The short stories of nEoPOL

Novel: “UNION JACK” Chapter 2 “Disunion”

As the sun fell on yet another day eleven years earlier, a typically disenchanted Michael made his way through the evening traffic. It was no longer rush hour, but the more subdued traffic flow of around eight or nine o’clock.

But this was a good day as he was returning home far earlier than most nights when it could easily be nearer ten, but after all this was a special occasion. September tenth, his daughter’s birthday; sixteenth to boot.

Not that she wanted to spend it with her absent father you understand, but still, Michael must be seen to be making an effort; the endless responsibilities of a politician were relentless. Yes, he might have been a minor one, but he was still elected, barely, with a majority of around ten.

He had been put up simply to run against what was thought to have been the Opposition’s safe seat. Many suspected that if winning was considered to be a real option that…, well suffice it to say that it would not be Michael Holden, MP for Salford East, driving home on this Monday evening.

But, nonetheless, that was exactly was it did say after his modest moniker. The turn of this century wasn’t the most interesting time for British politics. Tony Blair had just won his second election victory, the economy was beginning to flourish under the auspicious eye of Gordon Brown, but the populous were getting bored. Complaining that the NHS was still crap, and that the economy was set for doom. Blissfully unaware that the country was on the brink of runaway house prices and an economic boom for all intents and purposes.

But Michael certainly wasn’t part of any of this. Unfortunately, he wasn’t even in the right party. His roots were typical for a man in his position, well to an extent. Born in 1960 to a working class family, he was an only child. It was a pretty normal tale of boy who grew up, somewhat unaware that his father was being systematically ravaged on a daily basis by his work with asbestos.

In the early eighties, Michael watched him die a slow a death as the asbestos poisoning grew into Mesothelioma. Michael’s own work environment was not much better in those days. The Health and Safely at Work Act was barely a decade old and still relatively toothless. Thatcher had effectively just crushed the unions and Michael found himself spending his days working in a warehouse in the up and coming back streets of Salford.

He watched an ever changing world from his eleventh story window overlooking Pendleton, which was nothing to write home about. Where once row after row of terraced houses lay in file over the smoggy suburbs, there now stretched a sprawling dual carriageway with tower blocks, ‘homes of the future’ we were led to believe.

As the months became years and the boom became a bust, Michael had seen the future become a decaying past; tower blocks became concrete monuments to urban failure and markers to social breakdown, which was rapidly spreading from within their four walls. He escaped from what he had come to feel was his captivity, got married, had two children and moved to suburbs.

And his stereotypical family life was complete. In his work, he had risen to a lower middle management, but it was his work in the unions that would pave the road to his future. Thatcherism was on the way out; her party were giving up on her and the ideals were faltering.

Economic upheaval was afoot and the government was effectively crumbling. The sleaze which became the cancer of the Conservative’s Thatcher driven party was beginning and socialist Labour was on its ring road to nowhere.

New labour was still several years away but the mentality was not. The concept of adjusting your policies to your electorate seemed to almost carry communist undertones and therefore contrary to strong leadership. Michael was already a product of this new thinking, albeit on a much more modest scale.

When he was first promoted to a supervisory position he had hit upon something that helped his rise. He knew that he was going to be met by resistance, which indeed he was. They weren’t going to be told their jobs by this upstart and he agreed, having been in this situation before. He felt that the trick was to quickly identify the leader and to befriend him.

Working class loyalty wasn’t what it used to be, Michael thought, as, in the form of a gesture here and a nod there, he gave this man everything he needed to both defend and follow his leadership. Within a few weeks the team began to function well and his position was secured.

Michael had understood that the working classes, which were about to riot over Poll Tax and pressure the Tories into deposing their own leader, were changed by that very leadership. And that, ultimately, many were supplying their own ropes by which the likes of Michael would control or hang them.

As the night drew in, Michael’s red Vauxhall Astra pulled into to drive of his modest three bedroom semi-detached ex-council house in Salford. As he wearily climbed out of the car, thoughts of dealing with his family, or worse, his daughter’s friends, filled him with dread.

