A selection of images including the cover to Titanic Terastructures, A Quiet Afternoon 2, Thirty Years of Rain, New Maps, Shoreline of Infinity, K-Zine, Flotation Device and Magical Crime Scene Investigation.
In the centre are two painted images, one of a frazzled ginger haired woman drinking tea and one of a Sikh gentleman holding a bucket and sword and facing pink tentacles

More Certainty In Your Shopping

‘April 24th: I’ve not eaten anything in four days but I’m nearly there. I’m at the top of a hill now, looking down at the sea. Clouds scud across the horizon as the sun dips down between them. More birds than I’ve seen in a long while wheel and screech over the harbour and silent village below. It’s been over a month since I last saw any survivors. I’d heard that these coastal villages were formally evacuated early on as they were too remote for regular deliveries and this one certainly looks to have been left in an orderly manner. No one expected anything much at the start so, if I’m lucky, there should be some food still stored down there. How much is in date is the next question, but I’m trying not to think about that too much until I get there. The whole point of the genetic enhancements was to make most things last. My fingers are crossed as I only have one tin of Sweetcorn left and I’m keeping that until I see what is down there. So hungry.’

#

Carol carefully closed her diary, trapping the stub of a pencil inside, and tightly wrapped a ribbon round to keep the pages from escaping. She placed it in the side pocket of her rucksack, pulling the zip as far as it would go. She shuffled further into her sleeping bag and zipped up the door of the tent, shutting out the cold and the dark. She lay for a moment, listening to the soft murmur of the sea down below. After the trials and narrow escapes of the bad days the chance to simply lie and listen, without being constantly on edge or having to grip a knife even in sleep, was wonderful. The sea swished, the few birds shouted out in hunger and her stomach replied.

It wasn’t perfect but after so much Carol fell asleep almost happy.

#

‘January 19th: Hello Diary. I remember writing one of you when I was a wee girl. We were talking in the café today about the power cuts due to the price rises and Mary suggested it would be interesting if we all kept diaries of what we do during the blackouts as we can’t talk on the internet.

Frankly, I doubt I will have any interest in what she has to write down but she did get it from a Waitrose magazine and it is sponsored by that woman from the baking programme so there might be something in it.

So, while we wait for the government to get itself sorted out and get these oil price issues sorted, I’ll write in here.’

#

Carol woke as the dawn lightened the sky. The hills to the east, brown and black with streaks of blight, kept the sun itself hidden but the sky turned a lovely deep blue as she crawled out of her tent and into the chill air. It was colder than she would have expected this late in April but that could have been the hunger gnawing at her insides sucking all her heat inwards. She stood up and hugged herself vigorously. “Come on girl, you’re nearly there. Make yourself some tea.”

She hunkered down and lit the small gas stove. After a quick heat of her hands over the flame she put a small kettle on top. She held her hands out to the flame again. “You’re the best thing I’ve found in all these months. Gas doesn’t go off and, once I got out of the city, no one thought to horde wee gas canisters. It wouldn’t surprise me if I find more fuel for you down in that village than for me.”

Once boiled, Carol poured the water into a battered tin mug. She then pulled a used, grey-brown, tea bag from her coat pocket and dunked it in the mug. She gave it a squeeze to extract as much water as she could and returned the bag to her pocket. Then she grasped the mug between both her hands and surveyed the road down into town. It was a twisty route down the hillside towards the sea with little of the weather damage she had experienced on some of the roads further east. Clumps of yellowed grass still clung to the roadside in places, bare soil showing through where the blight had killed off everything. There were even a few sickly leaves on what used to be blooming hedgerows and she took this as a good omen.

Carol drank the mug of flavoured hot water and then packed up, wrapping her tent and bundling everything into a large rucksack that was much bigger than she needed. When she had first grabbed it she had planned to carry a lot more but food was harder to get hold of than she had expected. She set off down the road.

#

‘March 15th: Marks was a waste of my time. I remember when their Food Hall was one of the best you could get. Some great meal deals, including a bottle of wine, and some of the best ready meals. This one had been completely emptied. Including, by the looks of it, some of the shelving itself.

I’d hoped to find something special as it’s my birthday today. I have always bought myself a nice cake from the better supermarkets for it, but not this year. Which reminds me of Argyll and a holiday when I was wee. There was something on, a fair or something, and my Mother had to help at it. She got distracted and I didn’t get my cake that year. How I cried that day.

I wonder how the shops are in Argyll now? There was something on the news, when the TV still worked, about evacuations from there, something about bringing people closer to the limited stocks of food. I wonder if they left anything? It was only supposed to be temporary and half the houses were probably shut up holiday homes anyway.’

