It was the standard procedure for conducting the budget debate that, within the two months following the meeting of the Central Assembly, the local assemblies should reconvene to hear reports from the Central Assembly and to consider any matters referred back to them. So it was that on a fine morning in early June delegates began to gather at the hall where Kulina had observed the meeting two months earlier.
As the delegates arrived along the strips, they could not fail to see a dramatically coloured figure standing at the top of the steps. It was Pignola. On this occasion the hair at the front of his head was dyed a glowing yellow, while that at the back was a rich shade of blue. His cloak was a stark check of red and green diamonds. Pignola and a small group of his friends, wearing badges that read BE A HEDONIST – HAVE FUN, were distributing leaflets to the delegates as they arrived.
The delegates accepted the leaflets and, for the most part, read them with keen interest. There was a general feeling that this morning would be more entertaining than the previous Assembly. The leaflets were headed WHO DO YOU REPRESENT? They began with a brief outline of the proposals Pignola had put to the previous meeting – pleasure parks and orgasm research, and the specific measures being put forward for the current budget debate. There followed a sharp attack on the Historical Museum – a body catering for an ‘esoteric minority interest’. ‘If they want to pursue their hobby, let them do so, as others collect caterpillars or ring antique church bells. But other people do not describe their obscure hobbies as their jobs. Do not let them impose their personal obsessions as a burden on society’s labour-budget.’
It was the final paragraph which was the real crunch.
Delegates should remember that they are not here to pursue their personal opinions, but to represent their workplaces. It is a sad fact that all too often the same people become delegates time after time because the majority of people are not very interested in democratic procedures. Until that can be changed delegates have to be careful not to think they know better than those who elected them. It may be that the sort of person who becomes an assembly delegate finds the detail of parliamentary procedure in the Jacobean period a topic of absorbing interest. But hearshy should not imagine that those who voted for himrer share such preoccupations. Undoubtedly the majority of those who send their delegates to the Assembly are more interested in orgasms and pleasure parks than in obscure historical research.
Rhedyn read the leaflet as she found a seat in the meeting-hall. It annoyed her, but more than that it puzzled her. There was something odd about it. The first two paragraphs were written in a flamboyant style that was unmistakably Pignola’s. The third paragraph was quite different. It seemed to reflect the mentality of someone who was most at home in procedural and administrative matters. Had someone collaborated with him? If so, who?
Rhedyn’s musing was interrupted by the opening of the meeting. A chair was elected and Chilgrove was called upon to report back from the Central Assembly. She began by explaining that as far as the main body of the budget was concerned there had been no problems and the various agreed proposals would be implemented; only some minor questions remained to be settled. Then she went on to discuss the cultural budget. A large number of localities had put forward proposals for developments under this heading; the Central Assembly had considered them all and short-listed four. Of these two – one for a pilot research scheme into weather control and another for a substantial expansion of the football programme – had had widespread support. The other two proposals were that emanating from the Historical Museum and what had now come to be known as the Hedonist scheme. The Central Assembly had therefore adopted the weather-control and football proposals. This left less than half a million labour-hours still available, which meant that one or other of the remaining proposals could be adopted, but not both. The Central Assembly would discuss this again at its meeting in September and local assemblies were being asked to consider the question.
‘I should, therefore,’ Chilgrove concluded, ‘welcome some guidance from this Assembly. I made clear at the last meeting my great admiration for the work of the Historical Museum, and my hope that it could be expanded. Since then I’ve had the pleasure of attending a meeting at the Museum, and this served only to confirm my impressions. But obviously I shall let myself be guided by the views of this Assembly. And, citizens, we have to remember those whom we represent. We have to be very careful not to think we know better than those who elected us.’
Rhedyn twitched. Chilgrove’s last sentence had been virtually identical with one in the last paragraph of the Hedonists’ leaflet. Why? Maybe she, too, had just read the leaflet and the phrase had lodged in her mind.
But Rhedyn had no time to pursue the matter. The discussion was now open and she wanted to get in early, to set the tone. Inside her head was a seething mass of fury, and it was only with great restraint that she could keep from sinking her sharp teeth into the flesh on the back of her hand. But she knew it was important to begin the meeting in the right way, not to give in to her impulses of anger. So she deliberately adopted a lightness of tone that was quite out of keeping with her real feelings.
‘Citizens,’ she began, ‘I must start off by making it clear that I not opposed to either pleasure parks or to orgasms. Indeed, I think both are a good thing. One of my happier memories is having an orgasm in the cage at the top of a ferris-wheel – something I suppose Pignola would consider the highest summit of human achievement.’
Rhedyn did not elaborate on the circumstances of this experience; the remark had sufficed to win her the sympathy of most of the audience and to get them to laugh at Pignola. Having done this she tried to raise the tone. ‘We’re here today because we think matters like the budget should be decided collectively and democratically. But there’s nothing natural about that. For the overwhelming majority of the time in human history decisions were taken by tiny minorities of people, or left to so-called ‘market forces’ which nobody was supposed to be able to control. The fact that we do as we do now didn’t fall out of the sky; it was fought for. Just think of the people in history who fought for the sort of society we live in now. The Diggers and Levellers who stood up for human equality. The Chartists, who demanded that everyone should have a right to vote.’ (Huelva began to feel a little uneasy. Rhedyn always cited the same examples, the same roll-call of heroes from the past. She was beginning to sound a bit like a social-democratic politician from the twentieth century. But Rhedyn moved quickly on.) ‘The Paris Commune, which insisted that delegates should have no specific privileges and that they should be subject to recall. The suffragettes – don’t forget that only two hundred years ago in most countries it depended on the shape of your genitals whether you had the right to vote.
