Thursday, June 25, 2020

S.1 Ep.9


APOCALYPSE POLITICS


Boris Turns Up For Work In Latest Show Of Power, said the Mail, above a picture of the Prime Minister walking from Number 10 to the Cabinet Office, giving a Churchillian V-sign to the media. The PM, the story claimed, was considering working five days a week for the next fortnight in order to establish some authority over the government, before returning to his more regular three-days-a-week, couple-of-hours before dinner.
It was a bleak day on the Clyde coast. The wind was a-howling, and the rain a-falling. A hard rain at that, like the one Bob Dylan wrote about. Albeit, to be honest, while Bob’s hard rain was metaphorical, this was actual hard rain, tipping down by the gallon, drenching the island in the tears of the world.
Ten a.m. and a brief customer hiatus.  Traditionally, few would venture out on a day such as this, but there was a renewed, premature air of freedom abroad, and already there had been four customers. For the moment, however, the place was customer-free, and so the men of the shop – crack barbershop legends Barney Thomson, Keanu MacPherson, and deaf, mute hunchback, Igor – were standing at the window, drinking their third cup of morning coffee, eating the most elaborate and delicious pastries west of Copenhagen.
Behind them on the customers’ bench, beneath the Mail, lay that day’s batch of newspapers, untouched. None of them were in any mood to read the news, such as it was. Now They’re Coming For Winston! boomed the Express, above a picture of a hundred topless, drunk Tory MPs complaining about the invisible horde coming for Winston; Boris To Replace Churchill Statue With One Of Himself In New Move To Unite Britain, fawned the Telegraph; the Times had a picture captioned ‘Leader of the House chuckles while eating flesh of small child’ illustrating the headline, Rees-Mogg Could Give A Fuck As MPs Decimated By Covid; the Sun led with Tits Out Shopping Spree Bonanza As Babes Get Summer Started; the Guardian had Raab Shocked To Discover North And South Korea Have Border.
‘Apparently the world’s due to end shortly,’ said Keanu, breaking an extended silence.
‘Arf?’ asked Igor, raising an eyebrow.
‘We got the Mayans wrong. We thought all along they’d predicted the world would end in 2012, and you know, that’s what was supposed to happen, and everyone planned on that…’
‘They even made the movie,’ said Barney.
‘Exactly. That was a big commitment to disaster, then it didn’t happen. Pretty embarrassing for Hollywood, to be honest.’
‘Amazing they ever got to make another film.’
‘Exactly. But apparently, 2012 doesn’t take into consideration the conversion of western calendars from the Julian to the Gregorian. If you do that, the world’s going to end at like, three o’clock this afternoon.’ A beat. ‘Maybe quarter past.’
The men of the barbershop looked out upon the bleak winter squall of a June morning in the west of Scotland.
‘Doesn’t seem to have changed much so far,’ said Barney.
‘Arf.’
‘But then some people say the initial 2012 calculation did take the calendar conversion into consideration, so there’s that.’
‘What about you?’ asked Barney. ‘Have you done the calculation?’
‘Above my pay grade,’ said Keanu.
Barney smiled and bit into a honey-glazed pecan cronut. Outside, a lone gull fought a losing battle, being tossed helplessly in the wind, before it succumbed to the inevitable, and dived down below, out of sight, onto the rocks on the other side of the promenade wall.

