I grew up next to the Antonine Wall in a suburb of Glasgow, Scotland. The Antonine Wall was the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire between AD 154 and AD 162. It ran for almost forty miles across southern Scotland from Bo’ness on the Firth of Forth to Old Kilpatrick on the Clyde Estuary. Very little survives above ground today, but excavations have revealed that its foundations endure along with those of bath houses, latrines and barracks used by the Roman troops. They only occupied it for eight years before retreating back to the more substantial frontier of Hadrian’s Wall across northern England. 250 years later, they abandoned Britain for good, and their incredible roads and walls and country villas became ruins to baffle later, less competent societies.
Perhaps it was growing up beside this memento of disintegration that stirred early thoughts of the great span of history relative to our frantic times. History was the only subject that really interested me at school, and it was the only one I was really good at. So I studied engineering at university.
And here we come to the perverse effect of the furious passion that towered over my youth—white-water scribbling (more commonly known as ‘pantsing’). No boyhood exploit even approached the amazing adventures I had in trances of white-water scribbling inspired by the Red Baron, Biggles, Douglas Bader and illustrations on the front of Airfix kits. By comparison, the dreary grind of school, games, getting qualified to choose a career… Oh dear. My late teens were a time of dismay faced with the tepid potentials of everyday life. I did think of joining the armed forces, but I failed the medical for pilot training on eyesight and I didn’t like the Army section of the Officer Training Corps. In aeronautical engineering, perhaps I would find echoes of the exciting adventures of my scribbles? Besides, there are always more jobs in engineering than history. In reality, I now see that the magic world of white-water scribbling merely filled the vacuum of a lazy boy who lacked the self-discipline to succeed as a scholar or sportsman. When boyhood ended, all that remained was my laziness. I did not excel at school or university.
I tried hard to forget writing. I pursued a serious career in design engineering, creating turbochargers for racing boats and big turbines for electric power stations. I became a Chartered Engineer. I studied for an MBA in London and New York and reached quite a senior level in a famous worldwide engineering company (ABB).
Then I gave it all up, came back to Britain and knocked about doing not a lot for some years. I had to face up to it; the intensity of white-water scribbling had followed me into adulthood. I was never going be fulfilled except through writing.
It’s a strange thing, but my first success was not fiction—or at least, it was not meant to be—it was a serious article published in a leading medical journal about foolish government (and medical) attitudes to bicycling. If you are interested, Google ‘Malcolm Wardlaw Three Lessons for a Better Cycling Future’. At the time, it was widely read and I believe it did change some minds. For some years I was deeply committed to correcting official wrong-headedness on bicycling. I published many other papers and letters in peer-reviewed journals. Some of this work is presented on the website.
What do bicycle policies have to do with dystopia? Well, a hell of a lot. Lobbying for a contentious topic like bicycling teaches you a great deal about the hypocrisy, incompetence, cowardice and downright dishonesty in high places. I really began to understand the stinking degeneracy at the heart of ‘democratic’ societies with free media, human rights and all the rest. It does look pretty on the surface. Beneath, there’s a moral sewer into which ‘democracies’ discharge their shame without a second thought. In my view, that’s how we’re going to collapse.
The real danger is the one we can’t see. We spend our lives swimming in it—you don’t ask fish about water. It’s the social contract, stupid. The social contract is (almost) never spoken, it’s not written down, vanishingly few people are aware of it, no one person devised it, nor did it come about through government policy. The Law accommodates itself to the many lethal excesses.
It goes like this. We the big-shots with the money are staying on top as is our right. And you, the common people, are going to work for us. Now, we know you hate slaving twelve hours a day from the age of ten, slowly getting poisoned to drop dead at forty. In some countries, you rose up and declared a workers’ paradise. That’s not happening here. Because we’re going to build factories where you the common people will be super-productive. You will produce so much that we’ll be able to pay you enough to buy the things you make. Yes, you can own a motor car, and a nice house on a tree-lined street instead of renting a cramped and stinking apartment sharing a toilet with half a dozen other families.
And another thing, because you’re earning more, you can afford to borrow more. So we’ll push cheap credit at you to buy even more stuff, which will create even more jobs for even more common people to borrow even more and all the while we the big-shots are raking it in. Shares in those factories are soaring, dividend cheques are piling up on our mats, your mortgage and credit repayments pour in like the Amazon. It’s like we’ve set off a forest fire that pours off money instead of smoke!
There’s just one problem—and it’s not oil, although that is a problem. It’s not climate change, although that is another problem. The problem is overcrowding. Eventually, even the big-shots can’t escape it. Those exotic retreats once only for aristocrats now are flooded with torrents of those affordable motor cars and cruise ship loads of tourists. The beaches are smothered by ‘the common people’ at play (vulgar, aren’t they?).
Most of us know that if you want a moment on top of Mount Everest, you’ll have to join the queue, mate. Were you aware that on any day there are more than a thousand super-tankers at sea? Only ten percent of the planet’s population enjoys ‘the affluent lifestyle’, yet already we’re slamming against limits that are completely beyond the control of governments to fix. The only way to stop overcrowding is by dismantling the social contract that has spread across the world in the century since Henry Ford pioneered working class affluence. That ain’t going to happen. We ‘the common people’ are not going to vote ourselves back to the nineteenth century. At least, I’m bloody well not.
So, we’ll have to be pushed—that’s how our times will end.
As for how it will be done, and what life on the far side will be like, you may be interested in the visions of Sovereigns of the Collapse, a five-part, hardboiled dystopian saga set in the south of England in 2106-7.
The first book launches in Kindle Unlimited on Saturday 11th July with the rest coming out at three-week intervals. All are available on Amazon to pre-order
If you would like an advanced copy for review, a limited number of free downloads are available HERE. If you take a download, please leave an honest review on Amazon.
I wish you the best of reading!