Thursday, 31 January 2013

Sixty Years Ago Today...

The East coast floods which devastated much of the East coast of England, from Yorkshire down to Canvey Island in Essex took place on the last day of Janurary in 1953, destroying homes and killing around 300 people.
On the radio today they spoke of the small village of Sea Palling in Norfolk and that invoked a strong memory for me. In the years following WWII Britain was recovering and people had started to go on holiday by the sea again. The land mines and other beach defences were more or less removed and we were allowed on the beaches once more.

We had a caravan and one of my father’s favourite places was Norfolk, so we spent several of our holidays there. We often went to stay in a small caravan park close to Waxham, near Sea Palling, which was basically a field owned by a local farmer. There was water at the farm and fresh milk straight from the cow but no other facilities. To us children it was heaven.
 Between us and the sea were a twin row of massive sand dunes, which we had to trudge across with the hot sand almost burning our feet. Along the coast from the farm there was the small coastal village of Sea Palling and many summer visitors went there since it had easy access to the beach. Whereas at the farm you had to climb about thirty feet of loose sand studded with clumps of Marram grass and then you went down into a deep dip between the two rows of dunes, where out of the wind, the sand was even hotter underfoot to then struggle up over the remaining dune to run and slide down to the beach.
Marram grass on sand dunes
That part of the coast had seemingly endless sandy beaches. It was often windy and the fine sand would sometimes whisper whilst snaking along the beach and stinging your ankles with the North Sea bringing in big rollers, sometimes large enough to knock a child off your feet. But this was all part of the charm and excitement of a real sandy holiday by the sea and we loved it. At Sea Palling, over the years the holiday makers had worn a path down to the sea and the rows of cottages on each side of the short street that ran through the centre of the village almost ran into the sea. This was Sea Palling’s undoing. When the flood came, this easy access to the sea also gave the sea easy access to the land and it rushed in through this gap taking with it several of the cottages and many of those asleep in them at the time. The government of the time felt there had been enough bad news from the war casualties, so they did not allow a very full report in the news following the flood. They felt people would become demoralised if another disaster befell them and so we did not really know much about the flood at the time. I think that my parents would have looked for another holiday venue in 1953 if they had known more but instead, all unawares, we returned to the farm next to Sea Palling and found devastation. We were completely unprepared for what we found. The little village had become half its original size, so many houses were washed away. The sand dunes which had been such a challenge to small children to get to the sea were just a small remnant, barley fifteen feet high and only one stretch of dune between us and the sea. They had held the flood back from the farm, but only just. It was only where the village traffic had worn a gap in the dunes the sea came through. The sand dunes had been built by Dutch engineers several hundred years before and they had built well. All along the Norfolk coast, the protection those ancient dunes had provided had saved many more lives but this was not the case in many other places. In Essex near Clacton on Sea, a place I lived in for many years, these is a small area called Jaywick. Further along the coast there are a number of tidal creeks which stretch inland behind Jaywick and the sea, unable to breach the concrete sea walls along the sea front, it poured in behind them rushing up the tidal creeks and devastating parts of Jaywick. I knew one of the survivors, he lost his wife in the flood and described his wooden chalet bungalow as being like a matchbox in a drain. He was only able to save himself because by sheer incredible luck, he managed to catch hold of a small boat that was torn away from its moorings and happened to be still afloat and near him when his house finally fell apart. He never saw his wife again.
In Dovercourt, just north of Clacton, the police went around the town with loud hailers to warn people of the storm surge heading their way. Because of this many people were prepared for the flood and survived, but some older people, still in WWII mode and not quite sure what the police were saying, went into their cellars believing it was an air raid warning. A work colleague of mine who had been a naval diver in 1953 told me of the grisly job he and his colleagues had to do, to recover their bodies. So it was sixty years ago today and there are many who still remember, even if we were not directly affected. We went back to Norfolk for many years after, not always to Sea Palling, but we saw the feeble results of the rebuilding of the dunes. A concrete sea wall was built soon after, which was probably designed to be the right height to prevent another flood exactly like that one, but it only needed to be a few centimetres higher to overtop that and the dune behind it is nothing like the old Dutch built ones. It is now a single low dune, pathetic in size when compared to the one those old Dutch engineers built.

