In the Golden Age, the sun is a smiley face. One swallow makes a summer. What goes up need not come down. People are heading to Mars. On Earth, wheat hangs heavy on the stem.

Pansies are the most martial of flowers; their petal faces seem to have been deliberately blackened by woad blotches. To face a bed full of them can be an unnerving experience, like confronting a full-throated battle array. These gorgeous blooms can range from yellow-gold to orange-violet and purple-red; they can also be milk-white or ink-black (to be precise, a purple so dark it might as well be black).

Popppappp, a young designer with an immaculately styled beard, is riding home through the Kent countryside after finishing his work at the agency in Clamber. Swallows sport around the fringes of a cumulonimbus cloud, and house martins observe the cyclist from nests concealed under thatched eaves.

Popppappp is feeling anxious about the news from the Middle East. Like everyone else he’s watched the Foul State’s execution videos on YouTube, seen the dark seep on animated maps.

Rounding a corner, Popppappp catches sight of a battle array of pansies: yellow-red wings, crown scarlets, neon-fire violets, plum velvets. The violent sight is so overwhelming that Popppappp topples with a clatter to the grass verge.

A tall, ascetic man is suddenly standing beside the spinning bicycle wheel. His face is of an unworldly hue and he wears a long trench coat buttoned up to the neck. Popppappp vaguely recognises him as someone he’s seen at the agency.

– Good hafternoon, I’m Harthur Gland.

– I’m most awfully sorry, says Popppappp, accepting Gland’s helping hand, I seem to have lost control of my machine.

– Nice folding Moulton, says Gland.

– Yes, it’s a Jubilee Sportive with a Ferrari-red frame modelled on Japanese electricity pylons.

– You’re discombobulated, sir, says Gland. You’re confused. You might heven have suffered a minor stroke of some kind. Come, there’s a tea room nearby, let me buy you a pot of Hinglish Breakfast and some scones with clotted cream and jam.

– Oh. Well. I don’t mind if I do. I got a bit carried away listening to trap hop on my iPod Classic. I don’t think I’ve had a stroke, though.

– How would you know, though, if you had? You see, that’s the problem with mental wounds. The injury simultaneously removes the capacity to know habout the injury. It’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect. The fool thinks he is wise.

– I see.

Arthur Gland is kneeling to pick a pansy, almost completely black.

– The corollary of Dunning-Kruger is Himpostor Syndrome: genuinely superior people believe themselves to be himpostors and frauds, no better than hanyone else. The wise man knows he is a fool. Are you wise, my friend?

– I don’t know about that, says Popppappp, wary of the trick question. But I had a similar experience this morning. I couldn’t find my glasses because I couldn’t see, because I wasn’t wearing my glasses.

– That’s quite different, says Gland. If it were the Dunning-Kruger effect, you would have believed yourself to be wearing your glasses, and therefore would have discounted any suggestion that your failure to put your glasses on was responsible for your failure to put your glasses on.

– Yes, I see that, says Popppappp. (He actually doesn’t.) But if I had put my glasses on, and looked around everywhere and failed to find my glasses, wouldn’t I have been forced to conclude that I wasn’t wearing them, because I was unable to find them?

– Hexactly, says Gland. In fact, you would probably have concluded that you were wearing and not wearing the glasses simultaneously, and were therefore an hypocrite.

Popppappp hates people who put “an” before words beginning with “h,” especially when they also put a spurious “h” in front of words beginning with a vowel.

In the tea room, Gland tells Popppappp that he is a taste accountant.

– They say there’s no haccounting for taste, he says, but of course there is. It’s just a matter of hassigning numerical values to things.

– Prices?

– Not prices, because if it were just a matter of money Saudi royals would be the most tasteful people in the world. No, you just need to find some sort of correlation halgorithm linking demographics and their cultural values.

– When did they rename this place Fuckoffee? asks Popppappp, looking around.

– I don’t know, it hused to be called the Greensward Tea Room, says Gland.

– There’s no accounting for taste, says Popppappp.

The two men make for the counter and get two paper cups filled with double-filtered single-estate roast from the volcanic eastern highlands of Papua New Guinea. At the till Gland also buys an Ebola mask, a joke item.

– What will you do with an Ebola mask? asks Popppappp.

Gland says that he will present it to a friend as a gift, but that it will also come in handy if “Hebola” really does break out one day.

– Many an hessential is purchased in jest, he says.

They find a vacant table by the astragal window. Gland launches into a pitch of some kind.

– Popppappp, something is hafoot in the weather. Some halteration in the hambient pressure. A disturbance of nature’s hequilibrium. Decency is on the back foot. A great change is coming; an haffront is being prepared, and sensitive souls cannot remain hoblivious. The Foul State is preparing to launch a great hinsult. We must hanticipate it, nip it in the bud. Would you be hinterested in hattending our preparatory hexercises at Quivercrop Hill?

– Exercises?

– Yes, strictly paramilitary. We need more creatives. A thinking harmy is a nimble force, worth its weight in hiron bars. Crusaders march on their hearts. You will come at first as an hobserver. There’s a meeting on Wednesday, in fact.

– I see, says Popppappp.

– Shall you hattend?

– I’ll think about it.


The view from the scree lip of Quivercrop Quarry out over Clipstowe Downs is gorgeous at this hour. Nissen huts cluster behind a screen of pines, a curtain-array shortwave aerial flanks a small parade ground.

Up here, Popppappp begins to feel he can breathe freely. His aunt has counselled against it, of course, but she is decrepit and deaf, sitting by the fire down there in the cottage, drinking her PG Tips, unable to find her spectacles, which dangle on a cord around her neck. She lacks a firm grasp on geopolitics, he thinks to himself, always has done.

Today Gland is wearing a loincloth, clogs and a sleeveless jacket with padded shoulders. A ceremonial sword hangs in a scabbard at his waist. Handing out strips of negative film, Gland asks the assembled men – scrawny oddballs, mostly – to look directly into the setting sun.

– Does hanyone see blotches?

No one does.

– With training, you will begin to hidentify black blotches on the great horange disk. Later, there will be hexercises on the beams, parallel bars and vaulting horse. Physical fitness is hessential if we’re to resist the haffront. There will also be hintellectual exercises. A poorly read harmy is a dull harmy, and a dull harmy will wilt and wither hupon the vine.

Gland distributes maps showing the locations of a spate of egg thefts which he finds symptomatic of the breakdown in trust throughout Stumble Valley. He also unveils a graph plotting the complex interrelationships between three groups in the area: Gypsies, Poachers and Pomegranate Vendors. Gland points out that pomegranates were never formerly sold in the vicinity.

– Now, a puzzle. A black rook has been seen mating with seagulls on Clipstowe Downs. It’s a warning sign. Why?

– It must be part of the affront, says Popppappp.

– Correct. Pull on your plimsolls and lace them hup.

Gland now illuminates an old Kodak slide projector and chalks five words in capitals on the phthalo-green blackboard:






He taps the board as he reads through the list:

– Howls. Hamsterdam. Sensuality. Rank. Kidnapping. What connects these words?

Nobody replies. Popppappp is suppressing an urge to giggle.


Mysteriously, we are suddenly in Syria. Popppappp is being held by a group calling themselves the Kamerads in the basement of the Blackpool Polytechnic of Trade-Polytechnic, a media centre in al-Bab dedicated to concocting propaganda for the Foul State. His old art-school friend the Cowardly Minotaur has also been taken. They are currently tied up, back-to-back, on two Arne Jacobsen Ant chairs.

– Nice chairs, says Popppappp, dragging on a cigarette the narrator must have placed in his mouth.

– Yes, says the Cowardly Minotaur, blowing away secondhand smoke on behalf of the readers.

Both men wear Eley Kishimoto Fossil watches: Popppappp’s has a black face, a dark pink case and a cream strap; the Minotaur’s has a pale blue face, a white case and a Crayola-blue strap. In the centre of a table nearby stands a fiasco that probably once contained chianti.

– Do you see that? Popppappp asks the Minotaur. Popppappp is wearing his spectacles.

– What?

– A chianti fiasco. Very distinctive design. The swamp-weed basket has usually been sun-dried and blanched with sulphur.

– I remember drinking chianti from a flask like that, muses the Minotaur. I strawpedoed it.

– What does “strawpedo” mean?

– It’s when you stick a bendy straw into the mouth of a bottle and suck, never stopping until the whole content has passed through the bottle’s throat into your own.

– That’s Hackney talk.

Popppappp wishes he had something nice to drink now. Or were in Hackney.

A familiar ebbing buzz suggests a drone is skimming the neighbourhood. The two designers ignore it.

– Great chairs. Do you know the history?

– Of the Ant chair? asks Popppappp. Yes, a bit.

– Originally Jacobsen made them for the canteen of a drugs firm in Denmark, Novo Nordisk.

– I could do with some drugs.

Birdsong, the sound of children playing.

– What do you think they’re going to do with us? To us?

– I’ve been wondering that myself, says Popppappp. They’re tough people, the Kamerads, but not irrational. They must be planning to harness our design skills.

– That’s our best hope, yes. On the other hand, they might just use us as bargaining chips in a hostage exchange.

– Or execute us in a video designed to create some social-media buzz and dominate the news cycle for a day or two. We’ve got to prove our value to their cause. As designers, I mean.

– Yes. We need to pitch our design skills as something that can enhance the entirety of the group’s media output. The Kameraderie will become just another client. Our brief will be to make them look good.

– And our fee?

– The chance to stay alive, I should imagine.


Time – measured on the two gorgeous Fossil watches – has passed. It’s the Cowardly Minotaur’s turn to spin a yarn. He’s telling his old art-school friend about the history of Letraset.

– It was originally a wet-transfer lettering system, you know.

– Was it really?

– Yes, invented in the late 1950s. You slid a cut-out letter onto a frame and assembled your text. All underwater.

– No scuba gear required?

– No, but the water made things awkward. So in 1961 they introduced dry-transfer lettering. You could buy these transparent alphabet sheets in your local art-supplies shop, take them home and scribble on the letters. Magically, they stuck to the surface beneath, making clear, sharp-edged words. There was even a layout grid called Spacematic. Little alignment marks you could scratch off later.

– I’m quite aware of how Letraset worked, says Popppappp. I used to have the catalogue when I was a kid. I could never afford the actual sheets, though: they cost too much. I just traced the fonts on tracing paper, or learned how to draw them by hand.

It’s comforting to be talking about something trivial.

– Yes, before the Mac came along that catalogue was such a precious resource. It was the only place you could see styles of something – styles of anything – laid out in alphabetical order.

– Let’s see if I can still remember those typefaces now, Popppappp says. Wait, don’t help me, Minotaur. I think it began with Aachen. That was sort of Germanic. Agincourt was a battle-reenactment face, medieval and gothic. Airkraft was a mixture of Art Deco and swastikas. Albertus was a classic roman …

– You forgot Akzidenz Grotesk!

Just naming the fonts makes the designers feel better.

– Algerian! Didn’t you hate it? Pretentiously faux-antique, with that horrible snapped twig on the cap “A”!

– God, yes. Revolting! And you still see it today in Internet macros. But American Typewriter!

– Ah yes, American Typewriter! Great for the film-society newsletter. Made anything look arty and intelligent.

Nobody knows the date of his own death. Night is falling. The designers feel a cool nocturnal breeze wafting in though a crack of some kind. They’re still talking about typefaces.

– Din 17.

– That was based on the alphabets you’d get in those super-scientific ruler thingies … Stencils! You’d stick your Rotring nib through the plastic and get this beautiful precision for chemical formulae and stuff.

– Dynamo.

– God, I loved Dynamo! How to explain that, in 1975, Dynamo was just the coolest thing in the world? Those aggressive little incisions, the naughty semi-serifs jutting out where they shouldn’t!

– Those Letraset fonts taught us about style, about character, about choice, about context. The same sentence could have so many different nuances, depending on how you set it!

An angel passes.

– Have you started to think about how we ought to approach the Kameraderie’s magazine? asks Popppappp. If they ask us to work on it, that is.

– Do you think we should make them look bad? They’d probably never have the class to realise.

– No, I think we need to be completely sincere. They’re cleverer than they look, the Kamerads. If we give them some shitty design, they might kill us. If we can make them look really good, we’re acquitting ourselves as best we can. When we get back to freedom – if we ever do – we’ll say the idea was to generate irony: beautiful form, ugly content.

– That’s a plan, says the Cowardly Minotaur. I did something similar for Barclays once.


The crack in the wall is bigger than they thought, and their ropes looser. The designers decide that while they aren’t too weak, while they know approximately where the border is, they really ought to mount at least one escape attempt. Turkey is just up the road. But which road?

Somehow Popppappp and the Cowardly Minotaur manage to chafe and stress their way out of the ropes. The Fossil watches get slightly damaged in the process.

The two friends make their bodies thin as cigarette papers and squeeze up through the crack in the bomb-blasted wall. They haul themselves over a gravel bank and stumble across a landscape of broken trees, stagnant pools, shell craters and searchlight beams. The town is a powder keg. Above, phosphorus flares zoom and explode inside lowering hammerhead clouds. The air pulses with a broody glow and the stink of singed garlic.

The escapees take refuge in a building made of radically stacked concrete boxes, whose ground floor turns out to be a shop specialised in handmade cosmetics.

– The structure of this place reminds me of the Ministry of Highways building in Tbilisi, remarks the Minotaur, a big fan of Soviet-era Brutalism.

– Are we across the Turkish border here? Popppappp asks the shop assistant in English.

– No, this is still Syria, replies the shop assistant, a friendly ginger girl with ringlets and freckles.

– And you’re open, despite everything?

– We remain open during the troubles, yes. Have you visited us before?

– No, says Popppappp.

– I think I was here on Street View once, says the Cowardly Minotaur.

– Well, everything here – cosmetics, soaps, bath balls – is made by hand using only organic ingredients. Feel free to try any of the samples, you can open any of the jars marked “Tester” and smell the scent.

The Cowardly Minotaur is fingering a golden packet of bath balls.

– I love this package design!

– They also make tooth-whitening tablets, says the assistant, looking pleased.

– Doesn’t the white phosphorus bother you? asks Popppappp.

– Oh, we try to keep the door shut, says the assistant. It doesn’t stop people coming in. If anything, it’s good for business. People want to get away from the stress. Their minds turn to the kind of self-pampering you can only get from a long, scented bubble bath.

It doesn’t make sense. The buildings in al-Bab have no cold water, let alone hot.

Popppappp and the Cowardly Minotaur are starving. Some of this stuff smells good enough to eat.

– We’ve just escaped from a Foul State prisoner-of-war camp, says the Cowardly Minotaur. Popppappp gives him a warning look.

The information doesn’t seem to faze the ginger-flavoured assistant.

– That’s nice. Over there you’ll find a new brand of cherry lip balm we’ve just started stocking: Angel on Bare Skin, it’s called. There should be a tester, go ahead, try it!


As they smear on (and discreetly eat) the organic cosmetics, the Cowardly Minotaur tells Popppappp about the Ministry of Highways in Tbilisi. It was built in 1974 and now houses the Bank of Georgia. Its architect, George Chakhava, claims to have been inspired by the rustic mountain villages of Georgia, but the ministry is a sci-fi cluster of vast oblong boxes balanced on one another at awkward angles.

Popppappp observes, in return, that the volumetric stacking here – the shop is a series of portacabins rotated around a central axis – has probably been achieved by mortar fire rather than architectural daring.

– Well, they do say that desperation is the mother of …

The Cowardly Minotaur, rubbing a blob of cherry balm across his lips, doesn’t finish the thought. Two guerrillas from the Foul State’s Longhorn police force burst into the shop. Popppappp is shot in the arm, the Minotaur in the leg. They surrender at once and are dragged outside, bleeding.

