Microdose for England

By Oliver Gruner, Dan McCabe and Tom Sykes

Bald, bespectacled and tweed-suited, Sir Richard Barrelbomb sits at a mahogany desk nervously leafing through some papers. Hoodie-wearing teenager Tris O’Lulz strolls into the office with a guitar slung over his shoulder. He takes out his phone and starts playing with it.

‘Tris!’ says Sir Richard. Tris doesn’t respond and stays glued to his phone.


Tris finally looks up. ‘Yeah man.’

‘How are you?’ asks Sir Richard. He doesn’t wait for an answer. ‘Time’s tight so let’s get straight down to business. As you know, here at The Royal Institute of British Identity, it is our job – our privilege no less – to be the gatekeepers of international perception, to shape how our glorious nation is seen by the rest of the world. Now, as you know, Tris, for too long we here at RIBI were lamentably behind the times. And that’s why exactly a year ago today we hired you to help us move – carefully, cautiously, like a nudist in a sausage factory – into the 21st century. The century – and I don’t need to tell you this either – of the cyberspace, the PlayStation 2, the America Online and the MySpace.’

Tris scowls and shakes his head.

‘We wanted to get right up to date,’ continues Sir Richard. ‘We thought that you with your extensive list of clients whose chips are so blue they’re practically frozen, your glitzy-glossy, laser-luminous, uber-PinkFloydian website, and your astro-turfed, bean bag-littered reception area, you were best placed to advise us on how to steer HMS Britain’s Not So Bad through the perilous, shark-infested cyber-waves and avoid running aground on Troll Island or colliding with the Reef of the Scowling Emoji.

‘And what an awesome year it’s been, man,’ smiles Tris.

‘Yees,’ says Sir Richard. ‘That’s what we need to talk about Tris. Can we go back to June last year and-’

‘-And the first dark cloud in our blue sky thinking strategy. You’re talking Scotch Eggs, am I right?’

‘I am indeed talking about your attempt to promote the humble Scotch Egg to a sophisticated, global, cosmopolitan, online audience.’

Tris nods enthusiastically. ‘We made an augmented reality jam. The user puts on a head-set and then has the sensation of being shrunk down to the size of a pinhead. Then you climb into a rocket ship no bigger than a bogey and embark on your journey to the centre of the Scotch Egg. First of all, you land on the breadcrumb coating, which appears to you like some vast undulating lunar surface. Then the rocket hits warp speed and you’re smashing through the sausage meat layer. Boom! Then it’s into the outer membrane of the egg. Boom! Then the whites. Boom! Then the yolk. Boom!’

‘Problem was, Tris, that group of Japanese hipster kids we hired for the test-run ended up in hospital with a panoply of mental disorders from which they will never recover.’

‘Well, boss, when you apply the cutting edge to that point just ahead of the state-of-the-art curve, people are gonna be shocked. It’s the shock of the new. It’s Hendrix at Woodstock. It’s A Clockwork Orange. It’s-‘

‘It’s a bloody disaster Tris!’ Sir Richard cuts in. ‘We’re still paying compensation to those kids now. Millions it cost us.’ He looks down at his papers. ‘Anyway, what to discuss next?’

Tris consults his phone. ‘When we used the latest in sex robot technology to make cricket more interesting to foreigners?’

‘Alright,’ says Richard, ‘let’s just skip that one because it really was catastrophic. As if Geoff Boycott hadn’t done enough to humiliate himself on national television already. As I say, let’s not get into the details. Traumatic for everybody that one. Especially for Mrs Boycott. And their children. And Geoff’s chauffeur. And the animal rescue charity he’s a patron of. But anyway, let’s move on now, for the love of God.’

Tris claps his hands with excitement. ‘Ah, you mentioned God. I wondered when we’d get to David Attenborough. You wanted us to hack the vernacular legitimate codes of Generation Z to bulge David’s social media influence, right?’

Sir Richard rolls his eyes. ‘Yes, although I duly regret doing so. That was catastrophic too, in the full-on Boris-on-a-zip-wire sense.’

‘Boss, that’s not fair.’

‘Tris, people believed that your hashtag “Attenborough is Sick” meant that he had pneumonia. He’s 93 years old for goodness sake. The British people were seriously worried!’

‘But come on, it generated 78 million hits, man. The campaign went big-time viral.’

‘If by “big-time viral” you mean mass hysteria and mob violence that almost led to the board of our institute being boiled alive for treason, then yes I suppose you’re right.’ Sir Richard looks back to the list. ‘What about our efforts to promote the British honours system and make it seem a bit less crass, snobbish and feudalistic?’

‘We produced that YouTube series where we placed Dame Judy Dench, Dame Maggie Smith, Dame Helen Mirren and Dame Barbara Windsor on the Isle of Sheppy and, over the course of a week, used drones to follow them as they attempted to survive on the dole.’

‘Ah yes,’ sighs Sir Richard. ‘”The Hunger Dames”. That went about as swimmingly as that cruel stunt you pulled involving Sir Tom Jones and Sir Lenny Henry.’

‘Most streamed documentary in the history of Netflix, boss!’

‘Well the public did have a warped fascination for two of the country’s most cherished knights of the realm going toe to toe at Leeds Castle using real medieval weaponry.’

‘Tournament combat was the highest polling option in our focus groups.’

‘Tris, as a result of this debacle, Sir Lenny is now permanently, and somewhat ironically given his advertising commitments, bed-ridden! Let’s move on to what you did – or what you should have done – to boost the profile of the Full English Breakfast.’

‘Yeah man, well you know, we did what’s called “newsjacking” where you tie in your brand to major online news stories.’

