Hot Fog

More Ministry of Propaganda; Apparently I wrote this one in November last year, and I just found it now whilst digging in my documents. Presented for your enlightenment (I actually feel fine right now).


The Klaxon


The woman in the severe grey suit looked, frankly, worn out already. Her horn-rimmed glasses hung on their decorative chain around her neck, and she was picking compulsively at the chipped enamel of one of the links.

“Remind me, citizen, how long has this been going on for now?”

“It’s been…” the citizen paused, then he resigned himself to at least being able to circumlocute around not-knowing; “At the current intensity, forty three hours.”

The crisis was immediately obvious to everyone in the room. Every thirty seconds, across the entire nation, the public announcement system was making an incredibly loud wailing noise. Everyone knew what it was – It was the Suicide Klaxon – and thus the entire populace was vacillating between doing literally nothing, and bursts of frantic, pointless energy. Nobody was working, the schools and universities were empty, even the public baths and hotel bars were silent, lightbulbs blazing over empty rooms and radios playing too-loudly without the chatter of people to mellow them.

The woman – she’d been a playwright once – knew how to start a meeting like this, even if she’d been privately hoping that the Klaxon would just stop on its own.

“Reluctant though I am to call emergency meetings of the Ministry, I believe that this is close enough to a national emergency that one is justified. Comrades, you all recognise the Suicide Klaxon, and I hope-” she paused for effect and put her glasses back on, drawing herself up to her full height “-that you all know that it is simply a malfunction in the system which governs the Klaxon.”

The Engineer looked nervous, immediately, and pulled a sheaf of papers out of his briefcase to defend himself with. The Playwright looked at him with immediate, real sympathy, and continued;

“This isn’t the Engineer’s fault. This isn’t, in fact, anyone’s fault. The Engineering corps are a brave, resourceful organisation, and they have been doing their absolute best to maintain equilibrium through some trying times for our sacred nation. In fact, Engineer, there has been real progress made this year as well, has there not?”

The Engineer looked as if he’d been thrown into the squid pit, only to discover that it was actually full of delicious gooseberry fool.

“Ah, yes, Comrade Minister.” He coughed, “This year alone, the Engineering Corps has made great strides in both solidifying our position as it stands with respect to education, in progress in transport, (where the Great Leader is putting one hundred percent of his effort into securing a better, more motorbike-centred, future) and in preventing a complete collapse in housing due to the natural lifespan of the existing structure.” he finished, looking genuinely proud.

“So” said the Playwright, picking her words carefully; “Along with all of that, as well as the usual day-to-day running of the Nation, it’s actually a great testament to your department’s skill that the only catch that you’ve dropped, so to speak, is one tiny, insignificant, Klaxon.”

The Engineer’s cautious pride broke into a genuine smile.

“Yes, Comrade Minister. All in all, it’s been a very successful year.”

“Good.” she replied. “Now. We have definitely confirmed that this is just a malfunction in the Suicide Klaxon system, and it’s important to let the people know that. Artist, what are you working on?”

The Artist looked up from her sketches; A proud figure astride a motorbike, applying ear defenders before their helmet, with the caption “Some noise is meaningless”. The second cartouche contained a smiling worker sat at a sewing machine, with the subtitle “I can work listening to the radio, I can work listening to the television, I can work listening to my friend’s stories, so I can work listening to the Suicide Klaxon”.

“I think that the key message to get across to the public is that the noise is unpleasant, but not dangerous in its own right, and that if they ignore it, it won’t do them any harm.”

The Doctor coughed.

“It is doing them harm, though. Nobody is sleeping. Nobody is eating properly. Everyone hates the Klaxon, it makes them nervous and eventually it will make them ill”

Both the Engineer and the Playwright fixed him with a glare that fulfilled the five-year-plan for heat generation in five seconds.

The Engineer slammed his fist down onto the table.

“You mean to say, Comrade Doctor, that worrying the citizenry about the Klaxon will make my engineers fix it faster? Or that worrying about it will make it quieter?”

The Doctor looked abashed.

“I only meant that, in general, the Klaxon is bad for us, in the long term”

The Playwright had lit a cigarette and was now watching the match burn in her fingers.

“The citizenry know that the Klaxon is harmful, but what they need to do right now is to find ways to make it less frightening and more bearable, until our engineers can switch it off.”

The Artist held up another sketch; A locomotive driver on the footplate, the boiler belching steam, the fire glowing vivid red, hurtling through a beautifully luminous night under starry skies – “The sound of the engine will drown out the Klaxon – I continue my work so that our brave Engineers can continue theirs”.

“And it has the important counterpoint -” another drawing; A figure in bed, with a dog curled up next to them, reading from a paperback novel, with the legend “Two days of good rest can lead to five days of good work. Two days of bad work can lead to five days of painful recovery. Help the Engineers by staying at home”.

“I like this one” she said, and perhaps even” – she slid a drawing across the table to the Engineer himself;

The engineer’s eyes welled up with tears.

The sketch showed a team of engineers, in full working-dress with tool belts and torches, clutching mugs of hot tea, with home-made scarves and and plates of food around them; “Thank you, citizens! Together, we will turn off the Klaxon!”

The Playwright authorised a print run of two hundred thousand of each poster, and planned a radio announcement. The Klaxon is malfunctioning, the engineering corps are going to repair it, the reason that it was in disrepair was because of the great strides that our sacred nation has made in the previous year and thus the corps were needed elsewhere. Citizens can continue their business safely, knowing that they do not need to take action based on the Klaxon.

