Tuesday, 24 December 2013

25. Merry Christmas to you all!

(The full Advent calendar poem.)

Angels sing
Bells ring
A star above
Little fir trees
The holly and ivy
Three Kings arriving
Shepherds and flock
Santa sock
Gold, frankincense & myrrh
Presents nearly there!
Carols delight
By candlelight
Snowflakes fall
Snow geese call
Xmas pudding
Cracker pulling
Snowman building
Happy robin sings
Santa brings (presents if you're good)
Yule log
Mistletoe snog
A lowly stable
A baby's cradle
Merry Christmas to you all!

Monday, 23 December 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug ~ Movie Review

The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug HFR 3D

Director: Peter Jackson
Cast includes: Martin Freeman, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Sir Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Lee Pace, Richard Armitage and Stephen Fry.

With the Lonely Mountain set firmly in their sights, the second part of this trilogy sees Bilbo and company move at a good pace through various exploits and adventures. The start of the film seems a little disjointed and isn't helped with the HFR 3D making some of the initial scenes feel as though you are just a little too close to the close-ups. But you are soon drawn into the magic of the story and the 3D comes into its own in the depths of the Mirkwood Forest and with the dragon, Smaug. There's a wonderful Christmas feel to this movie, like a pantomime and scary fair ground ride all rolled into one. Very entertaining and well worth the cinema ticket. A carrot crunching five out of five stars.


Friday, 13 December 2013

Looking back at the garden in 2013

I thought I would write this blog now before the festive season really kicks off and I run out of time to even think, let alone to think back over the year in the garden...

January to April ~ snow!

Then more snow....

and more snow....

May to June ~ New patio...and straight from winter to summer!
(And a tick on my life list for finally getting to visit the Chelsea Flower Show.)

(The patio changes from this....

...to this!)

In July we said goodbye to our much loved family cat, who was 18 years young. 

 Peas, strawberries, gooseberries and gherkins all did well, the aubergines resolutely
refused to set fruit for me. The pickled gherkins should be ready for Boxing Day.

August brought butterflies, in particular tortoisehells and peacocks.

(comma caterpillar)

September saw the start of the next project ~ the removal of a very overgrown
flowerbed for a garden pond.

October to December ~ the rain returns....

and it's not just the garden birds that need feeding...

I'm looking forward to next year with a new pond and hopefully less extreme weather.
Have a happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year!

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Widescreen Dystopia (Film reviews)

Ender's Game (12A)
Director: Gavin Hood

A bleak sci-fi imaging of a world after a war with big alien bugs (Formics). Kids are taught to play computer games and then go fight the enemy. The film follows the fortunes of Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) as he trains to join the International Military. A sobering and thoughtful imagining of a possible future for warfare as Ender tries to square the circle of what's being asked of him and what he's becoming aware of.
(Five out of five stars)

Thor: The Dark World 3D (12A)
Director: Alan Taylor

Epic mayhem from the comic world. The special effects and panoramic visuals make up for the sketchy characters and plot. Loki (Tom Hiddleston) steals the scenes, again, from Thor (Chris Hemsworth) but it is the cinematography that steal the show.
(Three out of five stars)

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (12A)
Director: Francis Lawrence

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself propelled into a deadly new game as her success turns her into a symbol of hope for those in the oppressed districts of Panem. Now President Snow (Donald Sutherland) wants to destroy her in the Quarter Quell arena and crush any revolution before it has a chance to catch hold...
Action packed sequel with a solid cast including the hard drinking Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), supercool stylist Cinna (Lenny Kravitz) and heart-of-gold Effie Trinket ( Elizabeth Banks). Lavish special effects, scary dystopian world view and graphic fight scenes are the order of the day although the slow pace of the first half means we do not get much time to get to grips with the nine tributes introduced halfway through. But the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) gets more complicated and the movie builds steadily on the first instalment of the book trilogy. Can't wait for the final part.

(Four out of five stars)

Friday, 22 November 2013

Winter winds...

It seems that Autumn was blown away by the St Jude storm and the blowsy days of mellow sun and crisp leaves underfoot have been replaced with winter winds. As such, work in the garden has stalled and I am kicking myself for not getting the pond in or the new wild cherry tree planted or the spring bulbs relocated or the grass cut to a more respectable length...

Winter winds have bought the hail and rain with them.

