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[SCENE: Still not a pub. We are in the living room of Zbigniew Tycienski’s Newington apartment. James is sitting alone at the dining table, watching some footage on a laptop.]

David Lynch [on the screen]: Here we go for today’s number. It’s January eleven, two thousand twenty one. [He rattles a glass jar at the camera.] Ten balls. Each ball has a number…

[James glances hungrily at a bottle of Cointreau that has been placed next to the laptop. A cluster of shot glasses stands waiting beside it.]

Lynch: Swiiiiiiiiirl the numbers. [He hunches over the jar, blinking in deadpan absorption]. Pick a number! [He produces a small plastic ball from the jar and he then peers at it as though he is scrutinising some hieroglyphics]. Today’s number is: one thousand, two hundred and forty-three.

Boris Johnson [stepping up to his lectern]: So I’d like to thank David for joining us to announce today’s COVID-19 fatalities.

[James gazes in dismay at the Cointreau; he reaches out as if wishing to touch it but he then withdraws his hand swiftly.]

Johnson: And of course our hearts go out to all of those who have lost a friend or a loved one etcetera, etcetera.

Voice from off-screen: Can you please not read out the “etceteras” next time, Prime Minister.

Johnson: We will now turn to the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, for our daily update.

 [A man with a face that is crumpled like an old paper bag appears on the screen. Something about the petrified way in which he is standing means that he bears a disconcerting resemblance to the Grim Reaper. The air around him looks seventy degrees cooler than that in the rest of the room.]

Whitty: Thank you. Next slide please. I’d like to commence my update today by singing a song to you. I’d like for you to all follow along to the actions at home. [He begins to pat his head and swivel his hips.] Heads, shoulders, knees and toes knees and toes, Heads, shoulders, knees and toes knees and toes…

Johnson: I say Chris, this isn’t the message we’d agreed earlier…

Whitty: Next slide please. I’ve realised that even though I am chronically lacking in the charisma that is necessary to pull my job off, and most of the public by now have zero confidence in my fatalistic leadership, you’ve been stuck with me for so long that we’ve reached the point where there is literally nothing that I can do to get fired. To dispense with me would be to admit that you have been hitched up with the wrong guy all throughout this pandemic. Next slide please. And so I’m just going to issue nonsensical advice, because I can’t be bothered anymore. Repeat after me: Heads, shoulders, knees and toes knees and toes…

[Johnson begins to perform the dance as well, dutifully copying the actions.]     

[James closes the tab.]

James: Wow, one thousand, two hundred and forty-three. That’s quite a number. [He then bucks up and looks tremendously responsible]. To think that I would be living through a period of history when over a thousand of my fellow citizens were dying each day.

[Pablo scrambles suddenly through the window and collapses, grunting and wheezing on the floor.]

James: Goodness Pablo, the latest figure has just been announced. One thousand, two hundred and forty-three deaths.

Pablo [sitting up, scowling]: My God, that is a lot.

James [nodding solemnly]: One thousand, two hundred and forty-three deaths.

Pablo: The one thousand, two hundred and forty-three deaths, in the past hour. That we should have to see this, eh.

James: No Pablo, this is the daily number. Not the last hour, the last day.

Pablo [angrily]: You are still the lockdown sceptic, eh? You are saying it is only the one thousand deaths in the whole day? Well, let me tell you this: you can choose your own fagging opinions but you can’t choose your own facts. As if it would be only one thousand in the whole day! That they would make everyone be imprisoned in their houses for that! Fagging lockdown sceptic – you should wash your stupid mouth out with the hand sanitiser!

[There is more grunting and wheezing. Tori has climbed up through the next window along. She is having such difficulty because she is carrying an opened laptop under one arm. She places it on the floor and on the screen we can see the acclaimed National journalist Hutu the Clown. The clown’s fist is still inserted inside the rectum of his faithful political mascot, the Wee Ginger Dug.]

James: Hullo Hutu. How are you doing in these dire times?

