Bill Bailey

Author, Actor



This is a dramatic and chilling tale told in the time zones of the present and future. The almost animate physical structure of the State is revealed as it disintegrates around the lives of characters including a television evangelist looking for money and finding redemption, despite the stench of his own corruption. A crazed media baron is embedded in his castle in the Channel Islands , at last realising his sexual and financial fantasies. An American ex-private detective helps lead a hopeless band of scattered comrades in a modern and most definitely post -modern Britain . The leader of the Labour Party resigns on the eve of her election in what seems to be an act of idiotic self-destruction. The action swirls into the funnel of a whirlpool as an unimaginable catastrophe threatens the existence of humanity. The survivors fight desperately to re-weave the social fabric, opposed by forces who struggle to restore the values of the thief and thug. Fast-moving. Emotionally powerful.



D O W N L O A D  T H I S  E X T R A C T


T I M E S    T W O
B I L L   B A I L E Y

Chapter One



Early in the twenty-first century…

…it happened. It was a holocaust beyond the collective memory and consciousness of the human species. There was little warning of the impending disaster. It came suddenly. It was devastating.

The only good news was that it happened in early winter. If it had been spring, the chances of mankind's survival would have been much slimmer. There was of course no way of knowing whether humanity would ever regain the heights, or slowly wither on the cold slopes of a hostile world. Prior to the disaster they stood precariously on the peaks, giddy with enterprise, drunken with the desire to consume the visible universe in their gradual metamorphosis into the gods they historically worshipped. In the mid-twentieth century they went to the moon. They landed machines on Mars. In another hundred years or so technology may have even allowed them to visit a solar system of a nearby star, at least via robot. Who knows? In a thousand years they could have edged very close to the core secrets of the universe and existence itself. After all, at the beginning of the twentieth century powered flight was impossible. By the end space travel within the solar system was realised. One hundred years. Less than an instant in geological time. Little more than an extended lifetime of one human being who could easily have witnessed the Wright Brothers' success at Kitty Hawk as a small child and lived to see men on the moon.

It was capitalism which initially released all this potential power within the human species. Capitalism was a method of creatively inventing wealth in such a way that it could be accumulated and stored. Like an enormous battery. When it was released it gave birth to the Industrial Revolution and the Age of Technology which followed it. Much has been said of capitalism since its conception. It has been called an economic system, but that belies its power. The real beauty of capitalism is that it is an idea. Nothing more. That is, it was a unique combination of reason-directed emotion, crafted over a relatively short time to become the most powerful economic engine the world has ever known. And, like the combustion engines it spawned later, its exhaust gases proved to be noxious. But many forget that without capitalism, humans would not have flown or reached for the stars. Arguably, there would have been no Mozart or Darwin, either - or Marx. There would perhaps have been other artists and scientists and thinkers more thinly spread, but capitalism also gave people more leisure to invent. Wealth spread from the very, very few in the Middle Ages to a whole class of people instead of being held in a scattering of hereditary hands. It was a way of widening the gene pool of those with the time for ingenuity, along with the wealth to explore and experiment. Sharing of information around the world increased the pool to a lake.

Technology foreshortened everything. After the seventeenth century, inventions came thick and fast. With increasing technology, they came faster still. In the end it almost took the breath away.

The eruption of Vesuvius early in the twenty-first century was not quite the end, but it was far worse than the one in the year AD 79 when the cities of Herculaneum, Pompeii and Stabiae were overwhelmed by a rain of ashes and mud. In that eruption over two thousand people died. In 1631 five towns were destroyed in an explosion which killed three thousand. There was another big one in 1906 with another big loss of life. Since that time smaller eruptions have happened in 1913, 1926, 1929 and 1944.

