Jasmine confused

Do you ever have that feeling that you are the only sane person and everyone around you is mad? I think that’s supposed to be one of the signs that you’re mad yourself, except that in today’s world it feels normal. On the other hand I know that close family, friends and perhaps over half the UK agree with me. It is the rest who are bonkers. Unfortunately they include the tiny number that are Conservative MPs and party members who are going to decide our future.

There is one thing that unites the contenders for the party leadership and position of PM (7 at the time of writing). Actually it’s two things – they are all in favour of one form of Brexit or other and they are all flawed. By that I mean they have serious character defects. Without exception they have an over-inflated opinion of their own intelligence and expertise, they all lack humanity i.e. the ability to put other people before themselves, and they think that the UK has some clout left. Many of them are seriously contemplating leaving the EU without a deal. Seriously. Do they have no concept of what negotiation involves. Trust, first and foremost. If the  UK crashes out of the EU who else is ever going to believe that the UK will stand by its obligations and responsibilities. The UK will just be fodder for the predators out there = and pretending that the UK is still a “big hitter” is to be severely stuck in the past.

It is even worse that the front runner, the idiot that is the darling of the aged Tory party in the shires is the most flawed of the lot, a serial womaniser, a Walter Mitty who has no concept of what is the truth, and an incompetent. Some people have said that by referring to him as Boris is to make his character familiar, and cuddly. No it doesn’t. To call him Johnson is to confuse him with the many other honest people with that name. The only Borises I can recall are the drunken “hero” of the fall of the Soviet Union, and the typecast actor who played Frankenstein’s monster. To refer to someone in public office by their first name is to belittle them. Soldiers in WW2 sang rude songs about Adolf; the Emperor of France was always Napoleon, not M.Bonaparte; and Stalin was Uncle Joe. Of course a nickname reduces them further. The Guardian’s John Crace named Theresa May, “maybot” and from then on she was seen as a malfunctioning machine bound for failure and obsolescence. Stewart Lee, in the Observer, has tagged Boris Johnson with all the words he has applied to minority groups – Boris Piccaninny Bumboy Letterbox Johnson – a marvellous takedown.  I think those words should be inserted every time his name comes up as a reminder of the type of person he really is.

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WP_20190514_12_33_27_Pro (2)The Pope has decided that gender is up to God. It is not a choice. Perhaps he is right because no one would choose the abuse and hate that arises when someone announces that their gender, or lack of one, does not match their biological sex. Surely the identity one feels must come from a higher source. It certainly is not a trivial selection. So, I hope to see the RC church, its believers and governments that follow its doctrines doing their best to accept and assist trans and non gendered people. My expectations are low.

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I haven’t done any writing this week. I have been on holiday on the Llyn peninsula in North Wales (not Whales), or rather Gogledd Cymru. It is a marvellous area of conical volcanic hills, flats lucious farmland and coastal cliffs and bays. It is also predominantly Cymraeg speaking and confident in that fact. I’ve had a wonderful time. So, it’s back to the archive. Here is a piece I wrote in 2014 commemorating the start of WW1.  It seems appropriate following the marking of D-day and the questions about our relationship with Europe.

Fallen Apples

‘It’s not my fault,’ Bert said, picking up the basket and starting to re-fill it with the apples that had spilled onto the grass. I knelt beside him and began to help him.
‘What’s the matter, Bert?’ I asked.
‘Me mind keeps wandering,’ he said.
‘Where to?’
‘Belgium.’
I knew what he meant. The war across the channel was on my mind too. The reports weren’t good. The Germans had advanced through Belgium and into France with our boys and the French being beaten back. It had all happened so quickly since war was declared a month ago.  Bert’s older brother Sid had joined the army a couple of years ago and he was over there with the British Expeditionary Force. Like Bert I wondered how Sid was doing. What must it be like fighting in battle?
We both kept our thoughts to ourselves as we got on with the job of filling baskets with apples and loading them onto the cart. After a couple more hours we’d done all we could for one day so we walked the horse and cart back from the orchard to the farm and unloaded it into the cider barn.  It was still light when Bert and I trudged home. There were some new posters on the boards outside the general stores in town
‘Look at that,’ Bert said, ‘the boys ‘ave done it.’  The sheet that Bert pointed at reported that the Germans had been halted at the River Marne.
‘They’ve only stopped them,’ I pointed out, ‘the war’s not over.’  I pointed to the poster on the other board. Enlist now – your country needs you it said in bold colourful letters with a picture of Lord Kitchener pointing his finger directly at me.
‘What do you think Bert? Should we join up?’
‘They said the war would be over by Christmas,’ he replied.
‘Yeah, but they’re going to need more of lads if they’re going to push the Huns right out of France and Belgium.’
‘Perhaps you and me could ‘elp  and give Sid an ‘and.’ Bert said, ‘but what about the apples. Who’ll bring them all in?’
‘There’s other people,’ I said, ‘Your Pa wouldn’t mind a bit more work and there’s my sis. She’d love to earn a few coppers.’
‘Yeah, well I wouldn’t want to see them apples left rotting on the ground.’
‘They won’t. Let’s join up tomorrow.’
‘Aye.’

