Warning: Contains Politics. The Jo Johnson Effect

I don’t like to do political rant, but I’m going to anyway.

<rant>

Here’s my opinion. I’ve been struggling to understand what is going on in Westminster these days. Obviously plain old little old me doesn’t have an inside view, but I like to think I can read between the lines as well as the next person. It’s just that lately I can’t, I can’t follow the thinking and I’m struggling to see where the benefit is in the end game for some of the main players.

May I think I understand. I’ve always thought she had the instincts of a tyrant, her time in the Home Office was a strong indicator, her time as PM reinforced my belief. She works to constrain parliament’s power, she spends public money to prevent a court case that will increase the legal understanding of the nation’s position with regards to Article 50. Become the PM and declare there will be no election then hold an election? Fine. Lose your majority and pull a billion pounds out of the money tree you said did not exist? Fine. Just carry on and ignore everything behind you. As long as May’s in charge all is well in May’s world. And I think that’s it, and it’s all she wants – to be in charge. Of what is irrelevant. You win some, you lose some, it’s all the same to her.

Corbyn is harder to fathom. Man of the people, man of the underdog, the man I so very much wish I could support. Most of the time an invisible silent man too. The man who won’t speak out against electoral wrongdoing. And Brexit for him is irreversible. In the perfect self-fulfilling prophecy the man with the greatest ability to stop it says it’s inevitable and cannot be stopped. He also says he wants “a social Europe with inclusive societies that work for everyone and not just for a few” but he also wants to throw away the most powerful tool at his disposal to help bring that about – membership of the EU.

What is going on? I don’t understand.

There’s a vocal group of people who say Brexit is Brexit, we had the vote, we’re going to leave. Fair enough, it’s a point of view and a firm opinion. But to my mind opinion needs to be moderated by fact and as far as I can make out leaving the EU will, however it happens, leave the UK economically and politically weaker, and possibly regulatorily in thrall to the EU – Jo Johnson’s choice of  “vassalage and chaos”

It also seems to me this group don’t care how we leave as long as we do. Consequences are irrelevant, we voted, we go. And politically we’re not far off from that position. May’s in charge and by hook or by crook she’ll make this thing happen for ill or for worse. I say that because by now it is clear that our two leave options are bad or very bad. Why would any Prime Minister take us down those paths? Again, I do not understand, and meanwhile Corbyn treads water, keeps his head down, and says and does nothing.

Am I simply wrong or are politicians, Prime Ministers, Leaders of the Opposition, meant to be different to this? Is not the PM not meant to be working for the good of the nation? Right now I don’t see that. In fact except for a few praiseworthy individual voices across the political spectrum I don’t see that at all, and nowhere in leadership of our two biggest political parties. Props however to the Lib-Dems however for playing the voice of Cassandra: “This is wrong, we should stop, can’t you see?”  The voice in the political wilderness.

Apparently they are not. But why not? Why can’t or won’t actually lead? May in particular is not leading, she is following, with apparently any concern for the harm she knows she is bringing to the nation she is supposed to guide and lead subsumed by her inner desire for the retention of power and position. Or perhaps she actually genuinely wants this outcome. Dear Gods let’s hope that is not true. But again, if not, why do this? Why abandon leadership of party and nation and become little more than an errand-girl implementing a self-destructive  policy she herself once campaigned against. And Corbyn, he seems to want it too.

Here comes Jo Johnson to give us a few clues. Now, I must say that when this particular Johnson  resigned I applauded him, a man of principle finally no longer able to keep silent and all the better for coming around to my own point of view. But read his letter of resignation and he says “I have never rebelled on any issue before now.”

Hang on, isn’t he supposed to represent his constituents? Of course in our system he is free to represent them as he sees fit, but as a minister, as part of the government of the day and being on the government payroll he is also obliged to vote as the government decides. Note, gentle reader, this is true for any minister, senior or junior, and in fact paid or unpaid. Once you’re part of the government you vote as you’re told or you resign. Talk about a conflict of interest. How can that be the best way for Johnson or any MP to represent their constituents when in effect you have become an errand-boy?

And meanwhile both May and Corbyn pursue their Miltonian ‘better to reign in Hell’ policies. It seems perhaps they are not so different after all. If they get what they want it will a hell of their own making.

Jo Johnson ’s right about one thing though: “ My constituents…deserve better than this from their Government.” No shit, Mr Johnson, no shit.

They deserved better than you, for all your admittedly laudable late-coming conscience, better than our government, better than our quasi-democratic political system of power and privilege and self-interest and hierarchies and secrets and toothless oversight and opaque finance and knowing lies and broken promises. What we deserve is a political revolution. Come the day, come the day.

</rant>

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 58 – Fat Table

Author’s Note:  I’ve been working flat-out on my current novel-in-progress for the past couple of weeks. It kind of got away from me and I had to pick up a chair and whip and get it back into the cage. Novels can do that. One more week to go and I shall be able to begin work on the print and e-book editions on this book.

Until then, back in ancient Babylon…

Copyright David Bezzina, 2017Chapter 58 – Fat Table

‘He’s a genius, an avatar of Ea filled with His wisdom,’ Banipal exclaimed.

