Friday, 30 May 2014

Poetry: A Plea for Peace

Here we go. Another poem. This time one I wrote a long time ago. When I was a student in the 60s it was the time of the Cold War and people were very afraid of Nuclear War breaking out. It was not so long since the atom bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, although at the time it seemed like a long time ago to me. People were very much afraid. Leaflets were sent out as to what to do in the event of a nuclear attack and the BBC made a film about what would happen in the event of a thermonuclear attack on Britain. At the time it was considered too frightening to be shown on TV and was banned, but private film clubs could show it. I saw it at Manchester University Film Club. It was very frightening. There was a movement called CND that campaigned for the abolition if nuclear weapons. Although I was not a member, I did sympathize with their cause. During this time I wrote the following poem.

A Plea for Peace

Now we have created something 
That threatens to destroy
One error, one mistake
And what is left for us
But Death

I see the ruins of a country
That once was powerful
Now there is nothing but
Ruin, Dust, Decay
And Death

I hear the cries of suffering people
Many people, old and young
They cry in agony to God
Please give us peace
Through Death

The only true peace we can have on Earth
Is through remembrance of our Saviour's birth.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Here is the next chapter of The Wolf Pack. Chapter 7.



It was not a pleasant journey that day after Mabryl’s death. Carthinal was sunk into himself, not speaking to either of his companions, Asphodel was in deep misery from Carthinal’s hasty remarks, and Basalt was annoyed with Carthinal for hurting Asphodel with his angry, thoughtless words.
The day was cold, and so they walked briskly to keep warm and stopped for only a relatively short time to eat some of the food that Elpin had packed for them. The land was once more wooded, which gave some protection from the wind that swept down from the mountains in the east, and over the hilly land that they were crossing. They trudged along, each with their own thoughts hardly speaking to each other. It seemed an inordinately long day to all of them with the bad feeling that was between them. Every so often, Asphodel’s eyes filled with tears as she remembered Carthinal’s angry words to her that morning, but she blinked them away, determined not to let him see them, just as she was determined to prove to herself that he was wrong and she would make a good healer.
Basalt was fuming. He liked the elf, and he liked Carthinal too. He had not thought he was capable of such cruel words. Asphodel seemed to have taken them to heart. He knew Carthinal’s reasons, that he was hurting, and like an injured animal he had struck out at the nearest person to him. How he wished that it had been him and not Asphodel who had been there this morning to receive the tongue-lashing. He could take it. He had been through worse in his time, but the young elf was more sensitive it seemed.
‘Well, he’ll come to his senses eventually,’ muttered Bas to himself. ‘I only hope it’s before we get to Hambara, so it won’t be too late for him to apologise.’
Eventually, the day ended and they had made quite good time. There was a clearing in the woodland ahead of them with a stream running through it when they decided that it was time to stop. They were still a morose band, but it was necessary to communicate in order to sort out the watches. Basalt took the first watch, with Asphodel the second and Carthinal the third. They decided that they would rest until dawn, which meant that they had over twelve hours in camp. Each watch was to be for two hours at a time and each of them was to take two watches. That decided, they made a fire with wood they collected from the forest around the clearing. This had become a routine with Carthinal and Asphodel, and not much discussion was required, so the evening was a silent affair. Almost as soon as the meal was finished, Carthinal rolled himself up in his blanket and turned his back on them. Asphodel and Basalt exchanged glances.
Basalt was the first to speak. ‘I know that the half-elf hurt you with his remarks, but he didn’t really mean it. He was hurting and struck out at the nearest target, which just happened to be you. A bit like an injured animal will often bite the person trying to help it. Get some rest, lass. I’ll wake you when it is your turn to watch.’
Asphodel decided that he was right, and she should rest so she, like Carthinal, wrapped herself in her blankets and tried to sleep.
Basalt’s watch went smoothly. He kept the fire going and after a couple of hours, he woke Asphodel. She seemed a little less distressed, much to his relief, and he quickly fell asleep himself.
Asphodel watched for some time. She was thinking about things that had transpired in the last few days. She decided that she was foolish to take Carthinal’s words to heart. In a couple of days they would be at Hambara. He would go to the Mage Tower for his tests and she would be at the temple, probably never to see him again. (She found this thought a distressing as she had come to like the half-elf, and was more than a little attracted to him.) Anyway, she resolved not to let him hurt her again, so she settled down to her watch feeling much calmer.
After a while, she thought she felt herself being watched. She turned quietly so as not to disturb whatever it was that she had felt. She could see nothing, and was beginning to think that she was imagining it.
‘An over-active imagination, girl,’ she thought. ‘Just because everyone else is asleep!’
Then she spotted the heat source. ‘Well, at least it isn’t undead,’ she muttered to herself, but she felt a little afraid nevertheless.
On looking closer, she thought that the heat source was human or humanoid, but which she could not tell.
She crept over to Carthinal and Basalt and whispered quietly to them. ‘Don’t make any quick moves, but there is someone or something watching us.’
The others quietly opened their eyes.
‘You can’t see anything with normal vision, you need to use infra-vision,’ she continued. ‘Look over there, just beyond that tree behind the bush.’
She indicated a bush just on the opposite side of the fire. Sure enough, the half-elf could make out a humanoid figure. It was glowing with heat, and seemed to be the size of a rather tall man, maybe 6 feet 6 inches tall, but little else could be determined.
‘Carthinal, ready one of your spells. Asphodel, you be ready for some unarmed combat if necessary, but don’t do anything unless you have to,’ whispered Basalt, reaching for his crossbow very slowly and quietly. He stood up, along with Carthinal and called out in the direction of the figure, ‘We’re armed and ready. Come out so we can see you, but have no weapons. If we see any weapons, we will attack.’
The figure quietly moved into the clearing. He was not armed and had his hands away from his sides. He was a tall, coppery-skinned man and was wearing black leathers, topped by a black cloak. He had black wavy hair, which he wore long and tied back with a black leather thong. His features were arresting, rather than handsome, with almost black eyes and a straight nose over a generous mouth that looked as though it liked to smile, and he carried himself with an almost arrogant bearing. On his back was a quiver containing a number of black-fletched arrows, but he had no bow or sword in sight.
‘I should have remembered that elves can see in the dark and been more careful,’ he said. His voice was musical and low with the merest trace of a foreign accent. ‘However, I did intend to reveal myself to you tomorrow. You are right to be suspicious. Suspicion is the reason that I didn’t reveal myself before. I had to know if I could trust you.’
‘And how do we know we can trust you?’ retorted Carthinal.
‘You don’t. At least not at the moment,’ replied the stranger. ‘I would like to have the chance to prove it to you though.’
‘Begin by telling us who you are,’ Asphodel interrupted, trying to place his accent, ‘And why you want us to trust you.’
‘By all means,’ went on the stranger. ‘My name is Fero, and I’m a ranger. I’m originally from the land of Beridon in the south.’ He mentioned a land far to the south of Grosmer, the country where they were currently living. ‘I left there three years ago to travel and further my knowledge, but I’ve come to learn that it’s far safer to travel in company with others, rather than alone. My last companions left to head towards the Western Mountains, but I decided to continue to Hambara. I was going to reveal myself to you when Basalt here turned up, and I thought you may find it a little suspicious having two strangers turn up on the same day so I decided to wait until the following day or the day after. Then the people at the farm back took you in yonder, and when you came back onto the road again, I guessed your friend had died as he was not with you and you all looked so upset. I’m sorry about that. So you saw me and here I am. At your mercy I may add.’
‘You’ve certainly listened well,’ observed Carthinal. ‘There’s little you could have found out that you failed to do. Was it you that I thought I heard a night or two ago when I was on watch?’
‘Yes. I cursed myself for my carelessness then. I stood on a twig and it cracked. I shouldn’t have done so. My ranger training should have made me able to move silently in the woods at all times. I really thought that I’d have to reveal myself then, but you seemed to dismiss the sound.’
Asphodel was observing the stranger. She saw by the firelight that his eyes were a very dark colour, almost black. She looked into them closely. His appearance was somewhat daunting, dressed all in black as he was, with his coppery skin and black hair and eyes, but she thought she could discern a gleam of humour in those eyes, and a kindness.
‘I’m willing to trust him,’ she said suddenly. ‘I’m not sure why, but I think he’s honest.’
‘You can join with us as a travelling companion, but don’t mind if we don’t leave you on watch alone just yet,’ replied Carthinal. ‘Take a place by the fire, and I think that it’s time for our watch change. I’ll be watching now, and Fero, I have a spell prepared!’
With that, the half-elf took his seat on a fallen log at the side of the clearing, and was silent. The others looked from one to the other. Basalt and Asphodel had hoped that some sleep would lift Carthinal’s mood somewhat, but now that things had been settled, he seemed to be retreating once more into himself. However, since there was nothing more they could do, they decided to try to get some sleep themselves.
Carthinal woke Basalt at the end of his two hours, and rolled himself in his blankets by the fire. Basalt sat, took out his dagger and started whittling on a piece of wood he had found and yawning from time to time. Occasionally, he rose and paced around to keep himself awake, looking carefully at Fero and also at Carthinal. Although the half-elf tried to pretend he was asleep, Basalt glimpsed the gleam of his eyes in the glint of the fire. At the end of his two-hour watch, Basalt was pleased to note that Carthinal seemed to have fallen into a fitful sleep at last.
‘He needs the sleep,’ he muttered to himself. ‘He’s obviously lost more than just his master. Mabryl meant much to him.’
He gently woke Asphodel, and she took her place on watch.
Carthinal had indeed fallen asleep, but it was not very restful. He dreamed of dark figures and fighting around the camp. He tossed around, hearing harsh voices in his dreams, and a scream that was suddenly cut off. He woke and realised that everything had not been a dream. There were many footprints around the camp and there were signs of a scuffle near to the fire. Then he realised that Asphodel was gone. He remembered the scream, and how it was cut off, and he felt suddenly afraid for her.
He felt rather than heard Basalt saying, ‘We’ll find her and get her back, laddie, don’t you worry now. Fero here is a ranger, and can track these creatures, whatever they are. He’s looking at the tracks now.’
Fero returned then. ‘They are orcs,’ he spat, with hatred in his voice. ‘They sometimes take human or elven women and children and use them as slaves. Sometimes they use the women for other things as well, if they are a raiding party and their own females are not with them.’
This made Carthinal’s blood run cold at the thought of Asphodel being raped by these abominable creatures. ‘She must be found and rescued,’ he said harshly. ‘I won’t let her suffer such a fate.’
He stood and began to make his way into the surrounding trees. He felt a hand on his arm, and turned to see Fero.
His face was grim and his eyes burned with an intensity that took Carthinal aback. ‘You won’t find her if you go rushing off like that, half-elf,’ said the ranger. ‘I can follow their tracks, but not if you obliterate them first.’
Carthinal turned to him. ‘I apologise,’ he responded, ‘We must go quickly though. How far do you think they will have gone?’
‘Not too far yet,’ replied the other. ‘They have an additional weight to carry, but I fear they may have knocked her out as her scream stopped so abruptly.’
Carthinal could not understand why he felt so angry at that thought. He wanted to rip the orcs limb from limb that they had dared to harm Asphodel. He shocked himself at the violence of his thoughts, and began to tremble. He heard Mabryl’s voice in his head saying, “Remember that violence for its own sake does more harm to the perpetrator than to the victim, and revenge eats away the soul.” He forced himself to calm and did some deep breathing exercises. Then he saw the other two watching him in concern. 
‘Feeling a little better now?’ said Basalt gently. ‘I thought you were going to have a stroke or something for a minute.’
‘Yes, thank you, Bas. I was overcome for a minute at the thought of Asphodel in the clutches of those creatures, but I’m calm now. Nothing will be done properly in anger, I realise that.’
    Fero had been searching around the clearing to find out in which direction the orcs had taken their captive. He quickly returned to the others. ‘I think they must have been a raiding party. They left by the opposite side of the clearing. They entered from the north and left by the south,’ he told them. ‘I don’t think they were expecting us to be here. They weren’t following us in order to capture Asphodel. It was just unfortunate that they came by when she was on watch alone.’
‘Can you follow their tracks?’ queried Basalt.
‘Oh yes! I could track orcs over bare rock if necessary,’
There was a snarl in Fero’s voice. It was obvious to both of the others that he had come across orcs before and for some reason had an unreasoning hatred of the creatures.
‘Then what are we waiting for? The sooner we leave, the better,’ said Basalt, picking up his pack and hoisting his crossbow in his hands.
The three left the clearing in the direction indicated by Fero. They divided Asphodel’s belongings between them and followed the tracks to the south.
The orcs had not made much of an effort to hide their tracks, and even a blind hill dwarf could follow it, as Basalt said. Carthinal, with his elven heritage, walked quietly in the woods, but Fero was trained in woodcraft and he could hardly be heard at all. Unfortunately, the mountain dwarves are not very good at passing silently, especially when loaded down with weapons. Basalt made as much noise as a hill giant with indigestion as Carthinal said.
Suddenly, Fero stopped in his tracks and motioned to the others to stop and be silent.  ‘They’ll have set an ambush,’ he whispered. ‘They may not be the most intelligent creatures on Vimar, but they’ll realise that we’ll follow to attempt a rescue. They’ll assume that we’ll be easy to defeat as there are only three of us, and from the tracks, there are about a dozen of them. They’ll also not be able to figure out that we may be on our guard and that an ambush may not be a surprise. Can you see anything in the bushes with your infra-vision, Carthinal?’
Carthinal looked and sure enough, he could see three reddish figures in the bushes on either side of the narrow track a hundred yards further along. He whispered the information to Fero. Fero then whispered that he thought he and Carthinal should creep up behind the orcs and quietly kill them. Bas should remain where he was as he was making enough noise to waken a dead log.
Basalt was about to take umbrage at this, but Carthinal said, ‘We need someone to make them think that we are still on this track, Bas. You keep walking along, and talking as though we are following behind you. That should keep their attention from us.’
This mollified Basalt somewhat. ‘Yes,’ he replied. ‘That makes sense. I’ll do that.’
‘Give us a few minutes to get into position, and then off you go,’ said Fero. ‘Carthinal, how good are you with a dagger? Can you kill silently from behind?’
‘No problem, my friend, no problem,’ murmured the mage.
‘Then I’ll take the right hand side if you take the left,’ and with that, he was gone.
Basalt allowed them to get half way to the ambush, and then he started down the road, stomping along and calling behind him, ‘Come on! Hurry up you two! They’re getting away. That poor lass must be terrified out of her wits. What? Track them? They leave more tracks than a herd of stampeding cattle. No need of expert trackers here,’ and he marched forward, weapons clanking.
‘Good old Bas,’ thought Carthinal as he crept through the undergrowth towards where he could see the first red shape.
The orc was intent on peering towards Basalt, trying to see his companions, and was not aware of the dagger being drawn across his throat until too late. He did not even have time to draw a breath. The second one was just as easy. By the time he realised there was anyone there, he too was dead.
‘Two down, one to go,’ thought Carthinal. ‘I wonder how Fero is getting on.’
Carthinal had completely forgotten his mistrust of the ranger in the camaraderie of battle.
‘Oops! I’ve forgotten the main tenant of fighting. Do not allow yourself to be distracted, even by wondering about your friends. Every one is his own keeper.’
With this thought, Carthinal put everything out of his mind except the last orc. He crept up behind it and was just about to put his arm around its mouth, both to stifle any cry and to bring its head back into a position where its throat was revealed, when a twig broke under his foot. He considered his momentary lapse in concentration and cursed himself as the orc whirled round and cried out. He crouched in a fighting stance as the orc drew its weapon. 
‘Curse these robes,’ he thought, ‘I don’t have time to prepare a spell, and can’t fight hand to hand in these clothes.’
Mabryl had insisted that Carthinal wear the robes of an apprentice mage as he was on official mage business, namely going to the Tower for his Test. Carthinal had continued to wear them because it was what Mabryl had said was right in the circumstances.
The orc was wielding an ugly looking short sword. The weapon had a much longer reach than Carthinal’s dagger. The orc lunged at Carthinal, and he dodged backwards, the sword just missing his face by about half an inch. He feinted to his left, making as though he were about to stab in that direction, hoping that the orc would be fooled. Unfortunately, the orc was battle hardened and easily saw through Carthinal’s ruse. The orc then stepped to one side and was about to make a stabbing cut which would have opened Carthinal’s side when there was a thudding sound and the orc plunged towards him and fell face down to the ground, a black-fletched arrow sticking out of its back.
At the same moment, he heard a harsh voice call out in heavily accented Grosmerian,    ‘You! Show yerself and hold up yer bow. And the dwarf. You hold up yer crossbow where I can see it too. I’ve a knife at the female’s throat and if either of yer moves, she dies!’
Carthinal realised that the orc did not know that he was there. It must have thought that its companion had seen Fero and that was why it called out, and why Fero had shot it. Maybe this was a chance to do something. He knew there were three orcs on each side of the track, and if Fero was right about their numbers, there must be about six of them left. He must try to do something whilst they did not know he was there. He looked around and could see one of the orcs holding Asphodel. She had her hands tied in front of her and a gag around her mouth, but she was conscious. Suddenly he came to a decision. He took the mana into himself and began to weave it into a shape to draw energy from the surroundings, and then pointed his fingers at the orc that he could see holding Asphodel. Two glowing silvery darts of energy shot from his fingers and embedded themselves in the orc’s chest. The orc stumbled in surprise, but although badly wounded, was not killed outright. Asphodel took her opportunity, as Carthinal hoped she would. She stamped hard on the creature’s foot, and when it dropped its dagger, she whirled and jabbed her fingers hard into its throat. It dropped at her feet, quite dead.
In the meantime, the other orcs had turned towards Carthinal, and were drawing their swords. Basalt and Fero saw their opportunity, and fired at them. Fero killed one instantly with his first arrow, but the second only grazed its intended victim and the orc changed direction, moving towards the tall figure preparing to fire a third arrow. Basalt killed one, but had to draw out his battleaxe as one of the remaining orcs was approaching him, sword drawn. He yelled a battle cry and promptly began hacking at the orc. He became very angry when it managed to get behind his defences and score a cut in his arm. Then, before he knew what was happening, the orc yawned and fell asleep in the middle of a swing of its sword. He quickly dispatched it before wondering what was going on. He noticed that the rest of the orcs were either dead or asleep, and noticed Asphodel calmly cutting the throat of another sleeping orc. He wondered at them falling asleep in the midst of a battle, but put it from his mind to ponder later.
Asphodel, when she had finished dispatching the last of the orcs, crept to the side of the track, trembling in every muscle, and began to retch violently. Carthinal went up to her and put his hand on her shoulder. She continued to retch until her stomach was empty, and then began to tremble violently.
 ‘You’ve never killed before, have you?’ he said gently.
   The girl shook her head. ‘Not even a chicken for dinner,’ she admitted. ‘And I’ve vowed to save lives, not take them.’
‘It often takes people like that the first time, especially if you’re killing a sentient creature, even if they are basically evil,’ Carthinal continued.
He turned her towards him and saw the tears in her eyes as she continued to shake. He held her to him and she rested her head against his chest. She felt secure, hearing his heart beating strongly and evenly in his chest, and all the horrors of the flood, the death of Mabryl and Carthinal’s subsequent unkindness, not to mention her kidnapping and the killing of the orcs suddenly came together and she began to cry uncontrollably. Carthinal stroked her long black hair which had come loose in her struggles with the orcs, and allowed her to cry herself out, knowing that this would be a healing process, and also knowing that it was a process that he should allow himself. As her tears flowed, he felt his own tears begin, and shortly, they were both crying and comforting each other.
After a short while, Asphodel looked up into Carthinal’s indigo eyes. He was still holding on to her, but he let go when he saw her looking at him.
‘Will you accept my apologies for the way in which I’ve treated you all day?’ he said.
‘Of course I will,’ she replied. ‘You were upset at Mabryl’s death and wanted to hit out at someone. I just happened to be the one who was there.’
They looked for their companions and saw that they had been removing arrows from the orcs and cleaning their weapons.
‘Let’s get away from here,’ called Fero. ‘There could be others coming to meet them.’
    The four walked slowly through the last hours of the night until they came once again to their campsite. There were still a few hours of darkness left, and they decided to remain there. Fero rekindled the fire, while Basalt fumbled in his pack. Asphodel sank down to the ground gratefully as she felt that her legs would give way. She had not fully recovered from killing the orcs.
‘I had some in here somewhere, for an emergency,’ Basalt mumbled to himself.
Carthinal was just going to ask what it was he was searching for when he gave a cry of triumph.
‘Ah! Knew it was here,’ and with that he pulled out a flask. He uncorked it and took it over to where Asphodel was sitting. ‘Here, lass, take a wee sip of this. It is good in such circumstances,’ and he passed her the flask.
‘What is it?’ she queried.
‘Some dwarven spirit. Only take a small sip, mind. You’re not used to it.’
With that, Asphodel put the flask to her mouth and took a small sip as directed. She felt as though her mouth had caught fire, and as she swallowed, the flames roared down her throat and into her stomach. She coughed, but then the feeling of warmth and well being began to permeate her whole body.
‘I think we should all have some of this,’ she said, handing the flask to Fero.
He took a mouthful and then passed it to Carthinal who, after taking a drink, passed it back to Basalt. Bas took a large mouthful and then put it back into his pack. 
‘For another emergency,’ he said.   
‘I hope we don’t have many more like that one,’ replied Asphodel, beginning to feel better as the spirits circulated through her body. She yawned.
‘You sleep,’ said Carthinal. ‘The three of us will take the rest of the watches tonight.’
Fero looked up from stoking up the fire. ‘You’ve decided to trust me then, half-elf?’ was all he said.
Carthinal replied with a nod. ‘You had a good opportunity to do us harm back there, but you were indispensable. The dwarf and I couldn’t have done it alone, and the gods alone know what would have happened to Asphodel then.’
He glanced over towards the fire. Asphodel was lying close to the flames and had fallen fast asleep. He felt a strange fear and anger at the thought of what might have been.
He went and put her blanket over her, and then turned to the others, ‘Bas, you take first watch, I’ll take second and Fero can take third, if that is all right by you both.’
The others agreed and pretty soon, those not on watch were asleep just like Asphodel.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Poetry: England

