Friday Flash Fiction 660 – Temple

Jamie tried to saunter into the house nonchalantly; his mother was in the kitchen, busy cooking, stirring something.

‘Hi Mum.’

He opened the fridge and grabbed a can of coke and a hunk of cheese, his face hidden by the door as his mother turned away from the saucepan.

’Good day at school?’ his mother smiled.

Jamie used to hate those words, but now it was a novelty after the various lockdowns and home schooling; they were both glad when schools opened again.

His mother’s smile soon faded when he closed the fridge door.

‘Don’t eat too much, dinner’s nearly… Jamie, your face, what have you done?’

‘Chill Mother, everyone’s having it done…’

‘I don’t care about everyone else, what on earth will your father say?’

‘The swelling will go down in a couple of days… have we got any ibroo… paracetamol?’

‘Oh Jamie, it looks so painful.’

‘They gave us a local anaesthetic… I think it’s wearing off now.’

‘But why, why did you do it, I thought we discussed all this, you know it’s irreversible and how did you get it done without our consent?’

‘Malc knew a place.’

‘I might have guessed he would be involved; you didn’t have to go along with it, you know your father was totally against it.’

‘Like he’s an expert.’

‘He is a doctor.’

A gynaecologist, he doesn’t do heads… I’m going up to my room to see if it’s worked.’

‘Perhaps when you look in the mirror you will realise just what you have done…’

In his bedroom Jamie did not bother to look in the mirror but headed straight for the computer. He had soon logged in and found what he was looking for. He let out a whoop of excitement followed by a cry of shock as he realised moving his head was painful. But there it was, his history homework essay already saved as a word document. Jamie’s thoughts had been transmitted from the implant in his temple; his essay ‘written’ as he walked home with Mad Malc after their visit to Malc’s uncle’s clinic.

He peered closer, rubbing his eyes. How did that thought get into his essay. They had been told they would need to concentrate to get the best results. Oh well, his essay would sound quite intelligent if he deleted the banter with Malc and those other thoughts.

Jamie was tired the next morning, what with the grilling by his parents and them insisting on Facetiming with Aunty Surita, the brain surgeon. When he did get to bed he could only lie on one side. There was a bit of blood on the pillow, but when he looked in the mirror the bruising seemed to be the biggest problem. But hey, when he and Malc walked into school everyone was going to be so impressed.

Malc wasn’t at the school gates. Jamie’s phone buzzed, there was a message from Malc.’ Man my head really hurts, I’m staying in bed and how come your essay and everything else inside your idiotic brain has popped up on my phone?’

Jamie put his phone away, another one of Malc’s jokes no doubt.

If he wanted attention he was certainly getting it, even before he got to the hand gel station. His hand wandered to his face and he pulled his mask up higher, but the other kids were more interested in their phones than his face.

As he walked down the corridor everyone was calling out remarks.

 ‘Jamie Brainbox, we can read your mind.’

The girls were giggling and his form teacher was heading his way, calling out

‘Social distancing everybody… what IS going on? Distance, mask on…’

Alia came and stood loyally in front of Jamie, but her expression as she looked at his face told him he had not succeeded in impressing her.

‘God Jamie, what have you done, you look awful and your thoughts are being sent to everyone you know…’

Friday Flash Fiction – Back Home

I got back from the greengrocers’, dumped the shopping in the kitchen, put the kettle on and went in the front room to fetch the vase for the bunch of daffodils. Geoff was lounging on the sofa watching the news channel.

‘I’ll have a cup of tea if you’ve got the kettle on.’

‘Okay, I’ll just put the daffs in water.’

Back in the kitchen I put the vase under the tap and turned it on too fast, splashing my face and soaking my sleeves, but the cold water shock was nothing to the cold realisation that paralysed me and left me incapable of turning off the tap. Geoff couldn’t be sitting on the sofa, he had been dead for five months.

Shakily turning off the tap and clutching a towel to my face I turned to the kitchen door. It must have been an hallucination. Since Geoff died I had not had any funny feelings, no sense of his presence. Not like my friend, whose late husband seemed to have turned into some sort of household god, steering her to the right drawers and cupboards to find things, being ‘present’ when she watched their favourite programmes. If Geoff was a manifestation it served me right for thinking she was going out of her mind…

I forced myself to go back to the front room, but even before I lowered the towel and opened my eyes I could hear that familiar heavy breathing and humming as he did the crossword and followed the news updates.

Cathy, what’s the matter, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.’

‘I have, I mean I know you’re not real, perhaps I should have gone for counselling. I told everyone I was fine, after all there are families in this pandemic who have suffered far worse and lots of wives have lost husbands.’

Cathy, what are you talking about, you’re not going down with dementia are you?’

‘Geoff, there’s no easy way to say this, you died five months ago.’

‘Ha ha, very funny, I know it was scary, me being carted off in the ambulance yesterday. Hey lucky me, it was only one of my asthma attacks, negative for covid.’

Six months ago he had been carted off in an ambulance. It was covid, but he was lucky, no intensive care though I couldn’t go and see him. They let him come home, needed the bed no doubt, to isolate and continue recuperating; me to dial 999 if there were any problems.

That’s how I knew for sure he had died, not unrecognisable in hospital covered in tubes, me trying to talk to him via Facetime on my ipad… he was at home when it happened.

We had just had dinner. Geoff was catching up with the news and telling the politicians what they should be doing. I went in the kitchen to tidy up and make coffee, when I came back in I sensed the silence straight away. There he was, crossword still in hand, head back, silent, switched off.

Instinctively I turned off the television, thinking he would not want to be watching it now. Geoff had said when he came out of hospital, so relieved just to be home ‘Now don’t you worry if I die in my sleep, you know what they said about my heart, it’s a good way to go, better than those poor buggers on machines in intensive care. And I don’t want you trying CPR on me, you couldn’t do it right on that dummy when we did our first aid course.’

So I didn’t do anything.

‘Geoff, you did die, right there, five months ago, do you remember?’

Silly question, how could he remember if he was dead and why was I talking to a figment of my imagination… why was he talking back?

‘Cathy, if you think I am a ghost, come and feel me, solid as ever, too solid you were always telling me.’

He held out his hand and for the first time I moved close to him. His hand was warm and firm. Tentatively I put my hand on his chest, he felt real and his chest was moving, he was breathing. Five months ago I would have given anything to have him back irritating me with his breathing and humming as I tried to read my book. If he had walked back in the door then I would have hugged him… But now I needed to get away, this was the laws of nature turned upside down or I was going insane. I pulled my hands away and retreated to the doorway.

‘Geoff, I know you are dead, I was here when you died, Andrew has the DVD of the live streaming of your funeral at the crematorium, though I suppose that isn’t proof. Your ashes are in the cupboard in your office; I’m sorry, we haven’t been able to get together to scatter them, still in lockdown. I have your death certificate… and those clothes you’re wearing went to the charity shop months ago.’

He just laughed. ‘Well it seems I am alive and well, you obviously need a breath of fresh air to clear your head, where shall we go for our walk this afternoon?’

A walk outside, that would prove he was real, perhaps the past five months had been a nightmare; that would be easy to prove. I dashed out of the room. Geoff’s coat was not hanging on its usual peg. I stumbled upstairs and into our bedroom, his side of the wardrobe was empty. I dashed into what he used to call his office; the desk was empty. I opened the corner cabinet and the large grey cardboard tube with his ashes was still there. In the bureau was the box of sympathy cards and the neat file of paperwork Andrew had helped me sort out; inside the first plastic slip was the death certificate.  

My knees nearly gave way as I started down the stairs and Geoff sauntered out of the front room.

‘I’m just going to check my emails before lunch.’

I couldn’t let him go upstairs. Andrew had taken Geoff’s computer, I had my ipad, I didn’t want it. But the fact that Geoff couldn’t check his emails was the least of my problems. The Geoff who couldn’t be real was solid and could walk and talk. If we went strolling down the road, what on earth would the neighbours say?

Friday Flash Fiction 1000 – Us and Them

The little girl stood on tiptoe and peered over the stout cliff top fence at the sparkling blue sea.

‘I wish I could go in the sea Mummy.’

‘It’s much too cold.’

But there are people swimming in the sea.’

‘Beach Bubble people are used to it, you wouldn’t like the horrible salty water going  in your mouth, Sally, the swimming pool is much better for swimming.’

The sun shone in Sally’s eyes, taking her to a dreamland. The sun warmed her face. She loved being up on the cliff top, but now she was tall enough to see over the fence she could not stop asking questions.

‘I wish I could go on the beach, what is sand like, Mummy?’

‘Horrible, you can’t walk on it properly, the wind blows it in your mouth.’

‘Well the Beach Bubble people look like they are having fun playing in the sand.’

‘That’s because they have nowhere else to play. You wouldn’t like to live down there, especially in winter.’

Why don’t we live down there?’

‘Because we’re the Cliff Clan, we live up here and they live down there.’

‘Why can’t we visit them?’

Sally’s mother sighed. ‘How many times have I explained darling, we have to keep separate; them, us, the Forest Folk, T’othersiders, Town Team, City Crowd… You sing that song at school, you should know by now, but there are more bubbles than even I can remember. Besides, we don’t need to visit them, we can meet them all on Zoomtime.’

‘Tell me what it was like when you were six.’

Sally’s mother smiled at her daughter, the child never tired of her stories.

‘Well we couldn’t go to school, no one could come to our house and when we went outside we had to wear a great big hot suit and a very heavy helmet. But we hardly went outside because there was nowhere to go; the shops had all closed down before I was born.’

‘How did you get your food?’

‘Once a week a helicopter flew over our road and dropped a great big crate on a parachute. My Daddy was very important as he was in charge of unpacking the crate and making sure each house got their box of rations. Out the door he would go in his suit with his air tank and mask and yellow gloves, then deliver each box to the doorsteps. So you see how lucky you are.’

‘And I only have to have an injection once a year?’

‘Yes, we had to have a great big needle in our bottom every four months, when the yellow van came round with the scary robodocs to give us our medicheck.’

Sally squealed in horrified delight.

‘How come we have real people doctors, what happened to the robodocs?’

‘I’ll tell you about that when you are older. Now do you know what Daddy and I have planned for your sixth birthday treat tomorrow? We’re all going on the train.’

‘The train, the real goods train with the special carriage on the back?’

‘Yes, we have lucky tickets to ride in the observation saloon.’

‘Where are we going to go?’

‘Wait and see.’

The next morning Sally tripped happily ahead of her parents as they walked to Cliffton Station. She had never been inside the old building, let alone stood on the platform. From the footbridge they often watched the long solar powered train glide silently into the station to deliver supplies for the Cliffton shops.

Standing on the platform, the train looked much bigger and they had to help Sally up the steps into the carriage. They said hello to the other passengers, who all knew it was Sally’s birthday, everyone knew each other in Cliffton and they were happy to let Sally’s family have the best seat facing the viewing window at the end of the carriage. They glided smoothly out of the station looking backwards down the long snaking line. The platform passed by, they went under the bridge, houses disappeared into the distance, then suddenly it went dark. Sally gripped her parents’ hands.

It’s okay,’ said Daddy ‘we’re just going through the tunnel, leaving Cliffton and going into the forest.’

Sally stared as if her eyes would pop out, so many trees and then an open field, people were waving at the train, others were riding horses. The little girl was excited to be going somewhere new at last. The train started to slow down and a platform slid alongside as they stopped. A sign said Forest Halt.

‘Are we getting out here?’

‘No, no, they’re just dropping off supplies for the Forest Folk.’

The train started again and Daddy pointed left at a huge stretch of flat water with colourful boats floating idly.

‘Lakeland, where your Aunty Kate lives.’

Soon the train stopped again at a lovely little building covered in flowers.

‘Can we get out here and visit Aunty Kate?’

‘No darling, but you can tell her on Zoomtime we have seen her station, she’s the station master and plants all these lovely tubs and baskets of flowers.’

All too soon the train gathered speed, the lake was left behind and they went through another tunnel. The scenery began to look familiar; Sally thought she glimpsed a flash of blue sea in the distance, then more and more houses appeared and very soon platforms slid alongside them. Sally felt a catch in her throat and her eyes welled up; even before she saw the sign she realised where they were.

‘Here we are ‘ said Daddy in a jolly voice ‘home again.’

Sally looked up at the yellow and blue sign ‘Welcome to Cliffton-on-Sea’.

Friday Flash Fiction – 460 – Earthrise

Susan switched on her ageing ipad, checked the time, pressed the Facetime link and the familiar face appeared.

‘Hello Mother, how are you, what have you been up to this week?’

His greeting never varied and each week she would rehearse fascinating snippets of news and intelligent comments on world events. But when it came to the moment her mind went blank; there was not a lot to tell and even less that Guy and his family would be interested in.

Three little faces popped in and out of the screen, mostly upside down. Her son adjusted the camera so she could see her three grandsons tackling their new assault course; the latest ploy by their mother to direct some of their cooped up energy. Bouncing off the walls took on a new meaning in their confined home, it was so hard for parents not to be able to take them out.

The assault course was such a success they could not be prised away to come and talk to her; after nearly a year it was only natural that little ones would not be interested, they had their own lives now. It was a marvel that she could see and hear them so easily, across so many miles, but she found herself envying instead of pitying her sister with the daughter from hell. The girl had turned up back home a year ago, with three children from different fathers and no money and had not left until it was too late to leave.

Susan was proud of her son and all he had achieved and admiring of her daughter-in-law who had adapted so well to their strange new life, but the two further years until his posting was up seemed interminable.

Who would have thought when Guy was so young, devouring books about space and science in preference to children’s stories… perhaps it was not such a surprise, but obsession was not enough, he had the brains and ambition to achieve his dreams. Still she could not quite believe that her son was leader of the first Moon colony, IMC, International Moon Colony. Seeing the boys now, totally adapted to zero gravity, screeching with delight as they crawled along the curved ceiling of their living quarters, belied the cold fear she felt that this was a remote risky venture that only grown men should be attempting.

‘Grandma, Grandma, we can see you now.’

The camera panned round to the large porthole, through which she could see the Earth beginning to rise. It was a beautiful sight that she was privileged to see and as her grandsons floated and jostled around the porthole it was some comfort that they knew where they had come from, where they belonged.

Friday Flash Fiction – Click and Collect

I logged in on my dashboard computer – Friday 15th January 2040. I was getting a new work experience person today. It didn’t matter what day of the week they started, we worked seven days a week and every day was the same, though today was going to be rather different. Their name was Hope, sixteen years old, no idea if they would be a boy, girl or other, I would have to wait and see how or if they self identified. Dressed in biohaz suits it was difficult to tell, so it didn’t much matter. What sort of name was Hope; parents must have been optimistic, must have been optimistic in the first place to have a baby in 2024.

‘Good morning Hope, welcome to the team, what the hell made you want to try this job?’

‘To get away from home, get outside.’

‘They all say that, outside’s not all it’s cracked up to be, every day’s much the same, but I have to tell you we have an NR7 to deal with first today, did they tell you about that in your on line induction?’

‘Nope, don’t think so, wasn’t really listening…’

‘I thought not, well you can back out now, it might not be very nice.’

‘No way, I’d have to go to the back of the jobs queue.’

‘NR7 means No Response for seven days, weekly food parcel still on front path and housebot has set off the alarm – no signs of life detected. We have to go in, it’s almost certain resident is dead, probably of old age.’

‘Whaat…’ came the gruff exclamation through their mask voice box.

‘I’ve seen a few cases. Rich relatives paid or bribed for them to be exempt from the euthanasia programme, unkindest thing they could have done, but I guess years ago they thought this would all be over and Granny would come round for tea again.’

‘Why would you want your Granny to come round, when you could see her on Omegazoom?’

‘So she could play with her grandchildren… oh never mind, let’s get on with this. According to our records all her family predeceased her, otherwise they would have notified us that she was not responding.’

Hope gazed out of the window of my solar powered vehicle as we turned into the ‘Granny’s’ street.

‘I’ve never been down a street before, we live in a tower block, those gardens look so pretty, how do they get them all the same?’

‘Gardenbots, programmed to create the sort of garden the average person wants to look out on. Ah, here we are, Click and Collect food box still out on the front path, regulation two metres from the front door. Only time residents are allowed out; to click on the box, collect it and take it indoors, but obviously you know all that.’

Yes, I always volunteer to go out in the corridor and collect ours.’

‘NR7 is the only time we are allowed to enter a private home, I had to sign out the entry device, let’s hope it works.’

I pointed and pressed the button and it showed entry code overridden. I pushed at the front door, but it didn’t give easily; we soon saw why and I thought my other half had a lot of pot plants. It was like a jungle, not that I have ever seen a jungle. Through the leaves emerged a four foot angular housebot. It was no use asking it what had happened, one of the outdated models that didn’t speak, programmed only for house maintenance, not companionship. It didn’t need to speak, I knew at this very moment it would be signalling back to base, alien human life detected. I quickly tapped my wrist phone to register with base my arrival here.

‘Okay Hope, I’ll go first into each room, starting with the front room.’

Obviously the housebot was programmed to stay out of the little old fashioned sitting room; in the corner was the skeleton of a tree, beneath it a carpet of dead pine needles and under that thick dusty layer could just be discerned some grey shapes that had once been Christmas parcels.

Hope pointed in horror as if this might be the body we were looking for.

‘What is thaat?’

‘It was once a Christmas Tree.’

‘A what?’

‘Before your time, a relic from the last Christmas of 2020.’

I felt a lump in my throat. I remembered that last Christmas. We never did go round to Granny’s to have a  ‘proper Christmas when things are better’ – it seems I was not the only child who didn’t get Granny’s presents that year.

We moved through the kitchen, all neat and tidy; the housebot would have cleared away any clues as to when the resident had last eaten.  Out in a little conservatory was another housebot free area, the plants had run riot and on a table covered in cobwebs, a closer inspection revealed a half built Lego set, like I used to play with. But the smiling faces of the Lego people could not be seen under the thick coat of dust.

