The Trouble With Servants a short story

This is the latest short story for the writing group I’m in. My friend Liz was my muse. I didn’t even bother to change her name! We are at some point in the future, post Covid 19…..

Liz puts her face close to the camera next to the front door and feels that immediate urge to go for a wee. Why does that always happen? She used to think it was fumbling for keys that did it, now she doesn’t need a key. But her brain is still talking to her bladder in the same way.

It’s been a long day and she’s definitely done more than her ten thousand steps. She’ll check her Fitbit in a minute. But the toilet beckons. It has reported, as she fully expected it to, that she’s drunk more than her units of alcohol this afternoon. If she can’t have a drink after organising an event like the one she just has, then when can she!

She’d organised marches before. Plenty of them over the years. There had been several for the NHS in London and Manchester. If she was honest, at the time, she never thought they did much good. But people loved a march.

And then, after the pandemic, attitudes changed hugely. The world was turned on its head by that. And the Conservative Government ploughed millions into the National Health Service. Old political lines were rubbed out leaving the Labour Party with nothing to oppose. The unions became more of an insurance service for members. And the marches stopped.

Until today. Thirty thousand steps. Impressive given that this was not your usual type of rally. The route was much shorter. It started at Embankment and went up to and around Parliament Square, and then to the gates at Downing Street. The crowd, mainly on wheels, was slower moving than the crowd in the marches of the past. And whilst there were many more dropped kerbs around these days, some missed the slopes and simply dropped off the side of the pavement. Liz knew she shouldn’t laugh. But it was a funny sight.

With the great pandemic of 2020 came the great shift towards technology. It had been coming anyway, but this made things move so much quicker. The UK started to adopt many of the ideas from Japan. There they use robots for the care of the elderly. With scientists and business and government collaborating so well together, the UK suddenly started making huge strides in Artificial Intelligence.

Liz checks the oven. Her son, Jude, had promised to prepare a lasagne so all Liz would have to do when she got home was stick the oven on. She should really have that device that does it remotely, but she worries too much about burning the flat down. The lasagne is there. And a third of a bottle of white wine in the fridge. Perfect.

Liz sits down with some of the wine, trying to remember when the argument about sentient beings began. Maybe just over a year ago? A group of campaigners started to argue that the NHS was abusing the robots in its service. So the unions and government had signed a momentous deal over the human workforce and now people were arguing that if a robot could use its own ‘mind’ to make decisions about care, then they should have a union deal too.

People had done to machines what they do with their dogs and cats. Anthropomorphised them. Made them human.

Robot rights. This is what the march had been all about today. Co-ordinating two and a half thousand robots on wheels around Westminster. Because, absurdly, Liz’s union, in the absence of any angry human workers, is now representing technology.

Fan Power

From Stephanie Power’s Fan Power exhibition, 2009

Don’t tell Dave I’ve said it, but we’re gonna win the league

Stephanie Power, Fan Power, 2009
Stephanie Power, Fan Power, 2009

Alan Johnson Failed Rock Star!

This was great fun. A series I made with my mate Alan Johnson, just as he stopped being Home Secretary (but still had the security and armour plated jag). Alan and his security came up in said Jag to interview Jacqui Abbott from The Beautiful South. Jacqui had been in two minds about doing the interview and there was a chance she wouldn’t be in. I took the risk anyway and she was in. I would have been in so much trouble if she hadn’t been! Her story about how she became a singer with Paul Heaton is fantastic

Model of Virtue – a short story

Model of Virtue

Marian was desperate to get to the Rose Garden. She hadn’t been all week and this was definitely the best time of year for it. And a particularly glorious day today. Many of the roses were now out. But there was one in particular she wanted to see.

Model Of Virtue?

She’d grown it by accident. Or experiment really. Accidental experiment. Just to see what would happen if she mixed a pink one with a yellow one. And she had come up with something so perfect. Mainly a pale yellow but with touches of soft pink around the edges. The yellow was almost translucent in the sun. And the pink reminded her of raspberry ripples in ice cream. The colouring was so powerful, and the flower heads were strong shaped and uniform. That’s when she decided to name it. Officially. Coming up with the name had been fun and taxing. Quite a responsibility. Because she was doing it properly, a kind of copyright for plants, it meant no-one else could propagate from it for 25 years. The whole process had made her feel quite grand.

A Model of Virtue.

So how did she get into this? Propagating new roses? And how did she end up with this rose garden in Suffolk?

It had been her uncle’s. And it had been attached to a grand old house, not far from Needham Market. The grand old house had been her uncle’s too. But he hadn’t looked after it and when she inherited it, and the garden, unexpectedly, there was very little she could do about its state. It’s no use inheriting a house if you don’t have any money to do it up.

She’d gone there a lot as a child. With her parents. Her uncle was her Dad’s brother. He didn’t have a name. He must have had a name but he was always just uncle. He’d never been married. Never had children. Marian didn’t know quite how he had got the house in the first place. No-one else in the family lived in anything so stately. Or creaking. Parts of it dated back to the 1600s.

Marian’s favourite bit had always been the rose garden, especially at this point in the summer.

She hadn’t really known how to look after it beyond pruning, but she had the time to learn. She’d sold the house to a developer who was known locally for sympathetically  developing old buildings and turning them into flats for first time buyers, rather than investors.

Models of Virtue

Most of the land had gone to the development. But she’d kept the rose garden.

She had a decent amount of money in the bank thanks to the sale and was allowed to be a bit frivolous. Which is why she had decided to start having a go at creating new varieties of roses with varying success.

Her uncle would have been impressed. It was his favourite place. The rose garden. He told her it was where he escaped from what he called the ‘lunacy’.

Marian never really knew what that meant. Was it village life? He opened his house up for local events. He hosted and ran National Garden Scheme days. Often finding other committee members irritating. Useful idiots he used to say.

But maybe it was his work. Marian didn’t know what he did for a living. The rumours were he worked for MI5. She could imagine that. He was quiet, calm, private.

With those attributes and his charity work he was he was considered locally

 A Model of Virtue.

Registering a new rose properly, isn’t cheap. Marian had spent over £2,000 and today was the day she got the certificate in the post. She was now the official creator. Of a variety of rose. That’s why she was in such a hurry to get to the rose garden this morning. To share her news with the rose and her uncle. And to stand back and look at……

The Model of Virtue.