One benefit it that the change in temperature has bought in more birds into the garden. Jay, magpie, blackbird, thrush, wren, robin and the usual crowd of blue tits and great tits are now visiting the bird table more often and I have great fun leaving out a few hazelnuts for the squirrels to frantically try and  bury all over the garden.

I need to brush up on my action shots! 

Nothing beats the winter weather quite like a bit of bird watching with slice of cake
and nice cup of tea.

Victoria sponge with vanilla and raspberry.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Not Quite Wordless Wednesday

There's a young song thrush visiting the bird table over the last few days...

So far it's learnt that spots aren't always great camouflage...

That it can creep me out by just staring..... 

And that yes, I really will let it eat the bird food....

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Crater, An Introduction (Author's Preface)

Yesterday I printed out a copy of Crater for myself as it occurred to me I have yet to sit down and read it all in chronological order, as a whole book, without getting bogged down in editing. It's strange to see it, now complete, neatly stacked in a binder and even stranger to think it has taken me the best part of 16 years to write what is ostensibly a short, pulp, science fiction novel! (I have written other stuff in that time as well...)
It started out with a different title, 2297, a direct reference to 1997, the year I started writing it in and I had a clear mission for the novel in mind. To write about what happens when humanity gives itself no other option, through war, disease, poverty and habitat loss but to abandon Earth and live on Mars.
I wanted to look at the problems this could throw up, how life might be on Mars, who would have control, what would we lose from our lives, what we would gain. I set the novel three hundred years into the future and eighty-two years after humanity has had to abandon Earth and then, set about constructing a plot to get a crew back to Earth on board a 'crater', a salvage ship that scavenges for space waste material littered around Earth, material that is vital to supporting life on Mars. It quickly became obvious that life would be very different in the future.
The finite resources loop on Mars means many things are not present there. Animals, cars and areoplanes would have to go. Plant life is restricted to climate controlled gardens and life itself for humanity takes place in large biohedrons where housing is in high rise blocks of small compartments, windowless and tightly packed into the biohedrons.
I decided that the resources loop on Mars would be controlled a by a company that ran everything, and came up with a name, the Mars Mutual Incorporated Governing Association or MMIGA which had to two subsidiaries, COCOM and DECOM, (Commissioning and Decommissioning of resources)  all of which became ridiculously complicated and so I ended up distilling it down to the 'Company' and the 'Academy'.
'The Board' are the ruling elite of the Company and I wanted to explore the idea of how traditional Earth-based governing systems could be replaced by a totalitarian Corporation instead. The Academy runs the craters and their crews, a sort of space-based navy. I wanted to also explore the possible weaknessess this new system of life on Mars might have for humankind.
I wanted to explore space travel through the design of the craters and think about what life is like for the crews of these long-haul flights and try to design a safe way for us to explore and travel through our universe. And I wanted to revisit Earth to find out what could have happened to it after humanity had abandoned it nearly a century earlier.

Along the way, while writing this, I tried to be in advance of current technology but it is astounding how fast technology has accelerated in the last sixteen years, some things which were complete fiction at the start are now fact and the huge progresses in miniaturisation have meant I have constantly had to upgrade, in particular, computer memory storage capacity and holographic details!
There have been many hiccups and setbacks along the way, everything from the pressures of family commitments to computer software and hardware failures, internet malware and trojan horses, not to mention highbrow disapprobation. There was a point when I thought I would give up trying to complete this novel as it was clear, early on, publishers and agents were not interested and, as such, I was writing something with no financial worth. But the characters stayed in my head over the years and I found the easiest way to get rid of them was to write their stories out.
Bits and pieces of this novel have appeared on the internet over the years and I took the decision a while ago to make it all available on my blog, for the probably very small number of pulp science fiction readers out there with access to the internet.
It has been a strange process to write Crater, unlike anything else I have written. I'd like to thank those who have encouraged me during the process, even if it at times felt like they were enduring a piece of performance art rather than a process of novel writing. Perhaps Crater isn't a glimpse of a possible future for us on Mars but a snapshot of where we are at now, our strange, gaudy, mad, bad and beautiful world, bulging towards full-capacity and struggling with an increasingly hostile environment...
Of course, now I have finished Crater, I have started, along with other projects, on Craters, the sequel.... expect to be able to immerse yourself in it on a holographic internet sometime in 2029.....

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

It is possible to have more than one Universe?

(Question asked by my teenage son, so I have gone looking for answers across the internet...)

