A Greek Temple

Learning Greek


Returning to Education When I am Really Rather Old:

Starting to Learn Greek

You might remember that a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I plan to learn the languages that the Bible was originally written in—ancient Hebrew and Greek. I enrolled in a course at Spurgeon’s College, was accepted, and the term is now about to begin. It is a long time since I attended a college. It has all been very scary! These are the most terrifying points to date:

I was sent a message, which said I should email my course lecturer, Pieter Lalleman. I did so, and received a bemused reply saying he had no idea why I had been told to contact him, but hello anyway. I noticed in his reply that I had made the rooky error of addressing him as ‘Mr’ when he is actually a ‘Revd Dr.’ Augh! First mistake. He sounded friendly on email, so that was reassuring, though I am perturbed by his possible ethnicity—will I be learning Greek with a Dutch accent? I guess as it’s an ancient, and therefore ‘dead’ language, my accent won’t matter wherever Dr. Lalleman hails from.

I later received another email, saying we need to rearrange the timetable as one member of the class works on Thursdays. Wednesday was suggested, but I have my Mandarin lesson on Wednesdays—should I admit that I am learning another language or will that be seen as a conflict? I decided to say I was busy that day but not give a reason.

After much pondering, when a form arrived asking if I have any special needs, I indicated that I do (one of the diffy students, as my family put it). Since my brain surgery, there are a few things I cannot manage—like concentrating for more than about two hours without a break. But how to communicate that in a way that showed I was still an intelligent human, I simply need a ‘brain break’ to recharge? I therefore ticked the ‘special needs’ box, explained that this simply meant I might need to go and sit in my car for 20 minutes to recharge (I sounded like a synth in Humans!) and waited to see what would happen. A very nice email came back, saying they had made a note of my potential need, and I should let them know if I need anything. Very kind.

The college have their own website thing: Moodle and I was told how to log-on. This was extremely scary, as it is full of acronyms which I didn’t understand, and a complex array of colours and links. I looked at it, then shut it down again quickly.

The following day, I forced myself to log-on again and try to make sense of some of it. I managed to find the timetable for my course and printed it off (it is comforting to have something written on paper when you’re my age). This then directed me to some pre-course preparation that I was meant to complete.

I went back to Moodle, and watched the Principle giving a short speech (he has a very Christian voice, even directions about using the IT sounded like a sermon!) Logged off.

Returned when I had recovered, and found a short test that I needed to complete. It is a long, long time since I have done an exam. It was all done online, and it had to be completed within an hour, so there was a little clock ticking away in the corner of the screen to add a further element of stress. I didn’t know whether I could return to pages once they were complete, or if it would wipe my answers, so I tried to completely finish and proof-read each question before going to the next page. The time whizzed past. Husband was especially noisy, so I yelled at him to shut his door. A telephone rang. My pulse was racing, I forgot to breathe. But the questions were fine. Some were very quick (put the correct word into the space) and some took longer (add punctuation to an essay). It was all very churchy, but I guess that’s to be expected at a Bible college, even though it was an English test. I finished, within the hour, and sent it off. Went for a cup of tea.

Learning Greek

Greek Text Book

The next excitement was a parcel. I have been sent a ‘Teach Yourself New Testament Greek’ book (doesn’t show much faith in the tutor, but maybe they’re covering their backs!) It looks fabulous, and I am dying to dive in. The first chapter is called Read This First so of course I ignored that and flicked straight to the alphabet page. What fun! I am chanting every time I go upstairs now, it’s like teaching the children the alphabet when they were small, but without the annoying tune: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon, Zeta…

When I did go back and read the first chapter, it was brilliant. As you know, when I was too ill to be able to do anything else, I learnt Mandarin. I was never able to learn languages at school, so I tried to teach myself differently, surrounding myself with the language and not worrying too much about making progress or understanding everything as I went. I now speak very bad, but pretty fluent, Mandarin (it’s good enough for me to have coffee with a friend who speaks no English and we manage pretty well to discuss our children and mothers-in-law). Anyway, this book suggested all the things I had discovered as a way to learn a language—like not trying to completely understand everything before moving on to the next thing (the opposite of how you would learn maths) and attempting to read things that are ‘too difficult’ so your brain can work them out, and not studying for too long because the brain assimilates information when you are ‘resting’ rather than studying. I was very excited! I went and bubbled about it to Husband. He has now set a time limit on how long I am allowed to tell him about my Greek lessons. But that doesn’t matter, because I can tell you instead.

I will let you know in a future blog how my Orientation Week and first lectures go. It’s all being done virtually this semester, so I’m planning to wear my killer heels and a pink wig.

Hope you have some excitement this week too. Thanks for reading.

Take care.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson

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cockerel and hen

A Confused Cockerel and other complaints. . .


He Fancied His Mother, So We Named Him Pharaoh

cockerel and hen

Hello, how are you getting on with this very strange year of 2020? I keep thinking I am used to it—I  have come to terms with the fact that every book-signing and fair has been cancelled this year and I really am not going to be selling many books—and then something else is cancelled, and all the frustration returns. I am obviously not alone, because our town is planning to have an ‘open day’ on 3rd October. It was planned through our town Facebook group (usually the place for people to rant about potholes and inconsiderate parking). Lots of people make crafts, or are artists, and we are all discouraged by the lack of places to sell our work. So, on the 3rd October, we are all going to place stalls at the end of our gardens, and people can walk or drive around town, looking at what’s on offer. To be honest, I doubt if I will actually sell any books, but it’s rather nice to have something in the diary, isn’t it?

Of course, all my animals are completely unperturbed by Covid-19. The ducklings are now on the pond, and—wonders!—they are all female. (You might remember that last spring, all my females flew away in the search of mates, and I was left with a pond full of obviously unattractive drakes.)

The chicks I hatched are a cross between the white Leghorn chickens and my grey Legbar. I am really hoping that the females will lay blue eggs, but they are still too little to lay at the moment. The Legbar cockerels are no more, as they started to get vicious. I only have one full-grown cockerel at the moment, and he is very beautiful but rather sad, as his mate died last week. He keeps running to all the places she used to go and calling for her—so my garden is very noisy at the moment. The relationship was a confused one, as she was also his mother, so I named him Pharaoh, because marrying siblings and fathering children with daughters seems to have been quite a thing in ancient Egypt. I was very confused when I was studying the lineage of the Pharaohs, as there are so many weird couplings—they have a very narrow family tree—it’s probably just as well many of them were sterile and the line died out.

We went to the beach last week. I was feeling depressed with life, so Husband rearranged his schedule, and we zoomed off to Camber with the dog. Kia loved it, and it ‘did my soul good’ as my granny would say, to see her running through the waves. When she had her twisted stomach at the start of the year (really—what an awful year this has been!) my fear was that after such a big operation, she would never enjoy life again. But I can report, that whilst she is beginning to feel her 13 years, Kia is still tremendously excited by sea and sand and seagulls.

On the way home, we had lunch in a pub (The King’s Head in Playdon). There was hand-santiser strategically placed, and the staff wore masks, and the tables were well spaced, and every customer had to leave their contact details. It all felt very safe, and encouraged me to think that eating out doesn’t have to be risky.

But then we went to Ashdown Park Hotel for lunch on Sunday, and that was entirely different! The staff did nothing at all to guard against Covid. They didn’t wear masks, we were given the same menu folders as other tables, they placed the food and drink directly on the table, and I wasn’t aware of any extra wiping or washing or screening at all. Such a shame, especially when they must be struggling to cover their costs and need customers to return. It was a lovely venue, but annoying they aren’t doing more to stop another peak.

My fears for society are reflected in the vocabulary in Mandarin I am learning so that I can chat with my friends:

Jingji weiji shi hen dou gongsi daobi, ye shi hen dou ren shiqu le gongzuo.

经济危机使很多公司倒闭,也使很多人失去了工作。

Which reminds me to tell you: I have decided to study ancient Greek and Hebrew. I often feel frustrated when I discover that something I thought I understood in the Bible has a completely different meaning when you look at the original language it was written in. I realise that if I don’t start to study the things I want to study now, then suddenly I will wake up and I’ll be too old. I have signed up for a course that begins at the end of September, and I am very excited about it. I shall tell you all about it when I start.

On another brighter note, the plum trees have loved the weather this year and my freezer is now full of plum crumble. When I walk, the hedgerows are teeming with blackberries and fat acorns are dropping from the trees. weird fungus There are also a whole new lot of weird fungus growing on my lawn. We might have had a rubbish year so far, but nature remains beautifully abundant.

I hope you have a positive week. Thank you for reading.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson

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Who Invented the Alphabet?


Moses and The Phoenicians

Who Invented the First Alphabet?

Have you ever wondered who invented the alphabet? Where did the idea of having symbols to represent sounds come from? In yesterday’s blog about Moses, when I was trying to determine whether he ever actually existed, I mentioned the book: Who Were The Phoenicians? by Ganor. This examines the origins of the phonetic alphabet, and where it began.

About half way through the book, Ganor has thoroughly proved that the ‘Phoenicians’ were the Israelites/Hebrews, and Phoenicia was what the Greeks called Canaan (in the same way that the English call Deutschland ‘Germany.’ He believes that the name came from the Greek word: Phone which meant ‘language’ because they had an alphabet.

In 1905, an archaeologist called Petrie found several inscriptions written in alphabetic script. These were dated around 1500 BC, which is much earlier than it was thought people had an alphabet.

The early Greek alphabet has been linked by scholars to both ancient Hebrew and Egyptian hieroglyphics (not such a surprise if it originated with Hebrew slaves who escaped from Egypt). There are two theories for the names of the letter in the Greek alphabet.

Theory One: The names (Alpha, Beta, Delta, etc) were based on Hebrew words, and the symbols that represent them are icons for the things represented. See chart below, and please excuse errors in the script as I have no idea how they are meant to be written, and was copying them from a book.

(Personally, I don’t think the letters look very like the objects they are meant to represent, and nor does Ganor. I can see that Gamma looks a little like a camel’s hump, but how is Beta a symbol for a house?)

Theory Two: The alphabet letter names came from Hebrew words that sounded like them, and they were copied by the Greeks (who didn’t understand the Hebrew) because they were often chanted, as a mnemonic. It would have to be a mnemonic said often, taught through the generations, and therefore heard by the Greeks. This is the same idea as the mnemonics we use today, to learn things like the order of notes on a music stave: Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge.

The ancient Hebrew words would have to sound almost exactly like the Greek letter words, because we know they haven’t evolved with time—though it’s possible the endings have changed, with the Greeks adding a final ‘a’ sound because that’s how they speak (like Italians today tend to add ‘a’ to the end of words). Ganor did a thorough search of possible ancient Hebrew words, and came up with only one possibility. He claims that if the mnemonic is to remain close to the names of the Greek alphabet, then there are very few possibilities for Hebrew words. The words he thinks fit, are the words of a saying, which was first used by the Israelites after they left Egypt, and is still used today by Jews who have them written on small scrolls and fastened to their doorposts (called the Mezuzah).

The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the lord with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day, shall be in your heart: and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk in the field, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be between your eyes. And you shall write them on the posts of your house, and on your gates.

And also: Be careful not to forget the Lord, you shall not go after other gods.

(Rough translation into English.)

The words are lifted from Deuteronomy, and made into an easy-to-remember saying, which perhaps the trading Phoenicians used to chant, and the Greeks gradually learnt the words though not the meaning. I don’t know any ancient Hebrew, so I can’t comment on whether Ganor is manipulating the language to make a point, or whether he has found an incredible link. But it’s interesting, isn’t it? It also sounds plausible. After many years teaching the alphabet to young children, I know that using rhymes and songs are often the best way to teach them even today.

The initial sound of each word was matched to a symbol, these symbols were used to make words. And hey presto! We have writing. Much easier than chipping pictures into rock.

Ganor asks the question, if writing came from the Israelites, who devised it? It either came from uneducated Hebrew slaves, or from a man who had been educated by intellectual Egyptian royalty (Moses). He therefore thinks it was Moses himself who devised the alphabet. He makes the point that splitting the sounds of words, especially consonants, is not something that occurs in normal speech unless you have a stutter. Moses is known (from the Bible and subsequent Jewish writings) to have suffered with a stammer. Breaking words into sounds would therefore be natural for him.  (I have no view on this, I am simply telling you what Ganor has written in his book!)

My own thoughts are that this might be stretching things too far, and there are a lot of assumptions. Firstly, there is no reason (I think) to assume that the Hebrew slaves were illiterate; certainly slaves in other eras have been able to read and write. Secondly, from reading the Bible account of the Exodus, Moses seems to have been completely at full-stretch simply keeping order of the Israelites—would he have had time to invent a new writing system? Though I suppose he might have devised it while he was living in exile before the Exodus. My understanding is the Jews teach that the alphabet originated with Moses, so maybe it did.

Thanks for reading. Use those letters carefully next time you write something, they have an ancient heritage wherever they originated.

Take care.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson

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Is the Old Testament Myth and Legend, Or Could It Be Historically Accurate?


Was Moses an Historical Person?

Or was he invented to prove a point?

Sometimes, things seem to make a ‘perfect storm’ don’t they? Lots of unrelated things all come together and provoke an unexpected reaction. This happened recently with the story of the Exodus. I was reading a book by Peter Hessler, an author I enjoyed when I started to learn Mandarin, as he lived in China for a while. He has now written a book about living in Egypt, learning to speak Arabic, and discovering the Egyptian culture. I ordered a copy and started to read. At the same time, I just happened to be reading the book of Exodus in my daily Bible study time, and of course, this is all linked to Egypt. At the same time, the sermons we were watching from Cornerstone Christian Church in NJ (where we used to live) were all about…the Exodus from Egypt! My head was full of all things Egyptian.

I decided I wanted to write a story, through the eyes of Moses’ wife, about Moses the man. Who was he, this misfit who led a rebellion, the go-between for God and his people, the Egyptian-Hebrew hybrid? What kind of person can watch his adopted family suffer plagues—even the death of his nephew—and remain unmoved? Who is able to stand up to rejection from his blood-relatives, and not fear the might of his adopted-family, and can remain true to his God throughout it all? And what would it be like to be married to this man, this single-minded leader of the people?

But before I could write a story, I needed to do some research. What were the customs and life-style of people 3,000 years ago? What did they wear, eat, believe in? I asked people to recommend books, and I started to read. I have now spent several weeks reading, I am still not ready to write my story, but have learned a lot of ‘facts’ and theories about Moses and the time he lived in. I thought I would share my most interesting discoveries with you, because some of them were surprising.

One of the first things I discovered was that there is very little historical evidence from this time—almost no secular data to back-up the Bible account. Something (no one knows what) happened at the end of the Bronze Age, something that destroyed all the complex major cities, and most of the evidence about the lives of the people, so there is almost no evidence to support the account of the Old Testament. For this reason, many scholars believe the account is not factual—they think there never was a nation of slaves, freed through plagues, led away by a man called Moses, to a promised land that was unified under Kings David and Solomon—they say it is all legend and myth, written to explain relationships and understand God, but not historical fact. Could this be true? I watched a very convincing YouTube video, which was based on the book: The Bible Unearthed by Finkelstein and Silberman, and it was absolutely certain that the Old Testament is unverifiable myth and legend.

Undeterred, I kept looking. I wanted to read what the scholars who don’t believe in the authenticity of the Bible had to say (“the wise man learns more from the fool than the fool does from the wise man” and all that!) so I read a whole plethora of books (including The Bible Unearthed by Finkelstein and Silberman). Here’s what I learnt:

Sigmund Freud said that after various studies, he thought Moses was an historical figure, living about thirteenth century BC. However, he took task with his name, saying that although the Jews name him “Mosche” it’s more likely that an Egyptian princess would give him an Egyptian name. Freud refutes that “Mosche” (the Hebrew version of Moses) means “He was drawn out of the water” as per the Biblical account, saying at best it means: the drawer out. (I felt he was splitting hairs here!) He concludes that Moses was probably named Mose, which is an Egyptian word meaning ‘child.’ It was common to use this at the end of Egyptian names, and we know of the Pharaohs Ahmose and Ptahmose and Thutmose, for example. Apparently, the final ‘s’ of ‘Moses’ was added when the Old testament was translated from Hebrew to Greek (so I presume that the Jewish Torah has the original Mosche or Mose). Freud then went on to compare the basket the baby Moses was placed in with the womb, and the River Nile with the mother’s birthing waters, so he lost me at that point.

Akhenaten
c1346 BC

Freud is certain that Moses was Egyptian, and this is how he ‘got the idea’ for a new, monotheistic religion (a religion that says there is only one god). Freud says this idea came from Amenhotop IV, who enforced the worship of a single god: Aten. Freud’s argument is that IF Moses was Egyptian, then his mother would be Queen Hatsepsut (sometimes spelt Hatshepsut), and Thutmose I would be his grandfather. This would make him a rival to the throne of Amenhotep II, as the Pharaoh would be Moses’ nephew. This, says Freud, explains why Moses spoke with such authority, and why the Pharaoh didn’t simply kill him when he started to be annoying. (I hope you’re keeping up with all these names. Very annoying when parents name their children after their relatives!) Hatsepsut was a powerful woman, married to her brother Thutmose II, she is thought to have reigned jointly with Thutmose III for a while, though he is known to have later tried to destroy everything with her name on, erasing her from history.

However, if Moses ‘copied’ the idea of one god from Amenhotep IV (who changed his name to Akhenaton) then the Exodus would have to be after this. The Akhenaton period is 1353 – 1336 BC. I had never heard of Akhenaton, though I had heard of his beautiful wife Nefertiti, and his son (by a different wife) Tutankhamum.

Going back to the name of Mose, this also ties in with the lecture I attended last year at the British Museum. They suggested that Thutmose III was the pharaoh of the plagues. ( Blog link here. ) Like Freud, they also thought Thutmose I, with his powerful powerful daughter, was the Pharaoh during the time Moses was born and it would make sense for her to be the princess who found Moses, and then gave him a name linked to her father (Thut-mose). This would date the Exodus to around 1446 BC.

We know that Thutmose III disappeared mid-reign, and that the next Pharaoh was not his first son (which fits in with all the first-born being killed in the final plague).

Thutmose III
Who was probably the Pharaoh during the Exodus, when all the Israelites left Egypt.

In Exodus (the book) it appears to name a Pharaoh—Raamses—but this is apparently more likely to be referring to a place. The Old Testament often ‘muddles’ people and place names, and one ‘proof’ that it was written much later than the history it is meant to be describing, is that some of the places named did not exist until centuries later.

However, if the books were edited centuries later (but written when they said they were) then it would not be beyond belief that those later scribes added the names of places they knew, to tell their readers where the events took place. For example, if I was editing a book about a journey in 200BC from my house to where London now is, I might add that they walked from here “to London” even though London, as a place, did not exist until 43AD (this would then be ‘audited’ by my family who would insist I changed such an illogical statement, but there is lots in the Bible that tells me those early writers did not suffer living with auditors like I do, and many of their ‘facts’ are a little imprecise!)

Another piece of evidence in the British Museum is the city of Jericho, which the Bible says was destroyed when the Israelite army marched around it. When archaeologists examined the ‘dead zone’ (the layer showing when the walls were destroyed) they found that not the entire wall was destroyed. This supports the Biblical story of a prostitute, Rahab, surviving the destruction—her house was in the wall of the city.  The ‘dead zone’ has the remains of pots, which still had grain in because the people didn’t eat the grain and the invading army did not take the grain as plunder (which was unusual). Archaeologists have also found ancient tombs, which were Egyptian-style in design, but this changed about the time the Israelites would have arrived. The archaeological evidence shows a gradual decrease in Egyptian influence in the whole area, which again ties in with when the Israelites would have arrived back in Canaan.

I read Who Were the Phoenicians? by Nissim R. Ganor. The book was originally written in Hebrew, and I was reading an English translation, so it was quite heavy-going in places (actually, scrap that, it was very heavy-going! It took 195 pages before he had finished ‘proving’ who the Phoenicians were not). Ganor was exploring the Phoenicians, the people who first devised an alphabet (before this, people wrote either Egyptian hieroglyphics, or Chinese script or Mesopotamian cuneiform). It is from the Phoenicians we get our word ‘phonics,’ the idea that symbols can represent sounds.

Tell el-Amarna letters.
They describe the ‘Habiru’ (Hebrews?) attacking cities, and the letters ask Egypt for help.

Ganor refers often to the Tell el-Amarna, which are clay tablets found in Upper Egypt. They were engraved about 1360BC, and were diplomatic correspondence between Egypt and Canaan, written in Akkadian cuneiform (cuneiform just means wedge-shaped carvings). Some of this correspondence talks about invasions of cities by an unstoppable tribe that is taking over the area. They describe kings being killed and buried at the city gate—all of which ties in with the stories of Joshua leading the Israelites into battle. The Tell el-Amarna is perhaps a tiny piece of related evidence, but it is still evidence that supports the Bible view. I don’t think ‘lack of evidence’ necessarily disproves something, and if the only evidence available supports an accepted view, then why try to ‘disprove’ it? The Amarna letters refer to invaders named Habiru, which was very likely to be the Hebrews.

Ganor also states that until recently, people believed that history was only recorded orally until 10BC (which makes it less reliable). However, new engravings have been found that show people had phonetic writing in 1500BC, and therefore it is entirely possible that Moses did write an historical account of the Exodus, as claimed by the Bible. (If you look online, you can read the diaries of Petrie, who was an archaeologist who found evidence of alphabetical writing—in a very unrefined form—from 1500BC, during his 1905 excavations.)

Knowing when the Exodus took place is another problem, even for scholars who believe it happened. The Old Testament says the Israelite slaves lived in Goshen. If this was in the Nile Delta, then the Exodus cannot have been before 1200BC (the period of Raamses II) because there was no substantial building around that time in that area (and they can’t have commuted very far to work!) However, much of the evidence for this is flimsy, an attempt to fit the facts to the Bible account. Some scholars have therefore said the Exodus never took place, others say that actually there were TWO exodus, one during the reign of Raamses, when half the Hebrews left, and another one later—this is because the evidence on the Tell el-Amarna doesn’t fit with the timing of the slaves leaving during the reign of Ramses.

It seems more likely that Goshen was situated in the area of Heliopolis (the ancient city of On) which is now modern-day Cairo. From there, it is three days journey to Yam Suph (Red Sea) and according to Hutchinson (The Exode, 1887) this route from Egypt across the Arabian Desert was probably the route of the Exodus (he bases this on Bedouin tradition, not the Bible—but it fits!) The ancient city of On (modern day Cairo) has several remains from Thutmose III and also Raamses II, though the remains credited to Raamses are always suspect as he would remove other Pharaoh’s symbols and add his own, to gain credit for things others had made.

In Who Were The Phoenicians? Ganor explains in great detail about how the timing of the Exodus with Ramses is erroneous (trust me, a LOT of detail!) Ganor says that it simply cannot have happened then, and shows all the reasons why it must have happened earlier, and all the evidence that supports this. I was convinced. He ‘proves’ the Exodus was about 1446 BC. This then discounts Freud’s clever theory about monotheism starting with Akhenaton (who came later).

In fact, it seems to me more likely to be the other way round. Akhenaton would have heard the stories of the plagues, and known that all the Hebrew slaves had escaped from Egypt, and he probably decided that worshipping the same God as the Hebrews was a good idea. This would also explain why in the el-Amarna it states that he refused to help the Canaanite kings in their wars with the Hebrews. However, as the Hebrews worshipped several gods during their time in Egypt, Akhenaton wouldn’t have known which deity to worship, hence the decision to worship Aten.

I then read The Bible Unearthed* by Finkelstein and Silberman, which is the book that the very convincing YouTube video was based on (the one which says none of the Old Testament is historically factual, and it is all myth and legend). The authors spend a long time discounting the story of the Exodus because it cannot have happened during the time of Raamses. I felt so frustrated with them, and wanted to tell them to read Who Were The Phoenicians? and then start again! All their arguments were based on the Hebrews leaving Egypt during the time of Raamses, and they went into great detail as to how this was impossible archaeologically, and therefore impossible per say. They even talk about the cities mentioned in the Biblical account—the ones conquered by the Israelites when they reached Canaan, saying that although they existed centuries before Ramses, and were rebuilt and powerful again centuries after Ramses, they did not exist at that time, therefore the Exodus never happened because etc etc etc. I wanted to shout at them, and tell them to rethink their basic premise, and that yes, the cities existed before the time of Ramses because that is when the Hebrews left Egypt.

They also discuss a document, written by an Egyptian historian Manetho in the third century BC. He tells the story of the Hyksos, who invaded Egypt and founded a dynasty and who were driven out by a strong Pharaoh. Later archaeologists have found that the Hyksos were from Canaan, and there is a gradual spread of Canaan influence in Egypt, which stopped around the time of Pharaoh Ahmose. Again, if you take the view of both the British Museum, and Ganor, then this ties in with the timing for Ahmose being the Pharaoh who began to oppress the Hebrews. So the evidence used to disprove the Exodus as an historical event yet again supports it.

My understanding of how archaeology works is that someone discovers something, and based on previously known evidence, they make conclusions about it. These conclusions then effect further findings. If those conclusions are proven to be wrong, then they should be adjusted, or the way they effect future findings will continue to be wrong. A simple illustration of this point would be:

Someone unearthed all the possessions of Henry, and they included a stamp collection. Based on previous knowledge, they said that eldest sons are usually named after their father, and as Henry is the eldest son, his father must also be named Henry. They also concluded that Henry had decided to collect stamps. Later, the possessions of another son, Charlie, are also unearthed. Charlie also collected stamps, so they conclude that Charlie copied his elder brother and decided to collect stamps. Perfectly reasonable assumption. But then, they unearth Charlie’s birth certificate. Charlie is an adopted son, and he was older than Henry. The conclusion must now be adjusted: It was Henry who copied Charlie when deciding to collect stamps, because Charlie came first.

The conclusions drawn in The Bible Unearthed are based on misinformation. They have placed the Exodus too late in history, and then concluded that the Israelites never formed a large empire, the Kings David and Solomon are mythical figures, their religion was a copied mish-mash from another race—the Phoenicians. Someone has used these wrong conclusions to make a convincing YouTube video, and people are listening to the well-presented information and assuming it is correct. But it is not. Beware listening to the clever voice that shouts loudest. It might be wrong.

There is more evidence for the Israelites reaching Canaan and conquering cities. The Greek historian, Diodorus Siculus (about 30BC) wrote a history of the area. He describes the Exodus from Egypt in detail, and how the Israelites defeated other nations and destroyed their cities. He doesn’t ever use the term ‘Hebrew’ or ‘Israelite’ but rather calls them ‘Phoenicians.’ You will recognise this name from Ganor’s book: Who Were The Phoenicians?

Ganor also believes the Hebrew slaves became the Israelite nation, and the Greek name for them was the Phoenicians. (He took 195 pages of proof to reach this conclusion! It was not an easy read but we got there eventually.) He also quotes Herodotus, another Greek scholar, who wrote about the three nations from Persia to Egypt: The Syrian Palestinians (who Ganor believes were the Philistines in the Bible) the Phoenicians and the Arabians. Herodotus himself links the Phoenicians with the Israelites; he also says they originally came from the ‘Red Sea’ which from his other writings can be deduced to mean ‘from Egypt.’

Greek writers also describe there later being two types of Phoenicians, those who circumcise and those who don’t—which ties in with the Bible account of the Israelite nation splitting, and the southern kingdom (Judah) remaining true to God and the laws given during the Exodus, and the northern kingdom, which pretty much ignored God, and had lots of different gods and were eventually taken away by the Babylonians.

The book goes on to talk about how the alphabet was formed—which Ganor also thinks started with Moses, but although this was hugely interesting, it doesn’t form part of the argument that Moses existed as an historical figure, so I will leave that for a later blog.

Now, although Ganor has pretty much ‘proved’ that the Hebrew slaves left Egypt in a mass exodus, and crossed the wilderness, and then conquered cities in Canaan and occupied them, all as per the Old Testament, he does not believe in the God part. Ganor believes that Moses wanted to establish a new religion, and therefore came up with the idea of one God. Some of his evidence makes sense. For example, we know from reading the Bible that people worshipped more than one god, because they are frequently told to stop! When Moses kills half the Israelites because they are worshipping the golden calf, he accuses them of ‘returning to the gods of Egypt’ and indeed, until Moses emerges from the mountain with the ten commandments, the people have not been told they should only worship one God.

Ganor, who is a linguistic historian, uses the names of God in the Old Testament as evidence. He says that the frequent mention of planting trees by Abraham and Jacob show that they worshipped trees. Jacob is thought to have worshipped the Asher tree, and the Hebrew word for ‘God’ is ‘El’ hence his name was changed to ‘Asher-El’ which became ‘Isra-El’ or Israel. Later, the Hebrews are known as “sons of Asher El” or “sons of Israel.” Ganor also says that the name ‘Adon’ is from an Egyptian god, and gradually became the basis for the Hebrew word ‘Adonai’. When, after settling in Canaan, the Israelites began to worship a myriad of gods, the god Adon became henotheistic (which means he was sort of the ‘king of gods’—all the other gods worshipped him). The prophets kept trying to re-establish a monotheistic (one God) religion.

There is an interesting link with the Greek god Eshmun sar Kadesh, which was a snake god used in medicine. Artefacts show that the Greeks acquired this god from the Phoenicians. The symbol is still used today in some places, of a snake wrapped around a pole (you see them outside pharmacists). Now, what has a snake got to do with medicine? Well, in the Bible account of the Exodus, when the people were leaving Kadesh (Numbers chapter 33) they were being bitten by snakes, and Moses made a bronze snake on a pole and held it up. When the people looked at it, they were saved from the snake bites and lived. After the Exodus, some of them were continuing to worship this bronze snake, saying it was a god of medicine (it’s like these people were continually looking for new gods to worship!) The Bible doesn’t hide that this was happening, and in 2 Kings chapter 18, there’s the story of a king finally destroying the bronze snake so people would stop worshipping it.

Looking at the Bible, it too makes it clear that the Israelites worshipped lots of gods (though to be honest, I had missed that when I read it—it’s not something that Sunday School teachers tended to point out!) I don’t know what I think about the idea that Abraham and Jacob worshipped tree gods, but there are references to Jacob being told to destroy idols, and he does bury them under a tree, so it might be significant. But the Bible also makes it clear that there is also one true God, and he is God.

My thoughts are that by denying the existence of God, Ganor rather misses the point. He can explain when the Exodus took place, and has provided evidence to support the Old Testament books, but he never addresses how they escaped. Why would Pharaoh let them go? If there is no God, there can not have been the plagues, and so the very fact of how they escaped is never solved. Ganor seems to go to an awful lot of bother to prove that God is created by Moses and perpetuated by the leaders who followed him—it would be more logical to simply acknowledge that God exists.

One fact that interested me was the name God gives when he meets Moses at the burning bush. Moses asks: ‘Who shall I say you are if they ask?’ (which is another proof that the Hebrews had several gods) and God says: “Ehye Asher Ehye” which apparently is ancient Hebrew for: “I will be whoever I will be.” Most Bibles translate this into the English: “I am who I am,” but I think the original translation says something slightly different, and I find that intriguing.

The name of the book of Exodus is also a Greek addition. It was originally called: “These are the names,” in Hebrew, according to David Pawson. I had never heard of David Pawson, he seems to be a Royal Air Force chaplain, who wrote a very fat (and very interesting!) book. It’s worth reading if you are interested in a few factoids around the books of the Bible. I was lent a copy, and liked it so much I ordered one for myself, even though I completely disagree with some of what he writes, mostly it is hugely interesting. One observation he makes is that according to the Bible, the Hebrew slaves were told to make bricks without straw, which would make them very heavy. He says, Archaeologists have found buildings built with bricks made with straw at the bottom, then a layer of bricks made with rubbish (while people scrabbled around trying to find a substitute) and then bricks made with just clay.

Going back to the Phoenicians, there is evidence that they were a trading nation, travelling to Crete and Greece and beyond. Different historians remark on the Hebrew influence in some Greek names and words. It is thought that the Phoenicians reached the peak of their trading empire about 1000BC—which is when the Bible says King Solomon reigned over a strong trading nation.

I don’t know what you believe, and there seems to be no way to prove anything, but personally I choose to believe the Bible account is historically accurate. It is true, the evidence is flimsy, and often circumstantial, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it. I think it takes a sort of ‘faith’ to say the books in the Old Testament are not at all historically factual, written by authors centuries afterwards to justify invading the northern kingdoms of Israel. I prefer personally to have ‘faith’ that the Biblical records which claim to be history (some of them are poems or stories, and don’t claim to be otherwise) are factual. We lose some understanding because we don’t read them in ancient Hebrew, but I choose to believe the events actually happened.

***

The whole idea of language and translation and lost meanings is something that worries me. The Bible was not written in English! When archaeologists found the Dead Sea Scrolls, they found a copy of the Old Testament scriptures that predated other copies by about a thousand years. They found four differences, which I believe were the way some names were spelt (so nothing, really). The early scribes were incredibly careful when they copied scripture, they even counted letters, to ensure the correct letter of the entire manuscript was in the centre. For centuries, the Old Testament books were passed from generation to generation, unchanged. But then the New Testament was written, and the scriptures were translated into Greek. Instantly, there would be changes, but both the Greek and Latin versions of the Bible were pretty well standardised. The Bible continued unchanged—until now. Now we seem to have a new version every week! We have the Hip-Hop Bible, and the Youth Bible, the Good News Bible and the English Standard Version Bible. Each one is slightly different, even the ones which are translations from the original Hebrew and Greek.

When I read books like Who Were The Phoenicians it makes me realise how much emphasis we place on certain words and phrases, and how these are changing as new translations appear. In evangelical churches, it sometimes seems that the Bible and God are held in equal authority, and yet the Bible, as we read it, is based on the decisions and understanding of the person who translated it. Should we therefore be taking snippets and deciding whole doctrines? Should individual words and phrases be given great weight when we make our rules and set our beliefs? I believe that God is bigger than the Bible, and that we should take great care when we quote the Bible as ‘evidence’ for what God wants.

The Bible is given so that we can understand God better, it shows us something of his nature, but we will never completely understand God. We are not meant to. Should translations of the Bible be given the importance that they currently are? I wonder whether they should be viewed as a resource, but we should constantly remember that they are only translations. My understanding is that the Jewish religion insists that all children learn some Hebrew, and they read the Torah in Hebrew at their ‘coming of age’ service. I think that the Quran can only be read in the original Arabic because the phrases fit together like a pattern. It seems only Christians are comfortable with most of their teachers only ever reading the Bible in translation. I wonder if they are right.

Books:
The Bible Unearthed by Finkelstein and Silberman

Who Were The Phoenicians? by Nissim R. Ganor

Moses and Monotheism by Sigmund Freud

Unlocking the Bible by David Pawson

The Buried by Peter Hessler

 

You can listen to Fred’s lectures here: https://subsplash.com/cornerstonechristianchur/media/mi/+ft3y8mb

(I usually skip through all the news and songs and just listen to the talk! You want the early August 2020 talks)

Tomorrow, I’ll look at whether it’s likely that Moses invented phonetic writing and the alphabet. (It will be a shorter blog, I promise!)

Anne E. Thompson

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The book by Olaudah Equiano.

Memoir of a Slave


Learning About the Slave Trade

The Life of a Slave

The Life of Olaudah Equino or Gustavus Vassa, The African
The book by Olaudah Equiano.

The book by Olaudah Equiano.

a square in Savannah.

Beautiful Savannah, with echoes of the slave trade whispering in every lovely square.

Way back when the world was normal, I went to Savannah in Georgia, US. You cannot visit the southern states without hearing the echoes of the slave trade, and I wrote about it in my blogs at the time: Blog about trip to Savannah here!

 I also found some books, written during the time of the slave trade, and I tried to learn why and how it had happened—what made people treat others like commodities? How did it ever become acceptable to own another human being?

One of the most enlightening books I discovered was written by one of the slaves. Olaudah Equiano was born a prince—the son of a chief—in the land of Eboe, which is now (I think) Eastern Nigeria. He was kidnapped when young, and sold as a slave and taken to the West Indies (the Caribbean) and then to the US. He managed to earn some money, and eventually bought his freedom and came to England. He learnt to read and write, married an English woman and wrote a book. This is the book I read, and it was illuminating.

The first copy I bought was a Kindle copy, and it read as if written in a different language and put through Google-translate. The language was difficult to understand, and I needed to read slowly and concentrate on extracting the meaning. But although it was slow, it also conveyed a sense of who Olaudah was, how he spoke, what he thought was important. It was hugely interesting to see how the language of 1789 has changed; for example, he spoke of making bricks that were “difficult” (meaning “hard”) enough to use for building.

I wanted to reread sections and make notes, so I later bought a paperback copy of the book. This didn’t have the charm of the ancient language, and when I read the small print, it said it was an “unabridged and slightly corrected republication” of the original. I much preferred the uncorrected version (so read the small print before you buy!)

So, what did I learn? Well, my first surprise was that in Eboe, while Olaudah was free, his family owned slaves. Slavery was common, it was how they punished people for things like adultery (though mainly only the women, as men were expected to have more than one sexual partner). This was shocking! Owning slaves was a normal part of African society.

Now, Olaudah justifies this, saying that the slaves were not mistreated, they were sometimes treated as part of the family and even, on occasion, married one of their master’s children. However, the fact is that they owned people, the slaves were not free to leave, they were forced to obey and had very few rights. It was used as a form of punishment, I guess the equivalent of today putting criminals in prison. The slaves could be sold, and although they mostly seem to have been treated well, they don’t seem to have had any rights. They were possessions.

The book describes other aspects of life in Eboe. They were very clean, they had strict hygiene rules, an organised society. When I compare this to the arguments used by slavers at the time, about removing ‘savages’ from an unstructured environment, it simply wasn’t true. These people were different, but their traditions and lifestyle were organised.

Olaudah and his sister were captured by slave-traders (Africans) and sold into slavery. It wasn’t unusual for young people to be kidnapped and sold as slaves, and it was something they feared even before it happened. For a while, he was owned by people in Africa, and although he longed to be free, he was not mistreated (if owning someone and making them do unpaid work and keeping them captive can be described as ‘not mistreated’!) Then he was sold again, to international traders, and put onto a slave ship. The things he described on the ship were barbaric, we would not allow animals to be transported in such awful conditions, and it’s not surprising that many of the slaves died before they even reached their destination. Olaudah describes his fears, especially of the white men, who at first he thought might eat him.

Gradually, even the abuses of the slave-traders became ‘normal’ and Olaudah stopped being terrified every time he sees a white person. He learns to speak English, and persuades someone to teach him to read.

Olaudah was sold several times, and he describes how slaves were often mistreated by their owners, their lack of rights, their complete lack of worth as humans. He describes a dispute with another owner (because sometimes he was hired out by his master, like we might let someone hire our lawnmower for a fee) and how the man said: “he would shoot me and pay for me afterwards.” The owners who hired him were less likely to treat him well, and sometimes he wasn’t fed or allowed to rest (they wanted their money’s worth!) There’s a section in the middle of the book when he describes some of the abuses, things that made difficult reading, like the owner who cut off a slave’s leg because he tried to run away. The law provided no protection, especially if the abuse was done as a means of ‘punishment’. In fact sometimes, the abused slave was expected to thank his master afterwards, to actually say thank you for teaching him to behave better. Even when a slave was abused for no reason, the law only stated: “…if any man shall out of wantonness or only out of bloody-mindedness, or cruel intention, wilfully kill a negro, or other slave, he shall pay into the public treasury £15 sterling.”

Married couples sometimes tried to hide their marriage, as an owner could force the husband to beat his wife ‘if she needed punishment’. Many children were born who were the off-spring of the owner, and they joined the slaves and were possessions, even though they were the children of the owner. Olaudah calls them “mulattoes” and they were shunned by the slaves as being “not properly black.” I have heard similar insults today, and it reminds me of the Jews, who have derogatory names for off-spring of Jew and non-Jew liaisons. Even the oppressed will oppress other people it seems. No race is above abusing another, everyone likes to think they are superior, every culture defends their own wrong practices.

All the time, Olaudah is planning to buy his freedom. He was a good sailor, and often went from island to island, and he used this to trade simple possessions like fruit or drink and gradually to build savings. He visited Philadelphia for a while, and saw Rev. George Whitfield preach. He writes:

“When I got into the church I saw this pious man exhorting the people with the greatest fervour and earnestness, and sweating as much as I ever did while in slavery on Montserrat-beach. I was very much struck and impressed with this; I thought it strange I had never seen divines exert themselves in this manner before.” Olaudah buys a Bible, and converts to Christianity.

Olaudah Equiano

An educated man, Olaudah bought his freedom.

When he had enough money, and after persuading his owner to sign the papers, he was free. He travelled to England, because the anti-slavery lobby there was gaining momentum, and he knew that a free black man in England had more rights than one in the US.

In England, he continues to work as a sailor, though he worries that hearing the crew swear all day will encourage him to swear too, and that this will mean he goes to hell. (The sermons preached in the 1700’s were slightly more ‘hell-fire-and-damnation’ than those preached today!) He describes working as a sailor, often alongside slaves even though he was a free man. When he was in Spain, some of the sailors were bitten by poisonous snakes, and were cured by the doctor who made them drink strong rum with a lot of cayenne pepper in it. (Might be a useful tip if ever bitten by poisonous snake—don’t blame me if it doesn’t work!)

After Olaudah had written his book (and become relatively well-known) he married Susannah Cullen, a woman who lived in Soham, Cambridgeshire. He added this detail to all subsequent printings of his book. The marriage certificate is in his other name: Gustavus Vassa (slaves were renamed by their owners, though he was beaten for refusing to accept new names as he grew older).

Throughout the book, Olaudah longs for the abolition of the slave trade. His dream is that instead, Britain will trade fairly with Africa, sharing wealth in exchange for resources. How sad is it, that today, in 2020, Britain still does not trade fairly with Africa. We are still unwilling to pay a fair price for our food, and clothing, we still prefer to use slaves—and we don’t feel guilty because we can’t see them—in return for ‘bargain’ prices. Blog about modern day slavery here.

I like to think the world is better, a fairer place, than it was in 1745. I like to think that all people are protected by laws, and that our complex society has moved away from making profit from other people’s abuse. But sometimes I wonder. . .

I hope no one abuses you today. Be kind.

Thanks for reading.

Love, Anne x

Next week, I will write about some more slaves I have been researching–those these lived centuries before Olaudah. They have been the subject of many stories and films and historical debate, and next week I’ll tell you what I have discovered.

Thank you for reading.
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Is It Worth Reading Reviews?


How to Get Book Reviews

Who Writes Book Reviews?

And are they worth it?

Do you check Trip Advisor before you choose a restaurant? Flick through the reviews on Amazon before you buy a book? Check out the comments before you buy that new kettle online? I do too. But we might not be reading what we think we are. And the flip-side, of course, is how does a lowly author persuade people to review their own books?