Here is another poem written on St George's Day.


That misty isle across the sea
Will always be a home to me.
The cliffs of white that guard our shores,
The rolling Downs. the bleak, cold moors,
The skylark with his liquid song
Soaring high above the throng
Of hikers, picnickers and such,
Whose hearts he never fails to touch.

The little streams and brooks do run
Through woodlands, glistening in the sun.
The little fish are swimming here;
A kingfisher is always near.
A flash of blue above the stream,
A dive, then gone, that silver gleam
Of minnows, gone to feed his brood
In holes, all waiting for their food.

I cities where the pigeons fly
The wind-blown litter flutters by.
The cars and buses, cycles too,
Line up at lights, forming a queue.
The city’s clamorous roar assaults
The ears, but never, ever halts.
The busy folk all rushing past
They never slow, time goes so fast.

The little market towns do snooze.
The slightest little thing is news.
In pretty villages with greens
Are cottages with oaken beams.
The church bells echo o’er the fields
Calling us with merry peals
As they have done for many a year
Bringing hope and lots of cheer.

This land does not a climate boast,
Just weather, blown form coast to coast.
All in one day this land can get
All four seasons, sun and wet.
Though no extremes do us attack
Do not go out without a mac
For rain can come at any time,
Though rarely with a gale force nine.

The English folk are stubborn, too
As we evinced in World War two.
We do not push, but stand in line
Waiting patiently ‘til it’s time.
We do not wail and wave our arms,
For such behaviour has no charms.
But when we’re rouse, then just watch out!
We’ll demonstrate, wave flags and shout.

And so my country is unique;
Its people are not really meek.
An upper lip that’s stiff conceals
A wicked humour that reveals
Our lack of deference for power,
Our love for bird and bee and flower.
Abroad may have its charms, it’s true
But England’s magic’s ever new.

April 2014

In the next few days I will publish another chapter of The Wolf Pack for those who are reading it. (Or even for those who are not! Maybe you will start once you see it in print.)

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

I am wondering about all the pro-european voters. It seems to me that they are not putting any reasons as to why Europe is good for Britain. I found a web-site (www. that puts forward some very good reasons as to why we should remain in, but no one ever states these in the press. Why not? Most people won't search for web-sites like this one.

We are hearing nothing except about how we will be inundated by immigrants from Eastern Europe unless we come out. The press seem to home in on this bogey-man of immigration and give UKIP a lot of air-time, but not much to the other parties. Is it any wonder that the public are going along with this? Only the Lib-Dems have said anything about the impact that leaving the EU would have on Britain, and then it's only in Kent. In fact, here are a few things about immigrants that the scare-mongerers fail to mention.