There wasn’t much left of the village we’d come to defend. Every building was damaged by the bombardment’s from both sides as the Germans had first taken it then been forced out. Bodies in German and British uniforms and of ordinary men and women lay amongst the muddy pools.  We were the reinforcements sent by General Haig to make sure that the line was held.
‘What’s this ‘ere place called?’ Bert asked as we marched up the rubble strewn street.
‘Givenchy,’ I replied.
‘Some place to spend Christmas.’
‘There’s a few more days yet.’
‘I don’t reckon this war is going to be over by then, do you,’ Bert said wistfully.
‘I think someone got it wrong, Bert.’
At the edge of the village we entered the trenches and were ordered to get out our shovels ready to do some digging of our own.
‘Keep your ‘eads down,’ the Sergeant ordered, ‘or the German snipers’ll have you.’ As he spoke there was the scream of a shell over our heads followed by a deafening thud as it exploded in the remains of a house a hundred yards behind us.  As we filed through the muddy corridors we met the defenders we were relieving.  Every one of them looked exhausted and over halfway to death, covered in muck and blood.
A few hours later. I knew how they felt. I too was covered in mud from shovelling and there was plenty of blood too from the bodies of the soldiers we carried out of the shell-damaged trenches.
‘They say these ‘ere trenches go all the way to the sea,’ Bert said as we carried one mangled corpse.
‘And to Switzerland, that way,’ I said nodding in the opposite direction.
‘Is this what war has become? Blokes rotting in holes in the ground while taking pot-shots at each other.’
Voices shouted, whistles blew. ‘Fix bayonets’ came the call. Bert and I dropped our burden and swiftly slotted our bayonets to the rifles that we’d been carrying over our backs. Our weeks of training had taught us that at least, even if we were barely prepared for the realities of war. Guns fired, and I heard the bullets buzzing over our heads.  More shells screamed over, exploding one after the other until the roar was continuous.
‘What’s happening?’ Bert shouted.
‘Counter attack,’ someone replied from nearby. We held our rifles at the ready staring up at the rim of the trench. Our own howitzers opened up and the chatter of the machine guns added to the din.
‘I wish I was back in the orchard,’ Bert bawled at me.  A wave of mud thrown up by a near-miss swamped us.
‘I’m sorry Bert,’ I spluttered, wiping the muck from my mouth with the wet sleeve of my uniform, ‘It’s my fault that you enlisted.’
‘Tha’s right, lad,’ He gave me his toothy grin, ‘Think of them shiny sweet apples lying in the grass while we moulder here.”
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Jasmine looking backwards and forwards

This week was the commemoration  of D-Day, 75 years ago. I am sure that for many youngsters it is as much ancient history as the Battle of Waterloo or the Battle of Agincourt. Perhaps not. Memories (or rather imagined scenes) of WW2 are kept alive by  films, TV programmes, and books. They maintain attitudes that may have existed during and immediately after the war i.e. anti-German feelings and overblown pride at what plucky Britain achieved. Those ideas maybe fed the Brexit fever and given some (many) people the impression that the UK can stand (and prosper) on its own. The truth is that was never possible. The UK survived the war only because of assistance from the USA and by calling on the dominions of the Empire. The USA is calling in its favours now and the dominions have got their own issues to deal with.

Is the commemoration, therefore, a diversion or a digression? No, I don’t think so, so long as the full story is presented. It’s not just about what happened on that “longest day” but the events that finally lead to the end of the war nearly a year later (more than a year if the war against Japan is considered). Many more servicemen were involved than the 130,000 involved on D day itself and from many parts of the world. The war was not won by the UK alone. Survivors of the war often said nothing about their involvement until they reached great old age so the truth about the horrors and tribulations have perhaps been forgotten.  The issues the war was fought over – freedom from tyranny and invasion – need to be remembered and considered in today’s political climate.

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The Brexit party has no policies but its vision for the UK can be gauged from the words of its leaders. Ann Widdicombe hopes scientists will find a “cure” for being gay. Whether science identifies a genetic explanation for, and hence the possibility of altering,  sexual orientation, autism, ginger hair or whatever is irrelevant. What is important is whether the right to be what one perceives oneself to be is honoured.  As soon as a minority group is identified as needing a cure or treatment imposed on them they can be removed from society and eliminated. That is what these so-called-Christian populists want.

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This week’s bit of writing needs some explanation. It was written, perhaps foolishly, to meet two different writing groups’ topics for the week. One was “the road not taken” and the other was “jealousy.” Having got an idea I think that the execution has ended up not really meeting either of those themes. The jealousy has become mild envy or covetousness and the road not taken, which was supposed to be a well signposted route, has become lost amongst the bushes. Also the last section got a bit rushed. Another thing is that I feel that the story may give the wrong impression of my views as it concerns WP_20190514_12_33_27_Pro (2)gender identity. It is a story about one fictional character.  May I make it clear that I feel that children and teenagers can be very certain of their gender identity and if it does not match their assigned gender then they should transition when they wish, perhaps be prescribed puberty blockers and go on to gender confirmation surgery once they have arrived at adulthood (currently age 16) if they feel it suits them. On the other hand I don’t think everyone has to choose to be male or female. Non-binary/gender fluid/gender queer is another option.

 

Sisters

My sister has beautiful long, fair hair with just a hint of curl. It feels so silky and shines in light. I wanted hair like it.  More than that I wanted her blue eyes, whipped cream skin and infectious giggle. I wanted to be my sister.
With Dad at work all the time and Mum busy around the house and so on, I was left in the care of my sister when I was little. Four years older than me, she viewed me as her plaything, her living doll. She dressed me in her cast-off princess dresses, painted my nails, put on lipstick and blusher on my cheeks. She combed my mousy brown hair and wheeled me around in the pushchair.
More and more as we grew older, I wanted to be like her, to be her. One day when she was dozing, I snipped off some of her curls. Why? Who knows? Perhaps I intended sticking them on my head or maybe I just wanted a bit of her to keep. I followed her everywhere. When she began dance lessons, so did I.

She came out of her bedroom to find me standing on the landing. I was wearing the pink satin dress, the last one I had. She’d moved on from princesses so there were no more hand-me-downs, and this was the only one that still fitted. I had brushed my hair and put ribbons in it. I’d put on bright pink lipstick that matched the dress.
“What are you doing?” she said.
“I wanted to tell you something,” I replied.
“What? I haven’t got time now. I’m meeting Milly and Saffron.”
“No. Please. I just wanted to say. . .”
“Say what?”
“I want to be a girl.” I paused. That hadn’t come out as I intended. “I mean, I am a girl. I know I’m a girl.”
“Don’t be silly. You’re a boy. You’ve got a willy.” She pushed me out of her way and hurried to the stairs. She paused and looked back at me.
“Oh, god. It’s my fault. All those years of dressing you and making you up. I’ve turned you into a freaking tranny.” She fled down the stairs.  A moment later the front door slammed. I went back to my room, threw myself on the bed and cried.

It was after bedtime when I heard footsteps on the stairs. They were too light for Mum or Dad. Anyway, they’d be asleep on the sofa supposedly watching TV. My door opened and I recognised the silhouette.
“Are you awake?” she whispered. I turned over to show her I was. “What you said earlier; did you mean it?”
I pushed myself up in the bed eager to try again.
“I want you and Mum and Dad and everyone to know I’m a girl, to let me be a girl when I start high school.”
She shook her head, “I gave you these stupid ideas, didn’t I?  All that dressing up.” Her face crinkled.
“No, no. I loved all that stuff. I enjoyed the dressing up, the make-up. Do you think I’d have let you do it if I didn’t want it?”
She stood up, backed away. “You were so little back then. I wasn’t thinking. We’re older now. You do your own thing, dancing and stuff.”
I grabbed her hand and dragged her back to me.
“I started dancing because you did.”
“But you’re so much better than me. You could do it for a job.”
I shrugged. “Perhaps. I’ll be a girl dancer.”
“But you’re a boy!”
I shook my head. “I can have my willy taken away. Doctors can do that. Then I’ll be a girl like you.”
“You really think you want to go through all that. The bullies will have a field day if you turn up at school in a skirt. Then there’s the drugs and the surgery. I’ve seen it on Youtube. It’s awful.”
“It’s what I want. Will you help me get Mum and Dad sorted?”
She looked at me with large sad eyes and didn’t say anything for a while.
“OK, but don’t say anything yet. Let me think about it.”

Next day a letter arrived saying I’d won a scholarship at Performing Arts school. After that there wasn’t time to think about anything except getting prepared for going away. At school I met musicians, actors and dancers, boys as well as girls. I loved it. The year passed in a blur of hard work and fantastic experiences. Back home for the summer holiday I noticed that I was now taller than my sister. Only her bust, another cause for envy, had grown in the last couple of years. She spent more time with her boyfriend than me while waiting for her exam results.
I continued to get taller. My shoulders widened, hairs grew in various places, my voice dropped, and I discovered what a willy can do. My hair was still long and I wore makeup, not only on stage. I pulled on a dress from time to time too. I took shit from some screwed-up people, but most couldn’t give a hoot. I didn’t know if I was a boy or a girl and didn’t care. I was me. But I still wish I had my sister’s hair.

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Jasmine relaxes

WP_20190514_12_33_09_ProWell, that wasn’t so bad. A week after my little op I am grateful that the recovery has been pretty much trouble-free.  The four tiny keyhole incisions have been painless, but for a couple of days I felt as if my insides had been rummaged around in, which I suppose they had been. Apparently I was one of the 10% who felt bloated after the op and had tremendous wind (both ends) but that passed after three days. Since then I’ve felt fine, so we’ll say no more about it other than thanks to the operating team who did a grand job, the nurses who looked after me for the 4 hours I was in recovery and most importantly to Lou who has pampered me, and had lots of fun examining my scars ever since.

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What a strange week of politics. First we have apparently the whole of the parliamentary Conservative party competing with itself to follow May.  How many candidates are there? How can it be that they’re all awful, and not in the original meaning of the term? (easy, they’re Tories).  Then we have the aftermath of the EU parliament elections. I cannot understand why the media (i.e. the BBC) has made so much fuss about the Brexit Party’s showing. They were not a new party but just a different name for Faragists. They hoovered up nearly all the UKIP votes from five years ago and didn’t really move on from there much when you consider that the Cons vote collapsed. The real story was the rise in both the Lib Dems and the Greens representing Remain voters.  The latter in particular, who more than doubled their representation, barely got a mention. For the rest of the week we have observed the agony of the Labour Party (or rather Corbyn’s bit of it) in trying to justify their contorted and futile position on Brexit.

I am amused (not the right word but it fits) that Tory leadership contenders and Labour party spokespeople talk of uniting the country. After the madness of the last three years that is impossible. It has probably always been true that a third of the population, particularly those of “mature” years have had the potential to be brexiteers, with all that entails. It was the idiocy of Cameron that has allowed their feelings to spill out into the open. Nothing will push those opinions back under the stone where they came from. It is up to the real majority of people who recognise the importance of Europe, of diversity, of the dangers of looking backwards, to push for the 2016 referendum result to be overturned, either by reverting to the result of the 1975 referendum (pro Europe) or to have another.

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I got back to some writing this week. I’ve moved on with the novel, or at least now have a better idea where I’m going with it, and I wrote a short piece for my writing group.  The theme this week was to write about holidays in the first person. Some of the others wrote hilarious pieces about travelling abroad and about childhood memories.  Mine is a bit more reflective and specific in time and place, and it’s short.

To The Lake

I sat on a grass-topped tuffet of peat and looked out across the lake, melding with the tranquillity and seclusion. It was late March, a sunny, calm day, not cold, an ideal day for a walk in the hills. We had left the dramatic Pistyll Rhaedr, the tallest waterfall in Wales, not quite two hours earlier and set off along the path up the valley of Nant y Llyn, the stream of the lake. Since leaving the tourist site we had walked about three miles and not seen another person.
The water’s surface was hardly disturbed at all. The lake was almost circular, a perfect example of a glacial cwm about two hundred metres in diameter. Behind rose the almost vertical crescent of Moel Sych, the top of the ridge another two hundred and fifty metres above us.
The edge of the lake was shallow, the water perfectly clear. Out in the middle, the surface was dark, the depth unknown. The glacier would have scooped out the contours of the lake and left loose rock at its rim to dam the waters. The water level was in fact low; there had been little rain in recent weeks and the streams were not in spate as we had expected for early spring.
I sat and pondered, listening to the silence. There was enough warmth in the Sun for sitting to be comfortable. There were no signs of civilisation, not even a grazing sheep. We could have been the last couple, or the first. As well as peace there was mystery. The name of the lake is Llyn Lluncaws. My poor Welsh translated that as Lake of Mooncheese. Mooncheese? What did that mean.  Did it refer to the shape of the lake, almost circular like the full Moon or a whole cheese? Or was there something else.
Legend has it that the Moon is made of cheese. In a fantasy universe the world can be anything you would like it to be. Perhaps Llyn Lluncaws was a place of fantasy. Stones beneath the surface at the edge of the lake had strange markings on them; squiggles like runes. Did they hold the secrets of the lake? I hoped for fire-breathing dragons to swoop over the ridge above my head, although I wished they would not breathe their flames on me. Maybe a magical princess might arise from the waters and walk out of the lake as occurred at the similar Llyn y Fan Fach in Carmarthenshire.
Nothing happened. The silence was unbroken by the beating wings of dragons and the surface of the lake remained calm. We ate our light lunch and eventually, reluctantly, set off back down the valley. As we crossed the lip, Llyn Lluncaws dropped from view. Perhaps the princess would step from the water once we had gone.