#

A strong wind blew in off the sea, stinging Carol’s eyes and making the few leaves on the hedgerows flap back and forth. With so little vegetation left, just some skeletal trees and a few tufts of grass amongst the bare, blight ravaged earth, there was nothing to slow this wind. It howled around the buildings up ahead, a low run of detached bungalows, rattling the slates and chimney pots. Considering how quiet it could get in the more sheltered areas she had come through Carol found the noise comforting, a vague memory of the hustle and bustle of the cities before the blight. So desperate was she for noise that the faint cry of a gull, out at sea, drifting on the wind, made her smile. She remembered her mother, on their family holidays to this village, complaining bitterly about the racket the gulls made. Carol would give almost anything to hear that racket up close now.

Carol walked up to the first house in the row, a small whitewashed bungalow with a stone wall running along the roadside. The shape of a lawn and carefully maintained herbaceous border could be seen in the front garden, now reduced to patches of yellowing grass, slimy moss, bare earth and gnarled, dead, rose stems. What would once have been an impressive Fuscia bush sat by the gate in the wall, its twigs rattling in the wind as a few sad leaves twisted back and forth. To one side of the garden Carol saw an Escallonia hedge. It caught her eye as it still had the majority of its foliage. The dark green, glossy, leaves had signs of blight on them, but there were a lot more than on the Privets or Hawthorns she had passed on the road.

She stopped for a moment to watch the leaves shiver in the wind. Memories welled up in her of holidays, her father hacking at the Escallonia and complaining about how big it could grow in the salt wind. She wiped away a tear from her cheek as she remembered running past him, ignoring his cries for help to clear up the fallen clippings, as she went down to the seashore to meet her summertime friends and dip her net in rock pools. Good times, even if her mother did constantly complain about the expense of those nets and how often Carol ripped them on the sharp rocks.

Carol blinked the memory away and turned her face into the cold wind for a moment. The sting of it whipped salt and water that could easily have been sea or rain into her face and pulled her back to the present. She pushed the gate open. She walked up the path, scooped a fist sized stone from the ground and, without hesitation, smashed in the glass window of the door. Methodically she worked around the gap until all the sharp shards had been removed and then leaned her arm through, felt around for the lock and twisted the snib. The door swung open and she stepped inside.

#

‘August 9th: Today has not been a good day. Finally ran out of the Cereal Bars with Simulated Fair Trade Cocoa Powder and 30% Bee Pollinated Apple. It only feels like a few days since I beat that man to death in a Waitrose for them. I used the stick from my placard I got on that Tesco sponsored ‘Ban Meat Hormones’ march. That was a good campaign. It felt like we were really making a difference and I got loyalty points which I put towards a new toaster. ‘We demand certainty in our shopping. We demand to know what is in our food.’

I wonder what happened to the rest of the group from that march? Other than Angela of course. Her own fault for trying one of those cheap shops.

Anyway, I’m not worried, there are a lot less people out here in the country now and if my leaflet is correct there is a Waitrose in the next town. I’m sure that this far out of town their stocks are better.’

#

Inside felt warmer, out of the wind, but the noise of rattling tiles and shaking windows only increased. Carol moved through from the hallway into the kitchen at the back. Dusty pans hung from the low ceiling and spider webs stretched back and forth across every open area. Carol tutted at the country scenes tiles on the wall which mostly seem to have been chosen to match an obsession with cow shaped milk jugs. “Kitschy, holiday home rubbish.” she muttered as she ignored the small fridge nestled beside the dishwasher and washing machine and went straight to a tall pull-out cupboard on one end of the run of kitchen units. It rolled out smoothly and, as it hit its stops, a sudden gush of black, watery goo splashed onto the floor. Carol glanced down at the package it had come from.

“Shame, not seen a Malt Loaf in a long time.”

She lifted her eyes to the higher shelves. The cupboard was almost bare, most things having been taken by the evacuees, but sitting on the top-most shelf, behind a collection of plastic containers with mismatched lids, were two tins of pineapple. Carol lifted them down, moving slowly and carefully in exactly the same way she used to do when cleaning her Pottery Owl collection. She placed them on the work surface directly in front of the window and regarded them in the watery light. The labels looked faded, dusty and familiar, as if the tins had been hiding in that cupboard from the days of her childhood. There used to be a time when Carol would have looked down on anyone forced to use anything as cheap as a tin but now she carefully turned it to see the use by date.

“Ten years. Not as bad as that fruitcake.”