This eruption, though, blew a huge hole in the lower leg of Italy. Generally, the longer a volcano is dormant, the bigger the bang - such as the explosion of Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 or Mount St Helens in 1980. Vesuvius was never expected to be the first volcanic eruption in over seventy-three thousand years to be classified as a VEI 8 event. It dwarfed the 1815 eruption of Tambora, Indonesia, itself ten times more violent than Pinatubo and a hundred times more powerful than Mount St Helens. In this one the indescribable forces underneath Vesuvius blew into the atmosphere more than 1,750 cubic miles of ash and sulphur aerosols, excavating a three thousand feet hole more than thirty-five miles across - big enough to swallow most of Greater London.

Ironically, Vesuvius was one of the eighteen laboratory volcanoes monitored by the UN International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. The vulcanologists did in fact expect an explosion because of the activity registering on their sensitivity devices. What they did not expect was the extremely rapid acceleration of signs which occurred during the final three days before the actual eruption. Naples is a large city located in a densely populated part of the world. It was simply not technically possible to carry out a complete evacuation in the circumstances. In the aftermath only estimates of the immediate death toll were possible, and some calculations ran to almost a half a million people.

Overwhelming as those casualties were, much worse was still to come. The violent explosion had blown fine ash well over twenty-seven kilometres into the atmosphere. As this gigantic cloud began to spread, day became night for all of Europe and Northern Africa. Indeed it seemed like the end of the world had come abruptly, almost without warning. There was no time at all to prepare. Europe, fresh into its new political union, was ostensibly prosperous and eager to stretch its economic muscles in a counterattack against the giants of North America and the Pacific. They were not thinking of the end of the world. They were thinking only of themselves and the future.

The European survivors and their industrial partners around the world were galvanised into action. Governments, including the EU, were put on a war footing. Emergency cabinets were formed involving all political parties. The scientific community was closely and immediately consulted. Rationing was instituted suddenly, even though America offered almost unlimited resources for relief. At least in the first weeks following the disaster they did. It took them nearly that long to listen more closely to their own scientific advisors and realise the calamity would soon overtake them as the vast dark clouds of ash were carried by the upper air currents in the stratosphere. Opinion was divided about the southern hemisphere at first. But this was a completely unprecedented holocaust. There were many projections but few certainties. In the event, North and South American offers of relief were soon withdrawn because their governments rapidly realised the worldwide implications. Their own people, their own citizens, were under the same threats the Europeans faced. The threat was the extinction of many, if not most, of the biological species on earth, including the human one. Every scrap of food had to be preserved for as long as possible. Because there was unlikely to be much else to eat for a year at the very least.

The world, in effect, was plunged into what had been called “nuclear winter” in the late twentieth century. This winter had not arrived via the rockets and nuclear warheads of America and the Soviet Union in the madness of mutually assured destruction. This winter was “natural”. But they called it a nuclear winter nevertheless because most people had some understanding of what that was supposed to mean.

Temperatures plummeted at first in Europe, of course. But the clouds of dust and ash spread more quickly than scientists imagined at first. Within a fortnight most of Asia was covered, from Siberia to the Himalayas. Africa darkened towards the equator. A month later North America was becoming heavily affected, and to the east Japan and the Philippines were already shivering. Streamers were seen in the Bahamas. Within two months the entire northern hemisphere was shrouded in daylight darkness. In six months temperatures in the southern hemisphere began to drop as the massive clouds continued to disperse in the upper atmosphere.

Within days - hours even - after the eruption of Vesuvius many of the human inhabitants of the earth realised they faced a truly desperate battle for survival. Governments struggled for control of scientific information in order to prevent panic in the population, but word spread quickly on the Internet and from the Internet to village rumour. Even on the other side of the world it was quickly clear that this eruption was much worse than the first officially released information implied.

