One evening, feeling adventurous, I had decided to take a chance on a live performance by a band I had never listened to - despite their longevity and relative fame. It turned out to be a disappointing gig, rich in virtuosity, yet devoid of excitement and inspiration. Afterwards I opted to walk home through the livelier streets of the city in order to glean some sort of entertainment as compensation for the twenty five quid I had laid out. It wasn’t long coming. On a street corner, outside an hotel, I was obliged to take evasive action to avoid a very animated young man who was pacing the pavement, gesticulating manically and shouting into his phone in what sounded like pantomime Italian. I dredged up some of the vocabulary I had learned over the years and was quite pleased at being able to translate a few phrases, particularly the memorable testa di cazzo or, as we say, ‘dickhead’.
Turning on to Canal Street I was admiring the elaborate costumes of the transvestites and envying the exuberance of the crowds when I became aware that someone was following me and trying to get my attention. He was persistent but very polite so, in the end, I felt obliged to respond. He was a small, neatly dressed middle-aged man of Indian origin – a species not normally spotted at that time of night in that location. He claimed he was a visitor who had been wandering the area for several hours, finding it fascinating because “there is nothing like this back at home”. Sadly, though, he had found nobody to talk to (the street was heaving) and would really appreciate a friendly chat with somebody (why me?) in a quiet bar (no such thing hereabouts) over a “cold drink”. I found it hard to decline his plaintive request for company, although I did in the end, because I remained sceptical of his motive. I left him looking sad, lonely and lost in the crowd, or so I imagined, for I didn’t dare look back.
The next day, in broad daylight, on a busy shopping thoroughfare, I was accosted again. This time by a scruffy but earnest young man who proffered a DVD and implored me to accept it. My conscience was still uneasy from the previous night’s display of callous disregard so I stopped briefly to hear his story. “It’s a couple of short films about implanted micro-chips” he said “You can have the DVD but, if you can spare a pound or two towards the production cost, it would be appreciated”. I took the disc and, imagining him to be a struggling young artist and me a wealthy patron, fished out a two pound coin (I had nothing smaller), thereby making his day happier and leaving me with a conscience salved.
Some weeks later I came across the DVD in my “pending” tray and decided to give it a spin. It started off well, with a kind of alternative take on society, the gist of which was that the abolition of money would be a good thing. The worship of Mammon would be replaced by a giant hippy-style commune, where we would all care for each other and barter for our needs. I was about to press ‘stop’ when a sinister note was struck by a reference to “the mark of the beast”.
It began to dawn on me that I was watching a cunning propaganda film made by a Christian sect which believed that we are all about to be persuaded to have micro-chips implanted in our hands to act as credit cards. They believe that this micro-chip represents “the mark of the beast” which is foretold in The Book of Revelations and is an evil plan dreamt up by The Devil to ensure that we all go to Hell. I watched to the end of the film, searching for some cogent logic, but could find only assumption, tendentious interpretation and blind faith.
Having thus shown a polite interest in the young man’s mission, I am left wondering only whether he would have accepted the two pounds contribution via my implanted microchip.