Christmas morning is already well under way when I wake. Dad is up already, seemingly unaffected by last night's session and busy preparing some goat's milk porridge; it's just what I need. He's also made a start on preparing the Christmas dinner. The electricity can't always be relied upon here; as part of the harassing of the residents to leave the supply is often reduced or arbitrarily cut off, but only for as long as it takes for the geriatric rascals to work out an illegal way of getting around it. The Park's renewable sources are depleted so Dad is forced to use his gas oven to roast the gammon. Again I get the impression he's been economising on his gas, saving it for now, and I feel another guilty pang. Those cylinders are expensive, and not so easy to get refilled these days.
After a cup of coffee it's our turn to go out and move the goats along to some new pasture, before checking on the Park's chicken coop. That too is as mobile as the goat pen, so it can be rolled along for the birds to peck at fresh ground.
Back inside with the dinner on the go we exchange presents. Dad gives me some of his best sloe gin, and I give him a bottle of proper Zone whisky as well as two pictures of Mum I had printed onto a near-indestructible scroll of plastic the last time I went to London.
"You shouldn't have!" He says, looking as if he's trying to fight back tears. "You've already brought plenty with you!" I demonstrate how to unroll it and make it stay flat, then how it can snap back into a tube. "Just in case... It'll hardly take up any space in your Ready Bag." Dad nods an understanding.
For all of their determined resistance the Parkies know one day the sea will have its way; the only questions are when, and for how long that time may be delayed. When it happens there may not be much time to evacuate; maybe not even enough time for Dad to take down the large portrait of Mum from the living room wall; perhaps barely time to grab the Ready Bag kept in a cupboard by the door before fleeing for his life. Though he's got the family album as well as his records digitised and backed-up on chip along with copies lodged with me, I hope having some palpable thing he can keep with him will reassure him; hopefully stopping any foolish last minute delay or return to salvage something.
As we wait for the dinner to cook we flick around the streams to see what is happening. As ever there are the usual Christmas Day church services. The Church of England as it is still known is very subdued these days; riven by schism and unable to take a stand on anything for fear of alienating any faction of its remaining flock. It doesn't help that the latest Archbishop of Canterbury is a cowed little sniveller, hoping if he stays uncontroversial and out of the way the church won't get the sort of hassle the Redemptionists suffered; ignoring the fact the Redemptionists are actually winning converts as a result of their social engagement.
The mass in St Peter's square is live on another stream, and the new Pope, settling in to his papacy, is made of sterner stuff. His homily about the rights of man is bound to ruffle some Connie feathers, and his blessing in which he mentions the people struggling with poverty in the world, specifically mentioning the Federation, will hit a raw nerve. Not there's much the Connies can do about it; they've enough on their hands in the run-up to the election without picking another fight.
After our dinner we watch the traditional Royal Christmas message. As usual the majority of it is spoken by the Regent. His father, obviously given a cocktail of drugs to animate him for the occasion, mumbles a couple of subtitled sentences. It's all very sad. I don't think the poor sod should be put through it; but that's the way it is. His Majesty is apparently compos mentis enough to indicate He doesn't want to abdicate; such is His sense of duty to see His reign through to its conclusion, at whatever the cost to Himself.
The rest of the day drags slowly by, as Christmas always seems to do, until it's time for another party in the Social Club. It seems we weren't the only ones to turn up early to try and escape the boredom of the day; the other Parkies are already here, hanging up their aged outerwear to reveal their best suits and dresses, long out of style and aired only on special occasions such as these.
The power is back on again after being temporarily off during the afternoon. For a change it wasn't a physical disconnection, but one done remotely, probably pre-programmed to happen at the time when the Christmas dinners were part-way through being cooked. I wonder which little wanker thought of doing that on Christmas day of all days and ordered it to happen? I'd like to get my hands on them and make their season anything but cheerful. Whoever they were they hadn't counted on Joyce, who made a dark call to her son, who knew someone, who knew a frazzler, who soon managed to crack their way into the control system and revoke the command. Just in case they try it again Jim has an emergency generator ready to go if required. He must be in his late seventies but he seems sprightly and quick witted; he has an instinctive ability to make or fix just about anything, given the time and means to do so.
