These events take place in 2022, following a positive vote for Scottish Independence. Having left the UK, Scotland is now operating it’s third successful year as an independent country in spite of Westminster’s scare-mongering.
After the now famous “Pinkie Cleugh” riots which followed the vote, the British Prime Minister, Morris Johnstone, introduced UK Martial Law. The subsequent Parliamentary debate saw Westminster consider many options on how to bring peace back to the country. Following a fly-in visit and speech from John Stanford, leader of the New Founding Fathers of the United States of America, the Houses of Parliament marginally voted in favour of introducing an annual “Catharsis”. The Catharsis was considered to be the UK’s answer to the US Purge, where all criminal activity, with the exception of murder, was legal for 12 hours one night a year. It was argued that this would allow UK citizens (now Northern Ireland, Wales and England) to release their frustrations with everyday life in a healthy, cathartic way.
Despite the clamours from some minority groups, Scotland did not follow suit leaving it exempt from the annual Catharsis. The Scottish Army patrolled the border, with an agreement made between Scotland and the UK that anyone attempting to gain entry past Hadrian’s Wall after the commencement of the Catharsis would be, according to the Cross-Border Act (Scotland) Act 2020, “considered a mortal enemy of Scotland” and legally could be met with “extraordinary punishment”.
The sweating, red-faced official in the high-vis vest was visibly stressed and was speaking in double time. “I’m sorry sir” he blurted “I do understand, but it’s affecting more than just you I’m afraid. No trains have come North all day.”
“So that’s it then?” I said back to him. “That’s me stuck is it?”
“No, of course not” he laughed, struggling to convince himself, “we’re working hard to ensure there’s a minibus in place to take you back to Scotland before the curfew.”
I thanked him for his help and went and grabbed a coffee. I’ve never been a believer in fate but this was bloody typical. Stuck in Lancaster for the bloody Catharsis whilst these crazy English fuckers take out their daily frustrations on the closest poor bugger who gets in their way. I’m sure when they hear my Scottish accent they’ll not hold it against me, nope, course not.
Two events had taken place to leave me in this absolute worst-case-scenario. Firstly, after a really busy period I’d been on leave from work, having myself a week off to chill out, play Xbox and get reacquainted with sleeping beyond 6am. My boss had decided in my absence that I was in dire need of a “development opportunity”. That opportunity was, of course, a trip to Lancaster the day of the Catharsis to speak to a bunch of UK Civil Servants about my experiences working in the Scottish Parliament post-Independence. I’d been chuffed to read that email when I sat down at my laptop on my first morning back. Bastard. Secondly, some fud had rattled his Mini Cooper into a telegraph pole in Carlisle whilst checking his Facebook likes and had managed to take down all train services North of the Border, rendering Virgin trains and the Transpennine Express completely useless.
So at 4pm, I sat at Lancaster train station drinking a large latte, munching a Jaffa Cake and deliberating how I was going to get home. With 4 hours until the town shut down I was beginning to wonder if I couldn’t get home, where was I going to stay to avoid getting the shit legally kicked out me?!
The tannoy system was providing me with some really useful quarterly updates that I was essentially fucked. 6pm and went and I was fairly sure that this Minibus chat had just been a ploy to make sure all the Scots didn’t react hysterically. Of course there wasn’t actually any other fucker daft enough to even think about planning a return trip down South the same day of the Catharsis, so I was the lone Scottish idiot left to fend for himself. Fuckin development opportunity indeed.
By 6.30 I decided I needed to buckle in and prepare for the worst. I took off in search of a hotel. As I walked out past the doors the sweaty red-face gave me what I’m sure he thought was a sympathetic acknowledgement but it was more of a “sorry you’re gonna get your face rearranged” smile. It was starting to get dark and the streets were already really quiet. All the shops had their shutters down and there was pretty much no-one going about. It was eerie as fuck. I felt like Cillian Murphy in 28 Days Later wandering about London with no-one to be seen. By 7pm after a panicked walk along the cobbled streets I passed four different B&B’s all in a row that had the same “Closed for Catharsis” sign. Having tried to speak to the first three proprietors, I gave up having the same conversation with the fourth. There were no hotel chains in the town and things were looking pretty dire. I couldn’t even hole up in a 24 hour supermarket or garage. The hatches were well and truly battened down for Catharsis. At 7.45 I was sat in a park at the other end of the town when my phone chimed:
“Customer J Brown, a Minibus is Scheduled at Lancaster Train Station. 9pm. Press 1 to Book a Seat.”
