Jasmine is busy

20190929_1425395420359538563679915.jpgIf you are reading this shortly after it goes live, i.e. Saturday morning, I should be at a Book and Craft Fair in Hereford with my fellow writer Kim. Another opportunity to sell a few books – well, we’ll see. Anyway it’s another day out, another day away from the computer and writing the next best seller (laugh!).

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This election is still sickening me and the anticipation of life after 12th Dec if we get the result the polls predict makes it worse. I always felt I had some empathy for people’s feelings and some sympathy for other viewpoints than my own, but the one thing the referendum and the aftermath has done is shown that I just do not understand the people who continue to want to leave and think that Johnson is a worthy PM. One issue is the people that the TV news i.e. the BBC, interview to get the “peoples’ opinion”.  They are always old; young people i.e. those under 40, are sidelined.

A typical piece was on  people who have deserted their former loyalties in the last three years. It had to be people who had experience of supporting other parties but did they have to be largely pensioners? An old guy who has turned from Labour to the Tories; an even older woman who is now voting Brexit. The youngest person (in her 50s?) was a Remainer who had moved to the Lib Dems. I don’t think there was anyone who had moved from right to left, and no-one was really questioned why they had changed i.e why they were mostly leavers. Perhaps they think that people under 40 don’t change their mind.

Another sign of the lack of young people in this election, was a Labour leaflet we received.  On the front was a picture of the candidate with, presumably, her supporters – all old(ish). Are there no Labour activists under 40?

I really do hope that the young people get out and vote on 12th Dec. otherwise all the decisions are going to be made by and for the over 60s.  Though why those people think they can rely on the Tories defeats me.

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It’s been a busy week for one reason and another, but I have got on with revising the novel. It involves two characters independently hopping around the world so I have had fun (?!) making sure that that the timelines are consistent. That didn’t leave a lot of time for this week’s writers’ group task.  The discussion last week had turned to the often strange and amusing names that towns and villages have, particularly in England. There were two or three pieces that built stories out of weird, wonderful and sometimes rude, place-names.  They were clever and well-thought out but were not particularly strong as stories.  I had thoughts of using names from “The Meaning of Liff“; a collection of imaginary definitions of placenames written by Douglas Adams  such as “Shanklin – the ring of skin on a slice of salami”. Alternatively, I thought of using objects named for place-names  e.g. wellington boots, cardigans and sandwiches. But I didn’t have time, so here is the short piece I did produce.

All in the name

My home is close to a small church consecrated in the name of the mother of Christ. It’s a Victorian construction, replacing a much earlier building. The church and its small graveyard occupy a hollow. There was once a pond surrounded by a grove of hazel trees. The trees still flourish and every spring are bedecked with white flowers.
A couple of hundred paces brings you to the coast. Strong currents flow through the strait and there is a fierce whirlpool that has threatened the lives of many swimmers and sailors. Nearby, there is a small island attached to the mainland by a causeway that is uncovered at low tide. On the island there is a medieval church dedicated to an early Celtic saint. It is said that Tysilio spent some years on the island as a hermit living in a cave carved out of the red rock.
Where do I live? Well, I’ve told you. In the native tongue it is called Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch

Just a few afterthoughts: I know that hazel flowers aren’t usually white but that is what the translation of the name says. The name is actually a marketing gambit of the late C19th railway tourism boom. The original name of the village was Llanfairpwllgwyngerych  or LlanfairPGG for short.  The rest was added to make it the longest station name on the system and hence attract visitors.  It was successful.

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Jasmine dithers

I am sorry to say that this General Election fills me with dread rather than excitement. We have already had the party that is in government putting out fake posts on social media; that’s a government that is supposed to be fighting false messages. All the parties have made extravagant claims of what they would do “for us” if they got into power.  I don’t believe a word of it because I can’t see the country’s finances being up to it. I am just hoping that the polls appearing in the media (all of it) are even more inaccurate than they have been for the last two elections and that people are coming to sensible decisions about who to vote for. Forget that last sentence; I don’t think there is a lot of sense around at the moment.

