Saturday, 20 April 2019

Post-celebrations


Fourteen days since the public declaration of our diamond wedding. We’ve become hermits, anchorites, even. Well, anti-social plague bearers. Joyce arrived home after our celebrations and declared a state of cold. Coughs, splutters, and sneezes. Oddly, Val was also afflicted. Me? I don’t get colds, I just minister, saint-like, to the sufferers. Val went home. Women. Men don’t get colds; a belief I fostered for another week.
J seemed a little recovered by the following Sunday so we went for a drive and a coffee. By the time we were home I had a slight scratchy feeling at the back of my throat. By next morning I had a streaming, steaming, cold. We boarded up the doors and windows, took to our bed, ordered groceries and medication – well done Ocado and Brown’s Chemist. We lived on just coconuts and fish from the sea (via the freezer), and paracetamols. We planned adventures in weak, rattling voices. We escaped once to post a letter, then stumbled back to bed.
A good neighbour, believing we had gone abroad, cut the grass and put the bins out. The boy delivered the papers and the milk and orange juice. We sneezed on one another but never, not even once, did we sneeze on another human being.
We hope to venture out next week into a better, cleaner, germ and Brexit free world.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

I believe ...

I originally posted this about four years ago. It still represents my beliefs.

 All religions/faiths/beliefs have their share of extremists/fanatics/thugs looking for an excuse to behave violently.
All religions/faiths/beliefs have their share of wonderful, loving, caring people who seek only to help their fellow human beings in any way they can.
Fortunately, the good people outnumber the evil ones ten million to one, or more.
Sadly, the good people rarely appear in the headlines.
I was born into a Christian family and attended a Christian school and college. I was amazed and dismayed when I encountered people who called themselves Christians but were intolerant of people who did not share their extremist views.
Rarely, if ever, is violence prescribed in Sacred Writings. Feed the poor, care for the sick and elderly, help the stranger - respect one another. We can only continue to set an example in our own lives: it can be very difficult. Sadly, it seems impossible to reason with the blinkered folk who believe that they are right, and are willing to murder men, women and children who disagree with them.
Our gentle friends in West Africa have fed us, shared their last cup of rice with us, trusted us with their children, cared for us when we have been sick, chatted to us about their beliefs and questioned us about ours. Never once have we felt threatened. They have earned our love and respect: I hope we have earned theirs.
Je suis Charlie?

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Gladstone's Library, Hawarden, North Wales.

Gladstone's is the finest library in the world. Founded by a British Prime Minister, Mr W.E.Gladstone as a home for his collection of books. It has become a wonderful refuge for writers and readers from all over the World. Imagine a silent reading room, a lively dining room providing three good meals a day, constant coffee and cakes, a sitting room with a log fire and an honesty bar, peaceful gardens and thirty comfortable bedrooms - that's Gladstone's Library.
It's fact, but it features in several works of fiction; I'll confess now, I considered burning it down in 'Chasing Freedom Home'. Not me, of course; Ed-Lamin who was imprisoned in the dungeon there after his capture by the PPP (People's Purity Party - the worst ever government ever to have gained power in the UK). Young Ed's mum and dad had spent part of their honeymoon staying in room 9, delighting in the atmosphere and eating cake. Twenty five years later their first son, Ed-Lamin, was a prisoner there.
I'm delighted that common sense returned to the fictional electorate and the library remains to this day, a haven of peace in a peaceful world. I know this to be true - I'm working in the silent room, the sun is shining outside, I've had a walk round the garden and all's well with the world ... apart from Brexit.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Extract from 'Chasing Freedom Home '


