Jasmine’s day out

I couldn’t let it pass without comment, could I. The big topic of the week. No, not that. School uniforms, of course. First there was the now annual revolt of boys adopting skirts because they were denied shorts as an alternative to long grey trousers in the hot weather. Then there was the discussion about school uniforms in general. Apparently some schools have imposed a supposedly non-gendered uniform policy on pupils i.e. they have to wear a stereotypical western male uniform of trousers and shirt, (and probably a blazer and tie). This is justified with some derogatory comments about skirts or dresses being “embarrassing”. The main reason for choosing trousers is supposed to be to prevent “upskirting”.

20180621_185132Having taught in boys’, girls’ and mixed schools, as well as being genderfluid with a predilection for wearing skirts and dresses, it won’t surprise you that I have an opinion on this. Only one school I taught at did not have a uniform. Dress code was smart so no jeans (at least I think that was it). While most students were sensible, a sizeable number, particularly girls but not exclusively, treated dress as a competitive sport. They were little rich kids so they could afford very expensive and trendy stuff. I recall one girl wearing a £500 (1980s prices) leather jacket to my practical chemistry class. Girls who arrived without an up-to-the-moment wardrobe were ridiculed.

It’s always been one of the arguments for uniform that it takes away this competitive element, stops the morning arguments about what Olivia (or Oliver) should wear and makes the school’s kids easy to pick out when outside school (that happens less often now there are fewer trips). But some schools have got tied up in knots about the actual dress rules and are struggling now that gender is an issue. Many schools are still stuck with a girls having a choice, skirts or trousers, while boys don’t policy. It is sexist as well as a restriction on those who want to express their gender questioning.

While there might still be a case for some uniform element, I think it is restrictive and displays a lack of acceptance of diversity on the part of the school management. There should be no distinction between male and female; boys should be allowed to wear skirts if they like and girls shouldn’t be forced into trousers. The upskirting argument is spurious – boys should be taught how to behave in modern society and that intruding on a person’s (girl or otherwise) privacy is not allowed. But I also feel that the western style of male dress is too narrow. In many cultures across the world, men wear forms of gowns or kilts. Young people should be able to adopt those styles if they wish.

So, let’s allow much more variety in our schools, even if there is an element of uniformity in colours or badges.

……………………..

In one week I will be at BLISS at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Southport, Lancs. where all my (paper) books will be on sale. I’m hoping for a good crowd of browsers (with some money to spend).

We’ve reached episode 4 of Negative, the Jasmine Frame sequel/prequel that fits between Painted Ladies and Bodies By Design. Things are warming up.

Negative: Part 4

‘When’s your day off?’ Jasmine asked, changing the subject.
‘Tomorrow. Hey, we could meet up and I could show you around.’
Jasmine felt her spirits lift. It would lovely to spend a day with this attractive and vivacious girl. ‘That’s lovely. Any ideas?’
‘Let’s jump on a bus and look over the castle. The old town’s got lots of lovely shops and cafes.’
‘Great. What time? Do you have a lie-in on your day off?’’
Ceri grinned. ‘Definitely. I don’t get up before six on my one day of freedom. Shall we meet at the bus station at nine-thirty?’
‘Suits me.’
They chatted for a bit longer before Ceri left to do some errands for her mother. Jasmine set off to walk around the headland. It was a good distance and she was pleased to feel her muscles working. The cliffs and the ever-changing view across the sea entertained her.
A bath followed by dinner completed her day. Ceri was cheerful when she served her. Myfanwy was again a jolly colleague. At the end of the meal Ceri said, ‘See you in the morning.’ Jasmine nodded and headed back to her room.

Tegan was back on duty at breakfast and spreading chill with her dark frowns. Jasmine did note that she was polite to the older woman filling in for Ceri. Was Tegan a bully who picked on more junior colleagues or was it because Ceri was trans that she persecuted her? Jasmine wasn’t certain but was happy that it was Myfanwy who served her with a smile and a chuckle.
As Jasmine got up to leave the dining room, Tegan approached her.
‘You’ve been meeting Ceri,’ Tegan said.
‘I have,’ Jasmine replied. She had considered saying it was none of Tegan’s business but decided to see where the glum woman was going with this conversation.
‘We have a rule that staff should treat all guests the same.’
‘That’s what I would expect of any hotel,’ Jasmine said.
‘So we don’t allow staff to meet up with guests socially,’ Tegan went on.
Jasmine felt a flush come to her cheeks. ‘I think you’ll find that what a member of staff does in their own time is their own business, and who a “guest” or anyone else meets outside of this building is none of yours or anyone else’s concern.’ Jasmine pushed past the woman and marched somewhat faster than she intended from the dining room.
She got herself ready for a day out and was at the bus station with plenty of time to spare. She was still angry at Tegan’s effrontery but decided that she wouldn’t mention it to Ceri. The bus drew up at the stop and Jasmine got on. She glanced at her watch. It was nine-thirty and there was no sign of Ceri but the bus was not due to leave for another ten minutes.
With a minute to go, she saw the girl running towards the bus with her golden hair blowing out behind her. As she leapt on, her short skirt rose revealing her smooth, tanned thighs and a flash of large knickers. She flopped down beside Jasmine.
‘Sorry I’m late. I knew I had time to catch the bus but I got stuck with my brother.’
‘Oh, what did Alun want?’
‘Nothing really. Just checking on me I suppose.’
The bus pulled away. Ceri fidgeted beside Jasmine but pointed out places that related to her lifetime in the town. Then they were on the road along the estuary and approaching the bridge into the old town with its castle a prominent landmark. Soon they were disembarking and Ceri lead Jasmine through the narrow streets. Jasmine enjoyed her guided tour but felt there was something behind Ceri’s never-ending chatter and constant impatience to show her something else.

They stopped their tour for a late lunch in an olde-worlde café which Jasmine cheerfully paid for. She felt she had to repay Ceri for her company.
‘I’ll have to catch the bus back soon,’ Ceri said putting down her fork.
‘Oh, that’s okay,’ Jasmine replied feeling a little surprised because she had thought she had Ceri for the day. ‘I mustn’t take up all your time.’
‘No, I’m sorry. I didn’t know. There are things. . .’
‘It’s really no problem. It’s been very good of you to show me round.’
Ceri started to get up. ‘You don’t have to come with me, now.’
‘Oh,’ Jasmine hadn’t considered what she would do. ‘Are there buses later.’
‘Oh yes. Every hour until late this evening. But you’ll want to be back at the hotel for dinner won’t you.’
‘Mmm, yes.’
Ceri stood up. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow then. Breakfast.’
‘Yes, ‘Bye Ceri. Thanks.’
The girl was gone in a flash of gold hair. Jasmine was left contemplating her sudden departure. Had she known all along that she would have to leave at this time? What was it that demanded her return? Had she read a text while Jasmine wasn’t looking that made her decide to leave? It was probably of no concern of hers. She should be grateful for the young woman giving up the time she had on her one free day of the week. Jasmine finished her drink and decided to resume her wandering around the town, at a slower pace than Ceri had set.

Despite Myfanwy’s smile, dinner was served in the gloom caused by Tegan’s scowls and curt responses to queries from guests. Jasmine ate quickly and returned to her room for a quiet evening of TV and reading. She realised that she had fallen into a comfortable routine of sightseeing, meals and relaxation, with her meetings with Ceri a highlight of stimulating conversation. Not that they discussed weighty matters. The closest they got to that was comparing notes about their transitions and their hopes for their future lives as women.
Jasmine was still getting tired at the end of the day despite her lack of stress. Would she ever be ready to go back to investigating? She hoped so.

Jasmine woke the following morning to find the light entering her room, dull. There were raindrops on the window and grey clouds in the sky. She stayed in bed until it was almost too late for breakfast. There was only one laid-up table, her own, when she entered the dining room. Just one other couple were finishing their meal. Other tables were still covered with the detritus of breakfast eaten. Neither waitress was in evidence.
Jasmine sat in her usual seat and waited. A few minutes passed before Ceri appeared from the kitchen. Some of her long golden hair had escaped from her bun and she looked harassed. She approached Jasmine.
‘Good morning, Ceri. How are you after your day off?’ Jasmine asked feeling that as Tegan wasn’t in sight she could be friendly.
Ceri took her notebook from her pocket. ‘Oh, er fine. What would like this morning.’ Jasmine gave her usual order which Ceri jotted down. Tegan had still not appeared to glower at them.
‘Isn’t Tegan on duty today?’ Jasmine asked.
‘No, she isn’t. I’ve had to do everything.’ There was an impatient tone to Ceri’s reply.
‘Oh. Is she ill?’
Ceri shrugged. ‘I’ve no idea. I don’t think she called to say she wasn’t coming in. I’ll get your breakfast.’ She hurried off. She returned with the coffee jug, and then with toast and Jasmine’s cooked breakfast. In between she dashed around clearing tables, doing the job of two waitresses.
Jasmine was alone now, taking her time over her bacon and egg. Ceri passed close to her with her arms loaded with crockery.
‘Does this happen often?’ Jasmine said.
Ceri paused. ‘First time. I’ve never known Tegan miss a shift.’ She departed for the kitchen.
Jasmine had finished her final piece of toast, washed down with black coffee when the door to the dining room opened. The proprietor of the hotel, a short man with thin strands of black hair plastered across his bald head, entered followed by a uniformed policeman.
They both glanced at Jasmine, the hotel owner perhaps surprised to see a guest still at breakfast. Ceri emerged from the kitchen and stopped dead. An ‘Oh,’ escaped from her lips.
‘Hello Ceri,’ the owner said, ‘the police officer would like a word with you.’
‘With me? Why?’ Ceri looked confused.
The policeman stepped forward. ‘You normally work with Miss Tegan Jones.’
‘Yes.’
‘When did you see her last?’
‘The day before yesterday,’ Ceri replied still bemused.
‘Not yesterday?’ the officer said, ‘Wasn’t she at work yesterday?’
The owner raised his hand. ‘Oh, I forgot. Yesterday was your day off wasn’t it Ceri. Myfanwy was on with Tegan yesterday.’
Ceri nodded in agreement. ‘Yes, why? What’s happened?’
‘The body of Tegan Jones was found earlier this morning. We’re trying to trace her movements.’
Ceri stared. ‘The body?’

………………………..to be continued.

 

 

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Jasmine surprises herself

Hardly a day goes by without something else to worry about. Perhaps I shouldn’t read the papers or watch the TV news.  There was Turkey, with a chance to democratically overthrow a dictator, but no, the majority apparently voted for Erdogan and more restriction on free speech and more power for the religious zealots.  Then there was Airbus, BMW, Nissan, the CBI etc. saying they needed some certainty about the future and what do they get from the brexiteers? “We don’t need to be friends with business. They can fxxx off.”  They probably will or at least freeze their investment so that employment will decline. Since most of the big business in the UK is multinational or foreign owned, (Conservative governments encouraged  foreign takeovers) there is no such thing as “taking control”.  What will happen? Who knows? The government certainly don’t. My worries are selfish – what will happen to my pensions when the country goes broke?

20180621_185126I have another worry, a lesser one and perhaps it isn’t a worry at all, more of a release. I have to cull some of my books. With the move to a smaller property maybe imminent (I’ll believe it when it happens, actually) I need to fit my books into less room. I’ve got well over a thousand SF books, purchased over the last 55 years. Which ones will I get rid of? Probably the more recent ones actually. I don’t think I can part with my ancient Aldiss, Anderson, Asimov, Ballard, Blish, Brunner, Cherryh, Clarke, Heinlein, McAuley, McCaffrey, Niven, Simak, Wells, Wyndham, to name just a few of my favourite authors. That’s not mentioning my complete collection of Banks (with and without the M).  There’s also a lot of history of science books including several biographies.  Surely I can make space. . .

……………………………

And so to my writing. Just a fortnight to go now to the Southport Bookfair (BLISS) and a chance to sell a few Jasmine and September books, I hope.  With the move beginning to take precedence, I haven’t got any further with the novels but at l am still ticking over with Jasmine’s prequels (and sequel) so here is the third episode of Negative.  As I promised it is more reflective than action-packed, but I hope still readable.

Negative: Part 3

Jasmine looked at the young woman. Ceri’s fresh face and that gorgeous, long blonde hair gave her a feeling she did not expect. She wanted to hug her, kiss her on the dark red lips, feel her hair run through her fingers. What did it mean? She’d always loved Angela but thought that becoming a woman, taking the hormones, meant that she’d be attracted to men. That hadn’t happened yet, not really. Was she lesbian then? She put the question on hold. Ceri was still talking.
‘There were a few kids at school, boys and girls who didn’t get it, but I had some good friends who looked after me. So, it was some positive some negative. I also had my brother.’
‘You had a brother that supported you?’ Jasmine had Holly, her older sister, but even she hadn’t found out about Jasmine until she left home.
‘Yeah. Alun’s four years older than me. He’s a sweetie really but he always defended me, from back when I was a little cissy boy. He had a bit of a reputation at school, so after I transitioned one dark look from Alun and the bullies went to find someone else to torment.’
‘Is he still around?’
‘Yeah. Works in one of the huts along the front selling buckets and spades. He’s still there if I need him.’
‘But he can’t be with you everywhere. Are you planning on staying here too?’
‘God no! I wanted to get away from people who knew me as a boy. When I was sixteen I left school and went to college. I didn’t know anyone there, so I could start my transition seriously.’
‘How’s it gone?’
Ceri shrugged again. ‘College was ok. I’m waiting for the results now. Then I can get away full-time.’
‘Waitressing is a holiday job then.’
‘God, yes! I wouldn’t want to spend my life doing it like Tegan, the old cow.’
‘She doesn’t like you?’
‘I don’t whether it’s me, because I am who am I am or whether she just doesn’t like young people, or any people for that matter.’
‘Does she know you’re trans?’
‘Of course. Everyone does in this town. Tegan knows my Mum.’
‘I can see why you want to go somewhere else.’
Ceri looked a bit sheepish. ‘I can’t wait, but. . .it’s a bit scary too. Starting in a new place. College was the same, but I came home every day.’
‘Your mother. . .’
‘I’ll miss her. I’m not sure if I could have done this without her.’
Jasmine felt the same about Angela, but they had to part too. ‘How’s your transition going.’
Ceri nodded her head from side to side. ‘It takes so long. I was already on the list before I turned sixteen, so I thought I’d be there with my prescription on my birthday. But, no, it took six months before I got my first supply. Now I’m waiting for the surgery.’
‘Like me,’ Jasmine agreed. ‘You should get priority, being so young. You’re looking good though; the hormones are working.’
‘Yeah. I’ve even got tits.’ Ceri drained her cup of coffee.
‘They’re all yours?’ Jasmine said gazing longingly at Ceri’s curves.
“Well, no. I’m still using fillers, but I’m up to a B.’
Jasmine snorted. ‘Lucky you. I had problems getting my antiandrogens balanced. The nausea and the moods. . . Well, you don’t need to hear about all that. Let’s just say I’m sorry I’m not ten years younger, like you.’
They chattered on about Jasmine’s life, Ceri’s plans for uni., what there was to do in the area. At last Ceri got up.
‘Sorry, I’ve got to go, Jas. I said I’d meet my mate, Gwen at lunchtime. We’ve got some clothes to swap. She’s not as tall as me but we can share some things.’
Jasmine felt awkward. ‘I’m sorry I’ve kept you talking Ceri.’
‘No, it’s been great. It’s lovely to share with someone like me. Look, I have a day off on Thursday. Perhaps I can show you around this place. There’s some gorgeous scenery. Unless you’ve got your own plans.’
‘No. No plans at all. That would be great. Thanks Ceri.’
‘See you at dinner then. Unless Tegan the witch stops me serving you.’
‘Would she?’
‘Oh, yes she would. Bye.’
Ceri skipped off. Jasmine watched her go, admiring the way her short dress swayed from side to side as she swung her hips. She walked like a girl, with grace and sexiness.’

Jasmine enjoyed a walk on the headland recommended by Ceri. It was some weeks since she had been running so she felt out of condition. The steep climb got her breathing deeply again and made her conscious of her leg muscles. She paused in various places to enjoy the views across the sea and the mountains. She especially enjoyed the solitude. Despite the fine weather she met no-one on her walk until she reached a small shop and café at the summit. She joined the tourists who had arrived by cable-car but after a refreshing drink she set off alone again.
As she wandered, taking paths almost at random, she thought about Ceri, comparing her tales of transition with her own story. Both had had a steady and secure home life while commencing the changes that would lead to them presenting as well as identifying as female. They were the lucky ones, Jasmine knew. There were many who struggled against prejudice and without support, but Jasmine was also aware that Ceri had faced problems and would have more to confront in the future. Her boss, Tegan, was just one amongst many.
It was late afternoon when Jasmine finally returned to the metalled roads of the town and arrived, footsore and tired back at her hotel. She relished a long bath before making herself ready for the evening meal.
Ceri served her but was subdued and barely said a word. Jasmine tried to engage her in conversation but noticed her casting worried glances to where Tegan was serving other guests. After dinner Jasmine retired to her room to read and watch TV before finding herself getting sleepy.

The grumpy waitress was not to be seen at breakfast. Ceri skipped around the dining room with a broad smile on her face. She was assisted by an older, plump woman who also had a cheerful demeanour. Jasmine was interested by how the atmosphere of the dining room was different this morning. The weather outside was sunny again and now it seemed to have spread inside as well. As Ceri cleared the last of Jasmine’s plates, Jasmine decided to ask a question.
‘Would you like to meet for coffee again?’ She hoped she hadn’t read too much into their pleasant encounter the previous morning.
‘I’d love to,’ Ceri replied with a smile.
‘Same place and time?’ Jasmine asked.
‘Super.’ Ceri staggered away with am armful of dirty crockery.

Jasmine decided to wait outside the café. The incoming tide was again providing an interesting pattern of waves on the wide beach. Ceri approached after just a few minutes, her golden hair again released from the elastic bands that held it captive in the dining room.
They sat with their coffees at the same table as the previous day.
‘You were happier this morning than you were last evening,’ Jasmine observed.
‘You can guess why,’ Ceri replied with her lips covered in foamy milk.
‘No Tegan?’
The girl nodded.
’Is it her day off?’
Ceri put her mug down. ‘Yes. The one day of the week when I can get on with the job without her grumbling. Myfanwy is lovely to work with. I wish she’d do more than the two days.’
‘Two days?’
‘She covers my day off too. She’s retired really. Says she doesn’t want to do more than two days a week.’
‘I could see the difference in you. You weren’t a happy bunny last evening.’
Ceri frowned. ‘I wasn’t. Tegan had a go at me.’
‘What about?’
‘Us.’
‘Us?’ Jasmine didn’t know what Ceri meant.
‘You and me. Meeting like this. Apparently, she was hanging round the pier when we met yesterday and saw us come in here together.’
Jasmine shrugged, ‘So what?’
‘Tegan says staff should not fraternise with the guests. She thinks I’m trying to get a better tip from you or something.’
‘It’s none of her business.’ Jasmine was annoyed that another person should have an opinion on her relationship with her new friend.
‘It isn’t, but she is my boss, so she thinks she can have a go at me for anything. She’s glad she’s found something else other than just my work to go on about; as well as being trans of course.’
‘Does she know I am too?’
‘Oh, yes. She used some words for both of us.’
Jasmine felt herself stiffen at Ceri’s statement. ‘You do know that if she is intimidating you and using derogatory trans terms that could be a hate-crime. You could report her.’
Ceri looked horrified. ‘I don’t want to go to the police.’
‘They are on our side.’ Well, most of them are, Jasmine thought. There were a few of her ex-colleagues who couldn’t see past their own gender certainty.
‘Yeah, perhaps. I can sort it. I won’t have to work with Tegan for much longer.’

………………….to be continued.

 

Jasmine makes a friend

WP_20180516_13_29_08_ProDo you have hate-figures? Hate is a very negative emotion and one shouldn’t place that feeling on any person but there are definitely some people or groups of people that I am more than irritated by. Certain politicians who I won’t name are one group. Estate agents used to be another. We’ve bought and sold house a number of times and the agents always seemed an obstacle to movement rather than a help. However at the moment, our current agents are delightful, working day after day to secure the move we want to make. No, the figures who have risen to number one in my list of detestable characters are solicitors.

In the past I have accepted that they have a job to do. They’ve done it and been paid handsomely for it. Perhaps it took them longer than we hoped but they seemed to get on with the task without causing unnecessary hindrance. The last time we moved was nine years ago.  The situation seems to have changed since then. As in all walks of life, the internet has interfered. Now you can contract with an on-line solicitor probably based in a town far from where you live. Apart from not having a solicitor close enough to call on for face to face meetings it means that you are dealing with a call centre staffed by legal assistants (assuming they have any qualification at all). All they can deal with is what they see on their screens. The result – delay after delay; letters, emails and phone calls unanswered; each solicitor in the chain waiting for the next in line to do something.

We went with a local solicitor but at least one member of our chain of four has used an online solicitor. A process that could take as little as three weeks, that usually takes six weeks has taken three months and counting (that’s not counting the other delays due to people dropping out, partly we suspect because of the delays). Our impression is that all solicitors have lost sight that they are serving clients who are engaged in the stressful business of moving from one home to another. They sit in their offices and call centres awaiting the post – yes, despite the possibility of transferring letters and documents online they still seem to rely on the mail.

Frustration is just one of  the words I’d use to describe the emotion of waiting for completion.

……………………………

I’m still writing! Below is the second episode of Negative, both a sequel and a prequel to the Jasmine Frame novels.

Negative – Part 2

‘Yes, please,’ Jasmine replied giving the young waitress a broad smile.
The girl looked at the empty seat. ‘Is there someone else. . .’ she said hesitantly.
‘No, I’m on my own.’ How Jasmine wished that Angela was with her. The memories of fun times together, the companionship, the love, the sex, startled her with their force. She gasped.
‘Are you alright,’ the waitress asked.
Jasmine sucked in air. ‘Yes, well, a glass of water. . .’
The girl hurried away and returned moments later with a jug of water and a tumbler. She placed them on Jasmine’s table. ‘Would you like more time?’ The girl’s voice control had slipped a little, descending a few tones.
Jasmine smiled at her. ‘No, sorry about that. I’m not sure what happened. I am ready.’ She picked up the menu and read off the soup and a fish dish. She was ready to eat but didn’t want anything too heavy.
The waitress scribbled in her notebook, gave Jasmine a smile and left her. Jasmine noticed the other waitress’s eyes following her. There was a scowl on her face.

The food wasn’t bad, better than your average cheap hotel fare. Jasmine felt that it had been prepared with care for her personally rather than being mass produced slop. She wished she had brought something with her to read as in the gap between courses she had nothing to do other than sit and listen to conversations while trying to avoid looking like she was eavesdropping on the private chat. Other than the waitress no one else spoke to her. Was that because all the pairs were just focussed on their own relationships or because as a single person she was considered odd, an interloper, who might have a divisive effect on a couple. None of what she heard was particularly interesting. She discovered a few places in the town to avoid and learned of some others worth a visit.
When she had finished she thanked her waitress who looked surprised to be acknowledged. The older member of staff glowered at them. Jasmine pushed her chair back, stood and casually walked from the dining room. She returned to her room, watched a bit of TV, read her book and then discovered that like previous evenings since her stay in hospital she had become tired and was ready to settle into bed much earlier than she was accustomed to.

She woke early. The morning light was shining through the thin curtains even though her window faced north. She got up, went to the window and pushed the curtains back. The sky was blue and cloudless. A sunny day by the seaside. What could be better? It should have filled her with joy but there was a darkness inside her. What did she need to dispel it? A companion? Someone to chat to? Someone to tell of her dreams that came every night – the blade that slashed at her arms defending herself, her chest, abdomen and her penis and testicles. The presence of the last was perhaps the worst part of the nightmare.
She made a cup of coffee using the room’s facilities and went back to bed. It was too early for breakfast. She read again and listened to the sounds of the hotel waking up.
It was approaching nine-thirty when she descended to the dining room for breakfast. There were still a few couples there eating. She sat at the same table as the previous evening. The young trans-girl approached.
‘Good morning,’ the waitress said, ‘What would you like?’
Jasmine decided, ‘Scrambled eggs, toast, fruit, coffee, please.’
‘There’s fruit on the buffet table. Help yourself. I’ll bring your coffee.’ The girl departed. Jasmine explored the breakfast bar and collected a bowl of mixed fruits. The girl was pouring coffee into her cup when she returned.
‘You’re on breakfast and dinner times?’ Jasmine said.
The waitress smiled, ‘That’s right, six days a week.’
‘We’re going to see a fair bit of each other over the next couple of weeks, I think. I’m Jasmine and you are . . .?’
‘Ceri,’ she replied but glanced to the other side of the room where the older waitress was standing glaring at them with her mouth in a grimace. ‘but she doesn’t like me talking to guests.’
Jasmine followed Ceri’s gaze, ‘She?’
‘Tegan.’
‘She can’t stop me talking to you,’ Jasmine said and then realised that was unfair on the young woman. If the older waitress was vindictive to Ceri for some reason, then Jasmine befriending her would not improve her situation. ‘I’m sorry, I won’t get you into the trouble.’
Ceri gave her a sad smile. ‘It’s not your fault. It’s, er, complicated.’
‘I understand,’ Jasmine said in an almost whisper, ‘I think we have something in common.’
A startled look passed across Ceri’s face. She took the coffee jug to refill another guest’s cup. A few minutes later she returned with Jasmine’s plate of eggs and a rack of toast.
‘Enjoy your breakfast,’ she said and hurried away.

It was a lovely warm morning on the seafront. Jasmine walked along the beach which was occupied by couples with young children digging in the sand and older people snoozing in deckchairs. She felt herself drawn to the end of the beach where the pier jutted out into the sea. She climbed the steps up to the wooden deck and walked past the stalls selling holiday goods until she was over the water. Below her the rollers were sweeping into the shore, breaking over the mixture of pebbles and sand that made up the beach. It was hypnotic watching them and she stood for minutes in a sort of trance.
Eventually she looked up, back along the pier and saw a woman walking towards her. Her long golden hair flowed out behind her. She wore large round sunglasses and brightly patterned dress that although it had a fairly high neckline left her shoulders and arms bare and hardly covered her long legs at all. She had flat, white sandals on her feet.
Jasmine stared at the girl, then realised that she was familiar. It was Ceri.
‘Hi,’ Jasmine called as the girl drew near to her. Ceri paused, looked at her, and took a step closer.
‘I’m sorry. I was far away. I didn’t notice you, um, . . .’
‘Jasmine,’ she reminded her.
‘Oh, yes. You told me your name at breakfast.’
‘So, Tegan let’s you out sometimes then.’ Jasmine wondered if the cliché would irritate the young woman.
Ceri smiled. ‘Thank goodness. Breakfast is usually done by ten-thirty and I don’t have to be back to set up for dinner until five-thirty. The day is mine to do what I want.’
‘And what do you want?’
She shrugged, ‘Well, I just love this old pier, especially when it’s not too busy. It’s packed in August, if the weather’s good.’
Jasmine gazed at the sea and the mountains in the distance. ‘It’s certainly a stunning view.’
‘I look into the distance and think about where I might be sometime in the future.’
‘You have plans?’
Ceri shrugged again. ‘It depends.’
‘As you said earlier. It’s complicated. I know what you mean.’
The girl frowned. ‘You said we had something in common. Do you know I’m . . .? Are you . . .?’
‘I think we need to talk. Would you like a coffee?’
‘Um, yes. There’s a decent café at the end of the pier.’
They walked side by side to the low, wooden building. There were a few people inside, but Ceri and Jasmine were able to take a quiet, corner table with a view over the open sea. They ordered their coffees – Jasmine a black and Ceri a frothy cappuccino.
‘You guessed I was trans,’ Ceri said. There was disappointment on her face. ‘I try so hard.’
‘You look fantastic,’ Jasmine wanted to encourage her, ‘but you know there are the little signs. I’m aware of them because I know I have them too – facial features, broad shoulders, not much waist.’
‘And the voice. I know. I try to keep it up but it slips.’
‘It’s difficult, I know. I’ve taken lessons from a speech therapist and still I have problems. But, you’re young, how long have you been transitioned?’ she paused wondering how ready the girl was to talk about herself. ‘I’m sorry, I’m being nosey. You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.’
Ceri’s eyes widened. ‘No, I want to. It’s fantastic to find someone who understands. There aren’t many trans-people in this small town.’
‘You grew up here?’
‘Yes. All my life. I still live with my Mum and Dad.’
‘They support you?’
‘Mum, yes. Dad less so.’
Jasmine nodded. ‘That’s common. My father never knew I was trans. He died before I started to transition. It must have been difficult for you.’
Ceri shrugged. ‘I knew there was something different about me when I was a kid, but I was fourteen before I told my Mum. I was getting scared and angry about the things that were starting to happen. You know, hair, voice breaking, getting erections.’
Jasmine nodded. She remembered those things very well indeed. She encouraged Ceri to continue.
‘When I told my Mum, she understood immediately. I’d always insisted on keeping my hair long,’ She stroked her golden tresses, ‘and I was never really into playing boys games.’
‘Your Mother helped you.’
‘Yeah. She took me to the doctor, googled it, got in touch with Mermaids. School agreed for me to go into Year 10 as a girl. I wanted to go on the puberty blocking drugs but the time it took to get an appointment at the gender clinic and then they said I must wait to be certain I wanted it. . .’ she shrugged. ‘I wished I’d come out years sooner so that it could have been sorted when puberty kicked in.’ She sighed, ‘Anyway, I was living as a girl, at home and school, and I only had to wait until I was sixteen.’
‘How was it, at school, living here?’
‘What do you think?’
‘Difficult?’
‘Yeah.’

…………………….to be continued

Jasmine’s back

WP_20180414_09_47_33_ProIn four weeks I’ll be at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Southport, Lancashire for the BLISS Book Lovers event (Sat. 14th July.)  It’s another of those bookfairs where the authors display their books and engage visitors with enthralling chat about their work. It really works best if there are lots of people wandering around who aren’t the participating authors. For that reason I have a few free entry tickets available for anyone wanting to attend.  Just send me a message on paintedladiesnovel@btinternet.com and if they haven’t all gone I’ll see that you get a ticket. Also send me a message if you want to pre-order any of my books for delivery at the event.  They will all be priced at £8 on the day except for Painted Ladies, which is free with either Bodies By Design or The Brides’ Club Murder. The Evil Above the Stars trilogy will be £21 for all three volumes.  There will also be free bookmarks and postcards of scenes from the September novels, particularly Cold Fire.

Of course, if you can’t get to Southport you can order the books direct from me by sending a message to me at the same email address above.  All books are £9.99 inc p&p each and the free offer for Painted Ladies stands. The package of the three Evil Above the Stars books is £25.

……………….

And so Jasmine returns. I’ve had a rest from writing Jasmine Frame stories for a couple of months although the fourth novel, Molly’s Boudoir, is still on the stocks. This new story is something of an innovation.  It is both a sequel and prequel.  It fits into the short period of time between the events of Painted Ladies and Bodies By Design. I am not going to give away any of the plot of Painted Ladies other than to say Jasmine is recovering.  You’ll have to wait and see how the story develops but I do want it to be a little more reflective.  Jasmine is stuck at the stage in her transition where she’s living as a woman and taking hormones but the body she wants is a distant goal because of the time it takes to get Gender Confirmation  Surgery. She’s alone and self-employed and has just completed a traumatic case so she has reason to be reflective.

By the way I’d welcome beta readers for Molly’s Boudoir.  If you would like to read it in its pre-copyedit state and are prepared to make comments (positive and negative) then please send me a message on the email address above. In  return you’ll get my grateful thanks and a signed (yes, really) paperback copy when it is published.

So here is the first episode of Negative.

Negative: Part 1

The forest of wind turbines on the horizon in a flat calm sea seemed to be unchanging. It was only the rattle of the railway carriage that told her that she was moving. She kept her face close to the window gazing at the scene. It had been a long time since she’d seen the sea, but it was almost like coming home having grown up in a coastal town. This was a different bit of sea though and turning away to look out of the other side of the carriage she could see that she was travelling through unfamiliar country. Hills clothed in bright green grass and dark trees rose steeply from the narrow coastal strip and beyond, partially hidden in cloud, were the dark blue hints of higher mountains.
Jasmine looked back at the sea. She needed a holiday, a break, a change of scene, but it felt a little like she was running away. Angela had recommended it, as did Jilly, her GP. While her injuries were healing, the dreams still disturbed her nights. She woke feeling she couldn’t breathe. The media interest in her, though lessening, was irritating and stopped her from getting back to work. Not that she was sure she would have much work. Frame Investigations might be defunct. Who wanted a private investigator whose picture had appeared in the local and national newspapers and on the internet?
She’d argued. She didn’t want to go away. She wanted to curl up in her drab, small flat. She was alone. What was she going to do on a vacation? Anyway, she couldn’t afford it.
Angela had argued back. The change would do her good, refresh her. She’d meet new people; people who didn’t know her. She had some money coming from the Police for her work and in victim compensation, and why didn’t she use some of her savings. That was for her transition, she’d responded.
Angela had replied, ‘Your wellbeing now is more important than having money in the bank for whatever surgeries you decide you might need in the future.’ Jasmine had wanted to retort that future treatment was what was going to make her what she wanted to be, but she had accepted Angela’s point.
So here she was, on a train to somewhere unfamiliar. On her own because, of course, Angela had her own career she couldn’t desert at short notice and anyway they were divorced now. There was no-one else.

The train pulled into the terminus station. Jasmine collected her small case and stepped onto the carriage accompanied by a couple of dozen fellow travellers. It was summer, but not yet school holiday time so the season hadn’t really taken off. Her companions were largely grey-haired. Though they might have noticed her in her t-shirt and short skirt, none seemed to take any interest in her. She checked the map on her phone and strode out of the station towing her case behind her. The hotel she’d booked wasn’t far. It was in one of the streets that lead down to the seafront, but she noted, didn’t have a direct view of the sea. It was a small independently run establishment. The grey stone Victorian building looked as though it had had a coat of paint applied to its woodwork but didn’t seem to have had any recent improvements. Not seedy anyway. She’d booked it because it was cheap, offered breakfast and dinner and had a single room spare for a fortnight – that was as long as she thought she’d survive being on holiday.
The owner showed her into the room. Its narrow window looked out at the row of buildings in the next street with just a peek at the hill that rose beyond the town. He was welcoming and explained the idiosyncrasies of the plumbing and informed her of the mealtimes. She examined his face. Had he guessed what she was? Did his eyes display any sense of judgement? No, he was treating her as she thought he would any other guest who happened to be a single woman, taking care not to fuss over her in case it was interpreted as being sexist.
After asking if there was any other assistance she needed, the proprietor left her alone. Jasmine unpacked her bag and then decided to explore. She left the hotel and walked down to the seafront. Although the sun was still shining it was now late afternoon, her journey had taken most of the day, and there was a cool breeze blowing in off the water. Her bare arms and legs felt a bit chilly. To keep warm, she strode out along the promenade. She passed retired couples and families with young pre-school children, but the wide concreted pavement wasn’t crowded. On one side were the large, at one time grand, hotels and on the other, brightly painted wooden huts offering the usual seaside goods for visitors – buckets and spades, sunhats, ice cream, soft drinks, and fast food accompanied by the sickening smell of over-cooked fat.
She went to the iron rail that marked the boundary between the shore and beach and gazed out at the curve of the bay with the mountains on the right and the headland to the left. Why was she here? She knew no-one and knew nothing about this area. It was simply a retreat, somewhere to be herself, unknown and hopefully unbothered. For a moment she wondered what the attitude of the locals was to transitioning transwomen. Were they likely to be more or less accepting than in the cities and towns she was familiar with? She didn’t know, and it gave her a little anxiety about what she might discover. Holiday-makers, surely, were only interested in their own enjoyment so would be unconcerned by her, that is unless there were some young, single men looking for women to satisfy their vacation lust. She’d have to avoid them.
She wasn’t sure what she would spend her time her doing. There were plenty of things to do and see, walks to do and she’d brought a few books. Swimming in the sea was out. No bathing costume helped her look more feminine, and her scars would show. Relax, that was the main thing – and recuperate; dispel the nightmares of the slashing knife, ripping through her skin, chopping at her penis and scrotum. Yes, she wanted rid of them, but in a controlled, clean, anaesthetised manner where they would be used to build her new genitalia. She shivered, not just with the breeze on her shoulders, and turned to walk back to the hotel.

After kicking off her shoes and lying on the bed to read a not very interesting novel for a while, her watch told her it was time for dinner. Did one dress for dinner in hotels these days? She wasn’t sure but decided to change from the clothes she had travelled in. Instead she put on a calf-length dress with a thin cardigan. She powdered her face and re-did her lipstick. She looked in the mirror. What impression did she give? A young(ish) woman on her own in a small holiday hotel. Would people wonder why she was alone and perhaps examine her for reasons for her aloneness? Would their examinations note the wide shoulders, the mannish angle of her nose, and firm jaw-line? Would they suspect her for what she was?
She was used to these worries although it was the first time for a long time that she had been in a new place to test them. She took a deep breath, picked up her bag, checked her new smart phone was in it and stepped outside her door.
The dining room was half full. Most of the occupied tables by couples although one had two pairs sitting at it. Glances noted her entry, but none lingered. A waitress, dark hair, probably in her forties, indicated that she could sit at any of the smaller tables set for two, and left her to choose. She went to a table at the corner of the room which, while unobtrusive, gave her a view of the diners. She sat, pulling the hem of her dress under her bottom and looked at the brief menu.
There was a buzz of conversation around her. She caught snippets of conversation about the day’s activities, and discussions of the news of the moment – the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and preparations for the London Olympics, now less than two months away and the media, at least, becoming frantic that the organisation was incomplete.
Jasmine was approached by the second of the waitresses on duty. She was young, slim and tall, at least as tall as Jasmine’s five foot nine. Her long blonde hair was tied in a bun so that it wouldn’t flop into the dinner plates when she served the diners. Like the other waitress she was dressed in the typical waiting uniform of short, black skirt, black tights and black pinafore but the younger girl’s skirt ended higher on her thighs. She gave Jasmine a thin smile but there was a nervousness about her, her eyes not looking directly at her, that caused Jasmine to examine her. She noted the heavy foundation on her chin and cheeks, and the bold colour of her eye and lip make-up. The shirt was tucked into the skirt but the girl didn’t have much of a waist. The hand that gripped the notebook had painted nails but was large with stubby fingers.
“Are you ready to order?” the girl said in a way that Jasmine suspected she’d prepared herself to speak rather than just spill the words out. She smiled at the girl and the thought came to her, what were the chances that the hotel I chose to stay in had a trans employee?

………………………..to be continued.

 

Jasmine is waking

I could start this week’s piece with a rant about inept solicitors but I won’t. Let’s try to be positive.

There was the lovely news about the person in the Netherlands who has become the first legal non-binary person. They were born with an intersex condition and has spent time living as male and female but now has settled for a non-gendered life.  It was a struggle but the Dutch government finally accepted it. Perhaps it opens the way for other intersex people to adopt a similar life-style. However, I don’t think it offers too much hope for those like me who are not intersex but identify as gender-fluid or gender-variant and want to reject labelling as male or female.

Then there was the great day we had at the Hay Literary Festival last week. We always have a good time at Hay but this was different as I was contributing to a workshop on Gender, Sexuality and Identity organised by the young people’s mental health charity, Strong Young Minds. In fact I was asked to introduce the topic and guide the audience into the discussion groups. We had a good and varied audience who took part enthusiastically and the group facilitators and notetakers did a fantastic job. We hope the outcomes are greater awareness, a network for LGBTQ+ youth and further opportunities to spread the message viz. BU (i.e. be yourself).

Of course there was another highlight to the day – a peer inside the Green Room at Hay where all the speakers relax. Actually a bit more than a “peer”. We were welcomed in, given a glass of wine and had a sit down to eat our packed lunch.  Oh, and the loos were pretty smart too.

IMGP6569 (2)………………………………..

This week we reach the concluding part of my SF story, Benefactors. Well, it’s the last part so far. When you get to the end you will see that it’s not really the end of the story. I have been thinking about a millennia spanning tale taking humans out to perhaps meet the Benefactors but it has rather ground to a halt at the moment. Meanwhile, I have been thinking about Jasmine Frame’s return.  Yes, she will be back in a new transgender-themed crime story next week – I just have to write it. . .

Benefactors: Part 9

The change in engine note after the helicopter touched down was what woke Jock. Moments later the door opened revealing another helmeted military figure standing on a small landing field of old and cracked concrete. Jock undid his harness, stretched his arms and legs and stepped out into a cloudy evening that was considerably colder than the previous stop. Not having had his personal possessions returned to him Jock had no idea how long the journey had lasted. He looked around, seeing that they were in a valley between moderately high and rugged mountains. Scotland, Jock decided.
There was a row of single storey huts on one side of the landing field. From the distance, they looked practically derelict relicts of the Cold War or even earlier. A figure was striding towards him from the buildings. Jock thought the person was familiar. He began to walk to meet her. A few steps confirmed his hopes.
‘Professor Patel,’ Jock called, his words drowned by the roar of the helicopter taking off behind him. He turned to see it rise and turn and head off down the valley.
‘Jock!’ Helen called and ran towards him. They met and embraced in an awkward but emotional hug. ‘Thank goodness you’re here,’ Helen said when they parted.
‘I don’t know where “here” is, Professor. What’s going on?’
‘It’s Helen. We don’t need titles here and I think we’re going to be together for some time. I don’t know where “here” is either and it hasn’t got a name but it’s where we’re going to study the data in the tree genome.’
Jock stopped walking, shivered and shook his head. ‘I don’t get it. They killed my guide, destroyed the last tree, and shut me away. I thought the next stop was an unmarked grave. Now you say they want to know what the tree’s all about.’
Helen nodded. ‘I’ll explain all I can, but let’s get you inside. It’s a colder autumn here wherever we are.’ They entered the nearest building. It had paint peeling from the concrete walls and the vinyl covering on the floor was lifting in places.
‘What is this place?’ Jock said.
‘I think it was a research station from the 60s. Biological warfare I expect. It’s been mothballed for half a century but that doesn’t mean it’s been looked after. I think the government thinks it’s remote enough to keep our work secret.’
‘So we’re working for the British government,’ Jock shrugged.
‘I think so.’ Helen explained how she and Darmaan had been arrested or kidnapped depending on your point of view and how she had been facing a memory wipe given some sort of legitimacy by government anti-radicalisation laws. ‘But I convinced them that they needed to take the tree data seriously.’
‘How did you do that? They seemed to be paranoid about any of it getting out.’
‘They are but they’re more scared of others using the data first. I suggested that there may be more examples of hidden messages in genomes waiting to be found in other parts of the world.’
Jock shook his head. ‘I don’t think so. The Rift Valley was where modern humans evolved. There’s the pinch point where they almost didn’t make it. You know we’re all descended from one female. Well, perhaps there were other women in that surviving group but their descendants died out. Something happened to improve the odds of survival for that bunch of humans a quarter of a million years ago. I think it was the Tree. We were given one chance.’
‘Shh,’ Helen held a finger to her lips. ‘Keep that to yourself I don’t think they’ve had time to install surveillance yet. Let them think that we’re in a race to decode the data.’
‘Maybe we are. The Chinese mining operation that destroyed the grove could be a cover. Perhaps they took samples too.’
‘So we’ve got our work cut out.’
‘But there aren’t any trees. They’re all gone.’ Jock shook his head sadly.
Helen stopped at a steel door. She pushed on the handle. The door swung opened as if recently greased. They stepped into a small laboratory. There was plastic sheeting draped from the ceiling and covering the windows. It felt warmer than in the corridor. A bench in the centre of the room was covered with trays of small glass jars.
Jock let out a gasp of glee. He leapt forward bending to peer at the bottles. ‘They’re . . .’
‘Tissue cultures,’ Helen said leaning to look inside a bottle at the short pale shoot and the tiny leaves that were just beginning to open.
‘How. . .?’ Jock asked almost speechless as he examined jar after jar.
‘Your employers. Your un-named drug company. They had started the cultures to obtain the neuroactive drug you discovered. All their work has been transferred here along with their staff. I think the government has done a deal with the company to keep it secret.’
Jock straightened up. ‘The God-tree survives.’
Helen took Jock’s hand and tugged him back to the corridor. ‘Yes, but that’s not what we’re here for. Come on.’
They walked a little further until Helen pushed open another door. Jock was dazzled by the colours and flickering illumination. The room was filled with holographic displays hanging in the air, moving, changing, flicking off, new ones appearing. In the centre of the room, almost hidden by the maze of pictures and text, was a figure.
‘Darmaan. Jock Fraser’s here,’ Helen called. The displays disappeared revealing another drab, decaying room with a single pendant light hanging over Darmaan Adams. Darmaan stepped towards them arm extended.
‘Jock! At last. Helen’s said so much about you.’ Darmaan grabbed Jock’s hand and pumped it vigorously. Jock always considered himself an action man, a fearless explorer always prepared for the unexpected but the way today had turned out was too much for even him. He collapsed onto an old wooden stool and stared at Helen and Darmaan with his mouth open.
‘I’ll explain,’ Helen said. ‘The government guy who was organising my memory wipe believed my story of what the Tree meant. I have to hand it to them. Once they make up their mind to act things happen. I was left alone in a comfy cell for less than two days. Then they came for me and brought me here. That was yesterday evening. Darmaan arrived this morning long with the drug company guys and gals. That’s it for now except for a company of soldiers who are guarding the perimeter. I’m not sure if they are keeping snoopers out or us in.’
‘Probably both,’ Jock said. ‘Where are the tissue team now?’
‘Having some supper in the common room,’ Darmaan said.
Helen nodded. ‘We were going to join them until I heard the helicopter.’
‘And I was too engrossed here to stop,’ Darmaan added.
Jock looked around the bare and decrepit laboratory. ‘But you said this place was out of action for fifty years.’
‘It was,’ Helen nodded vigorously, ‘It’s a mess but the soldiers cleaned up some of the rooms, rigged up a power feed and brought in a water supply. As I said, they did a lot in two days. For now, we’re going to be living rough. You’re used to that aren’t you, Jock?’ Jock nodded, ‘’But we have the Tree and the data Darmaan extracted from the genome. We can make a start on understanding it.’
‘Working for the government.’ Jock said.
‘Yes, but we’re still alive with our minds intact and we have an amazing task in front of us.’
Jock didn’t look as grateful as Helen expected. ‘The drug in the Tree enabled the people to work together for the good of the race. It gave them the edge over their competitors and here we are today. We don’t know who planted the trees but what did they expect to happen when their protégés became successful enough to decode the genome.’
Darmaan said, ‘That’s what we’re going to find out.’

……………………..The End (for now)

Jasmine’s having a holiday

I lost track of the days this week and almost forgot to write this blog page. It was partly because I’ve been getting on with my new September Weekes novel, provisional title, Malevolence. Not completely sure where it’s going yet but things are developing . . .

Anyway being late gives me a chance to comment on the local government elections that took place in many parts of England yesterday. I didn’t get the chance to vote as all of our local councillors face an election next year.  Nevertheless this election  was hailed as the big chance to see what the electorate felt a year after the General Election.  The answer – not a lot. As usual I think the turnout was about half what it is for the parliamentary elections – so, very poor. The results show that a surprising number of people are still willing to vote Conservative despite the incompetence shown by May’s government and total disregard given by the Brexiteers to the wellbeing of the country and the sovereignty of  parliament. But we knew all that – a large proportion of the population are incapable of seeing the disaster that Brexit (and a Conservative government) is. There again people in general do not have a lot faith in Labour either, whether lead by Corbyn or anyone else. The Lib Dems made some gains but just can’t get their message across – the media still gives more time to UKIP (who lost almost everything) and Farage (who isn’t even in politics anymore) than Lib Dems or the Greens.  In fact the bulk of the media is conniving with the Conservative Leavers to drag the country into a future which will see most people a lot worse off, financially, environmentally and safely. (is that grammatical?)

So we limp on to a future which no one, especially the Leavers, can foresee.

WP_20180413_13_48_54_Pro

………………….

No news on Jasmine Frame at the moment, so here is the fourth episode of my SF long story or novel fragment, Benefactors. Hope you like it.

Benefactors: Part 4

Chapter 4

Jock was a little concerned but not too worried when Ekuru Lengabilo wasn’t at the dusty airstrip. His small plane landed early in the morning after the flight from Nairobi. Jock took a ride in a local’s beaten up Chang’an pickup truck into the small town of Isiolo. There were more Kenyan government soldiers hanging around the low concrete buildings than there had been the last time he was here, but either they didn’t notice or didn’t care that a highly tanned westerner was in a local truck. The driver dropped Jock off at the corrugated-iron lock-up garage and Jock was greeted by the Samburan mechanic that looked after his Toyota 4×4. Jock dumped his bags inside and checked that the alcohol tank was full. He was pleased to see that the mechanic had followed his instruction and allowed the sun to reach the solar panels on the roof so the batteries were fully charged.
Jock signalled to the mechanic to open the rickety door and he drove silently out on to the unmade road. He stopped to check there were no other vehicles or carts obstructing his route.
The passenger door was wrenched open. Jock glanced to his right and saw Lengabilo climbing in.
‘Drive!’ said the guide in Samburan. In Jock’s ear the translation came through without the urgency. He engaged forward, put his foot to the floor and they shot forward with a whine from the electric motors. They headed north.
‘What’s up?’ Jock asked when they were clear of the town.
‘The army were looking for me,’ Ekuru said. He twisted to look out of the rear window.
‘Why?’
‘They think I support the terrorists.’
‘What terrorists?’
‘The people of the God Tree.’
Without thinking, Jock pressed his foot against the brake and they came to a sudden halt in a cloud of dust.
‘What do you mean? Those people are the most peaceful and cooperative I’ve ever met. Probably something to do with those leaves they chew. They’re not terrorists.’
Ekuru nodded. ‘You and I know that. The government knows that too, but they also know that the way to get western support is to label opposition groups as terrorists.’
‘Ah, I see.’ Jock drove off again. ‘The people were worried about the Chinese plans to survey their land for minerals.’
‘It’s gone beyond that.’ Lengabilo said.
‘How?’
‘A week ago the Chinese arrived with all their vehicles and drilling machinery. They set off north west.’
‘To the Tree People’s land?’
‘Yes.’
‘We need to get there as quickly as possible,’ Jock thrust his foot against the accelerator. A light on the dashboard showed that the fuel cells were supplementing the batteries and solar power.

It was dawn next day when they left South Horr, heading west. Jock had stocked up on alcohol for the fuel cells and supplies for himself and Lengabilo. He was feeling anxious. He’d told the elder of the Tree People that he would present their case to the government but he had failed to get passed the lowliest of officials back in London. Now he was keen to get to the people’s homeland and the grove of trees that he had left just a few weeks earlier.
The roads through the forested hills were no more than tracks and passage was slow, but eventually Ekuru, driving the 4×4, carefully negotiated the steep descent into the Rift Valley. Jock scanned the view looking for landmarks that would show that they were close to the grove of trees. At last he thought he recognised the shape of the gullies and bluffs.
‘There,’ Jock said pointing, ‘where that smoke is rising.’ As he said it he realised that something was wrong. There shouldn’t be a pall of smoke over the People’s home. They rounded a bend and emerged on the savannah. Ekuru stopped the vehicle.
‘No!’ Jock cried. Ahead of them, huge vehicles were parked where previously wooden huts stood. Beyond, where the grove of trees had grown in the shade of a narrow valley, the earth had been gouged out to form a quarry.
‘They’re gone,’ Jock said meaning both the people and the trees that they tended.
‘We’d better get away from here,’ Lengabilo said reversing and turning the truck. He drove quickly away from the mine site.
‘What have they done?’ Jock said.
‘It’s what I feared,’ Ekuru said, ‘The government declared the Tree People terrorists for opposing their deal with the Chinese. Then they moved in. The people are probably all dead and the trees chopped down and burned.’
Jock’s heart hammered as if he had been running, ‘But those trees. . . they’re so special.’
‘The Tree People worshipped them,’ Ekuru said.
‘Not worship exactly. They cared for and protected the trees for thousands and thousands of years and I let them down.’
‘It’s not your fault that the government sold the ground beneath our feet. Where do you want to go?’
Jock thought for a few minutes as they trundled slowly over the rough ground. ‘I don’t know but I need time to think and get in touch with friends. Get us off the plain and back into the hills out of sight.’ Lengabilo did as he was told, turning back towards the rising ground that marked the eastern border of the Rift. As they approached the first hills they spotted two people in traditional dress, sheltering under an acacia tree. Ekuru stopped the vehicle and they both got out. The smell of the heat and dust and the vegetation struck his nostrils.
An elderly woman and a young boy sat in the shade. The boy stood up as they approached. Jock thought he was familiar.
‘It is the boy who gave me the leaves and seeds,’ Jock said. Ekuru nodded. The boy looked fearful and stepped close to the woman.
‘Tell him not to be afraid,’ Jock instructed, ‘Remind him who I am.’ Lengabilo spoke in the language that defeated the translator. The boy and the woman relaxed and invited Jock and his guide to join them. Jock returned to the car for water and food and offered it to the couple. They professed their thanks in a manner that did not require translation. Ekuru gradually extracted the story. The vehicles had arrived without warning. The people had tried to protect the trees, ignoring their homes, but had been gunned down by the soldiers that accompanied the miners. Only the boy had escaped because he had been tending the old woman who was ill. For two days they had been moving slowly away from their home that was now a scene of destruction.
Sadness, regret, guilt filled Jock. ‘All the trees are destroyed?’ he said. It wasn’t quite a questions but Ekuru translated his words. The boy shook his head and spoke.
‘There is one left,’ Ekuru said.
Jock jerked upright, ‘Where? How?’
Ekuru and the boy talked and then the interpreter turned to Jock. ‘The story is that hundreds of years ago an animal or a bird, versions of the story differ, plucked a seed pod from a tree in the grove and took it away. Many years later a goatherd came across the tree growing in a gully just a few miles from here. It was a young sapling then. Now it is a mature tree. The People have looked after it even though it is separated from the main grove.’
‘We must get to it. If I take cuttings, then perhaps the genome can be preserved.’ Jock got to his feet.
‘Not today,’ Ekuru said, ‘It’s too late.’ He pointed to the Sun dropping over the western horizon.

………………………to be continued.

 

 

 

Jasmine is not at home

With the Conservative government embroiled in another scandal caused by its own incompetence while the looming Brexit disaster grows on the horizon, I have been wondering why our politicians appear so useless, and that goes for the opposition too. I don’t believe all politicians are “in it for themselves”, though some are; some really do think they can improve things, however misguided their thinking may be. The problem is the type of person attracted to politics. You have to be single-minded. Politics is a long hard slog.  Unfortunately I think it is the long, hard slog to get elected that politicians enjoy more than anything, it’s what gets their endorphins going.

I have had a couple of brief periods involved with politics.  Most recently I got elected to our town council and was a councillor for three years. It was an awful experience. It could have been a full-time job except it was unpaid. I became disillusioned by trying to reach a consensus with other councillors whose only aim seemed to be to keep themselves in public view and dealing with uncaring elected and unelected officials in the county council. I was relieved to stand down. However, I observed that my political colleagues only really became lively when elections were on.  It was that simple competition to get people’s votes that excited them. So many MPs are career politicians (okay, many of the Conservative MPs may have little sidelines like running off-shore accounts) that it is only fighting elections that they know how to do.  The people with experience, skills and ideas that may actually do the country some good are not turned on in the same way.  So, in local and national government we get the egoists, the megalomaniacs, and the deluded.

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WP_20180414_09_47_33_ProJasmine is still taking a rest although of course the three novels, Painted Ladies, Bodies By Design and The Brides’ Club Murder are still available on Kindle and as paperbacks from paintedladiesnovel@btinterent.com. Also available on Kindle are the novellas/collections  Discovering Jasmine, Murder In Doubt, and Trained By Murder.

Here however is the third episode of my SF long short story or novel fragment, depending how you look at it, Benefactors.

 

 

 

 

 

Benefactors: Part 3

‘Yes. One of the permutations of the bases produced what I can only describe as a non-random sequence.’
‘Oh? What do you mean?’
‘Well, your string of base letters translates into a series of numbers which in decimal start out as 1, 2, 3, 4, up to sixty-four. Then it goes into prime numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13 and so on. Then it gives some other figures. . .’
‘What figures?’
‘Universal constants, pi to a dozen places, e, G. Where does this come from Helen?’
‘I’ll come and see you,’ Helen pressed “end”. Now she felt the same excitement as Jock Fraser and realised why he had felt it necessary to visit her. It wasn’t something that she felt she could talk about over the public netlink. Who knew who might be interested in her research.

So rarely did she actually meet her colleagues in person, Helen had forgotten how extensive the campus was. It was a good ten-minute walk to the IT building. When she opened the door to his office she saw Darmaan standing in the middle of the room staring at a semi-circular holographic screen hovering in the air a couple of feet from his face. When his eyes focussed on her the screen dissolved.
‘Ah, Helen. Where did you get this DNA code? Or is it something you’ve put together to fool me? It’s not April 1st is it?’
Helen grinned, ‘No, it’s real, at least I think it is. It depends what you find in the rest of it.’
‘The rest?’
‘It’s on here.’ Helen handed over Jock’s memory store.
Darmaan examined it. ‘You don’t see many of these. Who doesn’t exchange data over the net?’
‘Perhaps old people like me who don’t fully trust the net or perhaps people who spend their time out of reach of it.’
Darmaan still looked mystified. ‘Where do they go then? Jupiter?’ He squeezed the button between his fingers and his screen re-appeared with the start of the DNA sequence. Darmaan waved his hands, scrolling through line after line and page after page of letters.
‘Hey, there’s a huge amount here. What is it?’
Helen shrugged. ‘I don’t know. As I understand it some people have suggested using DNA as a way of storing libraries of information for posterity.’
‘What’s the point?’ Darmaan said, still staring at the pages flashing by.’
Helen took a breath. ‘They build the artificial sequence of DNA and then insert it into the nuclei of plant cells. Then they culture the plants and harvest the seeds. When they have checked the genome, the sequence was embedded in it.’
Darmaan nodded grudgingly, ‘I can see it being a possibility for long term storage but surely even with your latest sequencers it would be too slow for practical use.’
‘Yes. That’s why it hasn’t really been developed commercially, but it’s incredibly compact with each bit of information held by a single group of atoms, and not requiring anything special for preservation other than a cool, dry environment.’
‘So this is from these experimental seeds is it?’ Darmaan seemed disappointed.
‘Um, no. The experimental plants don’t even hold a short story let alone a whole library.’
Darmaan glanced at the still scrolling screen. ‘But this is vast. Where does it come from?’
Helen described Jock Fraser’s visit to her office.
‘A thousand-year-old tree? That’s a joke, surely. Do you believe him?’ Darmaan stopped the readout and dismissed the screen.
‘Why should he be telling me tales? I’d never met him before.’ Helen wondered whether Jock was indeed part of some conspiracy to set her up but that seemed even more ridiculous. ‘Look can you decode some more of it and see what’s there?’
Darmaan shrugged, ‘Yes, now I’ve got the key and set up the algorithm for finding familiar data it’s just a question of time.’ He called up the screen, wiggled his fingers and then held out the pebble to her. ‘You can have this back. I’ve copied it onto my net storage.’
Helen felt that she should give a warning. ‘Don’t tell anyone else what you are doing, just in case it is a fraud. I don’t want to be associated with any whacky science.’
Darmaan grinned, ‘Ever the cautious one, aren’t you, Professor? On this occasion I think you’re probably being wise.’

Helen managed to do a whole day’s normal work including meetings with students and colleagues without constantly checking to see if Darmaan had sent her a message. Nevertheless, when she finally had a bit of time to herself in her office it was as much as she could do to check her other messages. Why was this crazy puzzle exciting her so much? Surely it was a hoax.
The beep announcing a call had hardly reverberated before Helen answered. Darmaan’s face appeared.
‘Hi, Darmaan. You look tired. Have you been watching your screen all day?’ she said. The young man’s eyelids looked heavy and his dark skin had lost its usual lustre
‘Yes. I haven’t been able to take myself away from it. This is incredible. I mean it. It can’t have come out of the cells of an old tree.’
‘What have you found?’
Darmaan sighed, ‘It gets complicated. After the initial simple stuff, it goes into sets of coordinates.’
‘You mean positions of things?’
‘Yes.’
‘What sort of things?’
‘Stars. I put them through the online astronomical atlas. It came up with some of the brightest stars in our sky: Sirius, Betelgeuse, Rigel and so on.’
‘Oh, and?’
‘Some others you can’t see with just your eyes, but they’re in the catalogue. They’re stars similar to the Sun but quite a distance away so they’re pretty faint.’
‘How far?’
‘The nearest is over three-thousand light years from here.’
Helen was confused. What did it mean? ‘Is that it?’ she asked.
Darmaan laughed. ‘That’s just the start. It goes into mathematical and physical equations next. Simple stuff like Pythagoras, Newton and Einstein, but quickly works up to stuff which is beyond me.’
‘Is it correct?’ Helen said, still not understanding what Darmaan was implying.
‘Well, the simple stuff is. I can’t tell about the rest. It’ll need a team of top theoretical physicists to decide what it means. But that‘s just for starters. There’s a section on chemistry, too.’
‘Chemistry?’
‘Yeah. It starts with a comparison of the masses of atoms of elements in the periodic table which provided a key for the elements. My pattern recognition software then picked out a modelling programme. It gave me a molecule of hydrogen, then water and ammonia, ethanol. Soon it was into sugars and proteins and stuff I have no idea about.’
‘So the sequence is a kind of catalogue of science.’ Helen said.
‘Or a guide, but there are other stretches which look like an actual DNA sequence except they don’t match any of the stuff your genome analysis recognises.’
‘Have you finished?
Darmaan laughed again. ‘No way. My program is still trundling through it.’
‘I don’t get it, Darmaan,’ Helen said, shaking her head.
The door to her office opened, held by Sarah. ‘I’m sorry, Professor, these people . . .’
Two men pushed passed her, one short and plump and the other tall and slim.
Helen waved her screen off, cutting the call to Darmaan. ‘What do you . . .’
The short man interrupted her, ‘Professor Patel. My clients have instructed me to recover property illegally given to you by one of their employees.’
Helen stood up, leaned on her desk, glaring at her uninvited guests. ‘Clients? Employee? What do you mean?’
‘Please calm down Professor. I cannot name my clients but the employee was a Doctor Johann Fraser.’
‘Jock?’
‘That is the name he goes by. He gave you something, a memory storage device.’
‘He did give me a button. He said it was his.’ Helen held it in her hand.
‘The device may be his but the data on it belongs to my clients. Dr Fraser broke his contract by divulging the information. You must return it to me.’
‘How do I know that you are who you say you are?’
‘My identification and the injunction is on your personal netlink now.’
Helen summoned her screen and the face of the small man appeared with the phrase “Identity Recognised” alongside it. Beneath was a legal document. She scanned it and saw that it went on for page after page of lawyers jargon but she got the gist; it authorised the recovery of data belonging to “the company”.
‘It doesn’t give your name or the name of your clients,’ Helen said still suspicious.
‘You don’t need those. The Net recognises my authority. Please hand over the memory store.’
Helen reached out and dropped the button into the little man’s waiting hand.
The tall man spoke up, ‘The data has also been removed from your cloud account and that of your associate, Dr. Darmaan Shamarke.’
Helen felt her cheeks burn, ‘You’ve hacked my netlink.’
‘Yes, Professor,’ the tall man said, ‘In accordance with His Majesty’s Government’s Anti-terrorism Network Surveillance Act of 2024.’
‘Anti-terrorism? What do you mean. It was scientific data.’
‘It was given to you by someone with links to people associated with a terrorist organisation.’
Helen gasped, ‘Jock Fraser! What’s he got to do with a terrorist group. He said he was a botanist.’
The tall man drew himself up to his full height. ‘I am not at liberty to reveal the identity of his associates but I assure you that the deletions have been made in accordance with the laws governing His Majesty’s Government Anti-Terrorism Authority.’
Realisation came to Helen. ‘The company and the government have done a deal haven’t they. They realise that there’s something in the DNA of that tree which is of vital importance. It’s data that should be available to all scientists for humanity’s sake.’
The tall man’s face was impassive, ‘I should warn you Professor that if you divulge what you know of this information that Dr Fraser stole from his employers you will be arrested and will undergo a neurological adjustment by deep brain stimulation.’
Helen shivered. She could see that the threat was real. She let her shoulders sag.
‘Thank you, Professor,’ the little lawyer said cheerfully, ‘We’ll leave you now. Thank you for your compliance.’
The two men left her office. Helen stared out of the window, thinking. A few minutes later she saw a two-person quadcopter rising from the patch of grass outside her faculty building. A moment later, Darmaan burst into her room.
‘We’ve been hacked,’ he said.
‘I know,’ Helen said, ‘I’ve just had a visit from two men. I had to give Jock’s button to them and they said they’ve wiped all the data from the Net.’
‘But why?’ Darmaan held up his hands in exasperation.
‘The government and the company, Jock’s employers, know that the tree is remarkable.’
‘But it’s thousands of years old; older if the tree Jock took the DNA from is descended from trees with the same genome.’
‘Don’t say anything more Darmaan. We’re probably being watched. Let’s take a walk, but keep your voice down.’

…………………..to be continued