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Tuesday, 20 December 2011

A coalition Christmas.

A rough and unedited draft, but I might not even come back to it. It is what it is.

From where I'm sitting I can see Billy touch the long radiator that runs the length of the wall.
At first he hovers his hands open palmed over it before he tentatively lets them settle against the surface.
If he's looking to feel some residual warmth emanating from the metal then he will be sorely disappointed.
There is none.
There rarely is.
Some of us who had previously kept up to date with government initiatives could have told him that under the new energy saving scheme introduced by the coalition the heating is turned off between the hours of nine am and five pm in all work experience facilities.
It's only on for an hour before we all commence with whatever they have arranged for us to do, and that hour falls far short of being long enough to fill the room with anything resembling warmth.
The political angle on this is that anyone putting in a solid days work wouldn't require to be housed in a continuously heated building as the effort of their labour would keep them warm.
Obviously none of those who supported the move had been north of Carlyle in December.
There's no point in mentioning any of this to Billy though.
All new arrivals need to find their own feet.
It's an unspoken rule.

He follows on his failed attempt at finding some heat from the radiator with a swift hand rubbing to conjure up some kinetic heat.
From experience I know that this offers little more than a moments respite from the cold.
Lastly he cups them to his face enveloping his nose and mouth and blows into them.
He looks like a fool.

During breakfast he had been quick to inform everyone who would listen that his six months referral to the facility was just what he needed to show future employers that he was just the type of man they should offer a contract to.
The silence that his comment drew from the men sitting at his table spoke volumes.
It hung in the air like an accusation of rank stupidity for what seemed to be an eternity.
The spell was only broken by a soft, but emphatically, uttered 'fud' that hung heavy in the air and was accompanied with some head shaking disbelief.
The mild force of it was enough to act as the catalyst for everyone to go back to eating their meagre portion of porridge.
A weak and watery facsimile of porridge that was the only option available.

Since then I had been watching him on and off all morning and calculating in my head how long it would take before the penny dropped and he realized the reality of his situation.
More than once I found myself thinking that he must the the only person alive who is unable to see the work experience facilities for what they are.
A modern day workhouse introduced by the government to provide free labour to their business partners from the pool of the unemployed under the pretence of providing training.
People seen it coming, but no one really did anything about it.
It was only something that would target the soap dodging scum.
Little did they know that as the economy contracted that they were just a year or so away from being the very same soap dodging scum they had previously looked down their noses at.
Six months claiming benefit uninterrupted automatically leading to six months in a work experience facility sounded fair when they were working.
Less so when they weren't.
Whose sorry now?
The only way to avoid the enforced period of labour was to opt out from the benefit system.
So no real option at all.

There were some riots in the sink estates when they started rounding up the long term unemployed, but with the introduction of the water cannons and rubber bullets they were quickly quelled.

With all this having happened Billy's lack of awareness of where he is seems to be rooted in real delusion.
He glances around and catches me looking at him and smiles.
I can sense that he is looking for a connection, a hint of camaraderie, but I don't have anything to give.

The clock above his head hangs like the sword of Damocles
The second hand sweeps downward and I glance across the room to where the charge hand stands and watches.
He's seen Billy to.
He's hard to miss him as apart from the guards he is the only man standing in the room.
Oblivious to the scrutiny of the charge hand Billy remains where he is and rubs his hands together again to generate some heat a second time.
He's smiling.
Part of me wants to stand up and say something, but gravity pushes down hard on me and my cheeks fill with shame as I know what the outcome is going to be.
There are only two reasons that you are allowed to leave your work station.
One is to go for a timed toilet break and the second to report yourself as ill.
Billy has done neither, and instead simply went for a wander.
In his mind I'm sure he is casually familiarizing himself with the workplace as no one else has volunteered to give him a tour.
It wont matter in a few minutes anyway.
I can hear some talk from a distance, the crackle of a message from a radio.
It's the cue for dark shapes to fill the periphery of my vision.
My focus is on Billy.
I'm locked into him.
Every single detail of him standing there is my world, my universe.
Dark shapes that quickly take the form of heavily armoured guards close in.
He turns to one and opens his mouth to say something.
Whatever it was is lost as the first blow from the lengthy baton connects with his face.
It's not like the films.
He doesn't roll with it.
He doesn't shrug it off and heroically retaliate.
He does nothing.
Instead his face bursts, his teeth shatter and his blood blossoms.
Before he can manage to make a sound another blow from another guard robs him of articulating the pain.
The only noise is the grunts of the guards and the sound of the abattoir.
The sound of the butchers block.
It's the sound of meat being struck.
A wet sound. A dull and lifeless sound.

The beating lasts seconds, maybe a minute at most, but it feels like it has lasted much longer.
No one has moved.
No one looks up.
Billy's unconscious body is dragged silently from the room and it is as if nothing has happened.
The tick of the clock sounds thunderous and is only equaled by the roaring of blood in my ears.
I can feel pressure on my thigh and look down to see a hand squeezing it.
I lose myself in the touch and close my eyes.
Concentrate on the heat and focus on the force of the pressure on my leg.
The hand remains there, pressing down, keeping me in my seat.
I breathe in and out, in and out, in and out.
When I open my eyes I keep looking ahead of me at the point below the clock where Billy had stood.
The hand lets go of my thigh.
The moment has past.
It's in the past and I'm in the present.

The hand quickly dips in and out of my pocket.
I reach in and find something hard and round and take it out.
It's a toffee.
I quickly pop it into my mouth and the taste fills my head.
Beside me I hear a voice whisper 'Merry Christmas'.
Before me the world loses its sharp focus as tears drop like bombs onto the work surface.


  1. that's a very powerful piece of writing mainy, subject matter in hand it's odd to say i like it, but i do very much...the little touches are what draw me, such as the watery facsimile of porridge, and the toffee explosion, it, all makes it real....i'd like very much to hear you read this....can you record it?

  2. I don't think my voice would lend itself to it, but if you want to do it, or anyone else then feel free.
    No copyright here.
    It's free for all.
    All I ever is is a credit.