NATD Chapter 1, Part 2

First drafts…

I was just about to turn off the road in the direction of the woods when I heard a singing chatter behind me. I glanced across the road, and found a fascinating sight – a pack of females! Like an almighty bell had been struck, I instantly forgot what I had been thinking about. Girls, my dear human, girls! They were long-legged, long-haired and beautiful, and immediately the ringing in my head began to feel different – hotter, more passionate but still furious, like there was still something manic within but it had merely changed the object of its desire. The desire it had found was these girls.

I had paused on the opposite side of the street from them, just where a back alley led from the main road through a block of town houses into the woods beyond. I hovered at the entrance like a lone fish having just found the school he was always supposed to belong to. These girls were stunning, my dear human; they snapped up the attention of the world around them.

There were five of them, huddled together like a pack and glancing about themselves with the uncertain defensiveness of vulnerable animals in the open. Though all of them were attractive, and something about their being in a group seemed to triple their beauty, there was just one who caught my immediate attention. It was the blonde one in the middle – the only one smiling. In fact it was her that had made me turn my head, because I had heard her laughter. While the rest of them put up half-grins or simply stared blankly about them, the blonde girl was laughing loudly, broadly and musically. It looked from first glance as if she was explaining something to the others and, rather than wait for their reactions, was simply diving ahead with her own self-induced laughter. She seemed the sort of person who had so much laughter inside her that she had to habitually let it out or else she’d explode.

I stared at the immaculate choreography of the passing girls for what felt like far too long. Then, as soon as they were a safe distance away, I began to follow them.

I don’t know what I expected to gain from following them – perhaps some hint, some intricate suggestion of their orgastic nature that would fall to the ground as they went. I couldn’t be sure, but I followed anyway. I needed something to follow.

I trailed them all up the road, keeping a safe distance behind and glancing down at my phone if any of them looked behind. Two of them peeled off in one direction and the other three, including the blonde girl, turned another. They turned up in the direction of the High Street, then, I realised with a flutter, in the direction of my house.

Another one dropped off, then another one – and then it was just the blonde girl left. She was still headed towards my home. I daren’t let myself get too excited, but with every step and every turn, it became clearer and clearer that she lived near me. Before I knew it we were just one street down from my house – then she turned off to the left. It was her and I alone on this suburban street, the same sort of street you could find in any other town in any other part of the country, but at this moment full of an infinity of differences. No other street in no other part of the country contained Charlie Gunn, crouched behind a hedge, observing this dream-beauty, this abstract intention, treading unknowingly away up to her house. When finally she got to the door, she glanced around her – but I was already gone, and I knew she lived at number twenty-four.

*

Immediately, all other cares in the world were abandoned. Popularity, love, recognition – these things were thrown to the gutter as my eyes turned to new desires. All that mattered now was this girl.

The house was empty when I got back. I called out carefully from the doorway – ‘Mum?’. No reply. I checked every room in the house just to be sure there was no one there. Then, I went to my bedroom and opened up my laptop.

For an hour I trawled through facebook, hoping with a newfound passion that it would tell me who this girl was. She had to be at my college because she looked the right age and her clothes matched the dress code, and if this was so then we were sure to have mutual friends on facebook. I had over a thousand friends and almost all of them were from my town – she had to know some of them. I checked the friends lists of people I felt she might know, starting with a series of ‘popular’ boys. A girl as beautiful as her was surely going to attract boys arrogant enough to believe they deserved her company. I tried each of their profiles – Joe Parker, Matt Mayhew, Tommy Ogilvie – but a profile picture matching her outstanding beauty did not materialise. This gave me hope – perhaps she wasn’t friends with bad people. Perhaps she was different.

After an hour she still hadn’t appeared, and I was at a loss. To ease my frustration I picked up the book I was reading at the time, Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’, and settled down to concentrate my mind. But there was no concentration – my head was in too much of a frenzy, my thoughts as scorching as the devil’s palate – and I threw the book to the side after five minutes. I needed something more, and I needed it quickly.

I went to the landing and called out once more to see if my mother was home, but again there was no reply. It was six-thirty and still light outside. While I waited for the sun to fade, I went back to my computer and continued to try facebook, searching forensically for any trace of her existence she might have left through her online dalliances. Still nothing. Outside, the light withdrew into the grass and the trees. I was still alone.

Once the twilight was deep enough, I took my rucksack and left the house. If my mother returned while I was gone, I’d tell her I’d gone to the shop.

A settled, September silence greeted me on the road outside. The fields opposite were as quiet and untelling as ever. I slipped like a fox through the night, seeing no one as I went, and came out at the end of the girl’s street. There was no one around. My heart all in palpitations for fear my mother would appear, I glanced all round me – then I darted up the road. I arrived outside number twenty-four with sweat on my brow.

My initial thought had been to see if there was a family name somewhere on the front of the house, but I immediately saw this was stupid. No one in this town did that so far as I had ever seen, and this wasn’t like America where named mailboxes stood outside every dwelling. I didn’t know what to do next and was starting to feel a total idiot. It was a warm night, and several of the windows were open. Light was coming from almost every one. I stood there in muffled consternation, wondering if I should really just turn home before some provincial soul asked me what the hell I was doing – but then, slam! The sound of a car door shutting and voices chattering came from somewhere up the road, and then another sound of wheels roaring towards me. Panic flared within me like petrol set alight, and, in a moment of chaos, I sprinted forward and dived down the side of the house.

I rolled behind a pair of wheelie bins and waited for silence to return again – but it was difficult to discern silence now because blood was thumping in my ears, telling me to get away while I could. I stayed in the shadow behind the bins for as long as I dared, terrified that the moment I had run had been the moment someone in the house had glanced out the window and seen a strange boy coming their way.

A minute passed, and a lonely car drove past. Silence fell once again. I caught my breath and wondered why on earth I had decided to run – my nerves had got the better of me, and I hated myself for it. But there was no time to dwell. I was hidden down the side of the house, beside the brick wall that divided it from number twenty-two. Now I was this far, perhaps I would find some useful thing that would aid me in my search; I dreaded the thought of going to my second day at college with nothing to go on, lest I not find this girl again. Behind me, light was spilling out onto a pristine, summer lawn, and I decided to peer round the corner.

The garden was typical of every other house on these streets: neatly made flower-beds lining the perimeter and two ugly stone statues of naked, classical women flanking a white bench that sat at the far end facing the house. To my left was a large French window, from which bright light and the chatter of a television emanated. I was terrified, because all that would have to happen would be for someone to look outside and see me, but a wild compulsion within drove me to sneak forward, just far enough so I could see into the room. A thin, lacy curtain blocked my view, and I daren’t go any further, but I could just about make out the edge of a figure sitting on a sofa. Was that her? Please let it be her – I craved to recognise an inch, just something for my eyes to devour –

Suddenly the night was once again disturbed by noise, this time a phone ringing from within the house – from the open window directly above my head. In terror, I jumped back into the alleyway. How ridiculous this was! And yet I wanted something from being here. I needed to come away with something. After a moment I leaned my head around the corner to see if I could hear anything.

The phone rang for a few seconds before a door opened and the ringing stopped.

‘Hello?’ came a woman’s voice, too old to have been the girl’s. It must have been her mother’s. ‘Yes, this is Mrs. Whitestone.’

Whitestone!

‘Ah, of course. Yes, I remember. Whatever you recommend. It was her first day at college today, so I’ll be sure to let her know. Fine, I think – she doesn’t usually tell me these things. You know what she’s like. I’ll do my best and report back to you. Thank you for calling, Doctor Hart. Yes. Good night.’

The call ended and the door slammed shut.

I could have jumped for joy at what I had found – her family name! This wasn’t such a ludicrous adventure after all!

But I barely had time to savour the excitement before fear once again hit me – for at that moment, the unmistakeable sound of the French doors opening came to my ears. I glanced up and saw a large, middle-aged man step outside with a cigarette in his hand – but I didn’t have time to take him in properly, because I was up and away faster than any wind could take me.

‘Oi!’ I heard a voice shout, followed by the pounding of footsteps. But I was gone, sprinting away up the street and round the corner before he could have seen me. ‘Oi!’ came the shout again, already distant as I rounded up my own road, not stopping to look behind me. Some dogs on the adjacent street started barking, and the sound of loud voices carried over the houses. I reached the front door and hid myself away in the safety of my home.

I clung to the inside of the door for a moment to catch my breath, sweat dripping down my face.

‘Charlie?’ a voice called from the sitting room. My mother was back!

I stood up in apprehension, pulling myself together as best I could. How this would look, I didn’t know, but I was away from any immediate threat for now. I breathed in deeply.

‘Yeah?’

‘Why did you slam the door?’ asked the voice, with that familiar tint of disappointment running under it.

‘Did I?’

I went to the sitting room door and presented myself like a soldier on duty, but immediately realised I needn’t have bothered. She was obviously drunk. She was laid out on the sofa with a large glass of wine in her hands, watching some idiotic programme on TV about absolutely nothing. Her head rolled toward me as I entered, her prim little eyebrows burrowing slightly into her slightly tired, slightly sad eyes. It was depressing.

‘Where’ve you come from?’ her sagging voice demanded.

‘I just went to the shop.’ I indicated the rucksack over my shoulders.

‘Why are you sweating?’

‘Because – it’s warm outside.’

‘You’re not normally that sweaty, are you?’

‘Um – no, not normally. I mean, I don’t know. Maybe.’

‘I certainly hope not. It’s so off-putting.’

She turned back towards the TV, indicating the end of our correspondence.

‘Where have you been?’ I asked.

‘Oh,’ she sighed heftily, like I’d mentioned some hideous task that still needed doing. ‘I don’t know – I had a drink with some people from work. What other way is there to get through a Monday night?’ She didn’t say this like a question, but like it ought to have been a fact.

‘Right.’ I hesitated, then withdrew from the room.

‘Charlie?’ She called again as I made for the stairs. ‘How was your first day at college, darling?’

‘Yeah, fine,’ I called back.

‘Good. I’ll see you tomorrow!’

‘I’ll see my girl tomorrow,’ I whispered under my breath, but all my mother would have heard was the closing of my bedroom door.

In a fever, I opened my laptop and went straight back onto facebook.

Whitestone, Whitestone, Whitestone… Yes! That’s her!

One glance at her profile picture told me it was her: the unmistakeable roundness of her face shining out of her lush, blonde hair in a photo taken on an eternal summer evening in some hot, exotic country far away from here. She was perched on a wall surrounded by an auburn glow, smiling like a roguish nymph caught in the middle of some secret, orgastic enterprise, her cheeks glowing with the camera light and her eyes full of this subtle fire like two devilish candles burnt away behind them. I stared at it like I had found the reason for my life. It had two-hundred-and-sixty likes – but she had only two mutual friends with me. They were both girls from school in the year above.

I deduced quickly what this might mean – that she was new to the area, and had not made many friends yet. Her popularity from wherever she had been before would surely carry over. This meant I had only a short time before she attracted the attention of boys I knew in my heart I could not compete with, no matter how brilliant I was. I could not socialise the way they could.

My frenzy now quietened, I went to the window, half expecting to see her father come marching down the road; but all was still outside. I drew the curtains and closed down the computer.

And as I lay in bed, once again tasting that sweet sugar that lined the pathways of the future, I let her name fall again and again over my wanting lips: Madeleine.

TBC…

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NATD Chapter 1, Part 1

An extremely flawed first draft – suggestions welcome!

Life is a jazz-rhythmed melody I cannot dance to. This was a realisation I came to as I grew up, and, my dear human, let me explain to you how it came to be.

My name is Charlie Gunn. So far as I can remember or care to say, I grew up in a mid-sized town in an uncertain part of England, in much the same way as every English teenager in this day and age can recall. My father left when I was about five years old, I believe, and my mother was mostly present but usually not when I was there.

 I was told that my father was a middling, middle class man who, judging from photographs buried under layers of beauty products in my mother’s dresser, was quite handsome in his youth. He was born in Hampshire to a car dealer father and a vaguely aristocratic mother – so far as anyone would care to admit in those progressive days, she married ‘beneath her’. I doubt she was especially aristocratic, however. If she was then it was through some loose connection that went back a few generations, and she pretended to be grander than she really was because of that delayed realisation she could have demanded more of life. My father, consequently, was a self-conscious and practical individual, concerned largely with the maintenance of his own money and status. I don’t know what he did for a living because my mother told me he was in insurance, but later changed it to graphic design. One thing I do know is that, after receiving a considerable sum of money in a will at the age of thirty, he took a holiday to Courcheval where, in some lively and excitable bar one night, he met Olivia Payne, and somehow or other they married. Then, unless there’s some part of the story that’s been left out, they bought a house in Hertfordshire and had me.

This, at least, is the version of events that my mother’s friends would tell me after a few drinks at our house. She was a great one for hosting after-work drinks parties, and those who had known my father would usually slide out some furtive story about my parent’s history some time after I should have been in bed. I was always a faintly unwanted presence until the first few rounds of spirits had been consumed, after which they would all take a sudden interest in me as if I had just announced myself as the guest of honour. ‘And how are you, Charlie?’ they’d say, putting a hand on my shoulder and kneeling down to where I could smell the alcohol on their breath. ‘Here, let’s have a quiet word where your mother can’t hear you.’ They liked to make a show of pretending to care for a few minutes every Friday night, somewhere in the midst of the post-martini despair of commuter husbands and wasted wives. They were the kind of people who were so uncertain of themselves they could barely be sure they hadn’t died.

I don’t know where my father went when he left. My memories of him were of a tired-skinned, middle-aged man with an inveterate tendency to drink the minute he returned home from work. I would walk into the sitting room to bid him goodnight, finding him on the last of a crate of beer and watching something utterly indistinct on television. He looked exhausted, like he was barely hanging on by the rings around his eyes, and he would peer over at me as if he had only just remembered I existed. ‘Oh, yes,’ he’d say, leaning heavily over the edge of the armchair. ‘Charlie. Good night, Charlie.’

I think he made quite a lot of money. My mother certainly was not in short need of it after he left, so far as I can make out, and I’m quite sure she didn’t have a job beforehand. I have no idea if her latter employment in a consulting agency paid enough for all her weekends away and her avid drinking habit. Her tendency to waver at crucial moments ensured that I never quite knew what she was doing at any one time, and when I was a teenager she started answering my questions with comments on what food she was thinking of buying the next day. She rarely cooked it herself. Practicalities hide realities, my dear human; if you ask a desperate question and you are given a practical response, you have been distracted. That is what my mother led me to believe, anyway.

There is much that ought to be said of Olivia Gunn, though. Certainly, she was as broken and cursed as any woman you are likely to find in the modern day, lonely and anxious and forever tripping into the deathless spiral of alcohol and attempted escapes and never quite finding the release she so desperately craved. But if we must discuss her then we must at least discuss her redeeming features. She was astoundingly beautiful. In her youth I’m sure she had one of those extravagant attractions lingering within her that potential suitors gravitate towards like the moon to the earth. I think it was from her that I developed my own good looks. I was aware that I was incredibly handsome very early in my life, perhaps ten or eleven years old, perhaps younger. I was a golden haired boy with sharp features and a boyish mind, the kind that would constantly believe itself to be in a Hollywood movie with millions of viewers poring over my talent, wondering what I was like in real life, believing me to be a quiet but intelligent soul who kept to himself and intrigued all manner of beautiful women. I especially used to fantasise about my classmates seeing me on the big screen, wondering why they used to ignore me at school and wishing they had been kinder to me.

But I try not to think about my parents anymore. All it does is bring up from within me this dark, unkind anger that throws itself at whatever is unfortunate enough to be in my path. I have had this thing living within me for so long that I no longer know where to place it – it’s this inexplicable sense of guilt, as if everything that has happened to me from a very early age was somehow, in some unfathomable way, entirely my fault. I don’t need to tell you any more about my parents for you to know that I am their victim. But isn’t that an inadequate thing to say? Isn’t everyone a victim? None of us consented to any of this – being born, having a family, accepting responsibilities or any of this crass, ridiculous stuff that reality requires of you. We are all victims of reality, aren’t we?

But then if all the world’s a victim, who committed the crime?

Enough, my dear human, enough – I have a story to tell you and I want to begin it. Do not trust what I have said so far for being a beginning; I do not trust beginnings because they are always really the end of something else. In truth there are only beginnings that never stop beginning, and endings that never come. Instead of my parents, I want to tell you about something more interesting – I want to tell you about the first time I fell in love. I want to tell you about Madeleine.

*

It was in the bright, beginning days of September 2014, and I was just starting at my new sixth form college. The days were so new, my dear human! So much potential lay scattered like dust on the path before me – I need only have breathed in to taste its sweet, beckoning fragrance on my senses. But I awoke that morning both excited and scared. For where there is excitement there must also be anxiety, and I was treading the line of both.

As a child I had become a quiet, intellectual sort of boy. I had preferred to sit in the library and read at playtimes rather than play football outside like the rest did, and as such was an inward-looking, indecisive but proud individual. I had neither liked nor disliked my first two schools, simultaneously scorning the exclusiveness of friendship groups whilst ferociously desiring the deepness of connection. I was no good at friendship, so I remained alone. When I watched the circles of friends wander off together at the end of school I would feel the pang of loneliness in my heart, but then shake it off with a well-reasoned thought. They were not friendships, I would tell myself, but marketing franchises. They were selling themselves as friends so that the world would believe them to be so.

I thought myself to be above this. Instead, I would go wandering off into the woods by myself. The woods were fairly limited around my town, but there was one path in particular that took me away from all the houses and down a small, pleasant country stream. There I could let my burning imagination spin wildly. What dreams I would see in the water! In its gentle, translucent meanderings I could see all the great things I could be: movie star, rock star, politician, philanthropist, intellectual – Charlie Gunn, mover and shaker of the modern world. My peers were fools who would never amount to such things. I did not speak their language. When I tried to communicate with my peers, something awkward and disconnected would arise within me and the words would drip from my mouth like a grotesque spittle. Because of this my peers thought I was weird, and I learned to hate them for it. But they would regret it: they would regret ignoring the great Charlie Gunn, the man the world would surely, inevitably, bow down to.

I had to try really very hard at secondary school to conceal just how superior I felt myself to be. I’d hear the popular humans boast about their relationships, and the ‘clever’ humans talk false-academic nonsense, and even overhear the teachers discussing their weekend drinking plans, and I would sneer like a man above and beyond this drivel. I knew I was better – I felt it in every atom of my bones, and I proved it to myself every night as I fell asleep. I was smarter, more beautiful and more real than any other human I had the misfortune of daily contact with. And because I felt such delirious ascendancy I scorned the world and wanted it to either worship me or be destroyed. I wanted this the minute adolescence dawned: worship or destruction, and nothing to stop the one from falling into the other.

But, now aged sixteen, the start of sixth form brought with it the promise of a new beginning. Now, perhaps, the people I met, older, wiser and more insightful, would lay eyes on me that would grow wide from what they saw. The angst and anticipation that greeted that September morning all grew from this desperate hope. So many new people to prove myself to! Surely now my greatness would be recognised – surely now I would receive the love and respect I so deserved.

I missed my mother as I had breakfast – unless she was at work then she slept in late – so I gazed at the small corner we called our garden by myself, drenched in the dreams of an adolescent mind. The day was bright and cheerful, perfect for the first day on which these unsuspecting souls would first be delighted and entranced by me. I told myself repeatedly over my cornflakes that I would be a hit with the students I met. I need only keep myself cool and they would notice me as a terrific individual – quiet but talented, unflappable and firm, beautiful and serene. I knew that I was an outstanding young man, but the need to prove myself was unbearable. I needed the security of the approving stare of others. I had changed my clothes twice already, trying on one of my two suits then back to the other after a five minute conversation with my mirror. Did I wear my tie short or long? Long, I decided. Then, just before I headed for the door, I changed my mind and quickly went back to what I had started with. White shirt, black suit trousers, short tie. Then I settled on a medium-length tie.

With an icy bubbling in my heart I left the house on Denton Drive and began the fifteen-minute walk to college. My eyes darted sharply back and forth, watching closely for the first sight of any potential students. Then, as I got closer to the middle of town where the campus was located, I saw some – a group of boys, evidently students, long-haired, laughing together as if they were in the middle of some perpetual joke that kept them laughing whenever they were in public. At first I leapt at the possibility these could be my new friends, but then withdrew my thoughts after a brief assessment. They somehow eked that sense of having been friends for sometime, and carried a laddish aura that some part of me found repugnant. Their loud, hard presence was not what I would want in my new friendship group.

I eventually came to the college gates and, with a barely perceptible pause lest anyone be watching me, gazed about like a child. There were so many people, and the way they had congregated in groups seemed to be to be pre-conditioned, as if they all already knew each other. For five seconds my heart sank, then rose back up like a buoy on the sea. I would need to be strong. I would, after all, have to be found to be brilliant.

But brilliance, it seems, is difficult to find. I spent the day in this strange, red brick campus wandering around wondering whose eye I would catch. I was waiting for them to come to me, but no one seemed to. In my first lessons I struck up conversation with a few people who sat next to me, but found them all to be just as empty and contemptible as every other human I had ever met. I spoke to one person in my English Literature class, a cheerful but distracted boy called Jake, but found him again to be beneath me. I stared forensically at the lines of students I would pass in the corridor, picking out the attractive girls but always finding them too closely interspersed between groups of stony, overconfident lads. By lunchtime this strange new environment seemed to have lost part of the promise it had held just a few hours before. By the end of the day, the excitement I had felt had slid away to leave only the anxiety behind.

Such impatience, my dear human, such impatience. Youth is as impatient as it is hopeful. I left my first day of college just as lonely as I had started it, greeted only by the trees blowing indifferently against a tender September sky. My hopes had been dented, but not destroyed – but nonetheless I did not feel happy with the place. I had imagined scores of friendly, beautiful people all ready to line up to gaze upon me like an idol, but none came. All I saw were stupid teenagers with their own stupid ideas and friendships, none of which were made for Charlie Gunn. I was too good for them. I already knew it. I kicked an empty bottle of coke across the road as I left.

Misery, misery, misery – damned life, I thought! Cursed reality! Why couldn’t I have been born into a world that was more welcoming to me? I was so perfect in so many ways: intelligent, beautiful and loving, were someone only to take the time to look into my gorgeous, diamond-shaped heart and see what beautiful things swam within it. So much passion that was being wasted! So much youth that was sliding away! Surrounded by the swellings of teenagers on their way home to or to some exclusive ecstasies I could not know, I diverted my path home and walked towards the woods. My mother wouldn’t be home, and if she was then she wouldn’t care where I had been.

The familiar thoughts of my late childhood broke the surface of my mind again as I sank into a deeper funk. We are all luck’s playthings, inheritors of minds we did not choose, families we do not love, institutions we do not consent to – I hated it, I hated all of it, I hated my parents, my teachers, my stupid, insolent, self-obsessed classmates, not even the trees by which I walked seemed to give a damn about me –

But then, my dear human, I stopped. For it was at that moment that I saw her.

TBC…

Prologue To NATD

A New Piece of Fiction

It was an uncertain time of night, and the world had stopped. All throughout the city, no matter where you stood or what you listened for, was complete silence. All the trees that lined the parks had ceased to spread their whispers in the wind, and every itinerant bird had settled down into a deep, undisturbed sleep. All along every wide main road and waving backstreet there was not a sound to be heard, not even the sombre pit-patting of a tramp’s feet stumbling away into an unknown darkness or the drunken choruses of students returning from the night’s insubstantial revelries. Even the Avon river, with all its careless twists and turns and coursing meanders, was quieter almost than the days before it had first found its way to its present path, through the hills of West England and out into the waiting ocean.

There was perhaps the most convincing impression of sleep the city had ever given in its life. Even the air had tired of moving. But all was not so; for, although on first glance all seemed to be tucked away into a peaceful somnolence, there was something still emanating from the hard concrete walls and descant circles of the city lights. Were you to have stopped and listened carefully, perhaps you would have heard it. It was subtle, so subtle that only the most sensitive of ears could have detected it. It was a gentle, jazz-rhythmed melody. Beneath the deep tranquillity and pacifying stillness, this charming, tender tune was eking out of everything, from the most brutal office block to the most beautiful lamplit pathways, rolling happily away to entertain only itself and those fortunate enough to access its simple, clean, indifferent musings. For all the apparent stillness of Bristol that night, there was still this melody, quietly filling the space between hearing and non-hearing.

And were you to venture down to the docks at this uncertain time of night, down to where the old warehouses gave way to the river which gave way to the gorge which gave way to the sea, you would have seen something quite remarkable. For there, with the great image of the Suspension Bridge glowing above them like a row of heavenly lights in the sky, were two young humans dancing on the edge of the lock. They were quite alone; not a soul was to be seen nearby, not a single car on the Hotwell Road nor so much as a scavenging fox on its nocturnal ventures. There was only the tender indifference of the trees lining the valley that sprung out before them, the silent swirlings of the water beneath them and the plunging night sky that seemed to be hesitating before moving towards daybreak – were daybreak ever to come.

They danced as a perfect couple, these two humans of the night, their steps matching one another’s like a forever changing jigsaw for which one has always just found the right piece. They were a girl and a boy, and as one would move their feet one way, the other would bring theirs to match their movements precisely. One left foot back, one right foot forward; one step to the left, one step to the right. It didn’t matter what they were dancing – though perhaps it was a kind of waltz, a slow, precise, intimate swinging to and fro, their eyes never breaking from one another’s, their steps in precise synchronisation. The dance’s name was nothing. All that mattered was that they were in perfect step with each other, dancing in such unison that they had ceased to be two people but were now an absolute one, moving in exact time to the jazz-rhythmed melody that could only be heard by the careful few.

They had forgotten how long they had been there. It might have been minutes, it might have been hours. Time had ceased to matter. And in fact, at just the moment at which we find these two embraced in their nighttime rhythm, the boy, a blonde, handsome young man, turned, took off his wristwatch and flung it into the river. The girl laughed.

‘Why did you do that?’ she asked, her eyes dilated with fascination.

‘Because time has finally stopped,’ the boy replied. ‘All I’ve ever wanted is to be free of time. And now it’s happened.’

He looked down at her and she looked up at him, and she stroked her palms over his shoulders.

‘That’s all I’ve ever wanted too. I just want the world to be still. I just want it all to stop.’

He placed his hands on her arms.

‘What’s your name?’ he said.

‘What’s yours?’ she replied.

He smirked, and she laid her head on his chest as they continued to slowly move as one about the edge of the river.

‘I wish this could last forever…’

Then, like a warning call from the dawn, the sound of a lark crying echoed out over the gorge. They both turned upward and saw the busy bird sweeping overhead; and there, as if clearing out the totality of the night, was the first light blue of day, breaking quietly over the hill to the East. They both stared at it, paralysed for a moment by the full realisation that time had indeed not stopped for them. Suddenly the jazz-rhythmed melody was not so clear.

The girl withdrew from him slightly as he continued to stare.

‘Well,’ she said after a moment. ‘Do you want to come back?’

‘What?’

‘With me?’

He considered her for a moment. An eternity of confusion imploded in his mind.

‘No. I can’t.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes. You know why.’

‘I don’t know –‘

‘Yes you do. I’ll walk you to a taxi, but I’m going home alone.’

‘Home?’

‘Yes.’

And, despite the girl’s silent discomfort, they found a taxi on the Hotwell Road and said their goodbyes.

‘You have my number,’ said the girl as she climbed in. ‘And I have yours.’

‘Haven’t we always,’ said the boy.

Then the door closed and the taxi drew away into the night, following the road that led to the sea. She took one last forlorn look through the back window as she left, but she was looking over nothing.

And the boy – well, he took one last, long look at the bridge, now illuminated in the growing sun, sighed deeply, then finally, slowly, as if all his life he had been waiting for this moment, began to make his way home.

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/