Book

Late morning, a lone customer beneath the scissors. Still wild abroad, wind and rain battering the island. Barney and Igor were standing at the window, enjoying the show, as the tide was now high and the waves had begun leaping above the promenade wall. Meanwhile Keanu was giving Old Man McGuire his weekly Faux Reconstituted Mullet.
‘How’s that writing of yours coming along, son?’ asked McGuire, breaking a short silence that had consumed the shop upon Barney stopping McGuire from detailing the entire plot of an eleven-series German erotic zombie fetish saga he’d been watching on NetTube, called Wir Kommen Für Dein Fleisch.
‘I’m writing a Trump tell-all memoir,’ said Keanu, smiling at McGuire in the mirror. ‘I don’t usually bother sending my books to publishers, I just do it all myself, but this one I might have a go. I think there might be some interest out there.’
McGuire looked suspiciously at Keanu, then glanced at Igor and Barney to see if they were laughing at him. Igor and Barney remained hooked on the weather drama outside.
‘Have you ever met Trump?’ asked McGuire.
‘Nah,’ said Keanu. ‘I mean, I went to New York once a few years ago, but he wasn’t there.’ A beat, and then he added, ‘Not that that was why I went.’
‘So how can you write a tell-all memoir about Donald Trump when you’ve never met the cunt?’ snarked McGuire, squinting into the mirror.
‘I’ve watched him on tele.’
His back turned to them, looking out on a blustery, squally, rain-soaked day, Barney smiled quietly to himself.
I’ve watched him on tele!’ barked McGuire.
‘He’s a bit of a dick, right?’
‘Hang on a second,’ said McGuire, and now he straightened his shoulders, altering the angle of his head, forcing Keanu to temporarily halt the cut. Temporarily halting the cut was a regular occurrence with Old Man McGuire.
‘Mr McGuire?’ asked Keanu, smiling.
‘We’ve all watched him on tele. How come you get to write a book about him?’
Anyone can write a book about him. You can if you like. Go ahead.’
‘I’m no’ writing a book about that bastard. Wouldn’t give him the pleasure.’
Keanu smiled again, waited to see if there were any further ejaculations of protest forthcoming, then gently straightened McGuire’s head, and went back to work.
‘So, what’s your book called, then?’
Apocalypse Trump: My Part In The Rise Of The Narcissistic Psychopathic Dictator, And The End Of Western Civilisation.’ He paused, then added, ‘Might need some work.’
‘I don’t know,’ said McGuire, ‘I like it. Not entirely sure what your part in it is, though.’
‘I watch him on tele. I said.’
‘Aye, I got that, but I used to watch yon Saddam Hussein on tele, but it’s not like I had any part in that bastard being a narcissistic psychopathic dictator.’
‘The book postulates that we’re all to blame. That the West’s need for quick and easy entertainment, of which the vast majority of us are guilty, has resulted in the absurd level of incompetence and inadequacy with which we’re now encumbered in the upper echelons of government.’
McGuire’s eyes were narrowed, but since he hadn’t barked out an expletive, it was apparent he didn’t completely disagree.
‘OK, that’s not all shite,’ he said, as confirmation. ‘Go on.’
‘So, the book’s basically a list of all the really, really stupid and nasty things that Trump has said and done in plain sight. You know, no anonymous quotes, nothing that was supposedly in sealed court proceedings, or from a lawsuit that got paid off and never saw the light. Just obvious stuff that everyone already knows. But there’s so much of it, it’s about putting it all in one place.’
‘Hasn’t someone already done that?’
‘Don’t know. Doesn’t matter. Now I’m doing it.’
‘Hmm,’ said McGuire. ‘Not bad. I might read that.’
‘You read everything I write.’
‘Aye, OK, but I might like this one. Are you going to include that time Trump shagged a donkey on TV and then blew its brains out with a .44 Magnum?’
Keanu paused to give McGuire an appropriate eyebrow.
‘That never happened, Mr McGuire.’
McGuire’s faced creased in curiosity, then he shrugged, accepted he’d got mixed up, then resumed looking at himself in the mirror.
‘Must have been a .357,’ he muttered to himself, as Keanu went back about the cut.

The New Normal

Late morning, and there was a healthy buzz about the shop, the men of the town beginning to embrace the sense of liberation that hung in the air, allowing them to laugh in the face of the inconvenience of trudging through torrential rain and a blustery wind that would have had Winnie The Pooh on his arse in an instant.
Perhaps restrictions hadn’t been completely relaxed yet, but it was coming, and now impatience to go out and embrace the post-lockdown period was beginning to take hold, even though the post-lockdown period was still some time away, and the new normal, whatever it was to be, remained little more than a 2,000-word speculation piece in a Sunday supplement.
Barney and Igor had taken to wearing masks. Both of them, in fact, had decided that perhaps they might continue to wear a mask after all this was over. There was something comfortably anonymous about it. Of course, once the pandemic had passed into the history books, with successive waves claiming more and more victims, and the population of the earth had been reduced to somewhere around the three billion mark, anyone wearing a mask in Millport would be viewed as sinister, or pretentious, or ridiculous. And so, thought Barney, he would make the most of it, and wear the mask at moments such as this when there were four customers in the shop. At the very least it tended to discourage conversation.
Which was something that Keanu, inevitably, was still open for.
‘So, how d’you think it’s going to look?’ said his customer, young Thornton, currently on the receiving end of a Ryan Kent.
‘What’s that?’ asked Keanu.
‘You know… life. Life, once this has all passed, settled down, and there’s a new normal. How d’you think it’ll be on the other side?’
Keanu held his look in the mirror for a moment, then turned briefly to Barney, who cast him a quick glance over his blue face covering. They’d talked about this. No one thought it was going to go well.
‘Couple of options,’ said Keanu. ‘We could have a new enlightenment. A society and a world that embraces science and the arts, refuting demagoguery, extreme religion and madness…’
‘Sounds decent,’ said Ryan Kent. ‘A new enlightenment. I like the sound of that. Would that be, what, like a fourteen-team Premier League? Maybe every year you’d get an Oor Wullie and a Broons annual. That’d be pretty cool by the way.’
‘They’ve been doing that for the last five years,’ piped up a voice from the customer’s bench, and Keanu had to quickly lift the scissors, as Ryan Kent’s head shot up and he looked curiously at the customer in the mirror.
‘You get an Oor Wullie and a Broons annual every year?’
‘Aye.’
‘Since when?’
‘Like I said, the last five years.’
‘No one told me.’
‘You’ve no’ been looking, son,’ said Old Bridlington, the bearer of unexpected news.
Ryan Kent shook his head, eyes wide, then looked expectantly at Keanu.
‘Looks like we’re already living through the new enlightenment, then eh? Epic. What’s your other option?’
‘Or,’ said Keanu, ‘we follow the path the world took after the last great depression, and we end up in a world war, and this time virtually everyone dies.’ A beat, then he added, ‘So, there’s that.’
‘Aye, that’ll be right. No one’s that stupid. And I mean, you completely fucked the new enlightenment thing because you’d no idea there was a Broons and Oor Wullie published every year, so why would we listen to any of your other prophecies?’
Keanu was about to point out that he wasn’t the eejit who’d conflated a new enlightenment with DC Thomson comic strips, then he caught Barney’s eye, and Barney’s eye said, ‘Let it go,’ and so Keanu decided to do just that, and he nodded, smiled, laid down the scissors, picked up the clippers, and started to buzz noisily around Ryan Kent’s left ear.
‘Not bad,’ said Old Bridlington, from the bench, not yet ready to let the subject of total annihilation of the human race go just yet.
‘You think, Mr Bridlington?’ said Keanu.
‘Far more likely than the other option. There is zero chance of a new enlightenment. No one wants that. No one wants to be enlightened. Why have art and science and music, when you can have sex and fights and gossip and anger? That’s what drives the world. Always has, always will.’
‘It’s all about balance,’ said Keanu. ‘Like when there’s hundreds of Jedi, and two Sith lords.’
‘I’ve no idea what that means, son, but I’m sure you’re right. But we’ve tipped way, way over the edge of balance. The dark forces have been unleashed, the gates of Hell have opened. The Internet was the Pandora’s box we never knew existed, and now it has its own life, controlling the world, spreading malice, distorting truth, creating havoc and releasing unbridled mayhem upon mankind. Everywhere you look there are democratically elected dictators, amassing power, spending more and more money on weapons, filling the airwaves daily with their lies, supressing democracy, crushing opposition and glorying in the destruction which their actions have wrought. Death, disease, war and hunger will follow, as the planet burns. Then, as the ice caps melt, and the seas rise, humanity will be trapped between flooding coastlines, scorched forests, inland deserts and brutal war zones. Humanity will fall, and what will be left?’
The clippers had stopped, Old Bridlington held the shop in the palm of his hand, as the barbers, and Igor, and the other three customers stared at him, held captive by his awful vision of a future that was no more than a few months away.
‘Giant carnivorous spiders,’ piped up Barney’s customer, ‘ruling over the planet from massive web colonies suspended between cliff tops. It was on National Geographic.’
Silence.
Barney and Keanu stared at each other, Barney’s look saying, ‘See, this is what happens when you talk to people,’ and Keanu saying, ‘OK, OK, that’s the last time I talk to anyone, promise.’
‘So, will all that be before we get this year’s Broons and Oor Wullie annuals?’ asked Ryan Kent, eyebrows raised in the mirror.

The day continued beneath leaden skies…

The day continued beneath leaden skies, customers coming and going, bringing a constant stream of damp shoes and dripping coats, and Igor was kept busy wiping the floor, trying to keep everything in order. Haircut detritus mingling with pools of water was the barbershop assistant’s nightmare.
It was gone four before the shop was customer-free again, and finally the men could have their first cup of tea of the day – usually it would be their fifteenth by now – and Barney and Igor could take off their masks.
They were standing at the window, a cup of tea and a morning pastry each in hand. The morning pastry has lost something by the afternoon, of course, like late-career Jack Nicklaus, or any of the Beatles post-1970, but still, just as Nicklaus could win the US Masters in 1986, and George Harrison could write The Traveling Wilburys’ End Of The Line, and McCartney could write Rupert And The Frog Chorus, the afternoon pastry can still produce the goods.
‘Decent,’ said Barney, indicating his apricot pain au donut, and the others, mouths too full to speak, nodded in agreement.
Outside the wind howled, perhaps even more loudly than before, and the rain still tumbled and tossed in an angry squall. Truth be told, there was little to see out there, and what there was they were viewing through rain-smeared glass.
‘Trump hasn’t resigned yet,’ said Keanu after a while, as ever the first to fill a silence.
‘Arf,’ muttered Igor.
‘Aye, but Barney’s been predicting Trump was going to resign, and not stand for re-election, for ages, right Barney?’
He had a wee smile on his face as he said it. No one thought Trump was going to resign. Everyone thought Trump was going to one day have to be carried out of the White House in a straightjacket, screaming for his dad.
‘It’s coming,’ said Barney.
‘You think?’
‘He knows he’s going to lose the election. He knows he’s beginning to lose the support of a lot of those senators and congressmen who are up for re-election. They can’t count on him, so he can’t count on them. The crowds aren’t going to show up in the same numbers, the virus is kicking off again, and the death toll’s going to be cataclysmic. Look at him, he’s miserable as fuck. He hates his life at the moment. He’s just a giant ball of gloom, crushed beneath the weight of the biggest chip that anyone’s ever had on their shoulder in human history.
‘One day he’s just going to think, fuck it, I’m out of here, and he’ll walk. He won’t care if he causes chaos in the party, or the markets, or wherever. He’ll just walk, feeling sorry for himself, claiming to be the victim.’
Keanu had finished off his pastry as he listened to Barney, and now he licked his fingers and stared phlegmatically out at the tempest.
‘Sounds persuasive,’ he said. ‘Sadly, my old friend, it ain’t going to happen. Sure, he might well be miserable, but he’ll look for ways to alleviate that while he’s in power, not from the other side of the fence. Soon as he leaves office, he’s vulnerable.’
‘He’ll get the attorney general to cover for him, while he still can. Things will be put in place.’
‘And Nikki Haley’s going to get the nomination?’
‘Hmm, OK, maybe time’s getting a little short for that. They might just have to go with Pence, but let’s see how it plays out.’
‘What if Putin doesn’t want Trump to stand down?’ said Igor, and even though it only emerged as ‘Arf?’ they still understood him.
‘Aye, that’s something to think about,’ said Barney. ‘But surely by now, with all the access to intelligence that the man has, Trump must have just as much on Putin as Putin has on him? Perhaps not video of Putin having sex with a goat, but there must be no end of stuff. I reckon Trump pulls off a quid pro quo type of thing. You ignore my back, I’ll ignore yours.’
‘Hmm,’ said Keanu.
A car drove past, even the vehicle seeming to struggle into the wind, the first sign of life out there for ten minutes, and then it was gone, and the sound of it had been swallowed up, and once again they were watching live weather and nothing else.
‘You should put it in your book,’ said Barney. ‘If you get that prediction in your book, then he resigns and it comes true, you’ll look like a genius. You’ll get on TV shows and whatnot, and your book’ll sell.’
‘It’s not actually my prediction, though,’ said Keanu. ‘It’s yours.’
‘Aye, but I’m not writing a book about Trump, you are. So you can have it. You don’t even have to say where it came from.’
‘On the other hand, I might just look stupid.’
Barney took a drink of tea, glanced at Igor, then looked at Keanu.
‘Seriously, if you can’t get a publisher and you have to publish the book yourself, how many people d’you think might buy it?’
Keanu took a drink, lowered his eyes, watched the water run down to the bottom of the window.
‘I don’t know… fifty? Maybe a couple of hundred, if I can get some social media going.’
‘Exactly,’ said Barney. ‘And of them, how many are actually going to think you’re stupid? Five? Ten? Most people will read it, they’ll think, huh, hadn’t thought of that, and move on with their lives, whether they agree with it or not. So, what’s it to be? Risk ten people thinking you’re stupid, or have half a million bowing down to your predictive genius, while you appear on Newsnight interviewed by Emily Maitlis?’
‘Hmm,’ said Keanu. ‘Not bad. I like Emily Maitlis.’
‘And when you’re on Newsnight, you can use all your political knowledge and insight you’ve gained from working in a barbershop with Igor and me.’
‘Arf.’
‘Hmm,’ said Keanu again. ‘They do say working in a barbershop is more or less equivalent to studying PPE at Oxford.’
Barney and Igor smiled and nodded. Rarely, if ever, had a truer word been spoken in any barbershop in the land. Indeed, given the cataclysmic disasters visited upon the United Kingdom by fools and mountebanks who had actually studied PPE at Oxford, there was a high chance that things would be much better run if the barbers had been in charge.
Barbers, however, are not revolutionaries, and that was where the conversation ended. While some might have gone on to talk of power struggles and political coups, the men of the Millport barbershop were content to enjoy the aftertaste of a delicious pastry, and the rich full flavour of a cup of PG Tips.
‘Maybe the giant carnivorous spiders will do a better job,’ said Keanu after a while.
Outside the wind blew, the rain squalled, and in the mountains and deep, dark canyons of the world, hidden in shadows and darkness, the giant carnivorous spiders bided their time.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

