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Part One: Ducks Go South

arry is happy. He doesn't know what day it is. Harry is only vaguely aware of the month, and only knows the year because he can still count the new Millennium on his fingers. It's getting dark. Probably about 8 pm - but who's counting?
I'm Harry. Harry was about to go inside when a distant echoey chaos of honking coasted over the shimmering willows by the river and washed toward the house. It took a moment to see the ragged 'v', high up, heading south. I missed the ducks last year, but now relished the sight of them, golden in the dying rays of the sun. I watched for an age, until they merged with the distant cloud, their honking only a memory. Honk, honk.

All other life forms have survived without precise time and we seem to be doing pretty well these diurnals. We measure in moons, in days of walking, by light and dark, by the gnaw of hunger in the belly.

Harry closed the door behind him and stepped into the warm glow of the log fire. Lovely.

Y2K had been the biggest cock-up in the history of civilization. No electricity for several weeks, no water, no fresh food. The cities badly hit. Nothing worked. But people hadn't panicked. In a funny way it brought everyone together. The old wartime spirit. Oh yes, people died - of cold, of lack of medical treatment, and quite a few accidents. But the ingenuity of mankind had been severely tested but not found wanting. Bless Heath Robinson.


Stanley biography

Back then, I had quite a few city friends to stay out at our Arcadian idyll. Beds and sleeping bags all over the place. But we had a great time. Talking all evening, working in the fresh air all day. It was really cold that first millennial January. But well dressed and active you could be outside. We built a latrine (there's a lot of it when you have to dispose of it yourself), gathered and chopped firewood, and brought back potatoes galore from the local farmers. The well did nearly run dry - but we adults managed on rations so the kids could drink. And we all washed together in the weekly sauna. Looking back it was a strangely happy time. I was sad to see them go back to the slowly stirring city, jerry-rigged into some semblance of metropolitan life.

That's when we first talked about giving up clocks. It seemed a crazy kind of revenge against those innocent timekeepers. But for some reason the idea caught hold. And once the networks were restored, it became a major debate in what I always jokingly called the noosphere, but me, I never use short words if I can find a longer one.

I'd been outworking for several years before the Fall, as Taru called it. (Taru plays Eve to my Adam) As a financial analyst, I didn't need an office in town. Everything I needed to know was floating about like Schrödingers cat in a vast melange of electrons pulsing through atomic lattices and photons whipping round the world in fibreoptics. All I needed to do was pluck it out of the cobweb with the old faithful 128 modem, shovel it into my 8G, and then pore over it later with a mug of cocoa. In fact, to be honest, I didn't have to do much at all. It all downloaded on auto, and my brilliantly honed algorithms did most of the poring - alerting me with the sound of a Javanese gong when anomalies arose. And they paid me for this! Lots.

You won't believe me, but it wasn't the money. We wanted the kids to grow up in the country. To know where milk came from. To breathe good air. It wasn't my idea. Taru nagged. Let's go and live in the country, she said. Well, she was a country girl, she'd say that. But one day we moved out - not far (one small step for man) - but out anyway. We were never happier.

So when they built the first rural node in a run-down town in middle Sweden, I was the first to sign up. It was a complex of offices designed by that rarity, a sympathetic architect, on the end of the fastest data connections this side of wherever. They had teleconferencing. They had a canteen. The offices were free form - changing day by day according to who was in or out. Even I, a Neo-Bumpkin, took the drive down south now and then to head office. The beauty of it was that there were people from many different companies outworking here. A great bunch. A real community. We have a drama society. I joined the woodworkers. And the new school, next to the office, was as plugged-in as any in the world. Perfect!

The Great Time Debate was to came nearly two years later. I'd long since quit the financial grind. Been odd-jobbing on the web. And cruising the electronic back streets I came across some radical thoughts. 'The Web cuts out the middleman', was one that frazzled my brain. Then came 'Government is a middleman'. And next - oh heresy! - 'Management is a middleman between work and the market'. Heavy stuff. Though out in the country, where your eggs came from the neighbour's chickens, and five strapping local blokes would come and help you build a big wood shed before breakfast, it all seemed to make sense.

to be continued...