R (yes we are onto R already) – is for Chris Rea

Tuesday 20th September

Not I must admit one of my very favourite artists, but listening again I cannot deny his wonderful talent.  Every song is beautifully constructed, his guitar playing immaculate – oh, and that voice, like some friendly wise parent gently whispering words of wisdom into your ear as you glide effortlessly into slumber.  Not that I ever fall asleep listening to Chris, though his songs and albums do have a tendency to sameness that lulls as it reassures.  He came to prominence in the early eighties, alongside Dire Straits and Prefab Sprout but has always seemed somehow older and wiser than that.

And he has had a few hits along the way.  ‘Stainsby Girls’, ‘The Road to Hell’ and my favourite ‘Driving Home For Christmas’.  He is also one of those artists who seem to shy away from the limelight, he rarely does interviews; seemingly happy to live in his music.  A rare talent.

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Different Reactions to the News

Monday 19th September

I woke on Sunday to two pieces of news and was struck by the differing reactions from World leaders.

The first was that Russia has reacted strongly to America’s (accidental) bombing of Syrian troops which killed over 60.  Russia wants the UN Security Council to discuss it and have accused America of not wanting to fight Isis and of funding the rebels who are fighting Assad, whose troops they support and were of course killed.  There is some truth in all of this, though in all probability the bombing was accidental; we hope so at least.  The American reaction was that Russia was pulling a stunt.  No real apology, no acceptance of blame – just calling Russia’s reaction a stunt.  And of course Russia is milking the situation for Political reasons too, and given their actions in Ukraine the blackest of kettles is looking for similar pots to accuse.  But amazing that the two ‘Superpowers’ have such different reactions to the tragic loss of life involved.

There was a bomb in Manhattan, thankfully nobody killed but many injured.  As of writing this there is no knowing if it is terrorist related or who was responsible.  Donald Trump goes on the offensive and repeats his mantra of ‘Making America Safe. Making America Great’.  He was warning that America was going to have to get tough, very tough to deal with this sort of thing (though as we all must know there is very little any Government can do to completely prevent terrorism of any sort, if indeed it was an act of terrorism).  One could almost hear the knees jerking in his intended audience.  Hilary Clinton was thoughtful and quietly said that we must wait until all the facts are known before we can come to any conclusion, she stressed the importance of waiting until the Police had reported before over-reacting.  A sensible response you might think and almost certainly the right one; but little good will it do her.  Against all the odds it is looking more and more like a close race, and as we all underestimated both the stupidity and the anger of our own people during the Brexit vote, maybe we are all underestimating Americans sense of frustration.  A sense of self-pity and self-righteousness is pervading the World.  So, again completely different reactions to a tragic situation.

Interesting, and of course how Politicians react to ‘news’ informs our own reactions and how we perceive things too.

The Mercury Prize Never Fails To Amaze

Sunday 18th September

I was ready for bed, 10 here in France but I was watching UK TV and it was 9 there.  Just about to switch off the telly when they announced that on BBC4 the Mercury Prize was being announced.  I decided to sleepily watch it.

Now in the last 25 years the Mercury prize has never failed to amaze; many great albums ignored and many winners never heard of again.  Like the Turner prize in Art the panel seem to go out of their way to defy logic and common sense and choose Artists (in both mediums) that almost defy the description itself.

Anyway – to the show, and the real reason I had decided to watch.  I knew that Bowie’s Blackstar was on the shortlist of 12 albums and stupidly hoped he might win posthumously.  The shortlist of 12 was soon whittled down to 6.  Bowie was still there. Each of the Artists presented live at Hammersmith Apollo (where I have seen Dylan, Bowie, McCartney and many many others in years gone by).  First up was Laura Mvula, a beautiful black woman and a great performance – she would have made a worthy winner.  Another black singer Michael Kiwamuka was also brilliant – a modern soul sound with a blistering guitar solo – he too would have made a worthy winner.  Radiohead presented a film of Johnny Greenwood and Thom Yorke with a lovely acoustic song from their latest album, and even though I am not a Radiohead fan they would have been worthy winners.  A ‘peoples choice’ The 1975, although not my cup of tea, put on a good performance and would have been acceptable winners.  Bowie was represented by a singer I hadn’t heard of, Micheal Hall I think, singing Lazarus.  As soon as I heard those gorgeous chords and poignant words I was transported.  Of course Bowie had to win.  But I had forgotten because he was so awful the Artist known as Skepta.  It was what is known as Grime, but to my uneducated ears it was the usual rapping shouty posturing angry hip-hop which I have never understood and though I have tried can find nothing to like in it whatsoever.  He leapt around the stage shouting ‘Shutdown’ and the other ‘lyrics’ were almost indecipherable – the studio audience though loved it.  You guessed; he won.

Oh well, there is always next year.

P – is for The Proclaimers

Saturday 17th September

Charlie and Craig Reid are the Proclaimers.  They are twin brothers and look quite alike too.  They are Scottish, they are Christians and they are fans of Scottish Nationalism, none of which means diddly-squat, it is their great music that I love them for.  They broke onto the music scene in 1987 when their single ‘Letter From America’ hit the charts.  What was so unusual about the song, apart from great words and music was that they were singing in broad Scottish Accents, unashamedly so.  There have been many great bands from Scotland but they all sung with English or American accents – the Proclaimers were un-apolagetically Scottish.  A year later they had even more success with ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 miles’, better known as I would walk 500 miles.

They have performed live and released quite a few albums and their songs have been included in many films, probably most famously in Shrek.  Their songs are mostly joyful, but they write and sing a few serious songs and ballads too; most notably a song called ‘If There’ a God’ which questions the very foundations of their belief.  They also famously covered Roger Miller’s classic ‘King Of The Road’.  They are one of those distinctively individual bands who are instantly recognizable and don’t appear to be at all affected by fame, or lack of it.  Every time I hear a Proclaimer’s song I have to smile.

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2066 – The END

Friday 16th September

Report Conclusion date 20661222

It is with a degree of personal sadness that I have to place on record the following conclusion.

Many meetings were held with psycho-analysts, computer experts, financial consultants, and representatives of both the UK and US governments.   The general consensus was that while at one level the second conjoining of Janek Smith had been a failure, all knowledge is progress.

There were many who were opposed to the whole conjoining experiments, mostly on our side, though some of the Americans had their reservations too.  They have been temporarily suspended.  Assessments are being carried out on the three hundred or so surviving conjoinees, myself included.  Personally I appear to have suffered no adverse side-effects, though it has been observed that my personality has become, shall we say, more formal, less relaxed than it may have been before.  I am quite unaware of any such change myself.  I feel just the same, except of course, that my problem-solving abilities are much improved.  I appear to analyse things in a much more logical way than most un-conjoined persons.  Is that a fault?  I consider it an advantage, allowing me to actually think straight, without unnecessary emotions clouding my judgement.  However I am submitting myself to more in-depth tests and we will see what, if anything, they throw up.

For the time being then, all future conjoining has been put on hold.  Not cancelled I must stress but simply postponed.   I am confident that after a period of reflection the programme, possibly amended, will be resumed.  In my opinion the work is too important to let a few setbacks derail the whole programme.

The reading and recording of Janek’s memories is progressing slowly.  Painstakingly slowly.  But progress is being made.   By using this new cell-based nanotech we can open and ‘read’ the individual memories.  They still tend to fail after an hour or two and are then un-recoverable in any way, but we have gotten around this problem by simply viddying them.  Yes, it was as simple a solution as pointing a viddycam at the screen and pressing record.  The memories, or at least an impression of them could then be copied and examined at our leisure.  Of course, the emotions and feelings of Janek, which we all felt when first opening them have been lost, but we are working on this too, and it seems that a shadow, a whisper almost, some nano-scopic trace is left behind in the cells of the nano-coms own memory.  Accessing this will be a challenge, but we are quietly confidant of success.

Success is such a subjective concept anyway.  The whole ‘select’ programme was instituted to speed up the evolution of mankind.  The very fact that we, our generation, are embarking on this voyage into the future, would have been unthinkable even fifty years ago.  So, in a way, even our contemplating it is contributing to our evolution.  No longer content with making smarter and smarter machines we are now turning our minds to making smarter people.   That is evolution for you.

 

Report Compiler’s Note

A few years have passed since compiling the bulk of my report.

As you will have been aware the conjoining was only one part of the programme.  Which brings me to that second ‘eugenic’ strand of ‘select’.  As I outlined earlier, by a process of selective manipulation of sperm and egg, and the ability we have lately acquired to speed up the whole process of pregnancy and infancy, we can produce new pubescent adults in about six years.  So rather than take a century to pass on genes for five generations we can now do this in thirty years.  The signs are good.  The first batch of Janek’s babies have been born and will reach puberty sometime in the New Year.  Tests on them show a remarkably healthy group with slightly above average intelligence.   As soon as it is possible they will be harvested for sperm and eggs which will be used for the next implantation.   It is estimated that further enhancements and selective tweaking of these children’s DNA will ensure the next and following generation’s evolutionary development will be truly remarkable.  Just as selective breeding of farm animals over hundreds of years created the high meat volume creatures we now prize so highly, so we are in the process of creating new humans with super-intelligence and the capacity to conjoin successfully with Hypercoms.

The decision has been taken at last.  The con-joining programme is to recommence.  But this time instead of using fully developed adult volunteers whose brains may be too well-developed anyway, we will be conjoining the two year old grandchildren of Janek himself.  We will be creating Superbabies.  The future is truly exciting.  Mankind will at last achieve its true potential.

It only remains to inform you of the situation regarding Janek Smith.  It must never be forgotten what a wonderful contribution he has made to both the ‘select’ programme and our understanding of what it is to be human.  Someone once said that you only truly learn from your mistakes.  If so, we have learnt so much from Janek as to be forever in his debt.   You will recall the last ‘conversation’ I had with him where he requested to be allowed to sleep permanently.  That wish has been granted.  He has entered into a coma.  This actually happened independently of any intervention on our part.  There had of course been discussions as to the best long-term solution.  It would have been quite a serious step to place him into an artificial coma.  Euthenasing him would have been far simpler and legally his request for permanent sleep was sufficient to satisfy the law in that case.  But unless his condition were so serious that only a comatosing was medically appropriate it would have been hard to justify his request for permanent sleep.  There was also the possibility that he might recover and so we decided to wait and see.

However it seems that Janek’s brain simply decided to shut down.  He entered into a coma on the twenty-fourth of December 2066.  ‘Chrissy eve’ co-incidentally.  Given his wishes if I were sentimental I might have reflected that indeed Christmas came early for Janek Smith.   He is of course being monitored constantly in the hope that he may recover, but if his condition deteriorates there will in accordance with his wishes be no attempt at resuscitation.

 

-[Please be reminded that this document and all appendices are ‘Top Secret’.  Only accredited members of the ‘select’ programme may have access to it.  After reading please return this printed copy to your superior.  Do not attempt to copy or reproduce all or any part of it.]-

This report has been compiled by William Willoughby, senior consultant and UK representative of the ethics board of the joint UK/USA programme known as ‘select.’

17th December 2071

 

 

Authors Note

All of the above is fiction.  Don’t believe a word of it.  It may even be propaganda…hahaha.  I would like to dedicate this Memoir to my grandchildren; Rebecca, Dominic, Mathew, Samuel, Elizabeth, Sophie, Imogen and Elleah – and to all young people everywhere.  It will be for them to stop any of the above happening.

As a boy I was caned many times.  Standing outside the Headmaster’s study, anticipating the swish and snap of the cane, I would read the plaque in the lobby.

“To you we pass the burning Torch, be it yours to hold up high.”   I never really understood what it meant until now.

And to all of you children we too pass the torch of the future.

“DON’T DROP THE BLOODY THING”

The Collected Works of Elizabeth Von Arnim

Thursday 15th September

Born in the 1860’s in New Zealand, and named Maria, Elizabeth was brought up from the age of 3 in England.  Co-incidentally one of her cousins was Katherine Mansfield, another great writer.  Elizabeth married a Prussian count when she was in her early twenties and went to live in Germany.  It was an incredible culture shock.  She was awfully lonely and wrote a book under the name Elizabeth, called Elizabeth’s Secret Garden.  It was full of descriptions of flowers and scenery and with little autobiographical touches about how lonely and sad she felt.  She described her husband in her books as the man of wrath and she was unhappily married for years.  The book was a success and she wrote more, especially novels, often featuring young Englishwomen being uprooted and starting a new life in Germany.  All her books are quite delightful, often dealing with loneliness and rejection and women discovering themselves – and remember most of these were written a hundred years ago, when women’s lives were so different.

I bought her collected works on kindle; as they were out of copyright they cost nothing at all. I had bought probably her very best book ‘The Parson’s Wife’ a couple of years ago when kindle suggested it and was so impressed that I downloaded the collected works.  I have now read them all and not been disappointed once.

In later life when her husband died she re-married to the elder brother of Bertrand Russell and was actually a countess.  She lived to be ninety; a lesser famous authoress but a real revelation and a wonderful discovery for me.  I cannot recommend her highly enough.

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And Everything Was Going So Well

Wednesday 14th September

I lay my weary head down some time in 2002.  Was it really that long ago?  The World was different then, or so my rose-tinted glasses seem to recall.  Labour were in power.  Tony Blair had just won his second election.  The Tories were in disarray; William Hague had led them to a second disastrous defeat.  True, Tony and Gordon were reportedly always arguing but we had budget after successful budget, more money was pouring into schools and hospitals were being built (although we were ignorant of the PFI bills to come).  There were rumours that George Bush, not content with sending thousands of troops to Afghanistan was planning to attack Iraq too, but surely our Prime Minister would keep us clear of that nonsense.

I tossed and turned all night.  It was a long night, full of hot sweats and cold chills.  I woke up yesterday and couldn’t believe my eyes.  The Middle East is a disaster zone, both Syria and Iraq in flames.  The Tories are back in power – well, it had to happen someday I suppose.  Gone is Blair, Brown and all the rest of New Labour; incredibly a long term rebel is in charge of Labour and can barely form a shadow cabinet.  Gone is Clegg – and almost all of the LibDems too.  Gone is David Cameron too, and shortly not even to be an M.P.  Somehow he had recklessly promised a referendum on the EU.  When I had turned in for the night the only discussion was whether we would join the Euro or not.  He gambled and lost, but has dragged us all into a never-ending nightmare with Mrs. May, like some Edwardian headmistress promising to bring back Grammar Schools, and days of Empire and hanging too no doubt.  In America they are possibly going to elect an out and out racist.  The NHS is in real crisis, even doctors are striking, and no-one seems to care – and the clock is ticking away – the alarm will go off any minute and I will have to get up and deal with it all.

Please let me go back to sleep.  I quite liked the World in 2002, just 12 years later and I barely recognize the place.

A Week Away

Tuesday 13th September

Last Monday I suffered a catastrophe.  The laptop froze, in fact it had been happening fairly regularly, but as usual I had simply ignored it and restarted the thing.  This time it kept freezing and then Sage, my Accounts package wouldn’t open at all.  I closed the laptop down.  Tried restarting – again nothing was working.  Took the battery out and put it back in and restarted – again nothing.  Frustration, annoyance.  I decided to seek help.  I tool the laptop to Andy, our local computer man.  He was just finishing for the day.  On Tuesday he told me the machine had a virus, but also he thought that Windows 7 hadn’t been loaded correctly and hadn’t been receiving updates, some of which were improvements to the anti-virus.  He said the only option was to back-up all the data and re-install Windows 7.

