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…

2018. Farewell or Good Riddance?

2018 is drawing to an end. Here in the UK I would imagine that most would say it hasn’t been their finest year. Personal lives differ, of course but unless you’ve spent the year locked in an underground bunker without access to media you’d have to have formed some kind of opinion about our squidgy little country’s disarray; about the mountainous mess it finds itself in.

There were a few pockets of hope here and there. A large manufacturer of crisps [that’s ‘chips’ to US friends] is offering to recycle its discarded packets. That is if you are prepared to get into your car and travel to your nearest crisp packet recycling point, which may be some miles away. So far I haven’t noticed fewer crumpled crisp packets amongst the litter on the streets or in the countryside, but hey-it’s a start.

What else? In India homosexuality is no longer a crime, which is positive-although no doubt discrimination will continue for some time in less enlightened communities.

The EU has banned insecticides that are harmful to bees, which is great-except that we, of course, that idiotic little scrap of a marginal country that is the UK has opted to get divorced from the most progressive collective the world has ever seen. Presumably UK bees can continue to be poisoned to death with abandon then…

A fair number of people [around the world] have begun to eat less red meat in response to the impact beef and lamb farming has on the planet. Here at Chez Nous, Husband and I are making our own attempt at less meat consumption, trying not to consume it more than half the time. This, however is made more tricky by my conversion to dairy-free produce, making cheese-based meals a no-no. A ‘Free-From’ cheese sauce mix was deemed an unmitigated failure. A visit to Pizza Express to try a vegan pizza, however yielded a not-half-bad result. You win some…..etc. The Australians, apparently are the greatest meat consumers, followed by Americans, so maybe we British are not all bad…

Women began to stand up against abusive behaviour [Hooray!], renewable energy became the most economical, a few species of animal returned from the brink of extinction.

Am I alone in thinking this is not the most impressive list of positives? If I were to begin on the gargantuan wave towards populism, the evil, cynical assassinations, the oppressive cruelty that still exists, the gung-ho waste of resources and widening gap between obscenely rich and desperate poor that persist there would be little worth celebrating.

So here comes a new year. You have to hope, because there’s not a lot else to do. And so I wish you, readers the happiest and most optimistic of New Years. And see you in 2019!

 

 

Goodbye 2017…

So how was 2017 for you? Did you achieve goals, fulfil your resolutions, make a fortune and experience satisfactory or heart-warming life events? Or were you mired in failure, misery and crashes and burns?
Most years, of course are a mixture of these experiences, both in our personal lives and out in the wider world.
In our own little bubble 2017 was mostly a great year. We had adventures, travelling first to Mexico [underwhelming], later to Italy in an extensive and audacious camper-van journey involving numerous ferries and taking in a number of different countries en route; we made our familiar late summer trip to South West France.
Then our family was expanded by a new member, an event that few could consider anything but joyous.
The negative aspects of 2017 consist mainly of those health issues which come to be such a feature of ageing and which [of we are not careful] become the mainstay of discussions between ourselves and friends of a similar age. Even Husband, who, in his typical male way likes to brush ill-health under a proverbial rug has succumbed to medical intervention. Matters of corporal dysfunction must be accepted, acted upon and then shrugged off.
In 2017 events in the world arena were disquieting. Despite progress against extremists the world became a more brooding, xenophobic and intolerant planet as global threats, hatred and prejudice jostled with polluted atmospheres, floating ocean debris and catastrophic weather events.
World problems often seem too huge to contemplate. We re-post information about beach clean-ups and re-using plastic bottles. We add our digital signatures to campaigns about famines. We make contributions to crisis funds like homelessness. And yet the problems persist, reminding us of how insignificant we all are, how helpless.
But it is always best to look forward and to be optimistic. I’ve long ago given up making resolutions, although I am determined to complete a project I began two years ago and to get it out into the public domain in some respect. I’ve high hopes for a return to my gym regime once a certain foot issue has been resolved and in the meantime we are busy planning 2018’s round of expeditions, the first of which takes place next week. We’ll be without access to internet for a couple of weeks, conditions which will certainly do us a power of good!
The next two blog posts will consist of a brand new two-part story. This is my new year gift to you, readers. If you enjoy it, please let me know in the comments [and share it with others]. If you don’t, please let me know that, too-and why. After that we will have returned and hopefully with more traveller tales! Happy New Year to all my readers, old and new!

