…and carry a little audio device around with them to play it aloud before they speak to anyone. Literally every time they meet a stranger or a friend or acquaintance. People who live together (whether family members or partners) would be allowed to play each other their signature tunes once at the start of each day. Apart from that, it should be as natural and as obligatory as drawing breath to do it in every form of human intercourse: at home, at work, in meetings, in shops, in Parliament, before fights outside pubs, in schools and offices, when speed dating, when answering the phone or making a call (including to the Samaritans), when shouting at players in sporting events, when visiting the doctor, job interviews…nothing should be exempt. And the bit about people who live together could be amended to say that signature tunes should be mutually played prior to having sex, even if they have been broadcast to each other earlier in the day.
Parents would have to choose a signature tune for each new born baby, but the child would have the right to change it at the age of 7, and again at 16, after which it would require the consent of the Queen and the House of Lords to change one’s signature tune.
People with M.A.s or PhDs in Music would be allowed to write their own but everyone else would have to choose from i-Tunes or Spotify.
But only in countries ruled by unelected murderous military dictators would anyone be allowed to choose Angels by Robbie Williams…or anything by U2, or Sting. Or Susan Boyle.
* * * * * *
“We know you haven’t finished it yet….PLEASE don’t put us through this any longer….please…just finish it, and get it in to them as soon as you can. Do it now, lovely one, you’ve only got another 5 days you know! Get it done and ring us back to let us know you’ve handed it in. We love you. Your mother sends her love. We love you so much…”.
Sami pressed ‘delete’ on the message service console. She wished that message services could somehow regress to the old audio stage. The high definition images of her father and mother, all beseeching looks and trembling anxiety, only served to pour more cement into the already brimming mould of her Writers’ Block. Capital ‘W’…capital ‘B’. Ever since the World Health Organisation had declared it to be number 3,008 on the official list of psychiatric disorders and mental health diagnoses.
Perhaps not as fanciful as many of the other syndromes, thought Sami. After all, it was now a matter of life and death.
In 5 days time she would be 40 years old. By midnight on that day she was legally obliged to submit her novel to the Fictitious Prose Narrative Commission (FPNC), the all-powerful agency known to her contacts in the No Novel Underground as the Slush Pile. She felt a sharp pang of guilt as she powered up the life-unit on her desk: she regretted starting her novel, getting two-thirds of the way into a book that she knew would be acceptable to the Slush Pile, thus giving her parents and her close friends and colleagues grounds to hope that she would meet the deadline. Virtually the whole of the world’s population managed to achieve this, most of them conforming well before their 40th birthday. As usual she was in danger of falling between two stools, only this time the ambivalence was terminal. She was failing to commit to the No Novel mutineers whilst sleepwalking into an early incinerator for not finishing at least one novel.
Sami brushed a finger over the options on the life-unit screen. Ignoring the icon labelled My Novel, with its pre-programmed throbbing counter showing “Five Days” in red letters, she touched on the icon labelled A Brief History of the Universal Novel Laws. All she had to do was write a concluding chapter and check over the bibliography. Her contact from the No Novel Underground was waiting out there in the ether in some lonely digital vault. Her research would help others to understand that there had been millennia in which novels had not existed, and some four centuries or so in which novels existed but not everyone was forced to write one. Even Sami, haunted by fear of arrest and summary execution, could not help leaning back and daydreaming a little as she scanned the opening pages of her illicit work. She sighed as she soothed her hands over her forehead and through her wavy terraces of dark hair.
She blamed the powerful elites who had seized on the first available opportunity to harness the energy of creativity and artistic endeavour. By 2020 artistic activity had become the only source of opposition or alternative thinking to the prevailing culture of materialism and corporate omnipotence. Many writers, musicians and artists had been bought and corrupted, but the creative spirit stubbornly continued to throw up challenges too threatening for the powers-that-be to tolerate. They decided to make the old maxim that “everyone has a novel inside them” into the basis for a moral, political and spiritual coup.
The oft-repeated laments of literary agents, publishers and editors that they were unable to cope with the sheer number of novels being sent in for consideration played into the hands of the growing global authorities. Draconian laws were introduced to make novel-writing part of the school curriculum and to make the novel the officially sanctioned arena for conformity and conservatism. The Slush Pile, the FPNC, became the vehicle for assessing the suitability of all novels, for owning the works themselves, and for policing the rigorous enforcement of the law – including the arrest and elimination of those rare beings who failed to do their literary duty.
Sami’s final hard-copy notice of Fixed Death Penalty Warning glared up at her from the floor beside her desk.
Things had been made easier by the sophisticated devices which had crowded onto the market after the early Kindle machines. Sami gave a wry smile at the choice of the word ‘Kindle’. It had certainly sparked a fire under the old concept of the sensuous, physical thing called “book”. Now the approved form of execution for arrested No Novel Underground members was to be burned at the stake atop a bonfire of books. She had seen old photographs of repressive regimes and fundamentalist sects burning books. Now she could almost smell the smoke in her own nostrils.
The Slush Pile exercised absolute control over which novels were allowed into the public domain. Sami knew full well that her unfinished work, Pull Yourself Together, would pass the basic Acceptability Tests put in place by the Slush Pile bureaucrats. But she was also fully aware that it would then simply languish for ever in the perpetual anonymity of the vast FPNC memory banks. Sami had not set out to write anything subversive, but the mere fact that her work did not overtly or metaphorically promote the prevailing ethos would be enough to ensure that it would never be made available. In any case, reading was most definitely not a legal requirement.
Three paragraphs into her concluding chapter Sami had to get up and refresh her brew of tea whilst she waited for a pre-programmed reminder to depart from the screen: Your novel is due in 4 days! You are already under suspicion for leaving submission so late. You must send a completed text for appraisal by FPNC experts by midnight on your 40th birthday. Failure to comply will result in immediate arrest and deletion of your being. “Submission”…another appropriate word. Sami looked on as the Slush Pile’s message was followed by a series of advertisements, mostly sponsored by ancient rags like The Guardian and The Independent offering expensive courses in Creative Writing.
The reference to “4 days” gave her a belated jolt. She glanced at the clock. It was nearly 1 a.m.
To wind down before trying to sleep she ordered her list of sources for the bibliography. After some indecision she decided to include her own paper from March 2049, “Oral Traditions of Extinct Peoples: a case Study of the Chukchi”.
She drifted in and out of sleep amidst images of subterranean safe-havens in Kamchatka.
* * * * * *
Of course, the concept of ‘signature tune’ may not have the same resonance for younger readers. At one time all radio shows and tv programmes were topped and tailed by a carefully chosen piece of music. Radio djs were especially identifiable by their choice of intro music. However, theme music (a.k.a. a signature tune) is still very much in evidence. A friend’s signature tune would become as familiar as the cheesy trumpet that (still probably?) ushers in Coronation Street. The whole range of recorded music would be fair game.
What would be your signature tune? It’s not quite the same as choosing numero uno from your Desert Island Discs.
I will play you mine if you will play me yours.