Jasmine on fire

Hardly a day goes by without some news report relating to climate change: bush fires in Australia; floods here and elsewhere; temperatures beating records; aircraft companies on the verge of going bust.  What’s that? What’s the story of Flybe got to do with climate change?

Well, of course, flying is one of the important contributors to the addition of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. A short hop by plane is equivalent to driving many times the distance by car   Currently almost nothing is being done to reduce the carbon foot print of flying – low taxes, little chance of using renewable energy on an appreciable scale, cheap holidays abroad. The shoring up of Flybe’s finances by reducing taxes on intra-UK flights goes against the government’s claim to be green. But the government says we need more UK flights to increase “connectivity”, which apparently, was one of the Tory government’s pledges in the general election. Not many people benefit from the UK flights however, certainly not the ordinary working people who voted Tory.  Unfortunately you cannot claim to be combating climate change and support frequent flyers.

There is an answer to increasing connectivity and reducing flying emissions – better railways. Not the expensive, fast and hence wasteful, HS2, but a modern, efficient rail system serving the whole country.

I’m not sure whether even a better rail network should be the priority unless it is part of a determined effort to get people out of their cars as well the out of the planes. Cutting use of fossil fuels must be priority 1.

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20200109_205015 (2)Young people get it – non-binary genders and transgender, that is.  This week I’ve talked to a number of young people – that’s mainly people in their 20s for oldies like me. I have generally been impressed by their knowledge of the issues facing non-binary and trans people and have few problems with the concept of being neither male nor female or expressing one’s identity. Nurture is having an effect. Not that is nurture by their parents and elders but by their contemporaries and their contacts on social media and the internet. Older people, while expressing acceptance, often still miss the point and still want to put you in a male box or a female box. Anyway, it makes me optimistic that as the older generation pass away, new generations will not see gender as an issue, whether its sexism in the workplace, transphobia or male and female lavs.

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Because I was elsewhere for our weekly writers’ group meet I didn’t attempt this week’s task. Who went “tut, tut,”? But I have made a start on the new Jasmine Frame novel. It may not be the best writing method but I have put fingers to keys and written the first couple of thousand words while still researching the background of one of the characters and planning the interwoven plots – at least I hope they will be interwoven. I find that it is as I write that issues become apparent and the characters themselves, well Jasmine principally, take the story forward.  I know some famous authors say they do not plan but allow the story to develop.  I’m not sure whether I believe them but it is a fun strategy.

In the meantime, here is something I wrote earlier. As it is still, just about, panto season, Cinderella – the Prince’s Story is appropriate.  Lots of writers re-write fairystories and I don’t think this one is especially original, but it’s a bit of fun.  Being nine years old it is also slightly dated – how many of the references have had a fall from grace?

Cinderella – The Prince’s story

It was my party; it should have been me making the headlines; me, the most charming, attractive and talented prince in the kingdom.  It was all arranged.   The ball would be held in the largest and grandest of my palaces and all the top celebs were invited.  The TV cameras and photographers would be there to see me dance with Beyonce and perhaps have a kiss and cuddle with Cheryl.
Of course, being the “People’s Prince” I had to invite a lot of common people to fill the ballroom.  It was a bit like an episode of Dr Who actually, all these fearful clones wearing the same cheap copies of Lacroix and Stella gowns bought from those high street shops.  But I waved and smiled and they all cheered and blew me kisses.  Two of the ugliest women I had ever seen somehow got through the barrier.  They tried to hug me and give me kisses but my minders got rid of them.
Everything was in full swing with the band playing, when there was a huge cheer and the whole crowd stopped watching me.  One of my men told me that one of the A list celebrities must have arrived because a huge pink open top limousine had driven up the drive with motorcycle outriders.  I couldn’t think who it could be.  The paps deserted me and ran to the entrance just as she stepped through the doors.
I must admit my eyes nearly jumped out of my head.  The dress she wore was indescribable and no designer I knew could have produced it.  It covered where it should but revealed her tremendous beauty.  From a distance it just grabbed your attention with its shimmering colours and shapes, but when she got up close, the dress just focussed mine and everyone else’s eyes on her face.  Her black hair shone and her eyes twinkled with joy. I stared at her for many moments but then my gaze travelled down to her feet and that’s when I saw her shoes.  They seemed to have been carved from two massive Schwarovski diamonds, the soles stacked and the heels high as high could be.
I looked again into her large blue eyes and we talked.  I was so taken by her conversation that I almost ignored the cameras going off all around us.  Then we danced, and talked some more and danced again.  There seemed to be a magic aura about her that drew me to her.  There was no moment when we were alone but I soon felt as though I had known her all my life although at no time did she mention her name or reveal who she was.  After dancing a slow number she came into my arms and we kissed tenderly and chastely on the lips.
And then something happened.  I think I heard the old big clock on the tower start to chime, midnight I suppose.  She pushed away from me, said something like “Oh, f***,” and ran off leaving me standing there.  The people around us parted to let her through, but soon she was lost in the crowd.  It all got confused then.  Most people didn’t see her leave although a few said they saw a girl running out of the palace looking dishevelled and wearing a tatty dress.  Others said they saw a girl getting into a minicab, but no-one seemed to see the girl in the designer dress.  There was one clue though – one of her fantastic glass shoes was found on the steps of the palace.  One of my men brought it to me.  I held it in my hands while the journalists pressed around me asking questions
“Who was she?”
“What did I think of her?”
“Was I going to marry her?”
“How would I find her?”
That was the question that troubled me.  I wanted to see her again because quite simply she would get me the media’s attention.  I made a few phone calls.  Max Clifford was eager to represent her.  He was sure that the fashion mags would pay millions for photos of that dress.  Simon Cowell suggested a TV series to search for the person who matched the shoe,  ‘Britain’s got feet` or ‘The Shoe Factor`, I think were some suggestions.
I got on to a friend who had appeared in CSI a couple of times.  I was sure he would have a bright idea and I was right.  Get the shoe tested for DNA, he said, then do a search of the database.  Sure enough, we soon had the name of a family matching the DNA fingerprint. They were the Hardups.  I was told they lived somewhere out in the country.
We set off in my Bentley with Sky and ITN and Hello and OK! following behind.  It took hours before we drew up at this crumbling mansion.  There was only one servant, some twerp who said his name was Buttons or something equally stupid.  He showed us into the drawing room where old man Hardup sat on a threadbare sofa.  He jumped up when he saw us and all the cameras.  My man explained why we had come and took the shoe out of the stainless steel box he kept it in.  Hardup called out and in seconds two of the gaudiest, ugliest, women came in.  I recognised them as the pair who had stalked me at the ball.  They were his daughters, Hardup said. They insisted on trying the shoe on although I knew it couldn’t possibly be one of them that was my unknown princess.  Of course their feet were too hideously large to fit. It turned out they weren’t even Hardup’s own offspring, just his step-daughters.  They went into fits of sobbing.
“Is there anyone else?” I asked, feeling somewhat impatient.
“Well I do have my own daughter,” Hardup said.
“Well where is she?” I asked.
“But it could not be her,” Hardup went on, “she wasn’t at your ball.”  The two grotesque sisters agreed vehemently.
One of my men leaned close to me and reminded me that the DNA match was definitely with the Hardup family.
“Nevertheless, summon your daughter,” I commanded in my most regal voice.   Quite a few minutes passed while the girl was fetched, apparently from the dark recesses of the old house.  She entered the room a timid little thing dressed in old scruffy jeans and a grubby t-shirt.  She looked nothing like the vision of beauty I had danced with a few days before.
My man handed her the shoe and she slipped it on as easily as if it was made of the softest leather.  The journos went wild.  Cameras flashed, everyone started speaking.  Someone dragged the girl to her feet – or foot, it was difficult for her to stand on just the one shoe.  The reporters urged me forward and I felt that I had to oblige.  I stood next to the girl who was looking dazzled and scared.  While flashlights went off in my face I wondered what on earth I was doing.  What should I do or say next? Did I want to spend the rest of my life or at least a portion of it while we sorted out the divorce, with this girl?

