Jamie Logue was born in Carlisle and was raised in a small village in Cumbria. He graduated from Newcastle University with a first class honours degree in English Literature and is currently studying for an MLitt in Postcolonial and World Literatures at the University of St Andrews. In 2017 he taught English in a language school in Taiwan for an academic year. He spent the summer of 2018 in Krakow, reading, writing and teaching.
By Jamie Logue
It was shortly after my 50th birthday when I realised that I was absolutely fucking sick of myself. I was spending more and more time drunk or half-drunk and had begun to notice a widening disparity between my sober and intoxicated self. Sober, I had always had socialist leanings, an alignment undoubtedly determined by an abundance of the usual unconscious environmental factors rather than anything approaching thought. Half-cut, I started noticing myself becoming a proponent of laissez-faire libertarianism as an unexplained disdain, even disgust, for an abstract scrounging underclass seeped into me. I was well aware of the depth of idiocy in holding such generalized prejudices. Nevertheless, my drunken self’s unambiguous opinion was that a majority of these people whom I’d never met were morons, with their ritualized TV talent show entertainment and misguided sense of integrity.
Daily hungover, often with a thin layer of vomit caked to the roof of my mouth, I would wake up chuckling to myself as my mind scrolled through disordered snapshots of ridiculous political rantings. I laughed because I knew that deep down, despite myself, I didn’t care about people or politics. However adamant I’d been about whatever I was saying the night before, the fucks my early morning self gave were non-existent. Besides, how could someone who had degenerated to the point of eating biscuits for breakfast expect to have his political opinions taken seriously, even by himself?
I was living alone in a nondescript flat within walking distance of the university. As often as I could, I fabricated excuses that would allow me to stay away from lecturing. On those days, I would lie in bed drinking Jack Daniels whilst watching dreary news programmes on TV – waiting for something to happen. I never felt like I needed the alcohol but drinking it seemed the appropriate thing to do. During the adverts I’d flick through various travel agents’ websites on my iPad, searching half-heartedly for somewhere better to be. The same dismal places always cropped up – the Algarve still seemed popular with a proportion of the braindead, Thailand was tired, Greece was fucked. I tried a few different searches on Google, and eventually gave up, allowing my eyes to bore a hole into David Starkey’s face as he bleated on about the tyranny of tolerance on a midday repeat of Question Time. To say that I was becoming disillusioned would be an understatement. I was aware that I had become a contradiction, that nothing I said or did made sense, followed any pattern. Not that I am boasting about this – incomprehensible is no better than banal, it’s just its flip-side. I bored myself.
When my dad died I inherited a sum of money and for a while I fell into the habit of spending my time spending it. I’d loiter around in pubs while my seminar groups made do with substitutes. Then I’d go and sit in the casino all evening, barely noticing whether I won or lost as I sat sobering up on complimentary lattes. One afternoon after a heavy drinking session and an argument with some dour old bastard about Scottish independence, I went £400 down playing roulette, then recovered to go £800 up, then finally lost around a grand. The dealer was an attractive Eastern European girl in her late 20s. As other punters became entranced by the red-green blur of spinning roulette wheels, I allowed myself to stare shamelessly at her curves. I sat there for about an hour laying tenner after tenner down on the table, chat-up lines vaporizing in my mind. I eventually grew tired and left.
On my walk home I tried to remember whether I was arguing for or against independence. A little independent travel agency – Crake’s – caught my attention with bold white 3D lettering against dark tinted glass: One-of-a kind, deeply personal travel experiences. Crake’s – making all your wildest dreams come true. The shop’s exterior was slick, modern and metallic, minimalist to the point of displaying no brochures or pictures whatsoever. Encouraged by the rum I’d guzzled earlier I pushed the glass swing door open and stepped in. It looked more like a tech-shop than a travel agency.
There was an oppressive sterility about the place. The smell of a dentist’s waiting room invaded my sinuses. All the surfaces were a polished silver and a solitary staff member sat at one of the many neatly aligned desks. At first, she didn’t acknowledge me. She was wearing what seemed to be a white nurse’s outfit and I began to wonder whether my inebriated state had caused me to misread the shop’s sign. There were no other customers. The woman stared intently at her computer screen, clicking a mouse rhythmically –
click click clackclackclack click click clack
click click clackclackclack click click clack
She beamed at me over her monitor, Oh hello – sorry! I’m sorry I didn’t see you come in.
I saw your sign, about unique travel expe-
Excellent. Quite excellent. Yes, indeed. Do sit down, she smiled. The price is £3000, all inclusive, for the week.
I looked at her.
I sat down opposite her on an uncomfortable metal chair.
Well what does the package involve? Where is it I’d be going?
Anything you want. Anywhere you like…
Half drunk and suddenly exhausted her vagueness frustrated me. I made my excuses and headed for home, passing out as clips and soundbites from Kim Jong Un’s latest military parade rolled across my television screen.
I woke up the following morning and masturbated pensively before getting out of bed. I turned the TV back on and allowed the same news reports from the night before to wash over me. I called the university to let them know that I was still far too ill for work.
