Tag Archive | thinking

The suffering of children

Imagine if you will that you are a child living in a beautiful location, rolling hills, lush greenery, ancient trees that have been around for many centuries. The hills and valleys are scattered with all manner of wild flower and animals both wild and farm.

Because your government hasn’t invented welfare and support for young families yet and also hasn’t regulated wages, your parents can’t earn enough to keep you all in food and clothing let alone lodgings. The only answer is for you to work as well.

On a hot summer’s day, the fourth of July, the sun shining across that playground of nature all around you, instead of running out into the fields with your dog, your outdoor toys, your sporting goods, whatever you would prefer to be playing with, you head for the mine down in the valley.

You’re working away, shovelling the coal dug out by the menfolk into trestles hooked to a small, steam-driven transport engine to carry the coal back to the surface. You don’t hear the rumble of thunder above the surface, you’re so far under the ground and the work is noisy.

Around 3pm the alarm is sounded. The engine has ceased to work because water is leaking into it from somewhere above. Everyone is told to head back down to the tunnel away from the shaft. You’re a child. You’ve already worked since sunrise and you’re confused. You know it’s a long way to walk so you decide to wait until the engine is restored.

The engine does not seem to be getting fixed and you know that work has ceased in the mine. There are 40 of you together down there. You look to one another to figure out what to do. There is another way out that doesn’t rely on the engine. It will bring you out in the woods not far from the mine. That seems like the best idea.

Together you make your way along the tunnel towards that exit. You don’t know that the water coming in near the engine is the first hint that the stream flowing through the woods near the exit you’re heading for has burst its banks under the torrential rain that came with the storm clouds.

You’re making your way as quickly and carefully as you can because you know you’ll have to give account for yourself and quickly. You open a trap-door that serves to regulate air flow and go through. You get closer to daylight when the weight of water becomes too much for the structure at the surface to hold. It rushes through in a raging torrent and you’re knocked from your feet by a wall of surging water, washed back all the way to the trap-door where the water just keeps coming and gathering where it can’t get through the door, which opens upwards.

26 of you bear the brunt of it. It takes the breath from your lungs, it’s dark, you can’t see what’s happening but you can feel the force of water crushing the air from you and refusing to let you keep your head above it. Your small form cannot physically fight it. When the water clears and the adults return to the mine, they find the tragic remains of all 26 of you, drowned in darkness when you were so close to regaining the daylight.

The exit never reached by 26 children.

These events occurred at Huskar’s Mine, Silkstone, Barnsley, 4th July 1838.

I learned of this recently thanks to information made available by Daz Beattie on the Durham Mining Museum website.

So moved by the story and the spirit of those 26 children, I was compelled to go to the site of the memorial erected to them in the grounds of the parish church of Silkstone. I wanted to visit the place where there memory is strongest and bring them flowers to let them know I wish them love and brightness now they no longer have to face the darkness of the pit; Red, yellow and bright pink sweetheart roses tied by my own hand into a bouquet.

I would urge you to read the page on the DMM website. View the photographs of the memorial and on-going remembrance of the children who paid the ultimate sacrifice. A sacrifice that moved Queen Victoria herself to become involved in ensuring the welfare of women and children and that they no longer were forced by poverty to work in the mines. A silver lining to the darkest of clouds.

The inquest that followed showed some prejudice, almost placing blame upon the children for what was simply a terrible and utterly tragic natural event. It causes me to question why the mine wasn’t better protected against such an incident when the stream was known to be there.

Survivors told their tale as best they could. James Garnett, father of George aged 9 and Catherine aged 8 returned to the mine once the water had subsided and found his children but could not return them to the surface until all of them could be brought above ground.

Benjamin Mellow, a superintendent of the mine, stated at the inquest that the water could not have been more than six inches deep by the marks left. When I close my eyes and feel for those children, I can see a lot more than six inches of water. I can imagine only part of the terror they must have felt however brief it might have been.

On the monument in the cemetery is the following inscription:

“This monument was erected to perpetuate the remembrance of an awful visitation of the Almighty, which took place in this Parish on the 4th July 1838.

On that eventful day, the Lord sent forth his thunder, lightning, hail and rain, carrying devastation before them, and by a sudden eruption of water into the coal pits of R.C. Clarke Esq., twenty six beings whose names are recorded here were suddenly summoned to appear before their maker.

Reader remember:-

Every neglected call of God will appear against thee at the day of Judgement. Let this solemn warning then sink deep into thy heart and so prepare thee that the Lord when he cometh may find thee watching.”

Most importantly, here are the names and ages of the children as inscribed:

George Burkinshaw aged 10 years.
James Burkinshaw aged 7 years. (brothers).
Isaac Wright aged 12 years.

Abraham Wright aged 8 years. (brothers).
James Clarkson aged 16 years.
Francis Hoyland aged 13 years.
William Alick aged 12 years.
Samuel Horne aged 10 years.
Eli Hutchinson aged 9 years.
George Garnett aged 9 years.
John Simpson aged 9 years.
George Lamb aged 8 years.
William Womerfley aged 8 years.
James Turton aged 10 years.
John Gothard aged 8 years.

Catherine Garnett aged 8 years.
Hannah Webster aged 13 years.
Elizabeth Carr aged 13 years.
Anne Moss aged 9 years.
Elizabeth Hollin aged 15 years.
Ellen Parker aged 15 years.
Hannah Taylor aged 17 years.
Mary Sellars aged 10 years.
Elizabeth Clarkson aged 11 years. Who was buried at the feet of her brother.
Sarah Jukes aged 8 years.
Sarah Newton aged 8 years.

Heartbreaking memorial created more recently for the children of Huskar’s Mine.

We couldn’t find any marked graves for these children in the churchyard. But the monument refers to grave one and grave two. Mass pauper’s graves and nothing to mark them that we could find. Poor parents could not have afforded individual grave or headstone no doubt. Had I been the mine owner, I know for certain I would have paid for a respectful burial for each and every one of them.  Poor parents, this time in the sense that I feel their heartache both for their loss and how their beloved children’s remains were treated.

Unable to identify any other definite location to pay my respect, I lay the roses on the steps of the monument itself instead. As I walked back towards it to do that, I could barely make my feet take each step. I ran the tips of my fingers over each inscribed name and offered my heartfelt sorrow and genuine pain at their suffering under their seniors’ direction for the sake of money. It pains me now to think that it was a preventable tragedy had someone taken the time and paid the small costs of reinforcing the banks of the stream. Walking back towards the car the tears streamed down my face and I ached to my core for the merry band of bairns who were washed away from us.

I cannot help but feel for every single one of those little souls, toiling in the darkness only to be swept away from this mortal coil by a summer’s afternoon storm. When I think how children are so excited by the thunder, lightning and unusually heavy rain from such storms, the sadness only grows more poignant. Had I been alone there, I would have sunk to the ground and wept.

What upsets me too is the inscription telling that it was an almighty act of God and very nearly if not actually implying that those children were judged and smote from the earth as a result. That written by a religious leader. What comes to my mind is “suffer the little children to come unto me”. (Matthew 19:16, Luke 18:16).

So I still pray for their spirits that they continue to have a new life filled with light and complete absence of darkened tunnels, toil and hardship. We can never let society regress to the point where children live in such poverty again. And yet we seem to be doing just that.

Because I didn’t have the opportunity to meet them in the physical life, I suggested a carvery dinner and ate so much I could barely move, offering each taste and the enjoyment of a hearty meal to the children, just letting them know how grateful I am for the privilege of living in 2014 England, all the time knowing there are still many children the world over that don’t ever get a meal like that. We must steer towards change. Without the children, what future do we have?

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Remembrance

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Remembrance Sunday is upon us and like many the world over, I shall observe a moment’s silence to pay my respects to all those who fought and died or fought and were forever changed to preserve a way of life.

But I see an argument springing up over the colour of the poppy we should take as our symbol on this day. Some say we should abandon the red and instead wear white as a sign of peace. I think that misses the point entirely.

On Remembrance Sunday and every day of the year besides, we should take care to remember the horror of war, the death and pointless waste of life it brings. The red poppy was chosen because it grew in the face and in the place of such tragic bloodshed. If we do not take the time to remember the violence, what meaning has observing peace on this day?

I will not abandon this symbol of hope born out of hatred, of life born out of so much heinous bloodshed. Remembrance Sunday is about finding that place in our hearts where all those fallen ancestors and contemporaries now reside. It is about carrying that forward and seeing that we still have not learned the lesson that Flanders’ fields tried to give – that in the face of horror great beauty can emerge.

The beauty of courage, of sacrifice, of sheer humanity at its most fragile and vulnerable point should never be forgotten. The red poppy is not a symbol of war or of violence. It is a symbol of the utmost, laid-bare reality of being human and it needs to stand out, to be worn with pride and honour. We owe that to the fallen, past, present and future. We owe it to them to show as much of that courage and humanity in life as they did in death.

While there is still a fight of any sort, anywhere, we need that symbol to remind us of what we must never allow to happen again. We must never allow fields be so ploughed by bombs and so nourished with blood that they flourish with aptly blood-red blooms again. When there is nothing left in this world that places a single thing under threat, then we can wear a white poppy alongside the red. The sacrifice made to bring about peace must always take equal if not greater precedence to the result in the minds of all humanity.

It’s red for a reason. Remember that whilst remembering how lucky we are that so many laid down their lives in the hope of a better world to come. Bow your head at 11am today and again tomorrow and whisper your gratitude for that lasting memory of hope against hope.

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Is it too crazy?

You know, I have never been so scared for my country in my life (and I’m not as young as I look!). The government has turned on the sick and disabled and the media have got right behind that, demonising people who are by no fault of their own unable to comply with the rigors of the traditional working life.

I had a run in with a taxi driver – those well-known armchair politicians – who was driving me to the hospital for the latest in a long list of appointments. He said I could work if I wanted to. I said live a few months in my life and see whether you could keep working to the pattern set out by someone else while your body is demanding rest. I asked him if he thought I’d walked away from a very good salary because it seemed like a good idea to live on the breadline instead. He couldn’t answer me on that but stopped judging me.

And it occurs to me that there must be many sick and disabled persons in the same situation as me; still sharp of mind, quick of wit, able to live a useful and contributory life if only the flexibility were available. I didn’t want to stop earning and I’m sure they didn’t either. I tried returning and within four months was destroyed because I had to stick to a rigid and inflexible pattern. That could have so easily been different.

With the technology available and the kind of jobs that can be done any time during the day, why is it that those who can prove a genuine need are not able to work as their situation allows? The hours in the day when I am at my best vary from day to day. On this reasonably bright Saturday, I was awake and about early and could be completing a seven hour day of useful work at this moment. Tomorrow I might not be fully functional until afternoon, but I’d be able to do another seven hours then.

Show me the employer who will allow that sort of pattern. Show me the employer who will let me shuffle down the stairs when my situation allows, sit down at my laptop and just work, resting when I need to, but getting the job done. They don’t exist or if they do they are few and far between.

And why is that? Is it because a manager needs to be looking over your shoulder regardless of whether the work is getting done? That’s a little paranoid of the employer. Is it because they’re afraid that people will see that it can work and start asking for greater flexibility? I said if a genuine need is proven. Or is it because there is a tradition that says you must be incapable of doing your job, even under circumstances that empower you to do so? Now we’re getting closer to the mark.

There are many kinds of work where it doesn’t matter which hours in the day you work as long as you do work. You’re hardly likely to see a person with a disability scaling a ladder to mend a roof or rescue people from a burning building I grant you. But crunching data, writing articles, designing all manner of things from websites to automobiles – that can be done at any time within a 24 hour period. Why is that still not recognised?

So many talented people are lost to the working world because there simply isn’t scope to incorporate them. How closed-minded does that make the world? How rigid and thereby brittle? One day, business might realise that people with disadvantages are all the more driven to be the best they can be and give their all to everything they do. So they might not be able to attend meetings. Ever heard of video conferencing? The telephone?

And what I say to governments making it impossible for the disadvantaged to do anything with their lives, if you address employers and maybe even incentivise trying a new flexible approach as described above, you might find a lot fewer people are forced to walk away from a full time working life before it kills them. You might even find a massive boost to the nation’s productivity because of the talent and determination injected back into business.

If you agree, whether partially or fully, share this blog. Give people some food for thought on what could really be done to alleviate both the suffering being endured by the sick and disabled right now and the burden the government are so sure is to blame for everything that’s wrong with this country. Open some eyes and some minds and we might just start to see improvement.

Attitudes need to change. The traditional methods are not working and therefore nor are many people who could be. But we need to talk about it, theorise, explore and pioneer or nothing will get better.

This is just the very tip of an idea. A dream. And if enough people dream that dream, there just might be a chance of making it real. Is that too crazy?

Burble

I was going to post a serious blog about giving to charity and how dreadful I felt having to choose just one to vote for only this afternoon. But that would no doubt make everyone reading feel dreadful too and I don’t want to do that any more than I want to vote for one worthy cause among many equally worthy causes.

So instead, because it’s a dreary October weekend and the cold weather is really kicking in, I thought I’d share a bit of silly fiction instead. All new and expecting parents should take note:

Burble

“Aren’t you getting big?” Yes, but there’s no need to shout. I’m young, not deaf. You only hear baby burble when I tell you. I’m bigger than I was, yes. Still not exactly big though. Unless you’re comparing me to, say, this rusk.

“Shall we go for a nice walk in the park?” Well, really that’s more fun for you than for me. You’ll be walking and I’ll be lying there in the pram with nothing to look at but the clouds and that stupid smile you put on whenever you look at me. Then you’ll meet someone you don’t even know and they’ll ask if they can hold me and you’ll say yes. I’ll scream and squall because I really don’t want to be pawed at by strangers. They might have all sorts of germs! Then you’ll say you’re sorry, poor baby must be tired.

I’ll be tired alright. Tired of being treated like a baby. Okay, so I know technically I am a baby and I haven’t quite mastered the controls of this body yet, but I wish you’d realise that just a few months ago I was the greatest mathematician in the world who happened to get hit by a bus. Perhaps I should have calculated its speed better. You know that thoughtful look you tell everyone about? That’s calculus that is. Calculus in my head. And according to the contract I’ll forget it all before I can talk. Next time I’ll be ready for the bus.

JAM 2013

The charity vote is here in case you’re still reading. £50,000 pounds for the winner. I voted MS Society because I know them well, know they’re often forgotten and know every penny counts.

Enjoy the weekend!

Taking literacy to a whole new level

It’s not often a project comes along that captures my imagination quite so much as the one I’m about to describe. I’ve recently had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of Steve Monosson, Creative Director at Borne Digital, based in New York. Now, Steve’s a nice guy, very talented, makes me laugh and then I asked about the project he’d mentioned in another context.

Stylus screeches across the vinyl, my eyes grow wide and I think “whoah”.

This is not some little creative venture. This is ground breaking stuff taking literacy education to a whole new level. Borne Digital produce books for reading on a tablet. eBooks. But these eBooks are created with multiple layers of content and the level of difficulty adapts to individual learning ability. Kind of like a level-up when you reach a certain stage in the game.

Read MSNBC’s article about this and vote for Borne to get a very important chance to be heard.

We all know how kids thrive in an interactive environment. We all know they’d rather be on the iPad than reading a dowdy old paperback. And quite importantly it is now known that many people with dyslexia are better able to read from eBooks. What Borne have done, are doing, combines all of these factors and more.

Imagine if, when you were learning to read, your books had adapted to meet your ability. Imagine how much less pressured that would have made reading aloud to the teacher. Imagine how rewarding it would have been to see how far you had come in the space of just one book.

Now put yourself in the place of the teacher who, with Borne’s technology, is able to focus more on what matters and less on how to make reading fun and engaging no matter what level individual children are at. Have you breathed a sympathetic sigh of relief yet?

Key quotes from founder Daniel Fountenberry carried in the MSNBC article:

“We want to use technology in ways that empower teachers and that allow all children to reach their full potential.”

“Reading is fundamental to learning, and learning is fundamental to human development. Reading is the basis of all learning, and we all know the impact of not being able to read–what it does to a person’s self-esteem.”

I urge you to read the article if you haven’t already and see what this is all about. And check out the Borne website too.

There are so many benefits to Borne’s work. Most importantly, it changes reading from something children feel they ought to do into something they love to do. That has lifelong positive repercussions. And as if that wasn’t enough, Borne Digital seek to bring reading to the most impoverished areas where it can be of most benefit.

But there are so many potential applications beyond the classroom too, which I’ve no doubt Borne have already anticipated. This is brilliant, potentially world-changing stuff. I can’t help but be 100% behind it and so much hope it finds its way to the UK.

Please vote for Borne to have that all important opportunity and spread the word. Share this blog, share the article, do what you can to make this project the enormous success it deserves to be. If you are, or have contacts that could be, of influence in education, in literacy organisations, in government, in big business that might like to support the project, please let me know and I will pass details on immediately. This is huge. Let’s make it huger!

Fresh Eyes & Introductions

Nearly October. How did that happen? You get distracted by one thing and another then by the time you look round a whole month and more is gone. High time I dusted off this blog before it becomes a haven for spiders, wood lice and death watch beetle taking advantage of my neglect!

First of all I’d like to thank and introduce you to William Martin, a talented writer and educator whom I’ve come to know during my nocturnal forays into discussions among fellow writers and creative minds. You can find some of his short stories and his blog on his website at authorwilliammartin.com and might come across a blog entry by yours truly based on my activities of the last week or two especially.

William recently read one of my short stories that I haven’t yet released. It failed to be noticed in a competition for which it was entered and I wish I’d had his feedback before I submitted it. There’s alway been a niggling doubt about it in the back of my mind but I could not see what it was that I needed to address. William hit the nail(s) on the head. It doesn’t need any massive changes, but in a few places needs some refining.

Now what this story suffered from was a combination of two factors: slavish adherence to word count and good old writer too close to the work to see. So this is a very writerly blog. That’s still not a word and still definitely should be. if you can be motherly or fatherly, why can’t you be writerly? It’s a very similar thing when it comes down to it. Anyway, yes, the issues with the story:

Slavish adherence to word count. I had a maximum of 5,000 words that I absolutely had to stick to. 5,001 and it would have been rejected without reading. What I’d cut was not completely necessary to the story, but did make it very much subject to reader knowledge and reader assumption. Not good things. While I like to credit my readers with the ability to know, use Google and make assumptions, not all of them will and this doubtless made it a rejection pile candidate. Something to bear in mind for anyone writing to a strict limit.

Writer too close to the work. This is the bane of so many writers, especially with regard to short fiction and poetry. For me, those happen in the moment, usually come from a strong and sudden urge to write and have a strong emotional attachment because they came from such a surge of passion. Because I know what I was thinking or feeling in the moment and haven’t forgotten does not mean I’ve captured things perfectly so that anyone can understand. It’s almost like looking at your child and seeing only the good. You just can’t see the bad no matter how you try, especially when they’re young. Always helps to get some input from someone who has no bias.

These things have been picked up by a fresh pair of eyes that was new to my work, new to me and had no reason to be anything less than completely frank. I’m taking a break from fixing the story to write this post then I’m going to set about revisiting the stories that have been listed to the right for some time now because I know I can do better for them. I’m un-feasibly tired though, so I’ll not re-release without pause!

Thanks again to William. Don’t forget to check out his work at authorwilliammartin.com and I’ll be back soon to keep those spiders at bay!

Mad Dogs & Englishmen

Britain has a heat-wave. To me, sunshine is fantastic news. I fill up a massive jug with water, apply lots of sun-screen and go outside to get the benefit of the glorious, health-giving rays. Eventually the sun moves round and no longer falls on my property so I move indoors. This evening, unlike most other evenings, I decided to put BBC News 24 on as background noise while I read, write, do my usual quiet activities.

This is not the hottest summer we’ve ever had. I was born at the peak of one hotter than this. That was in 1977 and people were rather warm but quite appreciative of a long, hot summer. I grew up through many (many) more of them. Every year I sat exams in blistering heat where we couldn’t open the windows because half of the pupils would collapse with dreaded hayfever and the other half would run out screaming because a wasp had flown in.

Summers didn’t really change, but once you get into the working world, you tend not to get as much time to notice. Sometimes, we’d have a year where we had a week of sun around Easter and then a fairly cool and rainy season to follow. The hot summers always returned.

For three years, we’ve had only cool, rainy summers and I’ve kept saying the sun will be back. Now that it is, though, it seems people have forgotten how to get on and enjoy a real summer. News 24 is telling me every half hour or so that a warning has been issued about the dangers of the hot weather. There have been, according to one health care worry-ward, high numbers of lost toes through people gardening in flip-flops.

This frightens me. Not because I may succumb to the heat. No. It frightens me because it has taken only three years for almost an entire nation to forget the sun exists and can get quite hot in this country. Has the nanny state really made people so reliant on the media to know what to do that they can’t remember to drink water, dress appropriately and maybe, I don’t know, open a window? Have people really become that stupid?

The news is creating a panic out of it just as they do with heavy (more than an inch) snowfall. Yes, it’s very warm. Nobody needs to cool down that desperately though that they need leap into rivers despite warning signs about undertow. Is it just that they really are too stupid to know any better? I wish I could believe the contrary.

In decades, centuries, millennia past, when the news reported news and didn’t dish out advice, people got on and dealt with the heat by means of drinking water, staying out of the sun, wearing wide-brimmed hats to keep the sun from making hard-boiled brain for breakfast and at the same time shielding eyes reducing, among other things, the risk of removing one’s own toes because one could bloody well see what one was doing.

I’d like to think that one day while I slept particularly deeply, aliens came and attacked Britain with a lobotomising beam leaving my fellow countrymen with the ability to do only what they were expressly told to do by the voices from the BBC. But what I’d like to think is seldom the case and once again that is true. People have just lost what little common sense they once had, it would seem.

Me? I’m enjoying it while it lasts, just like I’ve always done. This year I’ve discovered a sun-screen that actually works for me and my milk-white skin is now a healthy golden brown. My vitamin D levels are at an all time high because I’m not burning to a crisp when I step outside. But I’m also waiting to hear reports, after the hot weather has passed, of people suffering dehydration because no-one told them they had to drink water even when the skies are cloudy and grey. Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun? Well, so do I, an Englishwoman, but I take a bag of common sense with me, just to be on the safe side.

The big bang theory

Nothing at all to with TV shows of the same name or indeed astrophysics, fascinating though it is. I need to make a big bang (on paper) and know nothing of the theory.

For some time I’ve had an idea for a story largely inspired by my Granddad. I wrote a quick thought down when it first came to me, intending to come back to it when other projects were complete. It’s one of those ideas though that won’t be quiet and since late yesterday has been taking shape.

Initially I’m writing it as a short story but can see that I’ll come back to it and take it much further. It has the scope to cross decades and continents and it would be a shame to leave it at just a handful of pages. There is one small problem possibly leading to a far bigger problem if I don’t watch what I say and where. I need my main character to blow up a building.

Not so easy for one man who, although he possesses the know how, is travelling from England to Antwerp in 1953. I assume he knows how to make a bomb because I don’t. Perhaps foolishly, I typed it into Google before I even thought about what such Internet activity might trigger. My sane and rational side says at the most my other searches might be looked at by some poor sod somewhere. My highly imaginative side envisages black helicopters, snipers at the neighbour’s attic windows and masked men abseiling down the chimney to arrest me at gunpoint. Please let it be coincidence that my Internet connection slowed right down after the fact. Please let it be that the entire North East only just logged on after the sun went down and volume of traffic is to blame.

What kind of world do we live in now where I find these things occurring to me whether by dint of imagination or not? I mean when my Facebook account browses my cookies and tries to sell me more of the things I already bought (surely self-defeating, Facebook if you think about it), should I not be slightly paranoid that everything I do is scrutinised if not by the authorities by marketeers? Will someone now try to sell me a bomb making kit via social media? I wouldn’t be surprised!

I’ve enlisted the help of a friend who knows about these things (in a licensed and responsible way) because I really am that irrationally concerned about who might get their hands on my search data and although it would all be a terrible misunderstanding, what would happen in the meantime? While it might in itself provide a plot of topical interest, I don’t especially want to be the main protagonist! And if they took a search to be indicative, what of the writing? Would they dig up my yard in case I really did kill Phil? Would they make sure my gas meter had never gone missing?

As far as I’m aware my Granddad, God rest him, never (intentionally) blew anything up. That is not how he came to inspire this story. It touches upon certain aspects of his life and I think he would really like where I’m taking it. That is if he were watching me as well. I wouldn’t be so nervy about that though!

Call me crazy, call me paranoid. My big bang theory is sometimes they really are watching you and there’s no telling what you might spark in the most innocent of circumstances these days. Now I’m about to make a phone call and if there’s a crackle on the line, I’m grabbing the cat and running!

Flash!

I have a new addiction. It’s not chemical, which is no doubt a good thing. It’s Flash. Not FLASH! Ah-ah! of the infamous movie that has over the years made it so that whenever I hear Brian Blessed speak, all I can hear is “Gordon’s alive?”. Nor is it the multimedia software, although sometimes I find a game on a website and I’m there a while. No, I’m talking about Flash Fiction.

So am I any good at it? Well, I don’t know. I’m good at keeping to a strict word count – some groups and competitions set a tight limit of 250 words, others 100. But years of writing limericks and haikus as an exercise in word play and certain other pursuits have fine tuned writing within a limit. When I write to a restricted count, I like to be bang on the total; not one word under, not one over and that, I think, is the addictive part.

It’s the Wiki of fiction. But I was struck by something about it that reverberates with the warnings expounded by one of my favourite novels of all time. Fahrenheit 451 by the late Ray Bradbury tells how the world in which books are burned evolved from a world where people demanded ever shorter, more concise versions of everything.

So is flash fiction a good thing, or is it the flash point of the fire that burns our literary heritage? As a warm up exercise, no pun intended, it works for me. It takes far less investment of time and deliberation than a traditional short story. It’s far more throwaway. But that’s the thing that scares me a little about it’s growing popularity. In the world of wikis and tweets, will we soon forsake the book? Or is it all just a flash in the pan..?

On the sadness of light

When nights are still light at 8pm, I get a little sad. They’ll soon be light at 10pm and then they start getting darker again. I want it to be perpetually ‘almost summer’ so there’s always warmer weather to look forward to. It’s like eating the first third of a chocolate bar and knowing that there’s not as much left to enjoy later. The spring flowers, late to arrive this year because we haven’t long left winter, will be just as fragile and just as short lived as they always are. My favourite flowers, those early bursts of colour and life, but they also make me sad. No sooner do they appear than they’re gone again and won’t return until we’ve trudged through another long dark winter.

This is not a post about the weather. No, it’s about the passage of Time. Few things highlight how quickly it slips away than the changing of the seasons. Children growing up, people we don’t see often looking older when we meet and the seasons. We turn them into a rite of passage. Baby’s first Christmas is so soon followed by long summer holidays from school and with the passing of every summer another year’s progress. But that all stops and as adults we carry on less governed by the seasons except to bemoan the impact on traffic or the pain of fitness classes in preparation for the beach. We still all fit our lives around the big seasonal events, women maybe more so than men.

Do we really want to wish our lives away like that? Can’t wait for summer or planning for Christmas already? I looked up this evening and it was still light at 8.15pm and I felt a pang. A grieving in advance for the dwindling days and a grieving for the days passed that will never come back. We can’t store Time and it feels like such a swindle.

No, I don’t want the nights to get any lighter. I want them to pause right here, right now, because I know that what is to come will also pass and fade like the flowers only just appearing in the garden. Tomorrow will be lighter still and the darkness another day closer. I leave it to you to decide what that means.