I’m an accidental millionaire; I was never supposed to be rich. Council estate lad done good. I was working in a factory when my mate Tim showed me a picture of his dog after a few too many and Pupr was born.
“That pose! It looks like his online dating profile pic,” I’d said.
He giggled. “Yeah, he’s saying what’s up bitches?”
“How cool would that be though?” I’d said. “like a dating app for dogs. For when you want your dog to have puppies or whatever.” I was excited, in the way that only very young children and the highly inebriated can get excited.
“I dunno,” he’d said. “There’s already loads of puppies out there. People don’t want more. Our Buster has been done, all the local dogs have. And professional breeders probably have contacts already.”
“I guess.” I drank some more, a little deflated. “Still. Do dogs have play dates? How do you teach them to be good with other dogs?” I’ve never really been a dog person, believe it or not.
The idea didn’t disappiate with my hangover, so later that week I downloaded a build your own app app and threw Pupr together, just for a laugh really. I based it on common dating apps – I put the picture of Buster in, made a space to say he was neutered and looking for playmates, and wrote a quick bio saying he liked long muddy walks in the park, in the woods and on the beach, and is more of a ball man than a stick guy. You swipe up to match and down to pass. I thought I was very funny, so I sent it to Tim. He tweeted it and before I knew what was going on, my app had been installed on a million devices.
It’s on quite a lot more than that now.
It started as a laugh, but Pupr really took off. Dog people used it to make local dog people friends, busy dog owners found someone to walk and socialise their dogs, dogless people who aren’t allowed pets use it to borrow a dog. And despite what Tim thought, breeders use it too.
Now I have couples who met through the app inviting me to their weddings, magazine writers calling me influential tech head of the year, and more money than I know what to do with. I’m still not mad keen on dogs, but I’d never say that out loud. When they ask why I don’t have one I say it wouldn’t be fair for all I travel.
Thing is, I don’t really feel like I’ve earned this money. The app took a couple of hours to make, no skill required. The money never really felt like mine. So I’m happy to give it away.
Especially to her.
I know, I know. I’m giving it to them. The collective. To us all. I get what they’re saying, totally. I’m 100% on board. But before her? I’d never really thought about it. Shut my eyes to it all. Inequality is just a fact, like gravity. Just how things are. Homelessness, poverty, want, they’re all just the way the world is. Sad but there’s nothing we can do. Then I met her. And she makes you see the world differently.
I only met her last October. 16 short months ago. When I think of what she’s achieved since then…
She set my heart and mind ablaze as the forests were afire with autumn’s glorious death. Her name is Red, just like her hair colour, and she wants to change the world. She’ll manage it too, I’m sure of it. Wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t.
She didn’t know I was rich at first. She asked me – when she was in the middle of an impassioned speech about how the plumbers and the refuse collectors and shop workers were of far more value to society than the “idle rich” -what I did for a living I couldn’t bring myself to tell his fierce, eloquent, passionate woman I invented a doggy dating app. So I told her I used to work at a plastics factory, which was true. I didn’t lie. I gave myself away that first Christmas though.
She had been talking about the local wasteland that was being sold off at auction. She was worried it would end up being luxury unaffordable housing or a shopping and cafe complex. I asked her, as I opened another bottle of red, what she would do with the land, if it were hers. I expected her to say she would build a little eco house or something. Instead she became very serious all of a sudden.
“You know what I’d do? Let me tell you. No, wait. Let me ask you something first.” She crossed her legs underneath herself unsteadily, slopping a little wine over the edge of her glass. “You know how I was saying that even though the ruling class folks have all the money, we have all the power? That they need us more than we need them?”
“I do.” I could hardly forget, it’s one of Red’s core beliefs, like people being fundamentally good, and factory farming being fundamentally bad.
“Well. If we just stopped working until they treated us better what could they do? Nothing. So why don’t we?”
“Why don’t we what?” I tried to count empty bottles and settled on ‘more than 3, probably.’
“Why don’t we all stop working?”
“I dunno. Can’t afford to I guess. Don’t get paid, don’t get fed.”
“Zactly” she said, patting me on the head like a kindly uncle pats a clever child. I beamed.
“So that’s what I would do with it,” she continued. “I’d make it into a vegetable garden for the community. Anyone could take what they wanted. Get people learning how to pickle and preserve it all. Feed folk so they can withdraw their labour. So they have real choice about what they put up with.”
How could I not buy it for her?
She was a little annoyed I’d lied, but when I explained that it wasn’t that I didn’t trust her, I was just excruciatingly embarrassed about having made my fortune from Pupr, she saw the funny side. “I can hardly stay mad, can I?” she said “We have a community to build. Sleeves up time.”
And build it she did. That woman has energy. Within weeks she had a small army onsite, building sheds and greenhouses and the polytunnel, preparing the soil. She even got me digging.
Homeless people started hanging out there, helping out in exchange for a hot cuppa and someone to chat to. Mums brought their kids along, guys from the retirement home who missed their allotments came to offer conflicting wisdom.
Connections started to form. From there the skill swap was just natural progression. We noticed it was happening informally anyway -an electrician offering to rewire a garden friend’s light switch, a nana giving cookery lessons to one of the young mums, one of the lads offering up his spare room to one of our homeless guys. I made an app to make it easier, and now everyone is helping everyone else out. I can’t work out if it would’ve just happened organically, it I’m sure it must be Red’s influence. She makes you believe that better world is in our reach, and then you want to make it for her, prove her right.
Once we had the community garden and larder and the skill swap in place, everything started to snowball.
“That’s what happens when snowflakes band together,” she said, as if it was nothing, a natural phenomenon. Now our little motto; ‘no one goes hungry’ has grown in scope and meaning. Now no one goes without a suit for an interview or a pair of school shoes for their kid. No one goes without a lift to the hospital, or a caring ear when they need one. You put in a request for mutual aid and you get it, no fear or favour. People step up, and step in. We are, in a bizarre way, a family.
The idea has started to spread. That’s the power of social media I suppose. I’ve heard rumours about similar projects cropping up across the country. I hope the idea catches, spreads like wildfire through parched grass, painting the world red.
“We do it because this world needs hope,” said Red, when the local news asked her. “We do it because the state won’t take care of us, so we need to take care of each other.”
The clip went viral. Something about her passion, her sincerity. It spoke to people, just like it spoke to me. The resulting storm saw her invited onto the national news. The newsreader praised her community spirit, then attacked her for criticising the state, and capitalism.
“You’ve since said that you think capitalism is a quote terrible system and you’d like your little garden project to help bring it down. Would you like to clarify what you meant by that?”
“I meant exactly what I said, John,” she said straight into the camera. “This country is built on the hard labour of our workers and in return we get scraps from the table. The rich need us more than we need them, but we work ourselves to death under threat of starvation. I want to see a food garden in every community, so that people can withdraw their labour without starving their children.”
The interviewer tried to make a quip about her needing capitalism to buy the land, but it fell flat and Red went viral once again. But what he said set the seed of Red’s next big idea.
We now occupy about 60% of the city’s unused land, and growing. We’ve replaced shrubs in the parks with potatoes, the roundabouts are planted with rows of carrots and sweetcorn, the verges are planted with edible herbs. The bees love it. Someone has even hung baskets of tomato and strawberry plants from the lampposts. I don’t think we organised that one. It’s spreading.
I’ve had to get another warehouse. We filled one with canned produce from our garden, but now we are overflowing with school uniform, work boots, safety goggles, oil filled radiators, blankets. Someone even anonymously donated some solar panels. Our community will see the new year in in comfort, despite the coming storm. My money will see to that, what’s left of it.
“You’re brilliant for doing this y’know” says Big Kev. Like most people, he can’t quite believe what I’m doing. To be honest, I feel a little lightheaded when I think too hard about it myself. But Red’s right, isn’t she?
I’ve worked hard my whole life. I fluked out with Pupr but if I hadn’t had that stupid idea I’d be in the same position as my mum, dad, my brother, all my mates. Running on treadmill of work your entire life, watching your pension age get pushed further and further back, and you can’t step off the treadmill for a moment or you die. I mean, what kind of system is that, anyway?
Imagine explaining it to an alien. You need to collect worthless tokens to exchange for the things you actually need. Without the tokens you die. Some people are born with more tokens than they can ever spend, while others are born with no hope of doing anything but relentlessly chase tokens for their entire lives and still never quite have enough to live comfortably. Millions starve for want of tokens with no inherent worth. Meanwhile food is thrown away to rot for want of people with enough tokens to buy it. If someone suggested that as a new system now, we’d call them out for the mad sadist they are. We’re slowly boiling frogs, just starting to notice things are getting uncomfortably warm.
Something has to change. We are going to change it together.
“I just hope I have enough to cover anyone.” I say. “Who knows how long this will go on.” I’m wealthy, but warehouses aren’t cheap. Neither are salaries. But people can’t withdraw their labour without security.
“It’ll be fine,” he says “loads of people have donated to the strike fund. We’ll prioritise rents in houses with vulnerable folks, but we’ve got enough bodies to block evictions if it comes to that. We’ve got food, vitamins, blankets. We’ve got each other. We’re really doing this.”
We’re really doing this. 16 months ago I was just a bloke who’d had a stupid idea and had more money than I knew what to do with. Now I’m part of something. I’m in charge of the strike fund. 16 months ago, I was a helpless cog in a system that felt too big to change. Now, when the clock strikes midnight, our action begins.
On new year’s day, this entire town is downing tools. No work, no school, we are not participating in a society that doesn’t appreciate us anymore.
They aren’t going to know what’s hit them. And all because a girl named Red took it into her head to be the somebody who ought to do something. I wonder what she’ll take it into her head to do next.
In 16 short months, Red built a new year’s revolution.
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