HARVEST FOR THE WORLD

At the back end of last year when I told a couple of friends I was starting work on my first new novel for over twelve months, a cursory summary of the story’s set-up from me prompted two different replies. ‘Oh,’ said one. ‘You mean like Planet of the Apes?’; ‘Oh,’ said the other. ‘You mean like Animal Farm?’ Well…er…sort-of, but not quite. A bit like the former, the tale takes place on an earth in which humans are not the dominant species and one of our animal cousins rules in our place; and a bit like the latter, I’m using the deceptive smokescreen of a kind-of farmyard fable to tell a serious story about an important contemporary issue. Then again, neither comparison quite matches.

Long-term followers still recall my spoof ‘Exposure’ series on the old, original version of YouTube, in which I satirised the Yewtree hysteria by having the men from the Met round-up children’s TV puppets of the 1970s instead of the decade’s ageing celebrities. It was a tactic that enabled me to say far more than I perhaps would’ve been able to get away with even in the less censorious online era of 2012-14. With this in mind, I decided that in finally addressing one of the most pressing (not say depressing) stories of our times via the vehicle of the novel, one way to do so was to adopt a not dissimilar approach. Yes, this is my ‘false allegation’ book, but in order to try and explain how the situation that embroils the lead character came about, I had to create a fitting backdrop.

The whole ‘Woke’ culture of Identity Politics is something I’ve tackled both on here and on YT (just before their new policy forced me off it), but I’ve never done so in fiction before. Satirising it seemed a given, so I went for it. However, the world of ‘The Kamikaze Harvest’ is dominated by the politics of Species rather than Identity, as this is a world ruled by cats and dogs. They don’t walk on all fours; they’ve evolved from that in the absence of humans and are anthropomorphic creatures blessed with everything that we take credit for – both good and bad. Canines were the supreme species for centuries, but have recently been usurped by felines, driven in part by the rise of Species Politics and ‘Radical Felinists’. They also have their own religious zealots, worshippers of an Ancient Egyptian Goddess known as Bastet. And you don’t f**k with Bastet.

It doesn’t take a genius to see through the true targets of this ploy, but there are so many aspects of 2019 which seemed ripe for satire that I realised I could place my cast of characters in our insane society and take artistic licence by just tweaking it ever-so slightly. For example, the story begins with the lead character (a black mongrel name of Max) being released from an eighteen-month spell behind bars for expressing an inappropriate opinion on an internet forum. As a result, he’s placed on the Speech Offenders’ Register for life and returns to a world in which cats have extended their powers by exploiting the trusting nature of canines even further. With universities, social services, the police and the judiciary all preaching the Species Politics mantra, feline-only shortlists have ensured the best jobs are now awarded on species grounds rather than merit, and Max has a lifetime of menial labour to look forward to.

Max has to endure a CBS (Canine Barring Service) check before he can re-enter the workplace – to ensure vulnerable cats and kittens are safe in his dangerous presence; and the best this former head librarian can manage is to be employed by a cleaning agency, to empty the litter trays of his cat overlords. One of his clients is Fenella, a leading feline rights lawyer and a household name via her publicised prosecutions of once revered and respected dogs. She initially treats him with utter indifference until he displays unexpected honesty and catches her by surprise in a way that causes her to reassess her prejudiced attitude towards canines.

Max believes in equality between the species rather than simply replacing one in a position of power with the other; but his is a discredited view. Dogs have been demonised as the embodiment of primitive savagery, not to be trusted – despite their inborn ‘privilege’. This opinion, enforced through the pedigree media and its chattering classes, not only preaches the philosophy that dogs should be in a permanent, self-flagellating state of guilt over the inherited crimes of their ancestors; but it overlooks the fact that cats, in their nightly hunting of rodents, are far more ruthless animals. But the propaganda promotes the latter as Victims, and this encouragement of victimhood amongst felines eventually leads to a mentally-disturbed cleaning client of Max informing the police that he’d brutally attacked her five years previously.

Needless to say, the police take the Victim’s allegation as ‘credible and true’, and it is only when Max is muzzled and escorted to the local nick following a Sunday lunchtime raid on his family home that he is made aware of just how deeply Species Politics have penetrated the ruling class. He calls feline barrister Fenella for help and she shocks her devoted felinist fan-base by coming to his rescue and agreeing to defend him in court. What follows is a high-profile test-case for the gains of ‘the revolution’ as one of its pin-up girls turns traitor and comes face-to-face with her professional nemesis whilst Max’s freedom hangs in the balance. On the strength of a deluded fantasist, he stands to lose his liberty as Fenella struggles to build a case against his accuser with the police pursuing a non-disclosure-of-evidence policy in favour of ‘the Victim’.

Yes, I’m taking an unusual route to tell a serious story. Much black comedy is derived from imagining what cats and dogs would be like in humanoid form, how they would behave in human ways yet retain traits we recognise from our four-legged versions. When Max cleans various feline homes, he takes note of how the floors are littered with objects the homeowners have pushed off surfaces for no palpable reason; when he spends an evening in his room alone, he entertains himself by chomping on a bone for a couple of hours before receiving a visitor and then engaging in conversation. They’re still cats and dogs at heart, but they’re also us.

I may have chosen to tell this tale in a rather eccentric way, but the main subject is not treated remotely light-heartedly. Perhaps I figured I could lure a few unsuspecting readers in by tricking them into thinking this was just an intriguingly silly story in which cats and dogs rule the world, before hitting them with the realities of a situation that has affected – and continues to affect – thousands of innocent people in this country, some of whom I have known. We shall see. Someone had to write about it, and I’ve chosen to do it my way. Check it out…

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1082364096

© The Editor

MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THIS

hypnotistDuring the filming of the retrospective Beatles documentary, ‘Anthology’, in the early 90s, Paul, George and Ringo were largely interviewed individually and it was noticeable on occasion that each recalled certain key incidents thirty years on very differently. It seemed to highlight the difficulties when more than two people recall a particular event at which they were all present; which is the genuine recollection – all or none?

We naturally view the world from our own unique perspective, so it’s inevitable that if two or three witness the same event, recalling it in the immediate aftermath will differ slightly, though not as much as when recalled days, weeks, months and years (even decades) on. By then, they are so removed from the moment that each successive recollection is a photocopy of its predecessor, so – as somebody once pointed out – we’re not remembering the event, but remembering the last time we remembered it. Distance alters the event in our heads and does so differently for each individual witness. To use just one seemingly trivial example, if we were present at the event with people we still see regularly, in our recollection they don’t look exactly as they looked at the time; we see them essentially as they are now, which clearly isn’t the same as viewing a photograph or cine-film of the event, when we notice the different hairstyles or clothes that were specific to that era.

Similarly, when we summon up an incident from childhood, rarely do we recall factors that would hit us immediately were we to be suddenly transported back into our prepubescent bodies – i.e. how small we were and how big our surroundings were, not to mention the adults towering above us. Such a sensation is something memory appears to have a problem dealing with, and the physical distinctions between then and now only strike us if we happen to revisit our old infants’ school and see how tiny the chairs we sat in were. Our minds reconstruct the event of forty-odd years before to a degree of accuracy, but do so in a context we can relate to in the here and now; it’s extremely difficult to envisage something as significant as being several feet smaller than we have been for the entirety of our adult lives.

Our household didn’t acquire a colour television until 1976; prior to that, everything I saw on TV at home was in monochrome – yet my vivid memory of Jon Pertwee regenerating into Tom Baker in 1974 is one of sitting by the telly and watching the landmark moment in colour, perhaps because I’ve subsequently seen the transformation many times since in colour. Another simple example of how memory shouldn’t be trusted implicitly comes with the case of a favourite film one has viewed so many times that quoting lines from it just before the actors speak them is second nature; yet the recital is rarely word-perfect. It’s only when we watch again that we realise we got the odd word wrong or added a word that isn’t actually there in the script. Every time we repeat what we believe to be the quote, we’re subconsciously rewriting the lines based on the recollection of what we said last time we recited it.

Taking all of this into account, it’s worth noting how much reliance is placed upon remembrance of an event, especially when the police question witnesses to a crime, which is why they’re supposed to be trained not to influence the witness during questioning if there’s an uncertain pause, hence the tradition of the identity parade rather than the police simply producing a photo of the man they know did it and saying ‘Is this the man?’ The person helping the police with their inquiries may have run through the event in their heads several times before committing it to an official statement, and the natural instinct of memory is to iron out inconsistencies and any illogical elements so that it can be recounted with a cohesive clarity that makes sense when said out loud.

When recalling a visit to the school careers officer during his Sheffield adolescence, Michael Palin once remarked the officer’s response to every pupil’s career ambitions when asked what they wanted to do was met with a straightforward ‘I think it’s Pilkington’s Glass for you, young man’, reflecting his blatant role as a recruiter for one of the city’s chief employers.

The psychoanalytical branch of medicine over the last twenty-five years has been taught to make similarly lazy assumptions where memory is concerned, with shrinks resorting to any anxiety their patients express as being rooted in a childhood trauma usually centred on sexual abuse by a family member. And I know this to definitely be the case, for I was pressurised into manufacturing such a memory myself when in therapy. Thankfully, I rejected this because I was convinced had something of that nature happened there was no way I wouldn’t have remembered it all my life.

The magician Derren Brown always makes the point that there is no magic involved in his ingenious scams involving members of the public, merely psychological suggestions he knows people are susceptible to. When one considers the shifting sands that constitute memory’s flexible foundations, and how vulnerable it can be to such suggestions, it’s rather worrying to realise the level of importance that is placed upon it in legal circles these days, condemning men to lengthy prison sentences for crimes that, in many cases, have only the unreliable witness of memory as evidence.

American psychologist Elizabeth Loftus has probably done more research into the untrustworthy nature of memory and the way in which it can be manipulated than anyone else over the last forty years; her work at the Department of Transportation opened her eyes to the variations in separate accounts from those who’d been witness to the same traffic accidents and she realised how easy it was to implant suggestions as to what had happened. She expanded this into a series of experiments that were not a million miles from the mind games of Derren Brown.

Her pioneering work in the field of false memory led to her becoming an expert witness in criminal court cases that rested on eyewitness evidence, some of which had been the result of hypnosis. She remains convinced that a mass moral panic along the lines of the Salem-like ‘Satanic Abuse’ crazes of the 90s usually has its roots in the manipulation of memory and the dangerous reliance upon it as cast-iron evidence.

More recent events on this side of the Atlantic appear to vindicate Elizabeth Loftus’ findings, but we only have to reunite with old friends or family members in a communal trip down Memory Lane to be aware of how our individual recollections change as we age. Could we swear for sure our own memories are the definitive article and everyone else has simply got it wrong when theirs contradict ours? Take that uncertainty into a Court of Law and you’re on very rocky ground indeed.

© The Editor