20 February 1998

Heathcote Williams

British writer

Heathcote Williams - poet/actor/inventor/playwright/painter - has submitted a whole volume: "AUTOGEDDON"* to the Millennium Debate. The following are extracts from this highly acclaimed, apocalyptic book.

...Were an Alien Visitor

To hover a few hundred yards above the planet

It could be forgiven for thinking

That cars were the dominant life-form,

And that human beings were a kind of ambulatory fuel cell,

Injected when the car wished to move off

And ejected when they were spent...


...Listen, on a good day,

Three cars are manufactured for every child born,

One per second world-wide,

And we need every kid you can manufacture

To fill ‘em...


...The healing landscape,

In which the human spirit could re-tune itself,

Had been violated by a million million cars

Since the century began.

Cars’ nitrogen-oxide waste,

Acting deceptively as air-borne fertiliser,

Persuaded trees it was still the growing season...

...Their lungs – the oxygenating leaves – withered;

pine needles grew grey, metallic tips

And dropped to the ground...

In Switzerland the forests were so flimsy

Avalanches tore through them as though they were straw.


As the planet was slowly shaved of cleansing tree-cover,

Air, the Visitor observed,

could come in as short-winded supply

As the breath of a sedentary driver.


In Rome, the traffic police went on strike,

Claiming they were unable to breathe.

In Japan, department stores were selling oxygen,

Dispensing it in purpose-built bars...

... And advertising it as a sovereign remedy

For Tokyo’s suffocating citizens...


...The nitrous oxides,

The hydrocarbons,

The sulphur dioxide,

The carbon Monoxide

Mix into a miasmic cocktail of indestructible molecules,

Feculent radicals in new and irreversible combinations –

Each year, each car belching out a quarter of a ton of it

Gift-wrapped in four tons of carbon dioxide,

Fouling up the intricate metabolism of nature...


...Spilt on a puddle,

Petrol is as pretty as a peacock’s feather

And carries the same ill-luck: The enticing vapour of benzene

Can bestow cancer at each sweet breath.

Children wheeled past exhaust pipes at chest level

Become catalytic converters...


...As cars reconditioned the air,

Usurping the elements,

Threatening to become the weather...

The earth’s self-regulator

Had pulled the plug

And allowed the thin coat of protection

That had given humanity its life

To open up.

As the atmosphere was peppered

From a thousand suppurating cities,

The earth’s skin was slowly leaking,

Exposing it raw to the sun...

Unimpressed by the self-regarding protests

Of the human race:

‘But the car is so convenient.’

Or its egotistic credo:

‘My journey is important. Yours isn’t...’

"More than seventeen million people have been killed on the roads since the motor car first appeared. An incalculable number have been seriously hurt. In the future, half the world is likely to be run over in a terminal squabble for oil. For today we are possessed by a mindless monster which threatens the planet itself.

AUTOGEDDON is a witty, original, brutal examination of the car in a world where ‘no child knows silence’. Some will find here their inner lives exposed as never before. Some will be shocked by this revelation of the price we pay to keep death on the roads. Few will remain unmoved by the sight of ourselves losing control to a machine, and after it no-one will ever look at the car in the same way again.

AUTOGEDDON awakens us from delirium, our eyes glued to the road and our hands gripping the wheel, as we accelerate round the final apocalyptic bend."

- from inside cover-flap notes.

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