Are you sitting comfortably? Then, I’ll begin…

Apps on my iPad update in the background. It’s something I accept without being too interested in what or why it happens; as long as it remains usable, I’m okay with it.

With some app updates, it’s obvious as there’s an altered appearance. The more considerate ones will open with a new welcome page, presenting the changes. Others just change subtly without fuss.

I don’t know how long it’s been there but I’ve just noticed the Kindle app this morning has a small headphones icon in the bottom corner, when reducing the pages for the menu. Curiously, I clicked it and, as expected, a voice started an audio reading of the book. I closed it down quickly.

While there’s nothing wrong with the idea of audiobooks, to me it’s nothing to do with reading, anymore than the sound of sizzling bacon is anything like biting into a bacon sandwich. What’s really wrong with it is the inflections in the actor’s voice. Reading is essentially a relationship between an author and a reader and I don’t welcome this third party influence.

Mind you, it took a while for me to come over to the idea of the ebook in preference to the paperback. Maybe in the next life…

Are you sitting comfortably? (Julia Lang)

image: voice actor, penguin random house.

Everything I know about black holes and a lot more that I don’t and made up anyway

a writing prompt challenge

When is a hole not a hole? When it is a Black Hole.

It’s a misnomer but what ought it to be called? A Black Attraction. A black hole, hypothetically, is where everything that’s lost in the Universe might end up: A rogue planet; the Death Star; Voyager I; the boy with the face on the milk carton; Lord Lucan; last Tuesday; and your car keys, but don’t go thinking that’s the last place to look for your lost car keys because black holes are so literally massive, not only will your insignificant keys remain lost, even if you luckily found them, you would find it impossible to return to where you left your car. You would, in essence, be lost too.

The Black Nowhere? They say that even light cannot escape a black hole but what do they say about time? Time will not escape a black hole. You can lose your watch in a black hole and what would it matter?

The Black Nowhen? I have no idea whether these things move through space or whether they’re so big they stay put, not at all influenced by anything around them. What if two black holes came close to each other, would they battle it out? Maybe all the lost stuff in the lesser would get sucked out by the greater. Freedom! Maybe not. I wouldn’t want to risk it.

(231 words)

written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge prompt #82 – “Black Holes”

image: black hole at the centre of galaxy, “M87”, 55 million light years from Earth, taken from data amassed by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) – not a telescope exactly but an array of many radio telescopes covering the whole Earth.

The Stories Stones Tell

When out walking the countryside and coming through a village, I like to visit both the pub and the church, if there are ones. Sadly, public houses are closing down and being converted into private houses leaving a village “dry”, but there’s always a church.

Outside of Sundays, I find the church is usually deserted. Inside, there is something serene and timeless about the experience of having a church to myself. I’m not a believer so whatever it is I feel must be beyond belief. Of course, I’m open to an idea that it may be the legacy of some cultural meme.

I remembered I had this photo, taken on my mobile on a walk last Summer to the village of Withington. As you can see, it’s the gravestone of Richard Gegg who lived for 79 years and died in 1908. It doesn’t say when he was born but as he died fairly early in the year, let’s assume it was before his birthday that year when he should have seen his 80th year. Therefore, he was likely born in 1828.

In the year master Richard came into view, King George IV was on the throne, the Duke of Wellington – of Waterloo and rubber gardening boot fame – became the UK’s Prime Minister, the World’s first science zoo opened in London, Catholics were finally permitted in law to hold public office, and two Williams, Burke and Hare, were doing steady business illicitly providing the physician, Robert Knox, with human bodies for his anatomy lectures. But, of course, towards the end of the year, they’d both be tried and hung for multiple murders.

However, what took my interest was the story within the stone’s inscription. Not only did our Richard survive two wives but they both were named Elizabeth and they both died on a 9th December, just eight years apart. I’d be curious to know what he thought about that, whether he believed there was something significant in the name and the date. They were also nearly the same age, within twelve months. They might have been acquainted for all I know. Maybe the second one had her eye on Richard whilst he was married. You can make your own story up if you wish.

Though the stone looks pristine, the grassy plot is indiscrete and I can only assume it’s a grave marker where the three remains are buried. The inscription doesn’t give any other clues to who these people were.

I did a little googling and I think I found our man. At age 22, a man with the same name, but born 1829 (okay, I was wrong), is recorded in Withington as a journeyman. This is a worker who plies his trade or skill from place to place. Ten years later, in a subsequent census, he is recorded as a grocer and ten years on, a grocer and baker, and again, ten years after this, a grocer and baker.

There is also a record for an Elizabeth Gegg, born 1828, recorded as a baker and grocer’s wife. As his second wife died between censuses, there’s no indication of a woman with an occupation matching the surname yet there is a certified death of an Elizabeth Gegg for both years 1886 and 1894.

I could try further and pay for the genealogy service and get full documents from the national census archive but I won’t: the reality might be mundane or unsatisfactory. I’m letting this go in favour of a little fictional imagining.

If you wish to write your own short story, please do. It would be fun to read.

click on either image to enlarge.

Flash Fiction Challenge: A Bucket of Water

Looking into the bucket, I imagine the water as molecules; an impossible vision. We’re told the space inside an atom is greater than its matter, which implies that if we could remove all that space from the water, it’d leave just a sheen of matter at the bottom.

“Why is water wet, and snow dry?”, Gail asks, having watched a documentary on polar bears. Whenever polar bears leave the sea, they roll in the snow to dry themselves. It’s essential to stay warm in the Arctic.

“I don’t know”, I say. There’s more to this than meets the eye.

(99 words)

written for The Carrot Ranch Literary Community writing prompt – “A Bucket of Water”

“In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a bucket of water. What is the condition of the water and what is the bucket for? Drop deep into the well and draw from where the prompt leads!”

image via The Carrot Ranch.

Views on Writing: Catching the Light

Clive James wrote of writing that it was turning a phrase until it catches the light.

When I read – and when I write, though this is a late experience and I’m still on the nursery slopes – too often I’m not noticing the glint of light. This is made more obvious when I consider those times when the light appears brilliantly, and it’s as if something magical is happening. It’s quite often an opening paragraph or an introduction to something, and it’s usually quite simple, precise, colourful and concise.

Following a path towards an understanding of Reena’s Exploration Challenge this week, I googled the name Kosho Uchiyama Rōshi. He was a Zen Buddhist monk in 20th century Japan, a master of origami, and an exponent of zazen, literally “sitting”, a method of meditation devised by the Zen master, Eihei Dōgen.

I follow his name in turn and find this passage on zazen attributed to him,

“I have not visited many Zen monasteries. I simply, with my master Tendo, quietly verified that the eyes are horizontal and the nose is vertical. I cannot be misled by anyone anymore. I have returned home empty-handed.

I quietly verified that the eyes are horizontal and the nose is vertical. This is a phrase that catches the light.

Looking Back: The Hour Glass

The longer he lived, the more his life took on the metaphor of an hour glass, its sand slipping away, quickening, now greater below than above. Unlike the glass, there’s no way of resetting life.

He saw his moments, those grains, as equal, not one larger than another. The highs and lows, the same now: irrelevant. Somewhere beneath the pile lay his childhood, a happy time only he knew. He imagined that when the last grain had dropped, the family would pack it away amongst his other miscellanies. Until a time when it’s rediscovered and its meaning completely forgotten.

(99 words)

Written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Community Flash Fiction Challenge Prompt.

“In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a character who looks back. It can be a metaphorical reflection or a glance in the rear-view mirror. Who is looking back, and why? Go where the prompt leads.”

An hour glass can be considered in different ways. Someone may see it as a metaphor for life, another may see it objectively, a device to measure an hour by utilising gravity, some may see it as just an anachronistic curiosity.

Similarly it could be said for a fictional story, I suppose. An element of autobiography, an observation of another’s view, a simple play around with a common trope. Perhaps all of these and more.

There isn’t a glass large enough to hold all the grains of our imagination. Still, once it’s gone, it’s gone. Write it all down.

Aunty on Animation

It would seem that the BBC of late hides its lights under the bushel of its online only output – the iPlayer.

Following on from the very worthwhile bio documentary on British DJ David Rodigan and Reggae, another documentary caught my attention, another perennial interest of mine: stop-frame animation.

With CGI, stop-frame animation is likely seen as a niche and probably quaint pursuit. When it can take years to produce a five minute film, the first question on unsympathetic lips must be, why bother? It’s like the audience I was in, listening to an Oxford busker perform a longish piece on a didgeridoo. He was, as the didge goes, very accomplished but I overheard a boy whisper to his friend, “Uh, I can do that on my Casio”. I guess you get it or you don’t.

And so it is that stop-frame animators, to the informed at least, have the status of artisan and artists, not mass produced manufacturers of cartoons by computers.

As the programme explains, there is something quintessentially British about British animation historically. I think it’s possibly because there are no rules but also, as explained, there is no money. Anyway, I love it.

Here’s a couple of my favourites featured for those unable to view BBC iPlayer. If you can get it, the link is below.

This is from Osbert Parker’s Clothes (1988).

In this animation, he used a collection of vintage clothes and props laid out across his apartment floor in a sequence planned from a storyboard.

As with any stop-frame technique, the clothes are slightly rearranged before each subsequent shot – you get the picture.

Joanna Quinn is an amazing draughtsman. Such exquisite drawings and detailed expressions on her characters’ faces.

This is Girls’ Night Out (1987) about a group of Welsh factory workers visiting a male stripper event.

Click on either image to see the clip.

Secrets of British Animation – BBC iPlayer

How long is now

My first thought is that poster ought to have a question mark. My second thought is maybe not; perhaps How Long is a name. Perhaps Now is also a name and the claim is that this How Long, an individual or group, is an alias of this other person or group known as Now. So, How Long is Now.

That clears up a lot of confusion, or maybe just discloses a secret, who knows?

My third thought is there definitely should be a question mark.

My fourth thought returns again to the subject of dogs. Does a dog, or another intelligent animal, possess a sense of Now, and if yes, is their Now the same as ours?

I know our dogs have a sense of Now by the way they pester us whenever they think it’s the moment for their food or time for a walk. It’s as if they have an innate sense of the passing of time, an inner biological clock – assuming they can’t actually tell the time from the clock on the wall. Has anyone tested this?

But like most clocks, theirs is slightly flawed. It leads real time by around half an hour. Now, Now, Now!, they implore. Too early, too early, too early!, we stress. Of course, their clocks might not be faulty at all, it might just be emotional overload as excitement builds as the Now approaches.

Okay, let’s not delay tackling How Long a “Now” is. The human idea of Now is, I think, a timeless quantity. It is immeasurable. Yet it lasts for ever. Well, at least as long as there is a sentient being in the Universe, and only up to the point when the Universe ceases to be.

It’s like this ineffable thing, a pinpoint of being moving along the timeline, for ever. It is both no time at all and all time, at the same time.

It’s made all the more odd by knowing that our senses to our environment are lagging behind real time, the senses informing the brain and the brain’s synapses firing to make sense of anything, all take time. Thus, the Now we think we experience was really the Then; we spend our time in futile pursuit of the Now, always nanoseconds behind it but never able to be up with it.

But, strangely, in our imagination, we can be ahead of it. Like the dog wanting her meal or his habitual stroll around the park. Now is before Now, and after Now, and forever, but never actually Now.

Okay, I’m going to post this now, but I maybe be some time.

Inspired by Reena’s Exploration Challenge – week #52.

image supplied by Reena via Maria Popova (click on it for the bigger picture)


When we broke free of London and its gravitational influence, we settled into a small, rubble-stone cottage in a Wiltshire village. The house was, we were told, at least three hundred years old and had once doubled as a boot mender’s shop. After eight happy years, we left to move closer to the town where our children would go to school.

It was only after we left when our youngest told us about the ghost. Her bedroom was directly at the top of the stairs and the position of her bed gave her a clear view down to the living room below. She woke during the night to see a man in a tall hat standing at the foot of the stairs. Pulling the covers over her head, she eventually returned to the land of Nod and by morning the ghostly man had gone.

When we lived there, if ever I thought about its ghosts, I imagined they must be friendly. I think you have that feeling about a place, when it feels like home. Fortunately, I haven’t yet been in a place which feels inhabited with the unfriendly sorts; certainly not the mischievous poltergeists, though when things sometimes seem to move of their own accord, I belief the cause is more mundane. I have yet to discover ectoplasm in the attic.

I haven’t made up my mind about ghosts. This is likely because I haven’t an answer to the question; what are ghosts? I’m not altogether happy in associating them with the dead, to be honest. They seem to me to be living things by all accounts. The fear we have towards them is born out of ignorance and superstition and with the absence of light. Hey, I’m talking about them as if they actually exist! Maybe they do, maybe they don’t.

Inspired by Reena’s Exploration Challenge, week #49

What’s that word?

I suppose the analogy between mind and machinery is an old one. I think I blogged previously about “grinding gears” when something irritates. If you search for images which represent the thinking process, there are loads which show a cartoon silhouette of a head surrounding interconnecting clockwork cogs.

It’s like that now as I am failing to remember a word and it’s as if a spanner has been thrust into the machinery; everything seems jammed up; I can’t even let it go, it’s only by remembering the word that the machinery can be freed to work again.

Actually, to conflate the metaphor, it’s as if I can imagine the very word I’m after tangled in a web, much like a spider’s meal cocooned in silk. Or, to use the biblical, a thing seen through a glass, darkly. I imagine I can reach out and touch it, it’s so close but…

One of the things with working freelance is I get to move about different companies and, with luck, return to previous ones. Then I might be welcomed by a face I know, and they plainly know me well, but for the life of me I can’t put a name to the face. If I can survive that moment without needing to use their name, the first thing I’ll do is hit the company intranet and look up the list of names in the email contacts file, hoping the bell will ring.

If I’m out and about, or in the car, and a face comes to mind but no name – this might be someone I know personally or an actor, or musician, or any face really – I always resort to the alphabet trick. I begin to visualise the face with the letter A and if it still looks blank, move on to letter B. And so on. Usually, before I get to X, Y and Z, the letter and face click into place, like a key opening a lock, or a clock’s escapement turning a cog hand a notch.

While writing this, I remember how some people describe it as reaching for a word, as if they’re picking out a book from a too high shelf. Though I think these are probably wordy people to begin with. I admit it here that vocabulary has been my Achille’s Heel for too long.

Nope, still cannot get to that word! Grrrrind.