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A one-act play on words for air cargo

A one-act play on words for air cargo

Year 2118. A conversation

A short play, written by Nigel Tomkins

Act one, scene one

Location: A desolate, dark, dusty, empty room in north London. A sign on the door reads: Trophy Room, Tottenham Hotspurs FC

Young man (scratches his head): ‘Yeeugh! What’s that?’

Older work colleague (rolls his eyes and holds something up): ‘It’s a piece of paper. They called it paper, but it was just some useful material manufactured in thin sheets from the pulp of wood or other fibrous substances.’

Young man: ‘What did they do with it?’

Colleague: ‘They used to wipe their bottoms on it at the toilet.’

Young man (rather shocked): ‘What! Instead of the hands-free, all-in-one personalised, automated laserjet safety wash and velvet-to-touch, body-fitted Amazon odoriser, macerator, recycler and regurgitator we use today?

Colleague: ‘Yes. Incredible as it seems, they also used paper to convey messages to each other.”

Young man: ‘Was that before or after they used it in the toilet?’

Colleague: ‘I’m not sure. Although I did hear there wasn’t much difference in the end.’

Young man: ‘What did the messages say?’

Colleague: ‘They were published in books, newspapers and journals and this included some things called literature and music and artwork in the use of paper or some other derivatives – and they all seemed to convey the same message which was either about something that might happen in the future or an explanation, of sorts, of what happened in the past. There were no messages about the present.‘

Young man: ‘Where did paper come from?’

Colleague: ‘Something called a tree. They used to grow almost everywhere before the arrival of 3-D-printed plastic dormi-town-eries. All the trees got chopped down during the Google-sponsored fifth industrial revolution. There was no need for paper anymore, no further need for trees which, in any case, blocked signals, took up valuable space, consumed water and encouraged bird mess. It was about this time that the world’s cat and dog population went into terminal decline.’

Young man: ‘Why has this piece of paper been preserved then?’

Colleague (rueful): ‘As a reminder of what the world was like before, you know, back when people devoured meat, used different languages and females of the species actually bore children in their wombs. There were only two basic, gender-specific types of humans then, instead of today’s full-spectrum range of multi-sex denomination humans, and there was also this strange thing called a smile, which was used by some people employing something called humour as a device to convey and attract other meanings. Some of these people were called poets. But, as the need for extensive vocabulary declined, so too did the need for poems, plays or songs. This trend also heralded the end of songs and the barbaric acts of singing and laughing.’

Young man (impressed): ‘All this was before the Apple i-LiD video-lenses that enable us to see so much more than the old, basic human eye? Now you’ve told me about this, I’m going to use my i-LiD lens to explain the past to me, about paper, trees, toilets and babies. My lens contains the latest next-generation optically-reactive Viewmaster – the -800 MAX series version – which delivers DHL-sponsored data straight to my brain.’

Colleague (eyes crossed and frantically waving the piece of paper in the air): ‘This piece of paper also happens to be the only surviving paper delivery document. It is an airwaybill and acts as a receipt given by the carrier to the shipper and acknowledges reception of goods being shipped and specifies the terms of delivery, whilst allowing it to be tracked. A non-negotiable instrument, it contains multiple paper copies so that each party involved in the shipment can place it with others in a box and use it as evidence of the contract of carriage. Nobody knows why this paper item has survived all others. 100 or so years ago, they started a project to replace it – which turned out to be not much more than a shallow PR job – yet it’s a piece of paper which has somehow managed to outlive all other paper forms of legal and other printed documents. It’s older than some fossils – and yet people are still not able to explain why it refuses to disappear. It’s a complete mystery. Users are addicted to it. It is indestructible.’

Young man: ‘That sounds frightfully important – and ridiculous. What would happen if its continued use was legally banned across the entire world – like cocaine, say – and if it were a criminal offence to use it? If it were exterminated, would the delivery of goods be affected? Would mankind survive?’ Or, how about we just get rid of it here and now, putting an end to centuries of inefficiency and tyranny?’

Colleague: ‘Ah, there’s an old toilet over there . . .’


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