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Life is Fun, Death is Peaceful.

It’s the Transition that’s Troubling

For this title I thank the late Isaac Asimov, one of my all-time favourite authors. Problem is, the transition can trouble some of us more than others.

Some people get cancer and get cured, while the rest of us have to fight ‘holding actions’. Some of those fighting holding actions can make the fight last for many years… The rest of us well… that has abruptly become the troubling part. I just got back from my latest visit to the oncologist. For those of you who care, I’ll just be blunt and worry about amusing us all later.

It seems that the chemotherapy protocol I am on has stopped working (they all, eventually, do) and my troubling little oncs are not as little any more. In fact they have doubled in size since December. There is one more chemo-protocol left, but it is given only a 10% chance of success.

Surgery is unlikely to actually ‘lengthen’ my life although we are looking around to see if there is a surgeon who would even be willing to even try… (I’m troublingly complicated and knotted up inside). Last time I had surgery the troubling oncs went away for ten months :).

First stage studies are available but the chance that one of them will do me any good is given at about one in a thousand (and they often raise troubling quality of life issues).

Radiation is completely ruled out; the oncs are so widespread that they would have to radiate my whole abdomen and that would be immediately fatal… troubling.

I expect I’ll try the last chemo-therapy protocol, but this, of course is the kind of thing you have to discuss with your family.

If anything changes, I’ll write another blog. I expect I’ll keep on writing them as long as I can :)

Last time I ended my blog by saying, ‘Pretty soon I’m going to have to start saying some of the stuff that’s important.’ Some people found this a bit ominous, thinking that I was going to say stuff like the stuff just above here… like I just said… dire life and death stuff. Actually that’s not what I meant. This stuff here is a bit of a surprise. I actually thought that my oncs were shrinking and that the chemotherapy was working. I seem to be wrong about this all the time. When I think I’m getting better, I’m actually getting worse, and vice versa. What I should do, is envision myself at death’s door, and my illness will miraculously disappear :).

Well, in a sense, I did mean I was going to have to start talking about dire, life and death stuff, but I was thinking about the environment, politics, overpopulation and stuff like that... stuff that seems a bit more serious to more people than just me. I’m going to talk about the kind of stuff that is going to make me unpopular in some quarters. I’m going to express my opinions, and I’m not always going to even say they are my opinions. I’m going to state them as facts.

Our Environment

Let’s start with a matter that’s been worrying me since the seventies, the world and our stewardship thereof.

We’re not doing it right.

We have never done it right. We’re not even close.

If we don’t do it right, and soon, we are all doomed.

The longer we wait to do it right, the more draconian we are going to have to be.

Yesterday, our provincial government delivered what it called a ‘green budget’. Two of the measures it introduced were a ‘carbon tax’ on automobiles and a $0.10 cent increase in gasoline (petrol) tax. (Brining our average fuel price to around $1.15/litre). Sounds like a step in the right direction, but the fuel increase might have been more effective at $1.00/litre, and the carbon tax only amounts to $28-$68 per vehicle per year. I can’t help thinking that what we really need to do is to at least stop adding more ‘gas guzzlers’ to the ‘fleet’. What we really need to do is prohibit the sale of vehicles of less than a given fuel economy. This, more than any other move we could make, might force the development of zero emission replacements for the worst of the worst.

In Eastern Canada they are manufacturing a car called the Zen. It is a full electric four seat sedan that is good for local work, commuting, going shopping etc. It is selling for $12,000 and is quite popular in Europe and the US, but it has not been approved for sale in Canada. What we need to do is approve it immediately, and subsidise and promote its adoption by as many people as possible. Then, the company might be able to make electric mini-vans and pickups. Why not?

Well, I’m a bit tired for some reason, so I’ll stop here. I will try to make more blogs, but probably smaller ones, in the immediate future.
Since nothing in here has anything to do with Kèthîra, please keep the comments on the blog itself…

KP alive and doing very well…

Oh hey… here’s something to do with Keléstia Productions, anyway…

I notice that our membership has topped 150, and thanks to Jan’s excellent and improving security measures, these are all legitimate members (there are probably another few hundred bots who have been unable to spam the site and are not included in our membership list). Congratulations on making Keléstia Productions a remarkable success and kelestia.com a genuine community.