After spending a day in the pokey offices of his party head-quarters, if you call them that, in Manchester — a city which was still effectively a building site almost five years after the infamous IRA bomb had decimated it. Well, blew out a few windows, a Burger King and prompted the move of an ancient pub to a few yards down the street…, oh, and destroyed Marks!

But a few years on and the town which was running itself into the smog filled ground had flowered into a metropolitan city. It all worked out well in the end when you thought about it. Triumph over adversity had become a capitalist marketing technique.

But just as his right Clarks’ loafer touched the oily flagged driveway, the front door opened to the sound of teenage girls chattering. Oh for god’s sake, he thought, his nightmares were fulfilled.

“See yah!” he heard one of the girls shout into the house. No, better! It was Lucy, his beloved daughter, the birthday girl herself!

But, he would not allow himself a moment’s relief until it had been confirmed; he had been burned before and would not allow that again. “Happy Birthday!” Michael proclaimed, hoping, praying that his work would be done for the evening.

Lucy turned. “Oh, Dad, hi.” She happily made her way over and the pair hugged each other. The scene was beautiful and… no, sorry, the scene was in fact dutiful and neither had anything more than a passing interest. Though it would, of course, have been a very different story if he had not gone through this exercise.

The group of partying girls made their way down the street to do… well whatever a group of fifteen and sixteen year old girls do on the streets of Salford on a Monday night.

“Be careful,” he called out, concerned but accepting that his daughter was growing up and quite frankly, if her mother did not mind that why should he?

He made his way inside. In the living room, which had a few balloons and other decorations strewn about, along with his wife, who had her feet up on the sofa having just put on the television.

“Evening,” Michael announced.

“You made it then?” She curtly enquired but with a hint of condescending sarcasm.

“Barely,” Michael replied, with a similar tone. Could he do anything right? He sat down in the arm chair and joined his wife in watching the news. But as the headlining story chronicling the verbal and physical abuse of Belfast children as they made their way school began to aggravate him, his mind wandered and his senses started to shut down.

He was tired. He was stressed, he had been a Member of Parliament for just under a year and he had hardly set foot in the House. And to boot, he was not stupid: He knew as well as any that he was never the preferred candidate. It was a fluke, he was a fluke! He had given up a job that he liked, maybe even loved to do this and couldn’t achieve anything.

He was effectively prevented from putting Bills forward, voting independently or doing anything beside campaigning and party grunt work. His only hope was that he could hold his seat for another term so that he could begin to do some good. But he knew that he did not care for this anymore.

Demoralised, depressed and alone. They could have this shit, it just wasn’t worth it. But still, life goes on. His body, a relaxed mass on the chair, he turned to his partner of fourteen years, and asked her the same question that he had asked her for fifteen years… “Are you putting the kettle on?”

***

The sound he hated: The incessant buzzing that signalled the beginning of another day. His eyes still firmly closed, his palm slapped the snooze button and Michael had achieved his first real victory of the day. It had been held off for another five minutes.

But no victory lasts forever. “Buzzzzzz!” His eyes opened and with a burst of frustration he struck the button with some force, hoping that it might destroy it! But the clock radio just sat there, staring at him through the red LED numbers, 08:05.

With the kitchen clock now reading 8:30, he listened to the morning news from the television in the living room as he made himself a bowl of cereal. His wife, Jennifer, trundled in wearing her dressing gown, the pair barely exchanging pleasantries, clearly operating under the belief that it’s okay to ignore each other because they have been married since time immemorial.

“Where’s David?” Michael’s enquiry about their son broke the silence.

“At school,” Jennifer drolly replied.

Another spoonful of Frosties muffled his reply. “A bit early, isn’t it?”

“No,” she said as she poured the boiling water from the plastic kettle into her mug of granulated coffee.

The pair exchanged a weary glance as neither has much more to say.

Just over the half an hour later, the thirty year old wooden door, complete with rotting varnish, swung open as Michael, bag in hand, strolled in to his small and cluttered office. He hung his coat on his usual hanger, placed his bag in the usual place and filled his cup with the same ingredients. One Tetley teabag, one sugar and a drop of semi skimmed milk. Then, once he switched on his cheap kettle, he sat down and opened up his copy of free paper, The Metro and waited.

11:05: The overcast day was dragging. “How bored can I possibly get?” he mused as he threw down his Metro and took his feet of his old desk. Brown was the prevailing colour and brown was the feeling of this office. Old and decaying; Pointless. He felt as if he had been left here to rot in this old building.

Nobody really knew anything about back benchers he reminded himself, certainly not in the lesser parties and there lay in his problem. He didn’t give a damn about this party. In fact, he may have given a damn, if he only knew what it was that they stood for! They were a reactionary bunch, and they did not seem to realise how obvious it had become and that it was that indecision which was preventing them from achieving anything.

Their role: to make up the numbers in both Parliament and in crucial votes. Where did he fit into all this? He did not have a clue. His ambition was all but drained, a shadow of the passionate man which had pulled himself up by his bootstraps from nothing to achieve ‘this’; so called power.

He was there, regardless of his seemingly inexplicable victory, and that was that. But he could no longer play this game. He had passion and he had hopes, dreams and ideals but nowhere to use them. His home life had become as routine as his work. He had put on a stone and a half in weight in the two years prior and at forty-one, he was beginning to accept that he did not have the vigour or drive to succeed anymore.

Maybe he should just accept what he had; he had achieved plenty in his life. It was not as if he had set out to become an MP and here he was, and yes, here he was: in a brown office, drinking his fourth cup of tea, reading a free newspaper. Maybe I should get a drinks cabinet to brighten things up… Though it might brighten his day, the office would only get more cluttered.

12:28: He grabbed his coat and left the office behind him, at least for an hour or two. Making his way through the outer office, he turned to his secretary, who was one of seven administrators, and announced “I’m going out for some lunch…”

“Okay. When are you due back?” the middle aged woman queried from behind her twelve inch cream CRT monitor, but whether it had always been cream is another story.

“I don’t know, probably about two,” he begrudgingly replied.

Once outside, he found himself standing on the busy road leading to city: The Crescent. He looked to his left to see his old home, towering over Pendleton, and to his right, a series of cranes; a symbol of Manchester’s regeneration.

It was shortly after two and following three whiskies Michael slowly strolled back into his party’s offices. The air in the room was different. The desks were all empty, and the atmosphere was hard, strange, so much so that he began to wonder about the effects of his lunchtime tipple. He then followed the sound of chattering coming from a television echoing from one of the offices…

The closer he got, it become clearer that it was a news broadcast but he could not quite understand what it was about. He reached the office next door, where he was surprised to find almost the entire office staff glued to the TV.

“What’s up?” Michael frankly enquired. Then, before anyone could answer, he saw the image of a plane crashing into the skyscraper!

Then he read the bi-line at the bottom of the BBC News screen. ‘World Trade Centre Plane Crash’.

“We don’t know?” A voice from the group piped up, with no emotion, just the dry response. “Two planes have crashed into the Twin Towers…” she continued.

‘The what?’ Michael thought. Like many, besides seeing the complex on TV and as a backdrop in many a New York based disaster movie, he had never really clocked the towers, and did not even know what they were used for or even how tall they were.

As the afternoon progressed, shock turned to fear as the extent of the damage become clearer. He knew, with a sense of himself that he had not felt for a long time, that he had the opportunity to make something from this. The world had changed and he knew it instantly.

Would we be at war tomorrow? Who the hell were Al Quaeda? He knew that the political landscape had changed and that the comfortable positions had been erased, the game board cleared and that political agendas were about to be set and reset and his only real concern today was how to get from the brown office into political arena…

Copyright © nEoPOL 2008 All rights reserved

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