‘Tris, it is not appropriate to ‘tie in’ soggy fried bread and tepid puddles of baked beans with the arrest of Isis militants in Kurdistan, a deadly earthquake in Indonesia and, what’s this? The mass-suicide of an apocalyptic cult in Uganda due to all the members eating poisoned… baked beans.’

Tris nods, this time less enthusiastically. ‘Alright, maybe the baked bean thing backfired.’

‘That’s one way of putting it.’ Sir Richard picks up another sheaf of papers and inspects it. ‘What’s this “deepfake machine learning reputation management” malarkey you were doing in December?’

‘Oh, that’s where we created convincing digital döppelgangers of Britons who have disgraced themselves in various ways. We programmed these döppelgangers to say and do nice things in the hope it would change the public’s mind about the real people they were based on.’

Sir Richard puts his hands over his face. ‘That was the hope wasn’t it? But we quickly established that it takes a lot more than an avatar of Fred West stroking a kitten and singing ‘Happy Days Are Here Again’ to turn the serial murdering headcase into a virtual global brand ambassador for our island civilisation.’

‘It was quite cute though, wasn’t it boss? Lovely little kitten. Lovely thing.’

‘Okay,’ says Sir Richard with a deep breath. ‘We have to bite the bullet and deal with the very worst thing that happened this year. The biggest PR cock-up since the press officers of Ratner’s jewellery, Volkswagen cars, Huawei, Marlboro cigarettes, the apartheid government of South Africa and Chernobyl nuclear power station decided to join forces to try and make Jeremy Kyle seem a little bit less like a twat.’

‘This was Beigegate, yeah?’

‘Beigegate, when our employee Brian Beige turned whistleblower. Over the course of 10 Twitter telegrams – or whatever you call them – Beige managed to reveal to the world that five of our directors had defrauded a total of £250 million from the Royal British Legion, the British Beer and Pub Association, the Chelsea Flower Show, Krufts, the British Pipe Smoking Championships and the National Federation of Fish Friers. Not the sort of thing an organisation tasked with boosting Britain should be doing, is it?’

‘Naah, that was easily dealt with, boss. That Beige guy was so… beige and boring that the moment he sent all those tweets he just disappeared into the ether. He fell foul of obsolescence, like all technologies do eventually.’

‘Well he stuck around long enough to do a lot of damage. Look Tris, we need to wrap this up.’ Sir Richard walks over to the door and opens it. ‘I don’t like having to tell you this but I’m afraid that we’re cancelling your contract. We can’t risk another year of this nonsense. We just can’t.’

Tris blushes and starts sweating. ‘Look boss, please boss, don’t do anything rash here. I promise we’ll get better. We’ll do more thinking outside of the box and aim more of those thoughts into the back of the net.’

‘Tris, please-’

‘It’s time for a new strategy. Let’s forget these digital solutions and go back to basics. You know how the trailblazers of my business – the tech business – started out? Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and that lot? They were all hippies, man. They saw tech in terms of expanding people’s minds, of bringing people together into one harmonious consciousness.’

‘I’m not following you Tris.’

‘It’s all about microdosing. This is the way to persuade the world to love Britain – or at least not thinking of it as a gloomy, rain-swept, depressive, poverty-stricken shithouse creeping around on the edge of Europe like the geek trying to get in with the cool gang.’

‘And what’s microdosing precisely, Tris?’

‘Let me convey this to you through the medium of song, boss.’ Tris begins playing the guitar and sings the following:

The San Francisco set advise,
to take it in your tea
Those Silly Valley space cadets,
declare it sets them free
New York sophisticates,
contend a high-grade distillate
Enhances their capacity
for wit and perspicacity
And now the papers are reporting
That the chaps from Chipping Norton
Have taken to importing,
Smoking, swallowing or snorting
A drop of this delightful remedy

They all microdose for England
What a jolly thing to do
Everything looks lovely
In a psychedelic hue, and,
Is that Michael Gove smiling,
Or just a psilocybin
England through eyes of LSD.

If you worry for your future
But don’t want to make a fuss
Come join Boris Johnson
On his merry prankster bus
He’s been a bit dishonest
But a drop of this will help, we promise
No corruption seems that iffy
When you’re suitably squiffy
The NHS looks safe again
The high streets look alive again
Factories bustle with endeavour
Come, give yourself to us forever

England through the eyes of LSD

Chaps, microdose for England
It’s the patriotic thing
Remember old Tim Leary
Now the nation’s gone to rack and ruin
And is that Ann Widdecombe smiling
Or just a psilocybin
England through the eyes of LSD?

How to solve a problem
like terminal decline
A dash of grandpa’s medicine
Works wonders every time
Cecil Rhodes was right to say
We English won the lottery
Our country shall be lifted
When we get our melon’s twisted

He saw England through the eyes of LSD!

Cecil microdosed for England
‘Twas the noble thing to do
A tab for Queen and country,
and we should take one too
A glittering horizon
Green and pleasant land arising
Flying on the wings of LSD

Is that Michael Gove smiling
Or just a psilocybin
England through the eyes of LSD?

When Tris is finished, Sir Richard’s eyes glaze over as if he is in shock. He shuts the door and walks gingerly over to Tris, who looks away warily. Sir Richard extends his hand and smiles.

‘Well Tris,’ he says, ‘spiking the entire world with psychotropic drugs so that they’ll appreciate Britain more sounds so bonkers it might actually work. I’ve changed my mind. We’ll renew your contract forthwith.’

The above text is based upon a performance given by the writers at a T’Articulation spoken word event.

Image ‘Structure of 1B-LSD’ by NadirSH used under licensed a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.