24th October


The doorbell rang. A man with a moustache and a clipboard was standing on the step.

‘Good afternoon,’ he said. ‘I represent CHECK, one of the world’s leading security support and maintenance providers. We have been appointed by the government to support and maintain the security of the country, and today we are in your locality carrying out some research intended to help improve the delivery of our products. Would you mind answering a few questions?’

‘Shoot,’ I said.

‘Our policy is always to ask the questions first,’ he said, turning a sheet on his clipboard. ‘Are you ready?’

‘Fire away,’ I said.

He gave me a look. ‘With regard to intelligence gathering,’ he said, ‘including monitoring of emails, telephone calls and other modes of communication, we are interested in responses to the proposition: “If you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear.” Would you say, in general terms, that you have done nothing wrong?’

‘Do you mean legally or morally?’

‘Let’s not split hairs,’ he said. ‘What about the following? Ever dropped litter? Smoked marijuana? Arson? Theft? Exceeded the speed limit? Manslaughter? Read or watched pornography? Rape, murder, high treason, blasphemy? Done any of those?’

‘What line of questioning is that?’ I said. ‘They’re completely arbitrary categories. And what do you mean by “blasphemy” anyway? I’m not even religious.’

He ticked a box on his sheet.

‘Some of them aren’t even criminal offences,’ I continued. ‘Watching porn, for example.’

‘One thing leads to another,’ he said. ‘No smoke without fire, in our experience.’ He ticked another couple of boxes.

‘What did you do just then?’ I asked.

‘We call it “profiling”,’ he said. ‘It’s a technical term. Now, on a scale of one to five, if one is “strongly disagree” and five is “strongly agree”, would you say that you have nothing to fear?’

‘Absolutely not!’ I said. ‘I mean, I strongly disagree, especially on the evidence of how you are conducting this survey.’

‘I’ll put you down as a one,’ he said. ‘Don’t worry, it’s just numbers – at this stage. You have nothing to fear but fear itself.’

‘That’s reassuring,’ I said, intending sarcasm.

‘You can rely on us,’ he said.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Guitar: Sorren Maclean
Subscribe here for more stories & music