Jasmine in moderation

We’re well into the new year and things are turning out rather like last year’s premonitions, or nightmares as they’re sometimes called. Nevertheless, I am going to keep to my resolution (there’s a first) and not comment on politics (yet).  There are other things to talk about.

It’s January and I expect some of you are experiencing a Dry January or trying out Veganuary. Me? Nope. I don’t go for time trials; I don’t do NaNoWriMo (writing a novel in November) or Movember (growing a moustache) either. I prefer to do thinbgs in moderation. That’s not that I don’t support some of the aims of these ordeals. I’m sure it would do me and others good to cut down on the alcohol, but I think control is a better option that complete abstention followed, probably, by a binge or at least a return to normal (?) levels of consumption.

The vegan thing is more complicated. I do agree that globally we need to cut down on eating meat and animal products. Intensive farming of cattle, pigs and chickens certainly harms the planet in numerous ways. My question is this: is it necessary to do without animal products completely?  There are a number of suggested reasons why the answer may be yes.

1  a vegan diet is healthier;

2  farming animals exacerbates global warming, causes pollution, etc.

3  it is morally wrong to kill or enslave animals.

Let’s look at each one. I agree that a diet heavy in animal fat is probably not healthy (although the Inuit who survived largely on seal meat seemed to do alright), but humans evolved because, and as a result of, eating cooked meat. The fact that a vegan diet requires a variety of supplements (amino acids, vitamins) suggests that an omnivorous form of eating is simpler and more natural.

Secondly, I agree that intensive farming of animals should be phased out but the deforestation that takes place to provide land for palm oil, soya, almond, etc is not a lot better for the environment. Feeding 8-10 billion people is always going to take all the available farmland we can find and not leave much for “re-wilding”. There will always be land unsuitable for crops which can provide pasture for sheep, goats, cattle and pigs. Chickens and other poultry can scratch around amongst. So, there is economic justification for continuing to have some meat and dairy in diets.

Finally, the ethics of meat eating. I consider the human race to be part of the ecology of the Earth, not particularly special or exalted despite our developed brains. We evolved as predators like wolves and eagles and killer whales. We are part of the food chain and I see no moral reason why we should not continue to consume animal products while showing respect and care for the animals we predate on.

I will continue to enjoy cheese and eggs and sausages although I do admit that I will have to reduce the amount I eat in order to follow the principles I have outlined.  Vegans can do what they like but they can keep their “ethical philosophy” to themselves and cut down on the evangelism.

A final question – where do all those supplements come from?

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20200109_205021(2)I had my hair done this week. My hairdo is one of those things I fret (that means a minor worry) about because of being gender fluid. Through my working life I didn’t bother about my hair much.  I had a wet cut every six weeks or so but hardly considered a “style”. It was longer when I was young but was always fine and never particularly manageable. As a tranny I wore a variety of wigs, finally settling on one that seemed to suit me. Then I decided to ditch the wig and be myself. Wigs are uncomfortable, particularly in warm weather but do provide excellent disguise.  Revealing the real me meant I wanted a style that expressed my femininity, but a receding hair-line and ever thinning hair has made that difficult. For the last three years or so I have had a bob but now I’ve gone for the pixie cut. Comments welcome.

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A year ago we had “Stars” as the theme for the writers’ club weekly meeting and now we have had it again. I attempted a different style of piece this time, not really a story, not really an episode in a story. Perhaps it’s a scene.  Anyway, here is All the Stars in the Heavens.

All the Stars in the Heavens

The stars are glowing above me, each with its five, six or seven points, so close I feel I can almost reach out and touch them. That’s what they look like, but I know, because I read it in a book with Mummy, that stars are huge balls of gas giving out light and heat from immense fusion reactions. They are light years apart. But here I am floating, weightless, adrift in space surrounded by them.  There’s no Sun nearby or planets and the patterns of the stars are not the ones I saw in the pictures.  It doesn’t matter. I can pick out my own constellations and give them names. There’s the cup with a handle of a ring of stars and the cat with a long curving tail. That rectangle of stars looks like a robot and over there, that’s a tree.
Space isn’t silent but I’m used to the sounds now: the hiss of the air line; the slurp of the pump; the beep-beep of the instrument panel. The cable connects me to the spaceship so I can stay and watch the stars for as long as I wish.
They are starting to fade.  Already some have disappeared. I feel sleepy. I am. . .

The change of tone from the monitor woke her. Instead of the regular pips there was a continuous squeal. It was dark, still night-time. She leapt from the chair.  The screens were showing straight lines not regular, reassuring waves. The door swung open. Nurses and a doctor rushed in. They clustered around the bed, peering at the instruments. She stood by the side looking at the little body under the covers.  There was so little left of him now, he was almost weightless. The mask covered his face, tubes and wires linking him to the machines. But his eyes were still open, staring unblinking at the ceiling.
He so loved the stars. He had learned all the regular constellations, Orion, The Great Bear, Cassiopeia, and others she couldn’t recall. The real stars in the sky couldn’t be seen from his hospital bed so they’d put some phosphorescent stickers on the ceiling. Then they added more and more until the walls and ceiling were covered. By day, almost invisible, they absorbed energy from the artificial lighting and from the sunlight streaming through the window. Then at night when the lights were turned off, the blinds closed and the room empty but for him and her, they gave out their pale glow. They seemed to delight him, and he watched them until, before they dimmed, he fell asleep.
Now his eyes were open but unseeing. The machines continued their whine.  The medical staff fussed but she knew it was in vain. He had gone, left the sickly body that could not be repaired. Maybe, now, free from the restrictions of life he really was floating amongst the stars.

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Jasmine contemplates

A few days into the new year, how’s it going for you? I am trying not to think too much about the severe problems that face us in the next year and beyond but I am being positive and determined about the future of myself and those I am close to. The thing is, when one gets to a certain age, looking ahead also involves thinking about mortality. Thankfully I haven’t had to attend many funerals in recent years, just older relatives who had reached a good age, but death is inevitable. We all know that, but find it difficult if not impossible to think that it applies to us. Someone said yesterday that we think of ourselves as immortal, and that is true too. How do we acknowledge a truth (we all die) and yet deny it (it won’t happen to us)?  That perhaps is one of the wonders of being living, sentient  beings.  We can hold two conflicting ideas in our heads and not crash like a computer trying to divide one by zero.  It’s no wonder that humans came up with quantum theory and Schrodinger’s dead/alive cat

I know that some people accept the thought that life is finite and short compared to recorded history and the existence of the universe.  They get on with it and don’t let the idea of impending death worry them. I am not one of those people. I don’t believe in life after death so the thought of coming to a halt, a sleep from which one doesn’t awaken, rather shocking. Nevertheless, I see that dwelling on one’s certain demise is not healthy. So I try to make every day a rewarding one. That includes relishing a lie in bed, sitting on the sofa reading newspaper, magazine or book, or enjoying a pint in a pub as well as working hard on the next novel or story, taking part in one of the number of activities I’m signed up for, or passing the time with my loved one(s).  And the calendar is full, for, however long we may or may not have, we all make plans.

20191205_121743[547]

A final showing for the festive look.

January 1st occurs at an arbitrary point on the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, on its spiralling voyage through the universe, yet we see it as a fresh start, a new beginning, a time to look at ourselves anew, and make resolutions. I didn’t make any new ones but I did update my to-do list. I hope that my recently completed novel, The Pendant and The Globe, will be deemed publishable and will find a willing publisher (I’m not self-publishing). I want to write the next Jasmine Frame novel, the fifth, provisionally titled Impersonator. There is another novel, stalled for the last year, currently called Malevolence, which I’d like to see if I can move forward.  And then there are the articles and short stories – so many ideas and good intentions. One resolution should have been to give more time to writing but I know I wouldn’t be able to keep to it.

Anyway, the theme for the writing group this first week of January was appropriately, “new beginnings”. My thoughts returned to something not original, a new(ish) colony on a new(ish) planet orbiting a distant star. The snippet that follows, (a beginning perhaps although goodness knows if I will ever follow it up) is a brief glimpse of that idea. If it did become a novel, this whole piece would probably need re-writing.  But here it is:

Fresh Start

Fresh Start, population fifty-eight. The uniform shape and size were the only sign that the dozen, small hemispheres of foamcrete huddled in the lee of the small hill were constructions.  Their colour matched the bare volcanic rock from which they were formed.  The Road ignored them and went straight on to the beach a couple of hundred metres further. The Visitor turned off the road and stopped her quadbike by the nearest of the domes. She took a final glance at the small screen on the control panel. It now read fifty-nine inhabitants. The only other piece of information was the distance she had travelled. It was seven hundred and forty-two kilometres from New Beginning.
She swung off the saddle and brushed dust from her environment suit. The dust was the same grey as the buildings, the same grey as the Road. Looking back the way she had come it was hard to discern the route. The Road was an idea rather than a feat of engineering. Major obstacles removed, a couple of rivers bridged, guide transmitters installed, it snaked across half the island continent, linking the only two habitations on the only land mass of Second Chance, second planet orbiting the red star, Hobson’s Choice.
There was just the rustle of her boots in the dust as she walked between the domes. The hill sheltered the village from the onshore breeze. There was no sign of the other fifty-eight humans. Among the cluster of domes, she approached one and pushed the door open. Inside was a room which had circular tables constructed of the same material as the walls. She tugged the mask from her face.
“Service!” she called.
A door on the opposite side of the room opened. A man stood in the doorway. He wore a pair of orange overalls.
“Oh, it’s you. You came back.”
“Said I would.”
“S’pose you’ll be wanting a drink.”
“Yeah. Thirsty work riding a quad from Newbie.”
The man retreated and emerged a few moments later with a cup and a jug, both grey. He put the cup down on a table and poured a green liquid into it.
“There you are then. Our latest brew.”
The visitor approached the table lifted the cup and drank the contents in one gulp. She put the cup down.
“Hasn’t improved.”
The man chuckled. “Nope. Not a lot you can do with fermented algae. More?”
The Visitor nodded.  The cup was re-filled. The Visitor settled onto a stool and lifted the cup to her lips. She took a small sip.
“So, why are you back?” the man asked. “Newbie too exciting for you?”
The Visitor shook her head. “No, and it wasn’t the prospects of your company that drew me back either.”
“What then?”
“I have news.”
“News that couldn’t be beamed via the Hestia?”
“News Hobson didn’t want spread.”
The man frowned, set the jug on the table and sat on a stool next to the Visitor. “What news?”
“We’re on our own. There’s no second ship coming from Earth.”

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Jasmine’s fresh start

20191219_170534I am writing this somewhat earlier than usual, just in case I can’t get online when I usually sit down to do it. This week we will see in the new year and the start of 2020 is a bit special.  Why? It’s just another year, but those numbers look a bit out of the ordinary don’t they and it’s the beginning of a new decade. I’m not going to get into arguments about when  the decade, century or millennium really begin; the change of digits will do for me.

Someone said recently that it hardly seems like twenty years since the start of the millennium, and they’re right.  Twenty years has passed quickly, but what a lot has happened, personally and universally. In 2020 it will be twenty years since I announced, starting with Lou, that I was trans; there have been a few changes there. The world has changed a lot – and not for the better.

We’re living in the future. Well, 2020 seemed like the fairly far future when I was getting into SF in the 1960s.  In fact we’ve gone past quite a few visions of the future in terms of date. Obviously 1984 and 2001 have flown by but we’ve also passed the date in which Back to the Future II was set and in 2019 we passed the date of Bladerunner – yes, really!  The future hasn’t turned out much like any writer imagined it from H G Wells’ visions in The Shape of Things to Come to the novels of Clarke, Dick, etc. etc.  Forecasts of the development of computers, robots, videophones, flying cars, space travel, have turned out wide of the reality even if things like smart phones probably do far more than writers ever envisaged. Thankfully, the dystopias haven’t been realised, yet, either, but we’re getting there.

Is there anything to look forward to in 2020? Hmm, well I think you have to be an extraordinary optimist to hope for world peace, acceptance of and action on climate change, liberal and open governments accepting of peoples of all races, creeds, sexualities and genders. I am just hoping that things don’t actually get worse.

I do have intentions however. I will make a start on the next, fifth, Jasmine Frame novel, and finish it. I will try to  submit more articles and stories to competitions and publications. I will try to complete the fifth September Weekes novel (that’s actually a long shot as Jasmine has the priority this year.)  Other developments in 2020 will be more of a surprise.

And so as we see out the old year, here is another festive piece. There is a story to this one which was written a few weeks ago for the writers’ group Christmas lunch.  Over  thirty years ago I wrote the first story of The Baubles. I had hopes of it being published as a picture book. Despite coming back to it from time to time, I never really pushed it.  I also had ideas for sequels and was fond of the characters – the four large balls, the four little ones, the china Santa, cotton wool Snowman and the corn-dolly Angel. Finally I have written the final story in the sequence bringing it up to date. Unless I do like Star Wars and write the episodes in non-chronological order, this is it. Enjoy The Baubles: Christmas At Last.

The Baubles: Christmas At Last

It was the box being moved that stirred them. Azura, the blue glass ball, woke with a yawn. It seemed an awfully long time since the last Christmas. She felt Rufus, the red one, giving himself a shake.
“Hi, Az,” he said, “I feel as if I’ve been asleep for decades.”
The cotton-wool Snowman sneezed. “I think I’ve got flu. It’s cold in that loft since they insulated it.”
“Oh, dear. Oh, dear,” moaned the corn-dolly Angel, “I’m dried to a crisp. I feel dreadfully fragile.”
A high-pitched tinkle of glass on glass spurred Aurus, the senior gold bauble, to speak
“Now, now, Twinkle, Glitter, Sparkle and you, Scatty. Be patient. I’m sure we’ll soon be out and decorating the tree.” The small balls settled down except for Scattered Reflections of Visible Light, known as Scatty, who was always excited.
Rufus said, “I do hope it’s a big tree, like that one where the tip rubbed against the ceiling.”
“I want a plastic one,” Angel grumbled. “with smooth, soft branches. There’s nothing worse than having a sharp twig and prickly needles stuffed up your skirt.”
“Ow, Ow, Ow,” came a cry.
“What’s up Father Christmas,” Rufus called, “Practising your ho, ho, hos?”
“No. My foot’s sore.”
Argenta the large silver bauble, whispered to Aurus. “We have been stored away for a very long time. I don’t think there has been a Christmas in the house for quite a while.”
“I think you’re right my dear,” Aurus said, “But at least they want us now.”
The lid was lifted off the box and light flooded in. All the baubles felt excited. A face with a neat beard and short hair peered down at them.
“A man,” Argenta whispered.
“He looks rather like Boy,” Aurus said. “In fact, I’m sure he is Boy.”
“He’s grown up, while we’ve been asleep,” Argenta said.