We are a very insular people, it seems to me, and are currently bordering on xenophobia. UKIP's insistence on focusing on the immigration aspect of Europe is feeding into this. Xenophobia is a very dangerous thing. Look at the Nazis and more recently the genocide in Eastern Europe. (I refuse to use the euphemism, 'ethnic cleansing.') There have also been many instances of it in Africa. I am not saying that Britain would suddenly start death camps or anything like that, but that is the ultimate end of that sort of thinking.

Here are a few statistics about immigration: They are usually young and skilled. They come to the UK to work. The 'non-activity' rate, i.e. people who are retired, students and stay-at-home mothers) is 30% as compared with 43% for the UK as a whole. 32% of immigrants have a university degree as compared with 21% of the native population. EU immigrants are half as likely to take up benefits as the native population, too. This is from a University College of London study. Because they are already educated, we will not be paying to educate them, nor will we be paying out pensions or healthcare as they are young!

Europe has had its problems, true, but it is the largest free trade area on the planet. Do we want to be outside that?  The UK accounts for less than 1% of the world's population and less than 3% of the Global income, and shrinking. If we come out, we will find it increasingly difficult to have a voice on the international stage. A Chinese newspaper had  this quote. 'The Cameron Administration should acknowledge that the UK is not a big power in the eyes of the Chinese. It is just an old European country apt for travel and study.' If we leave, would foreign companies (such as Honda in the north east, an area that needs jobs desperately) still come to Britain if they did not have the access to this vast market? Or would they go to France, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia etc and take their jobs to those countries? That would impact greatly on our economy. Would they even move their factories etc from Britain? No. Leaving the EU would have a devastating effect on the economy of this country.

If we are not in Europe, we can have no say in what they do, thus they would be able to make laws and rules that impinge badly on us.We would have to abide by those rules whether or not we are in if we wish to trade with Europe. We would not be able to negotiate them and they may not be to our advantage. In fact, they could be detrimental to us.

Contrary to popular belief, being in the EU is not excessively expensive for us. It costs us only 0.5% of our GDP and we are  getting back this year £9.252billion.

I hope people read this. You can find out much more in the website I've mentioned, so please read and digest.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Poetry: The National Lottery

In 1990 I started working at St Mary's High School in Croydon, England. Here they had a tradition at the Staff Christmas Dinner for people to get up and do some sort of entertainment. We had had a rather 'interesting' year 10 day trip to France in the previousl November and so I wrote a poem about it. Then, of course. I had to do one each year. Unfortunately, most of them have been lost, and most would not be of interest to most people, but here is one I wrote in 1992, just after the National Lottery had begun.


No. I’ve not won the lottery.
6 million pounds? It wasn’t me!
Not even a measly tenner

I often think and wonder, though
If I should win a lot of dough
Would it change my life at all?
You bet it would! I’d have a ball.

First I’d go and buy a car.
(I’ve always fancied a Jaguar)
A BMW would be nice.
I’ll but them both and not think twice.

And then I’ll get a private jet
And join the international set.
I’ll fly around the world with ease
And leave this land when it doth freeze.

A bigger house than the one I’ve got,
Another in a land that’s hot.
I’d buy one on a mountain high
With snow to ski, down which I’d fly.

Expensive dresses I could buy,
And not put up that fateful cry,
‘It’s far too dear for me to pay
I’ve not enough on me today.’

I’d leave my job without a qualm
And sit at home and feel so calm.
No arguing with stroppy pupils
I’d just relax without those scruples.

But don’t forget the family.
I think I’d ask them round for tea.
They’d all be there; no one would miss
For who would lose a chance like this?

The Aunts and Uncles, cousins too,
 Relatives I never knew.
They’d all turn up to take their place
In the queue to see my face.

I’d walk around the Paris shops
No job to do-my mind may rot.
I think I may be somewhat bored.
My happiness is slightly flawed.

No, I’ve not won the Lottery.
I hope that now it isn’t me.
Perhaps a measly tenner?

December 1992

Sunday, 4 May 2014

OK World. Here is Episode 6 of The Wolf Pack. Those of you who have only just caught up, you should be able to find earlier extracts in my earlier blogs. It is also available in kindle and print format from Don't forget that you can read kindle books on ipad, ipod and iphone too if you download the free app.



The ranger had been wandering in the wilderness for some days now. He was vaguely heading in the direction of the city of Hambara, for although he hated cities, he needed to get some kind of paid work. Maybe he could get work as a scout for one of the caravans that were always arriving and leaving such places, or perhaps he could get a job with a hunting party. After all, the hunting season had not quite ended yet.
He sat down on one of the logs he saw littering the ground. It was cold, but then it was not spring for another month. He took out his water-skin and took a drink. He had crossed the land of Grosmer from the west, and having been warned of the dangers of the Mistmere and the Dead Marshes, he avoided them as best he could and travelled with a group of other young men. He had still been able to hear the moans of the dead that inhabited that area though. Those poor souls that had been drowned in the deep pools that were scattered through the swamp could not rest. Some said that they were evil spirits who lured people to their deaths and then kept their souls in bondage rather than the unrestful dead who had been denied their death rites. Certainly the place had had an evil feel and he was pleased to have left it behind. He found this land strange. He was from far to the south, from the land called Beridon beyond the Great Desert.
As he sat there in the shadow of the huge trees, he began to think back through the past nine years. Had it really been so long? He had been only fourteen when he left his home. He sighed. He did miss his family. He was from a large family. He had three older sisters and four younger, and two younger brothers. It was because of the preponderance of girls that the family was so large. Life, especially for children, was uncertain. Many did not live to reach their fifth year, and girls were not valued in his society. His culture believed that women had been put on Vimar for the sole purpose of bearing children and looking after men. So his mother had kept on bearing children so that there would be a sufficient number of boys to ensure at least one survive to carry on the family name and business and to provide for their parents in their old age
The ranger, being the eldest boy, had been expected to take over the business when his father became too old and failing eyesight made close work impossible. His father was a sandal maker. It was a steady job, but did not make a lot of money, so the family was poor. Fero, for that was his name, unfortunately hated the work, and had decided to become a ranger. He had found a ranger to take him on as an apprentice, and then he told his father. There had been a furious row, and his father had forbidden him from leaving. The fourteen-year-old, however, possessed a strong will and had been adamant. He had packed his few possessions in a pack and started for the door. His mother had come running after him, pleading, and crying, and as he left, she called after him:
‘Fero. Don’t forget us, Fero.’
The last thing he heard from his family was his father’s voice calling to his mother.
‘Come in, woman. We have no son called Fero.’
He had wept then, as he knew he could never return so long as his father lived, but he soon put it behind him and spent the next five years with the ranger, learning the skills he would need.   
Eventually, of course, he had to leave his new home. The ranger who had taught him deemed that he must travel on his own and learn by experience. He had wandered for a year around his own country, then found himself one day in the Great Desert. Thirsty beyond belief, he had been picked up by nomads who lived in the desert. Here he learned more of the ways of survival in hostile climes. He lived with the nomads for a year before coming with them to one of the small fishing villages on the shores of the Inner Sea. The nomads came here once a year to trade for goods they could not find or make for themselves. Fish was a great delicacy and luxury for these people. Fero thought the small town an enormous city after his small village and the tents of the nomads, and he found it fascinating. He then determined to find out more about the lands to the north, and managed to get a working passage across the sea, even though he had never been on a boat before.
So Fero came to Grosmer. In the year of his arrival he helped with harvests around the coast, oranges and olives, grapes and peaches, lemons and apricots. He found the climate agreeable. The summer was quite hot and dry, but winters were mild and with enough rain that it was not a problem in the dry summer. He quickly learned the language, but the culture was more difficult. Here women were treated as equals. He found this very strange at first and got into trouble a few times trying to make a woman obey him and wait on him. Soon, however, he found that he could actually enjoy the company of women, and that they were as interesting and intelligent as men were. He enjoyed listening to their arguments and disputing with them. He also found out that his exotic looks were very attractive to these northern women, with his long, black hair, coppery skin and near black eyes. He took to wearing black too, to accentuate his difference, even though he was aware that it was an affectation on his part. He became known as the Black Ranger by some.
So he worked his way across the south of the country over the next couple of years. Then a group of young men with whom he was working at the last farm decided to travel north, and so he thought he would go with them. He wanted to travel to the lands to the west of the Western Mountains where he had heard lived tribes of nomads very different from those of the desert. These tribes were reputed to roam vast grasslands and tend herds of beautiful horses. They were said to be the best horsemen in the world. However, soon after passing the Dead Marshes and the Mistmere, Fero suddenly decided to turn back east and go to Hambara, the second largest and most important city in the land after the capital. He was still unsure why he had decided to do that. He just felt it was right. So here he was, sitting on a log in the forests of Grosmer, heading to the city and thinking of his past life. He rose and set off once more in an easterly direction, hoping to meet the road that ran from Bluehaven to Hambara.
Fero stood up from the log where he had been sitting and stretched. He looked around for any tracks to show if there was game around. He was beginning to feel rather hungry, and he realised that he had not eaten since the previous day. It was necessary for him to live off the land now since he had finished all his supplies two days previously. He saw the tracks of some small game, rabbit, he decided after examining the tracks. He quickly found the run and set a snare, then melted into the background, his black clothing blending into the shadows. With the patience learned over years of practice, and which was not natural to the young man, he sat waiting for his trap to be sprung. Soon, a small rabbit approached, and ran straight into the snare. Quickly, to spare the little animal as much suffering as possible, Fero leaped from his hiding place, killed the creature and set to skinning it. The rabbit was soon roasting over the fire he lit. He threw the entrails into the bushes. Some creature would benefit from them. As soon as his rabbit was cooked, he set about eating. 
