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‘What are you doing here sonny?’ says the man scowling at customs. ‘You’re not a…foreigner are you?’
I’m a robot, I point out, Alan’s Album Archives Android ZHX-374. I’m not really from anywhere, except a factory.
‘Where were most of your parts made?’ the man scowls. ‘Maybe if we cover you with a Union Jack you won’t look so…off-putting’
‘I’m really here to interview Ian Duncan Smith about his favourite songs. It’s for the Alan’s Album’s Archives newsletter’ I explain. ‘We were invited as part of the drive to include the ‘EU Leavers’ in more of the arts’. I get shown over to an ugly bald weasel of a man who was busy kicking a homeless person with a look of disdain for the disabled on his face. That must be the chap!
‘Bah Humbug!’ said Ian Duncan Weasel, looking me over. ‘You’re not on…benefits’ are you?’
‘No, but you are!!!’ I said, in reference to the amount of expenses IDS had racked up down the years off the misery of the poor that enabled him to buy a flashy sports car with and the millions his businesses had made off the back of Brexit.
‘Hmm’ he said. ‘I hate music! It’s so…sinful. And I particularly hate the ‘singles market’. I did agree to this interview though. We’d better get on with it then hadn’t we?’
No Wonder they call him IDS, I think to myself, he’s definitely giving me Irritable Bowel Syndrome… I ask him for his first disc. ‘If you were to be stranded on a desert island…’
I get cut off. ‘Stranded? Sinful! My island would be able to stand on its own two feet! We could make slaves of all the monkeys! Set up a trade deal with the island using coconuts! We could communicate by seagull!’
I realise that IDS is as barmy as a squirrel’s nut. There are no seagulls or coconuts and the island is in the middle of nowhere – that’s the whole point.
‘My first song choice would be The Moody Blues and ‘Go Now’ he said (‘The Magnificent Moodies’ 1965). ‘It reminds me of that wonderful day we left the EU and how great that was for Britain!’ I point out that everyone on the island is sick or dying apart from him. ‘Not my problem! Everyone is sinful!’ he sniffed. I ask him for his second disc.
‘She’s Leaving Home By the Beatles!’ he cried (‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, 1967). ‘It’s clearly all about the EU. The ‘men with the motor trade’. ‘But the whole point of the song is the misery of the people she leaves behind!’ I point out. The girl in the song doesn’t sound as if she’s going to live happily ever after, either. Disc number three?
‘Leave’ by the Buffalo Springfield (Same, 1966). What a cracking tune! Here my pleas, leave!’ (with a chorus that runs ‘nobody knows, nobody sees’ I mutter to myself under my breath. ‘What was that robot?’ ‘Nothing…’ I reply. ‘Moving On?’…
‘Jefferson Airplane – Never Argue With A German If You’re Tired’ (‘Bark, 1971). So spot on about Angela Merkel. Poor Theresa May, I felt so sorry for her. All that hard work of at least half an hour trying to work out what Brexit meant and the EU being so mean when they wouldn’t let her take all their benefits without paying any money for them’. ‘You do realise that this ‘song’ is just an excuse for Grace Slick to swear in a foreign language and get it past the censors?’ I reply. ‘Look robotic buddy, I don’t like your tone he says’. Next choice?
‘Simon and Garfunkel – The Leave Votes That Are Green’ (‘Sounds Of Silence’ 1966). ‘Hang on, don’t they turn to brown in the song? And wasn’t it really about aging?’ I ask. ‘Listen here Sprocketts!’ says the Weasel-faced rat monster. ‘Me and my friend Farrage and Jacob Rees-Smug aren’t as nice and friendly as we seem!’ (‘You got that right…’ I thought to myself). ‘Next disc?’ I ask quickly.
‘You Can Tell England’s An island’ by the great Martin Kitcher’ he says. At last we both agree on something! ‘Did I ever play you the sequel?’ I ask Ian Duncan Smith. ‘It was this great song about ATOS (‘You’re Not Fit To Live’) all about how the disabled felt like a burden to the state. You were in charge back then weren’t you?’ I ask sweetly, my bolts burning with frustration. ‘Weren’t you the one who organised the culture whereby the poorly and disabled would be harassed into death to save a few extra quid for that sports car over there?’ I said.
‘Sinful!!!! Out, out…OUT!!!!’ he screamed at me. ‘Out didn’t work out too well for you in the referendum, did it?!?’I reply. ‘Look around you at all this misery, devastation, the distrust you caused, the lies you told, the people you betrayed?’ But of course he was no longer listening and was counting his money instead. These people never listen do they?’
‘My dear Catalunia the seventh, is that the handsome young android from that very fabulous Alan’s Album Archives company?’
‘Why yes it is dear Habridan the fourth, how clever of him to find his way up into space and to our new planet ‘Remain’. All of our friends are waiting to give you a special party to make you feel at home!’
How nice I think, rubbing the metal shin that Ian Duncan Weasel had kicked earlier that week. I bet this interview goes a lot better than the last! I start by asking them a little about their new planet.
‘Why I think it’s very lovely here’ said Catalunia, her wings perched over the back of a very comfortable seat as she pulled up a special robot table for me (ooh new oil, yum!) ‘I was so pleased when dear old Walahazoo heard about all these earthlings shouting about nothing in parliament. I was given this spare planet as a present for my last clone-day you see and I was feeling lonely. It feels like paradise here now – no pollution, no warfare, everybody gets to raise everything they are unhappy with and people generally try to keep the peace. Also, the ban on The Spice Girls seem to have really coped with the population’s nerves.'
‘Didn’t the sudden mass of inhabitants (48% of Britain, plus vote-changers) seem a bit strange?’ I asked.
‘Why goodness no!’ said Habridan, his eyebrows-on-stalks giving a brief flash of amazement. ‘There is plenty of room for all if everyone just squeezes over a bit. The more the merrier we say – every immigrant has something useful to give society and we love the fact that we are learning about new cultures and customs. We particularly love this earthling thing called rock and roll!’
‘Oh yes’ I said, picking up my unleaded pencil. ‘Do tell me more about your favourite songs for my new article.
‘You go first Habridan, darling’
‘No you Catalunia my petal’
‘Well I really like Cat Stevens’ ‘Land O’Free Love and Goodbye’ (‘Numbers’ 1975), it’s this lovely pretty tune about feeling at one with nature and how ‘the God I love loves me’.
‘I really like that one too, dearest. My first choice would be ‘Get Back’ (‘Let It Be’ 1970), a great Beatles rocker about getting back to where you once belonged – like the intergalactic federation (formerly the EU).’
‘Me too dearest heart, how our twelve legs really tap up and down to that one! And don’t forget that charming Hollies song ‘Stay (Just A Little Bit Longer)’ (‘Stay With The Hollies’ 1964).
‘Keeping with The Beatles theme, I really liked ‘She Loves EU, yeah yeah yeah’ (‘Past Masters One’ 1988), at least I think that’s what it was called.
‘I think one of those Beetles had a hand in my other favourite song, ‘We All Stand Together’! (‘All The Best, 1987)
‘Oh yes with that amazing amphibian choir. Next up how about Sinead O’Connor’s really powerful song ‘Nothing Compares 2 EU’ ?
‘A classic if ever there was one my love.’
‘Then of course there’s that classic Kinks hit ‘EU Really Got Me’.
‘Are you getting all of this down, dear robot?’
Yes I reply as my five arms scribble furiously. I just have room for one more item.
‘Well I think it only right and proper that we pick our new charity single that’s out this month which has been recorded by the Remain Choir along with the Belobrats, Mrasianarts and the Clandusprods. It’s raising money to send care packages to the leavers back on Earth.’
Ooh, what is it called I ask, sensing an exclusive.
‘We’re All One Galaxy And We’re Only 72 Million Light Years Apart’.
Catchy I think as they play me a hologram. And that’s my interview done!
‘You’re welcome to stay as long as you want’ says Habridan. ‘We even got you a present for being so nice!’
How lovely! A spare third ear! My other one must have fallen off when I was back on the Brexit world. I think I like this place. Maybe I should just stay pout and hand my notice in? Nobody at the AAA will notice! There’s just time for a little doze before I have to type this up and send it to the editor. Now where do I plug in?!
Top Five Sensible Things About Brexit
I stood before the machine with it’s multi-coloured spirals and gazed up at the TV monitors positioned round the room flickering away. One of them was showing a gardening programme (lovely flowers!)
‘So how does it work?’ I asked my editor eagerly.
‘I don’t know son, it’s Clandusprod technology on loan. We asked for an Earthling translation but I don’t think Zigorous 3 understands our multi-language society. The instructions are all Greek to me’.
‘Is it safe?’
‘Well it was health-and-safety checked last year so I guess so’.
‘But this health check says it only works for Clandusprods and Argibraffes’.
‘Well, you have a similar number of heads I suppose, it’s worth a try. And you did sign out that big post-Brexit insurance form didn’t you? Ok then, off you go!’
I walked up to the platform and looked anxiously at the people waving me off.
‘And there will be a job for me at the AAA as a columnist at the end of this? A paid one?’ I ask anxiously.
‘Yeah, maybe….’ My editor replies. ‘Let’s see how good the tea and coffee you make is on your return and then we’ll talk about a zero hours contract’.
I shrug my shoulders. Why did I pick to leave the EU? These companies could get away with what they liked!
‘So just one quick trip and back again, right?’
I walk through the spirals surrounded by pyrotechnics. Suddenly…AAAAGH! My feet lurched from under me as I prepared to go back through time for the first time.
Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of two other travellers falling, one of them in a natty tweed suit and another in a bright green jumper. At least my attire had been taken care of by the wardrobe staff and would change to fit any of the time periods I would travel into. Except….
Oh dear. There I was wearing 19th century frills and pantaloons as I stood in the corner of a bedroom that was clearly 21st century even though it was filled with 1960s music posters and album covers. Not that it was easy to see. The curtains looked as if they hadn’t been opened in a very long time. I thought the room was empty at first. As my eyes adjusted I saw a figure, visibly sick, struggling greatly to sit up and shielding even the tiny light from my circuitry from his eyes. He whispered so quietly I could barely hear him.
I consult my notes. ‘Not exactly.’
‘I was waiting for death. That’s the only thing left for me now. So…sick. So…spoonified.I can’t even listen to music anymore. How did I end up here? Whoever you are, please release me from my m.e. or tell me that I can get through it’.
My training hadn’t prepared me for this. I wonder what to do. You see I know this figure in the bed won’t get well. I know he won’t ever be healthy, won’t even remember what it feels like to be well, won’t ever be able to go on long walks again, won’t ever get to simply enjoy himself without preparing to pay for the cost of it and I know that this sickness will be a shadow that will follow him for a long time to come. Even in my time m.e. has no cure. Not enough people acknowledge it. Less understand it. Though the founding member of the company I am vainly trying to work for (and whose every review I have read, causing great strain to my eyesight) often talked about it, I never truly knew what it was till I saw it before me. Squashing the life out of him. Taking away the essence of human life that made people more than just a barebones struggle for survival. Breaking his spirit in two. I know it won’t heal. That it won’t really get all that much better. But that, like so many spoonies – including his future friend BB who will use her spoons creating the AAA book covers I will spend my formative years staring at or this founder’s girlfriend, who herself is suffering with the similarly misunderstood lyme disease on the other side of the world unbeknownst to each other just yet and who will go on to be an even higher selling author, that it won’t beat him as it won’t beat them.
I want to say all this – but I don’t know what to say. My brief training didn’t prepare me for this. So instead I stutter nervously.
‘Aren’t you surprised to see a stranger dressed like this randomly standing in your bedroom?’, making a mental note to avoid the CD boxes, notebooks and various cereal bowls piled up on the floor.
‘Everything is…strange now’ the figure murmurs, drifting back to sleep.
I jump to and start into my practised speech.
‘My name is Nelson. I’ve been sent from the future to make sure that you achieve certain things in the time stream to ensure history succeeds the way it should. Something musical’.
I notice that the figure has fallen asleep and has started snoring like a seal (or maybe a panda?)
Hmmm, my first important job wasn’t going terribly well. I whisper into his ear the words I have been given to say. ‘Mike…Skills exchange…unlikeliest format in the world…you will know what to do.’
I don’t know if I am getting through so I reach down and murmur the best sentence anyone can be given when their body has failed them and their life is disappearing at a rate of knots. ‘Don’t…give…up! Have….faith’
I see the big green eyes light up, before I am suddenly whisked away through the air again…AAAAGH!
I find myself a year later and there I am in a decrepit run-down building apparently named ‘The Skills Exchange’ in a good-for-nothing concrete nothing of a town called Skelmersdale. I recognise the same figure sitting upright and working away at a desk, checking his emails and looking bored, looking a little better but still as if he was in need of a long lie down, even though the powers-that-be at the job centre have sent him here when he is clearly too poorly to work. His clothes are sitting on him crooked and I see a pair of headphones hanging out of an old coat, obvious signs that I have found the right person. I take stock of who else is in the building and notice one named Dave smoking, one named Dave smirking and a chap named Cocker who was talking to someone on an AC/DC forum. Though it certainly didn’t look like it to me, I realised that this was actually a job centre course (with a few school children here too) and everyone was meant to be doing work, but nobody looked as if they actually were. A lot of people, it seemed, were simply playing ‘Age Of Empires’ and staring at their watches.
‘Are you err…umm…?’ asked a cool dude named Craig walking up behind me.
‘That’s right’ I reply quickly before he can find a name on his list. ‘I’m just here for the day, in fact an hour, I’ll be gone soon’ and I hand over twenty time-sheets that have suddenly materialised in my hand which are filled in with strange indecipherable scribbles. Craig doesn’t seem to notice and walks off to talk to Cocker about going to somewhere strange named Upholland.
I do, however, notice a bath carelessly propped up against a wall, something seemingly unbefitting a jobcentre course and the decidedly old fashioned Windows 1995 state of the technology.
Suddenly an energetic young chap named Graham bursts the tension like a balloon, clutching at me as he runs past in his haste to fill the building with the glorious noise of laughter and excitement, singing McFly and Busted songs with gusto and clutching a letter in his hand about Andrew Abbott. Behind him is a sweet kid named Rebecca, who is practicing her morris dancing skills. This didn’t look like a hiving hubbub of musical activity to me as I’d always imagined the first place where my founder started writing Alan’s Album Archives across an eleven year period. It looked like a den of inequity if I’m honest.
Then I spot my subject moving over to the bath and trying to help a tall, dignified, short-haired looking chap with an intelligent expression out from underneath a bath.
‘They seem like a handful’.
‘You could say that. I’m Mike.’
‘We call him The Face Of Bo after this dr who annual we borrowed from you’ said Rebecca.
‘You look like you’ve been attacked by… Ewoks’ says my founder.
‘Ninjas’ says Mike at the same time. They blink.
‘Would you like to make a website later?’ says Mike as he tries to stop Graham jumping out of the window. ‘I’ve made all sorts for people here if you have any ideas?’
‘I do have one for a music website’ my founder replies. ‘A really ambitious website. 500 albums. A thirty-part book series. Clandusprods…Belobrats…’
Everyone looks at him blankly, but this is clearly the thought that festering in his brain in the last year, since I met him, suddenly taking flight. I feel the hands of history upon me and for such a tiny insignificant moment everyone else in the room is missing. Even I missed quite a lot of it due to some guy called Ian who kept asking me every ten seconds if I wanted a coffee.
But then all too soon its home time and the school-leavers Mike, Graham and Rebecca have to go home. The next thing I know my subject matter is making lists. He likes lists does he, the longer the better. Eventually though, after what seems like hours, he starts to actually write something and I peer over his shoulder to see what he’s working on.
Whoops I just gave away my cover! He looks up puzzled, half-recognising me from a year before. ‘I’m just, err, looking for an ECDL instruction manual’ I lie, having heard lots of people talk about it that day but nobody actually doing anything about getting it, no matter how many times they ask Craig about it.
And then he starts writing it. ‘With The Beatles, (EMI 11/1963’) and the words… ‘WHAT better place to begin our planned 650-page feast of musical treats than with the album that - for many - started it all…’
Ha, I think to myself, only 650 pages. Little do you know what’s coming next!’ as I know in 2019 alone the numbers are more like 20,000. And I open my briefcase, stare at the 31 AAA books looking back at me in various coloured hues and I grin. I realise right there, hitting me like a smackero blurdy, that truly anybody can do anything. If even someone that sick, that lost and that hopeless can go on to conquer some small insignificant footnote in history with nothing more than a succession of mean laptops, a confusing jobcentre course that wasn’t, friendship, headphones, love and sheer bloody stubborness, then anybody can do anything.
Suddenly I realised how small the things can be that pivot our direction in life. How easy it is to sometimes give up, especially when the job centre and sickness and life and family and problems are on your back to pass on your dreams and lead a normal boring life. I realised then in turn what my calling was. That I wanted to do this forever, to give hope to the hopeless, faith to the faithless and courage to the couragelessness. Life is so random and brutal, we all have something important and personal to us to offer the world, however fast or slow it is to catch on to it. That the world has billions of people doing boring mundane jobs for small change already, but that one day somewhere we might find the one thing we were put on this planet (or any planet) to do, that makes us feel for the first time more than just an insignificant speck cruising about on the universe in a giant dust bowl getting sick.
And I realised that I wanted to do this forever, to help AAA musicians become the best they could possibly be and bring them hope and comfort even in dark and troubled times, be it Brian Wilson after Smile, Pink Floyd after Syd, The Rolling Stones in jail, Janis Joplin before she became famous or Simon and Garfunkel after their first fight. I wanted to do it all, but my time was running short and I have seen all I need to see, as this sickly figure finds the glow of having found his life’s calling, for better or for worse. I have tried to do my job in this time zone - I only hope that I have done some good. And then the lights swirl and I am on my way again, back surely to that familiar concrete hall of the Time Tunnel.
Except it wasn’t. I wasn’t back home at all. It seemed I was destined to be drifting through time instead. Where was I going? I didn’t know. I just hoped it was somewhere quiet (that Graham could really talk y’know!) Where could I possibly be now? Would I ever get home again? Or would I be lost to the void?… (See April Fool’s day Issues 1-9 to find out – Nelson finally made it home in issue 10!)