L A S T___W E E K ' S___M A N

Adam West awoke into the world of July 2020 an apparently normal and healthy adult. But unknown to him, a tragic and inexplicable accident had befallen him during the night:


Whereas in previous generation this would not have been a serious affliction, in our world of 2020 this was a disastrous malady to strike down a young man in his prime. Here was a world where mass communications had proliferated beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Since the arrival of home computers in the early 1980's, the exchange of digital information had accelerated the world's media like a meltdown in a nuclear reactor. The world was now an enormous inward looking mind with eyes and ears in every shop, school, home, and office.

Vain and introspective, riddled with jealousy and paranoia, the world gasped, listening for its own breath, danced with its own shadow, and, as stock markets crashed daily, drive itself towards oblivious insanity.

In this context, change was the only constant factor. As soon as an idea was created it was instantly disseminated throughout the world consciousness and answered with a multi-layeral cry of "NEXT!"

A knock-knock joke broadcast in Chicago could inadvertently cause the downfall of a government in Malaysia. A man flatuating in a bath in Inverness could trigger the electronic jamming of Radio Moscow's World Service.

The world's mind was, in short, in a highly unstable state.

In such a world, information was raised to the level of a cult. All kinds of data, no matter how boring, were the new gold: Marx's "Opiate of the masses."

For instance, Adam's favourite TV programme was Sofas, a long-running soap opera set in an unoccupied bungalow in Milton Keynes. The couch in the series had moved three inches in the last month while two spiders had occasionally crossed the floor. The comings and goings of the couch and the two armchairs were hot household conversation. Recently the popular press had been erupting with rumours that a cleaning lady was to visit the Sofas' living room in the next series, and the armchair on the left would be written out.

With such an abundance of popular culture, it was all the less forgiveable that Adam should lose touch with current thought.

At 10.45am Adam left his flat and stepped into his distressed-look half-resprayed Lada. It had nearly broken his bank, but top executives were expected to drive a car in keeping with their status. He was hoping to save up for a recommisioned Reliant Robin by the end of the year.

The car market had undegone a sudden loss of confidence sometime in the 1990's, when manufacturer's had been forced to admit that flashy modern cars like the Ford Libido XZ9ii mach 3 were actually designed to break down inside a year, so that affluent people could go one buying new ones. Since oil was running out anyway, it was agreed, to develop the new art of designer-car repairs. Finally the mechanic-mafia started making a serious effort to repair and maintain second-hand vehicles. Now the ultra-chic could drive antique cars with their decor fashionably flawed to comply with glossy advertising and American teenage rebellion movies.

Waiting at the lights, Adam out a tape of his favourite new band into the car stereo. Bronx-4-Zing were a new American disco outfit who specialised in sampled trash-can drum-beats laid over with traffic noise and radio inteference. Their latest hit single consisted of 30 minutes of Nixon's Watergate speech played backwards over a recording of the Dresden bombing.

YAdam noticed the usual collection of down-and-outs staggering on the far side of the street. He never gave money to tramps, knowing only too well they would waste it on alcohol. There were now so many institutions for financial gain and investment that the poor were finally exposed for what they had always been-drunken reprobates incapable of adequate education, lazy and smelling pretty badly.

Still, Adam did his bit for life's unfortunates. His design office was currently engaged in some rehabilitation work on the Drumchapel compound (Castlemilk, Easterhouse, and Drumchapel had been declared peripheral internment compounds in 1995 by Britjail, plc). Adam had specified search towers and gun turrets painted pink with rather tricky plywood pediments and porticos.

Slightly dishevelled and behind schedule, Adam arrived at his office at 11.15am to begin his day's flexitime as an architect.

Of course, he should have realised something was wrong when Benbecula, one of the company's charming young secretaries, looked up astounded and remarked:

"You're looking very eighties today, Adam."

This seemingly innocent remark perturbed Adam out of all proportion. His style of dress was of course, entirely contemporary. He has seen it modelled only last week in fact in Dressage magazine. He had bought his fisherman-surplus guano-stained overalls from "Trash! of Holyrood" along with his authentic blood-spattered waistcoat from the Iran-Iraq war.

How could he look like one of those rhomboids from the 1980's? He wasn't a bloody Goth or Flat-top!

Benbecula spoke with a vaguely lower-class accent anyway, so Adam was well-disposed to regard her as a slobbering sub-human.

It was a widespread though largely unnoticed fact of life, incidentally, that nearly all women of Adam's age group had been named after remote Scottish islands. Men on the other hand, seemed to have second-names for first names...

Adam sat down at his computer design terminal, to find the customary red ink scrawls written in his notepad by Rifkind Smith, one of his incompetent colleagues. Rifkind left him notes every morning to exercise his executive delusions of authority. Adam binned them as usual, and made for the door. But some unreconciled thoughts were nagging at the back of his mind:

"... the Association wants something more Proto-Trigonometric," Rifkind had written.

Of course it was gibberish. There was no such architectural style. But surely Rifkind couldn't have mustered the imagination to create such a phrase himself?"

"O.K.What's Proto-Trigonometricism supposed to mean?" snapped Adam striding into the next room. He expected some laughter... but there was only an embarassed silence. He struggled to conceal his surprise.

Ancram Selby, one of Adam's friends, looked up disdainfully: "Are you serious, Adam? Proto-Trigonometricism is about mathematical interpolations of the rhythms of free-planning into fragmentations of the colour field derived from the principles of Descartes. You know that!"

Adam was shattered. He had been designing Quasi-Sharpist Colonial office blocks for a full three months and felt deeply committed to this new style (almost as much as he had championed Post-Wagnerianism and Omni-Distractionism as a student). Adam had built several Sharpist buildings in the city: beautiful angular compositions in earth-coloured polyurethane with pink plywood Edwardian detailing. Was all this destined to cultural obscurity?

Somewhere beyond his mist-congested eyes he could hear Rifkind talking to him: "The Client says your Sharpist stuff is a bit old hat now. They want Proto-Trigonometricism, so get to it."

For once, Adam was losing his command of words. He stammered: "H-H-Has anything been built?"

Rifkind and Ancram stifled their laughter, throwing the latest editions of Architect's Menu at him. On the covers were images of buildings like rainbow-coloured geometrical explosions under construction all over Europe's cities interspersed with the odd drawing of Descartes and Trigonometry theorems. Adam retreated in disgrace.

Closing the door and checking no one was listening, he paced to the phone and spoke quietly: "Colonsay, get me everything you've got on Proto-Trigonometricism".

The rest of the day went form bad to worse, the rest of the week from worse to a nightmare. Though Adam scanned text after text in search of expanations of how to design Proto-Trigonometric buildings, none was forthcoming. By the time he had located a volume of the works of Descartes, it was the end of the week and he had endured three hostile rejections of his designs by Clients, two showdowns with the boss, plummeting unit values of his Sharpist executive suites, and two nervous breakdowns... to say nothing of his personal problems.

Adam returned home to find Sheba, his live-in girlfriend, had eaten his dinner two hours previously. This was standard. It was 9pm and "Sofas" had just finished.

Adam had been living with Sheba for about six years now. Of course, it had long ago ceased to be a sexual liason, persisting instead as a fortuitous business arrangement, enabling each partner to tell his or her social circle that they had a "partner", and thereby suggest they were normal and responsible members of society (this could also iprove promotion prospects).

Sheba sometimes wondered how many other couples were pursuing a similar charade, but it was impossible to guess. Her own mother had long ago confessed to her that she had only resisted divorce in order to avoid psychological damage to her offsrping. Sheba suspected it was only a matter of time before the ugly truth about love would finally be announced in some gossip magazine, and thousands of years of tribal lies could be brought crashing down around humanity's ears: love only lasted two years and the rest of the time was spent faking.

Well, in Sheba's case even the charade wasn't going to go on much longer... not even two days in fact.

Adam's first mistake was in a sense his most forgivable one -he came come lacking in self-confidence.

After years of zealous fasion following and skilful interpretation of current trends in clothes, music, repartee and, of course, architecture, Adam's self-esteem, in fact his entire raison d'etre had come to rely on the adulation of others. Suddenly and inexplicably this had been almost entirely removed from him in the space of one working day. He was devastated.

Walking to his car, he had become aware of the startled glances of passers-by, disorientated by his dated outfit and his last-week's haircut. Driving home, youths had leaned out of their Hillman Imps, amazed by his unfasionable car repairs. Sweating in the lift, he had struggled to ignore the gathering storm of adolescent laughter which finally broke loose as the doors closed behond him. He was becoming a loser. Even his long forgotten childhood stammer had returned to haunt him.

As Sheba opened the door, Adam barely resisted the unusual desire to embrace her.

"What's up with you, West?" she yawned indifferently to his forlorn face.

The words seemed to be left disembodied in the air behind her as she returned to the television. He mumbled something inconsequential as he removed his jacket, suspecting she wouldn't ask him to speak up.

He was right. She didn't.

Whatever the problem was, it was so great that he could scarcely comprehend it. He was going to discuss it with Sheba, slowly and calmly, in an organised format. He sat beside her on the couch.

She shuddered involuntarily, despite her fixed concentration on the TV news magazine. Her perfectly smooth face was like a tailor's dummy, brought to life by the eerie green light of the screen which danced and flickered there unpredictably. He would never usually have sat there beside her. He had his study, his bedroom, the toilet: he would have felt infinitely more appropriate in any of them.

"It was a terrible day..." he began.

She shuddered involuntarily, despite her fixed concentration on the TV news magazine. Her perfectly smooth face was like a tailor's dummy, brought to life by the eerie green light of the screen which danced and flickered there unpredictably. He would never usually have sat there beside her. He had his study, his bedroom, the toilet: he would have felt infinitely more appropriate in any of them.

It sounded like the beginning of a novel, he noticed.

"They kept making out... that my ideas w-were... a bit old h-hat"

The news item raged on. The green fire flickered on Sheba's serence face.

"Mm" she said, and took a breath.

She was going to respond now. It was inspiring to see she could take an overview, an outside angle on his technical concerns.

"We're going out with Raasay and Dewar for dinner tomorrow night, you don't mind do you?"

Suffice to say, from this pointon, things could only deteriorate. Adam became emotional. It wasn't just the architecture, he confessed. He was ashamed. His clothes, the car, his so-called jokes. The note of panic rose in his voice. He wanted her to show concern. She didn't. He needed some sympathetic companionship. She didn't. He put his arm around her. She slapped him. He pursued her to her bedroom. She screamed rape.

In a perhaps ill-advised attempt at resuming diplomatic relations, they dared still to meet their friends for dinner the following evening. By then, Adam had had another soul-destroying day. Dewar laughed openly at Adam's new bullet-holed Swiss navy trousers. Raasay tried to tease light-heartedly about his hastily re-styled bird's nest-look hair; he just bit her head off. Sheba oscillated between eccentric subject changing and embarassed silence. The erstwhile irrepresible Adam failed to respond gracefully to jibe after jibe.

Even his gallant attempts to rebel against his burgeoning depression ended in disgrace. All his pre-rehearsed and probably out-moded jokes he could only stammer out mechanically to a reception of polite snorts and verbal coups.

Back at the flat, Adam's desperate attempts at soul-bearing to Sheba became more frequent and persitently unrequited. After four nights of breakdowns and chases around the flat, the inevitable happened.

Sheba threw him out.

Of course, on reflection, it seemed an incredible step. The customary 12-month legal battle would doubtless ensue to decide who got the flat and the Lada, the various items of midi hardware, the antique waahing machine, the art-deco fridge, the designer coffee tables, the Kashmiri rugs, and the villa in Beirut.

Sheba was being smart however: getting in her claim while Adam was still a successful executive, and before he became an unemployable eccentric.

Very soon, Adam's clothes were torn and dirty, his hair and flourishing beard matted with various detritus of the streets. His rediscovered enthusiasm for alcohol had lead him (he thought quite cleverly) to aquire the cheaper and cruder varieties from chemists.

In actual fact, Adam was happier now that his new-found freedom was gradually liberating him from the conformism to which he had been exposed from an early age. As part of this freedom, all sorts of acts forbidden since childhood were now open to him. He had recently taken to urninating in his trousers as a kind of personal rebellion, and voicing sporadic outbursts of obscenities at passers-by.

Standing in George Square in the cold November air, it seemed to Adam that his inward absorption was an act of great love: an affectionate reflection of the mass narcissism of the outer world. Two great introversions. It was the fatal irony of Adam's life that in terms of scale and power, one so pitilessly surpassed the other.

A new thought, a particularly bright gem, was starting to dawn on Adam. He could sense already it was going to be a good one.

He crossed the road, arms outstretched like a shepherd, towards the red halo of the low winter sun straining through the city's grey haze. To all the men and women and women hurrying along on the other side of the street he addressed his new aphorism in his loudest, most commanding voice:


(First published in The Glasgow Herald Weekender Saturday November 25th 1989. The story's original setting of "2002" has here been amended to "2020" in order to preserve the futuristic impression it first gave. Although intended then as contemporary satire, it could be argued that some of its predictions have quickly come true: Reality-TV, Big Brother, the dominance of the World-Wide Web and global computer viruses, privatised jailing, retro-styling of cars, and the rise of architects like Daniel Liebeskind and Will Alsop. So far however, children have not yet started being named after the ex-Conservative Ministers Rifkind and Ancram, and Drumchapel and Easterhouse retain their civil liberty !).

All comments and feedback welcome. E-mail: