“I think this room is bugged,” says dodgy Reg, scratching his unruly beard before returning to the construction of a twig thin Old Holburn roll-up. This doesn’t surprise me. Reg is obsessed with conspiracies. There is no doubt in his mind that it was the CIA who assassinated John F Kennedy, that the moonwalk was a Hollywood fake and that a small cadre of mega rich people known as the Illuminati control every political decision made across the entire world.
“Oh give it a rest, man. Why on earth would anyone want to bug my living room?”
“On earth?” He lights up with a battered old Ronson. I get a brief whiff of lighter fuel, before he breathes out a pungent cloud of rolly smoke. “You’re not thinking outside the box, my friend. E.T.s may well walk amongst us, Richard, and if they do they’ll have connections in the highest of places. Mark my words.”
I throw up my hands. “Reg, I’m not even going to dignify that with a response. Let’s just stick with you explaining to me why on- Why anyone would go to all the effort of bugging my living room. I mean, what would be the point?”.
“You’ve been on marches. You’ve associated yourself with one or two radical causes in your time. You’re on the records. GCHQ, they’ve got your name, your details, your photo…” He gestures with the roll-up throughout this speech, rhythmically prodding the air as if running through bullet points in a presentation.
I recline in my armchair, feeling somewhat smug. I’ve heard this sort of guff from Reg on more occasions than I can remember. He’s a sweet enough guy, in many ways, providing you can get him off this topic. “That was years ago. I had hair then. There’s no resemblance to the bald old git I am now.”
He leans towards me. His stare is intense. I’m already starting to think that a brief ‘let’s not go there, eh, Reg?’ would have been my best response. I’ve probably only got myself to blame for this onslaught. “But you are on the internet. Photos on Facebook, yeah? They can update, no problem. And you use a mobile. Weren’t you listening when Edward Snowden told us all what was going on?”
“Okay. Take your point. But I don’t have any ‘extremist’ connections. Don’t think I ever have had. So why should they have any interest in me whatsoever?”
He’s tapping ash into his empty coffee mug. I realise I’ve neglected to provide an ashtray. Oh well. It’ll rinse. He’s wearing a thick, lined check shirt and ridiculously skin tight jeans – and there’s not a lot of hygeine goes on below those clothes. One of the laces on his trainers is rainbow coloured, the other black. “I’m not saying you’re top priority, Rich,” he says. “I’m not saying there’s a guy somewhere with a pair of earphones listening in right at this moment. What they have is algorithms. That’s how they do this stuff en masse. All you have to do is use a few key words, in an email, or a phone call, or even sitting here in this room, and your rating goes up a notch. Few more. A notch or two more. Eventually, yeah, someone’s listening.”
“Alright – the network stuff, I can see that. But how do they get a bug into my living room?”
“Didn’t you tell me you had BT Connect in a few weeks back? Were you watching the engineer every minute? Did you know exactly what he was doing?"
“Actually, Reg, her name’s Heather, and she was a real sweetheart, if a bit over-chatty.”
“She might not even know she’s doing it. But that’s just one way. You leave your windows open in summer when it’s hot?” I nod. “Right. So you’re not in the room. Drone flies in through your window, pops a little device under your coffee table. Flies out. Job done.”
“That, mate, is pure and utter paranoia.”
I get the intense stare again. “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”
Eventually I nudge him off-topic. A mutual pal we’re both concerned about. Some dubious dealings by the local council. I enjoy talking with him about stuff like that. He’s knowledgeable. He’s a friend. Another coffee, another roll-up and he’s on his way. I open the window to clear the whiff of Old Holborn, muttering to myself in the process. “Drones. Bloody hell! What next?”
I get to thinking about a film - 'The Conversation' - I saw, years ago, in which Gene Hackman plays a bugging device technician. They have conventions, these buggers, displaying and selling the latest devices, seminars on technique, all the business. Hackman gets involved in some complex plot threads, conscience tweaked, concerned that his own work will result in a murder. At some point he realises that he himself is being bugged. The film ends with him demolishing his own apartment in a desperate search for the device.
I remove the pile of books, magazines and the empty cups from the coffee table. When it’s cleared, I pick it up, turn it over and have a careful look.
Just in case…
Regular readers, a 'heads up'! Keeping up a regular weekly output on this blog is becoming a bit of a drain on my work time. But regular I'd like to keep it, so I'm going to see how it goes doing one every two weeks for a spell. So look out for next entry in about 2 weeks from now - something date appropriate is probably on the way, when that time comes. Toodle pip!