I agreed, but with the usual trepidation, worrying that data might get lost or that the machine itself might never work again.  It has taken a whole week to sort out but today I got the thing back and had to download Sage and printer drivers and a whole week of e-mails and catch up on everything.  It is all done now.  Phew.  All seems okay.

But I have had a week away from my laptop.  Sometimes I feel I am handcuffed to the thing.  And it has been strangely liberating.  No daily blog to do, no e-mails to check, no facebook to look at, no handcuffs in fact.  So.  Am I going to change my behaviour.  Probably not.  But I might try….

Hope Over Experience – Again

Monday 5th September

Part 1 – before the game

Football again.  England again.  World Cup Qualifiers again.  Hope over experience again.  And yet we all start to get carried away – again.  Even after the Iceland debacle.  In fact after the whole of the Euro-Championship debacle, we still get carried away – again.  And of course, we have a new manager – again.  Roy had two bites at the cherry, and failed both times – again.  We had a practically new team the last time too, with lots of supposedly in-form players – and we lost again.  And with each new manager (we even call it a new era) comes new hope over overwhelming experience – again.  At least Sam, dour bluff Northern, tell it like it is Sam, won’t apologise; one feels that if the players don’t perform he will tell it like it is.  Roy was simply too nice one felt.  But then again Sam has never won anything, he has saved many a team from relegation; a gritty fighter who somehow inspires average players to do just enough.  And maybe that is all we need.  The trouble is we think we are so much better than we really are – again.  And oh no, just seen the team sheet; he is sticking with Joe Hart (clumsy handed Joe Hart) in goal and Wayne (mine’s the redhead – oh a grand for the night – okay) Rooney as captain – again.

Maybe even given a clean sheet most of us would have picked many of the same players; it is just they don’t seem to know how to play together – at least on the really big occasions – again.

Part 2 – after the game

So, Slovakia 0, England 1.  Phew.  Because even against a team with no players you have ever heard of we hoped we could win but experience, and very recent experience too, tells us to fear the worst.  So we scraped through again…another last minute goal.  So, relief all round.  Sam has got off to a winning start, even if the game was lacklustre and England seemed to have little idea where the opposition goal was, or that the idea of the game is to kick that round thing into it – again.  And again and again.

The Pharmacie

Sunday 4th September

The town is deserted, it is mid-morning and hot and no-one is around.  An occasional car slowly prowls the streets but soon wanders off prey-less.  I am on an errand, I have to go to the Pharmacie for some eye-drops for my wife.  The automatic doors slide open as I approach, and there everyone is; the Pharmacie is full of people, almost all French but a smattering of English too.  The French absolutely love their Pharmacies.  Unlike most shops they are clean and well-lit with often a green flashing cross in neon outside – they are obviously the most profitable shops in town.

They are full of lotions and potions, powders and ointments, row upon row of treatments for every condition imaginable, and some even I haven’t dared to think existed.  Beauty treatments take up a whole wall; there are creams for every part of the body and sprays and drops without number.

And the whole shop is full of women; it seems that most French women spend all their time and most of their money in the Pharmacie.  Many have younger girls with them; obviously indoctrinating them in the mysterious world of medication and treatments for ills both imaginary and real.

I only ever go to the Pharmacie for one product; Icyclovir for my cold sores – and am shocked each time at how expensive a tiny pump action tube costs.  But I stand in line and wait behind French women, some actually walking out with carrier-bags full of stuff, discussing their ailments seriously with the white tunic-ed smart women serving and dispensing equal amounts of wisdom and ointments.  It seems that looking after the body, both internally and externally is of the utmost importance for French women, while in the bars extremely unhealthy looking French men sip Pastis and smoke cigarettes and buy lottery tickets and watch sport on the TV.  A strange world.