S.1 Ep.8


THE DAY BEFORE TOMORROW


Priti Patel Lies Low As Power Grab Gains Momentum, read the front page of the Times, above a story on the Home Secretary’s sleekit ways of the past two months, as she bided her time before inserting the knife in Boris Johnson’s back and making her bid to become the first daughter of Ugandan-Indian immigrants, third woman, and at least twelfth cunt to be Prime Minister.
It was a regular Friday morning on the Clyde. Sun shining, high, white clouds flitting from west to east, the tide on the wane, the gentle waves catching the light, sparkling with traditional iridescent Scottish splendour.
Just after nine am, and so far there had been no customers, and the men of the barbershop were busying themselves with reading the morning papers, well aware they were filling their heads with little but sludge, disinformation, distraction, and bullshit. There was the Telegraph, headline, Johnson Threatens Patel With Pregnancy If She Doesn’t Back The Fuck Off; the Express ejaculated BBQ Burgers For All, As BoJo Delivers Covid-Free Sunny Uplands; the International New York Times had, Blood-Soaked Trump Feasts On Dem Congresswoman’s Flesh During Explosive Press Briefing; the Mail had, Government Announce Frivolous Bullshit To Distract Us, And We Love It!; the Sun led with, Mass Hyde Park Orgy As Babes Give Covid The Finger; the Guardian, sitting sadly at the foot of the pile, had Cummings Kills Journalist With Bare Hands In Front Of Millions, Claims Innocence, Has PM’s Backing.
‘It’s all a bit shit,’ said Keanu MacPherson, Jedi barbershop apprentice to Barney Thomson, tossing the Times back onto the pile, getting up off the customers’ bench and walking to the window.
Outside, the town and the white promenade wall and the islands and the rocks and the sea stared back at him, looking much as it had done since the day the Carolingians arrived on Cumbrae from 8th century France with the Holy Grail, to establish the settlement that would one day become Millport.
‘And yet,’ Keanu continued, as Barney and deaf, mute hunchbacked barbershop everyman Igor had answered only with nods of agreement, ‘you look out there and it’s like nothing’s changed.
‘What’s a chap to do?’ said Barney.
‘Exactly. Bury your head in the sand and ignore all the shit, continuing about your life in ignorance of the catastrophes of the world? Or keep up with the news, share in the agonies of others, and allow yourself to become one with the depressive hellhole that humanity has created for itself?’ A beat, then he added, ‘Tough call.’
He turned to look at Barney and Igor, eyebrows raised.
‘There’s the third option,’ said Barney.
‘Go and buy pastries?’
‘Yep.’
‘My turn,’ said Keanu, and he smiled, and headed to the door. ‘The usual?’
‘Arf!’ said Igor.
There was no usual. Whoever went out to hunter-gather the pastries, always returned with an eclectic selection. The men of the Millport barbershop liked all the pastries.
The door closed, Keanu disappeared from view, and Barney took a final glance at the article he was reading in the Telegraph, Voters’ Delight As Boris Buffs Up For Summer Calendar Pic Bonanza, then folded up the paper and tossed it across the shop, where it landed with fictional precision on top of the pile.

Spiderkong

‘You know who’s enjoying the lockdown?’ asked Malky Six Fingers.
Mid-morning, Keanu and Barney were cutting hair, there was another customer on the bench, Igor was sweeping up at the back of the shop, and Radio 3 was on quietly in the background; currently playing Franz Schubert’s early song, I Weep For My Fellow Man, For We Are All Fucked, being sung in the original Austrian by Italian soprano, Violetta Vermicelli.
‘Go on,’ said Keanu, who was midway through a regulation 1978 Alan Rough, which was more of a statement than a haircut. Malky Six Fingers had clearly decided to go all in.
‘Spiders,’ said Six Fingers.
Keanu noticed Barney smiling quietly to himself, but knew he would likely keep out of the discussion.
‘You’re cleared to continue,’ said Keanu, pausing for a moment, the curling tongs suspended steamily in mid-air, like Alan Rough watching the ball fly past his outstretched fingers.
‘Haven’t you noticed?’ said Six Fingers. ‘There are millions of spiders. They’re taking over.’
Keanu thought about it, remembered the spider he’d had to remove from his bathroom two days previously, shivered at the thought of it, then nodded.
‘You might be right.’
‘They say that when humanity has finally self-destructed, and let’s be honest, that’s likely to come in the next two or three months, it’ll be the spiders that emerge to rule the world. They’ve got it all. Eight legs. Like a million eyes or something. They’re creepy as fuck, sharp as tacks, they’ve got poison, they’ve got fangs, they eat shit, and every other species is scared of them.’
‘Don’t birds eat spiders?’
‘Except there are fewer birds, because humans are bastards and we’ve killed all the birds. Now the spiders are taking over.’
‘Wasps? Don’t wasps eat spiders?’
‘There is such a wasp, but they’ll get overrun. And anyway, is that a battle you want to stick around for? Giant wasps versus giant spiders? Fuck me, man. Give it a couple of years, and planet earth is going to be like one of those shitty movies you get on Channel 5. You know, Spidersaurus versus Gigantawasp, or Sharkodile versus Megabutterfly.’
The shop stopped for a moment.
‘Megabutterfly doesn’t sound so scary,’ said Keanu, after they’d all given due consideration to the beast.
‘That’s a pretty big fucking butterfly, by the way,’ said Six Fingers.
‘I do love those movies, though.’
‘Me too, but you wouldn’t want to be in one though, would you?’
‘Maybe not.’
Maybe not?’
‘In all those movies, when you’ve got your giant thing fighting your giant other thing, there are always people standing by who get to watch. How cool would that be? You get to stand on the sidelines watching while a giant lizard battles a rhinoceros crossed with a pigeon.’
The shop stopped for another moment to visualise the scene.
‘Pidgoceros,’ said Keanu, taking advantage of the silence, and marking a banner film title with the steam of the curling tongs.
In the mirror Keanu noticed the customer on the bench, who had the sinister look of the film producer about him, note something down in a small black Moleskine.
‘Trouble is,’ said Six Fingers, ‘there’s always tonnes of collateral damage, hunners of those innocent bystanders who get taken out. You think the giant bear crossed with a monkfish gives a shit if he takes out a class of schoolchildren? Monkbear doesn’t give a fuck, by the way.’
‘Good point,’ said Keanu, ‘but I’m prepared to take the risk. Got to trust in your own ability to get out of the way in time. When the giant seagull lands, I’m here for it.’
Six Fingers nodded, not a lot else to be said, and with it there was a general agreement that the conversation had run its course, and Keanu could now resume the very finest in 1970s hair styling.
‘Thing is,’ said Barney’s customer, Old Man Treadstone, who had sat silently throughout, so that one might not have imagined he was paying any attention, ‘doesn’t matter how terrifying your gigantic spiderkong actually is, it’s nothing like as scary as Matt Fucking Hancock filming himself on an iPhone, like a psychopath.’
There was general nodding and agreement around the shop, and the gentlemen once again fell into a comfortable silence, the only sounds the sweep of Igor’s brush, the hiss of the curlers, the click of Barney’s scissors, and the majestic swirl of the Wagner/Zutons mash-up, Ride of the Valeries, currently playing on Radio 3.

And I Looked, And Behold a Pale Horse

Early afternoon. One customer. A shifty looking character in for a haircut, quite unlike most of the other men they’d had in since the lockdown began. These days, Old McGuire aside, customers turned up in dire need, their hair blowing in the wind for all the world like they were out of a previously unheard Dylan verse.
This guy, however, oozing nefarious chicanery from every pore, had hair that had recently been attended to by a professional. Not necessarily a competent professional, thought Barney, though he would never have said it, but nevertheless someone who had at least been trained in the art of the hairsmith.
Furthermore, this man, this oily sleekweasel, this vagabond of duplicitousness, this prince of unscrupulous, malevolent darkness, this angry, accursed phantom, had expressly requested that Barney cut his hair, even though Keanu had stepped forward, prepared to begin the job.
‘What can I do for you?’ asked Barney, looking his customer in the eye in the mirror.
‘I’d like a Tony Blair, please,’ said the man, the words delivered with a smirk. ‘Early Blair. Pre-Iraq Blair.’
Barney pictured Tony Blair, he looked at the customer in the mirror, he looked down at his hair from above.
‘You’ve already got a Tony Blair,’ he said. ‘How about I take the clippers to it and give you a Dead Lenin.’
The smirk vanished from the customer’s face.
‘Not funny,’ he said. ‘No, let me be clear. This is your job interview. Give me a Tony Blair, whatever it takes, and crack on. We don’t have all day, the helicopter’s waiting.’ He paused, he held Barney’s eye in the mirror, then he said, ‘Get the haircut done.’
Barney glanced round at Igor and Keanu, both of whom were standing at the window, waiting for the arrival of the Scottish Godzilla from the depths of the Firth of Clyde, and they smiled and rolled their eyes.
‘You fucked it, mate,’ said Barney. ‘Get the haircut done. Not punchy enough. Too many syllables.’
‘What would you have said?’ asked the customer, eyeing him cautiously in the mirror, wondering if he was about to utter the next great catchphrase, the one that could be used, amended or abused, to take control of the political landscape for the next four and a half years.
I don’t mean to trouble you,’ said Barney, ‘but I’m in a bit of a hurry. How about that?
‘They said you were mouthy.’
‘You really want a Tony Blair? Funny haircut for one of your lot, isn’t it?’
‘Ha! Blair was the best Tory PM since Maggie. That’s why we could never beat him.’
‘You wouldn’t say that in front of Johnson, would you?’
‘Now, let me be clear,’ said the Tory MP, who wore his profession and party allegiance on his smug face like a Spartan’s sword dripped the blood of his enemies, ‘you made short work of the agents who were sent to you a couple of weeks ago, but the time for games is over. The Prime Minister, as is apparent whenever he appears in public, urgently requires work done on his hair. It is literally so bad, it’s beginning to undermine the government.’
‘You don’t think that’s more about everything they do, everything they say, and their general level of complete incompetence?’
‘No,’ said the Tory MP firmly, ‘I don’t. Definitely the hair. Look, people think Boris is hiding, they think he’s lazy, they think he doesn’t like scrutiny. None of that’s true. He longs to be out there, out front, talking to the press every single day, like Churchill multiplied by Alexander the Great, but… the hair! Dom feels it really undermines the message, and it’s about time something was done.’
‘And you think I’m the only barber in all the land who can fix this?’
The Tory MP smirked, the smirk turning into an open laugh, endearing himself even more to the shop.
‘Really, don’t think so highly of yourself, Mr Thomson. Every time the PM appears in public, it means another barber has been summoned from somewhere in the land, and they’ve had a go. You were not first choice, nor will you be last. You are one of many, but you have at least previously proven yourself in the crucible of prime ministerial hair, and so it is time. Dom thinks it’s time. You need to come to Downing Street.’