The Cowardly Minotaur – an inveterate flirt – manages to wave feebly at the ginger shop assistant through the door.

The Longhorns usher the designers into a small white van and take off, gunning the little engine and spinning the wheels. The route is searing and dusty, the potholed road punctuated with the scorched remains of blasted buildings. Enemy snipers are watching crucial stretches of road, booby traps expected, checkpoints dreaded.

The Longhorns – who seem to have a sense of humour –  explain that their guns are loaded with nothing worse than salt. Real ammunition is reserved for the Sark-E-hideen, the elite fighters handpicked by the Foul State’s spiritual leader, Sark E. Myth. But salt can still sting a great deal.

– After you’ve been shot with salt from an AK-47 you won’t misbehave again in a hurry, they say.

– Remind me why we came here? whispers the Cowardly Minotaur, bleeding in the back seat.

Popppappp, also bleeding, takes his friend literally.

– We were searching through Airbnb one day when we found a remarkable bargain. A house in northern Syria going cheap because it had recently been vacated by an executed family. Three bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom, a cellar, plus a flat roof with plants that didn’t need watering, all for just €8 a night.

– Ah yes. We made a booking. And we flew here via Paris and Istanbul.

– We arrived in the town of al-Bab. Couldn’t find the house, it was probably demolished. The whole town was in the hands of Foul State rebels armed with AK-47s.

– I still don’t understand why the Foul State is trying to establish the Kameradie here in Syria. I mean, it’s based on Sark E. Myth’s visions of Northern England, isn’t it?

– The instability here in the Middle East makes it much more suitable as a petri dish for radicalism of all stripes, says Popppappp. And trying to build Salford in Syria isn’t really any stranger than vowing to build Jerusalem in England, or erecting Hogwarts in a Japanese theme park.

– If only it were a theme park, these flesh wounds would be purely cosmetic, sighs the Cowardly Minotaur. You assured me we wouldn’t be getting into anything dangerous. Politics, war and religion, these things have nothing to do with us, you said. We are designers.

– Ah yes, we are the Muji-hideen! Popppappp smiles bitterly at the old joke.

When they first met, Popppappp and the Cowardly Minotaur quickly realised they shared an interest in austere design, Japanese aesthetics, postpunk fashion and Brutalism. As a student, the Minotaur’s special subject was peripheral modernisms in Africa, India and the Central Asian Republics during the Soviet era. They both loved shopping at Muji, the Japanese “no-brand goods store”.

– Look, says Popppappp, we’re back in al-Bab. You should be happy here. The town is full of midcentury-modernist ruins. The Longhorns are also enforcing some classic Sark E. Myth dress styles.

– They’re not so cool when they’re enforced.

Sporadic gunfire echoes through al-Bab as the Sark-E-hideen move from house to house killing anyone unable to quote from Trouble at the Shun-Fest, the Foul’s first album. Spy drones guided by the major labels rush overhead, closely followed by missiles launched by the Aleppo regime. The missiles slam into public buildings, schools, marketplaces and industrial facilities, reducing them to piles of rubble. Trucks speed by crammed with the corpses of fighters and civilians.

– Do you remember how we loved the design of the Foul State flag? asks Popppappp. Its scribbly biro lettering, all scrawly and spidery, and the irregular white circle below?

– We were naive. The sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration, says the Cowardly Minotaur, morosely.

– Who said that?

– Keats.


The Blackpool Polytechnic of Trade-Polytechnic is a cluster of stepped concrete buildings unmistakably marked by the trends of mid-1980s Metabolist design. The outline, observed from any angle, presents a pleasingly complex variety of shapes: stepped chalet-style roofs, the concertina-like extrusions of an external staircase, some high-tech lattice structures, tiled semicircles punctuated by porthole windows, diagonal zigzags which suggest long-demolished residua, pale grey candy-stripings, funerary Aztec allusions, oval markings which invite the eye to complete missing circles, balconies with chunky frames, a sub–Man Ray sculpture surmounting the emergency stairs and what looks like an empty advertising scaffold perched atop the service shaft containing the always-broken elevator. The whole composition is cross-hatched by electric and communication cables, slanting higgledy-piggledy.

Popppappp and the Cowardly Minotaur are back in their cellar. The crack has been cemented in. Both men are a bit feverish, probably because of their flesh wounds. They expect to be punished for attempting to escape.

To pass the time, and keep their minds off torture, Popppappp tells the story behind the design of the legendary Nikon F reflex camera.

– The designer Hirohito Ketchup was working in the owl house at the Amsterdam Zoo when he noticed the limitations of the Nikon SP rangefinder camera. Ketchup was a keen ornithologist as well as a talented designer.

– And he was based in Amsterdam? At the zoo?

– Yes.

– Carry on.

– Well, in a flash, Ketchup realised that owls could be photographed much more efficiently if the cameraman could switch from, say, a close-up lens to a telephoto and actually see the results in his viewfinder. So he took his idea to Nikon, the famous British optics company based in a secret wing of the Hammersmith Hospital.

– I thought Nikon was a Japanese company?

– That’s what they want you to think.

– I see. Go on.

– At the time, Nikon was working closely with British intelligence, manufacturing spy cameras used extensively in the Cold War. As a cover, the company pretended to be Japanese.

– They really were Japanese.

– That’s as may be, but by pretending to be, they were able to hide in plain sight.

– Got it. Clever!

– So the president of Nikon (whose name is still protected by the Official Secrets Act) liked Ketchup’s idea and gave him a small office at the back of the Hammersmith Hospital in order to work on the design of a high-quality single-lens reflex camera. He also indulged Ketchup’s unusual request: that he be allowed to recruit a graphic designer to give the camera a uniquely appealing and distinctive look.

– Which graphic designer did they use?

– None other than the Unnameable One. We must call her that, because she has been involved in many secret projects for the British state. For instance, the Unnameable One designed everything produced by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office between 1964 and 2000. Many design prizes HMSO won for its smart and well-organised booklets on public safety had to remain uncollected in order that the Unnameable One’s identity could remain secret.

– This story is a big bouquet of bullshit, my friend. Carry on.

– The Unnameable One’s contribution to the top-secret Nikon F project was largely spiritual. Observing a black rook mating with a white seagull, the designer began writing an erotic novel featuring a heroine falsely accused of stealing eggs. Not knowing where it would take her, but confident that this was the right approach, the Unnameable One elaborated her storyline every Tuesday and Thursday in a secluded room at the top of the Hammersmith Hospital, starkly furnished with just a desk, a chair and a red IBM Selectric II typewriter.

– The IBM Selectric wasn’t invented until long after the Nikon F camera.

– Again, that’s what they want you to think.

– I see.

– The first sentence of the Unnameable One’s book reads: “Against the disk of the full moon, even white birds are black.”

– That sounds familiar, says the Cowardly Minotaur, who seems to be getting sleepy.

– It’s highly significant, says Popppappp. Already, in that mysterious sentence, we can see the emergence of the first of the three essential forms which, when harmonised, will form the basis of the Nikon F’s distinctive design: the circle, the oblong and the triangle. The circle (the “full moon”) is of course the interchangeable lens. The oblong is the camera body, shaped to accommodate a frame of 35-mm film. The triangle is the pentaprism, that pyramidal peephole housing the camera’s flipping mirror and the ground fresnel glass screen onto which is projected that mysterious object mediated by the lens: the world itself.

The Cowardly Minotaur says nothing. He has fallen asleep. Popppappp continues, his voice becoming increasingly fuzzy.

– While a small skeleton staff of technicians worked on technical problems, the Unnameable One was writing about a woman who is reared in a birdcage with an illegible yellow identity ring clipped around one naked ankle. All she can see from her cage is empty sky and the tip of a mysterious pyramid, far off on the horizon, struck by the sun once a day. It might be an office building, a postmodern sports facility, a temple. While masturbating, the bird-woman likes to imagine that it is the pentaprism of a single-lens reflex camera being wielded by a distant voyeur who is watching her, and masturbating himself.

The word “masturbating” seems to have woken the Cowardly Minotaur.

– What? What were you saying?

– I was talking about the design process of the Nikon F. It took two years. At the end of the first, the Unnameable One submitted her novel. Meanwhile, the technical team had determined that the precision required to make the camera’s sharp forms meant that the metal plates would have to be stamped eight times rather than the usual four. During extensive temperature testing in a deep-freeze cake warehouse, they found that the camera could withstand temperatures of up to –40ºC.

– The Nikon F did in fact become the camera of choice in space, in Siberia and underwater, says the Minotaur, drowsily. At least when a Hasselblad wasn’t available.

– The second year was mostly dedicated to chanting, metal-bending and other spiritual matters: somehow, Hirohito Ketchup had to bring the insights generated by the erotic novel together with the engineering team’s technical discoveries. This could be achieved only by a series of secret ceremonies up on the hospital roof.

– I’m getting bored of this story now, says the Cowardly Minotaur. Do you mind if we sleep?

– It’s almost finished. This is the best bit. The final touch was the graphic design used on the camera’s front: the choice of font, placement of the “F” and the Nikon logo. For this, the Unnameable One drew on her corporate-identity work for the Post Office and British Rail. She ripped off a 1917 work by the Swiss artist Hans Arp, Untitled (Collage with Squares Arranged According to the Laws of Chance), and the rest is history.

– I love a happy ending.


The next day the designers get some good news. The Kamerads want Popppappp and the Cowardly Minotaur to work for them. An editor called Hernandez Fiendish has been assigned to show the pair around the production facilities.

Popppappp nurses his shot arm; the Minotaur – visibly excited by the design of the building – hobbles on his shot leg.

– This place reminds me of the Yamanashi Broadcasting and Press Centre in Kōfu, the Minotaur tells Fiendish, enthusiastically. I don’t know if you know it. A great squat concrete fortress with radio and TV studios, a newspaper printing plant, services routed through fat columns, green terraces bisecting glass-walled offices.

– I do know it, says Fiendish. The architect was Kenzo Tange. We like his work; it reminds us of certain buildings of the English north in the era of Myth. When the Precog said “the North will rise again” he clearly didn’t mean northern Syria, but we hope to rebuild some of that mythical homeland here. Until we regain the real thing militarily, anyway.

– The Precog?

– That’s what we call Sark E. Myth. It means “prophet”.

Fiendish hands the designers a stapled green and brown publication: Royale’s Turn.

The Kameraderie’s premier monthly magazine looks like the in-house newsletter of a medium-sized catering firm. But instead of carrying arid texts on canteen refurbishment, Royale’s Turn celebrates religio-terrorist atrocities and urges its readers to lay down their lives in the Mythist cause.

The Cowardly Minotaur opens the issue and reads:

 “Hip Northerners used pneumatic drills and sledgehammers to smash three tall statues of winged and bearded DJs, some of which date back to the early 1970s. According to a Foul State spokesperson, the artworks were ‘the idols of peoples of previous decades, which were worshipped instead of Sark E. Myth’.”

– Did you read about that action, Kamerads? asks Fiendish. What did you make of it?

– I saw it, the Minotaur replies. The animated GIFs were all over Facebook. It seems most of those statues were replicas. I think it’s a shame. Had they been the real thing, their destruction would have given those figures real cultural resonance for the first time in ages. A winged and bearded DJ would suddenly become a symbol of …

– What my friend means, interrupts Popppappp, is that the glorious destruction of those idols is the best thing that’s ever happened to them. Rather like the burning of the Temple of the Golden Pavilion in Mishima’s novel of the same name.

Fiendish nods and ushers the pair across a corridor into a studio filled with green-screen backdrops and banks of mixing equipment. Having built up a worldwide audience with tapes of hippy beheadings, the Foul State hopes soon to launch a rolling cable news channel.

Some ident graphics are moving across a console screen. They’re awful.

– I believe we can do better than this, design-wise, the Minotaur asserts confidently, tapping the glass, starting the pitch.

The phrase he’s pointing to is in the Precog’s indecipherable scrawl.

Fiendish seems swayable. He chops out some lines of speed – the Mythist drug of choice – on a tabletop and gestures the Cowardly Minotaur and Popppappp to bend in for a ceremonial snort. Six nostrils are hovering above the powder when an explosion shakes the building.

– Fuck the Alliance! growls Fiendish, wiping his nose.

– Fuck the Alliance! the art-school graduates chorus, sniffing.

– Who are they, exactly? asks the Cowardly Minotaur.

– We’re not very political, explains Popppappp.

The Alliance, Fiendish tells the designers, is Universal, Sony, BMG and Warner. They’re the big record labels, and they control the music industry. They hate the Foul State, and are in league with the corrupt local regime to destroy its acquisitions in Iraq, Libya and Syria. Universal is French-owned, Sony-BMG a Japanese-German alliance and Warner American. There used to be a British presence too – Thorn-EMI – but they sold their music interests to Universal in order to concentrate on arms. They now supply the others with weapons.

– We’re big Pet Shop Boys fans, says the cowardly Minotaur. Popppappp stamps hard on his foot.

– Purely from a design point of view, adds the Minotaur.

– He just likes their kerning, explains Popppappp.

Another missile rocks the school.

– Now, lads, says Fiendish. Now then. The pho-do. What does it mean to you? We need to rough out the semantics first. A good design depends upon a firm grasp of symbolism.

– A pho-do is a cross between a phoenix and a dodo, asserts the Cowardly Minotaur.

– Yes. And what does that mean? Why did the Precog Myth – allowed be his name – use the image?

– It’s in the song “Brain Wank Mag. Ed.”, offers Popppappp, keen to demonstrate his Foul chops. It’s a harsh critique of a magazine editor whose head is in his arse, a man eternally out of fashion. Hence the paradoxical combination of phoenix (symbol of eternal rebirth) and dodo (symbol of extinction). The Precog has envisioned a bird which is endlessly reborn dying.

– Good, says Fiendish. But why does the Precog pronounce it “pho”, like pho soup, rather than “fee”, as in phoenix? Minotaur?

The Cowardly Minotaur, nursing his injured leg, is stumped. Popppappp intervenes.

– Pronouncing it like that allows the Precog to riff on “faux” and “photo”. The editor is a superficial pseud, thus faux, fake, a reproduction. You’ll notice that on Ice-Age Extrusion Hour the Precog pronounces it “photo” the second time around.

– Very good! I’m impressed by your knowledge of the sacred texts, Fiendish tells Popppappp.

He turns to the Minotaur.

– Yours, less.


The next stop is a recording studio where a dozen men are recording a solemn anthem a cappella. It sounds like Steeleye Span. Fiendish raises a finger to his lips and beckons the visitors to watch through the control-room glass.

The song is a lugubrious dirge, but catchy in its simplicity and moving in its conviction:

The North will re-arise upon

The spilt blood of the Kamerads

And we shall seize, one by one

The capitals by their gonads

And when the softer southern world

Bitter in its essence

Bows down before Papal Royale

And greets the Foul with reverence

One million heads will roll despite

Appearance of acceptance

Apocalypse in Iceland!

Eschatology in Prestwich!

The chords shall peel in session

One hundred drum kits thunder

Death will screech in Hull and all

The other groups go under

– That doesn’t sound anything like a Foul song, remarks the Cowardly Minotaur.

– That’s not the point, rejoins Editor Fiendish. Let’s face it, can you remember the tune of a single Foul song? Or the lyrics? You can’t, can you? But this thing is going to be in your brain forever. It’s a deadly earworm. We tested it in the lab. After just one play it’s in there.

Back in the common room, news is just coming in that forces of the Foul State have erased the master tapes of Rumours by Fleetwood Mac.

– I never saw the point of keeping master tapes anyway, says Popppappp. Who’s going to remix Rumours and not produce something dreadful? And as for remasters, I can never hear the difference, probably because my ears have lost sensitivity to the extra detail they’ve added with all that unnecessary brightness.

