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Archive for Ebrill, 2010

I’ve had an exhausting two days involving hours of travelling for meetings and recruitment in both of my part-time research jobs, and a saga of trains, buses and motorways. My eyes are pink and my eye lids heavy – and the Clio is hauled up at the garage…but more about that another time!

                However I simply must type up my poem to send to the new student magazine, let’s call it ‘Limestone City Review’ (in honour of the Transatlantic review which published JeanRhys’s first ever short story). The laudable aim of this new student venture is to provide space for short stories, poems and articles, giving students valuable experience. I had intended to write an article drawing together ideas from Virginia Wolfe and Belle de Jour…but as often happens, I’ve run out of time! Again, as usual, I have just a few hours to complete and submit; what is it about deadlines and procrastination? In the words of Marty McFly: “Why do we have to cut these things so damn close?”

                Anywhoo, I am very pleased with my poem ‘Siwenna girl’ so I am going to submit it tonight and I will chart, day by day, the poem-publishing process…

Make it so!

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Valen = Minbari messianic leader (Babylon 5) Minbari characters are frequently heard to utter ‘In Valen’s name’ and such things.

Footsies – Clever little foot covers, which leave the tops of your feet uncovered; they make wearing pumps and all manner of lighter, summer shoes infinitely more comfortable and pleasant. They have come a long way in the last few years, since I last bought some. You can now get them in a variety of fabrics and styles, including some with extra padding on the soles. Today I am wearing some black, lacy ones which look so feminine and fab I couldn’t resist taking off my pumps off and showing them to Faith (which I guess negates the whole ‘secret’ angle. She seemed suitably impressed.

           I am on the last leg of the database – 4 more cases to input. I have to finish, the responsibility of it all weighs heavily on my shoulders. If the database was to corrupt, or crash, or meet some other form of sticky end now, it would all be down to me. I can’t wait to be free; free to muse, and create – to think beyond the next one, two, one, two grrrrr!

         And yet, here I am, procrastinating when the ribbon is in sight. It’s as though my brain cannot bear the thought of getting back in the straight-jacket. Oh well, I’d better get back to it. Now then, where was I? Oh yes, that’s right: One, two, one, two, String – anything written there? No? Okay…one, two, one, two, one…

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Pili Pala = One of several Welsh terms for “Butterfly”

Borg-swimmer = A made-up term to show my enjoyment of this new(ish) phenomenon of using ‘fins’ in training.

           Now then, back in my club-swimming heyday (around 17 years ago) swim-related paraphernalia was minimal: cozi, hat, goggles and one or two kids had their own kick floats and pull-buoys…but most of us just used the club ones. Also, you bought most swim-related stuff from poolside stalls at Galas (competitions). Having been a keen and promising young swimmer, I quit during my teenage years because, well, training 9 times a week doesn’t leave time for much else does it?

           Then when I started working here at Sandstone University, just over a year ago, I found out that you could use the pool for free as a member of staff and, better still, they were open 7.30am – 9am, so I could fit in a cheeky swim before work and get parked before the rush!

           So I moseyed on over and, as I arrived, I discovered that the City of Sandstone swimming club (my old club) were just getting out of the pool, for they use it to train 3 mornings a week. After a few weeks of chatting, and hint dropping, I successfully muscled in and now enjoy being able to train with them.

          This does of course mean getting up at 4.30am to get in the pool for 6am, not easy when your spirit animal is a two-toed sloth, but it is worth it because I get to swim freely without having to dodge ‘social swimmers’ (who seem hell-bent on getting in the way, and in my way in particular grrr) and I push myself more, and of course I get a whopping 2 hours clear to exercise before starting work and the rest of the day – far easier than trying to convince myself to go jogging or something after a full day in the office!

          Anyway, not very much has changed, it seems, in the world of swimming these last 17 years since I’ve been absent, but there are a few quirky differences. I’m pleased to report that the long-sleeved, cycling-shorted swimsuits that I had seen advertised do not appear to have caught on and people pretty much wear the kind of cozi I’m used to.

           However I noticed that each swimmer arrived at the poolside accompanied by a large mesh bag, which appeared to contain all kinds of goodies, including: personal kick floats and pull-buoys (one girl had a nice pink set today which I think I might buy for myself, and maybe one for Crmen, my niece who loves all things pink!) and also, bafflingly, what looked like the kind of fins used by scuba divers and snorkelers.

           I watched with interest as they used them for various swim sets, especially for kicking, and wondered what was going on. But it seems they are now common place and are widely used to help build leg strength. Curious, I fetched some from a box at the poolside and tried them out – it was a eureka moment. It felt as though I had suddenly become über-Alwen, à la The Wolverine; my limbs were longer, more flexible and paddle-like.

           I could glide through the water with the greatest of ease and then, I tried butterfly (my Pièce de résistance) with them on, and I truly did feel like I’d developed super-powers. It was an amazing feeling, akin, I would say, to that of when you try breathing with a scuba tank for the first time, or looking through night-vision equipment.  Having asked around it seemed that all such paraphernalia was almost always bought from ‘Swimshop.com’. I surfed the web, purchased a slick pair of black rubber ‘fins’ and a hat to match and haven’t looked back since; the novelty still hasn’t worn off and I hope it never does.

         As a staunch trekkie my point of reference is often a trek-based one: pot holes in the road making the car bump along? Just like cruising through an asteroid belt; Having an Ice and water dispenser on the front of the fridge? It’s like having an enterprise-esque replicator…tea, Earl Grey, hot!; Fins which turn your feet into the ultimate swimming flippers? Just like borg cybernetic implants (except removable!) Engage!

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           It was Candy’s birthday this week so we all arranged to meet up yesterday (Saturday) for a big day out in the City. Unfortunately Maribel and Seren had the dreaded lurgy and so couldn’t meet up. Candy had to wait in for the babysitter before she could come in which (theoretically) gave John (best friend) and I a chance to make a last-ditch attempt to get her a worthwhile pressie.

           However, I don’t get much of a chance to shop in the city now that I’m living in Midsomer Murderville, and from the moment I got out of bed that morning I was busy plotting what I was going to buy. It was pretty exciting to be spending the whole day relaxing, away from household chores, and by the time the train delivered me to the metropolis I was like a Hirogen and the clothes were my prey (non-Trekkies: see blood hound for equivalent metaphor)

           I tore around Next like a participant in Supermarket sweep. This is the trouble if you don’t go shopping for months on end: you don’t keep on top of the replacements and supplements your wardrobe needs. I’d been feeling so smug about how much money I must be saving, but as soon as the sunny weather hit in I realised I didn’t have any shorts for the garden that fitted, much less smart clothes for research purposes and the like; I was now fearful that I might fall victim to that mysterious phenomenon of: city full of clothes but none will fit/ meet the required criteria, no matter how hard you look, or how many different styles and sizes you try.

           I was lucky, however. Whilst I had to push my way past hundreds of ‘casual shoppers’ (just as annoying as ‘casual swimmers’ – either take it seriously or don’t bother, you’re just getting in the way) I had a reasonably successful trip. I bought summer shorts for lolling in the garden and any beach party-type events with campfires and singing (I’ve seen it happen on Home and Away – I live in hope of attending just one such an event before I die) and also managed to bag a couple of blouses and smart work tops; what a relief to know that I shan’t end up feeling like a jacket-potato-in-the-Aga this week, should the lovely warm weather arrive. I got up this morning, looking forward to testing my new shorts; it promptly began pelting it down (raining). Result.

           By the time John got into town at our arranged meeting time of 1pm I was in full swing. I’d just paid for my blouses/shorts and had my sights set on the-ridiculously-named-shoe-shop, where John patiently watched me stride up and down in all manner of footwear asking him pointless questions such as “do these suit me?” to which he replied “people’s ankles are mostly the same, I wouldn’t be able to tell it was you from your feet and ankles, so how do they look different on you than anyone else?”

           I pondered this question over lunch – was it the actual aesthetics of the shoe-foot-leg I was looking for? Was it the overall ‘aura’ of the shoe and whether it suited me as a person? I simply don’t know, I guess we all just want to check that we’re not failing to notice if we look ridiculous in, let’s say, a pair of pink wellies…although bizarrely they did have wellies in the ridiculously-named-shoe-shop, including pink ones à la Jessica from ‘Mistresses’, and I have to say that my inner-trendie, buried as she is by cardigan-queen, was quite interested in them. This interest will have to be filed, however, along with all other longed-for-but-not-able-to-justify items, under “If I win the lottery”.

           As an aside I have just noticed that ‘Word’ changes ‘Wellies’ to, well, something else, unless you add ‘Wellies’ to the dictionary. It seems that, even if you ‘set language’ to UK English, the word ‘Wellies’ isn’t in the dictionary. How odd! Okay so they’re officially called ‘Wellingtons’ but surely everyone calls them ‘wellies’ – don’t they?

           Anyway, I bought some sensible summer shoes and we headed off to the nerd-shop where I purchased a bottle of ‘True Blood’ and didn’t get the S size ‘Merlotte’s’ t-shirts that were there (rarer than gold) because John said I could get them cheaper in HMV. Can you guess what happened? That’s right, we went there later on, they didn’t have any, and by the time we got back to the nerd-shop it was closed! Damn it. Pesky John and his sensible save-money advice…I’ll buy first, think later in future! Although, I suppose, on reflection, my ‘essentials’ shopping trip had gotten somewhat out of control…how many ‘Merlotte’s’ t-shirts can you actually justify under ‘It’s my fav series’?

           Anyway, we were in the swanky-pants-but-apparently-‘alternative’ warehouse, about to buy some vinyl for Candy (she’s only in her mid-30s but has a thing about that era of music and the whole vinyl thing) when I thought it might be best to check which ones she had (all best laid plans for surprise go out of the window when you get to 1 hour before meet up time and all you’ve bought so far are a card and a novelty book about various objects such as clouds, looking like, erm, a word that sounds like clocks!)

           Just in the nick of time Candy text back to say she actually already had all of the vinyl versions by (the bafflingly named) ‘Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’, and it was the CDs she was after. I shot John an evil look and gave him some stick about dragging me across town and marched him over to HMV, located the CDs, bought them, unsuccessfully attempted to get my t-shirts as mentioned above, hawked it over to the nerd shop, closed, so decided to call it a day and head over to the ‘Sweet Pea Café’ for a well earned pot of tea (I’ll describe Sweet Pea Café another time, perhaps on a slow day when I’m struggling for copy, but suffice to say it is the antithesis of swanky-pants warehouse – it is ‘alternative’ in a truly effortless way. Unpretentious and charming, complete with mismatched teapots and bizarre vegan menu. I love it there and feel relaxed and at home in a way I cannot in mainstream eateries).

           We faffed around trying to write the card and finished just in time to look up and see Candy arriving, with her long black-and-purple locks swaying in pigtails behind her. Candy is of a similar build to myself, petite with small facial-features, resulting in a much-younger-than-we-are look, which I believe will one day be satisfying, just as soon as people stop patronizing us because they mistake us for students (we graduated at least 10 years ago!)

           After some catch up chat we headed over to the Mexican restaurant in town where we ate lovely deep-fried-halloumi and a nachos plater to start, then I had corn tacos with chilli beef and all the trimmings for my main course, divine! Too full for pudding, we headed over to ‘The Lapwing’, our regular haunt. Again I won’t blather on about the details too much now, but it’s the pub equivalent of ‘Sweet Pea Café’. The city has changed beyond recognition in the last 10 years but it has done so around ‘The Lapwing’. Fancy apartments and cocktail bars surround it, like spectres, threatening, taunting – but this biker bar is relentless and unflinching. Stepping in is other-worldly, you might think it was a magic door which has transported you to a remote pub in the Lake District, or else Penrhyndeudraeth.

           I only stayed for a tonic water and had to go for the train. It’s a fair journey back to Midsomer Murderville and I didn’t want to be too tired to drive; it’s not so much the 10 minutes or so through the villages that’s the problem, I could do this with my eyes closed – it’s the James Bond driving required to back the car up the dirt track and onto the drive…it gets me every time!

           Anyway, today has gone nowhere. I’ve been trying to make up for my slacking yesterday, so I fitted in a Power Yoga session this morning. I had to clear the corner of the kitchen first and, whilst sweeping underneath the units, I had an unfortunate run in with an enormous spider, who, shocked by the sudden intrusion into his camp, tried to scamper away but instead found himself bounding up my arm – eek!

           By the time I had showered it was lunchtime. By the time I had made the soup for lunch it was drawing to the end of what can sensibly be considered ‘lunchtime’. By the time we had cleared away it was almost 4pm – where does the weekend go?

           Anyway, I’ve resolved not to let more than  a one day of gap between each post, even if it is just one line, a comment, a home-spun proverb, a wish-list, a poem…you get the idea. So I’ve been blogging away here in the garden for the last hour or so and now my hands are stiff with cold, victims of that annoying phenomenon: decent-spells-of-garden-wheather-that-mysteriously-only-occur-mid-week-when-you-can’t-enjoy-them-but-inexplicably-disappear-just-when-you’ve-set-aside-time-for-them! Bah humbug.

           I’m off indoors now to wash peppers and mushrooms to go with our jacket potatoes (that must be in the oven at least 2 hours and be fluffy inside, crispy outside, before I will consider them fit for my table!) Then I am going to attempt some speed-ironing before getting the dinner on the table at the precise moment my husband comes back from birding so that we can eat and clear up in time for Dr Who (which had better prove itself worthy soon of such strategic planning or else I’m going to stop watching it altogether in protest…not that I suppose they will notice!) I’m then going to finish the evening with some database fun (I didn’t get as much done as I needed so I need to catch up this evening, boo!)

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           All work and no play makes Alwen a dull girl, All work and no play makes Alwen a dull girl, All work and no play makes Alwen a dull girl, All work and…Okay so you get the idea. I’ve been working steadily on building and populating the database for our study and the novelty is wearing thin.

           The database development was interesting enough – there was time, back when I was scratching around trying to get into research as a career and failing miserably, that I would have given my back teeth for the opportunity to learn ‘SPSS’ by ‘sitting next to Nelly’ as it were; but the data entry part has grown truly tedious. It is so samey that after a few questionnaires you start to doubt yourself: “That seems odd, did I do that right on the last case? I’d best check. Yes it’s fine? Phew, on we go then. One, two, one, two, now we’re getting somewhere, one, two, one, two, oops that’s a string box, delete, one, two, one, two…” and so on and so forth.

           It’s not that it’s terrible work per say, I think the problem is that, those of us generally required to do database work have been busy for years gaining qualifications, jumping through academic hoops and generally sharpening our minds. So to be faced with something with so little scope for creative input, which requires us to plod along merrily, day after day, just using a few keys on the keypad, feels almost counter-intuitive.

           I found myself today thinking along lines not too dissimilar from Marvin the android in Hitchiker’s guide to the Galaxy (“Here I am, brain the size of a planet, and you want me to…”). But then again I did help to collect the data I am inputting so at least I feel a certain connection to it and will benefit from the knowledge we gain from the results – have my name on papers produced from it and all manner of other academic holy grails.

           But right now my back is aching, my bum feels like SpongeBob SquarePants’ and my eyes are beginning to resemble my cardigan (bright red). But still I must finish this tonight or else I’ll have to do it on Sunday, and I have great thoughts of sunbathing in the garden on Sunday, sipping an iced grape juice and eating more goats’ cheese, mmmm, goat’s cheese.

           Okay then, let’s concentrate. Must finish this today. Find the cell, and, one, two, one, two, one two, one, two, string, “tick one” option – work out the number, enter, then: one, two, one, two…

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              Whilst grappling with the business of blogging my novel-in-search-of-a-book-deal – What should I write? How should I write it? I also thought: I wonder if other authors have tried this? In my naïveté I had thought that I had concocted a fresh new approach to seeking a book deal; a few googles later and this thought was replaced by: Where have I been ‘til now?

                It seems that even my cunning strap-line of “Chronicles of an aspiring author” is not nearly as original as I had thought and, since I share it with at least a dozen others, it would seem it is actually quite obvious and common place…but do any of them have a posse of academic friends who they meet up with to write creatively à la oxford Inklings? No? Have I? Anyway, suffice to say it was a humbling experience and put me in my rightful place (bringing me down from the cloud where I was to be offered a book deal after just four path-breaking (cyber) columns à la Candace Bushnell.)

                The exercise wasn’t entirely disheartening however, I found that there were many authors, published and unpublished, blogging to promote themselves and that there are even author blog awards! (see here for details: http://www.completelynovel.com/author-blog-awards)

                My favourite was the ‘The Blue Cabin Blog’, written by Michael Faulkner who lives on the Island of Islandmore, Strangford Lough (http://thebluecabin.blogspot.com/) he writes books about Island life and Strangford Lough more generally and has a separate website for the promotion of the books: http://www.thebluecabin.com/. It is a very nice blog and I envy his life there, writing full time, out in the open air…

                One of the things I noticed on Michael’s blog was his lovely workstation on the deck in front of the cabin, all co-ordinated shades of blue complete with seashells, nostalgic lamp and a potted plant. It all looked so restful and inspiring, producing the inevitable reflex within me of: I could write awesome fiction if I had a desk like that!

                 This got me thinking of the importance of an attractive workstation for writing good fiction (very Virginia Woolf) and I set about tidying workstation number 1 (in workplace 1). It may be a far cry from the blue cabin but it has its own urban charm I think.

             A Fiddley Foodle-esque blue bird at the corner of the desk, which is actually a novelty pen, was bought for me by my work-mates at a previous job. It is frivolous and fun, and reminds me of when I first embarked on my PhD journey…do I detect a disdainful look in his eye, Mr Fiddley Foodle Bird? Maybe he is wondering if I will ever complete my write up? Or maybe that is just my inner-critic working overtime?

             Then there is the fluffy platypus, also a gift from this era; it came in a can – “canned platypus”, most amusing, this reminds me that I must go to Australia someday and see the real thing. Obviously there’s a plastic action-figure of Charles Dickens – doesn’t everyone have one of these watching over them as they write?

            The desk-tidy, with its matt-silver, Babylon-5ish finish, containing all manner of pens, glue, rubbers, and staples oh and a sonic screwdriver, of course! Amusing postcards on the wall which relate to my PhD topic, including: “I don’t have a solution but I admire your problem! And the screensaver on my desktop is one of Valériane Leblond’s paintings, of the sunset over characteristic white cottages in the hills of Ceredigion, lovely. Another nod to my homeland is the wooden pencil with a wooly sheep top…although this is immediately contrasted by the strangely-shaped-terracota-horse-ornament-bell-type-thingy, which I picked up in Japan…must go back there some day too, it is my favorate country that I have visited so far.

             The final, notable element of this workstation is a print of Vincent van Gogh’s Café terrace at night. Interestingly I have noticed seceral desks sporting this particular image, partciularly amongst academics; I wonder why this is? I like it because it gives me the feeling of safety, cosyness, a haven, light in the dark, hope maybe? It actually looks like a cafe you could walk into without much trouble, even if you weren’t Mary Poppins! And there is an eerie familiarity to it which I can’t quite place; as though I have been there in a dream…or a previous life? Do I beleive in such things? Who knows. Certainly for some reason this particular painting appears to to be very popular and has even managed to find its way into the affections of an art-skeptic such as myself (I can count on one hand the artists I like and Vincent and Valeriane are among them!)

            A couple of other small ornaments tie the look together, a framed quote which read: “To be born Welsh is to be born privalged not with a silver sppon in your mouth, but music in your blood and peotry in your soul”, which of course goes without saying? And a small brass Harp ornament, which belonged to my Nain (grandmother). I love to have old family memories like this around the place. It reminds me so much of her each time I look at it. She was a truely lovely lady. I can only hope to do her proud and be half the person she was.

            Reading this back I’ve realised it probably doesn’t make good reading and will be beeped from any eventual novel based on this blog, but it has been most therapeutic to write! I did upload an image but the photo somehow failed to capture the vibe of the desk and it looked flat and sad, so I deleted it…sorry, I promise to be more interesting and to do far less navel-gazing tomorrow!

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The Ash cloud…

            Obviously for the last few weeks I have been busy planning and preparing for the daunting task of re-starting year 4 of my PhD and figuring out how I can get my thesis ‘written up’ once and for all. Meanwhile I have also been getting on with the important business of setting up my blogs and trying to launch a successful career as a creative writer. But whilst all this has been going on in ‘bubble-Alwen’, back in the big wide-world a real-life Sci-fi drama has been unfolding due to a volcanic eruption, and subsequent ‘ash cloud’.

            Like most people (I suspect) I have been lazily following the story by radio on my way to work and catching bits and bobs on the TV with one ear from the kitchen as I prepare tea each day, but I have grown tired of the constant accusations, moaning and “Who’s to blame?” perspective which seems to accompany any infinite number of news stories these days, be they terrorist activity, behavioural epidemiology or indeed natural disasters.

            So what is really going on? If I’m to believe the picture emerging from the media haze I’ve been observing, then it is a government conspiracy to cause as much inconvenience to Jo Public as possible. Politicians have engineered a mass over-reaction to a trivial natural phenomenon, the motivation for which, it seems, is to cover up their slowness in reacting to something entirely predictable and manageable, causing businesses to needlessly lose profit-making business days and throwing travellers into chaos. The truth, I suspect, is somewhere buried deep between these blame-laden lines.

            A quick Google search revealed a plethora of news stories and also that the event already has its own Wikipedia page, which reads as any established historic event would, for example the opening lines are:

“The 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull are a series of major volcanic events at Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland which caused significant disruption to air travel across western and northern Europe in 2010.”

                I struggled to put my finger on why this seemed odd, and I guess it is because the event in still unfolding, yet this reads as a historical record, from a  book you might have studied from at school. But we do not yet know the eventual outcome. The “significant disruption to air travel” may well continue indefinitely for 3 years or so and thus the entry should read “…from 2010-2013.” But then I guess this is the beauty of Wikipedia and the cyber-world; things can be re-visited, revised and updated.

            Anyway, Eyjafjallajökull, it seems, is one of the smaller glaciers of Iceland. Seismic activity began there at the end of 2009, and led to a volcanic eruption on 20 March 2010. It was then the plume of ash, from a later ongoing eruption beginning on 14 April 2010, which caused the widespread ‘grounding’ of air traffic in Europe (which began from 15 April 2010). So that’s the cause anyway; and, rather worryingly, the Wikipedia entry ends by saying: “Previous eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull have been followed by eruptions at its larger neighbour, Katla.”

            So why is this so dangerous? Isn’t it just a bit of dust? Can’t the pilots just fly through it? Surely our planes are invincible? It amazes me that people can be so blasé about safety, particularly when it concerns things like planes, which are pretty marvellous feats of engineering anyway, so if you start hurling tiny particles of pulverized rock and silicates at them, and surrounding them in gas clouds of sulphuric and hydrochloric acids, is it any wonder that they might have some trouble? That their engines might struggle to function when clogged up by particles which have fused together? Or that the pilots might find it difficult to see where they are going?

            Now I am a casual rather than callous observer and I can completely sympathise with those trapped abroad, unable to come home, with no definite timescale in place for when this will all be over, whilst being at the mercy of hoteliers and various other service providers who are hiking up the prices and capitalizing on their misery. I cannot think of anything worse than not being able to return home and am confident that, under such circumstances, I would also become desperate enough to consider all kinds of risks to return home, and go to any lengths to secure the safe retrieval of family members and close friends. And I suppose, if my entire livelihood depended on my business importing or exporting perishables to/ from abroad I would also perceive the risks with a slightly different eye. But the people I cannot understand are the ordinary holiday makers, angry at not being able to go off on their latest jaunt.; they work hard and thus have a right to their rendezvous with beach paradise! Are they for real?

            Anyway, whilst it had seemed we were in for an epic disaster movie, with 3 hour sequels and additional DVD footage, it now appears to be over after the trailers and before the film even gets going. Where we have been greeted daily with news that airspace will be closed “until at least 1pm tomorrow”, which to me has always seemed a little optimistic, particularly since, meanwhile, in Scotland people were being told to stay in-doors if they had any respiratory complaints, I heard this morning (April 21st 2010, for the record) that air traffic will be resuming as of today. So it is all over then? This remains to be seen. But at least for now, those who have truely been the victims of the catastrophe can finally make their way home from the nightmare and sleep soundly in their own beds. Meanwhile I’m off to eat some goats’ cheese on Carr’s melts and contemplate the possibilities of a truly sci fi ending and possible future novel!

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