Igor and Keanu were watching grimly from the window. Igor, his eyes dark and shadowed, looked as though he was on the verge of opening the trap door beneath the barber’s chair. Keanu was more worried. He never liked it when Barney got whisked away to London. Barney, of course, had no intention of going anywhere.
‘And they sent you?’ said Barney, spraying a little water over the MPs hair, deciding he might as well occupy himself while they were chatting.
‘Yes, of course they sent me. And here I am. Look –’
‘Who are you, exactly?’
‘Toby Tortington-Davies, MP for Hermione-sub-Mendip, third parliamentary undersecretary to the Whips Office.’ He paused, he steelily looked Barney in the eye. ‘They call me the Enforcer.’
‘Do they?’
‘They do,’ said Tortington-Davies, as Barney started to snip away at the lush hair on the back of his head. ‘Dom likes me to take charge of things. I never fail to complete a mission.’
‘What missions have you completed so far?’ asked Keanu from the window.
‘Getting Ken Clarke and Rory Stewart to fuck off, that was me. Getting Starmer elected at Labour, another one of mine.’
‘He dismantles Johnson every week at PMQs,’ said Keanu.
‘Does he?’ said Tortington-Davies, immediately being answered with two yeses and an arf!
‘Doesn’t matter,’ he said, tossing a casual hand beneath the smock. ‘He’s boring as fuck. Remember, it won’t always be like this, there won’t always be a limited number of members in the Commons. A month from now, six months, a year, whenever, when they’re all back in there, and Boris is back to his extraordinary dazzling self, and Starmer’s boring everyone to death with “facts”, BoJo will be wiping the floor with him, and we’ll be hitting seventy per cent in the polls.’
Barney had stopped snipping. He’d had enough. There were so many triggers these days, although in Barney they did not trigger anger or a fight or annoyance or any similar negative emotion, they just triggered weariness. He’d had enough of political tribalism, and all its accompanying bullshit.
Anyone suggesting the PM was dazzling was high up the trigger list.
‘We’re done,’ he said, laying down the scissors and whipping the cape away from Tortington-Davies’s neck.
‘I don’t think we are.’
‘That’ll be twenty-five pounds, please. You can pay Igor on your way out.’
Tortington-Davies gave Barney a long slow look, the kind that usually crushed the newbie MPs in the House, but which had no effect on Barney, and then he looked at the price list.
‘I doubt you gave me any sort of haircut at all,’ he said, ‘but look at the board. Haircut, eleven pounds.’ He paused, then he repeated, slowly, ‘Eleven.’
‘And at the bottom of the board it says Specials, twenty-five pounds. The Tony Blair is a special. And look in the mirror, you have Tony Blair’s hair.’
‘I already had Tony Blair’s hair when I came in here, damn you.’
‘That you will have it when you leave is what matters. Twenty-five pounds, please.’
Tortington-Davies contemplated the scam, contemplated making a scene, then reached into his pocket, took out his wallet, extracted twenty-five pounds and held it forward.
‘Igor will take the money,’ said Barney, and Tortington-Davies turned away, grudgingly handed the cash to Igor, then grabbed his coat and stood at the door, looking back at the men of the shop.
‘This isn’t over,’ he said. ‘You will come and cut Boris’s hair. It’s time to decide who you are, Mr Thomson. Are you a patriot, or are you a leftist, liberal, workshy abecedarian?’
‘Oh, fuck off,’ said Barney.
‘You will –’
‘Out! Now!’ snapped Barney, walking towards him, as though willing to push him from the shop, and with that, Toby Tortington-Davies, MP for Terryandjune-on-the-Wold, walked away, too full of self-confidence to have a flea in his ear, already thinking about his next problem as he walked quickly along the seafront, back towards the helicopter pad.
The men of the shop watched him for a brief moment, he was soon out of sight, and then Barney said, ‘Dazzling. For God’s sake, what is wrong with these people?’ Then he opened the door, placed the stop at the bottom, and joined the others at the window.
‘Get some air in,’ he said after a while, and Keanu and Igor nodded, and slowly the ill-feeling of any room, after it’s been visited by a Tory MP, began to clear.

