Guest Post #5 – Dreaming Of Another World

Dreaming of Another World is a new feature on my blog, inspired by a piece I wrote during lockdown. I wondered whether other writers and bloggers felt like me during this strange time – that another world was possible and could just be glimpsed thanks to the stillness the pandemic enforced on us. I’ve had a great response to my request and each week I will be welcoming a guest to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences on how lockdown affected their vision for the future. Did it change their views about anything? Did it change anything in their life? Did it make them long for a different kind of life or society? This week Toby Martin shares a story he wrote during lockdown. It expresses the frustrations and fears he experienced when trying to keep an appropriate distance from other people during his daily exercise. (This does include swearing in case that offends you.)

Walking Alone – by Toby Martin

At the last count, there were nearly 8 billion.

Somehow that didn’t seem right. Could it really be possible that after millennia of wars, famines, droughts, democides and genocides, hostile weather, predation, disease, murder and even self-inflicted death, there were still this many? Why did humans have to be so resilient anyway?

Dani found a growl in her throat emerging automatically at the sight of a woman with two loud kids in tow, their screeches and guffaws dirtying the still air. She was in half a mind to confront the woman and tell her exactly how much she had got wrong. Hadn’t she heard of protection, contraception, or even abortion? Where exactly did she get off, producing two more of these obnoxious specimens when the planet was already heaving under the weight of the overinflated ego of a bipedal ape that had gotten too technologically savvy for its own good?

And even if she insisted on ruining the rest of her life by producing time and money consuming crotch goblins, with a masochistic instinct Dani could never understand, why did they have to choose this exact path to be walking on? Dani had chosen this path, and she was almost certain she had been there first. In really ruined the serene image created before – a tiny strip of walkable gravel lined by trees and swaying grasses, tucked away from the hideous noises of humanity, all of that muffled and replaced with the twitter of birds or the occasional whine of an insect. That particular image had been fine as it was before, and Dani really felt that the narrowness of the path spoke volumes about how people should be on it at any given time. But no, apparently dragging your shrieking genetic splurges along it regardless of who else might be there as a giant fuck you to anyone who preferred the quiet life was a perfectly decent use of one’s time. Especially if the path was so narrow that should people be coming in opposite directions, collisions were inevitable. Realising this, Dani began to resent the person who had made the path. Fuck that thoughtless idiot.

Faced with the prospect of other people coming within her personal space, Dani considered her options. As it had been earlier with the blond loser in the hoodie, cheerfully chatting into his phone and not caring that his presence was so interfering, Dani felt she’d have to drastically change direction. The loser from earlier seemed not to have cared that Dani had had to leap across the road and risk being run over by a car, which raised the question of which cunt had thought it was a good idea to be driving in such a way that disturbed the peace, to say nothing of the amount of pollution they were causing. Still, the way out had at least been obvious to her, if risky. Now, however? Vegetation lined the entirety of her peripheral vision. She was funnelled in, doomed to be within the range and space of the disgusting entity that was OTHER PEOPLE. Damn it. The tranquil-looking path had lured her in like the proverbial gingerbread house – and a path with intent was not a welcome idea, because that would mean it was sentient, and then Dani would have to hate it too. As far as she was concerned, her only options were limited to diving into the surrounding plant matter, risking scratches and stings until the loathsome ones had passed, or else hoping that the life-threatening car from earlier would suddenly crash into the vicinity and put this smug, noisy family permanently out of her misery. Such serendipity was unlikely, as Dani knew too well, though she liked to entertain the image for just a couple of seconds before having to face the inevitable.

With minimum grace, Dani launched herself into what appeared to be a minute gap in the surrounding bushes, which, whilst certainly not ideal, did at least count as a gap. At least for this absolutely vital purpose. Now she just had to hope that these organisms would not seek her to bother her further.

“Thank you!” the mother said briefly as she passed. Dani simply scowled behind her back. Sure, it was better for her sacrifices to be acknowledged, but she wouldn’t have to make them if people did the sensible thing and kept out of her way. Surely this town was big enough for people to keep a distance? And if not, then they should all do what would have been advisable many hundred generations back and just stopped reproducing. Was it too much to ask that a voluntary, long overdue euthanasia for the human race be put into practice before any more damage was done? It would be the more palatable option for most, compared to the inevitable rush for humanity to cause its own violent destruction, though Dani considered the latter option to be the more cathartic. At the same time, the former would give Dani more peace in the years to come, when there’d be a beautiful absence of the usual screaming kids, who insisted on getting in your way in the most farcical ways. Though that wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem of the clueless adults, or the teens on bikes. Well, shit.

Dani was about to continue her angry stroll along the now clear path, when she noticed something in her peripheral vision that she hadn’t noticed before. This was understandable – diving into bushes wasn’t her usual way of doing things. The rows of vegetation didn’t seem quite as solid as before, and, twisting around, she noticed that, beneath a low hanging branch, winded a smaller path, covered in earth and looking free of human influences. Hm.

Dani looked closer. The path led onto a field that she had known beforehand ran parallel to this particular path. She had deliberately avoided it because of the sight of all the fucking people there. However, this narrow view of the field showed this particular end of it to be mercifully free of people and leading to a wooded area she had barely spared any thought to before. The wood was bordered by extremely tall pine trees and looked to be completely unoccupied. How come she hadn’t noticed it before? She supposed raging at her species on a constant basis left little thought space for ways to get away from it all. But now, for once in her sorry life, she had struck lucky. Provided nobody else got there in the meantime…

It was the worth of a couple of seconds for Dani to firmly establish her trajectory along this new path and, chancing a revolted grimace at the bastard humans gathered a merciful distance away, briskly made her way past the trees and into the woods.

It was the worth of a couple of seconds for Dani to firmly establish her trajectory along this new path and, chancing a revolted grimace at the bastard humans gathered a merciful distance away, briskly made her way past the trees and into the woods.

Though the sound of the barely sapient sapiens wasn’t entirely muffled by the lines of trees now surrounding her, Dani felt that the ambience had shifted enough. No longer did she have those stupid fuckers in her lines of vision, just the trees, silently swaying or gently rustling, and masses of ferns growing without restriction, without dictat from consumers and horticulturalists. This was the vision of a post-human world. It was just a shame she wouldn’t be there to see it.

Taking a few slow steps along a makeshift path, away from the human noise, Dani began fantasizing about people finally taking notice of how much she avoided human contact, and, became moved by sympathy to put the voluntary human extinction into action. OK, so – it wouldn’t happen. Humans loved fucking and breeding like rabbits way too much to realise how much better it would be to stop. They couldn’t see beyond their next fuck, drink or consumption of natural resources. Their cares lay beyond the important things in life. Mindless breeders, the lot of them. Dani audibly sighed and briefly span around to get a panoramic view of her surroundings. Such a limited look gave the impression of the good life, but alas…

Another twirl showed her a dog and, sadly, its walker in her peripheral vision. Fuck. She couldn’t escape even in a temporary wilderness. She guessed it was time to change trajectory again.

Fortunately, this open woodland allowed for a much greater number of escape routes. The one she selected, over a low-growing holly tree, likely required much for agility than the wrinkly fogey and tiny terrier were capable of, and it led her further away from the breeders beyond the trees. It was ideal!

After the dog and its walker had passed, Dani realised that the particular area she had found herself in was not as ideal as it first appeared. The trees and ferns grew much closer together here, restricting her room for exercise whilst fantasizing about the end of her pathetic species. She began to step back in the direction of the more open area when something else caught her eye. This time, it was mercifully not a human being. It may have been the herald of one, however, long ago.

She crouched down and took a closer look at the small, mysterious shape nestled under a much shorter pine than the ones that towered around her. Shrouded in the permanent shade and covered in pale pine needles, it was very easy to miss. It took a real sophisticate and not a sheep, Dani reflected, a wide, involuntary smile making its way onto her face, to notice such a thing. The shape, as far as she could ascertain, was of a small rucksack, looking to be of a faded indigo colour. How long had it been there? Would it be safe to touch? Dani dismissed this concern and reached out for it, brushing some of the pine needles off. It certainly felt like a rucksack, with the rough, sturdy texture that might have been polyester, although…she ran her hand up and down it, occasionally coming into contact with the odd zip…it was slightly softer than a brand new one would have been.

Dani felt for the straps and yanked it into a clearer view. Though not heavy, it had some degree of weight resistance, and rattled slightly as she set it on a partially emerging tree root. It still contained what it had been abandoned with. What was it and why? This was a pertinent question for those with the intellectual capacity to consider it, not those clueless reprobates. Dani suddenly felt the made urge to yank the bag open and plunder its secrets. But she had to examine every inch of this bag, to find everything that might be within it. It had several separate sections, after all. She would build up.

The smaller pockets and pouches yielded nothing, so that only left the main body of the bag taking up the majority of its weight. A delicious shiver ran up Dani’s spine as she slowly unzipped the rucksack, half-closing her eyes to savour the sound that heralded her discovery.

She peered into the bag once it was fully open.

Tapes.

The abandoned rucksack was full of a pile of cassette tapes, each one its own plastic case. Blank? No – they were labelled with hand-written letters of the alphabet. Some of the cases were cracked, and, as she discovered when she lifted one out to examine it, they opened very easily, indicating a rather repeated use. All the spools of tape were also still intact.

So, it came to this – unbroken cassette tapes, with all almost certainly containing recordings, had been abandoned in the middle of the woods. Who had made the recordings, what was in them, and why had they wanted them hidden?

Dani wasn’t sure if she felt a rush of kinship for someone who had hidden something they had made from prying breeder eyes, or whether she should be wary that these tapes should yield criminal acts of such disgusting depravity that to declare kinship with such a person would be tantamount to being the worst.

Well, there was only one way to find out.

*

Following Dani’s not-so-blissful but interesting walk came the inevitable not-so-blissful and not that interesting either confrontation with her mother, who insisted that she should have let her know before she had set off because she wanted her to post a letter on her way and had had to do it herself. Dani gave her an insidious glower at her words, biting back the retort that she should stop leeching off of her to get her pathetic tasks done and that Dani wanted no part in her attempt to support the increased interaction of the human species or contribute to deforestation by use of her paper consumption and maybe she should take a long hard look at herself and realise how futile everything she did really was. She bit back that retort for a good four seconds before breaking. It felt rather pressing a matter. In response, her mother got defensive and proclaimed that Dani was closer to a leech than her given that she was still living under her roof and being financially supported by her, and maybe she could do more to support her? Well, at this, Dani, her face burning an awesome shade of crimson, hollered back that she’d rather be a leech than a human and that her mother had done a terrible, immoral thing by bringing her into the world in the first place and that she was simply reaping what she had sown. She added a ‘fuck the normies’ and ‘hail Satan’ in there for good measure.

Dani’s mother went off in a frantic distress, muttering about where she might have gone wrong. Dani managed to resist the urge to fire back that birth was the answer (both her birth and Dani’s), but declined, given that now the path to being alone in her room was clear.

She sprinted up the stairs, slid into her room and shut the door behind her. With a sweep of her arm, she cleared her desk of the trashy clutter than inhabited it, with the exception of the small goldfish bowl, containing her best friend, Jeremiah, happily swimming about, oblivious to how fucking awful everyone else was. Jeremiah was always content to have his bowl perched in the corner, so he could be a companion to Dani as she worked on various misanthropic projects without getting in the way.

Amidst a dusty pile of retro stuff under her bed that came in and out of fashion cyclically was a small cassette player with a pale stain on it. Dani had no idea what the stain was, had no desire to investigate, and in any case knew it was of no concern given that it still worked perfectly, about the only thing in the pile that did. Dani set the player on her desk, plugged it in and wiped the film of dust that had gathered atop it off in a flourish. The dust particles still dancing in the air, she selected the tape labelled ‘A’, slipped it in and pressed play.

It occurred to her just after she did this that it might have been advisable to rewind first, just to ensure she didn’t miss anything, but it soon became evident that that had already been taken care of for her. There was a crackle and an exhale on the speakers, and she leaned in closer.

“Hello.” The voice was male, sounded relatively young (though definitely post-puberty) and had a very nasal quality. It continued,

“This is a first of a series of recordings I’ve made where I really want to share…well, everything.”

Everything? Dani’s ears pricked up at these words. Was this recording something she was never supposed to stumble across? That made it even better. What horrific crime did he have to confess to? She held her breath as the recording continued,

“For starters, there are times where I wonder whether some dinosaurs would have been suitable pets.”

Dani frowned slightly. This was a disappointment. Confessing one’s idle thoughts were far from exciting, as she had often remarked to her mother when not raving about how humanity needed to go extinct. Still, this could easily give her an insight into what this person was like. From the pile of abandoned former desk clutter, she extracted a pencil and paper and began to note what this mysterious nasally stranger was saying about dinosaurs.

“I mean, some of the more famous ones would obviously been quite dangerous,” he continued, “Or else have very tricky upkeep. Take Argentinosaurus – the largest land animal that ever existed. Pretty awesome to show to your neighbours, but how are you supposed to house or feed an animal that may have weighed 100 tonnes? You’d have to go for a much smaller one, but that might look a lot less cool. You’d have to strike the right balance between cool to look at and easy to keep, and so…”

And so he went on. Dani began to find it a little tricky to keep up with his line of thought, her jottings becoming rougher and less distinct and wondering how the hell this shameless nerd had managed to talk for so long about an abstract hypothetical. After all, if there were no humans, keeping pets wouldn’t even be a thing! Though she did wonder whether humans vanishing suddenly or simply never having existed would have been the better option for enslaved animals at that point, distracting her so that she almost missed the nasally stranger wrapping up his stream of consciousness by concluding that Struthiosaurus (whatever that was) would make the ideal dinosaur pet, and moving on to another topic, which began,

“I have a little confession to take about when I was younger…”

Dani corrected her slouch so suddenly she jolted the desk and risked upsetting Jeremiah’s bowl. Onto the juicier topics, surely?

“It was back when I was maybe about seven or eight. There was a little wood less than five minutes from where I lived. And at this age, my parents were starting to get a little more relaxed about letting me go there alone, provided I went in the middle of the day, didn’t talk to strangers and promised I’d be back at the exact time they had specified.”

Dani gripped her pencil tighter. An anecdote of being an unsupervised child? Something scandalous was sure to come of this. She licked her lips in anticipation. Did it involve talking to stranger? Even going off with one and his parents never finding out? Maybe he found a whole stash of porn in the woods?

“There was a point in the usual walk in the woods where the canopy ahead was thickest,” the stranger said, his voice taking on a slower pace, squeezing any suspense out of the story he could manage, “and it always interested me, because to me it seemed like it was inevitably the wildest, most untouched part of the whole area. But there was a gate there.”

Dani scrawled, ‘A MOTHERFUCKING GATE???’ onto the paper, taking up the rest of the space and necessitating turning the page over. Now she had to know what was the on the other side of this gate.

“Now, obviously, in such a small wooded area, it’s not exactly wild and exotic. But to my child’s mind it was, and this gate always stuck out to me. A construct of old wood with flecks of green paint. Obviously, the paintwork had just faded with time, but I thought it was a deliberate pattern at the time, to signify something way more mysterious and other-worldly.”

“And what was it…?” Dani actually found herself muttering out loud.

“I was never brave enough to venture through the gate-”

‘FUCKING TEASE.’ Dani scribbled before leaning back and sighing with all the exaggeration she could muster. The voice of the stranger continued,

“Doubtless, on the other side was something hopelessly mundane, probably someone’s garden. But honestly, the possibilities I made up in my head were much more exciting. What if it was a portal to a world of dinosaurs? To a secret world of magic, sorcery, and villainy only I could find? The embarrassing thing is, I spent a lot of time near that gate as a child, completely on my own, wondering out loud what might be on the other side of the gate, and loudly battling the imaginary foes that came out of it.”

‘How sad,’ Dani jotted, sniffing in a supercilious way. What kind of sad person would spend that much time alone?

