Tuesday, 28 August 2012
I watched the flames lick higher at the woman chained screaming to the post. The white polished marble of the ruined church flickered with the light of the bonfire and the brands that so many of the people carried. In the corner a weeping man held himself, chained at the ankle he rocked back and forth, worrying the wounds around his legs, blood trickled onto the ground.
The songs of the faithful rose higher. The man wailed louder. He kept shouting the same words.' I am sorry, I am sorry. I cannot, I cannot.'
An unusual fear was in his eyes. Perhaps he was next? Hiding behind my mother’s skirts as she stood rigid, glaring at the coughing girl about to be consumed by the heat and smoke of the fire. There was no rain or breeze.
The priest walked around the outside of the pyre chanting. His black robes dusting the floor. The man in the corner stood. His legs and shoulders creaking and straining. Emaciated, withered, his veins bulged against the effort. The men by his side did not see, watching as they were the growing blaze.
I felt I was the only one who saw. The man in his rags and bloodied legs stepped out of his chains but moved no further. He saw me stare and raised his finger to his lips. I want to say I saw yellow eyes and fire and anger come from him, I want to say that he was a demon who struck the blow that day, but he was not. He was a starved man who whispered something to the wind.
He stepped forward and moved through the crowd. No one saw him, no one moved. Their eyes fixed on the curling yellow and orange light of God’s fury. He stepped into the fire and held out his hand. The woman strained at her chains, closed her eyes and then took a simple step forward. The ragged man helped the woman in her white soot darkened smock from the flames.
They walked towards me. Hand in hand. They passed but the frail sickly man stopped and knelt.
‘Do you hate me child?’ he asked.
I shook my head.
‘Here’ he held out his hand. ‘You will come with us, you will be safe. I promise.’
I took his hand and slipped past my mother’s skirts. They brushed my cheek as I walked away from her.
Into the distance I saw the town and started to make for the lights. Behind me I started to hear a rumble of thunder and then the cacophony of crowd in panic and fear for their lives.
I looked at my arms and brushed dust from my sleeve.
‘Do not look back’ he whispered.
Monday, 27 August 2012
The cover of the small book is blank bar the title reference. It is embossed in old fashioned type, the letters dig into the creamy cartridge paper. Like the front page of a movie script trying too hard. A smudge of lipstick smeared across the front like a butcher’s thumbprint. The red makes me feel uneasy. An omen in a real library or a deliberate message here in the depths of the new unreal.
Then I open it to the greeting. First page. The words whisper to me.
‘Hello Garden.’ Two words are there, stark against the white page that doesn’t exist in the library that cannot be.
I can hear a voice say the words.
She knows I am here. Maybe she has even invited me.
I turn the page and memories I never knew I had raise like floodwater. I am condemned.
Sunday, 26 August 2012
Scotland wants to introduce same sex marriage. Not the civil partnership – we have that – marriage – in a church.
This morning 500 Catholic parishes issued a letter condemning the move in words that can at best be described as anti-gay and worst as religiously motivated homophobia.
Do religions serve our societies or do societies serve our religions?
I stand; or rather sit aghast at the temerity of the Catholic Church as it tries to force itself and its antiquated views on the population of this great nation of Scotland.
I’m an atheist, which in the spirit of disclosure and fair play I’ll admit right from the off.
I don’t believe in God, but do believe in people: people who come in all shapes, sizes, colours and predilections.
People love one another and they make those declarations of love in all manner of ways. They buy flowers for a first date; they go and see the awful movie because they think it will make their loved one happy, they travel long distances, learn new things and eventually make promises like marriage.
In a world where one in every ten person is attracted to a member of the same sex it is anachronistic, no, it is offensive to deny 10% of people the right to be part of society.
Religions should serve the best interests of our societies. If a society elects a government and passes them a mandate for change, what right has an unelected body like the Catholic Church to stand in the way of that change?
Scotland has sought to throw off unelected rulers before. The Catholic Church needs to be very careful and think hard on my question.
Do religions serve our societies or do societies serve our religions?
If they get the answer wrong the consequences could be disastrous.
Check out :
For more info.
Saturday, 25 August 2012
The chime of hammer against the rough stone anvil woke the village. It always did. Jorri moved from under the covers and squeezed past his younger sisters. He threw on the foul smelling coat that his mother had said ready, but he could swear there was a pocket of flesh or sinew still there in the hide that touched his nose. Nevertheless it was his.
The weather outside the hut was still. The only light was from the forge starting to glow. A layer of snow on the ground a knuckle deep meant he could skip across to Thor quite quickly.
‘The master smith hammered again at the anvil, the metal beneath chimed and sang. Jorri wondered why no one else could hear it. But then he was supposed to be there.
‘I’ll get to the fire’ he said with an apology in his voice that met a recognition in the grunt from his master.
There was another chime.
‘Did I ever tell you’ Thor started to speak as he brought his hammer down again.
‘Tell me what?’ Jorri loved Thor’s stories. He grabbed a handful of oats and dried lingonberries from the bowl. He needed something in his twelve year old stomach, although it would only take a handful. Thor knew he stole a hand ful a day, he didn’t mind. He was always careful not to see.
‘Did I ever tell you my hammer’s name?’ He said, striking what was to become a sword for the chief of the village.
‘No’ the boy said, this was going to be a good one, the smith had probably been up since before dawn thinking up his tales. ‘what is its name?’
‘Not an it boy’ chime, ‘it is a he, all hammers’ are he.’
‘Sorry. What is his name?’
‘A long time ago’ he began, ‘my brother played an awful trick on my wife. I was enraged. I threatened to kill him, but then he said what if I got her some new hair.’
‘Go on’ said the boy, ‘tell me more.’
The final tests were over. The ability to cross between universes was theirs. John moved to the gate. It would flash and the test probe would be transported to a parallel world. The physics was untested, the engineering experimental, but if it succeeded the ability to test their theories about multiverse theory and M-theory would increase exponentially.
The gate hummed into life. A ten metre square platform was surrounded by blue light. John spoke into his lapel microphone.
‘Test one, probe alpha one’ he took a sip of coffee with his left and hit the button with his right hand in expectation. The probe stayed exactly where it was. Hovering above the platform. John looked at his colleagues.
‘What the hell is going on?’
John asked the engineer to manoeuvre the probe away from the platform so he could have a look at the engines. This was not supposed to happen.
The probe sat to his left, a metre square it hovered on air blades before coming to rest. The technician looked it over.
Three hours later John found no fault with the machine.
He looked at the probe and a thought occurred. He turned it over. The mechanism was fine. He asked the technician to play back the tape. He loaded up the information onto the big screen. John watched for any clue as to the malfunction.
The view from the probe captured him looking worried, sipping coffee, hitting the button. Then a blue flash and then the same worried look and another sip from the coffee cup in his right hand.
The Bus kept going, into the distance. The airport run, a mixture of expectation and resignation on the coming and the going.
I sat in the coffee shop wondering whether I would ever get to go. The grand plans, the hopes of leaving behind the strain of a life that was slowly killing me.
I say that and I mean it. Programming is hard work, even in a successful company. The hours drag on, the push for results, the being a parent to five hundred employees that you want to do well. Being a boss and an underling, being on top and below. Shareholders tugging one way, directors tugging the other, the work weighing you down while at home sits a husband I promised to spend the rest of my life with, but my life gets spent on people who have bought me for a day, a week, a project. An intellectual whore.
What goes back to him is the empty carton that I came in. Then his smile tops it up.
I looked at my wedding band and took a breath. Maybe it was because it was Sunday; the day of rest and the prologue to another week, another long six day week of somebody else’s problems.
I imagined a lottery win then, a set of numbers, nothing massive, just enough to go, just enough to disappear. I imagined an alternate universe where I had a backbone, a spine, a sense of risk.
I sipped some more coffee and planned it out. I was Thirty two; I had another three decades if I lived not making much more than inflationary increases in salary. I would never be in charge, I knew that, I wasn’t serious enough, I couldn’t not smile, I always saw the other side and I was not about to stop being human for a rise in salary.
I imagined retirement: colleagues waving me off, a gold watch and a badly drawn portrait to go in the downstairs toilet. The average life expectancy is meant to be a year and a half once you retire. No thanks. I’ll take my chances with the rest of the world.
I imagined the Americans behind me struggling to understand a passage in Galatians were spies discussing espionage, outside the people passing and swirling round each other became dancers in a massive show stopping number. Like a purposeless syncopation of an Olympic opening ceremony.
I imagined life as it could be.
Tigers that prowled along the high street, monkeys with German accents swinging from the tapestries in the museum and music halls, a being of pure light who stops clocks on a whim to allow you to live one moment forever.
Only a dream of really being with the man I married.
Wednesday, 22 August 2012
So Matt Damon (go on say it…you know you want to, he won’t mind. Together then. Maaaat daaaaammmaaaaaaaan. Better?)
Sorry – where was I – oh – Matt Damon wanted Paul Greengrass to return, he didn’t so neither did Matt. Reboot time.
But no, not a reboot, a story that runs concurrent with the Bourne trilogy fronted by our fresh faced Über-Spy. New bug Jeremey Renner is the operative against the evils of all powerful US of A fronted by Edward Norton and Scott Glenn.
And you know what – he’s not bad. Renner plays the lead with an understated Machismo in a cast that includes Edward Norton, Scott Glenn, Stacy Keach and Rachel Weisz. These kids ain’t playing and all give their very best to turn this from standard steadycam runabout to SERIOUS ACTION.
Now this is something I’m coining – SERIOUS ACTION – is a film that plays hard with the visceral reality heavy violence while roping in serious actors who can, if they want to, make a movie with their shirt on.
Bourne, Collatoral, Miami Vice etc. You start to get the idea.
But I digress.
Weisz is good as the sidekick and the set pieces rock, especially the farmhouse. But it can, at times, feel like a bit of a Bourne re-run. Renner does his level best to make the part his own and there are a few plot devices that help him along the way, but when you boil it down we are back with the same situation, different guy.
Good Saturday night fodder. Take an extra bag of candy for the two hour run time.
Tuesday, 21 August 2012
So I’m a geek. Well we knew that.
I’ve grown up reading comics, watching sci-fi, and getting excited by each new incarnation of Batman.
I got interested too in the notion of heroes. Why do we have the stories we do? Often they are throwbacks to the tales we have from antiquity. The demi gods that walked ancient Greece. Cunning Odysseus, Brave Achilles, Mighty Hercules. All of whom bear a striking resemblance to the caped crusader and his motley crew today. Speed, strength, agility of body and mind, they were the men who walked among us, but were not men, they were man plus, that little bit extra that made them the people we wanted to be.
The North had its fair share of stories too. We even adopted one of them. Thor is in comics and movies today just as he was in the centuries before Christ was born. Always portrayed as an everyman (and sometimes a bit thick) he was the hero we could relate to and aspire to all at the same time.
Even our religions have influenced the heroes we have today in our fiction. The notion of the messiah myth, someone who comes from a faraway place with supernatural powers to save us: Jesus and Superman both fit the criteria (though Jesus was here first).
But today what have we got? I mean for real? We have people who are our idols. We have the sports stars: people who get paid thousands, millions, to hone what they have to the very peak of perfection. And I don’t doubt they work damn hard.
But these are surely not the heroes who walk among us? These are supermen. There are no secret identities here, no hiding from the limelight. These people are not bank clerks or toll booth attendants, they are not journalists or lawyers, they are not hidden from us, they are in plain sight.
So where are the secret heroes? Where are the people we don’t expect?
They are coming to London in 8 days time. They are the people who serve you coffee, who answer the phone at the Credit Card company. They do your tax returns, they teach your children.
They are the people who said so what. Men and women who lost limbs to tragedy, lost their sight to misfortune. People who were born without, but did anyway. People who served their country and are thankful to be alive regardless of their condition.
If a hero is meant to do something besides save the damsel and defeat the bad guy it is to inspire.
You want to meet superman, or do you want to meet the girl who loses her leg and then decides to get up at 5 every morning to train for the swim team or the guy who lost both legs and then ran an Olympic final.
In 8 days time the biggest celebration of what it means to be human is coming to London. Thousands of people who refused to lie down and accept the world will show us all what it means to be a hero.
And at the end, just like in the movies. They will hang up their costume, they will go back to their jobs as a bank clerk or a tollbooth attendant, as a lawyer or a journalist and you won’t know, you just won’t know.
But maybe, just maybe, one day when their guard is down, you’ll catch a faint glimpse of gold as they reach for something in their bottom desk drawer.
Saturday, 18 August 2012
So I watched all 16 days of the Olympics. Saw Mo win twice, the country drop to its knees in praise of Jessica Ennis and the sailing psychotic that is Ben Ainslie but nothing sent shivers down my spine like this. The Paralympics advert for Channel 4: I hadn't seen it - I don't know why, maybe I just don't watch enough TV - but seeing this 90 second advert set to a track by Public Enemy on a cinema screen yesterday i got the same sense of anticipation and wonder i got from the action movies of my childhood.
Check out Jonnie Peacock, Claire Cashmore, Ellie Simmonds, Jody Cundy et al showing their preparation and their mettle in a montage that includes scenes of explosions, hospitals and car crashes that have impacted these amazing athletes' lives and Peter Finbow launching a massive half court shot (where there's nothing but net).
‘It is simple.’ The Nazi officer was one of a list that Lord Halifax had seen over the past months. Although he was no longer Lord, or prime minister, now he was just Edward Frederick Lindley Wood. Pawn and puppet.
He had stayed when the others fled. He had hoped to reason, to negotiate. He had hoped to buy them time to reorganise. He had to believe it had not been in vain. The German war machine had rolled across the Home Counties in a matter of days. The efforts put into the sea defenses were the barrier that could not break, but it had.
They had found him in his office, alone as Prime Minister, something he had been since that fateful day in 1940 when he and Churchill and Chamberlain had reached their arrangement.
Now he was in a stark, dank cell. A wooden table and a German officer. The only other man was a sole SS guardsman.
‘It is simple Herr Wood’ the officer repeated.
‘It really isn’t’ Edward cradled his withered arm. He would kill for a cigarette.
‘Your co-operation is now needed. You will need to call for calm, for peace and for an end to the resistance.’
‘And if I don’t old boy?’ he scratched at his shoulder, ‘what then?’
‘We are civilised men’ he officer leaned forward, ‘your status, your title, perhaps a role in the government of the British protectorate?’
They were promises he would never keep.
‘Is Winston still giving you a hard time?’ The pit of his stomach was growling again. The food had been bad enough at Eton, but at least plentiful.
‘Churchill has been caught and killed’ the officer said, but it was too nonchalant. Edward forced himself not to smile. Winston was still alive, and no doubt at large in the North.
‘I am here with a final offer’ he paused, ‘or’
Edward finally realised why they had been going at it for so long this time. The SS guardsman’s hand clenched on his rifle. He sighed.
‘Well I’m sorry it has come to that’ Edward said finally, clenching his jaw, forcing himself to do it, to sign his life away. ‘But I cannot accept your kind offer.’
‘Know this’ the officer lowered his voice. ‘You will just disappear; there will be no martyr’s death.’
Edward said nothing. The Officer waved his hand and the guard opened the cell door. Outside were too more soldiers. Edward stood.
‘The Lord will forgive you for what you do’ the gaunt prisoner smiled at the officer, ‘but if I were you I would ensure that I really do disappear and that no trace of your hand is left in this.’
He cradled his arm again.
‘The Lord will forgive you but Winston, no’ he looked the officer up and down, ‘Winston never forgives anyone.’
The trooper gestured to the door and Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax walked as purposefully as he could towards it.
‘Good luck old boy’ Halifax said loudly as he limped away, ‘good luck.’
Martin Luther crept out of his front door. He was being watched, that he knew. The Pope had spies everywhere. The eve of All Saint's Day, October 31, 1517; this would be the day that they would take notice of his fears, of his criticisms.
The ideas were set, they had been printed and were to be posted on the on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg, as it was done according to university custom.
His was a protest of thought, but a protest against simony and indulgences. There was no way to gain admission to heaven other than through the lord. He would show them that he was right and that their practices must end.
It was daybreak and there were a passing few in the square as he made his way with the parchment rolled up, nailsand hammer concealed in his habit.
At the door, a few watched, knowing that some priest was doing something. They were here at the turning point, of that he was sure. He could hear them breathing, their mutterings, and their discontent as he took out the hammer. Then their silence as he held the first nail. Hammer poised over it.
He turned and saw their silence made flesh. Ten, maybe more, black cloaks, Dominican Friars edged towards him from the periphery of the square: appearing like shadows form the doorways, from the shadows. They were masters of concealment, masters of deceit.
They had known, he was betrayed.
Luther took the parchment in his hand and held it aloft. He would tell the people and they would tell their children and their neighbours, someone would take what he had written and read it and know he was right. The people of Wittenberg scattered, not daring to look him in the eye.
He bellowed his words.
‘I charge the church…’ his cry cut short with a twang of a crossbow. He looked down and saw the bolt protrude from his chest before he ever felt the pain. It was an explosion through his bones and sinews. He lost breath, his raised arm drooped limply to his side, the parchment fell to the floor and covered the slowly growing pool of red.
He sunk to his knees. He hadn’t realised three more had struck him. His chest, his torso pegged out in the Stations of the Cross. The dark figures continued to move closer. He tried to move his arms,his legs, to breathe, but nothing was working. He tried to speak, to say something, maybe a final word, a last plea would be carried from his dead tongue to others through a sympathiser amongst them.
He opened his mouth.
‘Nothing?’ A dark, Castilian voice came from a hood not three metres in front of him, ‘no final words heretic?’
Luther tried to communicate, tried to force his words upon those who would not hear them, but all he could speak with were his closing eyes, saddened that he had come so far and yet made so little difference. He felt his weight fall forward.
‘Burn him’ he heard as he fell, ‘and his followers. Let god sort them out.’
Saturday, 11 August 2012
The rain lashed down. My face stung and the air steamed. It was a summer storm: no respite for me, no respite from me.
The forest road, boggy and without feeling for the slow carts made travel almost impossible. A team of men just to heave the treasure wagon through each of the muddy holes we had dug the day before.
‘What is this?’ I heard one cry, ‘This is stupid, where did the road go wrong?’ I heard another.
The driver did not hear the sound of the bowstring against the rain. He clutched at his chest as if taken by indigestion, thinking to knock it out of himself. He thumped his chest twice and fell forward. The wheel caught on him and at the back the six men heaving against the sudden blockage were taken by surprise. Arrows few from the undergrowth. They fell like broken trigs into a fire. Some twitched the last of their life away as men with no name scurried like rats, sharp metal in their hands they opened their throats quick enough.
The two soldiers following on horseback had been unseated a hundred yards before. As I walked to the wagon one of the younger ones dragged a carcass through the rain and presented it to me.
‘Said you wan one alive’ he grinned, missing teeth and a hole where his nose once was. Before they sliced it off.
I pointed and he grinned again, running through the sandy slop of a road to unload the cart.
I knelt and pulled the soldier’s face close to mine.
‘Name’ I asked.
‘King John will have you in chains before the week is out’ he stumbled over his words, assuming he was to die he wanted to make it a man’s death. He was right.
I took the shard of metal. Bad forging, bad smith, but it’s point worked. I dug the blade deep into his face and prised out his left eye.
He screamed for his mother soon enough
‘Name’ I asked again calmly.
‘Stephen, Stephen de Montford, squire to the sheriff’ he howled, tears flowed through his other eye as he forced it shut. I pressed the point against his cheek.
‘Property is theft brother Stephen’ I said very slowly so he would remember. It was time I sent them a message. ‘Repeat’
‘Property is theft’ he wailed. I pressed the point deep into his cheek.
‘Open your eye’ he did not, I held the point deep in his cheek, it bit and he screamed again. I whispered the words softly. ‘Open your eye, or I will take it from you and wear it about my neck.’
His blue eye opened, fixed upon me.
‘Remember this face’ I said, remember my name. I pulled the hood from my head so he could see who had bested him and bared my throat and the small bird tattooed there.
‘Repeat’ I screamed.
‘Property is theft, property is theft property is theft, property…..
Friday, 10 August 2012
Wednesday, 8 August 2012
The patsy sat in his seat. Right down the front at super bowl sixty six: the greatest show on earth. Two teams he didn’t care about had already been introduced and the armoured millionaire beasts now prowled up and down the lines hollering insults at each other as the announcer went through the fuss in the middle. Coins tossed, dying children carried off the field for their final wish. He could see the celebrity tight end wipe his hands on the grass after lifting a skeletal leukaemia kid into the air. All smiles until her back was turned. Just a Billion people saw him act an ass.
It didn’t matter thought. He tapped the case at his feet. Undetectable, unbeatable, he had his response to the hideousness of western capitalism. Fifty megatons.
He flicked the safety off on the underside of the handle and looked at his companion.
Tall, dressed in a way that made men turn their heads he would be a martyr with her for the new order. Her black hair, her deep red lips and her pale skin were all too perfect. She smiled at him and pointed to the clock. Not yet, not yet.
The clock had not started, the game should start, the world should be watching, they needed to see the fire of retribution, the cleansing flame of the new order. Their Budweisers would spill, they would choke on their ‘chips and dip’ and he would be at ground zero, his body torn into its constituent parts as painlessly as falling asleep.
The clock started, there was a cry from the crowd and a ball was heaved form one end of the field to the other. Both teams hurtling towards one another. He looked at his companion and he flicked the switch.
There would be a delay, ten seconds. There was no going back.
But there was a change. She had a phone in her hand, she had a look on her face that he had not seen before. It was pity and then it was glee. She tapped her phone and whispered.
As she faded into the background the heat began. He called for her and grabbed the air, catching only laughter.
He heard the detonator switch and then realised the stories she told him were a lie as his every nerve cooked in the first nanoseconds of the explosion.
Around the world people watching their TV sets spilled their beer and choked on their ‘chips and dip’.
Monday, 6 August 2012
Sid woke up. His vigil under the tree had gone on for long enough. Was it three days or four? Across from him he saw the people who had come. A holy man, a holy man was with them. Sid was not holy, he was just lost, he was just in search of meaning. Call it depression, call it a crisis of self, he didn’t know what the people waiting wanted to hear and he was certain even if he did, he wouldn’t be able to say the words they wanted with conviction.
A girl was to his left, she crept closer. Curious. Sid felt ashamed, he was an imposter, he had made these people believe. He had drunk and eaten little, although food had appeared before him in the last two days.
‘Are you going to stay here?’ she finally asked.
‘Nothing is permanent.’ Sid mumbled back.
‘Are you a holy man?’ she was coy with her question and looked away as soon as she asked, as if it was not allowed. The sun shone off her dark brown skin.
‘What does that mean?’ he was interested by the girl, small, maybe nine, maybe younger, he could never tell. She darted around the tree.
‘I didn’t mean to make you angry’ she was apologetic.
‘I haven’t the strength to be angry, anger is a punishment.’ He replied.
‘If you hold onto it, it’s like holding on to a hot stone, it’s why I am here’ he trailed off. It was why he was here, he didn’t want his anger anymore, he wanted to be free from it.
The girl scuttled away towards the crowd. Sid held out his hand.
‘Have no fear’ he cried, ‘I am your friend’.
The crowd moved closer, the girl had vanished away.
‘Illusion’ he muttered to himself, the crowd looked interested.
‘What do you mean?’ a man asked. He was a farmer by the looks of him, a man who worked with his hands in the fields.
‘I suppose life is an illusion at times’ Sid replied.
‘Tell us more’ the man said.
Sid spoke for a day and a night to the people who came to see him. They gave him food, which he then gave back, eating little and drinking less despite the heat.
The girl did not return.
Friday, 3 August 2012
The art studio was quiet. The candidate artist manoeuvred the charcoal around the page. He was deft, he was quick. The brittle dark splintering across the cream canvass. His fingers traced the line of the model’s back, her hips, her buttocks and the dark between space. His fingers lingered a moment.
The shape was good. The work was hurried, but it showed form, style and energy, no hint of the failings he had experienced last year. The stiffness had seen him without a place, a suggestion of architecture. He would not be beaten that easily. But this was his last chance, his last audition.
The room was white, cavernous, old rococo ceilings and bleached walls. Like a fat pale woman in a hideous hat. And he had been swallowed. The easels creaked under the pressure of the application from the candidates. He stood back a little further. He needed to beat the men, not beat himself. He glanced left and right, one had failed miserably to capture the lines of the shadow cast by the large open window, the other seemed on a par with his own work. Though he had not understood how to use the medium as well when it came to hair and fine detail. The issue was not to capture every strand but to capture the essence of the sheen from the long flowing tresses.
He had been close to failure before, over analysing, over thinking, but that chance meeting. A model, a muse, she had shown him that he could see so much more. No more figures that hobbled like matchsticks, no more static faces and frozen jawlines. Movement and fluidity. In one Viennese spring he learned to love.
The clock seemed to speed up. The hour almost gone he made the final touches to the work. Always tinkering, always touching in the past he had learned the most important lesson from her. ‘The work is never finished’, don’t try.
He stepped back for the last time. Confident, happy, at peace. He drew his hand across the clean shaven face she loved so much and wondered poor as he was, could he afford flowers for her tonight.
Wednesday, 1 August 2012
Hero steps back and looks at the mechanism again. It is beautiful. The smith was able to solve his problem of the arm length and there it stands. His ball of the wind.
A golden ball sits atop the small covered cauldron suspended on two hollow supports through which the steam from the boiling water will travel. Through two arms that flow from the ball the steam would then fly, producing motion in the ball. The water is lit and he waits. He can hear the bubbling, the hissing, the fire starting to do its work. Then the first puff of steam, the first hazy expulsion. There is only one place for it to go.
The ball starts to move. Hero leaps up. ‘Gods be praised’ he yells.
‘Julia’ he cries, ‘Julia it works.’
His wife runs in from the Alexandrian summer and sees the spinning golden ball, flames licking at the cauldron.
‘Aeolus!’ she cries to the god of wind, ‘what have you done Hero? What is that?’
‘It is a toy!’ he raises his hands, ‘have no fear; it moves because I have forced the steam to flow from the cauldron to the ball and then through these two arms, and so it spins. It should amuse at our next supper? No?’
Julia walks towards the cauldron and peers at the still rotating orb.
‘Is it safe?’ She asks, picking up a poker and prodding the dying fire. The orb is slowing.
‘Of course, he says, ‘as long as the pressure of the steam has a release it will be fine’.
‘So what does it do?’ She asks.
‘It spins’ he says, ‘it whirls.’
‘To what end my love’ she presses home the point. ‘Caesar did not go to Britain because it span, or looked pretty, why is it there?’
‘It is a distraction’ hero laughs, that is all. He walks away, he shakes his head at his wifes silliness, what use would it be. He picks a pomegranate from the carved wooden bowl on the table and walks out into the sunshine she has abandoned.
Julia reaches out to the golden orb, it is still hot to her touch, she moves it gently with the end of a fingernail, it swings in it’s cradle.
She has been spinning this morning. The triremes carrying Roman wool have provided a great deal to do. The spinning orb reminds her of the spinning wheel. How long would it take an orb to spin the wool she wonders.
Just how much time would she save.
‘It won’t hold!’ the technician screamed over the noises of the turbines.
‘It will’ Dyson called back over the whir and crashing of the electro-magnetic charge. He looked at the machine and gritted his teeth. It will hold, he willed it to hold. This was the first shot, this was the only shot. Billions of dollars had been pumped into years of research and development, a team of a thousand had dug a pit into hell to house the reactor. Now in the control room Dyson could see through the window the nine story device he had created. The engine that would catapult the first interstellar craft out of our solar system.
Fossil fuels, liquid oxygen, both were useful and combustible, but there was no way in the long run the human race would be able to get itself into space regularly with this kind of extravaganza. The engine had the answer. That was what he called it, a spinning series of coils that balanced and counterbalanced to such precision. Tesla almost had it right, almost caught the equation, but where he had fallen at the last Dyson had grasped it. He had cried when he completed the mathematics, it was beautiful.
Now the prototype was in full motion. There had been an error in the calculus, or a mechanical issue. The coils had heated up faster than expected, but they would not exceed the mechanical thresholds, they would produce the amount of energy required.
Above Arthur C Clarke’s vision swayed. It had been built at last. A single anchored elevator. Sixty thousand and thirty miles into the upper atmosphere docked with the international space platform. He would have to see about adjusting that as well. The load weights if the pieces that needed to go up whole were too much for the engines on the ‘ribbon’. He would have to do this all himself.
He turned to the panicking technician who had stopped fretting, although he was sweating uncontrollably. Dyson took off his Jacket in the warmth of the electromagnetic hum from the banks of machines. He never dressed properly anyway. White coats and jackets and ties. He looked down at his faded guns and roses t-shirt. He had sworn never to wear another jacket and tie again after all those failed interviews, all those failed pitches to companies who couldn’t see a profit. Now he was on the verge of creating a power output that would put a manmade object around another star within six years, dropping a crew off on Mars as it went.
This was his gift to the human race. This was his fuck you to everyone who had doubted him: to that small weasel man who had turned up his nose, who had sneered at the idea.
‘I’m sorry Mr Dyson’ his voice had been thin with an eye on the clock, ‘your idea just won’t work, not on this planet anyway.’
The counter hit the mark perfectly. The power output reached the threshold for shut down and the technicians behind him all started high fiving. The whooping and hollering began.
Dyson had stood, thanked the men and women for listening to him before rounding on the weasel, the man with no vision.
‘I accept your challenge’ he had said.
Dyson looked back up at the displays. His maths had been perfect and he allowed himself a small smile.
It was the beginnings of an engine to take us to the stars, and all because someone didn’t want to buy his idea for a vacuum cleaner.