Asklepios followed the conversation between Banipal and Ishkun with difficulty. The two men had been kind to him and they were clearly friends. Since Banipal had rescued him he had learned a substantial number of words and discovered he was in Babylon before the fall, that it was a city of magnificence, of stunning wealth, governed by kings who seemed determined to be wise, courageous and just. Everything they did, their daily lives, their politics and war, were governed by their worship of gilded statues that, as far as Asklepios could determine, were not mere representations of divinity but the actual Gods themselves.

Ishkun was less impressed. ‘He is a skinny old man who knows barely sixty words of our tongue. Wise? Perhaps he is, but he is no divine messenger. He did not descend from heaven on the back of a Kurub, you pulled him from the Euphrates like the half-drowned she-goat he smelled of at the time.’

Nevertheless, Ishkun had been considerate, content to sit with Asklepios and teach him new words, carefully repeating them when Asklepios forgot or made mistakes. He had to admit the foreigner was a fast learner who was also civilised, polite and grateful.

Banipal smiled patiently. ‘You do not understand, beloved friend. We converse with numbers, a universal language for learned men. I may be fluent but Asklepios is a poet. He has shown me great things that lie in plain sight, yet none of us see them.’

Always defensive when it came to numbers, Ishkun acted unimpressed. ‘That must be nice for the both of you.’

‘Please, don’t be like that. Asklepios makes me feel like you do when you take me hunting. I cannot see the animal signs until you point them out, it makes me feel clumsy and ignorant. What is obvious to you is hidden from me so I struggle to learn and to remember. But with Asklepios what he teaches, remains. He has opened my eyes.’

‘Tell me some of these simple things.’

Banipal grinned happily. ‘There are numbers that cannot be divided by other numbers. For example, seven and eleven.’

‘Yes,’ Ishkun spoke slowly. ‘So?’

‘Those numbers appear to never end. Thirteen, seventeen, nineteen, twenty-three.’

Ishkun frowned, working on his fingers. ‘All right.’

‘And numbers go on forever. Whatever number you think of, you can always add one to it. They form an infinity.’

‘I suppose so.’ This was reaching a level of abstraction Ishkun found difficult. Even accepting this was true, what was the point of numbers larger than herds, or armies? There was little point in counting grains of millet or sand, you put the grains in sacks and counted the sacks instead.

‘But these numbers that cannot be divided, although we cannot prove it, they could be an infinity too.’

‘But they are not all the numbers there are.’

‘Exactly!’

Ishkun grimaced as he tried to imagine this, then clutched his temples. ‘What use is that except for making my head spin?’

‘It is amazing!’

‘I’m amazed you are impressed by it,’ Ishkun said, though he smiled as he said it.

#

It was in the quiet moments like these, after a meal and listening to the two men talk, that Asklepios marvelled at his own resilience. In a handful of days he had been magically whirled first to the unimaginable future then the magnificent past. He had been robbed, nearly drowned, and become a thief himself. After taking a second look at the river he had been hauled from, he felt claiming he had nearly being eaten by crocodiles was only a slight exaggeration.

He was sure that if someone told him all this was going to happen he would have feared for his own sanity. Yet here he was, fed and clothed and in the company of strangers he believed could be his friends. All things considered, he felt fortune was still on his side.

It was strange, the thing he most regretted was losing the measuring instruments he had stolen. They had been so perfectly made, so precise. Now they were somewhere at the bottom of the river. If only he had managed to keep them. If only he had made it home… It was more than simple bad luck. Something had moved against Tim in the dream-lands, a wilful malign interference that cast Asklepios far from home for a second time. He knew one thing fir certain – if he encountered that entity again he would recognise it.

The hidden blessing was that each time he travelled he learned more about his craft and its arts. He tried to explain some of this to Banipal. In the end he simply did not have the words and the conversation collapsed into shaking heads, laughter and gestures.

What he had meant to say was this:

‘I am starting to realise that much of what I did was nonsense and wasted effort. I did not know which parts of a ritual were essential and which were not. Now I see the danger, for over time rituals grow more elaborate and those complications make them prone to error. My quest is not for simplicity for its own sake, but to identify the essentials.’

One thing Asklepios was absolutely certain on was that geometry and accurate measurement were critical. The stolen instruments had clarified his thoughts, especially the half circle so neatly divided. Now, sitting here, he had another idea: why was it necessary to mark out the circle anew every time when a skilled craftsman with good tools could carve a design into wood?

Excited by the thought Asklepios interrupted Banipal’s conversation with Ishkun. ‘Excuse me. Excuse me kind friends.’

‘Yes, Asklepios, what is it? Are you unwell?’

‘No, I am very well. Please, may I ask for making something.’

Banipal listened attentively. ‘What is it?’

‘A bench. No, it is this,’ Asklepios cursed his limited vocabulary and banged his hand on the table.

‘A table?’

‘Yes, a table. A fat one.’

From Ishkun and Banipal’s puzzled expressions Asklepios knew he had used the wrong words. He tried again. ‘Not long like this, a fat one.’ Asklepios circled his finger in the air. ‘Fat, big.’

‘He means round,’ Ishkun said. Dipping his finger in his beaker of water he drew a circle. ‘Like this?’

‘Yes,’ Asklepios said. ‘Like that.’

To be continued…

Making a Difference With MicroFinance

I’ve been lending money through KIva, a non-profit microFinance organisation, since 2012. Every month I’d lend money in $25 chunks to people around the world with limited or no access to other ways of borrowing. This month my total loans passed 1,200 and on average each $ I have put in has been lent to five borrowers.

I’m really pleased that I have been able to help so many people around the world.

Obviously this way of helping is not a panacea, but neither are the big, top-down, international projects. Both have their place, and with microFinance I not only like the idea that I can make what I give work harder and be more effective (because loans are repaid and I can re-lend), but also that these individuals and groups decide what it is that they need to improve their own lives, be it farming aid, sanitation, material and supplies, education, health, and so on. Nobody is deciding what is important for them.

I’ve learned a few things on the way. In particular how improving things in one place helps elsewhere, and how having enough cash to not have to live hand-to-mouth helps lift people out of an economic trap.

One group I always like to lend to is the Babban Gona farmers organisation in Nigeria. Babban Gona lends money to smallholders and provides advice and resources,  These three extracts from a recent report:from a Kiva field volunteer shows exactly how everything joins up:

Farmers that I spoke to – with the help of a Hausa translator – spoke glowingly about Babban Gona’s agronomy training. Farmers has switched from broadcasting fertilizer on their field to micro-dosing at the plant’s root system, consistently spacing plants and thinning corn seedlings… One farmer, Sale, told me about his 0.5-hectare (1 football field) farm: “I was a bit worried about paying back the loan. Babban Gona officers mapped my field and told me that I would have to produce 10 bags of corn, but usually I only produce 7. I got 26 bags [of corn] that year

I was surprised to see how manual agriculture is in northern Nigeria – it’s standard to pluck corn kernels by hand from the cobs. Manual corn processing can take 30 hours of labour per 100 kg bag, compared to one hour for machine threshing. Babban Gona farmers use machine threshers, and since manual threshing is usually done by the farmer’s family, saving a week of work per bag of corn means freeing up time for women and children.

… farmers without access to credit in rural Kaduna and Kano urgently need money by the time harvest season arrives in December. During harvest, corn prices drop with the market glut. In contrast, the Harvest Advance loan that Babban Gona provides to their farmers at harvest allows them to stockpile the grain, watching the market and selling the grain at a premium.

It’s easy to get involved and if you don’t want to use Kiva there are several other organisations that do similar things. However, if you do want to, drop me a line and I’ll send you an invitation, or you can just follow this link.

~

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 57 – Cheap Tricks

If you were wondering about the artwork it is by David Bezzina. David was really easy to work with, you can get in touch with him and see more of his work here.

Meanwhile down at the dock…

Chapter 57 – Cheap Tricks

Troy was right, the Imperial arrived at the docks without incident. He walked around the car and peremptorily kicked each tyre. ‘They’re fine.’

‘Check the spare, please, and bring the sack from the boot,’ Koponen said.

Tim stepped out onto the Southampton docks. The evening air felt warm compared to the chill of the Chrysler’s interior. Twenty yards away Foxy stood beside the Mercedes with Imelda Marchpane close beside her.

Who knew how those devious and aggressive women had been treating Foxy? He had to help her and to do that he needed to get away. This might be his last chance before embarkation.

He looked around for a customs officer or security guard – anyone. The docks were deserted. Grey and yellow painted gantries and cranes loomed silently against the evening sky in the empty spaces between high stacks of shipping containers. Cargo ships lay tied up at berth all along the quay. Most were in darkness but the one nearest to them, a medium-sized vessel with a rust-stained white superstructure, showed a few lights.

Troy Jarglebaum swung up the lid of the Imperial’s boot.

‘Boo!’ Persistent Smith shouted up at him.

‘Jesus!’ Jarglebaum jumped back, actually stepping out of one of his shoes. ‘My God, it’s you.’

Jarglebaum’s shout brought Markus Koponen and Tim hurrying round.

Smith waved his empty bottle. ‘Can I use your toilet?’

Markus Koponen paled under his white hat. ‘Who the devil are you?’

Jarglebaum danced on one foot as he pulled on his shoe. ‘I don’t bloody believe it. This is Derek Smith, missing person. I interviewed his parents yesterday.’

His finger stabbed down at the grinning Smith. ‘Stay right where you are, pal.’ Jarglebaum reached into the boot and hauled out the sack.

Koponen slammed the boot lid shut and turned on Jarglebaum. ‘What the hell is he doing in my trunk?’

Jarglebaum bridled right back. ‘I haven’t a bloody clue. I don’t go around locking people in car boots.’

‘Then let me make it very clear to you, Mr Jarglebaum, neither do I.’

Jarglebaum pointed at the boot. ‘You just did.’

‘That’s different.’

‘So what’s he doing in there?’

Nice technique Troy, Tim thought, as astonished by Smith’s presence as anyone. Jarglebaum had neatly turned the conversation round. Now it was him who was questioning Koponen.

Koponen grew exasperated. ‘I told you. I don’t know!’

‘It’s your car. You keep it locked in your car park.’

‘Yes, but who is he?’ Koponen said.

‘He works for me,’ Tim said.

‘What?’ Koponen exclaimed.

Jarglebaum simply laughed.

