Following on from my last post – Andrew Marr’s start the week ( 22nd November) was also discussing political satire and bemoaning the current lack of it . I refer you to my previous comments on the real reasons for this.
But here’s a funny coincidence – last week, David Cameron’s condemned government announced they were going to monitor the UK’s happiness levels so they can make better decisions on future policy. How 1984/ Brave new World is that!!
Nonetheless, it’s not a new idea. In my political satire , Hard Choices, Happiness Wardens are featured – below is a passage in which one is about to make a visit to an ordinary family. Be careful, be very, very careful – one could soon be coming to a home near you.
HARD CHOICES EXTRACT
‘Welcome to a curfew-free zone’, announced the street sign, as Grace’s car slid into a quiet, tree-lined suburban road. Margie and Tony ’s pastel-painted bungalow with its modest net curtains and tidy garden blooming with massive chrysanthemums and dahlias, was distinguished from others in the row only by a large Osso security van parked outside. Margie answered the door in an apron, being careful to hold floury fingers off the woodwork. She looked harassed, apprehensive even, but her face broke into a relieved smile when she recognised Grace.
“I thought it was the blasted Happiness Warden. Hello m’duck. Whatever are you doing here?”
She took a quick glance up and down the road, then ushered Grace in, shutting the door hastily behind her.
“ Come through duck.” She bustled ahead, along the hall.
“ Sorry to entertain you in the kitchen, but I’m just making the bread and I’ve got to finish while we’ve got the electricity..”
They passed the door to the living room from which blared the ubiquitous StoneTV soap.
“ Steve, turn that down, please!” shouted Margie.
Grace glanced into the room. Steve, Margie’s son, a lumpen lad, was sprawled in his Ossophate uniform in front of the huge screen. He gave no sign he had heard his mother’s request.
Margie clicked her teeth. “I could set the house on fire, he’d never notice. The others are at school. Thank Gideon.”
The kitchen was poorly equipped, but neat and spotless. The sink was chipped, the cooker ancient, the table on which Margie was kneading dough scarred and scuffed, though newly covered in pale pink plastiflex.
There were other little, typically Margie-like touches of colour. The magnolia walls were gaily decorated with hand-embroidered samplers, ‘Fruits of the Earth’ and ‘Bread is the staff of life.’ Grace knew them to be Margie’s painstaking work. She’d been the same as a TU rep; every job undertaken with acute attention to detail. Now she’d transferred her abilities into homemaking for her four men. A certificate of praise for ‘Firm Family Values’, awarded by the Citizen’s Council, had pride of place above the table.
Margie glanced at the big clock on the wall and returned to pummelling the dough as though her life depended on it. Occasionally she stopped, picked up a pen with her sticky fingers and added something to a form on the table she was filling.
“Would you like a cuppa, love?” she said, suddenly remembering her duties as Hospitable Hostess. Without waiting for an answer she snatched up the kettle and crossed to the sink to turn on the tap. A grinding noise but no water came out of it.
“Drat and blast!” cried Margie. “ That’s the third time this week. And never a warning.”
She hurried into the pantry.
“ You’ll have to have Ransome’s bottled, is that alright? I resent using it to boil,” she added, almost to herself. “ It’s so blasted expensive.”
“Don’t bother Margie. I’m fine. Really.”
“Are you sure duck?” Margie’s expression hovered between concern for her bread and duty to her visitor.
Grace made a dismissive gesture.
“ Is Tony about?”
Margie’s face turned doleful.
“ He’s been hauled up in front of the Neighbourhood Committee, duck. It’s this bad fathering business.. the Outreach Unit’s instructed them to take action.”
She clenched her fists. ”Ooh ,I could brain our Kevin!”
She smacked her fists onto the table then subsided swiftly, aware she had overstepped propriety.
“ If he had one.” she finished lamely.
“I’m sorry Margie.”
Grace left a pause for Margie to recover, then said,
“ I wanted a word about those deaths. You know, at Ossophate?”
Margie pushed the kitchen door closed and lowered her voice.
“ Two of Tony’s work-mates he kept up with after he left. They told him they’d complained about things there..the de-skilling programme and wage cuts..Next thing we heard they’d committed suicide. Tony was stunned!
I mean they just weren’t the type.”
She shook her head to emphasise their disbelief.
“ Tony used to meet one every day to play bowls, the other had just got married.”
“ Does Steve know anything?” Asked Grace.
“Steve!” Margie yelled. There was no answer. “ Deaf as a post,” snorted Margie. “ He’d sit in front of that dratted telly all day, if he didn’t get hungry. I doubt he’d tell you, anyway.” Margie set her mouth in a line. “ He’s like a clam about Ossophate. Scared he’ll lose his job. Well, we all are. If we get curfewed we’ll have to move to a Home-Zone.” Her voice rose. “ It would break Tony’s heart to leave this house after all the work he’s put in. We live off that garden..”