Author’s note: After this experience I discovered that “llun” does not mean Moon (that’s lleuad)  but in fact means picture or form, but I have found no other meaning for “caws”. So is it “Lake of the form of a cheese”? Not as interesting as mooncheese, but I don’t know.what else LLyn Lluncaws can mean.

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Jasmine recuperates

WP_20190514_12_33_27_Pro (2)I took a risk this week, not a big one. You know that this blog is published on Saturday morning. Usually I write it during Friday, but occasionally earlier in the week if Friday is busy. Well, it’s Friday and I’m free but I spent yesterday in hospital having a small op which necessitated a general anaesthetic.  I’d wondered if I would be in the mood for putting fingers to keyboard.  I’m glad to say I am.

It was my first time to be knocked out in hospital since I had my tonsils removed when I was five. Things have changed since then.  I was in and out in eight hours having been first on the list for the day. I wasn’t worried about the operation much, but “going under” was an existential concern – losing control, all feeling gone along with sense of identity.  A  bit like dying, I thought. Well, no, I don’t think so. There I was chatting to the anaesthetist, next moment I’m waking up feeling sleepy. I have no recollection of becoming unconscious and of course, no experiences during the operation. Brilliant. I’m still worried about dying though – you don’t wake up afterwards.

Now I’m recuperating. Actually the four incisions, which I thought would be sore like cutting your finger, are no trouble. No, it’s the wind and indigestion that is annoying. They don’t tell you that in doing keyhole surgery they puff you up full of air. It takes a while getting rid of it. The silly thing was that an hour after I woke up I was offered lunch. Since it was almost a whole day since I had last eaten I thought I should accept. I think hospital cottage pie and overcooked veg was the wrong choice. It sat in my stomach overnight. Anyway, I’ll soon be right as rain (what does that cliché mean?).

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So she’ gone, or going. She just has to stay to entertain the Trumps and comment on the results of the EU elections.  No doubt she’ll interpret the third of the voters plumping for Farage as an endorsement of her “will of the people” refrain. I’m waiting to see what the sum is of the Remain parties’ votes. Next we have six weeks of Tory after Tory and their sycophantic supporters saying why they should be PM when not one should be allowed within a mile of No.10. Meanwhile the days to the end of October flip over with no conclusion to the Brexit chaos.

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I did do some writing this week, but not fiction, so, it’s back to the files. I found a story written over a year ago and had completely forgotten. It was composed for my previous writing group using the sentences “Bring pen, paper and Sellotape. We have everything else.”  The story uses the protagonist and setting of a novel I started twenty five years ago; never completed, but somewhat updated. The story itself could be the first chapter of a novel and I quite like it, but it doesn’t really end and I expect it will remain as it is. See what you think.

Just ink blots on paper

It had been a quiet morning for DCI Arthur Payne until he took the call from New New Scotland Yard.
“Hi, Art. How are you today, ” said Mycroft, “I’m sorry to tell you that there’s been an incident on the Higher Embankment in Westminster.”
“What sort of incident?” Art asked wondering for the zillionth time why the Met Police’s AI couldn’t get straight to the point and had to turn every conversation into a cosy chat.
“The death of Jaysie Warren.”
That simple sentence told Art that the deceased was an important person, a taxpaying elector. Anyone else would not be deserving of an investigation by a Detective Chief Inspector or any other police officer for that matter. Mycroft delivered the full life record of Jaysie Warren to Art’s Patch. He stared at the wall and read off the headline facts. Avowed male, 34 years old, British resident from birth, living in Hampstead, no declared partners or dependents. Art sighed, hauled himself out of his seat, picked up his mac and hat and headed down to the vehicle depot.

He joined the silent queue of cars and bikes in his police-model Jaguar type ES. The heads-up told him that the shortest route was blocked thanks to an ethical dilemma in a personal transport module. He switched to self-drive took his own route, ducking down the side roads and lanes that were only available to vehicles such as his own.
He pulled up at the junction with the Higher Embankment and stepped out into the drizzle.  Crossing was no problem given that the vehicles were moving at walking pace. It seemed that people would suffer the congestion rather than use the antiquated underground until the traffic actually came to a standstill. He paused at the roadside barrier.  To the right the road curved to the landward side of the roofless shell of the Palace of Westminster.  The grey waters of the Thames lapped at the tower of Big Ben with its clock-faces long ago replaced by giant emojis smiling with defiance. He turned and looked down at the sloping concrete riverbank.  The body was lying on the high-water line not far below the road level. Presumably it had been deposited as the high tide receded.
Art stepped over the barrier and tentatively made his way to the scene. A Health Emergency Response Drone and a Community Police Safety Robot rested alongside the body, their rotors motionless.  Art crouched down. The dark-skinned body was wearing light grey leggings with a prominent and hardened codpiece – definitely male then.  His tight top was a dull silver-grey. The river water had done for the self-expression display circuitry.  Art had seen enough for himself. He locked eyes on the HERD and made a link. The machine’s medical analysis, downloaded into his Patch, confirmed the cause of death as drowning but noted a serious blow to the head by a blunt instrument. The CPSR could give him no information other than the time of discovery of the body which he had already received from Mycroft.
Art lifted the man’s left hand. As he expected there was a Mindnet interface imprinted on the skin. He placed his own wrist over it and initiated a person-to-person link. Jaysie Warren’s body may be dead but his Patch was still active, just.  Running on what remained of core body-heat and with sensory and network inputs down it was merely conserving memories. Art accessed the recent communications that Warren had contributed to.  He rejected the standard advertising and public information blurts, looking for personal messages.  There were the usual social exchanges, but one thread was noticeable. While the others triggered the visual and audio cortex this one seemed to be solely a text projection.  He read the words as they marched across his retina.
<Bring pen, paper and Sellotape. We’ve got everything else.>
What did the message mean? It brought back old memories, very old ones. Art’s Patch, busily conducting an extensive search, supplied him with images of quills, fountain pens, and biros along with pictures of sheets, reams, books of paper and strips and rolls of clear sticky tape. He recalled scribbling with a pencil on a sheet of paper when he was a kid, but it was a long time since he’d even used a stylus to scrape on a screen. Patches and Mindnet had seen to the end of that old technology. He suddenly felt old. He should really be drawing his pension, but the authorities kept putting off his retirement date because he was a “functioning asset”.  Simply, he still earned his salary by solving cases which the algorithms running in the PPRs failed to solve.
Who would be interested in such archaic materials and who needed a text message to respond to the request? He didn’t need to see the ident of the recipient to guess the answer to the latter question – a welf.  He told the HERD to arrange collection of the body and Mycroft to instigate a search of Warren’s home.  Then he headed back to the Jaguar while locating the message’s recipient. Alex Ceplis was the name and there was a current location.  That was all. The welf was only tagged; no connection to the Mindnet for this man, woman or whatever.
Art got back into the car and initiated flight mode. The car confirmed that the battery charge was sufficient for the intended journey, the six thrust-fans slid out from under the chassis and the vehicle lifted off. In moments he was above the height of the tallest London tower-block and moving eastwards.