The days of being numbed insensible by scheduled Christmas programnes passed many a year ago. Now with the resources of the (approved) internet at your disposal you can get numbed into stupefaction by any number of Christmas packages of your choice; IMS produce several of them. This far out on the edge of civilisation what you can do online is constrained, but the link is still more than adequate for someone to connect an old video projector to a stream and so we can watch a double-header of The Italian Job and The Great Escape while partying. The ladies can watch the festive Eastenders or Corrie on a smaller screen in another room if they so choose.
The home-made buffet is running short, as would be expected but there is still enough moonshine to keep the party going. Standing at the bar drinking a real pint of proper strength lager, and looking around the lounge I notice a large map of the immediate area hung on the wall next to the artificial Christmas tree which has seen better days. Underneath a sorry looking strand of tinsel it shows the inexorable progress of the sea. Dad and Jim join me; at the sight of the map both of them take on a serious air. Dad explains; "I made GPS surveys of the shoreline. The red line is one year ago, and the black line is last month." The area in between the lines has been shaded light blue, covering the former Pagham Lagoon. "The black hatched strip is where I hope we can make a stand with the embankment; hopefully we can begin raising it further and bulking it up once Christmas is over."
"If we don't get another bloody storm!" says Jim. "I reckon another one like last month could probably break through, and then we'd 'ave to scarper!" Dad nods sadly in agreement.
It strikes me then, the reason for the Parkies partying on despite their predicament. This could be the last time they have the chance to get together before they are cast apart by the sea and fate, so they might as well celebrate the fact they've managed to stay together as a community for another year despite everything which has been thrown at them. For them this is a real achievement. I'm handed another glass of artisanal lager, and soon my depressive thoughts are obliterated for a while at least.
Some time later, after my eyes refuse to focus properly, a collective decision is taken to finish for the evening. We split into small groups to help each other home through the close velvety opaqueness of the night.
Boxing Day; the typical yuletide anticlimax has set in and I must be leaving. It's a good thing I don't have catch a specific train back as I'm sure I would miss it. I feel utterly wrecked; in fact I can't remember getting into bed. Dad appears to be suffering the after effects of last night as well. Fortunately I've not much to pack or carry so I can be away as soon as my wobbly legs feel up to the walk to the bus stop. Before we part there are just the formalities of updating each other on our emergency contact details, as well as our outline escape and evasion plans just in case the Connie attack dogs are let slip from their leash. Both of us being journalists we know the importance of having alternative means of communication. We both maintain the insurance of cheap and unregistered dark slates which can be discarded if we believe them to be compromised.
We also exchange chip backups of our files. It's as we do this Dad remembers he might have a biography on James Purvis archived before the cleansing. "Just a bit of background research when you started work there; I was curious." Well done Dad! And why didn't I think of that? I must be losing it! I'll search for the file later.
Also stored on the chip is the latest instalment of the documentary Dad has recced about the struggle to save Shorehaven Park. It's both an archive and a testament; ready to be edited into a programme should the site be forcibly cleared or the sea break through. I'm trusted by him and the others not to use any of it until they allow it, or necessity impels its publicity. From the copy I've seen so far it will make poignantly compelling viewing.
Our goodbyes said it seems like a very long walk on unsteady legs to the bus stop. The shop has the roller shutters down so I don't think I'll bother asking about any Iced Gems. It being Boxing Day the services are reduced so I have to walk closer to the town centre and wait a while longer before a bus finally hoves into view. That gets me back to Chichester where I find the rail services suspended for line maintenance. As there is a Southsea bound 700 waiting I take that in preference to the rail replacement bus as far as Havant.
As the bus stop-starts along the A259 my mind swirls with the emotions of the last few days. It really is gut-renching seeing Dad and his fellow Parkers in the state they are in; living in raddled layers and ancient quilting; trying Canute-like to hold back the waves. As his son I feel guilty, whether justifiably or not, but powerless to deal with his stubbornness in wanting to stay put. The least I can do is try to help them some more. I wonder if I can't be a bit creative with the expense accounts we use to keep our sources going. As long as you don't abuse the system it's an accepted part of journalism. It wouldn't be stretching things too far anyway. One day Shorehaven Park will be a story; it's just no one knows what sort, and how big it will be yet.
What also continues to make a surprisingly powerful impression on me is the reaction of the people at the Redemptionist concert and their faith - be it naive or not - a change for the better is coming. That given the chance to do so, and the truth to inform their vote, the electorate will do the right thing and kick the Consensus out of office: As if it would be that easy! Yet I'm still affected by the trust in, and appreciation they showed for IMS.
I started off as a reluctant, cynically indifferent recruit to James' NRP; I'm by no means a convert now. But I've progressed from just doing what is required of me in order to keep my stock high; on to doing the best job I can on this project in order to demonstrate my organisational and creative abilities to a prospective employer; through to genuinely wanting it to succeed in order to get some kind of revenge for everything the Connie bastards have done to us.
By the time the Coastliner reaches Havant bus station I'm desperate to get off and relieve myself. Having done that, at least I don't have to wait too long for the next 39 to take me back to the 'Ville. Once home I crash out for an early night. It's nose back to the grindstone tomorrow.
Porridge made with powdered milk isn't the sort of breakfast I would want, especially after eating some for dinner last night, but it's all I have left in my larder. I deliberately used all the perishable goods in advance of my Christmas trip away. These days, despite the uncertainty of resupply, you don't keep too much stored. You either can't afford to, or risk it being confiscated if you fall foul of the arbitrarily flexible definition of 'hoarding' or 'spivving'. I'll have to do some shopping today or grab a meal in a Community Canteen. Getting back into a routine after a break always feels strange, but I sense that something isn't right. I didn't notice it last night in my eagerness to get some sleep but I'm sure someone has been in here while I was away. I've looked carefully all over but have found nothing. The little telltales I left set seem undisturbed, but there's just... something awry; I can't say what, but I'm sure of it.
Whoever might have been in here was unconcerned about the consequences of being caught on Zoned property without authorisation; and they must've been professional enough not to leave any obvious traces, so that rules out the local filth or Connies. I checked my hidden stash places, and nothing appears to have been disturbed, but how can I be sure? I swept the place with my scroll's suite of detection programmes but they found nothing. But my hunch is still telling me something is amiss, or else this cloak and dagger campaign organising is beginning to turn me paranoid. Am I beginning to lose it? I don't know. But there are protocols for reporting this sort of suspicion to the NRP's security consultants, so that's what I'll do.
The officially sanctioned Yuletide celebrations are over. The bus to work is full of drawn faced, skinny, subdued people who don't look at all relaxed or as if they've just had an enjoyable time. Our collective mood isn't helped by the weather; suicide inducing leaden skies leak a fine rain which would turn to sleet if it were a tad colder. The relatively warm Christmas period is at an end, and winter proper is about to begin. Everyone dreads the thought of it.
It hardly seems that I've been away from work; it's the same old same old all over again. Frankly I'm sick of it all. When this election is over I'll think about moving on, because I can't imagine doing this for even another year. Despite my job title I'm just another peon; overworked and underpaid to the point of having to wear shoes which have been into FixIt too many times; so impoverished I'm barely able to keep up the payments on my poxy little flat and eat or pay the bills. I'm sick of it all. Is this all there is to life? Wasting my time in this shithole; being continually ground down by the stress of coping? Yes I know there are plenty of people whose wildest dreams would be to have my problems; but knowing that is no fucking help to me, and doesn't change a fucking thing. I need to get out before I burn out or break down.
True to form my terminal rings. It's James as expected; no doubt trying to micromanage everything as usual. My pissed-off mood must be obvious because straight away he asks me what is wrong. I don't tell him everything, of course, but I do explain about my concern for Dad and the other Parkies.
"You should use some of our source maintenance account to help them!" he says. The trouble is I don't think it would stretch to buying a new plot further inland, but the thought is appreciated. I'll ask Dad if there is anything they need.
The reason for James' call soon becomes apparent. The worst kept secret in Federation politics is about to be made public. The Electoral Commission will shortly announce the start of the Democratic Reset campaigning period will be advanced from the beginning of March to January the second. No doubt they've made this decision in the hope it will startle the opposition and aid the Consensus.
