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.

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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.

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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.

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Jasmine confused

The one thing everyone has asked for concerning Brexit, particularly business people, is certainty. We need to know what is going to happen when (if?) we leave the EU. Most MPs, most business people and, I think now, most citizens, don’t want to leave and do not want the uncertainty of a botched, no deal exit. Yet, confusion reigns. May does her utmost to annoy everyone – Parliament and the 27 leaders of the EU included – while saying she speaks for “the people”.  One thing is certain – she doesn’t speak for me. The funny thing is I don’t think she speaks for the ardent leavers either, so who does she speak for? We are now in the situation  of the EU imposing dates because our government has failed to make any plans at all or to say what it wants. We have a couple of weeks for a majority in Parliament to come together behind some course of action – preferably and most sensibly the revocation of Article 50 to reset things to where they were three years ago,  followed by a further (non-mandatory)  referendum to gauge voters inclinations (hopefully to remain in the EU), followed by a general election to give a mandate to someone who isn’t May.  The damage done to the country over the last three years (to say nothing of the effects of austerity, and so on, since the 2008 crash) won’t be repaired soon. We have to regain of the confidence and goodwill not only of our European colleagues but our overseas trade partners such as Japan (which invested such a lot here since the 1980s and basically saw it being trashed by Brexit).

But who knows where we’ll be on 12th April.

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I was on the radio on Monday evening – BBC Hereford & Worcester. The occasion was the announcement by musician Sam Smith that he considers himself non-binary.  I’ve been the go to person for H&W for while when anything trans related gets tackled on the 20190318_141238evening rush hour prog. The presenter, Andrew Easton, asked some sensible, if basic, questions which were actually about me rather than Sam Smith, and we went on rather longer than was planned I think. I talked about the “spectrum of gender identity”, rejecting male and female stereotypes, and the toxic effect of gender inequality on women in all areas of society. We talked about titles, and whether there is any necessity for them any longer on documents such as passports (surely biometrics provide a much more secure check than whether someone is Mr or Ms.), and the need for non-gendered toilets and changing areas  (easily provided if given a bit of thought and more efficient in the long run). I think it went well. Andrew ended by politely asking how old I was since it might have been thought a “snowflake” issue given Sam Smith’s relative lack of years. I told him I was 66 that day – so I got a Happy Birthday broadcast on  regional radio.

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This week’s piece for my writers’ group was a bit of an experiment.  The topic was “digging my heels in”. My literal brain immediately had an image of just that, which connected with an incident that occurred to Jasmine Frame in Painted Ladies.  So I wrote another take on it but written in the 2nd person. (the character is neither Jasmine, nor me).  It is quite unusual to use 2nd person in fiction but N K Jemisin uses it for one of the three character strands that run through her triple Hugo winning trilogy, The Broken Earth. It seems to me quite effective at putting the reader in the position of the protagonist although it doesn’t necessarily let you know what they are thinking (1st person does that). Let’s see what you think. Here is Heels:

Heels

You stand in front of the long mirror, turn from side to side, peer at the image. It is not you. Not the you that you see in your mind. You recognise it though, that nose that is too large, the thin lips, the short, thinning hair, the wide shoulders and the narrow hips. It’s not all bad. Your new red bra covering the enhancers has given you something of a figure, and the matching knickers are covering what’s below.
You sigh and pull on the tights and the red dress. The hem is just above your knee, sexy but not tarty. You sit down at the dressing-table and start applying your make-up. You’ve done this many times so you know what works and what doesn’t. When you’re finished you stand and slip the brunette wig onto your head and look in the mirror again. That’s better. The wig and make-up may be a disguise, but you are behind it looking out.
You slide your feet into the red shoes with the three-inch, almost-stiletto, heels. You stand again and face the long mirror.  You’ve practised wearing the heels, day after day. You strutted around the flat holding your head up, forcing your legs and back to be straight. You toppled and almost fell often, but gradually you learnt how to keep your balance and walk while always on tiptoe. It was agony at first, the shoes rubbed your heels and your toes hurt. It was worth it. Now you’re ready.
A beep comes from your phone. You grab it and search out the text message. It’s just a smiley but it means that Carol is outside. You glance through the curtain. Yes, there is her car on the road. She’s managed to park right by your gate. You put your coat on, the shiny black, pvc mac, and pick up your handbag.
You hurry from the door to the car. It’s a dark, damp evening, so perhaps none of the neighbours have seen you, or recognised you.
“Hi, Nikki,” Carol says as you slide into the passenger seat. Her voice is lower than yours, but she doesn’t care. “Ready for it then?”
“You bet,” you reply. Does your nervousness show in your voice? You hope not. You’ve been looking forward to this evening out. You don’t want to appear to be the novice that you really are.
“Let’s hit the town then.” Carol presses her foot on the accelerator.

The club is crowded. The flashing lights make it almost impossible to discern the variety of bodies, drinking, dancing and chatting, well, shouting at each other. The air hot and damp and full of smells of cheap perfume, sweat and a few other substances. You sip your g&t while looking around, taking in the sights and the sounds. How many of the girls are like you? How many of the girls are girls?  There are men too, some with the girls, some circulating, eyeing up the others, the unattached.
“Let’s dance,” Carol shouts in your ear. She takes your hand and hauls you up. You stagger a little getting your balance on those three-inch heels. Then you follow her into the mêlée of gyrating bodies. The noise is deafening but there is rhythm. You start to move to the beat, enjoying the feeling of your make-believe breasts oscillating up and down. For a few moments you lose touch with your surroundings, just enjoying being a dancing girl.
Bodies press against you. You open your eyes. A man has inserted himself between you and Carol. He’s in a shiny, grey suit with a white shirt and thin black tie. His hair is slicked down and combed to one side. He could be your age, perhaps younger. He’s examining you, eyes flicking from the top of your wig down passed your boobs to the hem of your dress which is flapping as you dance.
He gives you a smile. It’s not a cheery, friendly smile. It doesn’t make you feel happy. He comes closer. It could be the press of the other bodies, but you think it’s deliberate. He wants to be close to you. He places a hand on your right hip. You shudder. It wasn’t what you were wanting or expecting. What were you expecting? Definitely not contact.
He leans forward so his lips are by your ear.
“Nice dress,” he shouts. He straightens up again, the leer back on his face. You try a smile, but you aren’t sure if it looks like one.
His hand is still on your hip. You’ve almost ceased dancing because you’re afraid the hand might move with you. He’s looking into your eyes. You’re looking back. Wondering.
You’re not prepared for his next move. His other hand shoots up your dress and grabs you between your legs. He’s found something to grab hold of. Now his smile becomes a laugh. His grip tightens. You can’t move. You can’t think.
He edges forward again, his feet between yours, your crotch held tight. “I thought so. Tranny.”
You have to get away. You don’t want what he wants, whatever that might be. One thought comes into your brain. You lift your right foot. You slam it down heel first. On his foot.
His hands release you. He falls back. His scream is audible above the music. You stand and stare.
Carol grabs your hand. “Let’s get out of here.”
She guides you from the club, pausing just to pick up your coats. You’re outside.
“Run. Before they see we’ve gone. He and his mates will do you in if they catch you.”
You hurry after her, your heels clattering against the pavement. You’re not thinking of keeping your back straight now.
You reach the car. Carol’s already inside starting the engine. You move off as you pull the door closed.
You sigh. Carol glances at you as she manoeuvres onto the road and speeds up.
“What did he do? Grab your balls?”
You nod. You’re shaking.
“Did you push him or something?”
“I dug my heel into his foot.”
Carol laughs.

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Jasmine is anxious

Are you getting anxious? I am. At the time of writing there are just 3 weeks until the UK is supposed to leave the EU. Now I know the sky isn’t going to fall in on 29th or 30th March, even if there is “no deal”, but the agony of not knowing what is going to happen is becoming distracting. Part of the problem is knowing that almost everyone involved in the process, at least on the UK side, is thoroughly incompetent. I know it has been said that negotiations take place to the final minutes, and later. That was certainly the case over things like the Maastricht Treaty. But having completed the task either on or after the deadline, it was never intended that the measures agreed came into force immediately. There were months of preparations before things actually happened.  In the case of Maastricht many EU countries held referenda to ratify the treaty (I think it was that time that Ireland held two  before they got the right result). It is ludicrous that the biggest the decision the country has made in over forty years, which affects 65 million people (as well as the other 300 million in the EU itself) and with unknown effects on the economy and rights of the people, is being handled in such a manner. Those responsible must surely be held to account in the future. If there is one.