Around lunchtime, on my way to the pub, I noticed Crake’s travel agents again. It had undergone a complete rebranding, its cold, hard minimalistic exterior replaced overnight by a technicolour holographic display, featuring exotic locations, plants and animals from all over the world. Without thinking I was inside the door, seated opposite the nurse lady.
Hello Sir, would you like to purchase the one-of-a-kind all-inclusive travel package?
I asked for more information.
What is there to tell? I assure you Sir, the trip is tailored according to your personal preferences, all of which are determined by our quick and easy personality and compatibility test.
. . .
. . .
Shall we proceed? Now, I do need your credit card details upfront if you would be so kind, but no charge will be made until you return from your travels completely satisfied.
I found myself accepting and nodding, nodding and accepting.
Her happyshrill voice – Excellent!
She opened her desk drawer and extracted a set of headphones, sealed in a cellophane wrapping. She plugged them into her computer and handed me the ear pieces.
That’s right, nice and deep. As deep as they will go, that’s it
. . .
a buzz, a distant pulse, a fluttering
everything became grainy – everything became nothing.
When I awoke I was still sitting upright, earphones burrowed deep beneath the protective sponge of earwax.
Excellent Excellent! Now, you may feel a slight nausea for the next few moments but it will subside soon enough. Your holiday will be ready for activation in 30 minutes.
She walked off, through a metal-grey swing door labelled Staff Only.
There was nobody else in the room, no other potential customers waiting. My vision was blurry so I remained seated while I waited for her to return. Gradually my eyes cleared and I felt relaxed, despite not really knowing what the fuck was going on.
Half an hour later, she returned and beckoned for me to follow her. She led the way down an intensely colourful corridor. I considered her plump body as it bounced around in front of me. Distant sounds echoed. Inhuman human sounds – drug induced laughter, inorganic orgasms, general hysteria. She glanced over her shoulder with a look that said everything is ok and all will become clear.
She stopped outside a pink door. A golden plaque bearing my full name had been affixed at eye-level in the centre, a smell of hot glue still lingering. With an electronic card she swiped the door unlocked, indicating with her smile that I should step inside. She spotted me staring at the plaque and read my mind: Don’t worry, you haven’t misremembered anything, you didn’t give your name, but our personality test picks up on such details, amongst other, more important ones.
Sensing my reluctance, she led me through the door, into a room about the size of a swimming room changing cubicle. There was nothing in the room except for a pink office swivel chair.
Now, Sir, your personalized travel experience can begin. I trust you will enjoy yourself.
She handed me a tiny pink pill and watched me with her intent smile.
I looked from her to the pill.
You may now activate your holiday, Sir, in your own time.
Do I have to take this right now? I asked.
Of course not, Sir. Most of our clients prefer to activate their excursions in our offices, so that they can pick up where they left off when they return, but you are free to take your holiday away with you and save it for a more convenient time if you so wish.
I returned home, the little pink pill in a plastic pouch emblazoned with the agency’s logo. I turned on the television and poured myself a thumb of whisky. Laura Kuenssberg’s mouth flapped open and closed but her words skimmed soundlessly over me. The world moves so slowly, and when it does it only seems to move in circles. I picked up my laptop and tried a google search for Crake’s. Average TripAdvisor rating four point something out of five. 22 reviewers, 17 five-star reviews, 5 one-star reviews. No four, three or two-star reviews. Strangely, unlike any other page on the site, these ratings were not accompanied by any sort of comment or written review – just standalone star ratings.
For the next couple of weeks, the pill sat in its sleeve on my coffee table. I tried my best to ignore it but it seemed to grow brighter, a more inviting shade of pink every time it crept into sight. I checked my online banking daily; to my surprise, no money had been taken by Crake’s. One evening the head of department rang and gave an abrupt ultimatum, concealed in all the pleasantries of the day. Shape up or ship out. I drained whatever it was that was in my glass and poured the tiny pill into my palm. I didn’t have cause to trust the nurse, but I didn’t particularly mistrust her either. Trip Advisor spoke highly enough. Always trust the internet.
Why does anybody do anything? I wondered, and swallowed it without conviction.
I regained consciousness slowly as my mind blitzed through a haze of discordant sounds and visuals.
My head was under something soft and heavy. My left eyelid twitched sporadically. Saliva pooled at the cusp of my bottom lip and dribbled onto my chin. I sat up and looked around; I was in a hotel room. Everything was pristine as though untouched by human hands.
A large flat screen TV that hung on the wall clicked itself into action and a menu appeared, bearing a series of breakfast options. I chose a blueberry muffin and a coffee. The second I confirmed my selection on the touchpad, there was a knock at the door:
Good Morning Sir, I hevyour bireakfast.
Polish? Ukrainian maybe – Come in!
A coy-looking blonde girl in her late teens stepped through the door. She wore a plain white dress with a little name badge clipped above her left breast, with an English adaptation underneath
She sat the breakfast tray down on the desk, poured the coffee and smiled encouragingly at me.
May I help you with anything else, Sir?
No, that’s great, thank you.
