Tales of the nope rope dimension

THE WRITER’S SKETCHES

The pocket notebook my kids bought for me has three inserts: a lined pad for writing, squares for finances, and plain paper for sketching. Rarely the artist with anything other than the lines which form letters, I idly sketched a story in a lost moment.

A line is a one-dimensional figure that’s made up of an infinite number of individual points placed side by side. In geometry all lines are assumed to be straight; if they bend they’re called a curve. A line continues infinitely in two directions, much like joined-up writing.

The first – and probably last – in an occasional series called Adventures in One Dimension, I transcribed my line drawings into neon tubes, non-venomous snakes (nope ropes) via The Gimp (a freeware alternative to Photoshop) in some further idle minutes.

A message in three frames, told by two lines with speaking parts. A human story told by snakes, at an individual and existential species level, this one’s called ‘Staying over’.

SticksSticks2Sticks3

It’s just pausing stop-animation, where two lines can illustrate something better than most humans. 

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At the hairdresser with Medusa

ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS

What type of snakes were on Medusa’s head? This was another answer requested directly from me on Quora. So I found a Gorgon and she took me to a nail bar, where she also gets her hair done…

medusaJason Fulford

Medusa was a Gorgon: creatures of Greek mythology, and we can choose to subscribe to the legend that she was a winged human with living venomous snakes in place of hair, and anyone who looked at her turned to stone. We can accept that, or we can question.

As a sci-fi writer, I have to propose probabilities (and create paradoxes):

As a scientific atheist, I believe that religion and science can co-exist in open, unconditioned fora. I believe, for example, that the Christian bible and other ancient religious texts, could be recordings of actual events, made by the scholars of the time using tools and languages available to them: Show a biblical scribe a tablet computer, and might they describe a magic mirror? Might flaming chariots and fire-breathing beasts have been spacecraft? If they’d had smart phones to record events, we’d have more evidence and there’d be less religious debate.

I don’t deny myths any more than I do religious scripture, but I question and prefer socialist debate over fascist confrontation or dismissal.

I subscribe to ancient alien theories, so what some refer to as God, I don’t deny in anything but that deity’s creation in man’s mind. Just because I reject God in man’s image, doesn’t mean I deny a creator or designer of some kind, and I believe that ancient humans might have been visited (or brought here) by a superior intelligence, perhaps extraterrestrial (once you’ve cracked interstellar travel, omnipresence is a given).

In paintings on cave walls, and in ancient scripts and glyphs, we see fantastical creatures, many part-human or hybrid (Egyptian cat people, for example). Medusa could have been one of those.

The snakes might have been organic or technological protrusions, perhaps from a protective head covering, helmet, or space suit (look at Predator in the eponymous film). They may have been for breathing, or some sort of neural periscopes. Medusa could also have been a naked alien, with tentacles or cranial protrusions, long, slender forelimbs, and protruding scapula. She could have quite possibly been a deformed human, a freak.

freaks-risa-highFreaks‘, Tod Browning

Having never seen any of those before, the writers of the time said what they saw: a person with wings, and with snakes for hair. And if the myth were literally true, and Medusa really was a human with all those appendages, making such a being – whether organic or technological hybrid – would require knowledge far beyond our own.

If there were snakes on Medusa’s head, it could have been just a crown. The snakes would most likely be asps, a modern derivation of aspis, which referred to many venomous snake species of the Nile region. It’s generally accepted that asp refers to what is now known as the Egyptian cobra. If you got a bite from one of those, you’d be petrified (figuratively turned to stone and literally envenomed). The wings could perhaps have been an elaborate cloak. But unless the whole garb was worn by someone or some entity which had superhuman powers (a witch doctor with snake skulls braided into her dreadlocks), that all seems rather pedestrian for the stuff of legend. I think Medusa, the Gorgons and many other tales have a grounding somewhere, even if that’s just humanity’s need to believe there’s more out there.

What type of snakes were on Medusa’s head? I don’t think they were the splendid reptiles we know, but described as such by observers who wouldn’t recognise technology or extraterrestrials, anything beyond their own understanding of their home world.

No jacket or factory reset required

THE WRITER’S LIFE

I’ve just returned from a 24 hour break, which I needed to open my eyes again. I’ve been among nature and handled a snake, I’ve been to London to be reminded where my heart lives, I’ve helped the aged, and I’ve been touched by beacons of humanity. I’d become trapped in my own home and I needed to escape, so I took my notepad and made some notes in the field…

star_trek_data

My main purpose was to help transport my dad to London for a consultation with his neurologist. For the uninitiated, he’d developed signs of senility but had fluid on his brain. This was drained and he seemed to be making a good recovery before complications set in. First an infection, then a long course of powerful antibiotics meant that his improvement slowed, and he even looked like he might be declining for a while.

Long story short, his recovery is now picking up where it left off, and we’ll know if any further invasive procedures will be needed in a few months’ time. The most recent prognosis is that his condition isn’t degenerative, but he’s of a certain age and any full recovery will take time. For now, he’s a bit slow on his feet and in his mind, but he has my mum as full-time carer. Yesterday I got to drive the wheelchair around London, in a role-reversal of all the times dad wheeled me around in a buggy as a kid.

As someone who’s become gradually more withdrawn over recent months, I wondered how my social anxiety and paranoia would cope with a return to the capital. Although I was there in sensible mode, providing practical help to a wheelchair user, I couldn’t help feeling drawn to stay. Looked at another way, I was fulfilling a duty which I’d have to complete, but London didn’t take long to let me know I’d be welcome back any time.

There’s the well-known saying, that you can take the person out of London, but you can never take the city out of the person. It applies equally to others in places all around the world, but London is where my heart is. Although I wasn’t born there, I’ve spent more than half my life living and working in London, and I believe I’m from the place where I feel at home, rather than my birthplace.

An early start to the day had skewed my internal clock (I was up at 8am, when normally I wake around noon), so by the time we got to dad’s appointment at a part of Great Ormond Street Hospital in Holborn, it felt like evening (it was 2.30pm). Mum went in to the consultation with dad, and I was free to explore. I quickly spotted a pub.

Unlike five years ago, I can go to a pub now for a single or social drink, and it won’t be the first of however many are needed to prevent me functioning. A pint of cider came in at just under a fiver, and I sat at a table outside on Queen’s Square to contemplate the cold, frosty glass. Then I took out my notebook and wrote this blog entry: everything to here in fact, as my glass sits almost full beside me, and an occasional droplet of condensation runs down the side. That pint cost me a fiver, so I owe it the respect of savouring the anticipation before I actually drink it.

Before I got there though, I’d travelled from my home to my parents’ house, and then to London. I had nothing to fear of any extra stress involved in travelling with a wheelchair user, and even though we were travelling on a group discounted ticket, we were given a little public transport red carpet treatment.

Our train was held so that a wheelchair ramp could be provided, and a train guard asked some young people to move from the wheelchair priority area of the carriage. Once dad was installed, seatbelt on and handbrake applied, I enjoyed a personal journey to London I’d not made in a while.

When I visit my kids every month, I only pass through London, hardly pausing on the way to Milton Keynes. The journey from where I live in West Malling, takes the rail line through the Bowie lands of Bromley and Brixton, before docking at London Victoria. On this trip, I was returned to travelling from Tonbridge and into London Charing Cross, a route I’ve not taken for over two years.

I like many things, including trains. I like all transport and the infrastructure which surrounds it (I love airports), and I like architecture, building and construction. I was keen to see the new London Bridge station and the progress of various tall buildings in the Square Mile. We were just passing through, but I vowed to return and explore the new London Bridge further, perhaps on a future visit to ride on Crossrail, The Elizabeth Line and the Battersea underground extension.

We were provided with a further ramp for alighting at Charing Cross, and with time to spare, we decided to walk to the hospital. On the way, I gave a running commentary on places and buildings of note, including Savoy Place, the only road in the UK where motorists drive on the right (it dates from an age of carriages setting down outside The Savoy, and now modern cabs, where the driver opens the driver-side passenger door to disgorge patrons). It was shortly after that I decanted myself into the pub.

A further ramp was provided by an obliging cabbie for the return journey to Charing Cross, and again by South Eastern staff at both ends. Local mini cab drivers had provided a similar assistance service (without the ramps), so my dad spent the entire day on wheels.

I stayed over and we had fish and chips for dinner. I decamped to the garden every time I needed to smoke, and with dad’s condition preventing him from keeping things as he’d like, it’s become somewhat overgrown. While I was smoking in the evening, I saw many species of birds, insects and spiders. Later at night, I heard the familiar rustle of undergrowth as a hedgehog foraged. My dad loves nature and he dotes on his garden, but he may decide to retain a bit of the wilderness now that all these new visitors are popping in.

As I smoked my last at around midnight, I was surprised at how clear the skies were above mum and dad’s home. Theirs is a suburban setting with street lighting, but despite the pollution, I could clearly make out the main planets, the obvious stars and constellations, and some more distant bodies in the night sky. It was as I wondered at my place in the universe that the familiar sound of mating urban foxes curdled the air, so I wished them well and retired.

I was physically and mentally tired from the day, so I turned in a couple of hours earlier than usual. At my parents’ house, there’s no danger of footsteps outside the door with the comings and goings of social tenancies, so there’s no need for a fan to provide drowning ambient white noise. Instead, I fell asleep to the sound of chirping insects and the occasional hoot from a distant owl, before floating through the universe.

My parents are off to another appointment for dad today, this one more local and not requiring my help. I got up early to spend a couple of hours with mum and dad, and their snake: a seven-year-old four-foot royal python, adopted from me when I fell apart (and he was my son’s snake: a birthday present, staying with me (another story on this blog somewhere)), but never returned because they were too attached to the little guy. Now their priorities are more with each other, and with my life far more settled and as secure as it can be in social accommodation, I could do with a companion. I need to check the specifics of the “No pets” rule with the landlord. Snakes don’t make a noise like some dogs, but attitudes towards them can be somewhat different among those who don’t take the time to educate themselves.

FordMy arm, with bracelet

It all started with a Facebook post (and a picture of a snake), after I’d written the last blog entry: I tend to post less personal stuff on here nowadays, and save my sentiments for the blog…

Over the last 24 hours, I’ve had good friends phone me to see how things are. It’s like the Facebook post led them to the blog and they took the time to read. If so, then I’m grateful. Because that last blog post was a quiet cry for help, and the help found me when humanity functioned.

It was nice to have a whole day and night, to relax and not worry about people wanting my material possessions. It was pleasant to spend time with different people and to see humanity and nature, briefly in the same view.

This post has rambled all over the place, just like me with my notepad in the last day. I needed to write it all down before it faded, because the depths and messengers of depression will return, as they always do. For now though, I’m restored, and I plan to venture out of the darkness again. Better to restore functionality than have to resort to a factory reset.

Dr Koothrappali’s Fun With Ropes

THE WRITER’S LIFE

The title refers to an episode of The Big Bang Theory, where Sheldon Cooper found himself sharing an office with Raj Koothrappali, and hid a snake (a corn snake, as it happens) in Raj’s desk drawer. I myself have been fascinated by serpents since I was a teenager, and lately I’ve been revisiting that world, where I dreamed of all I have now.

Sheldon staples

When my family got our first VCR, WarGames and Electric Dreams became two of my favourite films, and remain so today: I can quote both from start to finish with the sound turned down, so it’s useful for guests that they both have good soundtracks.

But anyway, those two films were the worlds I wanted to occupy in a future life. And now, I sit at a desk, connected to the world, and surrounded by music and film. Sometimes as I sit here in the present, I see myself as a retrospective visitor from the future.

I arrived here through 25 years in print. From Linotype, hand-engraving, and letterpress; through corporate finance, security and government printing; via the transition of an art into technology; and finally to Kinko’s and my own print management companies…

I’ve witnessed the evolution of the printed word, and still argue that the Gutenberg Press was one of mankind’s greatest inventions. I have my children’s names on my arms in Helvetica, and print is in my blood.

