Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Plot or Narrative?

It is said that fiction that is any good at all must have a plot. When it does not it is mere narrative. I’ll quote an example: ‘The queen died, and then the king died’. This is narrative, a record of what happened. No reason is given or speculated upon to explain the events recorded. When the sentence is expanded to: ‘The queen died, and then the king died of grief’ the narrative becomes a plot. Plot has to do with cause and effect. It generates interest in the reader and spurs her to go on reading.
                Is mere narrative, then, second rate fiction? I can’t answer this, but I believe that narrative alone can be redeemed. For example, if there is a twist in the tale. Here’s a piece of flash fiction. It has no plot as such. It does not answer at least two questions that might reasonably have been raised – (1) how did Sam come to be homeless? and (2) how did Sam die? See  what you think, anyway.


At first I thought Sam was sleeping when I found him lying under the hedge on that bright winter’s morning. But he was quite dead. “Poor old chap” I said to myself. For some reason my first instinct was to find an old blanket and cover him, though God knows, he was hardly in need of protection from the cold any more.
Over the past couple of years he’d been a “regular” in our street, appearing on my front doorstep and those of my neighbours where he could be fairly sure he’d get food or drink. I guess we are a pretty well-disposed lot. No-one ever threatened him or sent him off. But then there was a decency, even a dignity about him. He communicated by look rather than voice, and in doing so he brought out the best in us.
I’m not sure how he came to be called “Sam”. It may have been old Mrs Dobson, two doors up from me, who had so named him. She had a stone seat in her front garden, and Sam would make himself comfortable there on occasions, often dozing for much of a sunny afternoon under the shade of her cherry tree. She referred to him as “just an old tramp with a bit of a cheek”. But she let him be.
We thought it a nice touch when she had the small brass plate made and inscribed with “Sam’s Place”, and set on the back rest of that seat. And the engraving of the cat’s head under the words wasn’t a bad likeness of the old tabby. I miss him.


Sunday, 7 April 2013

A Walk up Etchilhampton Hill

Those of you who know Wiltshire may be familiar with the countryside in this part of the county. It was a cool, bright, dry spring day today. And no shortage of skylarks!. This afternoon we did a circular walk (more accurately, a square walk) from the village of Coate, over the hill itself and back via the Ridgeway. The photo below is of the white horse on the hillside above Devizes. It was quite a a way away and is rather blurred, I'm afraid.


Saturday, 6 April 2013

Measles - A Killer Epidemic in South Wales

At the time of writing this there is a measles outbreak in South Wales. There has been a rush to get unprotected babies and children immunised, and clinics are to run over the weekend to cope with the demand. It seems that the National Health Service has reacted quickly and appropriately.

            So far, 600 people have contracted the illness. It is a nasty infection. It is quite capable of killing a few of its victims and leaving many more permanently damaged.

            Yet immunisation against measles has been readily available for many years now. Every parent will have been advised that it should be given to their children (with rare exceptions). So the question ought to be asked: why were so many children left with no or incomplete protection? It cannot be said that it had not been offered, so it may be reasonable to conclude that the advice was either wilfully refused or possible that those responsible for the children just didn’t get round to it, or forgot to attend.

            Yet amid all the publicity and concern, no one seems to have raised this question: just why was the advice not taken up? The study that claimed a link between the Mumps, Measles and Rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism was refuted decades ago. You will find few, if any, doctors who have not had their children vaccinated.

            Had the Health Service itself been similarly negligent there would be recriminations a-plenty and a demand that heads should roll.

            No – this sorry episode illustrates well a point I have made repeatedly: there is no sanction against people who ignore health promoting and disease prevention advice. The NHS is a partnership between professionals and patients, for goodness sake. Only the best is acceptable from the professionals, but precious little it seems from the customers. Little wonder that so much chronic illness and death can be attributed to deliberate lifestyle choice.

            But is it not shameful that children should suffer as a consequence of bad decisions made by those who are responsible for them.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Hitting Back at this WEATHER!