‘Wouldn’t she have been a bit old to be playing with Lego?’

‘I imagine that was the last time her grandchildren came round, she left the Lego out ready for them to play with next time, but next time never came.’

But Hope wasn’t listening, they had wrenched open the filthy patio door to gaze in wonder at the back garden and it was a wonderful display of colour to cheer us up. The rich relatives must have paid out an endowment long ago for a personal gardenbot.

Reluctantly I lead the way upstairs, the worst part of our job was still to come. I pushed open the bedroom door and there she was, lying tucked up in bed, the blank Omegazoom screen at an easy to see angle beside her. I wondered when was the last time she had spoken to anyone on the screen.

‘Well Hope, you should get your parents to check in to the home bidding, there will be a house and garden available in a week or so.’

‘Do you think we stand a chance, a real garden I could go out into?’

‘Tell them to get in quick before everyone else hears about it.’

Friday Flash Fiction – Flat Earth Society

Vanden came back a hero, nobody had flown that high into upper space before. Even as he negotiated the precarious landing he was planning his next take off; he had to discover more, find out if his amazing theory was correct. But would the high council even believe him, let alone invest in another skyblast and a three person expedition. First he must address The Academy, his safe return did not in itself prove anything and it would take a while for his team of experts to interpret the telescopic recordings.

The ageing president spoke to the learned gathering first. ‘The fact that Space Chief Marshall Vanden has returned is proof indeed that upper space is finite, otherwise he would surely have been propelled further and further into infinity, never to return.’

‘Your honour,’ the vice president stood and bowed, a tight smile on her face ‘our rocketgalleons are programmed for reversal after 35% of crew sustainable capacity has been used, but the magnetron telescope saw far yonder with no sign of an ending.’ She nodded to Vanden to speak before the president could utter more foolish words.

‘Your honour, our ancestors thought our earth was finite, they feared to climb any mountain lest they topple over the other side into hell. Then a few brave women climbed the highest peak and what was on the other side, but more land stretching endlessly in every direction. Each generation has travelled, hunting, roaming, farming, multiplying so that their children in turn set forth to find new land. There is always new land and always will be, we are not a table top held up by a giant, but an infinite earth that I saw from upper space; our land has no edges, no corners, no curves, just beautiful undulations and landscapes of every hue. And what of the depth? How far down have we mined for the precious elements we need for our cities and our galleons? If it were possible I believe we could excavate down and down and never reach rock bottom. And so it is with upper space, infinite in height as the earth is infinite in depth.’

There was a cheer from at least half the gathered assembly and a young man stood up. ‘Should not the mind of Academecians be as infinite as creation? How high must be the mega stars that give us heat and light. Vanden has not even approached them, otherwise his rocketgalleon would have melted.’

Another voice called out cynically ‘Stars, did you count how many or shall you tell us there is an infinite number?’

‘They are infinite, but stars are not all that is beyond our reach. The magnetron detected reflected light from orbs, orbs of rock and land; I believe above us is a universe so different that the impossible is possible. Round earths with an atmosphere surrounding them, the same as the mighty layer of air that blankets us and perhaps…’

No one was agreeing now, everyone was on their feet exclaiming, gesticulating, but Vanden was determined to finish what he had to say.

‘…perhaps on these round earths there might be life, even intelligent life like us.’

Now there was uproar, the vice president pleaded for silence, it behove the dignity of The Academy to let the president answer.

‘Now we know for sure that the mind of our poor brother, our esteemed Space Chief Marshall, has sadly been affected and if he is not insane he surely speaks blasphemy. How could there be life on a ball of earth… people? They would surely fall off. There is but one earth that has no end, one body of air we breath and high above us the stars that warm us and nothing else.’

The Good The Bad and The Ugly

What if the biggest computer ever designed was switched off, could it be rebooted? Earlier this year the human world was switched off for a short time and ever since, people have been trying to reboot it, while others think we should just leave it switched off.

Can we talk about Covid 19 or pandemics without mentioning countries or politics? Yes. Good things, bad things and ugly scenes have happened this year all over the world, but we might not all agree on what is good or bad, right or wrong.

Good things happened for Gaia and for a lot of people. With everything at a standstill the air was fresher, the skies bluer, people in cities could breathe and see mountains on the horizon for the first time. Wildlife thrived and found new playgrounds. If any proof was needed, this was what climate change protestors had been pleading for; why was it okay to switch everything off to save a few people, but not to save the whole planet? The harsh truth is that Covid 19 may be terrible, but it is not a threat to the human race or the planet, while accelerated climate change affects us all, including our unborn descendants. Those of us whose lives and homes remain unscathed by fire, flood and famine cannot be complacent. Covid 19 won’t destroy the human race, but it is another symptom of the way we treat the planet and other creatures and we have all been affected by it.

Can we halt rebooting and unplug our giant computer at the mains? The beginning of pandemic panic is already taking on a rosy hue in our memories. Silent roads and empty skies, no road carnage or plane crashes. Spending more time with your family, discovering you can work from home, no commuter traffic, empty office buildings with the potential to house the homeless and key workers. The Pope calls for ceasefires and peace all over the world, people are nice to each other and appreciate the forgotten workforce, the cleaners, delivers and carers. Volunteers make an unprecedented effort to help their local communities. Governments and councils, in days, bring all homeless people off the streets. There is a splurge of on line creativity, people across the globe connected.

There was also a catastrophic loss of jobs and businesses, the world of live arts and entertainment devastated. Hunger, loneliness, domestic violence and mental health problems for those isolated in cramped places. We weren’t all in it together, those who had the least had even less. Big cracks appeared to divide people over long standing issues, people started arguing over new issues such as facemasks and there were vitriolic on line comments by those certain they alone knew how to deal with a pandemic.  And nobody took any notice of the Pope’s plea.

Is there any chance our world leaders know what to do next, how to organise societies that must live with a virus that will not go away, create a new fair normal. Perhaps someone will come up with new software to change how the Big Computer runs everything. The newly unemployed will be trained to build solar powered airships and homes, grow environmentally friendly food for the whole world and boost the care sector into a respected well paid profession. Maybe this software will conveniently delete any powers that threaten the new compassionate, sustainable world norm…

Apocadystolypsian Nightmare Now

Many of us, readers and writers alike, feel as if we are in a novel. All this can’t really be happening.

Caught up in minor and major medical dramas, our whole family’s normal life had already been put on hold last month, now it seems the whole world, or at least the human race, has been put on hold by The Virus. It is mainly good news for the planet and other species, except mountain gorillas, who have been told to self isolate as they could be vulnerable.

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In my new role ( less than a fortnight ) as full time carer, the first week was spent with family still around and friends dropping in for coffee – though some were beginning to stay at home. Week Two of my confinement and everybody has to stay at home. We shouldn’t complain, there are people in war torn and flattened cities who have been confined for years, with no home, little food and bombs dropping on them.
But it is still the biggest national drama that has happened to most of us. The rules keep changing and depend on which country you live in. Those of you living in the USA will be fine as Donald Trump says it will blow over by Easter.

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Less than a month ago, on our various hospital visits, everyone was using hand gel and I’m sure the rates of norovirus have gone down, but hardly anyone wore masks. The main entrance of the largest hospital was more like an airport, buzzing with life; 24 hour Costa, shops, Marks and Spencer café and shop. On the floor below was a large restaurant packed with staff and visitors on weekdays. I was mixing with far more people than I usually do. That week we were dealing with torrential downpours and high winds; one afternoon I insisted there was no need for anyone to come out to pick me up, what could be simpler than getting on one of the frequent buses from the hospital to the railway station? On arrival at the station it turned out there were no trains to Bournemouth due to a tree down on the line at Basingstoke. Fortunately a replacement bus was soon announced and I joined the surge of commuters boarding a comfortable double decker. Every seat was taken and in the dark and rain with the windows steamed up we had no idea where we were going. We did arrive at Bournemouth railway station in less than an hour, but had been in perfect virus catching conditions.

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Now this week in Britain we are all being told to avoid public transport and keep two metres apart. Schools, restaurants and pubs are closed. We should only leave the house for certain reasons, though we don’t have to carry a permission slip yet. The rules are getting clearer, or are they? The children of key workers would still be allowed to go to school, but the list of key workers is long and which schools had enough teachers who weren’t self isolating?

But I think we understand the underlying reasoning now, it is not that the government particularly cares about your granny or the people of any age with the glibly recited underlying health conditions, it’s because the National Health Service could not cope with vast numbers of patients needing ventilators and beds in Intensive Care Units.
Statistics can never tell the whole story, most people staying home with symptoms are not being tested for the virus, so will we ever know how many? The good news is most people don’t suffer serious symptoms, the bad news is some do and when it’s bad it’s very very bad. The idea of letting nature take its course and humanity build up herd immunity to this brand new virus is certainly not being considered by the World Health Organisation, but a vaccine can’t be magically produced.

Avoidance and drastic measures are all we have, but will our societies survive the shut down of civilisation and the resultant loss of jobs? What will happen in the last chapter of the novel we all find ourselves in?
If you want some comfort reading during your confinement at home find out what may happen to humanity in the future in Three Ages of Man.

Two Many

Among the fervent discussions on how to save the planet, inevitably it has been noticed that there are a lot of people in the world; apart from humans pushing aside other species who have just as much right to exist, we are using up the earth’s resources and increasing global warming.

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‘In 1798 Thomas Robert Malthus famously predicted that short-term gains in living standards would inevitably be undermined as human population growth outstripped food production, and thereby drive living standards back toward subsistence.’
But the population has grown to numbers which probably should have caused our mass extinction by now according to Malthus. Science and technology have increased food yields and provided the means to curb reproduction. ‘… the eightfold increase in population since 1798 has also raised the number of geniuses in similar proportion and it is genius above all that propels global human advance.’

https://www.intelligenteconomist.com/malthusian-theory/
Despite over two centuries of Gaia curbing us with natural disasters and mankind drastically reducing numbers with warfare, we are still growing. It has been suggested that Malthus’ predictions could still come true. If a couple have two children they have replaced themselves, TWO is a logical number to work on, so we can all reduce our carbon footprint by only having two children. When I was at school we assumed that is what we would be doing; considering the vast populations of China and India we naively thought a few years of communist government would help India. China has now discontinued its one child programme and is faced with 33.5 million more men than women, because sons were preferred. Now they are worried about their ageing population.
Meanwhile, Japan is currently the 11th most populous nation in the world, but its failure to boost birth rates in recent decades has left it with a significantly older population base and a dangerous shortage of young adults. No more crowded trains in their future? Some European countries have a similar problem. For Gaia it could be good news, she probably does not care much about individual societies working.

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History, with its various terrible regimes, means that no democratic government is going to tell people how to plan, or not plan their families and is certainly not going to put into place more sinister designs for reducing their country’s population.
But could having more than two children go the same way as drink driving and smoking indoors, become socially unacceptable? Hopefully not; it would be a dull world if we were all the same. Two is not a bad number, better than just one? Lots of couples choose or find themselves having one child and singletons might say they enjoyed their status or had a bunch of cousins to play with. In China the one child policy left a generation without siblings, then further down the line a generation without cousins or aunties and uncles. A lone child stifled by adoring parents and grandparents; the first time such a huge social experiment has been carried out.

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Having just one child is nothing new; in the 1920’s and 1930’s ordinary people in Britain found themselves able to buy into the suburban dream with mass building of terraced houses and they also had access to contraceptives. Coming from big families, the prospect of less children and less work must have seemed attractive and those houses may have had the delights of an inside bathroom, but they were too small for a big family. Many people did choose to have one child and my aunt said my grandfather used to be introduced with ‘He’s got THREE daughters.’
I don’t write about my family, but here I must confess that my father also had two siblings and they had three of us; we have three and it does work out mathematically or that’s my excuse. Take my siblings and cousins, they all have two, one or none, so the ten of us have more or less replaced ourselves with eleven children. A male cousin had twins at fifty, so there is twenty five years between my first born and his – do they even count as the same generation?
There is nothing simple about families. A couple have two children, then break up, meet new partners and in a rosy romantic glow decide to have more children. If you’re an ageing rock star you repeat this process quite often. But there seem to be enough people having one or none to offset this. Births in England and Wales in 2018 were 1.7 per woman so do we need to worry? Now it’s not how many children can you afford to raise, but what is their carbon footprint?
We all have a carbon footprint just by being born, though being born is not our fault. We hope our children will make a contribution to society, we expect them to be a combination of the best characteristics of both parents, with none of the negative qualities ( in my case our children actually are! ) and we certainly don’t want them to be in prison for serious crimes.

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So your daughter is a top surgeon, your son an astronaut, another child a famous musician, how proud you must be. But how much fossil fuel is the astronaut using to get up to the space station, what is the carbon footprint of the musician jet setting round the world to concerts? Your neighbour’s prisoner son is sitting in his little shared cell not going anywhere, a carbon footprint of practically zero, while your top surgeon daughter is living in a massive house full of every electrical device and a gas boiler pumping heat round a vast number of rooms. If you have produced a leading scientist who cycles to work and is busy inventing ways to save the earth, well done.

How do you see the future of the human race?

