October 12, 2009
The Joneses? Yeah, you weren’t around for that particular episode, were you? Oh, you won't find many people who want to talk about it round here. Not enough time gone by yet. Mind you, I could tell you the tale if I didn't have this nasty rattle …
What's that? Some lubrication? Don't mind if I do, thank you very much!
Now, what was I saying?
Ah, the Joneses. Yes. Yes.
They must have got here in the winter of '55 or '56, I don't rightly recall, or where from. We were used to seeing their kind in films and suchlike, but it was different seeing them in the flesh, if you know what I mean? Didn't bother me one bit - I'm an old-timer and a well-travelled man, I've been to London - but some young’uns round here ain't budged more than a few miles from home in their life, and it was them that goggled and stared the most. And of course, some others still have funny ideas about people like the Joneses – sorta resentful, like.
We live next door to where they were moving in, so natural enough Julie and I gave 'em a hand, all neighbourly and that, and I think they were right grateful.
Nice couple, same as you and me, as far as they could be - John and Sue they were - and truth be told me and Julie got on well with the both of them. They said it looked like a much nicer place than they’d been before, and the time before that. Seems they’d had trouble in their past, which made me a bit nervous – I know it’s not right to be prejudiced and so on, but trouble does seem to follow some of their kind around, doesn’t it? Well, I talked to Julie and, we had the pair of them over for some drinks with Tony and Jill from over the road, very cosy. We even got some of that stuff they like to quaff by the pint, what’s it called again ...?
Aha - here's my drink!
Ah. That’s better.
So, where was I? My memory isn't what it used to be. Julie says I should get it sorted out, and I keep meaning to but I forget I’ve booked the appointment, ha ha!
It took some getting used to at first. The smells from their cooking, for one thing – stuff I hadn’t smelled since I was a nipper. Didn’t much care for it, to be honest, and I don’t know where they got most of it. Still, we’re a progressive lot, if you look past our country ways, which is probably why they ended up here.
Well, no, not so progressive, that’s true.
They’d been here a week when the trouble starts - small stuff at first, kids knocking on the door and running away, "knock down Ginger" we used to call it when we was young.
Then it was bangers let off outside the house - not so much fun at 3am, I can tell you, even with your hearing turned low – the aftershock still resets your system.
Then the graffiti on the front door and the walls - "wetties go home", and nastier stuff, CamRoL logos, that kind of thing. Not nice. I helped them paint those out.
And this went on for months and months. Some of the other neighbours got scared and wanted them out, but Julie and me felt sorry for them, and stuck up for them as best as we could. And I think there was more than just a hint of CamRoL-style thinking in the air at some of those neighbourhood meetings.
Then it all came to a head when a gang of Steamers chucked a spanner through their front window one night. Those kids were laughing and hooting and spraying sparks everywhere like it was all a big joke for them, and chanting and whistling CamRoL slogans. I was so ashamed and angry, but I was too scared to go out to face 'em - Julie agreed with me, she said the grubby bastards’d tear me apart and throw the pieces over the roof. It was lucky the cops came as quick as they did and doused down the ringleaders’ boilers. It could have been much worse otherwise.
Me and Julie went round there once the street was clear again, crunching across the spilt coal. There were a couple of police units outside, but I knew one of the coppers – Steve Cartwright - and he let us in.
The place was in a terrible state. The spanner (nice vintage job, I think it was a vanadium steel 4" AF Whitworth – I’ve got a couple myself), it was stuck in the wreckage of their little dining table. And it’d broken some vase and a dinner service they'd got for their wedding, so there was glass and pieces of crockery all over the place.
John was standing in his ruined room asking me, why did this keep happening, why do they hate us so much, and weeping and sobbing with his arms round Sue, and she was in shock. Tears! I hadn't seen a man break down like that for ages, and it made me sad, but of course, I couldn't cry myself.
Me and Julie felt a bit awkward just standing there, traipsing coal dust in with us, so I patted poor John gentle like on his back and asked if we could help clean up.
But not that gentle, it seems, because I sent him sprawling into the broken table! I was horrified, tried to pick him up of course, but he wasn’t having it. He swatted me away, picked himself up with Sue’s help, and dusted himself off, angry like, all the while shouting that our kind had done enough already and even when we were being helpful it still caused too many problems. Well, that pissed me off a bit, and I thought it was a bit rich anyway coming from one of his lot, but I didn't say it out loud. I'm sorry to say I was a bit hoity-toity, though, and drew myself up and reminded him that Julie and I had taken their side against the other neighbours and the Campaign for Robot Life lot, and I said I thought we should be going, because I could see we were doing more harm than good, and we could tell when we wasn’t welcome. He dug a hanky out from his trousers and held it to the cut on his head where he’d banged it on the table when I sent him flying. (Yes, monkey blood! That’s not something you see much of these days, is it?) He looked up at me in a sad and kind of tired way like he wanted to say something, and I could see he was a bit afraid of me (little me! – and I’m half the size of them Steamer lads – wouldn’t hurt a fly, me!) In the end he just nodded his head, and him and Sue held on to each other, not looking at us, him with his red hanky, and her with her tear-streaked face. That's how we left them, quiet like.
The next day they were gone, I dunno where they went.
I wish now we hadn't left ‘em that night but at the time all I could think of was what went on back in the 20th and 21st and 22nd centuries, how people like them were so shitty to each other, and then how those same bloody monkeys treated us – I was there, I was one of the first, you know. Some of us got far worse than a spanner through the window and a broken plate or two. And I know there have been a few misunderstandings between us and the Baseliners since then – well, yes, OK, now you mention it, I suppose it has been megadeaths over hundreds of years. I s’pose that’s why there’s so few of them left today – when you’ve been Uploaded as long as me, you do rather forget what pain is like, and how easy it is to break your basic human.
I did wish those soft little people well, though, and from time to time I’ve wondered how they were. I guess one way or another they'll probably be dead by now. This was, what, not even a couple of hundred years ago? I don't understand people who stay basic, I really don't … Maybe they changed their minds and got themselves Uploaded. But I don’t think they were the sort to do that. Pity, really.
Let's not get maudlin. Tell you what, next round’s on me. They do a good Real Oil here, none of that Castrol stuff – and I’m not touching that bloody monkey beer again, that stuff gives me a chronic case of the short circuits.
Now, any decent gossip from your neck of the woods …?
Posted by daen at October 12, 2009 01:52 PM
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