On the way out of the meeting, the Doctor accosted her;

“You’re the only one of us with the ear of our Great Leader.” He said, “How is he faring, under the onslaught?”

The Playwright shrugged.

“He’s tired, as we all are. I think he’ll enjoy seeing the posters though.”

The Ministry of Propoganda.

This is a semi-serious mental health post, I suppose.

A while ago, I wrote about the Ministry of Propoganda, and how it is basically the best defence mechanism I have against total despair sometimes. It’s basically a very formulaic, very silly, version of CBT, but it does the job on the big, complicated problems.

Basically, you treat yourself as the Soviet States of You (and you must be Soviet, as in “united” and “federated” and “working together”) and, in a huge, stately building in your capital, in an architecture conducive to the furtherance of your united cause, there is an office. That office, with its high windows, clean lines, and richly-but-not-opulently appointed furnishings, houses the Ministry of Propoganda, a hand-picked team of the best playwrights, artists, medics, economists and engineers that you have to offer. And every last one of them knows that they’re going in the squid pit if they don’t get public opinion back on-side in a timely fashion after a disaster.

The note comes in, delivered by a rather stern looking military runner; “Percy has done fuck-all today, other than lie on his back reading pulpy historical fiction novels, in pyjamas that haven’t been changed in weeks. He had half a wank in the morning, then burst into tears because it hurt too much to complete. He’s eaten exactly one bourbon biscuit, three cans of relentless, and doesn’t think he’ll get to sleep until noon tomorrow. Also, he’s refusing to talk to anyone, and claims they’re all exhausting and ‘pointless sheddy-haired bastards’. He feels like shit.”

First, the playwright speaks up;

“But what did he need to do today? In the ideal situation, what was the agenda for the day?”

The military man flips through the stack of papers, and reads the list; “Laundry. Sew some pockets into a pair of trousers. Go to the shops for food. Talk to Best Friend about going somewhere on the train.” he coughs, then says “Frankly, ma’am, he has fucked up on every front.”

The playwright arches an eyebrow, and carefully lights a cheroot. The medic speaks up;

“Well, from my point of view, that’s all by the by. He’s done well, in that he’s prioritised his health over everything else. Look at the evidence – Hasn’t injured himself by trying to get out of bed, hasn’t even over-taxed himself by doing the fun things that he wants to do, if they’re painful. Stopping mid-wank because something unrelated hurt? That’s some amazing willpower. And he’s done what he can with the resources available to keep hydrated and fed, whilst acknowledging that, in not doing much today, he didn’t need the calories of a full meal.”

Then the economist joins in;

“It’s good that he didn’t go to the shops either, because in this kind of state he’d end up buying all sorts of inappropriate stuff. You know how he gets when he’s hungry and in pain, just loads up on pomegranates and expensive pop, and empties the budget for the week. Staying indoors stopped him from financially wrecking us. Likewise, if he’d done the laundry, never mind injuring himself, he’d probably have shrank everything. And sewn the pockets on upside-down and got frustrated, and never finished the trousers because of being so annoyed with himself. Definitely a good thing that he didn’t try to do that today either.”

The playwright puts down her cheroot for a second and says;

“He’s recognised that he’s not very good company in this state too, which means that in not going out, he’s preserving his friendship with his best friend – They only have so much time together, and they both prefer it to be when he’s well. So it’s a painful, but economical, decision not to speak to him today. And this means that he rationally knows that he’s just being hateful for no reason, which is a good bit of insight. And if he had tried to make plans to go somewhere on a train today, they’d have been so conservative and timid that they’d be useless, and need to be done again when he’s feeling more confident. So he knew not to waste everyone’s time there.”

The engineer chimes in;

“Economical is a good word for the whole day, really. He’s recognised that it’s not going to be a ‘good’ day, so has completely stripped down the resources used to a minimum – Not wasted a clean set of clothes, when he’s going to be in bed anyway, not cooked something fancy when he won’t appreciate it. Has identified the safest way possible of making the whole day have the least impact possible. Artist – You can turn this into a poster, right?”

And the artist looks up from her drawing of the Great Leader, looking wounded but surrounded by the heroes of myth, into which the official statement will be superimposed and says;

“Yep, I’ve got that.”

The playwright drops her cheroot into the ashtray, picks up her own clipboard onto which she has been writing the whole time, and takes it over to the military runner.

“Here,” she says, taking his notes from him and ripping them in half. “Take this to the pritners’ office and have it distributed to all public message boards.”

He reads the statement;

“Yesterday, our wise leader chose to weather extreme hardship by operating at the absolute minimum tolerated level. By remaining inactive and forgoing social contact, he has prevented the Body from being damaged in ways which could take weeks to recover from. Although yesterday was a trying, painful time, leavened as well as possible with entertainment suitable for such a crisis, by our actions we have preserved our physical, social and economic integrity, to allow for greater prosperity in future.”

As he’s walking down the corridor, he thinks about it. Utter bollocks, obviously. He reads it again in the lift, and tries to remember what his original notes said. Something about being a fuck-up? He reads it again. No, it couldn’t have been – That was a series of very good decisions.

By the time it’s at the printers, he’d forgotten the original note existed at all.