At least when the sun shone it was just about bearable. But today is dull, drab, windy and so cold. It's not good being confined indoors. We dragged ourselves out to our local park in Chippenham - John Coles Park is attractive and has a number of quite unusual trees. We often meet and talk to dog owners and admire their pets. But today there were few enough of them about. Our favourite character is an elderly gentleman, always immaculately dressed, and his long haired dachsund 'Jim'. He told us the other day that Jim is 13. We guess that the elderly man probably lives on his own, and walking his dog in the park probably affords him the only contact with others than he gets. Dogs are a good talking point, indeed. We've never had one, believing that we aren't in a position to give a dog the care and attention that they deserve. And we're missing something, I know.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

On Abstinence

This is somewhat predicable given the season. Yes – I gave up alcohol for Lent. The reason I’ve not drawn attention to this resolution previously is that until recently I thought I might not be able to stick to it until the end. To my surprise I did.

            The background is that I enjoy good wine. I had slipped into the habit of enjoying a glass or two … or three, every evening. In fact I don’t think a day has gone by in the last 20 years when I have not taken wine. While I never got drunk and never got into any sort of trouble through drinking, I was regularly exceeding the weekly recommended maximum units of alcohol. Because of medication I have to take, I have blood tests to check my liver function every year. The fact that they have always been normal was no incentive to cutting back or giving up.

            I wondered whether I was an alcoholic. But I don’t in fact fit in to the definition – certainly not that offered by Alcoholics Anonymous whose web site I checked. I didn’t crave alcohol during the day and was not much bothered by the wish to drink until 6 in the evening at the earliest. But I have become tolerant to the effects and my daily consumption very gradually increased as the months and years slipped by.

            The decision to give up for Lent was fairly spur-of-the-moment. My wife let slip, almost casually, two days before Ash Wednesday, ‘Well, are you giving up drink for Lent?’ I thought a moment and then said, ‘Well, I think I will’. And I did.

            Rather than sit with a glass of wine I took a glass of low calorie tonic water with ice and lemon. The bitterness of the tonic rather lessened the sensation of missing the wine.

            I felt better from the start. But I have to say that I felt pretty well before. I missed my wine, but didn’t experience what might be called ‘withdrawal symptoms’. One positive thing – I stopped snoring and so my wife felt better. Then I started to lose weight. Not surprising when you consider the number of calories there are in a bottle of white wine. I tended to avoid telling too many people about it. A few seemed almost to resent what I’d done as though it might reflect upon them. Some looked at me questioningly, as if to say ‘did you have a problem with drink, then?’

            I had my first drink on the evening of Easter Sunday. No undue effect. I hope now to avoid drinking wine every evening, or at least to keep myself to 20 units a week. We shall see.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

A Walk in the Vale of Pewsey

A cold, bright day. We thought we’d stretch our legs and refresh ourlungs with a walk on the downs overlooking the Vale of Pewsey. Those of you familiar with north Wiltshire will know what a lovely part of England this is. There are isolated pockets of woodland there, but it is mostly a landscape of vast skies and unobstructed views to the south, east and west. It is steeped in history. The work of those amazing engineers who lived here millennia ago is still very evident – the great stone circle at Avebury, Silbury Hill, the Wansdyke and the West Kennett Long Barrow are just a few among many.

We were deceived by the fresh Spring day temperatures when we drove off from Chippenham. The car park at Knap Hill is actually 700 feet above sea level. It was several degrees colder there, and a sharp wind over the downs made us wonder whether we’d been entirely wise. But we persevered and soon, walking briskly with the wind at our backs we were warm enough. The walk took us gradually up hill in a westerly and then north westerly loop, passing just over the ears of the Alton Barnes White Horse. Then on to Milk Hill, the highest point in Wiltshire at 900 or so feet above sea level. The views from there are spectacular, extending well beyond Salisbury Plain almost to Dorset. We then turned east to walk along the Wansdyke. This is an amazing construction, built by the Anglo-Saxons about 1500 years ago, as a defence (presumably) against the West Saxons. A high bank rears up over a ditch. It must have been considerably more impressive at the time it was built and the effects of one and a half thousand years of erosion had taken their toll.

I’ll remember this walk for a long time. Perhaps most poignant memory will be the song of the skylark rising from the rough meadows. So much rarer a sight and sound now than it was when George Meredith wrote his famous verse that inspired Ralph Vaughan Williams to write one of the loveliest pieces of music ever penned by an English composer.

He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound …