Oil!

A Play for the Edinburgh Fringe, performed at Paradise Green @ St. Augustine’s 4th – 12th August 2017

Oil!

Scene 1

Int. Felix’s kitchen. There is a dining table with five chairs around it.

Felix is topless, cooking to ‘Within You Without You’ by the Beatles, performing what looks like some kind of absurd food ritual as he does so. He tastes the food and goes outside to fetch an ingredient from his bedroom.

Oscar enters carrying a plastic bag full of beer. He listens to the music, looks around the room and inspects everything with utter bewilderment. He turns the music off, then shouts to the house:

Oscar:           What on earth are you doing?

There is a crash from offstage.

Felix:              Oh, Oscar, thank God it’s just you. Peace and love on entering my humble   abode.

Oscar:           Peace and love!? Indian music!? Why are you topless? And why is your front door open?

Felix:              How can you have an open mind with a closed door?

He continues to dance and add things to the food.

Oscar:           Oh Christ, is this going to be like that time in 1st year…you know, with you, me and Kingsley…with the rulers and measuring tape?

Felix:              No man, nothing like / that.

Oscar:           Because it was really cold that day!

Felix:             It was in a sauna. Look man, you’ve got it all wrong. I’ve developed my           inner peace this year. I keep a bee colony in my room now.

Oscar:           You keep a bee colony!?

Felix opens the side door and the sound of a bee swarm sounds. He closes the                          door again.

Felix:               That was the sound of the bees saying: ‘Thank you, Felix, full on rapist of the bees.’

Oscar:           Full on rapist of the bees!?

Felix, confused, opens the door and listens to the bees again for a second. He                           closes the door.

Felix:               They mispronounced. They meant ‘philanthropist’.

As Oscar begins to speak, Felix picks up a hand bell from the side.

Oscar:           Felix, are you high on valium again? (grabs his cheeks) I thought I told you   being doped up won’t look good in a / job interview-

Felix:               (still with cheeks squished) No way man. I gave that up after my Mum’s second marriage.

Oscar:           (still holding his cheeks) Oh, well that’s something. Did the wedding make you realise the only drug you need is love?

Felix:              Oh yeah man, like totally. It was that and I also took 10 valiums and passed out in the wedding cake. Can you let go of my cheeks please? (Oscar releases him: “Oh right yeah, sorry”). It was kind of like nature telling me to stop.

Oscar laughs rowdily. Felix, annoyed, rings the hand bell in Oscar’s face. Oscar looks confused.

Oscar:           Stop waving your bell-end in my face. (Felix pauses and then resumes ringing bell) Is this some sort of Pavlovian experiment? Because I’m not an animal Felix! (Felix tries to speak) Except in the sack. (He goes for a high-five. Felix, nonplussed, strokes Oscar’s outstretched palm).

Felix:              (As if reading Oscar’s palm) How do you know we’re not all part of some experiment right now? How do you know there aren’t other beings watching us at this very moment? Beings who’ve paid (enter ticket price) to watch me ad-lib…(can ad-lib and pretend to see audience members, as Oscar looks blankly behind him).

Oscar:           You’re on acid yeah…somebody gave you really bad acid…

Felix:             I don’t take drugs anymore, Oscar. I’m pursuing the spiritual path now. All I need is my mindfulness and my bell of awareness.

He rings the bell again.

Oscar:            You don’t take drugs anymore? But…you’re Felix! There’s a reason the boys gave you those nicknames.

                       Felix looks confused

You know, LSDelix, “Felix in the sky with crystals”, “Harry Blotter and the Philosopher Stoned”. Plus the sequels? “Harry Blotter and the Chamber of Hallucinogenics”, “Harry Blotter and the Half-Tab Prince”, “Harry Blo-

Felix:              Forget all that! I’m a new Felix now. The new Felix is committed to the Buddhist Way, forever.

                       He puts his hands together in prayer position.

Oscar:            And how much does the Buddhist Way pay per year?

Felix:              That’s not the point, Oscar. It’s not all about money, you know.

Oscar:            (Scoffs) You’re such a young idealist, Felix. Life is about being practical, pragmatic. Look, don’t get me wrong, this spirituality thing sounds great – I mean, I love eating curry as much as the next guy. But what’s the point in doing it if you’re not actually going to have the money to buy the curry? I mean, do you get more holidays? Is that it?

Felix:              It’s not a holiday. It’s the means of achieving (deep breath, in and out) / freedom.

Oscar:            Curry?

Felix:              (tries again and gets interrupted) / Freedom

Oscar:           Curry!

Felix:              No, freedom.

Oscar:            But you can have freedom with a job. Nothing spells freedom like £50k a year. Except maybe £60k a year! I mean, my dad earns over – probably – like, a million a year, and look how free he is. He’s got two houses.

Felix:              The last time I spoke to your father he said he felt he was suffocating in a vacuumed bubble of loveless uncertainty-

Oscar:            (Hurriedly cutting him off) Well, yeah, but, that was probably just because his share values decreased that month. Anyway, did you manage to sort out the, uh – thing?

Felix:              What thing?

Oscar:           You know – the sensitive thing?

Felix:              What, you mean my inherent separation from nature stemming from the egotistical travails of mankind?

Oscar:           No-

Felix:              You mean my essay on the consciousness of the capitalist classes I had due in last week?

Oscar:           No, mate-

Felix:              Oh, you mean the chlamydia?

Oscar:           Yeah.

Felix:              Yeah, I got that all sorted. It’s never nice to kill a living thing but, I suppose sometimes you gotta go with what the Tao tells you.

Oscar:           Or the doctor. I heard you caught it at Beaugammon’s 21st?

Felix:              Err, not exactly…

Oscar:           Didn’t he catch you fingering his sister in the pantry?

Felix:               I didn’t finger her in the pantry. (beat) I fingered her in the vagina.

Oscar:           (laughs) How did that happen?

Felix:              Well, you know they’ve got about 5 larders? Well, halfway through dinner we ran out of wine and I guess she must have misheard when I asked if I could go and have a quick rummage through her pantries.

Oscar:           (laughs) You fucking lej. Go on, here have a (French accent) beverage. I won’t tell the Buddha.

Felix:              No, man, I told you. I don’t drink.

Oscar:           You don’t drink, you don’t do drugs: is there anything you can do? What about sex? You know, like tantric monks who have sex to achieve enlightenment. Saucy buggers.

Felix:              (Finishing cooking) There, the food’s ready now.

Oscar:          (Sniffs) Oh my God! Have you been using expired food again?

Felix:             You can’t put a sell-by date on life, when everything’s eternal. It’s called Bisi Bele Bath, it’s from Southern India.

Oscar:           It smells worse than when we found the body of Smithers the cat in our compost heap. You know, I’ve always wondered about that… I know Liv says he was really down and all, but I swear cats can’t actually drown themselves in a bath.

Felix:              Or leave a suicide note.

Scene 2

There’s a knock at the door. Enter Liv and Bella.

Bella:             (ad-libs entry very loudly) Wahey, merry end of university, dickheads! Felix, why is your front door open? Are you high on valium again?

Felix:             Open door, open mind.

Oscar:           Alright, Bella. On good form as ever.

Bella:             Don’t you know it, Lord Sir Fuckface. Anyway friends?

Liv:                  Friends are just enemies that don’t have the guts to kill you.

Oscar:           Liv, festive as ever.

Liv:                  Only death makes me festive (Pause). That and (ad-lib each night). Have you taken that job yet, Felix?

Bella:             Job? What job?

Oscar:           Felix, have a job!? Don’t be ridiculous. He’s going to be a Buddhist monk with a snake for a belt and shampoo for food. He doesn’t need employment. He’s like an animal, or a peasant.

Liv:                  He informed me his father got him a job at KPMG.

Bella:              What! Oh for God’s sake, it’s so easy for the rich kids isn’t it?

Felix:               No, no, no, it’s not what it sounds like, I’m pursuing the spiritual path now-

Bella:              And since when does the spiritual path involve helping corporations evade tax?

Felix:               Avoid tax. I mean down with the capitalist system!

Bella:             Anyway. Where’s Milly got to?

Liv:                 Yes, where is that feminist?

Bella:             You’re a feminist too Liv. Unless you like not being able to Instagram your own nipple.

Liv:                 I don’t have nipples.

Oscar:           At least Felix has a job.

Bella:             Liv and I have a business plan, actually. Just, don’t tell Milly.

 

Felix:             Why not?

 

Bella:             (laughs nervously) Just…don’t?

Liv:                  And it has a 65% chance of success.

Oscar:           (Surprised) Oh. Really?

Bella:             You don’t have to have gone to Eton to be motivated, posh boy.

 

Oscar:           Hey, you’re just jealous that we had the finest beagles in the country.

 

Bella:             And what are you doing after uni?

Oscar:           I’ve got my plans.

Bella:              What like you and Felix’s genius get-rich-quick scheme in 1st year?

Felix:              It could have worked.

Oscar:           Yeah.

Liv:                  What was it?

Felix:               It was revolutionary. Very avant-garde.

Oscar:           Fantastic profit margins.

Bella:              It was alchemy. You morons tried alchemy.

Oscar:           And it would’ve worked too if Felix hadn’t meddled with my ingredients.

Felix:              You put my hamster in the blender.

Oscar:           And Tibbles would’ve paid for a Ferrari if you hadn’t contracted a case of “pussy-itis” and pulled him out.

Liv:                  As Al Capone said Felix, “If you want to make an omelette, you’ve got to break a few legs”.

Felix:               He’d been in my family for 10 years.

Oscar:            So has premature deafness, but I don’t see you risking your pudgy digits for that.

Felix:               WHAT?

Bella:           (Shouts to a still uncomprehending Felix) He said you’ve got fat fingers and you’re deaf!

 

Felix:             (indignant) My fingers are not fat! I’ve just got big hands.

 

Oscar:           (to the others) Alright E.T. (in E.T voice) Felix, phone home.

Liv:                 He’s just jealous cause he’s got small hands. I mean, you know what they say Oscar, “Big hands…”

 

(everyone waits for her to finish. She doesn’t)

 

Bella:             Big cock.

 

Felix:             Where?

 

Bella:             No, that’s what they say.

 

Felix:               What, Bangkok? No – I’m going to India.

 

Liv:                 Who?

 

Bella:             You said it!

 

Felix:             Said what?

 

Bella:              Argh!! Look Oscar, let’s be honest, we all know why you had it in for Tibbles in the first place.

Oscar:           Do you know how expensive / that was

Bella:              What did you expect hiding white powder in a hamster’s cage?

Oscar:            I expected the rodent Hunter S. Thompson to not chew through 4 grams of Peruvian Nose Candy. I mean, “just say no” Ratatouille.

Felix:               He was really sick Oscar, you almost killed him. I had to take him to the vet and everything. I mean, imagine explaining to a medical professional why he was running on his hamster wheel for 37 hours.

Liv:               Um…”He was a gym rat”. (Felix looks at her. She corrects herself) Hamster.

 

Felix:               (sighs) Running around on his little wheel all day long, just like all of us on the hamster wheel of capitalism… Sucking on the hamster water bottle of money, and the sawdust of… (struggling) Tescos.

Bella:             Right, I’m phoning Milly. She’s 20 minutes late and I’m starving.

(gets out phone and starts dialling)

                       Meanwhile, Liv and Felix have been adding things to the food.

Felix:              There (grabbing Liv’s hand out of the way, she’s not helping with her additions to the already smelly concoction) I think it’s ready now guys.

Liv:                  It smells like dead cat. Smells just like Smithers.

Oscar:           (To Felix) You see!?

Bella:             I don’t want to be dramatic, but this literally smells like Chernobyl.

Felix:             That’s just the asafoetida. It’s Bisi Bele Bath and it’s from Southern India.

 

Oscar:           Christ, this isn’t even ‘Sainsbury’s “Taste the Difference”’ is it?

 

Felix:             More like, ‘Sainsbury’s “Taste the Capitalism”’. Which I imagine tastes like exploitation and bad subprime mortgages.

Bella:             Well I hope Milly gets here soon so she can vom it back up with us. She’s probably editing ‘Feminist Indigest’ or whatever the Femsoc magazine is called.

Oscar:           Ha! I’d love it if it was called “Feminist Indigest”. (stirring the food suspiciously) Although, not the only thing that’s indigestible.

Scene 3

Enter Milly, carrying a bottle of wine.

Milly:              Hello-! Sorry I’m late, I was editing the latest edition of ‘Feminist Indigest’. Ooh, smells of Southern India in here.

                       Felix rings his bell at her.

Bella:             How are you, darling?

Milly:              Oh you know, patriarchy never sleeps so neither do I!

Felix:              Namaste, Milly. We thought you might be working on that magazine –

Milly:              Oh God, yes, you wouldn’t believe it – I had to cut three whole articles on mansplaining and replace them with articles on manspreading.

Oscar:           What’s manspreading? Sounds like something I’d do to my toast.

Bella:             Milly would like a bit of manspread on her toast.

Milly:              Well, no I wouldn’t actually, Bella, because it’s usually interpreted as a patriarchal invasion of female space.

Oscar:           Are you prospecting again Bella? Not been laid in a while?

Bella:            “Projecting”. You mean “projecting”, Oscar, I’m the psychology student and no I’m not for your information.

Liv:                 It could be “prospecting” (everyone looks at her in confusion).

 

Milly:               Doesn’t that mean mining for precious metals?

 

Liv:                 Yeah. (blank looks) Well, you know, because of what you all said, that she’s such a massive gold-dig-

Milly:               Yes, thank you Liv!

Bella:               Wait, who said / that I

Oscar:           Gosh nice…er… kitchen you got here Felix (gestures past Bella to Felix’s oven-gloves). Like your tits. MITTS. I meant mitts.

Felix:               Thanks! People often compliment my mitts. Not that they shouldn’t necessarily compliment tits either – (keep going ad-lib until Bella decides to interrupt).

Bella:              Felix hun?

Felix:               Yup?

Bella:              Shut the fuck up.

Felix:              Yup.

Bella:             I’ll have you all know I’m currently seeing -(aside) amongst others- a very attractive, very submissive, rugby player called Gareth (pronounced in a funny way).

 

Milly:             You mean Gareth?

 

Bella:             No. He’s welsh.

Milly:               Aw, that’s great Bella. You’ll have to introduce him sometime.

Bella:             I will. What about you Milly, you seeing anyone?

Milly:               Um…(glances at Oscar)..Uh…(eyes flicker to Felix) No. Absolutely not. Boys are – wrong.

Liv:                 I got divorced.

Felix:               Food’s ready.

                       Felix begins to bring the pot over to the table and begins serving.

Felix:              It’s called bisi bele bath, it’s from Southern India, it’s vegan and it’s good for the planet.

Milly:              Ooh, vegan! That’s very progressive of you, Felix.

Oscar:           He’s vomited into a pot and added garlic, not become a suffragette.

                     Milly makes as if to violently attack Oscar but Liv jumps up and holds her back.

Oscar:           Oh my God!

Liv:                  No, Milly, he’s not worth it!

Felix:              (Ringing his bell at her) Peace be upon you!

Milly:              Sorry, I just couldn’t help it! Too many sleepless nights fighting the patriarchy.

Liv:                  Want some vodka, Milly? It’s alcohol, which means it’s poisonous. Just like all good things.

Milly:              Oh, that’s alright I’ve got my wine – (glances at Oscar) – I mean – actually yes.

                       Liv offers to pour, but Milly takes it off her and gives herself a generous helping. Oscar takes Bella to the side.

Oscar:            (in a stage-whisper) You haven’t told Milly…about us?

Bella:             God no, can you imagine the fuss. You, the devout feminist socialist? No.

Oscar:            Femsoc egged my house in 2nd year.

Bella:              You did say the president of the society looked like a dyke.

Oscar:           I think woman wearing Doc Martens is probably gay.

Bella:             Well there was no need to spray-paint it on her door.

Oscar:           That could’ve been anyone. Look, just don’t say anything to Milly.

Bella looks at him questioningly as they both sit down again.

Bella:             Right, well, shall we try Felix’s…that?

Felix:              It’s bisi bele bath, it’s from Southern India, and it’s –

All:                 Vegan!

Bella:             We know!

They all look at each other with trepidation. They all try the food. Vomiting physical sequence. Pause as they all look at each other to signal it tastes disgusting.

Felix:              I think it could have done with a bit more asafoetida. Don’t you think guys?

                       Pause as they all struggle for something to say.

Liv:                  So, what are everyone’s plans after graduating?

 

All:                  Might do a masters.

Felix:              I’m going on a spiritual journey. I’m going to go to India, and I’m going to meditate until I’ve discovered who I am.

Oscar:           No need to go to India, we could’ve told you who you are. (beat) You’re a twat.

Liv:                  India. There’s a country I’m not allowed to go anymore. (Everyone looks quizzical). You know an “Indian Burn”? (plays with lighter) Doesn’t mean what I thought it meant.

Milly:              Oh, I wish I had a plan. Graduation kind of – freaks me out!

                       She takes a large swig of her drink. Very panicky.

                       I mean, I do an English degree – an English degree! What the hell am I supposed to do with that?

Oscar:           (gestures the pole) Become a stripper.

Bella:              Look Milly, I’m sure you’ll find something. Was there ever anything you dreamed of doing?

Milly:              (Anxious) Well… I have always wanted to aid the women’s emancipation movement with inspirational political essays. (Looking more optimistic) Yeah maybe I’ll do that (Realisation strikes) Oh God, I’m not good enough for that! English is pointless! Oh, I should be doing an internship, or have made travelling plans, or be writing a novel, or be going on a fucking spiritual journey-

Felix:              There’s no fucking on a spiritual journey, it’s a strictly non-sexual experience.

Oscar:            What about the Tantric monks?

Felix:              Oh, yeah, good point. I’ll bring some condoms.

Milly:              You know, Bella, it’s such a shame that that business plan we thought of at the start of the year never came together. I honestly think that if we’d put our heads down and focused on it, we could have really made it work.

Felix:              (To Bella) Wait, is that the business plan / you –

Bella:             (Makes a violent gesture to Oscar to shut up) Ssh! (To Milly) Yeah, yeah, it’s a real shame that it couldn’t work out. You know what it’s like with…

                       She glances frantically at Liv, who gestures that she doesn’t know what to say.

Business – rates.

                       (Pause.)

Milly:              Business rates?

Bella:             Yeah, you know. The rate was too – quick… Dog eat dog world, isn’t it, no way we could have pulled it off. Not with people like Richard Branson and Elon Musk out there.

Milly:              I didn’t realise we’d be competing against Richard Branson.

Bella:             Yeah, well it’s all business, I’m sure he would have got involved somehow. The nosy cunts.

Oscar:           Since when did you two have a business plan?

Bella:             (Anxious) I mean, it wasn’t really serious, the product wasn’t good enough, would have never taken off –

Felix:              What was the product you were going to market?

                       Bella and Milly suddenly very nervous

Bella:             It –

Milly:              It doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that the market probably wasn’t ready for it at the time and, who knows, maybe we’ll come back to it again sometime in the future.

Bella:             Yeah.

Milly:              What about you Liv? What are you going to do after graduating?

Liv:                  Bella and I have set up a business and we’re flying to Dublin tomorrow to confirm with our investors.

Milly:              WHAT!?

Bella:             I’m sorry, are you actually rainman?

Milly:              You went ahead with the business without me!? But Bella we’re feminist sisters, think of the sisterhood!

 

Oscar:            Yes Bella, think of the sisterhood!

Bella:             (To Liv) I swear to god if my financial security didn’t rely on that calculator between your ears, I would force-feed you Felix’s Indian dog meat!

Felix:              There’s no dog in it, it’s –

All:                 (Bored) Vegan!

Oscar:           We know!

Felix:              Peace and love! Peace and love!

(He rings his bell).

Milly:              Just tell me why?

Bella:             It’s just that – Milly, mate – you’re an awful businesswoman!

                       Milly looks beyond offended.

                       You had no concept of how funding and investment works, or how to draw up a business proposal, or how to design a product, or how to generally be a functioning member of the business class!

Milly:              I am a very competent businesswoman!

Bella:            Really? Do you guys know what product Miss Genius Entrepreneur here wanted to market?

Felix:              Was it an app that tells you what’s in front of you?

All:                 What?

 

Felix:              You know, an app that tells you what’s in front of you. Because people are on their phone so much, they don’t usually realise what’s there. You know, like food, pets, family members, boxes of cereal. A lot of the time I just don’t know they’re there.

(Pause).

Bella:             No. Somehow Milly’s idea was even worse than that.

Oscar:           So what was it?

Bella:             Genuinely – it was a hairbrush that’s also a radio.

Oscar:             What? Were you dropped on your head as a child?

Milly:              Look, I hadn’t done entrepreneurialism before, alright? It was the first thing that   popped into my head and I panicked and –

Felix:              Milly – why did you have to bring the hairbrush into it again?

Milly:              I – look, it’s not linked, or anything-

Bella:             It’s like, no matter what we do, this keeps coming up again and again…

Liv:                  I don’t get it. Is this a reference to-

Milly:              (Panicked) We really don’t need to talk about the hairbrush.

Liv:                  But I don’t know what happened- (Stares at her lighter).

Oscar:           (Uncomfortable) Can we move on please? What’s the product you’re marketing now?

Liv:                  It’s a hairbrush that also massages your head.

                       All react disgustedly, ad lib ‘for God’s sake!’ etc.

Bella:             I promise it’s better than it sounds! Our potential investors loved the prototype we sent them.

Liv:                  They said it was like having a cloud pass over their head.

Oscar:           Are you sure they’re not just creepy Irish men who want some young English poon-tang? You know what the Irish are like. Savages.

Liv:                  I don’t think they’re Irish. I think they’re just in Dublin for tax purposes.

Oscar:           You sound just like my father and that weekend away he’d never explain.

Milly:              I want to get involved again.

Oscar:           Why, what are you going to invent this time? A hairbrush that whispers feminist wisdom in your ear as you brush? A hairbrush that seizes the means of production every morning? A hairbrush that… Err… Makes you look… Shit?

Bella:             I’m sorry Mil, but as “different” as Liv can be, she’s a numbers freak.

Milly:              Oh yeah? (turns to Liv). What’s 137 times 24?

Liv:                 4052.

Felix:              Really?

