20 February 1998
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 Tokyos suffocating citizens...
...The nitrous oxides,
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 peacocks 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 earths 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 earths 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 isnt...
"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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