Smiling contently, she left the room.
The coffee was good, the blueberries were fresh and juicy. As soon as I replaced my empty cup and crumb-speckled plate on the tray, the menu screen reappeared on the TV. A new list of options confronted me, featuring an alphabetized list of potential activities for the day. I didn’t get passed the first page. I selected beach and an endless series of subsections popped up. Mindlessly I settled on
Beach > Thailand > Patong > 28℃, sunny > 2pm > Human density 12%.
12%. Would that be a lot of people or a few? I didn’t know.
After I’d selected my day out, the screen presented a handful of follow-up questions with yes/no answers:
Would you like to apply language uniformity (default, English) to your experience today? Yes.
Would you be interested in Crake’s additional promotions throughout your day? No.
Are you sure? Please answer in the affirmative in order to maximise today’s experience. Yes.
The screen shut itself off. Nothing happened. I was left alone in my room.
Instinctively, I moved towards the door and pulled it open, stepping out onto what was unmistakably Patong beach. Instant gratification. I couldn’t complain. I walked along the hot white sand and came across a smiling local who was selling cold drinks. He wore an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt, chino shorts and brown leather sandals. He looked like he had been plucked straight from an in-flight magazine advert. His approach was a blend of enthusiasm and deference – CocaColaWaterCol’BeerSpryFanta7up.
I could murder a beer, I thought, but realised I didn’t have any change on me, never mind my actual wallet. As though reading my disappointment, the man piped up gleefully, You pay later Sir, pay later. Without my needing to ask him he cracked open an ice cold Singha and handed it over. I closed my eyes as I took a grateful gulp, breathing in the sea and the temperate air. It was real.
I walked about half a mile up the beach and hired a sun lounger from a man that materialized out of nowhere. Once again he seemed understanding of my inability to pay, and seemed fine with my returning later. I would like to say I intended to go back with the money, but I have learnt to coexist with my moral ambivalence. I sat there all afternoon draining free beer and marvelled as the 12% human density swam, dug, slept, spoke, tanned. I felt inordinately pleased with myself. Away from it all. I struck up conversation with strangers and took pleasure from their stories and jokes. Those that I spoke to seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say, girls flirted – men half my age looked over enviously. It felt pretty good to be me.
I gazed towards the horizon and thought of Monet as I watched the setting sun blend the sea into the sky, the sky into the sea. I hadn’t thought of art for months. All was well.
I got to my feet, offering false promises to the beer and lounger men. Very unlikely I’ll cross their paths again, I thought with an internal grin.
My breakfast waitress suddenly appeared at my waist, a warm smile lit her face:
Hev you hid a nice day, Sir?
Oh, really nice! I spouted, almost stumbling into a parasol.
She led me back up the beach to a point near to where I’d come from, and tapped a code into an elegant wristwatch. Out of nothing, my hotel room door materialized in front of us and she gestured for me to step through.
I flung myself onto the plush white duvet, a ginormous half-drunk star fish sprawled across the bed. Love followed me into the room.
How about a relaxing massage, Sir?
I nodded a grateful assent, before remembering my absent wallet.
She stepped out of her dress and stood naked before me. A reassuring smile.
Don’t worry Sir, pay later. You can pay later.
About a week later I awoke in my armchair to the sound of a bin lorry reversing. Cold sweat clung to my skin, and from the smell I was pretty sure I’d pissed myself. I was starving. The television was still on, the news stories were more or less the same. Kuenssberg was back, talking about the left and the right, the up and the down, the in and the out. Whatever. I turned her off. My laptop was still open on the coffee table, fully charged and glowing despite being unplugged. Five stars, I clicked. I tried to process what had happened. Some kind of virtual reality holiday? It had felt more than that. What a week it had been though, no denying it.
An email notification flashed on the bottom-right corner of the screen. Crake’s.
Plunging into a well of anxiety, I snapped the laptop screen shut. Jesus what had I been up to. I needed a pint.
On my way to the pub I stepped into a newsagents and bought a paper. I sat down at a table with a pint of Peroni and tried to read.
. . .
I found myself back in Crake’s, sitting opposite the nurse.
I trust that you had a thoroughly satisfying experience, Sir?
I looked into her eyes thoughtfully, but wasn’t aware of betraying any emotion.
Oh I see, you want to go again? I can arrange that for you. No problem. Excellent. I’m afraid that we’ve had to put prices up a smidge. It’s £9000 now for a week, all in.
We have all your details on file. It will take me 30 minutes to prepare your trip. Do you want to take away again? We have two available rooms if you’d prefer.
Excellent, she said.
Excellent, I thought.
I eventually left my little pink cubicle some weeks later. I considered going to the university and begging for my job back as a means of paying off my latest holiday, which I’d taken on credit. I staggered back into the pub instead and got a pint – also on credit. I sat in the window and looked out onto the street. I felt myself stand up and switch with the empty seat opposite me. My hands were shaking. I took a pen out of my pocket and pricked myself in the back of the hand. I couldn’t feel anything. I pressed harder and harder until I felt a tiny scratch, a tickle. I smiled.