Art relaxed and looked at the sights as they headed over the ever-widening Thames estuary.  Down below were the sunken streets of Basildon. The car turned north following invisible paths in the sky and descended.  It landed just south of the former town of Chelmsford.  Art looked through the windscreen and the steady drizzle at the fifty-foot high smart-fence.  Towards the top it curved over as if forming a dome over the area.  It was indeed a virtual dome isolating everyone and everything within.
He dropped a few essential items into his pockets, put his hat on his head and stepped out of the car. He did up his raincoat and issued a security command code. The Jaguar retracted its fans and settled to the ground; the windows turned opaque and the doors fused with the body making it impenetrable. He sniffed the air, there was a different odour here compared to the city, not unpleasant. He walked towards the entrance.
The outer gate opened as he approached. He stepped through into a cage-like tunnel. The gate closed behind him, but his way out remained blocked. His vision turned red and warning bells clanged in his head.
<Warning. You are now entering the Greater Chelmsford Welfare Zone. This is a deregulated area. Mindnet functionality is not available. Temporary access is only allowed to designated personnel. Warning. Your safety cannot be guaranteed.>
Art ignored the warnings and took a step forward. The gate ahead of him opened. He strode through it and glanced round to see it closing and locking behind him. He stood still, suddenly conscious that his Patch had lost connection with the world he was used to. He no longer had enhanced reality. The ever-present adverts in his peripheral vision were gone. There were no info-hotspots in his field of view and the chatter of ads, news, messages and data at the back of his head had ceased. He put his hand in his pocket.  The feel of the plasma pistol was reassuring.
He looked ahead at the undulating landscape that descended gently to the flooded centre of the town. Apart from a few old brick and stone buildings the land was covered with row upon row of single-storey prefabricated cabins.  They were the same as he’d seen in welfare zones across the country. Each had its solar roof which supplied just enough power for basic appliances, even when the Sun was obscured by the overcast. Today’s drizzle would be sufficient to keep each cabin’s water-butt topped up providing the occupant with drinking and washing water.  Around each cabin was a tiny garden in most of which vegetables were growing, fertilised by the composting toilets. Many of the huts had lean-tos as extra rooms or greenhouses. They were constructed from bits of waste plastic.  There was no wood or metal used. They were valuable materials that could be sold. These rows of off-grid dwellings were home to non-participating members of the population.
Art walked the rough tracks between the cabins guided by the signal from Alex Ceplis’ tag. Faces looked out of windows and doors as he passed.  They were all ages and genders, all only mildly interested at his presence. He came to a cabin, identical to the others but according to his patch the location of Ceplis. He tapped on the door. It opened almost immediately, after all the occupant couldn’t be far from the door in such a small cabin.  The person was about the same height as Art with a white face and head bald but for a fringe of blonde hair. A white gown loosely covered the body revealing no hint of breasts.  Art guessed that Ceplis was an andro or a flipper and reminded himself to use the appropriate pronouns.
“Alex Ceplis?” he asked.
The person nodded. “That’s me. Who’s asking?” zhe said in a light voice with a hint of a Baltic accent. A migrant or refugee from the Re-sovietisation wars, Art guessed.
Art undid the top button of his mac and pulled the lapel down to reveal the glowing Met insignia in his shirt.
“I’m Detective Payne,” he said, “I have some questions for you. Can I come in?”
Ceplis shrugged and stepped back. “Don’t see many cops here.”
Art stepped inside and looked around the room that took up most of the cabin.  A woman sitting on a bed was breast feeding a baby. She looked blankly at him. At the end of the room was a rudimentary kitchen. There were a few pieces of furniture, an old display screen hanging on the wall and a couple of doors.
Ceplis stood in the small space at the centre of the room. “What questions?”
Art took a hand projector from his pocket and held it up in front of Ceplis. A three-dimensional image appeared in the air above it.
“Do you know this man?” Art asked.
Ceplis peered at it and shook his head.
“Do you know the name Jaysie Warren?”
Ceplis was thoughtful. “I might. I’m not sure.”
“You should. He sent you a message.”  The image of Warren was replaced with a plane white rectangle in the air with the text of the message Warren had sent. “He requested pen, paper and Sellotape from you. Why did he do that?”
Ceplis smiled. “I supply that type of thing.”
“That type of thing?”  Art was confused.
Ceplis moved to the side of the room and opened one of the doors.  It was a cupboard with shelves.  Each shelf was filled. Art recognised stacks of white and coloured paper, boxes of pencils and pens of different types, columns of sticky tape, rows of notebooks of various sizes and other boxes, the contents of which he could not perceive.
“They call me The Stationer,” the androgyne said with a broad smile.
“Why?”  Art asked.
“Why do they call me that?”
“No, I understand the word. Why do people ask you for the stuff?  Who needs pen and paper? And Sellotape”
Ceplis shrugged. “Various reasons. Some people like the idea of making a physical record.  Something that exists outside their brains or the processors of an AI and will exist as long as the ink and paper survive. Some people want to send messages privately.”
“What do you mean, private messages?”
Ceplis reached into the cupboard and took a small pad of paper and a pen.  He scribbled some words on the top slip of paper, tore it off and gave it to Art.
“There, a private message from me to you. No-one else can read it unless you choose to upload an image of it to Mindnet.”
Art read the words on the paper, Writing is just ink blots on paper. The reader interprets the words to find meaning.  How many people could even read mere words today, he thought. Most were used to communication in sound and pictures delivered, if they were connected to Mindnet, direct to the sensory centres of their brains. Who would want to share private messages written on scraps of paper?
Art said aloud, “Is that why Jaysie Warren wanted this stuff?”
Ceplis shrugged. “I couldn’t say. I just supply what people want.”

