Friday 28th August
Diary Entry – 20660510
“I am in Hastings. I made it. The Atlas was pretty useless as most of the roads had changed, but though it took a few days I made it. There used to be signposts everywhere, back in the days they let people drive their own autos, but they have all gone now. I did discover a few old stones along the back roads with names and numbers on them, but they must have been in miles still, not kilometres, and I have no idea how long a mile is. Hastings is a strange place; it has an ancient decaying grandeur, and yet is visibly crumbling before your very eyes. Weeds as big as trees grow in the streets and wrecked self-drive abandoned vehicles line the old promenade. Once-grand hotels are boarded up and in some cases have bricked up windows and doors. Litter blows about everywhere and congregates waist-deep in doorways and colonnaded porticos. No-one appears to be living here at first, but look closer and what appears dead is alive with a new round of guests, though these are non-paying and uninvited. Squatters have moved in, and careful not to make it too obvious have left the boards at the windows mostly intact. They are careful not to advertise their presence too clearly, but as you walk down the streets you catch glimpses of faces peering out of ragged curtained windows, or the click of a door being closed somewhere behind you. This ghost of a town is indeed inhabited by a myriad of ghosts.
And I have become one of them. At first they were wary of me, slipping away down alleys and round corners, but gradually I have made contact with them. They are a strange mixture, a few oldies that would have been called tramps once, but a lot of younger people, some only in their thirties, and a surprising number of women. They have all dropped out at one time or another, and exist by doing casual work for food or on handouts from the few strata-ed residents living on a newish estate a few miles out of town. Not surprisingly some are alcoholics, or seem to live from one drink to another anyway. A few have more serious drug problems; though where they get their fixes and how they pay for them I have no idea. Some of the women prostitute themselves, travelling up to the outskirts of G.L. to find customers; they will be gone for a few days at a time, and come back with old watches or bits of jewellery to use as barter. Even here there is no real money, nothing has yet emerged to replace cred. The old notes and coins are worthless even here; only trade-able goods have any value.
I am living in a corner of the ballroom of an old hotel, ‘The Cliftonville’ it says on the plates and saucers. There are about twenty of us here, some have their own rooms, but most live communally here in the ballroom, with its beautifully ornate ceiling and peeling flock wallpaper. I have my own mattress and dirty old duvet at least; this cost me the wind-up torch Dan gave me, and so far a couple of women have shared some food with me, but I know I will have to find a way of getting my own food soon. Even here you aren’t tolerated unless you have something to sell.
Amazingly no-one has switched off the micro-power, and though hardly anyone has any electrical stuff the lights and sockets are still working. One of the women, Jane, has a radio, and has it blaring all day on some country music station, but at least it reminds me of the life I left behind. Almost all radio is on the supernet now, but some stuff must still be broadcast in the old way, though no-one I ever knew had a radio, maybe outside of G. L they still exist. Maybe the lower strata still use them; Jane’s machine doesn’t look that old-fashioned, so they must still be made somewhere.
It is quite a little community here, though very unstructured and everyone keeps more or less to themselves. There is a strange feeling of togetherness though, an unspoken acknowledgement that we are one against the system. No-one has really questioned who I am, or why I am here. Probably they don’t care; everyone has their hard-luck story I suppose.
More than at Aldwych, I feel accepted here, not exactly welcomed, but certainly not rejected either. As usual it is the women who are most forthcoming, the men are more reticent. Why is that? Why, even now in the Twenty-First Century are men so careful of letting their guard down? Is that the way it has always been; women the homemakers, the friendly ones, and men the solitary hunters. Because now I need to become a hunter again; if I am to survive I need to find some work and one of the women, Charlene, has told me that the local farmers need help from time to time, and will pay in food. This is of course illegal, but even Tesda turns a blind eye; they have pre-purchased the whole crop anyway, so how the farmer gets it out of the ground is up to him. So, tomorrow I am going out to one of the farms with Ben, one of the few men I have managed to get to speak to me, to see if there is any work.
I often wondered how unstrata-ed or non-persons existed. I read that in the old days people were actually paid to do nothing, the ‘dole’ they used to call it. I kid you not – as long as you weren’t working you got paid – as soon as you got a job your ‘dole’ stopped. By some crazy logic the authorities justified this, but it was obviously unsustainable in the long run and the whole system crashed decades ago. It is far cheaper to employ people, even at crap jobs, then at least they become consumers – the only valuable function left for humans to perform. Now no-one can exist in the cred system without working, although many, in fact most jobs, are better done by computers than people. The con-gloms need people to earn cred so they can buy stuff, so jobs are created. Sounds crazy, but as long as the system works, why not? And doing something makes people feel they have some usefulness, and even here in this never-land where we don’t officially exist, you need to work, or sell yourself, which in a way is work too, or you would starve.
And despite all the hypercom enforced regulations, there are always ways round every situation. Even here, outside of the cred con-glom system there are ways of surviving. Everyone finds some way of getting by. It is only the incurably sick who do not have some work to do. Mind you most illnesses are genetically obliterated before birth now, and since the euthenase programme came into full swing a lot of the oldies have chosen their own exit. I can’t say I blame them, when the choice is a long slow and painful death being shipped from hospital to clinic until even the basic-med nhs doesn’t want you, or a swift painless death – nice bed, nice nurse to hold your hand, one last decent meal and a glass of synth wine, your favourite music as you drift away. No real choice is there?
But here there is no compulsion to work, no nagging daily routine to follow. Of course you might starve if you lay in bed for days on end, but no screen is waking you and reminding you of your responsibility, no admen parading products to spend your cred on, no constant reminder of your strata level, no inducement to strive for the next level. Here it was simple – work and eat, or laze about and be hungry for a day or two.”