Apocalypse

Late afternoon, not long before closing time. The men of the shop had crossed the road. Barney and Igor were leaning on the white promenade wall, looking out over the calm blue sea, as it stretched south towards the tropics, while Keanu had jumped up and was sitting on the wall, similarly looking out on the great beyond. They’d each brought a mug of tea with them, and those mugs seemed to be refilling themselves.
There was nothing on the horizon bar the sparkle of clear, cool water. In the air, the smell of the sea blown in from distant lands, seagulls on the wing, a gentle breeze, and the promise of another long hot magical summer on the Clyde.
‘Doesn’t look like the apocalypse is coming today,’ said Keanu, after a while.
Igor looked along the sea front, one way and then the other. There were no cars in movement, only a few pedestrians abroad, little other sign of life. Late afternoon, and the town of Millport was still asleep. As it had been since 1977.
‘Arf.’
‘Yep.’
‘Perhaps, we’re already living through the real disaster,’ said Barney. ‘Worldwide devastation, the large-scale corruption of governments and business, the collapse of societal norms… a slow motion apocalypse.’
‘Hmm,’ said Keanu. ‘Sounds like a shit movie, though.’
‘Aye,’ said Barney. ‘There’s unlikely to be a sequel.’
‘Arf,’ said Igor, unusually talkative for a late afternoon.   
‘On the other hand,’ said Barney, indicating the flat calm, ‘this is exactly how disaster movies start. In fact, this is so exactly how disasters movies start, the odds of there being a tsunami, an earthquake, a giant meteor or one of your colossal sharkiraffes are pretty short.’
At that moment a gentle wave broke on the rocks beneath them, the noise hushed and subdued, becoming one with the calm air, before vanishing into nothingness.
 ‘Hmm,’ said Keanu, ‘you’re probably right. D’you think we should seek cover now, or wait to see what develops?’
‘Let’s give it a minute,’ said Barney.
A seagull cried as it circled overhead, and then wheeled away along the shore to look elsewhere for food.
‘What d’you think’s most likely?’ asked Keanu after a while.
‘Which natural disaster’s most likely?’
‘Aye.’
‘In Scotland?’
‘Aye.’
A beat, then Barney and Keanu said together, ‘Flood.’
‘The thing with disaster movie type disasters,’ said Keanu, ‘is that no one can see them coming, except one mad scientist played by Paul Giammati or John Malkovich or someone, and then the volcano explodes, or the fault line ruptures, or the thing does the thing, and it’s like, shit, didn’t see that coming.’
‘So, look up the scientist guy,’ said Barney. ‘Then we’ll be able to prepare.’
‘Trouble is, how do you tell the practical, sensible scientist from the million nutjobs? And that’s the problem with the Internet; the nutjobs have all been amplified. In fact, it’s worse, because your logical science guy is an actual logical scientist, and he’s just working away quietly in his lab, submitting reports to Holyrood and Westminster and the UN, and those reports are being ignored, and he goes home and frets about it, but he’s had to put up with it all his working life, so he’s phlegmatic, and just becomes, if possible, even quieter. Meanwhile the nutjob is screaming the place down, and it’s all you can hear, so you just think, yeah, there’s nothing to worry about, just some nutjob saying the world’s about to end, so you ignore them, and then before you know it that wee hill outside New Cumnock, which you always thought was a bing, turns out to be a supervolcano and everyone dies.’
‘Hmm,’ said Barney. ‘Same as everything really, be it politics or sport or whatever. The sensible person sits quietly in the corner, while the clown shouts to the heavens and everyone talks about them. Depressing really.’
‘And that’s why you never look at social media or listen to the news,’ said Keanu.
‘Arf!’
‘Yep.’
‘Maybe you’re right.’
For a while they sat, and stood, in silence, watching the placid arrival of the waves upon the shore. Away to their left a giant steel beast of a boat – carrying nuclear waste, to be buried in the depths of the Indian Ocean, where it would awaken a sleeping monster – began to emerge from behind Farland Point, as it moved slowly away from Hunterston docks.
‘Haw, you lot!’ came a shout from across the road, and they turned to see Old Man McGuire, standing outside the shop, waiting to be admitted for that week’s Pinochet Retro Disconnected Undercut. ‘Any possibility of a man getting a haircut around here?’
Barney smiled across the road.
‘You’re up, kid,’ he said to Keanu, and Keanu downed his mug of tea, swung his legs over the wall, and trotted quickly across the road, Igor in his wake, ready to take McGuire’s swab test.
‘You, eh?’ said McGuire to Keanu. ‘Suppose you’ll have to do.’
Barney watched them for a moment, this small burst of activity to round out the afternoon, then turned away and looked back out to sea. Another day more or less in the bag. Seventeen customers, including Old Man McGuire, but not including Twatington-Smythe of the Incompetent Party. A regular, solid day of lockdown activity.
He lifted his mug, he drank his tea, the sea continued to touch the shore, the birds cried in the clear blue sky, and out there in the wide, wide world, the great disaster movie that was twenty-first century planet earth, lurched relentlessly onwards towards the final act.