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[SCENE: The back room of the Brass Monkey.]

Tori: Hello you two. Oh dear, what long faces. You must be talking about the website.

James: We’re having an editorial meeting.

Tychy: It’s all rather tiresome Victoria…. Maybe you should pop into the cinema den for a bit…

Tori: Is the readership down again? I thought that things were going very well.

James: There are lots of readers, it’s just that not many of them are quite of the calibre which the website expects.

Tychy: We should programme in some sort of pop-up window, so that when people click on the website they have to complete a brief I.Q. test before they can proceed. Just to winkle out the retards.

Tori: Retards? Your readers surely aren’t that bad?

Tychy: Most of them are just interested in the cartoons.

James: Aye, I think that the only thing which we’re agreed upon is that the cartoons are shit.

Tychy: They’re now really, really bad….

Tori: So what are you in disagreement about?

James: Well I thought that the website should try and appeal to tourists, especially American visitors to Edinburgh. We could not only provide information about popular Edinburgh tourist attractions, but present this information in a historical context and supplement it with some erudite commentary.

Tori: That sounds very commendable…

James: And so I sent Zbigniew off to review Rosslyn Chapel, but he got drunk in Roslin’s Royal Bar and wrote a very disrespectful account of the chapel…

Tychy: It was the cold, hard truth…

James: It was like something written by a teenager… full of immature, obnoxious anti-Americanism and undergraduate atheism.

Tori: That strikes me as out of character, because your website has often observed atheist intolerance. Take “The Christians” for example…

James: I wrote most of that one, or rather I constructed it from Zbigniew’s notes. The spectre at that feast was Sarah Palin. The reviling of Palin throughout the blogosphere last year was ferocious. Of course, John McCain’s selection of Palin probably cost him the election: it was a retreat from a potentially rejuvenated Republican politics and a concession to the depleted agenda of the Christian right. But Palin was a nobody. Little was known about her character and opinions. The blogosphere collectively undertook a sort of forensic investigation, putting the few remarks she had made in public under powerful microscopes and magnifying them into monstrous utterances. One would have thought that the Spanish Inquisition was back in town. Significantly, one of the first apparent insights into Palin’s character – a list of books which she had wanted banned from an Alaskan library – turned out to be a hoax…

Tori: But this sort of thing goes on in all elections…

James: Yes, but the reviling of Palin took heart from the rise of an unexpectedly fashionable “New Atheism,” a body of largely apolitical activism which intends merely to annoy people. The celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins enjoys great popularity, although he is hardly an original thinker – he’s just a hack, really. His rational dismissals of creationism may have been brave if they were published in the eighteenth century, but today he just seems to be shooting fish in a barrel…

Tori: But you are also an atheist…?

James: Yes, but for me atheism is a wonderful privilege, it’s like enjoying a sundrenched holiday from history. Modernity has extended a way of life to me which would not have been possible for many of my ancestors without a great deal of inconvenience and unpleasantness. And why cannot atheists take a hearty pleasure in life – like David Hume munching away on turtle whilst the rest of Edinburgh marched off to church – rather than using philosophical ideas mischievously, as a feather-duster to tickle people?

Tychy: Hume was a deist, not an atheist….

James: My point is that I cannot abide these student who nestle smugly in their atheism, these smarty-pants, goody-two-shoes atheists who like nothing more than to give people a good telling off for wearing a crucifix at work, or for making schoolchildren sing hymns, or for banning homosexuals from their churches. Some writers and bloggers seem to take it upon themselves to police civic life for any departure from established atheist principles, as if that was their very purpose as citizens…

Tychy: I think that you are too complacent. I come from Poland where the Catholics made abortion illegal…

James: Really?

Tori: I don’t believe you.

Tychy: It’s legal in certain circumstances, such as if the pregnancy was the result of rape or if the mother’s life would be threatened by childbirth. A group of Dutch feminists actually sailed an “abortion boat” around the Polish ports situated within international waters, offering health advice and abortion pills. But it’s here that your smarty-pants atheists are required, because there is some measure of public support behind Poland’s abortion laws – possibly a majority are in favour of them – and there is consequently a ferocious public debate over abortion. I’m only angered when outsiders want to interfere. The European Court of Human Rights, for example, will make some ruling which says “sorry everybody, but actually you don’t really have a say over what happens in your country, for you democracy means some occasional, largely-inaudible squeaks…”

James: This is good. You should write about this for the website.

Tori: You have featured some eye-catching political writing recently, particularly “Tramorama”…

Tychy: I think that I wrote that one…

Tori: Although it seems a bit risky forecasting that the trams will be a disaster, when they may become popular once they are finally built. The Scottish Parliament was every pontificator’s favourite punchbag for a while, but once the building was finished, the public rather approved of it and the tap of vitriol had to be turned off.

James: But the trams are indefensible. The city… indeed the whole country… needs a massive investment in public transport: high speed trains which can travel from London to Edinburgh in two hours – the technology has existed for years; the nationalisation of bus companies, particularly in Edinburgh which is one of the few European capitals to have buses instead of a tube system; a state-subsided crash in bus and train fares; a national scheme to provide bicycles for schoolchildren. If these policies were implemented then the British economy would start to sing. And what does Edinburgh give us instead? Trams – technology from the 1920s – an obsolete stage in the evolution of buses. No doubt that people will soon swap their cars for horse-and-carriages, and that we’ll next have sedan-chairs in place of taxis…

Tychy: I never thought that anybody in Edinburgh City Council sincerely believed in the tram project. The trams seemed to be inflicted upon the people of Edinburgh as a rather spiteful punishment for voting against congestion charging in a local referendum. The attitude seemed to be “well you had the chance for a progressive transport system, but you blew it! And so now we’ll all have to be subjected to trams, as a result of your stupidity. And we’re not having a referendum on this – oh no! – you’ve had your chance…”

Tori: No, they would have built even more trams if their congestion charging scheme had been approved. The anarchy raging presently on Leith Walk and Princes Street gives us just a tiny glimpse of an averted future. They have apparently closed Princes Street, the city’s centrepiece shopping thoroughfare, from February to November – in order to install a couple of tram lines!

James: It’s a moneymaking scam. Those workers are digging up the street by day, and then creeping back at night to fill in the holes again. They’re dragging it out for as long as possible… And the result of all this will be to make public transport more expensive for ordinary people – tram fares are forecast to be just as frightful as those of the buses (£1.20 for a single). Perhaps I’m a very old fashioned socialist, but I have always assumed that public transport should be free…

Tori: So why don’t you write about this on your website? In the light of this fury, your website seems oddly apolitical.

James: The book reviews frequently address political themes…

Tychy: I honestly don’t care to write about politics. But this is what we were arguing about. He packs the website with reviews of arcane books and dreary tourist attractions – and those eye-wateringly bad pictures – whilst my fiction, the only part of the website which is any good, is buried within the dung-heap.

James: That’s very unfair. The most popular article on the website in recent weeks has been the review of Imagined Communities…

Tychy: I can only imagine the geeks and bores who flock to the website to dribble over that review. Listen, Poland is thriving at the moment…

James: Oh no Zbigniew…

Tori: Come on, you don’t really mean it….

Tychy: News reaches me that Poland is one of the few countries which is not really suffering from your recession. I don’t see why I should confine myself to this pigsty of a city for much longer…

James: The pound is so low at the moment that you’d lose a fortune if you returned to Poland.

Tychy: You’re smart, eh?

Tori: He’s right Zbigniew. Stay in Edinburgh for a little while longer…

Tychy: Well, I can only say that the website better improve. Come, let us drink to the future!

Omnes: The future!