Fiendish intervenes:

– Punk was a musical Year Zero. Those who wish to remain true to its spirit need to get back to that fact. Mawkish music like Rumours is an abomination. The Foul State must do away with it.

– Our culture is way too obsessed with preserving the past, says the Cowardly Minotaur. We should just learn to let things go.


The two designers, having dined with Editor Fiendish on kippers, ale and pork pies, are back in their basement cell, which has – especially at night, when the fluorescent tube is on – the technical clarity of a painting by Patrick Caulfield. An atmosphere of relative well-being prevails as the designers digest their food.

– Do you know, says the Cowardly Minotaur, I think he bought it.

– Bought what?

– The act we were putting on.

– I’m not sure if I was putting on an act, says Popppappp. I genuinely hate Fleetwood Mac.

– The point is, I think we’re going to be here for a long time, and we’re going to do quite well. And I agree, I’m not sure whether I’d even want to go home now.

– You’re coming round?

– I know the Mythists are a brutal lot, and the Kameraderie is far from an ideal society. But our societies are brutal too. It’s just that the damage we do is kept out of sight. A designer is endorsing a lot of horrible crap when he works to make the Western world look good. I haven’t felt at home in our culture for years.

– I haven’t either, says Popppappp. I was just thinking about car designs, and how they’re a bellwether for the aggressiveness, inequality and conformity in our culture.

– How do you mean?

– Well, take Volkswagen. Can you tell the Golf from the Scirocco these days? They’re both raked wedges with angry-looking headlights. They both look mean, fast and low, but one of them looks even meaner, faster and lower than the other. They’ve become the kind of cars that don’t stop at zebra crossings. Fuck pedestrians! But when they started in the 70s they were so upright, crisp, round-eyed and civic! They were cars with a conscience, and great manners.

– Well, they were both styled in Turin by Giorgetto Giugiaro.

– Yes. And they had some ethical backbone, some aura of rational, elegant kindness about them. I could give you a potted history of the decline of the West in seven chapters: the VW Golf, in its seven iterations.

– Go on, then, says the Minotaur, settling back as if preparing for an evening’s television-viewing.

– The modernity of the Mark 1 was vested in its pert, symmetrical side profile.

– At school I used to doodle that shape endlessly, the Minotaur admits.

– Wasn’t it lovely? It wanted to be an octagon, ideally: a box for people and goods. It was an octagonal Beetle. It looked crisp, responsible, almost socialistic.

– In Japan there are still lots of cars that look like that: boxy, round-eyed, economical, cute. They sit up tall and skitter around on tiny roads. They’re called kei cars. The government gives tax breaks on them.

– Japan has escaped some of the West’s selfishness. But wait, I was only at the Mark 1. The Mark 2 comes out in 1983. By then, of course, the neoliberals have arrived. Inequality is entrenched as a desirable policy: “incentivisation”, it’s called. The Golf gets bigger bumpers, a slightly longer chassis, squarer lights. It’s trying to look bigger, like an animal being attacked.

– Well, in the 80s if you weren’t a predator you were prey.

– Exactly. The car is trying to look like a predator. But underneath – like a hippy with a mullet – it’s still a 1970s car with 1970s values. It gets relaunched in 1991 as the Golf Mark 3. By now, the first Gulf War has happened, the Soviet Union has collapsed. The wheelbase is even longer, the windows start to get a raked look, giving the car a wedgy, gimlet-eyed aggression. By the Mark 5 – which comes out after 9/11 and drinks the petrol secured by the Second Gulf War – the raking is extreme: the rear passenger window is now a mere afterthought. The bonnet is longer, the headlights frown.

– Like the eyes of a snake about to strike!

– Like the eyes of a snake about to strike, exactly. The Mark 7 Golf – still in production today – is nothing more than a screaming death’s head, a hurtling mask of evil, a metal fist delivering a crushing blow to anything that stands in its path. And the Scirocco is the same, only angrier.

– You’ve got me sad now. About the decline of the West.

The men roll over and go to sleep.


At breakfast, the Cowardly Minotaur casually mentions that he saw the Precog Myth in a pub once. The men are brushing their teeth, so the anecdote is spluttered out through minty paste.

– Where?

– It was in a pub at the top of Broughton Street in Edinburgh. I’ve forgotten the name. The Falklands War had just broken out, Thatcher had ordered her “task force” to set sail for the South Atlantic. Myth was standing up excitedly, holding his pint, watching the news on TV.

– Did you say hello?

– He looked so wrapped up and intense, I didn’t want to interrupt. And anyway, the man had some kind of anti-empathy force field around him. A bit like Lou Reed. What if he just stared through you with utter contempt? Said nothing? Or told you to “fook off”?

– A friend of mine also met him once, after a gig at Leicester University, says Popppappp. He was standing at the urinal in the Students’ Union bar, and suddenly Myth was pissing next to him. My friend said “Sark!” and Myth glanced over and said something indecipherable which my friend swears was “Molto elegante”.

– Molto elegante?

– Yes.

– Your friend must’ve misheard, says the Minotaur, spitting toothpaste. There’s absolutely no way Sark E. Myth goes around giving strangers compliments in Italian.

– I was a bit suspicious myself. Especially since my friend was Italian.

The Minotaur just snorts.

– So, says Popppappp, you blew your only chance to meet the Precog when he was still just a ranter in a band? Nobody knew back then that one day he’d be the spiritual leader of a toxic new religion.

– Oh, I think there was always a sense of it. Something Blakean, visionary yet authoritarian. People often used that word “prophetic”, even before he became the Precog Myth.

– He must have written that song “Sarky Cha Cha” just after you saw him in the pub. It’s about the Falklands War. That song predicts the situation we’re in right now: stranded in northern Syria, nothing to go home for.

– It’s a take on the story of Lord Haw-Haw, isn’t it? The American-Irish traitor who broadcast propaganda for the Nazis? Germany calling, Germany calling!

– It’s about loathsome traitors, victims of educated aimlessness. Quite a few Brits made broadcasts for the Nazis, you know. Even P. G. Wodehouse, whose reputation somehow survived it. Haw-Haw was hanged.

Popppappp sings it as a nursery rhyme:

Haw-Haw didn’t care

Haw-Haw was dumb

Haw-Haw was put on a rope

And hanged till he was done

– Sarky Cha Cha, c’est nous, sighs the Minotaur. Just two more Brits in a bar. Hernandez Fiendish came over to us, offered jobs in the media centre. It’s okay by us. I single out the enemies of the Precog Myth. Good riddance to Britain, it never did a thing for us.

The Cowardly Minotaur barks this out in a passable impersonation of the Precog, dancing around the dungeon.

– A foreigner he / Gets cheap booze free / And maybe a woman, dusky …

– Fat chance!

– Guard puts a gun to our heads / Tells us blunt and blankly / We will never get home / We will never get home …

– It’s funny because it’s true, says Popppappp.


The news in the common room today is that a Kamerad cell has successfully burned down Abbey Road studios. They did it by first pretending to pose on the famous zebra crossing dressed as John, Paul, George and Ringo, and then dashing up to the studio to throw Molotov cocktails concealed in their flares.

– But didn’t the Foul record at Abbey Road once? asks the Cowardly Minotaur.

– Not that I’m aware of. Would this have happened if they had?

– I suppose not. Are you sad about it? asks the Minotaur.

– Nah. What’s sad is when a site of genuine creativity becomes a site of pilgrimage, a sclerotic tourist attraction, a museum. Have you seen Godard’s film 1+1? It’s a documentary about the Rolling Stones, filmed at Abbey Road. That’s all the monument to the place I’ll ever need.

– Isn’t that film called Sympathy for the Devil?

– Godard’s title for it was 1+1. His producer made a different cut which was called Sympathy for the Devil. Godard was so furious about it he punched him.

– Well, we can call it “Sympathy for the Arsonist” now, says the Cowardly Minotaur. To be honest I’m glad that dump burned down.

The men spend the day accompanying a Longhorn patrol around the commercial centre of al-Bab. Their job is to make sure that everyday life is being led – as far as possible – in full accordance with the principles spelled out in the Foul’s lyrics. It’s interpretive work, made easier by the Kalashnikovs the Longhorns carry.

The first stop is the atelier of a leatherworker. The man is sorting through a big heap of shoes, probably prised from the feet of the dead. The Longhorns (there are two of them, in matching grey wing-collar shirts and shaggy fringes) quote a line from some Foul song or other:

Leather shoes stick on northern carpets …

– Ensure that yours don’t, they tell the shoemaker. Make them slippery.

And they chant, in a half-spoken, half-sung approximation of the Precog’s delivery:

Nonstick shoes for slippery feet!

The Longhorns tell Popppappp and the Minotaur that this line is based on a short story by Lewis Padgett in which a peddler called Pedott has the ability to give people exactly what they need before they need it. A crook called Renard presses this talent into service for his scams, and goes on to steal a pair of slippery shoes from Pedott. Renard steals them and slips to his doom under a car.

– You certainly know your stuff when it comes to the Precog’s songs!

– It’s our job. The Longhorns turn to the leatherworker.

– Shoes should be karmic, highly moral. They should help restore order to a world that’s out of whack.

– Like you, Kamerads! says the gap-toothed craftsman, with cunning diplomacy. He raises his hammer in salute.

– I doubt he’ll change a single stitch, observes the Cowardly Minotaur to Popppappp as they’re leaving the hot little hut. The Longhorns overhear.

– Our work is mostly morale-boosting, says Pious Jack, the taller of the two. We aim to show that the songs matter.

Damo, the shorter Longhorn, concurs.

– The Precog’s songs are not just amusements, they’re something to live by.

The next stop is a brickmaker’s yard. A fat man is moulding bricks, then laying them out ready for baking.

– Kamerad!

The man looks up from the kiln.

– Kamerad, says Pious Jack, bear in mind the lines from “Fuckface”:

I’ve been grinding my blade on the stone

A big one I got from the garden

Fuckface, you will not mess with me again

The man smiles and returns to his brick mould.

– But what does that mean, in practical terms, to a brickmaker? asks the Cowardly Minotaur.

– Isn’t it obvious? It’s not a metaphor, it’s absolutely literal, says Longhorn Pious Jack.

– A brickmaker should make bricks so crisp and dry you can sharpen your knives on them, adds Longhorn Damo.

– Truly, the Precog thought of everything, says Popppappp.

– Allowed be his name, chorus the Longhorns.


Popppappp receives his first design commission for Royale’s Turn the following day. They’re preparing an article about the practice of burning down the houses of scum-eggs – people who refuse to become Foul fans – often with the occupants still inside.

– We need something strongly visual, says Fiendish, something that will catch the eyes of kids. Most of the house-burners are aged between ten and sixteen.

– We all dabbled in arson at school, says Popppappp, although rarely for such a worthy cause.

The designer is handed a copy of the text and shown to a workstation featuring a 2006-vintage iMac (the white plastic model with the curved stand) equipped with cracked copies of Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.

– I’m sorry, the software is a bit old. These were the last versions before Adobe got heavy.

– No problem, I’m actually really into retro software, says Popppappp.

Half an hour later, Fiendish comes to the screen to see what Popppappp has come up with.

– What’s that?

– It’s a panda, says Popppappp. I’m calling him Branda the Panda. I’ve reduced the sign “panda” to its simplest possible signifiers, but also pushed those into abstraction. And look, here’s his kerosene can.

– Actually, an experienced arsonist prefers gasoline to kerosene, says Fiendish. Kerosene is difficult to light.

– But it does burn longer and hotter.

– True, but it also leaves a distinct residue, detectable in debris samples.

– But if you control the territory, you don’t need to worry about investigations. In fact, there’s no need even to use the word “arson”, which implies criminality. Better just to talk of “redevelopment by fire”.

– Actually, chimes in the Cowardly Minotaur, Cordonnier has an interesting chapter on this in Language and Territory. He says there’s a strong relationship between lex and lexis – between areas of legitimacy and the words used to describe things.

– Oh, we’re very aware of that, says Fiendish. The Longhorns used to get described as terrorists, now they’re police. They’ve changed sides without changing a thing. Hey, this panda is good!

– Thank you!

– I like the abstractions. Adolescents are visually literate enough to read the image even with the distortions you’ve put in, and they’ll like the way you’ve foregrounded the halftone, crosshatching and slanted perspective. Very meta, Popppappp. But why Branda the Panda?

– Well, I thought of “firebrand”. And when you’re branded you get a mark burned into your flesh.

– That’s a little problematical. The panda isn’t branding people, but murdering them. To brand is, in a sense, to admit someone to the tribe. It’s a rite of passage, an initiation, a mark of belonging. But we don’t want the scum-eggs anywhere near us. We want them dead, zilch, erased, totalled.

– Hmm. How about Destroyer the, um, Panda Boy-ah?

– Nah. There’s no reason to cling to the panda. We could make him Annihilator Alligator instead.

Popppappp’s heart sinks. He’s going to have to change everything.

– Annihilator Alligator. Great idea. I’ll fix it.


The popping and cracking of AK-47s resounds through al-Bab’s skeletal buildings. The Sark-E-hideen are going about their duties. Assassination for the scum-eggs, forced conversion for the slags.

The Cowardly Minotaur is awake. So is Popppappp. It’s impossible to sleep.

– Even at night it goes on, says Popppappp, grimly.

– What?

– The killing.

The Minotaur is in a strange mood. His big shaggy head droops sleepily over his effeminate barrel chest. He seems desperate to make the best of things.

– Who’s to say that poetry cannot kill? Of course it can. And, by extension, anything that can kill is, in a sense, poetry.

Silence. Sporadic shots. A few faint screams.

– Mikhail Kalashnikov wanted to become a poet, says the Minotaur, half in a drowse. In fact, he continued to write poetry all his life, publishing six books.

– It’s certainly interesting to think of the AK-47 as a kind of mechanical poem, agrees Popppappp. It’s got rhythm, the rattle of tetrameters, the trochaic hammer of strophe against antistrophe. Like the best verse, it turns everything it points at into drama.

– After his success with the AK-47, Kalashnikov developed all his weapons in Izhevsk, near the Ural Mountains. He was still alive in 2013. A few months before he died, Izvestia published a letter Kalashnikov wrote to the head of the Russian Orthodox church. In the letter, the world’s most famous weapons designer confessed that he was in “spiritual pain” over the thought that he might be responsible for the deaths caused by his invention. Do you know what the Patriarch replied?

– What?

– “When the weapon is used for defence of the Motherland, the Church supports its creators and the soldiers who use it.” Then he quoted Christ: “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

– Ha! Absurd. Then again, who’s to say that Christ, if he’d been born later, wouldn’t have said something like: “I have not come to bring peace, but the AK-47”?

The Minotaur grunts.

– You know, Osip Mandelstam, who was exiled to Siberia for writing a poem comparing Stalin’s fingers to fat stubby worms, said: “Only in Russia is poetry respected; it gets people killed.”

– Didn’t he die in a correction camp near Vladivostok? asks Popppappp.

– I believe so.

In the circumstances it’s not a cheerful thought.


The following day the designers are assigned to TV studio B to watch the making of the news-commentary show Pay All Rites.

The show’s title sequence features a comical animation showing scum-eggs being beheaded – their egg tops being chopped off with a breakfast knife – over the song “Pay All Rites” from the Gargantuan album:

If you cannot pay all rites / You will pay the price …

The note of threat continues in the broadcast itself, presented by the Lingomaster, a shadowy character wearing a parka and a black cardboard archbishop’s hat decorated with a skull and crossbones made of green fuzz.

– People of Ersatz UK, taunts the Lingomaster, greetings from the Kameraderie! This is the voice you have learned to fear! This is the voice of terror! Again we bring you disaster – crushing, humiliating disaster! It is folly to stand against the mighty wrath of the Precog! Do you need yet more testimony of his invincible might to bring you to your knees? Very well. Are you ready, Operative Number 7?

