Dec 14th

"It's only a sin if you feel remorse"

By Caducean Whisks

This cropped up last night in a book I'm reading: The Secret History. It was a quote from somewhere else, but having looked for it this morning, I can't find it. 

However, it's been rolling around in my head. 

There's something in that, isn't there. 

1. There are things that are plainly wrong at the time, and you know it. 

2. There are things you might have done with the best of intentions, but with hindsight, it wasn't a good thing.

3. There are things you do without thinking through properly - perhaps carelessness, perhaps other priorities took precedence - and thinking back you may ask yourself, 'Why on earth didn't I see the consequences of that?' and 'How could I have been so stupid?' 

This last one describes many of the things I regret and wish I'd done differently. 

Which of them is a sin? Is a sin an absolute? Or can it be mitigated? And should it be? Is it a moveable thing - in time and place and circumstance? 

And why might remorse alter the definition? It kinda does, doesn't it. 

If you don't know you're doing wrong, is it still wrong? 

All over the world, societies behave differently. What's right and fine in one, is a heinous act in another. Slavery, FGM, capital punishment. Many of our Queens were married at - say - thirteen. Nowadays we'd call that paedophilia. Come to that, aristocratic marriages of the past were usually business arrangements. Some might now class that prostitution.

So can there be an absolute for right and wrong? True for all time and in all circumstances? 

I think not. And to return to the original statement, if you don't feel guilty, was it a sin? Does it only become sinful once you've recognised it as such?

This also suggests that those who feel guilt more often, must intrinsically commit more sin. Which is sort of wrong. But also logical.


Dec 13th

It's the little details that matter

By AlanP

Desperate to revive his falling ratings in the opinion polls the leader of the free world sat in his throne room searching the Twittersphere and all his data feeds for something he could announce to the world and become The Great Donald once more.

After a few minutes he found a report he could use. They couldn’t say this was fake news, it was on the Pentagon Earth Observation daily digest. Eyes only – but what did that matter. Scanning it quickly he composed his tweet, sat back and allowed things to flow.

In the White House Situation Room General McMaster turned to the Chief of staff and sighed, 'I’m not telling him.'

‘No, I’ll do it,’ General Kelly left the room, shoulders slumping.

In the oval office the president glowed orange like a pumkin at Halloween. Great tweet, Kelly. What an announcement. Bound to push my ratings up. Proudly he held out his Samsung S8, proclaiming:

“Elvis spotted on the north pole”

General Kelly slid the print out from the Pentagon report under his nose.

‘Elves, Mr President. Elves; not Elvis.’

Dec 9th


By Mat

Dec 7th

The Great Project

By Edward Picot

The Great Project image

A poem-video about the Blockchain (and computerisation in general). Audio: 'Data Tones' by Brotherprovisional, from Images from Google Images. Text based on a cut-up of blockchain discussion from
YouTube -
Vimeo -
- Edward Picot - personal website

Dec 6th

Edwardian England

By mike


    This is only out of interest and is rather long.  But there are a couple of extracts from an aunt’s essay on childhood - and her first job - which you might find amusing.    How accurate had Forster portrayed England in 1910?   Had Shaw been an influence?

      The final episode of the TV adaption of Forster’s ‘Howard’s End’ was screened on BBC 1 last Sunday.   I had fallen asleep during the first episode which is odd, since I had been looking forward to the adaption.*  I could not really comment, but Catasshe and Edward Piquot have given more reasonable criticisms. I watched subsequent episodes and read the book. 

     I had mentioned an aunt who wrote childrens’ poems and essays on childhood.  She is not so different to many world clouders.  Although she had material published, she lived a life of a suburban housewife. Kathleen had wished to be an actor and her husband had been a drama critic.  They often spoke of their interest in the theatre and Edwardian Manchester. Their memories had been responsible for my own subsequent interest.

    The theatrical company that my uncle remembered is ‘The Birmingham Rep’ which had been the most inventive theatre in England during the Edwardian period. The ‘rep’ has a website which rather suggests the ‘Birmingham Rep’ is the ‘National Theatre’ for the north of England. 

   The Schlegel sisters - Margaret and Helen - in ‘Howard’ End’ were among the artistic avant guarde of their time.  Their English aunt, Mrs Munt. comments on her nieces’ clever talk.’ 

    Helen mentions that she had read Checkov.  For some reason, Forster does not mention Ibsen who would seem more appropriate playwright.  In one of the closing scenes, Mr Wilcox and Margaret confront each other.  Mr Wilcox berates Margaret beginning with ‘Dear you know I am not one of your Bernard Shaws who consider nothing sacred...’

    ‘Major Barbara’ was first performed in 1905 but Shaw’s theories were well known outside the theatre as he published the plays with long prefaces outlining his - and the characters’ viewpoints - which often coincided.

   “Major Barbara’ is the daughter of a weapons’ industrialist. She joins the Salvation Army in opposition to her father’s way of life, though he runs a utopian village for his workers on the lines of Owen.  In some respects, Major Barbara is similar to Helen in her attitude to poor folk and the moral responsibility of doing good.   Female characters in other of his plays are somewhat similar. ‘Pygmalion’ was first performed in 1913, Shaw intended Eliza to leave ‘Enry ‘Iggins’ at the end of the play. He  objected to a more favourable ending - marriage’

   The ‘Birmingham Rep’ was the company responsible for introducing Checkov, Ibsen and Stringberg to an English audience along with the theatrical techniques of the Russians.   ‘The Birmingham Rep’ is mentioned in Holroyd’s biography of Shaw.

   Kathleen ends her series of childhood essays when she leaves school.  These essays were written after the second world war when she attended Naomi Lewis’s classes at the City Lit in London.  There is a wiki on Naomi Lewis which recalls her influence on children’s literature.  I have gone to City Lit classes myself on the encouragement of my aunt.

   One of her final essays recalls her first job:  ‘My first Job - philanthropy.‘  I wonder if Shaw might be a ghost hidden in this essay? 

   Forster does not mention the Schlegel sisters’ education but I wonder if Helen might have received a similar school report?  Helen’s father had died but could she have stood in trepidation as the report was considered by her elder sister, Margaret.  Is this a suitable report for a wannabe actress or writer?  This is rather fanciful as the sisters were from the upper class and lived on unearned income. Their education is unknown, but their brother was at Oxbridge.


    ‘.....There was every reason to suppose, at seventeen, that I was particularly barren of scholarship.  Reports at the end of each term had proved more and more remarkable.  Standing squarely on the drawing-room carpet my father would enumerate, not without melancholy, the many failures set out before him.  It was, indeed, a gloomy list; yet, I fancied, not without its flavour of the spectacular.

   The report of my last term was of an especially provocative nature. That I should acquire, in one examination, no marks out of a hundred for geometry, no marks out a hundred for latin, did not disturb me.  For Latin, algebra and geometry I utterly despised. Nor did it surprise me - for I could never resist turning blots into spiders - to hear my father read out the remark of the from mistress, Miss Inglis: ”I cannot even give you one for neatness, Kathleen.”   What did astonish me was the summing up of Miss Fenwick, the headmistress who, hoping no doubt to lessen the blow to my father, had written at the bottom of the report, ‘Kathleen has tried.’  A statement which, though causing even more despondency and ridicule among the family, I was wise enough not to contradict.  The knowledge that my brother had passed with casual ease through Higher School Certificate and that our sister was now about to enter college did nothing but heighten my own shortcomings.  Even the delirious news that I had been selected as centre-forward in the hockey match between Cheshire and the Rest, and that I could now recite from memory the whole of Scene 1 Act 1V from King John was not considered recompense to put me back in the family favour.

   It was then that my father decided I was to become a philanthropist and, a few evenings later, I learned there  was a job waiting for me in Manchester.  What brought him to this decision I cannot say, unless it was that I always had a passion for wheeling out other peoples babies......’


      Kathleen is dispatched to a society who cared for slum children.  She recalls her visit to the society’s offices and her first day at work.   It is  pity that she had taken elocution lessons as she could well recall the Manchester poor.  But look at the  references to literature!


       “...But now a time had come when, exalted to  nothing less than an Angel of Mercy, I was to become an invaluable part of its streets and tramcars.  Wearing the wasp coat  - at the last moment my mother had removed from its lapel a badge marked Games Captain without which I thought no coat could be complete - and a little yellow hat with  a brim turned up like a halo,  feeling exuberantly official and rather holy, I  set out on a crisp winter  morning towards the tram-lines where even the trams seemed to have taken on an unsuspected gaiety as they rollicked and tinkled their way to Manchester. 

      I was to look for the Children’s Aid Society in Deansgate, off Cross Street.  (It is sad to think now that I must have walked past Cross Street Chapel, unmoved. Apart from acting as Miss Pole in ‘Cranford’ at school I know nothing then of Mrs Gaskell.  When I visited my grandfather at Knutsford, every Christmas, I did not know that Mrs Gaskell had also lived there.)

     The head quarters of the Society was in a long grey street, solemn with pot hats and business houses.  The office was at the top of four flights of stone steps.  Hollow in the stomach, I knocked twice.  “Come in,” said a thin, neat voice.   On the wall, above her head, was a street map showing, like a black snake, the Manchester Ship Canal.   A pale lady was seated at a table pinning labels on woollen garments. There were some ledgers and a high stool.  Beneath a map of Manchester voluntary  ladies were writing out reports.  It was all, as I hoped, very Dickensian.  “I am Miss Treffie,” said the pale lady,  “and you, I understand, are our new worker?”   Oh, yes, indeed I was.  “Did I realise the nature of the work?”  I knew every beautiful moment by heart.  A thousand times had I seen myself, an angel of the streets, watching at the bedside of innumerable Paul Dombeys or, like Little Nell, bringing a saintly comfort to some old, unwanted grandfather.  How often had I dreamed, out of my two-and sixpence a week, of providing a Christmas dinner for a family not unlike the Cratchitts.  Miss Treffie gave a sharp little cough.  “Your work,” she went on, “will take you into the slum areas of the city.  You will inspect clothing and take particular notice of home conditions.  Bedding, for instance.”   Miss Treffie smiled companiably.  “Tact, of course, is very essential.   Have you ever seen a bug?” she added, giving me a darting glance. 

   A  determination not to seem lacking any respect at my first interview outran my sense of proportion. O, yes, yes,  I had often seen bugs - I had seen thousands of them.  “ah --,” said Miss Treffie.  She handed me a list of street names, a map of Manchester, and a tram guide.   “Have you no handbag?” she enquired. A  handbag?  To explain that I had nothing but contempt for handbags, seemed, at this moment, ill-timed and highly suspect.  “It is essential to carry some kind of handbag,” said Miss Treffie crisply.   Then, pointing to the map on the wall, “and now for your first visit.”   I must take no notice of dogs, husbands or queer smells.  If a door should be slammed in my face - well, some people could, indeed, be very trying.  “This afternoon you will go to Mrs Maconachie in Greengate.”

    It was an experience of pure joy when - the maps, tram guides and addresses stowed neatly under my arm, for at the time I had a bitter scorn of handbags - I picked out from all the Deansgate trams my own particular number.   It was to take me to the doorstep of the first address written out by the pale lady on a stiff, green card.  Shall I shall I ever forget Mrs Maconochie  at Number 27 Upper Paradise Street?

