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Showcase: This Isn’t Real

Edited by The London Library

The London Library Emerging Writers Programme, now in its fourth year, supports early career writers, with many previous participants having secured significant publishing success. It’s a unique opportunity that offers writers, in all genres, one year’s free membership to The London Library and includes writing development masterclasses, literary networking opportunities, peer support, and full use of the Library’s resources. To learn more about the Emerging Writers Programme, visit:

This month, we use our Write On! Showcase to celebrate the graduates from the 2021/22 programme. The majority of pieces we’ll be featuring here will have been written by former ‘Emerging Writers’, as well as a few from some of our more established members and Write On! Regular contributors. This week, we’re excited to showcase This Isn’t Real by Paul Atherton.

This Isn’t Real

It’s not real!

None of it.

I mean, how could it be?

Words define how we see the world and how we communicate it with others and right now, I can’t find the right words.

Over and over again, I keep playing with this idea that what I’m living now just isn’t real. I keep dancing with the notion of what could possibly be, and what most definitely is not. At the same time, I’m exploring the very concept of perception. We all know what we see isn’t what we see, but what we do see is intended to make sense to us, so when it doesn’t, there must be something very, very wrong with our world indeed.

A person with the most basic understanding of physics knows everything is built up of atoms and every one of us perceives those atoms through an individual lens of eye and brain, wisdom and experience, knowledge and understanding, that may, or may not ever be duplicated by others.

Things only become real through words. It’s only when we can formulate ideas that those ideas come to life, but until we find the language to define them that’s an impossibility, so what am I inhabiting right now?

I’ve never been truly religious, so the notion of an afterlife seems farcical to me, laughable even, so surely I can’t be living that. But here I am, thinking what I’m now living must be a fantasy, a construct of someone else’s imagination, or simply my own personal purgatory.

It’s June 2022 and nothing, and I mean nothing, makes sense in the second decade of the 21st century. The words just don’t add up, so it must be an illusion or something similar… right?

I’m pretty sure I died in 2009 and everything that has happened since is either someone else’s sick dream, my own death nightmare, or some VR construct that someone has placed my mental state into, to torture, manipulate and mock, in order to see what it takes to break me.

I’m an experiment in persistence and perseverance. Like a mouse in a maze, I’ve been placed in this world to examine how I behave and react to a catalogue of circumstances and environments.

Don’t believe me? Well, if you’re reading this, then you’re in this construct with me and will undoubtedly be having the same experiences and finding the same words to express them. So let me prove my case. I’ll begin with money. You remember cash, don’t you? The paper and metal you kept in your pocket, purse or wallet, that you used as a means of exchange to buy and rent things?

Well, back in the early 2000s if you’d visited the Bank of England Museum, that’s what the definition above the entrance would have read: Money, a means of exchange, controlled by the government, printed by the Royal Mint and monitored by the bank of England.

That definition had been true since the 1700s, but now, here in the 2020s, none of it is true.

The definition now reads: Whatever you believe it means.

Controlled circulation, i.e. the limited amount of money that can exist in an economy, has been replaced with unlimited abundance. Which means every economic model and philosophical argument since Adam Smith first penned Wealth Of Nations, is now null and void, because all of them were based on that fundamental premise of having only so much money available in a country, at any one time.

When the British Government mockingly uses the words “The Magic Money Tree” to demean the citizens who are asking for money for social support, their deceit is not only that they know only too well it exists but, worse than that, they know it is eternally plentiful.

How else do you think they bailed out corrupt bankers £1.3 Trillion in 2008? We didn’t have that money hidden somewhere. It was simply created out of thin air… literally.

And don’t let anyone fool you into believing it was a loan. Who do you think we would have borrowed the money from? Who had £1.3 Trillion lying around to loan it to us?

And forget about the state bamboozling you with economic-sounding terms like ‘Quantitative Easing’ too. The very man who created this concept emphatically says it’s not that; not even close.

No, what Britain actually did was print more money… without printing money.

You see, words really do matter to highlight this insanity, as indeed do numbers.

Add a zero to an amount on a spreadsheet, you go from having a £100 to a £1000, or a few more, you go from a £1,000,000 (million) to £1,000,000,000 (billion) and I know when we start talking Trillions you just lose all concept of how much that actually is.

So here’s a nice little aide-mémoire for you to remember how big the difference really is: if you verbally count to a Billion, one number per second, nonstop, it would take you 32 years to complete the task and to count to a Trillion would take you 32,000 years. That’s a big jump.

So please explain to me, if I’m not living in some morbid idiot’s screwed-up fantasy, why do I live in a country where food banks are rife, homelessness an accepted consequence of our societal behaviour, and political imbeciles and criminals are rewarded with masses of money while bright, decent, law-abiding citizens are mocked mercilessly and penalised for every reasonable decision they make?

That’s a madness that cannot possibly inhabit a real life. It just doesn’t make sense, not on any count! Put the words on paper and it seems even more implausible when you vocalise them.

Not convinced? Well, technology will seal this argument for you.

GenXers all grew up in a world which promised a Star Trek future, the USA Television Series that launched the year many of them were born. It explored the idea that money was an unnecessary concept, that gender, colour and class were all meaningless, as we could all get along equally and technology’s only purpose was to improve human life.

Everything about technology in Star Trek’s world was for the betterment of humankind. Food replicators that catered to everyone’s needs, so no starvation. Transportation that was free to all, fast and ecologically sound. Well, at least, if you didn’t mind your atoms being displaced and put back together, and a constant quest to improve knowledge, life and society. Words in that world all led to the same thing: a better life.

Compare that to the world GenXers now actually inhabit in this space and you’ll rapidly see my point. Instead of tech that works for humanity, we work for it. The oligopolies of Google, Microsoft and Apple dominate. Try and get any kind of IT device without iOS, Android or Windows on it. It’s nigh on impossible.

And even after you’ve paid for this device, which you then think you own, you try and tell it what it should do. Go on, I dare you, it will laugh at you. Seriously, it won’t work until you’ve given it your life history, shared your phone number, your email address, your bank details, granted it permission to share wherever you are and whatever you are doing with whomever it wants. Insane!

It would be like buying a house, discovering you’ve got oil in the back garden and the former owners telling you it’s theirs, building a rig on it to mine it, profit from it and then covering the rig in advertising hoardings, while not giving you a penny for the inconvenience of the noise, the pollution, the eyesore or as a return on the revenue that’s rightfully yours. If that happened to you in real life, you’d be up in arms in a second, you’d be rushing to court to take back your claim, but in this fake place we inhabit you think that behaviour is perfectly normal. Let me tell you, it is most definitely not!

This is not a logical or sane world. This is a place that has absolved its history and replaced community spirit with arrogance and ignorance. A world where words are losing all meaning. Black defines everything that’s not white. The word Female is neither gender nor sex and don’t get me started on the 21st Century hyroglyphics, emojis. Get it now? This isn’t real!

This is not any kind of reality. This is not an existence that humans could have made. Even less so British ones and especially not in London. No, we couldn’t countenance such a fantasy, because we are the city that created charities, philanthropy, innovation, and change.

We are the very city that gave birth to the English language itself, through Doctor Samuel Johnson’s dictionary.

So, friends, the only words we should all be screaming right now, skyward-facing, at the top of our lungs and in complete and total unison are:

“Wake Up!”

(c) Paul Atherton, 2022

Paul Atherton is a campaigning filmmaker, playwright, artist and one-time cartoonist who has been homeless for over 12 years. His work is often inspired by visits to museums. His most famous work, The Ballet Of Change, was inspired by a visit to Tate Britain.

Connect with Paul on Twitter: @LondonersLondon


The London Library is one of the world’s greatest literary institutions, providing a centre of creativity, inspiration and ideas for over 180 years.

Tucked away in central London on St James’s Square, The London Library has been at the heart of literature since the day it was founded in 1841. Throughout our history, writers and researchers, no matter their genre or discipline, have consistently found the Library to be an unrivalled resource. Previous members have included TS Eliot, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, Harold Pinter, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Bram Stoker and Angela Carter. Current members include Sarah Waters, Kazuo Ishiguro, Raymond Antrobus, Stephen Fry, Inua Ellams and Jessie Burton.

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