It is possible to have more than one Universe?
An interesting question! Up to now it has only been a theory that multiple universes can exist at the same time. There are many multiverse theories out there that explain this.
These include:
Infinite, Bubble, Parallel, Daughter and Mathematical, all these universe theories have been put forward by scientists. Read about them here on Space.com ~

Two people who have worked to describe all types or categories of theoretical multiverse are cosmologist Max Tegmark and theoretical physicist Brian Greene. Max Tegmark http://space.mit.edu/home/tegmark/ has four levels to categorize all multiverse types in and Brian Greene has described nine types of parallel universes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multiverse

So there are many theories that describe there being more than one universe but is there any evidence?

At the moment physicists are looking at images of the universe to see if they can detect any odd patches in the cosmic microwave background radiation that might show another universe bumping into ours. They are using equipment like ESA's Planck space telescope http://www.esa.int/esaKIDSen/SEM5C19W1NH_OurUniverse_0.html http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Planck/Last_command_sent_to_ESA_s_Planck_space_telescope to look at our universe in detail.

BUT, just because we can't 'see' other universes yet, doesn't mean that they are not out there...  

Friday, 25 October 2013

Fuel poverty should be too high a price for society to pay.

This winter the government, emergency services and health workers will be on high alert as fuel prices rise inexorably upwards against diminishing household budgets. The last few weeks has seen a slew of price hikes by major power companies just in time for the winter months, which will force more and more households into a choice of food on the table or heating and hot water. Winter deaths are becoming an uncomfortable statistic, while there are always years where there are spikes in mortality rates due to flu/virus outbreaks such last year, the general trend is still high in what should be a post-industrial, technology and resource rich society.
Our inflation rate (2.7%) still exceeds our wage growth rate (1.4%) and bear in mind energy is excluded from our inflation rates, so price hikes in energy of over 10% are directly felt by consumers whose living standards are still falling, not rising.
So how have we allowed the post-privatisation era of the energy industry to become a contributor to our winter mortality rates, surely free market competition and regulation should bring prices down, not push them up? This article in the Wall Street Journal highlights the problems in the UK energy market. Perhaps one solution to is to regulate the shareholders dividend, and indeed, whether shareholders are entitled to profit from companies whose cash flow is at the expense of the most vulnerable in our society. Or perhaps the question we should be asking in this new(ish) century is whether energy, like water is a basic human right or a commodity to be traded, whatever the cost?

Where are the best energy deals? (This is Money article link)
Switch and save article (BBC link)

Friday, 18 October 2013

Autumn tints and misty mornings

Not much progress with the pond in the last few weeks, as the autumn winds and rains have arrived, interspersed with the odd bright day. The leaves are changing and falling as the season progresses. The grapes are too small to harvest yet, not sure whether there will be enough time in the season for them this year. 
The hanging baskets have been revamped for winter as I couldn't resist the brightly smiling faces of the rows and rows of pansies, heart's ease and violas at the garden centre.  I've picked a pale blue and white viola for our shady, north facing front garden. No frosts yet but the heavy morning dew reveals endless slug and snail trails across the patio table and conservatory windows. This year's jays, collared doves, blackbirds and  wood pigeons are making the most of the autumn garden before their first winter arrives.

Fig leaves

dew drenched aquilega and  nigella for next year

oak leaves

dramatic sunrises

autumnal strawberry leaves

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

It's Blog Action Day ~ Have you read this?

It's blog Action Day #BAD2013 and this year's theme is Human Rights and I wonder how many people have a copy of  the UN's declaration of the rights we are all inherently entitled to: the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights. Drawn up in 1948 after the Second World War, it sets out a standard of rights and freedoms for us all. Have you read this?

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable
rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice
and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous
acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world
in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom
from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common

Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last
resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be
protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their
faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person
and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote
social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in cooperation
with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of
human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the
greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, therefore, The General Assembly, Proclaims this
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
as a common standard of
achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and
every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by
teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by
progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and
effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States
themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Article I 
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are
endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a
spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2 
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration,
without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion,
political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political,
jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person
belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other
limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3 
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4 
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be
prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5 
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment
or punishment.
Article 6
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7 
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal
protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any
discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such

Article 8
Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals
for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9 
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10 
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent
and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any
criminal charge against him.

Article 11 
1. Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed
innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he
has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
2. No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or
omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or
international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier
penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal
offence was committed.

Article 12
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home
or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has
the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13 
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the
borders of each State.
2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to
return to his country.

Article 14 
1. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from
2. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely
arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and
principles of the United Nations.

Article 15
1. Everyone has the right to a nationality.
2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to
change his nationality.

Article 16 
 1. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality
or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled
to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the
intending spouses.
3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is
entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17
1. Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with
2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18 
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right
includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in
community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in
teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19 
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes
freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart
information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20 
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
2. No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21 
1. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country,
directly or through freely chosen representatives.
2. Everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his country.
3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government;
this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall
be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by
equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 22 
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled
to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in
accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic,
social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development
of his personality.

Article 23 
1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and
favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal
3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration
ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity,
and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of
his interests.

Article 24 
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of
working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
Article 25 
1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and
well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing
and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security
in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or
other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All
children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social

Article 26 
1. Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the
elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be
compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made
generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all
on the basis of merit.
2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human
personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and
fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and
friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further
the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be
given to their children.

Article 27 
1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the
community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and
its benefits.
2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests
resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the

Article 28 
Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and
freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29 
1. Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full
development of his personality is possible.
2. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only
to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of
securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others
and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the
general welfare in a democratic society.
3. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the
purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30 
Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or
person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the
destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

This is a link to the UN website (OHCHR) with 413 different translations of the Declaration.

This link is to a Wikipedia article about the UDHR

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Simultaneity (a sort of stereo dreaming)

(Written by P. Herlihy.

First displayed as part of the  Rochester Literature Festival  2013

'Other Worlds Other Voices' exhibition.

All rights reserved.)

Simultaneity (a sort of stereo dreaming)

What happens if someone, somewhere, thinks exactly the same thing as you at exactly the same time? Does the thought, the little electrical impulse fired between your neurons, remain singular? Or is it a plurality, a connected event, a moment shared between to strangers? Can the exact same thought exist in two places at the same time? And then what happens if it is not a thought, not a moment but a whole dream which occurs to two people, simultaneously.
A sort of stereo dreaming.
And you are right, it was my thought exactly, you couldn't possibly know if someone was dreaming the same thing as you at the same time because you are asleep. And memory is a most unreliable of snapshot. What you remember when you wake up, if you remember anything at all is immediately airbrushed by your waking consciousness. The landscape of reality, of the here and now is a very different landscape to the one inhabited by our dreams.
I should introduce myself. My name is Caitlin. I am of medium height, have long brown hair that I normally pull up into a ponytail and almost green eyes. I am an average build and am double jointed at the thumbs, you know, where you can bend your thumb back to touch your arm? I am a working, single, thirty-something and I am writing this in the hope someone will recognise me. Not the people who already know me, not my family or friends. Not work colleagues or the regulars on the bus to work. Not my Facebook friends or Twitter followers. But the person who might just recognise me from my dreams because he's been dreaming them too.
So, here goes. I am going to write out some of my dreams, the ones where I am convinced somewhere, someone, simultaneously is dreaming them too. And I know they are often just fragments of dreams. Little more than the frail, dust-tattered wings of moths caught in the full glare of daylight. A shadow of those moments shared, distorted through the prism of the cold, hard light of waking hours.
But I've tried everything else I can think of. Attended dream seminars, consulted sleep therapists, read quantum physics theories, talked to psychics, mediums, doctors, tried hypnotherapy, regression, progression... at the end of the day, all I am left with is my dream diary. A pile of battered spiral-bound reporters notebooks in which I jot down all I can remember from the night before. They sit on the bedside table each night waiting for the next instalment. A year's worth of writing. Moments of simultaneity.

The dream where I realise there is someone else there

I am walking up steps. It is not a place I recognise but I am trying to catch up to someone ahead of me. He turns and sees me and I sense him smiling as he waits. And I wake up.
It's not much of a dream but it is the moment when I realised we were there together and that this other person was not a figment of my imagination, not a construct of my subconscious but someone else, somewhere else, dreaming the same thing as me. And he realises it too. It is a moment of recognition.
Did you know that steps in dreams signify progress, at least walking up stairs signifies progress. Don't worry I'm not going to analyse every dream for you. That's not the the point of this exercise. But it seemed a very positive point at which to start, to be able to say this is where we first met.
I try and dream the same dream over the next few nights, try and get back to that same point. Try to reach those steps again. It doesn't work. I spend the nights having a recurring dream. It is vague and brooding, ominous. Oppressive. The weight of the air before a storm pressing down on my temples. I wake in a cold sweat. Glad it was just a dream.
And it is a very clear distinction. There are dreams and then there are dreams. Those moments I share with the other dreamer are actual, time related events. They occur only once and at the same time but not necessarily from the same viewpoint.