And the initial news reports were bad enough. Approximately half a million casualties in the explosion and immediate aftermath. Winter temperatures quickly falling to —20 o C in the Mediterranean area. Most of Europe covered in a thick blanket of grey snow. Parts of the Danube, Rhine, the Seine and the Thames frozen. Gales developed, particularly along the coasts, some of them at force 9 and 10. All except emergency air traffic was grounded, and those flights were limited to sub-sonic speeds and propeller-driven aeroplanes. Jets were lethal because of the amount of fine ash sucked into their turbines. Immediate rationing was imposed on strategic goods. The sale and distribution of food was controlled by an emergency ministry at the EU which co-ordinated rationing with local governments. Other measures soon followed. Private use of automobiles was forbidden in order to conserve fuel stores. Limited service on public transport was maintained at first, but even this collapsed under the weight of the emergency. Electricity and gas supplies to private residences were reduced. Heating could only be used for a few hours per day. Medicines were stockpiled, and their distribution came directly under the emergency government health ministry.

It was like war. It was war. The biggest and worst ever fought.

Politically, of course, the effort was to hold the centre together in order to keep the organisation of the State from flying apart, at first slowly, then madly and completely. Fragmentation was inevitable. Splits occurred along predictable lines. Within less than eight months the EU had begun to collapse into its separate nation states. In a year there were fractures threatening within. Scotland tried pulling away first, then Wales. Sectarian clashes increased between Ireland and Northern Ireland as civil war threatened. And the United Kingdom was one of the more stable states in Europe. Other countries were having deeper problems. Although communication was little affected, transport was quickly limited to the military, police, health and political agencies.

Any mediocre general will tell you about focus of material and men. In other words, do not fight on too many fronts. Do not disperse your forces. And that was the principal problem governmental authorities had with their populations. From unimagined affluence the industrial world plunged quickly into the deepest and most abject poverty. Within a year after the huge explosion hundreds of thousands - millions - were dying of hunger around the world. No longer was this plague limited to patches of Africa, South America and Asia - the so-called Third World.

Because in that first spring there were virtually no crops in the northern hemisphere. Photosynthesis needs rays from the sun, and most plants will not grow without sunlight. They will starve in other words. Cattle and sheep feed from plants, and so they, too, starve. Grain is needed for the manufacture of bread, and grains are plants. In brief, animals cannot exist without plants. If plants starve, then so do the animals.

It was only by a faint puff of luck that the eruption happened in early December and not the spring. Thus some of the seeds had a chance for survival when and if the sun returned. If Vesuvius had exploded in the spring, there was a strong probability complex life would no longer have been viable on earth. Since the disaster happened in winter, there was a chance - for survival.

When mere survival becomes the key, it is surprising how many other “important” things fall immediately away, almost as if they never existed. The leisure time vital to human invention evaporates like dew exposed to the morning sun. The daily struggle is to survive that day. In this respect the industrialised countries were at more of a disadvantage than the sufferers in more agrarian and less developed countries around the world. That collection of tiny but essential skills had been lost, trapped in the distant mists of the past. A few short months were not enough for office and shop floor workers, salesmen, managers, clerks, fat and sedentary, to be thrust into the jungle of daily survival on a now hostile planet.

So they died. And burial mounds and funeral pyres were re-introduced to deal with the corpses.

Europe was badly hit. But much worse were the Indian subcontinent, Northern Africa and densely populated areas in the Far East. The scale of the disaster was nearly beyond human digestion. Millions died from starvation, and the survivors were attacked by disease and pestilence as the water supplies, already despoiled through industry, were further fouled by rotting flesh.

Strangely, there was little panic in Europe. Perhaps that was because of their remembered experience of so many wars. But panic certainly struck in the USA. That nation built on consumer convenience and individualism turned on itself savagely. Many gathered their families and possessions together and ran for the countryside, protected by an arsenal of weapons. Americans found it difficult to understand the concept of famine, so manifold were their folk tales of a land of plenty. Fragmentation was brutal. Gangs and marauders emerged along racial and religious faults. Even Hollywood could never have written such a script of horror. Martial law was declared, but an army is itself hard to feed and keep warm. Many soldiers walked or drove out of their barracks with their weapons, their tanks and even helicopters to form small poisonous groups of young tribal gangs. They fought with others over food and fuel for their vehicles and families. Isolated farms and small settlements were raided, the inhabitants raped and murdered. America is a big country, and the loyal American armed forces were very soon stretched beyond capacity and endurance. A virtual civil war developed in the South between blacks and whites. The white man turned on the black murderously at first, but the blacks banded together, bonding more quickly. They also found themselves better at simple survival than the whites raised on hamburgers and milkshakes.