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A reminder of summer

Last Sunday evening we sat down to watch two fantasy/SF shows, one after the other, on BBC1, which surely can’t have happened often! His Dark Materials is a fine presentation of Pullman’s tale, but War of the Worlds, oh dear. It is over a year late being shown and it’s obvious why – it is a horrible mish-mash. The good think is that it is set in the era it was written, the first version to do so, but instead of following what Wells wrote they’ve added this complex subplot of the runaway couple, the brother and the ex-wife, which took up a lot of the first episode, and there are only three. The thing about WotW is that the story unfolds around the un-named observer whose only role is to survive.  It is terrifying because of the power of the Martian machines and the vivid descriptions of horrific attacks on the human population (OK, the English). The denouement, which I am sure everyone knows, is a bit of a cop out; human civilisation survives by accident thanks to a cold virus. A faithful adaptation does not need the ghastly subplot but would get on with the action.

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A reader commented on my last post by saying I have too many distractions from my novels. She’s right. What have I done in the last week: written a short story for writer’s group (see below) and enjoyed a morning with the group; started editing/re-writing my novel; re-jigged a short story for a competition; dealt with numerous emails about this and that; sung in a concert (that took a whole day) and been to a rehearsal; done my daily Welsh lesson and attended the evening class; watched some TV and done some reading; and finally, played tennis three times (that’s my fitness programme). Yes, a lot of distractions, but I don’t know which I would stop.

And so to that writers’ group exercise.  This week the theme was “eclipsed”. I guessed that most would use in a metaphorical way and I was right. However, I was a bit doubtful about how the concept was used. An eclipse involves a bright beacon being obscured, temporarily. That wasn’t quite what happened in most of the stories. My effort was, of course, literal (my club colleagues expect it of me), so here is an SF story of sorts about an eclipse. In fact it reads more like the first chapter of a novel that I haven’t yet planned.  I was thinking of calling it  An Instance of Proportion, but Eclipsed will do.

Eclipsed

The day had arrived, the day Ben had been looking forward to for years; 12th August 2026. It was warm and sunny in Oviedo as it had been each day since their arrival in Spain. Nevertheless, Ben kept glancing at the sky. It would be so disappointing if it clouded over today of all days. After breakfast on the patio of their rented villa, Ben and his three friends loaded their gear into their rented van, excited to be setting off for the hills east of the ancient city. They weren’t the only ones on the roads, but they soon reached the hilltop with its marvellous panorama of the area. They weren’t interested in that view, however. They began preparing their equipment, telescopes and stands, tracking motors, screens, chairs, tables, refreshments.
Ben fussed over his reflector.  It wasn’t as big or as fancy as those owned by his friends and the other groups establishing their pitches nearby. He was a beginner, a newbie, filled with excitement at witnessing his first solar eclipse. He fitted the lens that would project an image of the Sun on to a simple white screen.  Others had wireless feeds from their telescopes to their slates and smart specs. Ben was going to watch the eclipse the old way.

After lunch, there was little else to do but wait.  Some latecomers arrived and struggled to find a patch of flat ground amongst the multitude of telescopes. Ben listened to the tales of his new friends. There was Derek, a veteran of the 1999 UK eclipse which he had missed because of cloud, and Lottie, an eclipse chaser, who travelled the world to experience every event. Last of all, there was Jaydan, younger than Ben and almost silent except when talking about astronomy or his impressive set of kit.
It was late afternoon and the Sun was sinking over the mountains west of Oviedo, when Derek looked at his watch and announced.
“It’ll be commencing in a couple of minutes.”
They all looked again at their kit as if they hadn’t been doing so all afternoon. Ben leaned closer to his screen on which the bright circle of the sun was projected. A tiny sliver of the orb was obscured. As he watched, minute by minute, the black disc moved over more and more of the sun’s image. Almost half of the Sun was obscured when Ben noticed something else.
“Hey, what’s that red shape,” he called out. A circular disc of dull red was passing across the black face of the Moon. It seemed to move just a little faster than the Moon’s progress across the Sun.
“Are you all seeing it, guys?” Lottie called; her head close to her screen.
“I am observing an object that has appeared between us and the Moon,” Derek replied. They all shouted their agreement as did members of the other groups nearby.
“It’s weird. It looks to be the same apparent diameter as the Moon and Sun” Jaydan said, speaking up for once.
Ben was confused. “What can it be? A satellite, or one of the Moon shuttles?”
“Certainly not,” Derek said. “Not even the ISS2 is that size yet and it’s not a perfect circle.”
“A balloon in the upper atmosphere?” someone suggested but was immediately rebuffed.
“Totality will be in five minutes,” Derek said, “and it looks as though whatever it is will be eclipsing the Moon at the same time.”
The Moon crept across the Sun, and the red disc spread to cover it too. The sky became dark and the air cooled. Birds settled in the few trees that clung to the hilltop, and silence fell.
“We’re not going to be able to see the corona,” Lottie said, “That red thing is too bright.”  She was right. The dull red  object hung in the sky, the same apparent size as the Sun itself and the Moon.
Derek looked up from his telescope. “I do believe It looks somewhat like the Moon during a lunar eclipse when it is lit by light from the Earth.”
“How can that be?” Ben asked, “the Moon is between us and the Sun.”
Lottie explained. “Yes, but the eclipse shadow only covers a tiny portion of the Earth’s surface. The rest of the day side of the Earth is still illuminated by the Sun. The reflected light is bouncing off that thing. What is it? Someone must know something.”
Jaydan was staring at his slate over the top of his smart specs.. “The Chinese are relaying transmissions from their Moon base.”
“Their viewpoint should see it against the background of the Earth,” Derek said
“Yeah, I’m getting it. They say it’s an artefact. . .”
“What do you mean,” Ben said.
“He means it’s not natural,” Lottie replied. “Go on Jaydan.”
“It’s thirty-six thousand k from Earth.”
“That’s geostationary orbit,” Derek cried, “Which means it’s over three hundred kilometres in diameter.”
“Yeah. NASA have got some parallax on it too. It’s a cylinder not a disc and it’s sixteen hundred klicks long.”
“That’s a hell of a spaceship,” Lottie said. They all looked up into the sky. Ben wondered what the appearance of the object meant.
Totality was ending and a crescent of sunlight was breaking out around the edge of the red disc that still covered the Moon.
Derek said. “It can’t actually be in orbit. It’s not moving fast enough. It must be under power in order to keep the Moon eclipsed.”

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Jasmine reflects

It’s been one of those weeks; lots happening, things to do and then the computer plays up and time is spent trying to sort it. The result is that I’m rushing to get things done that I need to devote some time to, such as doing my Welsh homework and learning the choir music (neither done to my satisfaction) as well as getting on with the writing.

Ah, yes, writing. One bit of sort of good news; I have completed the first draft of my latest novel, The Pendant and the Globe. The downside is that I think this one will require quite a bit of editing and revision. So, do I get straight on with that or put it away for a couple of weeks “to marinade”. I think circumstances will force the latter.

Then there is the second question – do I get on with the next Jasmine novel, which I would like to publish in 2021 (a year to write and revise it before it goes for copyediting etc.) or, do I return to the other fantasy novel which I left about 1/3 written but in a somewhat muddled state.

The trouble is that with other activities keeping me occupied, my writing time has been cut and a big portion of what remains is taken up with shorter material. An example is the weekly writers’ group task. I enjoy doing it but it does take time. This week we were invited to write a piece for a possible anthology with the subject “My Writing Journey”. We agreed that could be pretty boring if the same thing is said over and over again. I think I’ve taken a slightly different slant but I can’t give you a preview here.

I’m not sure I’ve been on a journey anyway, certainly not a planned one, more of an aimless trudge through the wilderness. I’ve been asked when I started writing. The answer is I can’t remember starting; I always have done. Neither can I say when I first wanted to be published, because I think I always have but for a long time, perhaps because of fear of failure, did little about it other than half-hearted attempts guarranteed to get nowhere. I am very proud of what I have produced, both my educational writing and my fiction. It’s a pity that my fiction is not earning lots of dosh but there are two possible reasons: one, my writing is not good enough; or, two, I didn’t do enough to prepare the ground for a career as an author of fiction (and that includes not acquiring all the skills).

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Finally, some comments on the state of the nation. I despair. So far the quality of the election campaign has been dire, on all sides. What is most noticeable are the lies; lies from the politicians’ mouths, lies from their spin doctors, lies from the media, lies from their supporters. Perhaps it has always been thus in elections but it seems so blatant at the moment. Children are always (or were) taught to be honest and tell the truth. If they copy their elders today then they will lie, lie and lie again. What is the outcome? No one believes a word they’re told. I don’t think it is alarmist or an exageration to say that this heralds the breakdown of society/civilisation. Perhaps we won’t have to wait for climate change to do it as we’re doing a good job of it ourselves right now.

Jasmine tears her hair

Computers are great things but they are pretty annoying when they don’t work as they should. My main computer (a desktop all-in-one) running Windows 10 and Office 365 is currently playing up with File Explorer blocking access to my files in One Drive plus a few other irritations and Outlook spewing out error messages instead of connecting to my email accounts.  What is most annoying is trying to find out what is wrong.  A Microsoft help group provided two willing respondents who managed to do precisely nothing; nevertheless, thanks chaps, for trying. I can get round the problems but it is time consuming.  There, rant over.

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So we’ve got another 5 weeks of this; the General Election campaign, that is.  This week there have been some surprising resignations and retirements, extraordinary proposals and claims from all sides and campaign launches which appear ham-fisted and chaotic. Are the opinion polls accurate? We won’t know till 13th Dec. I’ve just realised that the new government will take office on a Friday 13th – that could be symbolic.  I’m not sure how much I can listen to, watch or read in the next five weeks before boredom or irritation drive me away.

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WP_20181129_14_20_54_ProLet’s talk about writing and publishing instead. Now Halloween and Guy Fawkes’ Night are out of the way, I suppose our thoughts are turning to Christmas. Can I put in a little bit of marketing and remind you of my 4 Jasmine Frame novels and 3 e-novellas, and my 4 September Weekes fantasy novels. All the novels are available as paperbacks from me (send your orders here) and as e-books on Kindle. Whether you’re buying presents for friends and family or treating yourself, they are all a good read.

This week’s writing theme was “Orange”. At first that seemed quite a narrow subject but actually lots of ideas came to mind – the fruit, the colour, politics (the House of Orange, Orange men, Trump) etc. In fact my fellow writers came up with a wide variety of pieces including a poem that found a rhyme for orange. I settled on a topic that I quite often beef about – the colours of the rainbow. Having taught light and colour many times in my career I am firmly convinced that the teaching of the topic and its treatment in textbooks is dreadfully confused and misleading, with the physics of light and our perception of colour terribly muddled. So here is my short story, based on the truth, about the naming of the seven colours of the rainbow.

And There Was Light

The room was dark when Master Isaac closed the door behind us.  Thick curtains covered the glazed window. Why anyone should do that on such a sunny summer’s day, I could not understand.
“Just stand for a few moments, Joseph, and let your eyes adjust,” Isaac said. “You always had clear eyesight. That’s why I asked for you to join me today.”
Isaac and I had played together as children although I hesitate to say we were friends; he was always somewhat alone with his thoughts. He went off to the Grammar School and then University while I was set to work on the farm. He was only home now because of the fear of plague sweeping through the towns. Perhaps it was the lack of debate with his fellows that caused him to seek my company.
Gradually my eyes became accustomed to the dimness.  There was Isaac standing on the other side of the table on which there was a stand. On it I could make out a rod of glass with a triangular cross section.
“I don’t want you to look at the prism, Joseph. Focus your eyes on the wall opposite the window.” The wall was featureless but even in the absence of almost all light I could see that it had been given a fresh coat of limewash.
Isaac moved behind me and in the darkness, there was. . .light! A rainbow appeared on the white wall.  Well, not the curve of a bow; the colours were in the shape of a somewhat distorted rectangle. I turned and saw there was a tiny hole in the curtain through which a beam of sunlight passed and fell on the prism. Out of the glass came a cascade of colour that projected onto the wall.
“What have you done, Master Isaac?” I said with some awe in my voice.
“I have proved that white light is not, as the ancients thought, a single entity, but a blending of light of various colours. The prism disperses the colours so that they can be seen apart. But that is by the by. What I want you to do is tell me what colours you can see. Step close and examine the pattern the light makes.”
I did as bidden and leaned close to the wall.
“What do you see, Joseph?”
“I see red and green and blue.” I replied.
“Yes, but I want more than that. What do you see between the red and the green?”
Fixing my eyes on that area of the image I saw that the colours went through a multitude of variations.
“The red becomes yellowish,” I said, “then the yellow loses the reddish hue and tends towards the green.”
“Ah, yes, the yellowish red and the reddish yellow. Do you not have a name for that, Joseph?”
He could not see me shake my head in the shadows. “No, Master Isaac,” I said.
“It is orange, is it not?”
Orange. The word was strange but not unknown to me, though I had little understanding of what it meant.
“What is orange?” I asked.
“Have you not seen an orange? No of course you haven’t, Joseph. You have never even been to Grantham have you.” He paused for a breath. “An orange is a fruit. Its peel has a texture like that of a lemon, but its flesh is much sweeter and pleasant on the tongue. The name of the colour is derived from that of the fruit because its skin is that particular hue. So, do you see a band of orange between that of the red and the yellow.
I was not sure I saw bands, but rather a gradation of colours, nevertheless I thought it wise to agree with Isaac.
“Now what do you see at the other end, after the green?” he asked.
“I see blue.” In fact, I saw a variety of shades of blue.
“Don’t you see violet at the end of the spectrum?” Isaac stabbed the wall where the blue dimmed to darkness.
“I suppose that could be called violet,” I acknowledged.
“And do you not see indigo?”
“Indigo?” I was confused, “you mean the dye?”
“That’s correct, and also the name for its colour.”
“But the dye is blue, Master Isaac.”
“A distinctive shade of blue. Is it not there between the blue and the violet.” He pointed to the part of the rainbow he was referring to.
The colours faded and disappeared. We were cast into gloom once more. Isaac stomped across the floor and threw back the curtains.  Heavy clouds had obscured the Sun. It looked as if it might rain.
“It seems our opportunity for experiment is over,” Isaac said. He picked up a sheet of paper and put it on the table in front of me. “Don’t you think this describes what we have seen.”
The paper had several lines ruled in ink across it and between the lines there was writing. I picked out the letters till the words came to me, from top to bottom – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.
“Surely you saw those bands of coloured light in the rainbow, Joseph.”
“Only the seven?” I queried, thinking of how the colours had appeared to me in endless variation.
“Of course, seven, Joseph,” Isaac replied, somewhat sharply. “Seven, as in the days of the week and the metals known to antiquity. Seven, as in the notes of the musical scale. In the same way that our ears are sensitive to the distinctive notes of the octave, so our eyes see the seven colours of the rainbow. Seven, as in the wanderers in the heavens.”  He fell to muttering and moved across the room, turning the pages of a book on the lectern and then taking up his pen to scribble on a sheet of paper. I realised that I had faded from his attention as quickly as the rainbow had disappeared from the wall.

Soon, with the passing of the plague, Isaac returned to Cambridge and we never spoke again. He became a professor and I heard that he was lauded by the learned men of London. I knew nothing of his work but whenever I saw a rainbow in the sky, I recalled my participation in his experiment.  Sometimes I felt I could even see the seven bands of colour that he insisted on. I could usually pick out the orange.  Later, I held an orange fruit and it was as Isaac described. Orange became a popular colour when William of the House of Orange was crowned King in place of the papist James.  Yes, I believe in orange, but indigo? I confess, I cannot tell where amongst the blue, indigo is supposed to fit but if the famous philosopher Isaac Newton says it is there, it must be so.

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Jasmine on tenterhooks

There we are then; another extension and an election on the way. I am delighted that we are still in the EU, for now but cannot see the 27 being willing to carry on this farce for much longer. The cost for them must be almost as much as it has been for the UK.  And then there is the election. I cannot understand Labour saying “no” one day and “yes” the next.  December is an atrocious time for an election.  Who knows what effect bad weather might have on the turnout. Perhaps more will go for a postal vote (the elderly Tory supporters more likely).

I have been a keen follower of elections since 1964 (yes, I was 11) but this is the first one that makes me feel sick and more than simply anxious about the result. In fact no MP or government has been elected in my lifetime for which I voted, so I have never been overjoyed by any result although 1997 was a relief to get rid of the Tories after 18 years. It  probably reveals who I vote for. This time I would vote for anyone who could stop the Tories getting a majority, but once again I appear to be in a constituency where I have little chance of helping that happen.  The trouble is I am not sure I want any of the current lot in power, certainly not Johnson.  I don’t want to see the film “Joker” but from what I read it is a bit of metaphor for the present.  A clown becomes powerful and releases evil on his people. Corbyn seems genuine but is a rebel not a leader and I don’t trust his left-wing advisors. I was quite impressed by Jo Swinson but her fanciful ideas of winning hundreds of seats recalls David Steel’s  “prepare for government” call when he was leading the Lib/SDP Alliance, and we know how that ended.

The polls have been a bit wrong in the last two elections but this one is wide open.  Will people vote by their historical party allegiance or whether they are Leave or Remain? All I know is that if Johnson gets his majority we are stuffed.

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Another view of me at Narberth Book Fair

This week’s writing task was to prepare an entry for one of the NAWG members’ competitions viz. short story with included object. The object was a propelling pencil.  There were some interesting responses, memoirs and fiction. Having done some (wikipaedia) research, I had an inkling of an idea but no time to develop it or write it down in full (the joys of five days with grandchildren and about 700 miles of driving!). So, I shan’t be publishing my story here for a while – that is if I get round to writing it properly and honing it for the comp.  Instead you can have my effort of a poem. Yes, a poem. I wrote it for the “Poetry for the Planet” evening we held a few weeks ago. It’s more of a list than a poem really, but I think it summarises the problems the planet faces.

Disaster index

Fuels burning
Metal ores smelting
Cement roasting
Cattle burping
Carbon increasing
Air warming
Heat waves baking
Ice melting
Glaciers receding
Tundra thawing
Methane escaping
Peat smouldering
Forests igniting
Soil degrading
Crops failing
Jet stream weakening
Storms strengthening
Water courses flooding
Sea level rising
No such thing as climate change?

Plastics discarded
Waste dumps filled
Rubbish transported
then dispersed
Rivers poisoned
Oceans polluted
Turtles trapped
Hedgehogs choked
Birds strangled
Microplastics ingested
Marine life starved
So we can wrap a cauliflower.

Fuel burns
Producing fumes
Particles, gases
Everyone breathes
Catching diseases
Do you need to drive that car?

Habitats destroyed
Or poisoned
Creatures killed
Pollination ceased
Species disappeared
Biodiversity decreased
Who’s next to become extinct?

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Jasmine in Limbo

My reference this week comes, again, from New Scientist.  Apparently our tolerance to uncertainty is decreasing (The agony of waiting, New Scientist no.3252 19/10/19).  When our next meal was in doubt and we faced dangers and disease at every turn, we were able to shrug and accept it as part of life.  Now, we expect everything to be on time and available when we need it. Any rise in uncertainty makes us anxious, leads to depression and OCD behaviour. Except that uncertainty is rising.  More people are working the gig or zero hours economy; it is difficult for many to find somewhere permanent to live; and for the many millions displaced by war, oppression and climate change, there is the ultimate uncertainty of survival.  Of course, in the UK the one big uncertainty is Brexit.  The whole country has faced growing uncertainty for the last three and a half years. The Leavers want it to happen but have no idea what its effects will be while Remainers don’t want it to happen and fear the consequences if it does. The article, half in jest, makes the connection between this and Dante’s Divine Comedy; the first circle of hell is Limbo, where the inhabitants exist for eternity with no hope and complete uncertainty of their fate. There is no end in sight. Despite Johnson’s repeated mantra about “getting Brexit done” and “bringing the country together”, he and everyone else surely know that even if the departure happens there will be years of wrangling over the terms of trade, etc., and there will still be two halves of the country with opposing views and growing ill feelings towards each other. So, no hope, immense uncertainty and fear of where we end up; I’m in Limbo.  I hope we don’t progress to the second circle (for those whose sin was Lust) where we will be punished by high winds – a consequence of climate change?

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A memory of a sunny day (see below)

I had an interesting experience in non-binary living this week. In my usual femme(-ish) mode (skirt, tights, dangly earrings etc.) I visited a certain premium, French, perfume and cosmetics retailer for a free consultation on making my lips look and feel good.  The shop assistant was attentive and helpful and suggested which exfoliator and lipstick to select, which I bought (not cheap!). While packing my purchases, she added, without comment, some freebies – sample sachets of other products.  All were intended for men. I’m not grumbling; I’ll probably use them. I’m gender fluid and not pretending to one thing or the other. I just can’t decide whether her actions were acknowledging that or a statement of “I know you’re not a real woman“.

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This week’s writing group theme was “sunshine”. There’s a bright topic with lots of possibilities, I thought. Not many of us produced the goods though. There were a few poems and a couple of story beginnings. Unfortunately, the first thing that came into my head was the pretty awful film, Sunshine, with its silly premise of re-starting the Sun’s fusion reaction with a big bomb, except it wasn’t that big since a million Earths will fit in the Sun. As I was a little short of time I felt I couldn’t devise the background and characters of a story so settled on a piece of contemplation. The first half was written in a London pub last Saturday.  No, I was not attending the People’s Vote March but I saw many of the million or so marchers. Having completed (?!) the piece I’ve got no idea where it could be published. It’s not educational enough for that market and I can’t think of any other publications that would take this sort of thing. Ideas and comments much appreciated.

Sunshine

It’s a pleasant day in late spring. The air is warm, the sky is blue, the river sparkles, new leaves on the trees glow green, flowers are resplendent yellows and blues, and above, too bright to look at directly shines the Sun. Everything described is because of the Sun, the temperature, the reflected  colours and the sparkling water.
Every day the Sun sustains us, like every organism on the planet. Its radiant energy heats the air and creates winds that carry the warmth from the tropics to the poles. The heat evaporates water from the oceans that later falls as rain providing fresh water for us to drink and plants to draw up their roots. Perhaps, most strikingly, plants take in the Sun’s energy to grow and provide food for us. The Sun is only one typical star out of trillions but, being so close to us, its intensity outshines many times over all the stars in the universe seen in the night sky.
What process provides us with this abundant energy? Humans have probably wondered at the nature of the Sun’s power since it drew their attention and reason. Some may have compared it to the fires that warmed their homes, cooked their food and smelted their metals. But no fire on Earth burning wood, coal or petroleum can match the intensity and output of heat of the Sun.
In the nineteenth century scientists developed the equations to calculate the amount of energy we receive from the Sun. Astronomers measured the Sun as being 90 million miles from Earth, 400 times further than the Moon, and almost a million miles in diameter. In comparison the Earth is tiny and only receives a miniscule fraction of the Sun’s output.
The solutions to the equations were mystifying. No known fuel, even burning in pure oxygen, could equal the power of the Sun and neither could it sustain the output for thousands of years let alone millions or even billions. Was the source of the Sun’s energy supernatural?
Well, no, it isn’t, but it is extraordinary. The first clues came with the discovery of radioactivity in the 1890s. The particles that make up atoms can split apart and release huge amounts of energy, but still not enough to power stars. Einstein’s famous equation e=mc2 showed that tiny amounts of matter can be converted into immense quantities of energy. In the 1920s, Arthur Eddington, the British physicist who was the first to test Einstein’s theory of relativity and prove it correct, made a suggestion. Perhaps the energy of the Sun arose from the particles of atoms uniting. In 1934 Ernest Rutherford, the Nobel prize winning New Zealander, performed an experiment. He fired the nuclei of hydrogen atoms at targets made up of compounds with lots of hydrogen in them.  Most of the particles bounced off or passed through the target, but a few provided evidence that Eddington’s suggestion was correct.  Not only were the hydrogen nuclei fusing to form helium each reaction released an astounding amount of energy.
Hans Bethe was a German physicist who fled from Germany in 1933 and settled in the USA. In 1938 he suggested a sequence of reactions taking place in the Sun and other stars that explained not only the tremendous output of energy but the formation of helium, lithium, beryllium and other elements that had been observed in stars. Not only is the Sun the source of life-giving energy but stars like it formed the elements from which our planet, its rocks, its oceans, its atmosphere and living organisms are formed. The fusion reactions in the Sun have been going for four and a half billion years and will last a few more billion yet.  Most of that light misses the Earth but spreads throughout the universe, perhaps to be observed by creatures on planets around other stars.
There are some intriguing thoughts for a sunny day, or any day for that matter.
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Jasmine protests

Do you suffer from eco-anxiety? I’m sure I do to some extent. Apparently, the story appeared in some newspapers that children are being treated for anxiety caused by fears of eco-disasters  e.g. climate change, plastic waste, etc. Some had even been prescribed drugs. An article in New Scientist magazine followed this up noting that children and young people were indeed becoming anxious about the future. This wasn’t, however, an illness but a sensible and proper response to a real danger. Perhaps if a few more people, particularly those in positions where they could something about it, felt the anxiety something might yet get done. Unfortunately the response in some parts of the media was to say “there, there, don’t trouble the children” and accusing message bearers like Greta Thunberg of causing harm.

The aim of Extinction Rebellion is to bring home the seriousness of the position the whole world is in.  The “12 years left” message has been misinterpreted, we will survive longer than that, but that is the amount of time we have left to reverse our plummet into catastrophic warming and its accompanying severe weather, food shortages, extinctions etc. Putting out the message softly has failed to get governments to act.  On the contrary, increasing numbers of populist leaders are deniers who are acting against the policies that are needed.  So, it is understandable that the eco-protests have to get bigger, longer, more-dramatic in order to make their point. Unfortunately that opens the door to people who either misguidedly think that violent disruption is a way forward and those who want to discredit the eco-movement. I can only assume that it was the latter that had two activists on the roof of a tube train causing disruption of commuter transport. The fact that they were attacked by angry commuters was probably what some sectors of the media wanted to see – the public turning against the eco-protesters.  Disrupting public transport is a foot-in-mouth action.

The organisation of Extinction Rebellion is famously obscure but thy have to tread a narrow path between getting the message out and losing public support. If the protests seem to cause more discomfort than is promised for the future, then the message will be forgotten and the activists become the enemy.  The problems facing the world are far too important to let that happen, but that is just what the Trumps, Johnsons, Bolsonaros and others in power want. It is enough to make me very anxious indeed

P1000759 (2)

This week’s theme for the writing group was “Tower”. That conjured up several images from super-skyscrapers to medieval fortresses. One that popped into my mind was the simple and popular game which is described in my short piece below. I hope that I have taken a slightly less obvious tack with it.

Fall of the Tower

She leaned forward in the high-backed chair. Like a hawk seeking its prey, her rheumy eyes focussed on the tower. Her thin arm stretched forward and a crooked finger extended to caress the surfaces of the edifice. By some mysterious means she made a decision and a horny fingernail tapped one of the blocks. It moved a millimetre. Tap, tap, the block edged out of position. The structure wobbled and she paused then resumed, tap, tap, tap.  At last, she reached with bent finger and arthritic thumb to slide the block from its slot.  She raised it and ever so steadily, calmly and precisely rested it on the top of the tower. With a sigh she relaxed back in the chair and surveying her handiwork a smile spread across her creased and wrinkled face.
“It’s my turn now, Mum,” Emma said. She reached across the table to the tower. Her cuff caught on a corner; a block shifted. The tower toppled and blocks scattered. Mum cackled with glee.
Joy, the carer, looking on, commented, “Well, that’s the end of that game. You win, Shirley.”  She placed a cup and saucer in front of the old woman. “Here, you are. Have a nice cup of tea.”
Shirley’s gaze was elsewhere; her eyes dull; her mouth open; jaw slack; a raised hand shaking from side to side.
Emma stacked the blocks. “When she played with us as kids it was always this game. I don’t know what she saw in it, but she never lost. She was always able to find that one block that could be slid out if you were really careful. I don’t understand how she can still do it. Look at her now. She’s not there.”
Joy shrugged, “It’s often the earliest memories and oldest skills that remain when everything else has gone. It’s not usually playing Jenga, mind, but in your Mum’s case it’s what she’s holding on to.”
The column of wooden blocks was rebuilt. Emma leaned down to her mother and said loudly.
“Do want another game, Mum?”
Shirley’s eyes sparkled and her finger moved straight as an arrow towards the tower.

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