The trouble with writing stories via a blog is that the lack of planning can lead to geographical and temporal dislocations. You might remember that Stumpy Regenkurt, senior advisor to the Minister of Economic Decline, was once an MP in Hungary. See, for example, http://www.thebustard.com/?p=439. Now he’s morphed to England. Moreover, some of the earlier stories were set in the 2030s or 2040s. But with methane already bubbling out of the Arctic Circle, things have been brought forward a decade or so.
This vignette is from the time of the Vegan Laws and the Releases. With meat and dairy placing an intolerable burden on carbon budgets and land requirements, Onan Hash’s revolutionary government had no choice but to ban their production and consumption. So what to do with the millions of farm animals who were no longer to give up their lives to the glory of man? Hence the Releases … those days in the spring of 2024 when the barn door was unlocked and hauled aside for the last time … when the farm gate was opened and swung idly on its hinges, relieved of its duties … and the animals raised their snouts and beaks and noses and nostrils to a new, strange scent in the fresh morning air: freedom.
Derek Gross, porn mogul, was huddled in the Crusty Stag, chewing on an oily cigar. “Always liked ‘em oily,” he chuckled, smacking his lips, picking oily black flakes off his yellowed teeth. He crunched up the stub of his oiled Havana and selected another from a small polythene bag.
“Foul ‘abit,” he said. “But when you’re at the top of your game, darling,” – he patted Stumpy Regenkurt on the arm – “you can afford the odd foible.”
Stumpy scowled. “Gross,” he began, “let’s get on with the business. I haven’t got a lot of time.” He made no pretence of liking Gross. Business was business, and then back to the office. “What are you having?”
He snapped his fingers to Osborne, the old hump-backed retainer, who was lurking in a dark corner, dusting an old grandfather clock. Osborne shuffled over, his body lilting awkwardly, like a whale in great discomfort. “Two single malts, Osborne. Be quick about it.” Stumpy was not an unkind person, but a politician couldn’t be seen to be hobnobbing with a disgraced growthist.
Stumpy turned to Gross. “So, Mr Gross, what can we do for you.”
Gross smiled. He stuck a finger in his ear, withdrew it, inspected the find, wiped it on his shirt and the smile turned to a frown. “We need bandwidth. It’s becoming very, very difficult.”
“Now you tell me about that,” replied Stumpy. His mind was already whirring. Gross needed bandwidth. But what did he really want? With Gross you knew there had to be something else.
Gross was a meat porn king. The DABDBA Act and the Vegan Laws pretty much eliminated meat eating in the country. So from hungry lads to plump ladies, from closet beefists to obese men under careful medical supervision – people across the country turned to meat porn. Undercover videos of steaks sizzling on frying pans, discreet clips of plump sausages with mustard, a slither of crisp bacon, a gallery of steaming stews, red hot shots of pert chicken breast, tasteful stills of veal, raunchy polarised meatballs in slow motion … Gross had it all. He controlled the space. At the last count he owned 24 TV channels, 9 publications, 15 online meat-porn sites and had his fingers in dozens of other (meat) pies across the media and entertainment industry.
Although meat pornography was illegal, Gross had greased the right palms and was tolerated by the government. They ensured he had enough bandwidth – a handful of front companies masquerading as game shows, educational sites or historical documentary programmes, brought him the bandwidth he needed to squeeze the steaming bronzed flesh of cows and pigs down Britain’s ageing telecommunication networks.
Osborne hobbled up to them with the two whiskies.
“You took your time,” said Stumpy.
“Out of single malt, Sir,” he whispered hoarsely. “No deliveries came this month … I found something in the cellar.”
“Not so nice, is it?” said Gross to Stumpy. “When the economy’s down … and you can’t get what you want.”
“What would you know about that,” snarled Stumpy.
“Absolutely nuffing,” said Gross, purring. “Absolutely nuffing, darling.”
“So let’s get to the quick,” said Stumpy. “What is it you really want, Gross? You’ve enough bandwidth to drive a truck through.”
Gross removed some spittle from his velvet jacket. He smiled, his yellow teeth gleaming. He dabbed his forehead with a serviette. He was a fat man, constantly fidgeting, tidying up one corner, smoothing down another, rearranging layers of clothing and picking at patches of dried food, as if his hands were worrying old maids, spring cleaning because the master of the house is expected back any time.
“A lot of people use meat porn, you know,” he said softly. “The vegan laws are terribly unpopular, you know. Terribly so. There’s trouble formenting in the parishes, you know. A lot of illegal meat production going on. I mean, since the Releases … there’s a lot of cows on the roads, just wandering about and minding their business.”
“I know,” said Stumpy. “And we’re watching people like you. And you saw what happened to old Fred Rillets.”
“’Im with the illegal abbytoir? Nasty business, that. You know, darling, what I don’t get about you lot,” said Gross, drinking up his whisky, “is you’re all for saving the planet … but …”
“Ends and means, Derek,” said Stumpy. “Ends and means.”
“And ‘ere’s me trying to make life a little bit easier for people, bring a little colour into their lives … amidst all that suffering, Stumpy. All that suffering. Tut tut. And it’s expensive all that good work we do, to make life easier for people. Stopping ‘em getting upset and causing strife in the parishes. Pouring a little pig fat on troubled waters. Expensive work. Wouldn’t like to ‘ave to stop it … Ah means, if I stop it because it’s too expensive, and then people can’t get their meat porn … and they gets fidgeting and causing strife in the streets, who knows where it’ll lead to. Who knows…”
He looked up. Stumpy was gone. But he had surely got the message. Oh, but surely.