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.’

Lockdown Three

Lockdown Three has none of the drama of Lockdown One, though it is more cutting edge than Lockdown Two when schools were open and we thought we still had Christmas to look forward to. In an echo of the brilliant dramatic twist twixt lockdowns when Christmas was cancelled at the last moment, because Covid 19 reneged on its promise to give us five days off, the director instituted a brilliant scene from Downing Street in which the PM closes all schools, not the day before, but the very day after they started the new term ( a sentence nearly as long as lockdown ).

Lockdown Three promises to be longer than Lockdown Two, but with the same advantage of covering winter months, so people will be glad to huddle indoors. Are we prepared? I think it would have been more dramatic if we could be like the French and fill in forms to produce to show we have a good reason to be out. We are allowed out for exercise, to get immunised and to buy food and some people might actually have to go out to work… My freezer now has one drawer full of sliced apple from the tree in my garden; it thrived during last spring and summer’s sunny lockdowns, with no desire to leave home. Another drawer is devoted to the Christmas feast postponed till Chreastersummermas. I still have enough room for regular rations.

As my first winter being a widow it seems apt for normal life to be suspended, not that I would wish a pandemic on the rest of the world merely to take the pressure off me deciding anything. While half the population, from politicians to front line services, are busier than ever, the other half may be shielding or out of work, life curtailed to the banal or at least a gentler pace. There are plenty of positives; new hobbies, putting your CD collection in alphabetical order, having cooking fun. Gardening may have taken a back seat, but you can fill your home with pot plants and cut flowers; perhaps your family will not be able to find you in the jungle when at last they can visit.

There are new experiences for most of us. Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra tomorrow starts its second series of digital, livestreamed concerts. You can buy tickets for individual concerts or the whole season on line. We had a camera club zoom party and I won the Bingo; no need to go out on a cold night with plates of food, or clear up afterwards. Every Saturday night I join in a Zoom quiz; a window on the outside world.

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (bsolive.com)https://bsolive.com/

If you get bored you can always order yourself more presents from Amazon ( yes I know we shouldn’t, but we all use them because you can find what you want, or even things you didn’t know you wanted, and it always arrives ). Nearly everyone in my family from four to forties is obsessed with Lego ( Lego is certainly not just for children ) and after many hints I was given my first Lego set – Lego Architecture mini London. It was tiny, fiddly, fun and addictive; a total change from blogging and writing. I have ordered myself a big box of Lego bricks and bits so I can make my own creations.

My little real Christmas tree in the front garden has been undecorated, but today I had a Glastonburyish idea; I am going to leave it there and tie a ribbon on every day till we’re out of lockdown.

Christmas Real Time Tales – part 3 – New Year’s Eve 2020

Cassie felt deflated, empty, tired. She tried to summon up the positivity that had kept her going since March, but a new year was not going to bring a new start for anyone. It was no consolation that more of England had joined them in Tier 4, lockdown in all but name. She knew she was lucky to have a job and a home, didn’t have to do home schooling or shop for elderly parents, but the positives she had nurtured this year seemed to be fading away.

Christmas Day had been good, as if her presence had made it easier for Sam and his long lost son to talk, telling her things about their lives that they hadn’t told each other. She had found herself smiling several times; Christmas 2019 spent alone and this Christmas spent with a homeless man and a runaway teenager. Now her little house seemed too quiet, though she had been glad enough of the peace on Christmas night after the two of them and the dog had clumped off on their way.

She would be more than happy to have them as regular visitors, but Christmas had been one day of freedom for Britons; now it was back to having no visitors, no visiting.  Even her regular walks with Sam and his dog had ceased; the new rule was meet only one person outside your household, outside and Sam’s long walks were now with his son. Though James had done well getting the MPJ building as suitable as possible for his clients, it was a roof over their heads, not a home for a father and son. Sam was keeping Lucas out and about as much as possible, desperate to keep him from getting bored or depressed and doing a reverse runaway back to Scotland and the comforts of his step father’s highland estate.

Cassie could no longer visit the MPJ homeless project, even with the careful Covid regime James had set up. He was all too aware, as he never ceased to point out, how vulnerable some of his little group of homeless were, nor did he want any possibility of the project being blamed for an increase in cases in the town.

She was still working from home, management were pleased with her team, but would they all keep their jobs in the long term with the double blow of Covid and Brexit? Work was hard, not at all the easy lounging in pyjamas outsiders might imagine. Supervising her team was difficult; she was propping some of them up, carrying them. The continual ups and downs of what she assumed was normal busy parenthood, doubled in stress with parents worried every time a child coughed or felt a bit hot; Covid tests, waiting for results, keeping children home in isolation, whole classes being sent home because one child had a positive test, schools closed with teachers ill…  

She was jolted out of her glum mood when her mobile buzzed, she was surprised to see it was James calling, wanting to Facetime and get some advice. How long since they had chatted on line? She was never sure if he had been disappointed that their spring on line friendship had not developed into anything more, when they got the chance to meet up for real.  But now she was pathetically grateful for the chance to have a chat on this lonely New Year’s Eve.

March seems so long ago now, but we first met Cassie in a queue for the chemist…

Sunday Short Story 720 – The Queue | Times and Tides of a Beachwriter (wordpress.com)https://tidalscribe.wordpress.com/2020/03/29/sunday-short-story-720-the-queue/

Christmas Real Time Tales – part two – Tier Four

Doris was agog with curiosity. Who were the two big chaps that turned up next door on Christmas morning, just when Doris happened to be looking out of her front window… and that big shaggy dog? Cassie had said a friend from work was coming for Christmas Dinner and might bring his teenage son… Her young neighbour had no need to ring or knock to check Doris was okay as she knew her cousin was staying, but she could ring and thank Cassie for the chocolates…

‘Hello Cassie, did you have a nice Christmas? Thanks so much for the chocolates, Cousin Ruth’s favourites… yes I’m so glad she came, we have had a laugh, just like when she used to come and stay in the holidays when we were children… That’s what my nephew said, makes sense; Ruth’s little flat was perfect till we went into lockdown, she was always out and about, but this year it’s been like a prison… Yes she likes the back bedroom, looking out onto the garden and hearing the blackbirds… No we’re fine thanks, Ruth’s more tech savvy than me and my nephew’s doing our on line shopping … well I do wonder what on earth he thinks we like to eat, but now we’re in Tier 4 it’s so scary and he’s forbidden us to go to the shops.

Yes we did, later in the day when they were awake in Los Angeles. Ruth’s got an eye pad or whatever you call those things you open up, I daren’t touch the thing, but she got us on Facetime, so amazing, mind you it is fifty years since they landed on the moon and we thought we would be living on the moon by now. Thank goodness we’re not, otherwise my son would probably be there instead of the USA… but the children have grown, even since I saw them in the summer.

So what did you have for your dinner… pork…  oh, so he wasn’t a little lad then… did you have enough food, a vegetarian, oh dear, no of course that’s quite common these days, but a bit of a problem if you’re having roast pork. He did like the geckos then…  but the geckos didn’t like them… not surprised they were nervous having two big blokes and a dog clumping round your little front room and bumping into the glass; ‘vibrating vivarium’ ahh, making fun of you poor little reptiles…

Where do they live … Scotland, oh goodness, it’s a wonder Nicola Sturgeon let him out and she probably won’t let him back in… you mean really ran away, what about his mother? …no I suppose you couldn’t really pry, but what an interesting life you lead. What are you doing today?… A bicycle ride, are you allowed, I get so muddled up when we keep changing Tiers, not that Ruth and I are likely to go out on our bikes, perhaps I should get one of those electric ones. You can go out for exercise and meet only one person, I suppose your ‘friend’ will be busy with his son…

Photo by Miri on Pexels.com

Advent Calendar – Wednesday Twenty Third of December

Today’s window peeps into one of the most famous Christmas stories. A Christmas Carol, is a novella by Charles Dickens, first published in 1843. It recounts the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, an elderly miser who is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley and the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. After their visits, Scrooge is transformed into a kinder, gentler man.

The story has been filmed or inspired films many times and as you are probably busy getting ready for Christmas, why not watch this five minute Lego version?

A LEGO Christmas Carol (In 5 Minutes) – YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWnMapyZi-k

Advent Calendar – Monday Twenty First of December

Today’s window opens into Vivienne’s living room, where we can eavesdrop as she chats on the phone.  Restricted lives leave those living alone searching for nuggets of news in their now restricted lives. Tit bits gleaned from family and friends, polished and enhanced until they bear little resemblance to the original.

Tier 4, I didn’t even know there was a Tier 4 till yesterday and all that food. The experts have been saying this for weeks and Boris waits till yesterday… Julia had already had a big shop delivered here, no I paid for half of it, which considering there are four of them… salmon en what, I thought she was vegetarian… oh piscetarian. Well I would be happy with that, wish I was coming to yours. No luckily James is going to take it for his homeless lot … I mean I would be quite happy to go to MPJ and help with the cooking, but of course I am not allowed… yes, still Tier 2, looks like it will be lunch at Sonia’s…. I know, I was trying to avoid being in her bubble, but I can hardly pretend I have other plans when we all know we are all staying at home…

That chap across the road, no mask? Did the bus driver say anything… I got on the bus the other day and forgot about the screen, there was one tiny hole to put your hand in and swipe your bus pass… the whole class? I know, Julia said Jacintha’s is the only class that hasn’t had to isolate.

Nine pounds, did she have to have stiches… so nobody can go round, how many great nieces is that now? goodness… No, they’re still just friends… what are the chances of James marrying again, let alone finding a wife young enough to have babies… They won’t have any more, Julia said he’s had the snip, two children quite enough.

Next door-but-one you mean, well that was a bit of drama, how many police cars? There’s going to be more of that with people shut indoors. There are some advantages to living alone. No, James won’t even come indoors now, says it’s not safe for me when he’s been mixing with… yes they are very careful, I have been sewing more masks for them.

Did you, how is she? I’m not surprised, shut indoors with him, she must be going round the bend, bit of a come down hey, three cruises a year and now her greatest excitement is going to the CoOp.  That couple down the road, I don’t think they have been out at all since March, what with him and his lungs and heart and her with her, not sure what, but I was walking by and she had left a bunch of Xmas cards on the garden wall with a note, asking someone to post them, so that was my Brownie good deed for the day. So do I ..  to do my duty to God and The Queen and help other people every day…  yes, Jacintha had just joined when Covid struck.

No, at least we’re not trying to get to France…  not with all this food I’ve got… we might not get lettuces, no great loss.

Which planets? What the actual Bethlehem star, how do they know? I’m not going to see it from my garden, it’s just started pouring with rain…    Yes you too.

Advent Calendar – Silly Saturday Nineteenth of December

YouTubular Bells

Bells are a popular theme at Christmas and Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells was a favourite of mine; this BBC studio recording was broadcast in December 1973, which is a very long time ago and now I’m listening, it doesn’t sound quite how I remember. But before you pop through the ether to hear all 25 minutes of it, today’s window brings warning of the perils of YouTubular. You may be sucked in, never to emerge into the real world again.  I don’t often search YouTubular. I used to wonder when I first started blogging how other bloggers made music magically appear on their blogs. Then I realised they did not actually play the music themselves or invite musicians to their house, they cheated by finding it on Youtubular.

It starts by looking up a piece of music, if you can remember the title or performer. You then discover there are hundreds of different performers, versions and settings, especially for universally known pieces. Some have no film, just a picture of a CD cover, boring, move on… but be careful, do you want to share a great performance of a choral work, or that film made in a tiny church with your aunty’s choir; their singing even more shaky than the hand of the person holding the smart phone to film them. Or you might find yourself in a flash mob performance and you can’t resist watching to see what happens next.

So at last you have chosen a piece to link in to your blog, but when you press Publish and check the link, there is some bloke you have never heard of singing a song totally different from the one you have just written about. YouTube moves on, it never runs out of music, you could spend all evening, perhaps the rest of your life enraptured by strange advertisements and led into the next piece of music…  If you like the music playing and it’s a long piece, you can read the 14, 378 comments and if you don’t like the music choose something else from the display at the side of the screen; scrolling down for ever and ever…

But saddest are the YouTubular videos that have 0 views, no thumbs up or thumbs down in the thirteen years they have been there, notes unheard. It is our duty to view, listen and share them; after all, we writers know what it is like to publish words that may never be read, disappearing into the ether forever.

Mike Oldfield ‘Tubular Bells’ Live at the BBC 1973 (HQ remastered) – YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXatvzWAzLU

Advent Calendar – Friday Eighteenth of December

As the final weekend before Christmas looms, in this strange year, with everyone still unsure what they are doing and young and old trying to sooth ruffled feelings, because they are not visiting or being visited, let us eavesdrop through today’s window as Everygran tackles her early Christmas present, an ipad, and attempts Facetime. There is nothing wrong with her technical skills, but confusion reigns supreme.

All I can see is the ceiling.

Tommy, give Mummy the phone back, no don’t hit your brother with it. Sophie darling, you can watch Frozen when we’ve finished talking to Granny, are you going to tell her what you did at nursery?

Hello Sophie… nothing? Oh I’m sure you did something nice. Oh dear, who bit you?

It wasn’t exactly a bite was it… do you want to show Granny the card you made… no we don’t put Christmas cards in the recycling bin yet.  Tommy, get down off the piano. No, I said turn the television off Sophie, of course you are not bored, you like talking to Granny. Hang on Mum, I just have to rescue the cat and put Toby on the potty. Mandy, Maaandy I said come downstairs and talk to Granny.

Hello Tommy is that the Lego we bought you for your birthday? Umm is it a truck, oh a dinosaur. Do you like your new sch… oh where have you gone, back to a view of the ceiling.

Good boy Toby shall we tell Granny you managed to do a p… no…  don’t pick the potty up, just talk to Granny while I go and empty… nooo TOBY … sorry Mum, just got to clear a bit of mess up. Maandyyy will you get down here and sort your brother out … in the kitchen I think, make sure he doesn’t go near the hot oven and can you let the dog out.

Hello Toby, are you looking forward to Christmas, Toby, Toby leave the cat alone, Mummy will be back in a second, no I don’t think the cat likes doing Facetime, no Toby don’t squash his…

Sorry about that Mum, now about Christmas, we still can’t decide what we should do, would you be very disappointed if we don’t come, we have to think of what’s best for you and Dad.

Well your Dad would be quite happy having a quiet Christmas and they are advising us not to have people staying overnight, don’t you worry about us…

Mandy, come and say hello to Granny, you might not see her at Christmas.

But will I still get my presents?

Mandy! Tell Granny about your school’s Nativity video, Mandy, where are you going now?

No, you’re right Mum, we can’t leave you and Dad all by yourselves and you don’t want all that stress of trying to post the parcels, will you be alright doing a big on line order with Sainsburys? Mandy… answer the door for Mummy,  sorry Mum , gotta go, it might be that Amazon parcel … Tommyyy don’t let the dog out the front door…

Advent Calendar – Thursday Seventeenth of December

Today is the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven, or at least the anniversary of the day he was baptised, but he has been celebrating all year; though like everyone else, he had to cancel all his live concerts and parties. So today’s window opens in Germany once more, to a very special Christmas performance and plenty of  Freude!

Freude! Freude! … Alle Menschen warden Brüder. / Joy! Joy! … All men shall become brothers.

On December 23rd 1989, only a month and a half after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Leonard Bernstein led a concert in West Berlin. Two days later, on Christmas Day, he led an identical concert across the border, in what was previously East Germany. The music was Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Ode to Joy was first written in 1785 by German poet Friedrich Schiller as a celebration of the brotherhood of man. Beethoven set the words for the final, choral movement of the Symphony completed in 1824. Having soloists and a choir burst into joyful singing in a symphony was revolutionary, but it has obviously stood the test of time.

Bernstein made one change for this two-concert series: he directed the choir to sing “Freiheit” (freedom) instead of “Freude” (joy).

4th Movement – part 2 – Ode to Freedom – 1989 – Leonard Bernstein – Beethoven’s 9th Symphony HD 720p – YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IciKr8NUmKs

The Ode to Joy is also the anthem of The European Union; an instrumental ( and much shorter ! ) version for a continent of many languages. Alas for British Remainers, this music is now a bitter reminder of the Brexit disaster and all that we are about to lose. Luckily Tidalscribe will be remaining in the European Union and adhering to Schiller and Beethoven’s optimism and belief in the brotherhood of man – brotherhood in the figurative inclusive sense .

European Union International Anthem – “Ode To Joy” (Instrumental) – YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ecrJaA_mXg

Advent Calendar – Wednesday Sixteenth of December

Today’s window opens joyfully in Germany. Jauchzet, frohlocket! ( Shout for joy ) is a 1734 Christmas cantata by Johann Sebastian Bach that forms the first part of his  Christmas Oratorio. It was incorporated within services of the two most important churches in Leipzig, St. Thomas’ and St. Nicholas’. Bach, a devout Lutheran, composed music for the Lutheran Church and was Thomaskantor responsible for church music at four churches in  Leipzig. Enjoy this music in a beautiful Dresden church.

J.S. Bach WO – BWV 248 Teil1 “Jauchzet frohlocket ” aus der Frauenkirche Dresden. – YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlwcZT1XVss

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) was a composer, organist and violinist widely regarded as one of the greatest classical composers of all time. Not only did he compose great works every week for church services, but his home life was also busy, though full of tragedy. He was devoted to his family. In 1706 he married his cousin Maria Barbara Bach. The couple had seven children together, some of whom died as infants. Maria died in 1720. The following year Bach married a singer named Anna Magdalena Wülcken. They had thirteen children, more than half of them died as children. But he still managed to leave the world so much.

You can read the poignant history of that amazing church with this link.

Dresden Frauenkirche | Landeshauptstadt Dresdenhttps://www.dresden.de/en/05/Dresden-Frauenkirche.php