Miles Kington: We have come to liberate you from this living hell

On his desk, almost invisible in the mess, was an ashtray which he could only locate by the smoke curling up from it
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The Independent Online

WARNING. Today I am bringing you a story which some of you may find distressing, as it contains scenes of squalor, suffering and mild wastefulness...

Simon Cambridge was a writer. Well, it sounded better than "hack". Once, when he was asked at a party what he did for a living, he had said brightly, "Well, writer is what it says in my passport", and had been quite surprised when the man had said, "No, it doesn't. We have not been required to state our profession in our passport for years and years."

When Simon had got home, he had hunted out his passport (which took several hours, as he had forgotten where he had put it, as usual) and found to his disappointment but not his surprise that the man was absolutely right. You were not asked for your profession by the passport people any longer.

Perhaps, Simon mused, this was out of respect for unemployed people. It was typical of the Labour government to respect people's feelings so much that, although they didn't actually create more jobs, they reduced the opportunities for unemployed people to feel bad about it. That, thought Simon, might be a good idea for an article.

It was, I'm afraid, typical of Simon that he never got round to writing or even researching that article. He merely scribbled on a bit of paper, "No profession on passport. Why?" and put the bit of paper on a pile on his desk, where it was soon submerged beneath other ideas. On this particular day he was writing an article about turkey farming, and getting worked up about the fact that a turkey grown in Hungary could be transported to East Anglia, processed there and then sold with the label BRITISH affixed to it.

"What is British about a bird that has lived and died in Hungary?" he thundered, or at least his prose style did. "It makes about as much sense as pointing to a Titian painting in the National Gallery and claiming it to be a British art treasure."

He was just about to go on the internet and check that the National Gallery did, in act, have a Titian or two, when to his surprise the door of his room burst open and two men in balaclava helmets burst in.

"What the..." started Simon.

"We have come to liberate you," said one man.

"To take you away from all this," said the other.

"From what?" said Simon.

"From these inhuman conditions," said the first.

"From this tiny, cramped, airless cell," said the second, "where you are forced to exist all day."

Simon looked round his room. It might, in fact, look cramped if you were new to it. The carpet was hidden by piles of magazines and newspapers, cuttings and letters. There were boxes of tapes and videos, CDs and DVDs. On his desk, almost invisible in the mess, was an ashtray which he could locate only by the smoke curling up from it. There was a mug of warm coffee. There were five other mugs of cold coffee, lined away from it.

"It's a living hell," said the first man.

"No one should be forced to work in a place like this," said his mate.

"And don't tell us you know where everything is," said the first. "They all say that. But it it's not true, is it? You couldn't even find your passport, could you?"

Simon started. How did they know that?

"Who are you?" he said.

"Royal Society Against Cruelty to Writers," said one.

"Tirelessly working to liberate writers," said the other.

"From themselves."

"We'll be back."

And they had gone, as quickly as they had come. Simon rubbed his eyes. Had his over-active, freelance brain invented the whole thing? Or were they for real? In which case, he should warn the police. He looked for his phone. He couldn't see it anywhere. It must be under one of these piles...

Today's story was brought to you by the Royal Society Against Cruelty to Writers, tirelessly working to liberate writers from themselves. If you would like to help our work, please send your cheques to me. Please. Quickly. Thank you.

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