‘The democracy we’ve got isn’t something abstract, guaranteed by a constitution. It’s the product of centuries of struggle, by millions of people, most of whose names are completely unknown. What we in the Museum want to do is to keep that past alive and to try to understand it better. Because if we stop thinking about the past – if we drop the past into the rubbish-pump as Pignola wants us to do, then we shall lose what’s best in the present, because the present is a product of that past. If we go down Pignola’s strip, we’ll end up abandoning democracy altogether. We shan’t bother to come to this Assembly at all – we’ll all be riding on roller-coasters and using stop-watches to measure our orgasms.’
This brought a round of applause; most of those there clearly did not share Huelva’s misgivings, and Rhedyn was winning the majority to her side. Pignola could not let this pass and he was on his feet immediately.
‘Let me start by saying that there is nothing personal in this dispute. Rhedyn is a good friend of mine and there’s nobody I’d sooner ride a ferris-wheel with. But, you know, Rhedyn, I read some history too. And that great tradition you make so much of, it wasn’t as pure and perfect as you think. Within that revolutionary tradition there’s always been a current of puritanism, of asceticism – a current that exalted the work ethic and that thought that pleasure – especially bodily pleasure – was wrong. Remember the Puritans in the first English Revolution – they were great revolutionaries, great democrats, no doubt – but they closed down the theatres. Remember Robespierre – ‘sea-green incorruptible’ – but he sliced an awful lot of heads off; and they weren’t all aristocrats; a lot of them were workers who wanted higher wages and more food. And the English Jacobins – lots of them came from those weird Puritan sects; though William Blake was one of the first great Hedonists – we claim him. And think of the influence of the Methodists – teetotallers who wanted to ban alcohol – on the Labour Party.
‘Now was all that puritanism, all that work ethic necessary? Maybe it was, in the days before there were machines to do most of our work for us. Who knows? I’ll leave that kind of speculation for the philosophers in Rhedyn’s Museum. But I do know that so many revolutions went wrong because that Puritan tradition came to the top. When Stalin took over in Russia he killed the revolutionary spirit that had been painting pictures and writing poems and imposed the work ethic instead, with Stakhanov showing how much coal he could dig. What’s the danger to our democracy today? Are we really all going to go off riding roller-coasters and forget about it? That’s not the danger. The danger is that citizens in this Assembly start deciding that people will have what the delegates think they ought to have, instead of what the people actually want. Replacing desire with duty, that’s the strip Rhedyn’s on. It’s a strip that leads to dictatorship, to the guillotine and Stalin.’
The last couple of sentences had clearly gone too far for many in the hall, and only a few people clapped. The meeting had begun to look as though it was turning into a gladiatorial combat, but the woman who was chairing skilfully called a number of speakers who, if they were not exactly inspiring, were at least able to lower the temperature somewhat. After about an hour’s debate it seemed as if a small but distinct majority was supporting Rhedyn.
Rhedyn then rose and proposed that the Assembly should vote on the question. Pignola immediately sprang to his feet. ‘If you want democracy,’ he shouted, ‘don’t leave it to the delegates here. Let’s take it back to the workplaces and have it discussed there.’ Rhedyn thought quickly. She could hardly let Pignola outflank her on the question of democracy. And anyhow it was undeniable that Pignola had a valid point. In principle it was certainly right that the question should go back to the workplaces. She was about to rise and say this when Chilgrove intervened.
‘While I agree one hundred per cent in principle with what Pignola has said, I’m afraid it isn’t practicable. There isn’t another meeting of this Assembly planned before September, and given that many people prefer to take most of their ten weeks’ holiday in the summer months, it may be difficult to get special meetings.
‘In any case I must make one thing clear. It is not normal procedure for delegates to be mandated. If they were, then delegates would come here, or go to the Central Assembly, with their votes already decided; there would be no need to listen to the arguments or consider them. That would make democracy into a complete charade. I take it that you elected me as delegate because you trusted me to go to the Central Assembly to take all the arguments and circumstances into account, and to form a judgment on the basis of them. My own views have already been made clear, and were clear before I was elected. Of course I will always do my best to be responsive to the opinions of those I represent – and remember I represent not just the people in this room, but everyone in the area, all those who work in the workplaces that sent you here.’
It was then agreed to take a purely advisory vote on the issue. Pignola’s proposal received 109 votes; Rhedyn’s 137. The Assembly passed on to consider a number of local issues, including safety on the strips, and the election of juries to deal with offenders.
* * *
‘I’m sorry,’ said Rhedyn, ‘but I still don’t trust Chilgrove.’
The Assembly had ended its business by mid-afternoon, and Rhedyn, Huelva and Kulina were lying in the long grass in the park under a bright June sun with a basket of peaches between them. About thirty yards away some children were playing ‘battleships’ on pieces of paper, but apart from that all around was tranquil.
‘You have to admit,’ said Huelva, ‘that everything she said this morning was absolutely in accordance with the constitution.’
