Bugger! Surfacing from the deep dreamless sleep of the exhausted the first sound I hear is the early morning rain pelting down. I don't want to get soaked again riding in this morning; I don't want to put on that cycling gear which has yet to fully dry from yesterday's homeward-bound downpour again; but someone has to set an example. A quick cup of nasty coffee (these days that's the only kind there is) with a couple of slices of toast for breakfast, then it's time to squirm into the cool clammy intimacy of lycra shorts and fleecy tights. I complete my outfit with a base layer and thick thermal top, covered with a rain cape, despite it being early June.
Outside I flick on the interactive world in my ear, unlock all three locks on the cycle vault and deactivate the alarm before releasing the shackle securing my bike to the ground anchor. Now I'm ready to ride. I'd love to have one of the new Raleigh mountain bikes which are being made in Nottingham once more, but they're expensive, and there's a waiting list for them. Production will be increased as the early teething problems are worked through we're told; but as ever it's always the promise of jam tomorrow.
It seems as if it hasn't stopped raining for the last week. Already there are warnings this may be the wettest year on record. Whatever the statistics, from the perspective of the rider getting soaked is just as unpleasant whether this particular wet spell is a record-breaker or not.
There are various theories doing the rounds to explain the recent changes in the weather. The conventional wisdom is the melting Arctic ice has cooled the northern Atlantic and the atmosphere above it, forcing the jet stream further south of its normal track, so steering the bad weather directly to us. Alternatively, it isn't the result of anthropogenic global warming but the earth's natural self-regulating mechanism in action, counteracting any human excess. Or our influence has sent the climate into an unstable oscillation between warming and cooling that will eventually result in a new ice age. Some even blame the Crises wars for polluting the atmosphere and affecting the weather.
My sneaking suspicion is what we are seeing now may be a repeat of the events of the 1340s when it is thought low solar activity led to a decade-long bitterly cold and wet spell. There were widespread famines due to the poor growing conditions and the resultant malnutrition weakened the populations' immunity, making it easier for the Black Death to spread.
This isn't a time of famine and plague - for the moment - but I can understand how undernourishment can reduce your immunity to illnesses. Despite the Consensus' claims that our more vegetarian eating habits are healthier there always seems to be some sort of minor bug going around with the constant background noises of sniffing and sneezing. It can't all be just the weakened reassemblages of rhinoviruses dispersed when The Great Marshal's biological weapons labs were destroyed; there must be something more to it. I think it must be our austere diet, coupled with increased manual activity - be it muscle-powered commuting, or credding, or digging-in with your local growers' collective; and this on top of our Stankhovite working habits - which is wearing our immune systems down.
Getting regularly cold and wet doesn't help either. I'm hardly four kilometres along the crumbling cycle lane of the A3 and already those chill raindrops are seeking the intimate crevices of my body warmth; sneaking in through any way they can find. I suppose I could've taken the bus if I were really desperate, but there are already plenty of people huddling beneath the interactive bus stop canopies. They all look miserable as well; trying to hunch deeper into their waterproof ponchos, waiting for their bus to crawl along the real-time updated route to them. I wonder which of the latest low-level lurgies will find the damp interiors of the buses an ideal environment in which to spread?
There are head-down peds walking indomitably onwards under their umbrellas; and other cyclists flinching under the onslaught as they pedal, probably wondering as well why they are mad enough to ride in this weather. Maybe like me they have become resigned to getting wet; accepting there is no such thing as waterproof clothing, that the rain always finds a way in or through. Do they also take some perverse pride in toughing it out? Or is there some masochistic solace in the realization beyond a certain point you can't get any wetter or colder? Are they as used to feeling as if their pink, chilled, numb, wrinkled fingers and toes are only partially their own? Is the only thing keeping them going the thought of warm towels, dry clothes, and a drying closet at the end of their journey? At least on a bike you are generating your own heat, even if you lose a lot of it to the raw air.
Chilled and shivering, I arrive at the office and after wiping the corrosive wet grime off my chain with an old rag - good chains don't grow on trees you know, and it's always a good idea to look after them - park the bike and squelch through the entrance radiation detector arch.
Gavin, our receptionist-security guard, has anticipated my arrival. Bless him, he's laid a ribbon of plastic rubbish bag roll (biodegradable of course} across the reception to the gents'. As I cross, fat drops loudly splatting onto the shiny strip, he hands me my bag of dry office clothes pre-warmed from the drying cupboard, my towels, and an empty bag for my wet things. "You're all clear, and the kettle's on!"
"Thanks Gavin, you're a star!"
"Once you're warm and dry, there's a priority message for you from James Purvis. It was his human PA, not his 'sist."
"Right... thanks. I'll have the strongest, hottest tea you can make, two sugars please!"
So what's happening now? Still shuddering I peel-off my sodden lycra with uncooperative fingers and towel myself dry; whatever the matter is it can wait until I feel something close to human again. At last dressed in clothes that didn't need to be wrung-out I spread my towels and wet things in the drying closet, before finishing my tea. Then, with some feeling returning to my wrinkled ruddy digits, I flick-in to see what's up. James is expecting my call.
"You look as if you've been through a lot this morning!" My wet plastered hair and beetroot complexion must be obvious.