I recently saw a conversation on Twitter, where one author (well-known on Twitter, if not in bookshops) was laughing at authors who only have a handful of reviews. I kept very quiet, and hung my head in shame—I am one of those authors. It’s not that I don’t manage to sell books, I do. But however many people ‘promise’ to write a review, in actual fact it is about 1% of people who actually do. Therefore, when I see that Miss Twitter Author has 204 reviews, mostly 5* (and this is something often posted on Twitter by people advertising their books) well; why do I bother? It makes me want to curl up under the stairs with a Mars bar (which is not an uncommon feeling at the moment).

I belong to some Facebook groups for writers, and the people there are sometimes willing to read and review a new book. But even those people don’t always write a review when it actually comes to it! (Some do, and I am hugely grateful for the people who kindly gave their time to read my work and then review it.) But compared with 204 reviews? I am a worm.

However, all is not lost. I recently learnt that all these reviews might not be what they seem. It is possible that 204 reviews is not 1% of a LOT of sales, or that Miss Twitter’s books stimulate more reviews than mine, because it is possible to pay for reviews. I have been approached twice now, by different organisations, asking if I would like to pay to have my book reviewed. Maybe some of the books with a lot of reviews have paid for them!

It works like this: You agree to pay a fixed price (there are several packages to choose from) and then you send a digital copy of your book to a reader. The reader then posts a review, on either Goodreads, or Amazon, or both. They say they will be honest reviews, but I somehow doubt that an author will return to buy more from a site that has left them 1* reviews.

Is this fair? Well, I guess there’s nothing wrong with paying to advertise your work, and I suppose that reviews are sort of advertising. But I think most people assume the reviews are honest, written by unrelated readers who are giving honest feedback about a book. If someone has paid money, it feels less authentic.

 

This buying of reviews is not just limited to books. I know of businesses who pay professionals to manage their online image. This basically means that people are paid to write good reviews for restaurants they have never visited, and products they have never bought. I understand why it happens. If a restaurant has a bad review, it can influence whether new customers will visit. It is therefore part of good management to watch out for nasty reviews from competitors, or unfair reviews from Mrs Moan-a-Lot. Many sites do not allow you to remove an unfair review, so the only solution is to flood the site with good feedback, so the bad review is buried, which is time-consuming, so they pay someone else to do that for them. There is no way for us, the consumer, to see whether a review is legitimate or paid for. Which makes trusting reviews bit of a gamble.

I don’t like the practice of buying reviews, and prefer to stick with my handful of genuine ones. They really matter to an author, so if you haven’t ever written one, please spend a couple of minutes scribbling one on Amazon. It doesn’t need to be long. Even the negative ones are useful—they show people have read the book, and sometimes I will still buy a book after reading a negative review.

Do reviews make a difference? Hard to say. I am influenced by them, and will scan them before buying a book on Amazon. However, I think they only count for a tiny proportion of the overall advertising push, and it depends where they are. My books have been reviewed in newspapers, and on the radio, and by magazines. I would say they have made no discernible difference to my sales. The reviews on Amazon have helped persuade people to buy (plus they are very precious to the author!) as do reviews on some social media—though my books have been reviewed on other people’s blogs, and I have not noticed any increase in sales.

The absolute best reviews are the casual, word of mouth, ones. If a woman at the bus-stop talks about a book she has loved, or if your friend mentions a book worth reading, then you are more likely to buy it.

I flicked open my Amazon page this week, to glance at the reviews of Sowing Promises. I planned to launch this book in the spring, but then lockdown happened, and hardly anyone has bought it. And yet, to my surprise, there were a couple of reviews, and they warmed my heart. I don’t know who wrote them (it wasn’t my mum!) and they cheered my day and made me smile. Which for me, is the most important thing about reviews.

Thanks for reading. If you have any tips for encouraging people to write reviews, do add them to the comments below.

Have a good week. Stay safe.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson

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Amazon reviews

A lovely surprise! Some encouraging feedback from readers on Amazon.

Next week, I will be reviewing a book written by a slave in 1745. There were some surprising facts!

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Would You Buy Clothes Made By Slaves?


Who Made The Clothes You’re Wearing?

Do Boots, M&S, Primark, John Lewis or Morrisons Use Slave Labour?

You need to buy some new pyjamas, but you’re short of cash—is it okay to buy some from the cheapest shop in the high street?

It’s daft to pay more than you have to for clothes, there’s no reason not to buy jeans from the cheapest shop available—do you agree?

It’s wrong to waste money, you have a duty to spend your cash wisely—do you agree?

All people are equal, no matter what their skin colour—do you agree?

The lives of all people matter, not just people in America or Europe, but all lives in the world: no one should be forced to work in terrible conditions, slavery is wrong—do you agree?

Please answer the quick quiz above.

If you answered “yes” to all of the questions, you might have a problem. Most of us would agree that child labour is wrong, that people who are forced into debt and then not able to leave an abusive employer is wrong, that people working excessive hours, not allowed to use the washroom, not paid enough to cover their rent, is wrong. And yet, if we don’t actually see those things, they can be ignored. It is all too easy for us to benefit from those situations, and by doing so, to perpetuate their existence.

I doubt you would go to a dirty shack, and see children being forced to work long hours, and feel comfortable buying your clothes there because they are cheap. But if we never look at where the clothes in our shops come from, this is exactly what we are doing.

So, what we can we do to ensure we don’t keep the slave trade profitable? Well, it’s not easy! The shop you enter may have an excellent record as an employer, the people who work in their overseas factory may be treated fairly, but the farm where the cotton is produced might use child labour or debt-bound workers. It’s not simply the shop, the whole supply chain matters, and discovering what happens further up the chain is a challenge.

But there are a few things that help. For example, did you know that in 2015 the Modern Slavery Act was passed in the UK Parliament? This means that every business that has a turnover of £36 million has to have a public slavery policy. The policies are there, you will find them for every high street shop, sitting on their website, waiting for you to read them. They do not make for very exciting reading, so I thought I would read a few, and give you the highlights. I am not a lawyer, I may have misinterpreted what some of them say, but this is my understanding of how a few shops deal with slavery. I looked at Boots, M&S, H&M, Primark, John Lewis (which includes Waitrose) and Morrisons. Take a deep breath, and wade through some policies with me:

Boots

This is what got me started on the topic! There I was, paying for an online order, when I happened to notice they had a slavery policy sitting on their home page. I clicked it open, and started to read. They talked about checking their supply chain, having “zero tolerance” for slave labour. I was impressed. Their policy states they do regular audits, which I assume means someone actually goes and checks how their raw ingredients are produced. It seemed clear and encouraging. Well done Boots.

M&S

I wanted to know how one of my favourite shops fared (I am of that age). Could I comfortably still buy gifts of baby clothes, a blouse for my mum, a delicious sandwich? Again, it all looked fine. It was easy enough to find their slavery policy, and they used clear language, it was easy to understand what they’re doing. They check their supply chain, and take responsibility for everyone linked to their stores. This even includes the people who wash cars in their car parks—the shop tried to ensure the car wash bosses weren’t forcing illegal immigrants to work for very low wages, were unable to verify this, and so now will only offer car-washing licences to businesses where they are sure the workers are treated fairly.

I was interested to read they also have their 2019/20 policy in place (some shops seem to only have a 2019 one available—though it’s been a weird year, perhaps it’s understandable).

As part of due diligence, M&S identify which countries are most at risk in terms of unfair working conditions for their supply chain. They audit these in person: a person actually goes and checks what the conditions are. They admit it is challenging, especially as they go further down the supply chain, to find how the cotton they use in their factories is grown, how it is transported. However, they do seem to be trying. They ask for anonymous feedback, in workers’ own dialect, to check standards are being maintained. They are also part of a charity, which seeks to identify and help workers who are being abused.

I feel comfortable to continue shopping in M&S.

H&M

Finding the slavery policy for H&M was more of a challenge. They have various policies, and it was sometimes unclear which one I was reading, as they tended to cross-reference. There were links to other articles, and the links didn’t seem related. They used long sentences with vague language, so sometimes I read to the end of a page and had no idea what it had said. They also wrote in general terms:

“We do recognise that the risk of modern slavery exists, in various ways, in all countries and sectors and across value chains, and therefore it is relevant for any company to understand and address this risk in its supply chain as well as its own operations. See our Sustainability Report 2019 for more information about the risks and impacts identified throughout our value chain, and how we address these, as well as full disclosure on our Salient Human Rights issues and related strategies and actions (see chapters Vision and strategy and How we report).” (sic)

I thought all would be made clear when I followed the links to their other reports—they even in one place directed me to page 10 of the report, but there was nothing specific that I could find. What do H&M actually do to ensure that slaves or child labour are not used in their supply chain? I am not entirely sure.

In one report, they say that all their partners need to comply with their ‘Sustainability Commitment and Code of Ethics’ but I was never clear what exactly this entailed. They also say that “only in exceptional cases do we agree to not have these documents signed.” Which I assume means that sometimes their partners might use slaves?

The Modern Slavery Act has been in place since 2015. I think if a company is still talking in non-specifics, is still identifying risk but not actually making firm commitments to not use abused workers, then something is wrong. I do not think I can shop in H&M with a clear conscience.

Primark

Now, I have seen several claims in social media that Primark uses slave labour, that it does not audit its supply chain, and that it sells cheap products because its workers are maltreated. When I did an online search for ‘Primark, slavery’ I found lots of articles. However, they were all about 10 years old. I found no evidence after 2008 of Primark using slave labour. Have they improved their practices? I read their slavery policy.

Primark’s slavery policy is easy to find, and runs to many pages—one gets the impression they are keen to display what they have achieved. They have stopped using certain suppliers (no more cotton from Uzbekistan) and have unannounced audits to check for trafficked workers. They say they aim to support and educate the communities in their supply chain. There is some confusion over what constitutes ‘child labour.’ If a country deems a 14-year-old to be an adult, then they might be employed as such. This feels different to me than employing a 10-year-old, it seems like a subjective issue, not one easily resolved.

However, some of their actions are not yet in place. If you read the wording carefully, some principles are planned as future targets. For example, the ability for workers to raise grievances directly with Primark is a pilot scheme planned to be started in the UK in 2020. It is more than 5 years since the slavery act was passed, surely the statement of things that need improvement should have moved on? Surely in 5 years these policies should be being practised.

Primark, like some other shops, do not own the factories they buy from. They state:

“We do not insist that our suppliers use nominated fabric and sundry suppliers, which allows suppliers to remain flexible and cost-effective and enables them to use local sources. Using nominated-only suppliers can increase lead times and prices, especially in developing countries such as Bangladesh where it may mean importing these goods (which in turn increases the environmental impact) and can undermine development of local capacity.”

While this is undoubtedly true, it also means they are avoiding all responsibility for the workers in the supply chain beyond their direct suppliers. It feels like a cop-out to me. They do talk about training their suppliers about the risks of modern slavery. In 2019, members of the South East Asia team attended training—ten of them. Ten people in South East Asia. Just ten. This seems like very few people.

My view is that Primark are making an effort to improve. They have taken criticism seriously, and changed their working methods. However, I feel there are a few dodgy areas, a few statements that are a little bland, a bit too hard to fully understand. My feeling is that whilst they want to lose the ‘slave-worker’ label, they still need to make improvements—which means you and I need to keep asking questions.


John Lewis/Waitrose

The John Lewis slavery policy was easy to find and clearly written. They are aware of potential problems, especially with migrant workers who harvest fruit, and they are making some effort to maintain employment standards by establishing own-brand supply chains (sort of the opposite to Primark).

If they find a problem, they give the supplier two years to improve working conditions, and then if there is no improvement, they stop using this supplier. They allocate ‘risk ratings’ depending on what they find, and increase or decrease the frequency of audits accordingly. This all sounds good.

They state they have “taken the decision to restrict sourcing from countries in which there is a high risk of poor labour practices.” While this will help to eliminate slavery, it also curtails income for some of the poorest countries. I feel that regular audits and education would be a better solution. However, to be fair, they have also signed up to support the Wilberforce Institute for Slavery, and are looking to change some of their practices. (Though again, surely they should be beyond this stage now? Should the good practices not already be in place after 5 years?)

I feel that on the whole, shopping in Waitrose and John Lewis is pretty safe as regards slavery. However, I didn’t feel they were are thorough as M&S, which as the prices are comparable, they should be. (Pricing makes a difference—to monitor the supply chain and ensure good practice throughout is expensive.)

Morrisons

It was easy to find their slavery policy (and it’s illustrated with pretty pictures to make it nicer to read!) They claim to be the only British supermarket to buy directly from farmers and fishermen and process the food through their own manufacturing sites—which should make it easier to keep the supply chain ethical. They have ethical trading policies, and make these available to all their suppliers (would someone employing slave labour read this and change their behaviour?)

The more I read of the Morrisons policy, the longer the sentences and the vaguer the wording. They are linked to lots of other agencies, and talk a lot about assessing risk, and due diligence, but they seem to rely on third parties to actually go and look at the supply chain. They seem to favour committees, which meet regularly—but I couldn’t find evidence that anyone actually went to look at what was happening. They have posters, in various languages, asking workers to tell them of any problems. They say that: they are aware of the risk of slavery in Asian fishing operations, but Morrisons buys so little from them that they have no influence to change this. (I’m not sure that I agree with that.)

There were examples of bad behaviour being stopped by Morrisons in the UK, though this seemed to be through the actions of individuals rather than something the company instigated. My feeling is that Morrisons is keen on committees, and they produce regular updated reports and new policies, and their intentions are good. However, it reminds me of school staff meetings and church business meetings—lots of talk about aims and objectives but very little is ever achieved. As most of their supplies come from low risk areas, I will still shop in Morrisons. But I don’t feel they are doing things like checking who runs the car wash services in the car park, so I would worry about using those services, and I wouldn’t buy clothes made in Asian countries.

I have only looked at a few shops, and I am feeling pretty goggle-eyed! The policies are often vague and give links to other documents, and are far from user-friendly. If more people checked what shops are doing to ensure their supply chains are fair, then perhaps they would be clearer and more proactive. It is a legal requirement to have a modern slavery policy, but my understanding is that there is no penalty if a company doesn’t check its supply chain. The only penalty will be if we, the shoppers, stop buying items that could have been produced by slaves. Do you care enough to bother?

Thanks for reading. If you have further information, please add it to the comments below. If I discover anything new, or can bear to look at more policies I will let you know.

Have a good day—and shop wisely.

Take care.

Love, Anne x

Next week, I will be writing about reviews: How to get reviews, and what do they signify?

Anne E. Thompson

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Tips for Blogs


Do You Want to Write a Blog?

Helpful Advice for Word Press Bloggers

When I decided to write seriously, I began by writing a blog (the modern word for a web log!) This was a brilliant way to learn what people like to read, how to express myself concisely, and experiment with different styles. As I grew more experienced, my blog became one of the platforms I used to advertise and sell my books. I consider myself an apprentice, because my IT skills are somewhat raw, but I am improving constantly. In case you are considering starting a blog of your own, or if you are not an expert when it comes to all things computer-related, I thought I would pass on what I have learnt so far.

I use a WordPress blog. I tried using a couple of others, to compare stats, and I trust WordPress to be fairly accurate. When I posted the same blog, at the same time, on a couple of sites, some told me it had been read by 50 people instantly. I felt this was inflated, and the WordPress stats of a handful of readers over time was more accurate. But look online, a different site might suit you better.

When you start writing a blog, you will receive lots of conflicting advice, so you need to make a few decisions. I was told my posts (the pieces of writing that my followers see) should be short—no longer than fit on one side of A4 paper, because readers will only scroll down once. However, I found that some of my direct information posts (like this one, or one about recovering from a craniotomy, or how to train a dog, or how to teach a child to read) were very long and were shared many times. My personal view is that something that is imparting knowledge, can be longer, because people want to know how to hatch an egg, or whatever. But simple newsy, fun posts, should be fairly short.

When to post and how often? You need to try a few variations and check your stats. I find that Monday mornings tend to get most viewings, and very few people seem to read blogs on Fridays. (I have this image of people sitting at their desk Monday morning and looking for something to delay that awful start to the week! Fridays they are already in party mood, so no time for reading.) Time zones are tricky, I try to catch the Sunday late night of one zone and the early morning of the next. But varying the days and times can also attract new readers.

You add a post via the dashboard, which has a menu of options including adding a new post. Initially, I was confused by posts and pages. A page is basically something that sits on your blog in the place you have put it; I use pages on my home page, and they are things people might return to over time (like my ‘How to’ section). Posts are articles that are sent to all your followers, and they are listed in date order, so three months later they are hard to find.

If you write, you need readers, so you need to encourage traffic to your site. Obviously, you can tell all your friends and family (most will ignore you). You can post things on social media; I find Twitter and Facebook a good source of readers. The most popular posts tend to be those directly aimed at a specific group. If I write an article about having a brain tumour, and post it on a Facebook page for people with that condition, it will be read hundreds of times. A recipe needs to go to the relevant page, a religious article to another. This one will, I hope, appeal to writers, so I will find Facebook pages for authors, and use appropriate hashtags for Twitter. You can also hope to be picked up by search engines (like Google). I recently met my internet-marketing-child, and he gave me a few tips:

When you write a post, there are several options that help your work be noticed by other computers. Most obvious is the title box—use this by writing words that are key to your article, as well as attractive when posted on social media. You will also notice the paragraph drop-down box. This gives the option of other headings—use them. Search engines notice these, so use key words to entice readers.

There is also a ‘publicize’ setting. Here you can add automatic links to social media, so everything you post will automatically be posted on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Decide what you want to use—I think too many posts on Facebook mean people stop seeing them, but Twitter seems to have more random readers.

Next you will find Tags. There is a decision to make here. When you post something, the WordPress site notices your tags, and pushes your article towards potential readers. The more tags you use, the further down the WordPress list your article will move. If, for example, you have ‘travel’ as a tag, then WordPress will send your post to anyone who searches for travel. But if you have also added: ‘Cornwall’ ‘seaside’ ‘beach’ then WordPress will decide that ‘travel’ is only a small part of your post, and something that has travel as its only tag will be more visible. However, that is only part of the story. Other search engines (Google) also notice your tags. The tag of ‘travel’ cannot possibly compete with the huge travel companies that also want to be seen by Google, so your little article will appear on page 3,794 of a search for travel. But if you have added a few niche tags, like ‘camping in Scotland with a toddler’ then when someone puts that into the search bar, your article will pop up on the first page of results.

I tested this theory (never completely trust my family). I have a blog for my books (The Cobweb Press) and this blog (Anne E. Thompson). I posted the same articles, at the same time, on both blogs, one with several tags and one with a single one. The post with several tags received more views (and my apologies to the few people who follow both blogs and therefore received two identical emails!)

You will also notice, when you post something, that a Permalink appears. You can edit this too, adding words at the end for a computer to find. Make sure they are key words about your post.

I mentioned followers. Having followers is very exciting! They sign up to follow your blog, and are emailed every time you post something. However, there is a whole world of bloggers out there, and like other social media, some people only ‘follow’ because they want you to follow their own blog—they do not actually intend to read what you post. I know this, because some people will ‘follow’ my blog for a short time, then ‘unfollow’ when it is not reciprocated, only to ‘follow’ again at a later date. If you spend a lot of time on social media, reading and liking and following other blogs, then you will build a long list of followers yourself and each of your posts will end with a string of ‘likes’ from fellow bloggers. However, I think it is more representative of your time on social media, than the quality of your writing; I wanted to learn what people actually wanted to read so I decided not to spend oceans of time on social media. I like to think that most of my followers, whilst they may not read every post, do actually like to dip into my blog from time to time and read what I write.

When people click the ‘like’ button it makes me smile, every time. However, it isn’t always representative of number of readers or appreciation. I have had articles (like: ‘how to have a brain tumour’) which was shared over 100 times (implying people found it helpful) but only received 2 ‘likes.’

When I started to write, my mother begged me to add photographs. I told her no, I am trying to improve my writing, pictures are irrelevant. What I have learnt is that pictures help to break up a post, they make it look nice, and they add rather than detract from the words. Use photos. They also help to attract people to your blog.

Press the ‘Add Media’ tab, and upload your photos. Then add links so search engines find them. You have the option to add ‘Alt Text’. Here you should write where the photo was taken, or key words, the same in the Title space. The ‘Caption’ will actually appear in your post, so fill in words you want your readers to see. The ‘Description’ box is seen by computers set up for people who are visually impaired, and anything you write here will tell the ‘reader’ what the photo shows.

In order to sell my books via my blog, I needed people to be able to contact me. I was warned to not add an email address, as this will be sent oodles of spam. Instead, you can add a contact form. This is self-explanatory when you click the tab, and means people can contact you directly. I do still receive some spam (who are these people and why bother?) but mostly only bona fide readers wanting to buy books contact me.

If you want to add a link to another article, use the little picture that looks like a paperclip. It took me a long time to find this! Follow the instructions on the tab, and you can add nice tidy links.

I hope you find these tips helpful, do add your own tips in the comments.

Enjoy writing, and thank you for reading. Please pass on to anyone who might be interested, and if you click the ‘like’ button you will make my day!

Next week I will be writing about modern-day slavery, and trying to discover which shops use slaves to make the clothes we buy in our high streets. Would you buy a cheap pair of jeans if you knew they were made by a ten-year-old forced to work long hours in a factory? Which shops can we trust to behave responsibly?

Take care.
Love, Anne x

Thank you for reading
anneethompson.com
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Quarantime to Read. . . Counting Stars: The Conclusion


***

Lena slept most of the journey to the port. When she woke, she reached again for Max and held him close, tight, as if he might disappear. She watched the scenery as it glided past the window, trees, hedges, buildings, roads stretching to the horizon.

The port was in the centre of a town, down a narrow street, past people walking, carrying on with their lives. Her time in the hospital was becoming dreamlike, it was incompatible with the normality of the life she could see through the window. The car slowed as it neared the water.

As soon as the car stopped, the door was opened from the outside and a man, who she did not recognise but who called her Lena, helped her to carry the dozing Max, took her to a fishing boat. Lena stepped from the jetty onto the swaying deck, turning at once to reach for her son. More hands supported her, guided her to a seat. There were shouted instructions, someone released a rope, the sound of a motor coughing, the breeze increased, cool wind tangling her hair. But her single focus was Max, lying half next to her, half across her, his weight heavy on her legs.

She sat on deck, shivering in the cold, spray dampening her hair, the wind blowing away her worries, reminding her that she was alive, she had survived. The motor started, and they eased away from the dock. No one had spoken, other than instructions as to where she should sit, where to stow her bag. It all happened automatically, and Lena again had a sense of being a small part in a big machine.

Max was beginning to wake. Every so often he would look at her with bleary eyes, smile, then drift away again. Lena moved her legs, trying to find a way to support Max whilst allowing her blood to circulate. It was several years since he had allowed her to cuddle him, and she savoured the opportunity to hold him close, knowing that when he woke properly, he would move away, want to be independent.

Lena looked out, across the water. The waves were high, buffeting the little boat as it rose and fell, lifted high then dipping low, over and over.

The boat crossed the narrow strip of sea to the island. John and Agnes were waiting, with Den and Lucy. They were huddled on the jetty, collars turned up against the wind.

As the boat arrived, Den leapt on to the boat, hugged Lena, wordless, tears running down his cheeks. No attempt to control his racing emotions, no desire to appear manly, strong. He had thought he had lost her. He loved this woman, with her corners and frowns and doubts. She was part of him. He held her close, breathing in her tangled hair, smelling the dust on her. She pulled away, needing to breathe, smiled up at him.

John told them to hurry, the boat needed to leave. They passed bags to the family, Agnes handing them a parcel, telling them there were sandwiches.

Lena was shaking, the cold seeping through her thin jacket and into her bones. John noticed, gave her his own coat, told her to wear it, to stay safe. Then he and Agnes stepped back, waving arms in big arcs as the boat moved away, the motor sending black smoke into the air, bouncing across the waves.

John and Agnes watched the family leave, grow smaller and ever more distant. They were glad they were safe, were looking forward to a return to normality. Yet Agnes knew that a part of her was leaving with them, she would never forget this little family.

Beside her, John waved in silence. His plans were almost complete, the family would be an obstacle now, it was better that they left, hurried to safety before they started asking questions. They had not been as compliant as he had hoped, but it didn’t matter now, the result had been achieved.

Lucy was frightened in the boat, thought they might sink. Lena was beyond being frightened of anything. She held her daughter on her lap, letting her body warm her, whispering songs into her hair. She liked the feel of the boat as it rose and fell with the waves, riding over the powerful ocean, carried along with no attempt to resist. Den held Max, took him to the edge when he needed to vomit, wound a scarf over his bare head to keep him warm.

Max was fully awake now but aware only of the immediate, the cold, the sickness, his headache. He had no idea what was happening, where they were going or why. Nor did he care. Talking would come later, he simply wanted to feel better.

They arrived on the French shore. More people were waiting, more friends who they had never met. Lena thought about all the past discussions with John; she wondered if these people too were stars—if John had counted them.

They were bundled into a car, driven through towns and cities until they reached Paris. More people, old buildings, many cars. Finally, they were left at the station, a stranger’s barcode was used to pay the fare. The family sat on the platform, waiting for the tube train that would take them onwards. At their feet were bags, donated by more unknown friends: food, clothes, provisions for the journey.

Lena wondered how big this network of people was, just how many people John controlled. She leant against Den, happy for him to be the strong one, to be able to let go for a while. She thought again about her journey, her mission. She wondered if it was enough, if she could now be counted amongst the stars. Worried that it might not be, that there was something more, something she had missed. She was still tired, groping with the thought, trying to sort it out in her mind.

Den felt her tension, held her close. “What’s the matter little one? We’re safe now, we’ve left England. No one will care about us now.”

“Den, I’ve been thinking, about the stars that John counts, the Jews and Muslims. I understand how he includes them, they are mostly born into their faiths, they practice their religions, follow rituals, believe their holy books.… But what about the Christians? How does God decide if they are good enough, have done enough to qualify as stars? How can they be sure they will be counted?”

Den moved slightly so he could look at her. He saw the clouds in her eyes, the worry that loomed there in spite of how far they had come.

“But Lena,” he said, “no one can do enough. That’s the point of Christianity. You cannot earn the right to be a star. A star is an honorary son of Abraham, an adopted son if you like. Adopted by God. None of us is good enough for that, that’s the point.”

Lena frowned. What then, was the point? Had all her efforts been in vain? Would she still be rejected?

Den continued, “When you were in the hospital, saving Max, it was difficult—wasn’t it?”

Lena nodded, remembering the pain in her ankle, the fear, the never-ending dusty vents. She thought of the armed guards with their straight backs, the impossibility of reaching the clones, then her fall from the ceiling; the agony of her ankle, the agony of indecision when injecting the clones, the agony of trying to walk back to the meeting place, the further agony of waiting, wondering if Max would arrive. Yes, it was difficult—more than difficult.

“But you didn’t do it so he would owe you something, so you would have a hold over Max, to control him, did you? And you wouldn’t want Max to go back into the hospital, to do it again, for himself, would you? To go back and inject the clones, to risk capture, so he could say that he had done it for himself? To prove he was capable of saving himself?”

“No,” she frowned, “of course not. I don’t think he could have done it anyway”. She thought of the ducts, the long crawl, the drop from the ceiling. “He isn’t big enough to have done it,” she said, feeling slightly irritated with Den now. It was a silly question. She had achieved what she had for her child, why would she want him to go back and do what was unnecessary?

“I had to do it, so the watchers would help me, there didn’t seem to be another way. I did it because I love him, I wanted to save him. I didn’t want them to change him, I wanted him to be himself, to be safe.”

Den moved his hand, stroked her hair.

“Well, that’s how it is with God. He’s done all the hard work, He just wanted to save us. We just have to let Him.”

Lena looked at him, her eyes bright with tears. She so wanted that to be true, she wanted to belong. Was it really just a case of accepting?

He bent down, kissed her nose. “You will always be the brightest star in my eyes,” he whispered.

The train slid towards the platform, hovering over the rails, the electromagnets bringing it to a perfect stop.

Max glanced at his parents, then looked away quickly. They could be so embarrassing sometimes. He stared at the train through the thick glass seal. The vacuum-enclosed casing retracted, unsealing the train, giving access to the platform. The train doors swooshed open and Max went to help Lucy lift her bags. She glanced at his bald head, grinned, but said nothing.

The train was large, tubular in shape with thick walls to keep the air inside. The tubes it travelled along were vacuums, the electromagnets allowing great speeds as it hovered above the rails.

The family climbed aboard. They were leaving, going to a new life in Asia, being guided by the stars to a place they could be free. It had been a hard journey, they had nearly been stopped many times, but they were on their way now. And they were together, they had survived. They shuffled onto the train, finding their seats, stowing their bags.

The family did not see the newsfeed on the screen behind them. It was very large, projected images of a reporter giving sombre news, announcing the death of Midra. The leader of the Global Council was dead.

Nor did they see the pictures of the man who was to be his successor, the newest member of the Global Council, the person who would decide how England was to be ruled. A young man, very tall. It was his eyebrows that you noticed first, they rose upwards, giving him the appearance of an owl. A great horned owl.

He was the last puppet in the dance.

The End

Thank you for reading.
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Quarantime to Read. . . Counting Stars: Chapter Ten


Chapter Ten

She doesn’t look, think, or fight like James Bond, but sometimes a mother simply has to do whatever it takes. . .

The Dance Ends

Lena stood very still. She balanced on her good leg, putting no weight on her sprained ankle, looking at the clone. It was a boy, barely any different in age to her boy, to Max. She wondered where Max was now, if he was frightened, whether she would manage to rescue him, whether she would ever see him again. Her eyes filled with tears. She wiped them roughly away. Now was not the time for thinking, she had a job to do, she needed to be quick, before someone arrived.

Lena reached into the cloth bag at her side and felt the vials. They appeared to have survived her crash landing from the ceiling hatch, seemed to be intact. She withdrew the first one, depressed the end button and the needle shot out—long, glinting in the light, cruel. Then she looked again at the clone.

It—he— was surrounded by machines and tubes. The air was warm, filled with the noise of those machines as they breathed, cleaned, fed, the body on the bed. Lena watched the chest rise and fall. Was it a person? It looked like a boy. Was she about to murder a child?

Until this moment, Lena had not really considered what her task entailed. She wanted to rescue her son, she had been sent along the electricity ducts to the room of clones, ready to inject them with poison, to stop them functioning. But were they alive? They might be inconvenient to the plans of the people who had sent her, destroying them might improve the life of others, but did that make it right? What actually constituted a human? Just how human did someone have to be, to be counted as a person, to have rights? To have the right to live. She knew the clones were brain dead, could not function at any level without the aid of the machines, had no opinions, no thoughts, no personality. But did that give her the right to destroy them? Were they just a collection of cells, an inconvenient physical form—or were they people? When is a person a person?

Then she thought of her family. Her husband, hounded for his beliefs, her daughter, wrenched from her home, her son, kidnapped and taken for treatment on his brain. They were surely more important, the only thing she should be worrying about. Lena shook her head, reminded herself again, she had no time to think about this.

Feeling uneasy, she inserted the syringe into the neck of the clone. She shuddered as it pierced the skin, glided in. Then, turning away, not wanting to see, she pressed the second button, forcing the liquid into its—his? — body, slowly counting to five as instructed. Trying not to think. She turned back. Nothing looked different. The machines still hummed. The clone lay still, apparently sleeping.

Unseen, the poison surged through its body, destroying cells, damaging systems. Each pump of the heart sent it further, deeper, spreading its destruction. But the outside, what people could observe, would remain unaltered for many hours. By tomorrow the first tinge of grey would be visible at the extremities. By evening, the clone would be rotting.

Lena hurried to the second and third clones, repeated her injections. Now she had done one, it seemed easier, she wasted no time injecting the poison, did not pause to look at the clones. She held the three spent syringes in her hand, not knowing where to put them. If she disposed of them in the room, they might be found, an antidote used, her efforts would be wasted. The needles were sharp, she had nothing to cover them with, no way to retract them back inside the tubes. She carefully placed them back in the cloth bag; it was the best place for now. One point pierced the material—shining, evil. No, she decided, that was a bad plan, if they pierced her she might also die. She took them out, held them where she could see them. Then she looked around, her eyes skimming the room, searching for inspiration, must be quick, must be quick.

There was a medical trolley next to one of the beds. Lena swept everything off, the equipment fell to the floor with a crash, she was already wheeling the trolley, pushing it over to below the vent. She put down the syringes, climbed onto the trolley, then reached for them, threw the syringes into the vent, as far away from the entrance as she could. She grasped the edge of the vent, jumped and used her arms to heave herself up. All her muscles groaned at the effort, beads of sweat stood on her neck, she gave a small cry of frustration, kicked her legs, her ankle screamed. But she managed it. Inch by painful inch, she raised her body upwards, into the hidden shaft above the room.

The cover to the vent lay where she had placed it. She put it back into position, secured it with a screw. There was nothing she could do about the trolley, whoever arrived first would be sure to see it, would look up, see the duct, guess what had happened. But she had too many other things to worry about, she could only achieve so much. The syringes lay where she had thrown them. She picked them up and heaved them further away, deeper into the tunnel beyond the room. Then she lowered herself back into position, began to crawl, began her slow shuffle, arm over arm, back the way she had come.

It was much harder going back. Her arms were tired, her head ached, her throat was parched. She had also lost the map, had put it down at some point, was now having to remember where to go at each turning. Not that this was difficult, the fine white dust that lined the vents clearly marked her route. It looked as if a giant slug had oozed a trail, sweeping the dust in its wake. She even felt like a slug, dirty and repugnant.

Everything hurt but her ankle cried the loudest, sending heated agony through her whenever she jolted it. She clenched her teeth, determined to return to the entry point, to get back to the washroom, to meet her son. And to drink, to gulp some water into her dry sore throat, to sit and rest her tired limbs. She must keep going, must not give up.

“Don’t think, don’t think,” she told herself, arm over arm, knee after knee, slowly but surely advancing through the shaft.

***

Mel4 was still racing through the reports. Midra had arrived at the hospital, been examined by the medical team. The bullet had pierced a lung, they recommended it should be replaced at once.

A team was sent to prepare the theatre, another to prepare a clone for transplant. The clone needed to be unhooked from most of the machines, rushed to the same operating room as Midra. Everyone was rushing, time was of the essence. Anyone who caused a delay was likely to be penalised, this was not a patient to be relaxed about.

Two young doctors ran to the room where the clones were maintained. The first to arrive, the younger and fitter of the two, saw the mess as soon as he entered. There were instruments in an untidy heap on the floor, a trolley pushed to the middle corridor. He paused, surprised, decided the guards had been in a rush when they left, must have run into the trolley, spilling equipment in their panic. It made sense. The young doctor wheeled the trolley out of the way, gave it no more thought and began to prepare the clone.

***

Max was beginning to stir, the sedation wearing off. Opening his eyes was too much effort, but he could hear. Quiet voices were speaking intently, giving instruction. They sounded tense, cross. He wondered why. He was also aware that he was moving. The bed he was in was being rolled across a floor, he could feel a breeze on his head. That was odd. The bed was very soft, comfortable, warm. He would wake up in a minute, he thought, drifting back to sleep.

***

A new cover for the 2020 edition. Available from Amazon.

Lena finally reached the hatch where she had entered. She pressed her ear against the grill and listened. Nothing. She peered down, trying to look in each direction. The room seemed to be empty. Using her good leg, she stamped on the grill. It was hard, she couldn’t get high enough for there to be sufficient force to knock it from the hole. With a cry of frustration, she kicked again. It fell, clattered on to the floor. No one rushed to look. Lena pushed her head through the gap, checking the room was empty, the trolley bed was still below the hatch. She lowered herself down, fell with a plop onto the mattress. Her ankle screamed in protest. She almost cried with relief; she was out. But not yet finished, still a way to go, must keep going.

Her ankle burned. She needed to sort it before she could go further, it hurt too much to walk, people would notice her. There was a cupboard in the room and she hobbled over to it, checking first that the room door was locked, the glass opaque.

There were rolls of bandages, plasters, bottles of liquid, boxes of syringes. Ignoring everything else, she grabbed a bandage, hopped back to the bed. Removing her shoe was agony but she inched it off, then wound the bandage tightly around her ankle, tucking it beneath her heel, giving it some support, some protection. The shoe was now too small to wear on her enlarged foot, so she hopped back to the equipment, found some scissors. They were wonderfully sharp, sliced through the plastic edges of the shoe as if it were cheese. She put the shoe over the bandage. There was a plastic apron in the cupboard, she grabbed it, draped it to cover her dirty uniform, then went to the door.

Opening it slowly, she peered into the corridor. People were passing, lost in their own worlds, hurrying to where they needed to be. A nurse staring at her computer, an elderly couple—the man leaning on his wife for support, a woman and child. No one looked at her, barely seemed to notice her. It seemed impossible that the world should be normal, everyone going about their business, when her world was upside down, everything had changed.

Lena began to walk. The pain was intense at every step. She willed herself forwards, tried to ignore the pain, the rising nausea, attempting to stay upright, to not hobble, not attract attention. There was a wheelchair, waiting by the wall in a side corridor. Lena detoured over to it, grasped the handles, used it for support, let it take some of the weight away from her screaming ankle. She switched off the directional motor so that she could push it, guide it to where she wanted to go. It was heavy, her progress was slow but she was advancing, step by painful step, back to the washroom. Her safe haven. The place where she would meet up with Max.

When she arrived at the washroom, she abandoned the wheelchair, leaving it against the wall, using the door and walls as her support. She pushed open the door and went inside, looking round expectantly.

It was empty. Lena didn’t know if that was because she was too late or too early. She would not allow the thought that they were not coming at all.

There was nothing more she could do, so she went to the sink, turned on the tap. The water was wonderful, filling her mouth, cooling her cheeks, cold and sweet. She was still there, bent over the sink, drinking deeply, when the door opened.

Lena turned, prepared to flee into the safety of a cubicle. It was her guide; the nurse had arrived.

He opened the door, saw Lena and came in, leaning against the door to secure it. Arms folded he stood there, watching her for a moment. She ignored him, turning back to the tap, intent on drinking. She felt him watching her, knew he would notice her pale face, the bandaged ankle, the shaking hands. She straightened, turned to him. He was smiling: a small bemused smile of disbelief.

“You made it? Managed to do it?”

His voice was very deep. Lena looked up. Suddenly realised he was alone.

“Where is Max?”

Lena heard the desperation in her voice, felt the nausea rise again, knew she had been betrayed.

“He is safe, we have him. He is sleepy, I will bring him in a chair. Wait in a cubicle, out of sight. We need to get you—both of you—out of here quickly, as soon as possible.”

He paused.

“Well done.”

Lena acknowledged the praise, was too tired to do more than nod. The nurse reached up to the hole in the ceiling, passed her the bag, her clothes, her boots. He stood, watching her for a moment longer, as if he would say something else, then changed his mind, turning quickly to the door, leaving Lena alone with her things. She took them into the cubicle, sat, stared at them. Changing was too much effort. She doubted the boots would fit over her damaged ankle anyway. She lowered her head, resting it on her knees and closed her eyes. She may have slept. Time trickled away.

Lena realised she had been waiting for a long time. Her neck was stiff and she raised her head. She was still alone, folded over in her cubicle, dirty, tired and aching. She had no way to check the time, but she wondered what the problem was, the cause for the delay. The nurse had said he was collecting Max. Was he lying? Had he tried to and there had been a problem, had Lena’s actions caused some kind of alarm or security alert? Was Max now in more danger than when she had arrived? The questions began to whirl in her mind, now that her initial exhaustion had abated, she was overwhelmed with fear for her son.

Lena stood—sitting on a toilet would solve nothing. She considered changing into her own clothes, not sure whether they would be less noticeable than her dirty uniform when she searched the hospital. She had no plan, only the resolve that she was not leaving without her son, that if the nurse had deceived her, then she must search on her own.

For a while she hovered, not moving, groping for a decision, a place to start; she had come so far, she must not mess this up. She dressed in her own clothes, it seemed a sensible place to start, and she had to start somewhere. She wasn’t sure if she had any more resources, could summon the energy necessary to start searching, but she had to do something. Her arms were aching, protesting as she pushed them into sleeves. She felt near tears. This wasn’t fair. The boots, when she came to them, looked too much of a challenge to even attempt, so she pulled the plastic shoes back onto her feet.

The sound of the opening door disturbed her. She froze, not knowing if someone was using the washroom, or if her hiding place had been revealed. She heard her name: “Lena!”  and rushed out. There was the nurse, and a woman—and there was Max, slumped in a wheelchair, pale, bald, alive. Lena started towards him, then stopped.

She took in his bald head, the hair shaved to nothing, his crown pink and round.

“Did they…?” Lena began. Was he hurt? Would hugging him cause damage?

“He’s unharmed,” the nurse reassured her, “he never got as far as surgery. He’s just sedated, sleepy. Give him another hour and he’ll be awake. He might have a headache but he’ll be fine. You need to leave now”.

The nurse reached down, picked up Lena’s bag and clothes, stowed them under the chair. He put the coat over her shoulders and she realised she was shivering, shaking, was hardly able to stand. The relief at seeing Max was immense. It took her last reserves of energy. She couldn’t move, stood for a long moment staring at her son, suspended in time, touching him with her eyes but not daring to move; while the nurse moved around her.

Then all at once the spell broke, and she fell forwards, arms around his shoulders, hugging Max to her. She breathed in the smell of him, felt his head hard against her cheek, the warmth of him. Emotions rose hotly inside of her, a great bubble of relief and tears and love that caused a shudder to shake her whole being. He was safe. Her son was safe. She had rescued Max. He moved against her, as if uncomfortable, and she loosened her grip, eased him back onto the backrest. Her hand rested on his head, feeling the warm skin, stroking, reassuring, not wanting to move away.

The nurse placed an arm under her elbow and nodded to the woman next to him. The woman secured a different barcode to Lena’s jacket, then opened the door, indicated they should leave. The group walked quickly, away from the washroom, along the corridor, out through the swishing doors. Lena let herself be led, barely thinking, unable to do more than obey their instructions. Her eyes did not leave her son for a second.

There was a car waiting. The nurse led them to it, lifted in Max, helped Lena next to him. He unhooked her barcode, passed it back to the woman. Put Lena’s bag on the ledge, where it would obscure the internal camera.

“The car will take you to the port. A boat is waiting. It will take you to the island.”

The nurse looked again at the woman and her son. Both almost unconscious. Both brave. Both had achieved more than he would have dreamed was possible. The mother had her arms around her son, holding him close, as if soaking up his warmth, cherishing his life. Her eyes shone with tears and her face was streaked with dust and water, drawn into hard lines of tiredness. Yet something about her was stronger than anything he had ever seen before. The almost tangible love of a mother for her child. He wanted to say something, to keep her for longer, to let her know how much he admired her. He was rarely surprised by anyone, yet she had astounded him. But he didn’t.

He held the barcode under the scanner, shut the door and watched the car drive away.

To be concluded on Sunday. . .

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