The Envelope

You have been chosen.

Richard was sick of it. He was sick of his routine, his job, his flat, his ready meals, he was just sick of all of it. He wanted a change. Not something as drastic as moving to another country or becoming an astronaut or anything daft like that, but something. Just… Well… An adventure.

So imagine how his curiosity piqued when he returned home from work one day to find that an envelope had appeared on the kitchen surface. It hadn’t been posted through the letterbox, it had been placed very carefully and very deliberately onto the surface where he’d be sure to find it. There were no signs of a break in, the windows and door had all been closed and locked and he was certain that nobody had a spare key, because getting spares cut for his newly installed locks had been on his to-do list for over a month, but he hadn’t been bothered to sort it out. And even if he had left a window open he was still 5 floors up.

Richard dropped his rucksack to the floor and put his keys on the kitchen surface before picking up the envelope and examining it. It looked important. It was jet black, made of thick material and Richard could tell that it was of really high quality. It even smelled nice. The silver calligraphic writing simply read “Richard”. He spun it around in his hands to look at the back and saw exactly what he hoped he would: The envelope was sealed with red wax and stamped with the sender’s seal, just like in the films. This really did look important.

He lifted the envelope to have a closer look. The impression in the wax where the seal had been stamped resembled an unfamiliar coat of arms: A howling wolf emblazoned in the centre of a shield, at the base of which was a snake, coiling around the rest of the emblem and constricting it. It sent shivers down Richard’s spine. It almost appeared to be moving.

With a trembling hand, he tore open the top of the envelope and lifted the letter from within. He took a deep breath and begun to read:

“Richard,

You have been chosen to attend an exclusive dinner party at Nethermoor Manor tonight, courtesy of our benefactor, Mr X. Mr X helps those who seek change, adventure and to break the monotony of day to day life.

You and a small group of similarly fortunate individuals can rest assured that the time of your lives awaits you and that the cuisine will be to die for.

Be prompt at 7:30pm with your invitation”

“Fuck that”, thought Richard, binning the letter and envelope. “Sounds sketchy as fuck.” Then he went to take a shit while he signed up for a jobsite account.

He switched on the news the next morning and saw the headline ‘7 Dead in Nethermoor Manor Massacre’. Richard shook his head.

“Sketchy as fuck.”

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Keep On Spinning

Through thick and thin.

Arnold was in a contemplative mood. He got like this sometimes, especially in particularly trying circumstances. It wasn’t just that he and his girlfriend had been recently torn apart that made these particular circumstances so trying, but it was certainly a major factor. Arnold looked over to his front door and sighed. He found at times like this that it helped immensely to get a bit existential. He put his problems into perspective by thinking of the bigger picture.

He considered that if he had kept on breathing through thick and thin for 26 years, through the first pet he saw pass away, his first argument with a friend and his first heartbreak, he wouldn’t stop now. Not because of this.

He considered that if humanity and it’s evolutionary line had kept on surviving through thick and thin for hundreds of thousands of years, through natural disasters and World Wars and thrived in this world to the point that we could harness the power of the sun, the sea and the wind and even fly through the air in metal tubes, with the audacity to complain because a baby’s crying on the seat in front while you’re hurtling through the sky eating peanuts and watching clouds pass by your window, and if we’ve put men on the moon and satellites in space… No, we wouldn’t stop now. Not because of this.

He considered that if the Earth had kept on spinning away on it’s axis through thick and thin for over 4.5 billion years, through dinosaurs, ice ages and even humanity, it wouldn’t stop now. Not because of this. This moist blue marble was oblivious and uncaring towards Arnold’s problems. It had been spinning when he was just a glint in the eye of some prehistoric aquatic organism and it’d be spinning after he was gone. It’d be spinning long after everyone was gone.

The thought certainly gave him some perspective but that’s not to say he wasn’t sad. He was bound to be, circumstances being what they were. Arnold’s ears pricked up and he looked towards the front door once again, certain that he heard a rustling from just outside. After a moment though he wasn’t so certain and returned to his thoughts. Sure, some would tell him to “grow a pair” or “man up” at the notion of being sad, but they could all fuck off. It was 2018. Men had every right to be sad for fucks sake, especially in circumstances such as this.

Arnold considered his grandfathers. Even men of the “stiff upper lip” era must’ve been sad sometimes. And what about their grandfathers? And theirs? And theirs? They’d all have been through the exact same experiences. They’d all have had good times and bad, been happy and sad, laughed and cried. Most would’ve even experienced heartbreak. They’d all come through it. They’d all passed on their genes and in time passed away, thus ensuring the survival of the human race. All the way back down the evolutionary line. They’d all been through the same old mixed bag. And they’d all risen from the dead.

As the banging and moaning started Arnold looked towards his front door once again. They’d caught his scent and they’d soon be inside the house. Rifle in one hand and nursing the wound in his chest with the other, he climbed gingerly to his feet and waited. He’d run for long enough and he was sick of it. Raising the gun and putting his eye to the scope, the momentary thought of surrender flashed across his mind.

“Not now.” Thought Arnold as the door burst open. “Not because of this.”

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The Mark Knopfler Conspiracy

All I do is keep the beat and bad company

You know when you just have the sudden need to listen to a certain song for no reason at all? Even sometimes a song that you’ve not heard in a number of years? I’ve got that today. I’ve got a real urge to listen to Dire Straits’ 1981 classic “Romeo and Juliet”.

I soon find the song on spotify on my phone and touch the play button at the bottom of the screen. The famous guitar riff starts playing through the tinny iPhone speakers. Speaker quality doesn’t matter for a song like this though. You could listen to it through a cup on the end of a string and it’d be just as beautiful a composition. What a classic. What a fucking belter.

I thoroughly enjoy the first verse. Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler really outdid himself with the lyrics. My tension builds as verse leads to chorus. The little drum fill beneath “Anyway, what you gunna do about it”, it’s really excellent songwriting. It’s only when the song gets to the chorus that I do a double take.

…Juliet, the dice was loaded from the start…

Sorry? “The dice was loaded”? Did Mr Mark Knopfler just sing “The dice was loaded”? I have to rewind to be sure. I clumsily drag the bar back a bit with my thumb to skip back to before the chorus started. I overshoot it of course and wind up earlier in the song than I intended.

But then when we get to the chorus, there it is again. “The dice was loaded from the start”. I can’t believe it. I have to pause the song just to process this.

Knopfler was no fool when he wrote this song. He’s an educated guy. Surely he knew even then that “Dice” is the plural of “Die”? Surely the correct line would be either “The die was loaded from the start” or “The dice were loaded from the start”. And even if he hadn’t come across that particular nugget of vocabulary knowledge, didn’t any of the other Straits lads have a word? Or even if they didn’t, didn’t they have proof readers for this type of thing? This was an international hit for crying out loud.

I don’t understand. I just don’t. It’s such a great song, how does something like this slip through the net to piss me off? There’s only one thing for it. I do what anyone in my situation would do. I get on twitter.

Can’t believe that @MarkKnopfler sings ‘The dice was loaded’ in Romeo & Juliet. How did this happen?! Dice is plural, Mark!

I hit the tweet button and send my message off into the ether, glad of the new extended character limit that actually allows me to say what I want to say without resorting to abbreviating every other word. I know it’s unlikely he’ll read it and even more unlikely that he’ll respond, but it’s worth a shot.

I just sit there for a while, stewing. 10 minutes since my tweet, no replies, no likes, no retweets. It’s the same after 20 minutes, and then 30. Almost 40 minutes after though, I receive a personal message on twitter. It isn’t from Knopfler, but it is from ‘@UMusicPub_UK’ or ‘Universal Music Publishing Group UK’ in normal analogue language. The message simply says “Leave it alone”.

I’m incensed. “Leave it alone”?! Who the fuck do these people think they are? And why isn’t Mark Knopfler fighting his own bloody battles? I get that he may not want everyone realising the flaw in his vocals, I really do. Once someone tells you something like that you can’t un-notice it and it might ruin the song for some people. But they can’t just send little messages telling me to shut up. This is 2017, and as a person with strong opinions over trivial things, I have the right, nay – the duty, to bombard everyone else with my “2 cents” at every opportunity.

But then I have another thought. What if they aren’t trying to shut me up to avoid embarrassment, but to cover up something bigger. Something much bigger. Curious, I do a little internet digging into UMusicPub. I find that they didn’t actually publish Romeo & Juliet for Dire Straits, although they do own the company that did: A company called “Vertigo Records”.

I get to work. I start by googling “dice was loaded”, but the first page of results just shows me videos of R&J and pages of lyrics and guitar tablature and so on. “Vertigo records” and “dire straits conspiracy” are similar dead ends.

No luck there, so I go analogue. I grab a sheet of plain paper and write the individual letters that make up “dice was loaded” in a large circle. I’ve always been told that this was the best way to solve anagrams and I tend to agree. I probably sit there for about half an hour trying to make up a phrase that’ll make sense of all of this. The best I come up with is “Decade Was Idol” but it doesn’t make much sense. Mark Knopfler worshipped the 70’s maybe? Thought that the decade should be idolised? Nah, not for me. But then I start to look for what I expect to see, instead of just looking for random words that I can make. What do I expect to see? Well, if I’m solving a code, where are secret codes traditionally used most? In wars.

But which war would Mark Knopfler have been writing secret lyrical codes about in 1980?” You ask. Well, it wouldn’t have been a past war, because why would he still need to use a code if the war was over? It couldn’t be the Falklands War as that wouldn’t start for another couple of years. And that’s when it hits me: The Cold War. C-O-L-D. I have the letters for it. There’s no ‘R‘ for ‘War‘, but maybe ‘Cold W‘ is what they called it at the time? After several more minutes, I come up with “Cold W Eased Aid”.

My heart’s beating hard in my chest at this point. Could this be real? Could I be pulling a thread that actually leads somewhere?

I jump back on google, search for “Cold War 1980” and find a timeline for all the major events that made up the 45ish year long war. I look specifically around 1980, when R&J was written, and find 2 key events:

1.4th May 1979 – Margaret Thatcher is elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. This brought about the start of the end of the Coal Mining Industry. In the early 80’s there were rumblings that collieries would start to be closed down, with over a hundred thousand miners nearly going on strike in 1981 before actually performing one of the largest strikes in British history in the mid 80’s. The North of England was severely affected when the collieries were actually closed down, and industrial mining towns like Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, where Mark Knopfler grew up, were particularly affected. Maybe “Eased Aid” refers to the lack of support being given to Northern towns, who would ultimately be devastated by Thatcher’s election.

2.21st March 1980 – The United States and it’s allies agree to boycott the 1980 Olympics in Moscow to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. A large number of countries from around the globe joined America in not participating in the games, while 7 central European countries only elected not to participate in the opening ceremony. Ireland and The United Kingdom, again where Knopfler was born and raised, were unique in choosing to send one person each to join in the opening ceremony, before boycotting the games proper.

My hand trembles as I scroll down to see who it was that the UK sent to the opening ceremony. I feel like I’m getting close to deciphering the code. And then I see him. I see the name of the person we sent over to Moscow that day.

It’s all so clear now. Mark Knopfler knowingly made an error in his lyrics for Romeo and Juliet to make sure that everyone that looked closely enough saw the connection between The Cold War, Margaret Thatcher, and Richard Palmer, the man who represented his homeland at the 1980 Moscow Olympics Opening Ceremony.

Margaret Thatcher and Richard Palmer.

Margaret Thatcher was Dick Palmer.

Margaret Thatcher was a wanker.

Good one, Mark.

____________________

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The End of the World

True story. Ish.

Have you ever wondered how the world would end? Of course you have. Everyone has. Will the Earth be struck by a huge meteor that wipes us all out, or will Global Warming melt the ice caps, raising the sea level above all but the tallest mountains and drowning the entire world’s population? Not even close.

It actually all started when I was on my way to work. I’d just set off walking from my house, heading towards the train station on the outskirts of town (Doncaster in England). As I walked down the main road of my little village, I saw 2 lads on the other side of the road. They were probably about the same age as me: Mid-20’s-ish. They were walking side by side. “Probably a couple of mates”, I thought. “Probably just a couple of mates on their way to town”. The weird thing was though that they both had their heads down. They were both just looking at the floor silently. Not like a couple of mates at all. “Maybe they just aren’t used to being up this early”, I thought. “Maybe they’re still just half asleep and don’t feel like talking yet. Or hell, maybe one of them just got broken up with, or a family member just passed away. There are a million different reasons why these 2 lads would be walking in silence at half 8 in the morning with their heads down and their eyes staring at the floor. Anyway, it’s none of my business is it.”

And so I continued to just walk. By the way I realise that by normal people’s standards, half past 8 is not early at all, but I oversleep most days. I’ve just accepted it now. I accept that I’ll be last into work and last out. I was even late for my late train this particular morning. I was trying to rush to the station because I’d left my house 10 minutes too late and was running the risk of missing the late train I catch. That would be unacceptable, although it had happened once or twice before. But that was the risk that I often ran. That’s just me. It’s just how it goes. It’s just my lot in li… I glanced back over at these lads and they were still just walking along side by side. Staring at the ground. Silently.

“I’ll cross over the road”, I thought. “That’ll do it. I’ll cross over the road and walk in front of them. Then it won’t bother me that they’re acting so strangely. Out of sight, out of mind.” So I did. I looked right, and then left, and then right again. The coast was clear, so I crossed the road and continued walking on the other side. The lads were behind me now.

The thing is, as quickly as I was walking to catch my train, the one that I had set off late to catch and was still running the risk of not catching, these lads were a fair bit taller than me. Their legs were a bit longer, and so their strides were a bit longer. Over the next few horrifying seconds they started to catch up with me. They emerged over my right shoulder at first, but then before I knew it, they were both walking alongside me, and I alongside them. We were now a line of 3.

My stomach turned as I made the realisation. I was trapped. I couldn’t walk faster than these lads, on account of their longer natural gait. I couldn’t run away because they’d think me mad. If they saw me walking to the station the next day, they’d say “There goes that mad bastard again, let’s spread the word and have the community ostracise him.” I considered slowing right down and letting them pass me, like Luke Skywalker does on the speeder bike in Return of the Jedi, but I couldn’t afford to slow down and miss my train. My already really late train that would already get me into work at half past unacceptable. So I kept on walking. We kept on walking. We kept our heads down and we kept on walking. And that’s when I realised – These weren’t a couple of mates, suffering from an unusually early start or a breakup or a bereavement – These poor bastards were as trapped as I was.

By the time we reached the train station, we were a line of 6. We’d recruited another lad, a middle aged woman, and a little old lady on a mobility scooter. And when my turning came up, I realised that I didn’t want to leave. I was a part of something now. A fellowship. I couldn’t throw that away for work. So we kept on walking. We kept our heads down and we kept on walking.

By 6 o’clock that evening, we’d recruited the United Kingdom, Western Scandinavia, The Netherlands, Belgium, and parts of Northern France. By midday the next day, the whole world was walking. The whole world was walking in a straight line. We kept walking. We kept our heads down, and we kept on walking.

Eventually we all starved to death.

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