Hutu: Partying every day. With this pandemic, the Scottish economy will be soon totally wrecked, everyone’s lives will be ruined, and then we will be finally on the cusp of fulfilling my lifetime’s ambition: a proud independent Scotland, standing completely on its own [DISCLAIMER: with its furlough money provided by the UK and with its vaccines also provided by the UK and with its fish stocks handed over immediately to the EU].     

Tori: I’m okay too…

James: Hard news about today’s fatalities, Hutu. One thousand, two hundred and forty-three deaths.

Hutu [spitting, apoplectic]: I’m sorry, which country is this?

James: The U…ah… oh, I see.

Hutu: You do not interest yourself in the death figures from France or Ireland or Denmark or any of our other European partners. I fail to see why you should make an exception for one small, random, neighbouring country that, as far as I can see, isn’t even in the EU anymore. If I may inquire of his lairdship, has he perchance troubled himself to watch the daily briefing from his own country today?

James: Of course, the death toll for Scotland was… er… I did… um… see it.

Pablo: It will be very small. Nobody lives in this fagging country. Seventeen?

Tori: No, no, it will be in the thirties or forties, Pablo. There is a degree of population density in Glasgow, for example.

Hutu [icily]: Fifty-four of your fellow citizens died from COVID-19 today, if you can bear to tear your gaze away from some entirely irrelevant foreign land. Fifty-four real people, with real lives.

James: Well, I’m very sorry for your… I mean, oh dear, for our… loss…

Hutu: I am commemorating all of these people by having them tattooed on me. [He pulls down his sleeve and brandishes his arm, the one that doesn’t end inside the dug. The others perceive that dense lines of ink have newly appeared across the skin.] Each one of these deaths is a stepping stone towards Scottish independence! With each one, I am nearer to my dream of a sovereign Scottish state, finally freed from the machinations of London rule! [DISCLAIMER: with the interest rates for its currency still set in London and with the most powerful Scottish politician on the island, and the one with the greatest influence over Scotland’s economy, probably being Anneliese Dodds, Labour’s shadow chancellor at Westminster.]

Tori: Hutu, thousands of people must have died from COVID-19 in Scotland. Do you really have all of their names tattooed on your arm? How can you possibly know them all?

[Hutu bears his arm nearer to the camera. The others suddenly catch sight of the words “EIGHTEEN, NINETEEN, TWENTY, TWENTY-ONE [etc.]” printed across the nearest portion of his skin.]

Hutu: Okay, so I don’t ken their names admittedly but each of them is much more than a number to me. Each one is a glorious brick in the historical foundations of our independent Scotland. The sacrifice that each one has made will bring us nearer and nearer to the eighteenth opinion poll that gives a decisive lead to YES!

Pablo: Eh man, if Boris…

Hutu: The prime Malingerer, this performance artiste whose stage name is Boris Johnson, this fetid malaria-swamp of post-imperialist delusion, this Eton mess of compulsive sociopathic arrogance!

Pablo: You are the poet, eh, just like your Robbie Burns. But if he doesn’t allow you the referendum, what do you do then?

Hutu: Why, I will be very cross indeed!

James: Pablo, the SNP has never been a revolutionary political party. Indeed, if they were ever prepared to break the law then they would be presumably inspired by a more interesting ideology than their bog-standard nationalism.

Hutu: I will be extremely cross! I will write several cross articles for the National and several more extremely cross articles for my blog The Wee Ginger Dug and next I will issue an even crosser edition of my podcast “Dugcast Fae the Dughoose,” and then there will be another particularly cross edition of my book, Barking Up The Right Tree, and then there will be the cross merchandise with a cross T-shirt and cross facemasks and a cross crowdfunder, where readers and listeners can donate using PayPal and…

Tori: I’m sorry Hutu but I’m afraid that Windows is suddenly shutting down for an automatic update.

Hutu: Oh it is, is it, sweetie? Well, just you wait until Nicola Sturgeon gives Scotland the biggest Windows update of them all and then you’ll hop the fuck off out of our… [Hutu vanishes from the screen as Tori shuts down the laptop.]

Pablo: Eh, if only it is possible to block Mister Clown and still see the dog. When he is talking I just watch the little dog and afterwards I can never remember what it is he has said.