The dream on a beach

You are here, I know it. But, before I turn to find you, I want to drink in this glorious place, a paradise of white sand edged with a glittering, gently rolling sea. The exact colour of old aquamarines. The sea stretches towards a thin silvery heat haze vaporising into a summer sky and under my feet, the damp sand is firm. Sand to write my name in.
I know you are near and I turn. At first I can't see you and then, there, up on the small bluff, looking out to sea. Your gaze is distant, searching the horizon. I turn back to the sea but there are no ships, no sign of anything. What are you looking for?
I reach down and write my name in the sand and then watch as the tide slowly claims it, smoothing it out. By the time I realise you are standing at my side, my name is lost to the waves, running up and dragging back a clean slate for you. You reach down and write your name. And here we are, together on a perfect beach. I look down to read your name but the seventh wave has arrived at the beach, knocking me from my feet and I land with a sudden jolt awake in my bed. Awake again.
I looked for that beach on the internet. Paradise, white sands, cool blue sea, the shape of the bluff. There are a lot of beaches on this planet but none of them are that particular one. I get a bit obsessed by it and discuss work colleagues' holiday destinations ad nauseam until I overhear Tom asking Maisie why I don't just book a freakin' holiday and give them all a break. I book a holiday but not ton a beach. I book a holiday in a small cottage in Kent, up in the North Downs, tucked away in a wooded valley where I can walk and think in peace. Where I can try and figure out what is going on. On the last night of the holiday I dream again and this time we are dancing.

The dream where we dance

The ballroom is huge, a gorgeous shimmering hall of light. Along one side are a set of repeating french windows surrounded by gilt wooden panelling. On the opposite wall a suite of mirrors echo them. High above us, suspended from the ceiling, chandeliers are blazing with light, filling the room with a crystal clarity. The floor is old, wooden, polished, worn smooth by the passage of feet over over time. One, two, three, one, two, three. The age worn rhythm of ballroom dancing. There is no music. Perhaps we don't need it. Perhaps we are dancing to different tunes. You are taller than me and warmer, I can feel the heat of you, the weight of your arm encircling me. We are a sweet waltz together.
My work begins to suffer and I am put on a probationary period. My annual review reads like a bad school report. I am jittery, tired, anxious. I have spent all my energies on trying to find answers without knowing the right question to ask. Who are you? Where are you? Why is this happening? And I tell my boss to shove his three-month targets where the sun doesn't shine. It seemed like the right thing to yell at the time after he told me I was falling apart and should see a doctor. I visit the doctor. She gives me a week's worth of sleeping tablets telling me I am suffering with nervous exhaustion. I dream of nothing for a week. I sleep the sleep of an insomniac drowned in a synthetic numbness. She's right. I do feel better. Clearer about it all. After all, they are just dreams.
Work stretches into long, numb days of not caring or wanting to be there. I try and keep my mouth shut and my head down. The probationary period ends and at least I still have a job to go to. I also need some new notebooks.

The dream in a spaceship

The curve of the planet slides below us out of view as the three moons rise on the screen in front of us, two silver, one red, bathed in the light of the distant binary sun. The cockpit of the craft is in darkness, only the greenish glow of the thoughtfind link fills the air. We are suspended above the planet like a hoverfly above a flower. There is nothing but space. Nothing but us. As the spaceship dives back towards the planet I can hear you laughing in my mind as the screen fills with the dizzying fall and the adrenalin rush hits me full force, making me leap out of bed, instantly awake!
I looked up binary sun, three moons on the internet and finally, at last, maybe a tangible link. He's a Star Wars fan. I am not. He dreams about Star Wars? It makes me smile to think of it. A glimpse inside his mind. A clue to his personality. There is something reassuringly ordinary about the thought of him being a bit of a geek. Kind of cute. I sleep better for the thought. My doctor's progress reports soothe my boss and I attend a sleep clinic. I am now an expert in sleep patterns, sensory deprivation, biorhythms, sleep posture and bedtime routines.
I try and reconnect to my life. To find meaning in the routine of targets and meetings. I start reading around the subjects of dreams and attend seminars by mediums. One medium gets in touch with my Great-Grandad. He has a message for me. The money is under the rockery. I do go and check at his old address, just in case. Where his old terrace once stood is now a multi-storey car park, all traces of his life there erased under a pile of concrete and exhaust fumes.
And so the year progresses to autumn, notepads filling with dreams, weekends spent tracking down any detail, any lead I can ascertain from scant notes. My bedside table fills with books on quantum physics and brain function. My days at work are spent pretending to be fine and cheery. Maybe too fine, too cheery, if you could be bothered to look closely enough but who looks closely at anything these days. And then, after 365 days, the dreams stop.

