A little late this week writing this blog because we were out for most of yesterday, that is Friday 9th. We met up with our family, the granddaughters and their parents, for the first time since last July. Okay, it wasn’t a hot, sunny day, but it was pleasant enough going for walk and eating our picnic. Actually the walk was more than pleasant, a chance to chat as a group or in pairs to each and everyone, which is not something we manage on Whatsapp video or Zoom. We caught up on things and even had a couple of Christmas presents to open. There was a slight feeling of getting back to something like the life we had “before”. Okay we weren’t in each other’s homes, and we didn’t hug and kiss but it was a step. Not surprisingly the meeting place we chose was packed – the car park at any rate. Luckily the park itself was large enough to accommodate everyone and not feel as if we were endangering our health.
The day was special enough but it was also the furthest we had travelled in our new electric car and our first attempt at a re-charge at a service area. But there will be more about that in our other blog Driving EVe.
I suppose we will always remember it as the day Prince Phillip died. The news came through on J’s phone shortly after noon. When we got home we found that the whole of the BBC was given over to the event for the rest of the day. I suppose it was to be expected but to the exclusion of all else? After all, Glamorgan were getting Yorkshire all out for 193; that was notable too.
While The Duke of Edinburgh had no role and no real power, his passing is significant. His long life was filled with many momentous occasions, from his exile from Greece, through WWII to his life beside and behind the Queen. At 99 and obviously unwell for a few months, his death was not unexpected. There are two sadnesses, one that he didn’t quite make his century and secondly that it had to happen while we have that vile buffoon as PM who is supposed to speak on the people’s behalf.
The way in which his passing is received will give a hint I suppose as to what the end of the Elizabethan reign will bring. I imagine the Queen will retreat further into semi-retirement while discussions about the future of the monarchy will become more urgent. I’m in two minds. It is both an extraordinary privilege for a family to be so mollycoddled, on the other hand, it is a strange torture for those born to royalty who don’t want it. Obviously in a true democracy, monarchy is a nonsense, but I think I prefer an unelected, uninvolved constitutional monarch to an all powerful president representing just a faction of the population.
The topic for both my writing groups this week was “Spring”, a well-contrived coincidence. There weren’t many contributions from either group but a recollection of The Magic Roundabout and Zebedee’s spring was the the most enjoyable. My effort is a future memoir. Thinking about the topic, I set it in the future history that I have devised for my current novel. So this piece is perhaps a scene of backstory but there is no intention that it form part of the novel itself. It is intended to be quite realistic SF; perhaps a warning.
Where the bees fly
The buzzing of bees fills the air. I lean to watch one of the insects on a blossom, pausing to suck the nectar and cover its legs with pollen. There are many thousands of them on every row and every bank of plants in the cavern. They flit between the flowers content with the Martian gravity. I watch them in the glow of the red and blue LED lights, doing the job I’ve done for decades. It is the first growing season we have entrusted the pollination of our crops to the insects. It is the task they evolved to do on Earth, but it has taken a long time to bring them back, engineer them for their new environment and breed sufficient to replace people like me. We need them to feed the millions of Martians. No, I’m not sorry to be out of a job.
I remember the spring fifty years ago when I was first employed as a pollinator. Back then the National Government was still recruiting school leavers. It was a choice of joining the Border Force repelling the migrants from Spain and elsewhere or joining the National Sustenance Army to grow food to feed the increasingly impoverished population.
I was lucky. I was sent to Oxfordshire where there was still a semblance of local organisation. The farm was one of the new ones, all under glass, soilless, temperature controlled. It was my job, like thousands of others, to go from plant to plant brushing the pollen delicately from one flower to another, playing the part of the bees and other insects driven to extinction.
In the short breaks we were allowed, I went outside and stood in the Sun. Most of my fellows feared doing the same what with the risk from toxins in the air and uv from the Sun. It was the only time in the year, other than autumn, when it was sensible. For a few weeks between the winter storms and the summer heatwave, it was pleasant to be in the sunshine, to watch the clouds scudding across the sky and just, well, stand. My parents talked of their childhoods in the 2020s, listening to birdsong and buzzing bees, looking at the daffodils and bluebells and smelling the fragrance of the apple blossom and wild garlic. There was none of that of course. No birds, no flowers, no insects, just the roar of the fans sucking air through the filters before blowing it into the greenhouses and the chugging of the pumps that circulated the water and nutrients to the plants.
We slept in the old cowsheds now turned into dormitories. The cattle had gone of course as all crops were earmarked for human bellies. There was a patch of bare ground between the shed and the greenhouses where a small tree, an oak, stood on patch of yellow grass. It can’t have been that old, fifty years perhaps, not the towering mature tree I’d seen in history books. It was probably sickly, but the buds were bursting into green. I examined a small leaf fascinated by its shape and the pattern of veins.
It was hard work, day after day, ensuring every plant was pollinated and setting fruit, but at least we got fed and a bed to sleep on. Not like those folks made homeless by the abandonment of floodplain towns like York and Tewkesbury, confined to the camps in the Peak District. I must have made an impression because I got kept on to learn horticulture. Most of my group got drafted into the national guard and sent to fight the Scottish nationalists or to quell the riots that broke out with increasing frequency as people became more and more desperate.
I didn’t know it at the time but that first spring in the glasshouses was the calmest period of my life. I did the menial jobs but gradually I learned about cell culturing, genetic modification, environmental control and diet. The great storm of ’74 knocked out the national grid, but we were able to carry on with our batteries and solar power, and rain collectors, our own waste fertilising the plants. As the riots grew in number and became more violent, the government put a force on our border to repel the homeless and hungry. The winter storms became ever fiercer and the summer heat less and less bearable. The government subsided into chaos and it was the corporations that took over responsibility for protecting their own interests and their workers while their customers slid into poverty. I hadn’t realised that the skills I had learned were my passport to a future.
Just a few years later I found myself on a shuttle taking me first into orbit and on to Mars. The corporations used their remaining wealth and resources to move their headquarters and operations to the red planet. I was one of the lucky ones chosen to escape from the collapse of civilisation on Earth. People like me were needed to run the farms in the caverns dug out of the Martian rock. Knowing what my life and probable early death would be like on Earth I had no regrets about leaving the planet that had nurtured us. We had destroyed that world but there was a new opportunity for a small proportion of the billions who had lived. I had a new life, work that occupied me and kept me supplied with food, water, air and companions. There was no point in looking back at our mistakes. Only that spring has lingered in my memory.