15 May, 2007

SurveillanceRichard had never noticed the CCTV camera at the end of his road before. It was just an ordinary suburban street, not a shopping centre or anything. So why would there be a CCTV camera there?

On the other hand it looks as if it had been there for a while. It was dirty from the rain and there was an orange rust stain on the wall where a bracket held it in place.

The camera moved towards Richard. He hated it when they did that because you never knew why. Perhaps it was programmed to automatically scan the street several times a minute. Or perhaps a smart computer program had recognised the license plate of a passing car, or the face of a known petty criminal, or some other clue a computer could recognise. Or maybe there was a human operator somewhere who had just told the CCTV camera to focus on Richard’s face.

Richard turned and walked away quickly, but not so quickly it would look suspicious. How quickly would look suspicious anyway? He knew he had done nothing wrong, but he felt guilty anyway. He wanted to appear innocent, which he was damn it, but he suspected that “trying to look innocent” was about the most suspicious thing a person could do. He got the same feeling going through customs in airports. He always felt aware of the customs officer watching him, the armed anti-terror police and the dog handlers. It made him sweat and look at his feet, and forget how to walk normally. It was an enormous relief to get through without being arrested and fingerprinted and searched and all the dark things he felt must happen to suspected drug smugglers and terrorists.

There were more CCTV cameras at the end of every street. Had they always been there? Richard couldn’t remember noticing them before, but he wasn’t certain they hadn’t been, either. Were they all turning as he went past, or was he just imagining things now? It would be a relief to get on the bus away from the cameras.

There was a camera at the bus stop. Well that made sense, they were always being vandalised and really it would be a good thing if the cameras deterred the little thugs from smashing the glass and ripping up the seats. And that was what CCTV cameras were for, wasn’t it? They were there to prevent crime, and help catch criminals. He should be glad of them really, because he had nothing to hide. But he still didn’t like the feeling of being watched.

There was quite a queue at the bus stop and the first bus that came was almost full, so Richard wasn’t able to get on. He waited for the next bus as the queue grew longer again, full of women with prams, people listening to music on headphones which let out a “tish tish tish” sound, and others tapping on mobile phones with their thumbs. Even the mobile phones all had cameras in nowadays and you never knew if you were being photographed or not. Richard’s girlfriend sometimes complained about perverts who tried to take photos of her legs or up her skirt when she sat on the train, and you couldn’t tell because you just thought they were sending a message to their friends. Richard had thought she sounded a bit paranoid and hadn’t worried about it, until now. He could see three different camera phones just at this bus stop, all pointing at him. The bus came, quite empty this one, and Richard chose a seat upstairs, away from the camera-phone people.

Richard liked sitting upstairs on the bus. When he was a child his mother had never let him. But sometimes when he was travelling with his dad they would sit upstairs at the front, and pretend they were fighter pilots. They’d take in turns who was driving and who was gunner, and shoot down enemy cars (green ones and Volvos) and enemy soldiers (policemen and traffic wardens) and bomb bridges and so on. And when dad got tired of that Richard would pull faces in the parabolic mirror which reflected down a sort of periscope so the driver could see if anyone was causing trouble upstairs. There was no parabolic mirror there today, but a sort of hemisphere of darkened glass. Was there a CCTV camera inside that? Richard couldn’t tell. He couldn’t remember when the mirrors had been replaced by these hemispheres. If there was a camera, where did the picture go? Was it a little monitor in the driver’s cab, just a high-tech version of the old periscope? And was it recorded on tape or disc? Or was it beamed to a control centre somewhere? Richard tried not to stare at the black half-globe and found it as difficult as not staring at deformed people in the street, or as difficult as walking through customs nonchalantly.

The bus arrived and it was only a short walk now to Richard’s office. The route however took him through the middle of the city, and here there really were CCTV cameras everywhere. They were on every street corner, on the doorways of all the shops, there were traffic cameras in the road and even a large police CCTV van. Richard knew the van wasn’t following him but the rush hour traffic was sluggish and whenever the van managed to get ahead of him the traffic always seemed to stop and Richard would be forced to walk slightly ahead of it once more. In any case, he thought those vans had cameras at the back as well as the front. The windows were all made of tinted glass so you couldn’t see.

He arrived at his building and hurried through the lobby with its CCTV camera. With great relief he hung up his coat and headed straight for the coffee machine. He was going to need a drink to calm his nerves after that journey. Armed with a cup of coffee and a Kit-Kat from the machine he settled down at his desk and turned his PC on.

He was quite certain that webcam had not been attached to his PC the day before.



11 May, 2007

BiohazardIs this thing on? Testing. One. Two. Three. Just play that back … OK, right, let’s get on with it then.

I was shopping in the Bell Tower Centre with my friend, Jo, when I first saw him. I thought he was a crazy guy and I tried to get out of the way. He was going up to people and grabbing hold of them and he seemed to be pleading with them. I just thought he was drunk, or one of these care-in-the-community people or something, so I tried to steer Jo the other way, but she hadn’t seen him and before I could do anything about it he had grabbed hold of her arm.

What was he wearing? I can’t remember. He was white, and he had dark hair, a bit long and really scruffy, like wild. He was dressed like a homeless person. Hang on, come to think of it his clothes were good really, like expensive, just scruffy. Dirty and rumpled like he’d slept in them. Like he’d slept in a rubbish bin. And tall – not, like, really tall just a bit taller than me I suppose, and young, and a bit gorgeous, like Hugh Grant if he’d been sleeping rough for a week. He was, like, “Help me, please help me,” and Jo was trying to get her arm free, and I was helping her, trying to pull her away.

Jo was like “Get off me!” and pulling her arm away from him. She was pushing him with her other hand and trying to get free. And I was like “Leave her alone you disgusting wino!” and pulling on her, and then she got away and we legged it. I was worried he’d run after us but he just fell on the floor and shouted “For God’s sake will somebody help me?”

So me and Jo went to a cafe and I bought he a latte to calm her nerves. But she’s really soft and she kept saying “I wonder what’s the matter with him?” and “Did you notice his eyes?” She said he had nice eyes. I just wanted to go home. We’d pretty much spent our money and I’d got the shoes I wanted and no way did I want to bump into that creepy guy again. But Jo persuaded me to go back and try on a skirt I’d been looking at, and it turned out it was just a trick. ‘Cause when we saw the guy again she went running up to him on purpose and asked him “What do you want? How can we help?”

So we went back to the cafe again with the wild looking guy. Jo had a point because he was a bit yummy when he calmed down. I went and got the coffees again and when I came back he was in the middle of telling Jo some story about a disease. I didn’t hear the beginning of it but it was something about his flatmate who worked for a drugs company. Or did he volunteer for drugs tests? I didn’t really understand it, partly ’cause it was all like science-babble and partly becuse he was getting excited again and he wasn’t making a lot of sense. But the flatmate had died, and the drugs company had come round to the flat in protective gear and taped it all up with big plastic sheets and stuff.

Look, do you know what any of this is about? Is that why I’ve got to make my statement through a glass screen like I was some sort of dangerous criminal? Because I’ve done nothing wrong. If you’re going to charge me with anything I want to  speak to a lawyer. OK. OK. Yes, I can help you with your enquiries, just as long as we’re clear I’ve done nothing wrong, I’m an innocent victim. Can you just at least phone my mum. She’ll be expecting me back by now and she’ll be worried sick if I’m late. Especially if she hears anything about what happened at the mall. OK.

So, the guy was telling us about his flatmate who died. He says it was really horrible. He didn’t go into the details. But he said he phoned an ambulance and then he needed to go outside for some air ’cause he was really freaked out, and when he went back he saw there was no ambulance there but people from the drugs company like I told you with the bio-hazard suits and the plastic sheets sealing the whole place up.

After that he said he ran away because he was scared. He had been right there with his friend when he died, and if the drugs company guys needed all that protection just to take the body away then what would happen to him? He wouldn’t tell us how his friend died. He just shut his eyes and stopped talking. And that was the creepiest thing of all, ’cause this guy never stopped talking, just yammering on and on “Please help me, help me” all the time. So when he stopped, I felt someone walk over my grave, know what I mean?

Then he started to retch. I thought he was just remembering how the flatmate died and it made him feel sick, but he stood up suddenly and knocked the table over, and all the coffee and frothy milk spilled all over the floor. And he was screaming. Or was it us? And retching and then he started being sick, but it was like all blood. And where it fell on him his clothes like dissolved, and his skin. His face was dissolving where the blood was coming out and there was loads of screaming by then and people running everywhere.

How is Jo, by the way? Have you heard from the hospital?