[Tychy enters the room. He looks around sternly.]

 Tychy: Hello everybody. Can I ask if each of you entered through the correct window?

James: I was on the left.

Pablo: I was the next one. That one there.

Tori: Why exactly do we each need to climb in through a separate window? You are on the third floor, Biggy. It is hard for a gal to clamber so far up a drainpipe. And I am still out-of-sorts after such a difficult bir…

James: Shhh! We haven’t published the story about that yet, Tori. It’s still waiting in a big queue of things.

Tychy: We are a designated “blog bubble.” We are allowed to meet indoors but we cannot all come in through the same entrance as this might infect the door handle. You will also have to urinate out of the windows, to avoid us sharing a toilet.

Tori: The same window?

Tychy [severely] Separate windows!

Tori: Is a “blog bubble” genuinely a real thing? Or have you just made it up?

Tychy: Well, it could be a real thing. There are now so many hundreds of rules and thousands of exceptions to them that it is impossible for anybody to really check anymore. You would have to be some sort of autistic megalomaniac to hold all of the regulations in your mind.

James: To work, Biggy. You have been hunting for a while for a new editor for our website. This time I would like to nominate someone. They would be merely a guest editor, during the remainder of the pandemic, but they would bring their own fresh and alternative perspective.

Tychy: I dislike them already.

James [setting up Zoom meeting on his laptop]: So this is the Deplorables Denier-in-Chief Moriarty, the leader of Scotland Against Lockdown.

[On the screen there appears about three-hundred police officers in luminescent jackets, all of them squashed together like sardines in a can.]

James: Ladies! Gentlemen! Can you move aside please, so we can see the Denier-in-Chief?

Police Chief [shouting thickly]: Under emergency COVID legislation, this gentleman is legally required to inhale helium, in order to subtract credibility from his statements!

[The police shuffle aside, squashing together even more tightly, to reveal a fat man in Edinburgh Bargain Stores fancy-dress combat fatigues and trouser-shorts. He looks very pale and clammy, although most of his face is concealed enigmatically behind a Guido Fawkes mask.]

James: Hello Mr Moriarty. Please tell us what your leadership could bring to the Tychy website.

Moriarty [after slotting a pipe that is connected to a helium canister through the lips of his mask and taking a determined slurp]: We say No to the New Abnormal! We say No to compulsory vaccines!

Tychy [annoyed]: There are no compulsory vaccines.

Moriarty [after slurping again]: They aren’t compulsory because everyone is taking them. You need fifteen years normally to bring any pill to market. So how come they’ve spent only a few months manufacturing this vaccine?

Tychy: Because they’ve spent all of our children’s wealth on it?

Moriarty: What you don’t realise is that this vaccine alters our DNA!

Tori [disgusted]: It doesn’t alter our DNA. James, this guy is just an old woman telling fairy stories.

Tychy: You were implying that it didn’t take them long enough to design the vaccine and now you are saying that it is the most futuristic technology? You can hardly have it both ways.

James: Even if this technology could somehow possess your DNA and turn your own bodily fabric against you, isn’t it the case that the vaccine remains our only exit route out of the housefire? We’ve placed ourselves in a position where we either have the vaccine or the entire economy melts away into nothing. In such circumstances, isn’t the vaccine itself logically inoculated from any criticism from the very get-go?

Moriarty [taking an extra vigorous puff]: When you are all a slave army of biochemical cyborgs, marching into battle against fields of rogue GMO maize, on the behest of Bill Gates and his Pizzagate cringelings… When you are all screaming and crying because you can’t control how your own legs are being marched against your will… When you are forced to take part in demonic sacrifices of basements of trafficked children on Hillary Clinton’s express orders… When you find that your lips are forced to say that Michelle Obama is a woman when over five hundred independent, accredited scientists have confirmed that she is anatomically a man, then you will be sorry. You should listen to me before it’s too late!

James: Moving onto facemasks…

Moriarty [slurping deliriously]: We are opposed to mandatory facemasks… We… oh, my helium seems to be running low. [The Police Chief glares menacingly at him]. Can’t I just put on a high-pitched voice of my own, sir, without the helium?