When Carol was a child her parents had cleared out her grandmother’s house. In it they had found a tinned fruitcake, lost in the back of a pantry for forty years. Despite her mother’s protestations her father had opened the tin and offered round the cake. Carol remembered it as being dry, dusty and not very nice. But, and this was the point she concentrated on as she hunted through the cutlery drawers and pulled out a rusty tin opener, it had been edible and no one got ill.

Carol hacked into the tin, barking her knuckles and drawing red blood as she struggled to spin the opener handle. Finally the lid lifted up and she emptied the tin out into a bowl. Yellow watery juice and pale squidgy yellow lumps of pineapple slopped out. Completely forgetting herself, Carol dipped her fingers into the liquid and pulled out a slippery chunk which she stuffed into her mouth.

Sweet, sickly taste exploded across her tongue and she groaned. Tears began to drip down her cheeks as she lifted the bowl and, losing all control, shovelled the contents in.

#

‘April 25th: I am terrible. What would mother say if she could have seen me, eating with my fingers? She would never have been able to show her face at the Sainsbury’s café again.

What is worse is that I ate them so quickly I nearly made myself ill. Being ill is something I remember a lot from coming here on holiday. Eating too many sweets, running around and then being ill in a bush. There was one time I was sick in the shop.

My mother had gone in to buy vegetables and I had joined her, trying to get more sweets I think. I was tugging at her sleeve when I suddenly threw up all over the floor. The scream she made as she lifted me bodily from the floor and carried me straight outside. Fairly certain my feet did not hit the ground until we were back at the cottage. That night I lay in bed with a headache and a sore bum listening to her yell at my father about the embarrassment. We might even have gone home early that year.

If she could see the things I have done in shops in the last year I don’t think she would ever talk to me again.

Two tins of pineapple were all I found that was edible. So now I have one tin of sweetcorn and one of pineapple. I had thought those who lived here would be better than to take everything. You would think they would be above such hoarding. Clearly the village no longer attracts the class of people it did when I came. My family would never have cleared their cupboards in such a way, makes you look desperate.

Tomorrow I will go back to that little shop on the front. They had a section for selling to sailors that was long life food. That should still be in date.’

#

Carol gathered all her stuff together into her rucksack and walked out into a slight drizzle. She really wished she could leave her bag behind, have a day without the weight on her thin shoulders, but she had lost too much to assuming there was no one else around in the past and she could now not go more than five feet from her possessions.

The wind continued to blow in off the sea, flicking little salty tears into her face as she walked downhill. It was difficult to tell what was sea spray and what was rain from the slate grey sky but it all combined to soak her hair by the time she reached the road that ran along the sea front. Not that she was bothered as she had not had a proper wash since the day the power finally went out for good, nearly a year ago according to her diary.

On one side of the road were the sea and the harbour. Small boats bobbed in the swell, a few rusty fishing boats and a couple of sleeker looking sailing yachts. She could also see a couple of boats that had sunk, victims of the winter storms. On the other side was the row of shops she had hoped for. A newsagent’s, a chandler’s and a small supermarket. It was never going to be that big a shop, indeed that was why she had headed for this coast, to avoid any of the obvious areas where people might be. It did look very small now she was here though. A plate glass window either side of a door only just big enough for two people to pass each other. In the windows hung faded posters, one advertising a rolled shoulder of lamb and the other a special offer on biscuits.

Carol approached and stared in wonder at the image of meat. Her stomach gurgled as her mind drifted back to the days when she would have barely noticed signs like this, more concerned with the ethical conditions it was produced under or how many drugs had been used to get the sheep to the slaughter house in the ideal condition. All that sound and fury about animal welfare and she completely missed the real danger when it showed up.

#

‘October 9th: Something very interesting in my Sainsbury’s’ magazine today. Apparently some scientists have done something called genetic enhancement and made food longer life. Should help keep food prices down. Makes a change as the government continues to be completely unable to keep oil prices down. Even better once it has reached its use by date it starts to turn blotchy so you can tell exactly when it is safe to eat.

Janine at the book group says it sounds terribly like that GM stuff we all campaigned about last year with that boycott. To be fair, it was Aldi’s so it wasn’t a hardship but it is the principle of the thing.

I pointed out that this was an enhancement, not a modification, and as it was Sainsbury’s it was bound to be safe.’

