By April of 1997 (?), in South-East England, the process of waking from one’s sleep had been fully revolutionised and alarm clocks had gone out of fashion. It happened very quickly, as if the alarm clocks themselves were quite satisfied to be released of service and altogether relieved that human beings had decided to rely once again on their natural inner clocks. In fact, on the twenty-first of April 1997 (?) whilst the dusty remains of the Star Trek creator were launched into space to be ‘buried’, and whilst people were being hacked to pieces a quarter of the way across the earth in Algeria, a Disposal Site in the county of Surrey had a problem; a problem which somehow warranted a lead story on the 9 o’clock news — yes it didn’t get bumped back to the 10 o’clock news until 1998 (?), remember? The Chalkwell Disposal Site had experienced a huge increase in the amount of waste it processed because almost every household in the South-East had thrown at least four or five alarm clocks into the bin, and most of the clocks were chucked away with their batteries still intact.
So, at six o’clock that dewy morning, employees of the Chalkwell Disposal Site looked to the piles and mounds of grey, purple and metal waste in amazement as they heard the most out of tune, but also the most completely in-tune harmony ever sung by an abandoned group of clocks in a garbage dump. The droning beep-beep-beep-beep’s and beepbeep-beepbeep-beepbeep’s and be-be-be-beep-be-be-be-beep’s mingled with the even dronier droning of early morning chat shows which blurted from some of the radio alarm clocks. But all sounds were contorted and warped by surrounding items in the mountains of things-people-don’t-want-anymore such as banana skins and old sofas and scaly kettles and used condoms to form some kind of postmodern futuristic electronic mash-up. In his 2011 (?) autobiography, Thomas Huygens wrote: ‘I didn’t think it at the time, or at least I don’t think I thought it, for then I was only seven, but now I believe that the sound of that painful cacophony of dying clocks was old Time’s death rattle.’
It wasn’t, let me assure you. I should know.
Who am I?
The sounds mingled and warbled and wobbled their way onto the 9 o’clock news, where we now go live to Amelia Orwell who’s been at the Chalkwell site all day. Good old Amelia used the ‘Cucumber Report’ as a springboard to avoid snakes and climb the career ladder in a short amount of time to the high echelons of BBC reporting, for she was now Head of Current Affairs. It seems that all those involved in that famous initial ‘Cucumber Report’ experienced a period of immense fortune. James Huygens signed a record deal with EMI Records, Amelia rocketed to the peak of television reporting and even Steve the bald camera man had some luck as he was invited to film some scenes for the movie Full Monty where he met some invaluable contacts and in February of 1997 (?) released his first full-length, semi-pornographic film entitled Rip the ‘L’ out of Bald: an exploration of hair and fetishism.
‘The clocks have been ringing now for fifteen hours,’ said Amelia Orwell in front of an orange floodlit mountain of trash. ‘An elderly member of staff clocked off work early with a nosebleed, and other members of staff have been issued with earplugs. The noise can be heard for miles around, and even one lady, Mrs Panique, who lives forty miles away in Cucumis Corner, where all of this began, telephoned me earlier to say that the shrieking sound of the alarm clocks was keeping her awake at night, which was detrimental to her husband’s sleeping patterns as he was up panicking about the fact that his wife couldn’t get to sleep. This goes to show the music of the clocks have had quite an impact. Back to the Studio.’ This was the lead story on the 9 o’clock news. Amelia’s report on the dying clocks was followed by the story about the surreal Star Trek space burial, and then an item about council estate violence in Wales and then finally a report on the hacking and killing and bloodshed that was happening a quarter of the way across the world. The Revolution of Time had definitely caught the public eye.
But I feel we are moving too fast through a very important period of time, one that must not be easily jumped over or discarded. We return now to the morning of the ‘Cucumber Report’, back in the summer of 1996 (?). By ten o’clock that morning, the news teams from BBC, ITN, Sky News and Channel Four had all filmed their reports to be broadcast on the lunchtime news, and then the dinnertime news, and then the bedtime news. You see, back in 1996 (?), televisual news was brought to its viewers only four times a day; a perfect combination of food and news — four helpings of doom, gloom and the very occasional bloom. An extra scoop of peas for an extra scoop of sleaze, mum’s bound to knock the pot-handle if there’s a hot-scandal, extra leeks for extra leaks, slice the bloomer if there’s a rumour, start roasting the boar on the first signs of war. The main news report usually had the ability to tarnish or brighten a family meal as if it were an extra person at the table, like having a pervy misogynistic uncle or a bright hum-strum cousin over for dinner.
This was, of course, before a lot of things, before News 24, before instant text alerts and mobile internet — these were the early days of the internet for crying out loud; the days where 3G meant three grams and Wikipedia was probably just some African mutation of a centipede that didn’t mean anything because it was halfway across the world, and halfway across the world back then was a lot further than it is now. The Internet and the Revolution of Time had a very close relationship, and both started to mature at around the same time, like two very close friends, like two invisible, untouchable but very existent partners, like Khronos and his serpentine consort Ananke. Two new Gods for a new age. Two super-powerful and incomprehensively huge entities, spreading and sprawling and grabbing the globe like a contagious airborne infection, or a contagious airborne cure. Or maybe both? Or maybe just infection? Or maybe just cure?
I don’t know everything.
The idea of tele-technology as the cure for humanity’s various and multitudinous problems is not particularly new. Once upon a time, optimist-philosophers believed that wars were fought because one group of people didn’t understand another group of people, because they were too far apart from one another. And so, from 1830 (?) onwards, in a quest for world peace, distance was conquered by modernity with tele-grams and -graphs and -comms and -phones and -visuals to bind all nations of the earth together with one huge tele-umbilical cord. The telegraph was beeped into the public realm by Samuel Morse, and the phil-optimists saw the invention as a ‘miracle’, the beginning of universal peace where old prejudices and hostilities no longer exist, while such an instrument has been created for an exchange of thought between all. Similar techno-utopian visions were prophesized when the telephone talked-the-talk-without-the-need-to-walk, and phil-optimists were amazed, thunderstruck, bamboozled — this was going to be the Golden Age, the only way to unite the world is to shrink it, they said. And then came pagers where you were meant to page the world better, and then mobile phones where you were meant to text the world better, and then the internet where you were meant to surf together in one huge ocean of happiness. This didn’t happen, but the phil-and-techno-optimists must be commended for their display of hopefulness and, in fact, it should be noted that they were incredibly helpful in the commercial success of Thomas’ 2010 (?) MindGlasses®.
The history of modernity and all things that begin with the prefix tele- (including tubbies, especially tubbies) unfortunately and ironically, in contrast with their inventors’ best intentions, have torn the world even further apart. Now everything is too close together. A shrunken world becomes easily claustrophobic. But what about the history of Time, and what about the Revolution of Time? Yeah, what about those things? Was the Revolution of Time a cure or an infection? An infection or a cure? We shall see.
All in good time, as they say.
I’m not always good.
For now, in 1996 (?) it is early, early days for both the Revolution of Time and its companion The Internet. Two new Gods for a new age — but Gods on the leash of humans; two immensely uber-powerful forces in the fleshy hands of human beings.
Thomas was one of those hands.
Oh yes, Thomas! I almost forgot about him.
Am I guilty of omitting him from his own story?
Well, no more. Time must be devoted to Thomas. Ticks and tocks make up plots, I must remember that. Maybe someone else should be telling this story. No. Silly thoughts, silly thoughts. Onwards. After all, Thomas was the main hand pushing and demanding and waving forward the Revolution of Time. It began in the summer of 1996 (?) with vomit and cucumbers, and it continued with a second rage against the ticking of the clocks.
On the morning of the ‘Cucumber Report’, Thomas woke up at the preposterous time of ten minutes to one in the afternoon, except he didn’t realise, as he swept sleep from his eyes, the sheer preposterous-ness of awakening at this time because his bedroom was a clock-free zone; a time-free zone. He felt more awake than ever before! Although, to a seven-year-old ‘ever before’ isn’t exactly a long amount of time — ‘ever before’ was probably yesterday, because for a child of that age yesterday is forever ago, and tomorrow is forever away.
It was the middle of the summer holidays and Mrs Huygens usually gave Thomas a wake-up nudge at around ten o’clock, but this morning she hadn’t. Thomas thought this was odd, but decided, with his lack of clock-knowledge that he must have woken up early which was brilliant because there were many plans for this day — plans that involved sitting at the bottom of the garden with his voice, some paper and some animals, and finding out what exactly happened yesterday, and whether it would happen again.
Downstairs, there was laughter and music. As Thomas walked out of his bedroom onto the landing, he started to think that maybe he was still dreaming. There was laughter and music. Coming from downstairs. Blurring and whirring. Sounds and music and laughter trotting up the stairs to meet Thomas, to slap him round the face. This must be a dream, he thought, if so, it’s very real. Happy sounds and happy music and happy laughter. Why was everyone so happy, and why was there an everyone? Thomas had never heard so much noise in his house. He didn’t think his house was capable of producing this much noise, this much happiness. Laughter and sounds and now cheering, and now clapping. This must be a dream. And now, and now, and now another sound; a ringing, a dinging, a chiming. Thomas snatched a look at the wall. Seven or eight clocks beamed a big fat one o’clock smile, a smug afternoon grin. Seven or eight Cheshire Cats. One o’clock? How was it one o’clock? A chorus of chimes and rings and dings called loudly throughout the house. Oh I must be dreaming, thought Thomas. He suddenly felt a pain in his stomach. The clocks continued smiling as if they had accomplished something real good like winning the clock-lottery or sleeping with the very delicious French rococo clock.
Thomas was drawn towards the downstairs sounds, and with every step down the staircase the volume twitched a little louder. There were loads of people — at least twenty — talking and smiling and laughing and chin-chining champagne glasses in the spacious living room. None of them noticed Thomas. James was in the corner joking with some black-suited businessmen that Thomas didn’t recognise. The zimmerframe sisters Grace Diss and May Diss who lived in the very first house of Cucumis Corner were in conversation with Mr and Mrs Panique, who as usual were biting their finger nails over something trivial. Desmond Frude, Thomas’ school teacher and his wife Mary were sitting on the sofa in front of the television. Yes the television! Why is the television on, thought Thomas, they never have it on at dinner parties. How strange. Mrs Huygens was stood at the back of the room, next to (almost hiding behind) the tall grandfather clock, chatting to Reverend Boirchoy, and bachelor Mr Horstrop from Cambridge was flirting with stable owner Mrs Marshall-Brown, and Mr Huygens — waitoneminute, Mr Huygens? Dad? Why is he here? thought Thomas, this must be a dream, this must be a dream; dad’s never home at one o’clock. The pain in Thomas’ stomach disappeared. This must be a dream.
‘It’s starting!’ boomed the deep velvet voice of Desmond Frude.
‘It’s on, it’s on,’ squealed James. ‘Dad, it’s on.’
Everyone crowded around the reasonably-sized television in the corner of the room — everyone except Thomas that is. He was too small to see through the small crowd.
‘This better be good,’ sneered May Diss.
‘Oh it will be, I assure you,’ replied Mr Huygens.
‘I think I left the s-s-stove on,’ panicked Mrs Panique.
What’s on? What’s starting? What better be good? Thomas was confused. What if they had somehow found out about the magpies and the bumblebee and the butterflies? But they couldn’t have, there was no evidence — well, the evidence had quite literally vanished. Yes, but what about the sick, he had run straight inside and brushed his teeth seven times - he had forgotten to clear up the vomit. What if somebody knew, what if somebody had seen.
Still, nobody had noticed the poor little lad sitting on the stairs — nobody human that is, for the clocks noticed him, they always tracked his movement, or so he thought. Always watching, always judging, always ticking but never acting. Just like me. The clocks seemed to stare at Thomas more than ever after their earlier victory of forcing him to oversleep. But he hadn’t overslept, that’s right, he hadn’t — he was still dreaming. He had to be. This had to be a dream. He looked again at the crowd of smartly dressed people in his living room. His father was standing beside the television, delivering a short speech, and now his father was joking, yes joking, and mentioning something about a gigantic cucumber — at which point Thomas started to scream and shout and shake his arms and stomp his feet and shout some more at the top of his voice, his lungs at full capacity, not because he was frightened of the words ‘gigantic cucumber’ but because he was now one hundred per-cent certain that this was a dream, for why would his father talk of such ridiculous things anywhere other than in the dream world. He shouted and screamed, hoping to wake up.
He opened his eyes. He was still at the bottom of the stairs in the living room. The group of people gave him a quick glance over the shoulder — ‘it must be all the excitement’, ‘is he alright?’ ‘It’s the s-stove, what if the house is burning down’ — before resuming their collective gaze at the tele-box and Mr Huygens who continued his speech without even acknowledging Thomas’ presence in the room. Mrs Huygens snuck from the back of the gathering like a shadow and scooped Thomas into the kitchen where she smacked his seven-year-old bottom. This act of casual child abuse confirmed to Thomas that he was not dreaming, because he remembered his grandfather saying once that you’re meant to pinch yourself to detect whether you are actually awake.
‘What the hell are you playing at child?’ Mrs Huygens whisper-shouted.
‘Why didn’t you wake me?’
‘All of our neighbours and friends are in that room Thomas, how dare you interrupt your father like that, especially on such a big occasion.’
‘What’s an occasion?’ asked Thomas.
‘Just get in there, I’ll deal with you later.’
‘Why are they all watching the TV? Has Aunt Millie been on Ground Force again?’
‘No, not Millie. Your father and brother have been, and it’s very important to them that we watch it. Come along now.’
‘What?’ said Thomas, frowning. ‘When were they on Ground Force, has our garden been re-decorated? I didn’t miss Alan Blue-tit did I?’
‘On the news. Whilst you were asleep.’
The thin, straggly Mrs Huygens grabbed her youngest child by the wrist and practically dragged him into the living room. Mr Huygens had returned to his front-row seat and the room was hushed as the television spoke in a serious BBC Newsreader voice: ‘that report there from Mark Carlton in Belfast. We now move from IRA bombings to something a lot less harmful: cucumbers. (‘This is us,’ shouted James.) Amelia Orwell was in Surrey this morning to investigate this most bizarre happening. This is definitely one to watch.’
The gathering of neighbours and friends watched the premiere of the ‘Cucumber Report’ as if it were an odd hybrid between a firework display and a wedding, or maybe a christening, or a birthday party, or all of those things but on bonfire night. There were ooooh’s and aaaahs and delighted, awestruck, wonderful faces. Mr Frude clapped, Mrs Panique gasped and James jumped up and down. It wouldn’t have been a huge surprise if one of them whipped out some cucumber-shaped confetti. At the end of the report, just seconds after the grand finale of James singing ‘You Sexy Thing’ Thomas bounced in front of the television and shouted, ‘I did it! I made the cucumber grow, I did it. I did it!’
‘What?’ roared Mr Huygens. ‘No you stupid boy. This is the work of God. He did this. Only he could have done this — you stupid boy, go back upstairs.’
Mrs Panique stood up and offered the following babble: ‘Attention se-se-seeking, just like my S-s-s-tan at the s-same age. He came home one day and dis-is-is-isputed the tale of Noah’s Ark. He s-s-s—said there was no poss-s-sible way Noah could have got all the sp-sp-sp-spe-species of animals on that Ark. Attention s-seeking, I tell you.’
‘Blasphemy!’ coughed Mr Panique in agreement.
‘I did it,’ insisted Thomas. ‘I was sick by the ‘cumber patch yesterday. I did it!’
Mr Huygens chuckled. ‘So you think you are more powerful than our God? Even if it was possible to scientifically grow a vegetable that large — do you really think it could be grown that quickly? Do you think you have the power to speed up time, Thomas? You are a stupid boy.’
‘One minute Marcus,’ piped up Mr Frude. ‘Hear the poor lad out, at least?’
‘He is disrespecting his own religion. No child of mine will become an atheist Desmond — I won’t let him make a rod for his own back. Enough of this nonsense. Thomas, get out of my sight. Somebody bring some more champers in. Are the salmon goujons quite ready yet?’