‘He works for me. When Dolores hired me to look for the car I hired him to help.’

Koponen exhaled in relief. ‘I take my hat off to you, Mr Wassiter. I really do. What resource, what enterprise.’

‘That guy in the boot is a fruitcake.’ Jarglebaum tapped the side of his head. ‘You know, firing on three cylinders. Or five.’

‘And yet he not only found my car, he ended up inside it without our knowledge.’

‘Yeah, right. So what are we going to do with him?’

Koponen came to a decision. ‘I’m not going to take him with us, and we can’t let him go. He’ll have to stay where he is.’

‘Jesus, aren’t you even going to let the poor guy take a leak?’ Jarglebaum said.

Koponen waved away the question. ‘There’s no time. I notice he has a bottle, he can use that. I’ve arranged for the cars to be collected tomorrow morning. Leave the keys in the tailpipe. I’ll tell the drivers what to expect. They can drive Mr Smith back to Brighton and buy him breakfast.’

Cold and beautiful, Electra Vaughan made her way from the Mercedes towards Markus Koponen. The uneven surface of concrete-patched old stone and new tarmac was no obstacle to her high, elegant heels. Both Koponen and Jarglebaum assessed her languorous walk.

It’s now, or never, Tim decided. He hesitated, torn between making a dash for it, taking his chances against Koponen and his gun, or staying with Foxy. He was confident of being able to outrun the men, but the muscular and athletic Imelda was another matter. An encounter with her alone in the empty docklands was not a pleasant prospect. Tim steeled himself, he had to try. All he could hope for was enough of a head start to evade her.

Heavy hands gripped his shoulders. ‘Hold on, son,’ Troy Jarglebaum said. ‘Where do you think you’re going?’

‘Get your hands off me.’ Tim ducked out from under Jarglebaum’s grip.

Jarglebaum took a step back and tugged down his jacket. ‘Mr Koponen would be disappointed if I let you go now.’

Tim knew he was outclassed. Troy Jarglebaum was a bruiser, an old-style cop, perfectly happy to use his fists and his physical bulk if the situation required. Right now Tim wanted nothing more than to bury his fist deep in his old partner’s smug, jowly, middle-aged face.

Troy dropped into a half-crouch, balanced on the balls of his feet, arms splayed. ‘Cool it, chum,’ he laughed. ‘This is Troy Jarglebaum remember? Your old pal.’

‘What are you doing with these people, Troy? You’re an intelligent man, despite everything I do believe that. Koponen’s turned you into hired muscle.’

Jarglebaum beckoned Tim closer. ‘It’s not that easy, mate,’ he whispered. ‘The police service has been good to me but I’m not getting any younger. It’s time to move on.’

‘To this?’

Somehow Jarglebaum looked bashful. ‘Look, there’s this girl. I met her on a case, she’s younger than me but we get along. I admit it, I’m sweet on her. Me, can you imagine it? Well, it’s true. Koponen’s all right, he’s very concerned with the environment. An employer like that can impress the younger generation and he pays well.’

‘I’m happy for you, Troy, really I am,’ Tim said bitterly. ‘But right over there is my friend and she’s being held against her will by that same OK guy who, I might also point out, also kidnapped me at gunpoint and locked another of my friends in the boot of his car.’

‘Excuse me.’ Markus Koponen turned away from Electra. ‘I do apologise for that deception, Mr Wassiter. As I’m sure Mr Jarglebaum will confirm, I do not even own a gun.’ Koponen stuck his finger into his pocket and aimed it at Tim. ‘Nothing but a cheap trick copied from the cinema. I simply wanted to speed things up and acted on impulse. I really was quite surprised when it worked. Guns and people form a deadly kind of synergy and I will have nothing to do with it.’

‘What about Foxy?’

‘My girls talked to Ms Bolivia and she has agreed to come along. Dolores and Imelda are helping her aboard as we speak. I hope you will allow Electra to do the same for you.’

‘Foxy, you don’t have to do this,’ Tim called out.

Preceded by Dolores and with Imelda behind her, Foxy was already halfway up the gangplank and gave no reply.

Electra’s arm slipped through Tim’s, her other hand gripped his elbow like a vice. ‘Shall we, Mr Wassiter?’

‘For God’s sake, Troy, help me. You’re a cop!’ Tim cried.

Jarglebaum couldn’t meet his eye. ‘Part-time, semi-retired. It’s more of a consultancy these days.’

‘I’ll see you in my cabin in a few minutes,’ Koponen called out as Electra led Tim away. ‘Welcome aboard the Sea Cucumber.’

With Foxy aboard Tim had no option and allowed Electra to steer him towards the gangplank.

One hundred and eighty metres long, Sea Cucumber had a three-storey superstructure at the rear and cargo cranes fore and aft of the main hold. As Tim stepped aboard the ship shuddered as the engine rumbled into life. A steady stream of rust-orange bilge water slopped from the stern into the harbour. Four crew members, swarthy, muscular men in dark trousers and jackets, unhitched the heavy hawsers from the dockside bollards at the bows and stern.

Down on the dock Troy Jarglebaum slung the sack over his shoulder and faced Markus Koponen. ’This is my advice – Imelda should not be left alone with Foxy Bolivia.’