      The map and address book stowed carefully in the bosom of the black and yellow coat - I thought wistfully of Mrs Maconachie sitting in a dark, chilly hovel by the bedside of a fast-sinking child, a black Lancashire shawl pulled tightly round her emaciated shoulders as she waited patiently for me to arrive. And as I rode on the top of the tram, no longer a schoolgirl harassed by end-of-term reports but an Angel of Providence embarked on her first visitation, the streets of Greengate loomed dark with mysticism against the Manchester sky

    If I was prepared - indeed armed - in spirit for the sensational it was not of the kind that met my eyes before Mrs Maconachie’s front door.  Mrs Maconachie, a broad, jolly-faced woman, was cleaning her second floor window.  She was sitting out of the sill overhanging the pavement, the window shut tightly across her thighs.  It seemed a precarious and exceedingly dramatic position to be in.  “Wait a minute,  luv,” she shouted, “go on in th’house, I’ll be done soon...”

    In the kitchen, a little boy with a bandaged hand was licking condensed milk out of a tin. There was no sign of a sick bed to be seen.  It was all very disillusioning.  Mrs Maconachie bustled in with a pail of water.  “Now, sit yer down and mak’ thisen at ‘ome.  Eh, but they’ve no reet to send one so young as thisen into them mucky streets.  Draw up to the fire, luv.  Mebbe thi’d like a cup of tea.  It’s on the brew.’  Mrs Maconachie dropped three large teaspoonsful of condensed milk into a strong, brown liquid.  ‘Coom on now, luv - draw up.”

    It was some time before I could put to her the exact nature of my visit.  ‘Aye, it’s our Ernie,” she nodded sagely,  “been in th’ospital.  Fell out of upstair winder, “e did an’ all.  Thowt ‘e were a dead un when we picked ‘im up.  Theel ‘ave come to see about his new clouts for convilessing.  Eh, they’re s reet good lot, them Manchester Ladies.”

    Thoughts of Miss Treffie stirred me to action.  “And to inspect the bedding,” I hurriedly explained, “The Home Conditions, you know.”   My courage rose with recovered sense of authority.  “Have you, by chance, any bugs?”  I asked boldly.  It was Mrs Maconachie’s turn to look surprised.  “Boogs?” said Mrs Maconachie, “boogs?”  She gave a loud chuckle.  “Eh, now, luv - you ARE a one for merriment, and no mistake...”

   I left her lustily swilling down her ground floor window.  Ernie was sailing his empty milk tin in the gutter.  The streets of Greengate seemed hard with realism as I waited for the tram.  No longer did I walk on air, borne up on the magnanimous wings of philanthropy.  And yet, perhaps,  tomorrow......For a moment a vision of little Paul Dombey gave a lustre to the pavement.


*I have a social life of no consequence, but on enquiring, I found others had  switched off during the first episode because of the  poor sound.  I don’t know if that was why the production did not hold my attention.

Dec 4th

Global Literature

By BellaM

A friend of mine has been involved in launching the Asymptote Book Club.


I'm just doing my bit to help spread the word.


Anyone who subscribes gets a new piece of global literature every month, plus access to online discussion spaces, interviews with authors and translators and invitations to related events.


If you have an interest in global literature or translation, check it out.

Dec 4th

Global Literature

By BellaM

A friend of mine has been involved in launching the Asymptote Book Club.


I'm just doing my bit to help spread the word.


Anyone who subscribes gets a new piece of global literature every month, plus access to online discussion spaces, interviews with authors and translators and invitations to related events.


If you have an interest in global literature or translation, check it out.

Dec 3rd

Latest update for Stories for Homes 2

By Debi

Hi Cloudies. I thought I'd update you all. As you know, the paperback was launched on 21 Nov. In the first days, we shot up the Amazon anthology charts, hitting #4 at the top point, though we've inevitably tumbled down since then. Online sales of both the paperback are continuing, thought it's fair to say it's more of a trickle than a flood.

We've also had our first two launch events. Last Saturday, we were in Folkestone as part of the Folkestone Book Festival. This event was organised by local SfH authors, Michele Sheldon and Mike Blakemore. And yesterday, we were part of an open mike session in South London, organised by SfH-er, Sue Lanzon. We make more money for Shelter from sales at events than we do from online sales, so they're well worth organising and attending. There's one this coming Saturday in Andover, organised by John Taylor - who doesn't even have a story in SfH this time round!

At this point, we have so far raised over £550 for Shelter. (Shout out to Anouska Huggins and Jane Shufflebotham for keeping abreast of the figures.) That's good, isn't it? But not good enough. We can do so much more but only with your help.

The book is out, and it looks stunning. But this is where the hard work starts. We'd love to exceed what we made for Shelter last time but we can only do it with your help. Thanks for making it happen and for your continued support.

Dec 2nd


By Mat


by brightonsauce

d1, tidy up a lil’ [will take down if overcome hysterical]

Once, Brendan and I might have faced each other cross a moonlit river, our pikes glistening in our forest encampments, and ‘tomorrow the battle,’ the resolution of our ageless dispute.  I thought as much as I greeted this swarthy man, this latest temporary worker, and shook the ends of his fingers, thought this thought much often, that how ironic it be – thrust together, comrades in a field of mud with spades [instead of our battle spears].  He was very Catholic.

‘Actually Brendan, if you don’t mind, that is my spade you’re holding in your fist,’ I said.  ‘You can tell my spade always, gaffer welded it together first day I snapped it, weld cross the top corner,  see the stitches?’

‘Suit yourself,’ said Brendan, ‘and tide a brick,’ he said.

‘I’m sorry’ I said, ‘could you repeat, please?’

‘Bricks tied, what tide is the brick?’

‘You know,  I am new to our industry, don’t understand much technical jargon.  Forgive  element of your ordeal here on the wasteland plain.  When it comes to the bricks, and specifications, you must ask our foreman.’

‘Tea brick,’ he said.

‘Oh, at half past ten and at half past two, here’s your rake to hold,’ I said, and passed him a shitty old rake with absolutely no heritage, no history,  ‘but then,’ I said, ‘ yeah,  later on when it gets dark the site manager can’t see any of us in the dark.  Isn’t that quite brilliant circumstance?  We have to all stop working.  He can’t work us in darkness against our human rights and safety,’  I tittered in a  mania, like a mole in laughter, and smiled, ‘isn’t that the most marvellous thing?’ I said.

‘Marvellous,’ he said, and spat.  He spat quite often.  I’ve met chaps like him before with the spitting condition, and remember back in Kensington, the original  ‘spitting man,’ when he spat on a car, and the driver stopped his car, punched him.  ‘Spitting man’ was giving me directions and life lessons at the roadside, a different story.

But I really liked Brendan, the way he stuck up for our rights in the adversity situation.

‘Run, run, run’ I said.

‘Why are you running?’ said Brendan.

‘When Gaffer appears we have to run, run somewhere, or even run on the spot if necessary.  Look busy, my method of survival works for me, to date’ I said, ‘so if you, wise guy, have a superior system, show everybody,’ I said, quite emboldened, and running on the spot, soil piled on shovel, [spade],  & spread over every inch of my body – not coated in snow.

‘Fuck that for twelve pounds an hour,’ he said.

‘You’re right, of course,’ I said, ‘I mean Gaffer says to me, ‘Mat, why are you running like a headless chicken, I always remind him  “I am your headless chicken, sir,”  and he likes that.’

‘Monday, I’m joining a proper outfit down at Swindon,’ said Brendan.

‘But, you will be my friend, at least till the weekend?’ I said.

‘Sure I will, Wane.’

‘Wane’s not really my name, Brendan,’ I said, ‘the lads call me Wane because they’re horrid boys.’

‘No problem, Wane,’ he said, and pulled the spade from my fingers, then passed me the rake to hold.

Dec 1st


By Athelstone

Well, goodness knows where the last 11 months went. Anyway, Advent begins on Sunday so here's a reminder of the Advent Group:

Feel free to peruse, and to post anything you wish associated with the time of year.



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