A soft day.
It is a soft day, as my Irish friends would put it. The rain is so fine that it defies gravity and soaks you from the underside. It is a warm southern rain, having travelled from the Azores or other places exotic, to be deposited on the west of Scotland. The lochs and hills blend, like a watercolour made by a nervous amateur painter and the Fifers are invisible.
Yesterday I went in search of them. After putting in a prudent first reef on the main and with full Genoa, we cut a fine dash down the Clyde to photograph those beautiful boats racing around Great Cumbrae island. The wind fell light before I could get there and the day became soft. Was that a glimpse of them blending into the drizzle? Tomorrow sun is forecast.
“Science is essentially organised scepticism. I spend my life trying to prove my work wrong or look for alternative explanations for my results. It’s called the Popperian condition of falsifiability. I hope I’m wrong. But the science points to my not being wrong. We can rightly call the situation we’re in an unprecedented emergency. We urgently need to do – and I mean actually do – something radical to avert a global catastrophe. But I don’t think we will. I think we’re fucked. I asked one of the most rational, brightest scientists I know – a scientist working in this area, a young scientist, a scientist in my lab – if there was just one thing he had to do about the situation we face, what would it be? His reply? “Teach my son how to use a gun.”
This is an edited extract from Ten Billion, by Stephen Emmott (Penguin, £6.99)
“Stand, and throw down your weapons,” he demanded, covering the sorry looking bunch with his pre-Fall fowling piece.
Slowly the trio stood up and turned lazily to face the line of Monks. Trez stepped forwards, her bright smile glowing.
“How nice,” she said, “to send us an escort, and such lovely clean boys.”
To his intense embarrassment the young man with the gun found that he had allowed Trez to take hold of his arm and gaze up innocently at him while pressing her naked hip against his cassock. It came as a shock when the tip of Hal’s knife pricked delicately under his ear and Hal spoke quietly at his side.
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“Little miss Muffet sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey,
Then came a spider which sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away.”
Persephone Muffet (Pet) was on her way to the T.U.F.F.E.T. (Terre-formed Universal Friendship Facility, Extraterrestrial Terminal) in her best gear. The boots were mid calf with a cheeky little fringe, pointy toes and three inch heels. Quite conservative really, on long legs topped by a cute mid-thigh mini in alligator skin plastic.
Her pert pear-shaped breasts were tinted a fetching shade of blue, but of course her belly button was decorously covered by her cummerbund; she wasn’t that kind of a girl! She thought her hair was a bit ’last year’, but big hair was still in, it was just the beads? Anyhow she was looking real ’ice’ and ready to meet some sophisticated Adam from the colonies.
Jolo and Spam, her best girl buddies were there already and after sprinkle of stardust and a mutual complement session Persephone coded for a private booth.
It was sort of spooky inside, just a faint blue light and that dead air no sound after the doors sealed. She never got it straight, did they come here or she go there? Bernard her brother was such a data-pusher, always going on about matter transporters, chronographic anomalies and stuff. Still it would be nice to know.
Something shifted in the gloom and Pet gave an involuntary shudder of anticipation. Would he, it had to be a ‘He‘, be ice? Hopefully tall, silver skin, wild eyes; she could always hype up the details for Jolo and Spam.
He seemed kind of short, all bundled up on the far side of the seat, difficult to see. Pet reached forward, palmed the light, and yipped with shock. Bad manners! He was wearing a really sad red number, sort of candy striped with a thin white line. Red was so last year and as for stripes!
Well this was a far-Adam from the colonies for sure, even so! Pet was just choked, but determined to be sophisticated there was no polite way to leave until the booth timed out, so she gave a weak giggle, hooked one long leg over the other and said,
“Hi!” Sqiffle sqiff noises issued from the translator, then,
“Hello I am a friend”.
“Yes of course you are” said Pet, “we don’t have to go through that stuff. Tell me what you do, what’s ice back home, wherever that is?” Splurge, splat squiffle said the translator, then,
“I’m sorry I don’t understand your question. Please tell me if you are male of female?” Wow, that’s more like it, Pet thought, and gave him her best sultry look.
“I’m female, come and sit down beside me” Pet said, giving an encouraging wriggle.
“What happened next was yuk!” said Pet later, giving her friends Jolo and Spam the juice of her meeting. “He stepped over, all eight hairy legs, crazy red eyes, fangs and all, then I got to look at his socks! Well I screamed and punched the emergency get out.”
“I’d have done the same” said Jolo.
“Me too” said Spam “ Green socks, how gross!”
‘Child of Ictis‘ which is evolving slowly. This is the last one of the series ‘After the Fall’ and so the most difficult to write. An understatement! It is almost as if the characters were happy where I left them at the end of the last book and don’t want to get up and go? Hal has been banished, where as Rame and Ros are just getting fat.
(example Chpt) INTERESTING TIMES
The two men made an odd pair. Rame had changed little in the sixteen years since he hunted the Talisman of Ictis with Hallivick Baddon. There was a scattering of white in his long pony-tail of curling black hair. His powerfully musculature was hidden under fat which fooled some people into thinking he had become soft and domesticated.
Rame’s companion Findo Gask was a contrast. The man’s skinny physique seemed barely capable of holding him upright. His face looked to have melted, coalescing into lumps around chin and mouth and leaving craters under the eyes. Yet there was an intensity about the man; somewhere in that wizened frame a fury boiled.
The Tavern was hot and appallingly noisy, with a raucous screeching that passed for music coming from the Gleemen in the corner.
The location, right next to the Market, meant it was full to bursting with drunken Packmen arguing and proclaiming the quality of their wares. A foul smell of unwashed bodies, vomit, wet dog and spilt beer, all combined to make Rame feel at home.
He had to admit that under the ruthless regulation of the High Priestess the countryside was peaceful and some might claim, civilised. The hamlets, isolated smallholdings, and Earth Mother Freyfarms, were all better run than the Trading towns that was for sure.
But Rame had been raised in a rambunctious male dominated town, barely constrained by the Goddess in those far off days and to him this anarchy meant freedom.
Rame and Findo Gask sat at a table next to a blackened oak pillar, embellished with charms and the names of fickle lovers. Its bulk vanished into the gloom of beams supporting the roof and a clutter of nets, brooms and dead things in cages. Behind them was an open door to the kitchen and a stone stairway, route to the Bawd house above. Years ago Rame and Hal had sat in this self-same spot planning their Talisman hunting quest.
Rame was argumentative and Findo seemingly drunk, his pale rheumy eyes watering, thinning white hair damp with sweat.
“Combing the four corners of the land and running after every rumour of this heretic is all very well for you,” said Rame, taking a long pull from his beer. “After all you are a servant of Ictis, they trained you and so you are bound to take up their quest.”
Findo made a disgusted noise deep in his throat and spat on the floor.
“I’m no putrefying servant, I‘m a free man.” He grabbed a passing serving-wench by the skirt and liberated the drink she carried.
“But you are going; so if it’s not for the Priests, or the Sisterhood, then why?” shouted Rame over the din.
“Yes, yes, I admit that I owe Veryan a debt, my life, as it happens, but that isn’t the reason,” said Findo, speaking of the frail man clinging to the remnants of power at Ictis, defended by a few surviving Swords.
The crowd was getting thicker and more boisterous. A couple of arguing Packmen backed into the table where Findo and Rame sat, causing it to lurch spilling beer.
“Mind our drinks you nameless cretin,” snarled Findo stabbing the Packmen in the leg with his needle.
The man turned, indignantly clutching his thigh and swearing, but the cold look in Rame’s eyes stopped his mouth and he vanished into the crowd.
“Story-telling is no way to spend a life for someone who once was a fighting man, you agree?” Asked Findo. Rame looked embarrassed.
“But I do it because it feeds us and it’s what Ros expects me to do.” Rame protested, raising his square thick fingered hands.
“We are told by the holy Sisters it is all the will of the Goddess.” Findo sneered. “Just think a moment how we live. We fill our allocated roles. Those black crows of the Earth Mother Cult, Guildsman, Packman, Artisan, Peasant, Sheela, Serf, Mesta, and even the Gribbin.” Findo was banging the table to accentuate each word, his anger growing.
“What about the damn Nyth-an-Hager?” Rame muttered, but Findo didn’t hear him in the din.
“Of course, the Sisters of the Cult tell us we live in the best of all possible Worlds, everything is arranged to their advantage. Look how they live on the Freyfarms.”
Findo ground his empty bowl into the tabletop, his lined face flushed. He looked up and locked eyes with Rame.
“I go to find a lost Hero of our age. So, do you come or do you stay bleating with these Mesta?”
Rame laughed good-naturedly, his piggy eyes almost hidden in rolls of hard fat.
“No need to call me a sheep-lover, I’m coming for the craic and to recall old times, I just wanted to know about you!” he said stretching his massive shoulders,
The noise, that had been increasing past all bearing, reached a crescendo. Someone threw the first punch and the room exploded into a free-for-all. A surging inextricable mess of cursing, laughing, fighting humanity, furniture, bottles and fists all in use, staggered back and forth.
The cooks dashed from the kitchen, brandishing a variety of fearsome cutlery. The giant Arbitrator from the Bawd house ran down the stairs and waded in with enthusiasm. The brawl was violent but for the most part good natured yet Rame felt uneasy. He peered through the chaos of fighting men and caught a glimpse of Amazons at the doors. Rame grabbed Findo and pulled the small man to the floor. Findo hissed with rage.
“Put that damn needle away, we have to get out of here now. Stay low!” Bent almost double, Rame barged his way through the press of ignorant fighting men, aiming for the kitchen. Findo followed in his wake, skipping and dodging like a reluctant dinghy in a rough sea.
Ros felt a chill of apprehension when the first squad of Amazons loped by her cottage on their way into town. They were a common sight in twos and threes, arrogant and pushy, picking fights with men. It was said they even seized the younger handsome ones for sport. Whatever their fate, the young men never returned.
“Those filth are in battle order, up to no good for sure.” Ros muttered, rinsing the garden soil from her hands and drying them on her dress.
In the loft the air was warm and stale. Chinks of daylight illuminated dust motes disturbed by the draught from the room below. Ros eased her hips through the trapdoor.
“Too much good living my girl, You’re getting fat!” Stepping with care, rafter-to-rafter she reached the hunting bow and its quiver full of arrows, hanging on a peg driven into the ridge timbers.
Tales of Michael the spurred
The Princess and the E-type
After Michael explained to the King that the Dragon had given up its bad ways and was going to come and live with him just outside town and flattening the silver E-type really wasn‘t their fault as it had run into them on a blind bend, (Boris should have been wearing his spectacles) the population calmed down and the King declared a Holiday.
About a month later, when Michael had put away his sword and armour and settled down to baking bread and muffins, (he did a rare trade in muffins as every one wanted to feed them to the Dragon) the local Witch paid him a visit.
“Good morning Michael” she said.
“Morning, he said, sorry I can’t shake hands I’m covered in flour.”
“That’s all right, she said, I have just come to see the Dragon and bring you a present.” So she put the lidded basket she was carrying on a chair and went out to chat with the Dragon who was coiled up snoozing under a tree in the back yard.
Later that day, when the baking was done and he had washed, Michael became curious as to what was in the basket. He opened the lid and out stepped a cat! The cat stretched languorously, sat and licked one honey-blonde paw and gazed up at Michael with her serious green eyes.
“I’ll call you Princess” said Michael. So he did.
And they all lived happily ever after. (even Boris!)
PS there is a story about Michael the spurred going sailing, but I’ll tell it to you another time
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