The beach near Waxham close to Sea Palling twenty or so years ago.  The sea wall is almost buried.
Now I hear the sea wall is crumbling too and they are considering letting the sea carry on destroying the coast on the assumption it is cheaper, and better ecologically, than trying to stop it. It is certainly cheaper, but not for the people whose homes are falling into the sea and whose farms are invaded by salt water but they are only a small number of voters, so who will listen? It seems sad to me that those communities that survived the flood are now unlikely to survive government policy.

Monday, 28 January 2013

The world according to Snafu - The triple dip

The media love sound bites and the latest one is a ‘triple dip recession’. As someone pointed out, if it were a triple dip ice cream it would be great, but for someone on a fixed income, it is not such good news. It is obvious from past recessions, that no one knows what to do about one when we have one and although politicians whose party has been in power during good times will claim it was their doing and parties in power during bad times get blamed for the recession, it is quite obvious to even the least politically aware that there is nothing whatsoever that the people in charge can do to make it better. Economic forces are like the weather, unpredictable and uncontrollable. They are the product of so many factors that no two economists can agree about any part of them.

They can of course make it worse. Mistakes like de-regulating the banks and so allowing huge unsupportable loans to be exchanged within the financial world being a good example. They also seemed to believe for years that covering a loan by taking out a bigger one was sound economics. Surprisingly this does actually work after a fashion, if you have sustained growth but it does not take much of a dip to turn this into an unending spiral of debt. The one thing that I find difficult to understand is why all these floundering people believe that it is possible for it to get better. They all talk of growth and how it is expected to rise/fall and so on as if growth is some magical force that must always become positive. In the past many civilisations have risen, become powerful economic forces and then sunk into oblivion, sometimes by force of arms but quite often just by losing trade to another part of the known world.
There is no guarantee that growth will continue to rise or indeed that it can. Growth anyway is not something that is infinitely sustainable, nothing in nature ever grows forever, it cannot. Everything has a finite limit on growth. If anything can keep on growing, it will eventually find a point where there is nothing left to sustain it, it has absorbed everything available.
Sharks have no limits on what size they can reach, but the bigger they become the more they need to eat and eventually they reach the point where they are so big they cannot catch enough food and they starve to death. So there are no super-sharks around.
In any closed system you need inputs and outputs, you cannot grow continuously or perpetual motion would be possible and it is not. So politicians and economists are all chasing something which is totally beyond their control and completely impossible to sustain forever.
It is well within historical precedent that our civilisation will not recover, but sink more and more into a depression that it will never recover from. I hope this is not the case, but there is nothing in history to say it won’t happen and there is no one in charge seemingly able to do anything useful, so welcome to the second Dark Age.
And remember,  no matter who  you vote for, the Government will always get in :)

Friday, 18 January 2013

Oh to be in England now the snow is here…

When I was a child, I was never sent home from school because it snowed. The busses all seemed to run and trains were only delayed if they went to Scotland. Why so much chaos now?
That is not strictly true, in my last year at school we did get sent home because very few of the teachers had been able to get in, but that was because eighteen inches (about 46cm) of snow fell in one night, which is a lot for England. That is the only time I was turned away from school. I did actually get there, so even with eighteen inches of snow I was only a bit hampered by the weather. When I grew up and became a TV engineer I went to work all weathers driving around to fix people’s TVs all over Essex and parts of London. I did have a few bumps, but I soon learned how to prevent that and could pull out of a skid and avoid getting stuck in every kind of weather like the best of them. We had some bad weather too. I was working in 1962/3, a really bad winter, one of the worst on record. Twenty years later, having moved west, in 1982, another exceptional winter, I still went to work every day even though the West was buried in deep snow, so why is it such a problem now? The Better Half and I were going to Manchester this weekend to watch the Granddaughter perform in a school choir. We had booked the hotel bought the train tickets and were packed and ready to go when this happened. . .
Just in case you have'nt noticed, it snowed - but not much

It is not so deep here, about four inches, but busses stopped running the town became gridlocked and trains were re-scheduled. We could not get to the station and so had to cancel the hotel and mourn the loss of our non refundable cheap train tickets. So here we are out of pocket and unable to go with the Granddaughter the other end of the country with a gridlocked and useless transport system , so it will be a while before we will see her. The only highlight was that I was able to wander around this afternoon and capture some of the snowy scenery, amongst all the dog walkers and parents with children on toboggans.

