This is not Munch’s The Scream. It is children screaming.
I met another screaming child today. He and his sister and parents were coming the other way and the screaming child was just beside himself with whatever was going on inside his head. He was half running half staggering, and screaming as he went. Really screaming. He was nearer to being afflicted rather than communicating, if that is possible.
I say ‘another’ screaming child because I am seeing more of them. In my mind’s eye I can hear someone say ‘In my day we’d have given them a clip around the earhole’. I picture a conservatively-dressed man saying it. He means that the modern world has its priorities mixed up.
In his view, parents don’t know how to control their children. The law says they can’t lay a finger on them: With corporal punishment forbidden, the parents are powerless. Just like the teachers in the schools.
And he means that the children are probably doped up on food additives and junk food. He means that the children are probably hooked on iPads and TV, while their parents have their noses in their phones all the time and don’t give the children enough attention.
This conservatively-dressed man of my imagination is of course part of me – part of my thinking. Except I would be more wise, more intelligent. I would know how to communicate with children like this.
Or would I? What if the child was truly inconsolable? What if it wasn’t a case of ‘relating’ to the child? What if the child, all these children, are victims of the times?
I started to think perhaps these screaming children are the canaries in the coal mine, so to speak, the sensitive ones – the ones who can detect that things are near breaking point, that society is stretched beyond comfort.
From there my mind played with what might happen – and this is where it led.
He worked feverishly, stuffing newspaper and anything he could find up the chimney, around the cracks in the windows, around the edges of the door, in the letterbox.
Still the noise came in like a buzzing bee, like an angry wasp, like a high-pitched scream from a jet roaring overhead inches from him.
And still the screaming came in, vibrating through the very fabric of the building.
There was no way he could escape. In his sleep he heard it. He heard it when he was awake and distracted himself and thought for a few precious moments that he had blotted it out with his thoughts, but it seared into his ears, into his head.
He heard it when he was preparing meals – even down in the basement. He was trapped here and he heard it. No relief, non-stop, without pause.
He ran out of food and had to go out. Simple. Just go out.
He wrapped his head in towels, bound them with string and went out.
He saw them lying in the street. Some had crawled to the gutter and lay there. Some were still strapped in. He knew why they had been abandoned. Oh yes he could understand it.
Nobody could withstand that noise, not the incessant minute-after-minute noise that never stopped, It got into your ears, into your consciousness until you just had to try to get away, to abandon everything and run.
A mother had to be talked down off a roof because she was going crazy from the screaming. That went viral and that’s when people noticed it was not just here or there, not just in the UK – it was everywhere.
Young children started screaming. In their pushchairs, in car seats, in MacDonald’s, in Costa, in department stores, on the street.
They screamed and they were inconsolable. The could not be calmed down. They screamed themselves silly. They couldn’t stop.
He avoided them when he could and he told himself that knew what was wrong. He’d seen their mothers trying to placate them. They didn’t know how to control their children. That was it. The kids were probably doped up on junk food and additives. Kids were hooked on iPads and TV. Parents had their noses in their phones all the time and didn’t give the kids enough attention.
July was when it had all kicked off properly.
July 18, 2020 – The first day of the Scream. I saw a painting of it in the National Gallery.
It was scary. Kids everywhere, all over the world, all the kids, I mean all of them, screaming and screaming and screaming. News reports from Hong Kong to Naples – kids screaming. Some said that kids were the canaries in the coal mine, warning of doom. What doom?
Doctors were overwhelmed, sedatives didn’t work. Parents stopped loving their children. They ran away, leaving children in pushchairs and car seats and sitting at tables in MacDonald’s and Costa.
Children started dying, dying from screaming, dying from neglect. It was truly horrible.
And then it stopped.
They say it pulled the world back from the brink.
Personally I think it will all kick off again, and soon.