Police Chief: I think that in these conditions, you are permitted to speak normally. Nonetheless the website that publishes your remarks will be required to issue them in the Comic Sans font.

James: No problem sir. We will comply fully.

Police Chief: I shall be checking.

Tychy: Do you agree with this, James?

James: I think that this is dickering over one of the smallest items on the bill. Sure, it shouldn’t be there, but it undermines our intellectual respectability if we get into such a lather about such a minor detail. You already have to wear clothing if you want to enter any shop in Scotland. Perhaps in the perfect libertarian society, we will be able to swan into our local Tesco totally naked. At the moment, however, I’d settle for inhabiting even a tenth of the perfect libertarian society.

Tychy: Isn’t our time being wasted with this man? Why are we even interviewing him? Scotland Against Lockdown’s last protest at Holyrood numbered about a dozen dazed and incoherent people. Never in the history of Edinburgh has such a silly protest been met by such a draconian police response and been condemned from such political heights, by Sturgeon herself.

James: This says more about our society than it does about the protest. Scotland Against Lockdown’s protest is the acutest political G-spot at the moment. If you believe, as I do, in people power – in ordinary people taking charge of their own lives and assuming the responsibilities of democratic citizenship – then these “incoherent” protesters are actually all that we have left. The last century or so of mass-participatory democracy could be very well crushed along with them.

It is terrifying what is happening to citizenship during this pandemic. Every noisy criticism of the state’s incompetence and mishandling is offset in more and more people by this weirdly declarative passivity, in which they automatically correct their own instinct as citizens and concede that there is no alternative to following the state’s advice. They say that nobody who is not an “expert” is allowed to hold an opinion about the pandemic, even though all of the available expertise has been contradicting itself constantly and it seems to have been little help to anyone. The result is sheer drift – drift into an escalating chaos. Only the common sense of the working class will save us. It is the only thing that ever does!

Tori: Wait one moment. What you said about citizenship makes me want to check something.

[She activates her laptop again. After she has done a bit of clicking around, Hutu the Clown is back on the screen.]

Hutu [angrily surprised]: I see that your Windows update must have been completed.

Tori: I’m afraid that the laptop still needs to restart another seventeen times, Hutu. Before that, though, do you happen to recognise that gentleman over on James’ screen?

Hutu [peering]: Let me see… hmm… why yes, that’s Angus!

Tychy: How can you tell? He’s wearing a mask.

Hutu: I’d recognise that paunch anywhere. He’s one of the main guys behind Wings Over Scotland. He also contributed very generously when I was trying to get my readers to crowdfund my wedding.

James: British Intelligence!

Tychy: You’re right Tori, he must be MI5.

James: I am heartbroken. This was meant to be the last model citizen left. And he is nothing but a paid agent of Boris’ state.  

[On the screen of James’ laptop, the Deplorables Denier-in-Chief looks startled. The Police Chief is turning on him furiously.]

Police Chief: I have over three hundred of my finest officers here, allocated to keep the public safe from you! And now I discover that we’re on the same side!

James: Can we drop the Comic Sans now?

Police Chief: Our stockpiles of helium have been thoroughly wasted!

Angus/Moriarty [speaking into a lapel microphone]: This is Agent 008 to base, my cover has been blown, I’m going into the cold and into the deep freeze [He lopes away sideways amongst the incredulous police officers.]

Police Chief: These police officers could have been driving around Edinburgh’s streets very slowly, peering menacingly out of their car windows at everybody. They could have been patrolling the Meadows and helping everybody to “keep safe.” Think of all of the cans of Jack and coke that were being slyly drunk in the Meadows, by people from the wrong households, while I was all the time stood here looking like a princess!

James: Commiserations, sir. Bye now!

Tori: Cheerio!

Tychy: I guess that our hunt for a new editor must continue elsewhere.

James: In the meantime, let us drink… with this Cointreau here… to the survival of the thinnest layer of our democratic essence.

Omnes: Cheers!