His meal completed, Fero looked at the sky. It was beginning to show a red glow in the west, and he decided to remain where he was for the night. He built up the fire to deter any predators, and settled down to sleep.
The next morning, Fero woke with the dawn and finished off his rabbit. He took a long drink from his water skin and ensured the fire was completely out covering the ashes with soil and leaf mould and then he carefully obliterated as many other signs of his habitation as he could. Only then did he pass out of his campsite to continue with his travels. He was a ranger and expert at leaving the countryside as it was before his coming. He travelled through the woodland without leaving any signs of his passing, and his movements were such that he was to all intents and purposes silent. That and his habitual dress of black made him an almost invisible presence in the woods. 
After travelling almost half a day, he came to a road. It must be the road between Bluehaven and Hambara, he reasoned. He was not aware of any other north south roads in this area, although he was not very familiar with the geography of Grosmer. He then decided that he would make more speed travelling along the road, so he set off, walking briskly. Soon he spotted a place where people had camped. He looked around. It was abandoned, that much was clear, but the signs suggested that he was only about a day behind. There had been two people in the camp, he decided. He found two depressions in the grass where they had slept, but there was a third that he did not at first understand. It was as though something heavy was lying on some sticks, two long ones and several others running across. This was further borne out by the fact that there were tracks of two grooves leading in and out of the small clearing. Were these bandits, carrying loot stolen from travellers on the road? Fero was not worried about theft as he had little enough to warrant a robbery, but he knew that bandits were often ruthless and had been known to kill or maim for the pleasure of so doing. Not having any goods worth stealing could be just the excuse for such activity. He decided that he had better be very careful before showing himself to anyone travelling on these roads.
Eventually it grew dark. Fero continued to walk along the road until he saw the gleam of a fire. There ahead of him were the people he had been following. The roadsides were heavily wooded here and he melted into the trees like a ghost, and remained watching them. He was an experienced fighter, but did not like to fight unless there was no alternative and so he watched until he was sure they were no threat. There were in fact three of them, as he had deduced, although one of them was on a kind of wooden contraption and was obviously unconscious. This was what had made the tracks he had been so puzzled about. Was he a prisoner? This question was answered shortly by the female, a young black-haired elven cleric, coming to perform some healing on him. The care with which she did this told Fero that this was not a prisoner. Also, the young auburn-haired apprentice mage showed even more concern. Eventually, the elf took the first watch, and Fero watched as the half-elf mage lay down by the fire. He still had no idea who these people were, and could hardly go barging into their camp in the middle of the night. That would make him a threat and if they were no bandits, as it seemed, they would be greatly disturbed. So he bided his time, thinking to reveal himself the following morning. He sat down and prepared to sleep.
Unfortunately for Fero, just before dawn, a dwarf came into the camp. He looked around, and sighed as he saw the young mage asleep, slumped down by the log on which he had been sitting for his watch. He muttered to himself in his own language, and then busied himself with making up the fire, after which he sat down on another log to wait for the pair to wake up. A rabbit crept into the clearing, and the dwarf slowly picked up his crossbow and fired. The rabbit was killed instantly, and the dwarf picked it up and took it to his seat to skin and prepare for cooking. Soon there was a delicious smell of roasting meat wafting towards where the ranger was sitting, and his mouth watered. Was this someone they knew and had been waiting for, he wondered? He would have to keep watching to find out. If they did in fact know each other, then he could continue with his plan of approaching them, but if the dwarf was a stranger to them, then he would have to bide his time. It would seem just a little too much of a coincidence to have two strangers appear on the same morning. Fero knew that if that had happened to him, he would not have trusted either of the strangers, thinking that maybe they were in league and there was an elaborate plot involved.
His question was soon answered by the reaction of the young cleric. He listened to the talk, and learned their names and how they came to be there. He decided to wait until the next night and then introduce himself. Until then, he would watch and wait.
Later in the day, Fero saw the meeting with Borolis and family. The dogs at first made to bark at him too, but with the skills of a ranger, he whistled to them, and they came over. He quickly made friends with them and after that, they ignored him. To his surprise, the travellers did not come out after eating. Maybe this was their destination, but he thought they had said they were all going to Hambara. He waited patiently for quite a long time. All remained quiet for the rest of the day. The farmer came out, milked his cows and gave the dogs some food, then returned to the house. Nothing else happened. He waited but there was no further observable activity. Fero considered moving on and not waiting for the travellers, but he had been on his own for a long time and craved some company. He could live for long days without seeing anyone most of the time, but occasionally he desired the company of others. He had learned many languages and customs in his travels and was eager to learn something of the elves. (He knew a little of the dwarves having spent some time with a band of those people when he first came to this side of the Three Seas and had learned to speak a passable dwarvish, but had never really known any elves.) Anyway, the sun was now setting and so he decided to wait and see what happened in the morning.
The next morning, the farmer and his two sons came out with heavy shovels and picks and managed to dig a hole in a small fenced-off patch of ground. Eventually, they all came out with a man on a plank of wood, covered by a sheet. Fero deduced that the injured man had died and that this was to be his funeral. A sad song sung by the cleric confirmed this, and that the man had been close to the young mage was apparent by his distressed appearance and the way he bent down and spoke to the dead man. Maybe a relative, Fero thought. Shortly after the brief funeral, the remaining three left the house and set off on the road towards the city.
Fero followed. He was aware of an atmosphere between the travellers, and thought he had better see what developed. Maybe today was not a good time to reveal himself after all, so that night he hid himself in the trees once more.