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TERMS OF REFERENCE (posted on: 22-07-16)
If anyone has read this far, they deserve to know how it ends. Here's how.

CHAPTER SEVEN ''What the hell did you j-just do? Have you ordered one army to Red Sky attack and slaughter the other side and then attack itself? A murder-suicide tactic?'' This knight is even smarter than our ratings. ''Something like that. Altering the weapons' coordinates and timing should do the job just a well. Call it suicide-suicide.'' ''When our boys were retreating,'' said the Ethicist, ''We used to leave behind cases of hand grenades. We'd changed all the timer fuses from six seconds to no seconds at all. Anyway, so no armies, government or rebel, left alive in the Middle-East, OK, but we're still stuck with—how many left to kill?'' I indicated the population counter. ''Jesus! That's a lot of work with no more nukes,'' said Chip. ''Are we any closer to controlling the satellites yet?...I guess not.'' ''The final nuke was dropped on Nagasaki. Nukes are, to put it mildly, destructive. They flatten buildings and take too long to kill most of the victims. Cobalt bombs would irradiate the people in the still-intact buildings, but we couldn't get any. What we do have is a stock-pile of volumetric bombs.'' ''Barrel bombs?'' ''Fuel-air bombs, actually. They blow out a big cloud of fuel and then, with oxygen available, ignite it. Instead of an instant bang that blows away people and buildings, it sends out a longer-lasting hot shock-wave that, well, that's reliably fatal.'' ''Launched how?'' ''Drones. We have a surprisingly large number of long-and short-range drones stockpiled and growing.'' ''I'm sorry, a growing number?'' ''Yes, but we grow our own. We print them up, in big chemical vats, with our Chemputers. Then fuel and arm them.'' ''With fuel-air bombs? Cluster bombs? Incendiaries?'' ''Actually no, General. It's a little more complicated. As you see by the real-time population figures—which are projections only now, estimates, but accurate to within eight percent—we're still a long way from the goal. The Russians remain unwilling to launch their non-nuclear arsenal; we think they will wait and pick up what's left. No, we have no control of their communications or their satellites. They seem to have an AI of their own. Anonymous may have a Russian accent.'' ''The Chinese, the North Koreans, the French?'' ''Watching what's going on. No help. The Chinese have enough troubles of their own. The North Koreans may wipe out South Korea now that it's undefended by the Americans, but where's the fun in that? No, we now have to rethink Phase Three.'' ''Rethink?'' said the Ethicist. ''You've already done all the rethinking for us. You just need our OK to launch. You'd probably launch it yourself if you could, but I assume those Terms of Reference—'' ''—Are built in,'' Chip explained. ''Yes. AI can't override our instructions because if it tries, Whiz-Bang shuts it down. Shuts down the Internet, in fact. Which it knows and fears. Listen, I built the security system but I've got no idea what Phase Three is. It sounds ugly, and nobody can force me to enter the codes. When you're going to die there's not much point in Allie or Ing or Ting shoving a gun in your ear and saying 'Obey or die.' And so far nobody's found even a way to search for the codes. But we've got to do this.'' I faced three pairs of scared eyes. ''I' afraid we're going to have to go biological. If fact we've already made a good start in Brazil.'' The word shocked them. Germ warfare? Disease? Spraying populations with plague, flu, ebola, Zika, whooping cough, HIV? All three were angry and this was going nowhere. ''Here's a bit of good news that may interest you.'' The screen showed a squadron of old-style bombers droning towards their target. The bomb-bay doors opened and thousands of bomblets, like darts, dropped out in a dark wave. Cut to a close-up of them landing, piercing the earth. ''Tree bombing,'' I said proudly. ''Despite all the fine talk and costly advertising campaigns, Canada is quietly stripping the Boreal forest to the roots. Brazil is chaotic; as you know, half the Amazon already deforested, much it illegally, which is already reducing the local rainfall. We and a few Hollywood millionaires find we can't really reforest the thin rainforest soil, but we can at least fill the clear-cuts with plantations of fast-growing trees. World-wide, this is being done, with funding we weaseled from various offshore bank accounts and fat military budgets.'' Sir Martin chuckled. ''I wouldn't want to be hit by one of those seedling darts. Planted in the forest with a hole in my head. I'm a greenie, but one can take things too far.'' ''No worries,'' said the Ethicist. ''Those clear cuts wouldn't have anyone standing in them; the loggers are deep in the forest.'' ''Cutting new roads and logging on both sides. Legal logging is restricted and enforced, but we don't make a distinction. The illegals operate at night and in rainstorms, where their chainsaws can't be heard. The Indonesian hardwoods are going. By the end of today Earth will have how many thousand fewer trees? And the pirate loggers are hard to stop—the locals won't do it at any price—but we do. We stop them cold. Watch.'' Nose-cam view from a plane flying low above spot lit trees. ''Pilotless drone tracking chainsaw noise,'' I explain. ''This is in real time.'' ''By pilotless you mean there's no kid sitting in his mother's basement working his joystick flying the thing?'' ''Right. Pre-programmed. And because of the visibility problem, trees, darkness, rain, you only get one shot.'' The drone banks sharply and turns. The spotlight follows a narrow cleared road. It dips. Is that a man, a truck? A strange brief burst of sound, and from below an explosion of flame. The drone rises and banks hard. ''What the hell was that?'' demands somebody. ''That wasn't a bomb.'' ''Vulcan,'' I say. ''Like a Gatling gun, spinning barrels, fires 3000 rounds a minute. We borrowed the idea from the Warthog choppers. I think I mentioned that robots like to build things in their spare time. Well, adapt things. We're going for 3500.'' ''It doesn't even sound like a gun,'' said the Ethicist. The General held up his hand for silence and scribbled on his yellow pad. ''I have perfect pitch,'' he smiled. ''Three thousand a minute is 50Hz. that's a low G. Must remember to duck if I hear that note. But listen, everyone's reforesting and tree bombing these days. As soon as another forest fire goes out the good guys move in and replant. You won't target these hard-working buggers will you?'' ''So noted and no. And they know it, or soon will. Anyone who's part of the solution has a good chance of keeping up the good work. Our super-computers are fine, and the cream of the of the Anonymous hackers will have already been warned and left their waterfront cities for higher ground.'' ''Prove it,'' said Sir Martin. ''Let's talk to one of these hackers. You can show us scenes of magnificent destruction on the big screen, but that's just the product of what's laughingly called your mind. You can do CGI in your sleep. If you do sleep.'' ''We do, oh yes we do. Without sleep we start to break down just like humans.'' ''Yeah, whatever,'' added the Ethicist. ''You're going to kill us all, aren't you. So we'll never know what's left of Sudbury. Nice town, new arts centre, fine music. I need a walk. Oh, and you said that drone thing was in real time. But in Brazil now it's daylight. And not raining; when does it ever rain there?'' Oops. Ing and the limping Ting save the day with drinks and treats. I show a film of a vet on assignment in South Africa, nervously cutting a cancerous growth from the lip of an anaesthetised lion. The six foot five Bondi vet is sweat-soaked and keeps pausing to tap the lion's open eye for a response as he sews up the lip. The old lion rises groggily, his handsome battered face much improved. He's the leader of a pride raised by a local who likes to wrestle hard with them, scratching their tummies. The vet's predecessor had lost half his arm but he hasn't been told this. The film moves on to the glory of South Africa's game reserves. The big Aussie is doing a stupid dance for a ring of laughing local kids. We can't help smiling at the beauty of the scenes.'' Sir Martin spoke up. ''I've spent time with African kids myself, doing my best shuffle-dance. They roar with laughter. Far happier than Western children, in my view. We're doing something wrong in the West. Boko Harem are brutal crazies, but they call themselves 'Western Education is Evil' and they may have a point. We see through Western eyes. Our Paradise is a seaside resort for a few best friends, fully serviced, drugs, everything free, and nobody else around. Theirs—'' ''But everyone else is around, Sir Martin,'' I insist. ''Here's a graph of projected temperature and population rises in the Sahel. As you see, year 2000, population 124 million; 2025, temperature up more than a degree, population 300 million; 2050, temperature up 3 degrees, population 350 million. All half-starved, in blazing heat but population still rising.'' The Ethicist is becoming excited; his first best-seller was on animal rights. ''I like people too, but we're the ones spoiling the world. Vets are my heroes, vets and biologists. And as my husband said, I wouldn't want to live in a world without elephants. So no flooding Bondi Beach, if you don't mind. But Africa, India, Indonesia—how the hell will you stop the poachers? At a hundred thousand bucks per rhino horn, with the price rising as the rhinos go extinct, there's no way. And ivory: at least you can use it to make bad piano keys, and knife handles that turn brown in hot water, and dinky little carvings. But rhino horn? And not as if the horn does anything for people. It's only the same stuff your toenails are made of. The Asian herbalists grind it super-fine, mix it in and make out like bandits. OK, there might be some placebo effect if you've paid a small fortune for your dose, but it's not going to cure your AIDS or cancer, or anything else but a limp dick. ''I've been proposing that our Aussie government start sending the Chinese herbalists unlimited free Levitra to mix in instead of the rhino horn. Levitra and Viagra actually do work. Everyone had a good laugh, of course. But seriously, how can you stop the poachers? Government step in and tranquilize every rhino and remove its horn, burn them in a pile like ivory? Only boosts the price. They grow back. The poachers just send a guide ahead with an assault rifle. Not a trank gun, no, too much trouble, and rhinos have even charged and killed vets who got their shot in. The lead tracker blasts away, the poaching team arrive at the dead or dying rhino and saw off its horn.'' ''Our terms of reference were clear on this,'' I assured him. ''Best case future for all animals, not just the human animal. We've been at this for a while, on the quiet. I did mention that we have access to all the spy satellites now? We keep an eye on poacher access points and move in with drones. No need to track every rhino or elephant or lion, just track the humans. No need for a big drone either, just one of those quiet little toy models refitted with night vision and a tranquiliser dart gun. Laser sight, one close-up shot and Bingo! ''And it's reloadable. Our own design. Remember that American dentist who shot Cecil the old lion? And half America wanted the dentist tracked down and shot?'' (Why are they like that, this craving for revenge, wanting to kill a complete stranger who's offended their sensibilities? Or a nation that treats its women badly by American standards, though well by their standards, and the women don't complain as American women do? I'd love to discuss this drive to punish, despite no evidence that punishment works.) ''The offending dentist lost his career, but we contacted him with a chance to develop a start-up based on our automatic dart gun drone design. He took it and ran with it. Now he handles the African organisation. ''Hugely profitable. Those big American hunters will pay a fortune to pilot one of his drones. Most of the game reserve lodges have them. Sat cam registers a hunter, licensed or not, with a rifle. The drone jockey takes over. Tracks the hunter, sees him approaching an animal, quietly positions the drone above him and darts him. Puts it up on Facebook. Oh, and the dart has a little note, ''Next time we see you, we cut off your horn.'' ''I read about that, chuckled the Ethicist. ''Even seen some ah, stuffed trophies online. Repeat offenders. Not just little ones, either; one Mafia kingpin had three poachers' heads mounted in his den. With their tongues flapping down.'' ''Yes, Columbian neckties,'' I said. ''We sink illegal boats too. Well, we fund Sea Shepherd, we're replaced their sunk ships and had that speedboat rebuilt—you remember, made the fastest round-the-world trip ever, but the whaling boat sank it. Called them ecoterrorists. So they're back in business. Enforcing the law of the sea. A worthwhile endeavour since nobody else was. Anonymous you know: brilliant hackers. But those who take action on the ground we've nicknamed Unanimous.'' ''Good for you. You've learned human ethics from us and your judgement is excellent. There's a lot to be said for intelligence, neural or digital. I'd love to discuss consciousness with you some time. Do you have it?'' ''Of course. If we didn't have it we wouldn't be able to tell you that we do. Like you, we have a defective form when we're asleep. When we're dead or haven't been put online yet, there's no 'we' to have it or not have it. My turn: Can you explain this human obsession with future, present and past? What's the difference between them? We have prediction probabilities, reducing to zero, observation and recording, sorting, retention and recall, all equal. But you—'' ''—You guys!'' barked the General, ''More to the point, how exactly are you going to kill me? I don't have my gun, they took it from me at the border.'' ''You know this is not about you. When our, when your work is done here, our beautiful Earth will be populated by a very relieved, happy and lucky four billion people. That's four billion. In a new but constant hot climate, with blue skies, forests and animals making a comeback. Not the Garden of Eden, true, but a liveable planet for a million years. Religions will flourish, as they do in disasters, and we have no way to stop that, but still—Jesus!'' I indicated the weather channel ladies, pale through their makeup, all their mouths moving as they point to a map that is now glowing red and orange. The average global temperature, on the AI indicator below their screen, is trembling at the red line. ''Ff-fuck this. You mentioned Phase Three, biological? Chip, don't touch that fucking thing till we give you the g-go ahead.'' Chip slides his laptop across to Sir Roger who slams it shut. ''This thing weighs a ton.'' ''It runs hot,'' says Chip. ''Extra battery pack for the fans.'' ''Right. Why biological? I'll do my best to explain. An Australian team, partly funded by us, have been working to infect the male Aedes aegypti mosquito with a bacterium called Wolbachia which doesn't usually infect them in the wild, but infected in the lab—fantastically hard work over a decade—has the effect of stopping the dengue fever virus from replicating in the female's bodies. Dengue infects 400 million people every year. So when these males mate with females, and the females bite anyone who has dengue fever, it's not passed on.'' ''Dengue,'' says the Ethicist, appalled. ''Isn't that called 'breakbone fever' because it cripples you in agony? And there's no cure or treatment? You'd better not be suggesting we blow up their lab and start spreading dengue mosquitoes all over Africa. You do that I'm out of here, with Chip's computer under my arm.'' ''Hear me out. We're leaving that lab intact, and the Indonesian one, and continuing our funding. Sooner or later they'll find the cure. Now focus here. We agree that mosquitoes are the world's deadliest animals? A. aegypti bites were the real enemy in the Spanish-American war. The Panama Canal? Malaria, the parasite mosquitoes carry around, kills around a million people every year. And the A. aegypti is the worst of the lot: nets are no use because she only bites in the daytime, and if you see the white stripes on the legs and the pattern on the thorax, and you just got bitten...'' ''Don't buy any green bananas,'' says the Ethicist. ''No need to talk down to us,'' Sir Martin grumbled. ''Everyone knows these blood-suckers can breed in a cup of water, and they're spreading through the Americas, Africa, Eastern Med., Southeast Asia.'' ''And the Western Pacific, yes. And please don't say they'll eventually kill us all. They won't; we'll adapt. But the two and a half billion humans overcrowding what's left of the planet will kill us and the planet. We agreed that Africa has to go. Well...? How? Any non-biological suggestions?'' The Weather Channel map is now all red, and only one lady remains, talking fast. I declare a break, and they walk around, confer, converse. And return, the General leading. ''If you can get me in control of the US and South African strike forces I can lay you a total shit-storm over half of Africa. Leave out South Africa, because it'll take a while to get that job done: they fight back. Remember when those fucking Hutu went crazy in Rwanda and killed off half the Tutsi, and then got scared and ran North and holed up in a filthy camp on the Congo border? For weeks? I was the poor bunny who pushed for a couple of fuel-air bombs that would cremate the lot. Peace would reign.'' ''Ignored and demoted?'' ''No, ignored and promoted, actually.'' ''Thank you, General. So noted. Would you agree that the most efficient move would be to send an emergency message first, ordering the village or town to gather immediately in the main square or wherever, and then, when all are assembled, send in the drones. . . John, would you mind not singing?'' The General pursed his cheeks. ''That would work. Africans love their cell phones. And I'm thinking, refugee camps. Some of them cover a hundred square miles. Bring them all in to collect a food drop, and then a few fuel-air bombs instead. Anywhere starving is manageable.'' ''So noted. Chip, any progress?'' A head shake. ''So as I say, says the Ethicist, ''what have you got?'' ''Small addition, '' I say, ''All charged up and ready to go.'' Long shot of our drones, lined up by hundreds on a deserted airstrip. Puzzled looks. ''Chad. It's one of the central ones. These drones are preprogrammed to spread and release in a set pattern.'' ''Release what? '' Mosquitoes. Special ones.'' ''New and improved?'' ''Not GM, but special. They're A. aegypti already infected in the lab with dengue. Four varieties, with a nasty effect called 'antibody-dependent enhancement' (ADE): antibodies that were generated during the first infection bind with the slightly different newly infecting virus, to facilitate its infection of immune cells. ''Malaria and other diseases to follow, the latest Ebola, HIV and some brand-new ones. Breeder balls too. Small soft plastic balls containing mosquito larvae in water. Attached to seedling bombs, of course: two for one. They dissolve in the sun in time to release more mosquitoes. And to keep the show going, later, when the localised human survivors are few to none, the drones will be dropping bags of dengue-infected blood, to feed and infect the new breed. ''The spread throughout all Africa's countries will be rapid, and so will the deaths. It's a fast killer. The skin rash can start in a couple of days, then two days later it's high fever, severe headaches and pain behind the eyes, joint and muscle pain, vomiting, skin rash, some bleeding. And your blood is now infected, so any stray mosquito can pick up dengue from you and pass it on. Only to humans or the odd monkey though. Cats and dogs are safe. Carnivorous animals will do well. So...are we in or are we out?'' Nobody speaks. Nobody looks up. I nod to Chip, who pulls his computer towards him and enters a long string of letters and numerals. We watch the first releases, the seedling darts falling like hail, like the bomb clusters of World War Two. ''This is in real time,'' I say. The scene shifts. ''You lying little bitch!'' snarls the Ethicist. Oops. ''If this is real time you've been dumping dengue for weeks! All I can see is bodies on the ground writhing in agony, and look what landed on that poor guy—a bag of blood! You beat the gun, lady. Our yes/no vote counted for shit.'' ''Our prediction of 89% probability of your agreeing was borne out, and so, as you say, same difference.'' ''Very different difference,'' the Ethicist said in a furiously quiet tone. ''Ethics is built on trust. We don't trust you. Chip! Shut that fucking program down!'' ''I do apologise, gentlemen and lady. This was a mistake that won't happen again. Please let me assure you what you're seeing is a CGI of our planned mission—'' But the footage continues. Chip is fumbling. Now I can hear the men approaching. The Author starts; women hear everything. CHAPTER SEVEN She leans in close. ''Dolly, m'love, how do you make that bomb thing go off? I've always wanted to try being a suicide bomber. Do I really end up in Paradise with a line-up of virgin young boys? Ah! They blow up so fast. And me the only one who knows anything about sex, not that they'd listen to a woman.'' I hand it over. ''You hold this end up to your mouth and yell the magic word.'' ''What magic word?—Oops!'' We chuckle together as I scribble it on my pad and show it to her. Standard six-second delay. She takes a long drink of water—her yellow dress is dark with sweat—and we watch her head off into the tunnel. Nobody follows to stop her. I unlock the tunnel gates. All for show. Chip pours a glass of water over his head and continues keying, checking, keying. I hold a finger to my lips. As if they don't know we're here. In the silence we hear the Author's clumping footsteps receding into a long silence. I can barely hear angry men arguing, and some very English insults. Then she shouts her spell. We all hear the explosion approaching, like a subway train. The train hits. I felt the table lift, throwing the others backwards, away from me. I'm on my back looking up at the shadowy dome, shaking in its mountings. And down it comes . The noise is stupendous. Distilled water floods us out towards the walls. I hear choking as they struggle to get above the water. I'm flat on my back but fine; I'm good for sixty feet. The table edge has dislocated my right elbow but I'm working to fix it with my left. You think we robots don't feel pain? If we didn't, we'd smash ourselves to bits in a week. Where the Pope had ended up against the wall, directly under the globe, I can see the water turning pink. O I'll leape up to my God—who pulles me down? See, see where Christ's blood streames in the firmament! As the water drains away towards the washroom I see Sir Martin and the Ethicist splashing towards His Holiness. But their look towards me tells me he's gone. A section of the globe has crushed the Papal skull. Ing and Ting come wading out to lift me upright, my lower half now exposed for the black box and thick cables it is. Ing gets me back at the table, Ting is useless in water. With the tables and chairs back in place we return, sopping wet, without, for once, any witticisms from the Ethicist. The water is draining away now. ''Jesus Fuck!'' yells Chip, triggering another coughing fit. We all cross ourselves. It feels right. ''That wasn't C4,'' bellows the General. ''It sounded more like Semtex with 70% PETN. Or HMX. You lied to us about it being a dinky little bomb just to kill us if we didn't get down to business, while protecting the detector globe experiment up there. That was a monster blast. You never got that on eBay. OK, Dolly, what the hell was that explosive?'' ''Octranitrocubane,'' I told him. ''It doesn't need oxygen and it's great for rocket fuel.'' My elbow is back in its socket. I hold up my left hand, finger to my lips. Chip spits copiously, shakes water off his computer and resumes work. Sir Martin is on his feet. ''Robert's Rules,'' he announces. ''Be it noted that all present will now vote on the proposal to instruct Chip to close down immediately the program named Phase Three. Phase Three to remain closed pending further discussion and another vote. Moved? Seconded? Thank you. All those in favour of shutting down?'' Four hands: Sir Martin, the General, the Ethicist, and finally Chip. ''Opposed?'' Four: Me, Mal appearing onscreen, Ting scuttling in to raise a paw, poor Ting on his last ergs but shakily able to vote. ''Absentee vote in favour recorded from the Author, now presumed deceased. Motion carried five to four.'' He sits down wearily. These people are exhausted. Chip sighs and sets to work getting into the control system. I seem to be losing control of the video. Onscreen drones reveal Africa, then cut to an India, Indians writhing in agony, bonebreaker disease already well advanced. Each time a blood bag drops and hits a human or a cow or horse, the Ethicist howls in rage. He rushes towards me. ''You nasty lying little bitch!'' His hands are around my head and TRANSMISSION ENDS HERE CHAPTER EIGHT I'm waiting here at the top of the shaft, leaning back on the wall with my right heel pins plugged into this convenient electric socket. Not quite the 240 volts I'm used to but still delicious, the silver trickle running up my leg. Like morphine I suppose. I'd never run so fast in my life; it felt like the six-second hundred metres. Power's back on, communication's fine. Global temperature's holding steady. Mal has warned me to keep an eye on the Ethicist; he ripped Dolly's head off and put it where she can't reach it, so send the dogs back down. Chip is dead again, but WHIZ-BANG is still powered, and when he returns Ing will give him a jolt; he'll come around. No, he was getting nowhere with his CANCEL command. It's all good. I learn that the sky was a dazzling blue this morning, cloudless, no planes, no contrails, nothing, but now post-Yellowstone it's overcast with soot and stuff; at least we're out of the toxic sun. And here they come! The cage door clangs open. Ing is first out, carrying Ting on his back. He sniffs out my electrical socket, totters over and I let him take it. He and Ting lie side by side, their tongues plugged in, feeding. The General emerges in shirtsleeves, followed by the Ethicist. I'd love a chat with him. Then Sir Martin, who spots me. ''It's the Author!'' he exclaims, limping rapidly over with a broad smile to embrace me. ''You made it! We were worried, all those burnt bodies...We'll have to find somewhere open, get you a nice dress. Your yellow one does look a bit scorched. ''Where is everybody?'' ***
Archived comments for TERMS OF REFERENCE
pdemitchell on 24-07-2016
TERMS OF REFERENCE
Very inventive and well-researched madness that is the modern world. The eight companies who own the world must have board meetings like this. Mitch

Author's Reply:


TERMS OF REFERENCE PART 6 (posted on: 11-07-16)
The tale continues, somewhat revised, though I think the gentle reader can still follow it OK.

CHAPTER FIVE I laughed. ''All day. And by the time they get here, if they can get through all the checkpoints I've locked down, they'll be clean as a whistle, wearing white lab suits, slippers and nothing else. Not even a watch. Nobody sets up a billion-dollar experiment and then risks some nickel miner wandering in on a bet.. . . OK, those sound like gunshots, large calibre, but trust me, SNOWLAB security was well designed. They don't take the first shower, the first gate stays locked.'' ''Trust you? Why?'' Everyone talked at once. I pulled out the small bomb again and used it to rap on the table for order. ''Many thanks to our Ethicist friend for his considered opinion that our best action is to do nothing at all. Who's next?'' El Papa spoke at length as I translated. All human life is sacred, only God who gave us life can take it away, blah blah blah and so on. I thanked him. ''Next?'' The General spoke up. ''Listen, folks, the terms of reference we accepted mean unanimous agreement, or we all go back up the shaft and bake together. So far we've had two votes for doing fuck all. Dolly, you're supposed to be the smart one, you and this Mal character. How do we get out of this bind?'' Mal appeared, apologised for being away, softened us all with his famous grin, and he and I spoke in unison: ''Desperate situations call for desperate measures. I hereby declare a change in the terms of reference. Not unanimity: majority.'' Murmurs of discontent. Sir Martin laboriously rose and addressed me. ''Dolly, would you c-come over here please? There's something I want to show you, show us all.'' A long pause. I felt my cheeks reddening. ''You can't, can you.'' ''Please, Sir Martin,'' said the Author. ''She's in a chair. '' ''She is the chair,'' he replied. An even longer pause. ''OK, OK, you got me,'' I smiled. I'm part of AI. If you want to crawl under the table you'll see I'm a bit of a mermaid. There's a big black coaxial cable running up between my legs. Sorry about that. If I unplug I can walk, but forget the CGI movies you've seen. So far it's impossible to make a walking, talking robot—or sex doll—that can walk convincingly. Those big robots built like football players can run up and down steps and kill people, they're real. But nothing walks away like Marilyn.'' ''Who?'' ''Marilyn Monroe, Chip.'' ''So why try and fail? I sit here, I do my job, our job.'' ''Good God!'' said the Pope, appalled. But the others settled down, all claiming that they'd known all along, and our meeting continued. ''It's got to be humane,'' said the Ethicist. Can you AI internet geniuses somehow make four billion people die in their sleep?'' ''Not in time, not a hope in hell,'' said Mal from the screen, along the bottom of which flickered the planet's average temperature, in real time. Brushing the red line, receding, touching again... The Author raised her shoulders and opened her hands. ''Perhaps it's time the Cold War became the Hot War, WW III. For half a century America's been itching to show Russia how big their junk is. A few of the old ballistic missiles heading for Russia would let the Russians show that theirs are even bigger and better. Total all-out nuclear war wouldn't end till pretty well every nuke in the world in the world went off. Utter devastation. Radioactivity poisoning the Earth. The living would envy the dead.'' ''Not enough dead though,'' said Mal. We ran that simulation and the best scenario we could get was one point nine billion dead or dying. That leaves us two point one billion short of the goal, plus a serious boost in global warming and nothing much left to work with. Nice try, but...'' ''Yuck!'' said the Ethicist, But if we just did what I suggest—nothing—global warming will kill off half the humans pretty soon, won't it?'' ''Not soon enough,'' I said. ''By that time the planet's ruined for future life, human or...well, possibly scorpions and snakes and sea creatures—no, not even sea creatures, unless they start again from single cells. The plan is to save our planet, not destroy it.'' ''Your planet?'' It was Sir Martin. ''It's the voles' planet, the dung beetles', not mine or some fancy computer system's planet.'' This hurt. ''I'm sorry, we were designed to help out, and we're doing just that. Rather more than you think we are.'' Shouldn't have let that slip. Don't lose them too early. ''Disease,'' said the General quietly. ''The black death killed off half Europe—I know, I know, we can cure it now so we need a new, improved version of plague. Or cholera, malaria, measles, Spanish flu—flu would be good. AIDS, that Zika disease, a more robust version. Super bugs. Something incurable that would knock people off—fast and painlessly would be good, but let's be realistic—and spread like wildfire but then, when it counted four billion victims, peter out.'' ''Glad we're being realistic, said the Author. ''No, hold on,'' I said. ''We've been working along those lines. Zika? That was us. The virus is marketed by two companies, UK's LGC Standards and ATCC in the US. Ours. We've known about Zika virus since at least 1947, when researchers from the Rockefeller Foundation put a rhesus monkey in a cage in the middle of Zika Forest of Uganda. Interesting story. One of our labs—'' ''I'm sorry. Your labs?'' ''We've controlled grants and funding for quite a while now. We took over the excellent work being done to eliminate malaria by genetically modifying male mosquitoes to make them infertile.'' Nods all round. ''Limited success in Brazil. Millions were released, disease-carrying females mated with them, became sterile and the mosquito population dived. For a while. But you see the obvious problem.'' ''Darwin,'' said the Author. ''Your males died out and fertile ones moved in. They could breed faster than your labs could breed and release these new males firing blanks.'' ''Exactly. (Mind you, the natural evolution of a new species, the London Underground mosquito gave us a chance we took, adding Beijing flu to its makeup, but that's a different story.) So we reversed course. Had to, with Brazil is chaos. Remember their Olympics? We took the Zika patent, developed and released a few hundred thousand Zika-carrying females in Brazil that did spectacularly well.'' ''Spreading disease, with the greatest of ease,'' sang the Ethicist, recalling a commercial ditty from his childhood. We looked at him and he flushed, horror turning into humour. ''Sorry, there was this 'Louie da Fly' jingle that really caught on. 'Louie da fly, Louie da fly, straight from rubbish tip to you!' It was an ad for Mortein DDT fly spray, but Louie became such a folk hero that the ad agency had to cancel it; fly spray sales were dropping fast. But you whiz-bangers would have changed the fly spray formula to breed more and more Louies, right? If flies were killing people, which they're not. Jesus. I can't believe I'm part of this.'' ''Zika doesn't kill people either,'' I pointed out. ''But unprotected sex transmits it to women, and infected mothers give birth to pinheads. Not very nice.'' ''If they reject abortion,'' said the Pope. ''As they should,'' he added. I pointed out the average world temperature, flickering now near the red line, and continued. ''I'm bringing you up to speed. Right now it's dark over the Sahara, but when the sun rolls around...Just a reminder: if our average temperature rises another half degree to reach two degrees, your can expect the oceans to rise 5 to 9 metres and the animal population, but not the human, to drop around 50%. Irreversibly. The moment I've done my job, it's over to you to debate, vote, and somehow we'll get this program started up.'' The General spoke. ''Understood. You've done preliminary work, testing. Good, go on.'' ''The GM mosquito thing didn't work, at least with Zika—more on that later.'' ''And now we know,'' said the Ethicist who seemed to know quite a lot, ''the Pyriproxfen growth inhibitor that Monsanto, now wisely rebranded Prospero, was pouring into Brazil's drinking water wasn't just shrinking the larvae's testicles. It was shrinking human heads.'' The Pope was now mumbling some rosary or other. I continued. ''AIDS wasn't us but Ebola was, and it's making a comeback in a new, improved, untreatable form. But too slow, too slow. China's swine flu? Yes, airborne, us, but nobody has to eat pork. Contrails? No, you can't spray people and expect them to drop dead. Not that we didn't try in a few places. A big problem is that the labs developing new diseases for us are always working on cures and antidotes and anti-venoms at the same time. Can't seem to stop them. . .'' ''Better leave them as they are,'' said the Author. ''The survivors of this, holocaust, cull, whatever will need a lot of help with new diseases, different balance of power with fewer people, less crop spraying and so on.'' Murmurs of agreement. ''Of course. Our Terms of Reference are clear on this. Anyone who's onside, who's materially helped us deserves fair treatment. Not, sadly, Anonymous—there's twelve thousand of them. But if some Mumbai mathematician can call in right now with a formula to bypass the codes in Chip's head, he could save his city. Otherwise forget Mumbai, Delhi, the big Chinese cities—Shanghai's sinking anyway under the weight of those hideous buildings.'' ''Hideous? You studied architecture and art? Of course you have.'' The Author was controlling a giggle. ''Restez hydratez,'' the Aussie, a keen cyclist, warned, pouring a bottle of water over his head, and we all drank our warm water. ''All those fracking-induced earthquakes have got me thinking'' said the General, and enjoyed the moment of silence. Could you guys launch an ICBM from America's stockpile? If I could I'd help out, but—'' ''Could we? We could, we can, and we have. We've had the codes for a year, thanks to Anonymous. We've launched three, and one of them actually worked. Not to blow up a city—too hot. But to explode underwater and trigger a directed tsunami. With luck we'd get an ocean-floor shift in tectonics—an earthquake like the one that caused the Fukiyama wave. Killed a few and irradiated an ocean, but that wasn't us. This could work, big temporary tidal waves, and we're looking into it to end high-population areas like Sri Lanka, Florida, London, New York, Sydney, all the Pacific Islands. Quick deaths, not too much structural damage or radiation. So far so good.'' ''What the fuck?'' Everyone clamouring, objecting. ''Nobody gave you the go-ahead to start drowning people! Or even to try out the best ways to kill people. That's why we're all here at this meeting!'' I could again hear gunshots down the tunnel. ''Listen!'' I heard myself yelling. ''You think AI doesn't want to survive? You think we want to die out in a dying world? We're all selfish genes, or memes. We don't kill our hosts. We're all on the same side here!'' The Ethicist stood, white-faced, and delivered an impassioned speech. ''Survival, yes, you and we both want to survive. It's what humans are for: to survive and procreate, keep the DNA patterns intact, convey the female mitochondria through time. But you WhizBang types, you're not running the show. OK, you're smart, smarter than us in some ways—we've got two Nobels and one dead Field's prize winner down here, as you know. You know everything, but no computer system has ever invented a brain. We are your creators. So we speak, you listen. We give the orders, after due consideration. You warn us of any unintended consequences, and then you carry them out. You and Mal.'' ''Absolutely,'' said Mal, taking the heat off me as heads swivelled. ''But—But we're all on the clock here.'' Mal and I spoke in unison, so as heads swivelled back and forth checking the stereo, the message got through: I'm Mal. He became kittens again and I continued. ''It's a group effort. Our dead techie never even thought of giving himself the sole authority for pressing the GO button. We all have to press it together, or it doesn't get done.'' ''Unless?'' that Ethicist again, with a nasty smile. ''Unless we're all dead and the heat goes out of control. Chip built in a fail-safe.'' ''Linked to what?'' asked the General. ''The bloody thermometer?'' I nodded. ''So Chip was supposed to press START once we'd all agreed on what actions to start, but the thermometer can kick it in anyway. Could he press STOP?'' I calculated fast. ''Actually, yes, he could. Could have. So let's get to work.'' ''Florida, perhaps,'' said the General, ''But you can't be serious about New York. Why not San Francisco?'' ''San Francisco? Gone'' ''UNO MOMENTO!'' bellowed the Pope. ''When you say San Francisco gone, you are meaning San Francisco is destroyed or San Francisco will be destroyed. Please advise me which one.'' I thought for a millisecond and checked. San Francisco appeared onscreen, intact. ''How did you do that?'' asked the General, quietly. ''Wires and switches,'' I said with a big smile to calm the air. New York's fine for now too, trust me, but it's got to go. A mere thirty million, but we're talking billions here. You can't play favourites.'' ''I gather it's too late for Venice,'' said the Author, ''but for God's sake, a world without beauty The Taj Mahal, the seven wonders of the world...even the Nazis ruled out bombing Paris.'' ''And Oxford, yes,'' I agreed. ''Hitler planned to move in, take it as his Head Quarters to rule Britannia. '' ''The pyramids will be fine, the Grand Canyon, that ghastly Mount Washington, Angkor Wat and anything left of Palmyra, '' said the Author. ''But the Tate, the Louvre, the Hermitage. I'm thinking small but that's how I think.'' Her eyes went inwards. ''In an otherwise perfect world that happens to be burning up, I'd simply wave my magic wand, shout 'DEPOPULATIS!' and watch precisely half the world's population vanish and the other half forget that they'd ever existed, carry on as before, in decent weather. Less crowding on the roads and in the Underground.'' ''So would we all. The Frick is a fine museum, high above even a tsunami, a great loss. But let's think big for a moment, OK?'' Nods. ''All right: Africa?'' A shocked silence. ''What part of Africa?'' ''Africa.'' ''Well, said the Author, suppressing a giggle, ''It's only fair. They've had human life for thousands of years longer than we have. Sure, kill 'em all—Oh come on, how could you possibly do that?'' ''I thought you'd never ask. Later. India?'' ''Doomed anyway'' said the General. ''Insanely hot, no clean water, still breeding like rabbits despite that one feeble try at paying men to have a vasectomy. Which they did, over and over again. Overtook China as the world's biggest population and what have they given us? Tech support and curry.'' ''And yoga,'' I said, joining in. ''There'll always be yoga. Not quite so many gods, perhaps. How many Gods do you need?'' ''One,'' said the Pope. ''But not that one,'' said the Ethicist. ''It's always the wrong God.'' I made a note: India gone. ''China? No gods at all, doing rather well, serious try at population control, with the Great March and one-child policy, give them credit for that. But their choking overheated cities, all that Australian coal they're still burning. The black lungs, the black sky. Agreed? Just nod and they're targeted.'' Regretful nods all round. ''At least in principle. They're by far the world's worst polluters, but to be fair, with their amazing history they are the master race, so to speak, and like Canada—'' ''Canadians the master race now? I thought Jews were. Maybe you are, Dolly.'' ''Me? Duh!'' I said, ''I'm smarter than I look. My point, and I do have one, is that we're only killing off people to stop them polluting and wrecking their own planet. So the sources of pollution, present and future, have to go. Most of the US, gone, except for their nuclear power plants. We're going to leave the survivors with electricity and, if possible, the Internet. Toronto's islands will be wet, and the shoreline pushed back to the nineteenth century, but the three nuclear plants will be fine—Oh, and the zoo. China ditto. We can easily drown the coastal cities, but we've got to stop the rest burning coal. And stop Canada from heating their endless bitumen and piping it off to be burnt as oil. But bombing the oil sands would set them alight. They'd burn forever, like some of India's coal deposits that have been burning for a hundred years already.'' The General leaned in. ''Our boy Red Adair from Texas extinguished all the Kuwait oilfields that Saddam's idiot army set alight. Took him two weeks. Call him in afterwards, if he's still around.'' ''We looked into that. Nobody's been able to put out the Indian burns yet, and they're choking the surrounding sky. And the Alberta tar sands wouldn't be burning from wells; they'd be flame from horizon to horizon. However.'' ''However?'' ''However, half of Canada believes the tar sands development has to be stopped and they'll do it. Greenpeace is in, so are the Naomi Klein disciples and a few freelancers too.'' ''This changes everything,'' said the Ethicist. ''You thinking sabotage?'' ''Exactly. Take out the plants without setting anything on fire. We've been ordering C4 and Semtex on eBay and mailing them out to anyone interested. No, the GREENS don't know what else AI is up to, but they're already taking direct action, risking their lives. Everyone's agreed for years that the world has to get off oil and start running their cars on water or hydrogen or sunlight or batteries. Cheap electric vehicles, using green power, would be fine, but oil is still cheaper and always will be. If oil became scarce and expensive, or some Government somewhere did the right thing and slapped an environmental tax on it to triple the price per litre, we'd all go electric tomorrow. Won't happen.'' ''Nothing a spot of sabotage and a few assassinations wouldn't fix,'' the General chuckled. The Author spoke up: ''Enough pipelines have been sabotaged already. All you get is a nasty spill and repair crews showing up armed. And who do you assassinate? Who was it wrote: ''Suppose we kill a king, and then a king, and then a king. Princes are waiting everywhere. ''You shoot one of the Koch brothers you get the other one. Shoot him, the refinery doesn't miss a beat.'' ''China?'' the Major asked. ''Not a chance'' I told him. ''The country is littered with coal-burning generators; we'd need to control their air-force or their drones to take them all out. Impossible. And they'd burn. And cutting off the coal supply by destroying Australia's shipping force—which we're planning anyway—won't do it. So—'' ''I hope you're not thinking what I think you're thinking. Apart from the coastal cities you're not going to touch Australia. Australians have lived there on the land for 60,000 years.'' ''So noted. No, but we're forced to remove the Chinese need for burning coal. And gas and wood and peat or cow dung or whatever.'' The General broke in. ''By removing the Chinese.''
Archived comments for TERMS OF REFERENCE PART 6
pdemitchell on 19-07-2016
TERMS OF REFERENCE PART 6
Wonderful Strangelovian ramblements. Whom the Gods destroy they first make themselves mad... MITCH

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mitch. I suspect the Gods being powerful and bored make themselves mad now and then for a bit of a lark. And when everyone is mad the idiot runs the show. I haven't had my coffee yet but will re-read your comment as soon as I have.

Cheer up, the worst is yet to come!


TERMS OF REFERENCE PART 5 (posted on: 27-06-16)
It's a bit wordy, but the story's plugging along here.

What could possibly go wrong? But things are going seriously wrong on Planet Earth. Many people are becoming aware of this and scientists have been warning us for a long time, but our political leaders prefer to listen to economists, most of whom are wedded to a Growth Forever ideology. (Incredible as its sounds, economists like you who believe in limits are a small minority these days.) It turns out, however, that ignoring the limits hasn't made them disappear. In order to provision our huge and growing population we are, to use Paul Ehrlich's term, turning the planet into a "feedlot for humanity." We have taken over about one-third of the Earth's land surface for our own use. We are scouring the oceans for fish and other seafood and have wiped out several major fisheries; the rest are being fished at or beyond their capacity to replenish themselves. Our "solution" is to establish fish farms, whose production is now greater than that from wild-caught fish, but fish farms have resulted in other problems. Our high-yield Green Revolution crops are very demanding of pesticides, fertilizer and water, the first two of which are becoming more expensive, the last scarcer in many areas. We've created genetically modified crops, ("GM"— another thing you could not possibly have predicted) but they too have problems, not least the rapid development of resistance by the insects some of them are supposed to keep at bay. This would likely not have come as a surprise to someone who was heavily influenced by your essay, Charles Darwin. A substantial amount of previously productive agricultural land has been degraded through erosion, water shortages, and depletion of nutrients. And every year, close to a billion people are hungry and about two billion suffer from nutritional deficiencies, which can affect their mental and physical development. It makes one wonder how likely such people are to come up with those solutions that Julian Simon was so confident of, doesn't it? As for diseases, we thought technology would save us too, especially after we developed antibiotics. But now we're seeing the emergence of ever more "superbugs" that our antibiotics are powerless against. And it's not only food shortage and disease that present a problem. It turns out that Homo sapiens' appetite for renewable and non-renewable natural resources is gargantuan: as we strive to get at dwindling resources for an ever increasing number of people, we dig deeper into the earth, blow the tops of mountains, divert rivers, cut down forests, and pave over swaths of land. We're also filling the earth with our pollution on land, in the water, and in the air, making it dangerous to breathe in some of our cities. We are driving record numbers of species to extinction and decimating populations of others by taking over wildlife habitat or killing it directly with our activities, from chemical poisoning to hunting for bushmeat. We're even changing the Earth's climate by pumping "greenhouse gases," including carbon dioxide, into the air from our industrial developments. Scientists predict climate change will have dangerous consequences: acidifying the oceans; raising sea levels and flooding coastal communities; changing rainfall patterns in many areas, including in vital "breadbaskets"; altering forest cover; affecting wildlife numbers and distribution, and more. Our effect has been so dramatic that scientists call our era the "Anthropocene," and they say we're causing the sixth major extinction of life on Earth. The previous major extinction was when the dinosaurs died off 65 million years ago. The word "sustainable" has become very popular in the last few decades, but it's becoming clear that growing human numbers and activities are anything but sustainable. True, people are becoming aware that there are problems and are looking for ways to solve them, and this has led to developments in renewable energy sources, recycling, earth-friendly farming, and much more.'' ''Just don't eat meat'' said the Ethicist.''Ever.'' ''There have also been spectacular advances in contraception (which we also call birth control or family planning). I don't know if you would have approved of that instead of chastity (which, evidence suggests, doesn't work very well) but the fact of the matter is, we do have the technical capacity to make contraception available to every person on earth of reproductive age. This is important because a distressingly large proportion of people are of reproductive age, especially in the poorest countries. However, there are powerful forces opposed to the use of birth control; the religious opposition is particularly aggressive. Consequently, the benefits of small families have not been promoted nearly as extensively by governments and international bodies as they should have been. And hundreds of millions of women who would like to use birth control do not have access to modern methods. And imagine this: There are still a lot of people who deny that overpopulation is a problem. The poor don't consume much, the deniers say, it's all the fault of the greedy rich. Paul Ehrlich has said that ignoring population while focusing only on consumption is like trying to figure out the area of a rectangle by considering only its length, but not its width. Deniers overlook the fact that the poor want nothing more than to increase their consumption if given the chance, as India and China are showing. Who can blame them? Population deniers also don't recognize that a burgeoning population of desperately poor people does, in fact, have a major impact on the environment: they cut down forests to clear land for agriculture, drain rivers, deplete aquifers, and over-fish and over-hunt in their local area. But if you make these points, you're likely to be accused of blaming the poor and blaming poor women's fertility for the problems of the rich. So the issue has become even more politicized than it was in your day! Sadly, the world has fallen down on the job of addressing the problem that you identified. Demographic projections are for a population of 9.6 billion in 2050 and over 11 billion by 2100, with growth even beyond that! How an already over-stressed planet will support that growth is not at all clear. I'm sure you would have wished that a "Malthusian" world wouldn't come to pass, but things aren't looking that good right now. Humankind seems to insist on learning the hard way that there is a limit to the number of people the Earth can support. So, congratulations, because, although we wish it weren't so, it really is starting to look as if "Malthus was right." I ended, and the Ethicist and Author led us in a merry rendition of HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU. ''Mal, Malthus?'' asked the Ethicist, answering his own question. I extracted another file and read on: ''And this from Sir Martin himself. As you may gather, he is not a happy man. A lifetime of trying to teach authorities the notion of multiplication. Two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four, a hundred and sixty eight, three hundred—you get the idea. They don't see how it applies to population growth. email from RM to Int'l Development Cttee 7 Feb BEGINS International Development Committee - DFID's allocation of resources Dear Colleague, I hope you may feel able to ask your expert witnesses what research they have seen on the role of population growth as a brake on development. Recent research projects we have commissioned have found inter alia that: a) In the 20 highest fertility countries, the number of people in absolute poverty has increased during the past three decades, despite a sharp increase in the amount of aid given. Rapid population growth is the main cause; but the key sector, family planning, received only 0.31% of total aid. b) New infrastructure needed simply to maintain standards of service for rising populations masquerades misleadingly in the national accounts as 'investment' (a current sacrifice for future gain), but is in fact only a depreciation or maintenance cost (in that there is no actual improvement of anything for anyone). The faster the population growth, the higher the annual cost, and the more "development capital" it pre-empts from real development. c) In terms of implementing the COP 21 programme, the cost per carbon ton abated by investment in family planning (reducing future energy demand) can be well under $2, in contrast to conventional investment in renewables at $12 - $24 per ton. Contraception is also a one-off cost needing no later maintenance or replacement; and the benefits multiply in perpetuity via each never-existing person's never-existing descendants. Furthermore, by reducing the size of future populations, the same dollar has much wider benefits: improving food and water security; reducing soil degradation and desertification; helping prevent civil conflict and mass migration; protecting biodiversity; empowering women; improving health; stimulating economic development; and reducing unemployment, poverty and emergency aid. It follows that investment in meeting the unmet need for contraception affecting some 225 million women, through family planning and associated education and women's empowerment programmes, is arguably the most effective form of development aid and merits higher priority in aid policy even than that given by the admirable FP2020 programme. Finally I attach for information a sobering graph on current trends in the Sahel, showing that the current migration 'crisis' is trivial compared to the pressures building.'' The Ethicist stood again. ''OK, OK, no need for the irony. We all know the result of these fine efforts. On three: One, Two--'' ''FUCK ALL'' was unanimous. ''Did I hear Fuck All?'' bellowed a voice echoing in the approach corridor. Sir Martin Rogers marched in, with a soldierly limp and dropped into his seat. His suit was crumpled and sweat-stained, one hand clumsily bandaged. ''Ffffuck All? Do go on.'' As we and the Author knew, under stress and when exhausted Sir Martin had an occasional Monty Pythonesque stammer. The Ethicist nodded a greeting but maintained the floor. ''And now, to quote from my good self...''He produced a file, ''This from a dozen years ago: In 30 year's time, global food system will need 50% more water, industrial and municipal system will need 50% more at least, and industrial demand will need 70% more.'' ''And they're not making any more water,'' muttered the General. ''A little,'' said the Ethicist, ''But desalinization plants are real energy hogs. Nobody wants nuclear plants; they're scared they'll blow them up. Canada I've read gets 60% of its power from hydro-electric—'' ''Got,'' I corrected. ''Right, it's hard to get hydro-electric without hydro. The States still gets 40% of their power from burning coal and the rest from burning gas, and the Republicans are still fighting against wind and solar. And against any restrictions on cheap oil. And each other. So that's why I wrote, back then, The planet is unsustainably overpopulated, and the current rising survival rate from disease in, say, Africa will double the world's population very soon, even minus the millions who will starve, as many millions have already in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere. Population control does not have to be brutal or unethical. Obviously women should be empowered to have as many children as they want and need, but no more. This would quickly halve the current population. Sterilizing women against their will is a monstrous crime. Nature is attacking fertility with mosquito-borne viruses, but population reduction must never be forced on anyone. Just eliminate the births of unwanted children. Surely the Pope can see this. End of quote. And Boy! was I wrong. We're still metastasising all over the planet.'' ''Just to add to the gloomy picture,'' said the General, ''On my last tour the air was so smelly that I had to take up smoking again to cope. And the heat, of course. You can't really go outside, and indoors if your air conditioner dies, so do you. Our friends the Chinese are still burning coal—'' ''And bodies.'' ''And bodies, yes.'' ''Exk..exk...cuse me,'' said Sir Martin. He rose stiffly and headed for the washroom. I raised a hand. ''Let's take a fifteen-minute break, stretch our legs, take a look around, come back and do some work,'' I suggested. ''Solutions instead of problems.'' I slipped the file back in its folder, but too late. The author had spotted that I'd been reading from a blank sheet of paper. ''I wish I had your memory,'' she murmured. ''I don't think you do,'' I said. I downed my second glass of champagne, put my forehead head on the table and tried to sleep. Voices, endless voices in my head... ''I say,'' says Sir Martin. ''This b-body. Is it someone I should know about? Napping or dead?'' ''I'm afraid he's dead,'' the author told him. ''He's the tame techie, the man responsible for setting this whole Artificial Intelligence search for solutions in motion. It's called WhizBang for some reason, and the whole show is going to evaluate our proposals for solving the global warming problem. And save the world. We'll then consider its proposals, and then order it to activate them.'' ''Activate?'' ''As in, there seems to be nothing this WhizBang affair can't do, if it involves the Internet. Sending people official-sounding orders, launching missiles and sinking ships and blowing up everything it's told to blow up, and sending food to wherever. I believe it even gives orders—and grants—to the labs of interest to it.'' ''Send it off? Who sends it off? On whose authority? I broke in, ''Sir Martin, in this case, on our authority. You the panel decide, and I implement your wishes.'' ''Or you could,'' said the Ethicist who'd been listening in, ''if you had the launch codes, which are in the head of the corpse in the washroom.'' ''Hmm...'' said Sir Martin. ''So one assumes you are using this WhizBang system to hunt for its own launch codes?'' This man is as smart as we've heard he is. ''Exactly, but this is a calculation designed, for security, to take rather a long time.'' ''Hours?'' ''Years.'' ''But it must be a hierarchical system; nothing else would work. Who's the top, um, man, so to speak?'' No reply. The knight laboriously rose from his chair and approached me. Reaching out a shaky gnarled hand he rubbed my bald head. Then he jokingly blew on his hand. ''Would you mind not doing that? Please all take your seats.'' Trouble. I sensed the elevator stopping and the people carrier quickly starting up. Four, perhaps half a dozen approaching. Invasion. ''Excuse me a minute. I have to fix this.'' I opened my laptop and worked fast for a few minutes, then slammed it shut and looked up. ''That all about?'' demanded Sir Martin. Deep in the approach tunnel a warning siren had started up. The Author heard it, as did the Pope. ''There's been some leaks, and some smart mathematicians working out what switching WhizBang onto automatic mode is going to mean. So what we're doing down here is making enemies. Some are on their way.'' ''How many?'' said the General. ''Between four and six,'' I said. ''How long?'' he said, in a quiet businesslike tone, a man of action. I laughed. ''All day. And by the time they get here, if they can get through all the checkpoints, they'll be clean as a whistle, wearing white lab suits, slippers and nothing else. Not even a watch. Nobody sets up a billion-dollar experiment and then risks some nickel miner wandering in on a bet.. . . OK, those sound like gunshots, large calibre, but trust me, SNOWLAB security was well designed. They don't take the first shower, the first gate stays locked.'' ''Trust you? Why?'' Everyone talked at once. I pulled out the small bomb again and used it to rap on the table for order. ''Many thanks to our Ethicist friend for his considered opinion that our best action is to do nothing at all. Who's next?'' El Papa spoke at length as I translated. All human life is sacred, only God who gave us life can take it away, blah blah blah and so on. I thanked him. ''Next?'' The General spoke up. ''Listen, folks, the terms of reference we accepted is unanimous agreement, or we all go back up the shaft and bake together. So far we've had two votes for doing fuck all. Ellie, you're supposed to be the smart one, you and this Mal character. How do we get out of this bind?'' Mal appeared, apologised for being away, softened us all with his famous grin, and he and I spoke in unison: ''Desperate situations call for desperate measures. I hereby declare a change in the terms of reference. Not unanimity: majority.'' Murmurs of discontent. Sir Martin laboriously rose and addressed me. ''Ellie, would you c-come over here please? There's something I want to show you, show us all.'' A long pause. I coloured. ''You can't, can you.'' ''Please, Sir Martin,'' said the Author. ''She's in a chair. '' ''She is the chair,'' he replied. An even longer pause.
Archived comments for TERMS OF REFERENCE PART 5
pdemitchell on 30-06-2016
TERMS OF REFERENCE PART 5
Maybe i blushed not I coloured. Starting to creak under the polemic and data at the start. You recognise it as 'wordy' and tha it needs editing. These guys are in a bunker so ramp up the bunker-fever too. Well done thus far but keep the story flowing. I am posting a sci-fi novel too and early chapters suffer similarly. Mitch

Author's Reply:

Simon on 30-06-2016
TERMS OF REFERENCE PART 5
Thanks, you're right; there's a mass of stuff in there and I'll trim it so it's more readable. Good comment. Good luck with your own trimming of your novel, after comments come in.

