Working for the Council – an extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

Tribal. We are tribal. We are xenophobic and territorial. We are designed to function in small groups. We have to recognise and fight that if we ever hope to be civilised.



When I was eighteen I obtained a job working for the council as a road sweeper. I enjoyed it. The group of road-sweepers I worked with were a bunch of communists and revolutionaries. We met up for two-hour tea-breaks, discussing what was wrong with the country and how the whole social order should be overthrown. Then we went back to work.

Taking a two-hour break was OK as long as you knew the system.

I soon learnt that the foreman came round to check on me at exactly the same time every day. All I had to do was to be working hard for when he turned up.

I also sussed out that the public only saw you when you were working. If they did not see you they forgot you existed. I developed a strategy. I worked extremely hard when I was on the job. I did all manner of things over and above the call of duty. I weeded and cleared litter and leaves from hedges. Then I hid my barrow and headed off home or to the café. I only worked for half the time but whenever anyone saw me I was going at a feverish pace.

People were impressed. They’d never seen such an energetic road sweeper. Some actually phoned in to praise my industry and accomplishments, which was unprecedented. I was the sweeper who was clearing out under hedges and pulling up weeds. Nobody ever rang in to say I was only doing a three hour day and was sitting around drinking tea and gabbing most of the day. That’s because they never knew.

One weekend I wanted to take the Friday off to make a long weekend. There was a Rock festival on that I wanted to get to. I was in a dilemma because I could not afford to lose pay. I had a story sorted for the foreman for when he came on his rounds and I was not to be found. I had been caught short and I’d gone to the loo. I thought I could get away with it.

On the Thursday I worked for five hours and went overboard. I dragged stuff out from under hedges that had been there since Alfred had been worrying about the Danes. By the time I had finished I had left heaps of rubbish all the way along my route to demonstrate how hard I had been working.

On Monday the foreman came round early. He seemed cross. I was preparing myself to confess and take the consequences. I suspected he would dock my pay and give me a ticking off but there was a chance that I would be summarily sacked. Too late now to do anything about it. I was resigned to my fate.

“You realise the problems you’ve caused?” He started, glaring at me.

I hung my head, mulling over what I could possibly say in my defence.

“You collected so much rubbish on Friday that the men refused to pick it all up. We had to give two men three hours overtime to collect it!”

I couldn’t quite believe my ears. I looked up at him in astonishment.

“You’re only here for the summer,” he admonished. “You don’t have to kill yourself. Slow down a bit and take it easy!”

It was quite amusing – I was being bollocked for working too hard on the day I’d skived off.



Some people seek out friends in order to gossip about trivia concerning their everyday lives.



We humans are strange creatures.

We are obsessed with status and power.

We construct huge edifices to our glory. We swank around dripping with jewellery. We festoon our homes with priceless artwork. We fill our lives with labour-saving devices.

We are also incredibly inquisitive.

We use our skills to travel the web in search of knowledge and entertainment. We analyse atoms and explore the reaches of space. We build machines to explore the bottoms of the oceans, the edges of the stratosphere and the far limits of the solar system. We extend the limits of our senses with instruments and supersede the limits of our powers with machines.

We are ingenious.

We construct vast, complex civilisations with cities, commerce and philosophy. Our ideas exceed our capacity to understand them. Our tools are now so complex few of us now understand the principles upon which they are constructed.

Yet for all our intelligence and cunning we still behave like the most primitive of animals. We are violent, cruel, tribal and belligerent.

Are we ever going to grow up?