Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Daydreams - Adventures of the Mind

       “Advantage Miss Brean. Championship Point.”
       The spectators hold their breath, waiting for the reigning Queen of Wimbledon to save herself from an unexpected and humiliating defeat. Surely, her 15-year old opponent, this wild card child with a devastating backhand volley, the perfect figure, flawless complexion and really beautiful hair, won’t be able to hold her nerve! Slowly, carefully, the older player tosses the ball into the air, draws back her arm, positions her racket and Wham! The ball zings across the court and skims over the net, spinning wide of the young girl opposite. Jacy reaches out, every sinew stretched towards the round yellow object and....
       “Jacy Brean! What’s the square root of 945?” Startled by this unwarranted intrusion, I find myself back in the classroom with an empty exercise book in front of me. Miss Sheehan is not amused. “Write out one hundred times, ‘I must not daydream during double maths!’”
       From as far back as I remember my life has been divided into three main states of consciousness. When I’m asleep, when I’m working and when I’m daydreaming. The first two activities together account for...oooh, 33 percent of my time. The rest of my time, if I’m honest, has been spent in a parallel universe.
       But I’m getting better. Motherhood, the need to earn a living and do the normal things of life – such as eating – have forced me to ‘get real’, a state of consciousness to which I used to be a total stranger but where, for the most part, I now reside. I’ve not stopped daydreaming completely, though. After all, daydreaming has its uses. While waiting in a queue at supermarket checkouts, I’m actually galloping across the desert on a beautiful Arab stallion; when confronted by a dull and over-talkative acquaintance, I’m mentally preparing for the next assault on Everest; and train journeys fly by when I’m auditioning for my latest West End play. Last time this happened, Judi Dench took so long over her soliloquy, she made me miss my stop!
       Daydreaming is such a wonderful way to escape the problems and tedium of day to day life, I’m surprised more people don’t indulge. But there you have it – the world is separated into practical people who concentrate on realities and actually achieve something, and people like me whose successes are merely imagined.
       People from all walks of life have imagination, of course, but daydreaming goes beyond the normal ability to envision situations. It puts the dreamer centre stage where he or she can actually feel the relevant emotions, as though living in a novel or film.  Such virtual experiences can help a person to develop empathy and to explore outcomes to real-life problems. And, according to a recent study by Daniel Levinson, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA*, people whose minds wander during tasks may be more intelligent, with greater ‘working memory’ which enables them to do two things at once.
       But there’s a downside. Spending most of one’s time on ‘another planet’ may prevent us from confronting issues in the here and now. It can distance us from others and result in an unrealistic, overblown view of ourselves and our abilities. Does every XFactor hopeful really have what it takes, or are they merely chasing the ‘dream’? Sadly, you only have to watch the initial auditions to see how few competitors possess the necessary talent – talent invariably honed by the finalists through years of sweat, tears and training.
       Lack of concentration can be embarrassing too. I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve offended by chuckling after they’ve told me their dog/cat/grandmother’s died! It’s not that I’m heartless, mind – just that I lose track between setting sail for Fiji and winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.
       And, while daydreaming may seem harmless on the whole, much depends on their content. A craving for riches, for example, can lead to gambling, fraud or other dubious practices. Romantic fantasies may revolve around another person’s partner, resulting in broken hearts, homes and families. Or they may lead us to follow a glamorous but highly competitive career to which we may not even be suited.
       A few years ago, I asked a group of friends whether they daydreamed. All did. One girl had the very natural dream of marriage and children, the proverbial cottage with roses round the door. One (rather aggressive) young man imagined battling with a faceless opponent over a parking space – an incident that led to violence and a highly dramatic court case.
       During the discussions, my best friend, Lynda arrived and listened intently without adding any revelations of her own. But then, no one could imagine Linda daydreaming, she was far too down-to-earth. “Of course I daydream!” she exclaimed. “Really?” we asked, by now completely agog. “What about?” Linda’s eyes narrowed with concentration, as we awaited her pronouncement. Finally, she remembered her most cherished fantasy:   
       “Tax rebates.”
*Published in Psychological Science
See also: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2116032/Lost-daydreams-It-sign-youre-intelligent-absent-minded-children-sharper-brains.html

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Roots to the rescue!

Nice to see former tree-loving, eco-warrior Swampy hitting the news again. Seems he has finally emerged from his tunnels to live in a yurt with his four children in a remote part of Wales. Swampy is the inspiration for my character Roots who helps The Runaway Children escape the clutches of the evil Nunjas in the first book of the trilogy.* 

Roots to the rescue

The village council began to groan again with most of the members unable to see any reason to help two snotty little middle-class school kids. All except for one rather pale, skinny young man with extraordinary dreadlocks, which twisted and twirled in every direction but his scalp. Hed been listening intently to Laurels pleas and was deeply disturbed by them.
Noticing his thoughtful expression, Laurel turned to address him directly. "What do you think, Roots?" asked Laurel.
"I think, he began falteringly, I mean…that is…what I think is, that every little person who gets stolen away from his house should have an automatic right to be rescued, and if no-one else will do it, then…then it ought to be us. That's what I think..... and I'd like it to go on record, please!"

             Roots in a hole

"Come on, folks", cried Roots "follow me". With that, he dived down a large rabbit hole and Laurel encouraged each of the children to crawl in after him. "Don't be afraid", she kept saying. "Rabbits won't hurt you." Conscious of his new role as the man of the family, Miles went first, then Odi, then Joe followed by Alice. After making sure all the children were safely down the rabbit hole, Laurel called up again to her wode-painted colleagues who'd stayed behind to defend the village, "Send word when it's safe again. We're heading for the canal." Then she too disappeared into the hole.
"It's dark!" cried Joe as he valiantly scrambled after Roots. "Don't worry," his big sister tried to reassure him "just keep going and we'll be alright." Secretly she was terrified, not so much by the darkness, but rather at the thought of touching any worms.
"Are we nearly there?" asked Miles, anxiously. "Hard to say, really" Roots replied. "I've never been this far before. We might end up having to dig our way out."
"You mean we're trapped!" squeaked Odi, temporarily deserted by his usual aplomb.
"I wouldn't say TRAPPED exactly", said Roots. "More like..... buried. But never mind, we're sure to come out somewhere."
"Help, help, I'm suffocating!" yelled Odi, his chest heaving up and down.
"Hush up, Odi" said Joe "you're scaring everybody."
"But I can't breathe!" Odi was now really beginning to panic, gulping desperately for air.
From the rear, Laurel called out soothingly "Deep breaths, Odi! Deep breaths!"
"Not TOO deep, mind", said Roots "You'll use up all the oxygen." 

Roots joins the jet set

"Quick!" cried Jo "Switch on the engine!" Miles ran to the back of the barge and slipped the key into the lock. As soon as he turned it, the barge set off at an amazingly spanking pace for such a heavy vessel. Roots had just untied the rope from its mooring and was now trotting alongside with it on the towpath.
"Hey! That's them!" bawled one of the trench coats and started running towards the Judith Rose.
 "They've seen us!" Roots yelled.  "Press the Booster, Miles!"  He was just about to hop on board as Miles touched the large red button. This caused the barge to lunge forward at such an incredible speed, it yanked the unfortunate Roots off the towpath. "Sack this!!" he hollered, clinging desperately to the rope, his feet wafting in the air behind him. "Sack this for a Kleenex full of bogies!"
"Supersonic!" whooped Miles and he waved his fist above his head as the barge blazed along the canal, sending ducks and fishermen diving for cover. "Wit woos!"
Meanwhile, Roots had recovered his balance sufficiently to press his heels into the water and lean backwards like a skier. "Look at me!" he cried, jubilantly. "I've joined the jet set!"

Wednesday, 4 September 2013


              Now I have to hold my hands up here. Dates really aren’t my bag. Nevertheless, the news that a new timeline for ancient Egypt has now been established by archaeologists,* along with the promise of a forthcoming feature film, got me thinking about the plagues. Not something I usually ponder on while hoovering – after all, we’ve enough problems in the world to worry about today, never mind 5000 and odd years ago! Nevertheless, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to do some research.
       So what were they all about, these plagues? Most people have heard how Moses, commissioned by God, confronted the Egyptian Pharaoh and demanded freedom for the Jewish slaves. Had this haughty ruler been more reasonable  there’d be no story but, unfortunately for him and his subjects, he refused to even consider this request, dismissing Moses and brother Aaron with the words: “Who is this God and why should I obey him?”
       The Pharaoh’s intransigence was to be his undoing as, time and time again, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob brought a series of catastrophes against Egypt, the greatest world power of its day. These plagues not only forced Pharaoh to liberate the Israelites but served an even higher purpose; to magnify God’s name amongst the nations, in the process humiliating and executing judgement on Egypt’s most revered gods and goddesses:
       Turning Nile waters into blood
       After Aaron struck the river with his rod, he struck a major bow against Nile-god Hapi. As all the rivers pools and waters of Egypt turned to blood, fish died creating a stink. Some types of fish were venerated by the Egyptians and even mummified.
       Plague of Frogs
       This miracle proved the Hebrew God’s superiority over Heqt, the Frog-goddess. In Egypt, frogs symbolised fertility and resurrection but now they teemed throughout the nation, getting into ovens, troughs and every corner of the home.
       Dust turned into Gnats
       Up to this point, Egypt’s priests, headed by Jannes and Jambres, were able to duplicate God’s miracles through magic arts supposedly bestowed by the god Thoth. But on this occasion their powers proved unequal to the task and they were forced to acknowledge the Hebrew God’s superiority: “It is the finger of God!”
       Swarms of Gadflies
       This presented another demarcation being the first plague not to affect the Israelites in Goshen. From now on, only the Egyptians would suffer from God’s miracles. No one knows for sure what type of insect gadflies were but the English term usually includes bloodsucking horseflies and botflies. Botfly larvae are parasites which burrow into human and animal flesh, causing great distress and even death.
       Pestilence on Livestock
       Attention now turned to Cow-goddess Hathor,  Apis who resembled a bull, and Nut, a female deity conceived as a cow with stars fixed to its belly. Again, God made a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt. Not one animal in Goshen died from this severe disease.
       This was a direct attack upon deities with supposed healing powers such as Thoth, Isis and Ptah. Again, Egypt’s gods were put to shame, along with the priests who became so badly afflicted they couldn’t appear before Pharaoh.
       As well as his other roles, Thoth was apparently responsible for rain and thunder too, while lightning came under the power of Reshpu. Neither, of course, could prevent Almighty God from showering “a very heavy hail” which killed many Egyptians and their animals.
       Anyone who has seen a swarm of locusts on the attack can imagine the devastation caused by this eighth plague which highlighted the impotence of Min, a fertility god whom worshippers believed protected crops.
       The whole nation was plunged into pitch-blackness which Sun-gods Ra and Horus were unable to alleviate. Despite his other ‘hat’ as god of sun, moon and stars, Thoth was just as helpless to cast light upon his followers.
       Death of Firstborn
       This final plague hit right at the heart of Egypt’s entire belief system. Like every Egyptian ruler, Pharaoh believed he was a son of Ra or Amon-Ra  and that his first-born son likewise resulted from a union between the Sun-god and the queen.  As a god incarnate, death was unthinkable, yet the death of Pharaoh’s heir proved no one – not even their gods - could stand against the power of the Almighty.