“ ‘No death, but from great age. No sickness of the body or the mind. No hurt, no harm, but only harmony.’ 

That was John Constance’s mission statement for his ideal world. It is carved onto the base of his statues; inscribed on a plaque in every Home; available, through Acquisition, on countless mugs and T-shirts and in cross-stitch ‘Have a Happy Hobby!’ kits. 

Channel 43 is wont to commence its breakfast programme with various paraphrases to hearten and inspire: “No death, but from great boredom. No visible sickness of the body or mind. No thrills, no fun, but only bloody Harmony.” Mugs and T-shirts for these and similar sentiments are not yet widely available. 

Welcome to Harmony: a place of one hundred percent protection from almost all of the leading causes of death. Here, you are part of a thriving community, with a stress-free scheduled existence, a TV channel for every taste and the world to – Virtually – explore, from the safe, comforting confinement of your own home. 

But freedom has not been sacrificed: merely redefined. And Governance can always be trusted to have the best interests of the Community at heart. In short, Rosa Larrimer is living in a stone-cold, genuine Utopia and she really shouldn’t be feeling so… twitchy.

 

 

 

 

Excerpt from “A lack of consensus on the ‘H’ word and other matters”:

 

John Constance had been born in bitter snows; he loved the mountains; he was never known to smile.

 

These three facts have been so often repeated together in the biographies, that a cause and effect has come to be assumed, as though the frost had crept into the infant blood and etched a fractal pattern of teeth: jagged and beautiful and bleak. But even supposing that such things could be, and that curiosity, and crocodile, shaped the Elephant’s Child, John’s real chief quality was warmth, not frost, and a gossamer-thinness of skin. Perhaps it was this, that made everything too near to be funny.

 

His parents had spent twenty-four happy years together, with no wish for a child. This appears to have given them a sense of immunity and it was not until fairly late in the pregnancy that Anna Constance accepted the fact that she was not suffering from a case of extended indigestion. But, though surprised, Anna and Jacques became loving parents and did their best to instil, by example, their most valued qualities: respect and compassion; tolerance and understanding; love and diligence; and an excellent sense of both the sublime and the ridiculous. They succeeded in almost all of these.

From the start, it was clear that amusement was going to be a problem. Tickling, peek-a-boo and little rubber duckies; raspberry-blowing, falling over and ‘The Gnu Song’: all were greeted by John with solemn reserve. He was baffled by comedy shows and troubled by joke-books. John’s parents racked their brains to find something, anything, for their son to enjoy, but all of their games, stories and bone-defying silly walks, fell flat; while a light-hearted attempt at being a pantomime horse caused him to barricade himself in a cupboard for an hour, in a state of utter terror.[1]

At last, loving their child, they let him be and found him to be happy enough, on the whole, when not shadowed by the anxiety of failing his parents in this one, incomprehensible, matter.

 

Though devoid of any understanding of humour, John was deeply caring; he was loving, hard-working and scrupulously polite. Life was not easy for him. Once opened to the reality of other people’s suffering, he became unable to mute this down into the mere disagreeable background noise that enables normal functioning for most. By the age of thirteen, John Constance was determined to save the world.

 

To do this, he had decided, would require extreme quantities of education. He graduated early and often, gaining Honours degrees from universities in France, America and the UK. His parents lived to watch his final graduation and then died, simultaneously, a week later, while attempting to combine the sublime and the ridiculous in slightly too energetic a manner. They had left a substantial sum with which to launch their son upon the world and he chose to begin with a year’s travelling, to determine which part of the earth most needed his assistance. The conclusion was inescapable: it all did. It seemed so impossible to triage the world, that, for a while, he just flapped and left it bleeding.

He had been indecisively roaming about the Himalayas for a few weeks, moping about poverty, inequality and snow leopards, when his then-partner, Nick Kelling, offered a book to cheer him up: ‘The Harmonious Box: A True-topia, complete and unabridged, with illustrations‘ by R. K. Ottery. Nick had not known John for quite long enough to realise the necessity of pointing out that any book suggesting that the way to stop humanity killing other bits of humanity was to send it to its room, was, almost certainly, intended to be funny.

 

For Constance, searching for answers and in a happy state of satire-blindness, it was a complete revelation.

 

“The list of ways in which one human may harm another – by infection, inadvertence, insanity or intent – is so long that, statistically speaking, the human race should currently number minus forty-two. Fortunately, the laws of probability haven’t spotted this yet; but we cannot count on a long reprieve.”

 

“… an impregnable, indestructible space for every man, woman and child capable of independence, and of playing with matches, is imperatively necessary for the survival of the species. In addition, this would dispense entirely with the stresses of family get-togethers; the necessity for pretending to admire your neighbours’ superior sound-systems, sports cars and offspring; and the daily requirement to preen, pluck, polish and pose, in order to feel marginally less despised by your fellow victims of expectation and cosmetics companies.”

 

The basic notion – that in order to create a truly safe and happy community, it was necessary to make it a one-hundred percent physically segregated one – struck him as so eminently reasonable that he only wondered why it hadn’t been attempted before. He recalled some baby hamsters, acquired by his parents, in a last desperate bid to amuse, who had been calmly coexistent for about a week and then attempted to kill one another, one evening, over breakfast. They had been perfectly content when removed to separate cages; even, he seemed vaguely to remember, waving a little paw at each other, through the bars.

 

Constance travelled home immediately and spent the next year reading and rereading the text, researching the technologies that could make it all possible and absorbing, and unconsciously adapting, the philosophy that he believed to underlie and cement the whole.

 

Though lacking in the ability to correctly read and respond to certain cues, John was, nonetheless, intelligent: and, therefore, incapable of swallowing the entire book – a collection of related humorous essays, some of which were contradictory – without pause or question.  Some of the wording, for example, he had found to be (as he later wrote),

 

 “… idiosyncratic, potentially off-putting and open to misinterpretation…”

 

and so, to get everything straight and clear in his head, he decided to write it down in his own words: to ‘translate’ the text into a clear blueprint for a functioning utopian society. He avoided the word ‘box’ for example, so often used in the source text, with the instinct of an estate agent. Likewise, anything remotely reminiscent of prisons, was banished, not just from the written words, but from his own thoughts. Instead, the solitary cells were referred to as one’s ‘home’, ‘nest’ and, very frequently, ‘space’; they were ‘cosy’, ‘personal’ and most of all ‘safe’.

This was especially necessary after one small section, on bubble wrap suits for outdoor travel, had had to be translated out of existence entirely, despite an entire month spent in researching and sketching and confusing a plastics manufacturer with unorthodox queries. All that had resulted was a headache and a cumbersome working model that proved sadly unequal to tripping over and falling into a gorse bush (the shredded remains are now on display in the Constance Museum, or rather, having been arranged with several other objects and artefacts in a museum setting and filmed for the virtual tour, it is now carefully wrapped, boxed and stored in a warehouse, known to Governance familiarly as the Attic).[2]

 

This – along with a few more of the especially idiosyncratic and misinterpretable passages – John accounted for, to his own satisfaction, as the aberrations that certify genius.

 

Having finally nipped, tucked and reworded the ‘Harmonious Box’ into ‘The Harmony Home’, Constance set about making it a reality. Such was his confidence that this was the best – the only – possible solution to all of the problems, contradictions, injustices and small homicidal lapses of the average human society – and that the entire world must see it the same way – that he was able, very quickly, to persuade a surprising percentage of it to do so. Even so, had he begun his campaign just a few years earlier, he would most probably have been shrugged off as a crank. But, at that particular time, the atmosphere was one of constant tension, fear and volatility. Plague had come and been overcome, but left its teeth behind, like the head of a tick, festering, sparking riots and calls for the appeasement of numerous irascible gods. In this creative nursery of enmity, there had been an explosion of scientific advances, echoed in counterpoint by the explosions of major cities. The world was on edge, and ready to listen to a voice of calm, reason and infinite promise; at least, one attached to a charismatic young man in possession of soulful and serious eyes, an excellent speech writer[3] and a sufficiency of independent means to ease his passage into the public eye.

Once adopted by the media, these ideas – the mutant children of Constance and Ottery – spread like fungal spores worldwide. The freely adapted[4] ‘The Way of Harmony: A call to sanity’ was rush-released, to the distinct financial gratification of the canny publishers.

Even so, few predicted that this would be more than just a fad with a good chance of a sequel; that it would, in fact, be the end of civilisation as they knew it.

 

Then, in October 2068, growing tensions between the increasingly fragmented countries and principalities across the world, reached a height and the unthinkable occurred. The Button was pressed.

 

Afterwards, those involved, accused or suspected of involvement, denied everything. No-one gave the order; no-one pressed the button; no-one was even in the room when the decision was made. Blame and counter-blame were flung about like a chimpanzee’s hello[5] and there have subsequently been so many justifications and reprisals, suicides and mysterious disappearances, that it is impossible to be certain of exactly what did happen. It is probable that the ultimate disaster was averted, not through the single-handed heroics of each of the many brave souls who later revealed “The Real Truth” of that night,[6]but by a simple mixture of incompetence and mechanical failure.

 

For whatever reason, the squib was mercifully damp; the world was reprieved. But, in the fertile aftermath of what had so nearly been annihilation, fear set deep and thirsty roots and many of those who had been considering John Constance’s Utopia with an academic interest, began taking it more seriously.

 

[1] John’s mother left a diary and noted on this occasion “…it was particularly galling because, after thirty happy years of marriage, we nearly reached the point of divorce over who had to be the back end”

[2] Custodianship of most major artworks and sculptures made before the establishment of Unity was ceded to the abstaining Extra-Unity Communities; possibly through generosity and nobility of spirit; possibly due to a realisation of the sheer space that would be required for even flat-packed storage. There may also have been a certain universal dismay at the thought of all that packing. Unity art has since mostly remained small and manageable, with the tendency toward virtuals now almost complete.

[3] The young, but already jaded, sitcom writer John Shufflebottom (‘The Martian View of Exeter’, ‘Life just left of Normal’); to whom Constance came as a refreshing change. They later married, Shufflebottom deciding to take the name Constance ‘as a gesture of togetherness and an escape from nearly three decades of tedious sniggering.”

[4] Rosalind Keith had died prior to the publication or it is possible that some opposition may have been made. R. K. Ottery was a humourist well-loved by her fans, but these were such a small and uninfluential section of the population that the satirical intention of the original was barely commented on; by the time it had all gone beyond a joke, original copies of ‘The Harmonious Box’ had become mysteriously scarce and protesters cried in the wilderness.

[5] The origin of this phrase is in a very early broadcast by Channel 43’s Patterson Kelp, in which he condemned Governance for a (now-forgotten) scandal and the consequent outbreak of excess Positivity, with a correspondingly robust Negativity. Following a concerted campaign by Outraged Viewer Mayson Whitbread, Kelp edited the broadcast for posterity, retaining the sentiments but altering the language. Although the words became technically inoffensive, his intonation tasted strongly of the originals; and few people, hearing him describe “Governance throwing us a faceful, a big, wet, chimpanzee’s hello…”, were in any doubt that the chimpanzee was decidedly not saying ‘hello’; or, at least, not in any way that might lead to tea and cakes. A ‘chimpanzee’s hello’ became phrase of the month; and led, both to Patterson Kelp’s becoming an All-Home name, and to the previously innocuous word ‘Hello’ starting a swift downward slide to its current starring role on ‘The Top Ten Words You’ll Never Hear on Newschannel’. Although this has meant that the edited version of Kelp’s tirade is now even more offensive than the original, no Outraged Viewer has yet risked pointing this out.

[6] The quantity and diversity of Real Truth that had been miraculously packed into those few busy hours, had led some to speculate on alternate universes. They posited a sort of Veracity Horizon – beyond which, the truth was anyone’s guess – and claimed that here was a concrete example of overlapping realities attempting a merger but failing to agree on a convergence point; thus potentially threatening the fabric of Spacetime through the usual inadequacies of committees.

Others have summed up both the stories and the theories as ‘squit’.

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