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Jasmine watches

Have you watched the first episode of the new BBC series ,Years and Years.  It is by Russel T Davies and follows a family of diverse characters over the next fifteen years. It started from the present as experienced by us and cleverly included news from the very day of broadcast – the death of Doris Day. This gave it a feeling of immediacy and reality. It quickly moved to five years in the future when things are happening (no spoilers).  The blurb suggests it is building on today’s rise of right-wing activism, the growing influence of populist politicians and international relations (Trump’s America, China, Brexit etc.). It is a worrying vision – and that’s only the first episode. A few caveats:

1  It’s only the first episode

2  It’s entertainment, so it will be dramatic (contain gay sex – it’s Russell T. Davies after all) and will be an exaggerated version of reality.

3  Futurists invariably get the future wrong – we don’t wear silver suits (not all of us anyway), or drive aircars or live in mile high apartment blocks, and we haven’t had a nuclear holocaust, yet.

Nevertheless it has picked up on a some very disturbing aspects of today. John Crace, the Guardian’s political sketch writer, attended a meeting of Farage’s Brexit party this week and came away terrified of what it portended. According to opinion polls some 30% of the voting population are intending to vote for the Brexit party in the EU elections next week. This in itself is frightening and mind-boggling. The party is Farage’s fiefdom. All candidates have sworn allegiance to him (he won’t let them off a short leash to spout ultra-right-wing vote-losing nonsense like his former pals in UKIP). Apparently you can’t join the Party to have a say in its policies because (a) it is not set up like that, and (b) it doesn’t have any policies. As before with UKIP and Leave, Farage gives no details of what Brexit means and has no plans for what to do when the UK is freed from the “tyranny of Brussels”. He is a rich, career politician who has never held any political position in the UK yet millions apparently follow his every word.  I do not understand it.

Meanwhile, the Tories are bickering amongst themselves about who will take over from May and effectively ignoring the EU elections while Labour is fighting on general election policies and ignoring Brexit in its non-campaign. OK, the EU result has no effect on the British parliament and it will still be down to MPs to come to some kind of agreement before the next Brexit deadline of October, but allowing Farage a free rein is to allow him and his hidden cronies to build up momentum towards the next meaningful election. Of course the right wing media (i.e. most of it) ignores attempts to highlight Farage’s lies and obfuscations, but Remainers are in disarray. The Lib Dems are forcibly trying to present themselves as the only Remain party when it is patently obvious that many people still do not trust them after the debacle of the coalition and the 2015 election. The Green Party have lots of support but cannot decided what is the most important topic – Brexit or climate disaster. It is the latter in the long term but unless we stop the former we will be fighting for our own survival not the Earth’s.

With the countries of the world falling one by one to authoritarian populists who are only interested in maintaining and displaying their own power, the future looks bleak.  As bleak as Years and Years? We’ll see.

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WP_20190514_12_33_09_ProI read this week that this year there will be a Tran Pride festival in London as well as the usual Pride.  This follows the furore last year when some lesbian groups tried to get trans-people excluded from the parade. It was a shocking and ugly episode of intolerance.

I have sometimes wondered why the T is in LGBT. As trans people are constantly saying – trans is about gender identity, not sex and sexuality. Of course, like everyone else, transpeople are sexual beings, but all permutations are possible and indeed, likely.  The T is there because trans people, like gay people, have in the past (and the present) been excluded and persecuted; they grouped together for self-protection, but there have always been far more LGB people than T. Nevertheless, I was reminded that the Stonewall “riot” that kicked off gay and trans rights activism had trans-women at the fore. It is curious that Stonewall, the organisation, only recently took a strong interest in trans affairs. While there are differences in the needs of trans and LGB people, and I don’t see anything wrong in holding trans-only events to promote trans issues, it would be a pity if LGB & T comradeship broke down because of the views of a small group of lesbian women. In today’s world (see above) we need more cooperation and understanding not less.

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Since last week’s workshop and success I have had no time to write any new fiction so here again is something “what I wrote earlier”. It was written to my writing group’s topic of “seed” and is fictionalised history. I think it’s a fascinating story which I don’t think I have published here before.

Seed

My master hurried down the stairs towards me, his linen shirt but roughly tucked into his breeches. He carried a small wooden spoon carefully in two hands.
“Ah, Johan,” he said, gasping for breath, “Open the door to my study.”
I did his bidding and held the door while he passed me. I was about to close the door behind him but he called out again.
“No, boy, join me. I have an observation to make which may be of interest to you.”  I stepped inside the wood-panelled room, brightly lit by the sun which shone through the many small panes of the large glazed window. I closed the door behind me and stood beside my master’s table.
He dipped a small silver spatula into the glutinous liquid on the spoon that he had so carefully carried down the stairs. Then he picked up one of this instruments that lay on the desk and peering closely at it transferred the tiniest globule of the fluid to the tip of the pin. I was unable to see if he was successful but he let out a held-in breath.
“Yes,” he muttered, “that should be satisfactory.”
He turned to face the window and held the instrument to his left eye. He stood like a statue for many heartbeats. Having witnessed this procedure many times and indeed having carried it out myself I knew he was observing something of interest.
Eventually he moaned. “Magnificent.” He moved the instrument away from his face and blinked a few times.
I was filled with curiosity. “What have you seen Master Leeuvenhoek? What is the fluid that you have examined?”
He looked at me as if debating whether to answer then he made up his mind.
“I have lain with my wife,” he said in a soft, calm voice.
I consider myself to be of some intelligence but it took me a few moments to understand what he meant. When I did, I felt a blush rise from my neck and fill my cheeks.
I spoke but could not fully enunciate the words, “The fluid is . . .”
“My seminal ejaculation. Yes, Johan,” he answered as if it was the most normal subject of conversation. “That which may cause a woman to be with child.”
“What did you see, Master?” I asked my eagerness for knowledge surpassing my embarrassment.
He held out the instrument to me. “See for yourself.”
I took the small bronze item from him. It was no bigger than my finger and consisted of a flat plate in which there was a tiny hole. Behind the plate was a system of rods and screws which moved the pin on which the drop of fluid resided. I too turned to face the sunlight and held the microscope to my eye.  The metal plate almost touched the surface of my eyeball. Within the hole was a tiny glass sphere barely bigger than a mustard seed. The bright beam of sunlight passed through the drop of semen, through the glass bead and into my eye.
I entered a mysterious world where what is normally too small to be seen by the human eye is miraculously enlarged. Previously Master Leeuwenhoek’s instruments had revealed my hairs become as thick as tree trunks and mites grown the size of elephants. He had also shown me the strange animalcules of many different forms present in water drawn from various sources.  Now I saw strange new creatures. In some respect, they resembled tadpoles. They had bulbous heads and long thin tails. Most of the creatures were motionless but some lashed their tails from side to side and thereby propelled themselves through the seminal fluid.
I moved the instrument away from my eye and breathed.
“Is this what you saw?”  Master Leeuwenhoek said.
I looked down at his desk. While I had been observing he had been sketching on a sheet of letter paper. I saw an image which closely resembled the creatures I had seen through the glass.
“Yes, that is a true likeness,” I said, ‘What are these creatures that inhabit your effusion?”
“I believe they are the seeds of mankind,” Master Leeuwenhoek said. “During coitus they are deposited within the vagina. Their propulsive efforts carry them into the womb where they take root and are nurtured to become a foetus and later a child.”
“But in that tiny drop I saw many such creatures,” I said, “Are all required to render the female pregnant.”
Leeuwenhoek looked grave. “I fear not Johan. I think just one of these animalcules is necessary for procreation. I fancy that in the heads of some I could make out the form of a human child. Of the multitude released at the moment of orgasm only the strongest, the most deserving of God’s bountiful care will result in the development of a child. That is why God insists that men should reserve their ejaculate for the procreation of children and should not waste it in pleasures of the flesh.”
I felt my cheeks blush again and could find no reply. My master’s vision was keener than my own despite his extra years. It was not unusual for him to have a clearer sight into the miniscule world than me.
Master Leeuwenhoek placed another sheet of paper in front of him and took up his pen. “I think I must write another letter to Mr Oldenburg, in London. I am sure he will be keen to disseminate our observations to the fellows of the Royal Society.”

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Anton von Leeuwenhoek’s report on the discovery of spermatozoa was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London during 1677. Unlike most of his letters which were translated from Dutch into English, this letter was translated into Latin because of its controversial topic.

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Jasmine cheers

I’m not going to comment on politics this week. The same nonsense continues but there are pleasanter things to report on.

I watched the final episode of the first series of Pose this week. What was special about the show? One, it was feel-good, with the good characters coming out okay. Second it featured trans people, well okay, trans-women. They weren’t the victims, the vulnerable, the cardboard cutouts; they had personalities, story arcs and were strong despite the problems they faced.  If you haven’t discovered the show it is on BBC2 and is set in 1980s New York where the gay/trans community held regular balls to show off and celebrate themselves. Yes, they were at the edge of society, feeding off scraps, and suffering from the AIDS epidemic as well as discrimination. Yet through cooperation they survived and grew in stature. The trans actors may have been inexperienced but the characters they played were rich and varied.

This week I attended a workshop organised by my local writers’ group (well, Jane did all the organising). It was a wonderful day with 15 of us eager to learn. The tutor, Debi Alper lead the session and deserves congratulation. She took us through voice, point of view (PoV) and psychic distance, none of which I am going to explain here – there are websites and blogs that do. Debi got us writing, putting into practice what she had taught us. There was plenty to think about.  There was also a competition. Debi had read and commented on all ten of the entries from attendees. During the workshop, the ten pieces were read out and Debi gave her critique. She had chosen three as her finalists and p1000039invited the group to vote on one as the winner. It was me!  To say I was shocked and flattered is an understatement. My piece The Missing Essence was published here on 27th April. While I had given the theme (Earth Wind Fire) some thought, the writing was quite hurried and when I sent it off I felt it was a bit under-edited and perhaps corny and unsubtle in its approach. Was it even a story, I wondered. Anyway, Debi was very complimentary and the group loved it. So there it is; I have a prize (a flash notebook and booklet on writing).  It was a lovely day, helped even more by the manner in which the group (including guests from elsewhere) accept me as myself.

That result has lifted me. I had got a little despondent about my writing but that little bit of encouragement that suggests that I’m doing some things right, has helped to cheer me and spur me to getting on with the various projects I have on the go.

Here’s another short piece that I wrote a few years ago for a former writing group. I don’t think I’ve posted it before.  Actually it illustrates something that Debi was telling us about. It’s in 1st person so that is the PoV, but halfway through it changes. Now, according to Debi, head-hopping is a dangerous and difficult thing to do. She suggests some kind of link that helps the reader slide rather than leap between heads. Except that I haven’t done that. So does it work?

The Cavern

“Are you ready Ruth?”
I nodded my head then realised that in the dimly lit tunnel my gesture wouldn’t be seen. I called out and felt the line become taut. I shuffled towards the sinkhole grateful that they had allowed me to keep my lycra bodysuit; the gritty rock would have lacerated my skin. My legs dangled down the narrow shaft then I allowed the harness to take my weight.  I gripped the nylon rope above my head to make myself as thin as possible. Then I was encased as if in a stone coffin, my helmet scraping against rock.  I had to wriggle to ensure that I descended.  That was why I was stripped of the tools that usually filled my pockets and dangled from my belt.
I’d volunteered for this job but being the smallest member of the team and the only one who could pass through the hole, there wasn’t much choice really. Nevertheless, I was excited as everyone else to see what this chimney lead to.  We knew there was a cavern below and we hoped that, like the others, it would contain wonders; and what wonders we had already found – bones preserved from scavengers, complete skeletons of beings that were barely human.  Our predecessors or our competitors? Who knew?

