Discover more from Huw Lemmey's 'Utopian Drivel'
John Humphrys' Brain
you heard me
John Humphrys is sat in the driver’s seat of his Rover 400. It’s a warm Monday morning. He has pulled up in the car park on the end of the seafront. It’s been an exhausting weekend for him, what with two rounds of golf, clearing out the spare bedroom for his daughter and son-in-law to store a few boxes, yesterday morning’s trip to the garden centre, and now this. He’s slumped forward against the steering wheel. On the dashboard is a box of travel sweets. A road atlas for when his temper boils over with the sat nav. A balled-up pair of driving gloves. And a scotch egg. It’s wrapped in a single sheet of cellophane. It’s wrapped again in a thin, opaque plastic bag from the deli counter. It’s overheating in the warmth of the sun, degrading into a sludge, mushy around the breadcrumbs, the warming jelly soaking through. The white of the egg is yellowing. The yoke is turning grey. If you pushed a finger through its porky interior, it would give way instantly, unleashing a putrid stench. If you sat there in the overheating Rover, masturbating the rubbery egg at the heart of the snout-flesh with your extended finger, all manner of opinions would slowly seep out, filling the car with tough questions. John Humphrys is staring at the scotch egg, his head rushing with blood as he rests it against the rubberised steering wheel. He’s drooling. His body is immobile. His eyes are twitching. He’s furious. He’s lost it. The scotch egg is John Humphrys’ brain.
John Humphrys once had a brain for a brain. Sadly, he now has a scotch egg for a brain. From it emanates all his thoughts, transmitted from his overheated dashboard straight to the BBC airwaves. He ain’t afraid of nobody. No voice is left unchallenged. He’ll hear out anyone, will John Humphrys (egg brain), it don’t matter whether you’re a conservative, a nationalist, or right-of-centre. He’ll give you a fair hearing. You’re not in the car, of course. You’re stood on the pavement, in the heat of the morning sun, tapping against his window. “The old fella has keeled over,” you tell a passerby. “I’m trying to get his attention. Will you call an ambulance?” The passerby walks over to the Rover to take a closer look. “He hasn’t keeled over” the man corrects you, his dog sniffing around the driver’s side door. “That’s John Humphrys.” You look closer. Bloody hell, you think, he’s right. “And there’s his brain” says the dog-walker, pointing to the scotch egg on the dashboard. “False alarm,” says the man, and carries on down the seafront with his dog. But somehow you can’t leave the side of the car. The catatonic rage in John Humphrys’ eyes is too captivating; you watch a long globule of drool drop from the side of John Humphrys’ mouth, hitting the knee, leaving a darker bloom on the fabric of his brown polyester slacks.
Get back in your car. Turn on the radio. It’s tuned to Radio 4. The Today Programme. A programme where they talk about today. You can hear John Humphrys’ voice. It’s disconcerting, to be sat here in your Yaris, looking at John Humphrys slumped over his steering wheel, while hearing John Humphrys’ voice coming out of the little speakers in your car door. “He’s not even moving his lips” you say to yourself. You wind the window down. Spooky.
You wonder if people ever go dogging in this car park. Too exposed. Plus trying to get fucked in your car while John Humphrys is slumped angrily over his steering wheel in the car next door — that doesn’t work for anyone. You wonder if John Humphrys would see the dogging. How does it even work? Is he conscious? Is just the brain conscious? Can he see me? Why isn’t he talking about me on the radio? Is he locked in to his own body, unable to move, spending the rest of his life slumped over the steering wheel while his brain broadcasts its opinions every morning on Radio 4?
The sun is warm and the Yaris is stuffy. Low on oxygen, you yawn, and can’t help but start to drift off. You wake into a dream. You’re looking at a scotch egg on a plate. Is this a brain? This is not just a brain, this heated mass of congealed thought and egg and jelly. This is John Humphrys’ brain, the brain of the Today Programme. Within it all the contradictions that make up British society lie, festering. It operates not as a cohesive and cognisant whole, but is made up entirely of tiny bursts of information, electricity, resentment, embarrassment. This is the brain of Britain, and it thinks it small steps, not being able to see past this singular synaptic jitter to the one before, let alone the one beyond. Sadly, the rot has set in; this is your brain. This is your brain on common sense. This is your brain on twenty years of Lord Baron Sir Digby Jones defending ever-sinking wages in the national interest. This is your brain on the Attorney General outlining yet another case for war. This is your brain on Rod Liddle, who can’t distinguish between cruelty and desire. This is the slowly degrading shared brain of Britain, where you are nice, and everyone else you know is also nice, but racist, but nice, so let’s meet them half-way here. Are you a bastard? Surely not! Just asking questions. You begin to look at Muslims and wonder if they’re not pushing their luck. You see them in their niqabs and you can’t help but think of bacon. Just a habit, you suppose. Islamophobia didn’t exist when you were a kid — it’s a made-up word. You prefer plain speaking. The train drivers get paid more than doctors, that can’t be right. You wonder if this cough you have, this cough you can’t shake, you wonder whether it’s something to do with all the new migrants in this country. It’s not a big country after all. You’re not saying it’s definitely down to them. You’re just asking questions. Your brain, John Humphrys’ brain, the brain of Today, is sweating inside its thin plastic bag, slowly developing its unplaceable green sheen. If you were a healthy person, and you ate this porky brain, you would sicken and die within hours. But you are British, and you have had a lifetime of pork and rusk and racism, and today the Today programme will blur into your thin breakfast and your long commute and become just another strained bowel movement in your life, indistinguishable from yesterday’s and tomorrow’s grievous insults. You listen to your brain interviewing Steve Bannon. Why not. Why not interview a clear fascist. Just see what he has to say. Your brain will hold him to account, you tell yourself. Your brain is clever than Steve Bannon. Let’s meet at the border wall, Steve. Let’s see what you have to say, you big racist idiot, and then lets put it on the radio. Who’s Steve Bannon, your brain asks your brain. You know, your egg brain says. Steve Bannon. That guy we interview. Oh, Steve Bannon, your brain says. That will be interesting radio. What do you think he’ll say? Dianne Abbott can’t add up, says your egg brain. I’ll just ask questions, egg brain. I’ll ask the questions, says the egg brain. I’ll ask the questions around here.
This is just a dream, you tell yourself, and that the egg brain cannot live forever. The egg brain is sustained only by a collective delusion, the fear that the egg brain might be all our brains, all our brains but my brain. My brain is not the egg brain. But maybe other people have racist egg brains.
You open your eyes. In the heat of the sun you must have fallen asleep. Nodded off for a second in your Yaris. You go to yawn, but you cannot yawn. You fell forward in your sleep. Your mouth won’t open. You try to yawn but your jaw won’t open. You try to sit up but your forehead remains pressed against the steering wheel. A long, pendulous column of drool emerges from the corner of your mouth and sinks slowly to your knee, blooming darkly on the denim. All you can do is look to your left and look to your right. You push your eyeballs to the edge of their sockets. From the corner of your eye you can just make out John Humphrys slumped over his steering wheel. He’s looking back at you. And he breaks into a smile. On the dashboard of his Rover 400 you can see a pulsating scotch egg, twice the size it was. It’s your brain. It’s your brain and it’s John Humphrys’ brain, your scotch egg brain, his scotch egg brain, overheating in the sun.
Well, say what you like about having a scotch egg for a brain — at least it’s British!
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