In Three Ages of Man the stranger comes from a society where births are strictly regulated and prospective parents are genetically tested first, a glimpse into one possible future…

Friday Flash Fiction 1000 – You Have One Friend

He still had the same smile, sitting on the bed, arms open in greeting.
‘We found him in a bag in the loft when we were moving.’ My mother’s voice startled me.
Teddy was the only recognisable object in the bedroom. Just back from a year in Australia, I had no choice but to stay with my parents while I searched for a job. During my absence they had downsized. I was consigned to the tiny guest bedroom.
‘I’ll go and put the kettle on.’ Mum retreated to the kitchen and I picked up Teddy.
He never had a name, but once upon a time he had been my best friend and I used to wish that he could speak. Mum assured me that if I held him close and listened carefully I would hear him. I responded by repeating his conversation, perhaps I really believed he spoke. Teddy was a poor substitute for a brother or sister, but I told him all my secrets.
Now I had other best friends and 677 Facebook friends.

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‘Is it okay if I use the computer?’ I asked after dinner.
My father’s new computer had been given a bigger room than me.
‘You can borrow your mother’s lap top, we’re on Wi Fi now.’
‘No one goes in Dad’s den’ laughed Mum.
‘It’s only till I get a new phone; you’re not on Facebook yet then?’
‘Load of rubbish,’ said Dad ‘we only got e-mail to keep in touch with you.’
‘We Skype Aunty Dot in Canada’ added Mum.
Things had moved on since I’d been away.
I spent a busy evening checking e-mails and looking up old friends instead of career opportunities.

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By the next evening I was trying out my new smart phone, the latest model. After a few phone calls I checked out Facebook.
You have one new friend.
Strange, I had not accepted any new friends.
The new friend was born 5th June 1987, a week after me. There was a picture of him with that familiar smile. It was Teddy. Who was playing a joke? Only my parents knew about Teddy, but they didn’t know how to get on Facebook and they didn’t have a sense of humour.
I scrolled down to see what other friends were up to, hoping I had imagined Teddy. Parties, weddings, jobs and feeble jokes, plenty had happened since I had been in the internet café in Sydney. I scrolled back up. Teddy had made a comment.
I’m back, the dark days are over.
I left Teddy on the windowsill where I had put him last night and went downstairs. My parents were watching a ‘Nordic Noir’ drama.
‘I thought you said you didn’t do Facebook, which of you put Teddy on?’
They were too busy reading the sub titles to take in what I was saying.
‘Oh people put such rubbish on the internet.’
When the titles came up they came back to life. ‘Any luck yet? It’s not easy for anyone to get a job at the moment. Have you been in touch with your uni. friends? You have to network these days.’
I retreated with the genuine excuse that I was still suffering from jet lag and went to bed with a book, but I could not resist one last look at my phone.
New e-mails;
Come over and see my new flat, Dilly.
Welcome back, do you want to meet up for a drink for old time’s sake? Tom.
Where are you staying? P.S. Like your new Facebook friend, L.O.L. xx Tim.
I went on Facebook. Teddy now had 5 likes and 1 comment from Tim.
Welcome back Teddy.
I logged out and tried to get to sleep, Teddy was still smiling on the window sill.

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I slept in, woken by my phone ringing. It was Kate.
Sorry to wake you, but there’s a position going at my place, thought you might be interested… is everything okay, only you unfriended me on Facebook.
The house was quiet, my parents had gone to work. Teddy had not moved since last night. I sneaked into Dad’s den, perhaps on the large screen everything would be normal.
You have been tagged in Teddy’s picture.
A picture of us together when we were both the same size. I went into the tiny lounge. They had kept the best bookcase and in it were the precious photograph albums.
Amy, one week old, with new friend.
There I was lying on the sofa with Teddy. There had to be a rational explanation. I returned to the screen. My bear now had 35 friends, my friends. I looked up his details.
Work and education: St. Bear’s Infant’s School.
Interested in: Humans
Activities: Chillaxing at home.
Teddy had been the only pupil at St. Bear’s, I was his teacher.
When I glanced back at the page he had posted a message.
Ho Hum, sitting on the windowsill…
That was how he spoke to me when I was a child, he always prefaced each sentence with Ho Hum when he whispered in my ear.

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Another phone call; friends at a conference nearby; a proper evening out with sensible adults, but when I got there I did not get the warm greeting I expected.
‘What’s going on Amy, you’ve unfriended us all on Facebook.’
‘No, it’s a great joke, I’ve got a teddy bear for a friend’ said one of the guys who had drunk too much, already keying into his phone. ‘Another message’ Ho Hum, all on my own, Amy’s gone out. ‘Hey, you’ve been tagged in his picture… I like the underwear.’
Despite my best intentions I had taken my phone out of my bag and logged onto Facebook. Teddy had posted a picture of me in the bedroom, about to put on the dress I was wearing now. On the windowsill behind me he sat smiling.
Teddy has 196 friends.
I checked my details.
You have 1 friend.

‘You Have One Friend’ is one of the stories in Dark and Milk – download for only 99 pence.