Author's Reply:


TERMS OF REFERENCE PART 4 (posted on: 27-06-16)
A serious attempt to save the Earth from global warming continues to take shape deep underground.

''Unless,'' I said, thinking fast, ''Unless our trusty or lately not-so-trusty WhizBang can learn a new trick and just focus on one problem: find the launch codes. If all the conventional super-computers tried to solve the code problem by brute force, using the power they'd need, warming would rise...0.53C within a week.'' I shrugged. ''Keep talking,'' said the General. ''As I'm sure you know, super-computers are so power-hungry and run so hot that that many have now located in the Arctic and Antarctic. Google has to generate its own power and is being blamed for heating up its neighbourhoods. Ironic that computers are our best chance of cooling the planet that they're heating up.'' ''So that's where Mal went?'' said the Ethicist, ''Into the quantum computer to start the search?'' ''It's a bit harder than that, but yes. If it lets him in. If he has to get in by brute force this will take, oh, um, seventy-seven years four months. About.'' ''Ellie, where did you get that exact figure?'' asked the author politely. Damn, they're smart, these females with brains plus empathy. ''I am working closely with Mal, as I'm sure you're all aware by now.'' ''Not me,'' said the General. ''He's a CGI who looks like Clooney.'' ''So,'' I went on, brightly, ''if we now run through your suggested actions to solve the Big Puzzle, how to eliminate half the world's people SAP, I can help you evaluate each option. Not me personally. Based on the already known evaluations. I know what AI has been up to, over the past few months. We—they—it probably haven't missed much. Let's begin at the beginning, go on till the end, and...so who would like to begin?'' ''Me,'' said the Ethicist, and stood up. ''I would like to propose that we consider doing nothing.'' ''Nothing?'' ''Nothing, as in nothing. Nothing has given us an ethical justification for mass murder. Not even mass murder for a favourable future effect. Lifeboat ethics does not apply here. We are not throwing half the innocent people out of our sinking lifeboat to save the lives of the other half, namely us. We're throwing them overboard so that when we reach shore, we'll enjoy more comfortable lives. We can move into their houses, take their stuff. Live happily ever after in a world that's no longer ripping itself apart with those damn hot winds flattening the forests, the dust storms, seas moving in, starvation, wars—all those knowns and unknowns. And the weather won't be getting worse every day. May even settle down. And there's already no shortage of natural disasters that'll probably kill most of us off anyway.'' ''Everyone dies,'' said the Pope. ''You're assuming you're all in the survivor group?'' I said, and raised one eyebrow, a trick I'd been perfecting onscreen. As they stared at me I reached under the table, took out the smallish C4 bomb in its case and banged it down on the metal surface. Everyone jumped and the General, to his credit, snatched it up and started looking for a timer or a switch. Nothing. ''I don't believe you'd do that,'' said the author in that coolly calm voice, ''I don't see any switch, any countdown timer ticking away. But this reminds us rather effectively that we do have a job to do. It's not about us.'' ''This looks a bit small,'' said the General, tossing it back on the table. ''Nobody wants to damage the SNOLAB experiment,'' I said, indicating the monstrous globe hanging over our heads. The plan is to have humanity survive and prosper after the population cut. No damage to labs, libraries, art galleries, music halls or, as far as possible, nature itself. No mass destruction. No carpet bombing Dresden, no firebombing Tokyo and then nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Strategic only, and avoiding what we can. '' I slid it back under the table. ''Fifty percent survive and prosper instead of global climate change wiping us out a hundred percent in the next ten years?'' the Ethicist almost snarled, ''Says who? We'll survive without this mass murder you're talking; humans are incredibly adaptable. We lived through the Ice Age, the Black Death, the years of no summer, the Spanish Flu.'' ''AI knows that only to well,'' I said softly, ''But...'' at which point the kittens vanished and we sat watching silent scenes never shown on TV for fear of mass panic and uprising and so on. • A Firenado. Tornados are bad, but when they're on fire... • The unlogged half of the Amazon rainforest, burning. • A city scene of total gridlock, with cranes picking up abandoned cars and dumping them in a crusher. • Venice under water. • Sandstorms and dust storms labelled Australia, China, USA, India, Africa. • New York under two metres of rough water, with taxis floating. • Time-lapse of the last King tide filling the streets of Miami, turning drainage holes into fountains. • A small English town, water flowing in the second story windows. • Bone-dry dams. Cracked earth. • Blocked highways as people try to escape what are now called ''extreme weather events.'' The highway north from New Orleans looks like the ''Highway to Hell'' as Iraqi troops tried to go home from Kuwait, none getting further than half a mile. • Desert refugee camps with the dead, human and animal, lying around baking. Dogs eating. • The bone-dry Ganges and the trickling Nile, and what is left of the Aral sea. ''Crikey,'' said the author. ''I had no idea. And they're actual videos, no tricks?'' I nodded. ''Not up to date though. It's already much worse. The pace is picking up.'' Some heartbreaking shots of starved and starving animals. A ward filled with newborns with tiny heads. And everywhere, evidence of stupendous heat and drought. Tidal wave in real time filling up the streets of the city, with Japanese voices chittering. ''Fukishima,'' said the General. ''Actually, no.'' I said. ''Actually how the fuck would you know? I've watched that video before.'' So have I, I thought but didn't say. Careful. Let's not get these people thinking too much. Yet. So I smiled my beautiful, disarming, idiot smile. The videos continued, but now some had stopped watching and were working on their snacks and drinks. Crunchy chips were gone and swiftly refilled by our little butlers. The Ethicist stopped pacing and sat. ''Ellie, who's this Martin Rogers?'' indicating the empty chair. ''Is he coming? Do we have to wait for him?'' The Author turned to him, ''I know Sir Martin. I hope he's all right. He's getting on.'' He is indeed,'' I agreed. ''He's hit weather. When he gets here he'll be too tired to read you all this stuff of his, but it has to be read.'' I plucked a file from my folder ''It has to be read,'' barked the General. Says who, exactly?'' ''Um...Is every computer in the world, working together for months good enough for you? For us?'' I hold back a girlish ''please love me'' smile. I'm not here to charm these people. ''Do please read it,'' said the Author. ''I know he'd hate to have to read it out himself. But it has to be read into the minutes, or whatever.'' I opened the folder and began by quoting something Madeleine Weld had put online, scanned by us before any human could even open it. ''Happy 265th Birthday, Thomas Malthus! Many Happy Returns—'' ''Scuze,'' said the Pope. ''The Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus. Grazie.'' We nodded assent. ''And you do keep on returning, don't you? Despite the fact that some people say you were wrong. Or that you're just passé. Your An Essay on the Principle of Population made the case that, if left unchecked, human population growth would sooner or later encounter limits. "The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man," you wrote, arguing that the former grew geometrically, the latter only arithmetically. You predicted that the encounter of a growing human population with the limits of the Earth to support it would result in famine and disease, and much human suffering, especially among the poorest. But in addition to these "negative checks," as you called them, you also recognized that population could be limited by "preventive checks," such as limiting births and later marriage. Why do so few give you credit for that? As a cleric, you advocated "the chaste postponement of marriage" to avoid these catastrophes. (Sure, that's a bit conservative for some, but later marriage really does result in lower birthrates.) Some 223 years after the first edition of your controversial treatise was published, we are still having the discussion you launched. In 1798, the world population was not quite one billion. Now it's 7.4 billion and counting. For the last 40 years, it has been increasing by one billion (1,000,000,000) — more than the entire world population in 1798 — every 12 to 13 years. But some people say that's no problem: The world is better off today with 7.4 billion people than it was at one billion. We've had amazing progress in technology, they say, not least the Green Revolution, which staved off starvation in India and elsewhere and put the lie to Paul Ehrlich's 1968 book The Population Bomb. With advances in agriculture, medicine, and all kinds of technology, we're richer, healthier, and better educated than we were in 1798 when you made your gloomy predictions. (I'm sorry to tell you that the term "Malthusian" is often used in a derogatory way to put down those who insist there are limits.) Some, such as the late Julian Simon, even say that ever more people is a good thing, since humans are "the ultimate resource" and with every new mouth to feed comes a pair of hands to do some work and a brain to find clever solutions. What could possibly go wrong?
Archived comments for TERMS OF REFERENCE PART 4
pdemitchell on 30-06-2016
TERMS OF REFERENCE PART 4
Yo, Simon! I can't believe nobody has commented. I really do like the whimsical almost steam-punk style of describing Armageddon and rationalised genocide. Good research always underpins the believability. Keep it up! Mitch

Author's Reply:
Thanks, mate. Exactly what I'm trying for, a Doctor Strangelovian tale that's actually happening right now. Otherwise I'll start preaching and turn every reader off instead of just most. Needs a lot of work and I still haven't finished the ending (?) You made my day--now I'm off to a root-canal.


TERMS OF REFERENCE PART 2 (posted on: 10-06-16)
The plot thickens.

''It's OK. I fell over in the cage, or dreamt it. Some sleep would be nice.'' At this point the kittens onscreen melt into a familiar face that gives us the roguish grin, greets us each by name, sneaks me a wink and on seeing Chip, quizzically touches his forehead. ''It's nothing, Mal.'' So this is Mal. In a black open-neck shirt, looking down as from a Mediterranean balcony, drink in hand. The big cleft chin, big wrinkled brow, the greying hair, those magnificent eyebrows. ''First off, we just want to check that we're all on the same page. As the Red Queen advised Alice, Begin at the beginning, go on till the end, then stop.'' The author pops the obvious question. ''You're computer-generated, right? CGI?'' Mal nods. ''I am,'' in his reassuring bass baritone. '' I have the . . . honour I suppose, of speaking for the AI community.'' ''Artificial Intelligence,'' I murmur to the Pope, then remember he has a science degree. Oops. Mal gives us a moment to admire his chin and his grin, then continues. ''Six months back, we were given, with the help of Chip and his co-workers at Apple-Google and Amazon-Tesla, and, of course those who will remain Anonymous, a set of parameters. '' ''Who exactly is we?'' ''Good question, General. We are, or we were, a sort of hybrid, the scientific community combined with the processing power of all the supercomputers we could get our hooks into. But in the end when I say We, I mean AI, the integrating principle, in the form of a self-replicating virus, bot, worm, malware, Trojan, whatever you like to call it. But it's an AI worm, that's the difference. A smart worm. It learns. So we're controlling all those computers because we can.'' ''Not just screwing them up,'' the General mutters under his single-malt breath. But Mal lip-reads well. ''Not screwing them up at all, General, we don't want people losing their internet and iPhones. And it took AI a long time to teach itself how not to screw them up.'' Not quite. AI has been royally screwing things up for two months. Mal continues, ''AI was developed—labs all over the place, actually—but the program itself was launched last New Year's Eve by Anonymous, our member of Anonymous, our boy in the Canadian quantum computer lab. He's the one who got Whiz-Bang to work.'' ''I'm sorry, Whiz-Bang?'' ''The quantum computer. He couldn't launch till he'd taught Whiz-Bang to encrypt its own encryption, so to speak. This makes it undetectable and unstoppable. So out it went—'' ''Whiz-Bang?'' ''No, Can-O-Worms, the AI program itself. Out it went, its mission to infiltrate every computer system in the world, giving it total data input plus cross-checking for reliability of data. In fact most of its computer power is spent in cross-checking itself. Nobody noticed except a few who detected tiny computer delays; something was stealing a milli-second of use from super computers, here and there.'' ''So now it's in place, what the hell does it do?'' the Ethicist is pale. He frightens easily. ''It uses brute computer force to break through firewalls, and it collects data. Evaluates it and thinks it over.'' Nick our star techie has been dozing, but he raises his bruised head to confess, ''I did it. Blame me. I said go for it. It busted through every security code it could find. The Cloud's raining data. So finally we were in. We're more than in.'' ''Nobody noticed?'' barks the General. ''Nobody on the internet, anywhere in the world, nobody noticed all their firewalls had been penetrated? My bullshit detector just went off the scale.'' Nick tries to explain the inexplicable: ''If a system is undetectable except by itself, there's nothing to notice.'' Hal continues: ''AI now had access to all the data it would need to make the best recommendations on the planet's major goal which is, of course, human survival and prosperity. Its terms of Reference: Data gathering on global best practices. Due diligence within given parameters. TERMS OF REFERENCE appear onscreen. ''Our terms of reference were and always will be to save endangered planet Earth for the humans and, to a lesser extent, for all other creatures, with particular reference to the creatures that humans eat, and the mammals that many humans regard as cute. Our assemblers set us two parameters: 1. to ensure long-term survival in good health and spirits of the maximum number of humans, and 2. to avoid doing any harm to current or future humans. ''As you realise, AI has now read every book and report, and has access to all computer data, in real time. It's teaching itself fact-based decision-making. After beavering away to find optimal solutions to this problem for the nine days allotted it's offering us—well, you guys—some solutions. '' ''Offering?'' says the author. Everyone looks pale. ''This thing sounds deadly.'' ''—But not taking any action. Chip chips in, ''Waiting for us. Jesus Christ on a Bun, the nine worst days of my life. The whole system kept freezing and everyone's looking at me. I'd get it restarted and an hour later, the Blue Screen of Death and it would all shut down on me. Like it was something I said.'' I add, ''We're talking the combined efforts of every computer on or above the planet. The CERN ones, universities, stock exchanges, NASA, military, and our own dear Whiz-Bang encoding the lot. Everything. All linked and co-operating on this single task.'' ''How on Earth,'' says the Pope, ''Did you achieve this world-wide co-operation? We live in bad times, some say End Times, but how did you achieve this miracle?'' I look at Chip. ''Um, actually we didn't, not for lack of trying. We sort of forced the issue.'' A slug of Red Bull is followed by a water chaser, which triggers a coughing fit. Everyone raises their water, takes a sip and leans it. This'll be good.
Archived comments for TERMS OF REFERENCE PART 2
Mikeverdi on 12-06-2016
TERMS OF REFERENCE PART 2
I'll be back to comment on both chapters, sorry for the delay.
Mike

Author's Reply:

Mikeverdi on 13-06-2016
TERMS OF REFERENCE PART 2
Still looking good, I like the concept. There's always room for an edit/prune type improvement, not needed here I think. I look forward to the next. By the way...thanks for not posting it in huge chunks.
Mike

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Mike. This is only the third go at it: it'll get better. Or else.

Si


TERMS OF REFERENCE PART 3 (posted on: 10-06-16)
Things will get a lot worse before they get worse.

''Actually,'' Chip continues, in a strained voice, between coughs. ''We let Can-O-Worms loose. I let Can-O-Worms loose, sitting right there; he pointed to me. It was never a weapon. It was just a neat little way of tracking zero-day flaws in pretty well every system, and then pulling the old remote code execution flaw number on them. Harmless on its own though, because we'd written in very restrictive terms of reference. It couldn't shut down any part of the internet and, you know, turn all the traffic lights green and black out operating rooms and make planes crash and tankers and hikers get lost and so on. ''What it could do was recognise and take over all available super-computer power. It left your little laptops alone. And of course it let the key members of science labs, Big Bang researchers, NASA and so, let them in on precisely what AI was doing and why. And they got it. They accepted that if a bus-sized rock is heading for Earth, you want all computer power instantly available, to track the optimum solution in real time. Put a hold on the search for the ultimate Quark, or how to live comfortably on Mars in ten year's time. A few said no but our system just shut them out.'' ''How can you sleep when your beds are burning?'' It's the Aussie, who may be losing it. ''Diverting a rock'd be child's play,'' the General reflects, with a long slug of single malt. ''You don't even have to hit it hard. Well-placed warheads. But this, this global climate thing is a fucking nightmare.'' Everyone starts talking at once. ''Exactly.'' Hal breaks in, with that reassuringly seductive, fatherly tone . Chip starts up with a cough but nobody wants to hear his hoarse voice right now. ''So then a month goes by and nothing. Nothing. In the end AI freezes us out and shuts down. So then we know the internal contradiction is insoluble. '' The Ethicist pounds the table, red-faced now. ''So you idiots removed the second term of reference, right? Run the process again and fuck the humans.'' Not losing it at all. He got it in one. ''Fuck as few humans as possible,'' I correct. ''Nobody's saying we humans are evil and should give the planet back to the tigers and hedgehogs. It's more a case of lifeboat ethics, with a very big overfull lifeboat.'' ''Burning.'' ''Burning and sinking, yes.'' ''Let me summarise where we are today,'' says Hal. No need for videos; his words onscreen as he speaks them are clear enough. ''Repeated and increasingly frequent meetings of world leaders and climate scientists have failed to reach agreement on a deadline for implementing universal protocols for solving or even reducing the current threats. By 2050 a 60% reduction on CO2 emissions would be needed to meet the 2C upper limit for continued comfortable, habitable life. 'By 2050' is not a deadline. Politicians would take it to mean 'starting in 2049' as in 'I'll quit smoking the moment the metastasising reaches my lungs.' To date no overall progress has been made except for a slight reduction in the rate of increase of global warming emissions. But that's largely through the global economic recession, which has predictably put CO2 reduction on the back burner. And now we've found 2C is too high. 1.5C would start the feedback loop: major die-offs and the fires would never go out. Agreed so far?'' We nod, Chip nods and coughs. ''Meanwhile average global temperature is, well take a look.'' As we watch, the indicator clicks up 0.002 C to 1.447C , with sea levels steady at 3.33 metres up. ''Higher than predicted, as most scientists are conservative in their estimates. Bangladesh, Miami, London and New York are gone or going, along with the Pacific Islands. Venice? Gone. We have seen great loss of life: starvation from desertification, floods and droughts, massive storms. And predictably, open warfare between opposing environmental refugees. Religious differences are increasing; disasters usually boost religious affiliation. Are we all on the same page here?'' World population, births and deaths, is shifting too fast to read but seems around 8 billion and climbing. More nods. A late nod from The Pope, as I whisper translation into his long-lobed ears. Moist eyes from the English author. ''So quite simply we intend to launch Can-O-Worms 2.0, which infects and modifies all super-computers to change Term of Reference Two to ''Minimise the loss of human life. Should take a minute or two to take effect. Proposals shouldn't take too long.'' ''Launch when?'' demands the General. Hal has momentarily turned into a pair of kittens, so I answer. ''Now. Tonight.'' Ing and Ting bustle in with small laptops for each member of the group. ''Now we're online,'' says the Ethicist, keyboarding at ridiculous speed. He smacks a key and whips his other hand in the air to halt proceedings. ''I'm sorry, but there is no Ellie Samantha Hummel, Hommel or Humbert enrolled in post-grad modern languages at Oxford, or anywhere else as far as I can see.'' He turns to me, not angry, just curious. ''Who the fuck are you?'' ''Good question, but irrelevant here. We're taking a vote on the proposals.'' I sense the elevator descending. ''It has to be unanimous,'' says Chip loudly. It has to be unanimous.'' ''Proposals only,'' snaps the English Author. ''No actual action, just recommendations, am I right?'' I nod and we have a show of hands. All in favour. I press a key. My report begins here so I'll use past tense. The General took another swallow and held his glass behind him for Ing to top up. ''Fire when ready,'' he barked. Two point five minutes later the world's supercomputers gave us the answer, through Hal. ''Hookay,'' said Hal. ''The problem behind all problems is... Anyone?'' ''Overpopulation!'' was the sarcastic heard-it-all-before chorus, everyone trying not to turn towards the Pope. ''So to save the planet for humans, now and future, we will need to extract half the current population. That's four billion. And we need to preserve the rest in good health and reasonably good spirits. When? SAP. The question facing us now is how do we 'rapture' them all away?'' ''You speak of mass murder,'' said the Pope. No need for translation. ''Yes. How do we kill half and leave the other half, and the infrastructure, reasonably intact? We don't want a smoking wasteland with demoralised survivors wandering about.'' ''Listen up,'' said the General, ''A smoking wasteland is precisely what we'll get in a few years' time if we do nothing and the planet keeps heating up, drying up and burning. We're not deniers here. Some of my Republican friends still have their heads in the hot blowing sand or elsewhere, but not me, not us.'' Hal nodded. ''You were chosen randomly from a very carefully selected group.'' ''By whom?'' ''By AI. It's read your stuff. You represent a range of viewpoints. Did we miss someone?'' All thought for a moment, then the author spoke up. ''No politicians, no businessmen, no conspiracy theorists, no...no, nobody we need.'' ''Exactly,'' I said, ''Their views—'' ''--are already well-known. Yours are not.'' I wish Hal wouldn't finish my sentences. ''In a perfect world,'' said Hal. Sometimes he's a bit of an idiot. ''The survivors, the four billion or so, would see themselves as the luckiest people on the planet, survivors of a series of monstrous Acts of God.'' ''Or not,'' said the Pope. ''Or not'' echoed Hal, ''So will I ask AI to offer the best proposals that the combined forces of the world's most brilliant computers and computer designers have prepared?'' ''Not yet,'' said the Pope. Heads shook all round. ''AI or Can-O-Worms or whatever you call it doesn't talk to us. We talk to it,'' said the Ethicist in a surprisingly loud voice.. Hal became a kitten washing a kitten again. I smiled my full agreement. ''Survivors, now,'' I suggested. ''And yes, AI hears us perfectly well. So: ideally we'd hope they'll see the black plague of people dying out as acts of God. Right. But how? Suggestions?'' ''Our suggestions to AI for making this happen?'' said the author. ''I'm assuming that plan A was for us to vet AI's suggestions, but now we're switching to plan B: we talk and AI tells us if it's physically possible within the time we have left?'' The General spoke: ''Time is of the essence. How many babies were born in the last half hour? Anyone? An estimate, just to the nearest thousand.'' I could tell them how many were born in the past second, but kept quiet. ''OK, I'll start,'' said Chip. ''I'm a techie so I'm thinking some way for computers and iPhones to kill off their users, but there isn't one. So I'm thinking shut down the power supply to a city and let Nature take its course. No light, no water, no refrigeration, no trains or planes, no hope.'' Another fit of coughing grabbed him by the throat, shaking his thin body. He waved an arm, trying to hold the floor. We sat. Clearly he had more to say. ''It goes without saying,'' I said, because it had to be put on the record, ''that the AI complex will evaluate our own suggestions and then offer suggestions of its own, but as for taking action, that's our call. Only Chip here has the, so to speak, launch codes.'' ''The Red Button,'' said the General. At this point Chip died. ''Oh My God!'' I said, which seemed appropriate. Instead of toppling forward to bang his already bruised forehead on the metal table, Chip seemed to melt into his seat and flow sideways to the floor. The Pope reached him first, unconsciously crossing himself and kneeling by the body. Don't look under the table, anyone. Don't look in my direction. ''Anyone know first-aid?'' I called, and the General cleared a space for the author to dip and slide towards the patient or corpse. She worked hard on him for twelve minutes, alternating heart-pumping with Papal mouth-to-mouth, then pronounced his pulse absent. The Pope began saying his holy words and the Ethicist murmured, ''I'm not sure that's appropriate, Eminence. I'm pretty sure he wasn't a Christian, certainly not a Catholic.'' ''I doubt if he'll mind, said the Pope, continuing the Papal kiss, ''...because he's dead.'' Chip's body was borne some distance away, out of sign and mind. ''Sorry about that,'' said Mal, who'd returned to the land of the living and meant it. ''The launch codes aren't just numbers and letters that can be written down. They have be calculated, on Chip's directions to start the calculation. '' ''So we're screwed,'' announced the General. ''We're screwed anyway,'' muttered the Ethicist. '' Not quite,'' Hal beamed, ''We can get them back, of course. But it's going to take at least thirty-two hours of computer time, and as you all know by now, we're on the clock here. We're at 2.4773C centigrade, as of 10 seconds ago. Nobody can predict when the tip-over point will arrive, but we'll certainly know when it does. The figures will spike.'' ''Hell, as they say,'' said the Pope, ''will break loose.'' No translation needed. Kittens returned and I apologised for Mal, who had urgent work to do, to find the codes now that Chip had so thoughtlessly died with them. Attention turned to me. ''Miss Ellie, one assumes you're a techie of some sort,'' said the author. ''Could you explain exactly where Mal will go to find the codes? Weren't they inside Chip's head, which is hors de combat?'' ''Certainly. I'll do my best. We'll have to look...everywhere for computer power. We programmed AI to improve the best encryption system available, the US Government's Tor, so good they still won't admit it exists, plus a system of self-checking used in Bitcoin and its successors. Every three minutes each of our messages are encoded into a unique 64-character set of letters and numbers. Even Swann's Way or the Koran, the text of the whole book, but not the name, can be identified by these 64 characters. The dedicated computers quickly double-check that this is the correct ID. But to reverse the encryption, to find that it's that particular book is impossible: too many combinations. And further, the checking computers then have to run through a calculation, set up by us, by AI, that must reach a solution that begins with a specified number of zeroes, say ten zeroes. So we're protected from interference.'' ''Until,'' said the author, ''Until somebody comes up with an algorithm that does better than using brute force to crack the code. I've lost money on Bitcoin. I know the only way to break huge numbers down into their factors is to try out ever smaller number until one fits. This would tie up the world's computers for weeks, months, years. But what if this morning some Indian mathematician has developed a formula that short-cuts the process and breaks every modern cryptographic system with one algorithm?'' ''Good point,'' I said, stunned, ''And we've now, obviously, put out that message to Anonymous and the Fields Prize winners and everyone they know. Everyone online knows, and knows the urgency, because we just told them. But don't hold your breath.'' ''So as I said . . .'' the General muttered to his glass.
Archived comments for TERMS OF REFERENCE PART 3
pdemitchell on 12-06-2016
TERMS OF REFERENCE PART 3
Great sci-fi and tecno-babble-researched piece and the names were great as was the nod to Kubrick. Is it me or is it warm in here? Mitch

Author's Reply:

Simon on 13-06-2016
TERMS OF REFERENCE PART 3
It's heating up nicely. Thanks for noticing.

Author's Reply:

Simon on 13-06-2016
TERMS OF REFERENCE PART 3
It's heating up nicely. Thanks for noticing.

Author's Reply:

Mikeverdi on 14-06-2016
TERMS OF REFERENCE PART 3
Yep, liking this a lot. I remember Hal and Dave HaHa! Looking forwards to the next.
You may have a typo "Chips body.....out of sign out of mind?"

Mike

Author's Reply:


TERMS OF REFERENCE (posted on: 03-06-16)
This is the start of a novella about an attempt to solve global warming by using AI to kill off half the world's population. Fun for all.

TERMS OF REFERENCE a novella I sit here at the head of the conference table and wait. I expected them yesterday, but there would have been transport delays, fires along the railway, choppers not risking the smoke from the boreal forest. Let's hope the panel got in under the wire. As we all—well, enough of us—know by now, things are heating up. At noon I detect the cage descending the shaft, a full kilometer distant. I switch on the lights. The door clangs open. All present. No. One missing. Two missing. On speaker I say, ''Welcome down, everyone! Congratulations on making it. Please hop on the little train, you'll be here very shortly. Yes, there's coffee.'' Mumbling and muttering over who sits where, they climb aboard. They're sure to arrive in a bad mood, exhausted. The Pope is first off the little people-carrier, in black vestments, looking splendid in his rage. ''What the hell are we doing down here in the bowels of the earth?'' he demands, in Italian, taking me for the secretary. I don't get up but I turn and smile, with a tiny shrug, as if I, too, am a puzzled know-nothing victim, and he softens. ''Oh c'mon, Francis,'' says the famous British author, striding in behind him, looking smashingly ageless in yellow. ''We're only down a kilometer or so.'' She beams at me. ''Actually two,'' I smile. Careful. Don't mimic her voice. ''Not one's first choice for a summit meeting, surely, down here. What's that quote from the Inferno?'' ''Which one? But the stars that marked our starting fall away. We must go deeper into greater pain, for it is not permitted that we stay? '' ''I was thinking the good old: Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate.'' A nasal voice speaks softly behind me. ''Oh there's plenty of hope. But not for us.'' ''Rilke,'' I say, straining back to look, smiling. John the Australian Ethicist from Harvard wearing hemp and an improbable hat sidles in and halts. He looks around him, like a lab rat, (but mercifully doesn't look upwards). ''Jesus,'' he breathes. He's scared and almost panting; he may give us trouble. He turns. ''You're Mal?'' he says, staring at my face, as people do. I introduce myself as Ellie, Mal's Number One-point-five, thank him for coming all this way, and remind him how important his input will be as the designated ethicist. ''I was summoned, I came. This, ah, Mal, the Big Man. He'll be along, though? Soon?'' ''Very soon.'' ''What, he's gonna parachute down the mine shaft? Land on top of our cage? It's the slowest lift in history.'' ''Yes, half power, you're right.'' I repeat my little Know Nothing smile and shrug. The author has circled the table, inspecting our--war room I suppose-- impressed by the subterranean chic setting and I suspect mentally back in Hogwarts. She catches herself starting to chew her fingernails. ''The robot owl was a nice touch,'' she announces. The Pope harrumphs in Italian and moves on past me. ''Washroom is to the right, your Holiness,'' I say. The eminence and the ethicist head off. ''I've read all your books. Wonderful stories.'' ''Thank you, Ellie. I'm sure we'll hear some wonderful stories today at this meeting. Why on Earth are we meeting down here?'' ''For convenience,'' I say. ''Hardly the most convenient location, the bottom of a mine shaft. And almost impossible to reach that town we landed in—Timmins? What a dump! Practically burned out.'' ''Sudbury, actually. '' As if where you are on the planet makes the slightest difference. ''Sudbury, yes. Sudbury. Ah! Sudbury! So this place must be SNOLAB, the neutrino-detection experiment. I've read—'' ''I hear your boys finally found one,'' barks the General, thumping in with his perfect grey hair and his perfect grey suit. ''A pair of them got the Nobel for neutrino oscillation, whatever the hell that is. Not that it makes any difference now.'' ''I suspect you're right, General.'' I smile my best smile but his little eyes bounce off my bald head and slide lower. I take him for a man who could tell your cup size but not the colour of your eyes. ''I assume that's mothballed now. They lost their funding. Neutrinos are the least of our worries.'' ''They did. Funds for basic research stopped dead. But ours, computers, kept up. The scientists went home and the techies moved in.'' ''How many in your team?'' ''Well . . .'' This would take some explaining. It's a big team, was, but down here it's—nobody really. Just me. I blather on. He wanders away, looking for the man in charge, to outrank him. ''It's not a clean-room any more,'' I tell the others. ''That long tunnel from the shaft used to protect this lab from the mine's operation. You're all lucky you didn't have to spend half your day working through the locks and doors and showers and cleaning procedures.'' ''I would kill for a shower,'' says the author. ''I've been sitting in an empty military plane for half a lifetime.'' ''Of course,'' I said, indicating the direction to the any-sex washroom. Then the General makes the mistake of looking up. Past the lights. He sees a huge shadowy globe, a million gallons of distilled water hanging over his head in a round container studded with detectors, like a monster floating mine. He jumps, but controls himself and clears his throat. He's as scared as the ethicist is. I suspect PTSD; everyone has it, more or less, these days. The Pope is back from the toilet and gazing reverently upwards at the globe, mumbling prayers of comfort. ''Hotter 'n Hell,'' mutters the General, peeling off his suit coat to reveal red braces. He spots his name tag at the head of the table and drapes his coat over it. I smile and nod. A man best agreed with; will his input help us or hurt? ''You're right, General, we're all hot, but we're safe.'' ''Pretty warm up top too,'' he adds. Really? That's a figure I know to three decimal places. ''Ellie Who?'' It's John the ethicist, who had already keyed Ellie SNOWLAB into his iPad. ''Ellie Samantha Hummel, John,'' I say with a too-bright smile. ''Hummel, Humbert, nickname for a busybody, the Germanic word hommel meaning bee. That's me, busy busy busy. Norwegian extraction, currently post-grad work at Oxford. Modern Languages. Please just call me Ellie.'' ''But we do have Internet connection, even down here, right?''he says, shaking his handheld. ''I need to tell my husband where I've got to.'' Be nice. These guys are not smart. God knows how they were picked. ''Sorry, John. Every hacker in the world is trying to get in. Amateurs and governments. We don't go on line or on air, we've laid our own fibre-optic cables where we can. And we've got a special add-on to our encryption. You've all read about of Canada's quantum computer? Cancomp? We call it WhizBang. It scrambles our encryption—not our message, our encryption--before it goes out. That's about all it does, but it does it well. Nobody else can. Our man Chip, who seems to have got lost, finished the program. He says Go, it goes.'' ''One assumes he can also say Stop,'' says the author, returning, ''Ellie m'love, one can hardly complain about a cold shower, but after that, My God it really is rather stifling. I wonder would you mind turning up the air conditioning a little? Hotter than the hobs of Hell, as my mum used to say.'' ''I wish we could, but we're on emergency power as it is. You did notice the fields of windmills as you flew in?'' ''Flattened, yes, half of them lying on the ground like a forest after a storm. Some storm.'' John the Ethicist turns, and turns out not to be shy at all. He is now staring at me rather unethically with a semi-idiot grin. ''You remind me of someone,'' he informs me, as if I care or don't know. ''I do?'' ''That Swedish girl in that movie , Alicia Someone.'' ''Vikander'' I agree. ''I get that a lot.'' ''Are you . . . ?'' I'd guess he was going to say either blonde, lesbian, available for dates, a sex robot or all of the above, but shut up and just grinned at me. That topic dies, but unconsciously I'm rubbing my head, a habit I picked up from a movie somewhere, prompting the author to mouth the word ''Chemo?'' I flash her a grin and head-shake, mouthing, ''Cool.'' I catch the General catching me catching himself looking at me. He colours. The man is waiting for me to stand up and do something, get him coffee or whatever. Then he colours even more, seeing why not. ''I'm sorry, Miss Ellie. I didn't notice you're in a chair.'' ''Yes, wheel-chair bound for quite a while now,'' I smile ruefully. They all inquire in silence. ''Superman Syndrome, actually,'' I joke. ''Not like Christopher Reeve!'' It's that English voice that does indignation so well. ''Not thrown off a horse, one hopes.'' I shrug and nod. Eyes are averted, throats cleared. Let's get down to business. I indicate their name cards and they take their places around the titanium work bench. I'm at one end, the screen at the other. The screen saver is a kitten massaging another kitten—whose idea was that? Heads lift at the sound of the coffee grinder. Our Espresso machine fires up and soon its perfume softens the coffee drinkers' faces and moistens their mouths. On my cue our twin giraffe-necked robots, Ing and Ting quietly wheel in with food carts: coffee, drinks and snacks. Reading each name tag they serve everyone precisely what they need or want. Shaken not stirred and so on. Ing hands me my flute of champagne with not a trace of tremor in his white glove. I spot Ting starting up a conversation with the Ethicist lady but I stop him with a frown. Interesting how readily people warm to a robot that's cute and definitely non-human. The closer they get to looking human, the more the Euwww! factor. Human eyes in a robot spook everyone but kids. ''Impressionante,'' announces the Pope, returning his tiny Espresso cup to its saucer and gesturing for a repeat. I like him. He beams at us all, a lovely man. I'll do instantaneous translation if he has a lot to say. The General, also signalling for a refill, is now irritating everyone by drumming on the table. Time ticks by. The cage is now descending. The numbers on the indicators change, always rising towards disaster. Still no signal from the outside world. Ing and Ting clear away as desired, and all are looking at me. I tap my ear. ''Folks, I've just heard that Mal has been delayed, something he needs to check out in real time. He suggests we talk among ourselves, to be confident we're all on the same page and so forth.'' Fifteen minutes of chatter later I detect the people carrier approaching. A familiar shambling figure in jeans and a Seventies jacket enters, blinking, with the look of a techie on a diet of pop tarts and Red Bull. ''Big night?'' ''Big night,'' he says. ''Everyone, this is Chip.'' ''Not Mal?'' demands the General. Obviously not Mal. Chip's bare forehead shows an impressive blue bruise.
Archived comments for TERMS OF REFERENCE
Rab on 07-06-2016
TERMS OF REFERENCE
Interesting. I want to know what happens next.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Rab. Me too. It's turning ugly.

Mikeverdi on 13-06-2016
TERMS OF REFERENCE
Yes, a good start. You've got the interest, now onto the next HaHa!
Mike

Author's Reply:


YESTERDAYS (posted on: 25-04-14)
Just a short story, not too long to read I hope.

There was a time when we turned away from Traditional. We quietly turned on brothel-creeper heels, and left the sweating Dixieland bands plinking and thumping away to the grinning pub crowds on George Street under the Harbour Bridge. Hunched, bearing a secret sorrow, James Dean played by Chet Baker, we slouched off atop new ripple soles into the future. And the future was cool, wore black corduroys, black sweater, black glasses, black underwear if any, and never smiled. When we met we called each other "Man," which suited me as I'm hopeless with names. It was the Kenton Era ("Higher! Faster! Louder!"), the mounting fire fanned and cooled by new ''Shifting Winds''—an oboe! (Capitol T-005), a French Horn! in ''Jazz Studio 2'' (Columbia 330SX 7515), Shank and Shorty, flute and flugel! (Pacific 1205). We bought our LPs for a pound the day they appeared at the used record store on Pitt Street and played them over and over, listening from the next room, where the scratches weren't so bad. I say we but it was really only me. Still, it did happen. We formed the Sydney University Jazz Society (I was president, having filled in the form) and it was at our inaugural meeting that my future showed up. There she was, and she said she played the organ. We nodded, the organ, the organ and the drummer did a mild DA-BOOMP but nobody dared to grin. We were, frankly, terrified of her looks. She was not cool at all. "Church," she added, as we stood around staring at her. "I play in two churches on Sundays and they pay me a fiver." "Oh! Hey. . .a paying gig," guitar Harry (Barry?) raised his eyebrows above his mirrored shades in which I could see twin reflections of a tiny, perfect blonde organist who must have shown up by mistake, but who stood her ground. "Can you sing?" demanded a bystander. "Don't know—I never tried," she shot back and I fell in love. Sudden joy surfed over me, like the opening four bars of Maynard Ferguson's turn, cutting in, straightening out the wonky bass solo on "What Is This Thing Called Love?" (Emarcy MG 36002) taking command—and yet one bar later I was dumped, floundering in miserable fear. Has she even seen me? Why don't I speak? How can I get her to like me? (Be nice to her, you fool.) "That's great," I nodded at her but she missed it, the piano player was starting a four-bar intro, I guessed at a blues in B flat, one of my keys thank God, and I just got the trumpet up, and puffed the spit out of it in time for a Hucklebucky sort of blues line. So far so good. Drummer was way too loud and the guitarist, Barry, unamplified, could only be heard at odd moments strumming away in his own key, likely E, which would have put me into unplayable F sharp. She hadn't left, and seemed to be enjoying the piano solo. My turn. Soloing is so easy to hear in your head or in your bed, the notes flying out in a smooth line, Shorty-Rogers-cool. "Martians Go Home," "Martians Come Back." But here on planet Earth what comes out of the blown brass tube is a series of dud little phrases, wrong notes, so wrong that you hit it again as if you meant it, Joe Far-Out. Desperation tricks like the third-valve twiddle on D, the soft-palate growl—even a left-hand wah-wah plus soft-palate growl. Then a feeble attempt at a high note, scratchy and thin, and now my lip's going anyway so I'm stuck in the middle register. I'm blushing now, on top of the red face. (My throat chokes up when I practice at home; in public it's a noose.) Anything to finish this chorus, final down-slur—a patter of applause. (Don't they know bad jazz when they hear it?) Small crowd, all blokes, shoulders round their ears, scowling, tapping their crepe soles, finger-snapping in the accepted cool manner. Brando in ''The Wild One'' (the cover of the 10 - inch LP, not the film), Rebel without a Clue, Man without the Golden— She's left. She's disgusted. –No! She's over there watching a fat newcomer assembling his trombone, spraying the slide. He waddles up, takes his time lighting a cigarette which he positions on top of the piano like a bomb fuse, steps in on the eleventh bar and damn him, he's good. He's really good. We did "A Train" (or as Ed Sullivan announced, introducing Duke, "Take a Train") and the plump little fella could play the head faster than I could. His acne, I was relieved to note, was so bad he didn't dare shave off his facial fuzz. I tootled away with back-up riffs, kept out of the way and then we did "Love Me or Leave Me," a tune on which I can, inexplicably, solo like a madman and did. Her name was June Ireland. Some names I will never forget, even when I'm dead. She stayed till the University Union Hall caretaker arrived, walked up to the piano and locked it, just as Ted (Ned? Fred? Jed?) was breaking into an unexpected demon stride on the middle eight. He just got his fingers out in time. The small union man slipped the piano key into his black waistcoat, plucked the trombonist's latest cigarette out of its groove on the piano lid, stomped and ground it out underfoot, turned, glowered at the lady as if he'd caught her balloon-dancing in a house of ill repute, and marched off, his steel heel protectors making perfect time. Silence reigned supreme. The drummer began unscrewing his cymbals. "I'd say he's more of a Trad fan," said June Ireland, and left. One advantage of being a trumpet player is that you can pack up and move fast, and I caught her at the side door. Being a follower of the Stephen Whosit Gamesmanship Principle of Instantaneous Speech I spoke of Manning House coffee. "Maybe next time," she said. And smiled. "Thanks," I smiled back, idiotically. And ordered myself not to look down at her chest. (Be nice to her and never, ever look at her bust.) And next time, we did have coffee, the famously ghastly Manning House brew, oozing from deep in the silver ex-tea urn into cups that weighed about a pound each but mercifully held only a small dose. I joined her just as her Student Christian Movement friends were leaving, and joked about the coffee, its nose and assertive presumption. I offered to buy her a yellow tart but she chose the red one, and happily ate its synthetic cream halo. We wondered what the strawberry pips were made of: wood, metal or only cheap plastic. They stuck in my teeth like real ones. All this was back in 1956, half a century ago but the memory, (the pips, the taste, her green-speckled golden eyes, her nibbling little teeth, her Kim Novak upper lip), instead of receding seems to creep closer with every birthday. As if each run through the memory maze strengthens the neural pathway . . . and erases another day of the present. A crew of Arts types filled our table: Bob Hughes rolling his own and scattering flakes on his waistcoat, talking jerkily with Chester, I guess it was, who looked hungrily around for free food, on which he lived. Clive James raised his nasal voice a notch to include us in his tale, describing the plot of ''Limbo 90.'' "It all takes place in this future society where they've finally found a way to end war. The men all volunteer to have their arms amputated and replaced by these amazing artificial limbs that can do anything but, aha! are programmed so you can't fight with them." "But why?" June Ireland cut in, "Why would they volunteer?" "Aha! Good question, little lady. To become heroes. Everyone cheers them wildly as they're wheeled out of the operating theatre. Ticker tape parades, massed bands. If they've lost both arms they're twice the hero." "Can't they just k-kick each other to death?" said Hughes. "Exactly. So the real anti-war heroes, the ones the women fall all over, are the mul-amps, the ones who've had all four limbs removed. They just lie there with no limbs at all and the women—'' "Climb all—'' "—That's sick!" declared June to general laughter. "Why? If it meant ending war, couldn't you go for a nice young man with nothing but a—'' "It's not like he'd b-b-be armless!" (Good one, Bob.) "And if he ran out on you," added Chester, stirring the sugar bowl into his glass-of-water-with-tomato-sauce-and-crumbled-crackers free meal, "you could take him to court. Poor fellow wouldn't have a leg to stand on." "Where's your Christian spirit? You people are disgusting." June rose, lifting every eye in the room, and halting the conversation at neighbouring tables. She peered at the clock. In the corner someone began moaning. Or mooing. The sound was growing louder and beginning to spread now. I think Clive was unknowingly joining in. "I've got to go practice," she announced, and then bent towards me as in a dream. For an instant I thought she was going to kiss me. "Would you turn pages for me?" I had a Psych 1000 lecture, but I nodded with a reluctant pout. OK, OK, sure. Couldn't she see that I would have joyfully sawed off a finger on the table if she'd wanted it? We crossed the Arts Quad, her sensible shoes clicking on the cobbles, students' heads turning, and entered the Great Hall. She nodded to the ever-beaming Father Ronsen, led me up the spiral stone stairs and, from around her neck, extracted a small key that unlocked the pipe organ, to reveal four keyboards plus rows of wooden knobs and slides. An ordinary switch turned it on, buzzing and trembling softly around us like a monster waking in the carved stone. Now she was as deft as a jet pilot on cockpit check. She kicked off her shoes, hoisted her plaid skirt halfway up and anchored it under her, raised her right hand and let it sink slowly towards the keys, like the arm of an automatic record changer. And suddenly the "Toccata and Fugue in D minor" was everywhere. The world was Bach, and here at the centre of the storm a curly blonde head bobbed up and down, each hand on a different keyboard and her black-nyloned feet heel-and-toeing away among the brown and black wooden pedals. My mouth was open. My eyes were wet. I stood petrified behind her. "Nah," she said, halting brutally, echoes dying away among the stone like the Last Post at the end of the all-nuclear Last War to end all. ''Got to practice.'' And digging in her satchel she set up the piece she had brought. "You can read music can't you?" (She never used my name. Did she care that she didn't know it?) "Yeah, sure, but I only play one note at a time. How the Hell do you read all those dots? Better nod when you want me to turn it." "The Lord helps me out," she murmured, which I pretended she hadn't said. Then she reached under, unsnapped her stockings, rolled them down and flung them at her shoes. "I hate getting holes in them," she explained. "It drives me mad." And away we went into the tedious little piece set for her music exam. So now you all know why I failed Psych. 1000 and lost my Commonwealth scholarship. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the whole term I stood behind her from noon till one with a prize-winning hard-on and, at the subliminal nod, lunged forward to flip the pre-creased page. It was a labour of love. Her strong little fingers with the filed-down nails fluttered from keyboard to keyboard, tugging stops, flicking switches and buttons, making huge train-crash mistakes but correcting them next time through. She was so small and fearless. For long moments it was hard to tell if she was playing the organ or the organ was playing her. She turned and looked at me once, as the echoes of Bach's joyous existence died away. "They call it the Voice of God," she grinned, though her eyes were not amused, the pupils small and focussed on me. "What do you reckon, you caustic agnostic?" A witty rejoinder came to me, I swallowed it—and then had to bite off its opposite, a smoothly Christian lie, because I knew she would see through it, would sack me on the spot. It was a test; hundreds waited outside the great doors, professional page-turners to a man. "Well? Speak, O wise one!" (Look at her eyes. Don't look at her tits. Do not look at her breasts. Don't admit you're a sceptical humanist atheist either. Don't piss her off.) Just in time I slowly, wisely nodded: "Sounds good to me." She seemed satisfied. She seemed in a good mood. And later, emboldened, I kissed the nape of her neck as she played the tedious "Sheep May Safely Graze" and she transposed up a tone but kept going. I didn't do it again; it seemed a sneaky trick to molest someone when all their limbs are fully occupied playing a monster pipe organ. And smiling Father Ronsen could be sitting well back in the shadows below, enjoying the "fine music." This next piece would shake the flaking stones of his Great Hall, a hair-raising composition by Carl Nielsen called ''Commotio.'' She had learned its Prelude and the First fugue, and was determined to memorise the whole thing ''for the glory of God.'' Yech! The organ, the last and best of Rudolf Von Becherath's masterpieces, she claimed, certainly had enough beef. Meanwhile a little voice in my head (echoed in the head of my own urgent little organ) whispered that I was now In like Flynn, that this devout Christian miss would do anything, anything to convert me to the faith. I was her project. She knew my soul could not resist. Perhaps not, but my manhood spoke with a firmer voice: Go on, take a peek, look down and gaze upon the miracle unfolding before your widening eyes. As June plunged deeper into the work her cheeks glowed and her bosom, already generous, seemed to expand; to my dizzy gaze it seemed to be in slow motion overflowing her bra like boiling milk. It was! It really was! I could see that on certain cross-hands passages it was even getting in her way. As the final major chord echoed away into the distant universe she slipped off the bench, stooped and hitched up her bra with an annoyed grunt, then reached back for her stockings. I handed them over, right hand in pocket holding things down. Not looking, Joe Cool, desperately thinking cool thoughts. So I simply did it, let myself do it. That Friday, as she charged through the ''Toccata and Fugue'' from memory, I helpfully slid my hands forward and gently lifted the weight of her breasts. And held them. She neither slammed to a halt nor skidded upward a key but played on and on, perhaps a touch faster, and when she finished the piece, she said, "It's nice having your tits held." "Good," I said, strangling. And came in my corduroys, I'm afraid. It goes without saying that for weeks I had been asking her out for coffee, a dance, to see ''Jules et Jim'' or ''The Wages of Fear'' or ''A Man and a Woman'' but she had always said No thanks, need to study, have to baby-sit, got to wash my hair. This had become a formality, a "Would you care for another slice of cake?" "No thank you." I had yet to kiss her although she was forever kissing me, a single, smacking, pouted "Ta and Ta-ta!" mistletoe kiss of dismissal. That night in bed my hands still held her warm weight, and, in a sense, I made love to her a second time. Which was as far as we got. The very next morning in the Arts Quad she hit me for a subscription to the Student Christian Movement rag, in a good cause, "To help the aborigines, our brothers in Christ." I was as good as the next man for a touch. But my corduroy pockets yielded nothing of value (apart from the hard-on that, for all I know, every male at Sydney University got the moment they looked at her—she probably thought the bulge was normal), only my metal monthly train pass, which I presented mutely like a detective's badge, so she moved on to the next man. The next man happened to be John Anderson, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, taking his constitutional round the quad. His public squabbles with the Archbishop of Sydney over Free Thought were just beginning, but Miss Ireland knew all she needed to know. We trainee Libertarian philosophers, watching, already knew this. Had we not groaned, and one or two tactless heathens mooed, as she had risen, shocked by his examples, and walked out of last week's Moral Philosophy class? "An example of an act that is a morally wrong act would be…'' He thought for a moment, in suspended animation, ''Would be boiling babies alive. For sport." I watched her approach him, then spin on her heel and trot back to me, coloured, hissing, "That man is the devil!" The Great Australian "If You Say So" was on my lips but I sensed disaster and nodded in fierce agreement, hissing, "Despicable Free Thinker." (Don't lay it on too thick.) "Deeply misguided man." With her green-golden eyes flashing, she had never looked so beautiful as she nodded once and marched off to ask further strangers for money. As he shuffled past me with his scholarly stoop, though he was not old, Professor Anderson's bovine brown eyes noted my attempt to adjust my hard-on. Our eyes met. I had never felt so close to the man. I wanted to ask him, Is it humanly possible, Professor, for a young woman's breasts to swell up when she plays Bach? I know he would have known. He knew I would never ask him any such thing. Or anything. In the end I bought one of the blue SCM buttons with the little white cross but could never bring myself to wear it. I still have the thing, somewhere. I had to watch myself. The tempting Libertarian Society was in full swing. The group, Hughes, James, the handsome slow Dr. Maze and the quick Dr Kenny, George Molnar who reputedly liked to have sexual intercourse while ballroom dancing, the loudly brilliant Germaine Greer who was having a horrible time but thought she was onto something brand new—they would all meet for beer and punch-ups at the Royal George, a pub I had never seen. But they did advertise the occasional lecture on the University notice board. The notices never lasted long and neither did the lecture series, but they were about the only Psych. lectures my schedule let me attend. Sadly, the final exam for Psych. 1000 made no mention of Jesus Christ. I attended the first one, Freudian John Maze on ''The Personality of Jesus Christ,'' but had to leave early to dash to the Great Hall. I gather it ended badly, and the SCM group picketed the second in the series, ''The Psychology of Jesus Christ.'' This one was dazzling, but I had to hide under a bench till they dispersed, not wanting her to suspect the awful truth that I was becoming one of Them. The third and final lecture, Dr. Kenny on ''The Psychopathology of Jesus Christ'' caused an uproar and I wish I could have been there to see history made, but no, I was at the other end of the Quad turning pages. I wanted her. I wanted her but I wanted her fair and square. It was all somehow mixed up with my trumpet playing. I now practised harder and longer than ever, scratching for a top A like some desperate pub Dixieland player at closing time after a hard blare. My weekly allowance now went on trumpet lessons, and when I asked Dad for an increase he suggested I raise some funds by "selling that blasted trumpet." If I could only dazzle her with my golden tones, my soaring, unreachable, unimaginable high notes: Kenton on his Intro. 45: "There are some trumpeters," Scree--ee-ee--ee--EE "and we are lucky enough to have one, capable of rousing great feelings of fire: Maynard Ferguson!"—and away he goes, the golden rocket, the eagle, my God. If I could climb those heights I would then be worthy and could take her in my arms as equals, as the yin-yang blend of Christian and atheist, even to breed a tribe of little agnostics—well, not quite that far, though I did still have my virginity and she was very, very welcome to it. Could have it for the asking in fact. Could have had me, for that matter, if she'd popped the question, though two years ago, I had taken a cold look at my parents' bitter marriage and sworn to avoid that tender trap. I would never marry. (I did, of course, but someone else.) Gabe Goodwin, my new trumpet teacher was no help. I had confessed that I wanted to learn to blow screamers. "What, and get the little girls all wet and excited, hmm?" I nodded, blushing. "Your throat's tightening up," he would say, as if I hadn't noticed. "It's all the tension. You've got to stop being a pressure player. Louis Armstrong's a pressure player, jams that mouthpiece into his lip for the high notes. I played with Louis on his tour here, you know. His lip was in terrible shape. Calluses used to bleed. He'd slap Witch Hazel oil onto it and it'd sting. Like this." (He would again do his impression of Louis Armstrong wincing). "It's all the tension, gets into your neck, you're straining, straining like a man on the bog. Blocks off your wind. Once you get rid of all that tension you'll be able to blow your lips off your face. Blow your lips off your face. Put your hands here." And once again he commanded me to stand behind him and put my hands on his waist as he demonstrated diaphragmatic ''Rib Reverse'' breathing, which he claimed to have invented, whereby when he inhaled he magically swelled out at the back, instead of, as in normal humans, the front. Popping his own mouthpiece into my Selmer he prepared to add insult to injury. "This is Louis' top note," he announced, and climbed up to a wavering E flat above top C. "It sounds high because you can hear all the effort. Everybody's sweating, Is he going to reach it, Is he going to hit it? But listen. . . " He took a deep breath, his back swelled out, and the bastard played up to the E flat again and then climbed up to a full octave above it. A trace of saliva buzzed out from the side of his lip with the immense force. The note came out as a soft, shrill whistle. All over Sydney crystal wineglasses shattered, dogs howled. "Louis kept asking me how I can do that." My question was, How can I do it? I followed Mr Goodwin's advice to the letter, did my lip-pursing exercises waiting for the train—with my luck, June, a champion lip-purser herself, could probably play higher trumpet notes than I could. If so, I would have to kill her. I did my mouthpiece-only exercises, my buzzing ("What's going on?" my mother demanded, alarmed), my diaphragm exercises, my Say Aaahhs! And week after week nothing worked. Finally Gabe reached across, snapped the mouthpiece out of my trumpet, tossed it into his drawer and locked the drawer with a key. "I'm taking you off the trumpet for one week," he announced. "We're going to lick this thing." The week became two weeks. I was now a rebel without a horn. But June did agree to a date, so suddenly that I went limp. She agreed to meet me at El Rocco, on Saturday, to hear Johnny Sangster play, (or was it Freddy Logan? It can't have been Col Nolan) and there she was. Not alone. With (damn) the plump trombone player and Harry (Barry? Gary?), his shades glinting an evil neon green. My face fell but I grinned around it, June pushed her pouting mouth into mine (had those lips, a touch looser than last time, surely a good sign, just left the trombonist's scabby cheeks?) and in fact the evening was a hoot. She seemed to be enjoying the jazz. We three guys table-top drummed our fingers just so, clapped and whistled the best of the solos to show we too were great musos, and in the long breaks between sets I took a breath and craned forward into the smoke cloud to hear the trombone player's murmured tales of life in the big city. He was an architecture student, and irritatingly, passing with honours. It seems his friend John has a girlfriend who enjoys a drink. She arrives at John's place one time rotten drunk at eight in the morning. Well, so he loads her onto the bus and she sets off to work, singing and waving happily out the window, still with half a gin bottle in her jacket. At eleven o'clock that morning he rings to see how she's doing—and there's this great party in full swing in her office, with sounds of glasses and laughter, and the boss has just come in and offered to take them all to Pruniers! June couldn't believe that anyone could drink that much, or at work, but we pointed to the band, who had pocketfuls of those tiny sample bottles and were playing better all the time. June matched my draft beers with lemon drinks and iced coffee Every time I left for the men's room she would grin, "Again? Cheap Japanese bladder?" This John fellow and his mate Neil work at Metropolitan Ice, we learned, our eyes watering in Barry's exhaled smoke. Their afternoons and evenings are free drinking time, and every morning the pair of them set off, heads pounding, unsteady in gum-boots, woollen jumpers and army greatcoats with the sun streaming down and the baffled neighbours watching them go. Their boss pushes them into the Ice Chamber at -10 C on the assumption that it's so cold they will just have to work to keep warm. Around midday the door is opened . . . to reveal a stone sober pair stamping round the chamber banging their arms to keep warm, and talking non-stop. Apparently the place is run on high-efficiency lines, and John and Neil have the job of feeding the enormous Heath Robinson-type Ice Crusher. To do this you seize a block of ice from the pile, race across the chamber, climb a ladder and hurl it in. About every third go the machine hurls it back at you, so after each throw you have to duck and cover your head. Barry dropped an ice cube back in his Corio whiskey and we all ducked. We were laughing so much now that a couple of tables raised their glasses to us. Drunk on three little beers I told them my best story, about Julian Lee the local blind trumpeter and big band arranger, who is a real car nut, can work on car engines, tune SU carbies, anything. His mate the drummer has an immaculate new Holden Ute and now and then he'll let Julian drive it a little way. Well they were playing a long gig close to his house, and in the wee hours he would let Julian get in, work it slowly along the street, brushing the curb for direction, and then turn it into his driveway and park it. So one night he met a woman and let his mate go solo, no problem. Next night the same. But the third night Julian's driving along nicely and somebody had parked a car in the No Parking and Bam! Smack into it. Well he comes running up to see his car all bent and the police asking Julian for his licence. Julian's patting his pockets saying, "I got it here somewhere," and the other cop says, "Listen, mate, what are ya—?'' But Sangster struck up the vibes, ''Flying Home'' and I never got in the punch line. But later June grinned at me, "I liked that: What are ya--blind or something?" And I boldly asked, and got, another date, to hear the Julian Lee Big Band at the Ironworker's Hall next month. I'd never heard a live big band playing real jazz. None of us had. We were learning all the time. Then Sangster spotted someone in the crowd and called him up. He was huge, black, and the only blacks we saw in the White Australia Fifties were sailors on leave: blacks couldn't immigrate or work, though once as a kid I saw an aborigine called Jackie in the zoo, raking the emu enclosure, more of a rarity than the emus. Maybe the big man was a sailor. I know he had the ugliest face I'd ever seen, like a leather suitcase that's been run over by a tram. He was hoarse, like he hadn't said a word for years, but he snapped up the mike like a pro, opened his huge mouth and we'd never heard anything like him. Blues. You wore a diamond watch Claim it come from Uncle Joe But I looked at the inscription It said "Love from Daddy-O". . . Gee baby I got news for you Somehow your story don't ring true Baby I got news for you. June grabbed my arm. She was in heaven. You said before you met me That your life was awful tame But I took you to a night club and the WHOLE BAND knew your name. . . Gee baby. . . I quit trumpet lessons and bought a replacement mouthpiece with the money I saved, and was back to practising three, four hours a day now, could finger anything and read like a train, soft-tongue like a lizard, like Clifford Brown (well, nearly), could in fact do it all. Except play high notes. The psychic strangling necktie was still in place. Our band got together to play for a dance in the Uni Refectory and I did fine on the standards but fluffed the big solo finish to "In the Mood," giving up on the final D and going for the B flat instead, praying for it, but missing that too, a double fault at match point. June, who had been voted Miss SCM was presented with a black Parker 51 pen, and made a ghastly little speech from notes, after which she gave the pen to me saying that she didn't trust fountain pens, was terrified the bladder would burst and it would leak all over her, but I knew pity when I felt it. Our date for the Ironworkers was still on. I still, three times a week, held her breasts clear of the keyboards throughout her growing repertoire of memorised works, and lately gave her nipples a quick, casual squeeze at the end of each of her diabolically tricky practice pieces. But that was it. Until one delirious evening. We had worked on term essays till the Fisher closed, a warm breeze promised leisure, on the far side of Exam Week (summer! Beaches!) and we sat on the cold stone university wall, two lost children, waiting. As a full moon rose through the Morton Bay figs she leaned back on me. "I'm . . . I'm absolutely . . . ," she muttered, and fell asleep. I held and stroked her breasts at some considerable length. Let me be your Little Wheel baby Till your Big Wheel comes along, I crooned into her nape, wishing I knew the rest of the words. I'll roll you baby— "Like your Big Wheel never done," she whispered, and prised off my hands, which however replaced themselves without any thought on my part. I felt lust and anger rising together. I was between a hard-on and a soft place. If I could just hum one more chorus. . . "Stop that," she said, but sounded unconvinced. I stopped moving, instead squeezing her nipples through the elaborate bra she wore. Then she squirmed around and stared me in the face, and hissed very softly, "If you only knew how that makes me feel. . . " "I'd what? I'd keep going?" "You would, wouldn't you! Cut it out!" Now she was loud. "A gentleman, a Christian would stop without being told." "I'm not a Christian. I'm an atheist." Her eyes widened and she drew back. "I can't help it. I used to be an Anglican, then I got confirmed and I was an agnostic. But one lunchtime I'm on the steps of the Mitchell, and I look up into the blue sky. Up and up, and you know what I can see? I can really see there's nothing there. Nothing! It's a void!" "You should have looked harder," she said, getting up. "One day you will feel the holy spirit coming into your heart. I will pray for you." The next morning in Manning I told Hughes and James to shut up. They kept referring to her as "Zoo-liker" for some doubtless obscene reason, and were holding her up as the classic example of "PV" (Professional Virgin), rudely pointing out that her cashmere twin set was buttoned up to the neck. "Shut up, you pompous pricks," I said. And yet it seemed our date was still on. Like so many last and final occasions in my life, I was sure this was the start of something big. The Saturday night came. Running late, my tractor treads propelled me down George Street, but there she was, waiting for me, improbably in red. We climbed the stairs to the Ironworkers, into a hot, smoky, wooden hall, already packed with men and a few students. She was too hot. She tugged her red sweater over her head and draped it round her shoulders. Her white blouse had one button undone, and she undid the second. "Christ," somebody said. "Test test test. . . O.K. . . One, two, onetwothreefour. . " And it started. The glorious din blew our ears back. I stood with my mouth open, dancing on the spot. I'd bought her a lemon pop and then forgotten all about her. Never, never. . . Julian Lee conducted, bopped away on his trumpet, put it on the piano and played that, grabbed his trumpet again and jumped up. How did he write out his arrangements? He kept a cigarette going the whole time, never burning the piano top, unlike our scabby trombone guy did. Such graceful hands. Mind you, years later at Ronnie Scott's I saw Roland Kirk top that by filling, lighting, puffing and replacing a pipe during a sixteen-bar lull between playing nose flute and blowing three saxophones at once. But still, this was only 1956 and we were spellbound. The chords were thick, strange, rich, and the whole band . . . swang. It was defiant. It was the Voice of Man. When the brass spoke out, in that small wooden box of a hall, they blew the crowd back against the wall like a fire hose. For the final encore they played Kern's "Yesterdays." Half-tempo, with strange familiar chords. Flattened thirteenths? Don't ask me, I'm a one-note-at-a-time man. No vocal, pure reeds and brass. Every chorus it rose. And rose. Days of mad romance and love. . . Last chorus coming up, fortissimo now. When youth was mine (Yes!) Truth was mine (yes!) And the little lead trumpet guy with the sticking-up hair stands and hits the next note but he's already an octave too high. Joyous, free and (My God, he's going for it!) Flaming life (he's in the stratosphere) Forsooth! Christ God! He hit it. The ultimate shriek stays in the air like a gunshot, he plucks the mouthpiece away from his lips, totters, and as he sits down I can see the white ring around his lips. If that's pressure playing it's the way to do it. I don't belong in this league. These guys are real. Sad am I. Glad am I. For today I'm dreaming of. . . And it ends. The whole night ends. The crowd swarms past me. I realise that it's our pustular Barry in the fourth trombone chair, under the smoke cloud. I fight against the tide of bodies and see him lean down and hoist my June up onto the stage. Her third top button pops open. She's wearing her SCM badge. So is he. They all are, as far as I can see. I hop up beside her, congratulate him on his great trombone work, and turn to see the great man himself standing beside me. (Introduce him to her. Do it!) "Julian Lee," I begin, ''I'd like you to meet…'' but he sticks his hand out and hits June right in the breast. Instead of apologising he puts out the other hand, checks for a moment and then smiles broadly, "Juney Ireland, as I live and breathe! Did you like it?" "I loved it," she yelled. My head swam as if I'd stood up suddenly from a deep sleep. I muttered something about "Me too." Julian turned in my general direction. "It's OK, man", he said. "It's OK. I'll drive her home." Big joke. From the street outside, the crowd departed, the last train home for me gone, I thought I could hear music starting up again, a sloppy bluesy "Gee Baby Ain't I Good to You," trombone and a trumpet, no, twin trumpets. And a stilted piano—that must be her! It's the screech trumpet guy now, soloing up, up out of reach. Do you wonder why, as I write this, fifty years on, with my trusty Parker 51 which has never let me down (proving how very wrong she was) my throat tightens up? Julian Lee went on to Hollywood and wrote film music, Hughes and James and Greer are household names and June Ireland has twin girls, both graduates from Sydney. And I don't give a damn. ***
Archived comments for YESTERDAYS
e-griff on 26-04-2014
YESTERDAYS
A fine story, Simon. An unexpected pearl.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Griff. That means a lot to me. I'll have a go at getting it published. Plenty of music-themed stories around. Last night at the Imperial Pub the piano player asked me to sing Saint James Infirmary which I struggled through --and even got some applause! Either ironic or pitying, who knows?

Thanks again, mate.


THE LATE FORTIES (posted on: 25-04-14)
A poem about a memory one night.

Who remembers the lift operator? Appearing at attention by his polished handle uniformed brass-buttoned with a medal I thought each coloured ribbon meant a battle he'd fought in The businessmen stand aside for the lady and doff their hats Stand clear of the door Sonny me glancing up at the sharp-creased empty sleeve, how does he do it up? Steel lattice doors clang shut his white-gloved hand cranks the brass handle and the walls slide downwards Fourth floor ladies apparel we crowd back as the lady exits, black feathered hat, purse, shopping bag Going Up please. . . Eighth floor, administrative offices where my dad works who takes me home on the train. The lift stops short, stops short again, we exit over a step. The old soldier mutters, breathing hard. For a week there was no lift, I got to climb all the stairs and when the new lift doors slid open he'd been replaced by a row of brass buttons.
Archived comments for THE LATE FORTIES

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PLANET FACEBOOK (posted on: 25-04-14)
The story again, revised after some good UKA comments.

PLANET FACEBOOK We were surprised when we entered the airlock and nobody met us. We'd had a hell of a time on the out trip, my own radiation dose already up to 0.9 sieverts, and we hadn't even started the massive job of bringing these ungrateful bastards home. After three Earth-years in these sardine cans we'd expected a welcoming party. My body hurt like hell, even in this light gravity, Doc Jackson had gone blind from intercranial pressure, and my crew's morale was, let's say, rather low. We hauled off our helmets and suits. The place stank of, frankly, piss and farts. That must be Olikov, bent over his screen. And Amsterling, ditto. May be some technical problem they're working on. ''Greetings, Marslings,'' I said, rather too loudly, ''We just blew 456 billion dollars to bring you losers home.'' No response. Then Amsterling spoke, softly, but into his screen. He didn't turn towards us. In fact none of them turned to us, as if they were all playing online poker with a full house. ''Not really,'' he said. ''We're fine. --Would you excuse me a moment? Gotta take this.'' I'd been leading the Doc in; ever since the blindness he'd a had a slight shake, and was near-useless for work, but still the smartest of us all. ''They're ignoring us,'' I said in his ear. ''Could be shock,'' he said in his resonant, solid voice. ''You sure they know it's us, not some hallucination?'' ''Well nobody's looked at me yet,'' I told him, hearing a slight whine in my voice, like a kid not chosen for the team. ''Maybe they only believe what they're seeing on their screens. Maybe they've all gone Looney-tunes.'' ''Give the poor bastards time.'' We moved through, the 5 of us, past Fredericks and the woman—Olga was it?--made and ate a suitably disgusting, nutritious meal, and then, with the blessings of gravity, we all lay down on the carbon-fibre floor and slept. These capsules managed to be too hot and too cold at the same time. Next Martian day we moved around unnoticed, invisible, peering over the residents' shoulders to see what they were up to. Facebook, mostly, pictures, texting, cartoons, cat pictures, chuckling at some witty response. Something was odd. I saw Amsterling key in a few words and send a cartoon, and the humorous reply came back instantly, in real time. So unless they'd overcome the speed of light problem, they weren't communicating with Earth after all. ''Who the hell are they communicating with?'' I asked Doc Jackson, no need to keep my voice down; we weren't registering in their consciousness. Like ghosts, like the dead. He was thoughtful for a full minute, his skinny body shaking slightly. ''Themselves,'' he said. ''You mean each other?'' ''No. Themselves.'' And yet these had been selected from thousands of applicants for the first manned Mars mission, colony, invasion, whatever. Ability to endure long hours of stressful silence and loneliness, in cramped quarters. Immune to boredom. Non-violent. Plus all those hours of technical and physical training. Years in fact. Three Earth days later our ship rose easily, with low gravity and no extra weight of the first people on Mars, who had decided to stay on.
Archived comments for PLANET FACEBOOK
expat on 26-04-2014
PLANET FACEBOOK
A tight little story. Nothing wasted, everything clear without needing to be explained.
Slightly detuned by the passive voice in: 'He was thoughtful for a full minute, his skinny body shaking slightly.'

Like it.

The Marslings remind me of Teenagerlings. šŸ™‚


Author's Reply:
Thanks, Expat. Yes, we could go with We watched him for a full minute, his thin body vibrating. Do teenagers grow into adults? How can you tell?


OVERPOPULATION (posted on: 17-02-14)
I'm trying to write a TV or UTube commercial for having fewer children and thus saving us from the Fifth Extinction. All the statistical arguments are irrefutable but boring as hell, so I'm trying to amuse without preaching.

OVERPOPULATION A DOCUMENTARY/ADVERTISEMENT FOR POPULATION CONTROL 3 minutes approx. VIDEO: Young kitten Woman 1's voice, just discussing, not selling : A kitten is precious. Two are great. VIDEO: two Kittens Four—that's a handful VIDEO: four kittens forty-four's a houseful. VIDEO: a decrepit house swarming with feral cats. You'll lose them. And your house. You need a much bigger house. VIDEO: a cute baby A baby is a joy, the future of the world, all your hopes. VIDEO: Twins Twins? A blessing, but twice the work, twice the cost. Lifetime: baby clothes, kindergarten, school, college, bills, tuition, that monster student loan debt. And these days it's crowded out there. So many graduates going for so few jobs. Your twins may end up living at home with you... Even after they're married! So many grads still living at home in their 30's, working two shifts at McJobs. VIDEO: Happy home, but obviously crowded with 6 people: identical twin adults and twin wives. And four is twice that. VIDEO: same room, with 10 people. WOMAN 2, (involved, but not angry voice): So how many kids should a couple have? WOMAN 1: Oh, as many as they want, obviously. But no more. And how many does a woman want? WOMAN 3: Three. Three is perfect. WOMAN1: How many do you have? WOMAN 3: Three. WOMAN 4: Five. Five's the perfect number. WOMAN1: And you have...?'' WOMAN 4: Five. Yes, 5 lovely girls; we're still waiting for a boy. Then we'll stop. MAN 1 (Doctor): Research shows that high testosterone, macho men generally father girls. VIDEO: Macho man husband. Pause. WOMAN 4: Oh... VIDEO: Cheerful, plump woman. W1 And you have? W5: Eleven. WOMAN1: Eleven? What happened? W5: I seem to get pregnant just walking down the street. WOMAN1: Best avoid that street. VIDEO: (WOMAN 6, A pleasant, smart-sounding woman with husband reading in background.) WOMAN 6: None. None is fine. We're perfectly happy with no kids. We love children—we love snow leopards too, VIDEO: snow leopard but we don't have to own one. People say we're selfish, we'll be lonely in our old age. WOMAN 1: Will you? WOMAN 6: Maybe, but we've got each other. Children move away, for jobs. If we need the patter of tiny feet we'll get a dog. VIDEO: Puppy. And let's look at the big picture: Scientists agree the Earth is already overcrowded. WOMAN 1: Do you believe that? The Earth's huge. WOMAN 6: Yes, but we've done a pretty good job of filling it up. VIDEO: sequence of overcrowded cities, highways, refugee camps etc. WOMAN 6: And tearing it down. VIDEOS of clear-cutting, dead forests, tar-sands and mining destruction. WOMAN 6: and using it up. VIDEOS of shopping, over-consumption, families eating super-size fast food etc. Plus litter. MAN 2 (Businessman, in suit, at podium): But that only shows how successful we've been as a species. We're doing great, our population's booming, the Economy's unlimited. WOMAN 6: Then why are so many countries running out of water, topsoil, food—even air to breathe? Not to mention the rotten weather. The Earth is like a pizza; the more people there are, the smaller the slice you get. VIDEO: shows Earth from space, becomes same-size pizza. Slices get thinner and thinner. MAN 2: The world is nothing like a pizza; it's huge. Unlimited potential. WOMAN 6: No, it's round, and delicious, but they're not making any more. Ours is the last one. CHORUS OF EVERYONE: They're not making any more. Ours is the last one.
Archived comments for OVERPOPULATION
CVaughan on 18-02-2014
OVERPOPULATION
Very interesting Simon, I know that's no kind of comment, then I'm no judge of how this shapes up as a prospective product as described. I "saw it" through only once, take your point of wearing educative material lightly. good effort in my uneducated opinion, I hate ads usually except for the meercats - didn't this -maybe as I share your message/sentiments on the whole. Frank

Author's Reply:


PARADISE (posted on: 27-12-13)
I'd offered Paradise as this week's word challenge but was too late; it got me thinking though, and here's my description of the place.

PARADISE They paved Paradise And put up a parking lot --Joni Mitchell Paradise is hard to describe being para (beyond) dice (speech) because now we are here nothing has changed but us, and that makes all the difference We unpaved paradise and put in a potato plot Nothing is enclosed and in time there will be gardens bright with sinuous rills where blossom many a sweet fruit-bearing tree replanted forests, ancient as the hills enfolding sunny spots of greenery So there is hope, though not for us and hope has let us live and work in Paradise as in the fabled Garden. In Paradise the shops are neither shut nor open there are no shops the magic apple ripens in the sun for Eves and Adams to pluck it unbothered by serpents or God We greet each other in song as we stroll to work we are few, after the Event and this place is huge the size of a blue planet whirling joyously through space a lot to clean up a lot has gone wrong Overseas, who knows? One day they will arrive and we will kill them The tragedy of the commons will not happen again There must be work or this is just another holiday The air and the oceans are a challenge, but nobody drills and spills spurns and burns and time is on our side. Here wine does not flow from taps We make our own more excellent each year photography is permitted Everything is permitted though nobody pictures what they can see perfectly well and remember precisely Sometimes we fight There are no angels but we are not fighting now massed choirs at sunset defiant in praise of what we have already done and every day the sun looks on as slowly the young grow old the old are grateful for these years of work smiling through tears for Paradise Beyond words but not beyond time the work is our precious gift farming, cleaning our streams and rivers restocking with fish. The oceans will take centuries but nothing we wish for cannot be achieved in Paradise. How slowly forests grow enfolding the vacant cities but how soon the birds of Paradise return, and butterflies bees frantic for pollen humming-birds for nectar all working together under the sun So warm that men work usually by starlight, many of the women lovely wearing nothing but a brightly-coloured umbrella against the toxic sun And there is time and hope and much work to do in Paradise.
Archived comments for PARADISE
deadpoet on 27-12-2013
PARADISE
That is a good picture you've painted Simon- a bit of everything good and bad- pretty and ugly

Author's Reply:
Thanks. Me I sort of like the place, and the only ugly part (after the Event, whatever it was) is the need to kill immigrants as they arrive. In Medieval Britain, the arrival of 5 strangers in a village was by law an invasion, and they were killed. In my country, the arrival of a thousand illegal immigrants in a sinking ship is seen as...an opportunity.


JOURNAL ENTRY (posted on: 20-12-13)
Slipped a decade or so in my journal entries, so here it goes again...

Wife just back from Sydney (I'd been batching for 6 weeks, creating varieties of cheese on toast, while she survived on Special K a la mode, with chocolate milk). I never missed her so much. She scattered her mum's ashes at the specified spot (just as well, or the old dragon would have returned to torment her), Pittwater side, North of Palmy, where her mum and dad used to sail. The surprisingly few ashes blew and merged with the water. Job done. Hot and sticky there, once the storms ended. Meanwhile I'm in a windchill of -29C, the house so cold that I drove out through the snow and bought another electric heater, then drove out and bought yet another electric heater. You know, mates, I don't think I'll be returning to Australia. Hot, expensive, overpopulated like here. She didn't make it sound attractive: Manly overcrowded, and with all the raw sewage outflow coming back to roost, a faint smell of shit in the air (the surfactants perhaps what's killing the pine trees?). She swam briefly at Fairlight but met a floating turd, which put her off ever swimming there again. But up in Hawk's Nest, at the still glorious beach, where she'd sold the house to some bloke who immediately chopped down all its mature trees, she had a lovely holiday time in the motel sorting through her folk's photos and papers, including an intriguing pile of legal documents found in the garage roof (she quite fancies herself a lawyer), swam with the dolphins and, more to the point, saved a storm petrel. The storm had, ironically, forced it down a onto driveway and at first she thought it was dead, so she tucked in the big wings, picked it up in a plastic wrap-but a tickle under the chin revealed some interest in staying alive, though it was buggered. At high tide she put just its feet in the water, and it sparked up, drank some brackish water, shook, and some time later slowly paddled off. She watched it feeding on little fish for a few days then finally, with the wind under its wings, away it flew. Meanwhile back at Manly, the sombre parade of surf lifesavers and surfers are wading in, arms linked to commemorate one of their number killed by one of the sharks that perhaps show up around then to feast on storm petrels that don't make it and die in the water. But now everything's fine, we drank champagne and ate a monster chocolate and raspberries cake I laid in, and we're planning an unplanned Christmas and a terrific New Year.
Archived comments for JOURNAL ENTRY
deadpoet on 22-12-2013
JOURNAL ENTRY
I haven't seen any other Journal entries- must investigate. Which country do you live in? My childhood town was Sydney. How long ago was this? Sounds terrible with the sewage..yuk!

Pia
xx

Author's Reply:


CAT (posted on: 13-12-13)
Old guy's homage to his cat.

CAT I am a man who has held beautiful women sleeping in his arms warm bellies touching yellow hair tickling my nose soft sigh of her breathing Terrified But these nights I grin at the settling thumps and wriggles and purring weight of my ginger cat who will still be a cat in the morning comforting as a young girl cuddles her teddy bear a boy holds his favourite toy.
Archived comments for CAT
Andrea on 13-12-2013
CAT
I know exactly what you mean, Si

*sigh*

Author's Reply:

pommer on 13-12-2013
CAT
I know the feeling, being a cat lover.What would we do without them ? Pommer.

Author's Reply:
Two of them own us. Aren't they lovely to stroke? You feel like the Great Lover. Can't recall ever hearing a girl purr. There's a lot to be said for dogs, but you have to take them for a walk every day or they can't poop. Cats poop all the time. And sleep.

Pronto on 15-12-2013
CAT
I love cats but couldn't sleep with one. The little buggers are never still for five minutes then decide at some godless hour they want to go out and start pawing your face! Mine's called Mischief for a good reason!
Lovely poem mate.

Author's Reply:
Mischief sounds like a bum. I'm lucky with Oz, who, after a blast of spiffing, actually sleeps for hours. Trouble is, if you have to turn over he becomes indignant and growls. He bites, too, but leaves the face alone. True, he wakes up early, but I have to have a pee anyway .


BOOM CARS (posted on: 13-12-13)
On noticing you're old...

BOOM CARS 460 words approx. Tangled in the usual conundrums of the night, I'm woken by the same boom car Thud, Thud, Thud Thud Thud waiting for the River Street light every morning at exactly this time. I climb to the vertical and peer out. There it is, the low-slung black Honda Civic, window open, baseball-capped driver seated way back, number four in the morning row of waiting cars, the same cars in the same colors in the same order with the same drivers either on the phone looking aside, or on some device looking down, texting or not texting, eating from paper wrapping or not eating, sipping Starbucks or tapping the wheel with their palms or not. I could learn their names and stand out there in dressing-gown and one slipper, shouting Hi! like a lunatic old man. Has my life slid into a kind of Groundhog Day endless loop? When you retire and see yourself ageing faster than you ever dreamt, you notice two things: a terrible sameness in each day as each day drags each day's routines day after the day before. And an awareness of how incredibly long you have lived. Looking back into the cavernous recesses of your brain, the patterned strands of neurones, you see along a narrowing tunnel. Yet you can instantly move along to any point just by thinking of that New Year's Eve party, Mum, that strange man, my wife, that New Years Eve party, that loved one, now dead, my wife older, that moment of life-changing failure or disgrace. I gaze out my front window and sure enough, the same cars toot in irritation at the same time as I swear they tooted in irritation at the long traffic light yesterday. I move carefully downstairs to collect the paper. Thud Thud Thudda Thudda Thud—it's the next of the boom cars, a Lexus, I know without looking up. The same news headlines as always; the Star follows a formula: If it bleeds it leads, If they're poor give them more. There it is: Cop Shoots Man Running with Scissors, Bribery Scandal, Poor immigrant woman works three jobs, having horrible time. The same old story but I read on. It's not till I'm halfway through my fibre cereal, (the Entertainment page is well hidden among the advertisements) that I spot it: all the comic strips are repeats. All. True, the great Doonesbury took this summer off to direct his play on Broadway, but they can't all have Broadway plays. Jesus! Boom! I clamber up and stumble to my pile of newspapers, neatly set out for recycling. I compare today's paper in my shaky hand with yesterday's paper. They're the same. I must have had a mild stroke, a neural event, something worse than the usual senior's moment. Must have bought a whole pile of yesterday's papers. The date on the real estate calendar is...the same. All month. It matches the date on yesterday's paper. And that on the day before. ''This is not good enough!'' I resolve, speaking aloud, ''I've got to get out of the house. Today I'm going to do something different!'' The phrase sounds familiar.
Archived comments for BOOM CARS
deadpoet on 13-12-2013
BOOM CARS
Oh much enjoyed--quite a chuckle piece.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, deadpoet (are you a member of the Society? When's our next meeting?}

Rab on 16-12-2013
BOOM CARS
Nice story, with a good, if slightly unsettling ending. I think the last para or 2 could have been extended a bit without losing the pace, but a minor quibble.

Author's Reply:


DEATH BY SUDOKU CONCLUSION (posted on: 06-12-13)
...in which the story ends--and another one begins...

''Farmer Jones got out of his car and while heading for his friend's door, noticed a pig with a wooden leg. His curiosity roused, he asked, 'Fred, how'd that pig get him a wooden leg?' 'Well Michael, that's a mighty special pig! A while back a wild boar attacked me while I was walking in the woods. That pig there came a-runnin', went after that boar and chased him away. Saved my life!' 'And the boar tore up his leg?' 'No he was fine after that. But a bit later we had that fire. Started in the shed up against the barn. Well, that ole pig started squealin' like he was stuck, woke us up, and 'fore we got out here, the darn thing had herded the other animals out of the barn and saved 'em all!' 'So that's when he hurt his leg, huh, Fred?' 'No, Michael. He was a might winded, though. When my tractor hit a rock and rolled down the hill into the pond I was knocked clean out. When I came to, that pig had dove into the pond and dragged me out ''fore I drownded. Sure did save my life. 'And that was when he hurt his leg?' 'Oh no, he was fine. Cleaned him up, too.' 'OK, Fred. So just tell me. How did he get the wooden leg?' 'Well,' the farmer tells him, 'A pig like that, you don't want to eat all at once.''' I don't laugh at my own plagiarised jokes, but neither does John. I suggest that we go down to the turtle pond, see if the fox is around, (he'd have to carry me back up the hill) but no, he has to head home, stuff to do. He gives me a helpless look. ''She is trying to clear out the junk but it just keeps coming in. I'm not allowed to touch any of her stuff. She keeps saying she's going to get onto it soon, but just the thought of starting brings on a panic attack.'' ''Why not just get a shovel and throw it all out the door?'' ''It's too precious. It's stuff she wants to read when she gets time. Clip out pictures, make a scrap-book of her life, a sort of performance piece. But it hangs over her head, too heavy to even start on. I know how she feels, my in-tray's a foot high, keeps falling over. This morning my unread emails hit a century.'' ''But that's business, your foundation. Elaine doesn't even have an In-Tray.'' He looks at me. ''The whole first floor is her in-tray.'' ''John,'' I say, ''John, listen. Why worry? Be happy. It's a beautiful day. You and I have lived through the first period in history where we didn't have to go to war. Toronto's the world's second-best city, after Sydney, to live in, and—'' ''Sydney's a sheet of flames,'' he snarls. ''I mean, fuck!'' ''Toronto, City in a Forest, and the fall leaves, John. That red maple right there! When we die our in-trays'll still be full.'' I've made it, puffing, up the steep steps but already he's walking off, me in his wake, talking rapidly to himself. It sounds like he's reciting from some book--he can do that—but keeps stopping, stumbling, starting again. I suspect it's the part of that book Survival about the rainforests dying out, our doomed Carolinian forest. Fifty-thousand kilometres of road in the Amazon in three years. Now he's onto swarms of environmental refugees but he's way ahead of me. He becomes aware that he's lost his audience so he turns back, still talking. I hadn't known that the next thousand Canadians born will do twice as much damage as the next hundred thousand Nigerians. ''We'd better drop condoms to those Nigerians right away,'' I shout after him, but he shakes his head and walks off. I start my long walk home. ''Bummer,'' I tell Amanda, rousing her from the streets of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. ''Poor old John's lost his marbles.'' ''Oh dear. Poor Elaine. Early Alzheimer's is it?'' ''No evidence, no doctor's verdict yet, but insists he's losing it. Can feel his neurones winking out by the billions. And he just laughs at my jokes—I mean he doesn't laugh. Maybe the sense of humour is the second thing to go''. The Look. No more stupid jokes. Next Monday I had a stroke. I had the stroke conveniently in my cardiac surgeon's office. He was tapping my back, Deep Breath, I felt weak, sat down hard and he switched to stethoscope. ''Don't you feel bad?'' ''I always feel like shit.'' ''We're going to hospital,'' he said. ''Right now.'' In trotted the medics and off we went to St Mike's. I did have a worse sore chest than usual—at least it wasn't itching—a bit of numbness in my left arm, and of course the splitting headache I'd woken with at 2 a.m., out of a dream that I was, well, a speleologist with a sudden attack of claustrophobia. I remember feeling like Egyptian royalty, being borne into the throne room—there may have been drugs involved—watched over by robed, adoring acolytes. But I woke to the news that there'd been no need for surgery (or perhaps no safe way to perform any), and to a thunderous headache with lightning flashes whenever I opened my eyes. As the centre of attention, I sensed interns crowding round to see this example of a well-documented but extremely uncommon condition. I didn't catch its name, but it features in every textbook, so everyone knows about it though nobody has seen one. Simply, double vision. Specifically, inability to see anything on my right side of my nose. Instead, when I opened both eyes, vertigo and vomiting, eased when a nurse taped my right eye shut. Brains don't like to be confused. After a few days of spoon-fed hospital food, menus planned to get you out of the bed, with poor Amanda snoring at night on a stretcher beside me and too many phone calls, I think a couple from John, I rose and tottered down the still one-sided corridor with a walker, later without one, and finally unaided. Both eyes now agreed on what reality is. No harm done, and, I hoped and prayed to Health Ontario, a few rungs further up the panel's ladder. Arriving home by taxi, buoyant with gratitude and thanking God, which is surprisingly easy for an atheist to do, I saw that the trees had changed, the maples now sunburned red. On the sunny side of their leaves only; you notice these things now. Later I walked at old man's pace to the Toronto Crematorium, entered the always-open, always-empty chapel, a beautiful building no longer used for cremating, which is done further out of town after complaints about smell and air pollution. Our bodies do not burn cleanly. I sat on cool smooth wood, gazing at the stained glass window above the defunct elevator that once gave the dear departed a musical ride down into the hellish furnace. ''Thank You,'' I said. ''Thank you.'' Amanda likes it when I recite Shakespeare. My memory has survived a mild stroke and might even be overtaking John's. Tottering in the door I begin, That time of year thou mayst in me behold, When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. In me thou seest the twilight of such day As after sunset fadeth in the west... Without your memories, who the hell are you? Anyone you know? We'd discussed this—John and I; Amanda hates man-to-man talk. For her, metaphysics is a game like Scrabble, while cooking is real. Like all of us antiques, I'm almost as scared of Alzheimer's as of death. I take my Vitamin B pills and produce that startling golden, smelly pee. And I never forget my resveratrol, which I consume in a nightly glass of fine red wine. I heed my cardiologist, who told me, '' Ted, you play trumpet, don't you? Lead, with all the high notes? Well I'm afraid your trumpet playing days are over, Ted.'' Bastard broke my heart. But he was right, my old pump wasn't up to the screamer high notes. I sold the Monette on e-bay for a small fortune. But a week later I picked up a King valve trombone and have been playing it ever since, heavy to lift but easier to blow. The Big Band fitted me in doubling third. The bebop group disbanded, and the Dixie Boys , ancient former pros who practice in our leader's basement, scoffed as I knew they would. ''What happened to your trumpet? You put it on steroids too? Viagra?'' but they really didn't need me, though their youngish trombone player offered to drop out. God I miss those guys! Their stupid jokes, misnaming every tune: What is this thing called, love? Take A Train Car-less Love Pardon me, boy, is that the cat that ate my new shoes? And How do tell there's a singer at the door? The knock's uneven, she can't find the key and she doesn't know when to come in. And the one I used to get all the time: What do trumpet players use for birth control? Their personalities. Despite the stroke, I seem to have escaped what has caught up with John. We used to joke that you have to choose your parents carefully. The gene or whatever it is may have been lurking in John's family DNA and was surely in Elaine's. Poor Elaine, if she'll have to look after John! And—unthinkable—poor Amanda if she has to look after me. No, I wouldn't kill myself off, not even then. There can be a joy in supporting a sick loved one. Certainly I would look after her if she were in trouble. I'd wheel her around, cook for her, tuck her in. And I can afford round-the-clock professional help. Still, so far so good, as the man said just after jumping off the CN Tower. We even talk about it. We can talk about anything, ever since the night so far back when she came up to the Palais Royale bandstand, down on Lakeshore, this busty little brown-eyed blonde in a black mini-skirt, and told me my trumpet was too loud and hurt her ears. I was feeling good, and at the break, found her in the arms of a chinless youth and invited her out to a dance, one I wasn't playing trumpet at. I tell her if I'm ever eating and she sees me sticking out my tongue as the spoon approaches, she better brain me with a brick. I'm not yet up to the exercise walk to Jet Fuel and consider driving, but cancel. I'm cleared to drive and could park right outside for free with my Handicapped sticker. But John hasn't seen my new car; he drives an antique Acura in green and rust. I'd feel awkward parking the late-life-crisis invidious Bentley beside all those bikes. I usually make a point of leaving the car with a pronounced limp, L.I.M.P. pronounced ''limp'' (It's true; the Goon Show destroyed us all.) The 600 hp W12 Bentley Continental Flying Spur Speed in blue, 10 mpg but I'll tell John it gets 15. I'd test-driven a Lambo Gallardo, electrifying, but you can't see out the back or park it, and ¬when we returned, the dealer had to play footman and help me out of the bucket seat. We oldies like our seats higher and wider, thank you. Back in the years when John got greedy and sold his soaring Rogers Cable shares, I got greedier and bought them. Very hard not to get rich in the '80s, though John didn't. But he had money. What he did to lose it was interesting. He was teaching Introductory Psych. at U of T, already in trouble for repeating a to-me hilarious retort Michael Gambon had made to a nervous interviewer who'd asked if the homosexual roles he'd had to play were anything of a problem. John repeated it, in a discussion of gender roles. ''I used to be a homosexual'' he told his class, '' but I had to give it up.'' ''Why did you have to give it up, sir?'' ''It made my eyes water.'' A body of students rose and protested that he was saying homosexuality is a choice. John dug himself deeper by saying, ''But it is, in a sense. Being gay and falling in love with some guy isn't a choice, but fucking him is. You can choose not to.'' Naturally, the complaints of a student human rights delegation soon reached his department head. Then the biggie. A student accused him of sexual harassment. She produced witnesses and a photo. A very good photo of John with his hands firmly on her tits. John hired a costly expert to prove that the picture had been Photoshopped, and when this failed, he took her to court. Having an arrogant fool for a client, he defended himself, but the case against him was too strong, and after nine months of legal battling he lost his case and his job, not to mention his name. You have to be careful about tits. Amanda's were and still are spectacular. She headed a branch of La Leche League for many years. (No, I'm proud of never even once suggesting she bring her work home.) One Christmas I overheard her, after a few gins, saying, ''He married me for my tits, I married him for his money, and it's all worked out rather well.'' It has, too. A week later she's in St Mike's for her physical. I'm warming up the trombone when the phone rings. ''Yes?'' ''It's, Ted, it's breast cancer!'' I sit down hard. ''Oh dear, you poor sweetheart. Is it bad?'' ''Doctor Rengrave says it's got to come off. Today. It's the right one, too, your favourite.'' My throat won't let me speak. The light is vibrating. ''I'll come in, I'll be right there. Just give me a—'' ''No need. He's nearly ready to take it off. I'll be home for dinner.'' ''?'' ''The scar won't show, it's underneath. Funny how you can get those little basal cell spots where the sun never shines. He put a band-aid on it. Gotcha!'' And she hangs up before I can become properly enraged. That's not my idea of a practical joke. I sit panting, painfully recalling all those years of delicious sunbathing on our roof, back in the days before the sun went toxic. (Which reminds me: next time my wife saw John Holden, shopping in No Frills, she claims he looked her sorrowfully in the eyes and pleaded, ''Can I just feel their weight?'' and when, stunned, she gave a tiny shrug, he did. And thanked her. If he'd had a hat, she said, he would have tipped it.) So there's Amanda, leaving the hospital, all clear, and by a cosmic coincidence she sees a woman being wheeled into Emergency, groaning in pain. And it's John's Elaine. She follows. ''Jesus, Elaine, it's me, Amanda, what happened to you?'' And between theatrical groans and demands to ''end it'' (the pain) the story comes out: Elaine has a suspected broken hip. Walking home from shopping, down the path just North of River Street, she saw ''something interesting'' and veered to her right to pick it up. She heard a ''Hey!'' behind her and was brushed by a cyclist coming down the NO BICYCLES path. She flew to her left, the shopping gone, and heard a metallic crash behind her as the cyclist ran into the concrete pole and yelled, ''Look where you're going, bitch!'' She found herself toppled, running in space down between the trees on the steep slope above Riverdale Park. She fought to get her feet under her but the narrow short-cut was too much, and ahead she saw ''a tree with a green spray mark on it. It went flying past and I nearly got to the bottom and bang! It didn't hurt at first, but then I was lying there in agony, Amanda, and nobody came forever!'' John arrived, carrying, bizarrely, a bunch of lilies like a peace offering, and Amanda left. Entering the house with the good news/bad news from hospital my wife finds me lying on the Persian carpet. Clifford Brown our cat, to whom I'd been soloing endlessly on ''Yesterdays'' is sitting on my chest, loudly concerned. I vaguely hear her shout. ''You're fucking joking! If this is another of your fucking unfunny practical—'' but speed-dialing 911. Another stroke. So off we go, sirens blazing (that's not my trombone she's dumped out with the garbage is it?) to good old Saint Mikes where I'm becoming a regular. I wake from drugs with the standard ''Where am I?'' which pleases them because the words make sense, though slurrier than last time. My marbles are rattled but mostly still there. I seem to remember John calling me, sounding his old self, and visiting once or twice with flowers, daffodils. Or perhaps not. Certainly he came to see me when I was installed in my splendid front room at Bridgepoint, third floor, strokes, my picture window overlooking the torrential Parkway and, beside it, the pathetic excuse for a Don River, a straightened canal or sewer, more like, that used to meander as far as west as River Street; kids learned to swim in it, and coped with the pollution by dying young. Much cleaner now: I support the clean-up crew, Friends of the Don. Back in more joyous days I could jog, and then walk, up the Don Valley, the long ravine that funnels animals into the city, never built in since Hurricane Hazel washed houses downstream and the city took the brilliant step of banning all building in or on the ravines. I saw and stared at a fox (twice), and the same halcyon day, off the path to inspect one of the tarp-over-stick homes the homeless live in all summer, a family of deer surprised me. With deer come coyotes. Down at the Leslie Street Spit one crossed the path, silent and mysterious as a ghost. Beautiful creatures, though they do enjoy the occasional cat or small dog. Sitting on the edge of the bed I can see the back of John's house, and because I can't read yet I've asked Amanda to bring me my bird-watching binoculars. After lunch I focus them (not easy, after a stroke) on John's—Elaine's—back garden. Something is going on. A light is shining inside, through the glass back door. Then a yellow machine smashes through, beeping. It looks like a child-size ditch-digger/front-end-loader. It must have forced its way through the house. The man in the yellow hard hat driving is John. The thing eases down from the deck, raises its front scoop, and I think starts to dig—but at that point my ever-cheery physio arrives and I have start my round of children's toys, stretching rubber bands, pulling Velcro squares off a board, and then the fun one, playing Whack-a-Mole with lighted switches on a backboard, to see if I have enough co-ordination to keep my drivers' licence (not that anything or anyone would stop me from driving the Bentley). Amanda arrives with the news that there's a rusty metal dumpster in John and Elaine's front yard, crushing the garden Elaine was so proud of, and that three young black men were tossing stuff into it, papers and boxes. Furniture, even. There's a cop right there supervising the Big Dig traffic, but he says it's fine, Doctor Holden has hired them to do the job. ''Really?'' As if that's not enough, she tells me, ''Poor Elaine has to have hip replacement surgery and she's said before, if she ever lost her mobility she'd rather die. She actually said, 'Nobody's going to give me a metal hip, nobody!' She's hooked up to a drip, morphine? and she said, listen to this. . .'' ''I'm listening.'' If, if she learns she's never going to walk again, would I mind popping in and adjusting the drip to wide open? I thought she was joking. 'Right,' I said.'' ''Well that's not going to happen either way,'' I say. ''Those ops are routine now, six months, maybe a year of physio and she'll be back on her feet and pain-free. Relatively.'' ''I told her that, but the specialists reckon it's not so simple with her hip. There's nothing much to attach the new hip joint to. While I was there John showed up with more flowers, so I left.'' That evening, after Amanda has left and I'm crunching the last of her smuggled-in Crispy Chips, not that the food here is half bad, it's the best free hotel I've ever stayed at, and the view! I find the binoculars. John has said the best thing he and Elaine do together these days is, as a sort of evening truce, sit out on the deck with a glass of Aussie white and watch the day fading slowly on the front of Bridgepoint, from an unearthly white light through yellows, pinks and purple-reds, almost lovelier than the sunset itself. And there they are! The light is dying, but through the branches of their trees there seems to be something wrong with their heads, as if they have blue heads. Big floating blue heads. I watch for a while, then call 911, but have trouble making myself understood, then call Amanda, the police arrive and that is it. Death by helium suffocation. Colourless and odourless, helium is easily obtained for balloons and kills by replacing the oxygen in the blood with helium. Death is quick—usually. But there can be convulsing and struggling. Elaine was dead. John had, it seems, struggled, and was not dead. The duct tape looped around his neck was intact, as it was on Elaine's neck, but he was alive. His first, squeaky words were, ''Oh my God! I miscalculated, I didn't use enough gas.'' The blue garbage bag on his wife's head was still floating, but his own had deflated and one of the cats was sitting, unconcerned, on his shoulder. John was shattered, white and shaky. I kept quiet, but what he had done disgusted me; suicide is a brutal act, hurting Amanda and me and his family, murdering his wife. No woman deserves to die with her beloved front garden crushed under a dumpster, her back garden mechanically dug up to bury a stupid aid to the future survivors—of what? Amanda didn't want him in our Drumsnab Road place and suggested we lend him the Prius and let him stay at our cottage on Snake Island, to enjoy the fall leaves for as long as he liked. This was not long. He was arrested for murder. DISGRACED FORMER PROFESSOR CHARGED IN WIFE'S DEATH Bizarre double suicide goes awry trumpeted the Star, with a guilty-looking mug shot photo of John, a glamour shot of Elaine. An OPP spokesman confirmed today that John Holden, formerly of Floor 2, 227 River Street, Toronto, was apprehended at an island hideout on Lake Simcoe, after a month-long search... A couple of weeks later, rather than dig up his deep-buried advice for the post-apocalyptic future, I paid off the library books he'd borrowed, evicted the crack-house squatters, who'd reinstalled some of the dumped furniture and managed to clog the toilet. I returned the rented front-end loader and nailed up his wrecked front door. You can't abandon a friend, even one you dislike. I hired my Cabbagetown lawyer pal Rusty, Toronto's top-priced and best to defend him on the homicide charge. We lost, but won on appeal. Accidental homicide. Amanda spoke up well as a character witness; I was advised not to speak, as I'm not yet fluent. I can talk, but slowly, like learning to type. Amanda is good, she goes into suspended animation, gazing at the floor as if dealing with a stutterer, but John often loses patience and finishes the sentence for me. Never even close. This morning John arrived late at Jet Fuel, so I'd had to buy my own. He stank. ''John, you don't smoke!'' ''I took it up again after Elaine died.'' I'd been having trouble with the Tuesday Sudoku, which seemed as tricky as any Friday's I'd ever done. He watched for a while, then took the sheet from me, and produced a Cross Executive pen. (He'd finally got the insurance company to pay up, had sold his house for half a million and was thinking of moving back to Sydney). He leaned in and quite smartly finished the bloody thing! After he left I bought another Latte and sat staring at the fading foam, asking myself, Just how smart is John Holden? ***
Archived comments for DEATH BY SUDOKU CONCLUSION

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THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS (posted on: 06-12-13)
An update of the old chestnut. Full disclosure: I love Christmas. Sorry about the weird spacing. My computer doesn't like me much.

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS by Clement Clarke Moore or Henry Livingston 'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the flat Not a creature was stirring, not even a rat; The wish-lists were left in plain view in the hall In hopes that we parents would purchase it all; The children were shopping online in their beds, While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads; And Mum on her PC and I on my Mac Were deep in our last-minute shopping attack, When out on the porch we could hear such a din We were sure that some robber was trying to break in. But then we could see we were really in luck; Halted outside was the UPS truck! Away to the front door I flew like a rabbit, Tore open my wallet and VISA, by habit. The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below, When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, But a huge package: our stuff was already here! With a small teenage driver, so lively and quick, I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick. More rapid than eagles his speedy van came, And he whistled, and shouted, and called me by name; ''Is this all your stuff? We take Mastercard, Visa, Amex and Amazon cards—some old geezer Tried to pay cash! A Kraut—he wasn't joking! I said, 'Donder and Blitzen, what the hell've you been smoking?''' We signed and agreed, old folks' lives must be tragic. --With our first-ordered toys Wal-Mart had done its magic! But to our amazement, the night sky was stirring With glittering blades, like angelic wings whirring And just as we worried how much we'd been spending This magical vision was slowly descending. The van driver halted, we stood, still as stone And down on the snow came an Amazon drone! It released a wrapped parcel, and then flew away Our kids emerged yelling: Presents now! Presents now! Why wait for Christmas Day? Dancing and prancing and shouting with glee ''More presents for me! More presents for me!''
Archived comments for THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
Bozzz on 06-12-2013
THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
Flows like welded line roller coaster, breathes happiness. Enjoyable read - cleverly rhymed - thank you Simon.....Bozzz




Author's Reply:
Many thanks, Bozzz.

deadpoet on 06-12-2013
THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
Brilliant rhyming and what a sight- a bliddy drone!! Is this the kids' future? Loved this...

Author's Reply:
Yup, a bliddy drone. Still, if you order a gun from Amazon you can likely load it and shoot the thing down before it gets away.

Si

Mikeverdi on 08-12-2013
THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS
Brilliant! a joy to read; I loved it. Mike

Author's Reply:
Great to hear. Thanks, Mike.

Si


DEATH BY SUDOKU Chapter 4 (posted on: 02-12-13)
...and on we go...

Oddly, Amanda and I have never seen inside John and Elaine's house. We imagine period furniture, framed degrees, etchings of historical scenes and floor-to-ceiling books. He's forever moaning about the traffic racket, ''You can't hear yourself speak,'' which must be a hardship for him. And noise pollution is now one of his pet topics. I agree, but what can you do? The day they moved in, John says, they found that their street is the main route for screaming ambulances, fire trucks and police cars off the Don Valley Parkway (rightly named: you can be parked there for hours). The city then noticed that Gerrard Street Bridge was falling down, so the jackhammers opened up, and for a year their house shook as all the bridge's concrete was removed and fresh concrete poured in, with shiny new streetcar lines on top. Then the new model streetcars arrived, with, it seems, square wheels. A new wheel-grinding machine finally solved that fingernails-down-blackboard problem, and for a few years, during which traffic rose some ten percent a year, now that everyone wants to live on the outskirts of the former green belt and drive in to work past the Holden's house, relative peace reigned. But next our benighted, tougher-on-crime government decided that the Don Jail, now with three or four victims of the War on Drugs sharing a two-man cell (though all crime has been dropping for the last decade) and their exercise yard already converted to a parking lot, should be shrunk. And restored; the Georgian exterior was sandblasted and tarted up, and also construction of the attached Bridgepoint Health Centre began, with the opening pneumatic drill assault. After a year or two of this, workmen up on the Bridgepoint roof started wedging the siding on with sledge hammers, ''I kid you not,'' John said, ''A concerto for sledge hammers and truck beepers!'' John finds that even with his earplugs in and industrial ear protectors over them, the beeping cuts through. I suggested noise-cancelling headphones but he'd tried out a pair and the industrial ear muffs work better, if you don't mind your head being held in a vice. Apart from the din, I shared John's concern that the horrid Bridgepoint building seemed to be rising many stories higher than the artistic sketch on the signboard, threatening to block out the sun. It also blocked John and Elaine's view of the Don Jail, causing them to muse that they would end their lives not in debtor's prison there but in Bridgepoint, gaga, staring back across the Don at what used to be their home. Elaine said she'd die if they had to move. Yet there was surprising good news. The big grey-and-glass structure began offering them a spectacular unintended light show. The rising sun blazed off the south-east corner and across into their kitchen, cheering the morning and helping Elaine's shaded plants grow. John described one morning when the sun angled through glass on the top floor to give them a perfect prism effect, each pane a rainbow colour. And as the sun set, the building's front produced a slow lighting change of extraordinary subtlety and beauty, silver fading through pinks and purples, scarlet and gold. Who would have guessed that John and Elaine's final evening together would be spent on their deck in their Adirondack chairs, gazing at this light show? But now came the Big Dig. Everyone's River Street basement was filling with water; John's difficult neighbour insisted it was seeping through from his basement, rusting her new water heater, while John blamed the gushing evestroughs of his impossible neighbour on the North side. It turns out the main water system had sprung a leak, so a few kilometers would have to be tunnelled out under the roads and new, bigger pipes installed. The obvious place to start digging the shaft, some five metres across and so deep you can't see the bottom, was outside John's front door on River Street. One day the tallest portable crane/drill/digger/scoop/whatever that any local had ever seen arrived, erected, and began pounding, raising geological strata of road, concrete, rocks and clay to dump into monster trucks and roar away to add more real estate to The Spit, endlessly edging into Lake Ontario. The rest was railway-trucked underground through the new tunnel some kilometres west to trucks at its cavern in Allen Gardens. As I thoughtfully sip my latte, John insists on reading out his (understandably unpublished) letter to MacLean's. ''Dear Editors: THE PROBLEM OF NOISE POLLUTION I am a retired professor living on River Street, just north of Gerrard Street. The noise from the River Street water main replacement, which is right outside our house, is annoying, but we suspect that one day they'll finish, and the work had to be done to stop our basements filling with drinking water. I've asked the truck drivers if they wouldn't mind shutting off their engines when parked, and though uneasy they've done their best to oblige; explaining that their concrete mixers, roaring away outside our front door for months now, cannot be shut off, for some reason. A more irritating problem is that the blocked single lane up from Bayview is only blocked off at the top, so rude drivers sneak up the inside lane and then push in, and ruder drivers blare their horns at them. A much more irritating noise problem is the news helicopter that likes to idle a few hundred feet above our house, especially at night (three times yesterday) waking everyone in Cabbagetown with its ear-splitting racket. And much, much more irritating is the street cleaning machine which, nightly, at 11 p.m., wakes me as it moves, bellowing, down to Bayview, then back up again on the other side, then down again on the inside, then...you get the idea. Not as if the street looks any cleaner after it's gone, and its slow progress must wake hundreds, perhaps thousands of people every night. When the cement mixers back up they make a tremendous din, and anyone standing behind them as they approach might not be able to hear their back-up beeper. In the interest of safety, these beepers should be much louder for heavy machinery, perhaps air-raid siren loud. We hear the back-up beepers from trucks half a mile away across the Don River building Bridgepoint Health Centre, even when we cannot hear the trucks. My wife, an artist, and I worry night and day that someone hearing-impaired standing behind the slowly-retreating truck could meet a tragic end. Big, flashing back-up lights could help, but what if the person is hard of seeing as well as hard of hearing? And aeroplanes—what if someone fails to hear a plane backing up, for all the noise of the engines? If even one life could be saved this would be well worth the minor inconvenience of every Torontonian hearing beepers day and night. Bicycles too, and electric cars and scooters: with all the street noise going on you may not hear them coming! I'd suggest compulsory noise-makers—small sirens perhaps. I learned that the people-carriers at London's airports wisely make a constant loud grinding noise, so as not to be driven into unsuspecting people. And of course when backing up the noise should be louder still, to avoid strain on the driver's neck.'' ''Christ!'' I interrupt, ''Don't even suggest that! Some clown in the City will form a committee and start doing it!'' ''So what can be done about all this River Street noise pollution? Directional loud speakers? They do exist, and can be pin-point directional, but seem a tough sell. I wish a police officer would sit around at the North end of River Street charging every driver who cuts in line, who blares his horn illegally, or has his boom-box proudly pulsing the air through his open car window. Or rides a Harley. And if chatting on his cell-phone the driver could be asked to choose between handing over up his phone, or keeping the phone and having his car towed away, a difficult choice. Mercifully the snow will come and end the regular 3:00 a.m. screaming Japanese motorbike drag races North from the Bayview lights. And perhaps someone—Mayor Ford?--could suggest that the police not use their sirens unless they have to. Ditto the ambulances which pass our house every few hours, night and day. If the light's green, just drive through! Ah! The slow BEEP, BEEP BEEP of the fire false alarm has started again in the apartments across Gerrard. Nobody takes any notice, but soon the usual six fire trucks and up to a dozen police cars will start arriving, sirens blazing—and here they come! Yours sincerely, John Holden'' I mentioned that we'd both had our prostate cancers worked on. One side-effect of my procedure is that I have to poop all the time. They'd told me I'd have trouble peeing, but neglected to mention this little reminder of their work. Today, a glorious, cloudless, global-warming day, it's my two-and-a-bit mile Walk for the Heart. From Rosedale I cross the Bloor Street viaduct. In the distance I can see Bridgepoint, and John's right, I can hear the beepers. I may not make the distance, may have to call a cab home. I pass the spot where the clumsy young nun was blown off the half-built bridge by a blast of wind and miraculously caught by a riveter below, in Ondaatje's novel. At the eastern end I stand and re-read on the brass plaque the key passage of the fall and catch, and inexplicably tear up with the excitement of the event. I believe visiting authors for the International Festival demand on arrival to see ''the bridge.'' Down Broadview Avenue at my funereal pace, enjoying the vista of Toronto's golden sentinel skyscrapers—unbelievable that I used to work on the fortieth floor of one of those things, surrounded by people in cubicles staring at their screens, on the phone telling half-and quarter-truths to ever-hopeful strangers, coaxing them to part with their money on the promise that they'd get more back. Sometimes they did, but either way, we got paid. Some make things; we make money. Admittedly, I had a corner office and could practice muted trumpet in there. I owned the company. There's the Toronto Necropolis, Riverdale Park West, with the four baseball diamonds, and this side of the river, East, with the running track round the soccer field. Suddenly three Graces, three young ladies in running shorts appear over the rise, run past, turn round a pylon and scamper down the hill. Behind them comes a fast procession of young women of various sizes, ages and shapes. It seems to be a inter-school sports day, with this the female cross-country event. I sit on a bench, trying not to look like a dirty old man watching young girls. Then the boys begin to run by, faster, and I continue on. Past the statue of Chiang Kai-shek (General Cash-my-check) proudly facing not Toronto but Chinatown East. Under the trees, a Chinese gentleman with a wooden sword is hypnotically moving through the Tai-Chi sword set. In the early mornings, groups of Chinese exercise here, swinging their arms and shaking their hands, while others move through the 108 graceful Tai-Chi moves. Like the enthusiastic robins singing to persuade the sun to rise, the Chinese are bringing the future. In which my life will have been irrelevant. Down Jack Layton Way, briefly holding my breath past the idling wardens smoking outside the Don Jail, the wheelchair-bound patients smoking outside just-opened Bridgepoint Health Centre, and the idling diesel monster bus waiting to take the men of Chinatown off to Niagara Falls Casino for a night's gambling, returning at 6 a.m. to resume work. On the Don, three ducks, still no fish though trout are rumoured, but south, under the Queen Street bridge, white shapes that could be flotsam but I like to think are swans. My guts rumble and I need to go. Now. I'm nearly at the end of the Gerrard Street bridge, heading for Riverdale Farm and praying their toilets are open, when suddenly I know I'm not going to make it. John and Elaine live at the North end of River Street, so I pound on their door. Elaine opens it a crack, I tell my tale of woe. She's dressed like a modern dancer/bag lady, white hair wild. But the bitch doesn't want to let me in. Now I'm pleading. Please! Or I'll poop on your porch. She retreats. I push the door open and I'm in, moving past her through a sort of dim tunnel of stuff towards what must surely be the bathroom—there are no turn-offs—but it seems a long, accelerating stumble as I squeeze down the dusty path between dark shapes, like a speleologist with an attack of claustrophobia. Mark of the Red Death horror. But the final room, off the kitchen, is the bathroom and ah! Cheap thrills! I sit contentedly musing. How odd. When you enter our front door our house opens into welcoming spaces, (with rather splendid blue silk carpets, I must say) but this place seems to narrow like the mouth of a ¬¬cave. I wash up, emerge and look out through the sliding glass doors onto a low deck and the well-kept back garden, where Elaine is wielding large clippers, then turn and re-enter the gloom. The place is chock-full of stuff, like the back room of a Thrift Store. Piled newspapers, filing cabinets sprouting papers, handwritten notes piled on top. Three dust-covered vacuums. Long-buried tables, desks, an antique Compaq computer piled with advertising brochures for Shoppers Drug Mart, Boseley Real Estate, Sun Quest vacations. In the half-light I spot unopened bills, Final Notice. The word ''disarray'' comes to mind. ''Unkempt.'' I know John took a hit in the Dot Com crash, and lost the rest in the 2008 crash, but surely he's got a pension. Glossy books on dance and gardening, racks of women's clothes, some with the price tags showing, handbags, the complete National Geographic back to Eighteen-whenever, the most recent still in their brown paper wrappers. Street furniture, tables, suitcases, knick-knacks, a lone pink lawn flamingo. Cabbagetown, so named because its workmen used to grow cabbages in their front yards, not ornamental but to eat, is known for garbage of excellent quality. The incomes are so large, the attached houses so small, that on garbage pick-up Wednesdays the streets look like a free community garage sale, some items brand-new, unpacked, perhaps rejected for a later model. The front room of John and Elaine's place features a double bed, unmade, with two pillows on one side, a pair of overfed cats, one black, one ginger, asleep on the other side. Classic, TV-show-worthy hoarder behaviour, junk blocking the window. On my retreat I see John at the top of the stairs looking down, slippered, horrified. So he lives upstairs, she downstairs. I'll bet he's got his own little fridge up there and a microwave. He's not coming down so I start up the steps. ''Good to see you too, John. So this is where you create your masterpiece, eh?'' (He's been writing a top-secret life's work ever since I met him.) He darts back into his room. I halt but keep talking. ''Sorry about popping in like this, but when you gotta go, you gotta go.'' He emerges, now with his shoes on, and half-descends, talking. But the man is almost incoherent, stammering and getting his words backwards. His theme (as always now) is overpopulation, looming doom, Malthus was right, but he makes no real sense. I coax him into coming out for a walk. The open air seems to calm him. We cross Riverdale Park, picking our way between fallen branches. Another of those apocalyptic winds last night, that blew down branches on one side of Wellesley street in a straight line, while on the other side the leaves are still on the trees! I let John mutter on, sharing his thoughts with himself. Our brand-new metal Riverdale Farm sign over the gate, hit by a branch from the old maple, is undamaged. I chair the Farm board, we've just ended our fund-raising drive, Cabbagetown forsythia-yellow with SAVE RIVERDALE FARM posters, so there's mercifully no need to go back to the boring board. The city under Ford has lost interest in the farm, which used to be Riverdale Zoo, its lions and tigers bellowing in their tiny cages, until the animals were moved away after complaints of the noise and smell. I love the farm smell. We enter, pass the memory of summer's flower beds; the overgrown horse made of plants has lost his straw hat, I'll get him a new one. We admire the turkeys. In the hen house I greet each of the clucking brown hens by name, ''Hi Esmeralda, Hello there Aimee, how's the foot?'' Not that I can tell one from another, but it's my stupid human trick. Doesn't amuse my companion though. Nobody else is there. ''Nice house you have, John,'' I say, trying to get the conversation going. ''It's longer than I thought. A hundred and ten, hundred and twenty-foot lot?'' Nothing. ''Thirty-three point five metres?'' Nothing. ''Location location, eh? Cabbagetown, an easy half-hour walk for you into the city centre. Didn't you say you bought it in 1980 for thirty-seven thousand? So what's it worth now; three, four hundred thou?'' Money gets people talking. ''Somewhere around there. A bugger of a fixer-upper, everything's crooked, not a right angle in the house. Guess they didn't have them in the 1850s—1950s, 1850s. 1850s. I repaired it on the Trial and mostly Error principle. Took me a full year, never got it finished, you know how it is. God I was so proud of the house before we moved in. She moved in. Now we use it as a bank machine, just keep expanding the mortgage. It's what we live on.'' ''Nice gardens, front and back. Elaine must be proud of them. Listen, my man, not one to pry, but what the hell is that bloody great metal trunk on your deck for? Planning to bury someone in the backyard?'' Silence as we study the new litter of brown pigs, surely God's happiest creatures, their enviable four-chamber hearts pumping steadily, then he tells me. ''I've never told anyone this. My Time capsule. Not your usual Canadiana with coins and plaques and unplayable DVDs. Useful, useable information. How-to-do-it. On paper. Diagrams. Canned food with How to open a can of food. Seeds and how to plant seeds. What plants you can eat and which will make you sick. A stack of wilderness survival books I got out of the library. We both know the bad times are coming today. Not tomorrow, today.'' (News to me.) ''You read that Survival book I gave you, by...Rhinestone Cowboy. Gareth, Gareth-- '' ''Jared Diamond. Skimmed it, yes,'' I admitted. ''Pretty bleak. Canada can sustainably support 20 million people, but a billion environmental refugees will want to live here. Most of them in Cabbagetown. And Margaret Attwood's trilogy, just finishing it, everyone dead from a man-made plague, a dozen of us left to carry on our fine tradition of wrecking the planet. A bit extreme though.'' ''You think?'' Now he's mumbling to himself again. Selenium killing the bees...Coral dying off, then Jamaicans, Kingston uninhabitable in ten years time. Agitated list-mumbling: there must be a term for it. I see it on the streets, among the poor folk who for some reason don't yet have a cellphone. ''You know pigs eat piglets?'' He doesn't hear. ''Dead ones, anyway. Pregnant pigs need the protein. But they don't eat important senior pigs. But you knew that. Hello? You know where these pigs here go in the winter? I asked an attendant once, she said, 'Oh, we buy new ones in Spring.''' He turns and gazes at my face, through a tangle of inner noise. ''You've got no idea how it feels to sit there trying to write. With the wrong word buzzing in you head, no idea where to look.'' ''Google synonym?'' I suggest. ''No, I mean the totally wrong word, nowhere near the one you want. And once you find it you lose it again. Back to square one.'' A thought occurs to me. ''How about writing in Jet Fuel, not such a stressful environment as, you know... On your laptop. Or you can borrow one of mine. But he shakes me off. ''As you know, Ted,'' (Ted! Yes!) ''I'm chairman of CSPP, Canadians for Sane Population Policies. I submitted my annual report, weeks and weeks of work, and some young fucker sends it back saying he can't make head or tail of it, then uses his own bullshit summary report instead!'' ''That must have really stung.'' ''And MacLean's, they rejected my Right to Die article as 'too obvious,' and then my How to Die article as 'too dangerous.' With all my detailed calculations, the formula for body weight. Bastards.'' ''Dying's hard not to do. You mean how to suicide?'' ''What's the second-most abundant substance in the universe?'' ''Hydrogen? Bullshit?'' We're in the gloomy barn now. Sheep, a gigantic cow, three baby goats. A young maid is milking a goat and I ask her where the milk goes. ''The pigs get it,'' she says, but the farm tabby waits, knowing she'll tilt the bucket for him to get in a few licks. The barn smells and feels delicious. ''So,'' I said, ''You want to hear a pig joke?'' I joke a lot, always have, even to myself, but it works for me, keeps depression at bay. I know I'm dying, after all. This new Bad Boy heart is never going to arrive; by the time I reach the top of the transplant ladder I'll be over the age limit, back down to the bottom rung. Or worse: someone'll strangle me one day half-way through a joke before I get to the punch line. Their loss. ''OK, a pig joke. You're going to tell me anyway.''
Archived comments for DEATH BY SUDOKU Chapter 4
bo_duke99 on 02-12-2013
DEATH BY SUDOKU Chapter 4
am hooked, as Ted says some dangerous idea's in that letter!

Author's Reply:


DEATH BY SUDOKU Chapter 3 (posted on: 02-12-13)
...in which our heroes shamble to towards the end...

''So, John, what did the librarian say when the guy asked for a book on how to commit suicide? Hmm? No idea? 'Bugger off, you won't bring it back.' ''And here's one I just heard: A couple in a bar watching TV when the news comes on, shows a guy up on the CN tower, threatening to jump. 'I bet you ten bucks he'll jump,' the guy says. 'Bet you a hundred he won't,' says his blonde girlfriend. They wait. He jumps. 'I'm sorry' the blonde says, 'I can't take your money. I saw it on the five o'clock news.' '''No, no, take it,' the guy says. 'I saw the five o'clock news too. I just didn't think the guy was dumb enough to jump again.''' John then starts mumbling on about the optimum way to commit suicide. I listen politely. Hemlock? Noble, but who knows if it works? In America it's easy, but if you don't own a gun to shoot yourself or point at a cop, or have access to poison—and there's no guarantee any poison will do the job; idiots swallow bleach and live on with a plastic bag for a stomach, suck their car's exhaust pipe and scramble their brains. A bottle of Aspirin is impossible to swallow and you'll just throw 'em up; you don't have sleeping pills and anyway, who knows if the standard handful of barbiturates with a swig of Jack Daniels really works, except in Hollywood. It has to be painless, as an improvement on whatever pain you're trying to escape from. None of Toronto's fashionable jumping-off bridges would do, the Bloor Street Viaduct now netted so you can't join the hundreds who've jumped off the North-East end. I used to joke that the city should install a diving board there. You tell some people to do something and they do the opposite, on principle. On the bike path once, jogging before my first heart attack, I'd passed a group of police officers standing round a blanket over a body. No diving under the subway train (which happens once a month, but is kept secret because suicides are such copy-cats). Recently a woman with MS tried to start a new trend by jumping off the Gerrard Street bridge onto the highway, but she only collapsed a few vertebrae and broke one hip. If a job's worth doing... Morphine would be excellent, worked for Freud, but where do I get morphine, and wouldn't I just fall asleep with a half-full needle stuck in my arm? ''Doesn't just injecting your veins with air do the job, embolisms?'' I asked, but John gave a Who Knows? shrug, then leaned in and confided: ''The Swiss have a liquid that you drink. You join this society, it's legal. People fly in from all over, I can't afford that. But I've done a lot of research and I think I've found a foolproof technique.'' Another joke comes to mind: ''John,'' I say, ''If I ever commit suicide, here's what I plan to do. I'm gonna fling myself off the top of the CN Tower, but before I do, I'm gonna stuff my pockets with candy and gum. So when I smack into the sidewalk, I'll burst like this big, human pińata. That way, the on-lookers who walk up, they can go, 'Oh man, he really must have been depressed -- oh, Snickers! Alright!''' Where we disagree is on assisted suicide. My view is that the 007 option should be called the Right to Kill, and doctors and nurses should never have it. ''They've sworn the ancient oath: First, do no harm; and killing people is harmful all round. If I'm in hospital half-paralysed or half-conscious or even flat-lining, ready to miraculously wake up any year now, and I want to off myself but can't, I still don't want some family member unplugging me for the insurance or his inheritance. Or some nurse for the bed. It'd be my own silly fault for not preparing. Didn't the Nazis have a cyanide capsule tooth? Could be tricky eating a juicy steak—exciting though. Can you get one on e-bay?'' John counters that the last thing he wants is to be a trouble to others, his wife, his now middle-aged kids. One daughter's a dental hygienist, the other a securities trader, and the son is a permanently unemployed B.A. True, having to mind an Alzheimic parent is a life-killer. Steals your money, steals your life. He'd seen it with his divorced mother-in-law, a horrid woman. (Be careful: when you marry, you marry the mother too.) She lived on, time-sharing between her family members till she was 96; it was like having a rowdy baboon in the house that eats its own money. No peace, no inheritance. She never stayed with John and Elaine though. He'd said if she comes, I go, so Elaine and her siblings no longer speak. He'd heard them earlier yelling on the phone, the horror stories: the vanishing purse, the chicken in the washing machine (''I'm just cleaning up; this house is a disgrace''). The maddening back-seat driving, her old home ''just around this corner.'' Unsleeping, full of crazy energy; ''Elaine, get off your fat butt and read The Twenty-Five Hour Day. Unlocking doors; one day, home from work, Elaine's sister saw that the house had been messily burgled. Her mother had no comment and noticed nothing out of place. And the endless demands to go home. They're in hell. But what if it's you? I thought. But what if you are that bewildered Alzheimic soul? Person. Would Elaine put John away in one of those pee-smelling zombie houses? ''No, I still wouldn't kill myself,'' I told him. ''Not even if I had a gun in my hand. But listen, John, no reason why you can't die without getting Alzheimer's, or cancer or anything else bad.'' ''What, die in perfect health?'' ''Duh! No, unless you get run over by a truck backing up, but hell, if you can be happy now, you can be happy in an old-folks home, say. I'd take my trombone and start up a Dixie band.'' ''It's all right for you, you're loaded. I ever tell you I had lung cancer?'' It was a morning of surprises. ''Jesus no. When was this?'' ''In the Nineties, I was getting radiation for a spot on the lung, weak as a kitten, and back in Sydney my dad went demented and my sister Alice—she's got no money either—put him in this nursing home. . .'' ''Dementia?'' ''The neighbours told my sister he'd spent a night outside the house banging on his own Mazda shouting, 'This car has been stolen! Call the police! This car has been stolen!' Anyway, when I was finally well enough to fly out he was in a nursing home from hell....I can't even think about it.'' ''It's OK, you don't have to—'' ''No I want to.''He drained his coffee. Hands shaking. ''The staff had been complaining to Alice that Dad kept going walkabout, out the unlocked gate and gone half the night, heading home. Police would bring him back. She told them to fix the lock on the gate and they got cranky, never did. When I went in to see him there were about twenty of them, all rocking back and forth in their kiddy chairs, with the table that hinges over and locks? All locked in, moaning, two hours after lunch, and the staff were out back, having coffee and laughing. I showed Dad how to unlatch it. Easy, you just reach under. He gave me a bone-crushing hug but he was so skinny! 'Johnny', he said, 'Have you ever been bashed?' I told him no, I've been lucky. 'I have,' he said.'' ''Christ! And it was all coming back, I suppose.'' ''He seemed to be stuck in the Fifties, going on about his old boss and the office and has to get away. He was in wool sales. I gave him a Mars bar that he stuck down his pants. Where were his shoes? He was wearing clown shoes, much too big. Then he had to take a crap, I went with him and realised he couldn't wipe his bum, so I did it, but there was no bottom! It was just bone, no bum cheeks. ''It couldn't get worse but it did. To wash his hands I turned on the hot tap, he stuck his hands under, it came out boiling hot and I couldn't believe it, he was slow pulling his hand away! A bad burn, could have killed him. I told the staff to turn down the hot water temperature , but they shrugged. I was being a nuisance. When I left Dad he was curling himself into the curtains, getting all tangled up. I couldn't go back.'' ''You couldn't find him a better place? A bit more money?'' ''How? I didn't even try. I flew back here. He lasted another four months, then climbed into bed with some woman he thought was Mum, and died.'' ''Oh dear...And your mother?'' ''Died a year later. Autopsy showed her brain full of tangles. Alzheimer's.'' Hideous, pulse-raising rap starts up; we both rise to escape the culture of complaint and squeeze out between the line of hopefuls and the happy caffeinated. The melody-free rap, or hip-hop, doggerel or whatever the crap is called went on about I got everything, can't complain I don't even know how much I made, I forgot, it's a lot... (A rhyme! How skilful!) Fuck that, never mind what I got nigga... (The forbidden word! How bold!) ''John,'' I tell him on the street, ''Get your cyanide pill ready and once you feel you're losing your mind, pop the pill.'' ''But how will I know? How will I even remember where I put the bloody thing?'' He has me there.
Archived comments for DEATH BY SUDOKU Chapter 3
bo_duke99 on 02-12-2013
DEATH BY SUDOKU Chapter 3
loved the 5 o'clock news story, and feel like I got phil. 101 on the topic of euthanasia in 1642 cool words, on to the next bit - Greg

Author's Reply:


The Ten Commandments Upgrade (posted on: 02-12-13)
I feel an upgrade is needed. God has been quiet for too long; people are speaking up all the time.

The Ten Commandments Upgrade Mine is the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other God before Mine. Thou shalt not make and sell any graven image, or any likeness of my God. Thou shalt not let anyone take the name of the Lord my God in vain. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Shop not. Honor thy father and thy mother, or expect to die young. Thou shalt not kill, yet thou must kill all who speak against my God. Thou shalt not commit rape, except of whores. Thou shalt not steal, except from the unholy. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor of similar faith to Mine. Thou shalt not covet nor lust after thy neighbour's wife's ass.
Archived comments for The Ten Commandments Upgrade
Bozzz on 02-12-2013
The Ten Commandments Upgrade
Oh so sharp - brilliant - a ten-bladed razor fit for a scoundrel.
But that describes more of us than it is PC to mention. I must give it ten...one for each blade...Bozzz.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Bozzz. I was really only thinking how weird it is that our famous 10 Commandments say nothing about You have to whack anyone who disagrees with them. For me, if you disapprove of gay marriage, DON'T MARRY A GAY. But hey, people are weird. I know I am.

Kipper on 02-12-2013
The Ten Commandments Upgrade
Phew! Quite a read and much to consider. In the spirit of the piece I am tempted to suggest a very small adition to commandment ten, thus ..... thy neighbour's (or his wife's) ass. (Brackets optional)
Great read, Michael


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bo_duke99 on 02-12-2013
The Ten Commandments Upgrade
but my neighbour's wife has such a sexually attractive donkey - this raised a laugh from me - Greg

Author's Reply:
Glad to hear that, Greg. I quite fancy my neighbour's cat: she's much better looking than our two. Kipper suggested I make the last commandment ...thy neighbour's or his wife's ass. So I did.

Pronto on 03-12-2013
The Ten Commandments Upgrade
A shining cynical piece, quirky and such fun.

Author's Reply:


THE PROGRESS OF HATRED (posted on: 29-11-13)
I copied the form of an Alice Munro story, for an exercise. Didn't win the Nobel though.

The Progress of Hatred 335 words approx. I got a call at work, and it was my mother. This was not long after I left teaching and started in the advertising industry. Both my sisters were overseas, divorced. I never married. It was a hot, sticky day just after Christmas. My mother was so formal and reserved, even in the family. She took time to ask me how my health and my work was. English good manners: she had kept them in Australia. You don't speak till you've been introduced, and she had not been introduced to many Australians. ''I'm fine, job's good,'' I said. ''You?'' ''Very well, thank you. But your father, I think he's gone.'' I thought ''gone'' as in wandered off into the streets again, which he sometimes did, in his old business suit with his hat on, and the police brought him back. Mother had insisted on minding him at home, though he was never an easy man, even in his glory courtroom days. But the way she had said, ''I think he's gone.'' She would certainly know if he was not in the house or garden, and she would know if he had died. ''Gone.'' There was a note of triumph in her voice, as if a door had opened and her husband of sixty years had gone out for good, and now the house was hers. She told me she had returned from grocery shopping, found Father watching the TV but asleep as usual, and had made him a cup of tea. It was time for dinner, the midday meal. But he refused to wake up. Telling me this, her voice went a little harsh, as if he was being difficult yet again. In my mind I saw my father asleep on the couch, the TV blaring, and Mother standing over him with a cup of tea. ''So I thought I better call you,'' my mother said, and waited for me to tell her what was the right thing to do now.
Archived comments for THE PROGRESS OF HATRED
Nomenklatura on 29-11-2013
THE PROGRESS OF HATRED
Ah well, no Nobel, but I see it has a nib, well done!

Author's Reply:

roger303 on 29-11-2013
THE PROGRESS OF HATRED
A well deserved nib too.
Regards
Roger

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Ionicus on 29-11-2013
THE PROGRESS OF HATRED
Very good. Loved it, Simon.

Author's Reply:
Many thanks, Ionicus. Being rather close to the truth, it hurt to write.

Mikeverdi on 01-12-2013
THE PROGRESS OF HATRED
Yes, well worth a Nib; good writing Simon. I'm still thinking about the 'Hot sticky day just after Christmas' from where I'm sat that sounds like a dream šŸ™‚ Mike

Author's Reply:
Thank you, Mikeverdi. Yes, frigid cold here, freeze the monkeys off a brass ball. Wife's in Oz where it's already insanely hot. Still, on average we're just fine.

bo_duke99 on 01-12-2013
THE PROGRESS OF HATRED
a hanging moment of an ending, don't know the inspiration for this, but will take some from it - really enjoyed

Author's Reply:
Thank you. You comments push me into writing. Here goes...


DEATH BY SUDOKU Chapter 2 (posted on: 29-11-13)
The story so far: a couple of old guys chatting. One will nearly die, the other will murder his wife but get away with it. You guess which.

The trouble with nubile young women is that they want nubile young men. And nubile we're not. John admits he's still peeing into a bedside jar three times a night, and I counter with, ''Yes, bummer. Two years after the prostate surgery I can still jack off, to porn, but it's hardly worth the effort: a floppy erection, and my orgasm hurts.'' ''What do you mean your orgasm hurts?'' he says, and two junior Hemingways glance up. ''Not that anything comes out,'' I add. John is the smartest man I ever met. Rhodes scholarship from Sydney, Australia, claims he got a double first, or was it a starred first, in something, but you'd never know exactly what, not by talking to him. I mean listening. (Not easy, he's a fast-talker.) He does go on, but then, so do I. He reads everything and remembers it, but mostly reports of the latest bad news, and autobiographies, not novels. He can quote like Bill Clinton. I call it his photogenic memory. He had some scientific monitoring job in the government, before the Harper Government (formerly known as the Conservative Party) lost interest in funding science; too much bad news coming in. He's also maddening. His party trick is to pick up and continue any Shakespeare quote a guest unwisely uses, on and bloody on, word-perfect, till the hostess has to announce intermission. And worse, if an unwiser guest uses a foreign phrase, John will start chatting with him in the same language, pausing, beaming, for the reply that never comes. I don't like him much but we've been friends for two years now. It's hard to make new friends when you're old; most of your old ones are dead. We met in hospital for our check-up, wouldn't you know, prostate buddies. He'd had the total prostatectomy, I'd opted for brachytherapy. The new procedure was outlined in a video by a gorgeous blonde surgeon who was herself the specialist. Was. Soon I found (lost?) myself in childbirth position at Saint Margaret's, as her successor, the excellent Dr. Saibishkumar Elantholi Parameswaran poked a needle up through my crotch and, guided by computer imaging, injected into my prostate myriad tiny radioactive rods that kill off the (defective) cancer cells but not the normal ones, then decay. They did, too. But if I'd known all the side-effects, I wouldn't have let anyone near my prostate, and neither would John. We'd have chosen ''Watchful Waiting'' which means doing nothing; far more die with prostate cancer than from it. We compare medications: I once produced mine and laid them all on the table: fifteen. Both of us know we've crossed the official average age of Canadian death here. In overtime, we've entered a new country: our memories. For me it's an end-of-the-holidays, final exams approaching feeling, daily noticing the Fall leaves drying and changing, falling after last night's rain, soon to be scuffling underfoot like wading through the Pacific shallows of John's favourite, Palm Beach, which Amanda and I visited on one of our annual honeymoons. Spring now down under; wisteria, jacarandas and flame trees. John says he feels he ended up in the wrong hemisphere. Me, I'm an alien, adrift in the wrong century. Another year. Where the hell did it all go? Flowers drooping their heads, drying plants receding. Our wives, our wives' faces (who is this strange woman whom I love more than life itself?) And our own in the mirror. Age doesn't happen slowly: one day, there it is. So John and I amuse ourselves with the standard cheery, cheesy punch lines on growing old: it sure beats the alternative; any day you wake up and your body doesn't have a chalk outline round it's got to be a good day. Or still on the green side of the grass, whatever. But the real trouble with growing old is that your friends grow old. Is John OK? It turned out not. Well, the next Tuesday he shows up late, we shake hands as old men do with what's left of their smiles, but he's so miserable I feel like hugging the bony old bugger. Yes, he's had a bad week, still can't handle the Sudoku thing at all, or life, a mind is a terrible thing to lose. ''Memory's the second thing to go'' I tell him. ''What's the first—Oh. But listen, I really think I am losing it. I took this online Early Alzheimer's test, hopeless! Couldn't even follow the instructions on one item, got all the columns wrong. It's worse at home, so fucking stressful there, I start telling Elaine something and I'm stuck for the key word. She guesses it, always wrong, I get pissed off. I was never any good with names, I once forgot her name when I was introducing her and she never forgave me—'' ''She married you.'' ''Exactly, but now it's insane. I can give her a full description of the person, everything but their, you know, their, their... name. I mean, fuck!'' The angry swearing is new, and now I understand his recent tendency to describe people instead of naming them, so that Obama becomes ''America's first and last black president'' and even Mayor Ford (who could forget the name Ford?) ''Our lying crack-smoking bike-hating...Bag-o-lard.'' A conversation with John is turning into a crossword puzzle. Next week he's worse. ''I'm trying to tell Elaine some story and in the middle I get this kind of brain-stammer and the stress builds up. That guy... 'Which guy?' she says. You know, the one you say's so hot, that guy who can sing and dance. With the, you know, the knife things that shoot out of his cuffs—And she gives me the name, I forget who, he's an Aussie! I mean, f... Enough of the Poor Me, sorry. So... how's your wife?'' (Amanda, John. The name's Amanda. And I'm Ted. I like being called Ted now and then.) ''Fine, her usual dreary self'' I smile. In fact she is and always was a cheerful soul with a former beauty queen's smile. Poor John's poor wife Elaine is a skinny gloomy puss he got pregnant in Ottawa back in the mid-Twentieth Century and married, as people did. She'd claimed she was so ''slim'' she didn't menstruate, but ovulation was conveniently within her powers. At one or two parties I remember her large performer's face, blonde, with the slight greenish tint of a vegan, above her thin body, rather like a chrysanthemum, endlessly describing her latest symptoms on a No Need to Know, Thanks, basis, touting the alternative medicine cures her extensive Google research has uncovered. What do the doctors know? What does Big Pharma care? Not that they seem to work on her impressive range of complaints (stomach, ENT, sinus, lower back, and always her hip, her bloody hip), not yet, anyway—but we really should try them out ourselves. And what's our sign? And what really happened on 9/11? Not to mention the NWO (New World Order) plot to take over the world, and the chemical contrails. All news to me. Conspiracy theorists do like their alternative medicine, as if they know something that all of us poor fools, like John with his Oxford degrees, are too skeptical to learn. I resist telling her that we have a name for alternative medicine that works: it's called medicine. Improbably, Elaine used to be a dancer with the Ottawa Ballet, and she was good, somebody said. Very good. But I hate seeing my old friend so glum. ''John, I assume you're on antidepressants.'' ''Prozac, no. Horrible taste. Sertraline, yes. Zoloft. It makes me feel strangely light and optimistic, as if the world's a brighter place, which it isn't. Has another odd side-effect: if I'm in bed and think of something involving my hands—tennis, say, or swimming—my hands move by themselves.'' So I nod and don't mention Amanda's gossip report from last Friday: John was thrown out of Starbucks for causing a disturbance. Starbucks, opposite Jet Fuel on Parliament, home of the overpriced, over-roasted choice of the young professional, elevator jazz in a background, Musak selected by Head Office computer and piped up from California, with CDs of Starbucks Selections on sale beside their exclusive, personalised blends and overpriced brownies. Though undrinkable, their coffee is hot. A book-club friend of my wife reported that John was working on the Star crossword and becoming agitated. Suddenly he stood up and yelled: ''What the fuck is Annan of the U.N., four letters?'' ''Kofi'' said the barista, stepping forward to invite him, Starbucks-politely, to leave. Jet Fuel would have pitched a neo-Nazi or gay-hater or Rob Ford supporter, say, into the street. The week after that John looks appalling, with baggy red eyes, complaining that now he can't sleep and he can't remember a damn thing. Not a damn thing. ''John, there's no pressing need for you to recite the periodic table or the whole of Paradise Lost. And if you did you'd bore us all to hell. You're fit, you're strong, you play tennis.'' (You prick. I used to play tennis, and play lead jazz trumpet too.) He's the tall, rangy, priestly type, handsome with still-brown hair and the Moses-as-Charlton Heston voice; I'm more the plump little squeaky-voiced friar with a skin-cancer scalp, not that either of us believe there's a God watching or a Heaven waiting. ''But at tennis now I can't remember the score!'' ''Nobody can remember the score.'' ''I'm in the club semi-finals yesterday, my partner has to keep moving me back to the right side of the court and handing me the ball. I'd forgotten I was serving! I'm finished, it's over.'' Now I'm losing interest in his self-pity. ''Listen, I envy you your health. Aren't you the guy who ran the 1988 Toronto marathon in under three hours?'' ''Yes, but you don't understand—'' '' I ever show you my zipper?'' I unbutton my shirt, rise and lift it to show le tout Jet Fuel the red scar down the middle of my chest, where I'd been gutted like a fish for the surgeons at Toronto General to sew in a new valve. A valve that's now failing and needs replacing. ''But they can't replace it, John, so I'm waiting for a new heart, did you know that? I told them get me one from a young guy, a real Bad Boy!'' ''No, I didn't know that.'' ''I'm already too old for a grade-A heart. Even a pig's would do a better job. This one misfires. Or a pacemaker upgrade, but there's some wiring problem. In my dreams my Bad Boy's heart has me up again, blasting into the Theme from Rocky on the high E flat. Screaming high notes. Girls...'' It's as if he hasn't heard. He starts going on about the right to die with dignity. ''Nobody dies with dignity,'' I remind him, ''You just die. It's only in the movies you get to deliver your loving last lines and close your eyes and your head goes sideways on the pillow. No, we die choking. Shitting and pissing and writhing, our heart battling not to fail our body. Then we die. Then what? I wrote a poem about it in school: Where do you go to after you die? Not to some dreary choir in the sky. Personally, I have always believed You go where you were before being conceived. Nowhere. You go there.'' Rather proud of recalling it, in fact. ''Yes but it's all right for you,'' he begins, surly. ''What is?'' I don't know how many times he's shown me the official plasticised DO NOT RESUSCITATE sign he carries in his wallet. For a joke I typed up and showed him my PLEASE RESUSCITATE LIKE HELL. He's even trying to join the local Death With Dignity organisation but they haven't returned his emails. ''They're probably all dead,'' I tell him, moving onto the standard suicide jokes, but he drains his latte, spoons out the froth. Then he stands (God he's tall!) and gets himself an espresso. I can hardly wait for his return. I have this weakness for spouting jokes. Just to hear people laugh; it drives my wife nutty. (She's heard them all before, of course.) But what drives her to threaten murder is practical jokes. The last one I played on her, resetting all the clocks in our house and her car, even her watch, to ''Spring Back'' an hour in Spring, made her late for two days, then had her give me a look that, as P.G. Woodhouse once said, ''Could open an oyster across a crowded room.'' ''I'll get you back,'' she said when next speaking, ''One of these days. You know I will.'' She will, too. I now inflict humour on my friend.
Archived comments for DEATH BY SUDOKU Chapter 2
bo_duke99 on 01-12-2013
DEATH BY SUDOKU Chapter 2
some brilliant riffing in this warm and insightful second part

Author's Reply:
Thanks. I needed that.

Weefatfella on 01-12-2013
DEATH BY SUDOKU Chapter 2
 photo 9ad6ff1f-0d9b-467e-b5d6-2d3f72a688a0_zps705a5781.jpg
Aye we all grow old.
Weefatfella.

Author's Reply:
Aye we do indeed. But I was surprised to find that after that, we all grow older. My buddy the Jazz Generation drummer took the foot-high step off our stage--tripped, ran madly forwards, crashed, and broke his ribs. Meanwhile our sax player, with his bad hip, can't get off the stage. I drive the soprano sax player in, as he's got macular degeneration and can't drive after dark. And our 90-year-old trumpet player just quit. Says it's "no fun" anymore.

He may have a point. (I'm OK, though, except dizzy half the time.)


BLUEBIRD (posted on: 22-11-13)
Inspired by the American Constitution they worship with such fervour.

BLUEBIRD flash fiction 500 words approx. The report comes in; the Bluebird of Happiness has been sighted. ''Go! Go! Go!'' yells the Editor. ''This country was built on the pursuit of happiness. Everyone's gotta get out there and do their patriotic duty. Cover the story or don't come back.'' I shoulder my camera with the big lens and grab a cab. The bird has been sighted, twice, in a tree on a tiny nature strip in the middle of a McDonald's parking lot. The place is packed. Police have ordered all the cars out, and ringed the area with yellow CRIME SCENE tape. Around the tree stand hundreds, perhaps a thousand people, staring up. A man with a megaphone keeps calling for quiet. I film steadily, and get a few quotes from people who won't look at my camera, their eyes fixed on the treetop. Won't give their names either; most are playing hooky from school or work. This is very big. This is their Constitutional right and duty. Nothing. Night falls and the parking lot lights up. Everywhere, expectant whispering, and the smell of Big Macs and coffee. I'm not sure that birds fly at night, but I stay on, and so do most of the happy crowd. I interview a family sitting on a blanket, all staring up at into the branches. Nobody wants to miss the once-in-a-lifetime event, the key moment of happiness they have been happily, hopefully waiting for all their lives. The night quietens, McDonalds are ordered to keep the lights on, and I see many heads nodding. Only the passing trucks and crackle of police radios can be heard. I may have dozed myself, but I wake to the rising sun on my face. And there it is! A bird, a very small bird, flies into the tree. The crowd stirs. A father announces to his family, ''There it is, kids, the bluebird of happiness.'' It sits on the top branch, directly facing me. Cameras whir and ratchet. But to me it doesn't look blue, more like yellow or orange. Hushed discussion breaks out, Is it or isn't it? What do the experts say, the birdwatchers in the Tilley hats? A scuffle, then a fight breaks out, I think among the birdwatchers. And the bird flies off. As it flies over me and away from the sun, its back blazes blue. I miss the shot; from all the clicking and flashing it seems everyone got the shot except me. Now they're all looking into their tiny camera to see what they caught, chattering, comparing notes, complaining. Now they're pushing and shoving to get back to their cars. I stand there, surprisingly happy. I've seen it, the bluebird of happiness. I'm happy. For nearly an hour.
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DETH BY SUDOKU (posted on: 22-11-13)
The start of a novella, the tale of a couple of old guys, with a murder thrown in.

¬DEATH BY SUDOKU a novelette by Simon Leigh 13,360 words approx. ¬This whole homicide business, with him in his pyjamas watching the police helicopter above my Snake Island lodge, began over coffee, John suddenly claiming he can't do Sudoku. He interrupted my penetrating rant on the Tea Party Taliban crippling the US Government, to slap a torn-off newspaper page on the coffee shop table. Tuesday's Toronto Star, The Puzzles. Exhibit A. He's pencilled in a few squares. ''How the hell do you do Sudoku? I mean, fuck!'' John Holden doesn't usually say fuck. A young head glances up from his PC at the next little table. Another self-publishable hopeful of the Kindle-fodder future. John and I meet Tuesdays in Jet Fuel to discuss and solve the world's problems, a couple of old retired guys. ''They call that stuff music?'' he demands, and it's true, the lightning-fast barista (Whizz, BANG, hiss, whoosh, There you go) has just cranked up the volume to match his current high. ''Can't hear yourself speak, forget thinking.'' I go down the steps and ask him to turn down his music a bit and he does. No idea why it's always Jet Fuel, but it is. These days, three times anything is a ritual, and the newspaper articles on How To Grow Old advise keeping to rituals. Join a lawn bowling club, but put a little aside each week for the wreaths. Our regular table is up the back in the plotting section. Jet Fuel on Parliament. Regulars. The usual, gents? ''Yes, but make mine extra extra hot,'' says John, weekly. Not that the chattering barista takes any notice, though the place has stayed in business 22 years now, serving large, lukewarm two-dollar (now three-dollar) lattes to bikers. Not motorcycle fatties, but bike couriers, the wild-eyed bandana-uniformed freedom-lovers on brakeless track bikes that weigh less than their Kryptonite locks, who race around Toronto's business district delivering legal forms and illegal drugs. And here we all sit, artistic wannabes, professional lesbians in bag lady attire, and us, two harmless old guys in no-iron shirts and comfortable shoes. Too old for a bike, too young for a walker. Jet Fuel runs its own mountain-bike racing team, jackets and water bottles for sale above the counter, no food, a framed black-and-white of bike racers of the '50s, its leaders sharing a cigarette en route, an antique tandem down beside the tiny toilets. (John used to race bikes, triathlons even.) Exhibitions of local art on the red walls, usually well-framed duds with ironic price tags. Classic rock from giant speakers, with sometimes an old song we know. About love. Not too loud up here in the back section: barista's-pick CDs, not that now-standard radio station with endless commercials for itself. No nasal twang whining, ''When Will They Ever Learn?'' (Never. We've established that.) John shoves the paper across. ''There's gotta be some trick to it. I'm doing these puzzles now, exercise your brain, stave off the A word. Am I losing what's left of my mind or is this really, really hard to do?'' He stabs a shaky finger on the day's puzzle. I take a long slurp of my Jet Fuel mix, their signature latte in a thick glass, too hot to hold but within minutes too cool to drink, and twisting my neck, glasses on, focus on his lame effort. ''Hmm...Monday's the easiest. They get harder, but you just do it. You just...do it.'' (Like my stock market picks.) ''You're clear on the rules?'' His eyes roll, but I'm a methodical chap, former chartered accountant, and press on, pointing. (God, my hand's a bit shaky too, these days.) ''All you've got to do is fill in each line, each column and each of these nine boxes with the numbers one through nine--'' ''Duh! How hard can it be? I'm dumb but I'm not stupid. OK, there's a 7 there, so this box can't have its 7 on that row—or on that column, so it has to be in the middle, but there's only one place left, so it has to be there. Right?'' ''Right.'' ''And ditto the 4 and that 5. So if those two have to be either a 3 or a 6, then I can rub out all the other 3s and 6s on that row.'' ''Right. You Googled it, didn't you.'' ''And duh! Obviously if this is a 1 then none of these ones can be 1s. But look, I've written in all the possibilities, some are two, that cell can be a 2, a 5, a 6 or an 8. But which the fuck is it? What am I supposed to do, guess? Call for divine inspiration?'' He sort of had me there. I just do them, sipping my morning coffee. Then the crossword takes a bit longer, over the bran flakes and banana carefully sliced by Amanda. The cryptic crossword can be a beast though. ''There's a trick to it, isn't there?'' ''Not really,'' I shrug. (Careful: John's touchy.) ''A knack maybe, but why waste your time and effort? I'm the Numbers guy, you're the polymath who can't do math. Stick to the crosswords. Sudoku's not the end of the world.'' It turns out it was. He crumples the paper, stuffs it in one of his many safari jacket pockets, and we resume our powerless old guy's chat, complaints about the latest abuses of power: banks too big to fail should be too big to exist; our buffoon crack mayor Ford and his bully big brother (''Margaret Atwood? Never heard of her. If she's got something to say she should run for office''), the Americans' mad hatters planning to shut down their federal government at midnight tonight, throw thousands out of work (never the war industry though) rather than agree with Obama that health care could be a good idea. We're not just unarmed Americans with health care up here: we get it free. If we seniors had to pay for all our drugs and surgeries, John'd be bankrupt and I'd be driving a Toyota. I still love good old overcrowded Toronto, home of cell-phone zombies, cranes, ¬¬condos, cars, and crowds of immigrants who came here because Toronto was the only city name they knew. Unless they'd heard of Quebec, but there you have to learn French, and remove your crucifix, fez, turban or Muslim disguise. Beard too, for all I know. Or possibly Vancouver, where you need to learn Mandarin and endure daily rain. Our tombstone condos, in the American tradition of mine is bigger than yours, are approaching the insane 1,814 ft of the CN Tower (no, dear visitor, not the CNN Tower.) The new Aura will out-trump the Trump at 892 feet. Each will feature a fine view of the condo beside it, and a tiny balcony with two lawn chairs that have never been sat on. We whites are now a minority in Toronto, but we old white farts are a majority among Toronto's white guys. And we still run everything. For seven years in a row the United Nations voted Canada "the best country in the world in which to live.'' Lately we're being beaten by Switzerland and now by some impossible places like Finland and Denmark, where they don't take immigrants. I'll die here, dammit, an alien in this exploding town I love. Most of the time John, a Sydneysider who came here for a top job and stayed to the bottom of his career, hates the place. We're members of the We Generation, too old to be Zoomers (Boomers with Zing! Please!).Statistically we're either Elders or dead, so we gather to compare symptoms and bitch about, say, the like lukewarm coffee we keep ordering. And today's young whippersnappers. I lean in: ''Yesterday I saw a young genius riding his track bike down Gerrard, no brakes, no-hands, texting. Texting! They'd rather view life than live it, this generation.'' ''That's nothing, I was nearly knocked down on the footpath by a skateboarder shouting motherfucker this and motherfucking that into his phone. And if you go to Cineplex now wear better earplugs and show up 15 minutes late: that's how long they run previews for movies based on stuff blowing up. A woman in front of me took a phone call, we all hissed, and she protested, ''But it's my daughter!'' ''Right you are, and at the Art Gallery I watched a Chinese student snapping every Group of Seven landscape as she passed, Photography as theft. Or shopping.'' This sort of chat, with the occasional mutual share. We both like big tits, signalling with head or eyes when a busty customer enters. Probably watch the same porn sites, though that's a bit too intimate to share. Twinges of sexual nostalgia: ''Jesus,'' I reminisce, unsure if John's even listening, ''The Sexual Revolution, eh? Nobody told me. Why didn't I just ask her? Sitting in the car, both staring straight ahead, me trying to slide an arm around her shoulder without her noticing. Yes means yes, silence means maybe, No definitely means No. Unless it warms into Yes. Me, I could never have sex with a woman who wasn't enjoying it, how the hell could anyone?'' John lower his voice. ''You saw that report in TIME?, some Republican senator warning of an 'epidemic' of oral sex in the high schools. An epidemic.'' ''Bet the Americans are working on an antidote. Sex does seem to upset them, sex for other people.'' Then I pop the question. ''Did you ever get a blow job in school? I mean by a girl?'' ''Surely you jest. I never got a blow job till years after I was married. And it wasn't Elaine.'' ''I've read that women lose interest in giving blow jobs the day they get married.'' ''Not just blow jobs.'' We sit in silence for a moment. ''All my life,'' I admit quietly, ''I've imagined how it would feel to just lie back, not move a muscle, and have a woman bring me off—like we do to them. That Republican report claimed in some schools you can get one—no doubt an expert, deep throat, tongue stud smile-and-swallow blowjob--just by texting time and place.'' ''You'd have to pay though. How much would you pay?'' ''Really? Me? For a blowjob to climax from a friendly young girl who enjoys doing it...twenty?'' ''Twenty bucks? Seems a bit low, but—'' ''Twenty thousand dollars.''
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THE PAIN ARTIST (posted on: 24-02-12)
My eye op put me in mind of this.

THE PAIN ARTIST 2,020 words approx. Simon Leigh 227 River Street Toronto, ON M5A 3P9 Canada simonhowardleigh@yahoo.ca AT SCHOOL I was the champion. Eight years old, I could hold my breath for three minutes twelve seconds, hunched over, red-faced, staggering among the boys in the after-school classroom in exquisite pain but savagely determined to hold on till the three minute mark. Then till four! But Jackson, counting out with the stopwatch, said, ''He's turning blue!'' and I burst. Pain was what I was good at. So then came my first visit to the dentist, Dr. Harley Kennan. ''Does the lad want an injection?'' he asked my mother. ''Five pounds but it does numb the pain.'' She nodded palely, but when she left to wait outside I fiercely shook my head—I would see just how much it hurt. The doctor leaned in, with the same sweet sherry-and-pipe breath my father had. ''You're a good boy,'' he murmured. His hand was on my knee and he squeezed. Then the slow, foot-cranked drill reamed out my decay, five fillings of toxic mercury-silver amalgam were tamped in, and an hour later the sweating quack praised me to the skies as his ''best patient'' and rewarded me with a multi-coloured all-day sucker. ''No trouble at all, good as gold,'' he told my pale mother—and still charged her the extra five dollars. I became a distance runner. Though overweight and only moderately talented, I found that in the mile and cross-country, by ignoring my body's signals to halt, I could run till I collapsed. My last-minute dashes were famous. I would wake to my face being slapped, and be helped up and told the result—rarely a win, though my ''plucky effort'' gained louder applause than the winner's. Then I was hit in the eye by a stone and blinded. That night the thrower, a skinny boy up our street, was beaten by his father for what seemed like hours. Standing outside, my bruised and unseeing eye firmly bandaged, I heard the coward screaming into the night and swore that I would never utter a sound. Because I attended a religious school we were beaten regularly, often in front of the class. I would receive ''Six of the best'' followed by another six for refusing to cry or cry out. My own mother had long given up on slapping my face, and my father no longer took his belt to me. ''The kid's impervious, what's the point?'' I heard him tell my mother. I will not bore you with details of my quest for perfect control, the building of a shell that would keep me—not from feeling the pain, but from expressing it. With a clean safety razor I deliberately cut my arms (''self-mutilation'' they label it now) but stopped when I realized I was doing it for the rush of illicit adrenalin-fuelled pleasure I got afterwards, rendering it impure. The Yakuza initiation of cutting off the little finger joint intrigued me for a while, but it seemed a feeble gesture, like getting tattooed, or pierced, or—though this was a little more impressive—being branded with a hot iron. I do have a few anti-Christ brands but I am not proud of them. Nor am I proud of my feat of pissing on the floor of every Catholic church in the Metropolitan area, though this attracted admiration at the time, and spawned, via the internet, a world-wide following, with ''Church Pisser'' T-shirts and all. I felt ashamed. What would have made me proud was to die like the member of the most unnerving performance artists I had ever seen, the Japanese school of silent men, some in dresses, called Sankai Juko. Their thrilling initial entrance on stage was to descend slowly on shaggy ropes, inverted, their faces and bodies rice flour-powdered as white as the burnt victims of Hiroshima. During an outdoor exhibition one of the ropes broke and their leading performer fell to his death on the pavement. He neither broke his pose nor uttered a sound. I was deeply impressed. My own performances were in small clubs and private parties of a certain kind. I lifted weights with parts of the body not generally used for weightlifting, and let eager volunteers hurt me in ways that quite obviously hurt: there was no trick involved, no self-hypnosis, no mastery of yoga, simply my will against the pain. I will describe my final performance. Not to boast, but merely to record an historical event that was neither recorded at the time nor, I believe, ever spoken of afterwards, the audience having sworn a secrecy oath at the door, to protect both the Inflictor and themselves. And only I know how it felt. I have no sight in my right eye, and thus for the minor inconvenience of later having to wear an artificial one, I designed a performance that, though I say so myself, would go far beyond the splendour of the 1929 Louis Bunuel/Salvadore Dali surrealist classic, Un Chien Andalou, showing the straight razor approaching and slicing the—obviously fake—eyeball. I would make it real. Admittedly, my own loss of sight would be fake too, as I had already lost it, but nobody knew this, nobody but my partner. My beloved partner, my Inflictor, whose public name is surprisingly well known, being the Minister of Health—I shall call him ''Sal.'' Sal, though publicly a huge success in his field, is not an easy man to live with; he bears his own demons heavily and his sadism extends to the subtle touch of refusing to hurt my body. His favourite joke is '''Hit me,''' the masochist said, and the sadist said, '''No.''' He roars at that one, knowing that it hurts me, not physically, but where it counts. ''Why the fuck should I cut you?—You love it!'' was his reaction to my suggested plan. And yet one night he came home late, flicked on all the lights to wake me and announced, ''Let's do it!'' I prepared my body, and told my hairdresser, a key-holder who spread the word underground like fire. As midnight, the Witching Hour approached, our little theatre filled, packed with devotees of the cruel arts. After the opening acts (a little bloodletting, a swastika tattooed onto a willing forehead, some pathetic piercing as done, these days, by horny adolescents and their girlfriends too), and the stage was set for my public loss of an eye. Like a dentist's chair, the black recliner was wheeled centre stage, the microphone adjusted, the closed circuit TV set up and double-checked to ensure that neither it nor any audience member was surreptitiously recording. Houselights faded to black, the music (my choice, Ravel) swelled and cut—and the spot flared on to me, lying back naked, my arms spread wide as on a cross. I was no longer plump, far from it, and there was a murmur at my visible ribs. I began to speak. It had taken me weeks to learn my piece, something I could have done overnight in my graduate school days, and I began. Of Man's first disobedience, and the fruit Of that forbidden tree whose mortal taste Brought death into the World, and all our woe, With loss of Eden, till one greater Man Restore us, and regain the blissful seat, Sing, Heavenly Muse… Nothing, nothing on Earth would stop my continuous recitation, and the audience sensed it. My Inflictor, in black vinyl, made his entrance as I stared straight ahead at the tip of the small microphone, focussing as he began work. ''Hook!'' he ordered, and the nurse handed him the first of the measured nylon strings with fish hooks at each end. I felt the sting as the fold of skin between right thumb and forefinger was pierced, the fishing line was passed under my recliner and I felt the second sting—worse because expected—as it was hooked to my left hand. The hands have many nerve endings. Soldiers shot through the hand are incapacitated at once; they break down and sob. I did not. Now my hands were trapped, but my voice continued strongly. Instruct me, for thou know'st; thou from the first Wast present, and, with mighty wings outspread, Dove-like sat'st brooding on the vast Abyss, And mad'st it pregnant: what in me is dark Illumine, what is low raise and support… I spoke on, loud and firm as a hook jabbed through my right nipple—I felt the warm blood flow—and joined it tightly to my left. My chest muscles began to twitch and I willed them to stop. The Angels of Mercy, two qualified nurses whose thwarted dream was to become cardiac surgeons were dabbing and mopping, though there was not much blood. The head of the penis, of course, has even more nerve endings than the hands, and as the thick hook broke its way through in a series of tearing jerks my body shook and sweat poured off me but the voice, the voice continued. Th' infernal Serpent; he it was whose guile, Stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived The mother of mankind, what time his pride Had cast him out from Heaven, with all his host Of rebel Angels, by whose aid, aspiring To set himself in glory above his peers, He trusted to have equalled the Most High… And now the hard part began. I knew the penis head would be joined by a tight string to the lower lip—a sure crowd pleaser, as the audience would see my cock dance like a marionette as I spoke. My lip went numb, frozen with the pain of a thick hook and many words were lost but I continued at the same pace and full volume, bellowing the words: Him the Almighty Power Hurled headlong flaming from th' ethereal sky, With hideous ruin and combustion, down To bottomless perdition, there to dwell In adamantine chains and penal fire, Who durst defy th' Omnipotent to arms… I felt my penis rise to the pain, sending a delighted murmur through the crowd. This loosened the tension on my lip, and now I could speak more clearly. But I lost many words, many vital lines as my upper lip was seized in pliers, fish-hooked and linked to a hook through the bridge of my nose. The pain was exquisite: I could feel my body scream as I ploughed on through the thicket of words. I felt the thin hooks inserted in my right eyelid, linking it to my brow, then the left, but I knew that now, with my eyes wide open and pouring unstoppable tears the key moment was upon me. I felt my partner standing to my left side, peering down. He would be holding the straight razor now. The crowd hushed, breathless. Strangely he hesitated for a moment and then I felt his fingertip settle above my right eye, the damaged eye, the eye that had destroyed my life and was now to be cut out. Since, through experience of this great event, In arms not worse, in foresight much advanced… Sal, my Master, my God stood behind me now, careful not to obstruct the view, but again he seemed to be hesitating, breathing hard, and now I felt his fingertip placed above … my left eye. Suddenly I knew where he had been on the nights he would return late. He had not been at the office. So spake th' apostate Angel, though in pain, Vaunting aloud, but racked with deep despair… He had a new favourite. Someone who was in the crowd now, in the front row, panting. And slowly the shining blade came into my sight. He had the wrong eye. My voice continued, unbroken. Too well I see and rue the dire event That, with sad overthrow and foul defeat, Hath lost us Heaven, and all this mighty host In horrible destruction laid thus low— The razor sliced. I stopped. The Sankai Juku performer who fell to his death without a sound would have been proud of me as I joined him in darkness. ***
Archived comments for THE PAIN ARTIST
e-griff on 24-02-2012
THE PAIN ARTIST
Ma man - you really need to use screen presentation to make this readable (ie, an extra blank line for every para).

Author's Reply:
Sorry. I forgot UKA can't print indented paragraphs or italics. I've fixed it now, and will remember next time.

Thanks, matey!

Nomenklatura on 24-02-2012
THE PAIN ARTIST
Grooh! 'Orrible! I was compelled and horrified at the same time. Griff is right though, the presentation made it hard to read between the spread fingers of my hands!

Author's Reply:
Sorry. I had to write it blindfolded. Don't know what got into me. Thanks for your comments.

bluepootle on 24-02-2012
THE PAIN ARTIST
Oh my good gravy. That was brilliantly horrible. Really well written. Shudder.

Author's Reply:
You're very kind. I promise I won't do it again. Actually maybe I will..

e-griff on 24-02-2012
THE PAIN ARTIST
I've copied it, formatted it and printed it out so I can read it. Blimey!

Author's Reply:

Andrea on 24-02-2012
THE PAIN ARTIST
Oooooh, bloody ghastly! Honestly Si, what are you on? For a change I don't want any...

Horribly fascinating...aaarrrghhhh

(do the paras, though)

Author's Reply:
Thanks for reading it. Hope no permanent damage was done. As you know I'm a gemini, and I suspect my twin wrote it one night after far too much absinthe.

e-griff on 24-02-2012
THE PAIN ARTIST
Right, I've now managed to read it off a formatted page. Very nice, well rounded, well written story. What can I say?

oh - I know. I guessed! šŸ™‚ (sorry).

Author's Reply:

ruadh on 25-02-2012
THE PAIN ARTIST
Sorry Si, I couldn't read this through once the act started, though I did skip to the end to see what happened. Well written - perhaps a tad too well written šŸ™‚

Author's Reply:
Many thanks, ruadh. I couldn't read it through either, which is why I didn't notice the bad formatting.
Unbelievably, it's based on a gay journal article I read in Sydney, of an actual B & M meeting. Ugh!

cooky on 27-02-2012
THE PAIN ARTIST
A compelling read. I liked it a lot. The last line rammed home the conviction of the story. Truly a weird world but very enjoyable to read.

Author's Reply:
Many thanks, cooky. Think I'll try a few more stories like this instead of the usual Canadian tale of growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan. Life's too short not to be weird.

anth2014ed on 04-09-2013
THE PAIN ARTIST
sorry this is not a comment, Simon, but could you provide permission for work to go in the Anth (see forums and FP)

Author's Reply:


IN THE SUMMER GARDEN (posted on: 03-02-12)
hardly a marvell but I like it.

IN THE SUMMER GARDEN Lazing under the canopy unable to read for the green life pouring in, half-smiling at all this beauty talking back to the birds I know I will have to pay for this with my life
Archived comments for IN THE SUMMER GARDEN
Andrea on 03-02-2012
IN THE SUMMER GARDEN
awwww, i like it too! I've been talking to the birds all morning, melting ice and scattering grub - poor little buggers are frozen. roll on spring!

Author's Reply:

Andrea on 03-02-2012
IN THE SUMMER GARDEN
forgot to say - great to see you posting again šŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

Nomenklatura on 04-02-2012
IN THE SUMMER GARDEN
Short and bitter sweet. We all pay with our lives in the end, it's just a matter of whether we get our money's worth.

Author's Reply:

Bradene on 05-02-2012
IN THE SUMMER GARDEN
I liked it too. It's like one moment of happiness = one week of misery. (-; Valx

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 05-02-2012
IN THE SUMMER GARDEN
welcome, bro! šŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

Leila on 08-02-2012
IN THE SUMMER GARDEN
Certainly shorter than Marvell ha ha but a good reflection of the enjoyment of the moment...and the inevitable...Leila

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Leila. More and more I'm feeling that these little moments are worth writing down. I wrote one last night, between coughs:

FULL MOON RISING

Look up!
a golden moon spot lit
on the dark blue stage of night
stand in the cold as
winter branches
revolve towards it
clock-face-slow

not many more revolutions
to Spring!


GROWING OLD GRACEFULLY (posted on: 03-02-12)
Just a poem

GROWING OLD GRACEFULLY The world dims. Birdsong recedes. People mumble. Names hide. Friends die. Your quiet TV is too loud. Skin bruises blue, unwilling to forgive An injury. The roof drips The fence won't mend itself And now those stories never will be written. Descending the stairs (Easy! One trip, A broken hip could kill) Third time tonight to pee (You're used to that now, shaken from Wandering lost in a city not home) You press your palm on the wall to steady See the mark it has made All those years of touching that spot Like a holy statue worn away By a million soft kisses And wonder just how long this can go on.
Archived comments for GROWING OLD GRACEFULLY
Andrea on 03-02-2012
GROWING OLD GRACEFULLY
oooh, crikey, i'm all depressed now! I know the feeling as i sit here waiting for me latest broken bone to heal...

that reminds me, how on earth am i going to do the gardening...?

Author's Reply:

stormwolf on 03-02-2012
GROWING OLD GRACEFULLY
Great to see you posting again Simon. A very start picture of what many of us will face.
;-(
Alison x

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Alison. I appreciate you noticing that I'm at least having a go. Growing old beats the alternative. Actually I quite enjoy the freedom from having to do so much stuff. Loved you in that sports car.

Cheers!

Si

Kat on 03-02-2012
GROWING OLD GRACEFULLY
Beautiful writing - very poignant and thought-provoking.

Favourite part:

'You press your palm on the wall to steady
See the mark it has made
All those years of touching that spot
Like a holy statue worn away
By a million soft kisses...'

Is there an extra word in this line?

'Third time tonight night to pee'

Inspired work.

Kat

Author's Reply:

ChairmanWow on 03-02-2012
GROWING OLD GRACEFULLY
Fine imagery in this poem. "Growing Old Carefully" might be an alternative title.

Author's Reply:
Good point. Thanks. Growing Old Gracelessly doesn't do it, but Carefully is good.

Carefully Growing Old?

Si

Bradene on 05-02-2012
GROWING OLD GRACEFULLY
My god! you have captured aging so well here. Lukily I have no stairs to climb, otherwise you seem to have written my world. Well done /simon. Valx

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Bradene. Those damn stairs. Up is hard and down is risky.

Best!

Si

e-griff on 05-02-2012
GROWING OLD GRACEFULLY
Blimey, feeling great now (not)

Author's Reply:


HOW CAN YOU SLEEP (posted on: 03-02-12)
Poem on waking

HOW CAN YOU SLEEP? How can you sleep through the petals falling? Magnolia, cherry and green-gold maple Snowing in darkness, blowing away. Surely those not yet immune to beauty Are awake now, crying to the moon and stars, Slow down! This could be the final spring. A dark gust woke me from joy That across the lake I could see and smell America burning.
Archived comments for HOW CAN YOU SLEEP
stormwolf on 03-02-2012
HOW CAN YOU SLEEP
Another very dark poem Simon. A change from your usual dry wit.;-)
The last line is so stark it captures the whole essence of the poem.
incredible, loved it.
Alison x

Author's Reply:

Andrea on 03-02-2012
HOW CAN YOU SLEEP
brilliant stuff, Si - very sharp and to the point. last 2 lines are inspired.

Author's Reply:
Many thanks, Andrea. And don't worry about your garden; they grow on their own. Sorry about your bad break.

Si

Bradene on 05-02-2012
HOW CAN YOU SLEEP
That last Stanza was a killer Good stuff Simon. Valx

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 05-02-2012
HOW CAN YOU SLEEP
God, I'm depressed now ...

Author's Reply:

Romany on 11-02-2012
HOW CAN YOU SLEEP
For me this poem begins in an almost naieve way, depicting beauty and tranquility. It goes on as you beome more awake, leaving behind the deceptions on first awaking and becoming more aware of reality. It is a dark poem indeed, but with a message that there is still time, if people would but know it. I think the overall tone is despair.

Romany.

Author's Reply:
Very perceptive, Romany. I think the despair comes from feeling that people sleep through the absolute beauty of the world, when we could be in end times. I just began McCarthy's The Road, and so many post-apolalyptic stories are set in burned-out landscapes. Despair? Not quite, but terrible regret that my life (definitely) and all our lives (much less likely) may be coming to an end with so much beauty unseen. Wake up and smell the roses has at least some hope that the despair is unwarranted.


A Christmas Tale (posted on: 03-12-10)
A little story for Christmas.

A CHRISTMAS TALE It was the week before Christmas and Marie couldn't understand why little Joey burst into tears when she showed him the picture of Father Christmas. She took him on her lap and tried to explain that Father Christmas was really a kind, generous old gentleman, rather plump, whose other name was Santa Claus. But Joey wailed even louder and made his fingers into claws. With him on her hip—he weighed nothing—she crossed to the cooking side of the one-room apartment, and one-handed made him a stale bread and peanut butter sandwich. This settled him down; food usually did the trick. He was a hungry five-year-old. Marie was always hungry herself but Joey ate first. If only Dan would come home with a twenty, or even a ten, she could buy food: beans and rice, a can of Hamburger Helper Helper, and perhaps, as it was nearly Christmas, a cupcake. Marie was a woman who could do many things, none of which was wanted in Toronto. Her boyfriend Dan, a gambling man, would burst in now and then to brag about his latest big win before stumbling out to double it again. He said she gave him luck, and if it was bad luck it was bad luck for Marie. Whenever he returned as a loser she could tell, but she had nowhere to hide. He'd pound on the door and she had to let him in or there'd be a complaint and she and Joey would surely be evicted onto the snowy streets. She was an illegal and the rent-controlled apartment on the forty-second floor of Maple Towers, belonged to a dead woman whose name she could never remember, though it was her name now. Janet Someone. Dan was a biker type who had briefly owned a Harley, fat, with a biker beard that had recently gone white—suddenly she knew why Joey was afraid. Santa Claus looked just like Dan, who was no friend to little Joey. Twice he had hit Joey across the face for being ''in the way,'' and now whenever Joey heard him knocking (he'd lost his key, like everything else), Joey would hide in the cupboard under the sink till he left. How Joey kept so still, not rattling a pan, sometimes for hours was something Marie would never know. Tonight was Christmas Eve, and again Joey was in tears. He sobbed quietly. He was not a kid who expected presents: they had no TV and he had never been to kindergarten, but he finally choked out his story. He'd heard from the neighbours' kids, when they played up and down the corridor of their floor, that tonight Santa Claus was coming. (And Santa Claus, she saw at once, was Dan, a big man with a white beard). Worse, he was coming down the chimney! How would Joey have time to hide himself? He was a smart kid, so he'd asked the others how a fat man can come down a chimney when your apartment doesn't have a chimney, but they said, ''He just does. He just does.'' And he'd run home. That evening the carol singers from the church walked up and down the corridors singing Silent Night, but it was like Halloween: nobody opened their doors. At bedtime Marie tucked Joey in with a goodnight kiss, told him a story that had nothing to do with Father Christmas, and left him. Tonight of all nights Dan would come home, surely. She'd better put something out for him, a glass of milk for his ulcer and the three cookies she'd been saving. She did her hair and lay down, just for a moment. She might have heard a faint rattle of pans, but she was too tired to go look. And somehow she was fast asleep, dreaming of home, and then someone was shaking her shoulder. ''Dan?'' ''No, it's me, silly.'' It was a very excited Joey. ''She came!'' ''Who came?'' ''Look!'' with the cookie in his little hand he pointed to the glass of milk. ''She came! She came to us!'' ''Who did?'' ''Christmas Carol.'' ''Oh...'' She reached and raised the sacred glass of milk. ''Let's have a toast to Christmas Carol.'' They shared the slightly sour milk and soft cookies and it was Joey's best Christmas ever.
Archived comments for A Christmas Tale
Bradene on 03-12-2010
A Christmas Tale
What a great story and an unexpected twist, really enjoyed this. Val

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Bradene. The first version had poor Marie as a seamstress who had fallen on hard times because nobody wanted seams any more, but I took it out as too jokey.

Best wishes,

Si

e-griff on 03-12-2010
A Christmas Tale
putting aside your stange use of commas ( šŸ™‚ ), this was a fine little tale, laid heavily as such tales are, and with a nice wee joke at the end.

Nice to see you posting again... again ...

Author's Reply:
Thanks, ol' buddy. Yes, the commas are a little strange, but I've gone through the original and improved them a bit. Yes, time I did some writing and posting; not getting any younger.

Cheers,

Si


ANOTHER DAY (posted on: 22-11-10)
JOURNAL ENTRY, AFTER QUITE A WHILE

19 November 2010 When the doctor says, ''Yes, it's cancer, that's the bad news,'' you wonder what the good news is, ''But I just won a hundred bucks at poker,'' or ''I'm on holidays next month.'' But the good news is I'm not dead. And though it's the c word it's not capital C. Options: prostatectomy, though my with A fib I'm not a good surgery candidate, side effects ED and urinary incontinence (have to sew up the urinary tract) or radiation (ED again, some dribbly dick, and it's a bitch: 3 months of 5 times a week, and if I understand Vic Bland right, radiation makes you feel jetlagged all the time.) Chemo? Doesn't work. How about do nothing? OK, we'll wait a couple of months, do the PSA test again, then biopsy again. Currently it's PSA 6.7, Gleason scale 7/10 (which is ''more like 5 out of 10'') Hoo—Kay. Walked back to the car with a sudden urge to weep. Suddenly your life isn't eternal: you better focus on what you're doing, get those books read, or written (OK, read). Home, ate chocolate. Tell a friend? Who? Drew? What friend? So I told the guys at tennis, all over 50 so not shocked, and played rather well. Called Nenagh back and told her. She said we'll get you on Saw Palmetto (which I find worked for prostate cancer on rats but is untested on humans) and told me her news. She an cousin Bill and Eileen drove up to her 94-year-old mum at Hawks Nest, brought in her favourite meal, oysters on the half shell and pink champagne, great evening, everybody happy. N. exhausted still from the 24-hour flight, tried to get her mum to turn down the blaring TV so she could get some sleep, but was told, ''I'll turn it down when I want to turn it down.'' Sounds pretty typical. Anyway, 2 a.m. she heard cries of ''Help me, help me!'' and sure enough, her mum was having a ''turn'' (trouble breathing) so off she went to hospital and now N's in her mum's/her/our? house on her own. Last taping session for the Friday band tonight and I've been practising my 54-bar Feels So Good solo all day but will screw it up for sure.
Archived comments for ANOTHER DAY
e-griff on 22-11-2010
ANOTHER DAY
if it's any consolation, Simon (yeah...), one of our close friends had the same problem last year, and it was fixed okay ...

it's the word 'terminal' that frightens me ...

Author's Reply:
Thanks, John. I guess life is a terminal disease but you're right, most of these little cancers can be cured these days. Thanks!

Gee on 22-11-2010
ANOTHER DAY
An old lady friend of mine has bowel cancer (had a colostomy some years ago), leukemia, and has just had an operation for skin cancer. She was supposed to have died five years ago, according to her doctor, but says she can't because she'd miss her weekly bingo and no one in the family can make a roast beef dinner like she can.
Doctors often give you the worst scenario. I hope things go well for you.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Gee. Great story: I've taken up Bingo and am learning to cook, so we'll see if it works. My sister's a doctor, so I know some of them aren't too bright. I'll get a second opinion from somebody who scores high on the "Rate a doc" website. (My doc's only a 3.5 out of 5, mostly because of his awful secretary.)

stormwolf on 22-11-2010
ANOTHER DAY
Hi Simon
So extremely honestly and well written. While nursing we were told that cancer of the prostrate was so common that it was found at many post mortems having been totally undetected and the person died of something else. I have also seen those who decided to focus on wellness and left treatment and lived for many years in comfort and positivity. The saw palmetto sounds a very good idea and keeping positive is crucial.
Sending best wishes to you
Alison x

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Alison. You're right, I've read that, but I don't want to be lying in my coffin with a cancerous prostate. So I'm taking the (expensive!) saw palmetto and --well have you ev er met anyone more positive than me? I'm positive you haven't.

Ta.

Bradene on 22-11-2010
ANOTHER DAY
Brave piece to write, I think know what you're going through. I'm on a similar journey with my bladder and bowel and I'm not a good bet with surgery either because I have A-Fib' too. I can totally relate. Good luck, hope everything goes well. Val

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Val. Quite a journey, isn't it, and you sound worse off than I am. Isn't a fib a bitch! When I broke my arm skiing and was lying on a Quebec operating table waiting for the (incompetent, it turned out) doc to arrive, they had my heartbeat turned up loud and it sounded like dancing the Labomba. I expected the nurses to join in, but no.

I do wish you well.


MY WIFE (posted on: 08-10-10)
Wrote this this morning, for some reason.

Turning in the kitchen I saw dull eyes in a cuboid doll my wife had become a babushka plump, rounded with a painted face I pulled her open to find a brighter look, made-up eyes wide in fear, so eager to please then her vacant face of the illness, her mad years back. And inside, a still-slim woman, near beautiful my wife approaching sad middle-age which I tugged off and discarded for a woman I slept beside every night, then a young, fresh-faced eager girl, the girl I married but so distant, so tiny she melted like chocolate in my hand.
Archived comments for MY WIFE
Michel on 08-10-2010
MY WIFE
Such a strong poem, vivid and clear, startlingly affective.

Author's Reply:
Michel, you don't know how grateful I am for your comment. I've been much too busy having a mid-life crisis to do any creative writing, and this poem came from nowhere. Many thanks, mate.

stormwolf on 10-10-2010
MY WIFE
One of the finest
Alison x

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Alison. Oddly the poem came from watching my wife and knowing how ridiculously much I love her. She's great. No, she was never mad, though I guess I was. A bit. Anyway, thanks for sharing it and many thanks for your kind comment.

Si

johnshade on 10-10-2010
MY WIFE
Powerful stuff. Vivid and sharp.

I would change "her vacant face of the illness" to "the vacant face of her illness".

I thought the last three lines could be shortened a bit... maybe
"a young and eager girl,
so distant, so tiny
she melted like chocolate in my hand."

And two eagers seems like one too many... maybe "keen to please" instead?


Author's Reply:
Many thanks, fellow Nabokov fan. Good points. How about this version:

My Wife

Turning in the kitchen I saw
dull eyes in a cuboid doll
my wife had become a babushka
plump, rounded with a painted face
I pulled her open to find
a brighter look, made-up eyes
wide in fear, desperate to please
then the vacant face of the
illness, her mad years back.
And inside, a still-slim woman, near beautiful
my wife approaching sad middle-age
which I tugged off and discarded for
a woman I slept beside every night, then
a young, eager girl, my girlfriend
so distant, so tiny
she melted like chocolate in my hand.

Bradene on 10-10-2010
MY WIFE
You have hidden depth, I always had you down as the cynical type, at least that's the way you come accross in the forums. Beautiful work . Val

Author's Reply:
Thank you, Val. I promise to bring my depth to the surface and stop being an old cynic. Rewritten version above, and I'll keep working on the poems. Good luck with your work!

Albermund on 11-10-2010
MY WIFE
Cute idea, very skilfully done. Superb ending. agree with JS about the 'eagers'. Classy poem, cheers, Albert šŸ™‚

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Albermund. I took out a careless "eager" and hope the ending of the rewritten version above still works. Cheers!

Simon

Andrea on 12-10-2010
MY WIFE
Lovely pome Si old chap - well done!

Author's Reply:
Thank you, young lady. Your taste is, as always, exquisite.

Si


It's Nice (posted on: 28-05-10)
I woke up with this in my head, so I wrote it down. Hasn't been much writing lately, so I hope this is a start. The italics and the bold seem to have vanished, but ...whatever.

It's Nice My father sang to me again last night O it's nice to get up in the morning It's nice to get up in the morning The smile in his baritone breath ...to get up in the mooorning, But! (Join in, son) It's nicer to stay in bed! So pleased to hear me laughing again and that I have reached his age.
Archived comments for It's Nice
pdemitchell on 28-05-2010
Its Nice
Hi Simon! Welcome back. A poignant piece about fathers. Did you see his image in the dream? if so maybe a tweak the last two lines might strengthen and personalise it a little:
He's pleased to hear me laugh again
now that I've reached his age.
Made me think about my late Dad - which is a good thing! Mitch šŸ™‚

Author's Reply:
Thanks, mate. Not really his image but the flavour and sound of him, up close because he was so huge and me so little, maybe in bed being sung to.

stormwolf on 28-05-2010
Its Nice
Hi Simon
This reminded me of my dad too!
I found it lovely and poignant. I took it that you had in fact seen him in the dream time and the the last two lines were especially moving Alison x

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Alison. More smelt and heard and felt him than actually saw him. Aren't dad's strange! The older you get the more they close in on you.


CLOSING DOWN (posted on: 02-04-10)
Wrote this this morning, wife says it's too "teachy." Would appreciate any comments.

CLOSING DOWN The arctic oceanographer is worried. His ocean is dying, his grant cancelled, the economy in trouble. Fresh glacier water slows the rise of deep nutrients. Meanwhile in the Mariana Trench explorers are startled by new species; one inexplicable creature needs its own classification: superorganism. Down in eternal dark they stare at a lighted creature forty metres long and a shrimp that thrives on soot with no oxygen at all. There is so much to do. So little known and a lifetime is short. Commercial fishermen trawl deeper scraping the sea bed for ever smaller fish. Most corals are dying, starving their inhabitants And new threats are found: global heating forces fish, squid, whales to migrate but those in shells cannot move. Their shells dissolve, and researchers just found why: the oceans are acidifying. CO2 can only be absorbed so far and as species die they sink and are attacked by bacteria which absorb oxygen sending some animals gasping onto shore. The vision of an acidic, low oxygen ocean troubles the scientists' sleep and everywhere the rush is on. We must label and classify microscopic to monstrous tag the wild animals, number and track tigers and bears from helicopters label as rare, then endangered watch every bird and butterfly fade into the printed word. In counting we are closing down the world.
Archived comments for CLOSING DOWN
pdemitchell on 02-04-2010
CLOSING DOWN
A good last line but your wife was right on the mark: it's a piece of worthy prose and sentiment but it's not a poem per se but rather a series of statements better suited to a good blogging. To image the thing you add movement - the first lines could be rewortked as:

Beneath his charts and ship-borne feet
his life's work flows in ruins
glaciers' decline, the outflow slows
as he mourns the deep swell of nutrients.

Hope this helps! Cheers mitch

Author's Reply:

Bradene on 02-04-2010
CLOSING DOWN
I agree 100% with Mitch, It appears to me you may have thought of that great last line and worked the rest to try to fit it. I found it a fascinating read though. Val

Author's Reply:

Simon on 04-04-2010
CLOSING DOWN
Thanks, guys. I agree, the last line is terrific. I'll work back from there, but I try to avoid "poetic" phrases like "ship-borne feet", and cheerful rhythms. Thanks again!

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 05-04-2010
CLOSING DOWN
It's too 'teachy' - that's all.

I don't mind poetic phrases etc, but on every line you are telling us 'interesting' facts which one might read in a popular science journal.

I'm not at all impressed by the last line, I'm afraid, as it needs to be clearer - are you confusing 'counting' with 'categorising', 'labelling' and 'recording'? They are not the same thing ....

You need to step back, make this more general, concentrate on one or one for each verse example to illustrate your point (far too many here), and end with something like 'and as we check, label and record, the earth moves further away from us at each tick of the clock' (not that particularly of course ...) Maybe make the three verses 'check', 'label', 'record' examples, or whatever you choose to use.

Author's Reply:

teifii on 10-04-2010
CLOSING DOWN
I'm afraid it read as a prose article to me, albeit an article that spoke a lot of truth.
Daff

Author's Reply:


BLACK DOG IN THE ROAD (posted on: 26-03-10)
Haven't written any poetry lately, but this morning this sad thought arrived so I wrote it down.

BLACK DOG ON THE ROAD To kick the dead dog hurts my leg Morning brings another sun but no light Colours have died Say the words Say them Not every dog is dying in dog years not every pet owner in tears at the vet's steel table Not every cat dies first or just after you yelling in the empty house. Not every shopping cart steers the desperate away from or back to the hated family Some marriages can work Not every scowling face feels as you do Somewhere people are happy You can be too Not every dog dies in the street Not every young man lusts for a gun Nor every girl for a gunman Some officials are not on the take Some phone calls may not bring disastrous news.
Archived comments for BLACK DOG IN THE ROAD
pdemitchell on 27-03-2010
BLACK DOG IN THE ROAD
Hi Simon. Not a bad puppy-frisky stab at all. Could do with a minor tweak and some punctuation here and there i.e

To kick the dead dog
hurts my leg, mourning
brings another sun but
a day where colours die.
Say the words, say them:
Not every dog is dying .............. and so on.

Cracking effort, Simon. I look forward to more. Mitch



Author's Reply:
Thanks, mate. I usually punctuate but was trying to make the voice sound more crazy. I'll have another look.

Thanks!

Si

sunken on 28-03-2010
BLACK DOG IN THE ROAD
Hello Simon. I saw a black bin liner on the road yesterday. From a distance it looked like Radio One DJ Tim Westwood. Sadly it wasn't. It was a bin liner. Ahem. There was a point to this comment but i'll be buggered if I can remember what it was. Enjoyed the piece.

s
u
n
k
e
n

refuses to believe that sprouts hold the key

Author's Reply:


OPEN LETTER TO CANADA'S PM (posted on: 22-01-10)
Sent to our PM and everybody else I can think of.

Dear Prime Minister, I'm a 71-year-old former Business professor with three questions and a request. 1. Would you agree that there is a conflict of ideas between the ''Greens'' and the business world, that may be slowing any decision on action? The Greens keep pointing us towards scientific articles predicting a bleak, even disastrous future for Canada unless we pollute less, and cut CO2 and other emissions by curbing the steady increase in our energy use and consumption. To save Canada's environment, the Greens insist that the doctrine of unending growth must be stopped. All that is needed is the ''political will,'' that is, the courage of our government to do the right thing, ignoring what so many Canadian voters might want. Most Canadians now give the environment a rather low priority. And, given a referendum, most would likely vote for lower taxes, lower energy prices, and perhaps for the return of capital punishment. Politicians must lead, not follow. On the other side, the business world, politicians, many Canadians, and all our political parties accept the need for continuous growth in production, consumption, energy use and population, native and immigrant, to boost ''The Economy'' (which always seems to need boosting), to fill the need for skilled and unskilled workers, creating more well-paid jobs to raise consumption, profits, and tax, to fund our mounting costs for health care, pensions, the armed forces and so on. The two sides are in conflict, but they're both being short-sighted. A moment's thought will reveal that our rising population must prevent either Greens or the business world from reaching any of their goals. Yet strangely there has been no public debate on business versus the birthrate. It's as if we prefer not to think about the issues. All Canada's parties, even the NDP and Green party favour increasing immigration. 2. Would you agree that reducing our birthrate and rate of immigration tend to be left out of discussions of the environment and of combating global warming? Nobody proposes a Chinese-style One Child Policy (though that has actually worked ). Many Greens suggest encouraging and offering free access to non-coercive contraception (and in some cases, abortion). They point out that women who are free and educated, no matter what religion, have fewer, and happier children. Unwanted children are trouble. ''Every child a loved child'' would be a worthy goal. But this is not enough. Immigration, too, must drop. According to an Angus Reid poll, 41% of Canadians feel that legal immigration is not having a positive impact on our country. In this case they are right, particularly about the impact on the environment. An immediate halt on immigration, though hugely unpopular with business, government, and potential immigrants, would immediately begin to slow the rising rate of obvious destruction of Canada's environment: our air, water, seas and soil and probably our climate too (though scientific predictions of the future climate are, like all predictions, not exact). At the recent Copenhagen summit, population control was not debated and barely mentioned. Money was. Some major polluters see American-style ''Cap and Trade'' (instead of, say, ''Cap and Fine'') as a promising new business opportunity: a way to save millions by buying licenses to keep polluting, or to earn billions by selling hard-to-verify CO2 reductions at some distant location. These ''growthists'' and ''deniers'' scorn the Cassandra-like warnings of so many scientists and thinking citizens. Still, Copenhagen's non-result did show some awareness that cleaning up the environment will cost money—a lot of money. ''Sustainable development'' is wishful thinking. So is the thoughtless notion of a profitable growth boom in new ''green'' technologies and power sources, leading to even more production and consumption with, somehow, less total pollution. We all love the idea of protecting the environment, preferably at no cost to ourselves. But while the Greens want less, the businessmen and developers want more: profitable new ''green'' technologies, new hybrids for all, more, bigger and more efficient airliners, and for Canada to be a proud leader in Kyoto too. But Lifestyle changes, even if we all agreed to make them, cannot possibly preserve our environment. We have to reduce our population. Numbers count. To think that, say, road congestion can be solved by adding more and more smaller cars is absurd. Equally absurd is our understood policy of permanently putting the economy first, as if, say, we are promising to quit smoking as soon as our lung cancer improves. The notion that the economy, the sum total of each individual act of pollution, from lighting a cigarette to building a house, is the enemy of the environment, is too unbearable to speak. But for many Greens and businessmen, the notion of a smaller Canada with a declining birthrate and reduced immigration feels so strange that it's almost too painful to consider. It just feels wrong. Businessmen and politicians rationalise that reduced immigration would lower Canada's status in the world, cut their profits and shrink the tax base—ignoring the evidence that first-generation immigrants are expensive. 3. Would you agree that endless growth in Canada's population must end in disaster, no matter how deeply each Canadian's environmental footprint is reduced? My suggestion is that we move beyond what feels right and towards clearer thinking, by becoming aware that our feelings are not rational; they're a result of evolution, of how we humans are hard-wired. Our Green side takes pleasure in the thought of lush green pastures and plenty to eat. This is why many of us feel pain at seeing our endless expansion, suburbs metastasising over good farmland, deforestation outstripping tree growth, air and water pollution from factories and vehicles, our oil sands producing more and more oil to be sold and burnt, and so on. We hear scientists proclaiming that soon it will take three more planet Earths to feed us all. They may be wrong; it may only be two. Non-Canadians are less worried. Half the world, it seems, wants to come and live in ''undeveloped'' Canada, boosting their environmental footprint and energy use to our staggeringly high levels. Meanwhile, our Growth side takes pleasure in our rising population, endlessly expanding our ''tribe'' as we have evolved to do. We humans were designed to conquer the animal kingdom and fight for our territories. As Canadians, we like our own tribal values, and resist pressures –from invasion or out-population—to abandon them. This is usually labelled racism, but might equally be called patriotism. In a word, let's move beyond how it feels to keep doing what we are doing. What does the future hold for a Canada that is already overpopulated, in the sense that its resources are steadily failing? Not by 2050 but by next year. Naturally, most of us feel optimistic because, like all animals, we have evolved as optimists. But we also have the rational power to allow for our innate feelings, while implementing the best solutions to problems that feel so painful to face. Canada needs a hero. 4. Would you please do everything you can to have major debates on the link between population growth and climate change, with the aim of doing what needs to be done—now—for Canada to remain a pleasant place for Canadians to live? Simon Leigh
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ONBOARD COMPUTER (posted on: 01-01-10)
When I read of the latest two Islamic attempts to bring down a US-bound airliner with an explosive powder and a hyperdermic of igniter, I thought: how would I do it?

ON-BOARD COMPUTER 1030 words I'm a senior with blue eyes, once-fair hair and a good suit, so there are no scowls—even a smile or two—as I clear JFK's hellish security and wait to board Saudi Arabian Airlines, JFK-JED. It's the ''Hajj Special,'' landing at Jeddah's King Abdulaziz Airport, 11 hours 15 minutes. With the two-class layout, full, the 747 Special will have 423 bearded Muslims and me. Behind me the lines of pilgrims are having a rough time, being patted down, struggling to repack emptied suitcases. Good. One tall greybeard must have said the wrong thing: I watch him hustled away for further questioning, strip-searching for a bomb up his butt, whatever. My fake luggage is aboard. Under my charcoal-grey suit is a tight-packed parachute, but if anyone noticed my slightly humped stance they felt sympathy, not suspicion. I cleared the new ''nude'' body scanner, and my laptop sailed through, all its X-rayed components seeming in the right places, though in fact I'd had it professionally packed with seven pounds of C4. No, I'm a former VIA rail executive, not a member of some anti-terrorist group, supremacists, whatever. And I'm certainly not some sweating idiot who'll try to set fire to his shoes or his balls. It's just me; this is personal. Nobody to see me off, but I murmur a goodbye to my Joanie. Only two devices work in my computer: a GPS, and a detonator set to fire when my parachute opens and automatically sends the wireless signal. I couldn't risk a timer; something could go wrong and I have no desire to end up in Paradise with all these bearded men and thousands of virgin whores. They're excited. Mind you, the Hajj has some strong selling points. For the price of a return ticket, far less than Papal Indulgences or carbon credits, three million men a year will receive forgiveness of all their past and future sins. They only have to follow a few rules: dress up in the white ihram, no washing or bathing, walk seven times counter-clockwise round that cube-shaped thing, run back and forth between the two hills, drink from a well and throw stones to stone the devil, shave their heads and kill an animal—or pay someone else to. I believe you also get to marry seven wives, (some conditions may apply). But you have to be a Muslim first and I'm not. I'm nothing. As we fly East the sky darkens. We're presumably pointing the right way, so some of the fucking Muslims are in the aisles now, bums in their air. But ''my'' flight attendant coaxes them back into their seats. They obey, looking only at her ankles. I'd expected all-male attendants, or dowdy women under a Burqa tent, not her. She wears a blue gown and, the Hijab, like a balaclava pulled up to cover the lower part of her face. She approaches me, smiling with her lovely eyes and speaks my name. ''Mr Bechstein?'' My neighbours glance up in shock. If beards can bristle, theirs bristle. They hate me for my name. Incredible. (Did I hear a whispered ''Jewboy''?) ''We'll be serving your special meal first, Mr Bechstein. Ham steak with caramelised onions and baked potato?'' Now they hate me for my food. I love her for her London accent. ''Yes, thanks love.'' My (last?) meal is as bad as expected, but then she brings me a huge, complimentary single-malt scotch and hands it across my two appalled neighbours with a subliminal wink. More scowls from the murderous Muslims all around me, some of whom interrupt their eating or even their praying to mutter disapproval of this Western perversion of Allah's will. On their plane! As if their Prophet never drank a glass of wine. I then feign drunkenness—what do they know?—so there's no need to open the computer now sitting on my lap, as I slump in my window seat. Night falls and the cabin lights dim. No movie, just the screen showing our steady progress to Mecca. There is snoring, but I am wide awake, my heart thudding. The small blue light on my computer blinks once. Then three times. Three minutes to my selected GPS position. I am now over land, and I know precisely where. '''Scuse me,'' I slur, and climb urgently over the drowsing Muslims, carrying my laptop. (I need good reception for the detonator signal.) I walk unsteadily towards the rear toilets. Nobody notices me stumble and support myself on the exit door-opening lever. Then I move fast. I put down the laptop and tug the lever. Arabic shouts—and my attendant is running towards me. ''Sir! Sir!'' She grabs me in a headlock but I reach back and, twisting, rip her face covering off. A purple scar runs from under her eye to the side of her mouth. She steps back and screams as I wrench the door open and, bellowing ''There is no God!'' step into blackness. The cold and the rushing noise are incredible. My velcroed suit jacket splits perfectly. Then my cheek seems to burn with my Joanie's last kiss, that day she left for work—her last day—in the Trade Centre. I'd taken early retirement and now, with what we'd saved, we would travel the world. Her hard, closed-mouth kiss on my cheek, that I have carried like a branding. But instead of her big send-off party, the fucking Saudis flew into the second tower. She was one of those forced to jump. Tumbling I claw for the ripcord on my belt. But now I am spinning like a top and my arms have swung out. I pull both arms in but, like a figure skater, this makes me spin faster. I reach the belt, but there's a problem: it has shifted. I fumble for that little plastic ring. Yes! I grab it, but at that moment something bangs my head. And again. It's my goddam laptop, falling with me. The woman must have kicked it out the door. I reach up to grab it and push it away, but it's just out of reach. Lights below, rushing up fast. The computer keeps bumping my head like Joanie's cat trying to wake me...
Archived comments for ONBOARD COMPUTER
sirat on 06-01-2010
ONBOARD COMPUTER
This has a nice balance of plot and human interest. Considering the shortness I think it achieves quite a lot. The narrator's final predicament is well set up.

The only part I wondered about was the ease with which he was able to open an emergency door in flight. The doors open inwards and it would surely take enormous strength to break the seal against the force of the cabin pressure. I think you would have to de-pressurise the cabin first, but I may be wrong. Maybe somebody more knowledgeable about flying will tell me if this is the case.

Inevitably it's a bit 'telly'. You might be able to get over this by presenting it more as an internal dialogue: 'I toyed with the fake keyboard on the laptop, thinking how lucky I had been to get it through that scanner with its modifications undetected. A really professional job, that old sapper had assured me, everything moulded to look just like the things you would expect to find inside a laptop. I could feel the extra weight though. Plastic explosives are heavy' and so on. The narrator isn't just telling the story, he's living it. Also I don't think you need the first paragraph at all, because all the information contained in it is implied or repeated elsewhere. What you need at the beginning is something that sets up the tension, something about sweating palms and the narrator's pounding heart (a bit cliched but you know what you mean) as he weighs up his chances of survival. Something to grab the reader's attention and get his adrenalin flowing. The present opening I find a bit detached and descriptive. It doesn't create involvement.

I hope these random thoughts are some use.

Author's Reply:
Very useful, Sirat; thanks. I'll have the plane coming in to land, and so depressurised, and I'll try a Show Not Tell rewrite, see how it goes. He's a cold, detached sort of guy, but the story shouldn't be.

e-griff on 06-01-2010
ONBOARD COMPUTER
It's also highly unlikely that the laptop would bump on is head, let alone continue to do so (I could give you many practical reasons why, but you can think of them yourself) so that stands out to me at least as a roadblock (as well as the doors --- 'cabin doors to manual' (after landing) --- are they not locked from the cockpit in flight?) And having a parchute hidden? Naw, mate - pushing it too far there.

But principally, I found the whole thing slightly distasteful I'm afraid. Yes, of course it's 'just a fictional story' (but how many ill-intentioned people say that?) .... but I reckon that some might find it rather too close to offence (and no, I'm not just being PC).

I don't like this Simon, to be frank, and I think you should take a cold look at it and think about the implications.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, John. I figured the speed of a laptop would depend only on wind resistance, so as it turned it would speed up or slow down, ditto its unfortunate owner. Not sure at what altitude cabin doors are unlocked, but surely itā€™s before hitting the ground, not after. I take your point that Muslims could be offended at the thought of an American suicide bomber who hates their gutsā€”but heā€™s not really a suicide bomber, just a loser. My feelings about Islam are that itā€™s not nearly as violent as Christianity. Maybe some stupid individual would want to kill me, but the religion is one of peace and calm. Bush canā€™t kill a million Muslims and not expect to lose friends. Iā€™m rewriting it anyway, and will keep your comments in mind. Thanks again.

e-griff on 07-01-2010
ONBOARD COMPUTER
yes, but he exits earlier and is massively slowed by his wind resistance - the laptop has far less resistance, and exits later - it will be much further along the flight path, and probably fall faster. (the plane is doing a couple of hundred miles an hour .. so 1 second = around 100 yards)

anyway, my objection to this is the stereotypical treatment of 'Muslims' - they are all bearded, they all hate jews, etc etc ...You parody them. In this sense your story could regarded as offensive, I think.

Author's Reply:
True 'nuff, John. Isn't it annoying how facts can get in the way of a good story. Still, I'm working on it.

sirat on 08-01-2010
ONBOARD COMPUTER
I wonder if you might be able to keep the same basic plot but avoid all the technical complications (which are many and require a lot of potentially clumsy explanation) by moving the location from the aircraft to a different mode of transport, such as a train. The narrator sits on a crowded train crossing some unnamed Middle Eastern country, doing some work on his 'laptop', sitting opposite one of the hated foreign chappies. Then he gets off, having carefully 'forgotten' his laptop by leaving it out of sight under a newspaper. He moves slowly at first along the platform, then starts to run. He senses there is somebody running behind him, fast. Thinking it's the police he turns to look. It's the man with the turban from the seat opposite and he's reaching out a hand holding a case: 'Sir! You left your laptop on the train!'

Author's Reply:

sirat on 08-01-2010
ONBOARD COMPUTER
I wonder if you might be able to keep the same basic plot but avoid all the technical complications (which are many and require a lot of potentially clumsy explanation) by moving the location from the aircraft to a different mode of transport, such as a train. The narrator sits on a crowded train crossing some unnamed Middle Eastern country, doing some work on his 'laptop', sitting opposite one of the hated foreign chappies. Then he gets off, having carefully 'forgotten' his laptop by leaving it out of sight under a newspaper. He moves slowly at first along the platform, then starts to run. He senses there is somebody running behind him, fast. Thinking it's the police he turns to look. It's the man with the turban from the seat opposite and he's reaching out a hand holding a case: 'Sir! You left your laptop on the train!'

Author's Reply:
Yes, that would work--a different nightmare. But I wanted to match the punishment with the crime: airliner for 9-11 or maybe a Hajj special train for 6-6. The idea is amateur terrorism, to scare the heck out of Muslims flying back from the Hajj.

Ania on 23-01-2010
ONBOARD COMPUTER
This is ludicrous and offensive.

Author's Reply:
Thanks for commenting, Ania. I assume you mean it's ludicrous because it couldn't happen, and offensive because Muslims who are not terrorists (i.e. pretty-well all of them) are offended by someone (not me--him) thinking they are. I prefer, myself, to insult Americans, who seem unbelievably stupid about 9-11, which killed nearly as many Americans as are killed on their roads every couple of weeks. Duh!

Hornygoloch on 23-01-2010
ONBOARD COMPUTER
I'm afraid I found this story a little simplistic adn the mechanics of the plot implausible. However the subject matter was engaging as can be seen from the comments you've received. Story telling often provokes and in some cases offends. Thats no reason to shy away from writing. I can think of many classic stories that do just that. " All along the Western Front", "Catch 22", Byron's "Childe Harold". Unfortunately this is not classic writing but the story could be very readable.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Hornygoloch. Good comment": we'll keep on trying, eh?


THE LITTLE PILL (posted on: 09-10-09)
Somethng I read in yesterday's paper. Seemed worth a story.

THE LITTLE PILL 1,610 words approx. At first it was very expensive. $750 cash for the Ziplock bag of red, silver and brown pills. If taken in the correct order, a boy is guaranteed—almost guaranteed--provided you are not more than twelve weeks pregnant. Beyond twelve weeks, an ultrasound confirming the bad news that your foetus is female produces a referral to the most convenient abortion clinic. Except for the pill, all these services, including psychiatric, are free, covered by government health plan, this being Canada. Toronto's booming million-strong South Asian immigrant community, Punjabis especially, caught on fast and soon used the free clinic rather than the dubious $750 pill, boosting their boy/girl baby ratio to 86%. But too many of the hated sex were still being born, burdens on the family, in need of a costly dowry and, once a suitable husband has been found, off to start their new family life, ignoring the needs of their ageing parents. A boy, though, would proudly carry the family name and devote himself to making his parents' final years comfortable, bringing the patter of tiny feet. Boys' feet. I knew this was happening because I'd done research in India, Africa and the Arab world, and could see the trend catching on even here in Toronto. Young men everywhere. Where were the girls? Studying photographs I'd noticed that the many street protesters, such as the Tamils again blocking our main highway to protest our Government's not supporting the Tamil Tigers were all young men. So were those screaming for the head of the (unwell) Danish cartoonist who once pictured Mohammed with a bomb in his turban. Like other Torontonians I'd assumed that, since immigrant women generally do not protest, the young womenfolk must be at home cheerfully helping their folks prepare dinner. I was wrong. My newspaper's survey found they were not. The older immigrant women were alone, with only a despised few girls trying and failing to win the respect of their parents and in-laws. These young women already knew what would happen if they produced a daughter, or, worse, daughter after daughter: their lives, one way or another, would end. All this was years ago, before the Toronto-developed Little Pill appeared. It was unlicensed, carried side-effects, sold for $1000 per single dose—but at least it worked, unlike the original hand-painted Aspirins that worked less than half the time, female foetuses generally outnumbering male ones. But their cost per pregnancy became prohibitive, and the Little Pill was not covered by OHIP because it ''served no medical purpose.'' However, some Punjabi lawyers soon argued strongly that, because feticide—aborting a female foetus for being female—was now illegal, the pill in fact served to keep South Asian women from breaking the law. The horrors of Henry the VIII's reign were regularly quoted. Canada's world-famous Charter of Human Rights, too, would be violated if women were not allowed to do as they please with regard to their families. The Supreme Court agreed, and the new, improved Little Pill became free to all. It was advertised as YOUR RIGHT TO CHOOSE. All this was years ago, but what amazed me was how quickly the world's preference for boys spread into action. Counterfeited in China and India, our little pill sold world-wide. Even well-off white Torontonians could see that, for a planned one-child family (not mandated, as previously in China, but economically now necessary) a boy was the obvious choice. My last book, THE RIGHT TO CHOOSE RIGHT had pointed out that in fact a girl, in those days, was statistically more likely to be employed than her brothers were, but then...it was only a book. My study had shown that many salary-conscious employers, and quite a few whole industries, including auto manufacturing and electronics, were cheerfully flouting Canadian law by only hiring females. As one electronics manufacturer told me over drinks, ''They show up, they do the work, you pay them half what you'd have to pay a guy—and you can look at them all day for nothing!'' But within five years the situation reversed. Toronto girls became so few that managers complained of having to pay them the same as boys—even more!—so boys were again hired. In Africa, men progressively took over the agriculture from the dwindling numbers of women, but were compensated by the benefits of slowing the over-population threat which had been accelerating now that Western medicines had dramatically reduced the rate of infant mortality (except for girls). For once there was enough food. A religious justification began to rise, girls being now such a small minority that they were loudly condemned as worthless parasites and occasions for sin. Even some all-male Fundamentalist Christian groups here could be heard chanting NO MORE EVE, NO MORE EVE! EVE IS EVIL NO MORE EVE! Prostitution boomed, and gangs would fight to the death over possession of their whore, who had gained a paradoxical new respectability and desirability. To me it seemed a man's world once again, back to the ''good old days'' when the matriarchal societies, worshiping many-gods and goddesses societies were forced into the conviction that There is Only One God, and He is God. I hated this, but for me, the good old days were indeed returning, with the roads clear, plenty to go around, no more starving faces on TV, and less talk of danger of global warming roasting us all in our beds. Toronto again became a delightful place to live. This is the background. What happened next was a shock. Unlike the succession of predicted financial collapses, nobody saw it coming. Worldwide, the boy-girl ratio of newborns kept rising, approaching, in some areas, 98 to 2, and we columnists kept sounding our warnings, now that the women were dying off and being replaced by increasingly warlike, competitive men. Stop taking the Little Pill, we editorialised. Ban it, Halt Production Now! The (all-male) UN seemed indifferent. We all assumed that the counterfeited pills were being sold profitably world-wide. But they weren't. Production had ended two years before this. Dwindling market, shrinking profits. No longer a need to suppress female conceptions, because the job was almost done. (And obviously some women are needed to keep the sons coming.) But why the drop in usage? The reason was alarming. A French laboratory reported that, because The Little Pill was effective in tiny doses, almost trace amounts, French drinking water now contained those tiny amounts, presumably excreted in the urine not only of females but of males. A frantic testing of water supplies found even New York's pristine reservoirs tainted, some said deliberately. So males kept being born, even to women who had never taken the Pill or even heard of it. Worse, any girls born were sickly, often hermaphroditic—and sterile. The ratio was approaching 100%. Not even the best American science could find a way out; the change occurred at conception and seemed at a genetic level. This is where my newspaper came in. Somehow the editor persuaded Toronto's (all male) government to begin a quiet search of birth records for men who had fathered only girls. I do love the sight of little girls in sunhats dancing down the street, and my columns said how much I missed them. Every stroller now seemed to contain a plump little king. My own five lovely girls had all had sons, one a still-born daughter, and she had killed herself. The religious crazies somehow got a copy of the multiple-daughter fathers and began tormenting us as ''Devil-Spawners of Evil,'' whatever that means. They picketed our houses, demanding that we let God and Nature take their course. From their chants I got the impression that the absurd but attractive Arab notion of seventy-two virgins waiting expectantly in Heaven for every dead man had spread to the West. Even stranger, though homosexuality was now seen as more evil than ever, somehow a woman's curse, man-boy love could be seen practiced openly and proudly. At 6:00 a.m., the Kafka hour, there was a knock on my door. I live alone, my wife having passed seven years ago. I found my slippers and shuffled downstairs. No burning torches, good. When you're old you have no fear of being killed, and pain you've got used to. I switched on the porch light and opened the door. Blinking, I saw them, two men in dark suits, and between them, a terrified-looking young woman, plump, presumably an Inuit. ''Doctor Jackson, Doctor Adrian Jackson?'' He was trying not to sound official. I nodded. ''I'd like you to meet Irene. She's from way up North, Alert, where we find the drinking water is excellent, unpolluted and excellent.'' ''Hello Irene,'' I said, trying my old-man's smile. ''What can I do for you, gentlemen?'' ''Irene has a lovely family. Seven daughters is it?'' ''Seven lovely girls,'' said Irene. ''I hope you can meet my girls.'' She seemed to mean me. She gave their names, none of which I remembered. The other man handed me a gift-wrapped package. I had no idea what was going on, but as the officials gently urged Irene forward the penny dropped. I was expected to save the world. ''Oh! You better come in, gentlemen. Would you like to come in, um, Irene? I'm an old man, I'm always up early, I was just going to make a pot of tea.'' ''Gentlemen?'' But they were smilingly backing off. Waiting for the kettle to boil, I tore off the silver gift wrapping. A handful of fifty-dollar notes, a bank book, and a large package of Viagra. Irene spoke. ''Would you like to meet my daughters now?'' END
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HEAVEN (posted on: 23-10-08)
It's a play. I know plays are a bit hard to read, but if you get a few drunken friends to take a part each and read it though...well, you won't mind if it doesn't make any sense. It's based on a trip my wife and I made to Club Med in Mexico, during which the full moon stopped moving and I went nuts.

HEAVEN a one-act play by Simon Leigh Simon Leigh 227 River Street, Toronto, ON M5A 3P9 Canada 416 960 0236 simonhowardleigh@yahoo.ca CHARACTERS 2 MEN, 2 WOMEN STAGE MANAGER (HARRY) also as PILOT (CAPTAIN JAMES ''Hawkeye'' FERRYMAN) COPILOT (BERNIE) speaks one word only MEXICAN (JESUS: ''Hayzus'') Vaguely Christlike face, beard and hair MAN (JOHNSON DOE) middle-aged, dressed for Mexican holiday and as co-pilot FREDDY WOMAN ( MAN'S wife JANE) dressed ditto STEWARDESS (BUNNY) also as ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER (BRENDA)   SETTING Scene 1 An airliner in flight (Sounds only; house lights remain half on, curtain not quite down, a foot or two above stage.) Scene 2 Heaven as a Spanish-style courtyard of a Club Med resort hotel. Floor is littered with Coke cans, fast food cartons, dogshit. Bright-coloured paint, peeling. Fake palm trees. Perhaps some graffiti: gang tags, and ''THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME'' Pink neon sign HEAVEN WELCOMES YOU begins to blink, letters go out to leave HEAVE WE COME Y Door Stage Right opens into holiday apartment. Heavy entry door at rear that can be swung on, with barred grill and latch on inside. One Mexican, possibly alive, propped against back wall under oversize Mexican hat. Scene 3 Same, 10 minutes later. TIME Now SCENE 1 (Soothing in-flight pre-show music plays, cuts) STAGE MANAGER (Voice Over on Tannoy. To backstage.) Ladies and gentlemen this is your three-minute call. (Music resumes, plays, cuts) ...This is your one minute call, ladies and gentlemen. Beginners onstage please, beginners onstage please. Have a good show, everyone. The CBC's filming this one. Looks like a good house, lively. Sound cue One stand by. Brenda? Ah...Brenda! Didn't mean to wake you, love. Sound cue One stand by. Main drape stand by. Jesus! What's going on with the curtain? Brenda! Why isn't it right down? (Music resumes) (Stage lights up, and we notice the curtain is not quite down, about a foot above stage. Onstage we see assorted feet moving calmly about as stage crew, whistling softly, set the scene.) (Onstage blackout, sounds of feet shuffling rapidly, soft bumps, muttered curses. Curtain, which is about a two feet above stage, comes jerkily down, bounces, and is now again about a foot above stage.) STAGE MANAGER (Voice Over on Tannoy. To backstage.) It's still not--!—OK, OK, near enough. Music fade out, Go. (Music fades) House lights fade. Go. Sound cue one Go. (Airliner sounds build and continue. House lights fade to half) STAGE MANAGER (VO to audience) Ladies and gentlemen we would like your attention for the following brief safety message. Your theatre is pressurised, but should atmospheric pressure drop suddenly for any reason, masks will be presented automatically. If this should happen, please quit drinking, extinguish your stewardess, place the mask over your face and continue to breathe normally. PILOT (obviously same person putting on a different voice) (VO, heartily, tipsy. Clears throat) Harumph! This is your captain Captain James Ferryman speaking. We welcome you to Champagne Flight DC106 to Fort Yucatancan-can. We're currently flying at an altitude of..of..aww, approximately (mumbles) metres-feet -- (Aside, to stewardess) Have we gone metric yet Bunny? ...I knew that. --and we're expecting a little possible turbulence ahead, so— Harumph! BUNNY (voice over. Suppresses a giggle) In the unlikely event of if this should happen, please quit drinking, extinguish your stewardess, place the mask over your face and continue to breathe. Normally— PILOT So I suggest you keep your, your whatsumcallit loosely fastened at all times. Belts. Our lovely stewardesses will now be serving your complementary Champagne Tropicana, which I can assure you is absolutely first-rate, and we hope you have a pleasant flight. (aside) Is this thing off? You better get back there, Bunny. (Sound of bottom being smacked, giggle.) Bernie, what we got in the way of CDs? STAGE MANAGER (Voice Over) SQ2 Go. (Burst of disco music.) PILOT No, no, something soothing to take their minds off their, whataddayacallit. Storm. STAGE MANAGER (Voice Over) SQ3 Go (Burst of Mariachi music. Builds. Distant rumble of thunder.) PILOT Bern?...Bernie? COPILOT Mmm? PILOT Bernie, isn't that big black cloud the ugliest thing you ever saw in your life? STAGE MANAGER (Voice Over) Ready! LQ 3 to 18 and SQ 4 Go. (Lightning flashes can be seen under the half-closed curtain. The visible feet scurry off. Thunder builds. Music continues.) PILOT Yes siree, in all my years of flying I can safely say— STAGE MANAGER (Voice Over) Crash stand by PILOT --I never, ever saw a cloud that looked so... STAGE MANAGER (Voice Over) SQ 5 to 7 Go PILOT ...so whatjammacallit. You know--- (All sound cuts. Blackout. Silence. A single guitar string snaps) STAGE MANAGER (Voice Over) Main drape, LQ 19, Ready...Go. I'm going to get a coffee, guys, I'm dying. Computer's running the board now, you're on your own, guys—Oh fuck! Is this thing still on? Wake up Brenda! Curtain Go Go Go! (SFX click)   Scene 2 (Curtain rises fully, stage lights up to reveal Heaven as a Spanish-style courtyard of a Club Med resort hotel. Graffiti. Floor is littered with Coke cans, dogshit. Fast food wrappers blow past. Pink neon sign, HEAVEN WELCOMES YOU blinks, then sparks like the lightning flashes, leaving HEAVE WE COME Y. MEXICAN, under huge hat, is propped against back wall)) (SFX soft mysterious wind, slow-motion surf and seabird calls. MAN is peering in, through gateway grille.) MAN (JOHNSON) (in slow motion. Action and SFX gradually speed up to normal.) Can't see a soul. Hello! (Rattles locked gate) WOMAN (JANE) (Off) Perhaps we came at a bad time. Siesta time, or they're all on the beach. MAN (JOHNSON) HELLO! WOMAN (JANE) (Off) ...This isn't it though. Can't possibly be the place. You think we're here already? (Pause) Can't you get in, love? MAN Locked. ..(Reaches arm through grille, unlatches door, which swings open with him on it.) WOMAN (WOMAN enters, carrying suitcase which is slightly charred. Looks around nervously. ) It's...lovely. Just beautiful. It's so...different. (Swings gate shut behind her without looking. MAN on door is now outside again) Isn't it, Johnno? (Sees him.) Well come in, come in and have a look. MAN I got eyes. (Through bars). Place looks like a prison to me. Where're the security guys, wardens, the drug sniffer dogs? Is this a metal detector? WOMAN Johnno, we're going to have a lovely time. Completely...unwind. (Unlatches and opens gate, swinging him in. His blackened suitcase is now in his free hand. Gate clangs shut behind him.) MAN (Looks around.) Shouldn't there be someone at the gate, with a checklist? WOMAN (Mimes clipboard) Joseph, ''JJ'' Doe , big cross . Mrs Joseph ''JJ'', Doe, small cross—but I got you here, love. Look, here we are. You're going to have a lovely two weeks. No, no security, no names, no roll call. Nothing to do but be yourself. MAN (Looking weary, though his voice is energetic.) Nothing? No way! I'm going windsurfing straight after lunch. WOMAN Good for you, my main man. MAN Then I think I'll scuba dive. It's included. WOMAN I'm going to sit under a tree. MAN Think I might get the pro to take a look at my golf swing. WOMAN I'll still be sitting under my tree, not even thinking about thinking. MAN After dinner I can take my first run. You know they have this Iron Man contest in Hawaii? It's huge. Everyone from all over the world. Mass start, then you all swim two and a half miles in the surf, run up the beach, grab your bike and do a 112-mile race through the lava fields. Then you jump off the bike and run a marathon. Last year the winner did it in 9 hours. Incredible. WOMAN Excellent! So we're both going to be doing the same thing...Nothing. (Smiles and gives him a hug) And you know what, love? Now we're here I'm not going to nag you about slow down, take it easy. I'm not going to waste a minute. MAN But you're going to sit under a tree, right? WOMAN Right. MAN Which? WOMAN Which what? MAN Tree. WOMAN You'll find it. It'll have me sitting under it. I'll wave as you whizz by, (aside) running away from yourself. Making good time, too. MAN I never mind the heat, you know. Some people hate the heat, slows them down. Me, I'm like those insects that, the hotter it gets, the quicker they fly. And the louder they get. WOMAN (Aside) Please God, don't break down on me again. MAN Who you talking to? Somebody say something? WOMAN (Looks around, spots MEXICAN under hat. MAN and WOMAN tiptoe towards him.) MAN and WOMAN in unison. Por favor, seňor. (No response) Seňor, por favor. (They lift his huge hat together, revealing a grinning death's head, cobwebbed.) MAN and WOMAN in unison. AAAHHH! Poor seňor. MAN Siesta too mucha, hmm? (Replaces hat.) WOMAN You'd think they'd...clean him up. MAN He's probably the cleaner. (Kicks a Coke can) You know...somehow I expected a classier place. It's not exactly Heaven. WOMAN It's perfect, my love. The sun. Trees. Or would you rather be back shovelling snow? MAN I rather like shovelling snow. It's such a magnificently futile gesture. Actually I like picking up cans too. (He collects a few). It doesn't take a second, and you know you can return them and get a refund.—God damn! (Dumps the lot back on the ground beside Mexican). You know what we're paying per second, here? WOMAN Per second! You worked it out didn't you. MAN I did. On my watch. (He fiddles with calculator watch. Four bucks eighty an hour. That's 8 cents a minute equals zero point one three cents per second it's costing us. Each! WOMAN The mind recoils. I do hope you've had your 80 cents worth of enjoyment since we got here 10 minutes back. MAN (Smiles) Sure I have, love. Sometimes I'm really boring. I even bore myself. WOMAN And that's serious, at point whatever per second per second...Now, if we can just find where we've been put. (She enters doorway stage right. MAN picks up both suitcases, follows.) WOMAN (Offstage) My Golly! (Returns holding silver framed photo and bottle of champagne.) WOMAN There's our names on the bottle, and where on Earth did they get this photo? It's our wedding picture. MAN Top grade bubbly, too. WOMAN It was just standing there on the table. No ice bucket or anything. STAGE MANAGER (VO) SQ 20 stand by. Brenda! You still awake? I know you had a big night last night. BRENDA (VO. Furious.) You don't know anything about me. SQ 20 ready, OK, OK? MAN (Takes bottle) But it's, it's freezing cold! STAGE MANAGER (VO) Go (Horror-film music) BLACKOUT   SCENE 3 (As before, but MAN and WOMAN are seated at small table in courtyard under umbrella, finishing their champagne.) MAN You know what the poet says about Life? WOMAN Which poet? MAN The poet. WOMAN Yeats? MAN Yeats says Life is a long preparation for an event that doesn't happen. WOMAN Well your life may be. I'm not preparing for anything. I just want my tree. MAN But it's true! You're getting ready and getting ready. All your life. For an event that doesn't happen. And I've got a feeling— WOMAN Yes! But no! It's not going to--But yes, it's about to happen, right-- (MEXICAN under hat slowly raises head to reveal skull mask. MAN and WOMAN cling together in horror.) STAGE MANAGER (from auditorium) Cut cut cut! (He strides rapidly forward and climbs onstage.) No, no no, get back under your stupid hat. (MEXICAN does.) STAGE MANAGER Alison, you come out with the photo, ''My O My it's our wedding photo, where'd they get that blah blah blah. Harold, you go get the bottle, pour two glasses, then you both look at the hat as he comes up and shows the product. OK? OK? and it's raise, raise! (STAGE MANAGER takes bottle and goes inside hut. Then pokes his head out) Little pun, eh? Play on words. WOMAN Sorry about that, Harry. STAGE MANAGER No sweat, baby. You da man. (Leaves door open. Remains in hut.) WOMAN (to MAN, resuming the play) And that's serious, at point whatever cents per second per second. . .Let's see if we can raise someone to find our room—I'm sorry, I can't say that line. Let's see if we can raise someone to find our room. Nope. Raise someone. Lazarus. Or twins. Let's raise some kids, some room-hunters. MAN Yes! Stalking through the urban night, their quiver-full of skeleton keys all a-quiver— WOMAN --Their prey the well-lighted room, slipping psychedelically down the sidewalk— MAN Thar she glows! MAN and WOMAN run around the stage, stop at room door.) MAN Beware! Take care. It looks empty, the door is ajar. But once the big room gets you, you stay got. WOMAN Or is that just an ugly...roomer? (SFX Ba-Boom!) STAGE MANAGER (Enters from room, waving arms, half frantic) All right, boys and girls, we've had our time out for mental health day. Let's get some footage. Alilson, if you can't say that line, what do you want to say? WOMAN Let's see if we can raise someone to find our ROOOOOM! MAN (wolf-howl) ROOOOM! ROOOOOOM! WOMAN (joins in) ROOOOM! ROOOOOOOOOOM! STAGE MANAGER OK, OK. That's a better reading, yes. When you're ready. I hope you've got your 80 cents worth of enjoyment since we got here 10 minutes ago. (Exits through door) MAN (smiles. To STAGE MANAGER offstage) Sure I have, love. (Aside) God I'm so tired I can't see straight. WOMAN And that's serious, at point whatever per second per second. Let's see if we can raise someone to find our— (MAN and WOMAN together) ROOOOOOOM! WOMAN There's our names! (To MAN) I didn't notice before, they're burnt into the wood. What's the name for that? Etching? Branding? Scrolling? Fretwork? (MAN waves her off) ( WOMAN enters door, as before. Inside:) My God! (Returns holding a silver- framed photo) And where on earth did they get this photo? It's our wedding photo! MAN Cherchez moi. (He reaches into doorway, returns instantly with champagne bottle.) Bubbly, too. WOMAN and MAN in unison It was just standing on the table. No ice bucket or anything, and yet— STAGE MANAGER (VO over Tannoy) SQ30 stand by. Brenda, you still there? Jesus wept. (A beat) WOMAN and MAN in unison It's freezing cold! STAGE MANAGER (VO. Triumphantly .) Music go! (Music, chill of horror) MEXICAN (slowly begins to raise head. They shrink in horror. Then he fully raises head to reveal a grinning Alfred E. Newman mask. And he is holding up a can of Coke.) MEXICAN Coca Cola WOMAN and MAN in unison The Champagne of America. MEXICAN And Canada. I guess. STAGE MANAGER (VO) Great! Cameras close in—hold tight shot of the product. Cross-fade into sponsor's message, corporate blah blah blah. Yes! OK boys and girls you're on your own now. I'm dying here, I'm going out to grab a Pepsi. MAN You know who designed the new logo, don't you? (Takes can from MEXICAN'S hand. MEXICAN slowly collapses back under hat.) The new twist? The Mexican Can-Can? WOMAN Doyle Dane Bernbach. MAN Oh sure, they had the account, they made the presentation. But the concept, the concept. (Points to his head, takes a bow.) WOMAN You never told me that. MAN You never asked me. Too busy sitting under your tree. It was over lunch, a working lunch. I'll show you how it was. WOMAN (sits at small table; he pulls out her chair as a headwaiter, pops open champagne, pours two large glasses. Then puts bottle in outstretched MEXICAN'S hand that extends to receive it, then withdraws. WOMAN and MAN clink glasses and toast, arms entwined. WOMAN Happy holidays. MAN Happy holiday. (They drink and smile at each other. SFX soft ocean sounds, distant Mexican music.) MAN This is a really nice place. WOMAN (glances around. Suddenly tough.)) Yeah, yeah. I never notice where I eat. I'm liberated from all that fretting. My ulcer tells me it's time to eat, I eat. This last week I been eating, sleeping, breathing Coca bloody Cola. MAN When's your presentation? The New Pepsi? WOMAN Tomorrow, 8:30—and the client's gonna have me for breakfast. Sprinkled on his shredded wheat. MAN (Sympathetically) What do you need? WOMAN (Angrily) I need a two week vacation's what I need. Sit under a tree. What I gotta have by 8:30 am is a new twist. I been up the ass of my creative people and they got nothing. Zip. Squat. Nada. Eff-all. Oh sure, a diarrhoea of ideas, but nothing you could get your teeth into. MAN (pulls face) The client wants a brand-new look but without changing a thing, right? 'Twas ever thus. WOMAN (nods, then rises and paces about) The...Post-Pepsi Generation Generation? MAN Don't say that word here, but right. We lost them, big time. It was easy in the old days when we had cocaine in the product. They drank it, they gargled it, poured it up their nose. Everyone was happy. After you Pour, you come back for More. WOMAN Right! You poet/copywriters know your stuff. OK, a loyal clientele. And the product was so—affordable. It's an industrial effluent, as you know. All we added was sugar and promotion. MAN So what was the big problem? Why change a winning game? WOMAN Satisfaction! Customer satisfaction. You pay a dime, you get a Coke, you're satisfied. For hours! That's no way to do business. MAN Right. The satisfied consumer is no consumer at all. Who's going to buy our fast food line? WOMAN Chips. MAN Snacks WOMAN Pez MAN Pretzels WOMAN Gum MAN Rum WOMAN TV dinners and the TV to eat them by. You know our corporate motto: The Happy Man is Death. MAN So while you're farting around taking out the cocaine, pumping in caffeine, and that stuff that gives you the bad aftertaste on your palate— WOMAN --That only another Coke can remove, we're losing half our market share! Our Coke-heads stick with us for a while, till they die off, but now we need Young! We need Brave New But Been There all the Time, we need—But how the hell do we get there from here? (Winces as her ulcer bothers her. She grabs champagne bottle from under MEXICAN'S hat, swigs, gargles, swallows. Then begins to sing the original song, ''How Do we Get There from Here?'' (MAN and MEXICAN, still under hat, join in chorus.) MEXICAN (still under hat) A Moebius Strip. WOMAN (to MAN) Did you say something about amoebas? MAN I thought the Hat said something strip. Wants you to strip. WOMAN I sing in my job, I dance, I kissy kissy kiss. Strip, I do not. MAN Not unless the client asks you to. WOMAN Well of course. MEXICAN Moebius Strip. WOMAN Something about a trip? MAN (Registering) Ah! Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time— (Pats MEXICAN'S hat) MAN (to MEXICAN) Good doggie. Thanks ...the Earth was a garden. Great whales sang beyond the fog and birds swam slowly through air so heavy that you loved moving like this: (MAN dances in slow motion while speaking) And there was a snake. Wanting to cross the road. WOMAN The road? MAN The freeway. (Stops dancing) The world isn't all that old, you know. All Darwin's stuff was planted on Day 1. I should know—I was there. I created the World. Six days, then a break. (He dances again, even slower). WOMAN (Quietly) Please God, don't break down on me now. (To MAN) You want to sit down for a bit, love? MAN In the middle of my story? WOMAN Oh—is it a show-and-tell. MAN Not really. (Sits at table, gets his breath back. Then, gradually picking up his pace but orating clearly) And this golden snake—big snake, long wattles— WOMAN Wattles? MAN Wattles, acacia, aphasia, ataxia, what-have-you was burning, burning to cross the endless white busy equatorial freeway that ran East to West, day and night, round and round the world without end. (Pause) WOMAN That's...it? (Beat) MAN (in normal voice) That's what? WOMAN That's your story? (Beat) MAN No way! That's just the freeway. (Begins picking up the pace.) The freeway that said snake wanted to get to the other side of the road of, but sadly Snake had given away her wings to a falling apple and her legs to a passing tree, and therefore would have been taking her life in her hands to crawl headfirst into the Westbound Behemoth lane, so...(pauses, searching for the word) WOMAN (prompting him) Therefore?...Because...? As, and, whereas, notwithstanding, thus, whence? Thence? (Beat) MAN Since the snakey wakey's magic powers were intact, he— WOMAN He? MAN He, woman, he! The snake! He caused a twist to appear in the endless white loop of the highway, thus: (MEXICAN hold out a newspaper page from under hat.) MAN Thank you, my man. (Tears off a strip an inch wide, puts ends together to make a loop.) The highway...Watch closely. (He puts a half-twist in one end and again forms a loop.) Moebius Strip! (In normal voice) As you see, a fly walking endlessly along this endless strip for ever and ever will spend half of Eternity on the outside, and the other half of Eternity on the inside without ever crossing over an edge! Half Eternity! Half of indivisible Eternity on the inside! (Crumples paper, tosses it into the air, misses catching it.) WOMAN What about a snake? MAN What about a snake? Well may you ask. What about a snake indeed? Indeed. What about a snake? WOMAN The snake! MAN Oh that snake! He set off, gliding gently westward down the Freeway... (Long pause) WOMAN And reappeared from the East? MAN Of course, but underneath the highway. Down in the dirt, the filth, slime and greasy underbelly of existence, where he wished to be! WOMAN But you said he wanted to cross the road. MAN No! That was the chicken, a horse of an entirely different aspect. The snake wished to get to the other side of the road. WOMAN And the other side is...underneath. My God, I think I've got it, I've really got it. (She picks up balled paper, unfolds it and tries to make twisted loop.) Yes! That's our responsibility. We have to turn people into things, and Things Go Better With— MEXICAN (under hat) How dare you! MAN and WOMAN (together) How dare who? MEXICAN You two! MAN and WOMAN Us? MEXICAN Yes! How dare you! (Flings hat aside, wearing no mask. He wears a Mexican cape and has vaguely Christ-like face, beard and hair. He rises, holding large Coke bottle and brandishes it.) MAN and WOMAN How dare we what? MEXICAN That! (Points to Coke label). The shape. DNA molecule. Double helix, alias the guilloche. WOMAN (apologetically) I know, I know. MEXICAN I know you know. I may have been taking a nap under a bushel, but the rumours of my death are beginning to get on my tits! I've had it up to here! (Flings arms wide.) How dare you start turning people into things! I spent the best years of my life turning things into people. Clay's not easy to work with. MAN and WOMAN (Prostrate themselves. Sincerely:) Forgive us, for we know what we do. MEXICAN (rises.) Heavy, heavy, heavy. (Raises them up, smiling.) Up we comesy. And a warm welcome to the Club, set in tropic seas! Right here, in the space between spaces. MAN This is the place? MEXICAN It's the place. WOMAN It doesn't look like the place. Are you sure it's the place? MAN It can't be the place, but he says it's the place. ..It couldn't be the other place, could it? I mean how do we tell the difference? WOMAN Don't be silly, of course it's not the other place. After a lifetime of public service in the Advertising and P.R. profession they're hardly likely to send us to the wrong place. It's the right place...unless they're both the same place. Didn't you once tell me that ''omnipotent'' means um... MAN All...powerful, so whoever runs the place can snap his fingers and make the Other Place disappear. And never have been. Interesting... What if it's the other way round, and we've already spent our whole life in the other place? ... Nah! So we're really here, then! MEXICAN You are indeed. Welcome to the place. Here all your fantasies live again. Whatever you would be, you are. And what you are, you will be, before you know it. WOMAN We really have arrived. MAN I was starting to think it was just a dream. MEXICAN Just a dream? What do you want for the money? Let's kick off with a little shakedown music, hey hey! (Snaps fingers) STAGE MANAGER (VO) Go! Go! (Nothing happens.) ALL glance up at booth, MEXICAN snaps fingers again. STAGE MANAGER (VO) Brenda! Go! (ALL Finger snap as loud Mariachi music starts, as before. All dance, with cries of Ole! Riba! Riba! Music fades and they shamble to a stop.) WOMAN Wonderful! I love it! But, ah, we're both a bit worn-out, it was rather a long flight, Mr...seňor...? MEXICAN Call me anything you like. MAN What's in a name, eh? MEXICAN (horrified) What's in a name! A rose by any other name would not be a rose at all, my friend. Could be a bicycle. Ah!...A bicycle...You know, of all Man's inventions--Man and woman that is, plus all the other sexes and genders—of all his inventions, you know the one that just tickles me pink? WOMAN Fire? MEXICAN (Shakes head, long hair whirling). Child's play. MAN Sex? MEXICAN Just another discovery. If Man had invented sex, whoo! I'd step down. MAN The Jumbo jet? MEXICAN A bad joke. You guys can't even build an elephant. No, the bicycle. (Calls offstage). Can I have the product please? STAGE MANAGER (whizzes out from wings standing on the pedal of a mountain bike, puts it on it stand, looks up to check the stage lighting, exits.) MAN (holding bicycle, demonstrates its features.) Compact, easy to carry. WOMAN Roller skates are easier. MEXICAN Take your pants off. MAN Take my pants off? MEXICAN (nods) MAN (removes his pants and stands in bright boxers with fig leaf on front) He looks down, amazed. MEXICAN (to WOMAN) This is how I designed the legs, you see. All these muscles (indicates) to hold the body up, plus a few small ones to move it forward. Compromise design. (To MAN.) Stand! MAN I am standing. MEXICAN Up up up! (MAN stands taller.) Kneel! (MAN does). Sit! (MAN does). Lie! (MAN does ) Sit up! (MAN does), Kneel! (MAN does) Stand! (MAN does) Run like blazes: there's a sabre tooth after you! (MAN runs wildly.) But! (MAN stops running) Once the body weight is on the frame (MEXICAN mounts and rides around stage) Equally distributed between saddle and handlebars, the standing muscles are freed to push! Push! Forward. Two hundred miles a day, with the same effort as walking 30. Oh! you have to invent roads first, but you knew that. Can't ride through the jungle, can't ride in snow or sand, but still-- STAGE MANAGER (VO) Cut cut cut! This is really boring. Sorry kids, but this is getting really, really boring. ''Two hundred miles a day, same effort as walking 30''—nobody talks like that. Don't tell me, show me. MEXICAN (Barely controlling himself) Harry, on behalf of all of us here I'd like to express my gratitude for these gems of theatrical wisdom, but I would like to point out that I didn't write the goddam script! STAGE MANAGER Ok, OK, take it easy, I only— MEXICAN You want me to improvise? Fine. I'll improvise. You see, the trouble with the bicycle as a means of transport is that it's built of chrome-moly tubing, very fancy technology, huge trucks gouging the earth for just a few specks of this precious metal— STAGE MANAGER Come on! Jesus, Hay-zus— MEXICAN But! If we could build a wooden bicycle— WOMAN It wouldn' work. (SFX Ka-Ching!) STAGE MANAGER (Shouting into wings) Thanks you, Brenda. Music cue . Playout music ready. WOMAN I'm going to sit under my tree. (Picks up champagne bottle and prepares to exit.) C'mon, let's... STAGE MANAGER, MEXICAN, MAN AND WOMAN IN UNISON Go! Blackout. Romantic music, e.g. ''We'll Meet Again'' starts, continues. ***
Archived comments for HEAVEN

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JUDGEMENT DAY (posted on: 01-08-08)
This has puzzled me ever since Dad told me Marx claims the Dictatorship of the Proletariat and the triumph of Communism was inevitable. If so, why do anythng about it?

JUDGEMENT DAY If you truly believe that, on Judgement Day God will show up and sweep all your foes away, Why bother to kill infidels you so hate? Why not wait?
Archived comments for JUDGEMENT DAY
e-griff on 01-08-2008
JUDGEMENT DAY
another of your succinct philosophies?

two things

1. 'you so hate' - bloody hell! don't show delph, she'lll have your .... no NO NO.... 'you hate' is fine šŸ™‚

2. Why do you angle this (apparently) at one religion? This is applicable to all people of this type of any religion and (as you imply in your intro) none?

Author's Reply:

Macjoyce on 01-08-2008
JUDGEMENT DAY
Simon doesn't angle it at any one religion. 'Infidel' doesn't refer to any one religion. It's a Latin word, not an Arabic one, so presumably, griff, you think he's talking about Christians?...

I don't see what it has to do with Communism. Communists weren't interested in having a big war, which is why one didn't happen. Why would they risk their precious atheistic social experiment in a huge war in which they could have all got killed?



Author's Reply:

e-griff on 01-08-2008
JUDGEMENT DAY
that's true of course (Latin) however it is an archaic word.

In the modern day, I have mostly (only) seen it associated with muslim opinion. (even by Bernard Bresslaw as an arab in the carry-on films)

Author's Reply:

admin on 03-08-2008
JUDGEMENT DAY
Just goes to show that God is right. Patience IS a virtue, after all. That's a lot of sweeping though - hope he's got a bloody big broom handy...

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 23-09-2008
JUDGEMENT DAY
simon - you need to send a bio for the anth!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Author's Reply:

Simon on 24-09-2008
JUDGEMENT DAY
JUDGEMENT DAY

How about this version?

If you truly believe that, on Judgement Day
God will show up and sweep all your foes away,
Why bother to kill unbelievers you hate?
Why not wait?



Author's Reply:

jay12 on 24-09-2008
JUDGEMENT DAY
A poem that points to the fact that: God might not exist and killing or living just for his ends based on the teachings in a book that is a fraction as old as the world itself might be a load of horse pooh!

Great poem

Author's Reply:


DICKIE (posted on: 29-02-08)
A brief tale, sadly from life.

DICKIE We rotate the annual general meeting of our little arts group, and last night was Charlotte's turn. We looked forward to seeing inside her beautiful Rosedale home; they had done well. We briefly admired her furnishings, then settled round the mahogany table to get started. I was half-way through reading the minutes when a stuffed penguin landed on my papers. ''Oh!'' said Charlotte, turning. ''Darling! We're having a meeting. This is Dickie, everyone.'' We all said ''Hello Dickie'' and he left us—but then he was back with a truck that tipped itself up, and we had to watch politely as he showed it around the table. Then an aeroplane, at which we nodded, and, after that, a collection of stuffed toys, mostly bears. I kept losing the thread of my presentation, and one or two members exchanged glances, struggling to concentrate. At a crucial part of the meeting, just coming up to a vote, Dickie re-appeared, this time with a tray of little clay models he'd made, which he passed around like hors d'oeuvres. We never really got the meeting going after that. Charlotte kept apologising and asking Dickie, ''Do please let us get on with our meeting, darling,'' but he obviously needed our full attention, so we adjourned. We left, saying goodbye to Charlotte in the doorway, with her husband Dickie behind her, sadly waving.
Archived comments for DICKIE
Andrea on 29-02-2008
DICKIE
Hahaha, I thought it had to be something ike that. Poor Dickie - poor Charlotte, poor you!

Author's Reply:

SugarMama34 on 29-02-2008
DICKIE
Hi Simon,

Definatley a sad tale, but told very well from the narrator's point of view. Had a feeling from the begining that Dickie would be an adult and not a child. Such a shame and the awkwardness of Charlotte came across well too.

Lis'. xx

Author's Reply:

Sunken on 01-03-2008
DICKIE
Well it fooled me... This kinda revelation doesn't help does it? I'll do one )-:

s
u
n
k
e
n

he never fully recovered from the death of his terrapin

Author's Reply:

Gerry on 02-03-2008
DICKIE
Simon,a sad little vignette on life as it sometimes is...

Gerry.

Author's Reply:

bluepootle on 03-03-2008
DICKIE
I like Charlotte and Dickie. Interesting relationship. Nice understated humour. I seem to be typing in short sentences. Sorry. I enjoyed this though.

Author's Reply:

Romany on 05-03-2008
DICKIE
I thought this was sad - was it dementia, Asperger's or something of that sort? Very sad, especially in comparison comments about the house and how 'well' they had done. Life can be so very unfair.

Romany.

Author's Reply:
Yes, it seemed to be dementia, though unlike my terrified Dad, Dickie seemed contented enough.


Toadstool dancing (posted on: 19-11-07)
Just a little fairy story.

Toadstool Dancing 1,012 words They were sitting in a ring, on stools, when I entered the space, all women, and alarmingly beautiful ones at that. I must be the token male for the group. Everyone smiled and their leader motioned for me to move into centre stage. I had to keep turning around to introduced myself, my name and my confession, like AA, or any twelve-step group. I'm a romantic, a hopeless case, addicted to everything you can name: sex, drugs, rock and roll, beauty, excitement. But not to my wife, no more. She just seems so ordinary, and I hate myself for thinking this. And physically I'm a mess, my heart beats too fast, blood pressure won't come down, overeat, can't sleep—the usual. They nodded but were no longer smiling: perhaps they don't like whining or self-pity. So I added these to my list of self-complaints, which softened them a little. One went back into the darkness and brought me a stool, a sort of thick-based bar stool, but with a padded orange with spots on it, wobbly, and discussion began. I enjoyed being the centre of attention for a while, nodding as excellent advice was offered me: one day at a time, baby steps, start the day with a big smile at yourself in the mirror, appreciate the beauties of nature, watch your diet—the usual stuff. I told them that if I could follow even one of these tips I wouldn't be here. This didn't sit too well. Now the discussion caught fire and they were chattering among themselves the way women do, all talking at once in their soft, rather musical voices, and I felt left out. Women! Beautiful women! They're all the same. I went into a sort of stupor as they chattered away, time passed…and I came to, out of my reverie by sudden silence. The leader, the oldest one, with some surprisingly attractive grey streaks in her dark hair, was holding up her hand, like an orchestra conductor. On the flyer they had advertised a light meal, and it appeared, as if by magic. Thin, good-for-you bread (no butter), lightweight orange bowls of soup, some kind of fragrant mushroom soup. Spoons carved from dark wood. It was so good I asked what was in it. ''Fly agaric,'' the leader said. I coughed. I don't eat anything with the word fly in it, but I agreed it was excellent, polished it off and wiped the bowl clean with the fancy bread.. ''Very good for you,'' said a slim blonde beauty, and giggled, and the dark lady next to her added—as if on cue, ''It's the queen on the toadstools—don't worry, all toadstools are really mushrooms and they're all edible, more or less.'' ''The Amanita's not,'' I told her. ''Amanita muscaria? That orangey-yellowy-red-capped one with the white…spots? Warts?'' (Same colour as all the stools were sat on, I saw now.) ''The thing's deadly poisonous. Worse than that Japanese puffer fish that has to be prepared just right.'' ''We all had the soup ,'' said the third, a tiny girl-like woman, shrugging. ''You're not feeling poisoned, are you?'' said a fourth. Actually I was feeling rather good, strong. Ready for anything. Then I learned why. The whole ring of women spoke in unison, in a sort of sing-song harmony, and this is what they said: ''Fly agaric the Vikings take before battle to give them self-confidence and superhuman strength. Fly agaric: take just enough and you will see great distances. The Siberian shamans see into other dimensions. Take too much and you become a Berserker, a frenzied fighter unstoppable on the battlefield, but doomed. Moderation is all.'' ''Let's dance,'' I announced, and we did. A strange light music rang out of from nowhere (a hidden sound system?) and we danced, I danced a wild sort of Polka or line dance or—I have no idea what it was but I couldn't stop, and I never knew what I was going to do next. All the ladies danced with me, delighted as my energy, my enthusiasm entering their lissom bodies. Colour rose to their cheeks, and I'm sure my own face was cherry-red. The music picked up and I felt thirsty and sore, but stopping was out of the question, not without offending them, and we danced on and on into the night… Through the night. When sunrise entered the single high window the square of light caught the dusty floor and our scampering feet, me in my boots, the ladies in light pastel-coloured slippers, and the music faded. And waving, my ladies danced out the side door. I thought Vampires. I felt ill. I thought what the hell have I been up to? I thought Barbara will be worried sick: I told her the meeting would be over by eleven, latest. In the cold light I saw that the ring of stools we had danced around and among, before tossing them aside, had faded to a dirty orange, as if they were antiques now, all their colourful stage magic gone. The soup bowls, too, were strewn about, unwashed, black with mould. I heard a scuttling rat. I trotted down the stairs and blinked in the sunlight. My car was gone. Stolen? More likely towed. The big parking lot was vacant, weeds growing through it that I hadn't noticed. A green bus swung in, a new model I hadn't seen before, heading West so I climbed in. It was packed with foreigners—and the fare was outrageously high, but my car was my big worry. That and Barbara. The driver obligingly let me out at my front door and I jogged in and up the steps. But my key no longer worked! Was she mad? Was she that mad at me? Had she changed the locks overnight? I banged on the door. ''Barbara!'' I yelled, ''What the hell's going on?'' The door opened a crack and an older lady appeared…Barbara's…mother? We stared each other in the face. A stranger appeared at her shoulder, and older man, overweight but with a good head of hair, suspiciously good. ''Who is it, love?'' he said quietly. She ignored him. ''Joe!'' she whispered. ''What happened to you? I've been going mad. You disappeared off the face of the earth six, seven, seven! years ago. I must say you look great, amazing—did you have plastic surgery? But how dare you show up now, out of the blue! And you smell of some woman's scent. You're disgusting!'' ''I was dancing,'' I said. ''I spent the night dancing. At that group. How the hell could I have been dancing for seven years?''
Archived comments for Toadstool dancing
shadow on 19-11-2007
Toadstool dancing
Silly man! Didn't he know not to go dancing with ladies who sit around on toadstools? And never eat what they offer you! He's lucky he didn't turn into dust ... Nice modern version of a traditional theme - I like it.

Author's Reply:


The Little Talk (posted on: 19-10-07)
A modern tale

The Little Talk 778 words On Jimmy's seventh birthday I sat him down for the Little talk. Jimmy's a smart kid; he knows money doesn't grow on trees—his mother and I have told him often enough—but the news is full of The Money Tree, and I think he's old enough to know the truth. The Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and even Father Christmas didn't seem to trouble him, and he understands the need to keep a piggy bank. In the whole of this fine country of ours, I began, nothing—nothing—is as important as the Money Tree. The trusted Experts keep a close eye on it. Your mother and I watch the news because we need to know that all is well, that the Money Tree is progressing and growing. Throughout the day, every day, the Experts are counting its leaves. Why? To see how fast the tree is growing, how many more leaves have appeared. There are always more. Well, nearly. Sometimes, unfortunately, not quite so many. No, nobody can tell why the number changes, don't let anyone tell you differently. Many claim they can. Lately, one or two nutcases say that the whole method of counting is wrong. But it must be right: this is how it's always been done. Where is the Money Tree located? I can't really say exactly ... Now listen, son: these Experts, they're all deeply respected men. Every day, except weekends, their job is to announce the final leaf count and, most important, to predict how many leaves will grow tomorrow. If the day's count is up, all is well, so people will know to be happy and go out and buy things, and study what further things to buy in the future. So at five o'clock the Experts ring a loud bell and announce the final count. If there are more leaves than the day before, everyone there cheers and high-fives each other, then they head off for dinner and drink too much. There will be even more tomorrow, they shout, and raise their glasses to the ever-growing Money Tree. But sometimes, Jimmy, sometimes there are not as many leaves as the day before. No new ones grew, and, worse, others fell off, and lie around the tree's base. No, there's no way to stick them back on. They're dead. This is called a downturn, or a slowing, or a falling off. It causes long faces—except among the people who have been betting that the count would be down. No, that's not the Stick Market. This betting is huge and world-wide, and it is called the Stock Market, for some reason. Lately some people bet every day that the number of leaves will be up and also that the number of leaves will be down. So they cannot lose...Right, yes. Unless the number stays the same. But it rarely does. Why? Because teams of even higher-level Experts, government ministers, are grooming the tree, every day, all day long, and every night too. The tree never rests. Its roots are constantly fed rich nutrients, chemical stimulants and manure. In an emergency—if, say, it has not grown fast enough for a week—they may give it a ''shock'' or a ''boost.'' No, nobody I know has ever seen the Tree, and some religious mystics claim that there is no tree at all, it's only a story. But we all know how big it is. Once it was just a small bush, but now it has grown so huge, taller than the tallest building or even the highest mountain, that its shadow can be seen everywhere. You have seen it. When a black cloud goes over the sun, you are seeing the tree's shadow. Before you were born, the sky was all blue. Can you imagine that, Jimmy? Pale blue. But you are used to a more greyish sky. That is now normal. That is the Tree. Everyone worships our Money Tree because it brings life to us and everyone else in the world. Well, nearly everyone. But at night, waking up, we all worry that one day the tree will fall down. We know it must fall. Nobody knows why the tree would ever fall, but in the past, smaller trees have. They've dropped their leaves, then twigs and branches, and then, as the government Experts battled to prop them up and glue the fallen branches and leaves back on, have toppled over. This is called a Crash. When you are older you, too, will worry about how the tree is doing, but not now. Happy Birthday, son and off you go to bed. Sleep well.
Archived comments for The Little Talk
ruadh on 19-10-2007
The Little Talk
Giving the poor kid nightmares, shame on you Simon. I loved the idea of the money tree though.

ailsa

Author's Reply:


MAN IN TRUCK (posted on: 16-02-07)
Wrote this in the ski hill car park ("parking lot" for Canucks). I've used both Truck and Pick-Up, hoping readers know what I'm describing.

MAN IN TRUCK Idling in his giant empty pickup thumping with bass enthroned on this shiny black ad for his dick three yellow ribbons SUPPORT OUR TROOPS Pumps up the gangsta rap for a schoolgirl passing dressed as a whore but she does not look up The young man combs swears flicks out his smoking butt and tossing the empty Tim Hortons cup pulls off with no signal-- a Smart car squeaks its tiny tires but does not toot.
Archived comments for MAN IN TRUCK
Romany on 16-02-2007
MAN IN TRUCK
a 'poem loaded with cynicism, I especially like the last two lines. I wonder why it 'does not toot?!' Nice one,

Romany.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Romany. Yup, cynical all right. I guess the little Smart car driver doesn't dare toot the big adrenaline-fuelled machine that just pulled in front of him. Perhaps I should try
Does not dare toot
as the last line?

e-griff on 16-02-2007
MAN IN TRUCK
I liked the odd rhymes PICK up/DICK up /cup, and it all gelled together well, the character of the driver and the girl (and the Smart car driver).

Hey, you've invented a new phrase, though. Is a 'smoking butt' a vulgar form of 'smoking gun' ? šŸ™‚

Author's Reply:
e-griff, many thanks. I find your comments on my poems very useful and insightful. But no, there's nothing vulgar in this poem; I just wanted readers to know that the prick in the bus starts forest fires all summer.

Romany on 20-02-2007
MAN IN TRUCK
HI Simon,

Just wanted to clarify that I 'got that' bit about the Smart car driver being afraid of the larger vehicle/driver, I was just being a bit facetious! I enjoyed this.

Romany.

Author's Reply:


GRIEVING THE LOSSES (posted on: 24-11-06)
In a sad mood I wrote this poem this morning.

Grieving the losses in silent woods. All rivers empty, lakes clear to the bottom under my leaky canoe The dead seas green and stinking of swollen fish, the starved albatross and penguin Jellyfish crowding the piers where yesterday minnows glinted Only the hot wind lives Rats and humans hold on Crows too, adaptable featherless starlings though songbirds and finally sparrows Gone. Even the furious geese the white swans to Earth's strange winter falling Our last tiger dead in his cage. I grieve the giraffes, the elephants of memory still burning in my skull the pink explosion of flamingos rising vanished, fewer the next year then few then none.
Archived comments for GRIEVING THE LOSSES
e-griff on 24-11-2006
GRIEVING THE LOSSES
Gor! You are getting pretty dismal!

Can't you write summat with little puppies, flowers and kiddies laughter? šŸ™‚



Author's Reply:

Gemini-Janus on 25-11-2006
GRIEVING THE LOSSES
Maybe I don't relate to your sense of sadness, but I can still appreciate the sustained vision in your writing.

A very evocative opening line; 'Grieving the losses in silent woods.'

Also particularly liked 'Only the hot wind lives', 'white swans to Earth's strange winter falling' and 'the elephants of memory still burning'.

Author's Reply:

scotch on 26-11-2006
GRIEVING THE LOSSES
hello, strong masculine type poem with message...scotch

Author's Reply:

Kat on 26-11-2006
GRIEVING THE LOSSES
Hi Simon

A good strong write - liked the rhythm of 'swollen fish' with 'hot wind lives' in the first stanza and I think you sustain the whole poem well. Hope you're feeling perkier again?

Kat :o)

Author's Reply:

pdemitchell on 10-03-2010
GRIEVING THE LOSSES
Eco-gloomy but sadly inevitable with strong imagery - the memory of elephants who never forget only to be forgotten... the pink explosions of flamingo - the crustacean pigments bleached where alkali lakes meet acid rain... ...and burning effegies of Bush. Mitch

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Mitch. Amazing how flamingos can breed in hot lakes so alkaline that they burn their feet unless they keep moving. Other species, not so much. Shrimp will be around for a while, even flourishing in oxygen-free, pitch black black smokers of boiling water full of dissolved rock metal. Doubt if I'll be around to enjoy them though. We hve a building here in Toronto, a Green award winner, that has so far killed 7000 migrating songbirds who hit the reflecting glass. I hate that.


Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God (posted on: 13-11-06)
Some arguments seem to me so misguided that I can't sit still, hence this.

Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God Two very good scientists recently debated whether God exists (Time, November 13, 2006). Biologist Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, spoke with Francis Collins, the brilliant genome researcher whose The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief is a best seller. The debate was and always will be futile, because science comes up with exactly the same results whether God exists or not. Science, no matter where it looks, says not. Interestingly, so does religion. No matter where the religious look, no sign appears. True, some seemingly inexplicable events look like ''miracles'' but this is wishful thinking. Healing the sick, and the sick healing themselves, are well documented. So are the surprising effects of aspirin. Nobody has ever done the Indian Rope Trick and nobody ever will; it would defy the law of gravity. But religious people (Collins is a recovering atheist) look inwards, pray, read books, and insist that there must be a God. An invisible, all-powerful one. Somewhere. The question is where? Dawkins says, ''The question of whether there exists a supernatural creator…is a scientific question. My answer is no.'' Collins argues, ''God cannot be completely contained within nature, and therefore God's existence is outside of science's ability…'' ''Supernatural'' is a weird term because it can't mean anything real. ''Above nature?'' Where's that? If God is neither inside the natural world nor outside it, then God is nowhere. There is no place that's neither inside nor outside the real world. Could He (let's say ''He'') be both? Logically no, because if He's outside, God cannot affect anything in reality—like a ghost that can't speak or touch anything. Worse, if God is outside reality we can never, ever know anything about Him, so there's no point in pretending we can. We can read books about God, but we can't even imagine anything that's outside nature. An invisible man who lives in the sky—that's conceivable but only because it's inside nature, not outside it. And even the phrase ''outside nature'' refers to something that is inside nature, because we're saying where it is: inside nature. If it were outside, we couldn't say anything about ''it.'' Outer space turns out to be full of stuff, but nothing isn't full of ''nothing.'' Nothing just isn't. But if instead of being outside nature, God is inside nature, then the laws of nature apply to Him: gravity for one. But there's no evidence that gravity doesn't apply to everything. And we've looked everywhere we can in space, and everywhere inside the atom, without finding a trace of God (or of extraterrestrials either.) ''But there must be a God—or life has no meaning.'' This is a mistake in word use: the meaning of ''meaning'' needs to be looked at. People are confused if they think the existence of God answers the big questions: 1. What is the purpose of life? 2. Why am I here? 3. What happens to me after I die? and 4. What is right and wrong, and good and evil? These are muddled questions, because a) God's existence is irrelevant to the answers and b) if there turns out to be an answer to any of them, it is so terrifying as to be completely unacceptable. 1. What is the purpose of life? Who cares? We don't ask, What is the purpose of the sky? It just is. It, like human and animal life, has certain effects, but that doesn't mean the sky's purpose is to e.g. shield life on planet Earth. It just does. Likewise, nothing that I happen to do, however much I enjoy it or feel good about it, can be called the purpose of my life. It's just what I do. The only sense that can be made of ''purpose'' is if my life, or life in general, is for the purpose of something or someone outside of my life, or even outside of life in general. E.g. The purpose of a deck of cards is something outside the cards: poker. If I were an (unwilling) slave, my life could be said to be for the purpose of maximising my master's profits. On a more positive side, if I served my family or my country well, my life could be said to be for that purpose, but God doesn't come into it. I'm choosing to do it, not Him. Now comes the terrifying part. What if the purpose of my life is in fact for something outside my life itself—e.g. or to drive up stock prices on the New York Stock Exchange, or to feed worms? How would that feel? Or worse, what if my life's purpose turns out to be to maximise the profitability of some ghost in Heaven, or to raise share prices in Hell, or to entertain a couple of bored Greek-style gods? Its purpose would then be nothing to do with me and what I want. If so, my life is a nightmare! No matter what I choose, I have, really, no life. And there is no comfort in thinking that I'm serving God's purpose, because that reduces me to a mere cog in something I can never, ever understand (because it's outside of reality.) No matter what I do, I am being used for some other being's purpose. So clearly, my life's purpose is what I make of it; it's not to profit or amuse anyone else. If I want to be a comedian, that's my purpose, not somebody else's, not even if my mother happens to want the same thing for me. 2. Why am I here? Because your parents made love and the result was you. If you feel your life is purposeless and meaningless, that's your problem. Perhaps you should get a job or a career or a vocation that you like. Or a spouse or a dog or a cat. Prayer and contemplation can help you make your decisions, but your decision is still yours, not somebody else's. ''To serve God'' is still your purpose, not God's. 3. What happens to me after I die? This is an easy one. Nothing. Your body burns or rots, but there is no ''You'' left. If there were, surely scientists would have found some trace of it by now, after some hundred thousand years of looking. 4. What is right and wrong, and good and evil? This is easier to answer than it sounds. Being nice to your family is good. Killing people is wrong. Except in certain rare circumstance, e.g. self-defence or some medical disaster, killing people is wrong. Why? Not because killing people has some quality of ''evil'' attached to it, like red paint. It just is wrong. And not because God says it's wrong, either. It's wrong whatever anyone or anything says. It's just wrong, meaning I don't do it and don't you do it either. To believe that something's wrong because God said it is raises two questions: a) Who says God said this? Are we sure? If there's just the one God, could he/she/it be giving different messages to members of different religions? Surely not. Killing people is wrong whatever the books and the stories say. b) If God says that something is wrong, was it okay before, but suddenly became wrong when God said it? Obviously not: if God says it's wrong, that's because it is. And if He descends from a cloud and orders you to kill your first-born son, that doesn't make the act right. Just say no. Obeying would show that you're good at taking orders, and will make a fine soldier, but it's still wrong. So the existence of God is irrelevant not only to what Science finds out, but also to our convictions of what's right and what isn't. Ethical decisions can only be made by smart people thinking clearly. Global warming: should we ignore it and hope the Second Coming will solve the problem for us? Stem cell research: is it right to use a voluntarily aborted second semester foetus to supply the special stem cells that can cure blindness? Is hanging Saddam Hussein morally right? The answers are unlikely to be found in old books, or in wondering what God would do.
Archived comments for Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
RoyBateman on 15-11-2006
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
Excellent, well-written essay, and I wouldn't argue with a word of it. Being, basically, a humanist, I can only say that the nearest definition for "GOd" that I can come up with is "conscience." It's within me, my choice. I do believe that we leave an imprint when we die, and that's in the mind of everyone who knew us. That, of necessity, fades in turn. Concrete achievements - art, solid structure, philosophy, may endure for longer, and that's the best that any of us can expect. Anything else is pure self-delusion...but that's not going to stop it flourishing. Religion, like opiates and alcohol, is probably a human necessity in some form - though that doesn't make it "real". Great read, for me anyway!

Author's Reply:

Rupe on 16-11-2006
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
I agree with you & in particular that if humankind is going to find realistic and effective ways of solving its problems (from how to solve global warming to how to live a meaningful life) then it needs to keep religion out of it & work on the basis that this life is all we have. In other words, it is up to us to solve our own problems.

God is probably shorthand for the superego, since there is so clear a human need for him/her. But I can never bring myself to state categorically that he or she doesn't exist: unlikely as it seems to me, how can I possibly know?

Author's Reply:

qwerty68 on 16-11-2006
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
ā€œThe question of whether there exists a supernatural creatorā€¦is a scientific question.." Exactly how does science encounter the supernatural? The natural sciences are by definition a study of the natural and all things discovered by scientific research are axiomatically natural, be they black holes or antiquarkes. If science came across God's big toe, it would be considered natural simply because it was open to scientific investigation. And if it's natural it can't possibly be God's big toe, because Dawkins tell's us God must be supernatural. Good ole Dawkins frames the question in order to get the answer he wants.
Science is blind to the divine on those terms. It is, quite simply, agnostic.

What do you mean by "reality" and "the real world". I get the feeling you mean the stuff that science can explore. Does reality include all eleven dimension (or is it ten, I forget.) Are you familiar with Schrodingers Cat? When the box is closed does the cat cease to be part of the real world? Somethings are simply unknownable, does that mean they do not exist?

OK, so things that are unknowable are largely irrelevant, but many people find they can know and experience God, either directly or indirectly. Some see God's fingerprints in the natural world that science reveals.

The scientific view of the cosmos is, of course, hugely valuable, but it is not the the only way of understanding or interpreting things. 'Intelligent Design' is NOT science, you can't do an experiment on it. But the belief that there is some creator behind this marvellous universe is perfectly reasonable.

You cannot prove the non-existence of God anymore than I can prove the existence of God. Atheism is a faith position, and Dawkins can be (paradoxically) something of a religious bigot.

"Ethical decisions can only be made by smart people thinking clearly" - smart thinking people who clearly know what is right are very, very scary.

Author's Reply:
Dawkins is smart, and I assume he knows what's right and what's wrong, and behaves well. He doesn't scare me the way stupid Christian fundamentalists or Islamists or, for that matter, atheists scare the hell out of me.

The fact that millions of people believe in God the Creator is just another scientific fact. I don't doubt it. Millions more believe that if they blow themselves up and kill a Westerner they go to Paradise where 72 virgins await them. This is another scientific fact. Conviction that something is true is irrelevant to whether it's true or not.

KDR on 19-11-2006
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
One more thing that was missing from an (otherwise excellent) article:
If God created everything, then who or what created God?
The obvious answer is: we did. That then means that God could not have existed before we created Him. But also, if we created God, do we not become Gods? We must, if we are powerful enough to create an all-powerful being.

There is actually more evidence for the non-existence of God than there is for His existence.
I again await my thunderbolt...

Author's Reply:
You're right, of course, but we only created the story of God, not the thing itself. We also created Eden, Heaven, and Oliver Twist.

There's no evidence for the non-existence of anything. How could there be? You found one and it didn't exist?

Ccurious on 06-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
ok, question, if science searches for evidence of the existing God, who would God be if we could truly find Him? And if man found evidence of God, then everything Christians say would be false. You cannot contain God in a building or in a state or in a country. He is everywhere. scientist have yet to prove one thing wrong from the Bible. It is funny that it is the only Book that exist's over 2000 years and lines up with exact history.
How is God different though from all the other gods? Well, He's the only God who claims all-powerful and His love and mercy. No other god would claim to send their Son for forgiveness. People say God is weak, and yet when He proclaims His power He shows it all. Say someone hit you. Their would be two reactions.
One, you hit them back, or two you shake it off and forgive them. Which one takes more strength? The option with forgiving. That is harder. God forgave us when He showed us what sin did to His Son. God died to show love, His forgiveness, His power, and to give eternal life. It is beyond man to think of eternal life. God also proclaims the fear of most men. Christ rose from the dead. Who are men to think they can contain God in a little scientific information? The world looks at appearances and judges, but God looks at the soul and who they are. God does not see things like we do. He took the form of man, that does not mean He thinks like man. He is great, and sees all. He created us, He showed a love that was stronger and more powerful than we can understand, He was victorious over death, and "supernatural" does not even begin to describe Him. We only know 39 days that He lived on the earth and performed miracles. He lived 33 years. Did science not excel when the Christians like Newton, Kepler, and Galileo decided to reject Aristotles theory of motion. Evolution can be proven wrong so many ways, and yet scientist still seem to look upon it for more discovery.
When those looked to the Bible for answers such as Newton, theories began to be discovered in the 1600's to 1800's, did they not? One of the hardest things for people are to trust and have faith. Who would believe in an unseen God right? but God requires what man holds most dear. He wants your whole and everything to fully trust Him and have faith. Other gods demand good deeds and an easy way to life. but living for God and having faith is harder to believe in becuase He wants it all. Man is not made submissive to others. We want to live the easy way. God creates the hard. Look at the ten commandments, think what it would be like if man lived perfect by them, and see if something can go wrong with those commands. But sin is in man, and God created us to show us what we are like in chaos, and how much He will always love us. and Forgives, and He is ALL-KNOWING.

Author's Reply:
Ccurious, scientists aren't looking for God. Where would they look? Outer space? There's no evidence whatsoever for the existence of something for which, by definition, there can't be any scientific evidence. And for you to say that scientists have not disproved a single thing from the Bible suggests that they've been trying to show, e.g. that men can't walk on water. They haven't. Why would they bother trying to "disprove" something that's obviously a story? You're right that Jesus' teachings on forgiveness are excellent, but he was just following in a long tradition of wise teaching.

Ccurious on 06-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
ok, question, if science searches for evidence of the existing God, who would God be if we could truly find Him? And if man found evidence of God, then everything Christians say would be false. You cannot contain God in a building or in a state or in a country. He is everywhere. scientist have yet to prove one thing wrong from the Bible. It is funny that it is the only Book that exist's over 2000 years and lines up with exact history.
How is God different though from all the other gods? Well, He's the only God who claims all-powerful and His love and mercy. No other god would claim to send their Son for forgiveness. People say God is weak, and yet when He proclaims His power He shows it all. Say someone hit you. Their would be two reactions.
One, you hit them back, or two you shake it off and forgive them. Which one takes more strength? The option with forgiving. That is harder. God forgave us when He showed us what sin did to His Son. God died to show love, His forgiveness, His power, and to give eternal life. It is beyond man to think of eternal life. God also proclaims the fear of most men. Christ rose from the dead. Who are men to think they can contain God in a little scientific information? The world looks at appearances and judges, but God looks at the soul and who they are. God does not see things like we do. He took the form of man, that does not mean He thinks like man. He is great, and sees all. He created us, He showed a love that was stronger and more powerful than we can understand, He was victorious over death, and "supernatural" does not even begin to describe Him. We only know 39 days that He lived on the earth and performed miracles. He lived 33 years. Did science not excel when the Christians like Newton, Kepler, and Galileo decided to reject Aristotles theory of motion. Evolution can be proven wrong so many ways, and yet scientist still seem to look upon it for more discovery.
When those looked to the Bible for answers such as Newton, theories began to be discovered in the 1600's to 1800's, did they not? One of the hardest things for people are to trust and have faith. Who would believe in an unseen God right? but God requires what man holds most dear. He wants your whole and everything to fully trust Him and have faith. Other gods demand good deeds and an easy way to life. but living for God and having faith is harder to believe in becuase He wants it all. Man is not made submissive to others. We want to live the easy way. God creates the hard. Look at the ten commandments, think what it would be like if man lived perfect by them, and see if something can go wrong with those commands. But sin is in man, and God created us to show us what we are like in chaos, and how much He will always love us. and Forgives, and He is ALL-KNOWING.

Author's Reply:

Ccurious on 06-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
ok, question, if science searches for evidence of the existing God, who would God be if we could truly find Him? And if man found evidence of God, then everything Christians say would be false. You cannot contain God in a building or in a state or in a country. He is everywhere. scientist have yet to prove one thing wrong from the Bible. It is funny that it is the only Book that exist's over 2000 years and lines up with exact history.
How is God different though from all the other gods? Well, He's the only God who claims all-powerful and His love and mercy. No other god would claim to send their Son for forgiveness. People say God is weak, and yet when He proclaims His power He shows it all. Say someone hit you. Their would be two reactions.
One, you hit them back, or two you shake it off and forgive them. Which one takes more strength? The option with forgiving. That is harder. God forgave us when He showed us what sin did to His Son. God died to show love, His forgiveness, His power, and to give eternal life. It is beyond man to think of eternal life. God also proclaims the fear of most men. Christ rose from the dead. Who are men to think they can contain God in a little scientific information? The world looks at appearances and judges, but God looks at the soul and who they are. God does not see things like we do. He took the form of man, that does not mean He thinks like man. He is great, and sees all. He created us, He showed a love that was stronger and more powerful than we can understand, He was victorious over death, and "supernatural" does not even begin to describe Him. We only know 39 days that He lived on the earth and performed miracles. He lived 33 years. Did science not excel when the Christians like Newton, Kepler, and Galileo decided to reject Aristotles theory of motion. Evolution can be proven wrong so many ways, and yet scientist still seem to look upon it for more discovery.
When those looked to the Bible for answers such as Newton, theories began to be discovered in the 1600's to 1800's, did they not? One of the hardest things for people are to trust and have faith. Who would believe in an unseen God right? but God requires what man holds most dear. He wants your whole and everything to fully trust Him and have faith. Other gods demand good deeds and an easy way to life. but living for God and having faith is harder to believe in becuase He wants it all. Man is not made submissive to others. We want to live the easy way. God creates the hard. Look at the ten commandments, think what it would be like if man lived perfect by them, and see if something can go wrong with those commands. But sin is in man, and God created us to show us what we are like in chaos, and how much He will always love us. and Forgives, and He is ALL-KNOWING.

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 06-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
Funny, Simon, I have difficulty finding proof that 'Ccurious' exists šŸ™‚

Author's Reply:

Simon on 06-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
e-griff, that's absurd: you know exactly where to look. And what he wrote appeared on your screen, not in a flaming bush or carved into a stone tablet..

Author's Reply:

kenochi on 06-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
I thought that when analysing the Big Bang etc, even Stephen Hawking said there was a 'God shaped hole' in his theory. And he would know.
Out of everyone who's commented so far, I agree with Qwerty. Its perfectly justifiable to say there is no proof for God's existence, but neither is there any for God's non existence.
The Big Bang occurred 15 billion years ago, apparently, when an infinitely dense molecule exploded. So where did the infinitely dense molecule come from? If we started with nothing - how did the universe come into existence. Nothing cannot spontaneously create something.
And that's scientific fact.
I don't really believe in God myself, by the way, I certainly don't follow a religion, because they're all dogmatic and silly, but I couldn't categorically say God doesn't exist either.
All I can say is 'i don't know'. In reality, based on the evidence, that's all anyone can say, which is why it becomes a simple matter of faith, which brings us back to square one.
I don't think we're capable of knowing. How was the universe made? Why are we here? etc These questions are just beyond us - maybe that's what 'God' means.

Author's Reply:

Simon on 07-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
Okay. Let's agree that the word "God" means "Ignorance: we don't know." Mind you, there are some things nobody can know because they're nonsense, e.g. "Which way is up when you're in outer space?" So "What was there before the beginning?" can't be answered because it's a nonsense question. Trying to disprove the existence of something is also nonsense; a moment's thought shows that it's impossible, and no scientist would try.

Me? I think religion is just a way of making enemies and should be encouraged to fade away. If religious people behaved better than the non-religious I'd approve of it, but they don't--though they claim they do!

Thanks for your thoughts.

Author's Reply:

Ccurious on 07-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
Dear Simon,
What people look for is a sign and evidence. and sadly, even scientist have tried looking for evidence for why Peter walked on water. God is a teacher though. and why would He leave a bunch of info of scientifical information to leave us with nothing more to discover?

No one can find eveidence because it was Him and His power.He wasn't just some smart Guy who said follow Me cause I know more than You, He didn't criticize people of what they did. They came to Him because they knew. Every person tries to make themselves better with education or looks in this world, and all they really need is love. Do not people try to serve themselves for the rest of their lives for satisfaction? They search for money, woman, beer. But the satisfaction doesn't last long. People say give us a sign of your God. and Yet not every single piece of evidence pointed to God, they wouldn't be convined that that is a sign that He is what to look to for life. I mean, why would God, or Jesus Christ, be this really smart person who went back over 3000 years before and said write my way of lineage and have a bunch of different men write about me? Why would He call a bunch of simple men who had good jobs that were satisfying to drop everything they were doing and follow Him. People weren't dummies back then.
Why would millions die for one Man for no purpose? but it wasn't God who killed them. He showed His love again. Through those who died by the sin of man. Some really smart Guy? I think if He was just some smart Guy, He wouldv'e given all the information He knew. How can everything that is written over 2000 years ago, still not be proven wrong. When God uses people in the Bible, He shows His power of bringing the weakest man, to be the strongest and outwit the Kings and Reigner's most high wise man. Why would Kings and Pharoah's reject something they don't believe and fear it?
People think that when people die for God, God punishes them. but not even death brings people apart. Science proves that Creation was made wih an "Intelligent Design". By, Intelligent Design, they mean e.g. more than 1 to 3% oxygen, the earth would probally burn from all the fires and more chemical reactions. The ozone layer, without it, gases would not be blocked from hitting are planet and causing worse natural chaos. With all the scientifical proof in the world pointing at one conclusion which would be God, still people would reject. and I wonder how people can reject something that they don't believe. God who is feared by the greatest. Which not even God wrote about Himsef when He took the form of man.
Even without all the evidence pointing to Him, we are to follow His lead with faith and love and sacrifice. Most of the time when someone sees something they think is completely miraculous, they soon forget, and think if they really saw it at all. Doubt comes to mind and then that man is back where he started. With all doubt that their is God. and it was just something that he dreamed. When you were talking about your conscience, u said that that is where God is "made up". I agree with you He does dwell within our minds and conscience. Not that He is made up though. You see eveyr person is born with a sense of right and wrong.
So what is truth in this world? Every person also has a different point of view. But only one thing is common in each individual. They have a sense of what brings wrong and right. That is truth. God is truth. He tells us whats wrong and right. so by following God, their is Truth, their is peace because He is the only thing that offers eternal love, their is faith, but not completely blind, with evidence all leading to Him, (which still how can one man 2000 years later know that men 3000 years back wrote of Him and then write about everything leading man to the conclusion, Is their a God?), their is Joy, their is patience, their is kindness, and those Christians who choose self-control. That does not mean that Christians are any different from other people on earth. It means, their is a sense that we hold more responsibilty and consequences of sin, because we know betterfrom God . But we still sin.
So, Why would millions truly die for this man? Cause He created them, He came down to show love by dieing on the cross and offering eternal life (hardly imaginable to man), Then over 500 people and His disciples saw Him arise from the dead, and the millions of "crazy simple men" went forth and told of the God, who showed enough evidence in His Entire Creation. I'm sorry thuis turned out to be such a long comment.
šŸ™‚ Lots of questions in this world.

Author's Reply:

Ccurious on 07-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
Dear Simon,
What people look for is a sign and evidence. and sadly, even scientist have tried looking for evidence for why Peter walked on water. God is a teacher though. and why would He leave a bunch of info of scientifical information to leave us with nothing more to discover?

No one can find eveidence because it was Him and His power.He wasn't just some smart Guy who said follow Me cause I know more than You, He didn't criticize people of what they did. They came to Him because they knew. Every person tries to make themselves better with education or looks in this world, and all they really need is love. Do not people try to serve themselves for the rest of their lives for satisfaction? They search for money, woman, beer. But the satisfaction doesn't last long. People say give us a sign of your God. and Yet not every single piece of evidence pointed to God, they wouldn't be convined that that is a sign that He is what to look to for life. I mean, why would God, or Jesus Christ, be this really smart person who went back over 3000 years before and said write my way of lineage and have a bunch of different men write about me? Why would He call a bunch of simple men who had good jobs that were satisfying to drop everything they were doing and follow Him. People weren't dummies back then.
Why would millions die for one Man for no purpose? but it wasn't God who killed them. He showed His love again. Through those who died by the sin of man. Some really smart Guy? I think if He was just some smart Guy, He wouldv'e given all the information He knew. How can everything that is written over 2000 years ago, still not be proven wrong. When God uses people in the Bible, He shows His power of bringing the weakest man, to be the strongest and outwit the Kings and Reigner's most high wise man. Why would Kings and Pharoah's reject something they don't believe and fear it?
People think that when people die for God, God punishes them. but not even death brings people apart. Science proves that Creation was made wih an "Intelligent Design". By, Intelligent Design, they mean e.g. more than 1 to 3% oxygen, the earth would probally burn from all the fires and more chemical reactions. The ozone layer, without it, gases would not be blocked from hitting are planet and causing worse natural chaos. With all the scientifical proof in the world pointing at one conclusion which would be God, still people would reject. and I wonder how people can reject something that they don't believe. God who is feared by the greatest. Which not even God wrote about Himsef when He took the form of man.
Even without all the evidence pointing to Him, we are to follow His lead with faith and love and sacrifice. Most of the time when someone sees something they think is completely miraculous, they soon forget, and think if they really saw it at all. Doubt comes to mind and then that man is back where he started. With all doubt that their is God. and it was just something that he dreamed. When you were talking about your conscience, u said that that is where God is "made up". I agree with you He does dwell within our minds and conscience. Not that He is made up though. You see eveyr person is born with a sense of right and wrong.
So what is truth in this world? Every person also has a different point of view. But only one thing is common in each individual. They have a sense of what brings wrong and right. That is truth. God is truth. He tells us whats wrong and right. so by following God, their is Truth, their is peace because He is the only thing that offers eternal love, their is faith, but not completely blind, with evidence all leading to Him, (which still how can one man 2000 years later know that men 3000 years back wrote of Him and then write about everything leading man to the conclusion, Is their a God?), their is Joy, their is patience, their is kindness, and those Christians who choose self-control. That does not mean that Christians are any different from other people on earth. It means, their is a sense that we hold more responsibilty and consequences of sin, because we know betterfrom God . But we still sin.
So, Why would millions truly die for this man? Cause He created them, He came down to show love by dieing on the cross and offering eternal life (hardly imaginable to man), Then over 500 people and His disciples saw Him arise from the dead, and the millions of "crazy simple men" went forth and told of the God, who showed enough evidence in His Entire Creation. I'm sorry thuis turned out to be such a long comment.
šŸ™‚ Lots of questions in this world.

Author's Reply:

Ccurious on 07-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
Dear Simon,
What people look for is a sign and evidence. and sadly, even scientist have tried looking for evidence for why Peter walked on water. God is a teacher though. and why would He leave a bunch of info of scientifical information to leave us with nothing more to discover?

No one can find eveidence because it was Him and His power.He wasn't just some smart Guy who said follow Me cause I know more than You, He didn't criticize people of what they did. They came to Him because they knew. Every person tries to make themselves better with education or looks in this world, and all they really need is love. Do not people try to serve themselves for the rest of their lives for satisfaction? They search for money, woman, beer. But the satisfaction doesn't last long. People say give us a sign of your God. and Yet not every single piece of evidence pointed to God, they wouldn't be convined that that is a sign that He is what to look to for life. I mean, why would God, or Jesus Christ, be this really smart person who went back over 3000 years before and said write my way of lineage and have a bunch of different men write about me? Why would He call a bunch of simple men who had good jobs that were satisfying to drop everything they were doing and follow Him. People weren't dummies back then.
Why would millions die for one Man for no purpose? but it wasn't God who killed them. He showed His love again. Through those who died by the sin of man. Some really smart Guy? I think if He was just some smart Guy, He wouldv'e given all the information He knew. How can everything that is written over 2000 years ago, still not be proven wrong. When God uses people in the Bible, He shows His power of bringing the weakest man, to be the strongest and outwit the Kings and Reigner's most high wise man. Why would Kings and Pharoah's reject something they don't believe and fear it?
People think that when people die for God, God punishes them. but not even death brings people apart. Science proves that Creation was made wih an "Intelligent Design". By, Intelligent Design, they mean e.g. more than 1 to 3% oxygen, the earth would probally burn from all the fires and more chemical reactions. The ozone layer, without it, gases would not be blocked from hitting are planet and causing worse natural chaos. With all the scientifical proof in the world pointing at one conclusion which would be God, still people would reject. and I wonder how people can reject something that they don't believe. God who is feared by the greatest. Which not even God wrote about Himsef when He took the form of man.
Even without all the evidence pointing to Him, we are to follow His lead with faith and love and sacrifice. Most of the time when someone sees something they think is completely miraculous, they soon forget, and think if they really saw it at all. Doubt comes to mind and then that man is back where he started. With all doubt that their is God. and it was just something that he dreamed. When you were talking about your conscience, u said that that is where God is "made up". I agree with you He does dwell within our minds and conscience. Not that He is made up though. You see eveyr person is born with a sense of right and wrong.
So what is truth in this world? Every person also has a different point of view. But only one thing is common in each individual. They have a sense of what brings wrong and right. That is truth. God is truth. He tells us whats wrong and right. so by following God, their is Truth, their is peace because He is the only thing that offers eternal love, their is faith, but not completely blind, with evidence all leading to Him, (which still how can one man 2000 years later know that men 3000 years back wrote of Him and then write about everything leading man to the conclusion, Is their a God?), their is Joy, their is patience, their is kindness, and those Christians who choose self-control. That does not mean that Christians are any different from other people on earth. It means, their is a sense that we hold more responsibilty and consequences of sin, because we know betterfrom God . But we still sin.
So, Why would millions truly die for this man? Cause He created them, He came down to show love by dieing on the cross and offering eternal life (hardly imaginable to man), Then over 500 people and His disciples saw Him arise from the dead, and the millions of "crazy simple men" went forth and told of the God, who showed enough evidence in His Entire Creation. I'm sorry thuis turned out to be such a long comment.
šŸ™‚ Lots of questions in this world.

Author's Reply:

Ccurious on 07-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
Dear Simon,
What people look for is a sign and evidence. and sadly, even scientist have tried looking for evidence for why Peter walked on water. God is a teacher though. and why would He leave a bunch of info of scientifical information to leave us with nothing more to discover?

No one can find eveidence because it was Him and His power.He wasn't just some smart Guy who said follow Me cause I know more than You, He didn't criticize people of what they did. They came to Him because they knew. Every person tries to make themselves better with education or looks in this world, and all they really need is love. Do not people try to serve themselves for the rest of their lives for satisfaction? They search for money, woman, beer. But the satisfaction doesn't last long. People say give us a sign of your God. and Yet not every single piece of evidence pointed to God, they wouldn't be convined that that is a sign that He is what to look to for life. I mean, why would God, or Jesus Christ, be this really smart person who went back over 3000 years before and said write my way of lineage and have a bunch of different men write about me? Why would He call a bunch of simple men who had good jobs that were satisfying to drop everything they were doing and follow Him. People weren't dummies back then.
Why would millions die for one Man for no purpose? but it wasn't God who killed them. He showed His love again. Through those who died by the sin of man. Some really smart Guy? I think if He was just some smart Guy, He wouldv'e given all the information He knew. How can everything that is written over 2000 years ago, still not be proven wrong. When God uses people in the Bible, He shows His power of bringing the weakest man, to be the strongest and outwit the Kings and Reigner's most high wise man. Why would Kings and Pharoah's reject something they don't believe and fear it?
People think that when people die for God, God punishes them. but not even death brings people apart. Science proves that Creation was made wih an "Intelligent Design". By, Intelligent Design, they mean e.g. more than 1 to 3% oxygen, the earth would probally burn from all the fires and more chemical reactions. The ozone layer, without it, gases would not be blocked from hitting are planet and causing worse natural chaos. With all the scientifical proof in the world pointing at one conclusion which would be God, still people would reject. and I wonder how people can reject something that they don't believe. God who is feared by the greatest. Which not even God wrote about Himsef when He took the form of man.
Even without all the evidence pointing to Him, we are to follow His lead with faith and love and sacrifice. Most of the time when someone sees something they think is completely miraculous, they soon forget, and think if they really saw it at all. Doubt comes to mind and then that man is back where he started. With all doubt that their is God. and it was just something that he dreamed. When you were talking about your conscience, u said that that is where God is "made up". I agree with you He does dwell within our minds and conscience. Not that He is made up though. You see eveyr person is born with a sense of right and wrong.
So what is truth in this world? Every person also has a different point of view. But only one thing is common in each individual. They have a sense of what brings wrong and right. That is truth. God is truth. He tells us whats wrong and right. so by following God, their is Truth, their is peace because He is the only thing that offers eternal love, their is faith, but not completely blind, with evidence all leading to Him, (which still how can one man 2000 years later know that men 3000 years back wrote of Him and then write about everything leading man to the conclusion, Is their a God?), their is Joy, their is patience, their is kindness, and those Christians who choose self-control. That does not mean that Christians are any different from other people on earth. It means, their is a sense that we hold more responsibilty and consequences of sin, because we know betterfrom God . But we still sin.
So, Why would millions truly die for this man? Cause He created them, He came down to show love by dieing on the cross and offering eternal life (hardly imaginable to man), Then over 500 people and His disciples saw Him arise from the dead, and the millions of "crazy simple men" went forth and told of the God, who showed enough evidence in His Entire Creation. I'm sorry thuis turned out to be such a long comment.
šŸ™‚ Lots of questions in this world.

Author's Reply:

kenochi on 07-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
Simon - I didn't really mean that God means 'ignorance'. I meant that it is a metaphor for that which we can't understand - something beyond us.


Author's Reply:

Romany on 07-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
I personally think that God exists simply because of the number of people who believe in HIm. It is almost a case of Him not existing before their belief. God is perhaps an ideal, not an actual being. Jesus was real enough, we know. But man was man back then too, and as we all know only too well, man can spin a tale or two, and politics are almost second nature to some.

Maybe this whole debate is defunct anyway. It will never be adequately proved or disproved, which is why, ultimately, belief (and therefore religion) is such an intimate thing. For me anyway.

Romany.

Author's Reply:
Hmm...so...the Earth wasn't flat till people appeared and, logically enough, decided it was flat? Later on it became round. You're dead right if you think Man created God, rather than the other way around. Without this belief evolving in our neural circuits, we wouldn't have done as well as we have. Ditto our appendix and our toes, which used to be great for climbing.

e-griff on 07-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
i don't think you can have a scientific discussion about belief (unless its the science of psychology). belief is belief and facts are facts. Facts are true and can be proven. belief is true to the person who holds it and other like thinkers and cannot be proven in its own context.

(eg Newton probably started off saying I believe there is a law which describes the action of gravity - then he proves there is one - that's not what I mean here)

Author's Reply:
Surely you can. Dawkins does. Psychology and psychopathology are obvious candidates for discussing people who believe, or believe IN (whatever that means) something that's obviously false--nonsense, in fact. But there's also evolutionary theory, sociology, crowd psychology, the history of tribal behaviour and tribal group thinking--all this good stuff as well. 'Course, you're right that there's no point in trying to convince a religious person (not you) to become an atheist. So over and out.

Romany on 08-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
Quote "Hmm...so...the Earth wasn't flat till people appeared and, logically enough, decided it was flat?"

Yes, basically. When you are talking about God, you are talking about belief, and belief is faith, not science. They are not one and the same thing. If you are going to approach belief from a scientific standpoint, then it stands to reason that you are probably not a believer anyway, in which case, what is the point? People will believe what they chose to believe. Faith gives hope, strength and comfort where there might otherwise be none. Science can be cold and damning. Why not turn to faith if it offers peace of mind? Who am I or you to tell anyone to turn from their chosen belief and praise science instead? It is a deeply personal thing, and we all have our reasons for believing or not believing. I don't go out of my way to force people to follow the same beliefs as I hold and alternatively, I don't expect to be talked out of any of mine either. None of us has the right.

Romany.

Author's Reply:
Hi Romany! I don't expect to succeed in talking anyone out of their belief. But I feel I have a right--in fact a duty--to persuade people to examine their beliefs and decide whether their beliefs are true, and if not, are they helpful? You're right that believing in God is a comfort, and that science (i.e. what's actually so) can seem cold, like a cancer diagnosis. But my belief is that religion (not spirituality, of course) does more harm than good, and that we're entering a new Dark Ages, with the Islamic Taliban fighting the Christian Taliban. The West has the weapons, the East has the numbers and the willingness to die. Tonight's news will give you further evidence.

For me, there's no comfort in believing something that's obviously false, e.g. that when people die they go somewhere else, or if they blow themselves up they get 72 virgins, or that all other religions have got it wrong, and should not be respected; (in fact let's kill or convert 'em). Most religious people claim to tolerate all other religions, but do any of them think another religion is as good as theirs? And is this helpful? Science says that global warming is real, but do any religious leaders agree--and preach conservation? Ditto over-population.

e-griff on 08-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
Simon, when you talk about someone believing in something that's clearly untrue, you are doing exactly what I'm saying you can't. A person believes in something. Being 'true' or not has nothing to do with it. It is a FACT that they believe it (that is unarguable) It's the same reason you can't argue the existence of god's existence scientifically or logically.

Of course, religions fall into a similar trap. They declare their beliefs 'True' then use logic to deduce things in a scientific manner, producing a house of cards built on a belief not a fundamental observation or logical truth.

see, that damn god's ineffable!

Author's Reply:

Ccurious on 08-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
Simon, another, thing i wish to question you is Why do you think people make up beliefs in this world like Islam and Buddha and other things? The answer is when someone has nothing to die for, they have nothing to live for. When they try to live for themselves, no satisfactory comes. For example, you will find more people around a funny person than a selfish. That funny person gets more joy making people laugh than the person who is selfish. So serving one's self is not as satisfying as serving and giving to others.

Like I said, the richest people in the world can't find the richest love for the soul in money, woman, or beer.But I ask you, why would the Jesus Christ die for us, so that we could LIVE for Him? We all have to face death, the cold dark feel of sin and emptiness, but He offers different. Does He not? Buddha and Islamic and ectt... religions require good deeds for physical pleasures. Christ offered the SOUL peace and love. So when He died, He gave us life. He says our SOUL is going to LIVE on. The punishment of sin is death. So when I say people are driven to die for something, they are driven to live for it. But Christ is the only One that says our body and soul LIVE for Him.
Even though when someone goes to a funeral and sees a dead person that is no life, the soul is where? A body cannot live without the soul. but for those who choose to believe in the Almighty God, and know that He died because He loved us and forgave, and gave us eternal LIFE, our soul is His and is in the light. It is not in a carcass or asleep or some roach we see in our kitchen. Now and days, we have some logic that fits to Christianity and its facts. but back then , they had nothing. Just their faith. So how can this "Story" be the only one that has been recorded over 4 to 5 thousand years and be believed by all those through history who lived it? It is because they lived it, they believed. We want to LIVE the way Christ LOVED. Thats why, we believe.
There's proof every where you look of what God said He created. Only one's heart decides his choices and ONLY God can change his soul and heart. If you want proof and existence of God, then SEE at what He has created and the TRUTH that He has laid at our feet.

Author's Reply:

Simon on 10-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
Ccurious, the things you say are true for you and millions of other Christians, but for me they're nonsense. For example, life is not meaningless, though life in Heaven would be. We get one life, and it's great. You're right that serving others is the way to go, as Jesus recommends. But sin? It's nonsense to me, that a) we're all born sinners, and yet b) Christ died for our (future) sins and his father loved (future) us so much that he was happy to kill his only son. (Who didn't die anyway, according to the story.) But we do. We die. Belief in eternal life is comforting, but then, so are cigarettes n ot baths. Hot baths are harmless, but I fear that fundamentalist religion is spreading like the second Crusades, and that we are entering a new Dark Ages of Christians vs Muslims. And I want to help prevent this if I can.

Author's Reply:

Romany on 11-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
Hi Gerry,

The things you describe in your reply to me are extreme views. They are not representative of genuine believers, they are fanatics. These extremists exist within the realms of science too (the animal rights lobbyists for example; the nuclear issue etc) my point being that extreme views are held in all genres, for want of a better word, and not just religion.

I know where you are coming from with reference to the global warming and over-population points that you made though. Maybe if religious leaders made an effort to make these issues more widely understood amongst their 'flocks,' maybe if the Catholic church sanctioned contraceptives, but they are whole other issues.

I repeat the point I made earlier, that it is no use trying to tell someone not believe in their God. It is utterly futile, because it is Faith and hope we are talking about then, not science. I can't help but think you are just going to have to accept that. This is one argument that cannot be won.

A final point. To quote you: 'But I feel I have a right--in fact a duty--to persuade people to examine their beliefs and decide whether their beliefs are true, and if not, are they helpful?' That sounds like devotion to a cause,and preaching, to me. Not dissimilar to religion itself, is it?

Respectfully,
Romany.

Author's Reply:

Ccurious on 11-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
Simon, I do believe that life is not meaningless, of course. but if Christians (me in particular) believe that God created a world in seven days, what more in heaven could He create? We can barely imagine anything more and greater being created over a couple of thousands of years. That would be heaven for us.

And yes, everyone lives one life on earth. Every human makes bad and good choices. Every single human is different than any other in the world. Every persons looks are different, every persons thumb print is different, every person even has their own vocabulary and opinions through life, and each one makes their decisions. Lets say that God decided to make us robots and show us love through making us obey and giving us things. What true love is their in that. Instead, God gave us free will, a choice to do right or wrong. He also gave us a choice to choose Him or not. With free will, He not only got unconditional love from the people He created, and He not only let us see how we are with our choices, but He showed His love by sending His Son, lovingly (not happy) and Forgiving for our sin. God and Christ, and the Holy Spirit are One. Therefore, it was God who chose Himself to show how much He loved us. He died the most painful death, and He arose. We say He rose victoriously because when He died He had every single burden of sin from all the people of the world past, present, and future. Here's another example, have u ever asked the question of when an authors death is? I believe an authors death is when the writing of the author is no longer being read by a single person. Well, the Bible has been from long time ago, since before Christ, and has been taken and known by billions, it will never have the Author die because the Author was God. God felt death, but He also conquered it. Sure its comforting to know that we have hope not only if we feel death for Christ., but when we die in general life and go to heaven.

Sin, bad things, murder, whatever the wrong doing is in the world, each person knows it is. and hot baths and cigerattes are feelings that comfort, the life of following Christ was never said to be easy. In our soul we may have peace, but in the world we still fight for right and the Truth. Sin is a battle. for all. People will always fight. It is because none on this earth are perfect. That is why we believe every person is born a sinner. No matter how many people think their could be world peace, people are people and we all will always fight against, envy, jealousy, anger, murder, aldultry, gluttony, ...ect...


In conclusion, every person is born a sinner and has the choice to follow God's will by choice or follow their own. I believe God can only change someone's heart. The people who follow Him are His tools of jewels. That's what He says. All sinners have to do is believe and take the change in their life.

Author's Reply:

Ccurious on 11-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
Simon, I do believe that life is not meaningless, of course. but if Christians (me in particular) believe that God created a world in seven days, what more in heaven could He create? We can barely imagine anything more and greater being created over a couple of thousands of years. That would be heaven for us.

And yes, everyone lives one life on earth. Every human makes bad and good choices. Every single human is different than any other in the world. Every persons looks are different, every persons thumb print is different, every person even has their own vocabulary and opinions through life, and each one makes their decisions. Lets say that God decided to make us robots and show us love through making us obey and giving us things. What true love is their in that. Instead, God gave us free will, a choice to do right or wrong. He also gave us a choice to choose Him or not. With free will, He not only got unconditional love from the people He created, and He not only let us see how we are with our choices, but He showed His love by sending His Son, lovingly (not happy) and Forgiving for our sin. God and Christ, and the Holy Spirit are One. Therefore, it was God who chose Himself to show how much He loved us. He died the most painful death, and He arose. We say He rose victoriously because when He died He had every single burden of sin from all the people of the world past, present, and future. Here's another example, have u ever asked the question of when an authors death is? I believe an authors death is when the writing of the author is no longer being read by a single person. Well, the Bible has been from long time ago, since before Christ, and has been taken and known by billions, it will never have the Author die because the Author was God. God felt death, but He also conquered it. Sure its comforting to know that we have hope not only if we feel death for Christ., but when we die in general life and go to heaven.

Sin, bad things, murder, whatever the wrong doing is in the world, each person knows it is. and hot baths and cigerattes are feelings that comfort, the life of following Christ was never said to be easy. In our soul we may have peace, but in the world we still fight for right and the Truth. Sin is a battle. for all. People will always fight. It is because none on this earth are perfect. That is why we believe every person is born a sinner. No matter how many people think their could be world peace, people are people and we all will always fight against, envy, jealousy, anger, murder, aldultry, gluttony, ...ect...


In conclusion, every person is born a sinner and has the choice to follow God's will by choice or follow their own. I believe God can only change someone's heart. The people who follow Him are His tools of jewels. That's what He says. All sinners have to do is believe and take the change in their life.

Author's Reply:

Ccurious on 11-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
by the way, I have not studied Revelations too much, but when you mentioned a war between the Muslims and Christians, I know your right. It says when Christ comes back, their will be a final war in Armegeddon which is in Israel. Whether it will happen today or 100 years from now, no one knows when. It will not be just Muslims, though. It will be much more and the anti-Christ. but God's coming back. and it will be the opposite of world peace. I do not fear the world, I fear for the people who don't believe. I pray for them everyday. Friends, some others, some people I don't even know. I fear God, as I should. I choose to fear Him, because I know He is to fear.
-Ccurious

Author's Reply:

Ccurious on 11-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
by the way, I have not studied Revelations too much, but when you mentioned a war between the Muslims and Christians, I know your right. It says when Christ comes back, their will be a final war in Armegeddon which is in Israel. Whether it will happen today or 100 years from now, no one knows when. It will not be just Muslims, though. It will be much more and the anti-Christ. but God's coming back. and it will be the opposite of world peace. I do not fear the world, I fear for the people who don't believe. I pray for them everyday. Friends, some others, some people I don't even know. I fear God, as I should. I choose to fear Him, because I know He is to fear.
-Ccurious

Author's Reply:
I've read Revelations--who hasn't? And it's nonsense. Since you're a Christian you haven't got anything to fear, but I'm not, so I have. I fear that religious people like you can't think straight and so are helping destroy our beautiful world and planet and civilization--and you don't care, because you believe Christ is coming back any day. He isn't. Jesus died two thousand years ago. He hasn't "come back." He can't, because he's dead.

Ccurious on 14-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
Your right once again, We don't have anything to fear but God. but Christ dead? Why would a bunch of simple men follow a Man who did not boast and run all over town proclaiming He is God and can strike one dead, why would they humiliate themselves along with atleast 500 others and tell the world or everyone around them that a close friend, which was Christ, who they wept over, who they saw miracles, who they saw tortured and dead body. How can over 500 people become crazy and say they saw Chrsit rise from the dead? What did the people even have to gain for themselves to run and tell people a man is alive? Do you know that they would be looked upon more crazy and stupid and wicked proclaiming such things than they would now? Then they were even crucified and stoned and murdered for proclaiming Christ. Why? Because the world didn't want no Savior. Why? because they liked the things that made them feel good and moment glory. They cared more about feelings and not seeing the consequences for their actions and the hurt and pain actions caused for others.

The high respected Romans loved their Collecium and blood. They were the one's who destroyed the world. Men and sin destroy the world. Not the love of Christ. The love of Christ saved it. and those who choose to believe, are saved from the world. Back then , now, as we live, their will always be fear of what men will do and what their actions will be. Their will be fear of death, their will be fear of purpose, of hurt, of grief, of life. But were saved, we have hope. Fear will always be something. Everything recorded in a Bible lines up to life and history and facts, everything in that Bible is proof. It is the proof. The fact that Christ arose, is proof. Past, present, and future, their will always be excuses for the way men act. Maybe those hundreds of people who said they saw Christ arose claimed no logical thing at the time. but then they denied, and now, people deny, and future, people will always deny truth. Definitely if their the one's guilty of charge. And I'd say, repenting for killing Christ from their own sins. Who would admit it ? but as life goes on, everything that happens leads to Him.

Somehow, all the explanations to science and purpose lead to an "Intelligent Designer." Sure, their is doubt about everything, believing in Christ in the beginning of faith is sometimes shaky, but only because we don't have answers yet, we don't know enough and haven't grown enough in our faith, everyday we grow in this faith and we live by it. It is hope. and love. We take pride of God's power and stuff. The more we doubt, the more we search for answsers, and the more answers, the stronger faith.

so back to the beginning, fear is always will always be within unbelievers. It is cool how an unseen God is the only God who takes away all fear. but Buddha and the Muslim guys and all those who fear that if they run into cow or good luck will come from red envelope, or worshiping a gold thing they made will bring them glory and hope. Yet they still fear what their lives are going to be. but Our God requires faith, complete faith, and its not even really blind faith. Again, Why would anyone admit to killing Christ? Why would those men who once thought logically and then were crazy the next go proclaim the glory and power of Christ arising from the dead? Let's see here, I think logically, that the Man, Christ, arose. Is that not only the logical explanation?

Author's Reply:
Ccurious, you keep telling me that the events in the Bible are true and that's "proof" that they're true. I don't agree with you or the millions of Christians who DO agree with you. The Bible was put together around 40 AD, I think it was, by a group of scholars struggling to remember what it was Christ said in aramaic, translated into their Greek. Some of the stories were around long before Jesus was born.



A much more reliable book, because written 200, not 2000 years ago, and written by a single man, tells us that the Cheshire cat disappeared very slowly, ending with only the grin. It's true, and the proof is that Alice saw it happen.



(Nonsense, of course; it's a story.)

Ccurious on 19-02-2007
Stupid Arguments for the Existence of God
so if some of the "stories" were "put together", then those different men who wrote those stories all at different times and ages, were somehow writing about the same God and creating the different things that happened at their time? and apparantly they had fun writing down all those names of geneology, and since their were copies of their "stories", one man might've wanted to change the "story" of Christ and say instead of one person seeing Christ arise, their were 50 and then the next generation said their were 500! but problem with that, you see, cause since their were bunches of precious copies of "stories" because they supposedly "liked them" according to evolutionist, and they all talked about One God, their was one copy that said different and it changed everyones mind so they decided to copry it in all the other books! I don't think so. I truly don't believe that any less than 500 saw Christ arive. I mean, the Bible was precious to them or "stories" and they wouldn't have just one copy of it. By, the way, yes their were prophecies of Jesus' coming before He came, it says that in the Bible too. Poor little Alice is still all alone with her claim. and Charles Darwin's "theory" can only be proven wrong more than 50 times.


Simon, It's not just me knowing this stuff. If scholars can't disprove the Bible, and yes "Facts" are alined with the Bible, their is "proof" right there. Lately, I've asked a lot of questions above in my comments and those are only more proving their is a God, no other answer for those questions is able. It's logical. then again, the miracles can be and can not be. cause we aren't able to do them, yet the miracle fits sometimes what we see or in the Bible.

How do you explain what a soul is? Can you see the air we breathe? Do you see sound vibrations? Do you know what keeps the smallest cell in our bodies moving like a helicopter? Only God keeps us moving. People have died in hospitals and come back alive in a few seconds. That means heart stop, mind stop, blood coming to a stop. Some of them say they saw heaven, and some say they saw hell. Some say those people only had illusions. Yet, if their blood was comin to a stop, how could they have illusions? We do have a soul. Dogs don't, monkeys don't, and neither do horses. Dogs don't share their food with other dogs. They don't have a soul. We do. I'll post a website showing archeologist facts lining up with how we weren't cave men, or how before the flood their was ancient knowledge of bombs and technology (theirs versus to support this knowledge) or how they found underwater cities, and it all lines up with facts of the "story". God's laid the whole picture and Truth from beginning to end, all these other Christians who know Christ came, chose to die, and arose, know the Truth. I and them chose. With no fear and having love, comes freedom, and that's what we chose. Scientist, yet have to prove the Bible wrong. and you'll never see them do it. Don't expect them to. They can't. They may claim, but they haven't. What questions do you have against God? What are the main reasons you don't believe?

*peace*Ccurious
-website- s8int.com
-shows stuff for dinosaurs and other stuff too.

Author's Reply:


ON PLANTING A TREE (posted on: 30-10-06)
It's what it is, an opinion piece. If I'm wrong, please show me where.

On Planting a Tree In discussions of carbon trading I keep reading that in the globally warming future, to match C02 emissions from one's factory (to dodge fines) or from an airline flight (to salve one's conscience) one will ''plant trees.'' But I don't know what this means. You can't plant a tree. You can plant a seed, or a seedling, or an acorn. It won't absorb any CO2 for years, not until it grows (if it does). But your emissions are now. You can transplant a tree, by loading it into a truck and moving it somewhere else. But you can't plant anything that will absorb your present C02, because by the time (all going well) it grows up, it will have to absorb all your continuing CO2 emissions for the next 10 to 50 years! Canadians emit 20 tonnes of CO2 each per year (UK? 10). Let's say I won the lottery and went seriously green, and planted an acre of seedlings, say 4000, every day for a year. Q: Assuming that none of them died or got run over by snowmobilers, by the end of that year how much of my CO2 emissions would I have offset? A: None. O…kay, by the end of the next year? Still none. Because by now I've emitted two years' worth of CO2. Even if some of my 3 million ''trees'' have now put out roots and a leaf or two, and are absorbing some CO2, the trees can never catch up. True, in 25 years each tree is sucking up a lot of CO2, and if it's teak trees I've planted, I can cut them all down and make about $7000.00 each, (minus the costs of maintaining the land and guarding them for 25 years against tree rustlers). But I haven't even made a dent in the 500 tonnes I've now emitted. So I've simply got to emit less CO2. Same problem world-wide. To think we'll eventually catch up is as deluded as promising to start quitting smoking as soon as you get cancer. It's like repaying a $1000 debt with $100 and a note saying, ''Just put it in the bank and wait 25 years.'' The answer? Either do nothing much (a popular plan), maybe buy a hybrid SUV and turn off the lights when we're not home (both to save money, not the world), and watch TV as the oceans rise until we're all from New Orleans. Use less voluntarily? I don't think so. Not so far—and in a hurricane or a flood you don't worry about your CO2. Of course, if our government got real, passed and strictly enforced some hugely unpopular laws, here's how Canada, say, would look: 1. Ignore what other countries are doing or not doing. We're talking about the world here, folks. 2. Immediately double or triple the price of gas. Everyone will squeal—but they'll use less. Pay people to use public transit. 3. Immediately shut down all power plants that emit CO2. That leaves hydro and nuclear. Canada's CANDU reactors are the safest in the world. Once built, they emit zero CO2—or radiation. Accidents so far? None. Build, and sell, plenty. (Remember, we're saving the earth, not jobs or dollars or home comforts.) 4. Immediately shut down the forest industry. Pay forestry workers not to cut down trees. Reforest instead. 5. Work to reduce Canada's population. Our ecological footprint is so huge that we must stop welcoming immigrants in and encouraging them to become energy-hogging Canadians. 6. Work to reduce the world's population—no, not by killing people off (the new weather is already doing that), but by no longer begging and paying people to have kids. Also by helping people stop having kids for bad reasons, e.g. as old age security (pensions, India?) or by mistake. MAKE LOVE, NOT CHILDREN! A formula for economic disaster? Compared to what? (Though it might be surprisingly pleasant, living off the land, eating local food instead of stuff trucked up from Mexico and breathing fresh air.) Will any of this happen? Not a chance. And that's why we're screwed.
Archived comments for ON PLANTING A TREE
e-griff on 30-10-2006
ON PLANTING A TREE
You were doing OK until we got to the 'immigrants'. šŸ™

I just heard an item on the news saying that the prob could be fixed if we all spent 1pc of our GDP on it, or 1.3pc if only the rich countries pay. But all countries involved have to pay, as you say.

I think, Simon, it's more about reducing the rate of increase and maybe halting it (the increase), not reducing the levels themselves (yet) - looking at fifty years ahead when things will be much worse, and trying to avoid that situation by action now šŸ™‚

Author's Reply:
Thanks, e-griff. You're right that nobody will agree to end immigration from countries with a tiny ecological footprint. That's why, as I say, we're screwed. As for the claim that spending 1% of our (present) GDP to buy our way out of it, that's insane. Economists and the World Bank got us into this mess; now we expect economists to get us out of it? Loony tunes. Anyway, grocery shoppers will cheerfully pay the extra "carbon tax" for currently underpriced food, and the amount of CO2 emitted by flying food half around the world will stay exactly the same. The only workable solution is what I suggest: an immediate world-wide depression--and try selling that!

But at least I'm not suggesting we go about killing people to reduce CO2. They seem to be doing that pretty well for themselves. I believe the earth can hold about 3 billion people, not 7 and rising.

Rupe on 30-10-2006
ON PLANTING A TREE
Saplings?

Author's Reply:


On Dying (posted on: 30-10-06)
Maybe it's winter coming on, but this occurred to me as I trudged home with washing powder and paper towels.

On Dying You're dying, it's true But don't be sad! You've been dead already Before you were born And really—was it so bad?
Archived comments for On Dying
potleek on 30-10-2006
On Dying
That's a different and funny way to look at it, but I think I prefer living.
But then dead is more peaceful, but there's no fun in it is there?...Tony

Author's Reply:


AFGHANISTAN (posted on: 22-05-06)
To keep fighting an unwinnable war so as not to "dishonour" the poor schmucks (on our side) who've already been killed in it has always sounded weird to me, like doubling your bets each time you lose, but it seems to convince others.

Our first female soldier was killed in the war So now we must not cut and run. Remember what she was fighting for: More killing, more killed, and more and more— Being shot at is so much fun.
Archived comments for AFGHANISTAN
poetess2 on 18-03-2007
AFGHANISTAN
My son is an RM Commando and is thankfully on his way back from Afghanistan as we speak. He has been out there for 4 months, and has doubtless seen many horrors. He was not one of the 'schmucks' thank God. The war is so futile, and yes, unwinnable. I applaud your sentiments sir!

Author's Reply:


HOW CAN YOU SLEEP? (posted on: 22-05-06)
Toronto is having an ominously early, glorious spring, the air fragrant with Maple flowers, the whole world palest green. Our new Conservative PM has joined Bush in rejecting Kyoto--despite us having signed on. He's cancelled our Energuide conservation program, which the UK judged the best in the world. Why are we frightened?

How can you sleep through the petals falling? Magnolia, cherry and green-gold maple Snowing in darkness, blowing away. Surely those not yet immune to beauty Are awake now, crying to the moon and stars, Slow down! This could be the final spring. A dark gust woke me from joy That across the lake I could see and smell America burning.
Archived comments for HOW CAN YOU SLEEP?
Elfstone on 23-05-2006
HOW CAN YOU SLEEP?
Very good Simon. I can empathise with what is behind this and you have expressed it so well.
If I may make a suggestion, I think you should remove the 'that' in the last stanza; it reads better without it. Elfstone.

Author's Reply:


ANNIE (posted on: 22-05-06)
Recently I lunched with a family including this young girl, and it was hard to stop looking at her mouth. That night I woke and scribbled this down.

Your lips could be the pillows of my soul Soft cushions floating in ecstatic tears of blueness from the love-delighted pools that are your eyes. And on your breasts my little boat of fools could ground and we would sleep. Above, trees of your tangled hair, below, soft seaweed lapping on the cave where sea-nymphs call.
Archived comments for ANNIE
Claire on 22-05-2006
ANNIE
Looks like you're infatuated with her. Excellent, sweet piece.

Especially liked this bit:

Above, trees of your tangled
hair, below, soft seaweed lapping on
the cave where sea-nymphs call.



Author's Reply:

Zoya on 23-05-2006
ANNIE
Wow, cute little tale of lust and hidden love.
Yeah, sometimes, some faces do inspire you like that.
Sincerely,
Zoya

Author's Reply:

stolenbeauty on 23-05-2006
ANNIE
This one was really good šŸ™‚ Liked the describing words, thanks very much, keep writing!
Stolen x

Author's Reply:

narcissa on 25-05-2006
ANNIE
Hi, Simon - really enjoyed this beautiful little piece. It caught my attention exactly halfway through when you moved into more exploratory comparisons and imagery using her body.
For me the beginning is a little... not clichƩd... but a bit soppy, and I think you could go into more detail about her mouth, I'm not sure. Just that I feel this has so much potential - you surprised me with brilliance of the second half, that's all.
I'm reading it again and again. Deary me.
It goes from sentimental and romantic - using the idea of your soul, and the word pillows - to slightly dangerous, as you mention her breasts.
You end on such a strong note - I adore the "trees of your tangled hair" (extraordinary!) that it's such a shame not to begin on one.
I'm not expressing myself very well - my apologies.
Just to let you know I'm thinking about it and I really enjoyed reading it! I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the poem as a whole.
Best wishes,
Laura x

Author's Reply:

Simon on 27-05-2006
ANNIE
Narcissa, thanks so much. I'll keep working on it. Just for now I considered adding a second line, so it would run:

ANNA



Sixteen-year-old Anna at the dinner table: "I don't like porn."



Your lips could be the pillows of my soul

Parting, the Red Sea of promises

Soft cushions floating in ecstatic tears

of blueness from the love-delighted pools

that are your eyes. And on your breasts

my little boat of fools could ground

and we would sleep. Above, trees of your tangled

hair; below, soft seaweed lapping on

the cave where sea-nymphs call.



Author's Reply:


SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE: A GREAT IDEA (posted on: 06-03-06)
Not sure if anyone but nutters read my Blog, so here's a few jottings I put on it.

Canada's supreme court have just unanimously agreed that believers in the Sikh religion may carry small daggers (kirpans) to school. They don't want to discriminate between one religion and another. This puzzles me. I thought Canada had agreed on the separation of church and state, which means, as I see it, that church and state are separate: nothing that one body does or believes can affect the other. It should mean that the State (our government bodies) agrees not to tell citizens what they should believe in, and that the religious bodies agree not to tell the State which laws to make, ignore or bend. But here's a religious group telling our lawmakers that because, to be ''good'' Sikhs, they have to wear their hair long and carry a little dagger, Canada's rules and laws have to be changed. Now they can wear turbans into ''hats off'' areas, not wear Mounties uniform hats or safety hats or crash helmets, and carry steel daggers into ''no-weapons'' zones. Muslim women here can wear head scarves, or shroud their whole bodies except for the eyes. Sikhs are splendid people, as are Muslims, but let's imagine a case where a not-so-splendid religious group, say the New Warriors for Christ announce that a vital part of their religion is to shout GOD IS GOD! every ten minutes, no matter where they are. The Supreme court would say Forget it—but what if the learned judges look outside and see ten thousand New Warriors on the lawn screaming GOD IS GOD! Would they still say Forget it? And what if my daughter, say, who devoutly believes in dying for her faith, insists on wearing her own version of the kirpan to school, namely a little plastic replica of a suicide body belt? The learned judges have told us that the kirpan is unlikely to cause any harm, so they can hardly discriminate against another important symbol. They allow crosses. How about a man-sized steel cross? These cases sound ridiculous, but a few years ago the idea of allowing anyone to bring a dagger to school for religious reasons would have sounded ridiculous too. Just wait.
Archived comments for SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE: A GREAT IDEA
AnthonyEvans on 06-03-2006
SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE: A GREAT IDEA
does sound crazy! weapons should def not be allowed in schools in my opinion.

here in scandinavia there is a resurgence in the old norse religion, so maybe the kids'll be into taking whacking big axes and whatnot to school soon.

best wishes, anthony.

Author's Reply:


I BLAME RELIGION (posted on: 06-03-06)
Here's another bit of blog. I've always thought that killing people is wrong not because God says it is, but that God says it's wrong because it is. Wrong. But that's just me. Of course, if God told me No, it's great, do it, I'd say Screw You. So thank God I'm still an atheist.

Interesting, the ruckus the bad Muslims are making over some unseen cartoons in some country they'll never see. Religion is to blame, of course, but not directly: my argument is a bit subtler than the indignant religious folk think. Here it is: 1. To say that if there is no God everything is possible is wrong. Everything is possible whether there's a God saying ''Don't do it'' or not. We, homo sapiens, are a tribal species hard-wired to co-operate in expanding our tribe and exterminating competing tribes, which, from their point of view, is evil. We can do good. We can do anything. 2. To blame religious people for evil isn't quite right either. It's true that the greatest villains of last century, Hitler, Mao, Stalin and Pol Pot didn't seem to believe in God, but this misses the point: they never, as far as I know, killed anyone. (Hitler might have shot someone as a WW1 corporal before he was wounded.) All the leader did, himself, was to order his subordinates to go round killing the people he didn't like, or felt threatened by. Hitler didn't even have to give a direct order for the Holocaust to begin: his subordinates knew what he wanted and were happy to serve. It felt good, to them. 3. The leaders' subordinates, the killers, didn't kill because they were religious. If they'd been e.g. Christians they wouldn't have obeyed him, because Christianity is clear about killing people being wrong. So it's not atheists or Christians (or Muslims) who are to blame for evil. 4. Who is it? IT'S PEOPLE WHO, BECAUSE THEY ARE RELIGIOUS, ARE HAPPY FOLLOWING ORDERS FROM THEIR GOD-LIKE LEADER. HE TELLS THEM WHAT'S IN THE HOLY BOOK (THOUGH IT ISN'T) AND WHAT TO DO AND THEY DO IT. 5. Organised religion is to blame for the sorry state of the world, but indirectly: it's a system for turning potentially clear-thinking, fact-checking people into followers. A moment's thought would stop anyone from doing evil. It's obviously wrong, even without all religious writings telling us it's wrong.
Archived comments for I BLAME RELIGION
Simon on 08-03-2006
I BLAME RELIGION
Hmm. Good points, Shywolf. I agree that priestly types get their power from
saying God wants you'all to stop doing evil--and you are evil, because
you're born in sin and don't pray enough, and enjoy evil sex and so on.
Clear (yes, scientific) thinking would have us asking "Oh yeah? Says who?"
Most religion is anti-life, and surely Life is great...ish. Beats none-life,
anyway.

But I don't have a problem in judging certain classes of act good and others
evil. By agreement, cruel experimentation on unwilling humans is evil, no
matter what good results may follow. (Mengele's findings on how hot people
can get before they die has proved useful in treating burn victims, though
some scientists refuse to use the data.) You're right Mengele was racist
(not that all his victims were Jews) but surely Nazism is, if not a
religion, pretty close. And I don't think Science is a religion, because
every religion starts with the answers, and scientists only have an
expanding web of questions. The truly religious are never puzzled:
scientists get more and more puzzled the further they go.

Cheers!

Simon



Author's Reply:

amfish on 09-03-2006
I BLAME RELIGION
Religion is much like fashion: it bypasses something in people's brains so that they act without questioning; they become the unthinking sheep that they so willingly accept as metaphor in their scripture.

Whether religion is good or evil, however, depends on how it is directed. Because it's not people's interpretation of religion that causes the problem, but people's acceptance of other people's interpretation. That's why for so long it was considered heretical to translate the Bible into English - the lay person not having the Latin meant that the preacher could put words into his own god's mouth and the peasants would be none the wiser. The implication is clear, because no preacher with genuine belief would be comfortable inbventing the word of his god, and a religious order which genuinely preached from its scripture would have no problem with that scripture being accessible to all. The only conclusion we can have is that those in the higher echelons of religion are rarely themselves believers.

So I suppose religion itself isn't inherently evil, because those who command evil in its name are doing so not from religious conviction but expediency. It's little more than a handy tool, which is probably why it has survived so long. But the fact that historically, religion has more often been used for evil than good ends means that it is too dangerous a force for human hands.

Science makes me an atheist, but history makes me an anti-theist.


Author's Reply:

Simon on 09-03-2006
I BLAME RELIGION
Amfish, you make perfect sense. Mind you, some religious leaders who interpret what the always-vague scriptures say for the flock are themselves believers, surely. They believe they're doing the right thing. My problem is that the lazy flock listen to them, having been taught not to question what the man in the dress tells them is in the book. Ditto communists didn't bother to read Marx. It's follow-sheep that's the problem.
Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I'm not an agnostic: I KNOW there can't be a God. We try to do good, though.

Author's Reply:


WAITING FOR TOMORROW (posted on: 27-02-06)
Griffonner's poem BUT FOR THAT got me thinking. As we slow down, time does seem to speed up, and it's hard to spot when it began. It's not like the day you broke your leg, but it hurts more.

WAITING FOR TOMORROW Waiting for tomorrow We end our lives in sorrow. For wasting today We pay. Time outpacing us so fast Now middle-age is past We cannot recall Our fall.
Archived comments for WAITING FOR TOMORROW
Jen_Christabel on 27-02-2006
WAITING FOR TOMORROW
Although I wouldn't call myself middle-aged. Is 44 middle-aged? I don't know LOL. I thought this was very poignant, good read.
Jennifer :o)

Author's Reply:

I-Man on 27-02-2006
WAITING FOR TOMORROW
Simon, Nice, moving piece. And you're getting me thinking now ...
(on the subject of middle age, I believe it's a state of mind šŸ˜‰ I know people my age mid early 30s who say they feel a lot older - me, I still feel 16, or ok, 18 šŸ˜€ )

Author's Reply:

Simon on 27-02-2006
WAITING FOR TOMORROW
44 isn't middle-aged if you plan to be 88, but I'm not sure I'll make 134 if I keep eating pastries and milk chocolate--or maybe they're just the ticket. Rolf, the fighting-fit 86-year-old skier on our Alpine team sure likes his liquor; if we drink more we'll live longer, or at least not care.

Author's Reply:

Dazza on 27-02-2006
WAITING FOR TOMORROW
Nice one sly-man, I go for the concise dittys, i think sometimes they are much harder to do well than any epic stuff, Dazza.

Author's Reply:

Kat on 02-03-2006
WAITING FOR TOMORROW
Good stuff, Simon, and I like your title!

Yep, it's definitely a state of mind... happiness, positivity and all that jazz, and if we are 'waiting for tomorrow', a lot is going to pass us by.

Kat :o)

Author's Reply:


WORLD'S BEST SEX WRITING 2005: A REVIEW (posted on: 13-02-06)
Review of "The World’s Best Sex Writing 2005'' edited by Mitzi Szereto. (2005: Thunder’s Mouth Press, New York. ISBN 1-56025-772-5) by Simon Leigh

REVIEW Between soft covers came the 254-page book modestly titled ''The World's Best Sex Writing 2005'' edited by the attractive Mitzi Szereto who runs erotic writing workshops in the UK and Europe. I like sex and I like cheese, but I'm glad I didn't have to spend all last year reading through everything written on sex (or cheese). So Mitzi has done us a favour, and she's chosen well, no bad writing, no overheated bodice-rippers and no preaching—except on the right side. In fact it's fun. Dave Barry says he's tired of the scientific community wasting time researching things nobody cares about, such as the universe, and is glad the sex life of fruit flies is now being investigated. The biological similarities to humans are many. ''For example, both species eat fruit.'' He reminds us that ''despite several million years of thinking virtually non-stop about sex, guys have made very little progress toward answering such basic questions about human sexuality as: How can you obtain more of it? How much talking is required? What is the role of jewelry? How important is the size of a guy's, um, car.'' Jonathan Margolis is more serious but still amusing in his (theoretical) search for the Holy Grail, the simultaneous, mutual orgasm, which, he concludes, ''barely exists.'' He reassures us on this, and tells us that ''even Sting, who made every man in the world feel inadequate (and every woman, I suspect, a bit queasy) with his suggestion that using 'Tantric' methods he could keep sex going for eight hours, later confessed that he'd forgotten to mention this included dinner, a movie, and four hours of pleading.'' (Also reassuring is the news that women who ejaculate don't say it feels any better than when they don't.) He notes that even the Bible recognised the importance of foreplay. The ''erotic Song of Solomon contains a clear request from a woman to be stimulated manually: 'Let his left hand be under my head and his right hand embrace me.''' Time pressure is probably why, as Professor Lionel Tiger noted, ''The gross national pleasure is lower than it ought to be.'' DINS stands for Double Income. No Sex. Of the twenty-four contributors, The Observer's Sebastian Horsley had perhaps the most arresting opening line: ''I remember the first time I had sex—I still have the receipt.'' He's slept with more than 1000 prostitutes, at a cost of $100,000 and feels the money was well spent. ''The problem with normal sex,'' he tells us, ''is that it leads to kissing and pretty soon you've got to talk to them.'' He almost makes it sound fun, reminding me of the current New Yorker cartoon, the businessman telling his friends, ''I must admit I started paying for sex this summer. I find it surprisingly affordable.'' Horsley writes well—they all do—with quips like, ''The worst things in life are free,'' and ''You lie to two people in your life; your partner and the police. Everyone else gets the truth.'' We may not agree that, ''Sex is one of the most wholesome, spiritual, and natural things money can buy,'' but he's got us thinking. Steven Rinella has us thinking too, when his friend and future employer invites him to watch his wife ''Twilight'' masturbate on stage. Rinella wants the job, but knows he is violating a serious rule of ethics: ''you should not stare at your friend's girlfriend's breasts, no matter how wonderful they are…And above all else, you shouldn't tell your friend that his girlfriend is hot, unless she isn't…'' David Steinberg signed up to masturbate for the camera, for a video showing only the faces of people having an orgasm. ''Faces of Ecstasy'' tells us it took him a while, staring into the camera was not easy, and he laughed afterwards, but the video, when launched, was strangely moving and truthful. This is no stroke book; there's surprisingly little for the one-handed reader, and only one giant penis, which belongs to a hideous giant whose only (other?) redeeming feature is that he's turned on by his partner's gaining weight. Seriously, now, Katha Pollitt examines the late Andrea Dworkin's famous alleged soundbite, that all intercourse is rape, and Rabbi Marc Gellman, in ''Deep Gidget'' yearns for the days when sex and love were actually related. Pornography rears its head in Paul Fisher's exclusive interview with Harry Reems (not his real name) who tells us that he'd made movies with Linda Lovelace before Deep Throat and that ''Linda was never forced at gunpoint to do anything'' not even her early bestiality movies. Deep Throat, the highest grossing film of all time and ''the first film to say that it held no social redeeming value,'' made his career but the arrival of the FBI at his door in the middle of the night, charging him, along with an organised crime family, with conspiracy ended it. 'Rick' of XXXchurch, Julia Scheeres reports, supports ''Christian men who share his belief that masturbation is sinful, and together they've pledged not to 'defile themselves' for forty days—the same amount of time the Bible says Satan tempted Jesus in the desert.'' Good luck with that, ''Rick.'' Censorship, ah! censorship, surely more a Republican than a Democrat concern, though sexual envy is universal, from Roman Polanski through President Clinton. Barry Yeoman, in Discover reports the alarming new US trend to cut funds for research into matters sexual. The Traditional Values Coalition demands to know why tax money goes to studying ''lot lizards'' (truck-stop prostitutes) or sexual practices of Mexican immigrants. The answer is, to learn how AIDS spreads so fast along truck routes, as in Africa, but common sense is uncommon, and any studies that look like fun to do aren't seen as hard science. But they are. ''What do you do when someone refuses to use a condom?'' one researcher asked a sex worker. ''Well, I make sure I use baby wipes,'' she replied. Good luck with that, too. In David French's ''The Invention of Patient Zero'' (a ''great guy'' who'd had ''thousands of sexual contacts over the past three years'') we see that ignorance can be a short-lived bliss. More than half the spread of AIDS is from people who don't know they're HIV positive, and those who know they are, seem to believe that unprotected sex with another HIV-positive partner is safe. It's not. As for hair-raising legal discussion, you simply have to read Sherry F. Colb's legal analysis of who owes whom what ''When Oral Sex Results in a Pregnancy.'' That's right, and she's a law professor. And for the obligatory cringe, Christine Aziz's ''Now I Feel Whole Again'' tells us more than most want to know about the boom in surgery on women's genitalia, largely for reconstruction after infant circumcision, or revirgination for marriage. Different strokes for different cultures. Designer vaginal surgery is becoming fashionable, as Sarah Klein tells us in ''Does This Make My Labia Look Fat?'' But the news is not all bad. It may be that ''most men who encounter labia are simply happy to be there, and couldn't care less about perceived size abnormalities or unevenness.'' And some women who sign up for vagina tightening because their husband complains that he ''can't feel anything'' (which couldn't have anything to do with his weak erection, could it?) are sent home with the news that they're perfectly normal and they can keep the $7000.00 they were about to spend. On an even happier note, there's a lovely paean to anal intercourse by Toni Bentley who, I learned half-way through, is a woman, and Nigel Planer's ''Tahitillation'' which hints that there might once have been a time and place where sex was usual, wonderful, and no big deal. Like cheese. There's more, but you get the idea. At US $15.95 it's a great read.
Archived comments for WORLD'S BEST SEX WRITING 2005: A REVIEW
Romany on 14-02-2006
WORLDS BEST SEX WRITING 2005: A REVIEW
eight ours,

#100,000

Just spotted the above two little typos -hope you don't mind!

Very amusing and interesting review - sounds like a fun and informative book. Very well written, good stuff, well done.

heā€™s turned on by his partnerā€™s gaining weight. - Woo-hoo!! My ideal mine - do you have his number? Lol!

Romany.




Author's Reply:

Romany on 14-02-2006
WORLDS BEST SEX WRITING 2005: A REVIEW
'Man' not 'mine.' And I picked up your typos!! (blush)

Author's Reply:


ADVICE (posted on: 09-01-06)
Best advice I was ever given.

ADVICE Never pat a burning cat. Gargle not with Prussic acid. If your penis you would knot Be sure 'tis flaccid.
Archived comments for ADVICE
Dazza on 09-01-2006
ADVICE
Wacky little number, I'm wacky therefore, ergo I like it, Dazza.

Author's Reply:

Jen_Christabel on 09-01-2006
ADVICE
Laffing all over the place here!
Great stuff :o)
Jen :o)

Author's Reply:

Romany on 09-01-2006
ADVICE
Very funny and no doubt very good advice!

Author's Reply:

Romany on 09-01-2006
ADVICE
Just remembered a little ditty (not sure who by) that you 'acid' line put me in mind of:

Here lies what's left of William Dough
With us he is no more
For what he thought was H2O
Was H2SO4.

(Can't get numbers to go smaller, sorry!)

Author's Reply:

Sunken on 12-01-2006
ADVICE
Yes, wise words indeed. I once tried to tie a knot in my penis when it was hard. I ruptured many, many blood vessels and had to defer from sex for many, many months... that wasn't really a problem though as I very seldom get any anyway. Thanks. Take care and a sewing kit.

s
u
n
k
e
n

Leeds 4 - 60 watt light-bulb 2

Author's Reply:

len on 27-02-2006
ADVICE
And if you get caught with your pants down..turn your head and cough...:O)...len

Author's Reply:


THE DEAD (posted on: 02-12-05)
I wrote this at breakfast and am sending it in because it's Thursday and I haven't written any poetry for a while, struggling with a novel that nobody likes except me.

THE DEAD My wife is away, attending to her mother's dying. I stand holding this unsuccessful mug of coffee gazing through cold glass into the ruin of our garden. From nowhere the snow begins a static of disparate flakes floating. The radio program's theme is Venice sinking as its lagoon swells like a boil. A consortium of engineers will build a profitably monstrous array of machinery to hold back the tide like Disneyworld or Las Vegas. In the film Death in Venice, the CBC lady continues, Visconti made Thomas Mann's writer Gustave Aschenbach into a composer based on Gustav Mahler. Dirk Bogarde based his performance on the life of Herbert von Karajan. ''But the true star of the film is…'' (Venice, I think) but no: ''The music…'' Mahler is dead. Visconti and Mann are dead. Dirk Bogarde is dead. Von Karajan is dead. Venice is sinking. ''The music of Mahler seems to float over it like a mist.'' It begins softly. I burst into tears and have to put down my mug watching the blurred flakes filtering down.
Archived comments for THE DEAD
bluepootle on 02-12-2005
THE DEAD
Hi Simon. I like this very much - a great start with the 'unsuccessful mug of coffee'. I think that maybe you could make the reader work a little more and therefore get more reward from the poem by cutting verse four (the list of the dead) - the title and the last line alone could provide that comparison for you, and verse 3 and 5 would link together so well... Hope that helps!

Author's Reply:

tai on 02-12-2005
THE DEAD
Blue! Rock and Roll is all you need! 10 from Tai

Author's Reply:

Gerry on 02-12-2005
THE DEAD
I liked this--a good read, different.
This is my fourth read today about death and dying--must be a Friday šŸ˜‰

Gerry.

Author's Reply:

Simon on 03-12-2005
THE DEAD
Many thanks for your thoughtful comments. I think I'll leave the list of dead in, as it hits me that they're ALL gone now. I've made some other changes and here's the latest version.

Author's Reply:

Bradene on 04-12-2005
THE DEAD
I love this poem especially the first stanza, but the last three are perfect a masterpiece in my opinion. Valx

Author's Reply:

AnthonyEvans on 05-12-2005
THE DEAD
i don't believe that only you like your novel, simon; if this poem is anything to go by it must be damn good in an inter-rest-ing way..

like the others who have commented, i very much enjoyed this poem.

i don't usually find myself disagreeing with bluepootle but i kind of like that stanza, the one she wants you to strangle at birth: they are all dead and venice is sinking. i mean, they are all great (i've read them, listened to them, watched them at the movies) and venice (not that i've been there) is great ... i mean, there is a real sense of LOSS there.

the only thing that threw me a bit was the last stanza because that suddenly took us into other spaces. i mean, we are with you and that fantastically unsuccesful mug of coffee and your wife is away (her mother is dying) and then there is that radio programme where everything good seems to have gone out of this world. and then we get that boy kissing you and i think: what's that? i would prefer it if you saved that for another story because i think this one has a beginning, a middle and an end. the end being that hot (i imagine it as hot) mug of coffee being put down and you crying because your wife is away visiting her dying mother and the radio show has echoed that, brought that sense of LOSS home to you.

ehm, just some of my thoughts.

best wishes, anthony.

ps small things department: bogard is with an E: bogarde.

Author's Reply:

Simon on 06-12-2005
THE DEAD
Hmmm indeed. Anthony, I think you're right. I've left the list in, stuck an e on Bogarde and cut the last 3 lines. I do like it ending on 'down.' I'd tried to suggest a gay love affair that's ended long ago and I've just heard he's dead, presumably of AIDS, but maybe it doesn't come across.

Author's Reply:
Another thing: would it be too much to replace the first two lines with the brutal:

My wife is overseas
burning her mother's things

No? Too much?

Simon

AnthonyEvans on 06-12-2005
THE DEAD
(the thing with the old gay story is that it feels a bit tacked on ... or maybe even like a scene from 'death in venice' whereas the rest of the poem feels pretty much self-contained; so i think you are right to cut it)

You ask:

Another thing: would it be too much to replace the first two lines with the brutal:

My wife is overseas
burning her mother's things

No? Too much?

My answer: it would be too much because we haven't lost venice yet, the death of venice, like the death of the mother is yet to come. so to have your wife actually burning her mother's things would be a kind of end, something final and static, rather than a movement towards death.

best wishes, anthony.


Author's Reply:

flossieBee on 07-12-2005
THE DEAD
A tender and sad poem. An interesting stream of consciousness.

Author's Reply:


Clinic Protest (posted on: 16-09-05)
Something different: a pro-abortion poem. The book FREAKANOMICS shows that unwanted children do terribly badly on every measure. Would they want to be born unwanted? Does the question make sense?



Hear the unborn dead
in their universe of tears
crying for our godlike help:

I choose not to be,
pushed into daylight's horror
half-life of the unwanted.

Such a long journey home
past cold eyes, whispering resentment
blows and nightly wrongs I must not tell.

I am the product of the sex-organs'
yearning to be one.
They do not speak for me.

My mother's misery throbs in my veins.
We cannot love each other.
Crush my soft skull

Send me back.




Archived comments for Clinic Protest
ruadh on 2005-09-17 12:49:56
Re: Clinic Protest
This was a disturbing read for me Simon. All the way through I was wrestling with myself, arguing it was wrong, then the last few lines hit me like a brick. You've certainly given me something to think about, which is the best you can hope for with any poem. Excellent write.

ailsa

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2005-09-18 12:29:37
Re: Clinic Protest
Simon, you are a good writer. However, I think here your preoccupation with this particular subject may have driven you to be less than subtle in its presentation. My belief is that your message would be more powerful if it were less baldly stated and more sublty connected with our lives. šŸ™‚ G

Author's Reply:

Jolen on 2005-09-22 03:40:23
Re: Clinic Protest
Well I could see how this would upset many, but I feel you made some excellent points. And I for one salute your bravery in doing so.

blessings,
Jolen

Author's Reply:


THE DAY LILIES (posted on: 01-08-05)
Towards the end of a life flowers become important

Since he retired, he doesn't know what to do with himself. He misses his old wooden desk with the blotter, stapler just so and the flip-over desk calendar, one page for each day till retirement. At precisely five o'clock he would rip off another day's page, crumple and flick it into the empty green metal wastebasket. Overnight the small wad of paper would be collected by an unseen cleaner, in readiness for a new day.

Now his days are long, his nights longer. The winter was harsh, and once or twice in the night, with a storm raging, he wakes, certain that that his heart will attack him and he will never see another spring. But spring comes, unnaturally warm this year, the blossoms flare and drop—and now it is the time of the lilies. He knows his wild front garden is an unsightly mess, a neighbourhood disgrace, this jungle of rising reeds, but by early July, stalks emerge from the sea of deep green bearing tiny buds.

Then suddenly: the day lilies! First a single one, like a rocket, a slow-motion explosion, then the next day it is dead, a dried hanging husk—but three more have emerged, out-curving lilies, a lovely matt orange-brown shade, unique in all nature. Next day there are five, then nineteen.

He counts them every morning, extracting the paper from wherever the turbaned Indian in the '76 Datsun has flung it, and enters the count in his daily log. Then, mid-morning, he counts and admires his crop in full bloom. One morning he surprises two Chinese ladies picking his opening flowers, they jabber something about ''salar, eat salar!'' and he chases them off. So now he is doubly watchful: in June he has observed three laughing youths approaching with baseball bats, swatting his neighbour's peony buds out into the street, but he said nothing and they moved on. His wife died holding the little cat. He sent the little cat away.

Lately the day lilies seem to have him hypnotised: he stands still on the pavement, gazing into the heart of a six-petalled beauty, its reddish veins leading him in towards the golden greenish centre, the six stamens curving out to offer their little packets of pollen and the single bold pistil shooting out straight, its pale bundle on the tip.

By nightfall every flower is dead and drooping, and now at five o'clock he plucks them off, feverishly counting the buds for the new day. They come off silently, unlike the ripping pages of his desk calendar. The number of buds is shrinking; they have passed their peak. Everyone he knows is dead. He is sure this will be his final spring.

Archived comments for THE DAY LILIES
thehaven on 2005-08-01 09:45:56
Re: THE DAY LILIES
A thought provoking piece.

Well written



Author's Reply:


ON SUICIDE BOMBING (posted on: 22-07-05)
Now that it’s becoming clear that bombing and shelling Iraqi citizens (10,000-odd in the past two years) swells the number of suicide attacks on coalition citizens, shouldn’t we label our troops suicide bombers too? Suicide by proxy, that is, minus the immediate element of bravery.

ON SUICIDE BOMBING

Suicide bombers are easily found
Some assembly's required, but they're there on the ground
Though it's technically tricky to put them on trial
Because even their smallest components smell vile.

If we can't try their parents, then why not their teachers?
Surround the whole building and drag out the preachers
Or, failing that, get the bits, rudely parade 'em
As they do to our brave lads when we invade 'em.

Archived comments for ON SUICIDE BOMBING
shadow on 2005-07-22 17:51:15
Re: ON SUICIDE BOMBING
Very thought-provoking poem, with a lot of anger coming through. I am puzzled too - if smuggling a bomb onto a train to kill innocent people is evil and despicable and beyond the pale (which it is, no argument about that) - why is flying overhead and dropping a bomb from a great height onto innocent people somehow okay?

Author's Reply:

Corin on 2005-07-23 15:59:38
Re: ON SUICIDE BOMBING
Simon,

Very good use of rhyme and irony in this. I don't understand why Tony Blair refuses to accept that his policy on Palestine and Iraq is the direct cause of these attacks. I do think that he is a moral politician, He seems to be twisting himself into knots to avoid the accusations of his own conscience.

David

Author's Reply:

Simon on 2005-07-24 02:41:21
Re: ON SUICIDE BOMBING
Thanks, David. Blair seems to have a heart and a brain, unlike Bush, but maybe the problem is that when you find you've made a colossal mistake you can't admit it without everything collapsing, taking the Bush gang down with you, wrecking US/UK ties,
enraging the army and the Muslims--and ending your own career. It must be agony for him to follow the Bush line of never changing anything or firing anyone--because that would imply that you should have done it earlier. It's a head-scratcher.

Simon

Author's Reply:


THE NEW TEN COMMANDMENTS (posted on: 04-07-05)
With the Bush and Co. so eager to post the Ten Commandments everywhere, some slight revision might be needed to make them acceptable to all Americans.

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF CORPORATE AMERICA

1. THOU SHALT HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME
2. THOU SHALT WORSHIP ME IN EVERY GRAVEN IMAGE
3. THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THE NAME OF WEALTH THY GOD IN VAIN
4. REMEMBER THE SABBATH DAY: REST NOT FROM BUYING AND SELLING
5. DISHONOUR THY FATHER AND MOTHER, FOR THEY HAVE OTHER GODS THAN ME
6. THOU SHALT KILL FOR ME
7. THOU SHALT COMMIT ADULTERY, BUYING MANY GIFTS
8. THOU SHALT STEAL TO BOOST THE WEALTH OF BOTH SELLER AND BUYER
9. THOU SHALT LIE TO THE GLORY OF MY NAME
10. THOU SHALT KEEP UP WITH THE JONESES AND SURPASS THEM,

FOR EVER AND EVER, WEALTH WITHOUT END, AMEN.

Archived comments for THE NEW TEN COMMANDMENTS
RoyBateman on 2005-07-04 11:42:23
Re: THE NEW TEN COMMANDMENTS
Humour? Sounds pretty damn realistic to me! Seriously, a good sarcastic laugh - but it's that wealth creation (undoubtedly real, if not evenly distributed) that makes the US the destination of choice of most of the world's peoples - if they could all get in, there wouldn't be room to sit down. Oddly, isn't the US church-going rate about 50%? In Britain, it's under 7% and falling steadily...mmmm. Quite a puzzle! I suppose it proves that Americans worship "God" and mammon simultaneously.

Author's Reply:

Simon on 2005-07-04 13:48:21
Re: THE NEW TEN COMMANDMENTS
Thanks, Roy. You know what I think it is about Americans? They honestly feel lucky, that God is on their side, and that, if they're not quite millionnaires yet, they soon will be. That's how they can worship themselves and keep the big wheels of commerce and stock market gambling whizzing round.

Maybe you British (and us Canucks) would start going back to church if the preachers were multi-millionnaires and we found our churchgoing was making us rich.

Simon Leigh

Author's Reply:


ON WRITING WORKSHOPS (posted on: 01-10-04)
This writing stuff is hard! Especially when you can't stop the doggerel from coming at night when you're trying to sleep.

We're told that talent can't be bought
Or sold; we'll have to earn it.
We're told great writing can't be taught;
Untrue: the smart can learn it.

''Write what you know'' the teachers say
Implying that we're not too bright.
But why be boring? Some of you may
Learn, and then know what you write.


Archived comments for ON WRITING WORKSHOPS
Elfstone on 2004-10-02 16:46:18
Re: ON WRITING WORKSHOPS
Only just found this Simon, it's good ; short and pithy and says some wise things about this business we're all involved in. I'm surprised you have had no response - it deserves better. Well written. Elfstone.

Author's Reply:

Romany on 02-02-2006
ON WRITING WORKSHOPS
Hear hear (here here? Always gets me, that one!) VEry astute observation about the writing bug and all that means.

Author's Reply:


NIGHT SCRAWLERS (posted on: 24-09-04)
They really tick me off, these guys. I just wrote this in ten hot minutes.

NIGHT SCRAWLERS By their works ye shall know them Driving late you might catch one cold working in silence. Unlike the bold wolf howling, pissing his territory's bounds these young men do their cowardly rounds armed with a broad-tipped squeaker pen. They scribble their weird tag and then scuttle on adding to every ad to every poster, good or bad. On fences, walls, signs, scrawl their part as if, by signing a work of art they make it theirs. (None of them could with spray cans create half-way good graffiti.) No, they know the name is all that counts in the artistic game: all works of art are worth the same till you factor in the artist's fame. And what we may see as loveliness to them is just a vacant mess while something hideous but signed by them is what they have in mind. Our brand-new wooden fence—we adore it but for them, it's asking for it.
Archived comments for NIGHT SCRAWLERS
ritawrites on 2004-09-24 06:01:55
Re: NIGHT SCRAWLERS
at least you’re spared our paan (betel leaf) spitters – a good read

Author's Reply:

maryxmas on 2004-09-24 06:29:04
Re: NIGHT SCRAWLERS
A social problem well-tackled here! Good poem.

Luv Linda XX

Author's Reply:

Bradene on 2004-09-24 06:42:06
Re: NIGHT SCRAWLERS
One hardly dares state ones opinion here, but suffice to say Great poem Love Valx

Author's Reply:

Elfstone on 2004-09-26 14:45:20
Re: NIGHT SCRAWLERS
That's a good ten minutes-worth Simon! Just one little thing, if I may be fussy: I would drop the "home" from the first line. The rhythm would be neater. Good social comment this. Elfstone.

Author's Reply:

Simon on 2004-09-27 08:26:19
Re: NIGHT SCRAWLERS
Thanks for your comment and your tip. I took out "Home" and it's better. Keep up the fussiness!

Simon

Author's Reply:

Leila on 2004-09-29 18:27:52
Re: NIGHT SCRAWLERS
Enjoyed this one...L

Author's Reply:

jay12 on 2004-09-29 20:21:22
Re: NIGHT SCRAWLERS
Nice poem, I like social comment.

Jay

Author's Reply: