Jasmine in lockdown

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Taking our daily exercise, lucky to have beautiful countryside nearby and some lovely weather.

The calendar is blank and the most excitement we’ve had this week was the communal clap for the NHS and care workers on Thursday evening. Everyone working in the NHS and as a carer deserves all our support; they are endangering their lives, as we can see from the number of medical workers who have died of the virus in other countries. While clapping I was thinking too of the many people who are enabling us to spend our time in lockdown in relative comfort. There’s all the shop workers, not just the supermarkets; our local greengrocer and butcher are doing a tremendous job of keeping us stocked. Then there is everyone in the supply train right back to the farmers, here and overseas (what happens if overseas trade falters?). Then there are the people keeping the water, electricity, gas and telephone systems going, the postal and delivery workers, broadcasting employees, public transport, police, fire & rescue, civil service and the armed services called in to provide support..  The list goes on and on. While a lot of us are in isolation many more are still in work, keeping things ticking over even while manufacturing and other industries have halted. How long can it go on before cracks appear?

A few people are putting around that we should have a collection for the NHS like Children in Need or Comic Relief or Sports Aid. There are two reasons why not. First the NHS is the responsibility of the government which we vote for and to which we pay our taxes. If we want the NHS properly funded we need to vote for the appropriate people to govern. Secondly, even if you combined all the proceeds of the charitythons, the total would still be a tiny proportion of the cost of running the NHS and care services. I don’t think people realise the proportion of the UK’s expenditure that goes on health, social care and welfare. The sums of money are immense.

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On the 18th March a writing friend published a novel, the first of a trilogy. I had an advance copy so I could write a review to put on Amazon. That is what I did but for some reason Amazon decided that my review did not meet their guidelines. I am publishing my review below so you can work out how it goes against Amazon rules – I can’t. Simon Kewin is a well-known author of SF and fantasy and I hold him in great respect.  I wish him lots of sales for Dead Star and its sequels.

51CqJ99vXoLDead Star by Simon Kewin: Review

Do you want a story that stretches over multiple volumes? Dead Star is for you as it is the first of a trilogy. Do you want galaxy spanning starships, a variety of interesting planets, space battles, miraculous tech? Dead Star is for you.
A young, impressionable girl is rescued by an older, wise man who provides her with remarkable abilities with which to oppose her enemies, a galaxy-wide, theocratic, vicious empire. The plot may sound familiar but the action is original.  Is this a galaxy far, far away or our own?  That’s one question we learn the answer to but there are plenty of others to lead us on through the episodic events. The pace is fast, the settings well-developed, intriguing, and described in detail, though not tediously.
I felt sympathy for Selene, the young heroine, though she lacked the humour required to encourage empathy.  She has plenty to be miserable about but, thanks to her enhancements, rarely seems pressured and is somewhat remorseless in her pursuit of her goal, even during the pause for some love interest. The episodic adventures seemed to take off with little lead up and the plot meandered somewhat but was always interesting. The tale is told almost exclusively from Selene’s viewpoint although early on there is a scene from the point of view of her enemy which is never followed up (in this first volume at any rate). The ”Empire” is presented as an implacable foe, with huge power and a surveillance regime that makes rebellion apparently all but impossible.  Yet the rebels, very few in number and beaten, nevertheless have just sufficient tech resources to infiltrate and irritate the leaders and the ingenuity, or is it luck or a cunning plan, to escape every time. Well, of course that is how it has to be in these adventures.
I enjoyed Dead Star and look forward to joining Selene in her adventures in the sequels.

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Writing group is now meeting by video link.  We had our first go on Thursday and it worked pretty well once we’d learnt the etiquette of video conferencing and got rid of the extraneous noises off caused by spouses, pets and radios. Some of us posted our stories earlier so we had a chance to read them before commenting. The subject was Primrose.  Quite accidentally mine turned into a virus story with added fairies. The internet gave me some myths uniting primroses with the little folk though whether they are shared widely I don’t know.

Primrose

I picked a primrose today. I know I shouldn’t have done but there was such a wonderful display of yellow on the bank at the edge of the village. It took me back to the days as children when we picked huge bunches to take home to mother on Mothering Sunday, to decorate the house at Easter, and to put in our hair when we pretended to be fairies. Such tales we told of the little folk, jolly if mischievous, and their enchanted, flower-festooned land.
As I admired the flowers, I noticed the Cranston family approaching. It was an unusual sight to see them all together.  He’s usually away in the city while she’s doing her good works and the two children are normally at school. The parents took the hands of the young boy and girl and passed quickly on the opposite side of the lane.
I returned to the cottage, cupping the single bloom in my hand. I put it with a drop of water in a medicine glass and set it on the dining table. The doorbell rang. In the porch was a cardboard box, my weekly shopping order. The delivery boy was at the gate, mobile phone raised to photograph me with the box. He gave a quick wave and ran off to his van. I carried the box into the kitchen and could see at once that quite a few items were missing from my order. The shortages are getting worse and who knows when I might get another delivery slot.
I put all the packets, jars and tins in their respective cupboards. A tickle in my throat produced a cough and I felt a tightness in my chest. Time to put the kettle on. While the tea brewed, I stood in the living room. It was dusk but the little primrose still gleamed yellow. It looked as lonely as I felt. Why had I plucked it from its fellows? Soon it would droop and fade while the flowers in the bank would live on and provide a display for every walker for many a day. It was a forlorn specimen certain to wilt and die in hours. I coughed again, breathing becoming a struggle.
There was a tale we used to tell as children, a myth of magic. I picked up the primrose and popped it in my mouth.  I closed my teeth on the stem and tugged it away with my finger and thumb. I chewed. The taste was not bitter. There was instead a little sweetness and a subtle and indescribable flavour suffused my mouth and nose.
The room brightens. I turn, wondering what could be the source of the light.  The windows are dark, but in front of them is an archway decked with hundreds of primroses glowing with a primrose light. Through the arch I glimpse a sunny, grassy lane, green-leaved trees and clumps of primroses and other wildflowers. A figure emerges. His gender is imprecise, but I shall say he. He is shorter and slighter than me; his pale skin has a translucency.  He is clothed completely in primrose petals and even his short curly hair is the colour of the flower.
“Come,” he says in a soft, welcoming voice.
“Where?” I ask.
“Away.”
“With you?”
“Yes, with me and my faerie companions. Your time here is at an end.” I see others like him through the arch beckoning me to join them.
He stretches out a hand. I take it in mine and with a gentle tug he pulls me through the arch into eternal spring.

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Jasmine looks out

A couple of weeks ago I joked about waiting for the zombies to arrive. It’s not a joke anymore. No zombies (I think) but we’re living in a dystopia; one where social contact is frowned on or forbidden in many places; one where supplies are perceived as running short; one where commerce and public services are halting; one where human rights are threatened.

It doesn’t seem so bad at the moment perhaps. Most of us are fit and well (and will remain so). We have plenty to eat and there are things to do at home – spring cleaning anyone? But what is happening to society around us and what will happen if the restrictions get worse and last as long as expected (3 months plus)? Small businesses will not be able to continue and large businesses such as car factories are already closing down.

At one of the PM’s press conferences a journalist asked if we were headed for a recession. It was a daft question.  There was no possible answer other than yes given the slow down in the economy caused by all the businesses shutting.  Of course, the PM was unable to give a straight answer. He hasn’t been able to do anything other than mumble cliché’s and platitudes while creating more confusion about the government’s response, or lack of it, to the crisis.

The government has published a bill to be passed by Parliament “on the nod” on Monday. The bill is big and gives the government all sorts of powers. I haven’t seen it, read it or know in detail what it allows, but it worries me. Some restriction of rights is necessary if the health service is not to be overcome, but for 2 years? These kinds of powers must have a short lifetime otherwise we will become pawns in an authoritarian state as bad as any in the dystopian literature. Unlike when 1984 was written, we now have the technology to monitor and control everyone. Indeed it is being tried in China.

So while we are fighting over toilet rolls, think about the future we are giving ourselves.

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P1010029I thought that with nearly all my engagements cancelled I would have plenty of time for getting on with my novel. There is only one problem. I’m finding it difficult to concentrate on a story set a few years ago when life seemed normal (although I am ot sure what normal means). The days before Brexit; before Trump and other right wing populist nationalists and Johnson was nothing but than a former oafish Mayor of London; the days before heavy rains caused flooding at one time or another in every part of the country; the days before Covid-19. I think I’m going to have to start something as other-worldish as I can think of to set my mind free of the present.

Of course there was no writing group this week but we had a sort of a virtual meeting in which a few of us posted pieces based on the theme set last week of “worm moon” (apparently that’s the name of the first March full Moon, when the spring warmth makes the earthworms rise). My take is called Wyrm Moon and calls to mind a number of  stories with similar creaturses, such as Tremors, The Legacy of Herot (Niven), even the sandworms of Dune (Herbert). Perhaps there is something original in my tale, of which this is just an incomplete, first draft, snippet.

Wyrm Moon

“Stand away from the window, child, and opaque it. Now!” Mother hissed.
I took one last glance through the vari-glass.  Bigmoon was high in the sky, larger than it ever looked at other times in the year and glowing bright yellow. I reached out and touched the window. My view disappeared and the window became just another part of the dull cream wall. I turned and faced Mother. Her face was red, and she spoke again in an angry whisper
“Don’t ever let me see you looking out of a window again. Not when the Wyrm Moon is in the sky.”
“I wanted to see Bigmoon when it’s biggest,” I said, though I knew what her answer would be.
“You stupid child. You know that is dangerous.  Dangerous for all of us. You can look at Bigmoon at other times, when it’s not the Wyrm Moon. Now come and sit down quietly with the rest of us and eat.”
The evening meal filled my belly but that was about it. At this time of year, we lived on leftovers that had been stored for days, because no one dared to visit the glasshouses when the Wyrm Moon was in the sky.
As I scraped the final scraps onto my spoon the ground trembled beneath the floor of the hab.  Mother and my aunt froze, their faces white and alert. My sisters shivered beside me. For some reason I just felt excited.
The Wyrms were moving.
“Shh. Not a sound,” Mother whispered, “Don’t move a muscle.”
We all sat at the table as if turned to stone. The floor continued to shake and there was a rustling like skin against stone, except this was the leathery skin of monsters dragging themselves through their burrows in the rock deep beneath us.
The sound and the shaking faded away. Around the table there were intakes of breath; breath that had been held for minutes.
“That was close,” Aunt Sal said.
Mother cut her off before she said any more. “Shh, not in front of the children. Go to your room children. Lie on your beds and do not make a sound.”
We left the table and crossed the living zone to our room. My three younger sisters climbed onto their beds and lay still. I stopped by the door and sat down on the floor. I wanted to listen to what was said. I could just hear the soft, voiceless conversation.
“They are closer this year,” Aunt Sal said. “If they sense us then we will be gone like the other settlements.”
“You don’t have to tell me that,” Mother said. “We both know the consequences of being discovered by the Wyrms. We must ensure they do not hear us or sense our movements. The children too, but I do not want them scared.”
I didn’t know what Aunt Sal meant by other settlements but knew the tales of the Wyrms that lived deep beneath us. Fifty metres long and five wide, with jaws that crushed rock as if it was cheese. They only came to the surface when Bigmoon was brightest. Mother and Aunt Sal may have been scared but I wanted to see a Wyrm. They were obviously close now.
While Mother and Aunt Sal talked quietly, heads almost touching I crept from our room towards the door of the hab. The door opened silently and then I was outside.
I moved slowly and as quietly as possible across the dusty yard using a walk cum shuffle cum hop to cover the distance passed the glasshouses and other habs. I reached the boundary marker of our settlement. I didn’t intend going further.  There were other fierce animals out in the wilds apart from Wyrms. I just wanted to get a glimpse of one of the creatures.
The ground moved under my feet. It lifted, tossing me as if I was bouncing on one of our beds. I fell onto my back as the ground opened in front of me and the head of a Wyrm rose into the sky.

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Jasmine rejoices, a little

First the good news. The Chancellor removed VAT from e-books and e-magazines in the budget.  This is a very welcome change and means that maybe, I’ll get a few pence more from the sale of each of my books – fingers-crossed.

There’s not much else that is uplifting to comment on. the rest of the budget was a sort of Tory re-boot, like Abrams version of Star Trek.  Basically forget everything you saw before; this is the new reality. So we are now to forget 10 years of austerity where borrowing was apparently the worst thing a nation could do. Now its borrow, borrow borrow to spend, spend, spend.  Except is it? From what I saw of the budget (to be honest I have not studied it closely at all) nothing was given away to help people pay their bills or live their lives. There were just vague promises of huge sums of money for infrastructure, some time in the future. I think the borrowing will be to cover the costs of Brexit and Covid-19, while the promised expenditure will never happen because the money is simply not there.

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The epidemic is following its predicted path.  I cannot quite decide if the measures, effectively shutting down whole nations and probably sending a lot of small businesses into bankruptcy, is the right thing to do. I still need convincing that the effects of the virus, particularly the number of deaths, is much worse than the expected deaths from annual flu outbreaks. Of course, we haven’t any immunity to covid-19 while some have some immunity to the current flu strain(s), but if the virus is being spread widely does that make much difference? I still think what I said last week, that sensible hygiene precautions and not going out of one’s way to get close to people, while still carrying on living one’s life, is the best bet.

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And so to rugby. Yes, a bit of sport. Well, not really. Just a comment about groping.  England player, Joe Marler was recorded on video grabbing Welsh captain, Alun Wyn Jones’ genitals. According to at least one commentator, it’s all part of the game.  That’s a new interpretation of keeping balls in play. The video clearly shows the action and Marler’s big smile.  He obviously got some satisfaction from it. Wyn Jones objected. Marler has been suspended for 10 weeks. Rightly so. All sports are competitive. Rugby is more violent than most, but abuse, physical or verbal, should have no part in a game.  Some say that ball groping is what lads do.  Really? Is that what we want young people to learn – that it’s just a bit of fun to grab at a boy’s or a girl’s crotch, even if they don’t want it.

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20200109_205015 (2)Finally, some writing.  This week’s prompt was “you never listen”. I didn’t receive any inspiration for a story, but instead an idea for a poem popped into my head. Now, I don’t do poetry; have no talent for it (that’s if I have a talent for anything) but I have written a couple in the past. This is another eco-poem. There’s no attempt to rhyme or scan and I could probably choose more appropriate words if I gave it more thought. So, given all those excuses here is “You Never Listen“.  To read it, click on the link below.

You never listen

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Jasmine washes her hands

When can we expect the zombies to come lurching down the streets of our home towns? That seems to be what people are expecting by the reaction to the Coronavirus news with supermarket shortages being reported. Perhaps people have seen too many movies where events devastate the world very rapidly. It was the same with what was said about Brexit: the economic sky would fall in the moment the votes in the referendum were counted. Actually of course, Brexit is more likely to lead to a steady decline over a few years with the government providing all sorts of excuses other then admit to the true explanations.   Of course in the films there is often a superhero to rescue us.  Not many of those around.

But back to the impending doom of the Covid-19 plague. Yes, it is serious: it’s a new and unfamiliar infection. Early on in the epidemic it was uncertain how serious the illness was, how many would catch it or how many would die, and there was no vaccine. Now, while the vaccine will take some months to develop, we have a better idea. For most people it is probably less severe than flu, but that means we don’t really know how many people have had it since not everyone will be aware or will report having it. It does seem to kill more of the elderly, unwell and exhausted than flu but that could be an anomaly in the numbers. The point is it is not bubonic plague, or ebola or one of the other deadly infections which we have so far succeeded in keeping a lid on.

It looks to me like the cure could be worse than the disease.  The financial markets are already spooked; travel is decreasing (actually that could be a good thing for the climate) but businesses that depend on tourists and people going out to meet up for work or pleasure will be hard hit. Forced closures of schools, offices, factories, cinemas, stadia, etc. will cause a further economic hit which businesses are unprepared for.  How many might lay off employees? If not managed with care (and how many of our politicians are careful?) a disaster could indeed be caused by our reaction to the disease.

Many countries, UK included, have extreme draconian powers up their sleeves in the event of a serious disease outbreak. I don’t go along with conspiracy theories, the world is more a cock-up than anything else, but some leaders could see a chance to impose authoritarian laws with the excuse that they are fighting the virus. Elections could be postponed, gatherings of people banned, criticism of the government outlawed, travel constrained, borders closed.

So, my suggestion is don’t overact. Maintain normal healthy hygiene – wash hands frequently and carefully, use a tissue when you sneeze or cough, dispose of tissues carefully, stay at home if you feel ill. Carry on with life and support local businesses. I may fall into the age bracket which is apparently under the greatest threat but I am not going to stop doing the things I want to do.

P1010151

Another photo of me in a snowsuit – with a cute pair of huskies.

45320358I’m looking forward to getting a copy of Stephen Appleby’s new graphic novel, Dragman, a humorous tale of a gender-fluid superhero. Part of the appeal is that Appleby and me may be soulmates in that he is also gender-fluid and content with his name and his family life.

Back to writers’ group this week. Our esteemed leader was absent hence the title for this week’s task was “Where’s Jane.”  I know I shouldn’t make excuses but I had little time for my effort, so the piece, which I’ve titled simply, Jane, is a bit rushed and requires more work to make it coherent, but here it is.

Jane

I was alerted from scanning our stock by the ding of the doorbell. It was old-fashioned perhaps but effective at letting me know when a customer was entering the shop. A young man approached me followed by an older woman. His mother, I presumed.
Both customers looked around the empty display area appearing bemused.
“Can I help you?” I asked in my most ingratiating voice.
“Um, yes,” the boy said, “We’re looking for Jane, a Jane. I thought you had them here.”
“We do,” I replied, “but we don’t put them on show. They look a bit silly if they’re just standing around. What type of Jane were you considering?”
“Er, I’m not sure,” he turned to appeal to the woman. She shrugged.
“Well, what would be your reason for purchasing a Jane?” I asked. “We have all sorts. The Darling is excellent if you are needing childcare.  There’s the Russell if you are looking for a companion. She usually appeals to the older gentleman. . .” I was interrupted in my recitation by the woman.
“I want one that will do as it’s told and carry out all the chores around the house,”
“Ah, I see. Perhaps you would like our standard model, the Jane Doe. It will do everything you ask of it and you’ll barely notice it around the house.”
I clicked a button. A moment later the door behind me opened and a Jane Doe emerged. It was a white plastic cylinder rolling along on a wheeled undercarriage that could cope with stairs. An assortment of appendages attached to the upper half of its body enabled it to carry out a wide variety of tasks.
“Oh, I don’t want one of those old things,” the woman moaned. “I want one that looks like a person and acts like a person.”
“Well, I was listing the various humanoid model Janes that we have in stock, but they are rather more specialised than the Jane Doe here.”
“But they can do all the jobs can’t they. It’s not much point me getting one of your expensive models if she won’t do all the work and give me a bit of a rest.”
“Of course,” I replied, “All our Janes can multi-task and perform whatever function you select. Would you like to see one?”
“Of course, we would, wouldn’t we Darcy.”
The boy showed me a thin smile.
I selected another button. “Well, Darcy, I think this Jane will suit you.”
The door opened again and the Jane swept into the shop, flashing her eyelids at the young man and nodding respectfully to the woman.
“Does it speak?” the woman said.
“Of course,” I replied. “Speak to the customers, Jane.”
The Jane Austen lifted her head and spoke in sweet voice. “It is a truth universally acknowledged. . .”
“She’s reciting something. I know that line,” Darcy said.
“She does that. It’s included in her personality,” I replied. “Although it’s listed as the Austen model, it’s personality is modelled on one of the characters.”
I noticed that Darcy’s eyes were wide open in wonder. “She’s perfect,” he said. “We’ll take her, won’t we Mother. You’ve got over your feelings about humanoid robots being allowed in homes.”
Mother drew herself up straight. “I have my pride Darcy, but if you want this one we’ll take her.” She pressed her credit digit against my payment slot.

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Jasmine goes north

For the first time in my life (other than in school) I have been on a package tour. Now I know that when you are on such a trip, you are the package.  And so we joined the long, long queue at check in; we were packaged onto the plane and delivered to the coach; we were distributed to various activities and we were deposited in our storage rooms. Actually though, it was great. The waits were not too long or unbearable; the tour company and the hotel looked after us admirably and we had a fantastic time on the activities.

Where were we? Well, here is where I have to make a confession. I think we have blown whatever carbon credits we have built up. We flew to northern Finland, 350 km above the Arctic Circle. The main reason was to try and observe the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis. This has been top of Lou’s bucket list.  Actually it’s more of an egg cup list as there isn’t anything else on it for now. Getting as far north as possible seemed to be the best way of achieving our objective and this 4-night tour provided it. However it wasn’t just the flying that has scuppered our environmental credibility. There were the coaches and the minibuses that ferried us on excursions. The  hotel complex on a hillside beside the river that is the border between Finland and Sweden was kept comfortably warm with ample supplies of hot water and hot food. It’s heating system ran on diesel. Being late February and a month from the equinox, the Sun was above the horizon for 10-11 hours a day.  Nevertheless, the temperature never went above -6C and went as low as -22C. Maintaining a comfortable environment for the 100 or so guests and all the staff required a considerable expenditure of fuel, and output of carbon dioxide.

Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling that the experience was worth it. Seeing and experiencing the tundra in winter was awe inspiring. There was a uniform 2 foot covering of snow everywhere but this wasn’t the wet snow we get in the UK. This was a dry, powdery material that was not wet at all and not slippery either.  It could not be squeezed into a snowball. While roads had been cleared, there was still a covering of snow but vehicles had no difficulty and walking on it did not risk a slide and fall either. The surroundings were magical; lots and lots of pine trees, no more that 10m tall (no really big or ancient ones) in an endless white landscape. Even around the hotel and along the roads, the snow retained its brilliant whiteness, never becoming grubby like it does within a day or so back home.

A6Yes, we did see the lights. Not the spectacular curtains and waves you see in films, but patches of light in the night sky, slowly growing, moving, diminishing.  And the stars!  All that plus: walking through the snow in snowshoes; visiting a reindeer sanctuary and going for a sleigh ride; driving a husky team; riding snowmobiles (at midnight across a frozen lake); tobogganing; walking across a broad frozen river; and, in the middle of the night, sitting at the top of the hill drinking gloggy (?, a hot drink of forest fruits) watching the stars and the lights. That was an experience that we will remember for a long time.

I hope that our brief stay in northern Finland helps the livelihoods of the Sami people.  Unfortunately there was no real opportunity to meet and talk with the local people or to learn a great deal about their way of life, past and present. I’m not even sure how much the hotel complex contributes to the local economy.  Surprisingly nearly all the staff including the manager, catering staff, guides and instructors and reps were British. Staying at a hotel in  the UK you find that the employees come from Europe or elsewhere.  Here it was the reverse. But they were the happiest and most helpful bunch of, mainly young, people I’ve come across and it was they that made the holiday stress free and enjoyable.

Returning on a wonderful clear day, we flew over the tundra for over an hour. It showed little change. It is one of the few environments unchanged by humans. At least I think so.  Perhaps thousands of years of reindeer herding has brought about change.  But there were few signs of human activity although there were roads – straight lines across the undulating terrain. Yes, there are opencast mines (I caught sight of one) and presumably lumberjacking, but the overall impression was of an unspoilt landscape. Unspoilt that is until the warming caused by all that carbon dioxide we released on our trip melts the tundra, releases the methane trapped beneath, allows the ground to dry out and the forest to burn. I accept responsibility – do you?

It wasn’t constant physical activity. There was plenty of time for relaxation but I’m sorry to say I didn’t get much writing done. So, no story this week. But the inspiration. . .

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Jasmine in the dry

Well, that’s been a couple of weeks hasn’t it. Talk about rain. . . Thankfully we have not been flooded – unlikely in a second floor flat – but I feel for the thousands who have been washed out of their homes. We had a front row seat though. During Storm Ciara we went for walk counting sheep (it’ll take too long to explain), then during and after Storm Dennis we watched our two local rivers, the Wye and the Monnow, rise and rise. The River Wye broke all records, as it did along its length, peaking at 7.2m above its normal level. That was enough to almost submerge the road bridge, to almost top the floodgates under the A40 and to overwhelm the flood defences in the water pumping station. When you consider that the river had spread out to cover all the available floodplain, that depth of water is staggering.  A freak weather event? Well yes, but freaks are becoming common. Just about everywhere in the UK has experienced a flood emergency in the last ten years or so and they will keep coming. Some people still talk of dredging waterways – that will have no effect whatsoever. Other want flood defences – all they do is move the flood somewhere else. The only solutions are to tackle the causes. First of all the big one – climate change.  We have to keep the global temperature down so that the air cannot carry more water and the wind won’t become stronger. Secondly we have to look at the sources of the rivers and make sure that the upland forests and bogs are looked after so that the water is trapped and released slowly.

All this will require a government that recognises the problem and is prepared to manage the solutions. In the past ministers and the PM have visited the affected urban areas (OK, they haven’t done any good but at least they registered concern).  This time, not a peep. It’s not as if the areas affected were all opposition constituencies.  Herefordshire, Shropshire and Monmouth are staunchly Conservative.  Nevertheless, no comments from government, and no plan.

The government was more interested in getting out its new immigrant policy and explaining how employers were going to fill those low paid but vital jobs such as caring for the sick and elderly, picking crops, and serving in cafes, bars and shops. It will be down to the 8 million “economically inactive”. Apparently that includes the retired, and disabled. The last time I checked my bank balance I found that I was still paying tax and buying stuff so I don’t think “economically inactive” is quite accurate. Watch. First it will be unemployment benefit, then sickness and disability and other benefits and then the pensions that will be withdrawn unless the recipient does some “voluntary” work, regardless of whether they are fit to do so.

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20191130_123703[548]You may wonder why I title these weekly blogs “Jasmine this or that.” It’s a reminder that I started blogging to promote my Jasmine Frame detective novels and stories. Thos of you who have bene following me for a while will know that I used to include an episode of a Jasmine Frame story each week. After a few years and four novels and 17 not so short stories it became a but difficult. Now I am writing the fifth novel (yes, it is growing and developing into a bouncing embryo) but I’ve got off the treadmill of the weekly episode. However the four novels are available as e-books and paperbacks and the other 3 novellas/collection are published as e-books.  Go to here to find out more.

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No new story this week as I was otherwise engage for writers’ club. Here intead is a short story I wrote some time ago and don’t think I have put out before.

Persistence of vision

I fell in love with the cinema when I was a little kid watching flickering silent movies on our fourteen inch black and white TV.  As soon as I was old enough I was off to the local fleapit every Saturday for the double bill of westerns and sci-fi.  With my first pay packet I bought a second-hand super 8 camera and projector and made my own shorts.  It made me understand how movies work. My efforts were no match for the mega-bucks, special-effects, super-hero films that I enjoyed seeing at the multi-screen – Superman, Batman, Spiderman, X-men, The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, and Ironman.  I especially liked the heroes who had started out as ordinary guys before some freak accident gave them their special powers.

Then it happened to me.

It’s not surprising, given my interest, that I work in pictures; not making films, but selling photographic equipment.  I specialise in the cine side of the business.  There have been lots of changes over the years, from film to video tape and now digital.  I miss the mechanical film cameras and projectors.   The film is fed by the sprockets through a gate.  Each frame stops in the gate for about one forty-eighth of a second and a rotating shutter blocks out the movement of the film.  Twenty four frames pass through the gate every second but all we see is a constant scene with movement.  You could see how the system works; you can’t do that with the modern electronics.

Well, I was trying to sell a new digital camera to a customer.  We had stepped outside the shop so I could demonstrate the features.  I was looking through the viewfinder – it all happened in a blur.  A car suddenly veered off the road, mounted the pavement and came straight for me.  Someone shoved me out of the way and I must have knocked my head when I fell because that’s all I remember.

When I woke up I felt fine, well, a bit of a headache I suppose.  I didn’t know where I was and when they said I was in hospital I wondered why because I wasn’t really injured.  They said they wanted to keep me under observation for a day or two because I’d had a bump on the head.  It was a complete bore.  I felt fit as a fiddle and there was nothing to do except read – the TV in my room was on the blink.  All I could do was look out the window and watch the trees sway and the birds fly.  I suppose that was when I first noticed something strange.

Everything seemed particularly clear.  When a pigeon flew by my window, its wings flapping, I could make out every detail of the grey and white feathers in its wings.  Usually you wouldn’t expect to see that much detail because of persistence of vision.  That’s where your brain can’t interpret the images fast enough so they sort of overlap and become blurred.  I didn’t really think about it then.  I just shrugged it off as boredom making me more observant.

When the doctors ran out of tests they let me go.  I couldn’t get out of the hospital quickly enough.   Once I got home I put the TV on.  There was something wrong with it.  The picture flickered and it seemed that I could see the LCDs lighting up one after another like a Mexican wave of light.  I couldn’t stand it for more than a few minutes so I turned it off and sat around thinking what to do.  Not surprisingly a trip to the cinema was my first idea.   I like the old Picture House where the show old movies on  real film projector.

I got to the cinema just in time for the feature to start.  I sat in my seat and looked at the screen.  Things looked strange.  The film company logos went by and the film started but it was all wrong.  It was like watching one of those early silent films.  The pictures flickered.  I could see the dark blanks between each frame.  Instead of “moving” pictures it was like watching a succession of slides in a slide show. My neighbours seemed quite happy, eyes fixed on the screen, pupils wide, unblinking.  I leaned closed to the guy on my right and asked him if the picture looked alright to him.  He told me to shut up.  The film went on.  No-one complained or got up and left; just me.

I wandered along the road looking around– the rotating wheels of vehicles weren’t a blur and I could see the spokes of bicycle wheels as they turned.  I realised that something strange was happening to me. My route took me to the hospital so I went right up to the ward I had been on and demanded to see a doctor.  Eventually a junior doctor came to see me and I explained what was happening.  He didn’t know much about cinema or vision so I had to explain it to him.

Somehow I was seeing not just the stills but the black bits in between.  It shouldn’t happen.  The brain takes about a twenty-fifth of a second to build an image from the signals sent from the retina in the eye and interprets the succession of images as motion.  I finally made the doctor understand what I was seeing.  He peered into my eyes but there was nothing to see there of course.  He arranged for me to have an MRI scan on my brain.

Nothing showed up until they arranged for me to watch a film while I was in the scanner.  That was difficult as there’s no room for a projector and screen inside the machine but they managed it all with mirrors.  They discovered that my brain was interpreting images much faster than normal.  Somehow that bump on my head had re-programmed by brain and shortened the image interpretation process.  That may seem like an improvement but it means that I can’t sit through films or watch TV anymore; the flickering gives me a headache and anyway they just don’t make sense to me anymore

Instead I go out into the country and watch the wildlife.  I watch the swallows and house martins darting around in the sky; I see squirrels running up trees and rabbits scampering across a field; I can follow grasshoppers when they leap off a leaf and dragonflies flitting over a pond.  My squash playing has improved now I can watch the ball bouncing around the court and I can see a cricket ball bowled by a fast bowler better than any batsman. If I had the opportunity I could see a bullet all the way from the gun to the target just like Neo in the Matrix.  I can do something that no one else can.  I’ve got my super-power.  There’s just one reason why I’m not a super-hero – I haven’t caught any super-criminals. Yet.

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Jasmine is colour-blind

We went to the cinema this week.  The Personal History of David Copperfield was delightful and had several laugh aloud moments. It is an energetic if abridged version of Dickens’, semi-autobiographical, novel. It is the cast that make it enjoyable and perhaps different. The director Armando Iannucci deliberately chose the cast by their acting ability and characters not by the colour of their skin. Since I doubt that Dickens dwelt on skin colour in the book (I haven’t read it) one could easily say, so what. Yet some people feel that the film doesn’t give a traditional i.e. white, picture of life in Victorian south-east England. I think the cast were wonderful. Dev Patel is a charming Copperfield, Hugh Lawrie is a bonkers Mr Dick, Peter Capaldi a twinkly-eyed Micawber.  Rosalind Eleazar, Tilda Swinton and Benedict Wong are superb as Betsey Trotwood, Agnes, Mr Wickfield respectively and I could go on. Who is whichever colour is irrelevant.

20200109_205015 (2)Coincidentally, this week I have read articles and book reviews on the subject of race. Scientifically, the concept of race does not exist. Compare the genomes of a group of dark-skinned people with those of a group of pale-skins and there is no sign of race.  In one the genes for skin pigmentation are active, but the variation in genomes within the groups is much more marked than differences between them. We are all descended from the first small group of homo sapiens that migrated from their original home somewhere in Africa. Our whole history shows the importance of migration in mixing up the genome and we contain genes from people who have lived in all parts of the Earth.

There may be a lot of people migrating at the moment but then there are a lot of people on Earth at the moment. Great waves of migration took place in previous centuries.  Native Americans and Native Australians could not stem the flood of migrants from Europe and were overwhelmed. Apart from economic migration, war and invasion has played an important role in mixing the genes.  Sex has always been used as a weapon; invaders (men) have impregnated the women they have subjugated either forcibly or by offering hope of survival. I wonder how many babies were born during WW2 to the women who had sex with American GIs  as they passed through first the UK, then France, Italy and Germany?

I think I read that in the last ten years Greece has lost a significant fraction of its population to emigration elsewhere in Europe and overseas. The number of migrants banged up in camps on various Greek islands is considerably smaller. Surely, if Greece, and other countries with a shortage of labour, took in the migrants they could make up the shortfall. Migrants will take the jobs few want, such as harvesting crops, sorting rubbish and emptying bedpans. Soon the able and determined will take jobs requiring skills and aptitude, paying more taxes and adding to the economic worth of the nation. Within one or two generations they will be Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mayor of London, leaders of business and innovators in science and technology – and we all benefit.

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The writers’ group task for this week was “Four hours between flights”. There were some excellent accounts of airport waits while others stretched the topic to other delays on railways and in A&E.  I came at the topic from a slightly different direction, quite literal really. I also experimented with a piece that is totally dialogue. See what you think of Murmurs.

Murmurs

“Och aye, Stevie my laddie. Got a perch for a wee one there?’
“Oh, hi, Stuart. Course we have. Settle yourself here. We haven’t seen you for a while. Where you been?”
“A long-haul, but I’m back to join the ol’ clan again now. What you been doing with thyself, lad?”
“Just short hops.  There’s easy pickings round here this time of year.”
“Aye, ‘tis summer, a braw time of year. Look now, nearly midnight and still barely dark.”
“And the sun will be up by four. Stafford will have us out on exercises at first light.”
“Auld Stafford still putting you through it is he, Stevie lad?”
“You bet Stuart. He had us up this evening trying out some new moves he’s thought up. It’s hard work. Nearly had us in a mass pile-up he did.”
“’Scuse me a moment there Stevie. I see Stephanie preening herself. Hello my bonnie lass,”
“Stuart! You’re back then. About blooming time.”
“Dinnae be crabbit, lass. How’re the bairns.”
“Flown the roost, at last. Joined the pecking order and looking after them ownselves, no thanks to you.”
“Ah well, perhaps you’re ready to snuggle up in the oak tree again. Oops, I dinnae see you there Stanley.”
“Wha’s tha’ you twittering, Stuart. You trying it on with my Steph.”
“We go back a long way do Steph an’ me. You’re still having a fancy for a flutter with her then?”
“I am too, so you stick your beak somewhere else.”
“You’re aff yer heid, Stanley. I dinnae ken, Stevie. What’s up with him.”
“I think it’s empty-nest syndrome, Stu. Stanley’s worried Steph might take off on her own now the kids have gone.”
“I’ll be canny then and keep out of Stanley’s way till Steph’s made up her own mind. Oh, yon Stafford’s coming home to roost. You’d better haud your wheesht Stevie lad.”
“Evening ladies and gents. Move along the wire there. Make room, Steven, there’s a good chap.”
“Here, Stafford, you can come between me and Stuart.”
“Ah, Stuart, back with us I see. Well, it will be good to have your experience in the team for our morning manoeuvres. It’ll be an early start mind. What’s that you said Steven, my boy?”
“I was explaining to Stuart that this time of year we only get four hours between flights.”
“Better to hae’ a bit of shut eye then. Don’t you agree Stafford.”
“Yes, though, I always say it’s best to sleep with one eye open to watch out for emergencies. Be prepared.”

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