At long last the timetable to resumption of some form of democracy as we once knew it will begin: The General Election is due to be held as tradition dictates in May, so from now on I can expect to become even more busy; beginning in a couple of days time with a short notice meeting of the campaign group. We thought this might happen and had outline plans for dealing with it; now we need to get things running. It's one thing to wait expectantly on the start line, but another to hear the crack of the starting pistol. Me, I'm eager to get this race run.
With me in an arsey post-Christmas mood and James' call I'd almost forgotten about the Redemptionist concert. A blurt of it arrives in my inbox, so I quickly scroll through it. Whoever did the post-prod has made a very good job of it, so it only takes a couple of minor tweaks and polishing before it's ready to go live. I make it available immediately to anyone who wants to venture beyond our scheduled streams; then, with a bit of time juggling, flick some nondescript programme off an evening slot and drop it in there as a spontaneous seasonal offering. It'll be interesting to see how it is received.
Well who would have thought it? The concert led our ratings last night, and after word of blurt spread it was soon picked up nationwide. I'm getting overwhelmingly positive feedback from our audience, and James is well pleased.
New Year's Eve, and I'm on duty; more or less alone apart from a couple of other skeleton staff elsewhere in the building. I feel resentful having to sit here minding automatic systems which wouldn't be affected in the slightest by my absence; just in case of the remote chance something were to go wrong. Should IMS' output suddenly drop out then it would either be a simple matter to fix the problem, or so catastrophic it would be beyond my ability to do anything useful. Feeling superfluous I have plenty of time for retrospection, and I've little doubt I'm not the only one who can find fuck-all to celebrate in the year about to pass, and bugger-all to look forward to in the year to come. Unless of course you believe the forthcoming election really will be free and fair.
Time ticks slowly toward the midnight hour and seems to slow as the night draws on. God I'm bored! After a while there is only so much monitoring of the New Year's eve concerts and countdown programming you can do before you can't take any more.
Now and then the monotony is broken by a Happy New Year blurt sent in by a friend, or colleague, or even the occasional member of the audience. How sad must their life be to be blurting to us on New Year's Eve? Apart from that our inbox is as subdued as the celebrations.
Up in Alba I'm sure they are getting utterly paralytic, as they do. But here in the Fed you'll have a hard time getting shit-faced on what officially passes for alcohol. Not that you dare risk getting caught being drunk in public: It's a minimum three months Rehab plus a Lifestyle Control Order for a first offence. No, if you're going to get out of your head you do it quietly, away from public view with some homebrew hooch that could quite possibly cause permanent blindness. Speaking of which, I brought along a small bottle of Dad's Deadly to help pass the time. A gulp of that from time to time certainly helps the evening pass more quickly.
Midnight sweeps on invisibly across the globe. On international feeds I can see fireworks displays and celebrations from places where it is already next year. Even in the less fortunate places they seem to be having a better time than we will. I have another slug of throat burning liquor to try to keep the monotony at bay. I don't know exactly what Dad made this batch with but by fuck it works! After updating my blurt, and even watching James' New Year address to our audience - a variation on his Column speech, and he really shouldn't try writing his own material; I'll have to have a chat with him about it - I find at last it's ten to midnight.
As ever the New Year's coverage concentrates on Trafalgar Square, the Thameside embankments, and Big Ben so our London centre handles it. All I need to do now is stay alert in case anything goes wrong or the Albans decide to throw something in to liven up the insipid fireworks display we can expect. We have contingency plans to take over and run an emergency 'cast in that eventuality; not that we are ever likely to need them.
Big Ben chimes his sonorous notes and incongruously the Scottish Auld Lang Syne is sung by well ordered, sober crowds. The word Hogmany is seldom spoken south of Hadrian's Wall these days, but the traditional singing has yet to be affected by the Partition. Midnight has passed and that's it. Now return to your homes and get plenty of sleep in preparation for another industrious year ahead.
Christ this 'shine is fucking potent! I'd better stop drinking or my relief will find me slumped in my chair, dead to the world, and that would never do. Or maybe just one more... Well cheers! And a happy fucking new year to you all!