2016? Sleep on it…

Christmas-yes it’s lovely, yes it’s festive. There is a warm, fuzzy glow everywhere-in the shops, in the pubs, in the cafes, along the streets and in the homes. We decorate, we shop, we cook. We send cards and receive them, exclaim over seldom contacted friends’ messages, speak to long-distance relatives. We deck the halls. We peel, chop and baste. We make table decorations, lay out crackers, pass things around, pour drinks, make toasts, watch the Queen/don’t watch the Queen,  play games, hand out gifts, open gifts, watch TV’s lack-lustre, festive offerings, crash out, wake, get up and begin again.

We eat too much, drink too much, feel bloated. In the mornings there is a swathe of last night’s glasses bearing dregs, demanding to be washed; and chocolate wrappers festooning the surfaces along with crumbs and pieces of nut shell. The dishwasher groans as you heave open its door, its bulging contents demanding to be dispersed.

I look forward to Christmas as much as the next person, preparing and anticipating but then when it comes all I really want is for it to be over. It belongs to children, this winter celebration with its pretence of magic and if you’ve access to a small child there is pleasure to be got from their enjoyment-otherwise there is a tendency towards anti-climax.

Nobody should wish their life away, especially when what remains is dwindling but 2016 needs to be behind us. It has been the year the world turned grim, forgetting any lessons history should have taught and returning instead to crude, emotions-led political decisions, territorial feuds and downright bestiality.

I’ve said before that I don’t do resolutions but planet earth needs to do some. There is an alarming deficiency of concern over climate change as we are about to be plunged back into over-reliance on fossil fuels. Genocide and brutality abound within and outside of conflict zones and how on earth is any of this to be tackled if we exacerbate hostility to foreigners and visitors by cutting ourselves off?

Though not a fan of cold weather I’m feeling introspective at this, the dormant part of the year. Yesterday the frost painted a stunning picture of a tree on our bedroom window, reminding me that there is still a lot to love about the world around us if we choose to preserve it. In winter nature reins in, hibernates, repairs and prepares. We should do the same, appreciate and cherish what matters the most. So I’m not going to feel guilty for spending time doing very little; for watching the garden birds or staring at a view or sitting quietly and thinking-because it’s just me doing what the season dictates and having a dormant spell until spring rushes in and stirs everything up!

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Happy New Year, Anecdotage readers-here’s to better things in 2017!

 

Surreal and Ridiculous

I can’t help but feel that my meandering drivel about being fit as an oldie has been rewarded by the hefty dose of flu that has descended with all its accompanying effects-creeping goosebumpy skin, a sensation that my head will explode, an inability to breathe through the appropriate channels, a tendency to drift in and out of consciousness and a barking, rattling cough that originates from somewhere deep in the chest cavity and leaves me gasping and bent over with the soreness it produces. So much for the self-pity…

Throughout this ordeal I have been drifting in and out of consciousness in the company of the radio; falling asleep during one programme and waking to another adding to the general surrealism that goes along with fever.

Listening to reportage about the American presidential candidate’s campaigns convinces me that I am indeed suffering delirium from my soaring temperature. Here is the competition for what is arguably the most powerful position on the Earth and yet it comes across like some sort of demented rave presided over by a lunatic dictator. [I am referring, of course to Trump-Hillary’s demeanour stands in stark contrast to the distasteful conduct of her opposer, -if that is to be the case].

How disappointing it all is! When America voted Obama in it seemed to have come to its senses. From having chosen film stars buffoons and shysters to play on the international political stage they had finally selected someone with an academic background, someone articulate and intelligent, someone who was intelligent, engaging and humanitarian. The world became a safer place.

I don’t suppose anyone was more disillusioned than Obama himself when his ambitions were thwarted before they got out of the starting block. He was no match for the reactionary wealthy white of America who wished only to keep their guns, their private healthcare and their oil supply whilst obliterating anyone who looked as if they might threaten the American dream.

I wonder how the president felt when he got a second term? Ambivalent, at best I believe. And it isn’t hard to imagine what he thinks of the unseemly descent into the vitriolic rant that is Donald Trump’s current campaign. I have to own up to feeling like cheering when protesters managed to get his Chicago rally called off.

It looks like all hope rests with Hillary-who has at least one terrific advantage. She is a woman!

 

[Will there be] Life on Mars?

What exciting news that proper, wet water has been discovered on Mars! In my fuddled, amoebic, non-science brain even I have determined from the articles and interviews that this stunning news means human life can be supported on the red planet.

I wonder what David Bowie makes of the revelation. His question, written in song and released in 1971 is about to be answered, although to the disappointment of science fiction buffs we are not about to be treated to the sight of small green creatures sporting deely-bobbers but the ‘life’ is likely to be human; that is if plans to populate Mars come to execution.

Robots are to go ahead first and construct the accommodation, which is to be connected pods like those paper lampshades you used to be able get in Habitat. [As yet there are no plans for a ‘Mars Bar’]. I have no problem with the idea of robots building a house. They already construct cars and many other items. Of course you’d have to be certain they weren’t plotting something sinister like the evil Hal in Space Odyssey-but still…

Then-what? Who is to go? Once the circus of astronauts and scientists are done with Mars, what is the long term plan? This is an entire planet. What or who will it be used for? Should, perhaps, the entire population of Earth move there and leave all the hideous mess we’ve made on this world behind? Mars will be pristine and unsullied-also COLD, which means there will be far longer before global warming takes hold. It will take aeons of greenhouse gases wafting around before the atmosphere is irrevocably ruined, by which time another life-support-planet will have been identified. Hooray!

Or should Mars be used to deposit all our detritus so that our own, cosy, familiar Earth becomes viable again. Perhaps all the poisonous waste from nuclear power, all those plastic bottles that are supposed to be recycled but float around the world on enormous ships instead, cigarette ends and doggy poop could go up there?

Or should we offer Mars to Islamic State so that they can go off and commit their vile atrocities to their hearts content and leave us to live our impure lives as we please? Oh no wait, if we are not there they have no one to bomb, behead or torture; also they are pledged to expand their territory, meaning they’d have to capture nearby planets-the nearest being-yes, Earth.

There is no rush to decide the fate of Mars. NASA is dithering about probing further into the water issue owing to worries about introducing a bug into the pristine atmosphere there. Heaven [apologies] forbid that we humans should give the Martians a dose of the measles, flu or the common cold. Isn’t it a shame mankind could not have had such scruples when our own Earth was pristine and innocent…?

The Big Why

The World events of the last forty eight hours have been a grim catalogue of horrific, grisly and incomprehensible acts that leave those of us who’ve been informed by TV news, radio or newspapers reeling in disbelief and repulsion.

Worse, it is becoming clear that actions by some nations [my own included] to remove what were seen as despotic dictators have actually paved the way for zealots and terrorists to take over-the new version of al Qaeda, but in even more aggressive and unspeakably callous form.

Now, however that the genie is out of the bottle, what is to be done?

Would it help to know what it is IS really wants? In an effort to attempt to understand this I Googled the question. One disquieting discovery is that there is a commitment amongst the terrorists to ‘expand their territory’. They are also, apparently set on provoking a ‘war to end all wars’, to which end they do seem to be marching irrevocably on.

Reading an article recently by a woman posing as one with ambitions to join IS it transpires that young Moslem women and girls who are fleeing to join the ‘Caliphate’ are set on becoming part of what is seen as ‘Utopia’. Now I have my own ideas about what constitutes ‘Utopia’, but it isn’t recognisable in the twisted, repressive and brutal regime of the jihadists. Here is Wikipedia’s version:

“A utopia (/juːˈtoʊpiə/ yoo-toh-pee-ə) is a community or society possessing highly desirable or near perfect qualities.”

So an IS run state, to these girls is a community possessing highly desirable or near perfect qualities. What then, to the girls, are these qualities? Piety and following their faith seem to be at the heart of them. When asked about their attitudes towards the committing of atrocities their responses were shrugging acceptance or even condonation. A number of the women have small children. It is difficult to understand how they can accept and even believe in terrorist acts while caring for their own children. It is easier to view murderous bombers and beheaders as marauding male-dominated bands who’ve become de-humanised through a lack of family life and values.

More-life for a woman in IS territory is at best tyrannical and oppressive, at worst dangerous and brutal. Their children will grow up seeing atrocity piled upon atrocity until, inevitably, they follow the same track, even perhaps becoming suicide bombers. Utopia? Not as I think of it.

According to one analyst IS will continue spreading poisonous tentacles and gathering personnel and momentum until poverty and deprivation prompt disenchantment, but he also suggests this will take a very long time. In the meantime some way has to be found to deal with the relentless and horrific acts of violence that this scourge of our age is hell bent on pursuing.

America and Europe currently have no appetite for the all-out war IS allegedly wants. There are no answers, only questions…oh…and hope. In the midst of all the despair and hatred, what is left can only be hope.