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.
‘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.
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?’
‘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.’
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.
‘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.’
‘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.