‘We agreed that subject was closed. Ms Bolivia will be fine. Now, get on board and do your job.’

To be continued…

Three Short Reviews

A few of us were talking about books we had enjoyed this year as recommendation for Christmas. Here are a few of mine.

Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence, Michael Marshall Smith

I loved MMS’s early work and his ‘Straw Dogs’ series, then lost contact with his work. This turned out to be a great place to resume.

Hannah Green is a clever, funny, supernatural adventure about time, the Devil, and bad people doing bad things. Laugh out loud moments, an easy style, and strange and dangerous encounters. A perfect winter night read.

Nine Lives, William Dalrymple

Dalrymple is my favourite travel writer/historian at the moment, and this is one of his best books. Subtitled ‘In Search of the Sacred in Modern India’, WD helps us understand what it is to be a Jain nun, a Buddhist monk, a story-teller, A Sufi, and more.

Some of these ways of life endure, some, like the 20+ generation statue-maker and last in his family line, he catches at the very end of their times. Dalrymple writes with a transparent style, filled with warmth and compassion. Not many travel writers can make me cry.

 

Kingdoms of Elfin, Sylvia Townsend Warner

Back in print after forty years, this fine collection of stories from the courts of Elfindom are lyrical, witty, cruel, and charming.

As anyone who truly understand the fey knows, they might not be nice, but they can be funny. Essential and pleasurable reading for anyone who enjoys gently grotesque stories.

~

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 56 – Only Chocolate

Chapter 56 – Only ChocolateThe Girl from a Thousand Fathoms. Cover art by David Bezzina (c) 2017

Heidi had been working hard all day, she had even skipped lunch, though in truth she felt too excited to eat. Now her long day was over and she sat at her workstation and ran a final check on the last non-correcting audit she had run. It was really just something to do while she waited for Derek Smith.

Apart from her the office was empty. Even the light in Mr Abercrombie’s office was off.

She smiled to herself as she remembered all the funny things Derek did and said, and how he argued with his talking hand. It was going to be fun to spend time with him. She could do with some fun.

She also needed to thank him and tell him about all the intriguing events that had happened as a result of his help. When she’d shown Abercrombie it had taken him a while to see it. When he did, he went very quiet and very pale. Paler than normal even for him, a man who seemed to have lived his entire life under office lighting.

Abercrombie cleared his throat. ‘Have you mentioned this to anyone?’

‘No.’ Heidi decided there was no need to mention Derek.

Abercrombie picked up her phone and dialled a number. ‘Mr Palmer, this is Abercrombie. I’m sorry to disturb you, sir. I’m with Ms Tollund. She’s discovered something I think you should see for yourself.’

Heidi had never met the Chief Financial Officer before. She’d only ever seen Palmer’s name on the organisation chart. Right at the top beside Markus Koponen.

Now she was really worried. Two weeks into a new job and her boss and her boss’s boss were coming to see her. This was not good at all.[1]

Palmer and Abercrombie dressed like chalk and cheese. The younger Abercrombie kept his hair cropped short and wore narrow, black suits. He thought this gave him a sober, dynamic air, but actually made him look generic.

Palmer’s bold liquorice pinstripe contrasted with his lemon-yellow shirt and pink tie. His jet-black hair was collar length and his fringe tended to flop over his eyes.

In his youth Palmer played the same game as Abercrombie and discovered it got you nowhere. You had to learn to be yourself, a rule just as true for accountants as for anyone. One day Abercrombie would work it out and Palmer would promote him.

‘What seems to be the problem?’ Palmer said affably. To Heidi’s mind a slight overbite made his smile disconcertingly toothy.

Abercrombie leaned in close, whispering. His long, raw fingers stabbed at Heidi’s screen, sketching out columns and totals.

Palmer rested his chin on his thumb. ‘That’s really rather clever. Tell me, Ms Tollund, did you elucidate this yourself?’

‘Er, yes. Am I in trouble, Mr Palmer?’

‘Quite the opposite, I salute you. However, I will now formally ask you as Chief Financial Officer not to talk about this to anyone except me.’ Palmer beamed genially at Heidi, who found herself smiling back.

‘Yes, of course,’ Heidi said. ‘Can I ask who Vogler, Marchpane, and–’

‘You don’t need to know that,’ Abercrombie broke in.

‘It’s all right, Robert. I’m sure someone as bright as Ms Tollund could find out if she wanted. Vogler Marchpane and Vaughan are non-executive directors. You could think of them rather like Ministers Without Portfolio appointed by Mr Koponen himself. I’m sure he’d be interested in these, ah – inconsistencies.’ Palmer beamed at Heidi again. ‘But don’t forget – not a word. And jolly well done.’

#

Now it was dark outside and Heidi was wondered where Derek had got to. She also wondered which floor he worked on. He’d never said and she had just assumed he was new like her and in need of a friend. Maybe it would turn out that’s all they would be, just friends, someone to chat with and share a joke. That would be all right, though she thought this time, maybe…

She waited a while longer.

And a while more.

She felt a little sad and told herself it was just the emotional intensity of the day.

Heidi shut down her workstation, picked up her handbag, turned off the remaining lights and walked through to the lifts. As she passed the vending machines she half expected to see Smith there, on his knees and looking for change. She stood there, not really thinking about anything. Then she summoned the lift and went home, a journey brightened only by the chocolate counter at the late-night store.

