Saturday, 21 July 2018

Parents And Children


From the moment they're born, our children are slowly, very slowly, moving away from their parents as they seek to become individual people in their own rights.

There are plenty of false dawns, incidents which bring them running back to mummy and daddy (usually mummy) with tears running down their faces, or a great terror plastered across their expressions. But they, with the parents help, dust themselves down and gradually venture forth once again. 

The parent is torn between keeping them safe, how we hate to see them cry of get hurt, and letting them go and fledge as we know they must. Of course some parents fail to acknowledge this push-me, pull-you dynamic, wanting forever to keep the child tied to them emotionally. 

What are the markers of this struggle and how do parents recognise that moment when their child has definitively cut the apron strings?

Here is a reading from my upcoming novel which explores just one of those moments and markers.


Published by Dead Ink Books 26/07/2018
Available from Amazon and all good book shops in the UK





Friday, 20 July 2018

Lift The Siege 10 - Moscow Theatre siege



It's hard to know quite where to start with this one. So many of the facts are shrouded in mystery, from the number of fatal casualties, the precise chemical agent pumped into the theatre to start the assault on it, the precise number of hostage takers, to two instances of people walking in off the street and into the heart of the theatre during the stand off stage and both being shot dead. 

What can be established is that in 2002, 40 or 50 armed Chechens sealed off a Moscow theatre during a performance and rigged it with explosives as well as many wearing suicide belts themselves. Nearly 900 actors, production crew and audience members were taken hostage. Muslim Chechnya was seeking independence from Russia and was fighting the second of two brutal wars which has produced some of the best war literature since the Vietnam war. International opinion was that the conflict should be brought to an end and President Putin was supposedly feeling this pressure. One conspiracy theory is that a heinous act like taking 900 hostages suited Putin and united the country behind him and that the terrorists were given somewhat of a helping hand with double agents channeling them towards the theatre as a target and that their explosives were in fact non-functioning. There is no way of establishing this, despite allegations that two of the Chechens have disappeared without arrest, because they were FSB (Russian security forces) agents. 

The Chechens released several non-Russian nationals, saying they had no quarrel with them. They released mothers with their children and the sick, some 150 people in all. The siege proceeded as a stand off, except for the strange instance of a member of the public waltzing through police and security lines and marching into the theatre. 26 year old Olga Romanov then proceeded to remonstrate with the hostages that they should stand up to their captors, whereupon she was shot dead. Well known Russians were brought in outside to negotiate with the Chechens, singers, scientists and journalists (although in Russia, singers & scientists were also MPs).  Another man Gennady Vlakh repeated the feat of Olga Romanov, claiming his son was a hostage and was also shot dead. It was never established who he was exactly, since he had no son inside the theatre. 

After 4 days of the siege after claims that two hostages had been killed, and a leak that special security forces were going to storm the building in the small hours, they actually went in at 5am reckoning that the hostage takers would have been more relaxed having stood down from repelling the expected attack hours earlier. The assault itself was mainly conducting by pumping an unknown gas in through the building's ventilation system which knocked out the vast majority of the Chechens and many hostages. None of the wired explosives went off, all the suicide belted women were knocked out by the gas, while the failure to detonate the theatre explosives may attest to claims that it was dummy material supplied by the FSB agent provocateurs of the whole plot). Some of the Chechens had gas masks and engaged the security forces in running gun battles throughout the building, but all were eventually killed, save the mystery men who it was claimed were allowed to slip away as they were Russian agents.

In all, the 40-50 Chechens were killed, 130 hostages died and two special forces had died from gas inhalation. Of the dead hostages, only two were found with bullet wounds; the vast majority of them had been killed by the gas. many were evacuated from the building, alive but unconscious. However the exact nature of the gas was withheld from attending doctors at the site, resulting in the deaths of many of those evacuated hostages. 17 of the cast members of the play died, including two child actors. The authorities blamed the deaths on heart attacks and other health issues from being held hostage with little water and an unfortunate self-suffocation by lolling back in theatre seats when the gas knocked them out and their own tongues blocked up their airways. The gas itself was reported no to have caused the fatalities. Even though many evacuees died outside the theatre having already been poisoned by it. 

After a three year official investigation into the affair ground to an inconclusive halt, an independent commission set itself up to investigate, Two of its most famous members were Anna Politkovskaya (a journalist who had been part of the volunteer negotiators with the Chechens) and Alesander Litvinenko (an ex FSB agent, familiar with the operations of the Security Forces), together with Russian politician Sergei Yushenkov, all three of whom wound up being assassinated by the FSB. Their contention was that the whole siege had been precipitated by the FSB with inside agents and agent provocateurs. 