Since I spent three years as a town councillor I have lost what little respect I had for those who go into politics whether as county councillors or MPs. Some, yes, are idealistic, a very few are competent, but most are only expert at getting elected. In fact that is the only thing that motivates them. All else is just a means to getting re-elected. This definitely applies to most of the MPs in parliament – on both sides of the house.

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We can’t be glamourous all the time. There’s work to be done.

I’ve felt a bit impatient with my writing this week (perhaps the anxiety referred to above is interfering with the writing process). The fantasy novel I am writing is drifting a little and I am wondering when to make start on the next Jasmine Frame novel or short story – do I need to keep the trans content of this blog topped up?  This week’s task for my writers’ group left me dissatisfied. The topic was “ancestors”. That could be interpreted in an infinite number of ways, of course. I had an idea, which got me started. Then, for various reasons, I couldn’t see a way to develop it in a short piece of writing (I’m not starting yet another novel). Anyway, the result, such as it is, is below. The title, Parallel Lives, represents what I intended it to be rather than how it turned out. In fact I’ve had a few compliments about it but I am not happy.

Parallel Lives

It hardly seems possible that fifty years have passed since Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon, followed a few minutes later by my mother, the first woman on the Moon. Who can forget those grainy pictures of the Lunar Module and the astronauts planting the flag of the Federation of Nations. Everyone knows that my mother returned to the Moon eight years later commanding the fleet of spacecraft that set up the permanent settlement that has become Luna City. My mother’s mission followed my father’s discovery that moonrock contained a mineral that formed a super-efficient photovoltaic glass. That single breakthrough transformed the energy industries on Earth and made the Moon colony and space travel an economic and worthwhile proposition.
We also must not forget that it is eighty years since the Berlin Declaration of Peace and Trust, that established the Federation. The money previously spent on the military was channelled into scientific, technological and social advances including the exploration of space. It was also in 1939 that the theme from my paternal grandmother’s stupendous third symphony was chosen as the Federation anthem.
The formation of the Federation of Nations does, of course, go back to the establishment of the League of Nations in 1919. That followed five years after the ceasefire of 1914 negotiated by my maternal great-grandfather, then British Foreign Secretary. The quick end to the European War that began in August of that year is said to have saved millions of lives in what many historians think could have turned into a long drawn out conflict.

That’s all nonsense; pure fiction. We are obviously not living in a peaceful world where solar power provides our energy needs, where the resources of the planet and its satellite are utilised sustainably. Neither are my parents and ancestors famed for being astronauts, scientists, composers or diplomats. A brief mention in the local newspaper from time to time is the extent of their fame. Like the vast majority of the population of this planet my forebears’ lives have not troubled historians. That does not mean that their lives were not extraordinary. My grandparents lived through two World Wars; my parents married and set up home during the period of austerity following the Second World War and lived through a period of rapid change. I have probably had the best of all worlds – peace at home, reasonable prosperity, a free and available health service, and a generally liberal and accepting community.
While there may be no fame in my family, in recent times at least, we are all related to some common ancestor countless generations back. We can therefore claim kinship with anyone we like. Who is the hero or heroine that you wish you were closely related to? 

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Jasmine at the Museum

An evening in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff made a pleasant change to watching the continuing chaos on the news. The Museum event was part of the Cardiff Science Festival and I was helping the RSC (that’s the Royal Society of Chemistry) interesting children and their parents in chemistry.  We had a variety of activities for them to join in, mostly set at about Year 7 level (or younger) although one required the children to offer an explanation for how glowsticks work. Tthey weren’t expected to understand the more advanced aspects of chemiluminescence, but getting  them to describe what they saw other than saying “the light switched on” was difficult.  The Museum was packed with well over a thousand participants and they all seemed interested in our activities and the others that were going on.  I do have to say though that I was disappointed in children’s knowledge and understanding of acids, alkalis and indicators, even the older ones.

Another part of the evening was using my half hour off explaining chemistry to view the Leonardo drawings that the Museum has temporarily on loan, celebrating  the 500 year anniversary of his death. The drawings on show were largely anatomical but with some other sketches of plans for statues, and a map. It was marvellous to get up really close to these originals and examine Leonardo’s intricate and accurate diagrams. As well as his skill in drawing the depth of his analysis of his observations was quite breath-taking.

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WP_20190221_12_01_42_ProI have just had a statement from Amazon for the first month’s e-book sales of Molly’s Boudoir.  By Jasmine’s standards they weren’t bad but of course they haven’t continued at the same level because I have yet to discover how to spread word about the book (and the other Jasmine Frame titles) as widely as is necessary. I’m still in need of bright ideas or a publisher willing  to take them on and promote them. As I showed last week, the reviews are good. I still don’t believe that they belong in the tiny niche of transgender fiction. Jasmine is trans and so is the victim but the plot is crime.

And so to this week’s story. This one kills to two birds with one stone – not literally.  It fulfils both the criteria for my weekly writers’ group i.e. include the phrase “and that is why. . .” and that of my monthly group’s title “Window of Opportunity.” This time I adopted the style of an allegory. I’m told it works quite well.

Window of Opportunity: An Allegory

A long time ago I met a wise old man. He may not have been very old and may not have been a man, but he spoke wisely. He asked me what I wanted from life and I replied, that I wished to be recognised for something that I had achieved.
“Oh, you want to be famous,” the wise old man said.
“Not a celebrity who’s famous for being famous,” I said. “I want to do something special.”
“Ah,” he said, nodding sagely, “You need the Window of Opportunity.”
“I suppose so,” I said, not fully understanding what he had said.
“That is a long and difficult journey.” I wasn’t sure what he meant, thinking he had been speaking figuratively.
“To where?” I asked.
“The Tower of Ambition,” he replied, “At the top of the tower you will find the Window of Opportunity.”
“Oh,” I said, somewhat surprised by what he was saying. “And where is this tower.”
“It is at the heart of the Forest of Endeavour, sometimes known as the Jungle of Responsibility.”
I had not heard of such a place. It was nowhere close, that was certain.
“And how do I get there?” I asked.
“Across the Sea of Expertise at the edge of the Ocean of Learning,” he replied.  I did at least know where the ocean was.
“You think travelling all that way is worth the effort?” I said rather doubtfully.
“If you avoid the Desert of Despond and the Depression of Depression, you will find what you seek,” he answered. I was intrigued to find out what he meant and eager to achieve my goal, and that is why I embarked on my journey.
I set out in a small boat across the ocean. During much meandering, I acquired knowledge of astronomy and weather, the skills of navigation, of handling and maintaining my craft and an understanding of the variety and characteristics of marine life. At last I entered the Sea of Expertise where I was beset by calms and buffeted by fierce storms. I had to fight against the wind to at last reach shore.
There I left my boat and set off inland. The Forest covered the continent with trees of every description from tall pines to broad oaks. I followed paths, coming across peoples who welcomed me and looked after me in return for my willingness to assist them. I enquired about the location of the Tower of Ambition but, while many knew of its existence, they could only give me the vaguest of directions. I stayed for a while but then the urge to continue my journey grew strong and I moved on.
One day the trees began to thin allowing the hot Sun to shine directly on me. I hadn’t come across people for a while and was running short of supplies. As I stood by the last tree I looked out on a barren rocky plain. In the distance I could see movement and colour. It appeared to me as a place of civilisation, somewhere to restock my rations.  I set off under the open sky. Soon I was hot and sweaty, I walked on, but my destination seemed as distant as ever. My legs became heavy and my clothes irritated my skin. I felt exhausted by the endless expanse of dry rock. It was then that I remembered the wise old man’s warning. I must be in the Desert of Despond. I turned and headed back the way I had come. I almost ran in my desire to get back amongst the trees.
Not long after I returned to the forest, I came across a community. They were friendly and took me in.  In my first few days one of their number took an interest in me. We became friends, companions, lovers. I worked and soon was accepted as an essential contributor to the village’s welfare. I was happy with my partner and my employment and the friends we had but still the urge remained to find the Tower of Ambition. It became something I had to do. My partner agreed to let me continue with my quest. I promised I would return and set off again.
Once more I travelled along tracks beneath the trees.  The path rose and fell but never became difficult.  That is, until I realised that the route I was following had been descending for some distance. My way was becoming steeper.  I had to watch where I put my feet as the surface become rough and uneven. I stumbled and grabbed hold of a branch to prevent my fall. I seemed to be heading deeper and deeper into a gorge.  Cliffs closed over me shutting out the sky. I could barely see my way in the dark. The weight of the overhanging rock pressed on me.
As I attempted to negotiate an almost vertical stretch I paused. I thought about what I was doing and where I was. This must be the Depression of Depression that the wise old man had warned me of. I was not getting anywhere by continuing down into the dark, cold depths. I turned and began to climb. It was difficult and hard work but slowly I returned to the light and warmth and found where I had missed a turning. I resumed my search for the Tower of Ambition.
I came upon it quite by surprise. From dense jungle I stepped into a clearing and there was the stone tower. It had a broad conical base which curved to become a straight spear that pierced the sky. Even though I bent my head back as far as it would go, I could not see the top of the tower. There was an entrance at ground level, a narrow opening that admitted just one person at a time. There was no-one else there, so I stepped inside. The helical staircase began immediately. I started to climb. I did not count the steps, but I am sure I would have soon lost count. The staircase spiralled up and up. I lifted one foot after the other and plodded on. There were no windows but just enough light from some diffuse source to allow me to see where to put my feet.
I lost track of time but mechanically took one step after another. Hours, perhaps days, passed as I climbed. No-one descended. At last I emerged into a room the full width of the tower. There were no other exits and it was empty. There was a polished wooden floor and an arched roof above me.  Piercing the wall on all sides were sixteen large glass windows.
I stood there at the centre of the room for a few moments taking in the realisation that these must be the Windows of Opportunity. They must show me how to achieve my goal.  I turned, taking in the panoramic view from the window but all I could see was sky as blue and cloudless as it could possibly be.  I hurried to the edge of the room to peer out and down.
The tower was so tall and the atmosphere so clear that it seemed that I could see the whole world. Far below was the canopy of the forest that enclosed the base of the tower. I was disappointed. I had come all this way and all I got was a nice view. Where were the opportunities I sought? I looked at the scene more thoroughly.  The forest receded into the distance but nevertheless I could see a line of darker blue on the horizon. It was the sea. There on the coast I had left my boat and never used the knowledge and skills I learned crossing the ocean again.
Although the trees grew close, I fancied I could discern the route I had taken. I recognised the different trees, the landmarks. I moved around the room looking out of each of the sixteen panes of glass. There in the distance was the featureless plain of the Desert of Despond.  On the other side of the tower from the ocean was the deep rift of the Depression of Depression. It appeared that in my wanderings I had circled the tower at least once.
I walked around gazing out in all directions, looking near and far. The wise old man had called this the Window of Opportunity, the chance to see where I could make my mark in life. Where was it?
Then, down below and not too far away I saw a thin cloud of smoke rising. I recognised it as the site where I had settled; where my partner awaited my return. It was where I had been happy and fulfilled.  Realisation came to me. The window did indeed reveal all the world where every opportunity one could wish for existed. Only fools spent their lives following a needless search for the Window of Opportunity at the top of the Tower of Ambition. Most were content labouring in the Forest of Endeavour.
I went to the top of the stairs and hurried down. There seemed fewer steps on the descent and I quickly reached the ground. I ran into the forest. I knew the direction I needed now. I went straight to the settlement and there my partner welcomed me with a hug while the friends I had left celebrated my return. There I lived, content that I had achieved my goal.
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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.

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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
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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.

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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.

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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.

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Jasmine waits

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

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

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

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

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

The Shape of Snow

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

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