‘Of course,’ said Rhedyn, spitting out a peach-stone, ‘she knows the constitution by heart – which is more than I do. She’s far too clever to break it, but it’s how she bends it that concerns me. I know I’m getting to sound like one of those antique twentieth-century gramophone records where the needle used to get stuck in the groove, but I still don’t trust her. I can’t put my finger on anything specific, but I know there’s something going on that’s not right.’
‘But mustn’t democracy be based on trust?’ asked Kulina.
‘No, absolutely not,’ said Rhedyn. ‘On the contrary. Democracy is only viable if we have a system that can control people who are not trustworthy.’
‘And is our system up to doing that?’
‘I’m not sure,’ said Rhedyn. ‘No constitution is perfect and there may turn out to be loopholes in ours. I just hope they aren’t too big.’
Rhedyn stretched out voluptuously on the warm ground, letting the sun beat down on her face. Despite her anxieties she felt relaxed; she had won the vote, she had done all she could. What would be, would be. It was ironic, she reflected, that Pignola was probably at this moment slaving away on a plot to defeat her…
Her reverie was broken by Huelva’s voice, a voice that had taken on a tone of urgency that seemed quite out of character.
‘You know, we all need a boot up the arsehole.’
‘What?’ Rhedyn sat up, spat out another peach-stone and yawned.
‘Listen,’ said Huelva, if we want to win our proposal to expand the Museum then we shouldn’t be lying flat on our backs. Pignola has done some work. He produced a leaflet for the Assembly. There are badges and he’s been on television. We’ve done nothing except rely on the fact that we’ve got a better argument.’
Kulina was taken aback by this outburst. He had always tended to underestimate Huelva, being deceived by her habitually shy manner, and above all, seeing her in the shadow of Rhedyn. Since Rhedyn had become more and more for him the centre of the Museum, if not of the universe, the less attention he had paid to Huelva.
This was a grave mistake. Huelva, though quiet, could make quite an impact. And at the moment there were two powerful forces driving her on. The first was that she cared, passionately, about the work of the Museum. She had worked as a historian for seven years, and she loved research; recreating the past, bringing the dead to life and giving them the credit they had deserved but never received, seemed to her the most worthwhile activity she could imagine. And she wanted to persuade other people how worthwhile it was. A future dedicated to ferris-wheels and enhanced orgasms held little charm for her; and she agreed with Rhedyn that a victory for Pignola would be the first step on a strip leading to disaster.
Her second motive was equally powerful. She craved Rhedyn’s approval. Although only a year or two younger than Rhedyn, she had less experience as a historian, and Rhedyn had taught her most of what she knew of the historian’s craft. She admired Rhedyn, intellectually and personally, and would have done almost anything to be well thought of.
‘But,’ said Kulina, ‘aren’t we too late? The Assembly’s over. We can’t put out a leaflet now.’
‘No,’ said Huelva ‘you’re wrong. The local assemblies are supposed to meet sometime in June. Ours in fact met very early. Most other assemblies haven’t met yet, and quite a lot don’t meet till the week after next. If we run a decent campaign we can swing quite a few votes.’
‘So what precisely are you suggesting?’ asked Rhedyn, now fully alert and getting the smell of blood in her nostrils.
Three things,’ said Huelva in a staccato tone that surprised even her friends.
‘Firstly, we produce and register a bulletin that makes the case for our proposals.
‘Secondly, we advertise the bulletin and our campaign as widely as possible, with posters and graffiti.
‘Thirdly, you, Rhedyn, must debate with Pignola on television.’
Rhedyn and Kulina gaped, trying to take this in.#
‘And,’ Huelva concluded, ‘we start now – tonight – or there’s no point bothering.’
The others could do nothing but agree.
* * *
Kulina sat back in his chair. For the first time in three days, it seemed, he had quarter of an hour with nothing to do. After the conversation in the park he, Rhedyn and Huelva had immediately taken steps to register a bulletin. This could be done by anyone who showed they had support by producing a list of twenty names and identity numbers. The required support had been easily gathered from colleagues at the Museum. Then they had written the entire bulletin and designed the layout. They had also produced a whole series of wall-posters. At the same time they had gone round the Museum trying to build up a team of people who would participate actively in the campaign. Almost all the researchers on the George Cook project had volunteered, as had quite a number of other Museum workers. One of the keenest, showing almost unbounded energy and enthusiasm, was Rhedyn’s apprentice, young Richmond. As well as all this, of course, they had had to get on with their ordinary work of teaching and research. The George Cook video-book was behind schedule and they were keen to get it out before the September meeting of the Central Assembly.
Kulina switched on his telescreen and pressed a few buttons on the control panel. He was now able to scan the list of available publications. One page after another flicked across the screen until he came to number 5021 – The Historical Bulletin. Already there and available, he thought, only three days after Huelva dreamt up the idea. Any potential reader who wanted to see the Bulletin had only to press out the numbers 5021 on their control panel and within seconds the journal would be printed, in full colour, and delivered from a slot just below the screen.
Idly Kulina began to scan through the other publications on offer. A huge range of journals covered a diversity of interests and activities – pigeon-racing, cricket, parachuting, origami, numismatics, astronomy. Each would have its devotees and many thousands of copies of each would be turned out every week. Information papers – which, for example, gave full reports of the proceedings at the local and Central assemblies – were produced by the Journalists’ Guild.