A frozen pond in the bushes

We won't be getting too much light from this solar powered garden light tonight.

Even the back door handle got a minature snowdrift on it
The snow kept falling all dayand all the kids off school had a wonderful day.  Snowmen will soon be popping out of the ground and then it will all go away and we will be back to normal.  But another month, another year and it will all happen again. Maybe one day we will learn how to keep things running when it snows, but I am not holding my breath.

Friday, 11 January 2013

The world according to Snafu - Time Travel

A recent post referring to the novel 'The Time Traveller's Wife', prompted me to think about time travel.  As a long term Science Fiction reader, I have always been fascinated by time travel stories. As far as I am aware time travel was first fictionalised by H G Wells, although I could be wrong, but it has since been a major part of the SF genre.

It presents all kinds of wonderful possibilities for writers, paradox, discovery, solving crimes and mysteries, parallel timelines and an opportunity to write an historical novel with modern characters. Mark Twain used that theme when he wrote 'A Connecticut Yankee in the Court of King Arthur' and many writers followed.
The paradox theme of time travel has fascinated a lot of people, for instance the one about shooting your grandfather so that you are not born is usually trotted out, but some have gone as far as being your own grandfather. In the 1940s Heinlein wrote one along those lines called ‘All you Zombies’ and another less incestuous paradoxical story, ‘By his Bootstraps’  both of which are circular in time.

Heinlein used the pseudonym of Anson MacDonald for several of his earlier short stories

Some writers have looked at the way in which altering events in the past will change the present, nicely done in Ray Bradbury’s ‘ A sound of Thunder ‘ where it occurred accidentally.  This was made into an abysmal movie; enough said.  The movie series ‘Back to the Future’ involved a lot of deliberate changes occurring in time giving rise to different futures. Many stories deal with unexpected changes to history and some where you cannot change it at all, and so anything you do is already accounted for in history. This idea has occurred regularly and is an important concept in many novels. Moorcock’s ‘Behold the Man’, Ward Moore's 'Bring the Jubilee' and John Boyd’s ‘The Last Starship From Earth’, all rely on the idea that the past is set and if you go back you are not changing it but making it happen the way it should.
Interfering with history brings about victory for the North in the civil War

On TV, Dr Who is a constant time tourist but never seems to change time much. In a recent episode the idea that committing suicide would get you out of a tight spot since you would remove the paradoxical time loop in which you are trapped and come back to life, something that Poul Anderson used long before in his time travel stories in the 1950s.

One of the more unlikely ideas, often embedded in the main plot, is an object that has no origin. The moving story by Richard Mathewson, ‘Bid Time Return’ has one of these, the main character is unexpectedly given a watch by a very old lady. Later in the narrative, but earlier in time, he gives it to her when she is a young woman after he travels back in time. Giving it to her means that she can give it back to him when she meets him as an old lady and so it becomes a paradox, since it has no proper origin.

These objects are often called a ‘bootstrap paradox’, generally thought to have derived from Heinlein’s By His Bootstraps, where a notebook has a similar history in that story. His older self gives it to his younger self to teach him what he needs to know to become his older self…
Recently Time travel has featured in children's stories, some of which are well worth reading.
Time travel can be dangerous if you go back to WWII

Change the future and avoid a war, or cause a war we can survive, which is best choice for the H Bomb Girl?

Like the more recent 'The Time Traveller's Wife' the hero in this novel can travel in time without a time machine

One theme which occurs now and then is a time war, where the protagonists attempt to write each other out of history by changing their past, often on a cosmic scale. A good example of this is Fritz Leiber’s ‘The Big Time’, but many others have written on the same theme and the Terminator movies are based around this kind of warfare.
The spiders and the Snakes fight it out using humans as foot soldiers recruited from throughout all of Earth's history, but all the action in this great little novel takes place in an R&R facility away from the battle front.

 In several stories time police exist to protect against random changes brought about by illegal time travellers and in Asimov’s 'The end of Eternity' the organisation ‘Eternity’ is regulating history by making changes that are supposed to create a better future.
An elite force patrol the timelines looking for time crimes with some unexpected twists

He is ordered to change her past, but Harlan knows this will erase his lover from history because she would never be born, so he cannot bring himself to change her timeline, instead together they end Eternity

So much has been written on the subject by many well-known writers, but very few of them have acknowledged that to travel in time, you must also travel in space because the Earth is moving.  Just moving in time is going to strand you in an empty vacuum nowhere near the planet Earth. Dr Who occasionally remembers this but more often than not the writers ignore it.

An unusual time travel story by James Tiptree jr, a woman writer by the way, recognises this in her ‘The Man Who Walked Home’. This intriguing story is written so that it takes a while for the reader to understand what is actually taking place as the story unfolds. This is one of the few that takes into account that time and space is inseparable.

 In the comic 2000AD, in a 1980’s episode, one of the characters had a ‘time bomb’, not a timed explosive device, but a device which warped you a few minutes through time. The result was that you were suddenly dumped into outer space, because the Earth had moved on whilst you were in the time warp.

This use of space-time is very rare, most time travellers just pop up in the same place on the Earth as if it was not moving during the elapsed time that you have just short circuited. Some rationalise this by saying that you are moving with the Earth and so that your relative motion is retained, but that implies that you and the Earth are travelling through time together. If you are fixed in place with the earth’s movement, you will simply be frozen in place until you arrive at the new time. This would be kind of annoying for us normal travellers, because the earth would be littered with frozen time travellers hanging around like statues until their timer pings and they come back to life.
If as time travel stories suggests, you vanish and reappear retaining your original motion you would be still heading in the particular direction the Earth had been going before you jumped and because the Earth circles the sun, its direction is changing hour on hour, you would be flying away at a tangent.
The Earth is rotating too, so ignoring the other movement of the Earth, if you want to arrive in the same place, you can only jump in exact multiples of 24 hours, a few minutes’s difference would make you end up in Cornwall instead of Essex or vice versa, but it is not even that simple. Consider time travelling ahead one day. When you arrive, we could assume you would still be moving in the same direction the Earth was going when you left, but you will only have been moving this way for a few subjective seconds that you experience during the time jump, whilst the Earth has kept on going for a whole day and it is moving at about 30km per second around the sun. Since its orbit is a curve, you will now be heading out from Earth’s orbit and so be several miles away from the ground.

You would do well to have started out with either a parachute or a hang glider strapped to you. Attempting a time jump for more than a day and you would need some kind of re-entry vehicle with ablative tiles on it or you would burn up as you plummet down to earth. Travelling backwards in time to go back a day and you could reappear inside the Earth’s core, which would be a bit unfortunate. Assuming you do more or less keep pace with the Earth, if you try to go back in time for a year, you would meet the Earth coming at you like a train. Not cool. Move in time one hundred years either into the future or the past and you would be in deep space with the Earth millions of miles away and hopelessly out of reach.
If somehow you can cancel out the movement problems and arrive in the same place and time of day, if you start at midday and jump six months to the same time of day, you would arrive standing on your head, since the place you started from is now on the far side of the sun and facing your finishing point.
Scientists did not coin the term Space-time for nothing. They are closely related, you cannot do anything without spending some time on doing it. Even reaching for the ketchup on the dinner table involves time. As close as it is to you, it is still separated by time. You can only ever see it as it was a few picoseconds ago, because even light needs some time to reach you. To move it takes more time, whilst both your hand and the ketchup exist at the same time it still takes time for you reach it and pour it out. So everything around you is removed from you in both space and time, showing there is a strong link between the two. Nothing takes no time when moving through space, likewise moving in time displaces you in space.