I’m a beneficiary of the democratisation of the written word through digital publishing, and continue to wonder at the power of design and advertising, even admiring its ability to subvert in a world of fake news, where trust in journalism is rare. I have things to write about. Loneliness is in the head, and my head is not a lonely place. Stephen Hawking became a cyborg, and I’m just a virtual life on screen, in which I can do anything I like.

During my 47 years, I’ve learned a lot about many things: about myself and the world around me. I can boss Pointless most days, but social anxiety will always prevent me doing so anywhere other than in front of my own TV.

Travelling back in time to pick up my teenage self, and placing us in a modern context we might once have imagined, we may find ourselves presenting something like Sheldon Cooper’s Fun With Flags.

We have our own title, using one of the many terms applied to snakes by those who don’t understand them: Fun With Nope Ropes (not a euphemism for a failed take on life). In this first broadcast, a video shared on my FriendFace news feed. The question which prompted this whole post was a comment someone made: “Why didn’t the camera man help out?”:

FUN WITH NOPE ROPES

Rattlers are some of the most democratic of the nope ropes (they’re not rude tubes, like black mambas, for example). They only use the rattle as a warning, to say stay away: they don’t want to be trodden on, or triggered by accident. They rarely bite anything they can’t swallow as food, as it’s a waste of venom and effort (snakes are cold-blooded, so they need to conserve and regulate energy, and they’re lazy), unless they’re threatened. It could almost be argued that they have the preservation of other species in mind, as they consider their needs of their environment.

Rattlesnakes are born with a small hook on their tail, and over time, as the snake grows, it moults its skin. With each slough, a small ring of skin will remain on the non-dangerous end, eventually drying out and collecting on top of the last ring to make the familiar rattle. Frankly, I’d have loved one as I was growing up.

In any case, the guy still alive in the video is absolutely right to stay still, and the cameraman too. If he didn’t, we wouldn’t see what we just did. To be honest, I envy them.

I’ve encountered many snakes in my offline life, but few venomous ones. All are equally beautiful and graceful, but the majority shy or nervous. Many non-venomous snakes are placid, and even some of the most potent pose no threat to humans.

In the next episode of Fun With Nope Ropes, we’ll look at the black mamba, that most infamous of snakes, and deservedly so. The black mamba is the rudest of tubes.

CM

This blog entry was part-sponsored by Captain Mamba, the lead ophidian in my sci-fi novel, Cyrus Song: “Danger Noodle”, “Nope Rope”, “Rude Tube”, “Shite Pipe”, “Feck Flute.” He goes by many names.

Snakes and stepladders

THE WRITER’S LIFE

It was by strange coincidence that I walked into a lost property office when I myself was lost. As I leaned on the counter, I remembered having the thing I’d lost, but not what it was. I rested my head on my hand and my elbow slipped, banging my head on the counter, and then I realised what it was: I’d lost my memory. I’d been self-censoring for too long, with so much stuck inside me.

Royal PythonA royal python

While the fiction writer was away, things had been happening in the real world, and one such happened on Friday, when I got a text: “Could you order rats on the internet please?” It was my mum, and in my family, this is a normal event. It also allows me to tell a story of my life, as I step back into writing…

Long ago (in 2010), after my marriage had broken down through my drinking, I lived in Bexley. I was still running a print management business, and I had a nice flat in an old manor house, with a heated swimming pool in the garden. The kids would stay with me at weekends, and so it was on the eldest’s seventh birthday. He asked if we could have a party, but I wasn’t sure how many of his friends would make the journey, and feared a deflated son. So I offered to buy him something with the money I’d otherwise have spent on a party, specifically a snake.

At the time, I was volunteering with a reptile rescue centre, and although snakes thrive in captivity, are cheap and easy to keep (after the initial outlay on housing and an actual snake), people were still naïve. Most of our guests were snakes and there were three main reasons for them becoming homeless: Their size, their diet, and their longevity.