Continuing to scan through the various sections, Kulina noted with interest that two religious journals were still being regularly produced: the Catholic Messenger and Rosicrucian News. Out of curiosity Kulina printed himself a copy of the Catholic Messenger; the front page told of the election of a new Pope by six cardinals who had assembled from different parts of the world. Catholicism had in fact retained some support in South Anglia, largely due to the fact that the Pope was now domiciled there. The civil war in Italy during the last century had been particularly long and bloody, and the Catholic Church had been one of the main targets of the insurgents. In some areas they had revived the French Revolutionary practice of herding priests and nuns into boats and then sinking them. The Pope had fled and taken refuge in England. When the social revolution in England had occurred, some Catholics had expected persecution and had prepared themselves for a clandestine existence. But there had been no persecution and the Pope had been allowed to take up residence in Kilburn, where a papal palace – the New Vatican – had been built with voluntary labour. The remaining followers of the Catholic Church were mainly old, but a few younger people were attracted by the ritual. The Rosicrucians had much less of a following, but drew in a handful of people with a taste for the past or esoteric literature. Kulina had once met one of their followers who worked in the Renaissance section of the Historical Museum.
Kulina continued to scan the publications list. He was now beyond journals and reviews, and had reached the book list. Any citizen who had written a book that hearshy wanted to make available to the public could deposit the text in a library. Copies were then made for all the other libraries. Readers could consult the book when they visited the library, and if they thought it was worth reading, they could have a copy made for themselves. Books for which there was a substantial demand were produced in the old-fashioned format and deposited in book-stores. All books deposited were listed on the telescreens for three years from the date of publication. After that they had to be found in the catalogue of the Central Library, built on the site of the old British Museum. Writers were, of course, free to advertise their work as they wished.
Kulina switched off the telescreen and picked up a copy of The Historical Bulletin – not to read it (he’d already done that several times), but simply out of pleasure at how good it looked. The title was printed in decorative capitals, with intertwined strands of three colours. Immediately below came a quotation from the twentieth-century poet Marley: ‘If you know your history, then you know where you’re coming from.’ Beneath that was the main article, written by Rhedyn, with the title ‘The Debt We Owe to History’. This outlined the proposal that had gone forward to the Central Assembly, and explained the present stage of the debate. It then largely reproduced the arguments Rhedyn had made in her speech at the Assembly three days earlier. It described the struggle for democratic rights of the Diggers and Levellers, the Chartists, the communards of Paris, the Bolsheviks and the suffragettes.It concluded:
The democratic rights we enjoy today were not a gift from God or from Nature; they were fought for by millions of women and men. If we forget that those rights originated in struggle, then it is all too easy for us to take them for granted. And if we do so, we may begin to neglect those rights, to leave the democratic processes to the few individuals who get personal satisfaction from involving themselves in the work of the various assemblies. If that happens, then the democracy that was fought for over hundreds of years could begin to wither away. The Historical Museum aims to remind us of the origins of our democracy through its work in teaching and research. Help us to expand. Support our proposals.’
In addition there were a number of other articles providing background to the work of the Historical Museum. There was a piece on telephone tapping in the twentieth century, explaining the value to historians of the tapes now in the possession of the Museum. Huelva had written a piece about the George Cook project, with particular reference to George’s involvement in a campaign in his trade union to demand the regular election and re-election of full-time officials. And Kulina himself had written a short account of flying pickets in the miners’ strike of 1972, based on the work he had done back in the Socialist Republic of Yorkshire.
Kulina looked at the time. There was no peace; he was due to meet Richmond in five minutes. Together they were going to do some advertising. Huelva and Rhedyn had arranged for about fifteen pairs to go out each night for the next week. Kulina met Richmond at the Museum, they collected a basket of posters, felt-pens and laser-spray pens, and planned out their territory.
Their main target was the area around the strips. Along the top of the padded banks which separated the strips going in opposite directions ran a thin wall, about two yards in height; and on the stationary ground beyond the slowest strips were a series of boards, also about two yards high, set at an angle of about forty-five degrees to the strips, so that they could be easily read or observed by anyone travelling along. All these surfaces had been deliberately provided for decoration or advertisement. Anyone with a talent for artistic decoration was encouraged to put pictures or patterns on the various walls and boards; but they were also commonly used by citizens who had a journal, a book or some other composition to advertise.
Kulina set to work on the boards by the side of the strips. Taking care not to cover or damage any recent decorations (inscriptions were generally removed after a month) he began to write ‘5021 – Read The Historical Bulletin’ or ‘Save The Past – Expand The Museum – 5021’. Using two colours – generally red and green – and an elaborately looped writing he contrived to make the inscriptions artistically appealing as well as easy to read. By travelling along the strips from one board to the next he was able to cover a good deal of ground in a short time.
Meanwhile Richmond was directing his efforts to the walls that surmounted the banks between the strips. Obviously it was not possible to climb up to these; that was where the laser-spray pens came in. The laser enabled you to locate the spot at which you were going to write; then the pen shot a concentrated spray of ink. With skill it was possible to write decoratively. Kulina had little experience of the pens and could only produce the plainest inscriptions, but Richmond, like many young people, was an expert, and he moved rapidly along the strips leaving repeated invocations to ‘Press 5021 for the Historical Bulletin’.
