Of Queens and history

Yesterday was a pretty wonderful day.  Journey to Stormont wasn’t too bad: very quick car drive in, wander around Belfast, managed to get a shuttle bus before the 500 people queue formed and then a gentle 70 minute journey (normally takes about 15) through multiple police checks.  The estate entry itself was easy and there was a tonne of stuff to see and do (food stalls, bouncy castles, amusements, live music, etc) while waiting for HRH to arrive.  Was extremely warm and, after a couple of heavy rain bursts (we were bone dry; tree umbrellas at Stormont are great) the humidity factor did start hammering me so body/breathing was getting ropey but managed to remain vertical until The Queen’s arrival and drive-by … including having a Mackenzie on my shoulders so that he could see (yes, I am paying for that one now!).  Was definitely worth going to, of course; how many kids can say that they were at a Jubilee celebration for the Queen of England, in Stormont, on the day that she shook hands with martin McGuinness?!  That’s history, that is ;)

Exit from Stormont was mad – we stayed around for a good hour or so after HRH left (watching the exodus of people thereafter) and did the bouncy castle again, got some ice-cream, listened to music, etc.  There was STILL over an hours wait for the shuttle bus, and no cabs were taking bookings for the area due to congestion and lack of cars, so decided to go to the Stormont Hotel instead, to grab some dinner.  At 5:15pm we were told it would be 7:30pm before they could seat us and decided to just go and queue for one of the shuttle buses … only to find a beautiful taxi-man right outside who drove us back into my carpark for only £20 (normally £15 ish so not bad at all!).

Carole, on the taxi ride back into the centre of Belfast, had the foresight to book at table at Eds Bar and Grill so we stopped and had a wonderful (if tired) dinner at their fabulous eatery … though I did forget to pick up the £10 voucher I won (again) whilst there, so really must do that sometime soon.  Great service, entertainment for the kids, and good food – what more can one ask for?

Very late night for the boys as it was after 9pm when we got them in bed … I say ‘we’ but, by this time, i was somewhere between horizontal and vertical on the couch trying to decide between aching, breathing or staying awake.  Ultimately I didn’t make the decision but, at about 11:30, Carole woke me up and dragged me upstairs were I don’t recall anything until just before 7am when Nathaniel wandered in and asked it if was time to go to nursery.  It was his taster session (an hour or so) in his new nursery while it was Mackenzie’s first day in P2 (again a taster as he spends a couple of days there before summer).  More history in the making, as both boys are now officially in full-time education – forget HRH’s 60 years, where on Earth has my childrens’ time gone?!

Mackenzie is still at school, Nathaniel had a blast at nursery (didn’t want to leave) and is now with his grandmother, and I’ve got a car with a flashing maintenance light just as I’m meant to be driving 50 miles through rain and floods to work … life, ey?  One day your at a party for the Queen and the next you are tired and sore and wondering if your car will explode :)

A perk of writing.

There are many things that I don’t like about writing such as rejections, fighting through writer’s block, editing/rewriting a difficult passage, rejections, stories and characters vying for attention when I am trying to concentrate on one thing, the wait between submission and response, rejections, etc.  On the whole, however, there is much more about writing that I do like – which is a good thing, seeing as how I seem to do it rather a lot and am not into self-flagellation – and among the many and splendid things that these include one of them is receiving a galley.

For those that don’t know what a galley is (and, no, it isn’t – in this case – the place where pirates cook their breakfast), it is basically a final, proof of how an article, story or book will look prior to printing.  It gives the author (or authors) a chance to have a final read through to ensure that any typos or other mistakes are caught before printing because, after that, there is no going back.

So, when a galley pops into my inbox I get a small rush of adrenaline and glee as I realise that it means a real, physical book with my writing in it will soon be available for the millions and millions of people out there to read (ok, it may only be thousands, hundreds or even a handful – but that doesn’t matter); including me!  There is such a sense of awe when a physical book arrives at your door with YOUR name – and your story – in it.  That is the payoff, though; before that comes the antici … pation (sorry, had to channel some Frank N Further from Rocky Horror there), which is what the galley is.

Think about Christmas.  Yes, ripping the presents open on Christmas morning is cool, as is using/playing/reading (usually option 3 for me) the contents but before that there is often days of sitting and looking at the wrapped up boxes and wondering just what is inside.  It is there but, at that moment, you don’t really know what it is, or will be.

A galley is just that; it is the book that isn’t quite there.  It is the book that will be.

And receiving these – working on these – is something that I definitely like!

The GeekDad Song by John Anealio

Took some time and hacked the toaster
This steampunk oven timer’s swell, what the hell?
Let’s a build a LEGO rollercoaster
The boy can take it to show and tell. And all is well.
Chorus:
People say I’m a GeekDad
My co-workers think I’m a nerd
People say I’m a GeekDad
But my wife just thinks I’m absurd.Our coffee maker seems redundant
There must be a better way, what you say?
Solar energy’s abundant
Even if we fail we’ll be okay with our new deathray.

Chorus

A working TARDIS in the basement
A Stargate portal on the lawn
Trans-dimensional displacement
helps the traffic move along.

Chorus

credits

from GeekDad, track released 13 June 2011
John Anealio: Vocals, Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Bass, Organ, Synth, Ambient Loop & Drum Programming.

Music by John Anealio
Lyrics by John Anealio & Z.

For more wonderful stuff check out http://johnanealio.com

Free Story: Destiny’s Voyage

Destiny’s Voyage
by Jay Faulkner

The end of the World didn’t happen all at once; we had time to prepare for it.  At least, some of us did.  The majority of Earth’s population never knew what was coming. Not until it was too late.  It was decided, by those who could make those decisions, that four months notice would cause nothing but panic, horror, and devastation.  So out of seven billion people on our planet, only a few hundred actually knew what was happening – the rest got to go on, blindly living their mundane lives.  When they looked up at the night sky they saw only stars, never seeing the approaching Armageddon, never realising that they were already dead.

They were the lucky ones.

We – the power-makers, the politicians, the scientists, and the rich – knew what was coming.  When the transmissions were first discovered by SETI, we thought that there was some mistake.  Then the second transmission arrived.  And then the third and final broadcast was deciphered, and we knew that the world – that humanity itself – had run out of time.

The power-makers – the kings, queens, and presidents of the world – gave their orders; the politicians passed them on; the rich threw their money at every project that had even a chance of success: planet wide evacuation, orbiting space stations, underground cities near the centre of the Earth and even cryogenically freezing a sample of every living creature to repopulate when – if – the time ever came.

Of course the scientists, myself among them, raged in impotence as everything that could be done, was.  And it wasn’t enough.  There simply wasn’t enough time to bring even the most sensible of ideas to fruition, let alone the science fiction at which despair was forcing us to clutching at.

Four months was not enough time to save the human race.  Or the planet.  It was simply enough time to let us reflect on what we had done.

On what I had done.

Not alone, of course, and definitely not with malice or intent, but I was the last surviving member of the team that had put Voyager I into space back in the twentieth century.  Five months ago, I was still lauded as one of the ‘Grand Old Men’ of NASA, despite having been retired for over a decade.  A Professor Emeritus status with them, of course, meant that I was never fully retired, never fully out of the loop.

And when the first broadcast came, when it was deciphered and the message became clear, I was brought right back in again.  I’m not really sure what they thought that I could do that wasn’t already being done, but as the originator – so to speak – I was asked to be involved.  I sat there, with the rest of the men and women who had been blessed – or cursed – with being allowed to know the truth and wept as I watched the static filled screen come to life.

They were so like us.  The quality of the image was poor, like something out of the old silver screen vaults, and they spoke with an accent that was so thick as to be nearly impenetrable.  But they were so like us.  At that moment, when proof of intelligent life was given to me – to us – I became a believer.  I knew that there had to be a God and that we must have been created in His image; on a dark night, from a distance, they could have passed for us.  Two hundred, trillion miles away, on a planet orbiting a red Dwarf star, and they were just like us.

And we had killed them.

Their first message made it clear that they had picked up the looping frequency from our probe – and that they were advanced.  Very advanced.  They had been able to translate our message of welcome enough to learn a modicum of English.  They were transmitting a message of welcome and of caution.  Their first message told us that our probe was moving too fast for them stop and that we needed to abort.

We knew by their second message that they had figured out that the Voyager probe was unmanned and so their please – more urgent, now – were sent out into open space, hoping beyond hope that someone would be listening.  That someone would be able to help them.  We were listening, of course, but it was too late.

For them and for us.

Their final message came through about four months ago.  At least that’s when it arrived.  It was sent about thirty-two years ago, of course, aimed directly at us.  They had somehow salvaged the golden plaque from the remains of Voyager, and from it they had learned who had sent the means of their destruction.  They told us, these people so like us, that Voyager had hit their planet and gone through the fragile crust like a missile; a whole continent was instantly wiped out, and the chain reaction meant that their planet – always geologically unstable, we were told – was doomed.  There was only a matter of weeks, maybe days, before their planet would crumble inwards and implode into nothing, taking them with it.

My eyes still burn with tears and memories of the final images that they sent us.  Weapons, awesome and terrible in their might, dormant and forgotten for generations before they heard of us, were rebuilt; if they’d had the weapons at the start, they would have been able to take Voyager down, before any harm was done.  They were too peaceful, though, too trusting.  They were too late in realising that we had killed them.  Just as we were too late in realising that they had killed us.

Voyager had been sent on a mission of peace and exploration, so many years before.  It had been destined to bring humanity to the stars and, one day, bring the stars to us.  Instead, no matter our intent, it rained down fire and destruction on our cousins so far away and, in return, they brought about the end of the world.

That last message showed us the warheads – missiles larger than any seen on Earth – leaving their planet’s orbit and heading out into space; heading, we knew, for us.  Four months ago we got their final message and we knew – I knew – that the planet we had killed was now destined to bring about our doom thirty-two years after the last of them had died.  Voyager’s destiny had been perverted with the genocide of an entire race, and now destiny’s voyage had come to an end with them.

They were already dead and, now, so were we.

Green eggs and ham

As the more eagle-eyed of you – or perhaps just those of you who are awake, paying attention, and had your medication – will remember in February 2012, during the lead up to Rare Disease Day 2012, I ‘outed’ myself.

Now, before any of you get the wrong idea I didn’t come out as gay as I’m not that way inclined – not that there is anything wrong with that, of course, and not that I possibly wouldn’t be tempted if Ryan Reynolds turned up at my door with flowers and a smile – I just happen to prefer women; and, by women, I do mean woman as I am extremely, happily, married to a wonderful one who may be a tad annoyed if I suddenly became polyamorous though, again, if Sandra Bullock came begging at my door … but I digress.  When I say outed I simply mean that I made it publically known that I lived with (not suffered from, remember!) a rare disease or two.  If you want to know more about that you can easily find out by looking back through my blog posts.

I’m lucky, I know that.  My muscles are weaker than average, I fatigue faster than normal, I don’t have a very good track record with breathing as well as regular folks, and if I get ill it can hit me in a big way.  However I lead a relatively healthy and active life; yes, I do have to make adjustments to what I do, and plan activities around how much energy I need to use versus how much I want to risk not breathing  … so hills, lots of stairs and arduous stuff is completely out of the window … but, on the whole, I’m not majorly affected (by my terms).

If you passed me on the street you may admittedly remark on how amazingly attractive, witty and urbane I appear (of course you’d be right on that and, in many ways, that is my real disability – being a paragon of awesome in a world that hates and fears us pretty folk) but unless you were very observant you probably wouldn’t pick up on any of my disadvantages – yes, I walk a little slower, my breathing may be laboured, I may not be lifting/carrying as much as you’d expect but, on the whole – as I’m not in a wheelchair, don’t use walking aids often, or have medical devices strapped to me – you’d probably think that I was pretty normal.