*

"Three Dreams In The Key Of G" has three female voices in a state of siege. One a young mother in sectarian Northern Ireland, just after the Good Friday Peace Agreement has returned paramilitary fighters from both sides back into the domestic realm for an uneasy peace there. The second a Waco-like siege in Florida, as the FBI, DEA and ATF surround a compound full of women, which they see as a threat to all of mankind. The third is in laboratories all over the globe, the Human Genome is being besieged by scientists as they try and uncover its code for life. 

The siege will be lifted 26/07/2018
Published by Dead Ink Books 

Available from Amazon and all good book shops in the UK





Lift the Siege #9 Iranian Embassy

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

The Limitations Of The Human Senses

Evolution has structured us humans so that we of all species can not only thrive in any environment on our planet, but through our inventiveness we will probably be able to thrive on other planets in the future. In order to do so, we have analysed, measured and constructed our world and accordingly developed tools and instruments with which to master it. However, what if that analysis and measurement was at heart in error? Hamstrung by its own perceptive apparatus, its first assumptions? 

There are plenty of things beyond our sensory apparatus. Wavelengths of light beyond the visible spectrum, which we only make visible through x-raying, ultraviolet and infrared devices. There are also sound frequencies beyond our hearing, such as those dogs can hear but we can't. Scientists deal in sub-atomic particles and quantum mechanics which is posited entirely on probability; the latest of these is the hunt for the Higgs Boson which theory has posited must exist long before we have been able to discover it in actuality. At the other end of the scale, from the infinitesimally small to the planetary sized, current theories have the universe existing in around eleven or twelve dimensions in order for the cosmological equations to work. Yet the human brain is constituted to function only in three (height, width, depth). Trying to conceive in four dimensions is difficult enough let alone in eleven! Our brains work brilliantly for the scale we operate in our world. It struggles when the scale is either shrunk or inflated beyond that. The scientific theory may advance our understanding, but our hard-wiring means we are limited in utilising such understanding in coping with our everyday world. 

And that should be the clue into the state of things. Perceiving in three dimensions, within the visible spectrum of light and the wavelengths of audible sounds, works for the human race. It works so well we have mastered our planet and created all sorts of tools to advance our abilities, even to get us into space. BUT, we are equally trapped by this same way of operating that has got us this far. Machines can 'see' the invisible wavelengths for us and indeed we use this to great effect with our medical imaging machines to penetrate the opacity of the human body to locate threats deep within, through Positron Emission Tomography, Computerised Axial Tomography, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Ultrasound, Dynamic Spatial Reconstructors... But these are images and versions of our bodies. Mediated through instruments. They are not directly perceived through our own bodies.

Even if we had X-Ray vision ourselves, so that we could see into other's bodies and solid objects, the way our visual system works is one of cutting corners. There are so many visual stimulations in our everyday environment, that when our eyes are scanning ahead of us they are only 'seeing' a mere 10-15% of what is actually there. The other 85% is stuff it filters as unremarkable, stuff that accords to the brain's templates of what a street scene should look like, or what the view across farming land should represent. That is the brain has pre-constructed what we are seeing and the eye is only scanning for deviations from the normal anticipated view. Because from an evolutionary point of view, ancient man would have been looking for threats in the environment and that's what has been passed down to us. We look for difference, for the unexpected. The everyday and normal is taken as read. The laying down of these templates of 'reality' happen during the child's development as it learns not only how the world works, but how the world 'is'. And so the cycle spins on, as this takes place in a mere three dimensions as the world view is acquired from those teaching the child.

But what if the world really isn't like that? That it only appears thus, because that is the most convenient ways for our brains to perceive it thus, conveyed over millennia of evolution? Take measurement for example, a key concept in our mastery of the planet that has enabled us very successfully to fly to the moon, Jupiter and beyond. Yet the history of measurement, the drive for unimpeachable accuracy, is back to front. We have measurements first, then we try and define and centralise them. One of the earliest measurements used by man, peppering the Old Testament, is the cubit. That is the length of the human forearm. But your forearm is not the same length as my forearm. Could cause trouble in land disputes when trying to mark out boundaries... Or take the humble metre, finally defined in the late eighteenth century as the distance between two marks on a brick made of a metal alloy that was resistant to expansion for temperature variations. What could be more materially defined than a lump of metal? And yet the definition of a metre was further refined, first by a measurement of radioactive decay of an isotope of caesium and more recently a fraction of distance travelled by light because light has a constant velocity. All this time we've merrily been using humble metres and centimetres and millimetres, blissfully unaware that we were probably not actually measuring a true metre. Measure first, then define retrospectively. Just as a side note, the large hadron collider searching for the Higgs Boson essentially works by slamming particles against one another to break them apart into ever smaller ones. While the cubit and other similar measurements such as the pole, perch and the rod which were actual rods pressed against the earth to measure it, well all this is a rather male way of partitioning the world and its matter isn't it?

In my latest novel, "The Dreams In The Key Of G", I have a character who challenges this way of portioning up the world as she declares war on the SI system of units. What would be the upshot if we were no longer able to measure things? It would be a most different world that is for sure. As it is quite possible anyway, since our senses, our processing brains and the output from them including how we measure things, has probably become outmoded by the present level of technology we have attained. When our children start learning things about the world, it becomes solidified in the brains as 'reality'. But in doing so, those neurons close off other possible pathways for the brain to compute and calculate and process its stimulatory output from without. It is quite possible this is a fundamental disservice we do not only to our children, but to the species itself. Worth thinking about perhaps... 






Published by Dead Ink Books 26/07/2018

Available from Amazon and all good book shops in the UK


Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Lift the Siege 9 - The Iranian Embassy Siege




A group of regional autonomists from Southern Iran stormed the Iranian Embassy in London and demanded the release of prisoners and safe passage. The target was an intended echo of the Iranian seizure of the US embassy in Tehran which was still ongoing at this time. 

With the British tradition for not dealing with terrorists (shown up as false given the secret negotiations with the IRA), Prime Minister Thatcher refused to allow them safe passage. While any embassy is protected under the Vienna Convention as foreign territory, (see ‘Operation Nifty Package'), the Iranians believed the whole thing to be a stunt staged by the US and UK in retaliation for the Tehran hostage crisis and refused to cooperate in any way, which saw Thatcher resolve to treat the situation according to British law and resolve it she may. 

On day 6 of the siege, the terrorists reacted to the lack of response to their demands by shooting a hostage, an act which always changes the game. The siege was now transferred from the auspices of the police to the military (a power enshrined by a 1964 amendment to the Emergency Power Act, unlike the off the cuff decision to do similar in the 1911 Siege Of Sidney Street). The SAS (Special Air Services) were called in to break the siege and rescue the prisoners. We saw startling images of men scaling the building on wires and going in through windows. 

Of the 25 hostages, just one was killed, while 5 of the 6 hostage takers were killed. This was the first time the SAS emerged into the light, but my abiding memory was of one SAS man who had got his foot caught in his grappling wire and was dangling upside down outside the windows of the Embassy. However I can find no visual evidence for this on the internet, which makes me think it’s been airbrushed out of history by those looking to maintain the SAS’s infallible reputation. This despite the breaking of the siege being broadcast live on the two major television channels. 

It’s just worth pointing out that one of the hostage takers had been tortured by the Shah Of Iran’s secret police, similar to one of the Latvian gang at Sidney Street having been tortured by the Tsar’s Okhrana, though bizarrely one of the Sidney Street suspects returned to Russia after the Revolution and served in Lenin’s Cheka (secret police), so it seems that the abused can and do turn into abusers themselves. 

*

"Three Dreams In The Key Of G" has three female voices in a state of siege. One a young mother in sectarian Northern Ireland, just after the Good Friday Peace Agreement has returned paramilitary fighters from both sides back into the domestic realm for an uneasy peace there. The second a Waco-like siege in Florida, as the FBI, DEA and ATF surround a compound full of women, which they see as a threat to all of mankind. The third is in laboratories all over the globe, the Human Genome is being besieged by scientists as they try and uncover its code for life. 



 The siege will be lifted 26/07/2018
Published by Dead Ink Books 

Available from Amazon and all good book shops in the UK


Monday, 16 July 2018

Wordclouds


I made some wordclouds for each of the three main characters in my new novel and in  doing so spell out what links them all both physically and thematically.






D: Creatrix 

N: Crone



A: Mother





Published by Dead Ink Books 26/07/2018

Available from Amazon and all good book shops in the UK



Sunday, 15 July 2018

The Treachery Of Language

Rene Magritte "The Treachery Of Images 1928


Marc Nash/Google Images "The Treachery Of Language" 2018


Magritte's painting has the caption "this is not a pipe". In doing so he is admonishing/advising the viewer that it is not an actual pipe, merely the representation of one in painting. Yet there is a further distancing layer than that even, in that it is a painting of the image or the symbol of what we mean by the word 'pipe'.

Marc Nash's version is that whatever the treachery held by imagery, there is further treachery upon treachery, when you introduce language into the picture. 

Firstly let's not overlook that without Magritte's caption painted on the canvas, the painting would have far less meaning to transmit. This painting without its words, would be a fairly contextless painting of a pipe. It is only the injection of language through its caption that transmits Magritte's meaning, as it sets up the resonance through the paradox it presents. 

But Nash points out language is equally treacherous. The word 'pipe' does not conjure up a singular, universal image. Magritte's pipe burns the solid state of tobacco and produces gas in the form of smoke. Nash points to a whole host of pipes who don't deal in solid states at all, but channel the passage of fluids and in some cases, like a car exhaust pipe, gases too. 

