Eyes or Ears?

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It seems to me that we [by which I mean humans in the 21st century] are gradually becoming reliant on sight for information, entertainment and communication.

We look at screens, ‘text’, watch videos, click on things, send pictures, receive pictures, ‘like’, insert emojis. Sometimes we read things.

I’ve posted before about how you can see groups sitting together in a bar or restaurant. all staring at their tiny screens. But this reliance on sight over the other senses appears to be growing and also becoming heavily image-biased.

Harking back to the fifties and sixties [as I am inclined to sometimes], as a child I listened to the radio. Although we acquired a TV [tiny screen, huge cabinet, black and white], as a family we sat together to listen to a range of radio programmes, from comedy to history, from current affairs to literature. I have strong memories of being unable to sleep,  terrified by listening to Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story, ‘The Speckled Band’-a tale of a snake that was trained to slither down a bell pull and kill on a whistle signal.

‘Round the Horn’, a comedy sketch show which aired at lunchtimes was a family favourite, as was ‘The Navy Lark’.

There was also ‘Children’s Hour’, which had me glued to the radio each evening, especially for serialised books. After hearing ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’ read in instalments I became a devoted fan of the entire Narnia series and still have the treasured, childhood copy of the book that I longed for, the Christmas I was 7 years old and woke up, thrilled to find on the end of my bed on Christmas morning.

At school we were accustomed to radio programmes as part of our curriculum. ‘Singing Together’ taught us about music. We sat at our desks following the songs in little pamphlets and joining in to learn the songs as requested by the presenter.

We cavorted to ‘Music and Movement’, following the instructions, and listened, spellbound, to history reconstructions as seen through the eyes of time-travelling children.

And nowadays, in later life I continue to be a fan of talk radio, listening in to news, current affairs, magazine programmes, consumer programmes, arts, literature, comedy, plays and much, much more. I’ve also continued to listen to a daily ‘soap’ drama that our ancient babysitter was addicted to, sixty years ago! This is the UK’s longest running soap-The Archers, which began life as a farming programme and grew into its wellies as a story of provincial life. Over the years themes have covered infidelity, bereavement, mental illness, crime, coercive control, sibling rivalry, poverty and homelessness, besides lost cats, floods, hoaxes and amateur dramatics. Nods are made to current affairs [recent references have been made to Brexit].

But how many people listen to talk radio these days? The way we take in news and entertainment is changing fast, with new platforms emerging every day. At school children learn from interactive white boards-all visual. How often do they get to use only their listening, without distraction?

Perhaps it doesn’t matter. What do you think?

A Foot on the Beach

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If I’ve learned anything during the large number of years I’ve now lived, it’s that travelling under your own steam [bike or feet] in the open air helps to alleviate all kinds of problems. This is much documented, of course; but since I began to exercise with any kind of regularity [post children-in my 30s] I can vouch for the benefits.

Once upon a time I ran. I ran almost every day, from my 30s until my mid-50s. When you run almost every day it starts to become essential and a cessation of the activity is a source of stress in itself. But here is the injustice of health and ageing. Some runners are very lucky and able to continue into extreme old age. Others, like myself and Husband have had to hang up their running shoes and admit defeat. Injury has forced us off the jogging trail and on to the hiking path-or perhaps, in summer, the cycle path.

When you have overcome the bitter disappointment of giving up running, walking can take over as the meditative, cathartic activity you enjoyed before. As a writer I can drift off into the plot and characters of my current project, ponder tricky domestic issues, compose, get ideas, think. 

What, then, if walking is not possible?

Since last May I’ve been inflicted with an annoying, painful inflammation of the membrane under my foot. This inflammation is known as plantar fasciitis and I have been subjected to repeated bouts since the running years, having had steroid jabs, ultrasound treatments and physio, worn jelly pads, worn condition-appropriate footwear, religiously kept up targeted exercises and been strapped up. This time the problem is particularly stubborn and slow to respond to the twice-weekly physio I’ve opted for.

So as part of the regime I’m on for recovery I must walk on sand. This,  according to Alice, the physio is particularly beneficial if I go barefoot. Barefoot? We are now, officially in winter!

I am nevertheless fortunate in that where we live we are spoilt for beach choice and I can select from varied stretches of beach; from sheltered harbourside bays to wide expanses of sand washed by waves. Coasts are beautiful in any weather condition. A walker has only to wrap up and don appropriate footwear to appreciate a beach. A variety of wildlife abounds, now and then a curious sight, such as this alien-like skeleton adorning the sand. [In reality a dead swan].