To be continued…

[1] You can tell how badly things are going by the number of managers standing behind you at your desk. One is bad. Two is twice as bad as one, three are twice as bad as two, etc.

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 55 – Relax

Authors Note: Well, that thing I hoped might work out, didn’t. That’s OK, it was a long shot and out of the blue. I have returned to Plan A, which is to keep posting here, and work towards a fully edited and proofed print and e-book version. Meanwhile – enjoy!

Chapter 55 – Relax

Copyright David Bezzina, 2017‘We’re just about on time.’ Koponen fretfully checked his watch. The journey had taken far longer than he had hoped. Although they could still leave on a falling tide he had wanted to leave on the rise, it somehow felt right. Now the sun was setting, and thankfully the dense evening urban traffic of Southampton flowed smoothly.

They were nearly there. Koponen settled back, letting himself relax for the first time that day.

A muffled bang came from the rear of the car.

‘What was that?’ Koponen exclaimed. ‘We hit something.’

‘Relax,’ Jarglebaum said. ‘There was nothing, I’d have seen it. It’s probably your stuff settling in the boot.’

‘I felt it. There was a bump. Keep your eyes on the road.’ Koponen slumped back, then started forward in alarm. ‘Now I can hear hissing. I was right, you hit something. We have a puncture.’

‘I can hear it too,’ Tim said.

Jarglebaum swung the wheel back and forth. ‘The car’s handling fine. This babe is a dream to drive.’ He caught Koponen’s glare and turned forward to hide his smirk. ‘Look, if it is a puncture it’s a slow one. There’s just a couple of miles to go and we’ve got a spare. Even if we need to change the wheel we’ll only lose a few minutes. I’m sure Tim will be happy to help, won’t you buddy?’

‘Not with my back.’

‘What’s wrong with your back?’ Koponen was suddenly sympathetic. ‘I’ve had problems, I know how it feels. No-one believes you.’

‘There’s nothing wrong with his back,’ Jarglebaum called out. ‘He’s lying.’

‘There should have been plenty of time,’ Koponen muttered. ‘Those road works–’

‘Nothing to do with me, I’m just the driver,’ Jarglebaum said. ‘Relax. I’ll get you there.’

To be continued…

The Traps of World-Building

It occurred to me that the one great challenge of world-building is that you are, in fact, building a world. What to put in? What to leave out?

I’ve recently been reading The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to becoming a Master Storyteller, by John Truby. In it he writes:

“Good storytelling doesn’t just tell audience what happened in a life. It gives them the experience of that life. It is the essential life, just the crucial thoughts and events, but it is conveyed with such freshness and newness that it feels part of the audience’s essential life too.”

That extrapolates well to world building. World-building is not a thing in itself, it is there to support your storytelling. You are creating the semblance of a world not the actuality. All that is required are the specifics that will support the story you are telling in all its aspects. Not so detailed that the narrative and characters disappear, not so flimsy you feel you could walk up to the scenery and bang your hand on the canvas backdrop.

One way to think about your world building is to treat it like the photographs, souvenirs, and memories of a trip to a place only you have visited – the striking moments, places, items, inhabitants, ways of life, creatures and landscapes, and sensations that stay with you when you have left. The things you absolutely have to tell everyone about when you return home. The things that will fire their imaginations and make them want to go there too.

I recently stalled myself writing a connecting scene between two places – Knights Hall, where my alien city guardians live, and High House, the home of the ruling elite deep in my underground city. How was I going to get my characters from the first place to the second? Which route would they take? What would they see, do, say, and feel?

With this particular story I have needed to imagine an entire world: a planet and ecology, cities and technology, a cultural history and a way of life that has stretched unbroken for thousands of years. With this scene it all welled up in my mind and became too much. There was so much to think about I didn’t know where to begin.  And for a while I actually couldn’t.

Which was no good at all.

I’ve learned to trust my subconscious when it stalls me. I take it as a message that I am heading in the wrong direction. Invariably it (or rather that other and in some ways smarter part of me) is right. So I did what I usually do and thought about whether or not I needed this scene at all and, if so, how big it needed to be.

In the end this is what I wrote:

“Vioneth led the way to High House along a secret way behind the upper warren. Lumens blinked into life as they went. The footing was level and paved, the curved walls whitewashed, yet everywhere there were signs of disuse and neglect. Paint peeled, water pooled in shallows and corners.”

I used just what I thought where the essential details. And I have now hopefully co-opted the imaginations of the reader to build on that description in their own minds. Readers have excellent imaginations.

With world building, as with so many things, less is usually more.

~

This blog was originally published on the Milford SF web site in June, 2018

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 54 – Responsibility

Chapter 54 – ResponsibilityThe Girl from a Thousand Fathoms. Cover art by David Bezzina (c) 2017

Time passed. Persistent Smith lay in the dark of the capacious and surprisingly comfortable boot and listened to the muffled male voices coming from the passenger compartment. He didn’t hear it all but some of what he heard fit in with what he already knew and the rest he simply accepted as true.

Then the voices fell silent. Into that space an awful thought intruded: Heidi. Smith’s mouth hung open in an agony of silent dismay. Heidi. They were supposed to meet, he’d let her down, abandoned her. She’d– What would she think of him? Smith had a very good idea. This was Bad, very bad. Bad Thinking, Bad Dating. Bad Lifestyle Choices.

The Hand came out, he couldn’t help it. Frantically Smith silently pinched his lips together. The Hand studied him with an expression of profound disappointment and Smith knew he had let everyone down badly.

This level of worry and guilt was exhausting. Smith groped for his drink bottle then stayed his hand. He knew he drank when he was nervous, drinking too much here would be worse than a poor choice, it could be disastrous.

He listened to the sounds of the vehicle. The steady powerful beat of the engine, the thrum of exhaust and rush of tyres on the road formed a soothing harmony. Every now and then the car swung gently to one side and back again as it overtook slower traffic or negotiated a bend. Smith closed his eyes. What was done was done, there was nothing he could do to change it and it was his responsibility to put it right. All he could do was hope it was possible, and try.

Changes in the motion of the car woke him. They had slowed, the vehicle moved more actively now, turning, braking, and accelerating. The passengers were talking again, but their voices were indistinct. Outside there were sounds of other vehicles: cars, motorcycles and buses. Once the car was stopped for several seconds and Smith heard the beep-beep-beep of a pedestrian crossing. They were in another town. Wherever they were going it felt like they were getting close.

Very thirsty now, Smith opened his bottle of orangeade. Guilt-ridden thoughts of Heidi returned, orangeade sprayed into his face. He jerked back and knocked his head on the boot lid.

The car lurched from side to side, then steadied. Smith loosened the cap more slowly. The gas hissed out steadily. He lay back and sipped his drink.

To be continued…

The Girl from a Thousand Fathoms, Chapter 53 – The Good Guys

Authors Note: A chapter a week and here we are at chapter 53. Have I really been doing this for a year? Not quite, but nearly. I posted the first chapter late November last year and I doubled up on some of the shorter chapters. Enjoy!

Chapter 53 – The Good GuysThe Girl from a Thousand Fathoms. Cover art by David Bezzina (c) 2017

The interior of the Chrysler Imperial was spacious and silent, the high-backed seats upholstered in oxblood leather, the air faintly scented with hide wax. Polished walnut panels trimmed the doors, side pillars and arm rests, the bright work was silver rather than chrome. The steady murmur of the powerful engine came from the front of the car, a faint whisper of rushing air from the windows.

‘I come from Finland, Mr Wassiter,’ Koponen said. ‘I enjoy summers but the world is warming too much and too fast. I have reengineered this car to run on Canola oil, my fuel supply is carbon-neutral and allows me to run a big-engined car with a clear conscience.’

‘Oil-seed rape,’ Tim said as he remembered the brochure from the boot of this very car. ‘You’ve developed a high-yield variety.’

Koponen placed his Stetson on the seat between them. ‘You’ve made a connection but that’s not the full story. The high yield is the carrot to attract the farmers, and believe me they are being attracted in high numbers. My first commercial scale seed crop has been harvested and is ready to ship to the U.S.A. It will be sold to thousands of farms and planted across hundreds of thousands of hectares.’

‘Is that where we’re going?’

‘To the United States? Only part of the way. As Mr Jarglebaum said, we have a ship to catch. That ship is the Sea Cucumber. She is waiting for us at Southampton water. From there we’ll rendezvous with my research vessel in the mid-Atlantic.’ Koponen looked out the window at the scenery speeding past. ‘I plan to save the world, Mr Wassiter. Plans of that scale cost a huge amount of money. I’ve an immense fortune but I’m spending it fast. I don’t begrudge a single penny but I’m going to need a lot more.’

Koponen’s eyes glittered with excitement. ‘I call my white-flowered variety of Brassica napus var. doloresvogler. Not only will it slow global warming, it will make me a lot of money too.’

They reached the roundabout underneath the coast road flyover. Jarglebaum followed the Mercedes as it powered around the curve and up the west-bound ramp.

A few miles later brake lights began to flare. Jarglebaum slowed the Imperial. ‘Road works ahead, Mr Koponen.’

‘Ah, this country. It’s wonderful, but sometimes it is frustrating.’ Koponen impatiently tapped his fingers on the armrest, picked his hat up by the brim and turned it in his hands like a wheel. ‘Climate change, Mr Wassiter. Wave height in the North Atlantic is increasing as winds strengthen, the tropics have more frequent and more powerful hurricanes. Ice caps and glaciers are melting, sea level will rise ten, maybe twenty metres. A slow disaster of our own making. Governments are not doing enough, I decided to step in.’

He’s mad, Tim though. A self-deluded megalomaniac justifying any means to an admittedly worthy end.

Koponen watched him with wry amusement. ‘Whatever you may think of me I am one of the good guys. We’ve designed air conditioning that uses passive heat exchangers and solar fans that generate all of their own electrical power. Use them and we could shut down entire power stations.’

Tim sat uncomfortably in the corner. ‘This isn’t about air conditioning.’

Koponen flourished his Stetson. ‘And this hat isn’t just vanity. It’s a symbol, a constant reminder of what my priorities need to be. Wherever I go I’m reflecting a little bit of the sun’s heat away from the earth back into space.’