Liv:                 (breaks character, shrugs and gestures to the audience) Well, they’re not going to know are they? (about to address Milly when turns back to audience) Are they? No? Good. (about to address Milly when turns again). We had a guy in the last show who actually stood up and screamed the correct answer. (Beat) Thanks Uncle Bryan.

Milly:              But this is so unfair!

Oscar:           Life is unfair, Milly, deal with it!

Milly:              Well isn’t that so easy for you to say? You’ve probably got a job straight off the bat!

Bella:             Felix does. From his Dad. At KPMG.

Felix:              I never said I’d take it.

Milly:              Oh, for God’s sake…

Bella:              Tell me Felix, what does it actually taste like? (Felix looks confused) You know, the silver spoon you were born sucking on.

Felix:               Ahhh guys!

Liv:                  How much does it pay?

Felix:              Forty-eight-thousand…

All:                 Forty-eight-thousand!?

Felix:              (protesting) It’s entry-level.

All:                 Entry-level?!

Felix:              Please stop shouting…

All:                 PLEASE STOP SHOU-

Bella:             You know what Felix, you’re not a Buddhist, you’re a corporate sellout. You’re like that guy from the Wolf of Wall Street who fucked Margot Robbie, except this time it’s you who’s getting fucked. By the Man.

Liv:                 What man?

Bella:             The man, Liv.

Felix:             Who’s “the man”?

Oscar:           (going for a high-five) I’M THE M-

Bella punches him in the balls. Others keep talking as Oscar writhes in pain.

Bella:             The man! Like the establishment, the matrix? God, don’t you guys know anything?

Liv:               I know 37 ways to kill a person with a Q-tip.

Felix:             I know how to let go of the Self (beat). I mean, “I” don’t know that, because “I” don’t exist. I mean, “I” don’t “not exist”-

Liv:               Yet.

Milly:             I think we’ve been distracted.

Felix:              But it’s all a bourgeois conspiracy!

Bella:             You can’t talk about bourgeois conspiracies, you’re the son of a multi-millionaire tax consultant!

Felix:              Yeah, but I’m trying to break free – I’m trying to be a free spirit!

Liv:                  I could free your spirit for you Felix…

Milly:              This is so unfair, Felix, what kind of Buddhist are you?

Felix:              Um, does anyone want a drink? Cos I might just… Get some.

He exits swiftly with the sound of bees coming through the door.

Milly:              Is he alright?

Bella:             (sarcastically) He’s a Buddhist. Worse thing that happens to him is he gets reincarnated as a platypus or something. I bet even then he’d be son of the chief platypus and wouldn’t have to forage with the other smarter, more hard-working platypuses.

Oscar:           Platypi.

Milly:             Bless you.

Oscar:           Anyway, I bet the male platypi deserved those extra worms. They probably worked hard in platypus school instead of flirting with the married 27-year-old teaching assistant.

Bella:             Well, flirting or not, your school did have beagles, so.

Oscar:           (Suddenly deadly serious) You leave the beagles out of this.

Bella:              It’s funny that you had beagles at your school. You know what our school had? A homeless Labrador called Jerry, short for Jerome, who only had one leg and died from trying to consume an entire live pigeon.

Milly:              You see what we had to put up with while you were at your private boarding school? (leaning in) I bet you wanted Jerry to eat that pigeon, didn’t you?

Liv:                  Among other things…

Oscar:           Why, instead of whining, don’t you get out there and actually get a job?

Bella:             We’ve got a business plan.

Oscar:           Yeah, I’ve got a plan to sell my sperm on Ebay for 20 quid a pop (everyone starts groaning), but it’s not made me any money. Yet.

Milly:               Eurgh, you are / disgusting.

Bella:              That’s really grim.

Liv:                 Oscar’s got a point though. (everyone looks at her) Not about the sperm. How have you been surviving since the end of your student loan? You’ve not had a job.

Milly:             Yeah I was wondering about that Bella. How could you afford that gold necklace you showed me last week? And the Gucci slippers? And diamond earrings?

Bella:             Well, let’s just say I have another source of income.

Liv:               Have you been selling your sperm too?

Bella:             (stares at Liv and continues) Remember last February, when I spent my student loan for the semester a tad early?

Milly:             Oh yeah. You spent it in 3 days didn’t you (Bella nods), on…

Bella:             Caviar and champagne. And hummus.

Oscar:           You spent over a thousand pounds in 3 days?

Bella:             Well I needed the champagne and caviar.

Oscar:           Why?

Bella:             (as if it’s obvious, very matter of fact) To go with the hummus, obviously. Christ, are you high or something? Never mind, anyway, I needed some pocket money to keep me going so I signed up to this website. It’s called “SugarDaddies.com”. Heard of it? (no one answers) Well it’s like Tinder, but all the guys are filthy rich and over 30.

Oscar:           And what…do you…do for them?

Milly:             Oh my God. Bella, are you working as a prostitute?

Bella:             No, of course not, it’s just a mutually beneficial relationship. (Oscar takes out his wallet in the background and starts counting banknotes). I dress up for a few social functions, hang off their arm for the evening and then we have some drunk, casual sex. In exchange for which they give me gifts. Everybody wins. (still looking at Milly) Oscar, before you say anything, I just want you to know Gareth’s been done for assaulting his girlfriend’s ex with a cricket bat.

(Oscar silently begins putting notes away again in the background)

Milly:             But Bella what about Gareth? Doesn’t he mind?

Bella:             Ah, Gareth doesn’t care. He’s so submissive.

Oscar:           (coughs) Or doesn’t know.

Bella:             What was that Oscar?

Oscar:           (awkwardly) I said, we should all grow! You know, like the Buddha said, we should grow as physical and spiritual beings. Especially you Liv, you’re quite short.

Liv:                 Waterboarding doesn’t leave any marks Oscar.

Milly:             Right so…how many…”Sugar Daddies” do you have?

Bella:             One at a time normally. Right now I’m seeing this really sweet guy called Jonathan. (Milly shivers) What?

Milly:             No nothing, it’s just my Dad’s called Jonathan, and I don’t really want to imagine…you know…

Bella:             Right of course. Well Jonathan’s not my usual custo-…uh type…He actually plays online poker for a living.

Milly:             That’s weird, my Dad did that too. Before he left me and Mum. At a petrol station. When I was 4.

Oscar:           God damn it Milly, stop hogging the spotlight with your sob stories. No one wants to hear about your deadbeat Dad, we’re finding out about Bella’s mysterious (in french accent) “souteneur”.

Liv:                 Yeah Milly. You should be like me. I’ve given up fighting for good. (beat) Now I fight for evil.

Bella:             So anyway Jonathan’s got this cute little cat which -get this- can actually swallow sausages. (everyone except Milly “woahs” and “no way’s” and “that’s rad’s”). Yeah I was a bit weirded out when he said he had a pussy that could take a 5 inches of meat, but he meant something else.

Milly:       (interrupting, very panicked) Hang on, hang on! We used to have a cat that could swallow sausages too! What’s this guy’s cat called?

Whole room inhales deeply and looks at Bella, eyes wide, sat on edge of their seats. You could cut the tension with a spoon.

Bella:             MB.

Milly:             (Milly exhales in relief and others join her) Oh Christ, I thought you were going to say-

Bella:             Short for Mr. Bigglesworth.

Milly:             Oh my God! You fucked my Dad!

Oscar:            Haha! You dad fucker!

Chaos ensues as Oscar and Liv laugh, shout, whatever and Milly rages indignantly like someone who…well, who’s just found out her best friend has been fucking her Dad

Milly:             What the fuck Bella? I thought you were my friend! And all this time you’ve been fucking my Dad!

Oscar:           And stuffing your pussy.

Milly slaps Oscar and he goes down

Bella:           (backing away from Milly) I swear to God I didn’t know! I mean, how could I?

Milly:           (rabid at this point) How could you? You could’ve made the connection between a 42-year-old bachelor with a daughter called Milly and your fucking flatmate!

Bella:           He said he didn’t have children!

Silence. Liv gasps

Milly:           HE SAID HE DIDN’- (she storms around the kitchen, waving her arms in a panic)

Bella watches anxiously from a corner of the room as Liv watches from the other

Bella:             (hisses) Liv, help me!

Liv:               (shakes her head slowly) No. (Bella looks at her accusingly). No one made you fuck her Dad.

Oscar stumbles to his feet and goes over to Milly, who’s still pacing anxiously, frustration beginning to replace anger

Oscar:           Milly, Milly! Calm down. Look, Bella didn’t know Jonathan was your Dad, and anyway didn’t you tell us you’ve always hated his guts? You told us your step-dad has always more of a Dad to you then your real Dad. So Bella fucked him. So what? He’s practically a distant relative.

Milly begins to calm down as she listens to Oscar’s words

Bella:             (from across the room) Yeah, I mean he wasn’t even that great in the sack.

Oscar:           Not right now Bella. (super sincere) Look Milly you’re getting all riled up over nothing. This guy’s not seen you for over a decade, he doesn’t know you. He doesn’t know what he missed out on. I mean, some might say… “Papa was a rollin stone” (Oscar mockingly sings the song. Milly hits him on the shoulder angrily as he starts laughing).

Milly:             God, you’re such a dick Oscar!

Bella:             (relieved and bitchily) Yeah Oscar, shut up you dick.

Milly:             Bella, you’re forgiven, but shut the fuck up right now.

Bella:             Sorry Mil.

Milly:             What is your problem Oscar?

Oscar:           (putting his feet up on the table) Just chill out Milly, it’s no big deal. Stop getting so stressed about everything. I mean what’s the point of this so-called “white privilege” if you can’t enjoy it?

Milly:              Eurgh, you are such a filthy, capitalist pig! It’s people like you who are responsible for global poverty and – and – Donald Trump!

Oscar:           I’m responsible for Donald Trump? You’re blaming me, Oscar Hamilton-Batters, for Donald Trump being elected President of the United States?

Liv:                  Everything is connected, Oscar. Everything dies.

Bella:             We can’t all be as lucky as you, posh boy!

Oscar:           I’m just saying that –

Milly:              You’re just saying that you don’t really understand how unfair the world is! Don’t you get it? We can’t all be born with a silver spoon in your mouth. We can’t all be born into rich families! We can’t all strike oil!

Scene 4

Enter Felix, covered in oil.

Felix:              I’VE STRUCK OIL!

All:                 WHAT!?

(All jump to their feet). (speaking very quickly, more or less over each other for next few lines)

Oscar:           Felix, what the hell is this?

Bella:             What is that stuff?

Liv:                  (Excitedly) A hydrophobic, lipophilic chemical substance with a high hydrogen and carbon content, making it highly flammable and surface active.

Felix:              (stares at Liv). Um..I don’t know man, I just – I was in the wine cellar and then – I hit the hairbrush-

All:                 Hairbrush!?

Oscar:           What the hell is that thing doing here!?

Felix:              I used it to jam up a hole in the floor a while ago, it was just the right size-

Bella:             Alright Felix, just tell us what happened?

Felix:              I went downstairs to get my bottle of wine, and there was this crazy buzzing noise, like an evil demon was living down there –

Oscar:           What was it, the sound of oil coming out the ground?

Felix:              No, the bees had escaped my bedroom and have started making a colony in the basement.

Bella:             You have bees in your bedroom?

Oscar:           Just don’t.

Felix:              And the bees were just going mad – it was like nature had – had made them crazy! I tried wishing them well with a Buddhist prayer but it just made them angrier. They started chanting ‘Fuck you, imprisoner of the bees!’ Only it sounded like (makes buzzing sound). So I told them I didn’t know they felt trapped, and that my life has been dedicated to their wellbeing. I mean, they do live rent-free.

They all look at each other as if to say, ‘That’s a good point’.

                     But they wouldn’t listen, and they were getting angrier and angrier, chanting ‘Fuck you! Fuck you!’ Then they started unionising and organising a way to overthrow their oppression, so I grabbed the bottle of wine and made for the door, then I kicked over the hairbrush by accident, and then next thing I knew I was – covered in oil!

Milly:              You mean you – struck oil!?

Bella:             But that’s impossible.

Liv:                  Well, actually, it is possible. In this particular region of the UK there’s an estimated billion barrel’s worth of oil beneath the ground. Fracking companies haven’t had the clearance to drill for it yet.

Oscar:           How do you know that?

Liv:                  I used to run a fracking company.

Milly:              Do you mean Felix just fracked this oil – with a hairbrush?

Liv:                  It would appear so. I once did something similar with a cat.

Milly:              So what the hell are we gonna do now? We’ve just struck oil beneath the house, doesn’t that mean it’s our property?

Oscar:           We? Our? Cool it Lenin, I think you’ll find it’s Felix’s property.

Bella:             Surely it belongs to your landlord?

Felix:              Well, actually…

Bella:             What?

Felix:              My parents bought the house for me.

Milly:              Wow. I don’t know whether to love or hate the capitalist system right now.

Bella:             Ok, so the oil belongs to you – then that means you can do what you want with it! That means we could all be millionaires!

Milly:               Oh my God, we could! This could be it! This could be what I’ve been waiting for! All that anxiety for the future – all the fear and uncertainty, gone!

Liv:                  I could invest it in a new cat chamber!

Oscar:           What?

Bella:             I could move out of my parent’s house!

Milly:              Felix could finally buy a new hairbrush!

Felix:              Well the old one’s been taken captive by the bees now, and I think they want a ransom for it. Stupid hairbrush, never done a good thing in its life.

Oscar:           Well guys, as wonderful as that sounds, it’s up to Felix what we do with it. It’s his property.

Milly:              Well Felix, what do you want to do with it?

Bella:             Please decide that all property is theft.

Liv:                  (Assertively) Give it to us.

Felix:              I dunno, guys, this is kind of a hard decision to make all of a sudden.

Bella:             Think about the Buddhist teachings, you know: give property, and you’ll receive Buddha… Points… Probably.

Milly:              Think how much we need it, Felix. We’re not like you. Bella and I didn’t grow up with money. We didn’t have the same opportunities you had; we don’t have parents who can just buy us a house.

Bella:             Our early lives weren’t easy, Felix. Whenever I needed a new t-shirt, I had to wrestle it off a tramp.

Milly:              Whenever I wanted a shower, I had to walk 5 miles to the nearest Travel Lodge.

Bella:             If the electricity went off in our house, my dad couldn’t even charge his iphone. Come on, mate, we really need this. I can’t rely on SugarDaddies.com for ever.

Liv:                  Let’s do the “Hunger Games”. Last one with limbs gets the oil.

Felix:              I’m at least 80% sure that’s against the teachings of the Buddha.

                     Felix appears conflicted and unsure of what to do. Milly sees off her drink and goes to make another one

Milly:              Eurgh, I might as well just get drunk now, nothing ever seems to go my way…

Bella:             Are you alright, Milly?

                       A brief moment of thought passes and she jumps up to speak discretely.

Bella:             (Quietly) Milly, did you get that – thing sorted?

Milly:              Thing?

Bella:             Yeah, you know the sensitive thing?

Milly:              What, you mean my article about mansploding?

Bella:             No-

Milly:              Do you mean the ‘Feminist Indigest’ libel case?

Bella:             No-

Liv:                  Did you get rid of your chlamydia?

Bella:             Liv!

Milly:              Please, no!

Liv:                  Well neither of you were saying it so I thought I’d just hurry you up. I’ve got a (slow speech a bit) short attention spa- Ooh look at that.

Oscar:           You have chlamydia?

Milly:              Had. It’s gone now. Please can we not talk about this, I’ve just eaten.

Oscar:           Who did you get it from?

Milly:              That is none of your business!

Bella:             To be fair it was kind of a surprise to hear that you have a sex life, Milly.

Oscar:           It’s because whenever a man comes close she tells them to stop micro-aggressing her safe space, otherwise she’ll no-platform their nuts.

Liv:                 She must have caught it from somewhere. Most diseases are contagious. Though not enough if you ask me.

Felix:              It’s funny ‘cos I had chlamydia as well. Snap!

                       Long pause. Everyone turns to look at Felix, then back to Milly.

Bella:             No-

Oscar:           No, surely not!

Bella:             Did – did –

Liv:                  Did you two sleep with each other?

(Simultaneously)-

Milly:              No-

Felix:              Yes-

(Pause)-

Milly:              Yes-

Felix:              No-

(Pause)

Milly:              Alright, yes! It’s true. Come get me, world. Despite what the patriarchy may tell you about the passive nature of women, I, Milly de Mange, have a functioning sex drive.

Felix:              Guys, seriously, love is love, yeah? It’s only because of the rules of society that we don’t express our innermost selves to one another in the ultimate, intimate embrace, sharing the hug that makes us totally at one with the universe.

Oscar:           (To Milly) How the fuck did you sleep with this guy?

Milly:              It’s a long story, we don’t have to go into it.

Bella:             I think I’m going to need another drink.

Oscar + Liv: Me too.

                       They slide their glasses over to be refilled.

Milly:              Oh Christ, me too.

                       She offers her glass as well.

Felix:              I’m starting to think that this alcohol actually makes you mindful.

Bella:             Well in that case you need to be mindful of where you stick your penis.

Felix:              My penis is part of nature. Nature does what it wants.

Bella:             Felix maybe you should slow down. Alcohol makes you really fat you know.

Liv:                 Alcohol doesn’t make you fat. It makes you lean. (beat) Against the wall.

Oscar:           Just how did this happen? You and the hippy, how?

Milly:              Felix – wrote a poem for ‘Feminist Indigest’ about how the vagina is a symbol of revolution…

Oscar:           And?

Milly:              We got talking about it in the SU bar and, drinks were flowing and I was very impressed by his poetic ideals-

Felix:              And then the love flowed naturally and spontaneously, like a spring bursting forth from a mountain top.

Bella:             That’s not really the image I wanted…

Oscar:           So you shagged him because he wrote a poem about a vagina? Christ I wish I’d known it was that easy before.

Milly:              Well, that and the fact he had this marijuana from Thailand, and I’d never really got stoned before-

Oscar:           (To Felix) You mean you drugged her into sleeping with you?

Felix:              No, it wasn’t like that at all!

Milly:              Felix did not drug me into sleeping with him, Oscar! That’s so sexist of you. Women are more than capable of making their own decisions about who they sleep with you chauvinist.

Oscar:           But I just don’t get it, why him?

Felix:              Hey!

Milly:              He wrote the most gorgeous poem about female sexuality…

Felix:              I suppose I did!

Oscar:           You shagged him because of a poem about female sexuality?

Bella:             Well why not? I’d go for anyone who could write a convincing poem about pussy.

Liv:               (stage-whisper to Felix) Or their Dad.

Felix:             (stage-whispering back) I wasn’t on stage for that bit, I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Milly:              It was very good actually. It had perfect rhythm and metre.

Felix:              I contacted the spirit of John Keats, I’ll have you know.

Bella:             This coming from the guy who once got into an argument on existentialism with a rat.

Felix:             Hey, I don’t care what species you are, if you slag off Jean-Paul Sartre to my face then you’ve got to answer for it.

Bella:             Felix. It was dead.

Felix:             Well then it really shouldn’t have been talking about existentialism should it!

Oscar:           (Pulling out his phone) Alright then, let’s see this poem. It’s on the ‘Feminist Indigest’ website, isn’t it?

Milly:              Yes, but – you don’t need to actually look it up.

Oscar:           No, come on, if it’s so brilliant that it made you sleep with him then I think we should all hear it!

Bella:             Oh God, what is going on…

Liv:                  I sense that this might be a bad idea. Should I go and get my tazer?

Oscar:           Right, I’m on a list of poems. What’s it called?

Felix:              ‘The Vagina Strikes Back’.

                       Pause. Liv starts singing the Star Wars theme to cover the silence.

Oscar:           Was it preceded by ‘A New Vagina’ and followed by ‘Return of the Vagina’?

Milly:              Don’t be facetious, Oscar, it’s a very serious piece of verse.

Liv:                  Like a eulogy.

Oscar:           (clears his throat) ‘The Vagina Strikes Back:

There once was a man from Fetter’ –

Felix, is this a limerick?

Felix:              I told you, it was inspired by John Keats!

Oscar:           ‘There once was a man from Fetter

                       Who tried on a girl who knew better,

He whipped out his cock,

But she gave him a shock,

‘Cos her vagina bit it off and she renounced the patriarchy.’

Liv:                  I did that once.

Bella:             (Starts clapping) Oh, bravo. Now that is poetry.

Oscar:           I may only have done English GCSE – no, iGCSE – but I can’t help but feel that it didn’t quite keep to the rhyme scheme.

Milly:              That’s the point! It’s symbolic of how renouncing the patriarchy is a revolutionary act that distorts the methodic oppression of women.

Oscar:           This made you sleep with Felix?

Milly:              Yes. And you know what? I’m proud of it too.

Oscar:           But it’s a limerick?

Bella:             Poets gets pussy Oscar. Just ask Charles Dickens. Or should I say Charles “Dick-In”.

Milly:              (flustered) Yes, thank you Bella, glad to know you appreciate the great novelists!

Oscar:           Okay, so it’s that easy then? I just need to write a limerick about rejecting men and then a feminist will sleep with me. Alright then:

                       ‘There once was a woman from Ealing,

                       Who had a peculiar feeling,

She lay on her back,

And opened her crack,

And then rejected all the sexual advances of the men in the immediate vicinity in the name of feminism.’

Felix:              You’ve missed the point man. It’s about the sexual exploration.

Bella:             If it helps, I can tell you about my sexual exploration.

Liv:                  Or, I could tell you all about mine.

Silence from all as the give Liv side-glances.

Bella:             I slept with Oscar.

All:                 What!?

Felix:              Free love. Alright.

Milly:              Oscar, is this true?

Oscar:           (super embarrassed) Well, uh, well yes actually.

Milly:              How?

Oscar:           It was at a Conservative Society meeting.

Milly:              (To Bella) What were you doing at a Conservative Society meeting?

Bella:             Well – you know I’ve got a thing for posh boys. Where better to find them than good old Tory Soc?

Liv:                  When I was running the Bullingdon Club –

Milly:              (To Bella) But how? And why?

Liv:                  (Thinking she’s being spoken to) Funny story –

Bella:             Well, Oscar gave a very eloquent speech on why fox hunting should be reintroduced, and seeing as I don’t care about foxes, I got him drunk and shagged him.

Oscar:           You didn’t get me drunk, I got myself drunk, thank you very much!

Bella:             It was all very straightforward. One night stand, say your goodbyes in the morning. No more to it.

Oscar:           David Cameron would be proud of me.

Felix:             He fucked a pig.

Oscar:           Didn’t know he knew your Mum.

                       Bella kicks Oscar under the table

Felix:             Not okay man. She’s got a thyroid problem.

Milly:              Oscar, it sounds like you were abused.

Oscar:           No I wasn’t! It was totally consensual.

Bella:             Well, I did have to buy him a few rounds of champagne first.

Liv:                  Champagne?

Oscar:           It’s the only thing they serve at Tory Soc.

Felix:              You know what guys, I think this is great. Free love is the way the world should work. The only thing is that with all that free love comes a lot of STIs.

Milly:              I can’t believe this.

Bella:             What? That two of your friends hooked up once? Not exactly your place to comment on that.

Milly:              No – it’s just – it’s – it’s not right! We shouldn’t all just be hooking up with each other left, right and centre for no purpose!

Oscar:           What do you mean no purpose? As I recall all our purposes were pretty fulfilled.

Felix:              We shouldn’t be concerned with the purpose of life, Milly, but with how to enjoy it.

Bella:             And in my opinion, meaningless sex is quite enjoyable.

Milly:              This is a bit much to take in one evening. I mean, you and Liv are starting a business without me, Bella fucked my dad, you guys now know I slept with Felix, Bella and Oscar slept together, Felix has a job at KPMG, and now we’ve gone and struck fucking oil!

Felix:              I’m not going to work for KPMG, I’m going on a spiritual journey!

All:                 Are you?

Felix:               Well, I’m a bit unsure-

Bella:             And to top it all off, we probably all have chlamydia.

Milly:              Christ, you’re right. We’re a filthy cocktail of STIs. We’re the Daily Mail’s definition of ‘millennial’.

Oscar:           I feel more embarrassed than that time I threw hot tea in Devington’s face for saying socialism “wasn’t all bad”. I mean ‘that’ll teach him to be Red!’. But then of course the burns mean he’s permanently red now anyway.

Felix:              I just can’t believe the hairbrush came back the way it did.

Liv:                  (Liv suddenly smashes a wine bottle and jumps up) WHAT happened with the hairbrush?

                       They all jump, terrified.

Bella:             Jesus Christ, Liv, calm down!

Oscar:           Quick, hold her down!

                       They try to hold her down but she evades them.

Liv:                  Just tell me!

Oscar:           It’s just like in first year with that toaster and that – cat!

                       He has a sudden realisation, like a lightbulb has flickered on above his head

Smithers…

Liv:                  He died doing what he loved… (To herself) Wait, no, stay on track Liv. The hairbrush. Explain.

Felix:             Or what?

Liv:               Let’s just say there’s more than one way to skin a cat Felix.

Bella:            You want to know what happened with – with

Liv:                  The hairbrush.

Bella:             Alright. I’ll tell you.

Oscar + Milly:            NO-

Liv:                  Yes.

Bella:             Alright. What happened with the hairbrush… Look it was the first day of the holidays and we’d all been partying that weekend non-stop. Felix was high on acid, Oscar was on coke, I was blind-drunk and Milly was on…(looks to Milly)

Milly:              (super keen) Simone de Beauvoir.

Bella:              Anyway, Felix and I were sitting in the living room smoking a joint. Felix is still hallucinating from the LSD; completely out of it. He’s talking about “Is the smoke natural or not?”, “Are condoms are a barrier to the connection of souls?” and… (turns to Felix)…what was the last one?

Felix:              Are glasses a capitalist conspiracy? You know, like the matrix. Stopping you from seeing the world as it really is. (feel free to ad-lib)

Bella:              Right. So just as he begins staring into a mirror and laughing in walks Oscar in wearing nothing but boxers, coked-up, shouting about communism or something.

Liv:                  Why?

Oscar:            The Labour candidate tried canvassing our house. He wants to raise my taxes? Have a go Karl Marx, then we’ll see who the “posh tory twat” is.

Milly:             Well clearly not him.

Bella:             Then Milly walks in brushing her hair…with the hairbrush… and, of course, immediately starts telling Oscar he’s a fascist pig, and before you can say “let’s agree to disagree”, they’re properly going at it. Throwing glass, shouting, screaming…and that was just Felix in the corner!

Felix:               The teletubbies are mean fuckers up close (can ad-lib).

Bella:              30 minutes later they’re still at it full-force, but Milly’s nearing her breaking point. She’s brandishing this big hairbrush at Oscar…The final straw was…

Oscar + Milly:            LGBT representation in major trade unions.

Milly:              LGBTI… (Bella about to speak) Q… (Bella tries again) Plus…

(Bella waits for approval to speak).

Oh no, that’s it.

Bella:              Milly just went for him and before we knew it, Oscar was on the floor screaming. It was like a nature documentary, except when the gazelle gets really angry about gender roles and attacks the lion with a piece of plastic.

Felix:             Mother Nature is not a MILF.

Liv:                 Wait, so what happened?

Bella:             Milly shoved her hairbrush up Oscar’s arse.

Pause as they take it all in. Liv starts laughing maniacally. Oscar glares. Felix also starts giggling.

Felix:              It is kind of funny Oscar. I mean, you are always telling girls about how you’d like to try anal. Not quite what you meant, but hey!

                     Oscar dives off his chair onto Felix and starts throttling him. Havoc. Liv changes the soundtrack to clown music (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4RHZ1ssCBA), and keeps on laughing as Bella and Milly try and restrain Oscar. Milly and Bella will ad-lib quite general comments like “He’s not worth it”, “Calm down”, “No, don’t”: all very caricaturised and over the top. Go where your imagination takes you.

Oscar:            I’ll kill you! Do you know the pain I went through you lettuce-eating, hippy asshole? Fuck you!

Felix:             (unruffled) Funny you should mention assholes…

Oscar tries to attack Felix again but is restrained by the two girls who drag him away. Switch off clown-music. Everyone’s breathing heavily.

Oscar:           I spent a week in hospital you dick! I was taken away on an ambulance!

Liv:               (laughter finally subsiding, wiping tears from eyes) hahah…ohhh..ahaha…Why?

Bella:             It was stuck. So I had to pull it out.

                       Liv starts laughing again (this is going to have to be a full-bellied, tears-in-eyes, abs-hurting kind of laugh)

Liv:               Why didn’t Milly do it?

Bella:             Yeah Milly, why didn’t you do it?

Milly:             (looks down) I can’t do blood.

                       Bella glares at her and then looks at Felix questioningly

Felix:             What? I was helping!

Bella:              You started rubbing his shoulders and whispering about angry teletubbies, you weirdo.

Oscar:           Look, what’s done is done, let’s just stop talking about “Hairbrush-gate” altogether. Now, I think the reasonable thing is for us all to share the oil.

Milly + Bella:   No!

Bella:             No, come on, this is bollocks! Look, I’m sorry you got sodomised by L’Oreal, but Milly and I come from way poorer backgrounds than Boris and Theresa over there.

Liv:                 What about me, I need money too.

Milly:              Are you poor Liv? I actually know nothing about your background.

Bella:             Yeah, Liv, where are you even from?

Liv:                 You can’t find it on a map.

Oscar:           What?

Bella:             But what sort of background are you from?

Liv:                 I don’t know. My parents said we’re upper-lower-upper-middle-middle class. May they rest in peace.

Milly:             Hold on, you two have a business venture together! You’re flying to Dublin tomorrow to meet your investors!

Bella:             Look, Milly –

Milly:             And you lied to me and hid it from me! And fucked my Dad! How could you possibly think you could share the oil with me? If anyone truly deserves it, it’s me!

Oscar:           Woah, woah, I think I deserve a little compensation for “Hairbrush-gate”.

Milly:             Oh get over it Oscar. Do the Spanish not say, “C’est la vie”?

Oscar:           Nope.

Felix:             Must be Russian or something.

Bella:             Look, Mil, it’s not exactly likely we’re going to be striking millions with head-massaging hairbrush.

Milly:             But Bella, it’s the principle!

Bella:             Who cares about the principle? We’re all in the same boat, mate! And that boat is a leaking, creaking wreck. In the fast-flowing river of unemployment, rising debt and sky-high mortgages, we are all going to drown without that oil.

Felix:            Well I won’t drown, I played water polo at school.

Milly:             It’s a metaphor Felix.

Felix:             I thought it was a river?

Oscar:           Look, I’m trying to think what my dad would do, because, frankly, he’s a financial genius. I think – we could all sell the oil, then put the profit into a central pot that distributes a specific percentage to each of us every month. There. That was rather good, wasn’t it? Maybe I’ve inherited some of his genius? Oh, who am I kidding? Of course I have.

Milly:             Oscar, stop trying to get in on this! You don’t need the money, we do!

Bella:             What would you even use it for?

Felix:             You could buy some property in India for me to live in while I go on my spiritual quest. Save me having to compete on the housing market.

Bella:             How is competition for housing going to affect your spiritual journey? That is just so not a problem.

Liv:                 There are wiser investments. Like dungeons.

Felix:             And dragons!

Liv:               Just dungeons.

Oscar:           I must say I’d probably do something a hell of a lot wiser with it than you lot.

Milly:             Eurgh! What gives you the right to make comments like that? That you just assume you have better judgement than all the peasants surrounding you?

Oscar:           Because I come from a financial family, I have a degree in Economics and Management –

Milly:             And you have a grotesquely swollen sense of self-worth! You’re always making these assumptions that none of us really know what we’re doing, that because we’re not from the same background as you we don’t have the same amount of skill, or confidence, or general ability to be good human beings.

Oscar:           I just mean to say that I have a special knowledge of the subject, and I’m trying to use it / to help –

Milly:             Special knowledge because of your family, because daddy-kins runs a hedge fund doesn’t he?

Oscar:           One, I call him Father to his face, and two, yes, he does! He’s a very successful financier who works so hard he doesn’t even see his family that often.

                     (Awkward pause)

I mean – basically, I know about money, alright, and you and your little lefty brain don’t get it.

Milly:             That doesn’t mean we can’t learn to do it ourselves, without your ‘expertise’ being used as an excuse to grab our cash.

Bella:             She’s right, Oscar, why can’t we do it ourselves?

Oscar:           I’m trying to help! God, I feel like how the bourgeoisie must have felt under Mao.

                      (Liv has been leaning into the oil-covered Felix with her lighter, curious).

Felix:             Guys, can’t we all just get along?

All:                 No!

                      (Liv moves back. Felix is completely oblivious).

Liv:                 (Playing with her lighter) I wonder, if I took this lighter down to the cellar…

Felix:             Don’t do that, the bees are angry, and I think they have knives!

Liv:                 Oh. I didn’t know knives put out fires.

Milly:             Well we’ve had enough. Today we’re not having any more of your condescending, chauvinistic, capitalist crap! We are going to take control of this oil, and we are going to make a profit out of it, and unlike the first night of uni I am going to have no regrets about what I do with you!

Bella:             What? What happened on the first night of uni?

Milly:             Oh, balls.

Felix:             (to the audience) That’s what’s called a “Deus Ex Machina”. It’s Latin for “we couldn’t think of another way to wrap up the show”.

Oscar:           Do you want to tell them or shall I?

Felix:             (overly dramatic) Oh no! (Everyone turns to him) – is it another hairbrush? (turns and mouths to audience, “It’s not”)

Oscar:           No, Felix.