A small box pops up on the left side of the screen. In it is a hooded man, his face hidden in shadow.

– The border on that box, Popppappp murmurs to the Cowardly Minotaur.

– Awful, isn’t it? Lime green …

The Lingomaster is outlining a terrorist atrocity.

– This is the voice of terror! A secret aircraft factory, somewhere in the Domain. Listen! The screams of the dying can still be heard. This is the voice of terror! Are you there, people of the Deer Park, shivering in your ranches? Listen, Operative 41, the fuse is lit!

Another hooded figure, another inset box with another lurid border, this time pink. Popppappp and the Minotaur shudder.

– Oil, to fuel your navy, to feed your tanks! There it goes up in smoke by the millions of gallons! This is the voice of terror! Do you still believe that there are secrets unknown to the Precog? Listen. Tonight at 7:10 an important pop star boarded a train at a little station outside Liverpool. Each split second is accounted for. The rails divide. The train hurtles through the air. The pop star will make no records in London. This is the voice of terror! Sassenachs and scum-eggs, do you still await your doom in your stupid stuffy little clubs? It will come, I promise you. Operative 23, the time is now!

– Oh no! Popppappp and the Minotaur brace themselves. This time the inset box is marbled blue with a metallised drop shadow. The effect is quite horrific.

– My teeth are on edge.

– Mine too.

– We strike you on the high seas as well as on the land! This is the voice of terror! Southern scum-eggs, the Kameraderie strikes you now as it pleases! Water pours through your greatest dam, smashing everything before it! Even as our invincible armies roll toward their objectives!

Now there’s a sequence in which three hippy scum-eggs are executed. They wear orange boiler suits stencilled with the words NUKEY BOERS in an approximation of Myth’s shaky handwriting.

– I quite like those boiler suits, observes the Minotaur.

– Yes, they are fucking cool. Maybe we can get hold of some, as employees of this show?

– Have they actually asked us?

– Not yet, not formally. But it’s only a matter of time.


The music seems to follow a pattern. First there are peels of pings, seemingly random, like a call sign. Then an ominous rumbling which gathers and grows and seems to be encouraging Popppappp’s head to start feeding back. That’s followed by a series of impacts happening, by the sound of it, in deep space or underwater. Next, the cry of electronic hounds followed by the chuff of electronic trains, disembodied and discombobulating.

Popppappp is already upset. The latest news is that the Foul State has exploded a bomb at MoMA just as it was preparing to open the New York version of the touring exhibition “David Bowie Is …”

The Kamerads responsible for the atrocity filmed the explosion and projected the scene onto the Empire State Building. The whole city watched the carnage, dumbstruck with grief: kabuki costumes, props, manuscript lyrics, storyboards, wigs, diary pages, stack-heel boots, all whooshing through the air in a deliberate allusion to the ending of Antonioni’s film Zabriskie Point. Popppappp, a huge D. Bowie fan, is struggling to see the silver lining.

Meanwhile, in the basement cell, pitches slide, springs wobble, voices moan. Suddenly it goes quiet just long enough to dramatise the entrance of an enormous and slowed-down whip-poor-will. The massive bird seems to take to the air, uttering sinister cries, as if hunting droning insects. And so it goes on, at volumes which squeeze the pineal gland until it bleeds melatonin.

It’s the kind of thing the Precog Myth would once have played randomly from a cassette recorder, to add texture to his performances. But now it’s being fed at high volume into the basement of the Blackpool Polytechnic of Trade-Polytechnic, presumably as some kind of torture.

To take his mind off the din – and the atrocity in New York – Popppappp chalks a list of seemingly random words on the wall:






The game is to find a narrative line through the words, something which can lead him back through this sonic labyrinth to the known, the reassuring. Popppappp starts at the end:

Concordia – the word that pops up most forcefully – is the current name of a Montreal university where Popppappp’s father held a departmental post in the mid-1970s. The main campus building, a modernist box, became famous in 1968 when students – protesting against institutional racism at the university – occupied the computer lab and sent thousands of punched computer cards fluttering out of the windows.

What Popppappp remembers mostly about his father’s office is the photocopier. The budding designer was allowed to make collages (call them a sort of paper fusion) in which the stripes of Paul Rand’s 1972 IBM logo – Popppappp’s favourite single visual thing, at the age of fourteen – created a partial eclipse of a sun-shaped paper disk. Young Popppappp therefore became an artisan responsible for electronic-paper sculpture.

In retrospect, Popppappp is ashamed that his focus was so ironically counterrevolutionary. In a building famed for an anti-computer (and therefore anti-authority) gesture, Popppappp was busy fetishising Rand’s logo with its eight stacked stripes. He was intent on glorifying the very authority the students were attacking. He’s always kowtowed to power.

There was really nothing subversive in Popppappp’s adoration of the IBM logo. It came from his obsession with his father’s bright red IBM Selectric typewriter. The Correcting Selectric II, introduced in 1973, had a new squared-off design and two ribbons, one black for striking text decisively into the paper, the other white for carefully pecking out erasures. The keyboard was black and the bodywork cherry-tomato red.

The Selectric had a unique system of rotating silver golf-ball typefaces; the model sitting on Popppappp’s father’s desk came with balls featuring Prestige Elite (serif), Letter Gothic (sans serif) and Script. You snapped them into place by flipping a small clip of black plastic on the top. Triggered electronically by key presses, the golf ball pecked with blackbird precision, cocking its head in order to strike the ribbon – a worm of shiny carbon – at the precise angle required to punch out the required letter.

If Popppappp, living in a bungalow by a Canadian lake in 1974, made an in-house family publication called Popppreview with a limited edition of five, we can rest assured that it was simply to give himself an excuse to use the red IBM Selectric that sat on the antique desk in the family living room.

Tapping out articles about cars, ice skating and maple syrup, Popppappp gave himself a pretext to gaze lovingly at Paul Rand’s IBM logo design, displayed discreetly yet commandingly on the Selectric’s top surface. If throwing punched cards out of a computer-lab window was to undermine power, sitting in front of an IBM Selectric was to share it.

The red writing machine seemed inherently liberal, advanced and trustworthy. It was designed to sit in an office with yellow swivel chairs, perhaps a library or a social-security office, illustrated with pictures of the moon landing and animated by solid principles of social justice.

– Here, this is for you!

Into the cell is thrown an enormous ring-bound manual. A handbook of some sort. Design-related.

– Isn’t there any food? I need food. Hey, you, what’s the news from Paris? And where’s my friend the Cowardly Minotaur?

– Your friend has been beheaded, says the departing guard. You’ll see it on tonight’s edition of Pay All Rites.


We will never get home.

The Cowardly Minotaur never will, now. Popppappp wonders if he faced his end with courage, if indeed he has actually faced his end. He’ll find out this evening. They’ll force him to watch the video. There’ll be no alternative. He must put a brave face on it. That’s what designers do, give things a brave face.

Popppappp halfheartedly picks up the enormous ring-bound volume. Proposta per un’autoprogettazione, it says on the cover. It’s by Enzo Mari. A collection of plans for simple furniture. He lets it flop back to the ground. What’s the point of anything? Pretend to comply, do what they ask. But inside, store up your hatred. Tactics versus strategy. Spectre versus rector. When you get away, if you get away, let fly with full force. Do the most damage you can.

To die like that, out in the desert. To waste your head, and everything in it.

In the Golden Age, the sun wears a smiley face. What goes up does not necessarily come down. People are planning to live on Mars. On Earth, wheat hangs heavy on the stem.

Popppappp is teaching himself the clarinet. When Popppappp sees pink, blue and black rays slanting across the room he reaches for the instrument and plays the same tune, a lilting, vaguely medieval air of infinite sadness. The notes cluster, twist, spiral, cascade in pirouettes. Great work is sure to follow.

In his mind, Popppappp bites into a warm pink apple, a real one. The peel, wilting into a shade of sandy taupe, curls in a porcelain dish of phthalo green, making a very satisfying contrast.

Peki D’Oslo, back from the park, executes a clumsy curtsy en pointe. She is wearing Grishko box pumps with uppers of cerulean frost and soles of plum. Fingal, the beagle, utters a gruff bark of approval.

– Thumbs up from Fingal!

– Paws.

Peki D’Oslo stands over two metres tall. Her skin almost attains, in places, the sheen of real vinyl. Her lipstick is the colour of plastic cherries, in other words, real ones. In her Grishkos she is both appetising and rustic. The kitchen tiles are singed a smoky shade of black.

Design requires solitude.

– Did you work?

– No, says Popppappp.

– Do you want me to go back out?

– No.

Popppappp smiles. His smile is attractive. He has a face you trust. He is sketching on a lined block pad, designing a cover for the script of an experimental film called Documentary Evidence of the Lions Cairns Expropriations. His hips rest on a block of solid pine and his elbows are spread out on a chunk of ash resting flush in an iron frame.

Strictly speaking, a film script doesn’t need a well-designed cover, but it helps.

– Was that you, the man in the instant-camera commercial?

– No, that was Icek Judko, a twitchy mesomorph with the shaggy head of a lion. He’s confined to a wheelchair.

– Where did you get this lovely wood?

In the flashback, Popppappp tells his friend Peki that he purchased the wooden pieces from a shop in New York named Project No. 8. The store has two locations: one on the corner of Hester and Orchard on the Lower East Side, and one in the Ace Hotel complex near Madison Square.

Project No. 8 is the brainchild of Elizabeth Beer and Brian Janusiak. In their Orchard Street menswear branch (which happens to be directly below a place Popppappp once rented), they display an artwork on the wall in neon letters. It reads:






This is a word sculpture by Olaf Nicolai. It measures 29.7 by 21 centimetres and was created in 2006. It’s the second in a series entitled Noms de Guerres.

The sculpture provides an opportunity for daydreaming, which is to say escape from pain. What connects ptarmigan, safari, plateau, lightning and resolve? Can one make a story which draws a line through these words?

One can certainly try.

A ptarmigan landed one day on a strip of wet tarmac in Maine. The day was salty, punctuated by the rattle of lobster pots. Dr Bourou, the famous sex-change surgeon from Casablanca, entered the frame. He was lost on safari, dressed more for Africa than New England. The beach was a thin plateau shaded a tone corresponding to Pantone 13-1106 TCX, known as Sand Dollar because it contains beige underpinned imperceptibly yet unmistakably by green, as by an intuited banknote buried beneath a few layers of sand. At the exact moment that lightning struck, Dr Bourou was formulating an earnest resolve: never to reveal that Amanda Lear’s sex-change operation had been paid for by Salvador Dalí.

What’s the point? The only person who might be impressed is gone.

In memory of him, then. The proudly cowardly Minotaur.

One can view Olaf Nicolai’s Noms de Guerres neons in the dark, illuminated, or in daylight, unlit. Lit up, the letters glow brightly white with a lurid aura of African Violet and a faint whiff of electric fire. Seen in daylight, they look almost black.

Another neon in the series reads:






This one would lend itself well to a slightly pretentious detective story, whereas






is more apt for a pastiched Eno song or a forged 1963 poem sculpture by Ian Hamilton Finlay.

Popppappp emerges from the flashback weeping.


Time spills from its grid of tiny ticks. The gorgeous Fossil watch has stopped. Popppappp only knows whether it’s night or day by studying a chink bordering the base of a sandbagged, blacked-out window. Ants file along the window’s edge like a microscopic army. Popppappp can see through the chink if, ambushing the ants, he grabs the crumbling ledge and hauls himself up for a second. He can just make out the sky, and the top of a palm tree.

Looking at the world hurts his stomach muscles, but Popppappp has plenty of time to think, to plan, to compose and to remember.

Popppappp is mentally making a table, following the instructions in the enormous grey manual. Luckily, he has also been supplied with an imaginary Metamobile kit containing all the necessary cuts of wood, predrilled. The kit also contains imaginary nails, imaginary wood glue, imaginary clamps, imaginary tack cloth, imaginary latex gloves, imaginary jigs and an imaginary spirit level.

It would be best to use imaginary five-hundred-year-old river pine, submerged for two centuries at the bottom of a river. But this imaginary wood kit – recycled from the homes of Mythist enemies, and probably bloodstained – is the next best thing.

To design is to focus on the future, and to imagine it working more smoothly with careful improvements learned from the mistakes of the past. Of course, that’s a description of practical design. When we look at purely cosmetic changes, it’s more a question of fashion, which changes with sensibility and tends to go in circles. You can’t really say a shift from salmon pink to brick red, or a switch from a squared logo to a rounded one, is an “improvement”. It’s just a change. It may “freshen things up” for a while, but it can’t be called a step towards any objective ideal. Merely cosmetic change proposes a circular model of history; a treadmill, a loop.

A breath of wind is stirring up the palm leaves, dust softens the air. Popppappp enjoys working with imaginary drills, Dremels and tarps. When a nail pops out, he has to hammer it out and redo it, gluing and clamping the split piece out of sight inside a truss.

When buying imaginary polymerised tung oil varnish and sealer, always remember that it may have been adulterated. Give your imaginary table five coats, although some experts prefer ten to twelve.

Popppappp fell in love with the Foul State’s scrawly flag despite not believing for a second that a world organised according to Sark E. Myth’s lyrics would be in any way better than the world we have. In fact, Popppappp believes that such a world – now being realised – would be a lot worse.

To design is to put lipstick on the pig of history. To design is to put pearls before swine.

Schematic coloured bars, diamonds, crosses, stars, borders, flashes, swatches; all should be forbidden. By exciting people, by linking to the poisonous promises of adverts and manifestos, flags and cigarette packets are helping to spread cancer.

The government ought to intervene in flag design the way they have in cigarette-packet design. Flags kill far more, and make the air around them far filthier. All flags ought to be blank white rectangles, with the name of the country printed in Helvetica in the centre at a strictly regulated size and weight.


Willow, a strikingly beautiful young Norwegian, has arrived in al-Bab. After graduating from art school in London, she’s made the hazardous journey to the heartlands of the Kameraderie, hoping to give her life excitement and purpose. She believes that the wholesale cultural destruction now going on is the necessary – the absolutely necessary – prelude to an age of unprecedented creativity.

Willow arrives with her portfolio and a small bag of clothes at the Blackpool Polytechnic of Trade-Polytechnic building, having heard that their television division is planning an experimental children’s show.

Editor Fiendish is delighted and immediately takes her to Lab 17, the room designated for the development of experimental children’s TV. At present it’s empty: there are no employees and no scheduled broadcasts.

– In the long run, what the Kameraderie wants is someone to come up with the most far-fetched and compelling ideas possible. Stuff we can chop up and package as social memes.

Willow is pretending to like Fiendish very much, despite his goatish aroma, only partly covered by aftershave that smells like mustard.

– Children are all essentially perverts, killers, Fiendish is explaining, fiddling with his porta-fax. The thing to do is to tap into that psychopathology and put it to good use. We want to see kids carrying Kalashnikovs as soon as possible. To be honest, they don’t take much encouraging.

The Fiendish aftershave has changed direction and now smells like little twigs.

– I’ll need to test you, he says. Tell me a story about a shrimp and a ball of moss.

Willow closes her eyes. Hmm.

– There's a shrimp and a ball of moss, she says. The shrimp is sometimes pink and healthy, sometimes sickly and skeletal. It perches on top of the moss, which rolls around on the bed of the sea.

– Good, good, says Fiendish. How do we represent this? Puppetry?

– Claymation, says Willow, trying to sound decisive.

– Okay, says Fiendish. Not sure if we have the expertise locally. Plenty of clay, though. Now tell me about two seagulls who live at the airport.

– Two seagulls who live at the airport? Okay. One … one of them is a gimp, and mocks human attempts at flight. The other admires the details: aviation headlights, aircraft range, the high altitudes.