I hadn’t replied to a text faster. I thumbed in 1 immediately. My phone chimed again instantly:
“Thank You for Your Booking. Departure is Scheduled for 9pm. Lancaster Train Station.”
OK! So that was it then. I had an hour to make my way back along to the station – probably a half hour swift walk – then I’d be back in Edinburgh in a few hours time. Thank fuck! As I contemplated my next move I was suddenly paralysed with sheer panic. What sounded like an air raid siren cut through the cold, dark night completely overwhelming my senses. For a second I was completely discombobulated, then I realised, it was 8pm. Catharsis was underway. Fuck.
I can remember sitting watching my first purge when I was younger. Me and my older brother had been looking forward to it for weeks. “Purge night, 10 days” we’d text each other countdowns like it was the Scottish Cup Final. When the night arrived we were set up with pizza, popcorn, juice, ice cream – all the essentials. We got logged onto our favourite Youtubers feed and sat back to watch the carnage. Carnage, is exactly what it was. I don’t know what it is about a young mind that is so attracted to watching something they know they shouldn’t be. This was madness. Chainsaws, people being set on fire, groups of hulking guys wearing crazy masks, souped up muscle cars running people down. Absolute madness. It was exactly what we thought it would be. But that was then. As you grow older you realise that this isn’t some entertainment show. You’re not watching the pizzazz of the Superbowl. This was real life, this was people literally being murdered in the street for your entertainment. It was morally corrupt and an absolute disease. Then we got independence and the Catharsis was dreamed up. Johnstone. What an absolute tool. In what world would you think that giving people a free pass to run riot and go mental for one night is going to further society? They only help themselves that lot. Jobs for the boys as usual. Catharsis Clean Up Services all across the UK funded by Downing Street and if it just so happens to rid the population of some of the burden on the health and welfare system in the process then that’ll be jolly good old chap. Wankers.
I made my way to the gates of the park in the pitch darkness. I knew which way I’d come and knew the town well enough to know the best way back up to the train station. I walked with a purpose but really didn’t want to attract any sort of attention, if there just so happened to be any young Lancastrians out for a stroll. Of course, as I got to the gates and out onto the dimly lit street I spied two men wandering down the street maybe 100 metres away, walking away from me. I cursed my luck and kept to the darkest parts of the streets, trying to maintain a quiet, but good pace.
I should make clear now that I am not a fighter. With the exception of primary school, when I swung Derek Bell round and round by his backpack into that wall, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a fight and if I ever was you could probably measure my confidence by the volume of urine running down my legs. I was hoping if it came to it, the fabled ‘fight or flight’ mode might take over or even better I would make like Bradley Cooper’s character in Limitless and unlock something in my brain from all the UFC I’d watched in my 20’s – of course I’d forgotten to bring my NZT pills with me, silly me.
As I got closer I could see that the two men had black walking sticks and Clockwork Orange masks on. Wonderful. They were swinging them round and round in their hands and walking arm in arm. To be honest I thought the extent of the Catharsis would be a bunch of chavs kicking wing mirrors of off cars, this was a bit too American for my liking. As I moved to within 10 metres of them but on the opposite side of the road I didn’t take my eyes off them. This felt like a great idea until I stumbled over a random can of juice lying on the pavement. Both of the Malcolm McDowell’s spun round on a 10 pence piece and ran towards me. At that point I did the manliest thing I could think of. I ran. Like fuck.
Running in work shoes isn’t an Olympic sport (yet) but if it was and the Scottish running in work shoes coaching team were watching Lancaster CCTV that night, I’d be living a different life right now. As it was, I managed to outpace my new friends, despite them screaming in unison “left two three, right two three” and “WON’T YOU COME AND WALTZ?!” as they ran after me. These guys really seemed to like A Clockwork Orange. Fair play I suppose, it’s better than watching Geordie Shore Season 16. They gave up after what seemed like a marathon but was apparently only about 5 minutes. I heard glass smashing and a car alarm blaring as, thankfully, it seemed they had decided to take out their frustrations elsewhere.
Sweating my ass off with my feet pulsing in agony (maybe the Olympic sport was a bad idea) I made my way towards the cobbled stoned main high street. I was probably about a twenty minute walk from the station now, I tried to slow my breathing down and get my head back in the game. If that was the worst the Catharsis had for me, I’d happily take it. Under street light I stood at the bottom of the main high street taking in the road ahead of me. The streets were clear, Lancaster seemed to have decided to give the Catharsis a miss this year, great news for me.
“Ye arite mate?” I spun. Someone was stood vaping in a darkened doorway only 5 metres away from me. If you hadn’t known they were there, you’d never have seen him. The smoke (vapour?!) looked incredibly cool in the darkened light. All I could see was the outline of this person. “em, aye” I mumbled. It was all I could manage. Oh nice one mate, I thought, real confident and imposing, bet this boys shiting himself now. He stepped out of the shadows into the street light smiling. He was a young lad in his twenties, bearded, long hair, dressed casually. No masks or black walking sticks to talk of, good start. “Been watching ye” he drawled in a deep voice. Weegie then, this was getting better and better. “Who ye running fae?” he sniggered. “Oh just these boys, chased me for a bit” I said “they had fucking walking sticks and masks and that. Mental.” I looked at him and he chuckled. “Aye this is fuckin mad like. I punted some daft wee cunt in the baws doon there earlier, didnae seem like he felt that cathartic after it” he pointed towards a statue in the centre of the high street. A man was lying in a pool of blood at the base of it, he was very clearly lifeless with his hands cupped over his balls. “Fuck me” I whispered to myself. “So” he said “you gaun on the minibus tae Edinburgh?” “Aye” I replied, pulling myself together. “Sound” he says smiling again “lets fire up to the station then”
We walked together quietly for a while at a good pace, it was a 5 minute walk to the station when the next treat arrived. “Good evening gentlemen, WELCOME!!” shouted a woman’s voice. We both glanced at each other, I probably looked like I was shitting myself, he had a wry smile. I assumed me and my new best violent friend had telepathically agreed to keep walking but when I dropped a gear and started walking faster I realised I was alone.
I heard a rousing “HOW’S IT GAUN LADIES?” and glanced over my shoulder to see my travelling companion standing with his arms wide open, illuminated in front of 12 women dressed in what seemed to be pagan ritualistic robes holding burning lanterns. What the fuck was this now. At this point in time I’ve never wanted to ride in a minibus so much in my life. I checked my watch, it was 8.40. I was torn between turning round into the inevitable turmoil or legging it to the station. I had a free run. I guess ‘fight or flight’ kicked in for me and it chose the former, much to my displeasure.
“WE ARE THE PENDLE WITCHES” shrilled the middle woman. Her features were sharp and it felt like she was looking directly into my soul. “WE WILL GIVE YOU SAFE PASSAGE IF YOU BEND YOUR KNEE AND PAY TRIBUTE TO OUR WITCHCRAFT.” Fuck me. Witchcraft now? I was a little stunned to be honest. I was standing staring at all 12 of these scary looking women when I heard what sounded like running water. “BEND YER KNEE INTAE THAT YA FUCKIN BOOT” shouted the Glaswegian. He was standing taking a pish right in the ‘witches’ direction. Course he was. “CAAAAAAAM AAAAAAN” he shouts and runs straight towards them. As he was running he pulls something shiny from his pocket and goes straight for them. I thought the only way I was getting back to my bed was if I join in so I went for it too. These witches had hammers, spanners, they had big fuck off bayonetts and chains. Adrenaline took over, my mate had set at least three of them on fire. I was punching, kicking, head down and smashing into everything. When all was said and done I looked up and the weegie was pummeling a body over and over and over. He turned and smiled at me. “Right chief, Minibus time”. We both laugh hysterically and run like fuck.
I’ve never thought a shitty white minibus had looked so good in my life. We jumped straight in and the driver slammed the door shut. “You’re the only two” he says, “lets get the fuck out of here”. He explained to us that the Minibus was immune from the Catharsis and therefore it was plain sailing to the border. I drifted off for a while but was awoken by the driver shouting. “Passports lads”. The massive gates opened at the Carter Bar and the border security popped his head in, his face immediately lit up at the Glaswegian. “Heeeeey Davie!!” he shouts “another year another Catharsis eh? Where’d you end up this year?” “Ach, Lancaster mate, was quite pish this year” the bearded nutter says in response. I look at him in disbelief. Is this a thing?! I think to myself. He shrugs his shoulders and gives me a wink. Mad bastard.
“John, if you could write me up how that meeting went in Lancaster last week by close of play today, that’d be great” my boss gives me his usual smarmy condescending look.”No worries” I say “it was definitely a learning experience….thanks for volunteering me”.