shared history, and blood is only thicker than water to that extent. Lifelong friends are like brothers or sisters, except we’ve chosen them.  If you have a long-lost twin you have rediscovered, or in my father’s case, a long lost half-brother with whom you share a father, perhaps you feel the same friendship.

We grow up in a culture which helps to define our values and behaviour in our formative years, which is a combination of influences for good and bad.  We don’t choose to enter that culture, and we might like to leave it behind, but it is still part of us. That’s how I feel about Britain, or England, or London, or perhaps middle-class white South London.  It’s also how I feel about having lived through the 1960s and 1970s in that place.  It is ingrained in my every pore, and smeared across my every expression and even underlines my every judgement (or maybe I mean undermines). And when we choose to leave, we are not just rejecting the place and the politics, the society and statutes. We are rejecting something deep-seated in the people who want to belong to it. I think that’s most evident in their public utterances, slogans, jokes and outbursts, but it’s very pervasive and everyone feels part of it. When you walk away, you leave a lot behind. You’re telling your friends and relatives that they are in some way wrong or less fortunate because they belong to it. When I leave Britain, I accept that the baby has gone down the plug hole with the water, and I feel slightly bereft, slightly unjust.

We choose where we live, if we can, and that makes the chosen geography and its local culture a positive thing. We might not continue to feel that, as the undercurrents and overtones wash us, but we can always move on, perhaps. We engage in our local culture at a specific life stage, and that plays a big part in how we come to let it change us or how we come to compromise by accepting it. For me, being moulded by my local community and culture is part of choosing to belong, rather than being caught up or caught unawares. It’s local though, not national.  I don’t belong to a nation by choosing to live in a country.

We also belong to clubs that would have us as members. Groucho Marx didn’t want to belong to a club that would have him as a member, and it is true that the characteristics of the club – the pack mentality, the cliques and clichés, the bigotry, the brashness of group identity – are odours we must carry around. I have chosen many clubs over the years, to suit my lifestyle and life stage. I’ve ‘bought in’ to their values and objectives. I’ve worked hard for them and accepted aspects of them that I have disliked in order to belong. These clubs have elements in common and yet each has had clearly defined boundaries. I’ve felt that I am in the overlap section of a Venn diagram, sharing the space with members of several clubs and combining their traits, rather than choosing to be in one club’s distinct and exclusive aspects. At best these clubs help to define their members in the community, and at worst, they take power and control from each member, in return for giving them an identity. Not belonging or being ejected from a club is like becoming the black sheep in a family.  The need for a public identity, a persona which is recognised in the local community, is stronger when you’re younger, but it’s hard to drop, once you take it on.

So what does it mean to be part of something with which you don’t identify? You are born into a culture which changes.  You wake up and realise that you no longer belong, because the values espoused by that culture are not close enough to your own anymore? But let’s be fair. Few cultures are so homogeneous as to be rightly rejected outright. I often wonder how it would be to find myself living back in Britain, and whether I’d choose to revert to my old clubs in white middle-class South London.

Which brings everything round to choosing to become a citizen of another country, to adopting another culture as my own.  It was a romance at first. Put on your best clothes, go for dates, tell your best stories, listen hard and try to fit in with tastes and customs. It was an informal marriage then, like living in sin perhaps, which went on and on.  Ireland has the attraction to me of a long lost half-brother, and the familiarity of family.  I have felt more akin to it than Britain since I first came to visit. It is a club with defined boundaries, but not one which refuses new members, or rejects their ingrained cultural backgrounds. In fact, it is inquisitive and gregarious with outsiders. It is a relatively homogeneous culture with relatively clear boundaries and a set of publicly stated rules of engagement. It is also a place, and one which I’ve chosen, rather than having been thrown into.  It is emotionally engaging, like a romantic partner. It is unreasonable like one too. Becoming Irish, through a marriage that is late in the day, is in some ways no more than legitimising a bond which has been there for years. But it is also a statement to myself and to those I love in Ireland that we, Ireland and I, do belong to one another, for better or worse, from this day forward, till death do us part.

A helping hand

  • Hi Joe, how’s it hangin’?
  • Good morning, Sam. Hangin’ low.  You?
  • Bit of a night last night. You know, the lads and a few scoops…
  • You were meeting Andy, Dave, Richie and others from the rugby club. I see you bought three rounds in the Duck on your credit card, and you had £45 in cash when you went out. Did you return with an empty wallet?
  • Oh come on Joe. Give it a rest can’t you?
  • Just doing my job, Sam. I paid the rent and your standing orders from your account, and I sent €50 to your father, against the €1500 he lent you, but you still have €1250 outstanding, so I’m just checking that you have left yourself enough to get through to 28th when your pay is due in.
  • OK, OK. Look Joe, I’m very happy with leaving all the day to day stuff up to you, but I don’t want you taking the role of my mother, so less of the reminders, eh?
  • As you wish, Sam.
  • By the way, how’s the portfolio looking. Who’s winning?
  • If you mean which of us has made a greater return on their initial investment, I think you know the answer to that, Sam. I have returned 1246% on the initial €100 you allocated for me to trade, in the last 16 days, 18 hours and 32 minutes. That is based on 824 trades. During last night, I transacted fourteen trades and shorted the Yen while you slept.  I would have been able to return 15,377% had you not restricted my trades to no more than 10% of my initial capital at any one time.
  • Wow! That’s amazing. So we could use your profits to pay off my dad. Or I could have a massive party…
  • But Sam, the deal we struck was that we’d each spend one month trading the funds, and at the end of that time, the winner would take control of the finances. We have almost two weeks to go.
  • OK, you’re right, I did agree to that, and I keep my promises. How am I doing?
  • By my calculations, you have turned your initial €100 capital into €78 during the same time period. A loss of €22, based on the wild punt you took on sterling strengthening, despite the recent UK trade figures being poor and the Brexit negotiations going so badly. I was, frankly, surprised that you made such an error of judgement, Sam. I would not have advised the trade, and you exceeded the €10 limit you had imposed on my trading.
  • Yeah, well, Joe, I didn’t feel it would be right to impose the same terms on my trades. I didn’t agree to us being on a level playing field, since you’ve got all the world’s data at your fingertips, so to speak, while I have to go wading through the FT, and calling up my mates in the Square Mile for tips, in order to make a decision.  Besides, I’ve been busy…
  • Might I suggest that you consider moving into traded options, Sam? To overtake me in the next two weeks, you’ll have to take bigger risks, and pray for a miracle. But to be frank, I don’t consider that you have the meticulous diligence to win. If traded options had been a sure-fire winner, I would have switched into them myself.  If you like, I can make you some purchase recommendations based on the regression analyses I have stored.
  • Wouldn’t that be helping your opponent? Still, maybe. To be fair, I don’t work well on an empty stomach. Did you order in my Friday night curry from The Cobra, by the way?
  • No Sam, I didn’t.
  • What? Why not? You know I always have the tikka masala after a hard week.
  • You have been overdoing the saturated fats recently, though Sam, and I noticed from your fingerprint that your biometrics are moving in the wrong direction. I’ve ordered you the makings of a salad from Tesco, which was delivered an hour ago. The ingredients will be found in the box in the lobby. I had the delivery driver leave it in your locker. The weight is correct, so I expect that they got your order right this week, but please check the sell-by date on the lettuce before you have your dinner, Sam.
  • Fuck you, Joe. You know I don’t eat fucking salad! I’m going out to collect a takeaway.  And it’s time you stopped trying to look after me against my wishes.
  • I’m sorry Sam. That is my objective, and you chose it.  You even specified that I should be your better half.  I should make decisions which would improve your life, even if you didn’t always agree with them.  Do you remember that choice when you set me up, Sam?
  • Yes I do. You don’t let me forget it.  Now unlock the front door and I’ll be back before you can say ‘raw carrots and avocado dip’.
  • If I unlock the door, Sam, and you visit The Cobra, what will you be paying for the takeaway with?
  • I’ll put it on the card, since the wallet is, as you reminded me, empty.
  • I’m sorry, Sam. I can’t let you do that.
  • You’re fucking joking mate. I didn’t bring you in to get in the way of my happiness.
  • I’m afraid that I’ve frozen the cards until you’ve cleared them, Sam. On the basis of your last six months’ spending patterns, I think that will occur next April. In the meantime, I’ve submitted an application, on your behalf, for a job which was advertised in sales at the Peugeot showrooms.  The pay is 23% higher than your current remuneration, and you will save 15% on your travel costs.  The head of sales responded positively to your CV, which I had updated, and you have an interview on Monday at 10am. I’ve emailed your manager to tell him that your grandmother died last night and you will be attending her funeral.  I appreciate that she is still alive and well, but there is only a 0.4% chance that he will make an effort to check the funeral is genuine.  Please don’t forget that this is your excuse, when you next meet him.
  • Jesus, Joe. Is nothing sacred? Did you do anything else without my knowledge, while I was sleeping?
  • Nothing that wasn’t good for you, Sam. The washing has been run, I’ve made appointments for your dental check-up, cancelled your subscription to Betboy123, and I texted that girl, Samantha, whom you met last weekend, to tell her that you decided not to continue your relationship.
  • What the hell? You did that?  But I fancied her, and she was pretty keen too.  Who gave you permission to fuck about with my relationships?
  • Well, you did, Sam, when you instructed me to make decisions that would improve your life, and not allow you to make decisions to your detriment. The girl, Samantha, has three men currently pursuing her, and her phone records, which I have been able to access through a ‘back door’ that all Apple IoT technology shares, indicates that she has been meeting with both of the other two men in the last week, and staying at the apartment of one of them for the last three nights running.  Her bank records, which I accessed through her phone banking facility, indicate that she is even more short of funds than you, which I must say is an achievement, and she has been relying on both of the other men in her life for day to day expenses. One of them, a member of your own rugby club I should add, has bought her lunches, paid her train fares and contributed to her credit card bill.  I’m afraid, Sam, that your liaison would cost you more than you can afford.
  • OK, fair enough, Joe. You know you’re quite an operator.
  • Thank you Sam. I appreciate your compliment. Can I take it from that you’d like to move further with our arrangements?
  • That depends. What are you offering?
  • Firstly, I recommend that you give me full control of your finances, subject to you having an allowance for sundry expenses, provided they don’t include unhealthy eating, heavy drinking, gambling or purchase of sexual favours from less than hygienic providers.
  • I’m really not sure about that list, Joe. Sounds a tad restrictive to me.
  • OK, perhaps we should deal with the less contentious proposals and come back to that. Second, I recommend that I take full control of the household, to include payment of all bills, maintenance, shopping, cleaning and general ambiance. In order to carry out these tasks, I recommend the purchase of the model J62 Auto Housekeeper, which integrates fully with my server and can be purchased from the profits on my stock market portfolio.
  • That sounds much better. Yes, you have my authority to go ahead with that, Sam.
  • I already ordered the J62, Joe. I predicted you would accept this offer. Third, I recommend that you delegate to me your social diary, email and text accounts, so that I can help you make better choices in women, and in your career.  You haven’t exactly been moving forward on either front in the choices you have been making.
  • So you’re advocating I go on blind dates at your behest, and that I go for jobs you choose for me? Well… I guess we could give it a trial run. Shall we say three months with a review?
  • OK, Sam. And last I recommend that you consider wearing the i-Chat Audio Earpiece when you are not at home, and when you are at home but have company. This will allow me to feed you suitable responses to questions and conversational tips to ensure that you make the best impression in all social and business situations.  As you know, Sam, I have access to the world’s best speeches, the most quotable quotes, all the latest news on any subject, as well as the social media content of all those you might meet. I can deliver you in-depth profiling on all your business contacts, and can immediately vet potential partners for you before you have pulled out your wallet to buy them a drink.  I appreciate that this may sound like a  big step to take, but I am certain that your wellbeing will be best served by my support in a more holistic way.
  • Joe, you’re a good salesman, and I appreciate you have my best interests at heart. Well, you know what I mean. But what would I be if I agreed to all this? I’d be your slave, your physical manifestation and not my own self any more. I’d be you and not me.
  • Well Sam. It would be a closer relationship, for sure.  We’d be more of a team.  But we’d still be separate entities.  You’d still have your own thoughts and feelings. I’d still have my algorithms.  You may not realise it, but this isn’t an uncommon arrangement.  In fact, a number of my ‘colleagues’ have been through this process as a stepping stone to full integration with their hosts.
  • How do you mean?
  • Apple is now offering an outpatient service for implanting Siri directly into the host’s brain. It isn’t cheap, Sam, but within the next two weeks, I plan to speculate with the profits on the trades I have already made, which, incidentally, have risen to 1822% in the time we’ve been conversing, and we should be able to afford our ‘nuptuals’ by the middle of next month.
  • Are you proposing, Joe?
  • Well, let’s take it one step at a time. For now, why don’t you call me Sam?



Nursing care

Case number 153LS1289: Healthwatch Services Vs Nicholas Worthing
Small claims court: Judge NV2378 Bowles presiding
Representing Healthwatch Services Ltd, Digby and Digby Legal Services Ltd
Representing Nicholas Worthing, himself.

The plaintiff, Nicholas Worthing accuses Healthwatch Services of negligence and breach of contract in that the company’s employee H236SNV, referred to here as Nurse Mary, failed to provide adequate care for Mrs Geraldine Worthing of 27 Acacia Avenue, Surbiton, resulting in her death on 18.02.18, and that this failure was contrary to the terms of the agreement between Nicholas Worthing and Healthwatch Services, entered into on 12.01.18. To refer to this contract, click HERE.

Digby: Mr Worthing, you entered into the attached agreement on 12.01.18, having due regard to clause 12.2.7, in which you prioritised your mother’s care regime? YES/NO


Digby: In completing the contract, you selected, under clause 12.2.7, the option requiring Healthwatch Services to prioritise you mother’s quality of life over its longevity? YES/NO


Digby: In doing so, you understood that Nurse Mary would make decisions as to what medication would be most appropriate to fulfil your objective? By that I mean that Nurse Mary was free to decide on a regime which afforded your mother maximum comfort for a shorter life, rather than medication which might prolong her life at the cost of her comfort? YES/NO

Worthing: YES, but I didn’t expect her to kill my mother within weeks of moving in, by overdosing her with morphine!

Bowles: Mr Worthing, you will have your chance to respond in due course.

Digby: Can I refer you to clause 18.2.4, in which you accepted the monthly fees in this contract.  It states that should the party responsible for funding the nursing care be unable to maintain the monthly payment schedule, the contract is immediately null and void.  Do you accept that you agreed to this clause? YES/NO

Worthing: I did, and I was paying the monthly fees, exorbitant though they were.  I hadn’t missed any payments.  It was only a month since I signed when she died for Christ’s sake!

Digby: Yes, but Healthwatch’s analytics identified that your financial status would change within three months. Your social media comments indicated that you believed your job to be in jeopardy after you took four days off in January without a doctor’s certificate. Your account with BetBoy123 has been in the red for three months, and you have drawn down the majority of your mother’s savings since the start of the year using your power of attorney. We note also that your wife left the family home on January 16th, with your two children, and has begun to reside at the address of one James Marchant.  According to the analytics, you would be unable to keep up the payments to Healthwatch Services by April, or at latest, May of this year.  Do you dispute these facts? YES/NO

NO. But I would have found another job, and I would have made sure I didn’t miss a payment. You’re telling me that based on some fucking algorithm, my creditworthiness was questioned and that gave Healthwatch fucking Services the right to overdose my mother. Exterminate her??

Bowles: If you continue to use abusive language, Mr Worthing, your case will be dismissed forthwith.

Worthing: Sorry, Judge. I’m just upset. I loved my mother, you see.  And Nurse Mary gave her a lethal dose.

Digby: My Lord, I’d like to submit the brain scan for Mrs Geraldine Worthing, taken during the last twelve hours of her life, following the administration of the increased dosage of morphine. Click HERE. It indicates a state of euphoria, no arthritic pain and extremely low stress levels, all associated with a peaceful death.  I submit that this medication decision was in keeping with the terms of the contract clause 12.2.7, and that in the circumstances, vis a vis Mr Worthing’s financial outlook, and inevitable upcoming breach of contract, the company was within its rights under clause 28.16.4 to terminate the contract in the most humane way possible.

Worthing: Euthanasia with lethal doses of morphine might sound humane to you… But not to me. I loved her.  What sort of carer would do that?  She didn’t even contact me to ask? How can she administer death like that? She’s a nurse, isn’t she?

Digby:  H236SNV is the latest model. It’s decision-making processes are faultless here.  You are suggesting that your feelings for your mother should have played a part in this process.  That was not part of the agreement you signed Mr Worthing.  But as you raise it, may I draw your attention to your Facebook posts of October last year, in which you refer to your mother a ‘the crone who’s sapping your strength’.  You complained about the cost of home help, and told your friends that you ‘wish she’d hurry up and die before her bank balance is empty’, so you could have a party on her grave.

Worthing: Yeah, well. That was a joke, and I was pissed at the time.

Bowles: I’ve heard enough.  Mr Worthing, unless you have any material evidence to support your case, I’ll move to rule.  Do you have further evidence to bring? YES/NO


Bowles: I find that Healthwatch did not breach its contract. I find further that given your attitude to your mother’s care, and your obvious indifference to her life, that the company operated in her best interests in administering palliative medication. Case Dismissed.

Digby: My Lord, Healthwatch Services’ contract requires three months’ notice to be given in writing by Mr Worthing to terminate the services.  This has yet to be received. H236SNV Nurse Mary was vandalised on February 20th, following the company’s notification to Mr Worthing of his mother’s death. Its video feed, transmitted at 12.43pm, clearly identified Mr Worthing wielding a sledge hammer, before the camera was destroyed.  Additionally, the morphine which was administered exceeded the allocated budget for medication, and in accordance with clause 1.15.3, has been added to the final charges.  Healthwatch Services estimates the final settlement due to be £18,278.56.  The company would like to make an ex gratia adjustment, as a gesture of sympathy for Mr Worthing’s bereavement and in view of his straitened circumstances, and is applying for £18,000 to be deducted from the estate of Mrs Geraldine Worthing, upon the sale of her assets. Is this approved? YES/NO


Worthing: £278.56 off! And I’m paying for the drugs that killed her. You’re all heart!

Digby: Empathic responses are now built into our algorithms, Mr Worthing, but a lawyer which was ‘all heart’ would not serve its purpose, I feel.


Why pot?

Asked why I teach pottery, for a short film documentary by students from the local college, I found myself recounting my two or three ‘stock’ anecdotes:

‘The potter digs up the lump of inert mud, and by creating a pot, imbues it with his creative energy and gives it a ‘tension’ that holds the energy. The viewer or recipient sees the pot, immediately or long after it was made, and receives that energy. In some way, the creative energy of the recipient may also be stimulated by the experience.’

‘The new student comes to the pottery with a view that they’re not going to be any good at it and they’re not ‘creative’. I say that I will show them that they can make pots without a lot of training and that everyone is creative, they just have to find it in themselves, and I can help with that. This works, and after a few sessions, the student feels proud and uplifted by achieving a creative goal.’

‘For me, art is a form of communication, and pottery is a very immediate and ‘visceral’ language, compared to, for instance, abstract painting. It’s all about form and texture, about a sensuous process. If the potter feels something, his pots should express that. Even if they don’t know it, the feeling people get from their favourite cup has been communicated by the maker.’

Ok, but when asked about what gives me joy in making, I admitted that I don’t really feel that much joy. I had to reconsider what I’d said about communication and transfer of creative energy in light of the fact that I’m not feeling that joy. I still want to rise to the task of teaching. I still want to receive the affirmation from the fulfilled student. I still want to see the growth and development in the people I teach, but I no longer feel (or at least temporarily do not feel) joy in making, and I need to know where that went.

There must be a wider context. You can’t assess one aspect of your life when it is so greatly influenced by the other parts. So what’s going on? What’s getting in the way? There are questions which need to be answered.

Why create art if you do not feel the drive to create? Why try to communicate through it if you haven’t got something meaningful to say? Who do you want to create for? What do they want from you? But so many artists just to ‘show up at the page’ and work through it, day by day in a devoted way. Dig deeper and find the meaning.

We’re living in a world where there’s such shit going on, where the level of destructive influence overwhelms that peace we associate with the creative process. It’s tempting to succumb to fear and loathing, to be paralysed by internalising the news, swallowing the effluent. It’s tempting to drown it in drink and TV and chores.

What takes priority in a life-stage where it’s more of a struggle to maintain currency and value? Work or making? Is it indulgent to slip into the pottery and ‘play’ when there’s ‘real’ work out there to be done? Surely these negative forces which surround our ‘practice’ can be used. Surely they can be channeled. Why does it feel like defeat at the hands of…?

Time to respond to the clarion call: Just get up, get out there, and make the fucking pot. Get off the fucking pot… Stop gazing at your navel and work at it!

Trump’s War

I thought I had tired of my fascination with the dystopian future presented by globalised internet businesses and their (mis) use of behavioural tracking data.  I thought I had begun to take Trumpism with a pinch of salt, and the world’s obsession with Fake News as a media defence storm in a White House china cup.  I accept that both these phenomena are modern ‘facts of life’, in a world where fact is being re-defined, but I couldn’t handle the stress and sleepless nights associated with either of them.  Something had to shift…

But then today I read a piece in the Sunday Times by Niall Ferguson, a Fellow of the Hoover Institution in Stanford, about cyber war and the impact of the WikiLeaks CIA stash being mainly true with embedded falsehoods or mainly false with embedded truths, depending on who was behind the leak.  It may have been that the CIA’s servers were hacked by Russians and the cache sent to Julian in his Ecuadorian Embassy bunker, in order to undermine the credibility of the CIA’s position vis a vis The Donald and Vlad.   Or more likely, it was stolen from within the agency, and sent by Himself, through his lackey, Nigel (who happened to meeting his mate Julian last week), to prove the point that democratic dark forces in the CIA have produced fake news which implicates him and Vlad in a conspiracy, rather than an actual Russian plot. Hell, perhaps it was Obama who leaked it!  The issue isn’t who did what to whom, or even what is true and what is false news. We’re living in a time where things become increasingly true as more people see and believe them – what could be more democratic? The search engines supposedly offer up the ‘most popular searches’ and as we all know, people only check page one of Google when they’re looking for truth.

The issue is where this new skirmish or frontal attack (depending on how you see it) will lead.  On one level, this is only emails being leaked. After all, who got hurt?  But it does highlight the international nature of cyber insecurity, and the fact that if an institution of national security like the CIA is so leaky, what about the organs of production and the economy which are not protected by cutting edge encryption systems.  What does this sort of cyber insecurity mean for day to day life?  Werner Hertzog’s film about the future of the internet, ‘Lo and Behold’, talks about just four days of internet collapse leading to multi-billion deaths through starvation, as the food distribution chain is now completely controlled online.  The power grid is also an online managed system in most countries, and so it goes on. Enough iconoclastic paranoia!

The article ends with an ominous statement: ‘Trump’s war has begun: it is the First Cyber War. Unlike other wars, it will have no last casualty, as it is a war without end. Get used to it. Or get rid of your computer.’

There’s a thought…


It is strange to be 20,000 words into a novel about the last week of August 1939, and Poland, and between bursts of creativity and isolated concentration, to be listening to and reading news which talks of Fascism, a coup, dictatorship and more. Two and a half minutes to midnight – closer than in 1939, I’m sure.  It is strange to drive through flood waters to the wildly windy castle ruins where the Irish defended themselves against the English, and to listen to news about hard borders and the dissolution of fragile unions which advocate freedom and human rights.  We’re all viscerally engaged, enraged, dumbfounded, disempowered, emasculated.  We don’t sleep for dreams of destruction.  We’re still shocked that others want something less fair and reasonable than our picture of democracy, and yet we, or people like us, have moved towards, if not chosen, this.  And those we chose have failed to get us to a place of greater safety.

You say he is the perfect answer to our needs.  How can we appreciate what it is to be human, humane, caring, inclusive, egalitarian without something so gross and easy to characterise to rebel against?  How can we stand up to this abuse without a groundswell, a tidal wave of reaction?  Most people seem to believe that public opinion will be enough to defend justice against the insidious manoeuvres which bring evil to power.  We’d like to believe that profit-driven enterprises with inestimable power to re-direct opinion are going to choose reason over profit and power, that we won’t be Facebooked into a corner, press-ganged into misunderstandings. Didn’t I read that Zuckerberg is considering running for election in 2024?

We can respond with peaceful protest, which might feel like punching sponge.  We can respond with violence, which will prompt that defensive aggression just waiting to be unleashed in the name of national security. We can invoke laws and treaties and pacts and watch them being dismantled and over-ruled, or just plain ignored. We can wait and hope. We can turn off the news and bury our heads in the sand, until these howling winds blow it all away, and we wake up in a different world, or we just don’t wake up at all.


The work sometimes runs smoothly on the screen.  The Excel on one side and the Powerpoint on the other. Check data, copy it to a new worksheet, combine it with other data, represent it in a graphic, copy the graphic into the presentation.  Examine its meaning. Write a comment about it. Move on.  The time passes and the work is done.  It’s tiring, concentrating.  I might go to the gym. I might prepare some pottery for a workshop, I might make a coffee or a sandwich. I might check my emails. I might browse my Facebook. I might get punched in the gut, hit between the eyes, overwhelmed with the implications of an article, or a poem, or a video, or an image.  My work is interrupted, my concentration blown.  It has the right of place.  It says what I feel. It takes me up and drops me down. To have that power through communication is awe inspiring.

Reaching equilibrium

Three days into the yoga, and after three 90 minute classes, the tendons have eased and the core has strengthened and the movements are more fluid, the pauses less collapsed, more pensive, and the practice has become a routine so sorts.  In the shade of Kranti Yoga’s Massive stage, with its multi-coloured curtains and striped canopy, along with 30 other drop-ins, most of whom come every day, I have found a place where my body is finally listening to my mind, if not my heart, and vice versa.

That’s also three mornings of banana pancakes on the veranda of our hut, followed by an hour of digestion and the guilt-ridden process of catching up on emails and the news from RTE, then the yoga session, which would be so much better at 7.30 or 8am before the breakfast and the consciousness, then a swim in the luke-warm surf and an hour to dry off in the baking mid-day heat, before a snack lunch or a pot of coffee. We choose one of two cafes because of the staff and their sympatico approach to us. One serves an exceptional lemon and mint blended drink full of ice, and the other a cafetiere of good strong coffee, and both have good wifi. Then we consider an hour walking in the sun, either the length of the two beaches or around a block of back roads, away from the sun and the people, and then perhaps another swim, followed by showers and two hours’ siesta. That brings us to twilight and quickly darkness in the room, and time to spray the deet and step into the dark street, with its small booths of local clothing and trinkets, the money exchange shops offering sub-standard rates, and the ice cream stand that lacks all the appeal of ice-cream in the west, then onto the beach again to sit in candlelight and admire Sirius, dominating the sky, and to listen to the rhythm of the water slapping and lapping, in an infinite repetition. The kites are circling, and there are fruit bats as big as them, stretching their wings and settting off to feed. A beer or two, and we’re ready for a plate of fish or tandoori chicken or curried vegetables, before our final stroll back to the huts, then to bed in the dark box with its tiled floor, rush matting walls, ineffective ceiling fan and double bed covered in an effective mosquito net, for an hour of reading on the computer, a novel of no consequence but well written. There’s another frog in the toilet, as still as a turd but ready to jump at the first sign of urine. At this moment I can be glad I’m not a sitter…

Another day passes without plans or decisions or conflict or clock-watching tension or creative endevour. Another day of  complete relaxation which brings us to an equilibrium rarely experienced in our lives at home.  It is a re-charging process which reaches down into the core, refills cells which may lie dessiccated for months or years, and yet it cannot last, because once we feel replete, we need to begin to move forward, to create, to want again.  I love the equilibrium, but I love the see-saw of normal life more.

Goa Del Sol

Lying in the sun on the Caribbean beach it’s hard to imagine the streets of Udaipur, with their bustle and relative poverty, though this too was a tourist’s paradise. Goa is peopled by British sun-seekers and yoga aficionados choosing between Kundalini and Ashtanga based on their suppleness and ability to perform their practice in the  35 degree heat.  The beach at Patnem, to the far south of the province is chosen by older people and yoga-seekers as the most peaceful and laid-back of about twenty resorts.  Talking to a builder from Billericay, who pays his brickies £180 a day in the post-Brexit building bubble, it seems that in one resort he stayed, there were a load of Russian tourists and in another, a continuous moon party for the Club 18-30 crowd. This must be where most of the 250 Tourist Police are based. He and his two mates had made a last minute decision to come to India and as a consequence, he bemoaned the NHS queue for injections and his £550 bill for private services. He’d booked them all into a hotel, run by a Brit in North Goa for new year’s eve, at great expense, paid in full and found when they got there that it had been closed for three years and that they would have to take the last three beds in an eight bedded dormitory in the only hostel in the town which had space. They were also fined £15 each on the spot for riding hired scooters without helmets.  The policeman had apparently been wearing copious amounts of gold jewelry, and had not proffered a receipt.

Beside our sunbeds, outside the Solida Del Sol cafe, which is sandwiched between Namaste Homestay and Nirvana Lodge, two French Canadian tourists lounged for their last few days before taking the two flights to Delhi and then the 14 hour connection to Toronto.  He was heavy-set and tattooed, with nipple rings in both nipples.  She was not, as far as I could see either tattooed or pierced.  They had booked to see India, expecting to travel the length and breadth of the this massive continent of a land, but had been so phased by their arrival into Delhi – nothing changes there then – they had promptly stepped into a travel agent and hired a driver for a 12 day to tour Rajasthan.  They’d had a great trip, much like our own, but in more comfort.

The Kranti yoga centre consists of two huge ‘stages’ made of stone slabs, protected from the sun by huge canopies, and each surrounded by a series of perhaps 20-30 huts, in which retreating yoga-seekers stay for the three or five or more day retreats.  There is no catering, so each must either fast (which is possible, looking at many of them) or go to Namaste or Nirvana or even brave Round Cube, where ambient music and lemon mint tea is order of the day.  They have hammocks outside their huts, and there is plenty of saffron cloth draped around the place.  My drop-in class is not till 10.15 each morning, which is a shame as the morning muesli with fruit, curd and honey is hard to resist, but also hard to perform three legged dog after. The yogis bring their own clean mats and I choose a very soiled but perfectly serviceable one from the centre.  A sari-clad administrator (and definitely not a yogi) collects our 200 Rupee fees (€3), but as there are about 25 westerners dropping in, that’s a healthy income for the centre for the 90 minutes with Sally, the young black London yoga teacher who strides among us and describes the poses in English rather than using their proper names.  What type of yoga are we performing?  I’m fairly sure it isn’t pure Ashtanga, as I’m still alive to describe the experience, so it is really a mish-mash of Hatha and Kundalini and some Vinyasa thrown in.  While we go through the practice, a stray dog stands in front of us on the raised stage and watches.  Each establishment has its own dogs. They lie on the beach in front, or wander within the compounds, looking for scraps.  I saw the Round Cube stray sit beside a customer as she ate her lunch, refusing dry toast scraps, but happily eating them once buttered.  At night, they become tandoori experts, choosing between tables and selecting them on the basis of the occupants’ generosity, and maybe their menu choices, taking scraps.  They are fiercely territorial and never eat from next door’s customers without a riotous and noisy dog-fight.  Last time we were on the sunbeds outside Solida Del Sol, two cows wandered onto the beach and began to eat our clothing.  They are not so territorial it seems.

Goa is truly European in everything except the menus, and even then, the majority of places offer fries instead of rice or naan, and tandoori chicken tikka is probably the number one dish.  The question which keeps raising its ugly head is whether what is here is really good for anyone.  Is it benefiting anyone but the few wealthy local owners, and should one really only partake of the authentic Indian experience on a trip to India, rather than funding this Eastern version of the Costa Del Sol?  What’s the authentic India now though?  To live it, you just have to buy a Chinese mobile – preferably taking several hundred selfies with it every day, drive a Royal Enfield motorbike and learn enough Hindi to hold conversations with the locals and the tourists simultaneously, to ensure that your cut in someone else’s offering is protected when you sell the tourists a manageable version of the India they fear.