The last dream

We are lying, side by side, on the top of a hill. Above us a skylark is singing, its voice scraping the high, blue sky clean of clouds. Our fingers are interlinked and the ground is warm and sweet smelling underneath us. A summer field. I can hear bees close to my ears, busy with the clover. I am content.
It hits me in a moment, a great revelation of knowing suddenly, I am content, lying there with you next to me. Whatever these dreams are, whatever they mean. I am, without doubt, content, here, now, in this place, in this moment we are sharing. Thank you for this moment. Thank you for these dreams.
Writing out dreams in a diary and actually publishing it are two very different things. The pile of rejection letters from publishers made me almost give up but, in the end, I self-published, it's easy really, if you can manage a blog and know your way round a keyboard. But, anyhow, here I am now. Holding in my hands a copy of my book. I advertise it online and, every now and then, someone buys a copy. They hold those fragments of my dreams up to the light of their solid reality and probably decide I am just another snake oil seller. But there is the slimmest of chances, someone, somewhere, will recognise those dreams, recognise me, a moment of perfect certainty and find me. That's my hopeful waking dream anyhow. I stare at the title for a moment. Maybe it was better to be doing something rather than nothing. At least the book is something.

Five Years Later...

The phone call is in the middle of the night. Well, at three am to be precise. I am jolted out of my deep, dreamless sleep by its insistent sound. The voice at the other end is unfamiliar. I reach for the bedside table light and knock a notebook onto the floor. Old habits die hard. It takes me a minute or two to work out what is being said.
'..so I thought if we are able to meet up, we could discuss our findings with you. We shall be publishing our data next month in the journals but naturally wanted to go through it with you first. I am catching the morning flight tomorrow and so could meet up in London the following day...'
'Er, yes, yes... um, what findings?'
'We've been working on a radio astronomy research project looking for extra-terrestial life, and the quadrant we have been monitoring has delivered some very interesting signals. Are you familiar with frequency modulation? Well, we developed a cypher code to unlock the frequency-shift keying of the signal and found..., well, look I don't want to discuss this over the phone. But if I forward the details of our hotel to you perhaps we could meet?'
'Um, sure... You've got my email?'
'Yes, yes, from your book.'
'You've read my book?' For a moment my heart lurches.
'Well, no... but I found it on an internet search and, well, I'll send you the details.'

The hotel is in central London, a safe, bland blend of chrome and glass and stripped wood. The coffee lounge is empty save for the two radio astronomers quietly sipping cups of coffee in a corner. After introductions and ordering a small, skinny latte, I smile at them and ask,
'So, what is it you wanted to discuss with me? Is it about my book?'
'We received a radio signal from a quadrant of space that seemed different to the normal background signals we process. My colleague and I set about writing a complex cypher that unlocked the frequency modulation and revealed a message within the signal. The signal come from a binary star system and took about five years to reach Earth ...'
My brain makes a connection, somewhere a memory jogged. I published my book about five years ago. Has it really been that long?
'The long and short of it is, we translated the signal into language and it reads...Well, it reads this.'
The scientist hands over a piece of paper on which is typed a sentence.
'You mean this is from... this is an alien message?'
'There is no doubt, this message did not emanate from our own planet or any of our technology in space. So yes, this is what we call a first contact.'
I stare at it blankly still trying to fathom why two Australian radio astronomers would travel halfway round the globe to speak to me if they had proof of life beyond our solar system. The words shift and jumble on the page and I can barely read them, they fracture and run in front of me. I am dimly aware of a voice nearby asking if I am OK and of being offered a paper napkin to wipe away my tears.
I am crying and laughing at what I am reading but, after the shock of it, I am crying in a wave of relief and sadness, reading over and over again the sentence. Trying to make sense of it. The words on the paper finally fall into place and I read:
Simultaneity (a sort of stereo dreaming)


Monday, 7 October 2013

Sci-Fi Story part of the 'Other Worlds, Other Voices' Exhibition 5th-13th October 2013

Don't forget, you can read my sci-fi short story, 'Simultaneity (a sort of stereo dreaming)'  and participate by adding your own dream stories in the notebooks provided as part of  the 'Other Worlds, Other Voices' Exhibition, at the Rochester Community Hub Library all this week. I'm hoping to end up with an 'X-files' of local stories. This story is only available to read at the library in full but here's an excerpt to tempt you ~

'So, here goes. I am going to write out some of my dreams, the ones where I am convinced that somewhere, someone, simultaneously is dreaming them too. And I know that often they are just fragments of dreams. That they are little more than the frail, dust-tattered wings of moths caught in the full glare of daylight. A shadow of those moments shared, distorted through the prism of the cold, hard light of waking hours.
But I've tried everything else I can think of. Attended dream seminars, consulted sleep therapists, read quantum physics theories, talked to psychics, mediums, doctors, tried hypnotherapy, regression, progression... at the end of the day, all I am left with is my dream diary. A pile of battered spiral-bound reporters notebooks in which I jot down all I can remember from the night before. They sit on the bedside table each night waiting for the next installment. A year's worth of writing. Moments of simultaneity. '

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Two exhibitions at the Turner Contemporary, Margate

Collecting Buoys (View form the Turner Contemporary ) 05/10/13

Turner and Constable : Sketching from Nature
(Works from the Tate Collection)
5 October 2013 ~ 5 January 2014

Over 75 landscape paintings from a selection of artists working in the 18th century. These pictures were a new direction in painting at that time, a change from studio based art to a reactive style working directly with oils in the landscape. They also give a remarkable historical record of urban change taking place in the Georgian landscape, particularly around London, as the industrial revolution and the enclosure of land pulled the population into ever growing cities. Well worth a visit for a chance to examine the techniques and paint effects of these landscape painters.

 Dorothy Cross: Connemara
5 October 2013 ~ 5 January 2014

A selection of the artist's work inspired by the natural world. Look out for a storm in a teacup, some interesting feet and boots and the beautiful 'Everest Shark'.

For more information on these two exhibitions visit the gallery website here. The image above is from a photo I took on the day.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

The return of the SDP centrist ground?

I've been watching the political party conference season with interest this year and a couple of things have leapt out at me from the start. The first is that the electioneering for May 2015 has begun and secondly is the shift in the political positioning of the main parties.

Public perception of the Liberal Democrats is at a low, the dash to power has resulted in a 'Conservative Lite' feel, pushing the party right of central and into capitalist territory that certainly I find uncomfortable. But this week has also seen the remnants of 'New Labour' clothing thrown off to reveal 'New Old-style Labour' with a big jump to the left. The conservatives have a problem looming, being squeezed left by the rise of UKIP but unwilling to fully embrace the Lib Dem approach means they are going to find the ground disappearing from under their feet at the next election. It made me think about that big centrist space opening up, and since politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum what will fill that space? Certainly the centre-left ground prior to the emergence of the Liberal Democrats was held by the Social Democrat Party, could we see the emergence of a new social democratic (as apposed to social capitalist) party between now and 2015?  

Monday, 23 September 2013

Nominees for the Ripplestone Review Biennial Awards 2014 category : Best Movie Reviewed

List of Movies Reviewed:

Avatar 3D
Avengers Assemble 3D
Expendables 2
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Iron Man 3D
Man of Steel 3D
Pacific Rim 3D
Searching for Sugar Man
Star Trek: Into Darkness 3D 
The Hobbit
Total Recall

Nominees for Best Movie Reviewed:

Avatar 3D
Star Trek: Into Darkness 3D 
Searching for Sugar Man

For more information on the Ripplestone Review Biennial Awards click here.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Dreaming of a pond...

Autumn is all about the light. As the sun drops lower towards the horizon and the temperatures fall, we get longer shadows, shorter days, mists, dew and sunlight filtering through the leaves, falling obliquely to light up the last summer flowers like jewels.

I've been dreaming of a pond for the garden for ages but today that dream is a step closer. This huge, now empty, flowerbed will be the site for it. It is surprising just how much space the flowerbed took up in the lawn and half of it will be reseeded with grass. It is sad to see the QMMFB go but it had outgrown it's space and usefulness. All around are reminders that summer is over, not least of all the virginia creeper that is putting on a fantastic show this year.