After an hour or so they paused. Kulina looked at their most recent handiwork and said: ‘it’s funny to think that if we’d been doing this in the twentieth century we’d have been accused of vandalism.’
‘Vandalism,’ said Richmond. ‘What’s that?’
‘The Vandals were an East European people who took over from Rome when it was too corrupt to stand on its own feet. They were said to have destroyed some valuable works of art. But in the twentieth century it came to mean almost the exact opposite – it was used to describe people who put their own works of art – symbols or decorations – on walls and in other public places. In New York and London young people used to try to decorate the trains on the underground railways; if they were caught they were punished.’
‘I’ve just been reading a book about William Morris,’ said Richmond.’ He wanted people to make their own environment beautiful. I’m sure he’d have approved of the young people who painted the trains.’
Soon the laser-spray pens were exhausted, so they turned their attention to the posters. These had been composed on computer screens and printed by Huelva and some of her friends from the Museum at the Design Centre. There was a set of twelve, showing scenes from revolutionary history – the storming of the Bastille; the revolt of the Paris slums in 1848; the proclamation of the Paris Commune; the taking of the Winter Palace in 1917; the defence of the Barcelona Telephone Exchange; the Brussels Insurrection of 2049 and a series of other scenes from the social revolutions of the twenty-first century. Each bore the slogan BRING THE PAST BACK TO LIFE: EXPAND THE HISTORICAL MUSEUM and the number 5021.
As they stuck up the posters Kulina explained to Richmond that they had two great advantages over those who had put up posters in the twentieth century. Firstly the posters had adhesive backs and could simply be rolled straight on to the boards; there was no need to carry around a brush and a bucket of paste. Secondly, there was no need to keep a look-out for police; the activity was perfectly legitimate and passing Strip Guards would greet them cordially and look admiringly at the posters. Kulina told Richmond of how George Cook had been arrested and fined for fly-posting at the beginning of the Vietnam War in 1965.
Again Richmond was puzzled; why was fly-posting illegal? Didn’t they boast about freedom of speech in Britain?
‘Yes,’ said Kulina, ‘but what freedom of the press meant was that anyone could express their opinions if they were rich enough to own a printing-press; which in those days was an enormous, expensive piece of machinery.’
It was getting late, so they decided to pack it in for the day and continue the next evening. Obviously the laser-spray pens could only be used across the strips at times when there were relatively few travellers. But they’d made some progress; if they carried on like this, then within a week everyone would know of their case.
* * *
The response soon came. As Rhedyn was riding the strips to work two days later, observing with pleasure the extent of the advertising campaign, she noticed scrawled all over the place, and in particular across the neatly designed posters for the Museum project, the number 6027. Generally the numbers were crudely printed, quite different from the artistic lettering of the pro-history graffiti. They seemed most frequent in the area around the carpet-factory. Rhedyn also noticed that new posters had appeared. These too were crudely designed, and there were only two pictures – one of a young couple of indeterminate sex, virtually naked, engaged in a passionate embrace, the other of an enormous roller-coaster. Both bore the slogan : BACK THE HEDONISTS.
Rhedyn got to the Museum, found the nearest telescreen and stamped out the number 6027. Out slid a magazine headed Hedonist News. Again,the standard of design was far lower than that of the Historical Bulletin; the whole front page was devoted to a massive headline in huge letters: DUSTY TOMES OR BETTER ORGASMS? Rhedyn opened the magazine and found a quotation from Blake:
Dear Mother, Dear Mother, the Church is cold,
But the Ale-house is healthy & pleasant & warm;
Apart from this there was little of interest, and the main feature was a verbatim reproduction of Pignola’s speech to the Assembly.
From now on it was open war. For a week or more, as long as local assemblies were being held, both sides defaced and covered up each other’s publicity. Rhedyn and her friends realised, sadly, that the number 5021 could be changed into 6027 with a few strokes of a felt-pen. Rhedyn, feeling paranoid, wondered if this was deliberate, if there had been some form of corruption in the allocation of a number to the Hedonists.
But the pro-history team had an enormous advantage. Every day the Museum was visited by large groups of children and youngsters from the education centres. Many of these greatly enjoyed the Museum and were good friends with the staff. From now on groups of pupils would leave the Museum with bundles of posters, having carefully noted the magic number 5021. Soon the publicity of the pro-history campaign was sprouting everywhere from Cambridge to Brighton. Often the youngsters invented their own slogans; half of Woking was covered with the message: WHO WANTS A BORING ORGASM? COME TO THE MUSEUM FOR SOME REAL FUN. Certainly an outsider riding the strips of South Anglia would have had no doubt that the supporters of historical research were in the majority.
* * *
One night Rhedyn arrived back at her cluster-house late,and feeling dog-tired. The strain of doing a job and running a campaign was beginning to tell, and her sole aim was to get up to her private room and go to bed. But to get there she had to pass through the communal sitting-room and as she did so a voice a voice called out from the adjacent kitchen. It was Penticton, a new resident of the cluster, who had moved in on arrival in London the previous week. Rhedyn did not feel like talking, but she knew she had to try and keep other people in the cluster sweet, because while the campaign continued she was going to have to make arrangements to exchange child-care duties so that she could get out every evening.
Penticton came out of the kitchen and asked:
‘Do you know anything about this thing with the Hedonists and the History Museum? There seem to be slogans and posters everywhere.
‘Yes,’ Rhedyn replied. ‘I work at the Historical Museum; we’re campaigning for an increase in our budget so we can expand our research programme.’
‘Isn’t that living in the past,’ said Penticton. ‘Wouldn’t it be better to do research into useful things, like energy. I’m working at the power-station and there’s always a need for new inventions so we can meet a higher demand.’
‘Listen,’ said Rhedyn, ‘do you know how power used to be produced? Two hundred years ago men – and a little before that women too – used to lie flat on their faces deep underground digging coal; and their lungs would fill up with coal-dust so that as they got older they would cough their lungs up and die. So then they built nuclear power-stations. They looked much nicer to work in, but they used to leak and explode, and the radiation caused cancer. Cancer used to kill in those days. Can you imagine someone suffering from an untreated cancer? There’s no point developing technology unless you know who it’s being developed for and why.’
Penticton looked thoughtful but unconvinced. Rhedyn said goodnight and went up to bed.
* * *
‘Do you think George Cook really loved Stalin?’ asked Kulina.
It was the end of the afternoon, and a group of researchers on the Cook project were discussing after their day’s work.
‘He was in the Communist Party for eleven years, so he must have believed a lot of it,’ said Huelva.
‘But it’s absurd,’ protested Kulina. ‘No rational human being could have swallowed all that nonsense. He must have been pretending to believe it out of loyalty to the Communist Party. We know that loyalty was one of his strongest points. But he can’t have taken it seriously inside his skull. Russia was so obviously a brutal dictatorship. And the lies they told were so crude. In the trials in the thirties people were condemned to death for having taking part in a conspiracy that was supposed to have been fixed up in a hotel that had been demolished years earlier. And in the 1940s, when George was in the Party, Tito of Yugoslavia was supposed to have changed from being a great communist to being a fascist almost overnight. George was an intelligent man; he just can’t have believed all that stuff.’
‘I think,’ said Rhedyn, ‘that we have to understand Stalinism in terms of defeat and demoralisation. It really got a grip in the thirties, when there was mass unemployment and fascism was on the rise everywhere. People couldn’t do anything for themselves, so they turned to Stalinism; it was like a sort of magic. They had to believe there was a paradise somewhere else. When things changed after the war, when workers could improve their situation by their own collective action, then Stalinism began to lose its pull. I think that was the most important thing that led to the collapse of Stalinism, much more important than the events in Hungary and Czechoslovakia and Poland.’
‘I wonder if George knew the story about Stalin and Winston Churchill,’ said Kulina. ‘How they had a good dinner together and a few bottles of wine, then Churchill pushed a bit of paper over to him with a list of all the countries in Eastern Europe, and me-you-me-you written against them. Stalin just stared at it with his bleary eyes and put a big tick on it.’
‘Who was Winston Churchill?’ interrupted Richmond, who was spending a lot of time helping out with the Cook project. ‘I’ve never heard of him.’
‘You’ll have to learn basic research techniques,’ said Rhedyn firmly. She pressed the encyclopaedia code on the panel by the telescreen, and typed in Churchill’s name. Immediately the screen produced a biography of Churchill – reactionary war against the Cuban guerrillas; Home Secretary suppressing the 1911 dock strike (seven killed); War Minister in 1919 crushing riots (3000 interned); admirer of Mussolini and respecter of Stalin; drunkenness and cheap offensiveness to women;etc.
Each item in the brief synopsis was followed by a code-number. By pressing this out on the keyboard further detailed information on a particular point could be obtained. An extensive bibliography was also available. Any of the items on it could be called up on to the screen, and, if desired, printed out in a matter of seconds. It was even possible to get a whole book printed out, though this took rather more time. Richmond found the whole procedure fascinating and began to pursue bits of information like a child with a new toy.
Soon most of the researchers began to pack up to go home. Rhedyn and Kulina were both finishing off pieces of documentation, so they stayed a little longer, the only two in the room. By five thirty they were both ready to go. Kulina looked across the room at Rhedyn. There was something he badly wanted to ask but he felt too shy to broach the question. His face had an almost pathetic, hang-dog look on it.
‘Rhedyn,’ he asked, trying desperately to find a roundabout route to his goal, ‘are you going to stay a Historian for the rest of your life?’
‘Probably,’ she said, ‘I can’t think of any other work I’d like better – or find more worthwhile. ‘I’m not sure myself,’ Kulina said. ‘I don’t really want to spend a whole lifetime doing the same job. A friend of mine – a building-worker – recently decided to retrain as a brain-surgeon. And she’s forty – a good bit older than I am. Of course she’ll have to do quite a lot of basic nursing while she’s training – lots of turd and vomit – but she’s very keen to do it.’
‘I hope you’re going to stay till the Cook project’s finished,’ Rhedyn said. ‘We’re getting behind on the video-book with all the time we’ve spent on the campaign.’
‘Oh, no doubt about that. But next year I’ll have completed a spell of five years’ work, so I’m entitled to a year’s leave. I think I’m going to go on a world tour and think about my future.’
‘I’ve been entitled to a year off for sometime, ‘ said Rhedyn, ‘but I’m never sure what to do with it, so I keep putting it off.’