All the same, as soon as the stranger began to give more details on the kind of encounters he imagined getting from the mysterious gate, which included everything from ancient aliens to ridiculously tall witches, Dani found there was just a little more intrigue than before. Though it was disappointing that no cryptic crimes or mysterious pasts were being unveiled, this insight into a mind that refused to conform to the acceptable imaginations of the sheep that flocked everywhere she trod was a welcome, inviting break. A little lighthouse in a dark sea of depravity.

This delightfully bizarre imagination continued for a while, long enough that Dani had found herself more invested than she expected and was surprised when the tape suddenly stopped with a loud clunk. She frowned. It was possible that all these tapes – ten in total – displayed a continuous train of thought rather than separate accounts. If so, anything the stranger confessed would likely be buried deep within the winding thought stream, not set aside for any tape specifically. She couldn’t be 100% sure of that, but also had no way of finding out, other than to listen to all of them. One by one.

This realisation in her mind turned into a commitment, and for the next two and a bit days, she barely left her desk, listening and taking intense notes on everything intriguing the stranger said. It irritated her to no end when she had to get up to eat, sleep, use the toilet or help her mum out with something stupid and futile and listen to the whines that she was starting to smell and needed a shower. This proved beyond reasonable doubt, Dani decided, that it was infinitely preferable to spend time in the mind of another outsider than brave the horrifically boring and boringly horrific exploits of the common, vulgar, weak, licentious crowd.

It was a good way into the second side of the ‘J’ tape, whilst the stranger was rambling about the kind of food combinations he’d enjoyed as a child, that Dani realised that, if there was some higher purpose for him making these recordings, with this being the last tape, it must be coming up any moment now. With ten whole cassettes dedicated to things like embarrassing childhood attempts at writing, the scariest advert he ever saw, habits he had picked up while shopping, a dream diary he had kept at thirteen that had coincided with puberty and much more, she concluded that such occasionally delightful non-conformist confessions must be culminating in some seriously important zenith. As such, she almost had a heart attack when the stranger began to say,

“OK, so, as this is the last tape, I think I should probably wrap all this up and get to the point about why I even did this.”

Almost involuntarily, Dani emitted a noise that sounded some degree of excited, but possibly also pained to ignorant eavesdroppers.

“I have no idea who will find these recordings,” the tape went on, “but given how much I’ve shared about myself, I feel we’re sort of friends now.”

‘This is a stretch’, Dani found herself writing, but continued listening.

“So…a while back, I heard that a childhood friend of mine was being investigated for…well, the bottom line is, they weren’t who I thought they were. And that severely shifted my perspective not just on the time we’d spent together, but also on basically everything. All of us. As a species.”

‘He had childhood friends?’ Dani queried to her paper but finished this observation quickly. Her excitement had peaked as soon as he had mentioned the human species. This had to be the point where their ideas converged! He was going to condemn the rest of humanity as trash and prove this whole long exploit worth it. Maybe he’d even share some ideas of how to persuade everyone to stop reproducing. Heart hammering and pencil poised, she turned up the volume and listened intently.

“I think, when we grow up and learn more about the intense harshness of some parts of the world, part of us feels betrayed. You know, we had this image of an ideal world where we could be anything we wanted, but actually, no, we have to go into a field that makes money or else we’ll never get a job or a house or a livelihood. Oh, and loads of people are homeless or elsewhere dying of war, disease, famine, oppression, ignored by many people in charge and we’re also completely screwing the natural world over. Suddenly, we feel a bit shafted, and fall into a resentment of almost everyone. Even those you trusted might not be as pure as you thought and it makes you wonder, is anything really worth it in the end? Are we, the dominant species, worth it?”

‘NOOOOOOOOOO!’ Dani triumphantly declared on paper.

“I would say – yes, absolutely.”

What.

“I mean, think about it this way – all this introspection, this species-wide self-deprecating. No other species on the planet does it, not even mosquitoes, who kill more of us every year than we do of each other. We can probably safely conclude that no species has ever done it, because they’ve never had the self-awareness we do. And whilst it can come with some depressing side effects, being self-aware is not a problem, it’s an opportunity. We have a wider scope of the problems we face than any other animal does, giving us both the desire and means to sort them. And sure, we mess up a lot, and we all choose to remember that, rather than the huge amounts of progress we’ve made – for example, I guarantee that nobody listening to this will be living in fear of smallpox, giving us the tiny window of possibility that this may eventually be true for all disease everywhere. Imagine a world like that.

“Now, you might be wondering what this has to do with all the other random stuff I’ve been talking about on all of these tapes. Well, not much, except that it gives you a little insight into me, hopefully to generate a bit of empathy, because sometimes that kind of perspective is all we need to realise we care enough about another individual that we are, even just slightly, invested in their continued happiness. Also, it shows the ridiculous capacity for imagination we have, again, unique among the animals, as vast as our potential. I hope that’s the case anyway – and I hope that whoever found these tapes, whatever you might be thinking of the world right now, I hope you at least bear what I said in mind. Thanks so much for listening to my weird little rambles, clearly a connection’s already been made!”

And the tape clunked to a stop.

Dani let the pencil fall from her fingers onto the desk, ignoring it as it rolled off onto the floor. The last words of the stranger reeled in her mind, echoing strangely as thoughts exploded in her head more intently than she had felt in a while. She had been left with a rather…unexpected message. She glanced down at her paper. Then she snorted and screwed it up.

No, he was completely wrong.

I mean, of course he was wrong. Dani knew better. Humans were depraved. All of them. Even her, probably. Humanity had never done anything good, it was obvious, when you looked at all the bad. God, this fucker was an idiot. And she had thought he had valuable insights? Ha! Clearly only she knew the truth.

Standing up and beginning to pace in frustration, she realised she’d almost definitely have to send him a reply. Write or even record an impassioned rebuttal, taken from a list of horrible human things she had been working on since the age of nine, then leave it in the rucksack when she returned to its former place. Then she’d see what his stupid mind made of that! Maybe he’d be persuaded to stop the breeding of everyone he knew!

Her relish at this was rather heavily distracted however, when she span back around to face her desk and noticed that she had forgotten to feed Jeremiah in the last two and a bit days.

Thank you so much Toby, for writing and sharing this lockdown themed story with us. If you would like to find out more about Toby, his bio and link to his blog are below! I still have spaces for the guest post slot – so if you have a piece in mind, do get in touch! Anything fictional or personal on the theme Dreaming of Another World will be considered.

Toby Martin

I’ve been writing since I was ridiculously young, although I’m happy to say I think I’ve improved a lot since those initial makeshift books in felt-tip pen and terrible spelling. I’m constantly looking to push the boundaries of what I write, and whilst my current preferred avenue is contemporary fiction, I’m looking to expand into some speculative fiction as well, should time allow.I was accepted into Bournemouth University in 2015 and have more recently started a postgraduate degree in Creative Writing & Publishing. Outside of writing, you can usually find me either with a performing arts group, with a humanist group, or doing way too deep analysis of any creative work I feel you might like. You can find out more about me here; https://tobythewastrel.wordpress.com/

Guest Post #4 – Dreaming Of Another World

Dreaming of Another World is a new feature on my blog, inspired by a piece I wrote last month. I wondered if other creatives felt like me during lockdown…that another world could just be glimpsed as the pollution cleared and the traffic stilled. I reached out to writers and bloggers to ask how lockdown affected their vision for the future. Has the experience changed them or the way they live their life and if so, how? The next guest post is from author Celia Micklefield. Here she discusses how anger often got in the way of her writing during lockdown…

My Covid Year

I give my sincere thanks to Chantelle for the opportunity to put my thoughts together and write this piece. Since February my ‘Covid-World’ experience has been bugging me. I haven’t been able to organise my thinking or my writing for quite some time now. As a result, my work-in-progress, A Measured Man isn’t as close to The End as it should be. That isn’t because I don’t know the plot. I know it very well. But, actually writing it has been beyond me.

Instead, I’ve been on a mission to bake the perfect loaf of bread, grow the juiciest fruit and vegetables and keep my dahlias pristinely dead-headed and voluptuous. I’ve needed physical occupation. Even though my CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome) lays me low some days I’ve wanted to be doing something as long as it didn’t involve too much thinking. CRPS affects my immune system. Neurological pain wears you out and inflames your entire nervous system. I usually catch everything that’s doing the rounds so at the outset of this new virus I knew I’d have to be careful. I couldn’t settle though, to work at my next novel. I wasn’t able to sit still. Beating up a lump of dough and slicing green beans or hacking off wilted flower heads replaced my normal daily activities. I think it’s because I’ve been angry.

Lockdown loaf!

I don’t want to get too political. As a writer of fiction it isn’t appropriate and I wouldn’t want to alienate potential readers. My characters can have strongly-held views: Celia Micklefield, the author very rarely comments but as myself, Celia Smith, I can’t help wondering what happened to common sense last winter. Viruses don’t travel by themselves: they need a host. People carry them. So why didn’t we stop people travelling way back in February to give us more time to prepare for the inevitable? We were completely without the means or even a decent plan to cope with such an emergency even though a 2016 exercise had pointed out the risks and pitfalls. So, we fell into the pit and panicked.

I began ‘shielding’ long before the instruction. Similarly, the local care home went into lockdown and banned visiting. They already had their own stock of PPE. They refused to take in anyone from hospital even though they’d been instructed to do so. Their staff don’t use public transport because there isn’t any to reach many of our villages. We’ve been lucky being quite isolated here in Norfolk. We recorded a relatively low number of casualties in the population and in care homes but we expect the recent influx of holiday makers will change all that.

It seems the current pandemic has brought out the best and worst of humanity. Some thought their holiday was more important than the risk of spreading disease. Many chose to ignore guidelines and did as they pleased. Yet there have been stories of amazing selflessness and goodwill. People were more patient in the supermarket, even in the car park. Our two local pubs organised food parcel deliveries for folk who had to stay at home. Eventually my partner and I were allowed to visit his mother at the care home where we sat, appropriately distanced and wearing masks in the garden marquee. We worry what will happen when the money from the sale of her house runs out. It still winds me up that single people (her husband died two years ago) diagnosed with any form of dementia have to sell their home to pay for their care. Imagine if cancer patients were treated the same -or any other chronic condition? Surely there’d be a revolution.

Maybe that’s what we need: a revolution. Not in the violent battle sense but in our values and attitudes. I’m reminded of what the anthropologist, Margaret Mead said about the earliest signs of civilisation in ancient cultures. Her students expected her to name things like cooking pots, fishing hooks and simple tools. Instead she explained how skeletal evidence of a broken femur which had then healed was the first sign of civilisation. Animals who break a leg do not survive long enough in the wild for the bone to heal. They can’t run from danger or hunt for food and drink. A healed human femur shows that somebody else stayed with the person who was in difficulty, helped them to safety and tended them until they were well again. Have some of us forgotten that it’s in our genes to be compassionate and offer kindness to others?

I grieve for society. In a speech in 1977 U.S. Vice President Hubert Humphrey said the following:

“The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

I believe this year has shown us just how broken we are. We cannot continue to build our world systems of government based on a need for continuing economic growth that mostly benefits those already rich. How can we keep on building luxury apartments when there are so many without any home at all? Why are we still buying products wrapped in plastic? Why do so many people always want the latest upgrade of everything? I haven’t even mentioned climate change. That’s an even bigger catastrophe waiting to happen.

Sociologists say it takes 50 years to change people’s attitudes. If that’s the case I won’t be alive to see the changes I’d wish for but maybe I’ve witnessed the beginning of it. Hooray for the young people who successfully forced the U-turn on the ridiculous algorithm designed to give students results for an exam they didn’t have the opportunity to sit. Three cheers for the shoppers in my local supermarket who refuse to use the self-scan machines because somebody lost the chance of a job at an extra cash out. Good for you if you didn’t buy any clothes you didn’t really need this year.

See? I told you I was angry. People I thought I knew well have shocked me with their selfishness. People in the public eye have stunned me with their incompetence. There now, I’ve got it off my chest. Maybe I can get back to novel writing soon. In the meantime I must concentrate on the positives of my personal Covid year: I bake loaves of bread I can be proud of and my dahlias are show-stoppers.

Author biography

I first began writing in earnest after I retired from teaching and went to live in the south of France. I sold short stories to a UK women’s magazine and was offered a contract by the first literary agent who read samples of Trobairitz the Storyteller, my second novel. Unfortunately it didn’t work out. I was so disappointed I decided to continue self-publishing as I had with my first novel, Patterns of Our Lives. I suppose you could classify my work as Women’s Fiction but they’re all different sub genres: a saga set partly during WW2, literary fiction, a psychological mystery, dark humour. I love reading a variety of genres and I think I’d be bored if I had to write the same kind of book every time.

When I started out I knew nothing about book bloggers, blog tours and the like and just kept writing not really going about marketing my work in any sort of sensible way at all and missing out on building important relationships. A series of difficult circumstances brought me back to the UK to live with friends where I wrote my only non fiction book, People Who Hurt, abusers and codependents looking for answers, a book to help others understand the nature of toxic relationships.

Now I live a quiet life in Norfolk near the east coast of England and I’m content looking after my vegetable garden and writing, albeit slowly. I have a neurological condition called CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome) which developed while I was living in France after I was hit and knocked down by a careless driver. My bones mended but my central nervous system didn’t. Pain is my constant companion but I’ve learned how to deal with it. On low pain days I write as much as I can.

I have a website http://www.celiamicklefield.com and a Facebook author page in my author name. You’re very welcome to visit and maybe leave a comment.

My three novels and two collections of short stories are available on all Amazon platforms. I hope to make a better job of marketing my fourth novel, A Measured Man when it’s ready.

Link to Amazon UK page

Thank you so much to Celia for taking the time to write a guest post for this feature! I really appreciate it. It’s proving to be incredibly interesting to find out how other writers felt during the lockdown about society in general and where we go from here. If you would like to write a fiction or non-fiction piece for the blog on the theme Dreaming of Another World then do get in touch!

Guest Post; Dreaming of Another World

Welcome to a brand new feature on my blog; Dreaming of Another World. A regular slot handed over to fellow authors and bloggers. Following on from my post Dreaming of Another World, I wondered if other creatives felt the same as me, that another world is possible and could just be glimpsed during lockdown. I reached out to other authors, wondering what their reactions to lockdown were in terms of the future. Has it made them want something different? Has it made them change the way they are living, for instance? Do they have daydreams, like me, about a different way of life? Each week I hope to post a response to these musings from guest authors and bloggers. This could be stories, poems, essays or personal pieces. Our first piece is from author Grahame Peace. You can find out where to follow Grahame at the end of the blog post!

After months of planning, my partner and I, along with my youngest sister and her husband, had been looking forward to travelling to Nice in early April to celebrate my other sisters sixtieth birthday with her family. In May we also had plans to go to Paris with friends and realise a lifelong dream and visit Versailles. All that came to a sudden halt in late March 2020 due to the lockdown in the UK and across Europe due to Covid-19. Along with that, we had to cancel theatre trips, meeting up with friends and family, and our regular trips to the gym.

I’m sixty-two and suffer from asthma and allergies, putting me in one of the Covid-19 high-risk groups. Funnily enough, my partner and I had both been ill in late November 2019, we’d never experienced an illness like it, and as information came to light about the coronavirus, we are both convinced we had it. We had all the symptoms, although, without testing, we’ll never know. One good thing came out of that, once we were feeling better, we both rushed for flu vaccinations, and we’ll be going for another as soon as they become available in September.

None of us could predict what would happen next as the lockdown started here in the UK and across the world. I retired from my job in the National Health Service (NHS) in 2014, so I know first-hand the many daily challenges facing NHS and social care staff, how I feel for my hard-working, and often undervalued NHS and social care colleagues. It’s good to see them finally being valued and getting recognition for their work; one can only hope they get all the resources they need and are going to need in the future.

Since retiring writing has been my fulltime (F/T) occupation, and I treat it like a F/T job, working every day for several hours at my computer. The lockdown had no immediate impact on me from a work perspective. My partner was soon put of furlough but was used to working from home, so being at home every day wasn’t unusual. A positive outcome from that meant those jobs in the house and garden could now receive our full attention, not that there were many. During lockdown, my youngest sister and her husband have built two greenhouses and created a fantastic vegetable garden; they even discovered a hidden stream on their land.

Like many, I became obsessed with the news as well as trying to find out as much as I could about the virus. I was distracted and found it hard to concentrate on my writing. I still do, although I persevere. But how dire the news has been, with the daily death toll not just here in the UK but around the world. Along with awful predictions about what life could be like for years to come, and the worry for many as they lose their jobs. I still find it impossible to make any future plans, and I’m grateful to have my writing to keep me occupied; it’s also a much-needed distraction as I lose myself in imaginary worlds. I have a vivid imagination, which is both a good and a bad thing!

During the lockdown, we’ve hardly seen friends and family, but thank goodness for Zoom, what a fantastic piece of technology, it’s like something out of my favourite childhood TV programme ‘Thunderbirds’. We’ve tried to entertain ourselves with lots of reading, internet shopping, re-watching most of our extensive DVD collection and binge-watching various TV shows and series. Along with long daily walks in the countryside, even in the pouring rain, just to keep moving and get out of the house and into the fresh air. We also started shopping for our elderly neighbours. How I feel for people shielding who live on their own; they don’t see anyone for days on end as one day merges into the next.

During the lockdown, I finished and published my tenth book, The Ghost from the Molly-House. A Christmas Wish, this is book seven in the series and set in 1850 in Victorian London. As with all my books, I did a lot of historical research into the period, it truly was a world of the haves and have nots. Doing all the research helped me to realise that even with a global pandemic, how lucky we are to live in 2020. Life was grim and incredibly cruel in Victorian times, but that’s history for you! I’m now busy researching and working on my next book, The Ghost from the Molly House. Lady Fenella and the Fleet Diamonds, which is set in 1937. I hope it will be out later in the year.

Life is slowly returning to some form of normality, my partner started work again on 20th July, and things are opening up again. Not that I have any desire to go anywhere or back to the gym until I see how things unfold in the coming weeks, particularly as we’re starting to see spikes of Covid-19 cases all around the world. I’ve even started cutting my own hair; and going to a supermarket feels anxiety-provoking with panic buying, social distancing, long queues, plastic screens, hand sanitiser, and now face masks; I dread it, but needs must.

For me, one of the good things about the lockdown has been nature, the wildlife in the garden, the bird song in the morning, and the considerable reduction in pollution and traffic on the roads. I’m sure that’s had a positive impact on my asthma; for a period, I even stopped using my inhalers. It also created a sense of community; our neighbours have all come together. We had an outdoor, socially distanced VE Day celebration, which turned out to be a lovely evening enjoyed by all.

One downside I’ve witnessed has been litter. As I’ve walked through the countryside and watched the news, I’ve been astounded by all the litter, and rubbish people leave everywhere. Things like drinks cans, beer and plastic bottles, garden and building waste, and, of course, fast food packaging, without a thought for the environment and the poor people who have to clear up after them, it’s staggering.

Seeing how some political leaders have behaved over Covid-19, has made me feel increasingly worried about the future. I base that opinion on their actions, political spin, and fake news. It’s not inspired confidence, just at a time when the world needs to come and work together. The pandemic has brought out the best and worst in human nature with incredible acts of kindness, but also unbelievable acts of selfishness.

They say, ‘every cloud has a silver lining’, I do hope this pandemic will prove to be a wakeup call to everyone in the fragile world we live in; we can’t live in isolation, we’re all part of a global economy and like it or not, what happens in one part of the world, has an impact everywhere else. The days of things like the British Empire are long gone. Lockdown hasn’t made me dream of a new world; it’s just highlighted the need for the world I’ve always dreamed about; a world of peace, harmony, tolerance, respect, kindness, love, consideration, and equality. But someone somewhere will always want the last fish in the sea.

Thank you so much to Grahame for writing this piece for my new feature. You can follow him via the links below! If you are interested in writing a piece for Dreaming of Another World then please get in touch. I am looking for stories, poems, essays and non-fiction on the theme of another world. Did lockdown inspire you to change your ways or even your life? Would you like to see a change in society after Covid 19? What are your hopes and fears for the future? Anything written in response to Covid 19 and/or the climate emergency will be considered! Many thanks.

Website: https://www.grahamepeaceauthor.com/ Amazon UK Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Grahame-Peace/e/B00JNA07HE/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_ebooks_1 Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gpeaceauthor Twitter: https://twitter.com/GrahamePeace

10 Things I’ve Learnt From 10 Years on Social Media

Thanks to my Timehop app I realised the other day that I have been on social media for ten years. It was ten years ago that I first joined Facebook and from there, went on to start a blog, share my writing, join Twitter and Instagram and the rest of it. Like anything new to us, navigating social media in the early days is tricky. I can look back now and see that I have learned a lot about how to use it, how positive and how destructive it can be. Here are ten things I’ve learned from ten years on social media.

  1. Some people use social media like a sort of online diary. I think I used to do this a bit myself until my Timehop app memories shamed me into stopping! But I try not to judge others who like to share their dinner, their bad day, their little triumphs, their new haircut, their kid losing their first tooth or what the weather is like. I think it shows that people want to communicate with each other and there is something sort of sweet and sad about that.
  2. I wouldn’t sell any books without it. True story. For an indie author on a very limited budget, I am constantly amazed that I sell any books at all. I definitely wouldn’t sell any without social media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and this blog have helped me shape my author platform over the years and allowed me to engage with potential readers and showcase my writing. I don’t know how I would reach any of these people without social media!
  3. It can be a real force for good. I am forever surprised and humbled by the kindness I see on social media. From people starting petitions to help others, people signing and sharing, people starting fundraisers and people donating what they can. The words of support and empathy that are shared with those who are struggling. The fact that people can post on social media that they are having a hard time and get a loving response. Even the small things, like people asking for recommendations, asking for general advice, people helping people out. I love watching videos on Facebook of animals being rescued by people who go out of their way to do it. Always restores my faith in humanity! There are some lovely feel-good stories out there that the TV news just doesn’t tell us about anymore.
  4. It can be a force for bad. Undoubtedly, there is a destructive side to social media. Online bullying, stalking and harassment. Dick pics, racism, sexism, homophobia and animal abuse. All of these things thrive on social media but I guess it’s inevitable. People are good and people are bad. People are kind and people are destructive, so you are always going to get both sides on social media platforms. It can bring you down. Sometimes my feed is full of bad news and horror stories, and if I ever make the mistake of reading comments under political posts…ugh. Sometimes it hurts my heart to see and read how some people think and feel about others. It can also be used for spreading fear, propaganda and lies. Something we need to be increasingly wary of.
  5. People follow you so that you will follow them back and then they unfollow you. It took me a while to realise this as an author. I don’t tend to like or follow other accounts unless I am really interested, and at the moment I’m trying to pare down what I do see and follow. But over the years, if someone, usually other authors, have made the point of liking my page or following my Instagram, I would nearly always return the favour. Sometimes authors ask for this, which I do find a bit rude! Nevertheless, I started out returning the favour only to realise further down the line that person had unliked or unfollowed me. I now see this is a thing people do. Follow you on Instagram, for example, so you follow back, and then they almost instantly unfollow you. They were never interested in following you in the first place. They just wanted to prompt you to follow them to boost their numbers. Now that I know this, I only ever follow back if I am really interested in their content and every now and then I go through my lists and have a purge.
  6. Likes for Likes posts are counterproductive. I have to admit doing these ‘like for like’ things is probably how I got my author Facebook page rolling in the very early days. There were various groups and sites where you could post your page and if people followed you, you were obliged to follow back. I actually met some good online writer friends this way and read some awesome books. But I’m jaded by it now and have vowed not to do it anymore. As tempting as it is, to paste your page link under a ‘let’s follow each other’ post, I don’t see the point. If people want to follow your page because they like your writing, that’s fine. No one should be swapping likes for the sake of it. Chances are you end up with 2,000 likes on your page, most of whom are other authors in other genres who have no intention of ever reading your work and vice versa. I’d rather have less likes but they be from people who have found me themselves and stayed because they like what I post.
  7. You will never change someone’s mind with political posts. Well, I exaggerate slightly, because over the years I have posted the odd thing that someone has responded to, saying it made them think or question something or even change their mind. I could probably count the amount of times this has happened on one hand though. Mostly what happens is the people who think the same as you agree with it and share it. The people who disagree with it, let you know and an argument commences. And the people who don’t give a shit about politics continue to not give a shit about politics. I try really hard not to post too much political stuff these days, but it is very hard! I do realise when I post them though that I am largely wasting my time. Everyone believes what they want to believe and they will find the evidence and data to back it up to suit themselves and yes I am guilty of this too.
  8. A lot of activity on social media is attention seeking. But can you blame us? We live in a crazy, mess-up, potentially doomed world. We have horror at our fingertips any time we want it. We don’t know what to believe anymore, we don’t know what is true and what is fake news. We are all overworked and underpaid. There are no jobs for life and the safety net is being eroded. We are all insecure about our looks and we all have anxiety and depression and repressed rage. We don’t know what to do. We don’t know how to feel. We are disconnected from each other, with no time to catch our breath. It’s an effort to make contact with real friends in real life, so we use social media instead and let’s be honest, most of us do it for attention. Just a Like. A smiley face, a laughing face, a comment, a share. Some recognition, some validation, some sympathy and empathy, or just something to laugh about together. Sometimes that small connection with someone else will help you get through the day.
  9. Sometimes strangers on social media are more supportive than your own friends and family. Another true story! A weird one. Strangers on the internet can become friends, good friends! People who check in with you, message you, chat with you at weird times, support you and share your news. I’ve always found that strangers online are more receptive to and interested in my writing than my actual friends and family. If I post something about my writing to my personal page, it will mostly be ignored. If I post something to my author page, I can usually guarantee a response and some engagement, which is absolutely lovely and keeps me going!
  10. It’s capable of changing the world and it’s not going away. Scary but true. There’s that whole herd mentality thing. Public opinion can be swayed greatly by whatever is going viral and sweeping the internet. You just have to hope it’s something that will work in your favour! I think the thing I have realised though is that social media is here to stay and you are far better off embracing it and trying to understand it, than shunning it and fearing it. This is particularly important if you have kids who are almost certainly going to end up on it at some point. It would be nice, wouldn’t it? To wrap them up in a bubble and shield them from the awful, cruel world and the awful, cruel things that pop up on social media. But knowledge is power and I think parents are better off joining in and getting to understand social media so that they can help their kids navigate it when the time comes. There’s a real risk in allowing your kids to join a site you have no clue about, or even trying to keep them away from it all for as long as possible. It is still going to be there and eventually they will find it. Maybe they will decide it’s not for them, but I think parents are far better able to help kids understand it and use it safely if they have that understanding and experience themselves!

So, how about you? How long have you been using social media? Which are your favourite sites and why? What do you think are the pros and cons of social media? What has it taught you?