So time travel is not as straightforward as it seems and to jump in time and land in the same place on the ground would require a lot of movement in space too, with some very complicated calculations to find your way to the place the Earth is/was when you arrive. The most practical time machine you could build would have to be a space-ship as well. You could then head for an empty spot in the solar system where it would be safe to emerge at the end of the time jump, having calculated what is/was in the vicinity at the time you intend to travel to. You would not want to arrive where another object was/is when you arrive. Once you have jumped through time, you would then have to fly your space-ship-time-machine to the new position where the Earth has moved on to, or come from, depending on which way you are going in time. The length of journey to the earth would depend on how far you have jumped through time and could be a considerable distance if you have travelled far in time. So the time jump would need to be a space jump too. Of course, you could call this space-ship-time-machine a ‘Time and Relative Dimension In Space’ machine, the initials of which makes the word TARDIS.
Now where have I heard that before?
So the creators of Dr Who did understand the problem once, but time travel seems to have lost some of the science in science fiction.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Cover Reveal - Passing Time by Ellie Garrett

I am happy to be hosting an author who writes in one of my favourite genres and who is releasing a collection of short stories entitled;
Passing Time 

Nine Short Tales of the Strange and Macabre 

Book Blurb
Nine dark fiction stories that may just give you nightmares.
A man lives to regret Passing Time.
A father will do anything to save his son in Expiration Date.
An author finds out her worst nightmare is back in The Devil’s Song.
A woman gets more than the claim fee when she takes out vampire insurance in Luna Black.
In Dining in Hell, the Death Valley Diner becomes the wrong place to stop.
A serial killer wants to add another file to his collection in The Vegas Screamer.
In Eating Mr. Bone, an undertaker could meet an unfortunate end.
A con man meets his first ghost in Land of the Free.
And will truth finally be set free in The Letter?

Publication date: 11th February 2013

I will be buying a copy for myself ASAP 

About The Author 

A life-long addiction to reading science fiction and horror, meant writing was the logical outlet for Ellie Garratt’s passions. She is a reader, writer, blogger, Trekkie, and would happily die to be an extra in The Walking Dead. Her short stories have been published in anthologies and online. Passing Time is her first eBook collection and contains nine previously published stories. Her science fiction collection Taking Time will be published later in the year.
Anyone who wears a space suit and makes it look glamourous gets my vote. 

Author Links

Please visit Ellie’s blog on Friday 11th January, when she will be interviewing Passing Time’s cover designer, Ida Jansson.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Happy New Year everyone!

I am back after a longish Christmas break with grandchildren and great grandchildren, well ‘great grandchild’ singular.
An enjoyable time, but getting a little time to one’s self for more than a few minutes at a stretch is not always easy. Not without burning the midnight oil and anyway, much of that is taken up with chatting, TV viewing ‘essential’ Christmas TV and movies and playing the new board games distributed amongst the family’s presents, so a busy time all round with no time to blog. We also went to the local Panto, to see Little Red Riding Hood.
So here we are back in January again with the new number 2013 to signify the next twelve months on our calendar. The Earth has made one more circuit of the sun and we are, you may think, back in the same place we were last January.
 Of course in actual fact we are nowhere near the same place, having travelled somewhere in the region of a staggering 22 billion km, or if you prefer, 13.7 billion miles during 2012. 

The sun is moving along with the rest of the galaxy (the Milky Way) and all the closest group of galaxies around us, lickety-split in the direction of the constellations Hydra and Centaurus. We are not travelling towards them, they just happen to be on that side of our local sky in the direction we are moving. This mega collection of galaxies, stars and planets we belong to are falling towards an even bigger collection of stars and galaxies, somewhere beyond the Virgo cluster, sometimes known as the Great Attractor because of the powerful gravitational pull it exerts on everything around it, including us. 
Do not worry, it will be billions of years before we arrive even at the Virgo cluster. Almost certainly the Earth will have ceased to exist, long before then, let alone the ephemeral species of anthropoid we call mankind who have inhabited this planet for only a tiny fraction of time so far.

So happy New Year and may we all travel in peace for a change, after all, the universe is a big and extremely hostile place and we really ought to be working together for our continued future, not squabbling amongst ourselves over issues that become completely insignificant when set against the backdrop of the awe inspiring and unimaginably vast universe we live in.