47 Random Fragments of Unauthorised Hope and Despair


HE HAD planned it all very carefully. He had even been up here during the day with Mrs Darby’s dog, that he’d so kindly offered to take for a walk.

The animal was a cover, of course, as in truth were the sandwiches he’d taken with him and the need to sit down for such a long break, back to the fence and one hand busily snipping away at the wire behind him, while the other continued to feed his mouth with chunks of rather stale bread.

So tonight it was so easy, as he found the flap he’d created and slipped through the outer perimeter. He knew the cameras up here had long since packed in - he’d met Phil yesterday for a coffee just to confirm - and that was the single fact that made it all so gloriously possible.

The only feasible detection, he reckoned, was by satellite, so he’d rigged up a sort of cloak of infra-red invisibility, double-lined with tin foil, to avoid becoming a blip on the screens of the control centre.

There was his chip, of course, but up here there just weren’t enough sensors to make it that accurate - they would probably not even bother flagging up the security zone on the system, it would be so prone to false alarms.

So that just left the fences and once he was out of sight of the road up from town he had plenty of time to dismantle them and walk through.

It was a blustery night. Not cold, just blowy. There was the dim glow of the moon behind the clouds. He felt good as he slipped past the second and then third barriers.

Now he came across a relic of an earlier age, a whole row of huge iron noticeboards barring his way. He flashed his torch onto one of them.

“Don’t do it!” it read. “Someone is thinking about you!” and below was the fading image of a young girl, arms held pitifully aloft and a huge tear welling in one eye.

This must have dated back 40 or 50 years, to when the suicide rates first started to go through the roof.

They thought that was the answer. A propaganda initiative against killing yourself. Adverts on the telly, countless newspaper and magazine interviews with suicides who’d changed their mind, relatives of those who hadn’t, professional psychologists listing ten early warning signs.

At the same time, suicide suddenly became a big thing in every soap opera plot on the TV and it even crept into the school syllabus.

Every time the message was unambiguous and firm. Suicide is wrong and harms us all.

He shed some light on another of the signs.

“Did you know,” it asked, “that every suicide costs the economy an estimated £2 million? Think life! Think money!”

They’d never really ever admitted that the campaign had failed. The figures had simply stopped appearing.

And instead of the special features and talk show specials, came new laws penalising those deemed guilty of facilitating or allowing, through negligence or lack of affirmative action, suicides to take place.

More cameras went into people’s homes, into public toilets and changing rooms - the final surveillance taboos were removed.

And the fences went up around places like this.

He was nearly there.

The wind blew even harder here, salty gusts knocking him backwards as he moved carefully on, torch lighting up the ground beneath as the chalk Downs became cliff edge.

Here it was. Darkness lay a metre ahead.

Planting his feet firmly as far forward as he dared, he stood up straight.

At that moment, the moon burst out from behind a furiously flying cloud and lit up the churning sea as it smashed onto the rocky shore far below him.

White illuminated gulls weaved in the blackness underneath his feet and the glorious scene blew pure exhilaration into his veins.

All around him was space, movement and joyous thundering of air.

And inside him was the glowing certainty of needing to be alive.