The Feelgood Calendar by Chris Green
Charlie Feelgood awoke from a dream. He had been lost in a dark place on the outskirts of an unfamiliar town with tall shadowy buildings. He was driving a stolen car that he could not control properly. The brake and accelerator pedals had been switched and the steering wheel was loose. He was being chased by a gang, made up of years and months and days. The scene shifted. He was driving another car now and the stolen car was heading towards him. The gang, whose identities kept changing, had split up and were spread out around the two cars awaiting the impact. The days kept changing into months and the months into years.
As the details of the dream brought themselves into consciousness, he began to realise that he was now awake. He rubbed his eyes. He looked blearily out of the bedroom window. It was raining again. There had been high winds in the night and a few of the potted plants in the garden had blown over. He needed to go and tidy the mess up before setting off for work. The phone gave out its 7.30 alarm call. He went to put the kettle on for his first cuppa. He looked at the kitchen calendar. April 43rd, it said. It was the day for his appointment.
With the acceleration of climate change, there were fewer sunny days each year, the increase in particulate matter having surreptitiously cancelled out the temperature rises threatened by the build-up of carbon dioxide. Particles emitted into the air from cars, trucks, buses, factories, construction sites, tilled fields, unpaved roads, stone crushing, wood burning and other particles formed in the air from the chemical change of gases were all working together to add to cloud cover. Now it seemed it was hardly ever sunny. If there was not actually direct cloud cover, a low-level haze hung in the air. There were perhaps twenty sunny days in the whole year. Charlie was fifty-six years old. He calculated that if he lived to be seventy, this would mean just another two hundred and eighty sunny days, even fewer if the build up of particulate matter continued to accelerate. Charlie worked five days a week. Taking into account holidays this meant he worked two hundred and thirty-five days a year. This would give him just one hundred more days to enjoy sitting around outside in the sun. He would only see the magnolia tree outside his window, which was presently in blossom, flower another thirteen times, perhaps for a shorter period each cloudy season.
Periodically prone to such crepuscular meditations, Charlie had set about redesigning the structure of the year to help combat the gloom of the English climate. This resulted in the Feelgood Calendar. In the new calendar, January had nine days, February had sixteen, March, twenty-five, April, forty-nine, May, forty-nine, June, sixty-four, and July, sixty-four. Thereafter months were shorter. August had thirty-six days, September, twenty-five, and October, sixteen. There were nine days in November and three in December (four in a leap year). Charlie’s calendar aimed to give the illusion that at any given time it was not winter, or that it would not be winter for long. Short of a complete collapse of capitalism, one might not be able to do much about reversing climate change, and this seemed unlikely to occur in Charlie’s lifetime, but one could create a fantasy world where such things mattered less. The Feelgood Calendar, he felt represented a tentative first step towards a new golden age.
Using desktop publishing skills picked up on a rehabilitation programme, Charlie had produced several prototypes of the calendar. He had them on doors around the house. He acknowledged that although pleasing to the eye, his efforts were the works of an amateur. Charlie perused the kitchen calendar. April was looking a bit of a mess with his jottings and it was only the 43rd. April and May needed double fold down sections for the extra days of the month to fit comfortably, with perhaps a triple for June and July. And the month-by-month pictures should all reflect summer with no ambiguity, no autumn leaves or footprints in the snow. His design did need some refinement if it were to be effectively marketed. Charlie shuddered. What a horrible term marketed had become. Nothing was ever marketed for the common good. The term implied exploitation. Profiteering was the sole motive. Charlie preferred to view this venture as the sharing of an idea. The calendar might in itself be of benefit to others. It wasn’t so much that he was an environmental campaigner, more of a reckless supporter of the underdog, in this case, climate change, or to be more specific, the recognition that particulate matter was an issue. In the debate about climate change, the build up of particulate matter was hardly mentioned. The prevailing attitude was that perhaps, if no one acknowledged the fact, it would go away, and the skies would become clear again.
Changes to the Christian calendar were a rarity. Two versions have existed in recent times: The Julian calendar and the Gregorian calendar. Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar in 45 BC. It established January 1st as New Year. But in to synchronize the calendar with the sun, Caesar had to let the previous year drag on for four-hundred and forty-five days. However, in AD 567 the Council of Tours abolished January 1st in favour of March as the start of a new year, varying the actual day to coincide with the Vernal Equinox. The Julian calendar was in common use until 1582 when countries started changing to the Gregorian calendar because the Julian calendar had become out of step with the seasonal cycle by ten days. The Gregorian calendar moved New Year back to January 1st. The Feelgood calendar would keep this. With just two days in December, you could incorporate Christmas and New Year.
Despite Charlie’s reservations about marketing, he had followed the advice of Sol Solomon, a solicitor friend and had patented the idea for the calendar. He had approached two companies, Brighter Future and Flying Colours, about production. The meeting on April 35th with Flying Colours had suggested to Charlie that they wanted to make big changes to his idea. He was concerned this would affect the terms of the patent and that they would have effectively stolen his idea. As he drove to his 10 am appointment, listening to Tardelli’s Trio for Violin, Saxophone and Strimmer on Radio 3, he felt a little apprehensive that Brighter Future might want to do the same.
He need not have worried. Brighter Future’s post-modern sunburst yellow office complex in Serendipity Street with its neo-eclectic juxtaposition of styles and its dramatic fractal dome suggested immediately to Charlie that this was a company at the cutting edge of change. Brighter Future would surely be open to fresh ideas. The curvilinear geometry of the reception area also inspired confidence. This was definitely a company that embraced the unusual. He felt at home in the surroundings. This feeling of comfort was strengthened when the startlingly attractive receptionist realised straight away who he was. She chatted about the weather and congratulated him on his idea as she took him past the Tides of Eternity water feature through to the Dolphin Suite.
The meeting with Bradley Bright and the design team went exceptionally well. Charlie’s terrible mnemonic rhyme: –
June and July have sixty-four days,
April forty-nine and so does May.
August has thirty-six – that’s plenty,
March and September five and twenty.
Feb and October have sixteen – fine,
Jan and November only nine.
December has just three days, so,
An extra day in a leap year – yo!
was well received.
‘Fantastic! You’re a genius,’ beamed Bradley.
Although Charlie felt he had some very good ideas, he was unused to being described in these terms. The meeting progressed positively and one by one, a variety of summer themes for illustrations (beaches, gardens, flowers, sunrises and sunsets, village cricket, lawn tennis, etc) was explored for a broad range of Feelgood Calendars, along with a number of fine art and decorative arts options. Matisse, Hockney, Monet and Klimt were given the thumbs up for their sense of colour and optimism. Van Gogh (could promote self-harm) was rejected, along with Dali (too apocalyptic), and Picasso (too enigmatic).
After several hours of posh coffees and pastries, a working range of calendars was on the table. Cost projections were analysed and the all-important figures agreed. Brighter Future offered Charlie a better financial package than Flying Colours had. The Feelgood Calendar was on its way. Charlie and his girlfriend Sloggi celebrated with a gourmet meal at the new Ducasse brasserie and a night in a nice hotel overlooking the bay.
Over the months that followed, interest in the Feelgood Calendar was astonishingly high. By the end of Feelgood-July, Brighter Future had them in hundreds of shops around the country, along with a range of suitably upbeat Feelgood Diaries. By October the Feelgood Calendar advertising campaign was well established. Ads were all over the internet and Brighter Future had a prime-time slot for them in the middle of Celebrity Brain Surgery, the new hit show featuring a live operation from a private London hospital on a C-list television personality, washed-up pop star or has-been golfer attempting to resurrect their flagging career. Celebrity Brain Surgery was ITV’s Saturday night attempt to win viewers back from BBC1’s popular Famous for Fifteen Minutes. Charlie wasn’t sure this was the right way to go. He let Bradley know that he would like the merchandise to be advertised only during informative programmes or ethical shows.
‘So would I,’ said Bradley. ‘But trust me, there are no informative programmes or ethical shows on at prime-time, and when you have a new idea like this you have to reach the maximum audience at its most indolent.’
Brighter Future also launched a billboard campaign, which aimed to force Charlie’s terrible rhyme into people’s consciousness. Every day on the ring road, Charlie passed two billboards featuring the rhyme. Passed them figuratively that is, situated as they were at two new sets of lights that had been put in between the speed bumps and the chicane to slow the traffic. Couldn’t they see the resulting gridlock pumped even larger amounts of exhaust gases into the atmosphere? As a result, Charlie found himself with plenty of time to study the billboards, which were printed in primary colours using a child’s handwriting typeface, complete with backwards s’s. It would be easy for anyone using the ring road regularly to learn the rhyme within a day or two, Charlie imagined. While this was good for business, he could not help feeling town planners were entirely missing the point over traffic policy. In six months he had not seen one single cyclist using the cycle lane that had been put in on the environmental ticket. And the traffic was always backed up, propelling tonnes of noxious fumes into the atmosphere daily. But as long as the illusion was there that the planet was being saved, this sadly seemed sufficient to justify such schemes.
Sales of the Feelgood Calendar were spectacular. It became the must-have novelty Christmas item. This generated a range of spin-off electronic merchandise, some sanctioned by Brighter Futures, others not. Charlie found himself on a whirlwind schedule of personal appearances and podcasts. People everywhere knew who Charlie Feelgood was. He became a reluctant celebrity. The calendar went worldwide. The United States took to the calendar because of its novelty value. Disney bought options for a spin-off product featuring their cartoon characters. It became standard in Scandinavia, with its long winters, despite the obvious difficulties in translating the mnemonic rhyme into Swedish or Norwegian so that it scanned well. Russians went for the idea of longer summers, but the calendar was quickly banned. While it did not fare so well in Australia and South America as it made winters seem interminable, in Britain, and the rest of Europe, it slid in happily alongside the Gregorian calendar.
It was fine to have one in the home but it did not make it in the workplace. The business world stood doggedly by the schedule it was familiar with. Despite calls to adopt the calendar and begin the school year in January, the conservative culture of the education establishment prevailed. Churches regarded the Feelgood calendar as heresy and fiercely opposed its take up. Astrologers too were less than welcoming. In addition, many people were reluctant to adopt a different birthday. Charlie was not. He was anything but. His birthday was September 11th in the Gregorian calendar, immortalised as 9/11.
All his family had died that day. They were driving back from the coast and had become lost in the outskirts of an unfamiliar town. They had been killed by a young driver in a stolen car that he could not control properly. The driver was being chased by a gang of small-time criminals. Charlie was the only survivor of the head-on collision. He felt that July 42nd, the new date for his birthday, was a big improvement on September 11th, free as it was from baggage. Most years, July 42nd was just as cloudy as September 11th had been. Charlie was undeterred. He vowed to continue to use the calendar into old age even if it fell from favour. By this time, of course, the number of sunny days would likely be down to single figures.
Copyright © Chris Green, 2022: All rights reserved