Overlaid by music I look up from the engrossing technology at my fingertips, through the bamboo and over three ridges of green hills. In the regular nine to five world it is where the horizon begins. But here on this hilltop where dragonflies like question marks fly their mating dance, where by rights there should be sky, there are mountains. A massive crumpled, white, jagged sea bed climbing up over the green hills. A white wave frozen an instant before it breaks, the ragged peaks and troughs all but over reaching, part of a ridge-line stretching two thousand miles across the face of the earth. To the right is a grey peak, a curtain of white, slipping, revealing where the snow no longer clings. In the not too distant future this veil will fail like a virgin divested of her mystery. a queen her sanctity. Then the white that now touches the sky will be ashes of a once certain beauty. As I write grey clouds are gathering at the base of the mountains and are rising, drawing a curtain across the vision, a predictive veil obscuring a white, dissolving majesty.
My first thought was that my seat mate on our flight to Doha sitting in 32A was a climber on his way to Kathmandu. Tall, bearded, he could barely fit into the meagre space that airlines consider adequate for fully grown human beings. Dogs in transit are protected by much tougher rules and regs. A tree surgeon was his opening description of what he did for a living. It soon became much more complex. This man was indeed a climber, not just of trees, but buildings. Trees first. Every day he climbs a tree. He goes out of his way to go to forests in England and climb the tallest trees and get the best views. From the top of the tallest tree in Epping Forest he could see clear over the canopy and into Canary Warf. Google employed him to help their project mapping the Amazon Rainforest. He tried sleeping in the canopy a couple times but it was too noisy. Buildings are next up. Specifically cranes. On top of The Kingdom Tower in Saudi, which will be a least a kilometre high when capped out. Strict training is necessary—2,500 hours of climbing experience to begin with. He is someone who enjoys climbing things and travels the world looking for ways to be paid to do just that. Except when he starts every day by climbing a tree because he loves it. A modest man, he seemed slightly perplexed about why he would spend his life climbing. He always climbs with ropes.
John Fowles wrote of “the termite towers of the west.” The technology has spread eastward with impressive speed and technical mastery. I am sitting in the food court of Doha airport looking out across the tarmac to those very termite towers in the distance. My seat mate’s job application to work at great heights set me thinking.
This is the Burj Khalifa, at 830 metres currently the tallest building in the world. It’s mighty impressive. Taking off from Dubai you keep climbing and climbing and never seem to draw level with the top.
This will be the Kingdom Tower in Saudia Arabia. It is designed by the same architect responsible for the Burj Khalifa, Adrian Smith, to be a mile high, but the geology of the area made that impossible. The exact height of the building is a secret but it will be at least a kilometre high.
Lunch with a side of vertigo?
And this is the evolutionary curve.
“Well, Shakespeare, he’s in the alley
With his pointed shoes and his bells
Speaking to some French girl
Who says she knows me well.”
I left KTM on Tuesday 17th of February to pay a fleeting visit to England to see my ailing aunt Pam (my late mother’s sister) in Cornwall. A group of the family made it to St Ives on Friday 2oth and found Pam weak but lucid, and looking very like my mother. I missed her death, my flight landing at Heathrow at the time she died. Seeing Pam looking so much like Audrey helped close a circle. We all talked with Pam, about her father, about the twinkle in her eye for the doctor with the fine moustache. We left her tired, her frail body and ice white head of hair slumped sideways into the pillow. This redoutable, independent, intelligent, commited woman died the following Monday, slipping away in the company of her Vicar and a friend from church. With her died the last link to my mother.
Suddenly I wasn’t going home quite yet. Leaving a flat in North London I made my way to Paddington to catch a train to Exeter and friends. From there my plan was to drive to Penzance during the day and come home in the evening from dealing with the bureaucracy of death to friendship, peace, a warm Aga and a deeply emotional dog, Martha. E had texted the previous day from San Francisco and offered to come over. In all the rush I knew he was coming but not what time his flight was. I arrived at Paddington to catch the train, wheeling a suitcase, mind ablaze with shock, plans and sadness, got my ticket and was walking across towards the departure boards when this young man walked across right in front of me. It seemed like a miracle. There was E large as life. For the next week he was my constant, patient companion and life support.
It’s now the 7th March and the Turkish Airways jet is still stuck in the Kathmandu mud. The silver lining to all this is that, between visits to Penzance to arrange the funeral I am spending extra time with my family, two dear friends in Devon and London and met some wonderful people: Doctor, Solicitor, Registrar, Vicar, Funeral Director, Hire Car lady, Real Eastate lady, airline staff, who have eased a painful journey and made life far less trying than it might otherwise have been. It is a remarkable statement on the generosity of human nature that death brings out such kindness in people.
