When the middle becomes the beginning…

I’ve been writing this damn sequel for years now, yet the beginning has never satisfied me. Or perhaps I knew, deep down, that it wasn’t right, that one of its hearts was missing. Sorry, small pun there.

Anyway…after the umpteenth rewrite of the beginning, I gave up trying to massage the existing story into shape and sat down for a rethink, another one. I knew that Kaati [the Apprentice from book 1] had to meet a character called Death in book 2, but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t work out why Death would be at that location.

Everything I tried felt contrived. Either the social constraints didn’t quite work, or the internal motivation of the characters didn’t gel. I knew I was on the right track, but for my internal bullshit-o-meter to be satisfied, everything had to slot into place with a sense of ‘oh…of course.’ But it wasn’t. And then…

Eureka!

I remembered something I’d written ages ago, and suddenly I felt as if a key had turned in my head, a key that made everything else slot into place. And this, with a slight change of emphasis, is that key:

The Master of Acolytes stared at the closed door in dismay. The Assistant had promised to speak to the Yellow, but something about its response had not rung true. Its expression had been too polite, too controlled…

As if just humouring self, the Master thought with an unaccustomed spurt of anger. Its hand rose, but the anger faded before it could knock again.

Surely the Assistant wouldn’t dare ignore the request of a Master?

Of course not. The Yellow would never allow its Assistant to overstep the bounds like that.

Nevertheless, as the Master of Acolytes headed back towards its own quarters, it decided to check back in a day or two, just in case. Because whatever the Yellow’s Assistant might think, finding a healer-seneschal was important. Very important.

The Master did not hate the Traders. It did not even object to sharing the Settlement with them, however it did fear another Great Unrest and knew the Guild would never be truly safe while all communication with the outside had to go through the Quartermaster.

All the eyries had to communicate through the Trader Quartermasters, but at least they had Seneschals of their own and were not forced to share an eyrie with the Traders.

The Settlement, however, had never had a seneschal of its own. Ever since the Great Unrest, the Guild of Healers had debated the value of employing a non-healer as their seneschal, but the move had always been stymied by the need for secrecy, and trust. Out in the eyries, Seneschals bonded with their Vokh, so their loyalty was unassailable. In the Settlement however, the Guild could only form such a relationship if its seneschal were also a healer, and so far they had not found any.

They had tried and failed, for two hundred years, because the two talents seemed to be mutually exclusive. An iVokh could either heal, or speak mind-to-mind, never both.

Or so the common wisdom said. The Master, however, had never been completely convinced by the common wisdom. Despite past failures, including its own, it still believed a healer-seneschal was possible, but only if the iVokh possessed both talents in sufficient measure before the Quickening.

Finding iVokh with the mindspeech was relatively easy as the talent tended to manifest itself at a young age. The talent for healing, however, was much less straightforward and seemed to need the shock of the Quickening to reveal itself. Thus, creating new healers was always a hit or miss affair. Often those who seemed to have the most potential turned into the worst disasters. However the records showed there had been exceptions, even to this rule.

Before the devastation wrought by the Rogue, healers had always arisen naturally, but their numbers had been few, and only the most powerful Vokh could claim them. After the death of the Rogue and the Great Nine, however, the new Nine had decreed that the remaining healers had to be shared by all the surviving Vokh. That was how the Settlement, and the Guild had begun.

In the hundreds of years since then, the Guild had perfected the Quickening to the point where most candidates survived the process. Picking good candidates, however, still involved a great deal of guesswork as very few displayed clear signs of talent before hand.

Of course wild talents did crop up, even now. In fact, the former Blue had been one such talent. Sadly, it had never shown the slightest ability to mindspeak. The young Tanner though…

A shiver ran down the Master’s spine as it remembered how close it had come to dismissing the claims of the Senior from Deepwater. How could a Tanner’s apprentice possess even one of the great talents much less two?

Yet, right from the start, the young Tanner had demonstrated an uncanny ability to soothe the newborns placed in its care. When asked how it did what it did, it said that the newborn were simply uncomfortable; once their needs were met they settled down easily. What it could not explain was how it always seemed to know which particular discomfort to ease.

But the Master knew. Despite the young Tanner’s small stature, and the lingering stench of the Tanning pits, it possessed the ability to feel the newborn’s discomfort. It was something all Healers had, at least to some extent.

Of course, feel alone did not guarantee that the Quickening would trigger the full range of healer talents. Some could feel but not control the ability enough to actually heal. Others, like the Messengers, could feel but were not distressed by another’s pain.

Nevertheless, the Master was convinced that a natural ability to feel was the best indicator of latent talent. That was why it had arranged for the young Tanner to take the position of Acolyte at Needlepoint. The Triad assigned to the Needlepoint eyrie was lead by a Raised Senior of exceptional ability. If anyone could bring out the youngling’s latent abilities it was that Senior…

Who could guessing? the Master thought as it entered its own quarters and closed the door behind it.

Needlepoint was one of the best hidden eyries in the north, yet the Seven of Five Rocks had taken it anyway. Neither the young Tanner nor the Triad were harmed, but in raids, anything could happen, especially if the Triad attempted to save its Vokh. And now the Challenger was heading north as well. It seemed to attack eyries at random, but those it chose were destroyed utterly. If the Nine did not rise soon, the Challenger would decimate the north as it had the south.

Something had to be done. The Guild’s one chance of securing a line of healer-seneschals could not be left to chance. Returning the young Tanner to the Settlement was vital, no matter what the Assistant to the Yellow might think!

Apologies for the long excerpt, but I just had to share.

cheers
Meeks


Vitamin D – why you want it and how to get it

The first part of this video is a little bit technical, but don’t be put off by all the scientific names. Keep watching and you’ll learn why Vitamin D may be useful against our favourite virus. You’ll also learn about its importance for other conditions, such as osteoporosis. I most definitely did not know that.

The thing I found most interesting was the explanation about why people in different geographic locations may be Vitamin D deficient. Apparently, it’s all due to the season, the angle of the sun as it hits the earth, and a country’s distance from the equator.

The video talks about the USA, but I was interested in Australia, so I went looking for a map of the world showing the equator. Then I copied the area from the equator to roughly the middle of the USA. This was the distance from the equator that gets sufficient Vitamin D in summer and winter.

Next, I placed the copy next to Australia. This is what it looks like:

World map taken from : https://mapuniversal.com/equator-line-countries-on-the-equator/

Zooming in on my home town of Melbourne, we get this:

Close up of Australia from https://mapuniversal.com/equator-line-countries-on-the-equator/

I drew the green line across from the subset map to see if Melbourne does, in fact, fall within the area that receives enough Vitamin D in winter. It does, but only just, and Tasmania seems to miss out entirely.

So yes, we all need Vitamin D, for a variety of health reasons, but no, not all of us can get it from the sun during winter. And if we go from house to car to office and back again, then there’s a good chance we won’t be getting enough Vitamin D, even in summer.

If Covid-19 has taught us anything, apart from how to bake bread, it’s that we can’t rely on technology to save us from everything. Sometimes, living an old fashioned, healthy lifestyle really is the best medicine.

cheers
Meeks


Smorgasbord Cafe and Bookstore – Author Updates #Reviews -#Shortstories Cathy Cade, #Science Fiction A.C. Flory, #Historical Apple Gidley

Three author updates from Sally’s Smorgasbord Cafe & Bookstore…and Vokhtah is one of them! I’m so thrilled.:)

Stay well,
Meeks

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Welcome to the first of the author updates with recent reviews for authors on the shelves of the Cafe and Bookstore.

The first author today is Cathy Cade for her short story collection Witch Way and other Ambiguous Stories.

About the Collection

Characters who aren’t all they seem – or are they? You decide.

A tale inspired by the White Rabbit, one set in the shadow of Vesuvius, and one in a garden pond.

Meet Mirlings and Brownies, a misguided confidante, an unlikely Samaritan, a trainee mortician, and a witch  …or not.

A recent review for the collection.

Phil 5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant collection  Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 12 May 2020

Cathy is an excellent writer. The well written short stories and poetry in this book are varied and eclectic, the product of a wonderfully fertile imagination.

My favourite but only just, is probably…

View original post 1,301 more words


Covid-19 – To mask or not to mask?

I had no intention of posting today, but I believe this video by Dr John Campbell is so important, everyone should see it. And then perhaps we should demand that our governments do something useful to reduce the rate of Covid-19 infection. But first the video:

If you don’t want to watch the video, I’ve cherry picked what I believe are the most important points. First up, a study that shows we’ve been under estimating the distance the virus can spread:

According to this data, the 1.5 metres advocated by most governments is not enough, even just for breathing, especially in confined spaces like public transport.

Next up is a study using hamsters. And yes, they can get Covid-19 just like us. What the researchers did was to set up two cages, side by side. One cage was ‘masked’ and infected hamsters were placed inside [cage on the left]. Non-infected hamsters were placed in the second cage [cage on the right]. Then, a fan was used to blow air from the infected [but masked] cage across to the uninfected cage. This is what you see in the top row of the dinky graphic below:

The result was that only 15% of uninfected hamsters became infected. Remember that their cage was not masked.

The second row of the graphic shows a similar setup, except that this time, only the cage of uninfected hamsters is masked. The result is that 33% – i.e. more than double the previous number – of the hamsters were infected, despit their cage being masked.

The reason? Because ordinary masks aren’t fine enough to filter out the tiny droplets of the infection.

Now let’s extrapolate to you and me. If I’m infected and you’re not, but you are wearing a mask, there’s still a 33% chance that I’ll infect you just by talking to you, or by leaving droplets of infection on surfaces you may touch. But if I’m the one wearing the mask, almost all of the virus I breathe out will be trapped inside my mask, so it can’t reach you.

Now, if both you and I are wearing masks, the likelihood of infection plummets. You can find Dr John’s very good explanation at 13:26 of the video.

Still not convinced? Then look at the countries that have done best during this pandemic. Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand etc have all managed to protect both their people and their economies from the ravages of Covid-19, yet they don’t have vaccines or special treatments. All they have is what is available to us as well – good hygiene, social distancing, and a culture that’s okay with wearing masks in public.

If 80% of people wore masks [of any sort, even home made ones] in public, we could stop this pandemic in its tracks and reopen our countries safely. Instead, here in the West, we’re reopening on a wing and a prayer. We hope that people will continue social distancing and doing the right thing…pfffft.

Just last night I heard a really loud party going on here in Warrandyte. If the volume of screams and laughter were anything to go by, the party goers were drunk, and having a very good time indeed. Of course they were social distancing…yeah, right.

We’ve proved, time and time again, that we can’t be trusted to do the right thing. Yet governments are basing their hopes on us, and a dinky app that will, supposedly, make it easier to track infected contacts? Puleeze.

I believe that mask wearing has not been mandated because:

  • making self indulgent people wear masks would be like herding cats, and
  • the governments of our countries actually want us to keep infecting each other…just not too much. They don’t want our hospitals overwhelmed, they just want enough of us to get sick so we develop ‘herd immunity’.

But…

‘Researchers think that the R0 for COVID-19 is between 2 and 3. This means that one person can infect two to three other people. It also means 50% to 67% of the population would need to be resistant before herd immunity kicks in and the infection rates start to go down.’

https://www.webmd.com/lung/what-is-herd-immunity#1

The trouble is, even the places with the highest rates of infection so far, the so called ‘hot spots’, have nowhere near the 50-67% infection rate needed for herd immunity. For example, New York has an estimated infection rate of only 13.9%. https://www.chron.com/news/article/Cuomo-13-9-percent-tested-positive-COVID-19-15221278.php

This means that people will have to be infected for years in order to reach herd immunity. Years of continued deaths, years of the vulnerable having to live in a bubble because every single person they meet could be a spreader. Years of the hospital systems having to cope with an ongoing pandemic…and that’s the best case scenario.

The worst case scenario is that the virus will quickly slip its leash and spread like wildfire through the uninfected parts of our populations. Given how little immunity those populations currently have, that means pretty much everyone. At once. As Italy proved, no health care system can cope with such a demand.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. We could follow the example of our Asian neighbours and wear masks until an effective vaccine can be developed. Once there is a vaccine, reaching that magical 50-67% required for herd immunity would be a snap. We could all be protected, and no one would have to be sacrificed ‘for the economy’. This is the Plan B our governments want to ignore.

So the question is this, are we okay with the arrogant assumption of government that they can ‘control’ this virus? Or would we prefer to wear masks until plan B can take effect? I know which plan I prefer.

Meeks


Coffee and pop tarts

For your gastronomic pleasure, I present the Offspring’s home made apple pop tarts!

And one of my beloved lustreware cup-and-saucer sets:

Oddly enough, it wasn’t until today that I noticed this set is made in Japan as well:

I really have had a love affair with Japan for most of my life!

And now for the pop tarts. This is not a hard and fast recipe so you’ll have to adjust the quantities to suit your own tastes.

The pastry is plain old, shop bought, frozen shortcrust. You should be able to use flaky or puff pastry as well. It just so happened that shortcrust was what we had in the freezer.

The Offspring allowed the sheets to thaw and then cut each one into quarters. One quarter for each pop tart.

The filling is where things get truly yummy. The apples are Granny Smiths but any tart, cooking apple will do. Sweet apples just don’t have enough flavour.

After washing the apples, the Offspring simply cut out the core and chopped the apple into bite-sized chunks. No peeling required. The skin actually adds to the flavour.

The apple went into a saucepan with some brown sugar [suit your own tastes], a lot of cinnamon, 1/2 a teaspoon of allspice and…a splash of champagne. The champagne is not mandatory, but like the pastry, it was what we had left over from the Un-Christmas dinner last year.

And before you ask, the Offspring doesn’t drink and I don’t like champagne so cooking is a great way of not wasting a perfectly good bottle of booze. I also use it in my Bolognese because I’ve been out of Shiraz for months. The champagne is ‘dry’ so it works pretty well.

The trick to making the apple is not to overcook it. Any liquid you add, whether it be wine or water, should only be enough to stop the apples from burning before they release their own juices. You really do not want to make apple sauce! As soon as the apples are cooked but still firm, remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool.

Preheat the oven to moderate [about 375F or 180C].

To assemble the pop tarts, place a generous spoonful of the cold apple in the middle of the square of pastry, moisten the edges with a little water [so the pastry will stick to itself], fold over, removing as much air as you can [without going insane about it], and press the edges closed.

Make a few small holes in the top of the pop tarts with the point of a sharp knife. This is to allow the steam to escape. Otherwise you might end up with exploding pop tarts. 🙂

Place the pop tarts on a baking tray and glaze with a little warm apricot jam [optional]. Bake in the middle of a moderate oven for about 10 minutes. The exact timing will depend upon your oven.

When the pop tarts are golden brown, remove from the oven and transfer to a cake rack to cool a little.

Warning: the apple inside these tarts is VERY hot. We discovered this the hard way…;)

The pop tarts will keep in the fridge for about three days, and we’ve found that they reheat beautifully. Just pop them back in the over for about 5 minutes.

Enjoy,
Meeks

p.s. I’m trying hard to get back into writing so I won’t be posting as much for a while. Don’t worry though, we’re both quite healthy!


Hansel and Pretzel

I was sampling tracks on Soundcloud when I stumbled across a song titled ‘Hansel and Pretzel’. How could I resist, especially when the album was title ‘Headless Body in Topless Bar’??

Colossal Trailer Music

This track is deliciously bizarre and is going straight into the playlist for the Acolyte. Enjoy.

Meeks
[comments are closed]


Alternatives to Killing People for the Economy

I barely know how to balance my household budget, let alone fix the economic crises facing the world, but…I do understand the social contract that got us all here in the first place.

That social contract goes all the way back to the earliest days of homo sapiens, and it’s based on co-operation /within/ the group which allowed the group to compete with the ‘outside’. In other words, the group was stronger than each individual and therefore protected the majority of individuals within the group.

Even today, herbivores that can’t fight off predators on their own congregate in large herds. The sheer size of those herds provides a measure of safety to every animal in the herd…except those on the very edge. Yet even they have a better chance with the herd than if they were on their own.

Humans are herd animals whether we want to admit it or not, and all the rules and structures we’ve invented over the millennia evolved to allow ever increasing numbers of humans to live in our herds without turning on each other.

Thus protection from the ‘outside’ always required an element of compromise. For example, to allow the herd to survive, individuals are banned from killing each other. When that rule is broken, punishment follows.

No one wants to be punished, but we accept it because it’s still better than being deprived of all the benefits society [the herd] provides.

This, at its most basic, is the social contract. It’s what we expect of our governments and institutions. It’s the reason we accept rulers, the Law of the Land [herd] and pay taxes.

Unfortunately, being human, we always want more. More goods, more safety, more power, more ego stroking. And that’s okay too, up to a point.

What point? The point at which the desires of individuals start to threaten society as a whole.

I believe we are at one of those points now. The primary role of government, any government, is to protect the lives of its citizens. Instead, our governments are sacrificing lives to protect an imaginary concept called ‘the economy’.

The following article by Cynthia Kaufman explores the idea of the ‘economy’, how it works now, and how it could work in the future. As she says “The economy exists to serve our needs, it isn’t a god which requires sacrificial victims.’

Cynthia Kaufman

As the U.S. begins to reopen after being shut down to protect us from spreading Covid-19, many people are beginning to talk about a choice between what is good for the economy and what will keep us healthy. Much pain and suffering has come as people have lost their livelihoods and their homes, and so we need to move quickly to put into place the things that will ensure that people have what they need to live. But rather than sacrificing people for the economy, we need to rethink what we mean by “the economy.” No one needs to be killed for us to have a healthy economy.

We live in a world where there is enough of everything we need for us all to live well, and to do so within the ecological limits of the planet. And yet, as the Covid-19 crisis has laid bare, the social systems…

View original post 2,198 more words


Paediatric Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children and young adults

Dr John Campbell first alerted us to this new, serious condition in children back in early May, and I mentioned it in this post. The condition was named ‘Paediatric Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome’ and parents were reassured that it was very ‘rare’. You can find Dr John’s latest video on the syndrome here.

It terms of total numbers, Paediatric Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome is still rare, but the numbers are growing, and we still don’t know much about it. What we do know, however, is rather scary because it upends the initial advice that children are miraculously ‘safe’ from Covid-19.

The following video explains these concerns very well:

I’ve cherry picked some important bits from the video:

0:40 ‘This virus has deceived us every step of the way. We have been behind this virus from the very beginning. And it still surprises us.’ [Andrew Cuomo, Mayor of New York].

1:10 [Paediatric Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome] ‘… shares symptoms with the rare, potentially life-threatening blood condition, Kawasaki disease which can cause toxic shock.’

1:42 ‘There are now more than 130 cases recorded in the US. Three children have died.’

2:19 Image of the rash and swollen extremities of a child with Paediatric Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome:

2:34 Graphic showing the most common symptoms to look out for in your child:

4:00 ‘We now know both that they [children] can get the disease [Covid-19] without symptoms, and they can become seriously ill from the disease.’ [Dr Lawrence Kleinman, Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA]

5:28 [These children have] ‘…no pre-existing conditions’.

When asked whether parents should be worried, Dr Kleinman was diplomatic, but suggested that parents should be ‘aware’ and ‘concerned’:

5:50 [Parents] ‘…and focus on the things they are able to do to protect their children.’

These things include [5:54]:

  • ‘…keeping them [children] away from close contact with others with whom they’re not living,
  • …wearing masks, and when out being around people who are wearing masks,
  • …washing hands,
  • and keeping surfaces clean, so-called ‘high contact surfaces’ like door knobs, counters, things like that where people touch a lot.’

As far as I can see, none of those suggestions is compatible with sending kids back to school.

  • When class sizes can be up to 30 children, social distancing is next to impossible.
  • When kids play, they come into close contact with each other. That’s why head lice can spread so rapidly through the population of a school.
  • Here in Australia, next to no one wears a mask, least of all our children.
  • In poorer schools, there may be taps for washing hands, but there is often no soap. Or the soap runs out in the morning and isn’t replaced until the cleaners come in after school. And that’s a best case scenario.
  • As for keeping close contact surfaces clean…kids touch everything, multiple times a day. Every time they go from one class to the next, in the toilet blocks, in the canteen… Keeping surfaces virus free is a nice concept, but that’s all it is. In practical terms, it cannot be done.

Taking the realities into consideration, Dr Kleinman is actually saying – do NOT send your children back to school. At least until we know more.

6:34 ‘…but we don’t know what the future holds. Every day we learn what we didn’t know the day before.’

And that seems to be the elephant in the Covid-19 room. This virus is so new, we don’t even know what it is that we don’t know. That’s why even the best advice can be outdated mere days after it’s been given.

In the beginning, we were told that children either didn’t get Covid-19 or only contracted a very mild disease. We were also told that ‘there was no evidence’ that children spread the virus [hence schools were ‘safe’].

We now know that children can get Covid-19, and they can get it without symptoms. That means they can spread it to other children and other members of their families. We are also learning that Covid-19 may trigger a delayed reaction in [some] children whereby their immune systems go haywire.

What we don’t know is why these children have this delayed reaction.

Is the connection to Covid-19 simply a coincidence?

Or are these children at special risk somehow?

And if they are, what is that special risk?

Will it strike more children as the pandemic continues?

To me, all these unknowns lead to just one question: is this a risk we really want to take with our children?

And this brings me to a special plea to the Premier of my state, Daniel Andrews:

Please, change your mind and keep schools closed until the start of Term 3.

It’s not that far off, but the delay could end up saving the lives of our children. Please don’t let the political animals in Canberra railroad you into going against your gut instincts. You have been right all along.

Sending kids back to school before we know how serious this Paediatric Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome is, and how it links to Covid-19 is a massive risk. What are the benefits other than freeing parents up to work ‘for the economy’?

Most rational people in Victoria agree with your cautious approach. Don’t stop now. Please.

Meeks
Warrandyte, VIC


Hello and goodnight!

I was just about to toddle off to bed when I received an email from Sally Cronin of Smorgasbord Cafe and Bookstore, saying she’d posted an excerpt from The Godsend on her blog. -dance- And, she’s included Diana Peach’s fabulous review as well. As you can imagine, I’m thrilled.

The excerpt is a short bit about Kenneth, my broken hero. Hope you like it.

Here’s the link: https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2020/05/14/smorgasbord-cafe-and-bookstore-share-an-extract-scifi-the-godsend-innerscape-book-two-by-a-c-flory/

And now I really must go to bed. Sleep tight if you’re in my timezone. If not, have a happy day, and stay well.

cheers
Meeks


When the computer won’t start…

Don’t panic!

That’s what I said to myself at 8am this morning when I turned my desktop computer on, and it promptly turned itself off again.

Actually, if I’m to be completely honest, I said quite a few things, most of which only had four letters, but let’s not get too precious about it. I was panicked, and my second thought was…how on earth would I live without the internet? And my writing? And my music? Oh god…and no ESO?

Then I thought to touch the top of the computer, near where the CPU is located. It was warm. It should not have been warm, not after less than a minute of being switched on.

And this is when the baby geek in me stepped up and said, “Dust.”

Baby Geek was right. There was dust all over the top of the computer. Not surprising really, considering that it sits on the floor, surrounded by small, hairy beasts:

Those two small beasts, plus Harry, another small feline beast, share the office with me, and they all shed. And if that wasn’t enough, my window faces north. When it was open over the summer, it let in a lot of smoke and dust, all of which would have been sucked into the desktop via the fans [internal] designed to keep it cool.

For those who don’t know, the average desktop computer is air cooled. Mine has two large fans located under those grills, which circulate air inside the box. I also have a small fan that sits on top of the CPU [the brain of the computer] and two more that sit on top of the GPU [graphics processing unit or video card]. Those two units are the most critical components of a pc, and if they overheat, the computer will automatically shut down.

I knew all this, but I still wondered, would this be the time when it wasn’t the pc overheating? If it was something more serious, how would I get it fixed?

After fortifying myself with a second cup of coffee, I set up the vacuum cleaner and my paint brushes and got to work. For those who are interested, this is a post I wrote some time ago about how to safely clean the inside of a desktop computer. If any of you are in the same predicament, please read the post carefully. You do NOT want to just stick the nozzle of the vacuum cleaner inside the guts of a pc. That would be a very, very bad idea!

To cut a long story short, I cleaned the computer, and it started up like a dream. Now, it’s purring away as if it had never tried to give me heart failure. Beast

I hope your start to the day was better than mine. Have fun and stay well. 🙂

Meeks


%d bloggers like this: