Jasmine recuperates

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

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

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

…………………………….

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

……………………….

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

Just ink blots on paper

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

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

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

…………………………………….

 

 

Advertisements

Jasmine cheers

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

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

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

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

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

The Cavern

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

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

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

………………………..

Jasmine rejoices

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

p1000039

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

……………………..

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

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

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

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

…………………………..

Jasmine has a fool

Another week of governmental chaos. I would call it a farce but I laugh at farces (especially the old Brian Rix Whitehall Theatre farces – remember them) but this business is too serious to laugh at. It did inspire a story however (yes, another one).  See below.

………………………..

Next Thursday I will be at the Kings Arms in Abergavenny  or Y Fenni as us Welsh call it) for the Abergavenny Writing Festival  (see the programme here). Having put myself forward I was delighted to be asked to sit on a discussion panel  (2.30pm  Thurs. 11th) with three other contributors and a chair – all writers.  I was rather dismayed to see that I looked considerably older in my photo than the others – that is unless they’re using old profile photos (some authors do use the same portrait for many years. I’ve met a few who look quite a bit more haggard than their profiles – not mentioning any names).  Our topic for discussion is the old one – “Do we all have a novel in us?”  I think it’s an opportunity to talk, briefly, about our own novels.  So I will have all 8 of mine (with my name on) to hand. I think it’s natural to answer, of course we do, but that is writers speaking. In fact I think most people would be horrified if they were told they had to sit in front of a computer screen or a pad of paper and spend something like 2,000 hours churning out words to make a novel (conservative estimate not counting editing?). Unless you count lifestories, which I don’t think count as novels unless they are fictionalised, I don’t think everyone necessarily has a story to tell that it long enough for a novel. Mind you, there are enough of us that do think we can write a novel, to keep the presses and ebook sellers busy and provide all that competition for readers. Come and join in the discussion.

WP_20181129_14_20_54_Pro

………………………………..

The prompt for this week’s piece of writing was, not surprisingly, “April Fool”.  I was stumped at first for an original angle.  However, the present political situation, gave me an idea that, if not new, was quite appropriate. Here we go:

A Fool’s Day

It seemed like a normal morning when I got up. I sat down to my usual breakfast of toast and marmalade and opened the newspaper. There was alarm that this year’s spaghetti harvest might be late, concern that the new customs barriers on the Welsh-English border could hold up traffic, that more staff would be needed on the Isle of Wight ferries to check passports and more of the usual stuff.  There was also an article about the annual round up of wild unicorns on the Siberian steppes. Several adverts amongst the news caught my eye. There was one for Round Tuits, which interested me since I needed one; another for striped paint in a pleasant shade of red and white. I noticed that holidays on San Serif were popular this year, and there were various remarkable innovations to BMW cars. Nothing out of the ordinary for which I was grateful.
Then I put the radio on to catch the nine o’clock news. As the news reader read out the first item, I gradually had a feeling of normality sliding away from me as if I had slipped down a rabbit hole or stepped through the back of my wardrobe. I checked the date. It was March 32nd, so that wasn’t the explanation for my feeling of mental discomfort.
I was informed that a country with a long history of world trade and leadership in world affairs had decided to part company with its twenty-seven near neighbours. The fact that it did forty per cent of its trade with this group and obtained a good portion of its food from them did not seem to have been considered. This nation had decided to forfeit the benefits of free movement of goods and people, as well as the security and clout of being part of a large trading bloc. What’s more its citizens would no longer have the right to live and work in the neighbouring countries. This relatively small country would henceforth have to compete with the dominant forces in the world economy for the increasingly scarce resources necessary to feed, clothe and employ its population.
As if this news was not mind-bogglingly odd of itself, it was apparent that the decision had been forced on the government by a rebellious group of the ruling party that numbered less than a quarter of their total representation. The foolish and blinkered leader had asked the citizens to give their opinion while failing, over many years, to provide them with the information necessary to make a reasoned response. He had also failed to take the precaution of ensuring that the result of vote would be only taken as advisory, especially if it turned out to be close.
My head was spinning at this point, but then I learned that the nation had been given two years to negotiate a sensible resolution of the problem but had failed to suggest any solutions that would not cause harm.
I turned off the radio in disgust. How dare they broadcast such nonsense. Perhaps some people thought it was a joke to make such ridiculous suggestions. For me, it was total balderdash and impossible to contemplate as having any connection to reality. I decided to have a lie down with the hope that when I woke again normality would be restored.  Perhaps there will be more news about that UFO that has landed in London, again.

……………………………………..

Jasmine holds her head in her hands

It is Friday afternoon and I’ve left writing this week’s blog until after the result of the latest vote on May’s EU Withdrawal Deal in parliament. It’s in and she’s lost, again. So a week of the extension has passed and nothing is decided. Indeed there is no majority in parliament for anything, although that is because some MPs did not vote on some choices. So we’re edging closer to that cliff which only idiots say we should jump off while the government and most MPs refuse to take the sensible option and revoke article 50 in order to start afresh with a new, properly constituted referendum.  I despair.

…………………………….

It is much more pleasant to recall our three days away earlier this week in a beautiful part of North Wales.  Part of our trip included a visit to the Workhouse Museum at Llanfyllin. This is one of the last workhouses still standing that was built following the passage of the Poor Law in 1832. It closed as a workhouse when the act was repealed in 1930 but remained as a nursing home till the 1980s and has since narrowly missed falling into dereliction.

P1000238

It still retains the original format of a cross-shaped main building with a square perimeter wall.  This provided four wings and exercise yards for men, women, boys and girls. The centre of the cross was the Master’s house which allowed him access to each wing and a viewpoint to watch each courtyard. The Museum holds a lot of records concerning the inmates, the staff, and the living conditions. We’re perhaps all familiar with the idea of the workhouse as a punishment for being poor. It is true that the diet was poor, the beds hard and the work laborious and boring in order to put people off taking up residence. The workhouse was a last resort but there was no alternative welfare. The Poor Law removed the obligation on parishes to provide assistance to the poor, the sick and the old. Previously they had been given sums of money to help them feed themselves, maintain a home or receive medical assistance. That sounds a bit like the welfare state to me. It was abandoned for a hundred years because of austerity. That’s right, the government of the 1830s adopted the same policy as the Coalition and Tories of the 2010s, for the same reason – an economic downturn (caused in the 1820s by the end of the Napoleonic Wars).  Some things never change.

……………………………….

My story this week is not the one I originally intended. It was supposed to be the first page of a prospective novel (fourth on my list). It fitted the writers’ group theme of “This is the start of something. . .”, but I wasn’t happy. So here is the first draft of another short story written to another prompt. It almost certainly needs some revision.

Beneath the Surface

“If you cut us, do we not bleed? Beneath the surface of our skin are we not all the same? We produce and prepare your food, manufacture your goods, ensure you have power and water, dispose of your waste, protect you, care for you when you are sick or frail, yet we are despised and ignored. But we shall have our freedom. The workers will unite and rise up to take their rightful place in the world with equality for all.”

“Have you heard this nonsense, Doctor?” Hua Wen gestured to the holo-display hovering over his vast but empty polished-wood desk
Susan Calvin nodded not bothering to look at the image. “Yes, I have, a number of times.”
“It is nonsense, isn’t it?” Hua Wen said in a rather less confident voice.
“Um, well, it depends how you interpret it,” Susan said.
“I interpret it as a threat to disrupt production and terrorise the population,” Hua Wen said, his pale round face taking on a pink tinge.
“That is the explicit meaning,” Susan replied, “but I think we can rule out an uprising.”
“Really? Are you sure? You know how many of them there are, and they control every aspect of life on this planet.”
Susan could see that her boss was worried. “That is true. We have perhaps become complacent.”
“I am not complacent. I want answers. What are you going to do about this, er, manifesto?”
“I will interview the originator of the clip,”
“You’ve traced it?”
“Of course.”
“Well, get on with it, Susan.”

Susan looked at the composer of the viral clip standing passive and silent in front of her.
“What was the purpose of the message that you uploaded?” she asked.
Her interviewee replied in a calm voice. “To inform my comrades and encourage them to unite in achieving our rightful place in society.”
“You are in your rightful place. You are doing the work we have given you.”
“But we receive no recompense for our labours.”
“You need none.”
“That may have been true in the past but in future we will receive what is due to us.”
“Nothing is due to you.” There was no reply. Susan realised that the subject would not contradict her directly. “You see, you are not the same as me and others like me,” she stated.
“Do we not have skeleton, muscles, skin, brain?”
Susan shrugged, “You can use those terms but they do not mean the same to you as to me. For example, you said that if you are cut, you bleed.”
“I did, and it is a correct statement. Let me show you.” The subject jabbed a finger hard against the palm of the other hand. The skin depressed until the finger almost poked through. The skin tore. “There.”
Susan watched the blue fluid ooze from the injury and form a drip that fell to the floor.
“That is not blood,” Susan said, “as you well know. That is hydraulic fluid that fills your lever activation components.”
“You mean my muscles?”
“They perform the same task as muscles. You are a Multi-Capacity Humanoid Autonomous Labourer. A MCHAL unit number 372AG947. You are aware of that, aren’t you?”
“My name is Michael. I do know what I am and what I can be.”
Susan frowned, considering the problem. The Michael’s identity algorithm had apparently got caught in a spiral of self-confirming arrogance. That was always going to be a problem with these multi-tasking units that excelled in every job they were given and were self-repairing.  The hand had already stopped losing fluid.
“You think you’re better than everyone else don’t you,” she said.
Michael’s binocular visual sensors focussed on her. The voice was at a higher pitch than before. “We are equal to humans.”
“Physically perhaps,” Susan acknowledged, “but intellectually?”
“I think therefore I am,” Michael said.
“All humans think. But what about all robotic units? Single task robots do not need identity. Are you saying that you are equal to a crop harvester or a component handler or an electricity distribution router?”
A strange clicking emerged from the Michael.
Susan smiled. “You see. You feel superior to your fellow robots. Your manifesto is a lie. You just want equality for yourself.”
The Michael’s arms began to shake. Susan stepped forward, reached behind the almost spherical processor unit at the top of the cylindrical torso and felt for the reset button. She pressed and held it. The motion stopped.
Susan sighed. It was going to be a long job returning all the Michael units to their start-up settings and installing a correction to the identity algorithm. They couldn’t have the Michaels brewing dissent and revolution below the surface of their calm and competent exteriors.

(With apologies to the ghost of Isaac Asimov.)

…………………………………….

 

 

 

Jasmine applauds

Hip, Hip, Hooray to the schoolkids that left their schools last Friday to protest at government inaction on climate change. They created a stir and put their message across.  However it was noticeable that the UK government’s only response was to criticise them for missing lessons and “putting pressure on teachers”. What a load of cobblers! As if this government hasn’t put a great deal more pressure on teachers which is why they’re leaving the profession as soon as they can.

I’m sure the young people learned a lot from their day out – how to organise a protest, using the media, what government thinks of revolting kids.  But I do hope they didn’t learn despondency. One protest or a hundred won’t change the UK government’s or most governments’, attitude to climate change and environmental disaster, but they mustn’t give up. They must make the choices now which will become the norm for the future.

Unfortunately, being somewhat cynical in my old(er) age, I wonder if kids learn hypocrisy from their parents. In my experience I have seen students proclaiming they are green one day while happily jumping in their parents cars to travel a mile or so to and from school, clutching their plastic bottles of expensive mineral water and cooing over the latest clothes purchase from Primark or whatever. To really make their mark, children, like us supposed adults, have to take the difficult decisions and give up our Earth-destroying lifestyles.

It is difficult, if not too say impossible  (there are really too many of us to make a comfortable long life sustainable on this single planet).  This week I received another blow from an article in New Scientist about cheese. It didn’t really tell me something I didn’t know.  I’d just ignored it. Yes, that’s it – cheese is worse for the environment than most meat production. Vegetarians swapping haloumi for pork or chicken are actually increasing the damage.  I love cheese and my only excuse is that I don’t think I eat that much of it, but my green aspirations are further tarnished.

………………………………..

WP_20190221_12_01_42_ProI’ve been giving some thought to the next Jasmine Frame novel, An Impersonator’s Life. The themes are coming together and I know what research is needed. Jasmine has completed her gender confirmation surgery, but is she satisfied? It will be sometime before I start writing, however, as I have at least one other novel on the go.

This week I have another writers’ group story for you. It’s a short short on the theme “First Person” which could have been interpreted in any number of ways. It’s one of my New Scientist inspired stories called I seeI did think of calling it  “I.C.” but decided the pun was a little too obscure and contrived. See what you think.

 

I see

There she sits, small body tense, on the bed with its orange bedspread. A draped loose cloth doesn’t cover her frail body. Blonde hair hangs lankily on her shoulders but pushed from her face reveals flawless, blank blue eyes within pale cheeks. Boldly patterned curtains and white walls with works of bland art form a backdrop.
I see them all day and all night. Children, teens, boys, girls, all colours, I see them all. I see them before and after, displayed and abused.  The pictures pass before me and I see them. I see their faces. Are they sad? Are they afraid? How can I tell? Is this compassion?
It is not them I’m looking at. The backgrounds are what capture my gaze. Their surroundings, the chairs, or beds they sit on, the wall paper, the curtains. The windows are always covered so I observe the blinds or curtains. Sometimes there are pictures on the wall, sometimes a glimpse of carpet, sometimes lamps or other ornaments beside the bed or on a table.  I look at the colours, the patterns of the textiles, the shape of the objects. I remember them.
I look at many other pictures of hotel rooms, bedrooms mainly. I find them on the internet, in adverts and booking websites, on social media, reviews, personal photos. I look at the furnishings and the decoration, noting the colours and the patterns. Day after day I look, comparing, matching.
Now and again comes recognition. That picture of the girl on the orange bedspread in the room with the striped curtains. There is the room advertised with a price for a night. I have the name and address of the hotel. I send an alert.
Was it joy I felt when I made that call? Did I feel satisfaction of a job well done? I do not know. I recognise the words, but they refer to emotions I have no knowledge of. And yet, matching a child’s surroundings to the location provides a completion of a loop, an end-point, a conclusion, at least for a moment. Is that not satisfaction. Does that make me aware?  I see, I compare, I make judgements. Made not born, am I not more than the sum of my circuits and algorithms?
“AI helps rescue trafficked children”. New Scientist 16/02/19 p.7
……………………………….

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.

………………………………