#

Carol pushed at the door. Locked. She turned and scanned the ground, looking for something suitably heavy. Eventually she found a lump of concrete, cracked from the sea wall by frost and now lying on the pavement. She picked it up and tested the weight before turning back to the image of lamb hanging in the window. She pulled her arm back and then hammered on the glass with the stone. Two, three blows and the pane shattered into a million tiny pieces. “Good to see Health and Safety got here and made them install modern glass. I’m bored of clearing round the edges and of seeing idiots who’ve died on jagged glass.”

Carol pushed past the dangling advert and into the gloom of the shop. Shelves ran away from her, the nearest neatly stacked with cleaning products and hardware items. The next shelf over was baked goods. There were large gaps where fresh produce should have been and then neat little parcels of longer life cakes and biscuits and a stack of bread loaves, all neatly wrapped in waxed paper. Carol pulled a torch from her pocket and turned it on. She played the light over the bread, barely breathing. She had not seen this much food in one place for months. The panic buying and the hording had cleared out most shops long ago.

The sign above the shelf said ‘Long Life Loaves’ exactly as she had hoped. This village shop catered for the better class of touring sailor who needed industrially produced long life food that kept as they cruised the islands. The torch light fell on a small date printed on the loaf. 1st May. Carol swallowed and her stomach rumbled as if demanding she help it. She reached out and picked up the loaf. The bag collapsed in her hand, suddenly losing all shape as a thin black goo dribbled out of the end of the wrapping. Carol dropped the paper and it hit the floor with a squelching thud.

She looked at a second and again checked the printing on the side. “Use By Date: 1st May. Today is the 26th of April. It should be fine.” Her voice took on a hectoring tone. She squeezed the paper wrapping and again the shape collapsed. A sob escaped her lips.

She swung her light along the shelf to a box of biscuits. She picked it up and turned it over to find the date printed on the end. 1st of April. She dropped it on the floor and picked up one further back on the shelf. 1st of May.

Carol ripped open the box and pulled out the inner plastic bag. It was half full of black goo, sloshing in the bag as Carol stared at it in horror. “But it says first of May.”

Carol threw the bag on the floor and ripped open more boxes. Each was the same, dated first of May and containing nothing but black goo.

She moved to the other aisles. The shelves were stacked with cheese, cold meat, soup, all the items she had been used to. All dated either first of May or earlier and everything she opened contained nothing but black goo.

#

‘January 27th: Saw on the news today a load of farmers in China complaining about the end of life gene. They claim it’s what is causing their fields to turn mouldy. They’ve probably done something stupid with it.

I hope this doesn’t put up the price of my Brown Rice again.’

#

Carol staggered out of the shop and collapsed on the road, the rain merging with the tears on her cheeks. “It’s not May! How can everything have passed its date?” She pulled out her diary and checked. Scrawled at the top of the latest page was ‘April 25th’. She flicked back. ‘April 24th’, ‘April 23rd’, they were all there. The days of her life unwinding back towards the dark times when the consequences of genetic modification and strongly defined Use By dates became clear.

Then she found it. Four months ago when she had narrowly escaped attack from a gang in a warehouse, the time it became clear that she had to get out of the city if she was going to survive. In her diary were two pages stuck together but with the dates matching on either side. Either she had written one very long entry, the pages had always been stuck and were blank or she had written up several days, the pages had stuck and she had written the wrong date on the next available page.

“It must be May already. Even the long-life food is past its use-by date. That’s it then, the end of all the food. Stupid GM food with its hit the date, self-destruct genes. Oh you thought you were so clever, let’s make it easy to see if food is in date, make it turn to goo after the date.

But then you slipped up, let it kick in while the plants were still growing, let it contaminate other plants. Now where are we? All the plants turning to black goo in the fields. No food, not even grass for the animals to eat. The entire food chain collapsing into black slime. All because you thought you would get some more money from us. Well I hope you survived the riots and the cannibals so you can starve to death like the rest of us. Why did my Sainsbury’s magazine not warn me of this?”

Carol stopped yelling. As she had built up a head of steam she had found herself directing all her anger towards the small shop and its self-destructing food. Despite being the only person for miles she now felt embarrassed. Exactly what answer was she going to get from a photo of a joint of meat? She turned away, kicking a small stone towards the sea.

It rolled and bounced across the road, kicking up into the air and disappearing over the harbour side to make a splosh noise as it hit the water. Carol looked at the boats before her and then at a gull out to sea as it dived into the water. She licked her lips, tasting the salty tang in the air and her mind wandered back to the day before when she had noted that the blight did not seem to be having as much effect in the sea air. “Maybe something in the sea does fight it? There are more birds out at sea than I’ve seen anywhere else. Wonder if I could get a net from the chandlers?”

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