She waved towards the kitchen garden. Through the bow-tied print curtains Grace could see trellis and orderly rows of vegetables. A large pot of Ossophate fertiliser stood outside the small potting shed.
“ At least Steve gets the fertiliser free,” Margie went on.
“ Even if it is low wages..” She broke off suddenly and wrote ‘garden’ on her form, in big, simple letters.
“What’s that?” asked Grace.
“ Units of Satisfaction form.” Said Margie shortly.
“The Happiness Warden will be round to pick it up any moment.” She sighed.
“ Blasted thing always needs filling in when I’m at my busiest. And I have to print everything because she can barely read. Now..”
She checked down the list.
“ Do I prefer knitting to embroidery? No. Cooking to cleaning? Yes. How many units shall I give to being a surrogate granny? Well, I love to see the poor little mites cleaned up and read to, the mothers never bother, but on the other hand it takes up such a lot of time, I feel things here are neglected – that’s why I’m late with the bread making. Great Gideon that reminds me..”
She dashed over to the cooker and flung open the door. Cold air billowed out.
“ No, “ wailed Margie, “the heat’s gone off! Now there won’t be any bread for tea and the children will be angry with me.”
She ran back to the form and began feverishly ticking and crossing, muttering,
“Jamming yes, pickling no, mending bother, darning urghh! Oh, it’s so difficult.”
She rubbed her forehead, leaving a trail of flour.
“ I wish there was a pill you could take for all this!”
Steve, tall and ominous in his black boilersuit, sloped in as Grace watched in consternation.
“ Isn’t tea ready, Ma?” he demanded in an aggrieved tone, “ My shift starts soon.”
“There’s salad in the larder,” said Margie distractedly.
“ The fridge was seized by the National Security Wardens,” she flung as an afterthought to Grace. “They insisted it had been bought by the proceeds of crime.”
“Crime!” exclaimed Grace. It was unthinkable. Tony and Margie were the most honest people she knew.
“Our Darren.” Said Margie, sorrowfully. “ He was caught selling black market hamburgers. You know our class isn’t allowed meat.”
Grace couldn’t think of anything comforting to say. Instead she turned to Steve and asked,
“ Have you heard anything about a ‘bespoke’ programme at Ossophate?”
Steve stared at her blankly. “Dur..?”He said.
“He won’t understand ‘bespoke’. “ said Margie. “ It’s not the sort of word they use on StoneTV.”
Her tone was apologetic. “ Steve was only educated in practical de-skilling.”
She spoke of him as though he wasn’t in the room. In many ways, thought Grace, he wasn’t.
“ A new product, “ she tried, “ Under wraps.”
Steve gave a disinterested shrug and shoved a large tomato in his mouth.
“ Right.” said Grace, sotto voce. “ Just doing your job, I suppose.”
Steve slouched back to the telly with a plate of monster vegetables. Margie waited until he had gone to say in a low voice. “ That StoneTV soap is addictive. If you ask me it’s addled his brain.”
The back door opened and a wretched-looking Tony entered.
“ Tony, love,” cried Margie, catching his arm. “What happened?”
“I’ve been sentenced to three hours in the stocks.” Tony said dully. He slumped into a chair, as though drained of all life.
Margie ran to him “ No..” she begged, beating his shoulders. “No!”
“ Only one short of tagging.” Tony moaned. He fell forward onto the floury table, burying his head in his hands.
“Oh Tony,” murmured Grace. She had never felt more helpless.
“They’ll put a black cross on our door.” Margie whimpered. “The neighbours won’t speak to us. The kids’ll be shunned.”
“We’ll end up in your bloody camp.” Tony barked, a sudden surge of rage lifting his head.
Grace was upset, but she couldn’t let that pass. “It’s not a camp, Tony. It’s a Re-location Centre.”
“Well, we don’t want to be bloody ‘re-located’.“ Tony returned belligerently.
Margie was storming up and down the kitchen, wringing her hands. “ The shame, the shame,” she kept repeating. “ How has this happened to us?” She addressed the ceiling. “ We’ve always been good. Done everything by the rules.” She picked up the dough and threw it violently from hand to hand. “ It’s all the fault of your blasted Ministry. Telling us what to do!” She turned on Grace, mimicking, “ Faith in Families. Faith in Families. Firm Family values!” She lobbed the dough onto the floor and kicked it around like a football.
“I’m sorry..” Grace whispered, ”So sorry..I don’t know how to help..”
“Why don’t you just chuck the first tomato.” Said Tony bitterly.
Grace backed away from his accusing stare. Her last sight as she left the kitchen, was Margie jumping up and down on the dough. She almost seemed to be enjoying it.