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Willow

The lone wolf is weak, the wolf pack is strong. This thought seemed odd. Weakness was not something to be celebrated, it was ultimately something that needed to be dealt with - to be corrected. Instinct tells every creature on this planet that in order to survive one has to fight, to be brave and strong but the implication was dreadful. The world is constantly on the attack, it wants to steal your power, your resources even your life. 

  Lewis was a young lad. An apprentice. Learning the ropes was his priority and this lesson from his father had filled him with foreboding. The thoughts filtered into his consciousness and coloured his thinking taking him from one, old reality to a new unnerving reality from which he could never return. Parents protect their children from the darker things in life initially by keeping their existence from them but there comes a point in every life where the rubicon needs to be crossed. The realisation that the world had a darker fearsome side had captivated his thinking and, as he stared out towards the trees beyond the fields he wondered what monsters lay in wait for him in those trees and beyond. As he stood, his mind pulsating with the new reality and its unknowns, he felt a comforting presence by his side and a distant voice spoke to his dreams. Muffled at first he strained to hear the words. As they emerged slowly he recognised the voice. A voice he had known since before, a voice of sanctuary. It was his mothers voice and slowly emerging from his reverie he realised his mother was standing close by.

She wore a deep frown almost a scowl, but behind it was an infinite warmth. Her eyes beamed as she communicated emotions of safety and comfort to her son whilst simultaneously sending a snarl of reproach to his father. “I told you he was too young for this sort of talk” she snarled to him as she stood close to Lewis’s side, making her presence felt, giving him the natural assurance of contact that all dogs intrinsically understand to mean safety. She carefully explained to Lewis that, whilst the lone wolf may be weak, HE would never BE a lone wolf. He would always have his mother and his father just near enough to be there for him when he needed them. That distance would increase as he grew older but the bond would never break. “Now come on” she quipped, “Brian is over at the house waiting, lets go in and get some food. It’ll be dark soon”. The evening was filled with food and warmth, family and comfort but a spark had kindled a small ember inside him and Lewis had lost a little more of his innocence.

 

The next morning was bright and still. The sun shone low in the sky. It was the time of year when, in Scotland, the path of the sun seemed to resemble the weak throw of a stick, so briefly was it up and then, sinking gently westwards, it was gone. To Lewis, Brian was a strange member of the pack. He had known his voice long before he had seen his face and that face was not like those of his mother and father. Brian was different. He was bigger, he walked in what seemed like a strange upright balancing act and he was kind. It was obvious to Lewis for as long as he could remember that Brian was someone to be trusted. Both his mother and his father trusted him. Indeed they seemed to LOVE him and so, slowly at first and then gathering pace as his confidence grew, Lewis came to love Brian as well. 

That morning, excitement was at fever pitch. Brian had started to untangle to long ropes he used to keep the pack together when they went on a patrol and both Lewis and his parents had electrified each other into a crescendo of yelping and leaping anticipation. As Brian completed the preparation, they were soon off on patrol. Teejay, Lewis’s father, had long since explained the importance of a patrol to him and as the four of them bounced along, tails held high, he felt proud enough to burst. The world beyond the house and its fences seemed infinitely exciting and interesting to him. His mother, Skye, was a siberian husky and, as is the way of the  siberian husky, she was an expert hunter. She had taught Lewis the same skills and he had already tasted success in the form of numerous voles and other small rodents. As they walked along it seemed the hedgerows were seething with snacks and Lewis strained to reach the interesting world just outside his reach.

Having walked for some time, the group reached a forest which they entered and began to follow a path. The forest felt different. To Lewis it seemed like a magical place and he could feel ancient instincts deep within his psyche fulminate as the sylvan atmosphere enveloped them and drew them in. The forest seemed at once quieter and yet it spoke to them more clearly and with a far greater vocabulary than did the open landscape. Far above, squirrels played in the treetop canopy and Lewis could sense that playfulness turn to alarm as they strode on. 

Having reached a point in the forest where they could no longer see its edge in any direction they stopped and Brian reached down to remove the restraints from the others. Excitement exploded again as they bounded off to explore the forest around them. Lewis leapt furiously using his pent up energy like a stotting antelope as he ran. The forest seemed infinite and revealed a little more of itself as he rounded each large tree, drawing him on, piquing his curiosity with every second in numerous delightful ways. On and on he ran, his heart singing for joy, his beautiful white coat reverberating in waves as he galloped. He shouted to his father, wanting to share the joy he felt but then, hearing no reply, his fervour receded and his energy drained. He could feel the presence of the forest now but in a new way. It was suddenly somehow a feeling of dread and foreboding. 

The young powerful dog sniffed the air and listened for some signal of the whereabouts of his parents but none came. He had ran with such blind zeal that he had no idea of the direction from which he’d come and in that moment, with a feeling of sinking fear he realised he was alone and lost. "The lone wolf is weak." he thought with a shudder. The stillness of the forest, the lack of any breeze, having previously been a source of delight, now conspired to confound him as tried to make sense of any scents he could discern on the dead air. 

It is a curious innate behaviour in dogs that, when they perceive they are lost, they will run in a tight but random circulating pattern seeking some clue or other to help them regain their bearings. As Lewis wildly did this and with feelings of alarm swelling in his breast, he slowly realised it was all for naught. As he was about to collapse to a despondent standstill he noticed, or rather he sensed eyes watching him and, stopping slowly, now aware and fearful of the noise he was making, picked out a face staring at him from behind a bush. 

In an instant the eyes emerged from the bush and surged headlong towards him. Fear rooted him to the spot whilst his imagination, had conjured up a mental image of his father, who shouted at him to RUN! Screwing up his courage he tightened his muscles in an instant, prepared as he was to flee but something fleetingly and deep within his soul gave him momentary pause. The eyes were clearer now. They were now through the bush as was the body behind them and that body was not, Lewis now realised, something to fear, but rather, it appeared, weak and vulnerable. As the two pairs of eyes met, Lewis felt all thoughts of threat recede from him and slowly, like treacle curiosity flooded into his mind pushing the fear back and down to the visceral reservoir from which it had erupted. 

Before Lewis stood a dog. At least Lewis thought it was a dog. He wasn’t sure. Over his as yet short life Lewis had seen many dogs, some small and some large. He had four brothers and one sister and each of these siblings had grown up into beautiful young adult dogs as majestic and athletic as he was but this dog was like no dog he had ever seen before. The effort she had made (for Lewis's nose had now determined that it was a she) in lunging out through the bush, had been brief but it had also very clearly drained her. She stood there staring at Lewis with eyes that spoke of sadness and her low reservoirs of energy had clearly been severely depleted simply by leaping forward as she had just done. As the two of them stood, each taking the measure of the other, the tension between them melted away and a strange connection seemed to germinate. 

Lewis was a polite and friendly lad at his core. His parents had brought him up well and ensured that he had grown and developed in a stable and caring environment where their overwhelming love for him was never in any doubt. This foundation had created a young male dog that, whilst fearful of danger, was also in a curious sense vulnerable to it. Despite that, all things considered it was fair to say that the trajectory of his journey from newborn to adult had set him on a course to somewhere strong, fair and good hearted. He realised in an instant that the fearful introduction he had just experienced had positioned his stance as one of aggressive power which was designed to display his potential for attack. This was the way of dogs but, realising awkwardly that he had retained the stance and that his aggressor presented no real threat to him whatsoever, he clumsily repositioned himself, drew in his hackles, lowered his tail and threw in a tentative slow wag just for the hell of it.

The tension fell away as his surprise companion, in response to his renewed body language relaxed herself and seemed to smile in that way that only dogs can really see. 

Lewis swallowed down hard and tried to speak but his throat had grown dry and it emerged as a croak. Embarrassed he licked his lips, cleared his throat and said, in his most friendly manner, “Hi I’m Lewis”. The female dog before him sighed and smiled back wanly choosing not to say anything. To Lewis, she seemed sad. He had rarely seen any sad dogs in his life and those that he had seen had quickly been comforted until the sadness had been banished from them but there was something about this sadness that Lewis didn’t understand. It was a sadness that had a dark power, as if it could hold on to somebody more tightly and more unyieldingly than any sadness he had sensed before. It also seemed like a sadness that could reach out from behind those eyes and wrap itself inside others. He shuddered at the despair he was beginning to feel and in the best canine tradition, exploded into a big hearty shake, the kind of shake that seems to reset the world around a dog and fixes everything. The female dog smiled and this was just the trigger Lewis needed to leap playfully towards her and entreat her to join in a bit of playful fun. She seemed to warm to this and was soon joining in as best she could despite her frail disposition although she didn’t have much energy to play for long. As they stopped and sniffed around idly she spoke to Lewis for the first time. “They call me Willow”.

 

Lewis and Willow, their initial tension now dissipated, spent a few minutes just shooting the breeze, searching the ground for interesting smells and each gathering around the other when something worth a second opinion had been found. As Willow sniffed the ground she kept one careful eye on Lewis all the while, still not quite free of her chronic distrust of everything. “Are you alone?” asked Lewis absently as he scratched at an old stick that had been chewed and discarded by at least seven other dogs as far as his immature nose could tell. Lewis had been to this forest before and he knew that this was a place that many dogs from the town would come to with their own “Brians”. He often wondered about the town looking down on it in the distance from his house with his mother and father high on the hill that overlooked it. He had heard dogs barking in the town when the wind was right and he had even smelt their scents mixed with other strange scents from the town when the wind had blown strongly. The town both fascinated and scared him. Willow again didn’t answer. She seemed to have grown fearful again. “My dad says the lone wolf is weak, the wolf pack is strong. Do you have a pack or a Brian?”. Willow looked up and stared back blankly and eventually softly responded, “I don’t know what a pack or a Brian is”. Lewis stood and thought for a moment as he assembled the puzzle in his head. “Thats why you’re sad” he pondered and then quickly snapped his attention back to the stick. 

He picked the stick up and began to walk to Willow to give it to her when a noise in the trees made them both freeze. Lewis immediately glowed feeling sure that it was Teejay or Skye. As Willow began to cower and tremble he opened his mouth to reassure her that everything would be fine but before the words took shape in his throat he stopped. From behind a tree stepped a smaller Brian. Lewis knew there were lots of Brians in the town and many of them came to his house in their noisy coloured boxes they called cars. Willow began to tremble more visibly as the person approached her and without any warning slammed a large thick stick down hard across her back. As she yelped from the pain Lewis jumped with fright but, seeing his new friend was now in pain, he summoned up his courage once more as his hackles rose for the second time that day.

He growled as he walked slowly towards the person who had by this time fastened a rope to Willow. Lewis had never before been in a confrontation like this with a person. Inside he trembled but he knew he had to help his friend. He loped his way closer holding his body low, his legs coiled and ready to jump in whatever way he must but then from his side where Willow had been standing came a burst of ferocity so unexpected and shocking that he had no time to deal with it. He felt Willow’s teeth sink into his cheek and immediately felt the pain of the wound that her teeth had made. As quickly as she erupted she stopped and withdrew. In the glimpse that Lewis caught of her face as she drew back he detected a strange mixture of sadness and something else he couldn’t identify. Within moments the person had attached a rope to Lewis such was his surprise and they had both been marched off over the quarter mile track to a car. Both dogs were thrown into the back of the car without any trace of kindness and as the door slammed Lewis looked over at Willow. As she looked back at Lewis through sad eyes he thought he heard her whisper two words which sounded very much like, “Im sorry”.

 

Teejay was a dog who understood things. That’s what dogs used to say about Teejay. He had been born in the house on the hill many years ago just like Lewis had been only two years ago and had been fortunate enough to be the one dog from his litter that had been chosen to remain with his mother, just like Lewis. He had lived in the area his whole life and had been lost in this forest so many times that he had eventually ran out of places to be lost as his knowledge of the area became complete. To Teejay his pack was his life. He knew that he was lucky. He had seen numerous other dogs through the course of his life, had talked to a great many of them and had concluded over the years that the pack which he had found himself part of through sheer serendipity was one to cherish. Actually to say that his pack was everything to him is probably untrue as Teejay had ultimately found a greater joy in his life than his pack when his pups had been born. He knew that it wouldn’t be possible for them all to stay in his life once they’d grown up but had developed a deep and powerful love for Lewis as he had watched him grow. 

Lewis had been lost before so it wasn’t too worrying to him just yet but as Teejay mechanically searched every inch of the large forest that he knew intimately he understood that time was of the essence. Although he had seen ten winters, Teejay was still extremely healthy with the fitness of a dog half his age. This was one of the many benefits his son bestowed on him as he took time every day to play with him and by extension to teach him. Nevertheless, he was tiring but what concerned him more was that he was completing his methodical search of the forest. There were few places left that hadn’t been checked in this great forest. 

He suddenly stopped as a few molecules of scent hit the receptors in his nose and set alarm bells ringing. Lewis had been here. Or rather he had been back at the point that the scent had hit its receptors such was the power of a dog to analyse olfactory information as it ran fast and hard. Carefully he rounded on the trail and began a careful process of bracketing the area as he moved, by analysing patterns of scent intensity he cleverly box searched the surroundings closing in on a small clearing. Lewis had been here and not long ago. He looked down and saw a stick that had been chewed. Immediately he sensed Lewis from it but there was more. Another dog had been here. A female. As he scouted the area he heard a car drive off in the near distance but he had something more important on his mind. A human female had also been here and there was something else, something just out of reach. His magnificent nose and his magnificent brain searched at frantic speed through the data until the dreadful answer appeared. He could smell blood.

 

As the car bumped along Lewis caught his breath and calmed down. Slowly he processed the events he had just been a part of. “Why did you hurt me?” He asked Willow. “I was trying to help you.” She lifted her head slowly from the carpeted floor of the car boot and, with lugubrious shallow breaths whispered, “I needed to save you.”

The journey was short and when the tailgate of the car opened Lewis recognised the smells immediately. This was the town in the distance. As the tailgate opened he had a brief opportunity to make his escape but in that thin fragment of time, something stopped him. Willow needed him. Somehow he knew he had to protect her as best he could and that his fortunes had placed a greater task at his paws that just simply getting himself back to his parents. Instead he sat and looked across at Willow with a little smile encouraging her to step out of the car first. As they alighted they were led to a house with a path which led through to a yard at the back. Once in the yard the gate having been locked behind them, the two dogs were secured by ropes to a post in the middle of the yard. It seemed to Lewis that grass had at one time grown across the yard but it had long since died back leaving nothing but a hard uneven patch of dry and compacted soil. In that soil Lewis could smell more torment than he had ever known. There had been other dogs here but their scents had faded and were almost gone. Safe in the knowledge that the dogs were secured the woman began to beat them both with a different harder stick and, as the blows rained down on Lewis he slowly lost the urge to snarl, spit and bite at the thin air his restraint allowed him to reach and learned it was best to try to disengage and wait for the pain to stop. Night fell early at that time of year and so, with pain assaulting all parts of his body, he and Willow curled up and slept as best they could under the starry freezing sky.

 

Once Teejay had concluded that the smell in his nostrils was blood and whats more that it was Lewis’s blood he switched up a gear. He concluded his search of the area and had followed Lewis’s scent down through a forest track which led to the road at the bottom the area. At that point the scent disappeared. Teejay knew that the two dogs had to have been put into a car and driven off but to where. Once he had concluded his search he sprinted back up the hill and told Skye who was naturally very upset. 

The two dogs had no more play in them and Brian too had exhausted himself having searched the area for hours so they made it clear to Brian that the only thing they wanted to do was to head home. From the house at the top of the hill Teejay knew that he could smell the fingerprint of scent for miles around and he wanted to take stock and understand his options. If he had to he would go to the town and search every street of it from top to bottom but for now he needed to sniff the breeze. Nobody slept in the house that night. Brian looked out at the hard frost that was falling and the thought of Lewis alone in the night tore at his spirit. The two dogs on the other hand sat and talked about their plans.

 

For Lewis and Willow, the night was long and ferociously cold. They huddled together preserving what warmth they could. Lewis was part husky so for him the pain in his bruised body demanded more of his attention than the cold. He looked at Willow and wondered. Lewis could tell that she was feeling the cold badly. Her coat was shorter and missing in places and more importantly, she was not as equipped for life in a sub zero climate as he was. Sensing that she was struggling to cope Lewis drew himself in close to her surrounding her with his large fur covered body which he could almost use to reach all the way around her. He then turned his nose inside the circle and used his breath to keep her warm using a technique that had been passed unconsciously to him by his ancestors through a thousand winters. He was comforted when she eventually drifted into a fitful sleep and even managed to smile to himself when she gave him a hallucinatory kick in the head as she dreamed. 

It was still dark with light just showing its face in the high eastern sky when the woman opened the door of the house and approached the dogs. In her hand she carried a bucket which contained a meagre amount of food scraps from her previous evenings table and as she tossed the scraps in the direction of the dogs, Willow pounced on them voraciously attempting to consume as much as she could as if in competition for resources. Lewis eschewed the food and chose rather to stare angrily up at the woman for which he received a painful kick in his already extremely tender ribs. She then left the garden by the side gate that they had all used the previous day. A wave of relief washed over Lewis when he recognised the sound of the car in which he had yesterday been a passenger, start and drive off.

“She will not return until the evening now.” said Willow guiltily as she realised that she had eaten all of the scraps and had left nothing for Lewis. Lewis had other things on his mind. He was already biting the rope that secured him to the post, trying to understand how tough it would be to work through it. “My dad will be coming for me.” he said confidently although he quietly saved a little part of his consciousness for the difficult fact that he would find it almost impossible to find them. Undaunted by the grim reality of his situation he busied his mind trying to work out how he would get back to his house on the hill.

 

Morning in the house on the hill was a subdued affair. Brian had eventually drifted off in a chair by the window where he had positioned himself in case Lewis had returned through the night but not even the gloom of the ongoing events of the previous day could hold back the wave of fatigue when it finally won its battle and threw its purple cloak over him. Teejay also slumbered with one eye open in that curious half sleep that dogs seem to be capable of. He had come up with a plan and had told Skye during the night. She had reluctantly acceded to it knowing all the while that her assent to a plan when Teejay got one between his teeth mattered little. 

As they shook off the languor of the night and reluctantly welcomed in the new day, Brian began by shuffling to the toilet for his morning pee. Teejay however found all the food he could muster in the three bowls that were in their usual place in the kitchen. Skye, knowing his plan had left her food untouched and as he forced the last of the food down he checked his plan. He was sure of one thing, he was NEVER going to sit back and wait for his son to make it home. His job was now first and foremost to be a father. To set the right example. In this case he was certain he needed to be out there searching. When the door of the house opened to let the two dogs out for their morning breather, Teejay had only one purpose on his mind. He ran hard at the low wire fence that divided the garden from the field and launched himself at its apex. He hadn’t jumped a fence like this for quite a few winters but he was sure he hadn’t lost the magic quite yet. As he leapt, for one horrible moment he thought the food he had stuffed himself with would be his undoing but as the wire scraped painfully past his belly he was eventually relieved to find himself standing in the field on the other side. As Brian shouted for him to come back he looked back apologetically, skipped through the stockproof gate and trotted off down the road soon out of sight. 

Brian looked at Skye and, as Skye looked back at him with a look of unsurprised calm, he couldn’t help but think there was something in her eyes that she wouldn’t tell him even if she could.

 

For Lewis and Willow, the day wore on interminably. Their bruises moved from sharp stabbing pain to the type which is duller and broader but seems to have a deeper grip of the mind. Willow was quite used to coping with bruising but for Lewis it was quite new and distinctly uncomfortable if not unbearable. He nonetheless gathered up every ounce of stoicism that he could muster in the spirit his father had taught him as he came of age and focused more actively on matters more pressing. 

They had spent a large part of the day just talking. Lewis now knew that Willow was a name she had been given in a house she had lived in before. She had lived in a house where she was loved and cared for and that she had loved back but had got lost one day on a walk by the river and had inadvertently met this horrible woman who had tricked her into getting into her car and had subsequently brought her here. When she had first arrived there were two other dogs but they had both, at different times, succumbed to the lack of food or the excruciating life tied to this post or some combination of the two. They were now buried over in the corner and Willow showed Lewis where. This was her second winter here and she had been what the humans called a collie before this place had changed her into the pathetic creature she now was. 

Lewis in turn told her about his house on the hill. How he had been born there and grown up with his four brothers and one sister. How, when they had grown up they had all gone off to different homes but that each of them was happy living with kind people who took care of them and whom they took care of in return in that special way that only dogs can. He explained that they all get together now and then and have celebrations together where they eat way too many treats. He had felt bad when this had made her sad and had promised that she could come to the next party where Lewis would give her all of his treats. This seemed to raise her spirits and he relaxed a little thereafter. 

Later in the day once Lewis, who was fortunately an extremely intelligent dog, (as was Willow) had taken time to think things through, he explained calmly to Willow that he had a plan. She listened intently as he explained the plan and then smiled as he told her how it ends with her meeting his mother and father. She seemed eager and enthusiastic about it but was worried about the amount of running it would take. Once upon a time she would have had no problems running all day long. She had even climbed mountains when she was younger but she knew now that she lacked strength and stamina. Just jumping out of the bush when she met him had exhausted her. Lewis had tried to offer her reassurance and encouragement but secretly he too was worried. Nonetheless, undaunted by their worries, they resolved to see the plan through come what may and began their preparations.

 

The first priority for Teejay was to go back to the place where the car had picked Lewis up. He wanted to remind his nose of the smell of the woman and the female dog that had been with her. Once reacquainted with the target scents, he set off in the direction of the town. It would be a long and difficult journey as he knew he couldn’t risk taking the easy path that cars used. Dogs travelling on their own were too often picked up by well meaning humans and returned to their owners. He could'nt risk this happening and so he set off towards the estate of the old ruined castle. 

As expected he came up against fences time after time and it often took all his guile to work out a way through. Sometimes it was easy if the fence was broken or had been undermined but occasionally he had been forced to run and jump just like he had done earlier in the day. The sun was just starting to descend in the sky as he reached the castle ruins and knew he was almost at the town.

"Almost there but not quite." he thought. He still had a river and a busy road to cross and about a mile of rough country too. When it came to finding Lewis he was indefatigable however and he only stopped at the castle to take on water and to mark his progress with his scent as he had been taking great care to do every step of the way. He knew if Lewis crossed his scent line he would instantly recognise the fact and would follow the path to home like a line of flaming torches. Conversely he had hoped to find a scent line himself and had been disappointed to find none. As the sun began to sink lower, he crossed the rough country between him and the road and eventually the fence which separated the road verge from the fields from which he had just come. The smells of the town were overpowering to him now as he bounded across the road as cars blared their horns and slowed to a crawl when their occupants saw him. No sooner was he across than he slunk quickly into the thick brush which led to the river and down to the waters edge. 

The river was quiet and dank as he scraped his way down to the bank and unceremoniously slithered on his belly through the bank mud and on into the cold water. It was winter. The days were short and the river was cold but thankfully the preceding days had been marked by cold sunny days and freezing starry nights as is often the case in winters in Scotland. This meant that the river was low and slow and he crossed it with ease taking plenty of time to replenish his fluid intake before he moved on. All that remained for Teejay was to cross a sports field and through a gate and he would be in the sleepy town. This he completed without ceremony all the while examining the multiple interesting signals from his nose. Finally he was here, in the town. The streets were quiet and empty and the sun was beginning to redden in the sky. He knew it would shortly be dark, he was wet and tired and despite eating as much as he could manage that morning he could feel the beginnings of hunger. He shrugged off all thoughts of himself and walked on carefully. He had arrived in the town but what now he thought.

 

Lewis and Willow in the meanwhile had each chewed through their ropes as Lewis’s plan had dictated and lay in the yard waiting quietly. They had gone through the plan over and over in their heads. When the woman, whom Willow had informed Lewis was called Maria, returned, the two dogs would surprise her and rush out through the space between her legs and the gate. They would run on and out into the road. From there they would split up. Lewis would return to Maria and bite her leg so that she would be more interested in catching him whilst Willow would make off as fast as she could and hide in the first deep area of bushy vegetation she could find. Once he was sure that Willow was safely hidden, Lewis would lead Maria off in the direction of the sunset. Lewis hadn’t quite worked out which directions would be used but Willow being a collie had explained to him that if he sees the town from the house on the hill in the same place as the sun sets then he needs to attract Maria off in that direction so that they could safely head home in the opposite direction. It was all very complicated and it made his head spin but he trusted her.

The plan from there was that Lewis would head off towards the river and go to ground. He knew it was in the direction of his home and he also knew he would have no problem smelling it out. Then, once night had fallen and the town had sunk into its bed and was asleep he would howl like a wolf into the night sky. He would howl to the moon with every ounce of his strength and it was then up to Willow to make her way to the sound. It was complicated and it scared them both witless if they thought about it too much but they had both agreed it was probably a good plan.

 

As the pair lay there in the dark and night had fallen the sounds of a winters evening in a small Scottish town surrounded them. It was a strange experience for Lewis to be here in the town listening to it breathe so closely in the black night. he had spent many an evening listening to it in the distance but tonight was different. His senses were heightened and his mind raced as the car they had been waiting for drew to a stop and became silent. This was it. The frightened pair crept slowly to the gate and looked at each other. Lewis could see Willow tremble in the half light behind the big gate and he knew she needed a bit of encouragement. Leaning forward he licked her cheek gently and she smiled weakly back. “We’ll be OK.” he said confidently, carefully concealing his own screaming fear that seemed at times like it would swamp his mind. 

Steps approached and Maria suddenly stopped on the path to light a smoke stick in her mouth. She sucked in the smoke and then coughed so heavily that the thick mucus in her lungs rattled. Lewis gave Willow one last nod of encouragement and swallowed hard. This was it. He thought about his father. How he would make him proud. He was doing the right thing and his father had always taught him that as long as a dog does that then everything else will be ok. More shambling steps followed and then the metallic noise of the latch followed by the gate creaking open. Time stopped for a split second as three pairs of eyes locked. Lewis looked high on adrenaline, Willow looked like she would collapse at any moment and Maria’s eyes slowly blended their way from shock to anger. “GO GO GO” screamed Lewis as he bounded out into the path. Willow scampered forward and purposefully made it to the road where she turned and was gone. Meanwhile Lewis jumped and barked in a frenzy of activity which rooted Maria to the spot. Slowly she took control of her senses and grabbed the stick she used to beat the dogs from behind the gate inside the yard and subsequently began swinging it violently in the direction of Lewis. Her third attempt caught Lewis hard in the shoulder and he went down hard on the other side. Maria walked up to him slowly muttering angrily and using words which Lewis knew meant a person was REALLY angry. He had been winded but quickly regained his composure and as Maria raised the stick to connect intensely with his outstretched body he leapt up. The stick swung past him and on into thin air throwing Maria off balance. As she tottered attempting to regain sound footing, Lewis saw his opportunity and seized it.

Lunging forward Lewis reached forward with his angry maw. He had never bitten a person before and it seemed like a terrible thing to do but he consoled himself with thoughts of Willow and the plan. Finding his teeth on either side of a leg he bit down until he felt the resistance of bone. Then, as is the way of a dog, he tore at the flesh by shaking his head violently left and right. He could feel his teeth slide along bone and this satisfied him immensely but he wasn’t stupid. He knew he only had seconds before either the stick or Maria’s other leg would come crashing down on his head or neck and possibly damage him seriously. He released his grip nimbly and tasted a lot of blood in his mouth as he jumped back and stared at Maria taking a moment to catch his breath. She screamed in agony as the reality of what had happened took hold and sank into her frantic mind. Lewis could almost see the pain fill her eyes as she dropped the stick and clutched at her bleeding leg. He had done his job. He had made his father proud. He hoped Willow was now safely hidden by this time and knew that he still had work to do. 

Maria now seemed to have regained control of her faculties and began to rise up. From where he was standing Lewis could smell the blood and, as Maria roared with anger, he knew the difficult part of the plan was upon him. 

He leapt in the air and barked. Madly at first but, realising that he may need to keep this up for a while, he settled into a more gentle routine. He kept himself carefully outside of the range of Maria and her stick but made sure that he was the ONLY thing she was interested in. As he emerged into the street he stole a glance in the direction that Willow had scurried off in and was pleased to see no sign of her. Lewis led Maria on. When she began to realise she was being drawn away from her house he would collapse to the ground and screech as if he was hurt. This was enough to rekindle her attention and ensure that she followed. The plan was working.

 

Teejay had come a long way in the space of the day. His feet were sore from thorns and his wet fur began to make him cold. He had spent the day acting like a dog of four winters when he was actually closer to eleven. This fact was starting to creep into his reality but undaunted he walked confidently on. He stopped and sniffed the air. He had thought he had heard something. A noise. A commotion perhaps. As he stood to listen, he ceased his breathing to empower his ears. Nothing. He walked on and then, rounding a bend, he noticed a dog on the other side of the road loping slyly, keeping to the shadows like a cat would. Thoughts of his current discomfort left him in an instant as he froze and watched quietly. the dog had snuck into a driveway and was sniffing the ground. He took his chance and leapt across the road and into a driveway farther along the path of the curious dog and moments later as it passed the place he hid, he leapt out ready to fight. Teejay may have been a ten winter dog but when the adrenaline rose and the circumstances dictated he was still prepared to stand up and be counted whenever that was required.

His readiness for a fight however was not necessary as the mystery dog crumpled before him and cowered whimpering. As he sniffed the air his mind raced and in an instant his mind had assembled the knowledge which was being provided by his nose. This was the dog that had taken Lewis. He had committed the smell to memory and now that it was again in from of him and in enormous quantities, it was unmistakeable. His demeanour changed again as he stood over the whimpering wretch and demanded she tell him where his son was. Willow was paralysed with fear, so much so that she could feel a pool of water form under her on the paving surface the warmth of which seemed to wrench her from her paralysis. “Your son?” she sobbed. “Yes my son, what have you done with him”, Teejay growled with the most menacing posture he could muster above this obviously hopeless creature. As the wheels turned in Willow’s mind Teejay could almost see the process happen behind her vague milky eyes and slowly a look of surprise and then inexplicably, hope washed over her face. “Are you Teejay?” she simpered. Upon hearing this Teejay stepped back in surprise. 

 

Lewis was growing tired and was heading in the opposite direction from that which he knew he needed to be. He was also growing bored as is the curse of a young dog. He decided in an instant to cease the subterfuge in which he was now a reluctant participant and ran briskly off down a side road. Maria had calmed down too and had realised that she probably needed to see a doctor. She wondered how much blood she’d lost as she felt the warm squelch in her shoe as if she had inadvertently stepped into a deep puddle. Lewis ran off and was swallowed by the night leaving Maria screaming obscenities to herself under the streetlights orange glow. There was still a lot to do. he was concerned about Willow. How far had she gone? Where was she hiding? Was she safe? Or cold? He knew he needed to make for the river and wait for the still dead of night to arrive before the next part of the plan could be brought into action. From the strength of the smell he guessed the river was about a mile off. Ten minutes walk to a young fit dog like him. He bounced off into the night feeling quite proud of himself and excited at the thought of telling his father about the adventure.

 

Teejay and Willow had slowly become acquainted. Enormously distrusting at first, Teejay had convinced himself that Willow was a co conspirator in his sons abduction but, as Willow explained often fearfully and always in terms that were sympathetic and appreciative of Lewis he came round to her. Once the whole story including the escape plan had been explained to him it was all he could do to stop a beaming smile from overwhelming his face but he remained businesslike and professional for the benefit of Willow. “Ok” Teejay said “Lets see if we can help Lewis out a little.” Teejay explained that they would make for the river too. When Lewis got there they would hopefully meet him but in any case it would be easier to find him from there once the signal howl was made. So together they set off. Slowly and deliberately. Teejay helped Willow as much as he could and eventually after what seemed to him like an age, they arrived at the river and hunkered down. Willow was cold and tired so Teejay snuggled in and tried to keep her spirits up by telling her embarrassing stories about Lewis as a young pup. Before long she was sound asleep and as the river slipped slowly by them in the darkness, Teejay felt like he would burst with love for his brave son who had proven himself in such a spectacular way over the past two days.

 

The streets were unfamiliar to Lewis but the smell of the river was unmistakeable to him. He plodded on as weariness gripped him ever tighter. His bruises ached and as the cold of the night sank deeper into his tired body it felt like the fingers of the monsters of the night as they grabbed and clawed at him. Still he soldiered on. He was close, he could smell the mud and looked forward to the respite of lying down. He knew he couldn’t afford to go to sleep and worried how he would manage to stop himself from doing so but he would deal with that problem when he had to. For now he simply needed to get there and within a few moments he had indeed arrived. He looked around for a place to lie down and as he did so he realised that a shape was standing looking at him in the darkness. The black shape, a little smaller than he was, slowly moved towards him and, paralysed by fear he froze. “Well done son” said a disembodied voice from behind him. It sounded like his fathers voice but how. He turned to find another black shape sniffing him gently. “Are you Ok Lewis” said Willow who had now identified herself as the first black shape. “Uh yes” said Lewis, “But how…” he trailed off as Teejay took control of the situation. “Don’t worry about that for now son, were here and were safe.” Lewis sighed and rested his head. “You two get to sleep, Ill keep watch for now.” Teejay said calmly as he licked his sons face affectionately. “You did great son. I’m very proud of you.” was the last thing Lewis heard as he drifted off into dreams of home.

 

The journey home was anticlimactic. They had eventually all fallen asleep in the thicket by the river and had been awakened in broad daylight as a large lorry had rumbled along nearby. It was morning and the sun was shining. The three of them had slept soundly and they were safe. Teejay had explained that they would need to stay at the riverbank until sunset and should rest and gather strength for the night ahead so they lazed and lolled around. Lewis quickly realised that the opposite bank of the river was alive with tasty prey and so, putting the skills he had learned from his mother to good use, he ate his fill and brought plenty back for his father and Willow. Willow politely declined at first with a look of mild disgust but when Teejay insisted she eat in order to build her strength she relented and ate, at first tentatively and eventually heartily.

 

And so, night fell and the three of them set off. They felt strong enough to swim the river despite the fact that Teejay had said they could use the bridge if necessary given the hour. The food had made such a difference to Willow as she could hardly believe. She couldn’t remember the last time she had felt so much food in her stomach and it really helped her to cope with the long walk ahead. They used Teejays scent trail to find their way in the dark and as the sun began to show its distant promise in the east they arrived back at the house on the hill.

Brian had been sleeping at the window since Teejay had left and he emerged from the front door with tears in his eyes. He hugged the four dogs with a strange mixture of laughing and tears and from that day on Willow became a full time resident of the house on the hill. They celebrated that night with an enormous pie which Brian sometimes made especially for the dogs and as the four dogs lay around the roaring fire with their bones aching and their hearts singing, Lewis lay beside his father and as he lay there he thought contentedly, "The lone wolf is weak, the wolf pack is strong." then he looked across at Willow and smiled. She was safe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hamlets Soliloquy

To be, or not to be--that is the question:

Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep--

No more--and by a sleep to say we end

The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep--

To sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause. There's the respect

That makes calamity of so long life.

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

Th' oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely

The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,

The insolence of office, and the spurns

That patient merit of th' unworthy takes,

When he himself might his quietus make

With a bare bodkin? Who would fardels bear,

To grunt and sweat under a weary life,

But that the dread of something after death,

The undiscovered country, from whose bourn

No traveller returns, puzzles the will,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,

And enterprise of great pitch and moment

With this regard their currents turn awry

And lose the name of action. -- Soft you now,

The fair Ophelia! -- Nymph, in thy orisons

Be all my sins remembered.

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The Army Poses 7 Questions - Can Business Try It?

One of the major fundamentals of the doctrinal training of commanders in the British Army is what is known as The Combat Estimate. The Combat Estimate, when applied to a situation, provides a systematic mechanism with which to shake out a plan as a response to a situation framed within a given set of requirements. The application of the 7 questions as a planning tool ensures that all of the influencing factors which are pertinent to any situation are built into a plan which seeks to secure a given aim. That aim can be the storming of a well defended bunker, the destruction of an enemy fuel depot or indeed the organisation of a trip to the Alps to teach a group to ski. As is often the case with military doctrine, it is as applicable to a military situation as it is to a civilian one. Its value lies in its ability to systematically break down a complex environment in such a way as to methodically define the important influencing elements which are relevant to a particular aim. One may imagine that such martial thoroughness would be well placed in the business boardroom and one would be correct.

The Combat Estimate (7 Questions) is one of 3 methods that the British Army uses to parse complex sets of circumstances for the purpose of systematic analysis. The other two methods are called The Operational Estimate and The Tactical Estimate. Of the three, the Combat Estimate really comes into its own in situations where quick planning which seeks to exploit and maintain a high tempo adversarial advantage is required. It is therefore best applied at the tactical and operational level. Lets look at the questions in turn;

  1. What is the adversary doing and why and/or what situation do I face and why, and what effect do they have on me? This is a bit of a mouthful but it effectively requires examination of the broad constraints which will serve to hamper ones ability to complete an objective. The key takeaway from this question is "assess and prioritise" What is happening and how does it fit into my priorities?
  2. What have I been told to do and why? It's essential to have a detailed understanding of the rationale behind what makes this task something that needs to be done. Furthermore, an ability to put oneself into the shoes of those in positions of authority whether that is your supervisor and their supervisor or indeed the broader needs of the organisation or company on who's behalf you are acting is beneficial. Are your actions to be part of a larger master plan? It's essential to build up this broader picture not only to understand how your task fits into other efforts but also to understand its priority, its dependants or antecedents, and more interestingly, what support you may be able to expect as you define interested parties more broadly. This information is one of the key components in the toolbox of the manager and their ability to motivate those involved in accomplishing the task.
  3. What effects do I need to have on the adversary or situation and what direction must I give to develop the plan? It is essential that you clearly understand your task and the intermediate key staging points which lead to its achievement. This is not only for your own clarity of purpose but also and perhaps more importantly as a basis of your ability to direct others in the execution of your plan. Having a clear and well structured definition of your aim ensures that you maintain your own focus not to mention are well able to articulate this to others within your purview which results, one hopes, in their taking of ownership of the task.
  4. Where and how can I best accomplish each action or effect? It is important to understand the situation thoroughly through the application of the previous questions and their outputs. At this stage one seeks to identify key resources, their priority and how to maintain control of them. It also begins to be possible to identify some lower level courses of action which will serve to consolidate into the broader strategy. A thorough examination of this question should produce a prioritisation of component parts of the overall strategy as well as an outline of the steps necessary to achieve each of them.
  5. What resources are needed to accomplish each action or effect? At this stage a planner, armed with the structured output of question 4 can begin to examine the resource requirements of each strand of the broader plan. Their earlier prioritisation assists in the allocation of resource where contention exists ensuring that resource whether manpower or equipment is distributed most efficiently. At this stage it also becomes clear whether it is necessary to request further resources as a prerequisite for the plans success. This question reaches both up and down your own command chain in order to ensure that the correct organisational capability is allocated. It is also the ideal time to revisit the output of question 2 and ensure that efforts and requirements are properly matched.
  6. When and where do the actions take place in relation to each other? It is important at this stage to begin to develop ones understanding of the temporal dimension of the plan. In a military environment this ensures that where potential exists for there to be conflict in the achievement of each effect, it is dealt with. In the boardroom, it enables individual strands of a broader planning structure to avoid duplication of effort or indeed the need to revisit certain actions. A useful tool to use at this stage is a timeline/sync matrix which provides a visual representation of the dependencies and outputs of each component part. A simple chart in the style of a Gantt chart is useful at this stage.
  7. What control measures to I need to impose? This question helps to define the boundaries of the plan as well as delineate the roles and responsibilities at a more granular level within the broader effort. By carefully examining this area we ensure that each of the component parts of our plan is equipped with the correct definition but also has sufficient scope of manoeuvre to flexibly respond to emergent conditions whilst keeping an eye on the end goal. By allocating an appropriate amount of responsibility one ensures that members of a team are able to utilise their own abilities to maximum effect in achieving the goal without stifling their latitude through unnecessary micro-management. In a business environment it is important to maintain awareness of budgetary limitations or perhaps cut-off dates.

The seven questions described above represent the systematic mechanism by which the military ensures that no facet of the overall planning landscape is overlooked. In military situations, such thoroughness is rewarded with minimising loss of life. Clearly it is therefore warranted however it is clear that business can benefit from such a structured approach to ensure the success of individual objectives up and down the chain of command. Throughout history civilian activity has embraced elements of military doctrine and procedure and will no doubt continue to do so. It is to be welcomed that the penalties in the business world very rarely extend to loss of life however where one seeks to do the best job possible with the resources available and in turn to minimise the chances of failure and their knock on effects, such thorough frameworks can clearly bring a great deal of value. Their application however piecemeal would seem to be a natural boon in the development of successful business practice in any field of operation.

Thanks for reading this post. It has been my pleasure to write it and I'd most certainly appreciate your feedback either by commenting on it in the comments section of my blog below or in the comments section on the platform you used to find it. I hope you also find some of my other posts on my blog of interest and am always happy to engage in discussion either online or offline in the development of these ideas. Happy planning.

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Decisions Decisions

Making decisions in life is hard. Its a worry. Its a moment in time where all the comforting possibilities are whittled right down to just a few. Its tempting to think of those as limited to success or failure. Maybe even partial success but its more complicated than that.screen-shot-2014-07-28-at-10-38-59-am-e1406558423571

Ive taken the decision to start businesses, leave businesses, go back to University and even more significant and terrifying decisions in my personal life. To be fair, I think Ive done a good job so far. So far so good.

But how do you know if a decision is the right one? Is there a way to be sure that whatever you pick is the best choice? That it will surpass anything and everything that might have been?

Sorry but Nope.

You can’t know. You’ll never know for sure. You can't examine all of your possible futures and thats just tough.

But, you do know one thing and thats the thing that really matters. No matter how things play out, you will gain from the experience.

That something could be financial, educational, or it could just be a lesson learned. Perhaps a particularly tough one. Its irrelevant, because what you can say for sure is that the results you end up with will never amount to zero.

That decision could end up being just another decision you made in a long string of them. It could also be huge. But the point is you can’t try to quantify it before it has played out. Don’t try to put all the weight of the world in the decision.

A decision is just a single moment in your career. In the scheme of things it really doesn’t matter as long as you’re moving forward. Stop worrying about the things that don’t matter! Trying to figure out whether this is the moment that you “made it” will keep you from moving forward. And it will make it much harder to decide between everything you have going on. Which option will get me my “moment”? Why will it get me “there”?

What’s important is that you decided to do anything at all in the first place.

And what’s likely is that whatever “moment” you’re looking for hasn’t happened yet.

Spend all your time in the in-between space, the time between starting and stopping.

And remember that whatever decision you make, it will get you somewhere.

So go on. Jump. What's the worst that can happen?

Decisions aren’t ever right or wrong.

Your career hasn’t made it or not made it.

The magic is in the jump.

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Nature Loves Courage

Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the eabyss and discovering its a feather bed.
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Intermittent Fasting

I watched Dr Michael Mosleys recent TV program with a great deal of interest due to having recently started a diet/training program that would get me on course to regain some of the youthful fitness Id let slowly slip away in the years since I turned 30. The BBC trailed the program with this article on the BBC website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-19112549

Now, 3 months later and 12 fast days on, Im happy to say that, whilst each fast has been a mild challenge of my discipline and my dedication, it has for the most part been a really positive experience. There has been only one lapse and that came during the school holidays when I made a plate of Italian style meatballs in tomato sauce for my son. This would have been a challenge all of its own to have to deal with the sights and smells of making such a delicious meal however having only just come through that challenge with rumblings coming from down below, when my son decided the meatballs were too spicy for him and placed the hardly touched plateful back in the kitchen the game was up.

So I fell off the wagon once, not because I was too hungry to stick to the plan but simply because my desire to quit overcame my desire to hold firm. But, for the most part and through the 36 hours of each fast "day", I have resolutely stayed on course. Lets face it, its not so desperately difficult to go without for that long. The habit of eating is what usually presents the most challenges. During each fast, despite drinking plenty of water and training reasonably frequently throughout, I have been losing approximately 3 - 4 pounds. Granted it does mostly come back on the following day but not all of it does. The trajectory throughout the 3 months this experiment has taken place has been of consistent weight-loss and I place the  weekly fasts as a core part of this.

I sometimes ask myself why bother fasting. Is it for the weight-loss or the detox? For me the answer is neither. Its partly an allusion to the disciplined routine of the diet I have been trying to follow through the rest of these weeks but its mostly because of all the softer reasons suggested in the BBC program mentioned previously. For those who haven't seen the documentary, it is claimed that short bursts of intermittent fasting have the capacity to kick the body out of gear and into a mode whereby the processes of repair and rejuvenation take centre stage. These effects and my perception of them may be placebo in nature but I certainly feel that my periods of abstinence are doing something good in there. Its almost an uncanny feeling of strained well-being that takes hold when the fast is in full swing.

So, in conclusion, as I lie in my bed with my laptop, 24 hours into my latest 36 hour fast, getting ready to go to sleep and dream about potato crisp forests and boats sailing across oceans of tikka masala bordered by pilau rice beaches, I feel sure that what started as an experiment brought on by a passing interest in a compelling BBC TV documentary has now become something that I may well be participating in this time next year or who knows even further down the line. So if you're reading this post feeling bloated and full after a late evening meal, why not consider for yourself if the benefits of Intermittent Fasting might be something that has a future in your weekly routine.
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The surprising truth about what motivates us

What a cool video this is. Quite inspiring actually :-)


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Man! Forty thousand years in the making.

One of Man's most remarkable characteristics is his ability to treat the incredible as ordinary and to live through life-transforming changes without stopping to reflect on the incredible uniqueness of these events. The next century will bring some amazing transformations but the fact is that the past is almost as hard to believe.

Where it all started

The story starts about forty thousand years ago … when a momentous event occurred on a small planet circling an ordinary star in the outer reaches of an unremarkable galaxy, just one of countless planets found in a galaxy of a hundred billion stars and a universe of a million billion galaxies. Certainly, this was a very unremarkable spot. Yet this event was undoubtedly the most important in the 4.5 billion year history of this planet and may one day prove to profoundly alter the future of the entire universe with its hundred million billion billion stars.

You see, at that time one of the species on the planet learned the secret of Lamarckian evolution, the trick of passing on acquired traits to one's offspring. Of course, Jean Lamarck imagined that sheep could turn into giraffes by stretching their necks to reach tasty leaves to eat. What actually happened proved to be far more revolutionary: the traits passed on were not physical but rather cultural and technological.

The explosive impact of this new form of evolution soon showed itself. Homo sapiens spent the next thirty thousand years obeying the Biblical imperative: to go forth and multiply, to establish his dominion over nature, Man developed new forms of weapons – improved spears, bows and arrows, nets, and more – with which he hunted down and destroyed all competitors to the title, including his stronger and brainier cousin, the Neanderthal (yes, the Neanderthal had a bigger brain than we do). In the process of establishing his undisputed mastery over the entire planet, Man also spread his control to every corner of the globe, including regions previously denied to him: Australia, the Americas and the Arctic.

As technological advances fed on each other, the pace of change accelerated. Not satisfied with achieving dominance over all of creation, Man began to modify the planet's ecology and to change his own society to suit his needs.

Ten thousand years ago he developed new life forms which he would use to control the fecundity of the planet. Cattle, sheep, corn and wheat would feed his family. Horses would give him transportation and dogs would protect his hearth. With the exception of the horse, none of these species ever existed in the wild and few could survive on their own. In fact, most of the new plants could not even so much as reproduce without human aid.

In the twinkling of an eye, Man had changed from a nomadic hunter-gatherer to a sedentary farmer. His modern descendants find this unremarkable, failing to notice the really important point: that Homo sapiens is the first species in the history of the planet – perhaps the entire universe – to alter its way of life without altering its genes.

Five thousand years ago human society changed again. For the first time individuals had to deal with people who they had never met, in fact people who they never would meet. In other words, the State appeared. Ultimately the State was forcibly imposed on the entire species with the help of still newer weapons, those using metals and gunpowder.

The State also brought another innovation. For the first time, a small fraction of humanity was lifted out of routine poverty and imminent danger of bodily harm, a fate which had been the lot of every living being (human or non-human) since the beginning of time. Of course this group did so by living on the backs of the vast majority, those who were appropriately called « subjects ». By the late Middle Ages, this new security spread from the Nobility to other classes, notably the urban bourgeoisie.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, the paradigm shifted again. Industrial capitalism appeared in a small island off the western coast of Europe. Capitalism soon spread east to the continent and west to North America. It is still spreading around the globe. New technologies developed still more rapidly and lifted entire continents out of poverty (the so-called poor in Western democracies have almost no notion of what true poverty really is: outright lack of food, clothing and shelter). With universal prosperity came ideologies supporting rights for all. The dominant political beliefs of this era – classical liberalism, democracy and socialism – all ultimately derive from the idea that every human being has rights. Of course, they disagree severely on the meaning of the word « rights ».

Then came the Twentieth Century. Among many other things, it spawned the Communication Revolution. The world became a single entity. Marshall McLuhan's Global Village was bound together by technologies like the telephone, the airplane, the television and finally the Internet. Global communication has become banal and ordinary.

It is important to understand how the rate of change has accelerated since the Cultural Revolution of forty thousand years ago. Previous to that event, significant change was measured on scales of millions of years (prior to the Cambrian epoch, it took billions). In the Stone Age, change took millennia, which the Agricultural Revolution reduced to centuries and the Industrial Revolution to decades. It's now down to mere years.

Consider the FAX. Twenty years ago it did not exist. At the time, a competing technology existed which we called the Teletext (a sort of combination word processor and Teletype). Today no one has ever heard of Teletext and the FAX machine is part of everyday life, found everywhere. Yet it too is already obsolescent, its functions taken over by the Internet and the computer scanner. Perhaps twenty-five years total from introduction to mass use to oblivion. The video store had a similar lifespan, replaced by on-line movie rental.

The century of magic. The Technological Singularity is approaching

In the future, the rate of technological progress will continue to accelerate. New technologies will come to fruition in mere months, perhaps even in days. We are rapidly approaching the cusp, the takeoff point, the moment at which the rate of progress becomes effectively infinite and all things become possible. The twenty-first century will see the penultimate stage in the transformation started by the Cultural Revolution (the final stage will see the revolution exported to the stars). In the past Man changed his pets and his societies. In the next stage, he will change his own nature. Want to grow gills and swim underwater? No problem. It will be easy to get rid of them after the vacation is over too. But while games like this will certainly be possible, the technologies coming in the next few years will have a far greater impact.

In the coming century, probably even within the next thirty years, Man will achieve virtually complete understanding of the workings of nature, complete control over the actions of every atom on the planet and instantaneous communication between all its parts. It is completely accurate to say that we are about to create Gaia, a living planet with an intelligence far surpassing our own.

It is exhilarating and exciting to live at this unique juncture in history. It is also more than a little frightening. We entered this century as human beings. We will leave it as Gods. The only real question is whether we will become one God or many. It is possible that we will discover that the question itself has no real meaning, that we will be at one and the same time part of Gaia and separate individuals. While we cannot know just yet, it is my belief that most of the people alive today will live to experience this transformation.

« It is exhilarating and exciting to live at this unique juncture in history. It is also more than a little frightening. We entered this century as human beings. We will leave it as Gods. »

If there are those who wish to keep their humanity, Gaia will be quite happy to let them live as parasites on her body. To prove her generosity, she will banish the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: War, Pestilence, Famine and even Death. Of course, it is not all clear that people who are liberated from the Horsemen can be considered human anymore than those who join the Gaian community.

The Technologies: Computers

In 1965 Gordon Moore, one of the co-founders of Intel, put forth the proposition that the power of computers doubles every 18 months. Amazingly, Moore's Law has held true for the following 35 years. When he first proposed his theory, about 60 transistors could be packed into one integrated circuit, up from one transistor per IC in 1959. The magic of geometric progression means that about 100 million transistors can be squeezed into an IC today.

Consequently, today's home computer is thousands of times more powerful than the multi-million dollar behemoths of 1965. They are connected together in a massive network covering the entire planet and much of the space around it. It is remarkable how quickly we have come to think of this as ordinary, especially since this Web is only about seven years old (yes I know, its origins date back to the sixties). And, while Gaia's nervous system will grow out of the Web, it will be far more pervasive.

Sometime in the next ten years, this progressive improvement in the power of computers will run up against some physical law and stop (there are several possible limits, the most important being that today's computer is wired with circuits only a few dozen atoms across). When the process finally does stop, a computer will pack between 10 and 100 billion transistors into each IC. At this point, computers will be roughly as intelligent as the higher mammals, Man being the only exception.

But while conventional computer technology will soon tap out, there is no reason to think that Moore's Law will fall by the wayside. The next step will be to eliminate the CPU, the bottleneck in the machine. The human brain contains about 10 billion neurons. There are already computers with as many transistors (remember that a computer contains more than one IC). Neurons and transistors are more or less the same thing: electrical switches. What's more, the transistor can change state millions of times faster.

So the secret of the human brain is all in the wiring. Knowing that it will soon be impossible to increase the power of computers by speeding them up and shrinking them down, researchers are starting to look at copying the wiring of our brains. When they succeed, they will have created an intelligence far more powerful than our own. Exactly when this will happen is hard to say: about twenty years for now seems to be a conservative guess. Add another 10 years and computer will be, by several orders of magnitude, more intelligent than human beings.

Meanwhile, other advances in computer technology over the next few years will transform the way that men and machines communicate. The primitive keyboard I am using to type these words will give way to voice recognition. The monitor you are reading them on will be replaced by tapestries which you hang on your halls, by electronic books and perhaps by glasses which put images directly on the retina of your eyes.

It is also probable that the first steps will be made towards connecting human beings directly into the Web, to giving you a sixth sense – the online connection. Direct Man-computer interfaces already exist, the earliest being the pacemaker. More likely direct connections between humans and computers will have to wait a bit, say into the second decade of the century.

Thus thirty years from now, we can expect to see hybrid man-machines with perhaps 1000 times the intelligence of a human being, almost all of which is endowed in the machine part. The machine « half » will be far faster, far more logical, with a memory far more accurate, than the human « half ». Is it reasonable to call the resultant combination human at all?

The technologies: biotechnology

The first fruits of biotechnology have been relatively innocuous – improved foodstuffs of various kinds: soybeans and corn are which are resistant to pests, tomatoes which are less likely to spoil, rice which supplies iron or Vitamin A or vaccines to those who eat it. Still, even this small start has been a huge boon. The soybeans and corn dramatically reduce the need for pesticides. A billion people in the Third World live on a diet which consists of rice, rice and more rice. That « golden rice » sits on a shelf on Geneva instead of being distributed throughout the Third World is a devastating indictment on the Luddites in the environmentalist movement.

The next generation of biotechnology products, about five to fifteen years down the road, will give us new drugs to cure diseases caused by genetic defects. Actually, many of these would already be on the market were it not for official incompetence. About a half-dozen cures for diabetes have been already announced. Sadly, thousands of people will die while the bureaucracy evaluates them. About 5-10 years from now, one of these curers will receive official approval and this age-old disease will follow smallpox into oblivion. Several other maladies, including Alzheimer's and drug addition, will fall at the same time.

The next stage – which is already underway – will be a serious attack on the problems of aging. This attack will be (is being) launched on multiple fronts. The most important include technologies to reverse the aging process and technologies to replace parts which have worn out.

A company in Texas is attempting to grow new teeth to replace those which have worn out. At startup (two years ago), they believed that it would take them twenty years to achieve their goal. They now think that they will be there in ten years from now. While replacing teeth is clearly easier than other body parts, can livers and hearts really be far behind?

Other companies are seriously attempting to understand (and reverse) the aging process itself. Several promising lines of research, from eliminating free radicals in the cell to correcting from division errors in chromosomes, are being explored. Most researchers expect to have answers within 5-10 years.

Between those who are trying to replace worn-out parts and those who are trying to rejuvenate them, it is reasonable to expect that someone will succeed in the near future.

The next step, which is also underway, is to improve on the genes instead of simply trying to enhance them and keep them at optimal efficiency. First human application? Perhaps 15 to 20 years away.

After that? Gills for a day.

The technologies: nanotechnology

In 1989, researchers at IBM's White Plains research facility used a tunnelling electron microscope to manipulate individual atoms. They pushed them around to spell out the letters « IBM ». While this was clearly a stunt (they used hugely expensive equipment to do the job), the fact remains that they succeeded in making individual atoms obey their will.

Other groups are addressing more ordinary concerns, with remarkable success.

A company in Israel has built a micro-camera in a pill about one-centimeter long. You swallow the pill and it passes through your digestive tract. The idea is that, on the road towards the rectum, it can take pictures of the small intestine in order to detect abnormal growths. The consensus of industry observers is that the company will fail since they can't control the path of the pill through the body. The observers may be right. Still... Count on it that the next generation will be able to control the path.

Defence contractors have already created drone aircraft the size of hummingbirds. They expect that the next generation will shrink to that of mosquitoes.

After that? Fantastic voyage. The pills will pilot their way through the blood stream instead of the alimentary canal. They will have built-in remedies for diseases designed by the techniques of the biotechnologists. They will pass these cures onto your cells; one cell at a time.

Synthesis

All of the above is almost certain to happen within the next thirty years. We will have a man who is virtually immortal, who is thousands of times more intelligent than a computer and who is capable of correcting his deformities one cell at a time.

It is important to understand that this vision is pessimistic about the future of technology. Computer architects imagine systems where each transistor is the equivalent of a neuron (and thus the system as a whole is billions of times powerful, instead of thousands). Biotechnologists dream of designer genes wherein they can give you any characteristic you desire. Nanoengineers want to push around individual atoms just like the IBM researchers do. The difference is that they believe they can do it in the context of a machine as ordinary as a Microwave oven.

Even if none of the dreamers succeed in their ambitions (and I think that they all will succeed), it is obvious that the human race is destined for oblivion in the next few years. A man-machine in which the machine is far more powerful is not human. A man with designer genes is not either.

Still, I hope that a certain respect will continue to be maintained for our evolutionary past. I personally hope to be respected as one of the Old Ones, those who were there before the Change. I wish to wander throughout the universe, to explore the galaxy and things still further out there.

Still, I do not know. Maybe Gaia will decide that all of us Old Ones are obsolescent. Maybe she will. I hope not but I am still willing to take the chance because the alternative is Death – and Death can ruin your whole day.
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SyFy

Thomas Campbell said

‘Fiction in poetry is not the reverse of truth, but her soft and enchanting resemblance.’

William Wilson defined Science Fiction in 1851 as

‘Fiction in poetry is not the reverse of truth, but her soft and enchanting resemblance.’
"Now this applies especially to Science Fiction, in which the revealed truths of Science may be given interwoven with a pleasing story which may itself be poetical and true—thus circulating a knowledge of the Poetry of Science clothed in a garb of the Poetry of Life."

Mutatis mutandis.
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Nostalgia

Nostalgia is only such a strong feeling because we cant see the part of our lives thats yet to happen.
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To be British






















“I am convinced that every man of you would rise up and tear me down from my place if I were for one moment to contemplate parley or surrender. If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.”Winston Churchill speech to the cabinet, (1939)

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