– What’s a gimp?

– A gimp is a bad-tempered seagull.

– Oh. I thought it was a heartless term for people with a physical deformity. Claymation again?

– No, this time it’s me and someone else, wearing origami bird masks.

– Good. I must introduce you to Popppappp, says Fiendish. He’s our art director.


– Greetings from the Kameraderie! Are you listening, stout fellows across the globe? Are you listening, you little incompetent body of men known as the Alliance? Today, a new thrill, a new proof of the invincibility of the Precog! The theme of our broadcast tonight is design. Look around your houses, bland undermen of the South! What do you see? Things bought at Ikea! Comfortable, compromised mediocrity in material form! The happy world of glossy flat-pack MDF is an abomination to the Precog, as it should be to you!

Willow is watching the broadcast in the common room. Popppappp, who has already noticed her, stands shyly in the arch of the doorway.

– Tonight we will see a designer pay for that craven mediocrity with his life. A cowardly villain will spill his blood on the sand. For, know this and know it well, what you call “design” is something to be scorned, mocked, excoriated, banned, burned and banished. The Precog promises us a splendidly grotesque world full of filthy anomalies, mistakes, idiosyncrasies. Flaming torches, cavernous bingo halls, luminous cash-and-carries! With the full force of his postmodern Gothic idiom the Precog celebrates hate and stubbornness and negativity. Where is there room for Ikea in this? For all that bland, inexpensive reasonableness?

Popppappp is looking at Willow’s profile out of the corner of his eye. She looks like every woman he’s ever desired, all rolled into one: dark eyes, black hair spilling in ringlets around her neck, pale skin with freckles, a delicate body, sensuous lips marked with a beauty spot, a long and relatively flat nose, light brows … so gorgeous, so perfect, so erotic. There’s something birdlike about her.

The metallic voice issuing from the TV set continues:

– Are you alert, number 20? By midnight every branch of that quisling chain will be nothing but a smouldering pile of rubble. Look out of your windows, you who dwell near a branch of Ikea! You will see your promised disaster written across the skies. Look, scum-eggs, and wonder, and despair! The Longhorns keep their promises. An enormous concentration of sofas, tables, office chairs, mirrors, beds, cutlery, litter bins, moulded-plastic garden furniture, now gone, destroyed utterly! The flames are mounting, higher and higher and higher. How the glare must be visible, even to the shortsighted leaders of your bewildered government! Mark well the towering fires, for they consume –

Fiendish flips the mute switch. The preview tape rolls on, getting closer to the execution slot.

– How could we improve this, visually? the editor asks.

Popppappp doesn’t hesitate.

– The colours on the inset boxes need to change, he says. And this typeface – he indicates the ticker text running underneath the image of the Cowardly Minotaur, kneeling in the desert in an orange boiler suit marked NUKEY BOERS – needs to be more legible. I’d suggest 33 point, no drop shadow.

Drop shadow was something the Cowardly Minotaur – now being executed – felt very strongly about.


Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. These are the five typical stages of grief sketched out by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a woman who clearly didn’t spend much time in the company of designers. Popppappp’s response to the death of the Cowardly Minotaur begins like this:

1. Ensure the dead friend’s typographic wishes are respected in his execution video.

2. Phone the Precog.

3. Think incessantly about Willow, who might potentially replace him.

Number two comes to him in a flash of inspiration. When Fiendish is called away from the preview studio on some urgent business, Popppappp notices that he’s left a pack of cigarettes, a lighter and a cell phone on the tabletop. A sudden idea, barely sane, occurs to the bereaved designer: why not take his complaint right to the top? Phone the Precog, get him to condemn what’s happened, punish those responsible, vindicate the memory of the dear dead friend, perhaps even get a Minotaur monument erected in the central square of al-Bab?

All this goes through Popppappp’s head in a split second. Actually getting through to the singer is almost an afterthought. Casually, Popppappp picks up the phone, taps out the number for international directory enquiries, and asks to be put through to an S. E. Myth living in Prestwich, Greater Manchester.

– Myth, Mr Sark E.? says the operator. Of 18 Graylure Gardens?

– That’ll be the one.

There’s a silence, a buzz, some clicks, a ringing tone and then a furry, fuzzed, blurred voice.

– Fookinell! Dontyaknow whattimeitis?

It’s a voice coming through a mouthful of marbles, but it’s definitely him.

– Sark E. Myth?

– Yeeees-ah?

The Precog has clearly been drinking.

– Sark, you don’t know me. I’m Popppappp.

– Pop what?

– Popppappp. I’m a designer, I’m calling from a town in Northern Syria.

– Tellyawhat, Pops, couldrya callbach when ah’m, y’know, norrinbed-ah?

– I won’t get another chance, says Popppappp, desperately. Listen, Sark, please. A friend of mine has just had his head cut off in your name. Nothing will bring him back from the dead, obviously, but a terrible injustice has been committed by the officials of your movement, the Foul State.

– Whazza Foul State when it’s arrome? barks Myth. Heard of the Foul, like. Deadprouda magroup, like. Bessinaworld, the Foul.

– Sark, you’ve got fans, as I’m sure you know, who are trying to organise society in accordance with your lyrics. I believe they’re misinterpreting what you’re saying, and the result is a fucking bloodbath.

– Blubbbaathists? Therezome barking Foul fans out there, I know that, like, says Myth. But what they gerrupter is nowt to do wi’ me, Pops. There’s no blood on my hands-ah, like. Foul fans can do what the fook they want, youknowhorramean? Izzafreecuntry, youknowhorramean? But don’t pin it on me, because I’m notaving that.

– You mean this whole Foul State thing is none of your – 

Popppappp’s question is cut off. Fiendish has grabbed his phone back and switched it off. His face is igneous, gnarled, vulcan.

– Who were you calling? On my fucking phone?

Popppappp is defiant.

– I called the Precog Myth.

– The Precog? You fucking liar!

– I did. I got through to the Precog, Sark E. Myth. He sounded a bit drunk. He slurs his speech. He knows nothing about the Foul State. He doesn’t endorse any of the stuff going on here. Not the military operations, not the executions, none of it. He’s just a songwriter. You’re just using Sark E. Myth for a bit of credibility.

Fiendish squashes his bubblegum gargoyle of a face into Popppappp’s.

– Yarbles! Say stuff like that – even as a joke – in front of the Longhorns and you’re a dead man.


Popppappp’s flirtation with Willow follows the contours of a typical Internet romance. Which is strange, because neither of them has access to the Internet. In the circumstances, however, it’s as close to normality as they can get: they’re both used to flirting online, and don’t really know any other way to proceed. All it takes is a little translation.

The romance begins in “Facebook” – which in this instance is the common room, the only public place where you can glance and chat in controlled, informal conditions – and continues with an exchange of email addresses. Which means, in fact, that Willow tells Popppappp the number of her bedroom, and he tells her his.

The bedroom numbers aren’t for nocturnal visits – that would be far too risky – but for “selfies”. But since neither camera phones nor the Internet can be used, Willow and Popppappp are forced to set up a “meatspace” selfie system involving a reverse-engineered camera shutter in the form of a door, a lens in the form of a chink, and an obscure chamber beyond, a sort of combined film compartment and studio.

The prospective lovers designate times at which their bedroom doors will be left ajar. For Willow, this is 20.48 each evening, a time when she can respectably slip away from gatherings, claiming tiredness. Popppappp casually strolls along the corridor at precisely this moment and glances through the chink in Willow’s door to see the “selfie” she has arranged, a sort of flattering nature morte.

Inevitably, the “photographs” follow a trajectory from the introductory to the erotic. At first Willow is simply looming near the crack with a smile on her face, but the following night she can be glimpsed for a second with blouse undone, a semi-transparent black bra exposed, and beneath it the merest suspicion of a rosebud nipple on pale freckled skin. Stuffed black crows have been arranged around her to provide a secondary source of visual interest and hint at her hobby, which is bird watching.

The glimpses become a wordless dialogue, each one a witty commentary on the last. Willow’s first two are admissions of frailty, pleas for gentleness. She portrays herself as a crybaby in the first, and is holding up an identity card required by all workers in the Norwegian construction industry in the second, a snarl playing around her lips.

Popppappp isn’t quite sure what this gesture means. Is the snarl there because Willow, unlike Popppappp, has deliberately come to join the Mythist cause? Has she heard that he was merely captured and allowed to live because his design skills gave him utility value? Does she sense that he’s latched on to her only because he’s lost his best friend, the executed Minotaur?

This initial mistrust is soon swept away by a hormonal tide of excitement. When Willow creeps past Popppappp’s door at 22:03 the first evening she sees him in dim lighting, sitting in an Ant chair looking moody and pensive. The next night he’s standing there with his clothes artfully dishevelled, a naughty smile on his face, and a request scrawled in biro across his pale chest: I WANT TO SEE YOU WITHOUT MASCARA.

The next night Willow arranges a surprise: not only has she taken off her trademark panda eye makeup (she looks a lot better without it), but she’s arranged a theatrical illusion for her privileged visitor: Popppappp has the impression that she’s sitting in a bath, naked. The erotic impact is so strong that it’s all he can do to stop himself from lingering at the crack for more than the prescribed second, and overexposing the frame.

Under normal circumstances, the Internet romance would culminate in a moment of extraordinary passion: Popppappp would Photoshop sperm onto one of Willow’s selfies and send it back to her. But here in Wi-Fi-free al-Bab, the lovers are forced to improvise. They meet in person, and Popppappp spills real seed across Willow’s face. He kisses some of it away, and dabs the rest off with a tissue rather than the usual erase tool.


Halfway down the busy autostrada corridor between Milan and Turin stands one of Europe’s most extraordinary industrial buildings: the Centre of Electronic Calculations, designed by Le Corbusier in 1963.

Popppappp – invited to deliver a lecture here about his hero, the designer Ettore Sottsass – arrives in a 1984-vintage black Fiat Panda (a car he admires for its completely flat windscreen design).

On the small car’s bench-like back seat lies a rolled portable projection screen, the kind used for family slide shows. Popppappp has covered the screen’s white surfaces with black paint. On one side, in preparation for his lecture, he has hand-painted the words:






The other side is blank, but not mysteriously so.

Carrying the screen by its handle, Popppappp (who is vaguely aware he is dreaming this) enters Le Corbusier’s enormous complex, which seems based on the United Nations as depicted by M. Sasek in This Is New York. He identifies himself to the security man – straight out of a Tati film – and receives his ID badge: a small piece of red plastic with his name punched out in white by a Dymo machine.

– Excuse me, says Popppappp, reading the strip on his lapel upside down, but one of the “P”s is missing. There should be seven.

The security man shrugs mutely and waves him on.

– Where is the cafeteria?

A guide approaches, smiling. She looks like Willow.

– You are at the main entrance, says Willow. Here you’ll find restaurants, a library, shops in a mezzanine and the first square block of workshops. Above us are ten storeys of research labs. The assembly shops are at ground level, but to enter them you must first climb to the roof. There’s a garden up there cooled by a sprinkler system. Mount a ramp and you’ll soon see a series of connecting corridors leading to three locker and washroom blocks. Everything receives well-distributed daylight from above. Corbu was adamant about that.

– In order to function correctly, smiles Popppappp, I need coffee.

Willow indicates a double glass door on the right.

The sight which greets him as the doors swing open on their electric hinges is extraordinary. Four thousand employees are lying in clusters under small indoor trees, conversing with vivid animation. The cafeteria is dominated by the complicated tower of a calculating machine accessed from terminals decorated with a most gorgeous arrays of buttons finished in scallop pink, olive green and aquamarine. Beside each terminal is a small zinc coffee station equipped with a hissing Gaggia machine. The tart odour of coffee rises, mixed with the pert tang of petrol.

The room is so vast that Olivetti employees are crossing it on Piaggio scooters, the bodywork of each machine finished in electric blue and bright citron. From time to time a staffer, puzzling over a knotty question, approaches the nearest terminal, types in a query and receives the answer almost immediately on a piece of mustard paper punch-printed on a receipt-sized roll. The employee brings it back to the group, which gesticulates in apparent satisfaction and continues the conversation.

Popppappp approaches the first zinc counter and orders an espresso. While the white-hatted barista is coaxing it out of the Gaggia, Popppappp makes small talk:

– Here the simple man like myself feels like a poor little man!

The barman smiles but says nothing, and Popppappp slaps a coin onto the counter. The tiny coffee cup in one hand, the black screen under the other arm, he approaches the nearest terminal and types in:


Immediately the machine prints out the mustard-coloured reply: “At both ends of this adventure there is the implacable human presence: the person who asks the question and the one who receives the answer.”

Popppappp crumples the paper like a fortune cookie into his breast pocket.

Suddenly the Cowardly Minotaur is at his side. The Cowardly Minotaur is now female. In fact, he has partly transmogrified into Willow.

– Minotaur! exclaims Popppappp. I’m so glad to see you!

– I’m called Willow now. And I live here, says the Cowardly Minotaur. It’s so much better than where we were before.

– That wouldn’t be difficult!

– Do you know the story of this building?

– Not really.

– The polyhedric Adriano Olivetti was a visionary, a poet among industrialists, and this building is his greatest achievement. For Adriano, an enterprise was more than just a unit for making profit. It should also be an engine of social justice, a bringer of aesthetic as well as social harmony. This is a modernist site to rival the great humanitarian projects of the nineteenth-century philanthropists.

The Minotaur gestures proudly at the vast room.

– All Olivetti’s electronic research employees live in dormitories on site. The services are more than ample, but for our people work is its own reward. They delight in gathering under these indoor trees, calmly awaiting great ideas as people at an airport might await their flight.

– Very nice, nods Popppappp. But tell me how you escaped? I thought you’d been executed!

– I escaped by becoming someone else, says Willow.

As Popppappp awakens from the dream, he recalls that the Centro di Calcolo Elettronico was never built; encountering severe financial problems in 1964, Olivetti sold its electronics division to General Electric. The American corporation immediately cancelled Le Corbusier’s ambitious structure. One less masterpiece for the Foul State to erase.


The wind howls in the basement, a sparse, unsparingly bright warehouse filled with Kurdish carpets. Popppappp is cold. He’s been dreaming. Of his dear dead friend. He’s annoyed to have woken up; it means he can’t ask the Cowardly Minotaur which is his favourite Foul album, from a design point of view.

Suddenly it occurs to him: why not have the same conversation with Willow? He heads for the common room.

– My favourite Foul album cover? the Cowardly Minotaur would have said, intrigued. Willow says it in a similar tone of voice, slightly higher. Her face is also rather more pleasing to look at.

– Purely from a design point of view, specifies Popppappp. No affection by association just because the music’s good.

Barely pausing to think, the Cowardly Minotaur would have jumped straight in. And in fact Willow does the same.

– The really early sleeves are interesting, but not definitive. Trouble at the Shun-Fest, for instance, is almost Tolkienesque, with that elaborate tree root, the desolate landscape behind, the deliberately unfashionable hand-drawn lettering. It conveys the apartness of the Foul, a sense of menace, something psychedelic related to sci-fi and fantasy art.

– So not that, then?

– From a design point of view, no. And not the more recent ones either, which often just juxtapose some deliberately unprofessional typography with a neo-expressionist painting.

Willow speaks with the confidence of an art student with a first-class degree and a thorough knowledge of the Foul. A typical zealot, in fact.

– I think I can guess what you’re going to pick.

– Can you? It’s obvious, isn’t it. The style people think of as “definitive Foul”. The style Pavement ripped off. It’s the look Myth achieved on Ice-Age Extrusion Hour and Lebensroomic. The “writer’s scrapbook” style.

– Do we need to enumerate the components of that style? Its look and feel?

– We don’t need to, but let’s check the boxes anyway. An off-white background with maybe a cheap textural surround of brickwork or press clippings. Random phrases from Myth’s notebooks, written in angular back-slanted biro lettering with, perhaps, some Germanic affectations. Snaps of the band on tour in Iceland or America. An enigmatic schematic doodle vaguely suggestive of heraldry. Reams of typescript. Parodies of the kind of signs you’d see in a discount warehouse fire sale. Sub-zine collage.

– And what makes that hodgepodge into great design, in your view?

– I think it’s the fact that, despite flouting all known design standards, Myth is creating something visually unique and, in some way, utterly authentic. Reading those random phrases, you really are drawn closer to his muse, which is the powerhouse behind the whole operation. There’s also, I’d say, a mystique being built up around ideas of the holy fool, the untutored genius, the idiot savant, the impenetrably gothic and spiky yet richly creative world of a bolshy English working class en voie de disparition.

The Cowardly Minotaur would have relished slipping that pert, posh French phrase in there, and letting its sheer wrongness pulse for a while in delicious irony. As, indeed, does Willow.

Popppappp quotes:

– The present-day precariat will never stomach swill! Prole art challenge! Slang refrain concentrate!

– Yeah! It’s almost as if the Foul are making the same statement as Public Enemy when they say “It takes a nation of millions to hold us back”. As usual, the best design is not just about design. It borrows its power from something bigger. There’s a strong undertow of righteous class ressentiment here.

– This brings us close to something like Derrida’s contention that language must always refer to something outside the language system, and that this is simultaneously, paradoxically, something it can never do. So language is, as a system of references, both total and incomplete. It’s finally only possible because it’s impossible.

Popppappp begins to feel a little sad. He can’t forget that the Cowardly Minotaur had his head hacked off while wearing a boiler suit inked with the words NUKEY BOERS.

– By the way, asks Popppappp, what was your original name, before you became a fighter?

– The Cowardly Minotaur, says Willow.


The Blackpool Polytechnic of Trade-Polytechnic is full of weeping, shouting, gnashing, fist-waving, prostration. All the Foul State flags are at half mast. The Kameraderie channel is playing prerecorded tributes, speeches, documentaries. How could this have happened? Why did we deserve it? And what will we do now?

The news is huge. The Precog Myth – allowed be his name – has died. In mysterious circumstances, on a drizzly day in Manchester. Natural causes, they’re saying. Something to do with tooth decay. If only he’d flossed! Or even just brushed.

Fortunately, a dangerous moment of political instability has been avoided. Apparently, Myth left clear instructions that he should be succeeded by Nikki Danjo. This is what Danjo himself is telling us, in fact, in an address being broadcast between the tributes and the live coverage of the funeral.

– People of the Kameraderie, this is the voice of the New Ringmaster!

Danjo is a ratty-looking man with a hooked nose, forward-sweeping eyebrows and a spot on his forehead. He holds a scroll in his hand, and unrolls it with theatrical gravity to show Myth’s last request, written in his characteristic manic scrawl. It demands that Danjo be respected as regent, and that the entire Foul State should obey his every word.

– That’s not the Lingomaster! comes a voice.

– Hush, comes another, it’s not supposed to be the Lingomaster, they said it’s someone called the New Ringmaster.

At the end of his address – which is being repeated on the hour – Danjo grips the scroll between his sharp little teeth and scuttles away through a trapdoor in a puff of smoke, leaving nothing but a pterodactyl cackle and a few opaque captions:






At midnight a new broadcast is unveiled. Everyone at the media centre gathers around the monitor to watch. Popppappp is there, and spots Willow across the room. Fiendish is chain-smoking.

This time Danjo is walking slowly across a cloud of smoke, looking more rat-like than ever. Over his shoulder he intones the instruction – again read from the scroll – that the Foul State be entirely revamped. In the background plays music which sounds suspiciously like the Sleaford Mods.

– In the name of the Precog Myth – allowed be his name – our Kameraderie is now to be known as Danjo Nation. The dice are rolling! This is the New Ringmaster!

Danjo’s voice is pitched horribly high. It’s hard to tell whether he’s very large or rather small. Everything he says sounds like a parody, a pantomime.

A short documentary about the regent is screened. Danjo started out in 1984 as a dancing master specialised in Morris dancing, with a small studio in Manchester and no more than a dozen pupils, mostly housewives. Later, he developed a personality cult and published a book styling himself “King Rat”, “the Slang Truther” and “the New Ringmaster”. The world, according to Danjo, is run by a conspiratorial league uniting hippies, Progressive rockers, Dutch energy corporations, the British Royal Family and sinister Buddhists. He begins publishing cartoons, catchy pop songs and the magazine Big Priest and Kamerads.

Danjo’s book King Rat ends with a vision, leaning heavily on Blake’s poem “Urizen”, in which a final conflict ushers in Armageddon, predicted to occur in the year 2021. In this war, initiated by the United States, all humanity except the followers of Sark E. Myth will perish. It will then fall to the Kamerads to rebuild civilisation, this time according to the principles laid out in Foul songs.

Danjo returns to the screen and tells viewers that they must strive to “attain Mythitude” via the ten principles of something called “Rat Life”:

1. Be ratlike in all ways, and make yourself like the King Rat.

2. If an obstacle appears in your path, gnaw through it.

3. There is nothing that cannot be achieved if only we swarm together.

4. The Renaissance was the result of bubonic plague. With new plagues, we shall achieve new marvels.

5. As the globe warms, the North will rise.

6. These are the end times, and we are the rats on the sinking ship.

7. The new world will be built on the dried droppings of the old.

8. Scuttle! Scuttle! Scuttle!

9. The claws of the young will be sharper than the teeth of the old.

10. For each rat who falls in the cause of the Danjo Nation, ten rats will rise.

There seems to be a lot more rat than Myth here.

After squeaking this information into the camera, Danjo slips with an exaggerated sliding gait across the smoke, taking five minutes to make his exit. His costume is splendid, made of mouse-coloured sable. Occasionally he turns back, grimaces with a fixed stare, and makes a strange head movement, as if an attempt is being made to decapitate him, but is failing because his head is pinned to a titanium rod articulated on a spring.

Some more random text appears on the screen:






The audience applauds enthusiastically as the rat-regent Nikki Danjo disappears into his trapdoor. Several voices are heard shouting the actor’s name. The reactions seem to be prerecorded, fed-in: there’s nobody in the studio but the technical crew.

Popppappp casually lets his hand brush across Willow’s bottom and slip down, cupping the undersides of her hips, then burrowing with his two longest fingers into the tight space behind her closed thighs. It’s something he would, in happier times, have done on the Internet with typing.


The coming-to-power of Nikki Danjo is accompanied by some odd natural phenomena. Night lengthens until darkness becomes universal. Can it be oil wells burning out in the desert, spreading a noxious mantle of thick black smoke across the sky? But if that’s the case, what explains the visibility of the spider comet?

It’s a vast orange and white calamity bearing down on us with an icy blue eye, an electricity-coloured coma mane, and a long tail of excitable ions. Suddenly the Cappadocian fairy chimneys around the Blackpool Polytechnic of Trade-Polytechnic – how come nobody noticed those before? – begin to throb with an eerie teal and orange glow, casting spindly spider shadows.

The ruin of a wooden ship is suspended between two stacks of rock, like the Ark on Ararat. Dinosaurs return to Earth in the guise of stenographers and shorthand typists, uttering hoarse shrieks as they practise their sinister dactylographie. The ground has become so hot that the only way to walk across it is on stilts, pedestrian chopsticks which allow tottering refugees to flee the spider comet, looming now like a burning kite between the jagged chimneys, so close one could reel it in on a string.

The landscape around the Blackpool Polytechnic of Trade-Polytechnic is molten, twisted into striations and rivulets, as if drawn by an artist on LSD.

The irresponsible silk of gossip is spun. They say Danjo has a soap-opera writer – a small dinosaur typist – who follows him around and puts his best lines into dramas. He also has a tailor who steam-irons silly phrases onto his clothes: “I am a part-time stunt man and a full-time pervert,” one proclaims. But wildest of all is the rumour that Nikki Danjo actually murdered Sark E. Myth in order to steal his crown and corrupt his message.

It happened while the Precog Myth – we are no longer allowed to say “allowed be his name” – was sitting in a Salford pub drinking the long draught and holding forth to a catamite called Dan on the subject of heraldry, a topic which inevitably touched – via bastardy – on the unpardonable treachery of his ex-wife and his many sacked bandmates.

– Subhumans, remarked the Precog, not worthy to slide and slither across the streets of the North. Destined for a slag heap, a burial mound where the sleet never ceases. Shun them! Shun them unto death!

Once upon a time his sharp words would have sealed the fate of those traitors, but now the clatter of typewriter keys is sinister in its absence. Myth is found slumped in the same position the next morning at opening time. The official cause of death is advanced dental caries, but many have their doubts.


In order to sleep in the volatile and anxious time of the spider comet, Popppappp tries to recall episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show he’s seen on YouTube. The sitcom is deeply reassuring to him. When he scans back for memories of early childhood, he sees nothing of his actual family. Instead, he’s watching Dick Van Dyke enacting the platonic idea of the 1960s family on a black-and-white screen.

Popppappp prefers to imagine the show radically recast. Instead of Dick Van Dyke, the father is John Cage. Instead of Mary Tyler Moore, the mother is the French artist Lili Reynaud-Dewar. The kid, however, is still Ritchie Petrie, but Ritchie Petrie is somehow Popppappp.

The episode begins, as they so often do, with John arriving back from his studio.

– Hi honey, I’m home!

Unfortunately, when John opens the front door, Lili is tucking one of Ritchie’s board games away on the top shelf of the cloakroom. The opening front door flips the cloakroom door shut. When John opens it to hang up his coat, he’s startled to see Lili standing inside, glaring out at him. Her body is naked and uniformly darkened with makeup.

– What are you doing in there, Lili? asks John. And naked!

– I was putting one of Ritchie’s games away, says Lili, flatly.

– Well, don’t I get a kiss? Honey, is something wrong?

Lili explains that during his long absence she has fallen in love with Nikki Danjo, the new neighbour.

– Go on. There’s more, I can just sense it.

– Honey, I promised him I would kill you the moment you came in. But now you’re here I … well, I just can’t seem to bring myself to do it.

– You sentimental thing, says John, with a mordant glance stage right. The studio audience laughs.

John puts down his briefcase, which contains the published sheet music for 4'33" and some mushrooms he picked in the woods on the way home.

– Boy, am I hungry, says John, attempting to change the subject. Honey, I found some beautiful fly agarics in the woods, big red and white ones. Ordinarily they’re poisonous, but if you parboil them they’re safe, although that also removes the psychoactivity.

– Do you want me to pop them in the stew I’m making?

Lili has perked up. Perhaps she’s just seen the perfect way to comply with Nikki’s murderous demands.

– Sure, go ahead! John rummages in his case and hands a clump of the fungus to Lili.

Little Ritchie runs in to kiss his daddy. John lifts the kid high in the air.

– How was school, champ?

– Not so good. I got in a fight with Cassandra.

– Little Cassandra, the little girl who came to your birthday party?

– That’s the one. She fights like a cat.

– Did she scratch your face, Ritchie? Here, let me see that!

– Oh, it’s nothing, Dad. We stopped scrapping pretty quick. But she wanted me to give you this note.

John sets Ritchie down and uncrumples the note, whose colour is hard to determine on black-and-white television. Lili stops chopping up the toadstools.

– What does it say, John?

– Well, I’ll be … It’s a warning. It says: “Someone is going to kill you, Mr Cage.”

Lili gives a guilty start as she scrapes the fungus off the chopping block into the stew. She dances a few satyr moves, knife and block in hand.

– Oh, really, kids! They have such vivid imaginations! If that little Cassandra were here, she’d probably say I was poisoning you right now!

John laughs and crumples up the note.

– You’re right. Now, Ritchie, run off and do your homework. Dinner’ll be ready in a few minutes. And remember, no matter how scrappy they get, it’s always wrong to hit a girl! That’s what I’m always telling your mother!

Lili gives John a reproachful smile.

– Honey, do you want to taste the stew?

– Did you parboil the mushrooms?

– No, I didn’t, because you said that took away the psychotropic effect!

– Good thinking, hon, we could probably all do with being a little high tonight. Say, do you remember how, in the Rig Veda, they talk about this amazing drug called soma? That’s where Aldous Huxley got the idea of the “holiday” drug in Brave New World. But for the ancient Hindus, Soma was a god in the form of a drink made from plants. He got into your blood, inspiring dancing and poetry and sex. Soma could manifest in many forms: a burial ground, a bird, a bull, a sea monster, an embryo.

– It sounds like our holiday in Mexico. That time we nearly got divorced.

John laughs at the memory.

– Gin and tonic?

– That would be lovely. I’ll just leave the stew to bubble.

The doorbell pings. It’s Nikki Danjo, the ratlike new neighbour. John acts friendly, but you can tell he’s still a bit rattled over Cassandra’s note.

– Hey, Nikki, how’s it going? Settling in all right? I hope Ritchie’s not bothering you with his hoops practice?

– Your son is a great little kid, John! I invited him in to play with my ancient sword collection. Well, before you know it we’ve reenacted all the major battles of Mediterranean antiquity! We’re fast friends now.

– Well, that’s … that’s just great, Nikki! I couldn’t be more delighted. Is there something we can do for you? We’re just fixing dinner …

– Oh, I won’t stay, I just wanted to say that if you hear any rumours, John, don’t believe them.

– Rumours? Like what?

– Well, that I’m plotting to kill you and marry your widow, for instance. Come on, John, credit me with a little class! If I were having an affair with Lili and planning to murder you, I’d at least have the decency to do it behind your back!

Cage pulls a tight smile, winks, and throws a “gotcha!” punch.

– Are you sure you won’t stay for dinner, Nikki?

– No. You know, ever since my father had his first two sons served up to him as meat, I’ve been very careful about what I eat.

Studio audience laughter, slightly nervous.

– Well, I can certainly understand that, says John. Night, Nikki!

The door closes.

– Honey, did you hear that? exclaims John. Nikki Danjo says his brothers were served to his father as meat!

– Oh, John, you know Nikki had a very hard childhood, Lili Reynaud-Dewar replies. I’ve been hearing all about it. He was raised by shepherds and suckled by a goat. That’s why he moves like an animal sometimes.

– That would certainly do it, says John, going boss-eyed for rhetorical purposes.

As Lili recounts the hard-luck story, she’s dancing around the room like a Maenad.

– Those brothers who got cooked and served to his father as meat were the sons of Nikki’s grandmother. His uncle stole the Mycenaean throne unjustly from his father. To get even, Nikki’s father seduced his brother’s wife. His sons got cooked in revenge for that. Then the oracle escalated the situation by telling his father to rape his own daughter. The resulting child – Nikki Danjo – was taken in and raised by his uncle, who had no idea that the kid was destined to murder him.

– What was Nikki’s uncle’s name? John asks, taking his place at the dining table.

– John Cage Senior, replies Lili, laying the plate of poisoned stew before him.

– John Cage Senior? But that’s my father’s name!

– Why, so it is!

After Cage dies in agony, poisoned by his own psychotropic mushrooms, Nikki Danjo and Lili spend seven happy years together. But during the eighth, Ritchie, now grown up and known as Popppappp, returns to the apartment and puts the usurper to death.


Popppappp has his own studio now. It’s up on the roof of the Blackpool Polytechnic of Trade-Polytechnic, in a ceramic outhouse that doubles, unfortunately, as a toilet. The room, flanked on two sides by urinals and dominated by a chunky trestle table, reeks of the syrupy tang of glucose, recalling the urine of people who’ve overindulged in cake. It’s not unpleasant when mixed with the odour of brewing coffee.