‘Yes, I know that,’ said Kulina. He paused. This was the cue for what he wanted to ask. His throat seemed to be blocked, permanently sealed up. ‘Listen. Why don’t you come with me? Just the two of us. We could travel all round the world.There’s so many places we could see in a year. Transport is so fast, and there are no customs officials now to get in our way. Do you remember when George was going for a week’s holiday to France and he lost his passport and spent half a day looking for it?’
Rhedyn looked thoughtful,but said nothing.Kulina took that as encouragement – at least she hadn’t told him to ‘sod off!’ – and having once broken the ice he tried to persuade her by sheer weight of words. We could go to North Africa. We could see the pyramids – I’ve always wanted to see them, and the Sahara irrigation scheme. And there are some fascinating research projects going on there. I know that in Algiers they’re working on the biographies of militants from the national liberation struggle of the 1950s. The women who used to go into cafes and leave bombs under their seats. I met an Algerian once who was doing a video-book on Fernand Iveton – he was a European settler who supported the liberation struggle and was tortured and executed.’
Rhedyn was still silent, so Kulina continued his flow of words, so nervous that he was talking much quicker than usual. ‘And then I’ve always wanted to go to Texas.’
At this Rhedyn smirked. ‘You got a taste for those Dallas videos when you were working on background to the 1980s, didn’t you? There won’t be much of all that left.’
‘No,no,’ protested Kulina. ‘I’m just fascinated by seeing the only country that never had a social revolution.’ When the revolutionary wave had swept the globe in the mid-twenty-first century, reactionary exiles from more and more countries had fled to Texas. The indigenous working population had, quite naturally, started to move out into the more progressive neighbouring republics. Eventually the population of Texas consisted of nothing but counter-revolutionaries, mostly emigres, constantly plotting and organising reactionary guerrilla escapades around the world. Finally several revolutionary governments decided that there was no alternative but to bomb the whole state into the ground and rebuild from scratch.
‘Go on,’ coaxed Kulina, ‘just us two.’
‘Why are you so keen on a twosome?’ Rhedyn demanded. ‘I prefer going about in a team. Do you want us to be an isolated nuke, like your Mum and Dad?’
Kulina went red with anger and embarrassment.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Rhedyn, and patted him tenderly on the knee. ‘That was unfair. But you were going on a bit. Listen, it’s sweet of you to ask me, but I really can’t give you an answer now. I can’t make any decision till we know about the budget. If we win there’ll be such a lot to do. Interviewing, planning the expansion and so on.’
A terrible thought crossed Kulina’s mind.It was that he would stand a much better chance with his personal designs on Rhedyn if the History proposal was defeated; for then Rhedyn would have nothing new to do and might welcome a change from the demoralisation. He suppressed the thought; it was unworthy. How could he love a woman and yet oppose the thing that meant most in the world to her? At least she hadn’t rejected him. He would ask again. But not when Huelva was around – he was sure she wouldn’t like it.
‘Sorry,’ said Rhedyn. ‘I have to go. I’m on television in an hour and a half.
* * *
Kulina turned on the telescreen; it was time for the debate. Although recent investigations had shown that the average time spent watching television was declining – it was now down to less than five hours a week – the debate was due to go out just after the main evening information programme and there were hopes of a substantial audience. Supporters of both sides had been spraying details of the time and channel all along the strips for days. Unfortunately it had not proved possible to fix the debate earlier, but there were still a few assemblies to meet, and by all accounts it was a neck-and-neck race.
Every telescreen could, of course, receive and transmit simultaneously, so the two participants were both speaking from their own homes. (As well as the main channels controlled by the Journalists’ Guild, it was easy to obtain a licence to transmit on other channels reserved for programmes of specialist content or minority interest.)
The two participants introduced themselves. There was no doubt that Pignola was the more imposing figure. As the three-dimensional image surged out of the screen his form seemed present in the room – his hair done specially in purple and orange for the occasion, what looked like a new cloak, garish even by Pignola’s standards, and arms that never stopped flailing about in the air. His room was full to bursting-point of pictures, paintings and photographs, abstract and naturalistic. By contrast Rhedyn came across in a far more austere manner. She wore a simple red shirt and sat in front of a row of book-cases.
Each speaker was to have twenty minutes. Pignola spoke first. He began by picking up a copy of the Historical Bulletin and holding it up so the front page could be clearly seen. ‘The Debt We Owe To History’, he repeated, mockingly. ‘Rhedyn, my dear, I have news for you. You may not have heard this down there in your centre for advanced historical studies, but money was abolished some time ago. We don’t have debts any more.
‘Now I’m not just picking at words. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Rhedyn is still using the language of bankers and money-lenders. You see, she’s so obsessed with history that she’s living in the past. She hasn’t grasped the way the world has changed and the possibilities we now have. All debts have been cancelled. “The dead grips the living,” old Karl Marx used to say. Well, we’ve broken the grip.’
So far, not so good, thought Kulina. Nothing but a string of mixed metaphors. As if realising that he was not getting very far, Pignola moved on to the positive advocacy of his proposals. He explained them in some detail, while at the same time delighting viewers with a sequence of visual images. Bands of smiling youngsters romped through vast pleasure parks; hordes of happy couples – and a few happy trios – shuddered together with the joy of erotic congress.
‘I hope,’ said Pignola, when fifteen minutes of his allotted span had elapsed,’ that I’ve shown you that we have something positive, something fulfilling to offer. But since I’m speaking first and don’t have a right of reply, I must say a few words about the alternative proposal. Rhedyn wants to expand her Museum. Now a lot of us have paid an odd visit to the Museum, but do we really know what goes on there? What happens behind the scenes? What goes on here, for example?’ and he showed a picture of a small corridor blocked with railings and a sign stating ‘NO ENTRY TO UNAUTHORISED PERSONS’.
‘What do they get up to behind closed doors? I’ll tell you. Down that corridor is what they call the ‘hunger simulator’. In a world where’s there enough food for everyone they are so hung-up on the past that they volunteer to sit in there and eat nothing but dry bread or bowls of rice. They actually prefer that to dinner in an artisan restaurant.
‘Now I don’t mind a bit of masochism. If someone gets a kick from a flick of the whip, who am I to say no? But you have to be suspicious of people with tastes like that – especially when they say they want to expand. I don’t want to find myself in a hunger simulator because someone else thinks it would be morally elevating for me.
‘Remember every great revolution in history – 1642, 1789, 1917 – was taken over by the puritans. What was originally a great explosion of popular joy – a festival of the oppressed – was turned into a grim dictatorship based on the work ethic. With mass executions and labour camps thrown in. It’s not too late for our revolution to go down the wrong strip. Beware of the puritans. Beware of those who think their superior intelligence or their superior morality gives them a right to tell you what you ought to do. The only true revolution is the revolution of desire.’
As Pignola declaimed his final sentences he looked, thought Kulina, like an Old Testament prophet with his wild hair and his long cloak. But that bit about the hunger simulator was cheap – very, very cheap. Rhedyn must be furious.
And indeed she was. When her hologrammatic image thrust itself out of the telescreen, Kulina could still see the damp teeth-marks on her wrist. But he was sure that nobody who hadn’t studied Rhedyn’s bodily habits as closely as he had would have noticed them.
And when Rhedyn began to speak the rage was entirely suppressed beneath a tone of measured calm.
‘Let’s begin with the lies. The hunger simulator exists. It isn’t a secret – I was telling a class of twelve-year-olds all about it not long ago, so it’s not much of a revelation. But it’s not there because we’re some sort of perverts who don’t like food. I like my dinner – do I have to eat a grilled steak on screen to prove it? We use the simulator to help us understand how people lived in the past. I was in it once – just once. I wanted to understand – get inside the skin of – a woman called Rachel Cook who had gone for a week with hardly any food because her husband was on strike and she had two young children to feed. I know I never want to face that experience again – and I’m quite sure Rachel never wanted to do it again either.
‘Now if Pignola has to distort like that, you can see the kind of level he’s arguing on. And it won’t work. Because we get thousands of visitors every day, so I’m sure a great many viewers already know quite a bit about the kind of work we do. And if you don’t visit us yourself, I’m sure the youngsters in your cluster do, because we have parties from the education centres coming in every day.’
Rhedyn went on to explain in more detail the research work done by the Museum, which would be less familiar to casual visitors. She illustrated her argument with brief extracts from the forthcoming George Cook video-book. There was George on a demonstration against a hospital closure; the demonstrators moved across a pedestrian crossing on a busy road, then sat down, blocking the traffic till there was a jam nearly a mile long, with the police cars unable to get through to remove them. Then there was George at a school governors’ meeting, arguing for better facilities for the pupils and for courses to combat racial prejudice. And George giving out leaflets against nuclear power, stating simple facts that would be recognised as obvious by any twenty-second century viewers.
‘It was people like George Cook who helped to prepare the world we are fortunate enough to live in,’ Rhedyn said, as her time drew to a close. ‘That’s why we owe him – and millions like him – a debt. And yes, dear Pignola, I do know that money has been abolished, thank-you. But maybe you were so busy strutting about at the Assembly that you didn’t notice that we don’t do our budgets in money any more; we do them in use values. George’s life was some use to us; that’s why we’re in debt to it.
‘One final point. Pignola’s been talking a lot about democracy recently. Now I believe in democracy. Whether I win or lose this vote, I will accept the result. But let’s be clear what democracy is. Democracy doesn’t mean voting to give other people what you imagine that they want. Democracy means fighting and arguing for what you believe to be right – and then having enough confidence to believe that people will understand those arguments and letting them vote. So citizens, those are the arguments. You, through your delegates, will choose.’
* * *
‘You were brilliant,’ said Huelva.
‘I wonder,’ said Rhedyn pensively. ‘I thought I moralised too much. People don’t like that, you know.’
‘No,’ said Huelva, ‘I thought you just struck the right balance. You were delightfully catty about Pignola, but at the same time you gave the sense of being serious.’
‘Well,that’s it. Most of the assemblies will have met by the end of next week, so there’s not much more we can do. We’ll have to get back to the Cook project; we’re terribly behind.’
Rhedyn stroked Huelva’s breast and gave her a lingering kiss, her tongue slowly caressing her lover’s teeth. It was a warm night and only a single sheet covered them. Slowly but insistently their hands explored each other’s body, bringing them into ever more intimate union, until all too soon, all too briefly, the moment of ecstasy came and went and they fell asleep in each other’s arms.