Alice wasn’t a farm girl. She was city raised, but she had fallen in love and married George and he was a sheep farmer. They had been engaged before the outbreak of the First World War, and George had returned home with an injured knee. It wasn’t particularly debilitating, but at times things flared up and he had to see a doctor.
The sheep farm had a cow to provide milk for the household, and of course it had to be milked every day. By now they had a daughter, Margaret. And then… George’s knee flared up and he had to go to hospital.
Alice had never milked a cow in her life but it was a task that had to be done. She took three hours on the first attempt. Eventually she walked over to the neighbouring farm and asked, “Can you come over and show me how to milk the darn cow?” Alice quickly became adept.
After a few months George’s knee hadn’t healed and the farm was too much of a burden. They sold the farm and went to live in the town.
Daughter Margaret wasn’t really a farm girl. She was city raised, but she had fallen in love with Bert and he was a farmer. One day Bert went down on one knee and said to Margaret, “Will you marry me?”
“Only if you first teach me how to milk a cow,” said Margaret.
When Ryan left for war Anna, his fiancée, was devastated. Every day she would wait for a tragic phone call or a knock on the door. He was a pilot on an aircraft carrier. Although he had not told her much of where he was or what he was doing, the letters were always warm and good humoured. He was, she guessed, based somewhere off the coast of Scotland.
They had talked of marriage before he left. They would be wed when he got back from the war. It wouldn’t be a big wedding; just family and a few friends. Anna planned it in detail. It took her mind off worry. She had told him in her last letter, perhaps they could get married in a garden. His sister could sing “Ave Maria”. The wedding feast, given the rationing during the war, would be lovely yet simple.
The war seemed to go on interminably. Then the fateful day came. There was a knock on the door. Ryan’s plane had been shot down. He was buried in Belgium. Anna was beyond grief. She vowed to be faithful to him all her life. He would be the only one. She was almost tempted to change her surname to his.
Two weeks later the Dear John letter written by Ryan before his death arrived in the mail.
Noah poured himself a wine to celebrate. What he had done was so simple and yet people had said it was not possible. Noah had hacked his way into the digital framework of every nuclear country and disabled their nuclear buttons. He did it in a flash – all at once – with one push of what he called “My Peace Button”.
Noah was a crank; a total crank. He was a creative genius of unrivalled ability. An example would be his burglar proof abode. If a stranger entered his house uninvited all windows and door were silently barred. The burglar would slowly starve to death. The system could be activated from anywhere in the world.
Noah was not one in a million; he was one in eight billion. The systems he devised weren’t the usual run-of-the-mill stuff.
Only one nuclear warhead was not disabled. Noah had altered its pre-set trajectory. It could not be changed. It would head to downtown Beijing. The Chinese could blow up themselves or Noah could activate it with the push of a button.
Noah poured himself another wine and sat down in his armchair.
“Goodbye Beijing,” he said. He pressed the button. It was now a question of waiting. It was then he realized something: he’d muddled the GPS. The nuclear warhead was heading straight for his burglar-proof house.
Once cosmic aliens had been discovered it didn’t take long for the forty million or so known forms of intelligent life to work out that basically intelligent life was all the same no matter where they stemmed from in the universe. They were all violent and mean. They were greedy. They were corrupt. They were rotten to the core.
One of the good things about all this however was that weapons of war would not work if they were fired via the instowarpicator. This was a device of extraordinary inventiveness that enabled alien species (I call them “species” but really we need to invent a new word for these divisions)… the instowarpicator enabled each planetary “intelligentis” to travel almost instantaneously from one planet to another.
As I say, lethal weapons of war were neutralized if they travelled down the instowarpicator. Lethal weapons of mass destruction had to travel via the conventional way, that is, through space at the speed of light.
It is believed that almost every planet (if not all) had at some stage fired a destructive weapon at an enemy planet somewhere sometime. The good thing was that the weapons would take thousands (in some cases millions) of light years to reach their targets. This made the inhabitants of every planet blasé about interplanetary co-existence. Each had thousands of years to discover and make an antidote to destructive forces.
So all in all, the cosmos was safe. It’s just that every race of planetary intelligentis hated each other’s guts.
Today is ANZAC Day in New Zealand and Australia when those who served and died in wars are remembered. Ironically the date is not the day of the most celebrated victory but the occasion of the bloodiest battle for these two countries in World War I: Gallipoli – Australia lost 8,141 and New Zealand lost 2,779.
About half a mile from where I live is a little school: Stanley Road School that began in 1895. It has now closed, but the school buildings are used and maintained by the local rural community (mainly sheep, dairy, and cattle farmers).
In the school playground is a large American Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera). Kids used to play and climb in it from the turn of the 20th century. Are kids still allowed to climb trees?
In the year 2000 the community decided to plant an avenue of trees along the road past the school using grafts from the original Tulip Tree. There are 25 trees in all that I could count. They form a lovely avenue as you drive along the road when going to town. Each tree was planted by the family of a former pupil of the school killed in the First World War. The deceased soldiers as kids would have played in the mother tree.
The avenue also reminds us of the extent of loss in each little rural community. Twenty-five to die is a high number of kids from a single-teacher little country school. The section of road is known as the Peace Tree Avenue.
Valentyna had four children. They were trapped in the centre of the city surround by invading Russians. Her fourteen-year-old son, Bohdan, had gone out for an hour or so in search of some food. Her husband had volunteered to fight the Russians. She did not know if he was dead or alive.
There was a knock at the door. It was a nice man who said “Quick! Gather the children and we can take you out of the city and into a safer place.”
“But I have a son who may not be back for an hour or so.”
“It’s now or never,” said the man.
Valentyna made a decision. She gathered the three children and left.
“It is safer,” said the man, “for the children to travel with other children and you will be reunited at the point of arrival.”
The children left on a bus. Valentyna boarded another bus. She never saw her children again. They were taken and shot. She was bused to a Russian “Filtration Camp”.
(I had another story scheduled for today but have taken it down because it was about contemporary events and at present they are making me irrational. So I wrote another).
Salathiel Twigg woke up that morning and wasn’t quite sure how to fill in his day. Some days would fill in themselves; other days crawled on like they would never end. But today would not be a crawl-along day; it was going to be one of consequence.
After he showered and dressed (he always did that in the same boring order) he had breakfast. There was a cold sausage in the fridge left over from the previous day’s dinner. He microwaved it (just to take the chill off) and had it with a slice of buttered toast. He needed to go shopping for groceries and one of the things needed was tomato sauce. However, for the time being, he ate the unchilled sausage without any tomato sauce.
He could have used pickle because he had an unopened jar of chilli pickle in his pantry but he couldn’t get the lid off, and the get-the-lid-off-a-jar contraption was in a drawer for some reason in another room. So he couldn’t be bothered getting it and ate the sausage just as it was.
After that fairly run-of-the-mill opening, the day could only get better. And hopefully it did. After breakfast, he left his home to join his neighbours who were fighting the invading Russians. He had never done anything like that before and was more than a bit scared.
(Today is ANZAC Day in New Zealand and Australia, when we remember those who fought in wars. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. The date is set on the day of the greatest military loss of both countries in a single day: Gallipoli. The form of this poem is modelled on the Ghazal).
Foolish folk sometimes dream the end of war,
but peacetimes never mean the end of war.
No more dog eat dog; lion and lamb lie down;
is this a sign of being the end of war?
The cosmos consumes itself in chaos;
yet night sky seems serene, the end of war.
Let’s pray that earth will smack of peace, and know
in air, space, land, marine, the end of war.
Poor Bruce repeats old Plato on this day:
Only the dead have seen the end of war.
I never like it much when a committee I belong to elects me as its secretary for a meeting. It has happened quite a few times throughout my short life. It was an initial thrill to be chosen to represent Planet Earth at a meeting of COPP (Coalition of Populated Planets). There were forty-three other planets represented. These forty-three members had been meeting for years. This was the first time Earth had been invited to the discussion. It was exciting! but then they went and elected me as secretary. I presume they did so to shut me up. I guess I should be pleased, but a chore is a chore.
The subject of the meeting was “Whether to invite Planet Earth to become a permanent member of the Coalition of Populated Planets.” I should make it clear from the start that I had recused myself, even though I didn’t have the right to vote anyway. Oicurmt from Planet Cuzique suggested that my very act of recusal when it wasn’t even applicable was reason enough to bar Earth from joining. “We don’t want stupidity to enter into COPP. Nonsense! Complete balderdash! Utter rubbish! Silliness has reached new heights! It’s bonkers! Nincompoopery at the apex of ridiculousness!”
Pkjzqqht from Planet Bvdcjllp (these Bvdcjllpians always seem to have unpronounceable names) thought that leaders on Planet Earth were two-faced. “They haven’t yet proved that what they say and what they do is the same thing.” “Yes!” agreed Oicurmt from Planet Cuzique. “It’s stark raving stupidity! Madness! I’ve never heard of anything so loony in all my life!”
Yulululu of Planet Kangaflufu said that Planet Earth’s preference for war over negotiation was not something they would want to influence the deliberations of COPP. “They’re constantly at each other’s gardła (“gardła” is Kangaflufuvian for “throats”). “Yes!” agreed Oicurmt from Planet Cuzique. “It’s so very…”
This discussion went on and on. It is unnecessary to report on all forty-three negative comments from all forty-three member planets. Suffice to say that the result of the final vote was 43-1. You see, even though I had recused myself I voted anyway. I couldn’t believe the negativity of all these inferior planets.
The bit I didn’t like was having to return to Planet Earth and announce that our inclusion into COPP had been rejected. Instead (since I was the secretary) I told everyone that “it was a very easy call. The other planets love us and feel that they could learn so much by assimilating something of Earth’s over-powering magnanimity. The final vote was unanimous.”
As a footnote, it should be mentioned that the leaders of Earth were enraptured. We are certainly more powerful than other planets in terms of the military, and since our peaceful request has been accepted we shall now more easily influence the decisions of COPP by resorting to threats and violence.
There can’t have been that many in the world with the name Clauderic Winslow McPherson; let alone many with that name living in the little hamlet he came from. Strawfordton-on-Tiddleswing had decided to erect a monument to honour the local folk who had died in the war. There were three names, and Clauderic Winslow McPherson was one of them.
The trouble was that Clauderic Winslow McPherson wasn’t dead. He certainly got the surprise of his life when he saw his name. As the only survivor of the village folk who had gone to war he was asked to lay the wreath when the monument was declared open. The mayor pulled the rope that released the flag that covered the engraved names, and there it was: Clauderic Winslow McPherson.
“But I’m not dead,” said Clauderic Winslow McPherson.
There was much muttering going on among the village aldermen, and among the considerable village crowd of twelve for that matter.
“Who does he think he is? He must have got his wires twisted. That fellow can’t be Clauderic Winslow McPherson. Clauderic Winslow McPherson’s name is engraved on the monument and therefore he is dead.”
Clauderic Winslow McPherson was arrested and thrown into the local jail cell. Impersonating a war hero! Goodness me! The level some people descend to. Clauderic Winslow McPherson was kept in the jail cell. It was a lot cheaper than having to redo the monument. And the town council was a bit short on the funds, which is why they kept Clauderic Winslow McPherson’s war pension that came in every month.