It’s the little absences that let you know that time’s moved on. In 2012, on those rare days when I was up early in the morning, I’d sometimes notice a missing sound. The electric hum of milk floats doing their rounds. It’d been present throughout my youth. I even worked on the milk for a while, in the 80s. Convoys of those absurd fibre-shelled orange carts rattling out of the servery yard gates at half past four in the bloody morning, with the head nutter pointing at the street outside and intoning “move out” like Captain Kirk. Mornings were filled with that sound. And then all the supermarkets started selling cheap milk in jugs and Tetra Paks, and that was it for the milkman in Britain.
Today, ten years later, I can’t hear the birds. There’s just that constant low-level hiss of dronerotors, which always seems to blanket over the sound of birdsong. You have to go deep into the countryside now to hear birds. Out to one of the coverage holes, like the drowned towns in the West Country. Stand at the western end of the M4 motorway that the locals call Bristol Pier. And, perhaps, the distant and distorted tone of church bells softly striking under ten metres of rainwater.
I’ve been asked to write about the state of things here, ten years on from when I began writing for VICE. My tenth anniversary and their twentieth. And it’s work, really. I have to drive through the fog of manufactured normalcy, that thing in our heads that tells us that the way we live isn’t so strange. It’s our adaptive nature. And, I have to say, in some ways, these times we live in are not so unexpected.
The Islamic Republic of Catalonia, for instance, seemed new and scary to a lot of people, but Islamic city-states are hardly an innovation in Spain. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was such a laughline ten years ago, like Mayor Boris Johnson before it, that I think most people were prepared for it.
People kept saying that the knife fight of the 2016 campaign in America was “unprecedented” but it really wasn’t. They said Rand Paul would never get a second term, but George W Bush did. People called me cynical for saying that Paul would take the second election regardless of the six women who were shot dead while trying to cross to Canada for abortions – before Canada put their own limits on abortion provision. Canada’s the only country Rand Paul ever travels to! He took all the drones out of Southeast Asia and floated every one of them along the US-Mexico border! (Going against his own “policy” of 2012 – what a bloody shock.)