' I need this cup of tea, I’m exhausted, and a mince pie. Woman! You’ve eaten the last one. I didn’t even see it go, I didn’t have time to wave it fare-well.’
 ‘Wasn’t me. A centipedy hand reached out and grabbed it. Just put your hand on my belly, just here – you can feel it munching away.’
 ‘Yep; munch munch munch. If it’s a girl centipede will she want high heels? High heels and designer jeans? Hundreds of them? Or will she be content just to have fifty different pairs and wear them on different legs every day? Or will just the back legs need jeans and the rest can manage with leggings? How many legs will be arms?’
‘No. Stop it, Ed, please. Suddenly it’s not funny. I want just one beautiful, normal baby. I lie awake at night, listening to my tummy rumbling, and wondering who’s in there. I want one ordinary, wonderful, lovely baby boy or baby girl. I want her or him to have a normal happy life and fall in love like we did and live a long, useful and contented life and, oh shit! I’m so scared. Hold me. Hold me. Tell me it’s going to be all right.’ She closed her eyes to shut out the darkness. He pulled her to her feet and embraced her, whispering, stroking her back, assuring and reassuring her as best he could.
 ‘Our baby will be fine. We’re young and healthy and we get good care. It’s normal to worry, I expect, and to be concerned. You’re a fit English thoroughbred and I’m a, well, I don’t know what I am; I’m a mixture of excellencies; our baby will be as beautiful and intelligent and fit as both of us put together. If anything had been wrong it would have been detected long ago. Both your parents are in bustling good health and humour – well, until they see me. My dad lived to a ripe old age and my mum’s indestructible. Her granddad lived to be a hundred, and that’s in a country with limited resources. Come on, let’s go for a drive round the lanes, then you can put your feet up and I’ll sing you to sleep. How’s that for an idea?’
 ‘Promise no singing?’
 ‘OK. No singing. Promise.’ He hovered anxiously as she put her coat on and lumbered to the door. The day was warm, gently mild; the kind of day when romantic poets wooed their disenchanted lovers. He had already rolled the fabric roof of the little yellow car back in readiness for the trip. She settled herself in and allowed him to fuss with a rug round her knees, and tolerated him checking that if he closed the door it would not trap any part of her anatomy or clothing. Heavens, she longed for him to accept she was not made of chocolate icing, likely to melt or crumble or shatter if a breeze or a dragonfly or a speck of dust ventured too near. He started the engine, double checked the mirrors, looked over both right and left shoulders and pulled carefully out onto the deserted road. He glanced at her. She was the loveliest, sexiest woman on the planet. She slipped her arm across his shoulders as he drove, stroking the nape of his neck with one finger and smiling to see him smile. He turned back to his chauffeuring with a wide grin on his face. He drove carefully, avoided overtaking anything faster than a bicycle and returned his precious passengers an hour later, refreshed and sleepy, to their front door.
 The crunch of broken glass underfoot alerted them to disaster. The daubed obscenities across the fresh white paintwork disgusted them, and the parcel of excrement that had been flung through the broken window had them staring in frightened horror at one another.
 They stared at the desecration of their lovely home.
 ‘Why? Who could do this? What’s the point? What have we ever done to deserve this?’ They had no answers. Jane reacted first.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Extract from 'Girl on Wheels'


Jodie's Chariot
Hi, it's me, Jodie. Well, that's how I start my tweets (Rachel showed me how) so that's how I'll start the book. Almost thirty words already. Don't get it right, get it written, that's what Karen said and I always do what teacher tells me. Quite often, anyway. See, fifty words now.
 Let's get the jargon out of the way first, shall we? Then you can decide if it's worth your while to read on. OK? Right. I'm 28 years old, IC3, T10-L1, 1.45m tall, 62kg. heavy. M.Sc., demographic class C2, favourite vehicle is my custom built 6kg racing chair, and I play rugby to relax. Let's move on.
 One hundred and nine words, and you already know a fair bit about me. I reckon I can finish this book in under a thousand words. Fifteen hundred tops. That photo of me on the front cover? Yes, a bit out of date. I don't like any that's been taken of me since then. Twenty-one years ago and I loved life.  Didn't  know that, of course, I just got on with it. School was good; I loved hearing stories and poems. I liked games and swimming - we all learned to swim. Then it all went wrong: mum died. She'd been too busy to go to the doctor about the pains in her chest. Then she dropped dead. Just collapsed and died. Gone. I was sitting at the kitchen table and she was fetching my dinner from the microwave. She sort of gasped, looked at me, tried to speak. I sat there, thought it was some kind of joke for a moment. I grabbed the phone and called 999. I tried to turn her over into the recovery position - we'd learned about that in school - tried the kiss of life and the paramedics had to drag me off her. I ran. That was all I could do. Just ran and ran and ran. The police found me - that was where I first heard the IC3 bit.

Fiction and fact?

People who haven't quite got round to reading or buying my Malinding series of books ask 'Well, what exactly are they about?' Good question. I'll attempt an answer. First of all, they are not crime stories, although crime features in some of them. Not crime in the detective novel sense; crime by the State against individuals and minorities. I worry about people who avoid voting in elections; sometimes such apathy leads to the election of governments which do not care for the welfare of the poor, the homeless, the weak or the aged. Such governments tend to support only their own supporters, the wealthy, the influential, the aristocracy. But my books are only political by inference.
'Do your characters make love?' Of course, they're human. And the odd one, thinking here of the Lord Protector, use sex, not love, as a weapon of control. He doesn't prosper.
I try to write about the sort of people I might have as friends and neighbours. They may not be perfect, few of us are, but they are caring, loving, well intentioned people who sometimes get it wrong...
I decided that the easiest way I could show you what I write is to publish here a few extracts from some of the ten books. Tasters, if you like. Hope you enjoy the taste; all income from the sale of the books goes to help people, real people, in real Gambian villages, who need real help with their health care or education. Malinding is not a real village, and for goodness sake don't try to follow the directions I suggest in some of the books; you might at best get very very wet and, at worst, make a crocodile very happy ...
Many of the other places mentioned in the books are real, the wonderful range of food and drink is very real, as is the sunshine (and the rain). Most real of all is the welcome given to visitors; friends of a lifetime.
Religion? None of my business. If you're a good, kind, considerate person that's all I need to know. That's how we try to live, and most of the fictional inhabitants of Malinding seem to manage it too.
Kindness, that's the keyword.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Extract from Jodie Two (pre-publication)

Family meeting

It was late. The biscuits were eaten, the coffee consumed, and the flames from the logs in the firepit were reduced to golden embers. Nobody wanted to break the atmosphere by standing up and declaring bedtime. There was more to be spoken but the words seemed elusive.
Trust Alison.
'How do we know we're not robots?'
Helen struggled to sit up.
'How do we know we're not what?'
'Not robots.'
'Don't be daft. We're human. Blood, bone, muscles, brains. Human stuff. Trust me, I'm a nurse.' She snuggled back into my son's embrace. Alison took the bait.
'Agreed, we're made of components. Like a robot. All the bits and pieces you've mentioned can be made, are being made, in laboratories. Look at Jodie, repaired so she can walk again, look at my hand, perfect working order. Repaired. Like a robot. We could all be high grade semi-autonomous robots. Almost on a level with those computers down in the basement.'
I had to join in.
'We can switch those machines off any time we like. Just unplug them. Cut off their life blood, 240 volts of it, and they are useless. Simple. We're the master race.'
'Mum, we're not. I tried. They aren't actually connected to any thing, any more than we are. I checked. They're not fixed to the desks or walls or cupboards or anything. They are just there, levitating, no wires, no switches, no discernable power supply. They didn't like me checking; they all flashed up warnings; there was no sound but I could hear them, angry, inside my head. They told me to warn all of you not to interfere with them, just go on as we are and there won't be a problem.'
This time there was silence, a frightened, unbelieving silence.
'They can read your thoughts. Our thoughts. Now. There're listening.' I heard myself saying the words. Helen said, slowly,
'Ali, you're one of them, aren't you? Just like Bill and Susan? They couldn't have children so they adopted Jodie. They can re-model people but they can't generate them? You say you've got two children, Ali, but nobody's ever seen them. They don't exist, do they?'
'Helen, you're the one of us most likely to be a robot. You work for Sir John Thingy, the surgeon? Who else is likely to need a team of robots? Who else needs a group of dedicated robots, robotically obeying his every command, ideally placed to form relationships with the children of every human whose had robotic surgery and feed the master robot robotic feed-back? I rest my case.' Ali smiled, poured herself another coffee.
'It's not funny, folk.'
'People used to scare one another with ghost stories.'
'There you are; we're all robots so we tell robot ghost stories.'

Extract from 'Empty Bananas'


Burning Books
It was Saturday. Ed had been working at the school all week, spending some time in Ma’s class telling stories, some time with Tamara inventing games for her reception class children to play and spending rather more time chatting with the head teacher and the caretaker about the ways of the world. The head teacher occupied the library, stocked with hundreds of books donated to the school by well-intentioned visitors. Sadly many of the books were unsuitable for such young children or, in many cases, simply junk thrown out of other schools and hoarded by the previous head. A small collection of German fashion Magazines rubbed shoulders with a dog-eared book of Victorian traveller’s tales. Books missing their covers and spines slumped dejectedly in a heap in one corner of the room, nourishing invading mice. Time and termites had wrought havoc with bindings and pages and many volumes had been reduced to scrap. So here was Ed on the following day planning a sorting and a burning of the books. He made a pit in the sandy soil of the school compound and lit a small fire of leaves and twigs. He carried a heap of the most badly damaged volumes and started to rip out the pages and feed them to the flames. He managed to burn perhaps a dozen when an outraged cry rang in his ears. A group of village youths were running as fast as they could across the compound towards him, shouting
 “Stop, stop, stop!” The largest boy stamped out the fire and Ed was amazed to see tears in the boy’s eyes. “Ed, what do you do?” Ed explained the reason for the fire, not best pleased to have his actions questioned. He showed the damaged pages, explained the unsuitability of the books and pointed out that the village had as yet no refuse collection. Hence the fire and his public spirited behaviour. The boys stared open mouthed at him.
 “Sir,” said their spokesman, “Sir, we have no books to read. Half a page is better than no book. We can observe how the writer makes his sentences, where he places his punctuation, note what adjectives and adverbs he uses and discuss his employment of tenses.” It was Ed’s turn to gape. This eleven year old, the tears still wet on his face, was teaching Ed a lesson he would remember for the rest of his life.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Extract from a story in 'Happy Nest'.


Happy Nest

It was possibly the most stupid thing I had done in my life. My father had shrugged his shoulders and said that Ebou was poor but honest and would look after me. It wasn't Ebou I was worried about. I walked through the warm black dark, guided by a little light from a crescent moon, and found my way to the door of the small house.
No problem; I still had time to turn round and go home. Nothing would be said, there would be no significant glances, I would wake up tomorrow morning and life would be just the same. I didn't want it to be the same: I wanted a chance to change. I knocked in the corrugated iron door and called a greeting. Ebou returned the greeting as he opened the door. The room was dark. Not even the flicker of a candle helped me.
'Fatou, come sit. We are waiting to greet you.' I cursed my stupidity. I could have brought a candle, half a candle even, with me. I was thinking only of my needs, forgetting the Ebou must be the poorest man in the village. The mother of his son had left, returning to her father's compound, because Ebou could not afford to feed them. And I had not thought to bring even a candle.
'Fatou Cham, I am happy to greet you. Come, sit, we will talk.' He spoke English, of course he did, this man I had come to see and could not see. He switched on his phone and the light guided me to a place opposite. I knew the house well: a single small room, a door at either end, two broken plastic chairs to balance on, a box for a table, a hole in the wall for a window. And a hope in my heart for a different future.
Hope is a dangerous thing; it can wreck lives and bring great unhappiness. There was a life waiting for me. I was sixteen years old, I had received some schooling, and I could read and write and figure. My father would soon find me a husband, I was healthy, I could conceive and give life, God willing, to a dozen children. I could already cook and haggle in the market, I could sell, I could clean and I already cared for my mother when she was sick. Life was waiting for me. But. But I was here, in the dark, looking for a different future. 

'Happy Nest' is one of the books in the Malinding Village series, obtainable fro Amazon as an ebook or a paperback. All money from the sale of these books is used by the charity GOES to finance education and health care for real people in real Gambian villages.