Apart from a sprinkling of onomatopoeic words, few of which are employed as object nouns (most are sonorous verbs or objectless exclamation nouns such as 'boom'), the sound of a word bears no relationship to its meaning. It is this disjunction that makes language treacherous. Without the visual image Magritte provides, we would have no idea if 'this is not a pipe' refers to something not being a smoker's pipe, or a hosepipe, some duct piping, a drainpipe,  an oil pipeline, a sewer, the outside of the Pompidou Centre, or a pipe bomb. 

Magritte relies on language to contextualise his painting, but in doing so undermines it at a stroke. It is language whose treachery far outstrips that of images. Images and their referent symbols are nothing without the labelling of words grouping them together as 'universals'. Yet it is that very universalising that reduces much of the essence of things, grouping together broad categories of objects which have significant differences one from another. Can you smoke a sewer pipe? You can light it and it would likely explode from the gases passing through. A literal approach to the word sewer pipe would be fatal in such a case. Can you pass water through a smoker's pipe? Well only if it was one of those comedy bubble-blowing pipes perhaps. And the ingenuity of the crack smoker, who forges a crack pipe out of anything that resembles a piece of tubing, merges the two 'universal' meanings of the word 'pipe' into a single function. 

Now Magritte's work has led to self-reflection on the image within the art world, but there has been far less investigation in fiction of the treachery of language; of the dissociation between the sound of a word and its meaning. Consider how we acquire language - as a child language is modelled for us by adults and the child imitates those sounds. Over time the child starts cohering those sounds to associate them with specific words which further will be constructed together into sentences. By age 2 they will have a grasp of pronouns, by 3 they are able to construct sentences and by four understand directions for them to respond to. It is only when they start nursery school that they begin to be taught how to read write and spell these words they have already mastered vocally. They learn to spell by wrote or by reading and picking up spellings, because there is no logical relationship between sound and meaning. 

This is one of the themes I explore in my novel released in 10 days. 

Published by Dead Ink Books 26/07/2018
Available from Amazon and all good book shops in the UK



Saturday, 14 July 2018

Lift The Siege 8 - Sidney Street




Jack The Ripper had been active in the last decade of the nineteenth century and part of the hysteria had wrapped itself up in virulent anti-immigrant feeling since Whitechapel and the neighbouring areas were heavily settled by Jewish refugees from Russian pogroms. This persisted into the new century and reached its apotheosis with the siege of Sidney Street in the first days of 1911. 

Many Jews were regarded as revolutionaries, anarchists and socialists and the Sidney Street gang of Latvians were dubbed as anarchists, whereas in all likelihood they were just armed robbers, who justified their thievery as expropriation of property. Interrupted during a night-time attempt to break into a jeweller’s shop, the gang shot and killed 3 unarmed policemen and also managed to fatally shoot their own leader in the struggle. The gang dispersed, but were gradually rounded up by the police following tip offs from the public. The last two suspects were holed up in a house at 100 Sidney Street in Stepney. A shoot-out ensued, but the police firearms were easily outgunned by those of the two gangsters and they requested, for the first time in London, the assistance of the army. 

Then Home Secretary Winston Churchill turned up to view proceedings and was jeered by the onlookers for the perception of a liberal immigration policy laid at his feet. This was also the first siege captured by news cameras, in this case the Pathé newsreel service. Eventually the two gangsters were killed as the house went up in smoke and claimed a final victim when one of its walls collapsed and crushed a fireman to death. Churchill’s proposed tough immigration bill was defeated as being against British values, while the other supposed gang members were all acquitted for lack of evidence to convict them. For such carnage, only the accidentally killed gang leader and the two in the house at Sidney Street were deemed responsible, despite eye witnesses that there were at least three teams involved in the robbery of the jewellers. 

As a final kick in the teeth to authorities, in 2008 the local council named two tower blocks after one of the minor gang members, a full two years before any commemoration of the fallen policemen and three years before a memorial to the fireman. Perhaps the area did house anarchist sentiments after all. 

*

"Three Dreams In The Key Of G" has three female voices in a state of siege. One a young mother in sectarian Northern Ireland, just after the Good Friday Peace Agreement has returned paramilitary fighters from both sides back into the domestic realm for an uneasy peace there. The second a Waco-like siege in Florida, as the FBI, DEA and ATF surround a compound full of women, which they see as a threat to all of mankind. The third is in laboratories all over the globe, the Human Genome is being besieged by scientists as they try and uncover its code for life. 

 The siege will be lifted 26/07/2018
Published by Dead Ink Books 
Available from Amazon and all good book shops in the UK