Milly:             Eurgh, FINE – everyone, on the first night of uni, Oscar and I slept with each other.

                     (Pause. Felix spits violently as if in disgust. Everyone looks at him.)

Felix:             Sorry, I just had some oil in my mouth.

Oscar:           Mate, you’re on the spectrum.

Liv:                 Why wasn’t I invited to join?

Felix:             But that makes no sense. (To Milly) You’re an Aquarius and (to Oscar) you’re a Cancer. IT MAKES NO SENSE!

Bella:             But – what!? The first night of uni? As in, at the Gutter Hall Fresher’s Disco?

Milly:             Yep. I mean, look, you can’t judge me too harshly – it was the first night of Fresher’s, I was scared, I had a whole bottle of vodka and Oscar was wearing these pink trousers –

Oscar:           Salmon pink trousers…(winks to audience member)

Milly:             Which is my favourite colour, and – well – he did look kind of handsome.

Felix:             I thought you two didn’t talk to each other that night?

Oscar:           Well, there wasn’t a lot of talking, if you know what I mean – (Milly glares at him)...No? Ok. (starts trying to chat up random audience member)

Milly:             Truth is, we’ve kind of been dating on-and-off for the best part of 2 years. From the first night of uni to…the hairbrush.

Bella:             But…why did you keep it a secret?

Milly:             Well I was trying to get in with FemSoc at the time and once I found out Oscar was a tory bastard I didn’t really want to broadcast that to the Sisterhood. I mean…(despairingly) look at him…(Everyone stares at Oscar, who is at this point failing completely to chat up the audience member and is giving them awkward finger guns) Anyway, after the hairbrush the whole thing started haemorrhaging…everything.

Felix:             Are we talking about the relationship here, or Oscar’s bottom?

Liv:                 This is so unfair!

Bella:             What’s unfair, my little psychopath?

Liv:                 Well, if Oscar had chlamydia, and he slept with Milly, and Milly slept with Felix, and Oscar slept with Bella, then everyone has chlamydia except me.

Felix:             There are worse things to be excluded from, Liv. Like (ad-lib each night).

Liv:                 It’s not fair. I want chlamydia too!

Milly:             Well there’s a fine analogy for growing up. You start off expecting romance and love and you end up a big, drunk cocktail of STI’s.

Bella:             I suppose it’s a wake up call when your friends are complaining that not enough people have chlamydia.

Oscar:           Young people eh? I blame Bumble.

                       Milly takes a seat at the table and stares into a copy of ‘Feminist Indigest’. Felix suddenly stands and downs a bottle of wine. Everyone watches.

Felix:             Right, feeling quite a bit more spiritual now. And I’ve been thinking. Guys. I think you should have the oil.

Liv:                 Really?

Felix:             Yeah. I’ve consulted my inner self, and it told me that Oscar and I don’t need it as much as you.

Bella:             But, Felix, love, are you sure?

Felix:             Yeah, I’m sure. I don’t need it. People like me don’t need much, really.

                       (Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ begins to play in the background).

People like me and Oscar – we’re not so different from any of you. Even though we grew up with big houses, with fancy cars, tennis courts and swimming pools; even though we had a private education, where we learnt how to speak, play rugby and govern; even though my dad could afford a holiday to the Seychelles every year while most families are just struggling to get by; at the end of the day, none of us needs much.

(He addresses the audience).

Because, really, what is it that separates us? Is it the colour of our skin? The kind of school we went to? Is it the difference in what makes us happy? The way a bird sweeping through a tree will light up the face of a child, but not an adult? Is it the way we dress? The people we fall in love with?

(Milly begins to take another inquisitive taste of the food).

Or is it something subtler than that, something so subtle that it barely even exists? In reality, is there anything that truly divides us? Or are we all one people, all joined together in myriad, divine and indestructible ways, all acting together as one organism that is often too great for us to see?

Are we not all, at the end of the day, one? Are we not all, ultimately, human?

(Pause as the music crescendos. Milly suddenly spits violently. Felix and the music make an abrupt stop).

Milly:             Oh my God, that is disgusting! Jesus Christ, Felix, it’s like an army of little Indian demons attacked my taste buds.

                     (She wipes her mouth and drinks more vodka to wash it down).

Felix:             But weren’t you listening to the speech? I said we’re all one –

Bella:             You’ve made your point, Felix, mate, now what are we going to do about the oil?

Felix:             Oh yeah, the oil. Well I guess you, Milly and Liv can have the profit from it.

Oscar:           Agreed.

Bella:             Well, this is great – this means we don’t have to meet our investors tomorrow! We can just do it ourselves.

Liv:                 And we can make other investments. Like (ad-lib).

Bella:             Or (ad-lib).

Milly:              And maybe it’ll give me enough money to rent while I write something. Maybe I’ll write a feminist treatise after all. (waves arms dramatically) “On Manspreading’ by Milly de Mange’.

Liv:                  What about you, Felix? What are you going to do?

Felix:              Well, actually guys, do you think I could have a bit of the profit? Just because I think I want to go on my spiritual journey after all, and I probably do need some money. I don’t need much, just a little bit every month to keep me going.

Milly:              I’m sure that’s fine.

Bella:             So it’s the spiritual journey after all? A brave decision.

Felix:              Yeah, I think so. I want to meditate. This entire evening has been like someone putting a grenade in my head and throwing me in a cement mixer.

Milly:             You know what that is Felix? That’s living.

Felix:             (to the audience) She studies Philosophy in real life. (To Darcy) Did you actually think that line was profound? (Darcy starts to speak: “Well actually” but Arty interrupts and speaks to the audience) We apologise for her. Philosophy’s like the Aldi of degrees, isn’t it? You know what, I take that back, that was mean. Aldi don’t deserve that. (can ad-lib more if the mood strikes, preferably get the crowd to turn on her).

Bella:             It’s just occurred to me that the oil is probably spilling out by a metric fucktonne a minute downstairs – does anyone want to help me plug it back up?

Liv:                  What’ll we use?

                       Felix holds up the hairbrush.

Felix:             What do you think?

Bella:             Right, let’s do this. Oh shit, what about the bees though? (to Felix) Didn’t you say they had knives?

Liv:               (wiping oil on her arms) Survival of the slickest Bella. Let’s tool up.

                 Everyone begins picking up random “weaponry” -spoons for swords, plates for shields, bowls for helmets, etc.

(looks out) For death or glory.

Oscar:           (gazing above the audience) For Rohan.

Milly:             What?

Oscar:           Nothing.

Felix:             (makes for the door, then stops) Before we do this, I just want to say guys, if we don’t make it, it’s been a honour to know you all. And if we die, we die with the knowledge that our last dinner on this earth was a memorable one. We truly went out, with a bang. (beat) Not literally, of course, although in the name of free love, I’m all for a celebratory tantric orgy if we make it –

Milly:             Felix.

Felix:             Yeah alright.

All:                  CHAAAARRRRRGE!

                     They exit to the sound of bees going crazy. Sounds of shouting and fighting come from offstage.

Blackout.

 

 

First Impressions Of Yangon

Whenever you step outside, the hot, humid air smacks you like you’ve opened the door to Hell’s boiler room; it then continues to press its thumb down on you until the sweat and the exhaustion force you to find an air-conditioned interior again, where you sit and wonder if you can ever feel quite right in this country.

I arrived here on Friday 4th August after a grim and sleepless flight from London via Bangkok. The weekend was spent mostly sleeping – 20 hours on the first night, broken only by a half hour window in which I lay staring at the dawn behind the curtains and wondering if I’d made a mistake in coming here. It’s now Thursday and the jet lag has started to be kinder to me, although I’m still recovering from a general exhaustion I’d inflicted on myself before travelling. I was bedridden for a good week before flying, and likely I needed another week in bed. The inhospitable weather here is probably not going to help.

Since I barely saw daylight over the weekend and work at the school started on Monday morning, I haven’t had a good chance to see much of the city yet. This is partly also because the heat is so intolerable that one isn’t encouraged to venture outside almost at all. I’ve never experienced heat like this before. How on earth did the first British colonisers stand it? I’ve been wondering what the hell they thought they were doing conquering this place since the moment I stepped off the plane. Nevermind how imperial-minded I may have been in the 1850s, I personally would have walked off the boat for sixty seconds and decided that it was better left with the natives. The constant, satanic screaming of the tropical birds ought to have warned them it was a bad idea if nothing else did.

But there are signs that Yangon is the sort of place you ought to get to know over time. Although it’s filthy and, frankly, reeks, with any one street deluging smells ranging from the most beautiful food to the most gut-twisting sewers, there is something faintly remarkable about it. On my first night I was taken to a rooftop bar, and after precisely three drinks someone told me to stand on a particular part of the terrace. I did so, and realised that for a whole half hour I’d failed to notice the utterly enormous Shwedagon Pagoda reaching out of the humid darkness and shining like it was on fire.

At 4am my flatmate and I saw Buddhist monks walking in line to their morning meditation, their bare feet taking the worst of the grime on the narrow backstreet outside our flat. Everywhere you go people are ready to offer a smile no matter how incompetently you speak the language. Cab drivers are constantly fascinated by where you come from, and are forever offering examples of links between their family and England – often at the expense of actually looking at the road. The traffic here is heavy and chaotic and the fumes starve you of both oxygen and a healthy mind, but there’s a certain inarticulate rightness to it.

On first glance, things in the West seem to work. Buildings often look healthy, traffic mostly behaves itself and infrastructure is reliable. The streets are clean and the buses don’t have whole families clinging for dear life to the outside. In the underdeveloped nations of the East there is no such illusion. The streets are filthy and smelly, buildings lie unfinished, beggars publicly waste away with the most hideous ailments and you’re liable to be unable to get down a street without encountering a bus full of chickens or twenty cabdrivers crying out for your attention. Chaos is the norm.

But the thing is that in the West there is a chaos underlying the unity, whereas in the East there is a unity underlying the chaos. Mad, infuriating and incoherent it may be, but it is also somehow sensible. Rather like Alan Watts’s adage that life doesn’t make sense so we ought not to apply sense to it, Myanmar does not make sense, and that’s precisely how it ought to be.

I’m hoping my health improves in the next week before term starts. I don’t think it’s possible to face this country with less than a fully beating heart.

The Mental Health Crisis 1: Capitalism & Images

Does a society obsessed with image affect our mental health?

I’m going to try and sum up as briefly and non-academically as I can the basic potential causes of the crisis we’re seeing unfold before our eyes, and I think a good starting place would be to have a look at the current social narrative both the UK and most of the Western world is presently living with. By ‘social narrative’ I mean the way our society thinks – and it might be said that, however tendentious might be my claim to fully understand the way a whole society conducts itself, there are very clear identifiable patterns in what our politicians discuss, what the richest and poorest vote for, what cultural trends emerge and die and so on.

Now, you might be tempted to say that politics has nothing to do with mental health. I fully understand why you might think that, but I assure you that the only reason you might is if you believe politics to be an altogether separate realm of human activity that is ultimately not related to the everyday goings on of the average human being. You would be wrong to think this. What our politicians set into motion in the corridors of power are systems which influence the way the rest of the country behaves. If, for example, parliament votes to abolish all welfare, then that would be several million people plunged into poverty at the drop of a hat – and poverty, as we ought to know, can destroy a person’s mental wellbeing.

But what I am talking about here is not necessarily just about politicians, but also about the way our whole country tends to behave, how we talk about one another, what we believe it is ‘right’ for an individual to do and how these decisions then influence our mental wellbeing.

Here I want to discuss Neoliberalism, which is the basic ideology our political establishment has espoused for the last forty or so years. I must admit that at the time of writing it seems quite likely that Neoliberalism is actually coming to an end, what with the overwhelming surge in support for fringe political movements who advertise themselves on a platform of simply being different to the parties that preceded them. Nonetheless it still needs to be discussed because I believe really very strongly that it has been ruinous to the mental health of the West, and that large elements of it may continue to survive as the next political epoch dawns.

Late Capitalism

If there’s anything close to a catchall phrase for what’s going on, I believe this is it. In May of this year The Atlantic described ‘Late Capitalism’ thus:

“a catchall phrase for the indignities and absurdities of our contemporary economy, with its yawning inequality and super-powered corporations and shrinking middle class.”[1]

It essentially refers to the period of capitalism in which we now find ourselves, with its many complexities and workings that I believe have a uniquely destructive impact on the wellbeing of individuals. I’ll walk you through it as efficiently as I can:

  1. The Entrepreneur-of-Self ( Or ‘The Perfect Individual’)

The first and foremost effect of Late Capitalism is what is known as the ‘Entrepreneur-of-Self’, a cultural trend whereby individuals feel the need to ‘sell’ themselves in every aspect of their life. To even begin to understand the immense crisis of identity the depression epidemic entails, we must understand this fundamental concept.

Our current cultural system, which can be called Neoliberalism as much as Late Capitalism, conceives economics as a total system for organising human affairs: in other words that the free market is the only way to organise humanity. In this way of looking at life, the individual human self is just another commodity to be marketed. This is what is known as the ‘Homo Economicus’ view of mankind – the view that humans are totally rational and innately selfish, and therefore make calculated conclusions about how to maximise their own profit.

What this then means is people become their own miniature capitalists, deciding on actions as one would decide on investments, according to whether or not they will yield capital in return. Every aspect of their life then becomes a buy-and-sell relationship: people ‘sell’ themselves in their social lives, on the jobs market, in education and in romantic relationships. Consider, for instance, the general move away from welfare and towards loans, as has happened with university tuition fees in recent years. The idea is to make people responsible for their life choices by making everything a financial transaction, which of course is actually irresponsible because the vast majority of people are not qualified to think about life in such a way and because it puts them in debt, which is a form of control. But this is symptomatic of a political movement to encourage everyone to perform in a certain way. The aim in our day and age is to become the Perfect Individual, who advertises the supposed perfection of every part of their life whilst never addressing any underlying emotion they might have.

Hence Neoliberalism and the Entrepreneur-of-Self go hand in hand with Image Culture, in which individuals become brands rather than human beings, superficial images rather than emotionally secure people. The pressure is to become the Perfect Individual, to be beautiful, intelligent and wealthy, live in a perfect house with perfect children, exercise, work and entertain rich and fulfilling social, sexual and intellectual lives, as well as forming opinions about current affairs, wine, the stock market and fashion trends. Business nous in particular is fetishized. In other words, we must perform, and we must never let on that our inner selves are not in a healthy way. When Brett Easton Ellis wrote American Psycho, this is what he was getting at: a society in which we throw all our effort at looking perfect, and never at feeling it.

The end result of this is anxiety. When there is constant pressure to compete against one another and to hide any signs of weakness, anxiety is the natural outcome. The market principle – the principle of competition, of winners and losers – is responsible for this. Maybe there are times when it has a place, but it does not have a place in our social lives, it does not have a place in education, it does not have a place in healthcare and it especially does not have a place in our emotional lives. These are all areas of existence in which competition has been introduced in the last forty years if not longer, and people are starting to feel the pinch.

The first step in addressing the mental health crisis must be to create a consensual, connected society in which people are not encouraged to compete with each other in the way that has contributed to the depression epidemic.

  1. Entitlement

A key aspect of The Perfect Individual that must also be clearly understood is that of entitlement. This is because people who grow up in a society idolising perfectibility are told that everyone can achieve it if they just try hard enough – so then everyone works very hard, or feels like they do, and as a result they feel they are owed more than they are given.

Consider the original Thatcherite message that accompanied the dawn of Neoliberalism in the 1980s: ‘Pull yourself up by your boot straps!’ ‘Every man for himself!’ ‘There is no such thing as society, so only care about yourself!’ ‘Work hard and you – yes, YOU! – can be the very best!’

This enormous political movement told a whole generation of people and more that they could be the best, and therefore that if they fail then it is their own fault. Neoliberal ideology says that you cannot expect help either from the government or other people, meaning you are alone, it is you against the world and you are liable to fail. But you feel that you can become the best; you do everything you can to become the best; you work exceptionally hard to become the best. Think about the way Right-Wing commentators fetishize people they deem to be the hardest working, such as young lawyers or financiers who sleep in their offices in order to get ahead. A mindset like that produces, quite frankly, sociopathic, if not psychopathic, people, who are so hellbent on destroying competition that they sacrifice their humanity in the name of ‘success’. Hence why it is entirely unsurprising why Jon Ronson has famously found the incidence of psychopathy amongst CEOs to be 4 times greater than the rest of the population.

So the first notable effect of entitlement culture is some people feeling that they are innately better than others, and are determined to be the very best at all costs. But we desperately need to acknowledge that this is just half the story – because entitlement goes one of two ways. Either it makes you feel like you are significantly better than everyone else, or it makes you feel significantly worse.

Think about it – you are told that you can be the best if you are talented and you work hard. So if you feel like you are not talented, or you carry self-doubt in some other way (bearing in mind that Western culture is ridden with self-hatred), then it is more than possible that you will feel yourself to be unwelcome in this world. If you really believe that everyone else is better than you and that you are losing the game of marketing yourself, then what is there to make you feel valuable? You’re an unmarketable, unwanted commodity. There’s nothing to put on your CV, and there’s no point anyway because there will always be someone else who has it better than you – and all you have to do is log on to facebook to see them.

And the thing is that it is not just the people who feel worthless who have it bad; it’s also the people who think they’re better than everyone else. Because, you see, this is egotism at its purest and finest, and egotism is a function of insecurity. You develop egotism to pretend to be something better than you are; egotists are people who obsess over themselves because they are worried about how they appear to the world, not, as we commonly mistake them to be, people who genuinely believe they are superior. They don’t really feel they are better. They might believe it superficially, but deep down they are simply frightened human beings. People who are on what we might call the ‘positive’ side of entitlement still fret about their social position and their personal advertising, and most importantly still feel disconnected from the rest of humanity. Egotists place themselves and their personal wants and desires above those of others, and therefore they feel disconnected.

And this really is what I want you to take away from this brief discussion of capitalism and entitlement: that it creates fear, which creates egotism, which creates a sense of disconnection. It fundamentally creates anxiety. This is what Late Capitalism, Neoliberalism, Post-Industrialism and all the other ‘isms’ of the last fifty years have done to us. As individuals, we experience ourselves as lonely, competitive and anxious beings, and this is the first step to understanding why depression and anxiety have surged in the period of history in which we live.

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/05/late-capitalism/524943/

An Introduction To The Mental Health Crisis

For some time now, perhaps the last thirty or forty years, there appears to have been a growing crisis in the mental health of Planet Earth. Befrienders.org (http://www.befrienders.org/suicide-statistics) say that global suicide rates have risen 60% in the last 45 years, and are presently at the rate of 1 every 40 seconds. By 2020 they expect it to be 1 every 20 seconds.

It’s not hard to find statistics like these from even the most momentary web search. All evidence seems to suggest that, at least within recent memory, things are getting worse at a rate of knots – measurable by, for instance, the suddenness with which depression in young people has become the enormous issue it now is. Even without citing statistics it’s possible to know that teenagers today are dropping out of school with depression at a completely unprecedented rate. Certainly to my mind the mental health issue could be the biggest one facing humanity today. I distinctly remember being 20 years old, starting at university and slowly finding that virtually everyone I knew seemed to be struggling with a mental health problem – usually anxiety or depression, or more often both. It was the first time I’d really begun to understand the scale of the thing, and I was struck by the thought: ‘What the hell is going on?’

Surely it hasn’t always been like this?

Well, it must be acknowledged that it might have been. Before further discussion I need to nod to the distinct possibility that my argument that this ‘crisis’ is new might be totally bogus. After all, information about what we now term ‘mental health’ is sparse the further back into history you go, and of course there are all sorts of questions about whether in the past we would have reported depression like we do now, and indeed whether we recognise it as capital D ‘Depression’. There’s no question that things like depression and anxiety have always existed – think of the many famous cases of suicide throughout history, or even fictional characters like Konstantin Levin in ‘Anna Karenina’ who lies awake at night in fits of despair over the inevitability of death and the uncertainty of his own existence. These days this would be termed anxiety disorder resulting from depersonalisation.

But in reality I acknowledge this possibility in order to re-emphasise my conviction that this is indeed a crisis. Within the last forty or so years, during which time the way in which depression is recognised, reported and filed has been more or less standard, the numbers have shot up like someone’s glued them to a rocket. The National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS) in the US, for example, found that the number of US citizens diagnosed with depression has increased 450% since 1987. There are now more than five times the number of people on anti-depressants than thirty years ago.

One Independent article[1] last year cites statistics showing that rates of anxiety and depression in UK teenagers has soared by 70% in the last 25 years, and that 93% of teachers have reported seeing a rise in the mental unwellness of their pupils. Similar statistics are simply piling in: in 2016 the NSPCC reported a 35% increase in demand for child anxiety counselling in the UK, while on a global scale the WHO predicts depression to be the second biggest debilitating illness by 2020 and the biggest by 2030. The same organisation has observed an 18% rise in global depression between 2005-2015. I could go on.

So while the arguments surrounding a perceived rise in mental illness are inherently problematic, given the nature of illness recognition and reporting, I take it as my foundation that there is a growing crisis in the health of the globe. I do this for two reason: the first because, if there is a crisis happening, then it needs to be solved fast; and the second because there are so many people in my life who are suffering, and if it can be fixed as I believe it can, then we must do whatever possible to alleviate the pain. For some of them it is too late. I am twenty-three, and even at this age I can count the number of my peers who have killed themselves on two hands. I dread to think how many more have attempted it and failed.

And one last very important point before we continue: when I say ‘mental illness’, I am talking mainly about anxiety and depression. The term ‘mental illness’ can cover a huge amount of ground, referring to conditions as wide-ranging as ADHD, schizophrenia and anorexia, and even less pronounced learning disabilities like dyslexia and dyspraxia. Some of these terms are somewhat outside my remit. I am writing to uncover what it is that has made anxiety and depression in particular the ‘illness du jour’. If on the way I find evidence that the factors involved also cause or exacerbate the other illnesses, then that is as may be; but, for now, I’m looking for the primary killer. I want to end the bastard.

The following articles will explain in shorthand the many complex reasons I believe are behind this rise in global misery. I’ve arranged them into short-term factors (those that can be solved in an instant), medium-term factors (which have a slightly deeper cultural origin) and long-term factors, which are based on the cultural foundations of our society and I admit to be more speculative.

More to follow…

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/teenage-mental-health-crisis-rates-of-depression-have-soared-in-the-past-25-years-a6894676.html

Leaving At 23: Memory and Self-Pity

Three weeks ago I turned twenty-three, this month I finish my three years at Bristol, and at the start of August I’ll be taking a one way flight to Myanmar. I’ll be gone for at least a year, until my contract at the school I’m working for runs out next July. As I write this, in mid-June, with two weeks to go until the lease on my student house expires, I feel like I’m sitting on a precipice watching the coming landscape roll towards me without a blind clue if I’ll like it when I fall off.

It’s not necessarily a bad feeling. It’s time to move on. Life up to now has been strange and effete, and student living in particular has left me washing away into the floorboards like a useless liquid. For at least the last two years I’ve felt like I’ve been stagnating, with no motivation, no direction, an absence of real connection to anything and a general sense that life is just passing over me. That anxiety common to just about the whole English middle class that compels them to be productive or face guilt has been attacking me for years, and it’s been deeply frustrating to find that I haven’t made intelligent use of it in recent times. To that end I’m happy to see university go. The cycle of structureless days, bad eating and over-drinking can now be pleasantly dropped behind me as I walk into the future.

But beyond that is also a wider, stranger past that I’m leaving behind, and I’m writing this to try and make myself reflect on it a bit. It’s an odd thing for me to do because I generally try not to think about the past – it’s an awful lot less useful than most people believe it to be – but somehow it’s been creeping up on me, and I need to take this moment to consider it.

I honestly can’t say precisely what it is that’s forcing me to think like this. I feel, however irrationally, like I’ve been wronged in some way – but I don’t quite know why. After all, I’m not a victim like some people have been, I wasn’t bullied growing up in the way some people were, and in comparison with some I’ve led an almost blessed life. Of course it hasn’t been a blessed life, and it would be an absurd thing to say as much. If anything I can see the problems with it more clearly than ever before. I now don’t shy away from understanding the bullying I and my friends were punished with at school, for example. I didn’t understand that it was bullying at the time, but as history brings me a balcony from which to view it I realise that it was. That has been a strange thing to see.

I’m sure my story is little different to everyone else’s, so repeating it will just be repeating the contents of my schoolmate’s heads. I was fourteen when I went to my secondary school, a year older than most because I had been held down a year aged six. The school was a large private boarding school, or ‘public school’, which is confusing because it was anything but public. To get a place there you had to pass an entrance exam and have a handy £30,000 a year ready to pay. As such the atmosphere in schools like this is one of painful entitlement; if the pupils felt wronged by something they would shout, ‘I’m paying for this, and this is how you treat me?’

It was lazy and rural, fiercely hierarchical and extremely competitive. As with teenagers across the country, if you didn’t develop a big ego fast then you would get character killed – but with the added intensity of there being no chance of escape if things went wrong. It was a 24/7 boarding school: you were in a house with sixty other boys, around ten of whom were in your year and for the first two years you shared a room with. Every day you would wake up with these people, eat every meal with them, go to lessons with them, probably play sport with them and in the evening fall asleep with them in the neighbouring bedsits. If you didn’t get on with them then there was nothing you could do other than drop out.

My first year, like most people’s, was utterly hellish. I was character killed. I was a whacky young teenager with lots of challenging ideas to voice and a strong sense of there being a ‘right’ way to do things, and so it was an inevitable awakening I had at the hands of a super-intense micro-culture of a school that did not agree with me. In the gaggle of boys I’d been sent to live with I was quickly identified as one of the ones who ‘did not belong’, and in the kill-or-be-killed atmosphere of the place the others in my year had no reservations on ganging up on us. I say ‘us’ because I know there were plenty of people in the same position, but in reality I don’t mean ‘us’. I mean me, because that’s how it felt as a fourteen-year-old. School became a very lonely, very unhappy place very quickly.

It would be easy to wax lyrical about the pains we had to endure, but I want to avoid that because in all honesty it would paint the school in an unfairly negative light. There was plenty to recommend it, and I did all sorts of things there that I could never have done anywhere else. But I do ask that I not be mistaken: I do not believe on balance that it is a good place, and frankly I don’t think it should exist. For that matter private education as a whole should not exist.

I was made to feel like a freak because I didn’t speak the same language as the others and didn’t understand the way they behaved, which I saw as cruel and immature even at that age. The way they would pick on people and make them feel small, how they boasted about being cool, being in sports teams and experimenting with girls was admittedly no different to how most teenagers behave, but I can’t help but feel it had a peculiarly nasty edge at that place. Physical bullying was not uncommon, verbal bullying was in virtually every conversation I had and the constant, unrelenting sense of needing to compete was mind-crushing. The place was built on bullying. I can barely remember someone being kind to me at least for my first two years. It even still had ‘fagging’, a Victorian practice that was supposedly illegal but somehow managed to carry on anyway, where if an older boy ‘fagged’ you to do something you would simply have to do it. They’d say something like, ‘Beer, I fag you to go and get my wallet from my room’, and if you said no then you were black-listed, called ‘cheeky’ and maybe even beaten up.

I suffered a total capitulation of self at that school. I’m absolutely certain that if I had seen a psychiatrist at the time they would have pronounced me clinically depressed. So hard was the weight of feeling I did not belong that I destroyed myself from the inside out and rebuilt every last aspect to try and fit in. It made me manically insecure. I couldn’t walk down a street without shooting eyes all over myself to see that I looked okay, that I looked as a boy ‘ought’ to look, that people – especially girls – didn’t think I was a freak. The feeling that I might be ‘found out’ at any second was sensationally horrible and the fear that I really might be a nasty, worthless person was everywhere I went. I had never felt so ill in my life. Even now I can remember groups of thirteen-year-olds chanting my name in a derogatory way, the sixth-former who punched my arm so hard it went dead and the teacher who, when I tried to explain what was happening, simply said ‘It’s hard being a teenager’, and left.

So intense was the culture at this school and so hard had I worked to fit in that when I left at the age of nineteen I could not believe that the real world was nothing like it. All of a sudden you aren’t automatically inferior to people older than you, and house ties, rugby teams and belonging to the ‘gang’ meant nothing. I thankfully spent a year to readjust before coming to Bristol, something I’m exceptionally grateful I did.

Then when Bristol came along I found it to be, as I’ve already indicated, a strange jumble of experiences. It has veered from long periods of purposelessness to the most ecstatic moments of my life and back again, interspersed with theatre and more heartbreak than anything resembling a successful relationship. Emerging from the tight-laced little world of boarding schools without a paddle to guide me was a strange and disorienting experience, so joining another institution provided a sense of security I had been lacking for a year. In some ways it felt familiar – being away from home in a communal living space like halls – and in some ways it was completely different. I had never drunk that much before, neither had I tried any drugs, neither had I been in quite such a socially intense space. But the exhilaration of it won out, and that is what I remember about my first year at university: being absolutely swept off my feet by this exciting but painfully ephemeral lifestyle

It became obvious to me very quickly that the public schoolboy I’d learnt to be had to be readjusted once more, a painful reminder that human beings are as fickle as whatever environment they land themselves in. I had to learn to be friendly to people without worrying about them being friendly back, for instance. That was something I’d never learnt at school. At school it was always a case of lying low and hoping you wouldn’t have any attention directed at you at all, because if it was it was likely to be negative. In this crazy new environment of Bristol, however, it felt like there was more free rein to cultivate the aspects of myself I thought to be objectively good. So over the course of the last few years I’ve tried to put down any assumptions of other people, not care in the slightest for what other people think of me and to plough on and say whatever I like without fearing the approbation it might bring. This took me a surprisingly long time to do, but I’m well ahead of it now. That is probably the biggest change I’ve undergone since I came here, and I’m delighted that it is the case.

Though it must be said that what really pushed me to ignore other people’s opinions was the ‘Nights at the Disco’ controversy I found myself in last year. It’s a long story to explain to anyone who doesn’t know what happened (read about it here <http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/bristol-university-student-s-short-story-on-drug-abuse-and-sexual-violence-causes-controversy-a7024641.html&gt;), but all you need to know is that I very suddenly found myself enduring the most disgusting, hate-filled and baseless criticism from people I had previously taken to be my friends. I knew I was in the right through and through, and in fact had acted out of compassion. That was a penny drop moment in which I realised I would have to not think twice about what people say, mostly because popular opinion is usually based on rubbish. Fortunately it occurred just before a two month, social media-free stint in Nepal, and by the time I returned in September I had grown up perhaps more than in any other period of my life.

So I have seen over the years a gentle coming together of maturity in myself, which, while it feels pleasant, is also a bit unsettling. I quite like the luxurious agonies of youth, and I’d rather that they stay luxurious rather than becoming just plain agony.

One aspect of immaturity that remains, however, is in romantic relationships. It’s probably because I haven’t had one. There are no easy ways to explain this, but frankly girls remain as perplexing to me now as they did when I was a teenager. The voyeuristic drifting that I’ve found so characteristic of my life has made it difficult for me to get close to anyone at all, as much as I might desire it to be otherwise. To be perfectly honest I find this conversation difficult; it’s exceptionally easy to be misunderstood when talking about romantic successes and failures, and I could so easily make it seem like I’m being either boastful or self-pitying, or even both. What I will say is that, while I haven’t been unsuccessful with women, I certainly haven’t found any solace from a relationship as yet. I haven’t met anyone who has really captivated me or shown me the kind of love I want to return; I have liked people, but it has always been fleeting. If anything I’ve been disappointed, but almost certainly by myself rather than anyone else. And no matter how much I intend to look after people and ensure that they don’t get hurt, somehow they all too often do, and there is a whole lake of guilt into which her and I can plunge. Relationships do not scare me, but I have yet to feel right about them.

There have been plenty of romantic entanglements over the years, but they have all either slipped by me in the wind or ended by accident. It’s strange, on reflection, how much I associate Bristol with girls, and how the self-understanding you’re taught to expect from women – an essentially misogynistic outlook on gender relations – simply did not occur here. But that’s fine.

Although, if you will excuse my silly little heart speaking for just a moment, there was one girl who even now, some time later, manages to claw my thoughts back to her. She’d be shocked to find out that she still makes up the furniture of my mind – she’d be shocked to know that she was ever in my mind in the first place. But I’m happy to leave her oblivious. I doubt I’ll see her again.

And now here I am, on the cusp of whatever being a grown up means, about to set my stare forwards into the future. I’ve looked at the past now, and found that I’m inclined to see myself as a victim. But this is nonsense. We can all see ourselves as victims, or we can all see ourselves as saviours.

Certainly it’s very easy for me to explain how I have always felt distant from life, how I have suffered the most excruciating depressive spells, treading the line of suicide in the summer after my first year, how I have never felt like someone understands me, how there are times when the universe terrifies me, how I fear for my success as much as my failure, how I have been consistently misunderstood by whole bodies of people, how I think about death more than I think about eating. I can explain all of that, and I can ask you to pity me. But what would that achieve?

Self-pity is an ugly thing. The truth is that we have a choice about how we view ourselves, and we always have and we always will do no matter what it might feel like at the time. Both emotions and thoughts lie to you. I can see that boy now, the one who hid crying in his study with the lights out in 2008, and feel that what he experienced was not necessary, but it had the potential to make him a better person. In the long term I hope this to be so.

And think about it: If all the world’s a victim, who committed the crime?