Among the collection was a 12-foot Burmese python, which could potentiallly grow twice as big. She’d been bought as a yearling at about three feet, and the owner didn’t know some constrictors could grow that big. Most snakes feed on rodents, which can be bought frozen in bulk (you need a zookeeper’s license to feed live prey, it’s inadvisable to feed a captive-bred snake live food, can be inhumane for the prey, and a risk to the snake if the prey turns). So if you’re squeamish about having dead rats next to your frozen pizza in the freezer, perhaps best not to have a snake. And they can live for 30-40 years or more.

We had half a dozen or so royal pythons in the collection, which are relatively small (5-6 feet maximum) and easy to keep, but they’re secretive and can be fussy feeders. So the talking point in the room isn’t so much the snake, more a nicely decorated vivarium.

I could write reams on snake husbandry, breeding and minor veterinary treatments (I filed a paper at The Zoological Society of London, on treating snakes with scale mites), but a personal blog is not the place to learn about keeping snakes. Anyone considering keeping snakes should thoroughly research the subject, certainly more than most of our donors had.

I’d work with the rescue centre some weekends, and the kids enjoyed coming with me, because they’d learned a lot about snakes through me and were fascinated. Mostly we’d go to local and school fêtes, where we’d show the snakes (and a couple of lizards), engage with the curious, and educate the willing. It was mainly dispelling myths: Snakes aren’t cold and slimy, most are not venomous (certainly no constrictors), and very few bite in any case. In general, they’re placid, inquisitive creatures, and it was always a joy to witness someone’s first ‘Snake moment’.

On at least one occasion, I’d had a lady moved to tears. It was her 40th birthday, and she’d asked if she could learn about snakes. I happened to be free, so I sat down with her and a royal python at a table, and I answered her questions. She confided that she’d been not so much frightened as nervous about snakes, because she knew so little. At the end of the meeting, she held a five foot royal python in her hands and started crying. “It’s so beautiful,” she said. I must admit, that caused me a bit of a moment too, having helped someone overcome a common, pre-conditioned repulsion of an unfairly maligned creature, so that they could better understand it.

There was amusement too, like when we were at an event on Blackheath during the London Olympics, and I was charged with Alexa, the aforementioned 12-foot Burmese python. The Burmese is a fairly stocky snake, and pythons are constrictors, so they’re heavy on muscles. A snake of her size weighs in at around 25kg, which you’re very aware of when you’ve got one draped around your shoulders. Like most snakes, she was inquisitive too. To her, I was a warm tree. For me, it got tiring, so I’d let her down on the grass to give myself a rest.

We’d displayed signs around our reptile enclosure, clearly stating ‘No small dogs’, and as Alexa was stretching herself on the ground, I spotted an old lady with a toy ‘dog’ (the kind which would fit very easily down a large python’s throat). “Excuse me, madam,” I said politely, and pointed to a sign.

Oh it’s okay,” she replied, looking down at the snake’s food, “he’ll only lick you.”

That’s very nice madam, but my snake’s tongue is flicking because it sees food…” I picked up the snake, the rat licked my foot, and I resisted the urge to kick it.

The point is, snakes are fascinating creatures and totally undeserving of all the myth, suspicion and ignorance surrounding them. Generally speaking, kids are for more into snakes than grown-ups, perhaps because our greater general understanding of them isn’t shrouded in so much superstition as a generation or two ago. For at least the last 30 years, all snakes bought by the home enthusiast have been captive-bred, and there’s a large conservation scene among those who study and keep them.

I’ve been fascinated by snakes ever since a reptile breeder visited my primary school in 1977 (when I was seven), and my children have inherited the passion from their part-reptilian parent. I suspect my parents have snake DNA too, and that circles me back to the beginning of the story and that text from my mum.

So I got my son a royal python for his seventh birthday. My ex-wife wasn’t so keen, so I had the snake at my place, but he was very much my son’s project. The snake moved with me to Sidcup, where I lived for two years after Bexley. Eventually of course, I drunk everything away and I ended up back at my parents’, with a snake.

When I had my breakdown and all sorts of people were supporting my parents, the reptile rescue centre asked if they’d like them to take the snake. But they declined. The snake belonged to their grandson, so they wanted to keep him in the family. They paid me what I’d paid for the snake and the whole set-up, to give me money to stay afloat, and the arrangement was that I’d buy him back when I got myself sorted out.

I’ve lived in my studio for almost two years now, I have a rolling tenancy, and therefore the nearest I’m ever going to get to a permanent home. But ever since we started talking again after I’d sobered up, my mum (who’s 73) and dad (76) will not sell the snake back, not through any concern for his well-being, but because they’re so attached to the little guy. For now I just order his food for mum and dad’s freezer.

People think I’m weird, and I am. But don’t blame the parents.

Cyrus Song, nāgas, and the Hindu festival of lights

THE WRITER’S LIFE | BOOK REVIEW

To my pleasant surprise recently, I found an enterprising soul with a book shop on eBay, selling Cyrus Song under the search term, ‘Diwali’, that of course being the Hindu festival of lights. It struck me how appropriate this all was, of a ‘Sci-fi romcom’, but also a novel which has been described by a book critic as ‘An extraordinary juggling act‘. Cyrus Song is more than the book itself, as that same critic noted: it’s one way to look at life, the universe and everything. It also has talking black mambas, and snakes (or nagas) hold high status in Hindu mythology.

Mamba Couple Arse

Nāga is the Sanskrit and Pāli word for a deity or class of entity or being, taking the form of a very large snake, found in Hinduism and Buddhism. A female nāga is a nāgī.

The book isn’t just for Diwali, nor for any particular reason, other than a book for everyone. And although not everyone is talking about it, it’s rising in popularity: A Google shopping search for ‘Cyrus Song‘, not even mentioning that it’s a book, or as having anything to do with me, returns the novel as more relevant than the music of Miley Cyrus (which it might be, it’s how search algorithms work). I still need the right people to read it: The kind who’ll tell others and spark the natural growth which any book needs. Most recently, I got sent this by someone who’d just finished it:

That has to be the single, weirdest, most original story I have ever read. It was the reading equivalent of watching a film like The Cabin in the Woods, or The City of Lost Children: Not like those films at all in subject, but big, weird, and complicated but made easy to understand, and above all, wonderful.

I thought the microscopic space ships were weird enough, but somehow totally believable (and Captain Mamba and his ilk are righteous dudes). But then there’s the Babel Fish. And then there’s the attempt at human cloning. There’s the German rabbit who talks to plants, and the white mice. And THEN, it all comes together. In the end, it all makes complete sense, and the answer to life, the universe and everything, is right under our noses, all around us, like it says in the book. And like it always was, that’s the weirdest thing: I just needed to open my eyes. Reading this made that happen. Among all the true facts about animals and wildlife, there’s also an explanation of why black mambas are grumpy, and why cats have nine lives. And it all makes complete sense.

I laughed (a lot), and I cried. The humour is sometimes a dark cover for the sadness, but underneath it all, are these parallel stories, of people’s lives. I’ve rarely seen a relationship develop in the way the two main characters’ did, and their unlikely partnerships with others were sometimes comedies of error, but always filled with feeling. And the animals: So many characters, in those and in the people who pass through the story. I loved the research. The London Zoo chapters were brilliant, as were the ones in and around London, and in Simon Fry’s personal world.

I hope more people read this. I really want to see a sequel, to find out what happens to them all, after they’ve worked things out.

This was like no other book I’ve read: Brilliant and unique. It’s a page-turner, fascinating to the end, with lots of animal facts deftly distributed throughout, as well as great characters, but above all, it’s quite a story. The ending is perfect (for now).

(Name and address supplied).

This wasn’t an Amazon review, as the book was bought from a different source (it’s becoming available in other book retailers, but until I get a mainstream publisher, I make the best (very small) royalties from Amazon sales). I was given permission to share it, and figured the author wanted others to read it (they said so themselves).

Happy Diwali, and I hope those who continue to read my book enjoy it as much as I did writing it.

Cyrus Song is available now, and has its own Facebook page, where there are also two prequel tales (on this blog as well) and where there may one day be news of a sequel. While I’m waiting for publicity and all the signing events that might entail, it remains a nice problem not to have. Signed copies can be arranged with me by getting in touch by email.