Editor Fiendish has come to see how Popppappp is getting along with the revamp of Royale’s Turn magazine. He’s been asked to pay particular attention to the binding: previous editions of the magazine didn’t lie flat on a tabletop, and therefore didn’t leave subscribers’ hands free.

– And there are so many useful things a Kamerad could be doing with his hands while reading motivational texts, says Fiendish.

Popppappp shows the editor some thick endpapers he’s inserted into a dummy edition of the magazine.

– By adding weight inside either cover, he says, we can encourage the publication to lie flat on the table. But of course, the main thing to improve is the binding. Now, if money were no object, you could make the magazine a hardback. The whole point of a hardback is that it separates the block of the book from the spine. The block, flat when the book is closed, arches when it’s opened out. That’s not a problem where you have a rigid spine, of course, and sewn page clusters. Hardback is best.

– We can’t stretch to a hardback, says Fiendish. That’s out of the question. But we do feel strongly that a monthly publication ought to lie flat, enabling the reader to peruse it while holding a comforting mug of tea in both hands, or sewing buttons onto a paramilitary uniform, or nursing a future martyr.

– I thought as much, says Popppappp. In that case, we need to think very carefully about glues. Double-leaved page sheaves trimmed on three edges can be threaded at the spine, but single leaves trimmed on all four sides need strong glue to hold them in place. In the 1960s this was called “perfect binding”, and a lot of faith was placed in new, stronger glues. But over time we’ve seen a variety of degradation patterns in those glues.

Some burly men have entered the toilet-cum-studio. At first it seems as if they’re going to pee, but they wedge the door open and drag a body bag over to the table.

– Sometimes, continues Popppappp, trying to ignore the men, the glue holds, even after decades. But in other cases it cracks easily at various points throughout the book.

The men carefully remove the Cowardly Minotaur’s corpse from the body bag and place it on the table, right on top of Popppappp’s mock-up magazines. They place the decapitated head near the severed neck, then leave.

Fiendish seems to be ignoring the interruption, so Popppappp follows suit.

– You basically have four options: cold glue and perfect-bound, cold glue and sewn sections, hot melt and sewn sections, hot melt and perfect binding. Actually, almost nobody does cold-glue binding these days, although there may be some artisans locally still using the process.

The Cowardly Minotaur’s face has a tranquil expression. Popppappp has heard that he’d been told his execution was going to be faked, so that he wouldn’t panic and ruin the video.

– Within the sewn sections option, I’d recommend sixteen-page groupings rather than thirty-two-page groupings, says Popppappp, his voice quivering. Obviously the thinner the individual sheaves are, the more fluidly they can bend when the book is open and lying flat.

Popppappp wonders whether to illustrate his point by reference to the vertebrae in the Cowardly Minotaur’s dead spine, but decides against it.


A voice begins speaking to Popppappp through the crack below his cell window. At first it’s just a series of incomprehensible grunts and groans, but after two or three nights he begins to understand it.

– Bamboo is a traditional material in the making of baskets, says the voice.

– Tell me more, says Popppappp, overcoming his disappointment that it’s not Willow looking for a new meatspace selfie.

– Bamboo, which can grow up to 100 centimetres a day, is a supple, durable yet flexible rush which can be combined with modern materials, obviating the need for traditional craftsmanship.

– Who are you? asks Popppappp.

– I am Milker White. I am a sorceress and design commentator.

– Pleased to meet you, Milker. Can you tell me what you look like in words? I hate to speak into a void.

– Certainly. I am presently plastered in pan foundation. It’s as if the white makeup on my face is covering up the fact that I am actually white underneath. My brows have been built up prosthetically to make it look as if I’ve shaved off my eyebrows. I wear a hair net over a bald wig. I am a part-time miko, or temple maiden of the Shinto religion. My job is to facilitate the entire town. And by “facilitate” I mean “fuck”. Adorno said that “total contradiction is nothing but the manifested untruth of total identification”.

So it is a sort of selfie after all. Sex is on the cards. Popppappp reaches for his cock but is horrified to see a hoof where his hand used to be.

– What’s happened to me?

– There’s nothing to worry about, says Milker White. Go and look in the mirror, and then come back to me.

Popppappp rises with difficulty and canters to the mirror. The sight is frightful. His hair has become coarse and shaggy, his soft skin hard as hide. Popppappp’s skull has elongated, and his eyes have slid round to the sides, so that he has to choose whether to look at himself with the right or the left eye. At the front are two enormous nostrils and idiotically blubbering lips. Where once there had been fingers and toes, now blocks of hard bone terminate Popppappp’s limbs. From the end of his spine a long tail hangs, flicking reflexively at flies. Balanced on top of his head are two monster ears, each one as hairy as a potato sack.

None of this is an improvement. The only consolation is that between Popppappp’s legs hangs a penis at least three times its previous size.

– I’m a donkey, aren’t I? asks Popppappp.

The sorceress and design commentator nods.

– Why?

– It could be a metaphor for idiocy. After all, you lent your graphic design skills to the monsters who killed your friend, replies Milker White. It could also be because the author of this tale wanted to inject a bit of Apuleius’s Golden Ass in here, because he was getting bored. But it’s also your only chance to get out of Syria.


The plan is simple: Milker White will ride Donkey Popppappp through the centre of al-Bab. They will then head north, posing as refugees – or, rather, one refugee and her donkey – and make for the Turkish border. Assuming they make it across – many die in the attempt – they will then walk all the way to Istanbul.

– I have to carry you on my back all the way to Istanbul?

– Yes, says Milker White. And not just me but also this olive press.

– Why an olive press as well?

– I need an alibi, says Milker White. Nobody’s going to wave a sorceress and design commentator through checkpoints.

Donkey Popppappp is puzzled.

– Couldn’t you have chosen a lighter alibi?

– I was thinking of being a sword swallower, but swords are heavy too, you know. They don’t get any lighter just because you swallow them.

– I know that.

The olive press consists of three massive beams of oak lashed together with rope, and a screw-threaded plunger fitted to a hole in the central beam.

– It’s actually quite a nice piece of design, says Milker White.

– Look, if your sorcery can change me into a donkey, surely you can change that monstrosity into a couple of twigs and a wine cork once we get out of the town?

– If it were that easy, why wouldn’t I just defeat the entire Danjo Nation with a wave of my magic wand? asks Milker White.

– Well, why don’t you?

– Sorcery doesn’t work that way. There’s a whole bureaucratic structure people don’t know about. For instance, to get the necessary paperwork for this operation I had to visit a village in Norway, employ two assistants and pose as a land surveyor. The permissions I have, even now, are merely provisional. After I left, the innkeeper got whipped for renting me a room.

– It sounds depressingly familiar. Kafkaesque, even.

In al-Bab, Donkey Popppappp notices that the banners quoting the sayings of Sark E. Myth have been taken down. Milker White is describing how she first got into magic.

– It was a lot easier in the early days. You didn’t need to ask to do things, you just went ahead. For instance, I had a boyfriend who was cheating on me. So I made it my business to find a spell that changed him into a beaver.

– A beaver? Why?

– Because beavers, when they’re being pursued by hunting dogs, do this clever thing: they snip off bits of their own bodies and lay them out in a neat trail behind them. The dogs get a bit ambivalent, as you can imagine. Some give up the chase, and stop to wolf down the delicious organs. A desperate beaver will even gnaw off his own testicles and lay them out as a special treat of sweetmeats. The dogs can’t resist. A beaver’s body is a nifty piece of design, you know: the balls auto-regenerate.

– Oh, bullshit! says Donkey Popppappp. But I don’t understand the connection between your ex and the beaver he became? Is it thematic?

– It’s metaphorical, says Milker White. You see, whenever I was just about to catch him cheating on me, he’d feed me sweet lies and make love to me.

– Lay out sweetmeats, in a manner of speaking?

– Yes. Once I got the knack, I turned a lot of people into animals. A rival olive-oil maker, for instance, got turned into a frog and thrown into his oil vats.

– I thought the olive-oil thing was just an alibi?

– All the best alibis have some basis in fact, says Milker White.

– So what happened with the frog?

– I didn’t stick around to find out. I was too busy turning an advocate into a ram, and making the pregnancy of another of my lovers’ wives last for eight years. After eight years, people thought she must be a witch and stoned her to death.

– You don’t pull your punches, observes Donkey Popppappp. So, tell me about the design-commentary gig. How did you get that?

– That was easy. I turned all the other design commentators into rats.


Donkey Popppappp and Milker White (tall, spectral, statuesque, gliding like the Groke of Moominland) are stopped at a checkpoint controlled, it seems, by pre-adolescents. But the Kalashnikovs they wave demand at least a show of respect.

The boys, of course, think they have only have one human before them, and perhaps they’re right. They seem giggly and a bit spaced out.

– Where are you going?

– I’m heading to Doudyan, says Milker White, where my cousin’s husband is going to buy my olive press.

– Doudyan, that’s up by the Turkish border, isn’t it?

– Not far from there. It’s where my cousin’s family lives.

– It’s a very small town.

– Yes.

– Be careful. There are Turkish troops all along the border, and they’re firing missiles at random to frighten refugees and asylum-seekers.

With this warning, the boys wave the pair through.

– Have a good trip, calls one of them.

– Yes, happy travels, says the other.

Popppappp, forgetting that he is a donkey, asks:

– Do you know what happiness is, boys? A man said to the Buddha: “I want happiness.” The Buddha replied: “First take away I, that’s ego. Then take away want, that’s craving. All that’s left is happiness!”

The boys ignore the advice completely. A little way down the road, Milker White says:

– You could have got us into a lot of trouble. Buddhism passes for “hippy shit” around here. Luckily, I’m the only human who can understand your words. All anyone else can hear is donkey honks and brays.

– Mything hell, says Popppappp, you mean I’m wasting my breath?

– Well, yes and no. It’s self-expression of some sort. Where did you pick up that pearl of wisdom about happiness, anyway?

– I saw it on Facebook. It was in Portuguese. I speak a little Facebook Portuguese, you know.

– No, you don’t. As of now, all you speak is Donkeyese. And the only feed you get is hay.

They move on through the bleak, bright dust for a while.

– Do you expect me to speak? asks Donkey Popppappp.

– No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die, replies Milker White.

More silence.

– How long until we reach the border?

– About six hours.

– Six hours? Mything hell! How are we going to pass the time? Tell me a story about design, since you claim to be able to commentate.

– Okay, says Milker White. Did you know that the crash of TWA 800 – which blew up over Long Island in 1996 with 230 people on board – was down to a short in the wiring within the fuel tank?

– Is that what you call design commentary? Who did you write for?

– Aviation Disaster Monthly.

– That’s not a design publication!

– I was their design correspondent. All disasters are design problems at root.

– Okay, go on.

– The only electric cables in the fuel tank were those powering the fuel-gauge system, and Boeing engineers had kept those as low-powered as possible. But that in itself didn’t preclude arcing from other circuits and cables, or shorts. There was an assumption that you could make fuel tanks safe by running only low-voltage wires through them. But that was wrong: once you have an electrical system all clustered and crossing and routed through all the same ducts, all the wires on a plane are potentially connected to all the other ones.

– Come on, this is engineering, not a design issue.

– It is if you believe the difference between good design and bad is a matter of life or death.

– But real design is never a matter of life or death. That’s what’s so good about it. Politics, religion, those things can kill. But choosing a typeface or a shape or a colour combination or a finish texture, and putting that all together, is deliciously inessential. It’s almost impossible to make it dangerous, and it’s pretty much never fatal. Design – real design – wins its liberty at the cost of a complete lack of consequence.

– You mean, as a designer, you’ve never made a fatal mistake?

– Certainly not, says Popppappp, and tells Milker White about the drop shadow under the Cowardly Minotaur’s execution scene.

– And that proves?

– The verbs in that case were out of my control. All I had was some influence over the adverbs. How they presented my friend’s death. And I knew that that would have meant the world to him as well. He died as he lived: a designer.

– Have you never had the ambition to redesign verbs? asks Milker White.

It’s a good question.

– We, as designers? Change what people do in the world? That’s beyond our purview, says Popppappp. To have to deal with questions of such weight would severely weaken us.


Popppappp can’t deal with the heavy olive press on his back.

– Can’t we just dump it in a field? Surely it’s served its purpose as an alibi?

– I suppose so, says Milker White. Let’s put it behind that shed over there.

They dump the olive press and continue. Popppappp trots before, head bowed, and Milker White behind, holding the rope that leads to Popppappp’s neck.

– Tell me more about being a design commentator, says Donkey Popppappp, bored.

Milker White tells him that practically every design commentator keeps a beast or two that he feeds through the winter and sells at the spring sales. The design commentator usually has a fair number of fat beasts at the sales, and usually commands fat prices.

– This is the new alibi, right?

Milker White suddenly tugs the line tight and Popppappp falls to the dust on his back.

– Where are you going with that donkey? comes a voice.

Milker White looks around. A shabby fat man flanks a skinny friend. Each stands on the other’s shadow. It’s not entirely clear, by their appearance, whether they’re friends or foes. They may be Kurds, who in this area are Marxist-Leninists.

– I’m hoping to get rid of this beast, says Milker White.

– Hoping to get rid of him? asks the thin Kurd, eyeing up Popppappp’s shanks and hocks.

– He has been a most troublesome beast, explains Milker. Most would drive a nag like this away, but in the goodness of my heart I am bringing him to the fair, where I hope to get a good price for him.

– How much are you asking?

– Oh, I wouldn’t wish this curse upon you, comrade. The truth is, this beast has equine encephalitis. His head is going to swell to about four times its current size and then pop. It’s only a matter of time.

– Poor thing. Pop, will he? Puff up and pop? And does he have any skills? asks the fatter of the two Kurds, slapping Popppappp’s dusty hide. Carry water? Plough fields? Recite poetry?

The Kurds laugh.

– All he can do is design, I’m afraid.

– Good for nothing, then, say the Kurds.

– He can lay out ceramic tiles with his mouth, and the results are quite pleasing, says Milker White.

– That’s useless to us, say the Kurds. Best sell him to a Turk with better grazing than we have here. Not knowing about the head-popping thing, he’ll think he can fatten your donkey and resell him at one of the huge Turkish fairs. By the time the penny drops and the head pops, you’ll be far away.

– That’s a good idea, says Milker White. But how do you suggest we get across the border?

– We can help you with that, say the Kurds. For a price.


– What’s your donkey called? asks the thinner of the two Marxist-Leninist Kurds as the four animals walk towards the entrance to the secret tunnel beneath the Turkish border. Milker White has already paid them 40,000 Syrian pounds to use it.

– He answers to “Popppappp” or “Donkey Popppappp”.

– You might want to change his name on the other side of the border, say the Kurds. Since he’s going to blow up and pop, the name Pop Up might put potential buyers off.

– Good point, says Milker White, although it’s actually spelled differently. With seven Ps.

– He seems an intelligent animal, anyway, says the fat Kurd, kindly.

– Yes, I swear he understands everything we say, says the thin Kurd.

– I certainly do understand everything you say, says Popppappp, with a haughty snort. I speak several languages and have lived all over the world. I have a first-class undergraduate bachelor of arts degree from Byam Shaw, and a postgrad degree from the Royal College of Art, both in London. I’ve lived in Edinburgh, London, Athens, Montreal, Berlin, New York, Paris, Tokyo and Osaka, and been, at various times, a columnist for Wired and the New York Times.

All the men hear is a gurning sort of donkey grumble.

– I am happy to meet Marxist-Leninists, continues Popppappp, because I myself used to be one. As a student I had strong Maoist inclinations. I was particularly interested in Mao’s thoughts on culture. Let me quote something he said in the Little Red Book: “Works of art which lack artistic quality have no force, however progressive they are politically. Therefore, we oppose both works of art with a wrong political viewpoint and the tendency towards the ‘poster and slogan style’, which is correct in political viewpoint but lacking in artistic power.” Mao called this a “struggle on two fronts”: a battle against poor content combined with a battle against poor style. As designers, though, we don’t have much responsibility for content. That’s usually the client’s domain.

– I am not entirely uncritical of Mao Tse-tung, however, continues Popppappp, thoughtfully. For instance, to be quite thorough he ought to have laid out four distinct possibilities for political art. These would be, according to his own schema:

1. Works of art which are both poor stylistically and full of bad politics. One thinks, as an example, of posters drawn by visually illiterate fascist children.

2. Works of art which are poor stylistically but contain good politics. Perhaps a school musical, badly sung, about an excellent youth communist movement.

3. Works of art which are rich stylistically but full of evil, unprogressive politics. One might cite Wagner, though personally I hate Wagner. They say his sister was much worse, politically, than he was.

4. Works of art which are rich stylistically and embrace progressive politics. I would cite Cage – although he was a mere anarchist – or the graphic design of Kazunari Hattori.

– Is he always this noisy? asks the thin Kurd.

– No, I think he ate some hay that disagreed with him, says Milker White.

– Actually, says Popppappp, ignoring these inane comments, I’m not sure what Kazunari Hattori’s politics are. But I love his work. Great use of grids, diagonals and half-tone screens. Have you seen his “Cat” series, made between 2008 and 2011 for Heibonsha Monthly Encyclopaedia magazine? Fantastic. A graphic meditation, full of charm and ingenuity, on the lengths to which you can push the graphic sign “cat” without making it disappear into visual incoherence. And all done with just two colours.

– We’d better hurry, says the fat Kurd, I think the donkey’s head is swelling.

When they reach the mouth of the tunnel – a claustrophobic throat plunging into black rock – it’s not Donkey Popppappp’s head which gives him pause, but his heart.

– I can’t go in, he tells Milker White.

– Gah, gah, says Milker White, for the benefit of the Kurds. Stupid animal! Get in!

– I’m not going. Not now. I know we’ve paid, but if these gentlemen are honourable they’ll remember us when we come back.

– Stubborn beast! shouts Milker White. Get through! It’s for your own good!

– No, says Popppappp firmly. We must go back to al-Bab and fetch Willow. I’m not going without her.


Even in the short time they’ve been gone, the landscape around the Blackpool Polytechnic of Trade-Polytechnic has transformed. The spider comet is now so low that it occupies the whole sky, making day and night indistinguishable. The spindly rock chimneys have become an elaborate coral reef, and shimmering schools of bird-fish – bird-herring, bird-flounder, bird-guppy, avian whale – move around and amongst them, wagging silver tails. Some have lugubriously puffed cheeks, an absent-minded academic manner, and small lanterns hanging from their snouts.

– What’s happened here? Popppappp asks a passer-by. But since he’s speaking in donkey language, the woman makes no reply.

– What’s happened here? repeats Milker White to a second woman.

– The End Times are upon us, she says. The prophet Enzo Mari has appeared!

– Ah, it’s the End Times, repeats Milker White.

– What’s this about Enzo Mari?

– There’s a prophecy – the Kamerads all believe it – that if a false regent arises, Enzo Mari will come and re-establish the Foul State.

– Enzo Mari, the famously irascible Italian designer?

– That’s the one.

– And then what happens?

– The Precog will return. Then there will be an almighty showdown between the forces of North and South. A sports writer, slightly the worse for wear, will phone in a series of dog-track reports outlining the collapse of civilisation as we know it. A bastard dentist will drive up to Morecambe and drown himself in the bay. The Antichrist will appear above the Irish Sea in the form of a flaming biker tattoo. Four container lorries marked MAERSK will appear, one from each point of the compass, and when they reverse together, the shape of a bend sinister will appear, denoting for all to see the illegitimacy of the regent. A Liverpudlian gryphon will waddle across a football pitch covered with adverts for Asda and milk. And a donkey will squash –

Just as Milker White is saying this, a shadow darts across Popppappp’s field of vision and disappears under his left hoof. Unable to control its descent, Popppappp makes contact with the object and feels it crushed to the cobbles as his weight shifts onto it.

– I think I’ve just squashed something, he says.

Milker White looks.

– It’s just a rat. The important thing to realise is that these prophecies have already started to come true.


The Blackpool Polytechnic of Trade-Polytechnic refectory looks totally different. It’s full of austere yet interesting-looking pine furniture in various stages of completion. Wearing an olive green woollen polo-neck sweater and sandals, Enzo Mari is moving around, supervising groups of workers who are hammering together offcuts of wood. He looks up as Popppappp and Milker White enter.

– Ah, a donkey, says Enzo Mari. An honest animal. Can it work with its hands?

– No, says Milker White, but it did just crush a rat with its hooves.

Enzo Mari looks startled.

– Crushed a rat, did you say?

– Yes, out on the road!

– You know that’s part of the prophecy? A donkey will crush a rat, and the rat is the upstart regent, Nikki Danjo.

– You mean I just avenged the Precog by crushing the upstart regent? asks Popppappp.

To the room, his expostulation is just a series of brays. Luckily Enzo Mari has had exactly the same thought.

– This donkey has just avenged the Precog by crushing the upstart regent, he says. What’s his name?

– The donkey is called Popppappp, says Milker White. With seven Ps.

– Popppappp? Reminds me of Sottsass, somehow. My old friend. Dead now. Well, Popppappp, you deserve a reward for this. What is your heart’s desire?

– My heart’s desire is to marry Willow, says Popppappp. And to be appointed head of all design for the Foul State when the Precog comes back.

Enzo Mari turns to Milker White for an interpretation.

– Donkey Popppappp wants to marry Willow and be appointed head of all design for the Foul State when the Precog comes back, she explains.

– Then it shall be done, promises Enzo Mari. Since I am the only man more stubborn and irascible than the Precog himself, I can promise I’ll make it happen. Which one is Willow?

Willow is found and sent across the room. She’s wearing white.

– Willow, take Popppappp’s hoof in your hand. There. Now, you two shall be married by the Precog himself. Do this for the sake of the Kameraderie!

– I’d be happy to do it anyway, says Willow. I knew Popppappp when he was a human, and he seems even nicer as a donkey.

Willow seems to be speaking these words in the direction of Popppappp’s elongated member.

Crowds of well-wishers crush around the happy couple-to-be. Garlands of flowers are placed on the heads of maiden and donkey alike. Selfies are posed for, V-signs flashed.

In the midst of all this commotion, an elfin drunk with the wizened, bottle-shrunk face of a monkey staggers into the room.

– Ississa saloon bar or what, Kamerads?

The crowd falls immediately silent. It’s the Big Priest himself, Sark E. Myth.


The refectory roof seems higher now, petrified into the shapes of writhing chained revolutionary principles, each one tethered to a stalactite. Flights of stairs plunge to narrow passageways flanked with scurvy cakes of toxic caulk. There’s an underground lake somewhere in which a gondola full of masked demons drifts, not playing (and at the same time playing) a song on violins about golf and God. Thousands of rivers, bursting forth from veins of blood, slide down the walls in a red rush.

– Someone oughtta clean this place up, like, says the Precog.

He blinks and rummages in a plastic bag filled with notebooks and microcassette machines, tonguing his teeth and bulging his gums.

– Precog Myth, says Enzo Mari, will you join this woman and this donkey in matrimony? The donkey has crushed the upstart regent Nikki Danjo, and we have determined that this should be his reward.

– I aventgotter faintest idea what’s goinonere, but fine, I’m gameferalaff, cummere you two.

Popppappp and Willow approach the Precog, trembling.

– Whoozzabessman?

A figure pushes through the crowd.

– I am!

It’s the Cowardly Minotaur. He’s wearing his orange boiler suit with NUKEY BOERS on it, and the Fossil watch with the pink case.

– I thought you were dead! gasps Popppappp, but all the room hears is the braying of a donkey.

– We thought you were dead! repeats Willow.

– Yes, we thought you were dead! says Milker White.

Enzo Mari just glares.

– CGI, explains the Cowardly Minotaur.

– You are besssmannn? asks Myth.

– I am. This donkey is my oldest friend.

In the voice of a sports reporter reading the football scores on television, the Precog Myth leers, coughs and pronounces:

– In the name of Saint Swithin, decrepit in the Michaelmas, closing-down sale, witch-hunting the righteous in the pit of the aftermath, I have, I say I have, a king-size bone to pick, brrrr-zzzzt, with that ex-rat, Austin Maxi, prick the cross on the ball, prick the cross on the ball, shoot, shoot, the death-dentist sold one million writhing souls, gimme the remit, chhhht, the under-overclass, reckless, gargoyles flit the underpass, the criminality remix, loyal bondsmen plus pickup band, Piltdown man in transit van, I say Piltdown man in Vauxhall transit van, straight from the record collection of the state, plus fans, I relate, a tribute to the latest defection, winner winner, blame the drummer, exit winter, fame in fatal sheaf of flame, cancer death lizard, stretchy-stretchy, maxi-winner, pre-widow, I do hereby declare you, kamerads, earth buzz, short-circuit, brrrzzz-brrrzzz the domain, Icelandic saga, difficult others, still listens to Zappa, Maxell C90, I repeat, I do declare you, enemies in bondage, tax-exempt for life, for the government’s sake, the other government’s sake, I’m talking to you, fans, you who paid your dues, you who slew the upstart ex-rat, faithful bondsmen, I repeat, I relate, in the name of the Foul State, I declare you, donkey, donkey and wife-ah. You may kiss the bride.

Confetti, throaty roars, a trebly guitar line that cuts the ears.

Popppappp de-donkeyfies. Arthur Gland appears.

– Gland! exclaims Popppappp, now human. What are you doing here? I thought you were the number one crusader against the affront?

– Well, yes and no, says Gland. I told you, I’m a taste haccountant. Hanother term for that might be market researcher. Brain scientist, if you prefer. When it comes to finding links between tastes and values, and therefore between products and sales, I leave no stone hunturned.

– What, are you saying this has all been a gigantic market-research experiment?

– In a sense, yes. A series of psychiatric tests with marketing himplications. You see, we had very little data on the connection between “hauthenticity values” and “design values”, despite the fact that those are two of the most himportant hemotive factors driving an High Street purchase.

– I’m thunderstruck, says Popppappp. All this time I’ve been thinking I was a donkey, when in fact I was a guinea pig!

– All in a good cause, I hassure you, says Gland. You see, people want a wine bar that’s both stylish and hauthentic. The “stylish” bit comes from hart-school graduates like yourself and your friends Willow and the Minotaur. We can call you in to redesign a place, relaunch a brand. You have a price. You don’t bring any halien or halternative values to the table. This hexperimental henduction hour has confirmed that.

– Hour? You mean all this only took an hour?

– Hindeed. Look!

Gland flicks back a curtain and light floods into the room. Raising himself in the institutional iron bedstead, Popppappp can see Quivercrop Quarry, the whole of Stumble Valley and the high azure mass of Clipstowe Downs beyond.


Popppappp is in a Nissen hut. The curtain-array aerial impinges on the view. Arthur Gland is upbraiding him gently.

– You’re a designer, says Gland. You have no vision of life, you simply do as you’re told. You refresh the product, please the client. Here, put these clothes on.

Gland indicates a sort of uniform tidily arranged on a chair next to the wrought-iron bed. There’s a tweed jacket in a heathery hue, a striped school tie, a grey shirt and trousers in darker grey tones, sensible pants and socks. On the floor sits a pair of lace-up shoes, neatly polished.

Popppappp takes off his striped pyjamas and begins to dress in the uniform. He’s been transported back to boarding school. Gland won’t shut up.

– People want things to be smart and new, but they also want things to be hold, stubborn and weird and traditional and mysterious: a bit of heraldry or mythology in the pub sign. So we chose the hoeuvre of Sark E. Myth, rich in stubbornness and tradition, harking back to a vanished working-class culture, highly hauthentic, full of half-harticulated values of resistance.

– So the Foul State is not real? It’s all just part of a marketing experiment?

– It may hexist, and it may not. Even if it doesn’t, there are things highly hakin to it. The system halways needs things like that. In marketing psychology we speak of the “disorderly complement”. An homeopathic counterpoint, if you will.

– Disorderly complement?

– To hinject a little strategic hinstability into the system somewhere, we require a blurred zone, a marginal, liminal place, a territory with poor reporting or none, a place himpoverished, hundernourished, milling with hactivists committing hatrocities nobody really cares about, a place heveryone knows but honly vaguely. A place hone is honly haware of as an hell.

– And that focuses the consumer mind, does it?

– Wonderfully. Hinstead of thinking about retribution, redistribution or basic human rights at home, the public simply counts its lucky stars it doesn’t live in a place like the Foul State, with its puritan shunnings, its summary hexecutions, its hintolerance. At the same time, there’s an hexcitement about the violence, the hauthenticity, the drama, the conviction, of hevents in that hatrocious zone. It’s a challenge to the market system to define itself, by contrast, as some sort of hutopia.

Popppappp is dressed now. Gland lays a paternal hand on his shoulder.

– You will of course be paid for your participation in the hexperiment. Come, let us walk down to Fuckoffee, where I shall complete your debriefing and make you hout an happropriate cheque.


They never make it to the coffee outlet. Halfway down Quivercrop Hill, Popppappp points to a small white sign:


– Wouldn’t it be better if we take this stile?

The designer’s words momentarily confuse Arthur Gland.

– Which style?

– There’s a footpath here that leads to the village, down under the beech trees. It’s a shortcut.

– Hokay.

The stile surmounts a dry stone wall. Gland crosses first. As Popppappp is clambering over he deftly dislodges a lichen-encrusted stone, skull-sized, from the wall’s loose top and hides it behind his back.

They follow a cattle fence down past a cross-hatching of larches, a dark copse of gorse. The high canopy of the beeches stirs and ruffles in the English breeze, an apparent bugle sounds faintly in the distance. On the horizon stands a single monkey puzzle tree.

When he’s sure they’re out of sight of both road and village, Popppappp strikes. Gland’s head is no match for the heavy stone.

– Haaaaaaarghh! says Arthur Gland, but Popppappp and death combine to stifle him.

Gland’s head is now a sorry smear of pink pulp, a piece of unidentifiable roadkill stretching between two cowpats. Gazing down at it, Popppappp sees colours, shapes; something attractively textured, almost painterly.

– The affront, he murmurs. And:

– I made this. A work of design. Perhaps my first.

Popppappp reaches for his iPhone. He will photograph the scene, composing everything carefully to best advantage, and email it to Sark E. Myth. The Precog will respond with a curt lowercase “good work mate” and invite the murderer for an amber pint of draught bitter.

A glisk of sun glints through a haze of fine rain, a swallow darts and swoops. Some kind of rainbow is going on. What goes up need not necessarily come down. Wheat hangs heavy on the stem.


First published by
Fiktion, Berlin 2015
ISBN 978 3 95988 010 7

Project Directors
Mathias Gatza, Ingo Niermann (Publishing Program)
Henriette Gallus (Communications)
Julia Stoff (Management)

Alexander Scrimgeour

Sam Frank

Design Identity
Vela Arbutina

Web Development
Maxwell Simmer (Version House)

The copyright for the text remains with the author.

Fiktion is backed by the nonprofit association Fiktion e.V. It is organized in cooperation with Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, and financed by a grant from the German Federal Cultural Foundation.

Fiktion e.V., c / o Mathias Gatza, Sredzkistraße 57, 10405 Berlin

Mathias Gatza, Ingo Niermann

Registered association VR 32615 B
(Amtsgericht Charlottenburg, Berlin)

KSB logo HKW logo