I'm seeing it as an optimistic story, by the way. All this climate change stuff... don't worry for the planet. The planet will be fine. It won't have homo sapiens on it for much longer but hey, I guess we had a decent innings. A shame to scupper it all with a series of own goals but that - to push a mixed metaphor to its limit - is what our current circular firing squad of a human race is hell bent on doing.
And meanwhile, there are short sci-fi tales to lessen the pain.
This is the tale of three remarkable horses, Billy and Billy and Jack - two old boys and one young whipper-snapper. The question is this: in which camp do we put Jack?
I will start with an old boy called Billy. This
Billy was a cob/shire type horse, black with a white blaze, born in 1760. He
spent his working life pulling barges on canals for the Mersey and Irwell
Navigation Company. The amazing thing about Billy is that he lived to the age
of 62. He died in November 1822. There is said to be a lithograph of Billy in a
museum in Warrington with Squire Henry Harrison.
From an old Billy with a single lithograph to a younger and much
photographed version. This young Billy is bigger than old Billy but also does a
job that needs plenty of muscle power and oats in the tank. Under the jockey-ship
of Nick Ireland, this much younger Billy won the Young Event Horse Series in
his very first season in 2014.
But which of these amazing equines does Jack take after? Perhaps
he has more in common with old Billy than young Billy.
Or does he?
Jack once finished a show-jumping course; ‘finish’ being the
word, as the owners of the show-ground said, ‘We won’t have to buy in any
firewood for a long time, but we’ll have to shell out for a new set of jumps.’
But Jack only made the effort so as to be obliging and as
the mystery man pointed out to Megan, you couldn’t really expect Jack to know
how to show-jump; he wouldn't have had much call to do it when he was pulling a
Thinking about it, that mirrors things on the Mersey and
Irwell canals back in the 1700s because it would have been a bizarre and traumatic circumstance that required old Billy to leap a fence whilst pulling a
So I think we have to conclude that Jack has more in common
with old Billy after all.
Elderly retired Jack, who really thought his cart pulling days were over, let alone anything more energetic, was relieved to learn that for once he wasn't the horse pushed centre stage. That position was reserved for the always popular Harry the Gut whose perenial claim to fame is that he never leaves anyone in any doubt about the real length of an equine intestine.
When a vital component fails, the options are to reach for a
spare or go get another one. If you happen to live next-door to a DIY store,
those two options are interchangeable. If your nearest store is thousands of
miles away, then you’d better be organised at keeping spares on hand. But
imagine having no store in easy reach plus not really having the room to carry
That’s how it is if you’re lucky enough to live on the
International Space Station. The equivalent of sending for a new part involves
a multi-million dollar launch, but you can’t keep two of everything because physical
space is at a premium.
Take this a step further and on to the proposed manned
mission to Mars. The DIY store is now completely out of reach and the problem
of how much you can carry with you is way more of a problem than it ever was on
those short hops to the ISS or the moon.
I’ll be honest here, statistics are bleak. Chances are that no
one, myself included, is going to earn much. However, I’m with Fantastic Books Publishing who work on a profit-sharing model so whether the book does well or
badly, we will each earn the same. Added to this, they skim 10% of the book
sale profits and give them to charity – a charity of my choice.
This gives me a problem.
I like the idea behind this charity donation. The world is
too small a place these days for people to struggle on alone. We don’t live in
our own bubble any more. People travel the globe, flying vast distances in very
short times. Ocean currents and jet streams move more than people. Weather,
pollution and disease are global considerations. The actions of one group can
affect everyone. That’s good and bad. Good ideas can be implemented fast. Teamwork
can bring quicker results and ever speedier progress.
And any little thing that
I can do to keep that balance firmly on the good side of the scales, I’m happy
to do. That includes sharing my book profits with a charity.
But which charity?
Horse of a Different Colour is a children’s
adventure tale, so maybe a horsey charity is the right one. Or I could lean
towards the book’s dedication and go for a charity that revolves around space
travel. Or I could go in an entirely different direction and pick a charity
that has nothing whatsoever to do with the book.
Early December is a turbulent time. Looking back at the
historical record it’s marked that a lot of wars and invasions have been
initiated in December, giving whole swathes of people a miserable existence
over the so-called festive season.
What’s that about? Is it just man’s innate inability to
learn from past mistakes? But it can’t be that or the human race would not have
progressed so far. Is it that we have a tendency to put idiots in positions of
power? Could be, but why?
Governance is no easy task. Maybe it’s that governing whole
countries is too arduous, energy-sapping and thankless for anyone with their
wits about them to take on. Thus the shysters and the ignorant rush in to fill
the gap. People with integrity sometimes cry that enough is enough and dive in
to do their bit, but it seems the tide of ignorance and corruption runs too
high. It simply overwhelms anyone who genuinely tries to stop it. Just look
back over the dirty tricks campaigns that have been waged against people, and
see how many are shown by history to have been absolutely right.
What I really wanted to find in the historical record was a
woman in the creative arts doing something special at this time of year. I
found Margaret Hughes. She was an actress who played Desdemona at
the Vere Street theatre in December 1660. This makes her possibly the
first professional actress to appear on stage in England. Quite a
[Some sources quote Ms Norris as being the woman who played
this role. I don’t know if Margaret Hughes and Ms Norris are one and the same,
it seems unlikely, but the Ms Norris quotes all seemed to emanate from a single
source that was itself unevidenced, so on the grounds that repeating something
a lot of times does not make it true, I’m sticking with Margaret Hughes]
One of my short stories has been recorded for audio release.
That’s a huge December landmark for me, even though it won’t make a ripple on
the world in general. The bit at the end is going say - and please forgive the uncertainty here; I haven’t heard it yet - something like this:
The 93-E Contradiction written by
Melodie Trudeaux, read by Penelope McDonald. Post
production by Simon Woolcott. Executive producer Dan Grubb. A Red Room
production for Fantastic Books Audio.
Last word to Alan Wakeman who sums up life so concisely in
his wonderful Hamun & Giben:
“Truly life is a wonderful mystery,” said Hamun as he
contemplated the early morning sun. “Aren’t you sometimes overcome with
admiration for it?”
“I can’t think about that today,” said Giben. “I’ve got