“Hey Camilla, I didn’t know Mum and Dad still had these old tree decorations. I found them clearing out the loft.”
“They look pretty tatty, Stephen. The Father Christmas has a chip on its foot and that corn dolly is crumbling to dust. That cotton-wool thing looks pretty grubby too.”
“But it’ll be fun to put them on the tree.”
“My lovely new Marie Kondo tree! They’ll look dreadful.”
“Let’s see, shall we, love.”

“There’s something wrong with this tree,” Rufus said, swinging gently on his branch. “It’s lost all its needles.”
“I don’t think it ever had any,” Azura said, “It’s not real. Look at the branches – dead straight and smooth.”
“But they’re made of wood. What do you think of the lights?”
“The colours are pretty, and all the bulbs are working.”
Snowman heard them, “But they’re cold. The old ones used to keep me nice and warm.”
“That’s because these are l.e.d.s,” Rufus said remembering something he’d seen on television.
“All this flashing and pulsing and rippling is giving me a headache,” Angel said from the top of the tree.
“The room is a little bare,” Argenta said, “no decorations and not even carpet or curtains; just bare boards and blinds. And where’s the TV. In the old house there was that huge box in the corner.”
“It’s that big black picture in the wall, I think,” said Aurus.
“Flat screen technology,” Rufus added. “Wow, we’re in the future.”
“So long as they still have Morecombe and Wise on, I’m happy,” Argenta said.

“Stephen! Have you seen the mess in here?”
“What’s the matter, love. Oh, dear. The corn dolly seems to be disintegrating. I’ll sweep it up.”
“And take those old decorations off. You do agree that they spoil the minimalist effect of my tree, don’t you?”
“Yes, love, but what should I do with them.”
“I don’t know. Put them in recycling.”
“I don’t think they take that type of glass.”
“Well, if you can’t throw them away, give them back to your mother.”
“Hmm. That’s not a bad idea. She may even remember them. I expect the nursing home will have a tree.”

The four little balls rattled as they were put back in the box with the other baubles.
“Why are they packing us up?” Rufus cried, “Christmas isn’t over yet; they haven’t opened the presents.”
“There weren’t any,” Father Christmas said.
“And the Queen hasn’t been on that fancy telly,” Argenta said.
Aurus tried to calm down all the complaints. “I am sure there is a sensible explanation and it will all become clear soon.”
The lid of the box closed over them.

It was not long before Stephen opened the box.
“Look, Mum, look what I’ve brought.”
The grey-haired lady looked in, a frown turning to a smile.
“Do you remember decorating the Christmas tree, Mum. Which one went at the top?”
A thin, spotted hand reached in and grabbed Angel. The corn-dolly crumbled into dust and shards of stalk.
“Oh, dear. Well she was thirty years old, wasn’t she Mum. I know, shall we put the others on the tree. Matron said there was plenty of room. Hold the box while I push you across.”

“Oh, what a wonderful, large tree,” Argenta said, getting her first glimpse,
“A good strong, natural pine,” Aurus said.
“But I do hope he puts us all together.” Argenta added.
Man, who used to be Boy, hung each of the baubles on a patch of the tree where Mother could see them, amongst other decorations. A grin spread across her face.
“It’s really lovely and warm here,” said Snowman, “I think we’ll be happy.”
“Be careful, Scatty, don’t swing so much,” Aurus warned, “you don’t want to go flying off your branch.” The four little balls quivered with excitement.
Father Christmas looked around the room and sniffed the air. “Listen to that carol singing. I can smell mince pies. Look at all the people and all those parcels. Present opening should be fun. Ho, ho , ho!”
Rufus was making friends with a large, multi-coloured ball encrusted with glitter who hung nearby and Azura was chatting to a plastic spaceman who dangled from an adjacent twig.
Despite the jolly surroundings, Argenta was feeling sad.
“I am sorry that Angel has gone. She was always miserable, but Christmas won’t be the same without her.”
“Now, now my dear,” Aurus said. “Perhaps she is at the top of a tree somewhere where she can be comfortable and happy. We’re all together and doing our bit. It looks like being a wonderful festive season. Merry Christmas everyone.”

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Jasmine feels festive, a little

When this appears it will be just a few days before the festive period really gets going. Whatever you might be celebrating I wish you the greetings of the season.  I would also offer the Christian salutation Peace on Earth, Goodwill to All Men, except I’m not sure I can wish goodwill to demagogues.  But I’m keeping off the politics this week.  That leaves religion. I noticed on Facebook that some “friends” were sharing a post saying that we must not treat the imminent holiday as anything  other than  CHRISTMAS. Well you can stuff that. Many religions have a celebration at this time of year and of course there is no particular reason why the birth of Jesus should be celebrated on 25th December. Yes, I do accept Jesus of Nazareth as a historical figure and the evidence suggests his birth was late summer, early autumn. The early Christians adopted 25th September because it was already a popular festival celebrating the re-birth of the Sun after the winter solstice. The Christians were fond of recycling the dates and trappings of previous beliefs.

An article in this month’s Countryfile magazine reminded me of this. It was about the ancient yew trees, many of which are found in churchyards. The yew has religious significance but it wasn’t the case of the tree being planted near churches. In fact in many places the Yews were there first. Some are thousands of years old. They were venerated for eons before Christianity appeared, perhaps because of their longevity and maybe because as their girth increases the centre rots away to leave them hollow – great places for a secret meeting place or a pulpit.  Why were Christian churches built on the sites of pagan worship? Did newly converted congregations repurpose their former meeting places or was it that an invasive church obliterated signs of the previous faiths to show its dominance over the old gods?

20191219_170523I am an atheist and not particularly enamoured to any religion but upbringing has a lot to answer for. I still enjoy singing carols and other Christmas music, and still sing in a choral society that performs sacred works during the year and has a carol concert at Christmastime. I sing the carols in the same way that people sing folksongs of mythical tales. I like the tunes (and the harmonies) and the words tell pleasant stories. While Jesus may have had some good messages to tell, I believe that he will come back to save us no more than King Arthur and his knights will return from Avalon or Luke Skywalker will return to save the galaxy from the evil empire (perhaps he will – I haven’t seen the 9th Star Wars film yet).

So, enjoy the mid-winter break, praise whatever god or gods you worship, stay safe and let’s hope for a better world in the future.

Below is my piece of writing for the (Christmas) season. It is a Christmas story, not too twee I hope. There is a message, not overly hidden, and yes, I am aware that spiders may not wish to feast on pastry.  It’s called poetic licence.

Spinning Joy at Christmas

Priscilla waited. It had been a long time since a fly had blundered into her web and it was cold and dark in the storeroom, but she was patient. From time to time she crawled over the box and the candle stands to repair or add another thread to her net.
One chilly morning, light filled the room. Priscilla was startled and she scurried into the depths of her box.  Sounds vibrated the air.
“Good Lord, look at all these cobwebs. Doesn’t anyone come up here?”
 “Nah. It’s only the Christmas stuff stored here.  No one‘s been up those steps since last year.”
 “Well, we’d better start lugging it downstairs. Bah, I hate spiders.”
Priscilla felt tremors along her threads as her web was destroyed. She didn’t move but folded her legs around her body.  The box was lifted. Jerking and swaying worried Priscilla till the box was set down. The objects she was hiding behind were lifted out.  Priscilla hid in the narrow corner between some pieces of wood and straw.
 “There, that’s the crib done. The shepherds and the kings need a good dust.”
“The infant Jesus looks a bit grubby too. Anyway, let’s get the candles set up.”

When it was quiet again and the lights had gone out, Priscilla crept out of her hiding place. It was warmer here and she felt confident of catching some food. She began to weave her web over the objects and the wooden frame. She was busy for hours but was rewarded when a small fruit fly blundered into her sticky trap.
Daylight came and Priscilla retreated into the dark corner to eat her meal.
 “Someone’s been busy here. Look at all these spiders’ webs. Mary and Joseph are covered.”
 “If I see a spider, I’ll stamp on it. Dirty, crawly things.”
 “We’d better clean the models before the carol service tomorrow.”

Priscilla was disappointed to find her lovely web destroyed, but it didn’t trouble her. She had plenty of energy and it wouldn’t take long to spin another.  She was again busy through the night and was rewarded with another small fly.
 “Would you believe it! That spider has been at work again.  Look at that web.”
 “Oh, Daddy, I think it looks pretty with the spider’s web joining up Mary and Joseph and the baby.”
“Pretty, eh? I’m going to have to clean out the crib completely to get rid of the spider.”
“You can’t do that, Daddy. It’s the spider’s home. The baby Jesus is just borrowing it while he got born.”
“So, you like spiders do you love?”
“Yeah. Why not? They’re God’s creatures too aren’t they, like the cows and the sheep and the donkey.”
“Um, well, I suppose so.  You want the spider to be part of Christmas, do you?”
“Yes, Daddy.”
“Hmm, alright, but I don’t know what the Vicar will think, she will expect the church to be spotless for Christmas.”
“Well, we can tell her that the spider is looking after baby Jesus, can’t we Daddy.”

Priscilla kept out of sight while the church filled with people and warmth and noise and light, but afterwards she scampered around her web checking for any breakages. She had a surprise because sticking to the fine threads were tiny crumbs of pastry and sugar and juicy morsels of fruit. That night Priscilla had a feast of mince pies while sitting with the baby Jesus wrapped in her web.

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Jasmine demoralised

I must be mad. Don’t they say that a sign of madness is when you think your opinion is correct while the rest of the world that disagrees must be wrong.  Well, I can’t believe that 44% of the UK voting population think that Johnson is an honest and worthy holder of the highest public office in the land and that the Tories have the well-being of the whole nation on their minds. Hold on though, 54% (there’s the Brexit Party’s 2%) do agree with me so perhaps I’m only half mad.  I am however, 100% livid.  That 44% have delivered a whopping majority to Johnson meaning that he can do whatever he likes.  That won’t just be “getting Brexit done”, whatever that means, but further cuts to the welfare state and changes to the relationship between government, parliament and judiciary so that there is no chance of a future PM being told off by judges.  We’re in for at least five years of extreme right-wing government and, who knows, a dictatorship in all but name and possibly a permanent one-party state with opposition reduced to an ineffective rump.

The only chance of change is if Tory MPs tire of Johnson’s piffle-waffle, incompetence and dissociation from the truth. Is there a brain cell or an inch of moral fibre amongst the 360+ of them or will they be automatons voting for whatever Johnson (or Cummings) tells them to vote for? Will they be like the US Republicans, standing by while the presidency is turned into a laughing stock and the US reputation around the world trashed.

Why did the result turn out as it did? Well, we know from the referendum that half the voting population are right-wing leavers at heart. Also, the print and TV media is biased against the left, and the Tories put out so many inaccurate and misleading social media posts that kept on banging away with the untruths until many people accepted them as fact.  But the main reason that Labour lost so badly was the confusion over its position. Neither Leave nor Remain.  So Labour Leavers went Tory. Corbyn was nothing like as passionate or energetic as he was in 2017. Notwithstanding brave words, he knew he could only reach his Momentum fanatics.  I don’t know why Labour still goes on about supporting the working class. I think people see the working class as coal-dust-faced miners, builders in donkey jackets and striking British Leyland workers. All those pictures from the 1970s of masses of, predominantly male workers in dirty, sweaty jobs. Their children aspired to something different.  They may still be in low paid work with few prospects and poor pensions but they don’t see themselves as working class in the old-fashioned Corbynista view and do not have the unthinking loyalty to Labour of their parents.

As for the Lib. Dems. In a few short months Jo Swinson managed to turn off millions of potential voters with the stupid talk of leading a government and her being PM. It was so fanciful that the prospect of the Lib Dems being in an anti-Tory, anti-Brexit coalition disappeared.

For at least the next five years we need an active opposition.  One which is devoted to telling the truth about what is going on in the country; one which does speak for all;  one which has the expertise and resources to get the message across; one which has policies which will tackle the climate emergency and the problems facing the population.

That’s it.  I am not going to comment on politics for the foreseeable future.  I’m going to hide my head in bucket and try to ignore what is going on around me.  Going mad seems like a sound move.

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We didn’t have a theme for this week’s writing group so I spent what time was available completing the second draft of my novel, The Pendant and the Globe.  It’s not finished yet but I hope some friendly readers will tell me whether it has possibilities.  Instead, here is something I wrote earlier, a bit cheerful to lighten the gloom; a memory if summer holidays perhaps.

Dear Aunty Mabel and Uncle Alfred,

 Thank you very much for letting me and Robbie stay with you for our holidays.  Mummy and Daddy say they were very grateful for the break and they got a lot done especially in their bedroom.  I’m not quite sure what they mean because their bedroom looks just the same as it was before we went away.  They must have been finding the job really difficult because when we got home they didn’t have many clothes on and were hot and sweaty and Daddy said it was a real hard one.  I suppose getting home a day early may have been a surprise.
Thank you Uncle Alfred for driving us all the way home.  It took much less time to come home than it did to get to your house.  Robbie is sorry he was sick in the back of your lovely new car.  It might have had something to do with going around those corners very fast or it might have been the bars of chocolate you gave him.  I know you said not to eat them all at once but Robbie does like chocolate.  At least it was the same colour as the leather seats and carpet.
We had a lovely time staying in your house.  I do like that big painting of the young man you have on the wall in the lounge and I don’t think the moustache and glasses that Robbie drew on it really makes much difference.  Well not as much as the big smile he drew on the painting of the old lady in the study. We didn’t really mind when you shouted at us about it, in fact Robbie laughed  when your face turned red.
We loved playing in your hallway.  Robbie says it’s almost as long as a cricket pitch.  Yes, I know you said it wasn’t a cricket pitch but that was after Robbie hit a straight drive straight through the doorway.  It was a pity the front door was closed at the time.  I’m sure you’ll be able to replace all those pieces of coloured glass that looked so pretty.  Actually Robbie said it wasn’t really wide enough for a cricket pitch because that big vase got in the way when he swung his bat.
Robbie and I had a lot of fun playing in your garden when you pushed us outside.  Robbie really liked splashing in the muddy puddles.  I know he should have taken his shoes off when you let us back in, but you did tell us to go straight to our bedroom.
We’ve never slept in a room with a bunk bed before.  Robbie had great fun practising his parachute jumps.   I hope you manage to get the hole in the floor repaired soon.   I didn’t think it was a good idea to tie the sheets together to climb out of the window when we found the bedroom door was jammed because of the rose bush under our window.  Robbie’s got all the prickles out of his bottom now.
It was very kind of Aunty Mabel to cook all those lush meals.   Robbie only eats sausages and beans at home so it wasn’t surprising that he didn’t know what to do with spaghetti.  I hope that the stains come out of the table cloth soon, and the curtains.  And he wasn’t really being rude when he said that perhaps your oven wasn’t working properly since it only smoked the salmon instead of cooking it properly.  It was funny that that bottle of water that Jamie drank after he took a mouthful of chilli wasn’t water at all.  He’d swallowed a lot of it before we realised it was Uncle Alfred’s vodka.  I’m sure the carpet will look as good as new when it’s been shampooed.

 Well that’s all for now.  Once again thank you for a lovely holiday.  I do hope we can come and stay with you again soon.  Robbie has drawn a picture of your house.  He used those lovely crayons in the plastic cases that he found in Aunty’s handbag.  It’s a shame that they were all red because he would have drawn Uncle Alfred’s white car.  Well it was white before Robbie accidentally knocked Uncle Alfred’s blue paint over it.

 Love from,

  Emily.

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Jasmine holds her breath

By the time I put up the next post of this blog we will know our fate.  The election will be over and we will have some idea of what we’re in for in the near future.

The reaction to the upsetting terrorist attack at the Fishmongers’ Hall was predictable. Right wing commenters immediately hi-jacked the sorrow of the victim’s families to make unconsidered proposals and to blame a government that left office nine years ago, as if the more recent incumbents had not had time to make changes if they had seen the need.  It was just the reaction the terrorists want. They usually target the ordinary people going about their ordinary business. Here it was actually extraordinary people who provided support and compassion to the terrorists themselves. What could be more terrible? If the terrorists can instil fear and anxiety and stir up the political class to make more off the cuff threats and promises then they feel that they are successful.

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Last weekends newspapers carried glowing reviews of the stage musical based on David Walliams’ children’s book “The Boy in the Dress”. It has already been televised. I wonder if he would have had success with a story that had the title “The Girl in the Jeans.”  All it does is perpetuate the view that boys wearing skirts or dresses are not normal. Whatever normal is.

I don’t think I’ve read the book but I did see the TV version. To me the message seemed to be that to be accepted for being different i.e. a boy in  a dress, you have to have some talent or do something extraordinary that gets everyone on your side. In Walliams’ story the boy scores the winning goal in a school football match. The other thing I didn’t like was that the obnoxious headmaster who is nasty to the boy in his dress is a closet transvestite.  He gets his comeuppance but no redemption. Being outed as a cross-dresser does not bring relief to his torment or support from the children and parents. My conclusion is that this is not a trans-supportive story, rather like Walliams’ ridiculing of transvestites in Little Britain.

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20191130_123703[548]Last week’s bookfair in Hereford was rather a waste of time (and money).  There were plenty of stalls selling jams, cakes, beers, jewellery and other crafts as well as books but very few punters.  The reason?  Well, for a start there was nothing outside the Shire Hall to say there was a market taking place, just a banner for the Samaritans who were being supported by the fair. Neither, I think was there much advance publicity to the public or leafletting in Hereford city centre. I made one sale which was about par for the course.

This week we had our Christmas lunch for the writing group and readings of our “festive” pieces.  I’ll keep my effort for Christmas week.  Here instead is the piece I wrote for my other, monthly, group.  The topic was “Is that your car?”  I subverted it somewhat and had an idea for a race of aliens which I might develop some other time. So here is “Triple points“.

Triple Points

“Is that your car?” the alien asked.
The image of the Tri-ped appeared in my helmet screen. Coloured bands, mainly red, rippled in the skin around the single eye facing me and the tentacle above it stood up straight  My translator coped reasonably well with interpreting the alien’s colour talk but it insisted on compressing acronyms. I looked across the planet’s surface to see a disc-shaped craft hovering over my grounded shuttle.
“Er, yes that is my Cinetic Autonomous Receptacle,” I said.  That’s what tripes called shuttles whether they were manned or not.
“Well, it shouldn’t be there.  You are trespassing.  No one may land on Alnilam III without permission of the TOT.”
I knew that of course and there was no chance that the Triumvir of Trilemma, the tripes’ government, would permit me, a non-tripe, to land on their treasured planet. But with little time left before Alnilam went supernova and destroyed the planet and its amazing coloured ice, I had taken the chance on getting past the tripes’ surveillance. I’d obviously failed that last bit.
“Your car will be destroyed in accordance with the TOT’s orders,” the tripe went on.
I stated running across the icefield back to the shuttle, lugging the box of ice that I had come all this way for.
“Hey, you can’t do that,” I cried. “I’m a citizen of the Galactic Union.”
“We can and we will. It is allowed by special order 396/225,” the tripe said, the colour bands getting narrower and changing colour more rapidly. The alien was getting angry.
I reached the airlock and quickly cycled myself through.
“But if you blast my craft you’ll damage the ice,” I argued.
There was a pause. Apparently the tripe hadn’t thought of that.  Alnilam III was a small cold planet. It should have been tidal locked to the bright blue star by now but it still revolved once every fifty or so hours. I had landed on the night side to avoid irradiation by the uv, gamma rays and exotic particles emitted by the star. The same irradition that had turned the ice fields that covered the surface into a peculiarly coloured and patterned form of solid water.
I was in my control seat and preparing to take off when the tripe answered.
“No damage to the surface will be tolerated. You will move your car away from the planet and then it will be destroyed in accordance with the special order.”
“In that case I’ll stay exactly where I am.” Actually, with the star likely to blow at any time, I was not that keen on hanging around for too long. It was a bit of a stand-off between us. I should have remembered that dealings with the tripes is never an either/or matter. There’s always a third option.
“In that case you will be forcibly removed and then destroyed,” the tripe said, vivid red bands flashing around the eye and the tentacle waving in an agitated fashion.
One thing that cannot be denied about the tripes is that they’re technologically advanced. The almost spherical craft moved to directly above my shuttle and initiated a tractor field. Three beams locked onto my vehicle and hauled me off the surface.
In a very short time we were clear of the planet. My sensors informed me that there was a fleet of craft approaching,  three groups of three, more tripes. The craft were huge. Either they were vast cargo luggers or warships.
The tripe reappeared on com screen. “We have no further time to deal with your misdemeanour.”
“Why not?” I queried. I wanted to know how they planned to destroy me.
“The transference of the planet is about to begin,” the tripe said and cut the link.
The nine huge craft were taking up orbit around Alnilam III.  They were neither cargo vessels nor warships, but heavy-lifters. The tripes had the audacity to move the planet away from the threat of destruction. They really did think a lot of this ball of ice.
The tractor beams gave my shuttle a violent thrust before releasing it. The navcom told me we were falling into the star at an acceleration that the shuttle engines could not match. The tripes were letting the star complete their job.
In minutes we passed onto the illuminated side of the planet and I saw why the tripes were making a fuss. There was the image I had seen on my screen but now I was getting the full picture taking up the whole surface of the planet. The three golden eyes of a tripe distributed symmetrically around its round head, surrounded by bands of colour which changed as the planet revolved in the starlight. It must have given the tripes a shock when they became star-explorers to find a planet in their own image. No wonder it became their most sacred site. Now, instead of allowing it to be vaporised in the supernova, they were moving it, somewhere.
The tripes seemed to have forgotten me once they’d left me to fall into the star, which was a bonus. There was no way I could pull the shuttle out of its plunge, but I had a plan B. I put my helmet back on, picked up the sample box and headed to the airlock. I stepped out and fired my manoeuvring rockets. I was still falling towards the star but the shuttle receded from me.  When it had dwindled to a dark spot against the brilliant and huge blue-white disc of the star, I triggered my alarm.
Just a few minutes had passed when the light of the star blanked out and I felt the inertialess field cushioning me. Moments later I was back inside the starship as it traversed the star system at  a third of the speed of light.
I thanked the staff of the pick-up bay and made my way to the commander’s cabin. I placed the sample box in front of him.
“You got the ice?” he growled.
I nodded. “And a traffic violation from the tripes.”
The Commander grinned. “That’s three points on your galactic traveller licence.”

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