‘What about the roof of the car?’

Koponen laughed. ‘A fair point. There is also something called style, Mr Wassiter. Unfortunately high albedo black paint appears to be an impossible contradiction, don’t think I haven’t tried. Just imagine if one tenth of the world’s population wore white hats outdoors. That’s over 750 million people. With a conservative estimate of 9 hats to the square metre, that’s almost 8,500 hectares of reflective surface, an area greater than Bermuda.’

‘That doesn’t sound like much,’ Tim said.

‘No, it isn’t.’ Koponen slapped his hat down on his knee and scowled. ‘No, it isn’t at all.’

They were through the road works. Jarglebaum sent the car surging through the traffic.

A surreal calm came over Tim. In his mind he compiled a list of items that defined his own life:

He had been kidnapped at gunpoint by an insane foreign businessman.

His neighbour was a witch who hypnotised cats and thought his friend was a mermaid.

Almost everyone he knew, including his former police partner, worked for the crazy billionaire.

He himself apparently had the ability to travel through time and space in his dreams.

‘Are you all right, Mr Wassiter?’ Koponen said. ‘You were talking to yourself.’

‘I was wondering if I was mad and the last few days had been a psychotic delusion.’

‘As far as I am concerned this is all very real. This is my life.’

The interior of the Imperial was cool to the point of chilly, Tim turned up his collar. Koponen had spoken freely but he hadn’t explained why Foxy was with him. Tim knew there was little he could do unless he could get the gun away from Koponen. He had to keep Koponen talking. With the Finn in a verbose mood it was a good opportunity to get some more answers.

‘This is all to do with the flowers, isn’t it?’ Tim hazarded.

‘Well done. Farmers will plant my crop because the plants are engineered to be nitrogen fixing, give higher yields and a better oil/protein balance. More profit, less cost, less fertiliser and less nitrate pollution. There is every reason to grow my Canola and none not to. Cost and yield is why farmers will buy my seeds, the environmental benefits will cut the ground out from under the feet of the GM protestors.’

Tim was grudgingly impressed. It all made good sense. He said so.

‘A means to an end, Mr Wassiter. The real reason I want my new crop planted is because the flowers are white and they bloom for an additional three weeks. White flowers, Mr Wassiter, my plants have white flowers. This is the first crop designed for a high albedo. Three years from now it will be growing in vast acreages, half a million hectares in Great Britain alone. Farmers grow wealthy, higher yield means less deforestation, I earn enough money to finance the next phase of my project. Most importantly, the white flowers will reflect sunlight and cool the world.’

Flecks of spittle grew in the corners of Koponen’s mouth. He wiped them away. ‘Change through positive incentive. Forcing change by punishing people with taxation is self-defeating. Governments don’t understand, they want to control people. I want to set them free!

Tim had limited experience with ranting megalomania. He tried flattery. ‘That’s brilliant. I’m convinced. Mr Koponen, you’re a genius.’ It actually was very clever.

Koponen basked in Tim’s praise. ‘Enlightened self-interest – the new model for the free market.’

‘So what has Foxy to do with this?’

Koponen blinked. ‘Nothing at all. She’s part of my Atlantic scheme, another thing entirely.’

Tim thought about her alone in the Mercedes with Dolores, Electra and Imelda. ‘She’d better be all right at the end of the journey.’

Koponen stiffened. ‘She will be absolutely fine.’

This is why Jarglebaum wanted to drive the Mercedes, Tim realised. He’s as worried as me, he actually tried to warn me earlier. He saw Jarglebaum watching from the corner of his eye in the rear-view mirror and felt reassured. At least in this they were on the same side.

‘What I don’t understand is why you hired me to find your car. You already knew where it was.’

‘An excuse to keep an eye on you. Mrs Woosencraft worked for me but she was having problems and I was becoming concerned about her personal agenda. When I discovered she had hired you to find her cat, doing exactly what I needed someone to do, I decided to keep tabs on you.’

‘The desk bug and the embroidered handkerchief,’ Tim said.

‘Exactly. Ms Bolivia’s jacket was a helpful bonus.’

Of course. Tim could have kicked himself, they had bugged that too.

And to get all this done Koponen had used the oldest trick in the book – exotic women tantalising his baser male instincts, keeping him further off-balance with touches of violence. It was galling to realise how easily he had fallen for it.

‘My initial assessment of you has been vindicated – you’re a focus. No great talent yourself but things happen around you. If not, how else would you have become involved at all?’

Now was not the time to mention Asklepios and his dreams, Tim decided. He would let Koponen underestimate him for as long as possible.

‘It is the strength of your desires,’ Koponen continued. ‘Your dreams for how the world should be as opposed to what you fear it actually is, something the two of us share.’ Koponen pressed his palms together as if in prayer. ‘In that we are not really so different.’

A muffled snort came from the front of the car. Troy Jarglebaum’s shoulders shook as he tried to suppress his laughter.

‘Ignore him, he doesn’t see the world like us,’ Koponen said. ‘You managed to find something without even looking for it. That in itself is a rare gift and one I would like to use again. The car was simply an excuse to introduce some surveillance. You weren’t supposed to find the car, you were meant to find the cat.’

To be continued…