My feet swung free and then with a final scrape of rock on my skin I was hanging in space. The grass rope creaked above my head. I shouted to my companions and they continued to lower me into the dark chamber. My toes touched ground and my knees buckled until I took my own weight.  I was relieved to release the binding around my chest so I could breathe easily again. I worried that I was standing on one of the mothers and shouted up for a light.
Minutes passed before a flaming torch appeared above me and cast a glow around the whole chamber. I saw that my worries were unfounded. The bodies were arranged in a partial circle around where I stood amongst rock dust. In the flickering light they seemed to move as if alive. I bent over each in turn to look more closely. Some still had skin drawn tightly against their skulls while others carried no flesh at all. I felt honoured to be in the presence of the mothers.
I called out again and received an answering grunt from beyond the shaft. I waited patiently in the company of the mothers until a trickle of falling dust and scraping sounds signalled that I was being joined by another. I took my mother into my arms, released her from the rope and carried her to a space in the ring of her ancestors.  I laid her gently beside them, her arms stiff against her thin body. Then I knelt, my hands on her forehead and groin, and asked her for her love and guidance as I became mother to all her children. Her authority and responsibility became mine.

Based on article in New Scientist magazine about the discovery of proto-human remains in South Africa cave systems by Lee Berger and his team.  The Ultimate Origin Story New Scientist p.36 30/09/17 no.3145

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Jasmine rejoices

Returned to the UK to find the country in the grip of election fever. Well, not really, but there has been some excitement about the local elections in England (not London) and the EU elections (which Con & Lab don’t want to fight) in three weeks time. Living in Wales we weren’t involved in the council elections but I am delighted with the results – Cons clobbered and Lab labouring. Lib Dems are big winners but the Greens having the greatest proportional increase deserves more notice. So, both Remain parties doing well. Yet May insists that the results are a protest at  parliament’s deadlock over Brexit and that the people want her to get on with it and take the UK out of the EU. Okay, I admit that there are many parts of England that do still want to Leave but I don’t think that is the standout message of these particular elections. They certainly show a country divided as never before (well, before 2016).

p1000039

What has Ian McEwan got against SF? Well, quite a lot actually. His latest novel, Machines like Me, has standard SF tropes of artificial intelligence, humanoid robots exploring their humanity, alternative history, yet he denies it is SF. In a New Scientist interview he admits to not connecting with space opera (i.e. “crossing the galaxy at five times the speed of light and wearing anti-gravity boots”.) but seems to think this is the total extent of SF. Has he never read any Ballard, Gibson, Brunner to name but three who didn’t write space opera but occupied the genre contentedly? Perhaps he thinks he is too famous and “literary” to grub around in the cesspit of SF&F. Will  Machines get more sales as a literary novel than an SF novel? I don’t know but I think it is cheap and mean to slag off a genre which one is quite obviously writing in. I’ve read a few of McEwen’s earlier novels and find them somewhat pretentious. He obviously does a huge amount of research and wants you to know it.  I still think he made a mistake in Enduring Love by having the runaway balloon one filled with helium rather than the more common, hot air.

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I didn’t get the opportunity to write anything new this week for various reasons. Here, instead, is a very old story that I wrote for a bit of fun.  I don’t think I’ve posted it before. I obviously wrote it when the martian meteorite discovered in Antartica, was found to contain entities that might have been nano-sized bacteria. That was before the landings on Mars of Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity. Mars seems a rather boring environment for life.

Little Men are green because the grass is greener on the other side

“Eat up your rock flakes, Grrnflyn, like a good Martian.” Grrnflyn’s red eye stalks looked into the bowl sadly. E dipped the red tip of a single red tentacle reluctantly into the bowl of red crumbs. A few pieces stuck to the slimy skin. E opened er stomach orifice and wiped the crumbs onto the crimson tongues.
“But it’s so boring, it’s the same every day, and tastes yuk.”
Tddmlwc waved four of er arms angrily.  “You ungrateful Martian you.  Rock bits have been good enough for us for millennia.  There’s nano-bacteria for nourishment and iron for health. No-one has ever bothered about what it tastes like. If you don’t want it, someone else will. Get off to school and see how quickly you get hungry.” E shooed Grrnflyn out of the small cave that was home.

 Grrnflyn oozed miserably along the dimly lit, red, rocky corridors barely able to lift a tentacle of greeting to er friends. The trouble was e was already hungry, but that didn’t stop er wanting something more exciting to eat. Grrnflyn arrived at the school cavern and slumped into a work hole. Teacher made a gurgling noise which the class had come to recognise as meaning that e was satisfied all the pupils had arrived.
“Good morning class,” A chorus of mumbles and groans emerged from each of the work holes, “Today we are going to start the study of astronomy.”
“What’s that?”  someone asked from the other side of the cave.
“It’s the study of what’s beyond the surface of our planet.”
“But there isn’t anything,” Grrnflyn recognised his friend, Mggbrrl’s, voice. “The surface is cold and dry and there isn’t even enough air for us to breathe.”  Grrnflyn added with a murmur, “That’s why we’re stuck down here in these dark boring caverns.”
“Ah,” said Teacher, waving two or three tentacles excitedly, “I am referring to the planets and stars out in space and in particular, our nearest neighbour which we call Mud.”
“Why is it called that?” another voice asked.
“Because unlike our planet, it has liquid water on its surface so when it is mixed with the bits of rock, it makes mud. Here are some pictures.” Teacher held up sheets of red skin using all ten tentacles. Grrnflyn gasped and gurgled in amazement and er stomach aperture opened uncontrollably. The pictures showed a spherical object with markings in unfamiliar colours that e could not name but were definitely not red.
“The green is areas of land where many different plants grow,” Teacher explained,           “I’m afraid our pigments can’t give a true impression of the colours. The blue is liquid water.  Astronomers have observed many different creatures on the surface.”
Grrnflyn listened in amazement as Teacher described the inhabitants of Mud, their surroundings and their way of life.  Finally, e plucked up courage to ask a question.
“Do you think the people on Mud eat rock crumbs?”
Teacher extended an eye stalk towards him/her. “Of course not, you silly pupil, they have all these different varieties of plants and animals to eat.”
I expect they all taste different, Grrnflyn thought. I wish I lived on Mud.

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