The Sussex sun streams through the window, the logs burn in the stove. E is safely back in San Francisco; the plane is still stuck in the mud, my plans also. But in the great scheme of things not too much of a problem. It is giving me time to recover from exhaustion and a stonking cold. It has also afforded me the opportunity to put on my headphones and write to you from the comfort of an armchair from within the warmth of family.
Dearest Pam: Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis. Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis. Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.
Leonard Simon Nimoy. March 26, 1931 – February 27, 2015.
“He has said that the character of Spock, which he played twelve to fourteen hours a day, five days a week, influenced his personality in private life. Each weekend during the original run of the series, he would be in character throughout Saturday and into Sunday, behaving more like Spock than himself: more logical, more rational, more thoughtful, less emotional and finding a calm in every situation. It was only on Sunday in the early afternoon that Spock’s influence on his behavior would fade off and he would feel more himself again – only to start the cycle over again, on Monday morning.” Wiki.
I am working on a 25,000-word short story, Val, the first part of a trilogy, and had a few thoughts about writing Science Fiction.
I travel at well below the speed of light in my own perception bubble of time. So it took aeons of my life realize it, but, all the experience of Science Fiction takes place in the present. From the writing to the dissemination into the reader’s mind, it all happens now. It can be set in any time, any space. But it is experienced here as you sit reading. Mind talking to mind.
Science Fiction is often intellectually and artistically despised. It is generally understood to mean space ships, profoundly drawn physical characters, skintight clad alien seductresses and shoot ‘em ups. A lot of contemporary Science Fiction is dark, brooding and fantastic. Filled with biological horrors and convincing technology it takes the cosmos and fear of the unknown and impregnates a CGI wormhole into our minds. Yet the movie, 2001 A Space Odyssey, is generally regarded as one of the pinnacles of Science Fiction. It deals with aspects of how we came to be and how the mind functions. It asks fundamental questions about the nature of humanity and how we are trying to make sense of the universe. The spaceship technology is also pretty cool, even today.
Do you remember writing in a schoolbook your full name plus your address? Infinite Loop, California, Solar System, Milky Way, the Universe. Now we can add 375,000 years from the Big Bang to that deep-seated need to describe where we are, what could be out there, or evolving here inside us.
There are no imaginative limits to writing Science Fiction. It is a liberating and compelling genre in which to create a fictional world. I don’t pretend to understand the science down to the equations and the graphs. I borrow the concepts of space-time, wormholes, and quantum nature, take the imaginative aspect of scientific creation without providing the burden of proof, and use it as raw material.
Science fiction set in the everyday world? What better space-time frame to narrate it in?
Many of you will have seen the photographs of a member of the Constituent Assembly (CA) lifting a chair above his head in the middle of an unseemly series of actions instigated by various wings of the Maoist faction as they attacked members of the ruling party. The CA exists to draft a constitution, and after two iterations over six years have singularly failed to do. The heart of the issue is that two-thirds of the assembly want to press ahead and deal with issues as they arise by vote, Federalism amongst them, while the Maoists want the broad foundations of the constitution to be arrived at by consensus. They believe that not enough is being written into the constitution in support of the lower caste Dalits amongst others, and “the people”. The Maoists were convincingly voted out at the last election for various reasons, including allegations of corruption, and because they failed to address issues related to creating a constitution. The cost to the nation of the CA so far has been Rps 780 million (approx Rps 100 to the $). The current CA operates in private with none of the electorate able to observe.
Writing a constitution is a passionate business – it took the Founding Fathers twelve years, Nepal has been going at it for six – but the actions by the Maoists have angered and shamed many here. Their imposition of strikes, something for which they have a right, but which they are calling without the consensus of the electorate, smacks of intimidation, threat and fear so prevalent during the civil war. The economic cost to a nation hanging on by it’s fingertips can only be imagined. Nepal is a justifiably proud and independent nation, sandwiched as it is by two of the world’s largest economies. The chief lesson is that compromise is essential, that actions have effects as well as causes, and that violence in the streets and the CA is no substitute for dialogue however passionately you believe in your case. Democracy is not always comfortable.
For an excellent summary see: http://www.hindustantimes.com/world-news/ugly-scenes-in-nepal-constituent-assembly-over-constitution/article1-1308658.aspx