Albert’s favourite joke is as follows. Each day he attempts some sit-ups. He can reach about twenty before he has to give up.
But if someone comes into the room during his brief exertions he always starts counting.
‘One hundred and twenty three,’ he says as he completes his fifth sit-up. ‘One hundred and….twenty….four.’
Albert loves this joke so much he can sometimes laugh about it alone.
Albert decides that the present isn’t just now. The present continuous stretches back to when humans first evolved and then right up to when we’ll live as almost endless computers. We’re not so significant, Albert decides, that each day has any value.
Carpe diem? Nope, Albert decides, let the day be: seize the epoch and grab the millennium by all means. Bring your ancestors, friends and descendants along for the ride. But squander some days if you wish. Because life’s too precious to worry about wasting the odd day here and there.
And with this thought Albert lets his Sunday paper fall to the ground and returns to the serious business of snoozing in the garden.
Sometimes Albert covets other people’s houses. All that space, somewhere to park, spare bedrooms. An office even! More than one toilet. Then he remembers how he hates buildings surrounded by air. Best to huddle together in a terrace, he reasons. Far harder, that way, for predators to pick you off.
Oh yes, honestly, I used to know her. I mean not well, but well enough to know what she was like. And she was really kind, back in the day, believe me. She was so beautiful. Everyone just wanted to be with her. We all used to copy what she was wearing and try to listen to the same music as her. We were in awe of her. And it wasn’t all surface stuff either. If one of her friends was in trouble she was always the first to help out. Seriously, I know it’s hard to believe now, but back in the day everyone used to love her. Even the people who said they hated her secretly wanted to be her.
But then, as she got older, a few people started turning on her or, worse yet, ignoring her. And I guess she just couldn’t handle this fall from grace. She started snarling at people. She got really bitter. And then, just recently, she started banning all known facts from her house. She declared them dry and pointless. Not surprisingly perhaps, she became unwell but still she banned all specialists from her home. Before we knew it she was sitting alone, rocking in her chair, singing random songs about the old days and promising to anyone who would listen how things were going to get much better in a minute.
I will be loved again, she promised. Just give me some time, she kept saying. But by then time was the one thing she didn’t have. It breaks my heart to see her now, really it does.
I woke up to find myself in hospital. In my semi-conscious state I had so many powerful visions! I saw a new phone; a whiter smile; far better skin; a cleaner, faster car. I even saw lust! There was so much to be done and time was marching on. What was doing wasting my time lying around here? I clambered out of bed, disconnecting myself from all the pesky tubes and wires.
“Relax,” the nurses said. “Those aren’t visions,” they said. “Those are just adverts on tv. You should just ignore them. Everyone knows they’re not real.”
But I was having none of it. I wanted it all. And I wanted it now.
“Get out of my way,” I shouted at them. “Can’t you see you’re holding back my recovery? Can’t you see you’re holding back the recovery of the entire economy?”
Albert sits in the park in central London enjoying the first of the spring sunshine. Albert likes parks almost as much as he likes libraries. In both places he can give himself the illusion of being amongst people but without the need to speak.
Albert watches a male pigeon clumsily strutting around a female. The female turns one way, then the other. Albert feels sorry for her. Then Albert wonders how she decides which way to go? Then he wonders if pigeons ever make decisions. It’s impossible to tell what motivates them to take a particular course of action. Unlike people, Albert thinks.
Then he thinks again. It’s also impossible to tell why people take a particular path. Our explanations are just justifications after the event, stories to tell ourselves. To what extent is the path taken genuinely chosen by any creature. No, Albert decides, intelligence has nothing to do with it. When it comes to decisions, he concludes, we may as well all be pigeons.
Except for Albert, of course, who is certain he has chosen to sit in the park to enjoy the first of the spring sunshine and watch the pigeons.
They construct the wall and appoint fierce guards at each checkpoint. How impressive they all look!
Until, that is, they notice the clouds gliding irreverently above their heads and the determined ants crawling up and over the wall each night.
Even tiny birds flout the fiercely defended border with impunity.