Jasmine reviewed

I support the BBC. I think the licence fee is good value and I am delighted to have programmes that are not interrupted by adverts. But, I am having serious doubts about the quality of journalism of BBC News. We’ll pass over for now the one-sided reporting of the Brexit fiasco, the excessive and continuing publicity for UKIP and Farage, and the misguided search for “balance” in matters of fact that sees charlatans and imbeciles being allowed to deny climate change, the value of vaccinations and other matters. What has stirred my ire this week, however, was an item on the economy.

Every month we get an update on inflation and wage rises. This week there was huge excitement on BBC news that the January inflation  rate had fallen below 2% while wages were leaping ahead at around 3%. This wonderful state of affairs would transform peoples lives, or so the report suggested. The fact that wage rises have only been above inflation (by a tiny margin) for a very few months after years of the reverse, was brushed over. Since the fall in inflation was due to the glut of oil and the probability that high street stores were ditching leftover Christmas stock it all seems false. The reporter suggested that energy bills were falling – that’s news to me. How they found even one family that was apparently enjoying this great boon I don’t know. The fact is that energy prices will soon rise when the government’s temporary cap comes to an end; Council Tax is about to rise by around 5%; and, with Brexit just six weeks away goodness knows what will happen to food prices. The whole tone of the piece was false and bore no relation to the lives of real people.  With high street stores closing, the car business contracting and investment stagnant because of Brexit, a tiny drop in inflation is not something to go wild about.

…………………………….

WP_20181206_12_52_45_ProIt’s a couple of months now since Molly’s Boudoir: the 4th Jasmine Frame novel was published in paperback and e-book form. It’s drawn a number of very encouraging reviews on Amazon.  Here are a few of the comments.

“…As usual it’s well written and the characters are entirely believable. The story line is gripping….” (Anonymous)

“An entertaining story as Jasmine Frame experiences life as a woman.” (R Taylor)

“…It was a pleasure to read and without giving anything away the whole thing was organic as it ran to its climax! I will be trying on the previous novels! A wonderful adventure and such a ride for the senses!” (Alexander)

“Really enjoyed this 4th instalment in the series. A really good detective story with a twist…” (Lyn D)

“…It is well-written, interesting and well-paced and it delves into the world of mistresses and submissives. A good read.” (John Russel Tomlinson)

If you purchase a copy please put up a review.  The more reviews, the more Amazon will publicise the novel.

…………………………..

This week’s story is another one written for my writers’ group. The topic this week was “Pictures at an Exhibition”. Where it came from I can’t recall. I did some background research on Mussorgsky’s piece, and of course the Emerson Lake and Palmer 1971 version. A few ideas came to me but nothing developed. I fell back on the question of what art is, along with an old character, and came up with this SF romp.

A Taste for Art

The Galactic Hall of Interstellar Art has a grand porticoed frontage, but that is all. When I showed up there was a large crowd there drawn from many of the Galactic Federation’s civilisations. They were mainly journalists attracted by the news of the theft. I made my way to the entrance taking care who I pushed out of my way. In my business etiquette is often more important than convenience.
The portal had been closed when the disappearance of the most famous artwork in the known universe was discovered. My identity code allowed me through and I experienced the gut-wrenching hyper-jump that took me into the planet-sized warren of galleries and vaults stretching over a half dozen dimensions. Most of the cultures in the Federation have contributed their most valuable and representative objets d’art. It was quite a walk to the location of the theft. I passed through one of the human galleries and had a glimpse of the Mona Lisa and Campbell’s soup tins side by side. Then I had to traverse the Rigellian hall. That was difficult as, to me, it was completely dark; the Rigellians sight is solely in the ultraviolet. Finally, I reached the Alnitakian section.
At least there was some light for my eyes, but it didn’t illuminate much. The curved and rather globular walls were bare. The art was on the floor, a few patches marked off to be avoided by species with feet. These patches seemed to be variations on a theme of grey.
There was a small group made up of various species around one patch. I guessed that this was where the missing artwork had been hung, or rather laid.
A Thuban waved his trunk at me and my translator spoke his words into my ear.
“Ah, Inspector Payne, you’re here at last. The Alnitakian is getting inpatient. The theft of the ‘Birth of Orunkarodingul’ is a great embarrassment to the Academy of Interstellar Art. The picture is only on loan to us from the Alnitakian home world.”
“Hello, Director,” I replied, “Who reported that it had gone?”
“The Ambassador,” The Thuban replied, “He’s the one making the fuss. He came for an, um, tasting of the work.” I could see a bundle of tentacles writhing in agitation.
“When was it taken?” I asked.
The Thuban raised its two forward limbs which I took to be a shrug. “Sometime in the last ninety hours.”
“That’s a long time for it to go unnoticed.”
“The Hall doesn’t get many Alnitakian visitors and no one else realised it had gone.”
“There haven’t been any visitors to the gallery?”
“No, they couldn’t tell it wasn’t there. Only the Alnitakian’s have the taste buds on their tentacles for detecting the subtle flavours and textures of the artwork. Other species try licking the works to see if they get an impression, but they might as well lick the floor. Actually, they do that quite a lot.”
“Why is it so valuable if only the Alnitakians can sense it?” I said.
“But that’s the whole point, Inspector. Appreciating Alnitakian art is an intellectual process and the more valuable it is the more it’s appreciated.”
I never have understood art, but I was here to investigate a crime.
“So, you’re saying someone took it away and none of the staff was any the wiser.”
The trunk hung limp in shame. “That’s it, Inspector.”
“When was the last Alnitakian visitor?”
“About ninety hours ago.”
I pondered. It seemed the visitor could have been the thief since he was only the one who could tell the artwork was there. “Do we have an identity?”
“It was the Ambassador. He came to check that the Birth of Orunkarodingul had been installed correctly.”
“I think I had better speak to the Ambassador,” I said. “It would appear that he is the only one who can attest that the work of art was ever here.”
The Director’s trunk waved in agitation. “Inspector! Are you suggesting the Ambassador is attempting to defraud the gallery?”
“Are you sure the being here today is the Alnitakian Ambassador?”
I left the Thuban snorting and crossed the hall to the group. The bundle of tentacles ceased their wriggling and pointed directly at me. I’d met those sticky tubes before.
“Hi, Glubnook,” I said. The words came out of my translator as a spray of pheromones that settled on the Alnitakian. “Up to your old tricks again?”
“Ah, Greetings Inspector. I wasn’t expecting to see you here.” The tentacles waved frantically in my direction.
“You’re under arrest,” I said.
“On what charge?”
“Impersonating a representative of the Alnitakian government and attempting to defraud the Academy. The Birth of Orunkarodingul is still on Alnitak Prime isn’t it. You just spilt some cleaning fluid onto the floor to fool the other species that attempted to taste the artwork.”
“You’re not putting me in your gaol,” Glubnook said lofting himself into the air.
“Oh, I think we will,” I replied as the Thuban Director leapt onto the flailing bundle of tentacles.

………………………………

 

 

Advertisements

Jasmine waits

Does Donald Tusk believe in hell? I don’t think that even most Christians still believe in the medieval images of eternal fires and torture. Nevertheless, the reaction by those who were the subjects of Tusk’s ire, and their supporters, suggests that they do. They must fear that they are on their way there for launching Brexit with no plan for how to execute it. I am amazed (well, not really) that they are so surprised at Tusk’s attitude when it is more of a surprise that other European leaders haven’t made their feelings felt. Do the Brexiteers expect everyone in Europe to be cheerful and obliging at the chaos they are causing?

Rivalry between nations is the norm. It doesn’t just apply to sport but to commerce in all its forms. The reason there are World Trade Organisation rules is to bring a little order to the competitiveness. Being a member of an association like the EU turns the rivalry down a notch – within the group anyway. On its own, the UK will face everyone else trying to get one over it. Trump’s “America First” slogan is not an empty threat – look at his trade war with China. The Brexiteers say that the EU needs the UK as much as the UK needs the EU (which is probably not true).  The corollary of that is, if the UK leaves without a deal then the gloves will be off. EU damage limitation will mean getting what it can from the UK by sucking up as much industry and commerce as it can. It may not happen on 29th March, it probably won’t be noticeable for a year or more, but it will happen. The leaders of Brexit – Johnson, Davies, Gove etc. haven’t exactly shown themselves to be top negotiators – what success did Johnson have as Foreign Secretary? What did Davies achieve as Brexit Secretary? So, we can hardly look to them to seal satisfactory bargains with the hundreds of countries we need trade agreements with.

Enough of that rant. Things get more worrying by the day.

…………………………….

WP_20181129_14_20_54_ProThe story this week, is a short one written for my writing group. The subject this week was “Snow”. My thoughts turned to the wonderful shape and structure of snowflakes determined by the orientation of the bonds between water molecules in ice crystals. I actually wrote the story before Donald Tusk’s speech (see above) so the resulting story is a bit of a coincidence. Another point – what gender are angels? I rather think that like me they are non-binary but I find it difficult to use them, they and their as pronouns for individuals. Hence, you should not be able to find any gender references in this piece.

Just a reminder that all four Jasmine Frame novels are available in paperback form from me – send a message to me here to order.  They and the three shorter publications are also available on Kindle, wherever you may be.

The Shape of Snow

It was the sound of trumpets that warned Nixiel that something was up. The angel looked around to see God entering the cloud accompanied by Lucifer with Michael and the band of trumpeters following. Obviously, the fallen angel was on an awayday from down below. They were becoming more frequent. Nixiel stood up, leaving the drawing board, bowing deeply
“I gave you one job, Nixiel,” God boomed, “and what do you do?”
“I’m sorry Almighty,” Nixiel said, feathered wings drooping sadly. “I do not know what you mean.”
“How long have you been designing snowflakes?” God asked.
Nixiel did a quick calculation, “Er, six thousand and twenty-three years, Lord.”
“Exactly and still you can’t get it right.” God’s head shook with disappointment.
“What did I do wrong?” Nixiel asked in a very soft voice.
“You repeated a design,” God said, “You know what the plan says, ‘Every snowflake shall have hexagonal symmetry and a unique pattern.’ You do know that, don’t you?”
“Yes, Lord.”
“I suppose you thought you could sneak one through.”
“No, Lord.”
“I’m not omniscient for nothing you know. I know what you’re up to.”
“It was only one. . .” Nixiel said. Being in God’s bad books was not a place to be. “and there have been so many.” The number was too big to even count the number of digits.
God wagged a finger. “Not good enough, Nixiel. It’s your job to follow the plan. You don’t get Hareniel complaining about the number of sand grains to be carved for the beaches do you.”
“But snowflakes are different, Almighty.” It may not be a wise response to God’s ire but Nixiel was arguing. “Why do they all have to have this six-fold symmetry.”
“It’s Intelligent Design, of course. Making water special was all part of my plan.”
“But no-one even sees most of my designs. Either the snowflakes get compacted into ice or they melt.”
God glowered at the angel, “You expect the humans to admire your work? If you display any more pride you will be joining Lucifer down below.”
“I could do with some assistance,” Lucifer said with a wicked leer, “The place is filling up with politicians at the moment. There’s a delightful glut of avarice and deceit.”
Nixiel didn’t fancy transferring to Hell but nevertheless risked God’s wrath by persevering “But couldn’t we change the pattern once in a while? How about pentacles or even octahedrons. I could do some pretty designs with right-angles instead of all these sixty-degree things.”
Lucifer nodded. “There’s an idea, Creator. I do a nice line in swastikas and wouldn’t cross-shaped snowflakes appeal to your Christian followers.”
“No, I’m not changing anything,” God stamped a foot silently on the cloud. “You’ve been too successful with those complacent climate change deniers and greedy fossil fuel exploiters, Lucifer. I’m planning on teaching Americans a lesson with some weather extremes, starting with shifting the polar vortex from the Arctic. We’re going to need more snow, Nixiel, a lot more. Get on with it, but no repeated designs. Got it?”
Nixiel nodded and settled down to connecting water molecules together.

……………………….

 

Jasmine enjoys a break

The news hasn’t improved. Far too many MPs in Parliament are proving to be selfish, stupid, arrogant and totally misguided. The media, particularly by the BBC (since that’s what we watch), seem to go out of their way to find members of the public with totally blinkered views of the world.  Perhaps half the (voting) population still do think that leaving the EU is the best thing to happen since we won WW2 but that doesn’t make them right.

…………………………..

Before I curl up in a ball to shut out this bizarre world we live in, let’s talk about something completely different.  Since the start of the year my bedtime reading has been a large tome of a biography of scientist John Tyndall  (The Ascent of John Tyndall by Roland Jackson). It is perhaps not the most well-written and exciting biography but it does give a detailed picture of his life and the state of science in the UK and Europe in middle decades of the nineteenth century.

Ascent of JTTyndall is little known now, partly due to his wife outliving him by 47 years.  She was intent on writing his biography but never managed to complete it. By the time she died in 1940 he had been forgotten. He wasn’t a genius to rank with Michael Faraday or Charles Darwin and made no paradigm changing discoveries. Neither was he a mathematical physicist like Clerk Maxwell or William Thompson (Lord Kelvin).  He was in fact a superb experimental scientist who amassed accurate data on the topics that interested him.  He was also a superb lecturer. During his more than thirty years at the Royal Institution in London (he was Faraday’s successor) he was the go-to attraction for thousands of men, women and children. Another reason perhaps for his slide from fame was that he flipped from one topic of interest to another, covering most branches of science.  He started with an interest in magnetism, moved on to the interaction of heat (infra-red radiation) with gases and went on to champion the germ-theory of disease, collecting evidence that supported Pasteur’s and Koch’s work. Throughout his life he was also a keen mountain climber, spending a month or two in the Swiss Alps every summer and doing important work on the study of glaciers.

Much of Tyndall’s work is relevant today, particularly his work on the absorption of heat by gases and vapours. He did meticulous measurements to show that the atmosphere, particularly the water vapour and carbon dioxide, absorbs the infra-red radiation radiated out by the earth.  He recognised that this had a warming effect (the Greenhouse Effect we call it now) that moderated the climate. He was also aware of the driving force this has on weather. Tyndall in fact provided the facts that underpin our present understanding of climate change.

Tyndall also explained why the sky is blue. That is that the short wavelength (blue) light from the Sun is scattered by the atmosphere more than longer wavelengths (red). He thought it was mainly due to dust (and bacteria) and water droplets in the upper atmosphere (it is actually the molecules of air itself).

So Tyndall has a lot of things to say to present-day scientists and non-scientists. His rise in society from a fairly ordinary, protestant Irish family to a well off star if London society is also interesting. Of course, the final piece of fascinating information about him is perhaps his death (look it up!).

……………………..

I am still taking a rest from writing Jasmine stories but my fingers are busy on the keyboard nevertheless. This week’s topic for my writers’ club was “candles”. Being immersed in C19th science my thoughts turned to Faraday’s Christmas Lecture series “The Chemical History of a Candle”.  The story that resulted is below. I began with the character being male, but once I had the ending decided that female would be more appropriate.  What do you think?

Keeping the flame

“Stop it, Ellen. If you don’t behave, I will suggest to your father that you should not attend the Royal Institution this afternoon.”
Nanny’s words had an immediate effect on me. I did not want to miss the journey into London so I decided to do as she requested. I finished eating the lunch that had been placed before me and soon it was time to don clothes suitable for venturing into society.
Shortly before two p.m. I joined Father in the hallway of our home. Despite it being but the fourth day of Christmas there was no decoration. We had not celebrated the festival this year. Nanny fussed over me while Father urged us to hurry into the carriage. It was a typical December day, cold, damp, foggy and the air stank of the smoke from the coal that we and our neighbours burned in our house fires. Nanny wrapped a blanket around me for the journey. As we set off along the muddy street, I addressed Father.
“Papa, Mama said that Mr Faraday would lecture on ‘The Chemical History of the Candle’.”
He held up a slip of paper and peered at it. “That is indeed the title on the ticket that your Mother purchased before. . .” His voice faded away and he looked out of the window.
“How can he talk for a whole hour about candles?” I said
“That we shall find out soon, Ellen,” Nanny said, “Don’t upset your father.”
I was not to be diverted. “But we have gaslight in our house. Why doesn’t he talk about the Chemical History of Gaslight?”
Father sighed. “I am sure Mr Faraday has a very good reasons for the title of this year’s Christmas Lectures. He has been delivering them for over twenty years. I am certain that he knows what will instruct and entertain his audience.”
“Will he make explosions, Papa?” I asked, eagerly.
“Let us wait and see.”
It was only some two miles to Piccadilly but before we reached our destination, we joined a queue of carriages and cabs. Eventually we turned into Albemarle Street. All the traffic travelled at a very slow pace in the same direction. Father tapped his cane against the roof of the carriage. It stopped and we stepped down. Nanny took my hand as we walked the last few yards to the grand entrance of the Royal Institution. There was a crush, as many people were of the same intention.
We took our seats in the steeply banked auditorium. Below us there was a large horse-shoe-shaped table on which stood many pieces of apparatus and quite a few candles. Just one was lit. At last the crowd hushed and Mr Faraday entered through a door behind the table. Father had told me that he was the most famous man of science in the country, but he was quite a small, retiring man with white hair.
He began to speak and his voice filled the hall. He asked us all to look carefully at the lit candle and note that though the candlewax was the fuel that fed the flame, it was solid and upright.
For the next hour I was mesmerised by Mr Faraday’s talk. He explained the principles by which a candle gives out light so clearly and entertainingly and his demonstrations illustrated the points that he made so appropriately that I felt that, despite being of few years, I understood all that he had said. I was filled with enthusiasm for science and talked of nothing else on the dark journey home. As we stepped down from our carriage I spoke to Father.
“May I try out Mr. Faraday’s experiments, Papa?”
“I am sure that is possible, my dear. Nanny will supervise you but take care with the candle flame.”
“Yes, Papa.”
I noticed that there was a tear in his eye, as I left him. I took Nanny’s hand and dragged her to the school room. She brought a candle from her room, and holding a taper to the gaslight, transferred the flame to the wick. I observed it closely as instructed by Mr Faraday and saw the little pool of liquid wax that formed just below the flame.
“I wish Mama was here,” I said.
“I am sure she is, in spirit,” Nanny replied.
“She would help me do Mr Faraday’s experiments, wouldn’t she?”
“Yes, Ellen,” Nanny’s voice wavered, “She would be pleased to see you taking up science. She was an admirer of Mr Faraday for many years and often expressed the wish that she could be a scientist too.”
“Why couldn’t she be a scientist?” I asked.
Nanny sniffed. “It is said, by men, that only men have the intellectual capacity to pursue scientific knowledge.”
“Then I will become one for Mama.”
The candle flame flickered as if in response to my resolution.

…………………………..

 

 

Jasmine, the future

No, I can’t comment, I won’t; politics is beyond satire, and it certainly isn’t funny anymore.

So, something completely different. I read an article in New Scientist magazine this week about discoveries in the Amazon (that’s the South American rainforest not the bloated parasite of a retailer).  For centuries it was thought that the jungle was the last natural wilderness only inhabited by small, scattered primitive tribes, and that conditions were unsuitable for a civilisation to be established amongst the trees.  The fabled lost cities, Eldorado and Z, were simply fables. Now it seems evidence had been found that, in fact, the Amazon was home to tens of millions of people in a network of cities connected by wide well-made roads. The civilisation began to decline after about 1000AD and collapsed and disappeared with the coming of Spanish and Portuguese explorers/invaders. What the evidence shows is a civilisation  unlike any other around the world.  It was not based on metropolitan centres depending on farming of a few staple crops such as grain or rice.  Golden Eldorado is indeed a myth.

Instead, the cities consisted of loose groups of villages or small towns (garden suburbs if you like) connected by a network of roads. They were built in the jungle not obliterating it. Crops such as cassava, but numbering up to a hundred different types, were grown amongst the trees.  The trees themselves were the biggest resource providing food and materials. The people don’t seem to have farmed grazing animals much if at all, but did catch and farm fish in the many rivers that cross the vast region.  They did not use metals or stone but built with mud and wood. For thousands of years the people lived sustainably within their jungle environment. It’s not known why the civilisation fell and was forgotten. Perhaps the population slowly grew till it reached the limits of sustainability; and then the Europeans arrived with their diseases.

The story tells us a number of things.  First, nowhere on Earth has not been altered or affected by humans. It seems even the Amazon rainforest has been modified and changed by human use. Secondly, the rainforest can sustain a sizeable population especially if it is not torn down and burnt to provide land for the short-lived production  of cash crops. Thirdly, people are resourceful. They have found ways of living and prospering in all sorts of environments. For thousands of years those lives sustained their environment rather than destroying it. Can we find a way of re-adapting our poisoned and depleted Earth and share it with the organisms that ensure our own survival?

……………………………..

WP_20181129_14_20_54_ProI’m still not writing any Jasmine stories. The fifth novel is on my to-do list, perhaps for later this year. The question  is do I want to write any more short stories – or, can I?  I want to promote the Jasmine Frame series, and I would dearly love higher sales but marketing requires time, energy and skills that I am not sure I possess or can commit. So, would another short story about Jasmine during her transgender transition encourage more readers of this blog and the published books. I don’t know. I need some comments and advice.

I am writing though.  A fantasy novel is developing and there are the weekly assignments for one of my writing groups. This week the topic was “Vegetables”. What’s that all about you ask. Well, it produced quite a variety of responses. Mine is below. It is an allegory, of course, and I know it is not horticulturally accurate. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy it.

The Brassicas

“Oi, Savoy! Have you heard the news?”
Savoy looked at the white head of the caller, from his vantage point at the high end of the field. It was Cauliflower growing in the next plot.
“Are you addressing me?” Savoy replied.
“Yeah, you daft cabbage. I said, have you heard the news?”
“To what news are you referring?” Savoy replied rather upset that Cauliflower may have news before him.
“It came from Neeps, down the end of the field.”
Savoy sighed. The Turnips were always passing on gossip from the neighbouring fields. “What did Neeps tell you?” he asked.
“He didn’t tell me exactly. I heard it from Romanesco.”
Savoy wasn’t surprised. Cauli was often conversing with his green, spiky and attractive relative. Quite improper, Savoy thought, they’d be hybridising before long and who knows what would become of that. “What did Roma tell you?” Savoy said.
“It’s Eric Unwin,” Cauli said, “The farmer.”
“Yes, I know who Unwin is. He’s the EU in EU Farms Ltd. What’s he supposed to be doing now?”
“He’s going to introduce legumes into our field.”
“Legumes!” Savoy almost went pale with apoplexy. His leaves curled. “That can’t be. Neeps must have it wrong. This field is for brassicas; always has, always will.” The days when it was all cabbages and white cauliflowers, and Neeps of course, may have passed. Now there were Reds, Sprouts, Broccoli. Even Kohlrabi and Pak Choi had been introduced, but they were all brassicas.
“There’s no need to bust your stem,” Cauli said, “I’m just telling you what Neeps told Roma.”
“I must speak to Neeps, myself.” Savoy was feeling quite out of sorts as if his roots and absorbed some heavy metal salts. He hailed the bottom of the field. “Hey, down there, Neeps. What’s this about EU planting legumes in our field.
“Och aye,” came the reply, “It’s tha truth. I . . .”
“You can’t believe all that those grains in the next field tell you.”
“A donna. Will ye no lissen tae me?”
“Well, what have you got to say.”
“He’s got canes ready to support them stringy legumes, and there’s seed – Haricot Vert, Mung Beans and. . .”
“Mung Beans!” Savoy exclaimed, “We don’t want them foreigners in our great Brassica field.”
“Well, ye ain’t goin ta have much choice are ye,” Neeps replied.
“This is preposterous,” Savoy said. “We must take action and stop this invasion.”
“I heard that legumes can be quite an asset,” Cauli said quietly, “They’ve got these nodules on their roots that fertilise the soil.”
“I’ll have none of that talk from you, Cauli,” Savoy said, “You can’t be a brassica and be in favour of legumes infiltrating our land.”
A sprout piped up “I think it would be a nice change from that stinking slurry, he uses to fertilise our field.”
“Ve prefer artificial fertiliser,” Kohlrabi said, “Clean and efficient.”
“You can keep out of this,” Savoy said. “You may be a brassica and we’re happy for you to stay but you haven’t been here as long as us cabbages.”
“What are you suggesting then, Savoy?” Cauli asked.
“We have to take back control,” Savoy said, thrusting out his leaves, “Strengthen our borders and keep out these leguminous interlopers before they grow up their canes and steal our light. What do you say Neeps?”
“A dinnae gonna do what tha say you stuffed green. We Neeps will stay part of the farm.”
Savoy blustered “You, you Neeps, you’re just root vegetables, barely brassicas at all. How about you, Red? You’ve been keeping quiet.”
The Red cabbage considered his reply, “We must ensure that the will of the brassicas is respected.”
“What sort of baloney is that?” Cauli called.
“Are you going to support our action or not Red?” Savoy asked.
“I shall put our proposals to the field when the opportunity arises,” Red replied keeping low to the ground.
Cauli had something to ask. “How are you going to withdraw the field from the farm, Savoy?”
Savoy puffed out his leaves. “We shall refuse to take new crops and make new deals for drainage, pesticides and fertiliser.”
“You won’t get a better deal than what the farm provides now,” Cauli replied.
“What do you know?” Savoy retorted.
“As much as you, you snooty cabbage. We’ll be the ones that are harmed by this.”
“The farm needs us more than we need them,” Savoy said.
“I’m not so sure about that. A bit of crop rotation will do us good. Anyway, why should you decide what we do?”
“Over half of us are cabbages. We know what we want.”
A sprout who had been listening and getting worried spoke, “Actually I think you cabbages make up less than a quarter of the whole field.”
“The will of the brassicas hasn’t changed,” Savoy responded furiously. “The field will leave the farm.”

The rains came and the sun shone but the brassicas wilted and withered. Soon there were just decayed roots and rotting leaves. The tractors arrived and ploughed the field. Eric Unwin shrugged. Sometimes crops fail; perhaps the seed was old or had been spoiled or maybe it was a strain that required too much attention. It was time to start over.

………………………….

Jasmine is resting

I think I have fallen into an alternative universe where nothing makes sense anymore. Brexit, Parliament, May – need I say more.

…………………..

I was given a stark example this week of how the law fails transgender people, those without a Gender Recognition Certificate, that is.  A woman was murdered, a suspect who was arrested was known to her.  That situation is familiar and far more common than it should be. Not something for newspapers to make a fuss about. Except, that when the suspect was taken to court and charged with the murder, the name of the victim read out was male. Despite having lived as a woman for many years the victim p1000037had been outed by the court as transgender.  I don’t know what she would have thought about that if she’d been alive but I think she might have been hurt to have her past existence revealed. Why was it released to the public? Because her female status was not respected by the legal system of the UK.  Only if you possess a Gender Recognition Certificate as a transman or transwoman, are you legally the gender you identify with and have that gender on your birth certificate and death certificate.  I do not know why the murdered woman did not possess a GRC, but there are plenty of reasons she could have given.  In fact only about 5,000 of the 500,000 transgendered people in the UK have a GRC (those figures are very, very approximate). Those figures suggest that obtaining a GRC is seen as a problem by many people living in the gender they identify with. Only those with a GRC have a secure legal status and the respect of the law.  That is why a revision of the 2004 Gender Recognition Act is necessary. I’m not sure whether self-identification as male or female is feasible or likely but I would like to see the option of a non-defined gender available.

………………………….

Another writers’ group short story this week.  The given topic was “Stars”.  I was probably expected to produce an SF story and I would have enjoyed that prospect, but I decided to do something a little different. Here is “Star” or possibly “Star-child”. Not sure if it works as a short story.  These days my short stories of around 1000 words read a bit like an excerpt or taster of a longer tale. However, I have enough novels in the machine already.

Star

Her feet were sore and her legs ached, but Papa urged her on.
“Not much further, child. The light is going. Look for some dry twigs for our fire.”
She tugged the fur of the ice bear around herself and looked up. Papa was right. The canopy was dark and there were no longer shafts of sunlight like spears of fire. She followed in Papa’s footsteps surveying the ground for kindling.
It wasn’t long before she noticed a change in the light. Although the day was ending her surroundings were lighter. The light came from between the tall tree trunks not from above. Papa gave a cry and hurried forward. She ran after him grasping her bundle of wood.
It was as if the trees would only grow if they were surrounded by their companions. Suddenly they were out in the open with the forest behind them. She scudded to a halt feeling grass on her legs reaching up to her waist. She turned slowly, seeing the line of conifers behind and ahead the grass plain studded with flowers of every colour. In the distance there was a line where the land stopped. Above it, hung the golden ball of the Sun. She looked up seeing the full dome of the sky for the first time in her life, blue-black above the forest, radiant blue above and red around the Sun.
She felt dizzy. “Papa!”
He ran to her, dropping his spear and scooping her into his arms. “I’m sorry, child. I forgot you have not seen all the sky before. It is dazzling isn’t it?”
“I didn’t know the sky was so big,” she said. “You told me that the gods had taken Mama above the sky. Is she way up there?” She pointed upwards.
“Yes, child, that is what I said.” There was a shake to his voice and a tear was in his eye.
“Thank you, Papa. You can put me down now.” She wriggled.
Chuckling, he set her on her feet. He picked up his flint tipped spear and hitched the boar skin over his shoulder.
“I think I see a stream a bit further on. We’ll camp near there. Come on, child, just a few more steps.”
Soon they came to a lazy, meandering brook with a clump of bushes nearby where the grass didn’t grow as tall. Papa removed the skin from his shoulder, took out the fire pot and carefully lit some tinder. Soon he had a fire started.
“Tend the fire child. I will try and find our supper. Do not wander. This land is unfamiliar to you and me.” He strode off with his spear at his shoulder.
She fed twigs to the fire which burned without smoke. Satisfied that it was alight she turned her attention to the flowers that grew amongst the grasses. She picked those that took her fancy and braided their stems together into a ring which she placed on her head of golden hair. Before the Sun had sunk completely below the horizon, Papa returned dangling a dead rabbit from his fist. He muttered approving noises at the fire and her crown, then sat beside her. She watched as he skinned the creature with his knife with the bronze blade and bone handle. He gave her strips of flesh which she fixed to a stick and held in the flames.
It was quite dark by the time they finished eating. She looked up and gasped. The whole dome of the heavens was studded with points of light.
“The stars, Papa,” she cried, “There are so many.”
Papa looked up too. “Wonderful aren’t they.”
“What are stars, Papa?”
He took a breath. “They are holes in the dome of the heavens through which the gods look down on us.”
She let out a sigh. “Does Mama look down on us too?”
“I’m sure she does. Now child, you must settle to sleep. We have more travelling to do tomorrow.”
She curled up alongside him in the grass, pulling the white fur around her.

She awoke with a start. A noise, a cry, had disturbed her. It was still dark but along with the starlight there was a gibbous Moon low in the sky. Papa was on his feet, two hands gripping his spear. It was pointing at two dark-haired figures clothed in dark furs. They edged towards him, stone axes held aloft. She crouched in the grass, watching.
Something caught her eye, high up. A bright streak shot across the sky. Overhead it exploded with a light bigger and brighter than the Sun. A few heart beats later there came a noise like a lion’s roar and wind blew flattening the grass.
She scrambled to her feet with red spots before her eyes and stepped towards Papa. She pointed to the stars.
“What’s happening, Papa?”
The two dark skinned men were immobile. They took one look at her and fell to their knees. They babbled and bowed their heads towards her.
“What are they saying?” she said. Papa came to her side and rested a hand on her shoulder. His other hand still held the spear.
“I don’t know, child. They speak differently to us but some words I recognise. I heard ‘star’ and ‘child’ and ‘light’. I think they believe you are fallen from the stars. They’re worshipping you.”

……………………………

Jasmine in the minority

New Year, same old chaos. It seems that the UK government and parliament has carried on where it left off before Christmas, with no chance of anything getting sorted on Brexit or any other subject because of the divisions between and within parties. Similarly, government in the USA is at an impasse because Trump and the Democrats cannot agree or agree to differ. Is it real or just my perceptions that divisions are becoming deeper and causing more and more violence?

Having spent Christmas with the family which includes the pleasure of watching grandchildren growing up, it seems to me that our understanding of our place in the world changes as we grow older. A child can only believe that they are the centre of their universe.  The attention of their parents, siblings and others is focussed only on them; their desires and emotions are purely their own. That is why even two year olds can be incredibly stubborn and forthright in expressing their wishes even if it is just a loud “No!” to any request addressed to them.

At some stage we become aware that people around us have desires and needs too but it takes longer before we realise that they may differ from our own. It is even later that we may come to accept that other people’s opinions may be more valid than our own. I think I had got to this stage by the time I reached adulthood but it is quite recently that I moved to the next (last?) stage and realised that a sizeable proportion of the population amongst whom I lived held views that were not only opposed to my own but that they could harm my way of life and that of my fellow country-people.

Prior to the EU Referendum I was able to accept that some people voted Conservative and some Labour and that from time to time the colour of the ruling party in government would change. However the result of the referendum revealed to me that half of the voting public held views I found abhorrent.  People who I had previously considered friends I now discovered were right-wing, racist, nationalist, bigots.

The other thing about the present divisions is that there is no majority for any policy. The Referendum produced an almost dead-heat of those that voted. Of course, less than two-thirds of those eligible bothered to cast a vote and another quarter of the UK population was too young to vote. No UK party has won a majority of the votes cast in a general election for decades and they usually represent less than 25% of the population. The same is true in the USA where the voting in the Presidential election was fairly evenly split between Clinton (the actual winner on votes cast) and Trump. Across Europe, where proportional representation at least provides a fairer distribution of parliamentary seats, governments are made up of minority parties agreeing to, temporarily, join together.

We are all members of minorities. Perhaps those who have  “protected characteristics” (as the Equality Act of 2010 refers to them including ethnicity, religion, disability, sexuality, gender reassignment) deserve extra protection from hate-crime, but everyone can find themselves in a group that is persecuted by others. It may be Remainer MPs frighteningly called “Nazis” by Brexiteering nutcases, or transwomen railed against by radical feminists. In some respects, minorities are more accepted by the majority today – I wouldn’t be free to live my gender-fluid life otherwise – but on the other hand some minorities (which the rabid Brexiteers are) are trying to force their opinions on the rest using detestable methods.

…………………………..

p1000040I am still taking a rest from writing Jasmine Frame stories but here is another SF story.  This was written for another of my writing groups (which likes short pieces). Because it was January, Janus was chosen as the topic. A little bit of research showed that the two-faced Janus, was the Roman god of beginnings and endings and of gates and doorways. There was, in Rome, a ceremonial gatehouse with gates at each end which were closed in peacetime and opened in time of war. It was open most of the time.

 

The Janus Gate

“I can’t see the gate, Commander,” I said while staring at the screen. On a dark background devoid of stars was a faint ring of Hawking light revealing the position of the black hole that powered the gate, but no sign of the Janus Gate itself.
“It’s invisible to e-m radiation,” the Commander said, rising from the couch, “You can ask the ship to carry out a Higgs scan if you like. I’m off to rest. The ship will need us both to be alert when the gate opens. Take command.”
“Yes, Commander,” I replied in my best officer voice and as the Commander left the control cabin, I called up the suggested scan. A ghostly image gradually built up on the screen as the dark matter structure was revealed. It was a lot more complicated than I expected, but I suppose every Janus artefact is a lot more decorated and ornate than its function requires. The oval frame of the gate was a helix with countless curlicues attached. In the centre, masking the black hole, was the face of the Janus. It was unlike mine or that of any other alien race we had encountered. Roughly circular, it was covered with nodules, but which were eyes, ears or odour sensors it was impossible to tell. The Janus had at least three of each on either face. No mouth of course; the Janus stuffed the plants that were their food straight into their bellies. Apparently, it is possible to recognise an individual Janus by the pattern of nodules but all the representations I had seen looked the same. I presumed that the other face of the Janus looked out on the far end of the gate.

I soon got bored staring out into space. The Janus Gate wasn’t showing any apparent signs of opening. I found some other ways of entertaining myself, making sure that I was awake should the Commander return. Nevertheless, I almost shot out of my couch when the ship alarms went off. The Commander arrived moments later.
“The gate is opening,” the Commander said, falling onto the couch, “They’ll be coming through soon. Check the armaments.” I did as I was told. All our weapons were directed towards the space inside the Janus Gate which was rippling as the fabric of space within it was reconfigured.
“Why does the gate only open when there is conflict?” I asked.
“Why indeed,” was the reply, “It’s said that the Janus are the only prey species ever to achieve star-flight.”
“Prey species?” I said.
“Those two faces gave them all round sensing capability for detecting predators,” the Commander explained. “There is conjecture that they set up the gates as a diversion for all the predators they found in space. To get us to fight each other rather than go after them.”
“But the Janus don’t exist anymore. They’re extinct.” I said.
“Or they’ve gone elsewhere and left us squabbling over the gates. Perhaps if they were still here, they’d tell us how they arranged them so that these routes between stars only work when we’re out to kill each other.”
Another alarm sounded as points of light appeared in the Janus Gate. They soon took on the form of starships approaching us at a significant proportion of light speed.
“Fire at will,” the Commander said to me and the ship. Particle beams fired from our canons and from the thousand ships in the fleet lined up alongside us. They were answered by similar beams from our attackers. The screen filled with exploding ships. “Damn humans,” the Commander muttered, “Why do they always start it?”

……………………………

 

Jasmine and the new year

I’m sure there have been plenty of occasions when people have feared a new year but in all my sixty-six years this is the first time that I have been scared by the prospects for a year.  There are things that I am looking forward to: making use of the amenities of our new home; holidays; getting on with the various writing projects I have given myself. Nevertheless, it is the uncertainty about what is about to happen that is scary. Will the politicians see sense on Brexit? What will really happen if Brexit goes ahead at the end of March with or without a deal? With so many authoritarian, actual and would-be dictators in power around the world, what will happen when they all fail to get their way in making their countries “great again”? That’s before I worry about the worsening situation caused by climate change and environmental degradation. I don’t want to be a pessimist but it’s difficult to look on the bright side at the moment.

………………………..

WP_20181129_14_20_54_ProI’m taking a rest from writing Jasmine Frame stories for a while.  The fifth (and last?) novel is on my list of projects and I’m slowly developing the plot. The aim is to complete it in 2020, almost twenty years since I started writing about Jasmine. There will be prequel stories in the meantime. I hope.

Just a reminder that the three sequels –  Bodies By Design, The Brides’ Club Murder and Molly’s Boudoir are available in paperback form for £9.99 inc post and packing and a free copy of Painted Ladies. The complete collection costs £25 inc post & packing.  Write here with your order. All four novels are available on Kindle along with the novellas, Discovering Jasmine, Murder In Doubt and Trained By Murder.

What I am going to give you each week are the drafts of short stories and bits of story that I write alongside the novels and the articles. Here’s one written for one of my writing groups on the topic “Out of the comfort zone.” The idea isn’t totally original but I hope you enjoy it. Comments, as ever, are welcome.

Out of the Zone

Winston awoke to a jangling in his head. Only when he raised his hand to his temple to touch his headband did it stop. The movement convinced his wake-up alert that he actually was awake. He threw off the duvet and stood up. Sunlight streamed through the picture window. Winston smiled. It was a lovely day to go to work and he was happy. He notified his net friends that today was this month’s work day and he received numerous replies, some hoping he’d enjoy the day and many others bemoaning their lack of similar employment.
While he stood under the shower, the room reconfigured itself, stowing away the bed and opening the kitchen/diner unit. Ads cleaning products for himself and the bathroom circled round his head as he washed and then towelled himself. Feeling clean and fresh he pulled on his work clothes, the bright colours augmented by ads for his employer.
After a satisfying breakfast, with programmed taste enhancements provided by his headband, Winston left the pod to self-lock and self-clean. He descended in the lift to road level and stepped outside into the warm fresh air. Well, it was warm and fresh according to the perceptions provided by his headband. A travel pod drew up and the door opened.
“Good morning, Mr Smith,” the pod said, “Please get in and make yourself comfortable. Our journey to your first destination will take thirteen point two minutes.” The seat wrapped itself around Winston; a precaution against the vanishingly small possibility of a collision. They set off. The roads were quiet and Winston viewed the familiar streets augmented by ads, news and info-bits provided by his headband.
A brief message played in his head as he passed through the wall of the dome. “You are now leaving Zone 5.” Winston didn’t leave his Zone often, in fact this was the first time since his last day’s work, so he watched with delight the passing scene of green fields, woodlands, and a blue sky broken by small white fluffy clouds. In a few minutes the great white dome of his destination loomed ahead.
“Welcome to zone 4, Winston Smith,” he heard in his head. Zone 4 was very similar to his home zone with block after block of living pods, each building embellished with the same ads, and news but slightly different info-bits.
The travel pod slowed to a halt outside a smart neon-coloured block. The door slid open.
“I will remain here until you return,” the travel pod announced as Winston was released from his seat. His headband told him that his first task was in the vestibule of the block. The door opened for him as he expected. He stepped into the brightly lit, colourful foyer.
A small maintenance bot waited beneath a faulty light bulb. That was his job, replacing bulbs. There weren’t many jobs left for humans to do, not physical ones. Winston was grateful that the AIs managing the zone hadn’t decided that this job could be automated. Apparently, it was cheaper to get a human to stretch his hand up to the ceiling and replace a faulty bulb rather than design a machine to do the job. Winston guessed that it was because such a machine would have to be taller and bulkier than the typical ground hugging cleaning and repair bots. Winston quickly replaced the bulb and then the bot lead him up several floors to an unoccupied hab-pod which also had an inoperative ceiling light.
Winston returned to the ground floor with a sense of having successfully completed his task. The travel pod would take him to the next job. He left the block and crossed the pavement taking the opportunity to catch up on the activities of his net friends. Perhaps his headband was a little slow to alert him to the danger, perhaps he didn’t notice the warning. Whatever the reason, he tripped over a scuttling street-cleaner-bot.
Winston fell, arms spread out to break his fall, but he failed to stop his head cracking against the bumper of the waiting travel-pod. He lay on the pavement for a moment then sat up. Something wasn’t right. He wasn’t hurt. There was no feeling of pain in his arms, legs, body or head. He was grateful for that but that wasn’t what was wrong. Something was missing. The chatter of the news, the ads and of his net-friends had stopped. He raised a hand to his head and touched his headband. Two pieces of thin curved plastic fell into his lap. He looked at them with horror. There shouldn’t be two pieces, just one and it should be fixed to his head. He tried pushing the two parts together and holding them against his temples, but they fell off again.
Winston stood up, the pieces of his headband dangling from his hand. He looked around him. The street looked different. The pavement, the road, the building blocks were various shades of grey. There was no augmentation, no cheerful colours, no ads, no info-notes. There was nothing happening in his head. He was cut off from the net. Winston felt lost and adrift but a feeling bubbled up inside him. He must get back home to zone 5 quickly and get his link restored.
He stepped towards the travel pod. The door didn’t open. Winston tapped on it. The door stayed securely shut. Winston hammered on it with his fist but all that happened was that the travel-pod moved. An alarm sounded and the travel pod screamed “I am being attacked”. It drove away at speed with Winston staring after it.
He turned to go back inside the block. Perhaps the maintenance bot would help him. The doors were closed and remained closed despite him hollering and thumping on them.
It was no use. He guessed the problem. Without his headband he was not recognised by the machines or buildings of this zone. It wasn’t his zone. He had to get back home. There was only one way to do it – walk.
Winston had no recollection of the route the travel pod had taken from the entrance to the zone but he told himself that if he walked down the straight roads he would reach the edge of the dome and then could follow it around to the entrance.
It took him an hour to reach an entrance, an hour of walking the grey streets deserted except for a few passing travel pods. He wasn’t even sure that he was at the correct entrance. Nevertheless, the next time the doors opened to allow a travel-pod to exit he skipped through and started walking along the interzone road.
It didn’t take him long to start wondering if he was going in the right direction. The scenery looked different. Instead of charming farmland and woodland, the ground was a bare, dusty and brown with not a living plant to be seen. The sky was overcast with an orange tinge to the grey. Although he could not see the Sun, the air was hot and it stank.
Winston coughed, feeling the air burning his throat but he continued walking. Travel-pods passed from time to time, moving at high speed but totally ignoring him. Ahead he could see the dome of the adjacent zone. Was it his home? He couldn’t tell but it didn’t seem to be getting much closer as he plodded along. He noted that his brightly coloured uniform was in reality a light grey, gradually becoming khaki as it collected dust blown from the land alongside the road.
Without his headband he had no indication of the time, but Winston’s stomach told him it must be long after lunchtime when he finally reached the dome. The doors that admitted the travel pods were closed but displayed the number five. He was home. Well, not quite. He had to get in and find his way to his block before he could really say he was home, but this was as far as he could go for now. He crumpled to the ground by the doors, his feet sore, his legs aching and his throat raw. He wheezed as he drew the filthy air into his lungs.
Minutes passed before he saw a travel pod approaching. He got slowly to his feet, every muscle in his body complaining. The doors slid apart and he crawled inside as the travel-pod passed through. Now he just had to find his block, but how? The streets all looked identical, as did the grey blocks, although he was surprised to see that some had cracks and worn patches of concrete in their walls. Didn’t the maintenance-bots look after the homes of the millions of residents of the Zones? Perhaps they didn’t bother quite as much as he had taken for granted. Augmentation hid the wear and tear, but he didn’t have that distraction any longer.
He crept along the streets hoping he might recognise his home block. He saw no other pedestrians. Who bothered to leave their hab-pod when they had all home comforts to hand – food, water, entertainment, even friendship across the net.
His tiredness grew as the futile search for his home continued. At least breathing had become easier as the air was less dusty but there was an odour of decay. The streets became dark and the windowless blocks displayed no lights. Exhausted and despondent he lay on the pavement with his back resting against a doorway. Winston fell into a deep sleep.

A passing cleaner-bot encountered his sleeping form. Winston was bigger than the usual street litter such as dead rats. It put a call out for a worker to move the offending object. An hour later a travel pod drew up and opened its door. For Selwyn it was his first work shift for weeks. It wasn’t often that the zone 5 AI called on a member of its small workforce of human street cleaners. Disposing of waste larger than the bots could handle was a rare task but one that humans could accomplish. This wasn’t, however, the usual lump of masonry fallen from the decaying blocks.
Selwyn knelt beside Winston. “Hey, mate, what you doing? Isn’t the bed in your pod comfortable enough for you?” As he spoke Selwyn realised that his headband wasn’t giving him any information but about the recumbent person. Mystified Selwyn brushed his hand through the man’s hair. There wasn’t a headband. Mysterious.
Winston stirred. He opened his eyes and saw the face of the man looking down at him. He flinched and sat up. It was a long time that he’d been this close to an actual person.
“What’s up? Where’s your headband,” Selwyn said.
“It broke,” Winston croaked, his mouth dry and his throat sore, “I’ve been cut off from the net for hours. I don’t know where my hab-pod is.”
Selwyn frowned, then his face broke into a smile. “Well, we’d better get you to Central and have your DNA checked. Once you’re recognised, the AI will give you a new headband. Then you can get back to your lovely comfortable life.”

………………………….