However last couple of days two things happened that, being honest, shook my foundations a little.  The first was an internal thing; I was baking a cake (a German, sour-dough, friendship cake with desiccated coconut, almond and cocktail cherries – delicious in case you were wondering) which was rather thick and stiff.  While stirring and mixing the ingredients I suddenly realised that I actually WASN’T stirring or mixing the ingredients … the spoon wasn’t moving.  I tried very, very hard to stir it; I changed my grip on the bowl, I changed my grip on the spoon, I changed hands, etc.  Pesky thing wouldn’t move.  So I did the obvious thing – I called my wife and got her to stir it.  Obviously … OBVIOUSLY … I knew that there was a fault somewhere along the line: the spoon wasn’t the right sort, the bowl was causing too much friction, the ingredients had morphed into super-glue, a nearby pinhole blackhole was exerting enormous gravity on the localised area of said cake.  Or something.  I knew … KNEW … that Carole wouldn’t be able to stir the stuff either.  But she did; rather easily too.

It was just that I wasn’t able to do it myself.

Now it was rather late in the evening and I’d had a busy day at work; I’d had a busy week/month at work too.  I’d had bronchitis within the last month and, within the last week, had had gastroenteritis so wasn’t at my best.  But it was still just stirring a simple cake mix; I should have been able to do that, surely?

No.  I couldn’t do it.

That was rather annoying.  That was rather frustrating.

… the cake, though, was rather delicious (which Carole maintains was due to her stirring, of course).

Next day – yesterday – I was at a work event, getting acknowledged for my greatness (true story; me and a bunch of colleagues were at a rewards and recognition lunch for our continuous professional development in terms of qualifications and specialisms)  when I was asked by a colleague if I was ok.  I asked why and he said that I looked like I had been punched in the eye (or was having a stroke – he actually was very concerned).  Now I was tired and sore and … well think of any negative adjective for being as weak as a weak kitten and still trying to function at 100% which is pretty normal for this type of genetic muscular condition and you’ll get the idea … but, on the whole, didn’t really feel that much different to any other day.  I went into the bathroom to have a look at what he was talking about and this is what I saw:

That is called ptosis.  Ptosis is a drooping or falling of the upper or lower eyelid which, as you can see by the photo, is pretty self-evident and myogenic ptosis is a known symptom in CMS (and other diseases) which basically means that there is a dysgenesis of the levator muscle … the muscle either isn’t 100% or it doesn’t function 100%.

Now as physical symptoms and ‘tells’ go for me in regards to my wonderful genetic mutations that isn’t a major one; it isn’t even particular debilitating.  I know this.  I’m rather intelligent so, mentally, I realise that a half closed eye doesn’t cause too much trouble (tired eye, headache sometimes, slightly weird/blurred vision) and isn’t normally noticeable when compared with using a wheelchair or obvious aids like that.

… but it annoyed me.  It frustrated me.  Someone had noticed that I wasn’t right and had called me on it.  My gloating in February that I had done something ‘big’ by admitting my issues was completely and totally challenged by my reaction to someone realising there was something wrong when I wasn’t telling them of my own choosing.

I didn’t like it, Sam I am, I didn’t like it at all.

I still don’t like it.

It has stayed with me and I am very self conscious about it now.  I’m checking my eye a lot, seeing if it is more or less open than usual … .not even knowing, really, what is usual.  I look like I’ve had botox as I’m trying to keep my forehead tight so that my eyebrows are raised, so that my lid is lifted a little.  It looks stupid and it is giving me a headache.

But I’m still doing it.

Because as much as I would love to say that I’d accepted this ‘thing’ of mine – as much as I’d love to be the bigger person and say that the little things don’t matter – I can’t.  I haven’t and they do.

However I’m posting this blog … and especially ‘that‘ photo … because I will try to accept it better, and will try to not let the little things (or the big ones) get to me.

Because without trying you never know if you’ll like the green eggs and ham, ‘ey Sam?