Over the past five years, I have to confess that the reaction by a few Hârn fans has been rather disappointing. I have never quite understood the possibility that anyone could love my work yet have no respect for its creator. It is only the steadfast support, loyalty and understanding of the rest of the Hârn audience, who are decent, thoughtful folk that has kept me going. Without you, there would be no point in my continuing with my work.

I will continue. And when it emerges, in the fullness of time that I have to stop, others will take up the ‘cause’. Thank you from the bottom of my rapidly evolving abdomen :).

Until next time…

Language and Pronunciation

Languages in Role-Playing

Frankly, managing even a few foreign languages in such a way as to create a suitable ‘air’ of the strange and wonderful, and the sense that these languages actually exist is a task sufficient to daunt a philologist.

Trying to foster a pretence results in unsatisfactory or embarassing results. The creator of the work has a duty to do his homework and avoid giving the impression that he has no clue what he is about. Sensible language and pronunciation form a structure that is often unappreciated, but the absence of a well-thought out system of language and pronunciation seems to be quickly detected, and the creator is bought rapidly to account.

The fact that many people do not appreciate the structure does not excuse the effort. It is altogether too easy to bring oneself and one’s colleagues to ill-repute by failing to understand the nuances of good language in the context of a properly thought out structure.

The use of foreign language is a sometimes-inconvenient necessity when dealing with foreigners.

After all, the notion that everyone speaks ‘common’ and that it looks a lot like English, is unbelievably convenient. This kind of convenience detracts from any role-playing experience. Logical and intriguing language structures can add a level to the overall experience. After all, think how dull the scene at the gate of Moria would have been if the Elven word for ‘friend’ happened to be ‘friend’.

Professor Tolkien was no man’s fool. He developed multiple languages and laid out long tracts and thousands of ‘snippets’ of foreign speech in his work. For this, the reader’s experience is much the richer. Even so, there will be a few who do not appreciate the effort and will ignore the poetry and elven speech, and there may even be some who put the work down out of impatience.

We do not have to present work in these foreign tongues; that might be seen as self-aggrandisement, but we do need to create the impression that we could if we wanted to.

Ultimately, we do have to present a vast number of foreign names, and we also need to convince the reader that we know what these words mean. The only way to do this is to actually know what they mean.

Very few people want a world with place names like ‘West Hamlet’, ‘Green Wood’, ‘North Upton’, or ‘Silly Ford’. This kind of name is too ‘familiar’, and does not elevate one’s mood to the proper suspension of disbelief one needs to be an effective role-player. The only logical alternative is to translate these mundane names into the world’s foreign languages, and for the very few who actually like the sound of ‘West Hamlet’ we can actually tell them what the foreign words mean.

Ultimately, if one is visiting France, one actually appreciates the fact that the signs are in French… that’s how you know you’re abroad and not in downtown Cincinnati.

When I created Hârn between 1977 and 1983, I also began the creation of the Hârnic language. I am no philologist, but I am rather good at English, and I do seem to have a ‘feel’ for words and the ability to make up satisfying names. I expect that the constitution of a ‘satisfying name’ is a rather esoteric matter where no two folk would agree. However, I think we could agree that Terénia, sounds nice, Wompum sounds silly, and Mrakatakatakatak sounds downright unpleasant. It is not that we have to religiously avoid silly or unpleasant nomenclature, it’s just that it is distracting, and can be annoying and embarrassing if there is too much of it about.

Unfortunately, I was remiss in that I did not at that time write down the meanings of the words I created, the constraint of time, forced me to leave them in my sadly inadequate head. I may have known that ráyesh meant breast and that védo meant west, but I neglected to create a concordance that would have permitted others to convincingly expand the work. This greatly limited would-be contributors.

In recent years, I have been obliged to create extensive dictionaries for this very purpose, and because my sad, chemically befuddled brain has lost much of its previously exalted function (at least I presume it was exalted, I no longer have the wit to judge).

Ultimately, it is much easier to name the settlements in a district if one actually knows the words for north, east, south, west, upper, lower, fort, crossing, and so on. The more words one knows, the easier it gets. When one runs out of words, one has to resort to the creation of ‘nonsense’, and it is amazing how quickly people perceive the nonsense and become willing to give up their participation.

How many foreign words do we need?

This is a more complicated question than it seems at first glance. To carry out a conversation, one needs perhaps 500 words, but we are not carrying out conversations at this point.

For a large region, we need some basic geographical terms, the kinds of word that would appear on any regional map. Words like: bay, gulf, river, island, islands, mountains, hills, lake, woods, forest, marsh, north, south, east and west, strait, sea, ocean, cape/point, and the like. On a regional map, the basic geographical terms account for maybe a couple of dozen words.

Will people complain when we ‘purge’ English from our regional map? Certainly, a few will complain loudly and frequently that we are making the map unintelligible. Oddly, they don’t complain when National Geographic does the same thing, or when Tolkien writes Amon Sul, or Anduin on his maps. The outcry is disturbing and may seem hurtful and extraordinarily unfair, as if we were imposing a great burden on the objectors, but on the other hand, there seem to be at least as many quiet folk who express their appreciation with our consistency.

Ultimately, if all the bays/gulfs are labelled ‘wyn’ it’s pretty clear that ‘wyn’ might be the word for bay, and if all the lakes are labelled ‘nen’ then it’s not too much of a stretch to work that out either. Do we have to use the local language on the maps? Of course not. We can use a mixture of English or even all English. It’s just not as satisfying. There are three possibilities:

(1) Rayésha Êrd
(2) Rayésha Mountains
(3) Breasts Mountains.

Option (3) is consistent, but looks silly and has no value in terms of creating the mood we need for fantasy.

Option (2) is inconsistent. Why on earth would anyone use such a hodgepodge just to avoid the word Êrd?

Option (1) has balance and consistency that a philologist might appreciate. For those who prefer options 2 or 3, we provide a translation. They can call the Rayésha Êrd whatever they like to call it. But honestly, who would want to call the Grand Tetons the Big Tits?

The right use of foreign words has the power to elevate the sense of what we are looking at — to truly convey the essential notion that we are looking at a foreign place and not a district of Northumbria or a county in Texas.

I’m probably suffering from chemical imbalances, but I cannot understand someone who is fine with Káldôr, Orbáal, Thârda, Mèlderýn, and Chybísa, but goes nuts if we write Rayésha Êrd, Edêr Wyn, or Elnâr Derýn.
Ultimately the use of foreign language in our publications is a matter of fine balance. We have to create ‘mood’ while staying intelligible. Ultimately, since I am the creator of the material, I have the responsibility (the duty even) to make sure the balance suits my sense of what’s ‘right’. To make this kind of decision, I can invite opinion, but I cannot abrogate the responsibility. Mine is the credit. Mine is the blame.

Pronunciation of Foreign Words

Ever since I created Hârn, Ivínia, Shôrkýnè Tríerzòn, and Kèthîra as a whole, all of the publications have been brimming with foreign words, and people have been having difficulty pronouncing them.

When I create a word and write it down, I know exactly what it should sound like, but Roman script is short a few vowels and maybe even a few consonants to make things truly clear. If I write ‘a’ someone who doesn’t know what I meant, might pronounce it as in fat, far or nape. One is reminded of the old riddle that points out the ludicrous nature of English pronunciation (and requires so much rote work of us): ‘How does one spell fish? GHOTI: GH as in enough, O as in women, TI as in ignition.’

It is hard to imagine a foreign language that offers as many different ways to screw up the spelling and pronunciation as English. The reason English is so hard to learn is that we have to learn most of it by rote. Certainly there are a few rules, quite a lot of rules actually, but rules also need to be learned by rote.

How much does it matter that we provide a pronunciation guide? Well to some people it doesn’t matter at all and to some it matters a lot. I have spent half an hour on the phone trying to understand a Hârnic word someone was saying on the other end of the line, finally having to get the individual on the other end to spell it out. The clue here is that it may not matter at all until you want to speak to someone else, possibly someone else with a reasonable knowledge of ‘Hârnic’ etc., someone else who might be confused or even amused by your pronunciation. Imagine the time it would take to have a conversation if you needed to spell out every other word.

This, the desire to communicate with others, together with the basic desire of many if not most Hârn-lovers to ‘get it right’, establishes a real need for ‘standard pronunciation’, even if a significant fraction of the audience chooses to use their own ‘style’.

I published my first pronunciation guide a long time ago, in 1987. Not many people got to read it, so I’m making a new version available now.

Bearing this in mind, in transcribing Kèthîran names we have tried to simulate local pronunciation with the Roman alphabet. The Latin script is not always up to the task, but we try.

There are certain conventions of pronunciation that, while they are not universal, may help the reader in simulating local Kèthîran pronunciation. This is my attempt to explain the nature of ‘standard pronunciation’ within the pages of my creations.

Pronunciation of Letters

    aa, å ar as in far or car, usually sustained longer than most vowels.

    a usually soft as in car, sometimes hard as in that. Not sustained as long as aa or å.

    ai, ei usually pronounced eye.

    ae each vowel is sounded, usually as a long a and short soft e: Hence Pagáèlin is sounded Pah-gay-e-lin.

    æ Most often pronounced as ay in pay, less often (and less correctly) as ee or y.

    c hard as in cat (never soft as in fleece). Sometimes ch (hard).

    ch, c hard as in chicken, never soft as in ship.

    cc as hard ch (only southern languages)

    dh ‘soft’ th as in there.

    e usually short/soft as in pen or help. When appearing in the terminal position, semi-sounded as e as in fey or echo, but never silent.

    ee should be read as y (probably should be written that way too)

    g always hard as in golf.

    i usually short as in chicken sometimes, especially when occurring as the last/terminal vowel, as ee or y (eg. Ski)

    ia as a medial or terminal combination this is usually pronounced ee-ah as in media.

    iu pronounced ee-uh as in tedium.

    j The Ivínians always, and other northern peoples sometimes pronounce this as y; otherwise it is pronounced as in Jam.

    ll pronounced as in Welsh (approx. hl).

    o usually short as in opera, rarely it is long as in phone. It is never doubled is in spoon.

    ø, oe oe as in the Danish øst (east)

    ö as in phone

    ou usually pronounced as oo.

    qu pronounced kw as in queen. kw is preferred.

    q when q occurs without a q, it is pronounced k.

    s pronounced hard as in pass. Rarely, in the terminal position it is softened to a z sound.

    ss rare and indicates a particularly long sounded s (or a mistake on the part of the writer).

    th always hard as in thought, never soft as in then (see dh)

    u usually pronounced uh as in ugly; sometimes oo as in spoon.

    w northern peoples often, but not always pronounce this as v.

    x as an initial letter, this is interchangeable with z (as in xylophone). As a medial or terminal letter it is pronounced ks as in box.

    y pronounced as a short double e as in empty, very occasionally as i, never as ai as in sky. Hence Mèlderýn is pronounced Mel-der-een.

    zh More like j than z, as in the name of the Russian general zhukov.

Important Notes

  • There are no silent letters in any Kèthîran languages. Hence, if “thane” were a Hârnic word, it would be pronounced thar-ne not thayn as it would in English.
  • The ‘Magic e” does not apply in any Kèthîran Language. In English a terminal e has the effect of lengthening the preceding vowel, such that adding an e to the end of ‘ban’ turns it into ‘bayn’; this does not happen in any Kèthîran language.
  • Terminal vowels are always pronounced, although rarely with much strength.
  • Double consonants (FF, NN, etc.) generally appear only as a result of translator error and/or for ‘effect’. They should be treated as single consonants.

The table was first published in 1984, and is not much changed except for the addition of two new letters. Needless to say, there may be more notes coming as the development of Kèthîran languages progresses.

Accents

Definition of Accent: 1: an articulative effort giving prominence to one syllable over adjacent syllables. 2: a mark used in writing or printing to indicate a specific sound value, stress, or pitch, to distinguish words otherwise identically spelled, or to indicate that an ordinarily mute vowel should be pronounced. People with different accents might use an accent mark to indicate they accent a different syllable.

I have always written Hârnic words with accents, and they have generally been removed (without my permission) by editors who did not understand them.

The purpose of an accent is to help the reader with pronunciation by indicating syllabic stress.

English/Roman has had most of its accents purged, and this contributes to the fact that English is, arguably, the world's most difficult language to learn. A foreigner looking at English generally has no clue how to pronounce words. To an English-speaker, Hârnic words are foreign. This might seem to imply that a few accents might be helpful. After all, one can only get so far with the "if only it were English" method.

Now, while it may not really matter very much, I have heard Mèlderýn pronounced at least four different ways. I suppose that any three syllable word could be pronounced six different ways depending on the primary and secondary stress (and this does not take into account the different ways that vowels can be sounded, although that should be taken care of by the original article above). If accents are added: Melderyn becomes Mèlderýn — secondary stress on the first syllable and primary stress on the third. The closest we can come to simulating this without accents (using italics and ALLCAPS to emulate the effects) is: mel-der-REEN. This seems far less aesthetically pleasing than Mèlderýn.

Certainly one might have no accents or ignore the accents we provide, and choose any of the six possibly ways to stress the syllables, but the need for standard pronunciation is not answered if I do nothing. I cannot serve the need for standard pronunciation without some accenting and this means I cannot properly serve the audience that wants standard pronunciation.


Usage

  • Primary Stress is indicated by an acute accent (á);
  • Secondary stress is indicated by a grave accent (à);
  • A circumflex accent (â) indicates that the vowel should be pronounced as if it were followed by an "r": e.g., Hân would be pronounced Harn.
  • If the vowel with the circumflex accent is actually followed by an ‘r’ (and sometimes even if it is not) the ‘r’ should be ‘rolled’.
  • In the absence of an acute, a circumflex may indicate primary stress: Elôrin eh-LOR-rin)
  • In the absence of a grave, the circumflex may indicate secondary stress: Góthmîr GOTH-mir)
  • If both acute and grave are present the circumflex indicates tertiary or no stress at all (as in Quôrónè Kworr-OH-nay)
  • One syllable words do not require and are unlikely to have acute or grave accents (but may have circumflex accents).
  • Y is a vowel. It can have primary stress, but cannot have secondary nor a circumflex.
  • Upper Case letters have accents (but they may be omitted in long lists).
  • Often, even in the case of a three plus syllable word, it is unnecessary to indicate secondary stress since it makes little or no difference to the pronunciation of the word.
  • In the event that primary stress is on the first syllable, and there is no need for a secondary stress accent, the primary stress accent may be omitted (assumed). An unnecessary accent may be included for aesthetic reasons.
  • If there is a primary stress accent, a secondary stress accent may be added to a terminal vowel to ‘remind’ people that terminal vowels are always pronounced.

A Few Final Words

Please remember this: accents are very small, and to most eyes they make words look more interesting and aesthetic. If you don’t like them for some reason, they are surely small enough to ignore.

I have actually reduced the number of accents used through usage rules in order to cause less ‘stress’ to the small minority who seem to get very emotional when I try to help the majority (and myself ). I am the creator of these publications. They are, effectively, my life’s work. I ask people to show a little respect, even if they feel the need to criticise my use of accents in my original work.

I have to say, though, that I am tired of what seems to be an endless discourse on the merits of accents and even of foreign language in my work. I am tired of many things, and not least because I have a rather debilitating illness. Please show a little compassion along with the respect. I frankly do not have time to keep remaking decisions like this.

Thank you for your consideration.

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Mean Girls with Needles

No... Warm and Cuddly doesn't quite describe it

Well I just finished day 1 of cycle 1 of what will be at least 2 cycles of ‘mass reduction’. On the face of it, that doesn’t sound half bad… ‘Mass Reduction’, sounds like something we might sign up for.

Sounds like something with math and points and plans and even lasagne and cake (mind you I don’t much like cake, well, I like a few kinds of moist cake, but for the most part… no cake for Robin… if I had been a Parisian mob in the late 1780s, I might have been particularly incensed by the queen’s (alleged) remarks… no gateau for me, thank you very much your Imperial Majesty, I prefer le pain)…

But ‘mass reduction’ has very little to do with lasagne or cake. It has to do with making Mal, Wash and Book (my three principal resident oncs smaller… well, all the oncs smaller I suppose. One advantage of chemo over surgery, is that no one has to hunt each individual onc in the dark nooks and crannies between the small intestine and the descending colon. (If it just popped into your head that ‘there’s an idea for a game in there somewhere’ you’re not alone, but you would be the only one playing it.)

I’ve been what one has to call lucky up to now. For the most part, there has not been much pain and nausea associated with the oncs… some with the chemo and some with the surgery, but not with just the ‘cancer’. By Day five of chemo-cycle um… eleven on January 18th (coincidentally, the second anniversary of my surgery) this has changed somewhat. The P&N is too much to countenance more chemo and the mean girls with needles are talking about making me comfortable… Making me comfortable is a code phrase… and a ‘mean and needley’ one at that… It’s like a splash of icy cold water on your greatly sensitised tender bits. You start thinking about this stuff and you stop being a brave, distinguished author in his fifties and you’re an angry, frightened little two year old. The mean girls with needles are watching me. I have to work through some decisions. If the Pain and nausea are going to come looking for me, then hiding isn’t going to work. I’m going to need some of this Pain Management stuff.

Pain Management sounds like a fun thing. Well, in comparison to just ‘pain’ it sounds very good. What’s involved is a steady slow dose of one of those marvellous painkillers via a 72-hour patch in my case. The patch isn’t supposed to handle all the pain. There is supposed to be the odd flare up that we (well, I really) take care of with fast release pills (or sometimes shots). Sort of like a game of whack-a-mole. As for the nausea… well Gravol ™ works for that. So the new plan is get the pain and nausea under control then try another round of chemo… then scan to see what’s what.

Problem is, the nausea (by which I mean P-V) was caused by one of the oral ‘rescue drugs’. So they are going to admit me to the hospital and administer all my drugs IV. Five or six days in hospital will pretty well kill the week. Although, on the other hand, I seem to be sleeping or trying to sleep 20 hours a day anyway… maybe I’ll be able to ‘catch up’ on my sleep… it works that way right?

I don’t really want to go into the hospital. Can I take any of my mean girls with needles? I only need a few… No? I don’t want other mean girls. I want these ones…

This is why I’ve been so quiet lately. Pain Management makes me sleepy but doesn’t quite let me sleep. However, it does let me get comfortable quite often when I lie down. That’s a big win J.
One Chemotherapy Cycle Later.


It’s February. I got out of the hospital four days ago, and I feel like a loathsome amoebic mass that dreams about life and death all the time and wonders about things that should or should not be said. I had to stop my pain management and now I am drug free. The Phentanyl was making me nauseous beyond my limited toleration. Rather pain than nausea. I’m not that used to nausea. Nausea and I are not closely acquainted, even when I’m sick or drunk. Other people get nauseous, normally I just faint. Fainting is better, I can feel it coming and I can lie down before my ageing cranium intersects with something harder than itself. These days, ‘things harder than my cranium’ includes a frighteningly large and increasing number of things. Don’t intersect your cranium with something harder is almost a ‘rule’ of fainting.

This is the third time I have sat at my desk in about two weeks… my friends are almost frantic, those who cannot phone. I’m pretty frantic myself; chemotherapy is devastating, and not just because your eyelashes fall out. It is a process that raises life and death issues and gets you to answer them yes or no… and the answers take a while to work out.

I take an hour and ‘do my spam’… I used to call it ‘doing my email’ but the nature of the internet has changed with the US Republicans’ stupid ‘opt out’ spam rules… I want a system where you buy a 5 cent stamp to send an email, can opt to receive only stamped emails, and get to cash in the stamps for full value. That way, if someone wants to send 1,000,000 emails in one day then he can damn well pay $50,000, I can make money out of a system like this ;) More to the point, it will stop spam from clogging up the internet and hurting everyone. I only have 400+ spams. So I deal with them in half an hour; that’s progress. But I look at that half hour like a lost child. I have the same attitude about phone trees, and I’m developing a ‘tick’ about good grammar and spelling… so watch out.

Pretty soon I’m going to have to start saying some of the stuff that’s important.

Changeling

Of Field, of Wood & Hedgerow
Part IV: Changeling.

Gazing into the distance, she listens nearer, feels farther for the scent of the beast. Rubs the ground softly with tender feet, holds a stone between her toes and sways gently in the chattering wind.

No, Virginia, I’m not Santa Claus

But I appreciate you saying I look like him.

More than once, children have asked me if I am some bizarre embodiment of Father Christmas… a younger version perhaps, but considering how old the fellow must be by now, that’s still not exactly top-notch flattery.

Maybe the ‘N’ in N. Robin Crossby does stand for ‘Nick’, but I think of that as my nickname, and I have not yet been canonised. Truth is, my father’s name is Victor, and my older brother’s name is also Victor. It was my mother who ordained that she would not have two Vics and a Nick in the same house, because no one would ever come when they were called. She insisted that everyone call me Robin. She may be gone, but I’m not ready to cross her on this; my mother was a formidable woman and threatened to haunt me (and not in a nice way) on more than one occasion.

Maybe I have a jolly-looking belly, but that’s not intentional. The size of my belly has a more sinister genesis… not my fault… and my belly won’t wiggle, although it looks like it should.
I don’t live on milk and cookies (not enough fat/flavour for my taste).

Red may be my favourite colour, but I seldom wear it (never on away missions), and I’m against ‘real’ fur in any case. (Well, I’m not ‘against fur’ per se; I think it’s fine on the critters wot grows it).

Speaking of fur… My beard and moustache are not white; they are a youthful ‘auburn-blonde’ (not ginger and white as some would have it). Nor are they long and thick (after all, they exist simply to save me the trouble of shaving, certainly not for aesthetic reasons). Besides, it all keeps falling out. (Well that’s really only happened once, but that was more than enough, thank you very much.)

So, no Virginia, I’m not Santa Claus… but I have met him.

It was a while ago, I was young, younger than I ever recall being, but I have a memory as clear as the difference between dusk and twilight. I was young. It was late in December, I was at home in a house that no longer exists in a London that probably no longer exists either. We had a recently cut tree; it smelled like the kind of forest I’d never seen, but it was dry, and it was covered with lights and chocolate wrapped in bright foil. The tree smelled like Christmas, and it tasted like Christmas too. There were brilliant, coloured balls and inside each one, your face looked back at you from a world that was obviously poles apart. Later, there would be presents wrapped up in red green and white papers with snowmen, and jolly little elves, and reindeer, and bunnies (ok, I’m not quite sure about the bunnies) and some that would just remind us of Christmas (or of Italy if one thought in terms of flags).

So we had regular expeditions, my little sister and I, into the tree itself, we sought out things we’d not seen, and ate treats we’d never eaten. No matter how many times we went in, and regardless of how much chocolate we found, there always seemed to be more next time. We weren’t supposed to take chocolate off the tree without asking, but somehow there was a rule that said we could as long as no one was looking. Besides, the tree lived (or at least stood) in another dimension altogether, somewhere where the ordinary rules of time and space did not apply.

I was sure I could get to Lapland by crawling behind the sofa and approaching the tree from along the wall. The big light in the middle of the ceiling had to be out of course; the lounge had to be lit by the little tree lights. I could do this in my jammies, because apparently, the Lapland where Father Christmas lives is different from the one where the Lapps reside in their fur coats, hoods and cloaks. All I had to do to make the magic was believe I could. It had to be as profound a belief as a human could manage, and it might be beyond the knack of a six-year-old, but that always seemed a poor reason not to try.

I would emerge from behind the couch and into the scarcely lit world under the tree. It was like a green tunnel and the tiny lights seemed to perplex the eye, the depth was boundless and I seemed to fall, spinning upward into vague green branches. It was the magic. I could touch it and it sang in my senses, a fleeting moment and one that lingers yet. I may resemble the Jolly fellow on the outside, but there’s an explorer in the deep remembrance. There is a lot of stuff he still believes, despite all the mundane and tiresome events that have spanned the time since. He still knows where the magic is, as profound a belief as a human can manage, just at his fingertips, brushing the skin on the edge of the vague, dancing lights.

I am not Santa, but I did meet him that one time.

People also seem to ask me for presents around this time of year, and for some of you, I’m working on some fairly special things. Remember, though, you’re not supposed to go poking through the cupboards… also everything tends to take longer than we want.


Speaking of big bellies… Today I went to see my lump-doctor…

Apparently, after being off chemotherapy for seven wonderful (short) months, my oncs (Mal, Wash and Book) are back. Not quite as big as before, but plenty big enough to warrant a bit of chemical warfare. She asked me when we should restart, and I suggested that Christmas day would not be my first choice. So we (by which we mean I) start another cycle of chemo on my daughter’s twenty-first birthday in January. Oddly enough, I was diagnosed with cancer on her eighteenth birthday. She suggests we organise her presents right now, before January… she wants a season lift pass for one of the local mountains… While I’m getting chemo, she’ll be snowboarding… I’ve never been skiing or snowboarding… hmmm… She’s probably trying to distract me from more ponderous matters… She’s daddy’s little angel. :)

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