Wednesday, 8 February 2012


They put up a new billboard across the road from my house.  I was annoyed at first, as my estate agent (who I phoned almost immediately) said that it would probably reduce the value of my house by three- to four-hundred pounds.
Well, actually, was she said was: Will you stop calling me about every little thing?  I'm in the bath, for God's sake, with three other people!
Why did you answer the phone then, I asked back.
So I could tell you that, she said smugly.  But seriously though, stop calling all the time, it's creepy, bordering on stalkerish.  And you're still not actually thinking of selling, are you?  So what does it matter if the price changes?
I'll change my mind when the price moves enough, I said.
The billboard was one of the new ones, with a flat-screen display and some kind of new e-ink trick going on so that it didn't overly light-pollute.  It was still bright enough to see at night, but at least it didn't blast fluorescent light through the curtains and irradiate the budgie.
Budgie-cage, if I'm honest.  The budgie died about four months ago.  First I discovered that I'm too squeamish to pick up a dead bird, then I realised I'm a bit funny about touching skeletons as well.  I'm going to close my eyes and vacuum it up.  Soon.  Honestly.
The first thing the billboard showed was an advert for shampoo.  It was a bit more artistic than I've come to expect: mostly black and white, line imagery like they hired an expensive illustrator.  The woman shook her hair and it almost seemed to come out of the billboard at me, and I spent a lot of the rest of the day thinking about it.  The next day I saw it again, and at lunchtime someone asked me what kind of mayo I was adding to my sandwich.
"Shampoo," I replied, and as the words left my mouth I realised they were true.  I'd managed to buy shampoo instead of mayonnaise and was now trying to eat it.
It tasted good, but the fruit flavour didn't really go with the supermarket economy-brand packaged ham.  Also, the back of the bottle proudly stated, Tested as much as possible on every animal we could get our hands on.  This cannot harm humans!  I couldn't stop wondering what it did to the various animals.
When I got home, I took a closer look at the billboard.  There was a wooden fence surrounding its base, but it was only about four feet high and no trouble to scramble over. It turned out they'd dug the ground out a bit on the inside, and the fence was more like eight feet tall, but I didn't let that worry me too much.  I was more interested in the control box.
The lock on the box was surprisingly flimsy, and I broke that off by hitting it repeatedly with the heel of my shoe.  Opening it up, there were lots of coloured wires, a computer chip the size of my fist, and a small switch, mostly hidden by the coloured wires.  I pushed the switch, and it clicked happily.  The billboard didn't turn off, but I decided to see if would make a difference before I started pulling wires out.
Climbing out actually involved climbing up on the billboard and then jumping to the fence.  I missed and went clean over, sprawling on the ground, but I didn't hurt myself, and I limped home feeling rather proud of my little act of civic rebellion.
When I came out the next morning, the billboard was showing the phrase Isn't this weather dreadful?  I put my umbrella up, and decided I agreed.
When I came back later the billboard was showing the phrase Your neighbours are having a swingers party this evening.  It starts at eight.  I stared at it, wondering if it was an elaborate practical joke, but when the cars started turning up a little before eight I wondered if it was right.  I went over at nine to check, and it looked like the party was in full... swing, although the gap between the curtains wasn't quite wide enough to see much detail.
Death at work, today was the billboard's message in the morning.

No comments: