I Am Forty-Four

29th of April 1997 to 28th of April 1998




aka The Current Future
By Thomas Sharp

It happened fast, ah, if you could only, ah, erase the past, ah’ Michael Jackson New Jack Swung at us from the top of the charts in one of his more forgettable, transistor-tinny songs. Something about him being stabbed – taking seven inches as he put it – on the dance floor.

Erasing the past, bloodletting, I knew how he felt. Everyone did, the country was groaning towards the millennium, its citizens were graveyard worms in the bloated, near-rupturing belly of a zombie-shambling Tory corpse.

Or maybe it was just me feeling tired. 44 will do that to you. Eleven years past the age Jesus was when he’d completed the job of triggering an epoch defining shift in human consciousness... and I’m still thinking about what’s at number one in the pop charts.

The miracle of a number one. I’ve never stopped believing in the strange Woolworthian magic of it all. Artist and title typeset on top of a grid forever more, even if only for a week. Fixed in time. A way for people to anchor their lives. Their adventures forever linked to the most popular songs of the moment. Pop is the real news, the news about love and dancing and tripping: the news that matters. A number one is a beacon of culture beeping out new directions. Dead-at-33 Jesus was a broadcaster, but really, I’ve always been more of a receiver, listening to each chart champion and calibrating the world through it. And you don’t arrive at 44 without learning to listen to as many of the messages as you can.

The other news trundles on. The Tories are out. New Labour is in. Tony Blair with a smile that his new backers, The Sun, would have you believe is middle-Britain friendly and shiny shiny charming... but he just looks hungry to me. Ravenous. He’s starving for something. All those teeth. And behind him, Mandelson. A creature appearing to pad ominously somewhere, even when he’s standing still. A PR alien giving off oil fumes.

They break ground in June in Greenwich. They – Blair and Mandelson – are building a dome. Who builds a dome? Religions in their tired, too-much-power, grandiose stages. That Eden place in Cornwall. Astronauts surviving on a hostile planet. Domes are smooth and pompous and touristy and anti-radiation. Domes are boring. We’re replacing a rotten zombie political body with a polished endlessly smiling meaningless curve.

And as the fabrication of the Dome commences, I begin to feel time eliding. Maybe they’d struck a reality main in Greenwich. Easily done, without proper surveys.

Radios in shops keep playing old number ones. Sometimes I can’t remember my age and – catching window reflections – I see myself dressed in pale blue NHS pyjamas, grey faced, wheelchair-slumped, horned growth protruding from my forehead. I hear brass trumpets raving in the distance. A confusing mix of absurdist play, Carry On Doctor and Book of Revelation.

Symbols inserted into culture cause resonances. So, if you’re going to have a number one pop song about a time traveller, expect time travel to pop up at some point.

A sun-swirled July late morning. I’m sitting in a pair of blue pyjamas, spooning soup from a horn-shaped bowl. Light is tromboning in-and-out of my flat, making infinite patterns on my mug of tea. The radio is off, but a voice comes from it anyway.

Step off the train all alone at dawn, back into the hole where I was born, the sun in the sky never raised an eye to me. There’s blood on the tracks and they must be mine. The fool on the hill and I feel fine. Don’t look back ’cause you know what you might see. Look into the wall of my mind’s eye. I think I know, but I don’t know why. The questions are the answers you might need.

Quite the introductory statement. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt in 44 years it’s that if a mystical declaration appears to have depth folded upon depth folded upon depth, it’s far easier to just assume it’s bollocks. I recognise this one anyway. It’s from a number one Oasis had a couple of weeks ago. The usual Beatles séance. I imagined a psychedelically-painted cheesecloth being produced from a Gallagher mouth. Spirits or trickery, pop music doesn’t differentiate.

How much do you know about fractals?” comes a question from the radio.

Quite a lot, actually” I reply, the timing of the query being perfect – that week’s New Scientist is open on the table in front of me. Soup splashes dotting a review of Benoit Mandlebrot’s latest book ‘The (Mis)Behavior of Markets – a Fractal view of risk, ruin and reward’.

Oh” came the voice sounding disappointed. “But I could do with a refresher” I quickly add.

Great! Refreshers are my speciality’ said the radio voice, sounding pleased. ‘Right, fractals. Geometric structures arising from formulas. However deep you go there’s always more fractal. First discovered by Benoit Mandelbrot, a Polish-born mathematician. He said he was interested in ‘the art of roughness’ of physical phenomena and ‘the uncontrolled element in life’. Fractals are geometric repetition, they are equally rough at all scales, no matter how close you look they never get simpler. Think of the jagged coastline. It’s as jagged at your feet as the stretch you see from space. I’m in space now” the radio voice smugly concluded.

Are you?”

Yes” it replied, “and let me tell you there’s trouble ahead. Walk in shadow, move in silence, guard against extra-terrestrial violence, but yo we ain’t on no government list, we straight don’t exist, no names and no fingerprints, we’re your first, last and only line of defence, against the worst scum of the universe.”

There was a pause.

That was from a song” the voice continued.

Yes, I guessed it was” I replied, though I didn’t recognise the lyrics. “It’ll be number one in a few weeks’ time, just as Diana dies.”

I should have been surprised at this, but time was eliding and deep fractally down I knew it already. Anyway, there’s a long tradition of sci-fi songs making the top of the charts.

Ok, that’s the fractal lesson” I pushed, “so who are you and what do you want?

I’d call me ‘The Comeback’ if I were you. That’s a good name. But I’m also muttered about as ‘Saturn’, ‘Renewal’, ‘Osiris’, ‘The Death and Resurrection Show’ etc. etc. You know, you know, my name depends on where you are in time at that moment.

And in your time, you’ve got a problem. You’re fast approaching the millennium, a completely invented and yet no less actual point at which reality tunnels converge. Millenniums are flimsy, porous junctures.”

My soup, gone cold, begins to ripple. A child’s drawing of a dome slowly arcs into existence on the surface. A child’s drawing of a dome is just a drawing of a dome I reflect.

There’s the trouble” the radio says. “Mandelson and Blair erecting this out at Greenwich right now. Mandelson is the anti-Mandelbrot. One of Jung’s lesser-known archetypes. He architects the smooth, rather than the rough.

“Assemble the wrong cultural edifices, and by wrong, I mean dull, at the millennium and you’re signing up for a solid 1000 years of boring. And by boring, I mean no renewal. Probably not even death, just samey samey samey coating everything in a stinking static thickness. Let the architects of smooth control your symbols at a millennium and you’re fucked.

What should I do?”

“I don’t know. You’re the imagination. I’m just a nudging mythos. Perhaps put another symbol into culture – the opposite of a smooth safe easy dome, the opposite of a Xanadu shopping centre. Construct a different societal edifice that begins the future in rough patterns of skeletal awkwardness. A symbol which will reach deep into the 21st century and create life out of death out of life out of death. Begin a road to nowhere, with twists and turns, which will never end.”

And so, while thinking that at least some of that last radio speech was from a pop song, I begin on an idea to erase the current future.


By Ian Barrett

The Unseen Editor speaks...

Before you read Mid-Life Crisis? by Ian Barrett, it should be clarified by myself (The Unseen Editor) that Ian Barrett made a fundamental mistake – he thought he was writing for a year twenty years earlier. I made the editorial decision to include it here anyway. And it is being done so in honour of Joe Strummer.

Its 29th April 1977
I'm sitting in a dank melamine cafe on Wimbledon High Street in London, waiting to be brought my third cup of tea. The other cups had grown cold and while partially drunk, were just not up to the job.

One problem I have found during my time in London is that I have struggled to make friends. There is a very good reason for that, as I am my own ghost. The real me is in Liverpool wondering what to do. This ghost version of me is exploring London trying to find out if the punk scene is real or just another fake youth movement used to market rebellion. 

I'm soon to wander into Central London to make contact with the assorted rabble of spiky punks, lurching from street to street. Having been absorbed into the Liverpool music scene has been SCISSORMAN, but I want to compare that ramshackle enthusiasm with the hype and hairspray of the London scene. 

I walk up to a small group of punks on a side street in Soho. With no idea how they would react to me. It was a shock when they talked in accents more suited to Hampshire than Hackney. 

Sitting on the edge of the pavement they told me that they were off to try and get a glimpse of The Clash later that day as they'd heard they were rehearsing for a gig. 
Not something I could pass up, so I asked if I could join them. They agreed, so after chatting for an hour or so we all traipsed across London to the rehearsal room. 

As we all sat outside the rehearsal building, we were faced with the dilemma of two huge security guards at the entrance. It was highly unlikely / impossible that these monoliths would let a bunch of dirty punks anywhere near the band. 

Luckily for us though I AM NOT A PUNK

My masterstroke was that I had some spare clothes in my bag. Clothes even LESS PUNK than the ones I was wearing 

So, I snuck off to a dark alleyway and swapped clothes. I then went back to the doors on my own and blithely said I was an electrician and had been called by the studio to fix the main fuse box. 


I could then wander into the building with nothing to stop me getting near The Clash
(after all, I have to look around to find the fuse box don't I......?) 

It didn't prove too hard to find a band as loud as The Clash and I homed in very quickly. I strolled into rehearsal room, and hung around the sound desk listening to the thunderous roar of White Riot. I had heard it a few times on the radio but NEVER like this. 

When they finished playing, I spoke to the sound engineer and told him that I'd just fixed the electrics in the building and asked if it was possible to say “hi” to the band. 
He reluctantly agreed and as they sat down for a tea break, I sauntered over for a chat. 

5th May 1977
Erics - Liverpool 

As the physical bodied Bill Drummond, I'm walking with some friends to Eric’s to watch The Clash. They wandered in after a few drinks at The Grapes 

There is a very real tension in the air...
They go into Erics and hang around with a straggle of people they know pretty well. Liverpool makes it easy for that to happen. Not like London. 

After milling around, getting a pint of mild and chatting to whoever was there the reason for us all being there became apparent... 

The Clash grabbed Eric's by the balls and didn't let up. A few hours before it was a dirty cellar, but now it was a maelstrom of riffs and anger. 

Eric's is far from a big venue, and this evening it was full of anticipation and drenched bodies. It was totally packed out. EVERYONE in Liverpool wanted to see what all this was about. This made it VERY difficult to see the actual band. I caught the odd glimpse of them as the people shuffled and swayed, but very little. Song after song spat from the stage at a volume unbearably loud but it was only after about five songs that I got a proper view 

And it was only THEN that it hit me.... 
There was an extra guitarist! 
Just glimpses between the arms and hair and smoke, and it took while to make sense of the revelation.
And then I realised.
It was my own ghost.
I was IN the Clash.
My ghost had somehow convinced the band that they should let me play with them.
This was not easy, but the spirit of DIY punk had won the day.
Not only was I watching the band.
As Joe Strummer led the band in a swirling mass of power chords and vitriol, I had the pain of being as one with the show. 
My ghost was playing along with Mick Jones and his jagged stabbing guitar.
Who else knew the mystery addition to the band I don't know, but I KNEW.
And I also knew that I was not as good as I should have been.

I watched and stared, gobsmacked. I knew from then on, things could only get worse.

If The Clash can make noise, then I can make it too...

And THAT was the start of something...

Something that can never be undone. 

A mid-life crisis comes in waves, that night was the first ripple of the first wave yet to come.


By Terry Glancy

I was in a Barrel. In the desert. I didn’t know which desert, but here I was again. Nothing to see but sand in every direction.

Apart from the other barrel a few feet away from me. 

I checked my pockets, a scrunched-up blood-stained piece of aged paper. 

I could in theory get out the barrel (it wasn’t very deep at all), but I had a bad feeling about the other barrel. There was something evil about it, a presence, a smell, an idea, maybe all three. Something I just couldn’t define but it scared the hell out of me. I wasn’t getting out.    

Written on the back of the paper were the words ‘THERES NO SUCH THING AS INSTANT CUSTARD’. 

I flipped it over. 

On the other side were the words ‘THIS PAGE INTENTIONALLY LEFT BLANK’

I gingerly started doing the breast stroke, flew up into the air and was free from the barrel. I looked down and saw a man with a phone, and shouted to the man to film me flying around and put it on a streaming website. I knew it wouldn’t be there when I checked upon waking (it never was), but it was worth a shot. Maybe these were going up with wrong tags, or no tags at all. Surely everyone would want to see these. They just needed the right tags. I shouted down ‘EVIL DESERT BARREL BILL’, but the man was not within earshot. The man was heading for the barrel. The evil one. I saw him shutting the lid as I swam off.

I flew on. 

I could see Kirkcudbright down below, but I wasn't for stopping. There was something not quite right about Kirkcudbright.  In real life the houses were painted all different colours, but here they were all grey. No windows. No-one walking around, and the fish & chip shop had turned into a grey, lifeless, bouncy castle. It was 27 pounds to go on, and the queue was massive.

I flew on.

I landed somewhere that looked like Whithorn. Three Cows in a nearby field were eating meteorites which had followed me down from the sky. With each chew, two of them got smaller and smaller, so I put a Cow in each front pocket and watched the remaining one finish off its meteorite. It chewed away, getting larger and larger, and a strange blue light started to shine from within it. The light was blinding. When my eyes finally focused again, the large Cow had gone. The two small ones were still in the pockets. One of them was chewing on my piece of paper so I quickly pulled it out, the poor wee tiny Cow went flying across the field. 

'HERE NO          G AS IN STAR’

I flipped it over. 


Puzzled, I stuffed it back in my pocket and cursed the little munching Cow and took out the one remaining Cow. The Cow gestured towards the Solway Firth, and it looked blue and gloopy, thick like blue paint. The Cow appeared to be very happy about this, wagging its tiny tail and smiling. Suddenly the two of us, me and the wee Cow, were in a boat on the blue painted sea. There was also an old man with a very large beard on the boat who smiled at the pair of us. He beckoned us over to his side of the boat and held out his hands. The old man appeared to want the little Cow but I didn’t trust him as we had only just met, and I was becoming quite attached to the little fellow. The old man opened his cloak to show four gleaming watches. 

The face of each watch was the face of Cilla Black, and her hands moved as if to show the time, but they were moving far too fast. Whizzing round. Days were passing in seconds. Overhead the sun and the moon whizzed by. Round and round. I looked down and Cilla was smiling.

Was it a fair trade? Was the Cow more useful than the fast Cilla watches? The old man held out one of the watches towards me. Instinctively I grabbed it, mesmerised by Cilla’s arms going round and round like some mad Ferris Wheel, and the happy grin on her face.

It also had a thermometer attached. 

It was beautiful.

I handed the Cow over to the old man who thanked me courteously and disappeared. Probably into the evil barrel. Who knows?

I found myself back in Kirkcudbright.  

Everything seemed normal. The houses were back to their multi-coloured norm and the chip shop was doing a roaring trade selling fish & chips instead of bouncy castle rides. There were fishing boats in the harbour laden with fish and the fisherfolk were offloading them outside the chip shop. Everyone seemed happy. 

I looked down at the watch. It just looked like a normal watch, and it had stopped. I wanted to show it to the fishermen as I hadn’t had a chance to show it off to anyone yet. 

What use was such an amazing object without an audience to admire It? 

I tapped it once and Cilla sprang back to life, her hummingbird arms moving faster than ever, her grin as wide as the Solway Firth. 

Kirkcudbright became utter chaos.

The colour drained out the houses, and slopped into the bay, which became a muddy blue. A mass chip fight broke out in the square. People were being hurt. People were being killed.

A mayor (who looked like the old man from the boat) was making a speech in the square. I couldn’t hear the words, but the townsfolk turned on me and chased me down the street. 

The breaststroke wasn’t working. There was no escape. I looked down and Cilla was scowling back up at me.

They shoved me into a barrel and took me out into the desert. 


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