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At the start of the regime it goes swimmingly, my foot responding well to the massage style of walking on sand and I stick to the modest distance Alice has recommended. But a subsequent,  over-ambitious walk sets me back and the offending foot complains stiffly. Baby steps then, and I have to remember I’ve had this condition [this time] since May…

 

 

Fiction Month. Extract 4.

      In this, the last extract of my new novel, ’til It’s Gone’, a sea captain, Hooper is taking the undercover researcher, Uzza to the poisoned ‘Wasteland’ to research a disease. During the voyage Hooper becomes fascinated by the sight of Uzza writing with pen and paper…

After dinner Hooper went up on deck to check that the mast and rigging were secure and to scan the horizon and coast manually, a task which instrumentation had replaced but which she continued to undertake herself as a safety measure. When she returned Uzza was again writing in a small book, an activity which fascinated the mariner as she had seldom seen anyone using a pen and paper except in footage from history lessons as a child.
“Why do you write” she asked her passenger, “when technology has replaced manual writing?”
Uzza finished the line she was writing and looked up. “Our ancestors would consider it a paradox, but paper has become the means of messaging that is most secret. Since communication became restricted to PAM, broadcast, V-meet and voice-technology there is no other secure way to record data, observations and conversation. Think about it. Surveillance has increased beyond calculation in our lifetimes. Here at sea we can perhaps enjoy a relative degree of privacy where a signal may not reach but on inhabited land there is no such luxury. Life for most is lived under a scrutiny so ubiquitous it is akin to living under a microscope. Paper can only be seen by the person who has it. Paper can be destroyed.”
“Where did you learn it?”
“I taught myself to write from watching history footage. It is not so difficult, although of course it is laborious in comparison to voice recording!” She bent her head to the notebook, signalling an end to the conversation and continued to make lines of marks on the paper with her pen.

In another day they were far enough north to need to make preparations for disembarkation. Hooper stood Fulmar out from the shore, far enough to be free of the poison zone but near enough to be able to get Uzza dressed and masked for her expedition. She would need to don the protective gear and wait outside while the yacht pulled in. Hooper explained how she would stand Fulmar as close as possible to the remains of the jetty using the small bio-motor, giving the woman as much of a chance as she could to step up on to it.
“But it has not been maintained” she advised her, “So you must be very careful to tread on the firmest parts. If you fall into the water it will be certain death and I cannot save you. The water will poison you in minutes, your skin, your lungs, your…”
“Yes, yes I realise, thank you.” Uzza frowned in irritation, anxious to be getting on with her project. She had a small bag containing vials which she intended to use to collect samples. She peered out at the shoreline. “What is that, Hooper? Is a factory of some kind?” She pointed to an enormous structure consisting of once tall, grey chimneys, crumbling warehouses and the skeletal remains of high scaffolding.
“It is the ruins of an old fossil fuel processing plant” she told her. “They used to call them refineries. The oil would be piped from the wells across the land to the coast then prepared for use before being shipped on flat vessels they called tankers, which then used vast quantities of the fuel to transport it. It seems a nonsensical process to us now, but it was all they knew.

This is the final sample of ‘Til It’s Gone’. Any feedback comments are appreciated. Updates on publication will be posted on ‘Anecdotage’. [Normal service resumes next week!]

Fiction Month. Novel Extract 3

  In Extract Three of my new novel, ‘Til It’s Gone’ Grandfather, Hugh Conway has opted for travel to the solar fields of the African desert rather than euthanasia. He has forged a bond with Ahmed, the African superintendant of the scheme. Here, Ahmed takes Hugh to visit the solar fields and they discuss the state of the world as they travel:
Ahmed was taking Hugh out to visit a solar farm, a two-hour journey by solar powered vehicle across the desert. It was strange, Hugh considered that the desert he’d first seen and thought so uninteresting, so devoid of features he now realised was as varied and fascinating as any landscape in the world. The vista changed from rocky outcrops in myriad colours sprouting from undulating sands to boulder-strewn plains stretching to the horizon, or sumptuous, curving dunes, silky smooth at a distance, the sand shifting visibly on occasions.
Ahmed was a comfortable travel companion, sensing when Hugh needed silence to appreciate the sights and occupying him with conversation or information when time lagged. The two had become friends, finding they had much in common despite their disparate cultures. Hugh felt fortunate to have been accommodated in Ahmed’s own village and whilst the other two elders, Anders and Peter, were pleasant enough he enjoyed the challenging discussions he had when Ahmed dropped by for tea or when they sat together at the edge of the village to watch the sunset-an event he never tired of seeing.
To an extent he was embarrassed, that he was learning more than he was imparting, though when he expressed this his friend disagreed.
“No, no, no my friend! There is no real distinction between teaching and learning. They are two points on the same circle, are they not? What better way to learn than to teach? And what better way to teach than to be constantly striving for understanding?” Ahmed was an optimist by nature as well as by religion. He challenged Hugh’s view of the world as doomed.
“Why would you think this?” he demanded, “Since the beginning of mankind people have adapted, learned, made the best of what they had. This is why mankind has endured. And to be adaptable is to be optimistic. When your road is blocked you try another pathway. When he needed to eat and feed his family ancient man-made tools to make it easier and learned how to grow food. When he was cold, he began to make clothes. Other ancient species did not survive. Perhaps they could not adapt or were not optimistic enough to try!”
Hugh protested. “But the poisoning and exploitation of Earth’s resources has itself been wrought by mankind. He has orchestrated his own downfall!”
Ahmed shook his head. “Not so, friend Hugh. It is a mere chapter in our history. Men will put the poison to some use, will find alternative resources. It happens already! What did you have too much of, back in your homeland? What was a surplus, a problem to be eradicated?”
Hugh did not hesitate. “Water! Water rising and water falling. Too much, always. Leeching the land of nutrients and forcing people from their homes.”
His friend nodded. “And yet here, as you see we have none of our own at all. We could equally say our problem is sun. We have too much. This is a paradox, is it not?” He laughed, throwing his head back at the clear blue sky. “Between us we have found the solution, your people and mine. We provide your power. You provide our water. Perfect, is it not?”
Hugh grimaced. “It isn’t much of a deal. Our water is poisoned with acid. Even rainwater can no longer be used untreated for irrigation or anything else. Then we create more pollution cleansing it for our own use.”
“Hugh! See here, we have no shortage of a power source. It never fails. And it is all we need to purify your water. You pipe it over. We clean it. Problem solved.”
When they were within half an hour of the solar farm Hugh was given a visor to wear to avoid glare damage to his eyes, his protest about deteriorating eyesight overruled. “No, no-we have use of your eyes my friend.”
In the distance a pinpoint of white light hovered near the horizon, expanding as they drew nearer. The extent of the solar field took his breath away. It was vast, stretching across the desert and disappearing into the earth’s curve; a silent, recumbent country of plates, as if the entire desert had been tiled over. It was unfenced, unguarded, unpatrolled. Ahmed shrugged. “The desert is its own defence,” he explained.
They travelled down a passageway between the plates, like the corridors between the polytunnels at Earthsend, until they came to some low, white buildings in the same style as his village house. A single, modest sign by the road was all there was to say that it was the property of SOL, the energy giant.
Ahmed turned to Hugh as they drove past the sign and pulled up outside the building. “Did you know, Hugh that SOL now owns and runs installations in the deserts of America, Australia and Europe? It is a powerful world force. I wonder what our African predecessors would think of that? Only a hundred years ago the African continent was on its knees, begging the rest of the world for help. It was decimated by corruption, wars, misguided ideology, famine, cruelty. Now it has become a world energy superpower, looked up to by everyone.”
Hugh experienced a wave of despondency, as if a heavy weight had been hung around his neck. He’d expected to freed of concepts such as ‘energy superpowers’ by relocating here. It was a land of purity, of high ideals; an egalitarian society that valued individuals and revered the elderly, wasn’t it?…

Further extracts from ‘Til It’s Gone’ can be read in this November’s posts. Comments and feedback will be much appreciated. Thank you in anticipation…

Fiction Month: Extract 2

In this second extract from new novel, ‘Til It’s Gone’, food producer Joshua Conway and his employee, Farlow are watching a protest march as they wait to store their cargo in a warehouse on the quayside. As they watch they discuss their precarious situation in the light of recent developments in politics and the merging of large power corporations:

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Josh turned the engine off. There was no point in wasting valuable fuel. From their place in the queue on the Pontoon Road he and Farlow watched the gathering crowd of protesters as they milled about by the waterside brandishing banners and chanting, hoods up against the relentless, blustery rain.
“What are they saying this time?”
Farlow lifted the magnifiers to peer out of the side window through the small rivulets forming on the glass.
“It’s the usual issues, I think-food prices, fuel prices, flooding, homelessness. I suppose the coming election will have stirred up more unrest. A lot of people who wouldn’t have been interested in politics twenty years ago realise what’s at stake now, so they can’t afford to be apathetic.”
On the periphery of the crowd there was a modest but significant police presence. Farlow continued to scan the quayside, panning round with the magnifiers.
“Josh, what’s going to happen if Power Alliance gets a majority this time?”
Joshua rubbed his eyes. He felt stretched from lack of sleep. He shook his head.
“We can’t know what they’ll do, but it won’t be good for us, that’s for sure. Berenson’s hinting about takeovers; starting to get impatient now that I’ve made it clear I’m not interested in selling up. He may know more than he lets on. Once Power Alliance gets into government there’ll be nothing to prevent a monopoly of all the industries. Food, recycling, water, transport, construction, even media will belong to them.”
“How can they do that? How can they take businesses and livelihoods from people?”
“It isn’t without precedent, Far. Throughout history there were revolutions and dictatorships all over the world. In Russia, back in the twentieth century the regime was overthrown and the owned lands were redistributed.
Thing is, the way the fuel prices are going we will have to think seriously about how we can continue to run independently anyway. It would be different if there was another provider, but there isn’t. Greenergy have bio-fuel all sown up. Berenson knows that when the price of running the tunnels becomes too much, we’ll have no option.”
The younger man lowered the magnifiers as a gust of wind rocked the vehicle and splattered the windscreen with a squally burst of rain.
“Suppose that happens. What will we do?”
Joshua placed a large, calloused hand on his companion’s shoulder, recognising the fear in him, a man with responsibilities now; a wife and a small baby to care for.
“Oh, I don’t doubt they’ll keep us on as managers. We are very good at our job so it wouldn’t be worth replacing us. But they would probably put a lot more security in and tighten up regulations, inspections and so on. We wouldn’t be working for ourselves any longer.”

Soon after this conversation, a catastrophic event occurs at the Conways’ farm…

 

Fiction Month. Extract 1

If it’s November it’s Fiction Month on ‘Anecdotage’. This is the time I usually post short, new fiction stories. In a departure from short stories, however this year I’m posting some extracts from my new novel, ‘Til It’s Gone’, a work of speculative fiction telling the tale of a late 21st century Welsh farming family battling climate change, economic difficulties, sinister takeovers and a brutal killing within the boundaries of their property. This week’s post is part of the prologue…

                                                                         The Kill
The storm gathers for four days before keeping its promise, loosening a cacophony of thunder and howling winds and a deluge.
In the chaos, vessels buck and rage against their moorings. Dwellings shudder and creak in their weaknesses. People stay in, cowering, sheltering, whatever damage ensues. The hillside above the village becomes a furious torrent; a tumbling waterfall then a landslide as the soil gives way and a gushing brown channel of mud races down carrying soil, rocks, roots and debris.
In the sky intermittent flashes expose the silhouettes of the towering turbines across the hilltop, skeletal against jagged forks of lightning. Along the tunnels, tattered edges of white plastic flap like so much unruly laundry, beginning with a border here, a corner there then ripping in abandoned strips. Wind and water race into the gaping chasms they’ve made, desecrating all inside.
A tall eye on a stalk swivels in a slow revolution, water cascading from its top as it detects warmth and movement. A figure darts into view, swathed in a cape and hood, head first bent then upturned, reaching up to catch a flap of torn fabric, grasping, pinning down.
Below, in the darkness and the ferment an unlit vehicle approaches, creeping its way up along the track, lashed by the driving volley, buffeted by the cyclonic gusts and beset by loose rocks hurling themselves against its sides and beneath the sturdy, all-terrain wheels, two pale faces inside leaning forwards, straining for a view of the upward track as it curls around the hill, black water streaming across their route before hurtling down towards the river mouth.
Unknowing, the caped figure works on, lashed by the storm, pegging, weighing down, battening as the grey truck draws closer, invisible in the curtains of rain and silent in the screaming wind as it whips and sings around the tunnels.
The truck halts beyond the outer fence, disregarded by the frantic worker. More bolts of lightning split the sky illuminating vast structures shifting, protesting under the onslaught and giving brief insights into the hopelessness of the task; more and more material wrenching free to flap like hapless sails in a shipwreck.
Now the passenger is clambering out, reaching back inside for tools, hunched against the elements, chancing the small pinpoint of a flashlight. A blaze of lightning bursts over the razor wire as he inserts first one clip then another before applying bolt cutters. In a few moments a gap appears wide enough for the truck to pass through.
The caped one has disappeared up along the side of the tube, doing what he can, saving, preserving.
The truck pulls through into the security channel ready for the cutting process to be repeated on the other, inner fence and it rolls through the second breach. The driver emerges, fighting his way to the rear of the vehicle and wrenching the tailgate open before joining his companion. They move quickly into a breach in a tunnel, emerging with cartons, battered, fighting the gusts as they place their booty into the truck bed, returning for more, their arms piled with boxes four high, the shorter, slighter of the two staggering sideways as the bulkier and taller figure grips his arm. He indicates they should move on to the next tunnel as his partner hesitates. He stores his boxes then lifts his hand in protest.

         ‘Enough! Let’s go!’ But the other is off into the neighbouring cavern, reappearing with another load, water coursing down his face and beard. Then in an instant both figures freeze, one laden with cartons, the other by the truck’s open tailgate as the dark shape of a dog appears in front of them, a black shadow outlined by lightning flashes, long head low, sodden fur raised up in a barb of wet spikes along its back. Its ears are flat alongside its head and its open mouth a snarling saw of serrated teeth, white razor points dripping drool, slavering, growl unheard in the screech of the gale.
Bulky makes a gradual half turn to Slight, the indication clear.

          ‘Get in the truck!’

           Slight stands fast. The dog raises its head, mouth open, tensing to spring. Bulky lifts the cartons high and hurls them in the beast’s direction before jumping sideways into the open aperture of the cab. The dog leaps towards him as the door closes on its head, its jaws fastened tight upon Bulky’s arm. He works in a frantic bid to free it, smashing the door repeatedly with his right hand until it withdraws then slamming it shut. One in, one out. Slight still stands amongst the crates, rooted…

 

I’ll be posting more extracts from ‘Til It’s Gone’ this month. Feedback will be very much appreciated. Thanks in anticipation!

Flight. A Dubious Pleasure.

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Once we’ve returned home from the Italian lakes in our camper van there’s barely a week to go before we are off again-this time by air. A week is just enough time to tackle the mountain of laundry we’ve brought back, scrub the van until it’s spotless, host a modest family gathering and even undertake a basic garden tidy-up, before we think about what we will need in our next destination: visiting friends in beautiful Norway.

Although our flights are booked, we’ve not opted to check in any suitcases, thinking that with the budget airline we’re using we’ll try and make do with hand luggage. In effect, however this is impossible-there are medicines and basics in sponge bags to take. Whatever do other people do? We suck it up, compromise and pay for one checked in case.

Due to my health shortcomings we are unable to travel to Gatwick early in the morning so I book us into an on-airport hotel for the night which means a rail trip or two, but it all goes smoothly except that my small, ancient cabin bag chooses now to foul up by having its handle stuck out. Then I’m compelled to buy a new one from the bag-wrap man at Gatwick. Once we’re installed in the hotel we can relax in the bar with its outstanding view of the short-stay, multi-story car park.

So far so good-and dinner is acceptable. But the room’s air-con will not sink below 20 degrees and the squidgy bed has a hugely thick quilt, which all makes for a hot and uncomfortable night.

Next morning we cross the road to the terminal and get the dinky shuttle to the south terminal, where the check in queue is mercifully short.

We do the security thing. Queue in the pen, unload everything into trays, walk through the door-frame, collect the trays, repack everything, wait for Husband. Husband, being special, has a personalised scan due to his pacemaker. At last, reunited at the repacking bay, we can trundle past all the ‘duty-free’ outlets for an outrageously expensive coffee, which has not deterred the massed swarms of people in transit, judging by the lack of empty tables.

I wander the shopping outlets, the activity the airport has summoned us early for, picking up a bottle of water and some wet wipes. We get another coffee.

It is time to go to ‘gate’. Our departure gate lies at the outermost extent of the airport’s appendages, which requires us to trundle along lengthy corridors punctuated by travelators. The wheelie case grumbles along the moving pavement like an angry bee. There is another wait and we are finally summoned to the queue for seats in the poky cylinder in which we are to spend our next two hours.

The flight is busier than I expected and we must share our row of three seats with another, but we all smile politely and greet in our British way as the cabin staff do their demo and check that we’re strapped in while the plane rolls along in its own queue towards the runway. From the porthole I spot the assorted planes in front and behind us as we wait our turn; then we are in position, breath-holding until the engines roar and we are hurtling along, that brief momentary flutter of panic that we may not rise before the end of the tarmac but we are up, up and away.

On this two hour flight there is no trolley service [unless you buy it], no small bag of nibbles and a drink, no warm tissue, no screens. We settle down to read until the aircraft begins its descent into Oslo, where we are to change for the onward flight, and have to undergo security again despite going through the transfer corridor. What are we supposed to have procured en route? The rigorous security man confiscates the unopened water I’ve bought at Gatwick and tips the water out of my reusable one. Wonderful.

Later we are high above the snowy peaks along Norway’s west coast and then descending into Aalesund. Looking down on the stunning landscape is enough to make me forget all the hassle of flying.

But the last time we came was by van. Drive to the port, check in, show passports, queue for 45 minutes [enough time to brew up a coffee] and drive on to the ferry. Read, have breakfast, drive off. No contest!