"You might say that; I'm worried about contracting trench crotch!" We both laugh.
Then with a more serious expression James says; "This is a heads-up. I'm led to understand there will be an announcement later today regarding the Regency. It looks set to be extended for another year. You can expect a new set of Guidelines as well."
"So it's that bad then?"
"It seems to be. I'm not in the know, but I wouldn't be surprised to see this becoming semi-permanent."
"It'll be a mandatory national lead tonight then?"
"Yes; let London take care of it. It'll all be FreeCred so you won't be losing out."
"Fair enough! Do you think this going to make any difference to-?"
"Yes, I'm sure the Regent will push for the election to be run on schedule barring his father dying at the wrong time. But it'd be crass to speculate too early. And that reminds me, Richard. We're considering candidates for our party list. Have you considered putting yourself forward?"
"What? Look, I'm flattered you're asking me but that's not something I've even thought about, or could possibly make a decision on at the moment"
"That's understandable; but please gives it some consideration. Don't feel as if you need to rush into making up your mind right now; there's plenty of time yet. We're still preparing the registration documents, but we want to be ready in advance for whatever happens, or just in case they decide to surprise us."
"OK, but that's one hell of a career change that you're offering me, even if there was a chance of-"
"If I didn't think we had a chance I'd be living in Canada or Hong Kong. I'm serious about this Richard; and so are the many other people involved. This may be our last chance at stopping the Consensus. Just think for a moment about what that means; and what the Fed would be like with the Connies in permanent charge."
"I'd rather not!"
"Exactly! That's why we need people like you along with us. All I ask is that you think about it"
"I will." At least that gets me off the hook for the moment.
"Great! Well we'll both have a lot to do today; they'll be trailing the speculation about the announcement from 10.30 with the release and 'cast at 16.00. Have you received the blurt with all the details?"
"Yes, it's arrived."
"Good. Well keep in touch, won't you?"
"Oh, by the way, I nearly forgot to congratulate you on your credder vid. Well done! I'm sure we'll be using it when the time comes! Well 'bye for now!"
Fuck! As if I didn't have enough on my plate I risk being caught-up in what could be a really nasty political scrap, and these days things may not go too well for members of the losing party. At least I've postponed having to give him an answer for a while, and hopefully he'll be able to find some other candidates instead of me. Surely there must be enough of his supporters in the London Enterprise Zone to fill any vacancies?
But enough of that; I've got work to do. In the media we're used to dropping everything at a moment's notice and improvising, so it doesn't take too long to reorganize our schedule to accommodate the announcement and follow-on discussion.
When I get a reasonably quiet moment I set my old slate to search the vacads, it never hurts to be prepared, and I have a gnawing feeling were I to fall out with James then I'd be looking for a new job very soon after. Yes he's perfectly reasonable when things are going his way or while you agree with him; but I've seen his steely determination, and the way that he's ruthlessly successful at getting what he wants. You wouldn't want to get on the wrong side with him, and turning down a place on his party might just do that. He may be positive about his chances but I don't share his confidence: Nor do I much fancy a career as one of his junior yes-men.
The slate finishes its search; it doesn't find much. The Connies are infiltrating the media as much as they are the rest of society, and anyone who knows the industry can recognise by the way that the vacancy ads are worded where Connie sympathisers are seeking kindred spirits, and people such as I wouldn't have a hope.
Even the independent sector isn't that pleasant a place to be these days. Take this from one of the adverts just found: "In order to qualify for the collective health insurance scheme and to maintain their employment status, all members of staff must commit to live a healthy lifestyle; as well as consenting to their dietary preferences, exercise regimes, and any other aspects of their lifestyle which may adversely affect their ability to perform their roles being monitored and assessed on a regular basis. Failure to abide by any reasonable measures to correct potentially unhealthy or harmful lifestyle choices may result in termination." Despite that, I suspect they will be overwhelmed with applications.
It was as we'd expected. His Majesty, by Royal Proclamation, has reappointed His Son and Heir to be his Regent for the term of a further calendar year unless His Majesty recovers His health to the point where He is able to resume His duties. Everyone knows it isn't going to happen; though the latest rumour leaking from a palace insider deemed to need to know is following His latest unreported stroke His Majesty can hardly eat unaided; let alone sign a proclamation.
At any other time the people would be slowly prepared for an abdication on medical grounds. But these are far from ordinary times, and it is thought by the Consensus having the King abdicate before being officially crowned would damage national morale. His Coronation has been postponed until it is deemed prudent once more to host such pomp and ceremony; when circumstances, and His Majesty's health allow.
It is also considered unbecoming to have an 'austerity' event. Instead a Coronation should be something for the nation to look forward to; a sign our recovery is well under way. Additionally the Federation would benefit from the sense of continuity that the Monarch provides in these transitional times, as well as giving his Regent more experience of his office. Not to mention the end of His reign would be the point at which retrospective reflections might raise - even now - some uncomfortable questions about how He conducted Himself during the Crises, and the alternative decisions He might have made. All in all, popular sympathy for His current plight and support for the Regency is better for all concerned than a searching analysis. The lid on that can of worms will be kept shut and sealed for as long as possible.