Government itself became increasingly difficult, even in smaller more coherent countries like the UK. With the rationing of electricity everywhere, television reception was erratic. Radio was quickly seen as a more efficient method in the struggle for the maintenance of national identity. Conventional telephone lines suffered constant interruption, but mobile units were hardly affected. Computer communications dependent upon the telephone were also severely restricted. Desktop models were almost useless, but the smaller, battery-powered units logically replaced them. During the first winter, spring and summer, the roads of the UK were virtually impassable, except for patches of the coastline. Most of the countryside was covered in several feet of snow during the rest of that first winter, the following summer and the next winter. Those were the worst of times. None of the world's governments was prepared for a disaster of this magnitude. The men and women at the control levers had to think on their feet and make quick decisions, and many of them were wrong because they were not used to this sort of unimaginable crisis.

Governments, like the monetary currency, depend upon belief . They must appear solid, reasonable and responsible. Or distant and formidable, invincible. They are none of these in fact, but so long as the population believes they are, they are as solid as facts. The analysis of this belief system is intriguing. Prime ministers, presidents, kings, queens and chief executives, along with all their ministers, ambassadors, senators, generals and civil servants are nothing more than ordinary human beings collected together to make the administrative decisions on behalf of, or - more usually - in spite of the population who generally create the wealth of the country.

If a full general or field marshal enters a crowded room of ordinary civilians, dressed in uniform and covered in medals, something rather magical and mysterious happens. Eyes are drawn to the man. The crowd grants the man in uniform status . That means that, in terms of human value, he becomes greater than they are. More decisive, more powerful, and someone to be feared or appeased. Film stars produce much the same effect. Presidents of “important” countries and royalty exaggerate the effect. Nevertheless, it is something the crowd bestows upon selected individuals. It can also be rapidly withdrawn. For instance, it can become known the general is an impostor. The king may be a prisoner of a crowd of revolutionaries. The president may be disgraced. In these cases, the belief is suddenly withdrawn. Status evaporates. Fear may be replaced by hatred or contempt. The enhanced figure becomes all too human - in fact, just like the rest of the crowd.

It was this withdrawal of belief which affected many governments around the world as successive land masses were disrupted by the changing weather and plunging temperatures. Perhaps the reason why Britain was not quite so badly affected as other countries was their haste in wheeling out their ageing Queen as a political focal point. She and her immediate family were seen to stand firm in the face of so much pitiless despair. Her picture and portrait appeared everywhere, extolling people to ration their food and fuel and endure the unendurable hardships faced by the nation.

It was the Queen - or those behind her, of course - who managed precariously to hold the survivors of Britain together, despite movements for secession in Scotland, Wales and even Cornwall.

Surprisingly these were at first less successful in Scotland, simply because the northern part of the British Isles was practically covered by a sheet of ice. Many Scottish survivors struggled towards the coastal areas carrying their possessions, bartering with what they had. Wise farmers and crofters slaughtered herds quickly, setting up smoke houses or salting the meat from old recipes. Of course most of the potential meat was wasted simply because there were no large facilities for such old-fashioned methods.

The coastal areas of Britain were indeed warmer, even in the north, but they were lashed by inexplicable gales. Tens of thousands died as refugees struggled from the interior of the country. By that time few had enough fuel for use in their cars, and anyway fuel was by then more important for the warmth it could provide. Using it to run a car was extravagant. As the value of cars plummeted, so the value of horses rose. Yet horses needed lots of food and protection from the worst of the elements. Some detached and semi-detached houses were partly converted into stables with a separate room for the horse. Local councils, more and more skeletal, if they existed at all, became a meeting place for the survivors and a focal point for town or village. Planning permission was no longer on the agenda.

Wales quickly became the most militant of the regions in its demand for secession from the Crown, yet it was far from certain this was a majority view. It was becoming clearer to everyone that, with such devastating losses to the general population, there was more strength in number. When and if the crisis was over, there would be a need for reconstruction. The whole country would require every man, woman and child to pull together in hopes of ultimate survival, not only of the UK but of the world. The message formed the underlay of the constant messages from the Queen listened to by so many with ears pressed against crackling radios. Welsh militants formed their own small militias to help defend their villages, but they were not yet armed. Under pressure from the majority, these militias mostly co-operated with the more traditional police.

Cornwall was the county least affected by the plunders of the weather. It was by no means sunny and mild, but it was occasionally free from snow. Its long coastline, still warmed by the Gulf Stream, was a magnet for refugees from the interior. Militias were formed in Cornwall mostly to discourage and turn away the refugees. And it was along this border that confrontations with English authorities were the ugliest. Again, the government used the Queen to defuse a potentially dangerous situation. She and the Prince of Wales owned a considerable amount of land in Cornwall.

On the whole, the British government kept a tenuous hold on the severely weakened social structure. A Labour government had been in their third elected term when the disaster struck and held a small overall majority of twenty-five. Within the first month of the crisis an emergency cabinet was installed which contained ministers from all three parties. Emergency acts were also quickly passed by Parliament, giving the government powers to centralise and conserve existing food and fuel supplies. Black marketeering carried heavy penalties. The swiftly rising death toll was a potential health hazard, and a separate ministry was created to deal with this.

These decisions were still being made at Westminster, but London was swiftly losing its population.

A modern city is nearly too complex to explain. It is almost like a living entity with highly specialised organs to deal with every function of its body. The scale of things is difficult to imagine. Perhaps it is easier to conjure up the daily requirements of one human adult. Food eaten, liquid drunk, waste products emptied into the toilet and basin, along with the refuse in the bin. Multiply that imaginary volume by six to eight million. It is truly staggering. Then there are communications and transport. Underneath London is a warren of tunnels and channels dug for pipes, cables, trains and drains, all serviced by thousands of workers every day of the year. In the design and construction of modern buildings in a city, it is assumed all these services will continue to supply them with electricity, gas, sewerage disposal and water. Because without them the buildings - and therefore a part of the body of the city - are dead. The people of the city, the citizens, are so densely packed in housing that they are effectively like drones in a hive. Every day they must be provided with food and water and transport to the building they work in. There are no roaming animals to hunt for food, no orchards to raid, no large kitchens for cooking and putting down preserves, no gardens suitable for domestic animals.

At first being in London or one of the other large cities appeared to be an advantage. Food distribution and health stations were set up at strategic sites. Stand pipes were erected for water. When the sewerage began to fail, large hastily adapted vehicles could pass through the streets collecting waste products. But these were stop-gap measures. The calamity was too vast for the citizens at first to comprehend. After eight months even the emergency systems began to fail. There was no bread, no potatoes. Fresh vegetables and fruit were the first items to disappear. After the initial few weeks imports were impossible. Countries who had been big food producers held on to their supplies for their own uses. Tins of food were of course a finite commodity. At first they were hoarded, but slowly the hoards disappeared. Meat and fish were available, but in rapidly diminishing quality and quantities. Londoners, like everyone else in Britain, came face to face with starvation. And there was little the government could do. Except ration what there was left.

The first tranche of deaths came as a result of the cold. The descent to outright famine began slowly but escalated rapidly. When the people of London, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Leeds realised that neither the government nor anyone else could supply them with food, they began to leave the cities. Most walked, with their goods in handcarts or pushchairs, because by then there was little functioning transport of any kind. There were a few cars or vans, of course. Fuel could still be bought on the black market - but only with gold, the immortal currency. Once people began leaving the cities, others quickly followed. Trickles of people became rivers. Already the refugees were thin, even though heavily bundled against the weather. Like hundreds of thousands of others - maybe even millions - they were headed for the seacoast towns. There were still fish in the sea.

During the first year after the eruption Britain lost over one third of its population. Twenty million people.

Not everyone left London, of course. Westminster still functioned, after a fashion. Buckingham Palace remained the official royal residence. These places were no longer guarded by the Metropolitan Police but by men in camouflage uniforms carrying automatic weapons. Lightweight armoured vehicles patrolled sensitive areas. Of course the retail commercial areas like Oxford Street, the West End and shopping centres everywhere had long been closed and looted. The authorities no longer bothered to defend them. The remaining “sensitive areas” were operational government buildings, supply depots, communications and transport centres and, naturally, the vital Royal Family. Most of the rest of London's remaining population was virtually unpoliced. Officially, that is.

Crime has always been relative, like the law which defines it as crime in the first place. In any social group with some degree of self-autonomy, laws will emerge and so will crime. Survivors of shipwreck in lifeboats quickly form their own relevant laws and crimes. Gangsters have laws which are fashioned for their own conditions and uses, and, not surprisingly, there are defined crimes within the gangs themselves. Come to that, “gang” is simply the name given by the controlling group to lesser rivals. One is legal government, the other is criminal gang. Defining law and crime is one of the first decisions any social group must consider to ensure cohesion. Things will not hold together otherwise.

Two major gangs emerged in London - one north of the river and one in the south. They emerged from the structure which already existed prior to the disaster. The north London gang remained the dominant force even after London was abandoned by much of its population. Like the government, they had their protected depots, communications and transport centres. For all intents and purposes a powerful “gang” is an exact reflection of the larger state authority. In the case of London, the gangs became direct competitors with the skeleton of the State which still remained more or less in control of the country.

So London was by no means completely dead after that first year passed. The Thames was frozen, but that was only its surface. Little huts were erected on the ice - not to live in, but to provide cover for the daily fishermen who bored holes through the ice and dropped hooks and lines through the holes into the water below. The pickings were slim, but any pickings were better than nothing at all. People ate dogs and cats. They ate rats and crows, the only animals which seemed really plentiful. In fact, if it looked and smelled something like meat, you did not ask questions. You sniffed first perhaps, then ate. Hunger and thirst are unlike all other emotions. They have the ability to sculpt consciousness, to focus every sense of the body to satisfy the craving. Indeed, it would be foolish to have any other system, if a species is going to survive.

And it was thirst which caused nearly as much havoc as hunger. As the water supply system slowly broke down, disease and pestilence began their inevitable rise. Cholera re-appeared. So did botulism and hepatitis. The intense cold slowed their spread but did not stop it. Pneumonia quickly reached epidemic proportions. There were still supplies of antibiotics, but this was a resistant strain. Tuberculosis was also rampant among the survivors. Flu was a killer, too, for weakened bodies. Britain's rivers over hundreds of years of intensive farming and industrialisation were no longer the sparkling and crystal clear streams which inspired its Lakeland poets. Most of its natural water needed treatment before consumption. Every surviving family had to learn new skills. Catchments were made for falling rain and snow. Boiling was combined with home-made filtration systems. Those who could not wait for safe water left themselves open to disease.

Naturally, the rationing system was never fair. Some got more. A few had plenty. Doctors, nurses, health and sanitation staff were high priority, and no one resented that. Nor were the government or the Royal Family blamed for taking more than their share, even if there were grumbles. Many of the really rich and powerful had managed to leave the country in search of warmer climates and more amenable facilities. But there were plenty left who had managed to hoard enough to duplicate the status wealth gave them during the harsher times. Military personnel had to be fed, of course, but this was gradually reduced to subsistence as stocks diminished. This caused the natural reduction of the forces which could be maintained by the shrinking state. And, as the force of the State receded slowly, other forces emerged. In the cities were the gangs. In the countryside militias were designed and organised by those who needed protection or aggression to survive. Militias were gangs, too, but they were more acceptable to the State as quasi-legal entities. Police forces were still present in the larger towns, but fuel shortages slowly eroded their effectiveness. In Britain during that first year the armed forces had priority over the police. Smaller towns and outlying areas could not be protected. The surviving citizens took matters into their own hands, electing a militia from their remaining young men. These could more quickly respond to emergencies. The army would be called on for more serious disturbances.

Theft, burglary and assault were focused almost exclusively on three items: food, fuel and gold. The new Euro, along with the old pound or dollar, was no longer accepted as currency for trade. Belief in the system collapsed swiftly. The future was uncertain. No commercial goods were being manufactured, and even if there were, there would be no customers for them. Everyone was desperately focused on survival, and in those circumstances barter was more reliable. Trade one horse for two kilos of salt mutton and a gallon of paraffin. Swap three ounces of gold for one horse. These were the items targeted by thieves and raiders. The value system was more primitive, but so was life.

Medical supplies, surprisingly, reached a level of stability. At the time of the disaster European stocks were very high, and a number of large pharmaceutical firms were based in Europe. Some of these firms continued to produce supplies on a reduced basis. Medicines were strategic goods, like armaments, food and fuel. Unlike the latter, though, the diminished production almost kept pace with the falling population figures.

In Britain the Emergency Cabinet developed a strategy for protecting a much reduced electricity production capacity. A trickle of petroleum and gas was still being preserved through the remaining off-shore oil platforms. Some coal was being strip-mined in Yorkshire and Derbyshire. Of course it was not enough to maintain a national grid system any longer. The reduced power was used by strategic hospitals, vital manufacturing and refining industries, government, communication centres, the armed forces and specified scientific laboratories. And the Royal Family.

The national grid had been protected initially for political reasons. Wattage was reduced first, followed in six weeks by the hours electricity could be provided. First it was twelve hours a day, slowly receding to six, then four. The Queen explained to the nation that the final collapse of the grid was only temporary and urged people to use materials to insulate their homes and be wary of open fires.

And there were fires. Hundreds of terraced houses were destroyed in the big cities as people opened up old fireplaces and used candles and oil-burning lamps for light. In some places there was some electricity some of the time, but it was erratic. Intense cold will drive most people to risks they would not normally take. Wood was burned. Paper and books were burned, along with rags and old clothing. Furniture and carpets caught fire. Houses were gutted. The reduced fire service could not cope with the growing emergencies, and many blazes raged until they finally burned themselves out. Comparatively, fire became a lesser hazard of life.

As things became more chaotic, they also became more organised. In other words people began learning how to cope. It did not happen quickly because of the rapid and stunning descent from plenty to little more than nothing. Especially along the coastal areas of Britain there was an effort to reclaim some form of stability. Many water and sewerage services were reconnected. Most of the time the water was not drinkable, even salty, but it could be used for washing and waste. Sailing vessels were revived and restored, new skills quickly learned. With the influx of refugees most coastal towns were overcrowded, and this caused the most trouble of all. Go somewhere else, the residents cried, we don't want you, there's not enough here even for us. Old office buildings, schoolhouses and shopping centres were turned into emergency hostels.

It was by no means normality. But, like always, people found a level at which they seemed to endure.

The scientific prognosis was that the worst of it would be over in a year. Perhaps two years. After that, recovery would begin. The whole earth had suddenly fallen gravely ill, along with every living system it sustained. Plants would grow again in the future. Animals would multiply. And the human species?

Scientists knew the dangerous margin for the survival of a species was fifty percent. If total human losses fell below that watermark, eventual recovery would be doubtful. Something happened to animals who lost more than half their populations. Their will to survive seemed to seep mysteriously away. It had probably happened to the dinosaurs - and hundreds of versions and branches of species, including human ancestors. There was no way of knowing any of the final answers.

But everyone who knew the dangers prayed to unseen gods that their kind could meet this unknown and deadly challenge.