The Feelgood Calendar by Chris Green
Bill Feelgood awoke from a dream in which he was lost in a dark area on the outskirts of an unfamiliar town with tall shadowy buildings and cathedrals with gothic towers. 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.
It took a little while to realise that he was awake as the details of the dream slowly brought themselves into consciousness. He rubbed his eyes and looked blearily out of the bedroom window. It was raining again. There had been high winds in the night, he remembered, 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 radio alarm clock broke into its 7.30 call. He went to put the kettle on for his first cuppa. He looked at the kitchen calendar. It was April 43rd. He had a meeting at 3pm with Brighter Future. Tuesday was not usually a busy day at the kaleidoscope repair shop so Ben could easily manage without him: he would just take the afternoon off to be at Brighter Future’s Serendipity Street office.
With the acceleration of climate change, there were less 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. Bill was 56 years old. He calculated that if he lived to be 70, this would mean just another two hundred and eighty sunny days, even fewer if the build up of particulate matter continued to accelerate. Bill worked five days a week. Taking into account holidays this meant Bill worked 235 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, that was presently in blossom, flower another thirteen times, perhaps for a shorter period each cloudy season.
Periodically prone to such crepuscular meditations Bill had set about redesigning the structure of the year to help combat the gloom of the English climate. The Feelgood calendar was the result. In the Feelgood calendar January had 9 days, February had 16, March, 25, April, 49, May, 49, June, 64, and July, 64. Thereafter months were shorter. August had 36 days, September, 25, and October, 16. There were 9 days in November and 2 in December (3 in a leap year). Bill’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. One might not be able to do much about reversing climate change, without a complete collapse of capitalism, and this seemed unlikely to occur in Bill’s lifetime, but one could live in a fantasy world where these things mattered less. The Feelgood Calendar represented a tentative first step towards the virtual celebration of a mythic golden age.
Using desktop publishing skills picked up on a rehabilitation programme, Bill had produced several prototypes of the calendar, which he had hung on doors around the house. He acknowledged that although pleasing to the eye, his efforts were the works of an amateur. Bill 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, no ambiguity, no autumn leaves or footprints in the snow. His design did need some refinement if it were to be effectively marketed. Marketed. Bill 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. Bill 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 Bill 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 barely 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 B.C. It established January 1st as New Year. But in order to synchronize the calendar with the sun, Caesar had to let the previous year drag on for 445 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 10 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 Bill’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 contacted two companies, Brighter Future and Flying Colours about production. The meeting on April 35th with Flying Colours had suggested to Bill that they wanted to make changes to his idea. He was concerned that this would affect the terms of the patent and that they would have effectively stolen his idea. As he drove to his 3pm 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 Bill 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 in the form of a Mobius Strip 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 straightaway who Bill 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. Bill’s truly 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 two days, so,
An extra day in a leap year – yo!
which he now felt confident enough to share, was well received.
‘Fantastic! You’re a genius,’ beamed Bradley.
Although Bill felt he did have 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, Kandinsky, Patrick Heron and Klimt were given the thumbs up because of their sense of colour and optimism. Monet (too blurry – this could be interpreted as haze from pollution), and Van Gogh (too suicidal – could promote self harm) were rejected, along with Dali (too apocalyptic), and Picasso (too enigmatic).
After several hours of debate and dozens of cups of latte and cappuccino, a working range of calendars was on the table. Cost projections were analysed and the all-important figures were agreed. Brighter Future offered Bill a considerably more attractive financial package than that offered by Flying ColoursThe Feelgood calendar was on its way. Bill took the opportunity to celebrate with his girlfriend, Sloggi, with a slap up meal at a local Chechnyan brasserie that had just opened,korta-kogish (mutton head and legs) and zhizhig-galnash (meat ravioli) among the delicacies they enjoyed, along with the very best chilled Chechnyan champagne (non alcoholic as Chechens are strict Muslims).
Over the months that followed, Bill found that interest in the Feelgood calendar was surprisingly high. By the end of July (Feelgood July that is), 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 under way. Brighter Future had a prime-time slot in the middle of Celebrity Brain Surgery, a show featuring a live operation from a private London hospital on a C-list television personality, has been pop star or washed-up golfer in a desperate attempt to resurrect their flagging career. Celebrity Brain Surgery was ITV’s Saturday night attempt to win viewers back from BBC1’s popular World Famous for 15 Minutes. Typical of the latter was ‘world’s most obese man is hoisted out of a specially built window because he cannot get through his door and is taken to the studio to appear on the show to break the world record for eating the world’s largest pizza (25 kilos). Bill would have liked the product only to be advertised during informative programmes or ethical shows.
‘So would I,’ said Bradley. ‘But there are none on the main channels at prime-time and for a new idea like this we have to reach the maximum audience at its most indolent.’
Brighter Future also launched a major billboard campaign, which aimed to force Bill’s truly terrible rhyme into people’s consciousness. Every day on the ring road on his way to the kaleidescope repair shop, Bill passed two billboards featuring the rhyme. Passed them figuratively that is, situated as they were at two new sets of traffic lights that had been put in between the speed bumps and the chicanes for no apparent reason but to slow the traffic, which had moved at a crawl in the first place. The resulting gridlock had the effect of pumping larger amounts of exhaust gases into the atmosphere. To use fuel efficiently, the driver of a vehicle needed to store the energy contained in the vehicle. Traffic calming of any kind was the perfect way to waste fuel and add to pollution, not to mention the waste of time. Bill found himself with up to twenty minutes each day 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, Bill imagined. While this may have been good for business, Bill could not help feel that planners were entirely missing the point over traffic policy. The cycle lane that had been put in an environmental ticket reducing the dual carriageway to a single carriageway was not used at all. In six months, Bill had not seen one single cyclist using it. And the traffic was always backed up to the ring road, propelling tonnes of noxious fumes into the atmosphere daily.
The Feelgood Calendar became the must-have novelty Christmas item, and for two or three years its popularity grew with each passing day. Sales were spectacular, generating a range of spin-off electronic merchandise, some sanctioned by Brighter Futures, some not. Riding on the wave of success, Bill became a (reluctant) celebrity. He found himself on a whirlwind schedule of personal appearances and TV chat shows.
‘What about the rumour I’ve heard about a 20 hour clock. Another moneymaker? asked Guy Princess on It’s a Guy Thing.
‘Absolutely not true,’ replied Bill. ‘what about the rumour I’ve heard that you are homosexual?’ Bill was not homophobic, he was just exasperated at endlessly being asked stupid questions. Unfortunately the show went out live. ‘Is Guy Gay Asks Bonkers Bill,’ read the headline in The Tabloid next day. He did not seem to have the support of the press. When in an earlier interview he had expressed concern about the lack of attention the world was giving to the issue of the build up of particulate matter in the debate about climate change, The Lark reported it ‘Barmy Bill Says We’re Not Going To Fry After All.’ But there is no such thing as bad publicity. Each outburst only served to help sell the Feelgood calendar.
The calendar went worldwide. It quickly became accepted as standard in Scandinavia, with its long winters, this despite the obvious difficulties in translating the mnemonic rhyme into Swedish or Norwegian so that it scanned well. It did not fare so well in Australia and South America as it was felt it made winter seem interminable. In Britain, and the rest of Europe, it sat happily alongside the Gregorian calendar rather than replace it. It was fine to have one in the home but it did not catch on in the workplace. The business world stood doggedly by the schedule that it was familiar with. Primary schools, while they liked the idea were never sure if they could teach it, as it did not feature on the curriculum. Despite repeated calls to adopt the calendar and begin the school year in January, the conservative culture of the education establishment prevailed. All of the main Churches regarded the Feelgood calendar as heresy and fiercely opposed its take up. Astrologers too were less than welcoming, and therein lay the largest obstacle. People were very reluctant to adopt a different birthday. Bill was not. Bill’s birthday was September 11th in the Gregorian calendar. 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. Bill 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. Bill was undeterred. He continued to use the calendar well into old age and long after it was fashionable. By this time sunny days were down to single figures.
© Chris Green 2014: All rights reserved