Jasmine hopes

Education, Education, Education. That was a certain politician’s slogan over twenty years ago. He was right. Education can be the solution to many of the world’s ills. Now, and not for the first time, Black Lives Matter are calling for black history to be a significant part of the curriculum. They think it will eliminate racism. While their request is right I think they are being over hopeful of the effectiveness of schools. Whenever there is a social issue, the call is for it to be made part of the curriculum – black history, female history, LGBT history, religious tolerance, climate change and many more. All to be made part of the learning of every child. Perhaps you can see the problem. Schools have a limited time with students. Yes, part of a school’s job is to open a child’s eyes to the people and the world around them, but the school also has to give the pupil the skills and knowledge to go out and make a life in the world. There is only a limited time to study the speeches of Martin Luther King or the life and work of Mary Seacole. In fact in the English system only a minority of students study history at all after the age of 14. History prior to that is a whistle-stop tour (or perhaps it is more up to date to say a cruise) of the ancient world, the Roman Empire, the Anglo-Saxons (i.e King Alfred), the Vikings, the Normans, the Tudors and Stuarts, Victorians and perhaps the Industrial Revolution. Older pupils may study the world wars, the cold war, China. It is all very superficial. I don’t hold out much hope that a school study of black history will get very deep.

On the other hand, the emphasis of education should move from being white European and, in the UK, focussed on the “victories of England”. I was educated in Wales and we did have Welsh history as a minor part of our history O level (showing my age there). However, the bulk of the history I was taught was English history – kings, queens and English prime ministers. Even the colonisation of Wales by the (Norman) English was told from the English point of view. Today, tourists marvel at the dozens of impressive C12th and C13th castles that ring Wales. Imagine what their effect must have been on the Welsh inhabitants at the time – at least as intimidating as the appearance of regiments of redcoats with their muskets and cannon in India, Africa and elsewhere. Where should the reassessment of history begin?

Attitudes have to change everywhere. It has been said often enough, that no one should be selected for good or ill by their colour, gender, or sexuality. Nevertheless, while schools have an important role, parents, governments, employers, and communities must examine their attitudes and behaviour and ensure that all forms of prejudice and discrimination are eliminated.

Oh, and another thing. Saying sorry is pointless. I note that the Bank of England, the Church of England, et al are saying sorry for taking part in the slave trade. Just saying sorry is a cop out. As a teacher, I would not accept the mouthing of the word without a commitment to a change of attitude and behaviour and a eagerness to put things right. Didn’t always work of course, but saying sorry with nothing more is meaningless.

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Last week I was invited on Facebook to sigh a petition demanding that the UK government restore rights to transgender people. Now, I know that there are members of the government who are not friends of trans people and it was confirmed this week that Johnson has binned the consultation on easing the path to obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate, but I was not aware that any of the laws protecting trans people had been rolled back. I asked what rights the petition was asking to be restored. I got a single sentence reply referring rather vaguely to the dignity of trans people. The petition was a vague, misguided attempt to gather support. I was also deluged with a heap of other stuff from trans activist groups.

I am trans. To be precise I am gender-fluid. I believe that if someone says they are a woman they are a woman, if they say they are a man they are a man. I don’t believe that giving transpeople the right to be who they say they are has done or would do any harm to the rest of society. Claims that letting transwomen into women’s “safe places” would result in assaults on women are bogus and inflammatory. However, both sides in the “trans wars” are as bad as each other in using intimidation, lies and exaggeration to promote their cause. In this time when discrimination is top of the news, it seems strange that on the one hand transpeople are being villified while responding with vile and incendiary attacks on those that do not support them.

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Writing proceeds. I have completed the last (I hope) revision of The Pendant and the Globe and I am midway through the second edit of Impersonator: the 5th Jasmine Frame novel. I think I am doing a reasonable job of tightening up the writing and making most of the changes suggested by my readers. Soon we will move to the publishing stage.

This week’s writing group task was suggested by what I did last week – a dialogue only piece, no description, no speech signifiers. I didn’t write a new piece but took a short section of Pendant and Globe and stripped out all the non-dialogue. Could the characters be distinguished by their voice?

There are two ways of writing dialogue. You can tell readers who is speaking by using “he said” or by giving hints – “she took a breath”. Or you can show by giving each speaker personality – dialect, idiosyncratic phrasing (think Joda) or slip in words which signify who is speaking. I think it is impossible to convey tone or timbre without description but many writers have the skill to give each of the characters an unique voice although too much dialect is irritating. It is a skill I aspire to but haven’t yet acquired as you can see from my excerpt from P&G. There are 3 speakers, the third joins partway through. Can you tell where?

The Pendant and the Globe – excerpt, dialogue only

“I have prevented the disasters you set in motion.”
“You accuse me?”
“Yes, I do. Your foolish and ill-considered meddling with the Pendant nearly brought destruction to the coast of Keyah, the plains of southern Nyumbani and the forests of northern Adre.”
“I didn’t mean . . .”
“I don’t have time to argue. There is a greater danger than that which your childish behaviour caused.”
“What do you mean?”
“Jabutsk.”
“I do not know the place.”
“A city of Homin in eastern Yazhou.”
“I’ve never heard of it.”
“I don’t believe you. If your Tomte friends have been training you to steal the Pendant and use its powers, you must know what they have been planning with the Homin of Jabutsk.”
“No. Torn talked of a diversion while I became familiar with the Realms, but he did not give me details. What are these Homin of Jabutsk doing?”
“Attacking their neighbours with war machines such as have never been imagined. Metal monsters that crawl over the ground spurting fiery death, and machines of the air that rain destruction on the innocent below.”
“No, Torn would not envisage such a thing. You were the only enemies that were mentioned to me. The Tomte would not harm Homin.”
“Do not be so sure of your mentor. I sense great disturbance in that area of Yazhou. Activity that was hidden from me previously.”
“I have seen the machines of Jabutsk slaughtering Veterhom, destroying the homes of Homin and killing those that fled. Homin are inquisitive and inventive but the materials used in the Jabutsk machines must have come from the Tomte mines and manufactories.”
“No, I don’t believe you. Torn warned me about the lying and cheating of Eminent. The Tomte would not help Homin to harm Homin.”
“You foolish girl. Why would we lie to you? You are nothing without the Pendant or the Ostung sword.”
“My sister does not lie. You have no power and cannot harm us. But the Tomte who have filled you with hate since your birth have brought war to the Homin. I will show you.”

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Jasmine worries

Perhaps being out of the UK provides some  kind of perspective. My news of “home” ha come from Facebook, Twitter, MSN and The Guardian website. Perhaps they’re not the most balanced but with the BBC giving the impression of being a Farage and Leave zone these days none of it is good news. The local elections in England seem to have been forgotten while the EU elections, which the Tories of course think are pointless, gather all the headlines. The virulence of the anti-EU/migrant/anyone-not-white-English feeling from right-wing quarters is unprecedented – and they feel able to express it in public. Talk of a Remain Alliance is rejected (I don’t think electoral alliances are necessary in a proportional representation election) but the Remain parties do need to compare notes and get their campaigns working.

I note that the SNP is renewing calls for independence and there is even a growing independence movement in Wales despite Leave winning a small majority in Wales in 2016. I grew in Wales but lived in England for 47 years. I’ve always felt Cymraeg and I am increasingly annoyed by English attitudes. I would support increasing independence from England but how about joining up with our Celtic cousins (Scotland, Ireland, even Cornwall if they want to join) to form a true British alliance that is part of Europe.

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Amongst the increasing right-wing bitterness, there are more anti-gay and anti-trans feelings being expressed, around the world.  Any form of persecution is wrong but sometimes the trans message gets confused. Do trans people want gender equality i.e. the end of stereotyping? If everyone was equal how would you tell male from female (other then by a physical examination). In a truly non-gendered world, form of dress would not signify biological sex, nor would behaviour. Would trans-people be happy in such a world? I don’t know and cannot speak for others. As someone who feels non-binary and who is happy mixing up male and female styles of dress and appearance, I am just asking for acceptance.

This week’s piece of writing is on the theme Earth, Wind, Fire. That is, three of the classical elements if Wind is taken as an alternative name for Air. It is of course the name of a rock group which I have t admit to never having listened too. My idea for what it’s worth was to blend the two and try to express the personalities of the band members through metaphors of their elemental natures. Not sure if it works but here it is.

 

The Missing Essence

Pete Earth slung the bass guitar low on his hips, planted his feet a metre apart on the stone floor and strummed a deep chord. Pitched too low to be heard by the ears, it thrummed through the ground. Feeling the vibrations through his bones, Ty Wind picked up his strat and plucked out the notes of a melody that hung in the air like streamers of mist. Spiky ginger-haired, Serena Fire, raised her head and let out a cry that soared like a rocket fizzing to the roof.

The mix of bass rhythm, languid tune and searing treble grew in pace and volume but something was amiss. The timing of Wind’s finger-play jarred with Earth’s chords and Fire’s smouldering lyrics sputtered off key. The track crashed to a conclusion in a chaotic cacophony. Wind felt it like an icy blast from the Arctic, while a tectonic plate scraping passed another expressed Earth’s discomfort.

Serena turned on her colleagues, cheeks burning.

“Flaming hell, guys. We crashed and burned there. What’s up?”

Despite the energy of his playing, Pete’s mud-brown hair lay flat on his head. He growled, “We’re a rock band. We need a drummer.” He nodded to the empty set of drums at the centre of the studio.”

Serena flared. “Well, I want to be a star. What are you doing about it Ty?”

The lead guitarist waved his waved his arms, his fair hair mussed as if by a fierce gale. “I put out a message over the aether,” he said.

“Oh, yeah,” Serena gave him a glare that could have scorched the bark off a tree. “And what came of that?”

Wind replied breezily, “Actually, I got a reply.” He frowned, “I thought she said she would be here by now.”

There was a creak as the heavy door of the studio opened. A figure seeped through the gap. She was tall with blue, tight-fitting jeans and a sailor top. She had hair as black as the deepest ocean that shone with a blue iridescence in the studio lights. Her skin was as white as a frothing waterfall.

“Hi,” she said with a voice smooth as the surface of a pond, “I’m Flo, Flo Water. I think you advertised for a drummer.”

Wind wafted over the floor to greet her.

“That’s right. I’m Ty, short for Typhoon.”

“That’s what he tells everyone,” Earth grunted. “It’s Tyson really. Welcome, Flo.”

“You say you’re a drummer,” Serena fired at her, “Let’s see you drum.”

Flo shrugged and drifted to the set of drums. The others watched as she seemed to fill the space amongst the kit stretching arms and legs to test her reach. She picked up the sticks and started to tap the snare drum. To the insistent beat like drips falling from a tap she added a swish on the cymbal like rain falling on a tin roof. She increased the tempo until with a torrent of limbs she unleashed the sound of a tsunami crashing against a cliff. The roar was enough to stir Earth into tapping a foot. Flo settled into a rhythm of waves breaking on a beach as Pete added rumbling chords that throbbed through the floor. Ty launched a riff resembling a tornado that whirled around the studio and Serena let out a scorching chorus that singed the roof.

The studio filled with sound that shook the walls, each of the musicians contributing their energy. Earth erupted with glowing lava, Fire flickered with flame, Wind grew as hot as a Saharan dust devil and drops of sweat flew off Water’s flailing limbs like spray from breakers As the song reached a crescendo of harmony, all four stopped abruptly on a beat, leaving the reverberations fading away. Serena fell to the floor like a guttering cinder; Flo slumped over the drums like a spent fountain and Ty sagged like a sail without wind. Pete was still.

“Well, I think that says enough,” Pete muttered, “we’ve got all the elements of a band.”

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