Margaret Hill 1924-2012

Margaret Hill

If anyone is pulling the strings of the Higgs-Boson, it’s my mother. She had been trying to figure out the universe, or at least where the perimeter fence might be, since she was a child, and she died the week the H-B put in an appearance. No coincidence.

It couldn’t have been easy, speculating on space and time and what might be ‘out there’ when your education and social position told you to keep your eyes lowered and get good at knitting. Mum was born into an Irish catholic family that had come over to Yorkshire to escape the potato famine, and set its roots in a Bradford pub called the Harp of Erin. There, she danced on the tables until the local Bobby popped his nose round the door, when she dived under them to wait until he popped it back out again. When mum was just seven years old, her own mother died of a brain tumour that could probably now be treated. Had Ellen Conboy survived, life would have undoubtedly been different, but in what way? Would she have had more opportunity to maximise her education? Would she have met my dad? Would I be here?

Some of those imponderables are as immense as the ones Cern is grappling with, at least for those of us directly affected. But physics also presents us with mind-stretching alternatives; suggesting that worlds exist in which every possible choice has been made, and all forks in the road explored. Somewhere, then, my mother is Brian Cox, Captain Kirk (or maybe Janeway), Sally Ride. I’m betting she’s also been on Strictly Come Dancing, written novels, and joined the feminist movement. At the very least, there has to be a world in which she had more of the advantages of life but lost none of the ones she had in ours.

So last week we were gathered at the Limes again. Same group, same purpose, different green plastic bottle. This time we all knew what to do – a sad consequence of repetition – and so drifted easily from one stage of the event to the next. Catholicism had long ago lost its grip on my mother. She told me she had been excommunicated but I never discovered why, although arguing about where the justice was in repealing the fish-on-Friday rule while millions scrubbed the toilets in purgatory for sniffing gravy might have been a contributory factor.

In celebration of what she was, aspired to be, perhaps is – in an alternative universe, we sank her ashes into the place near where my dad’s cherry tree is thriving. Then we planted a mock orange shrub for her to feed. These two colourful, scented heralds of Spring marked the entrance to every path or driveway of every house they moved to, just as soon as they were able to drop anchor, and here they will do the same. There are lights on the tree, a windchime, and lanterns by the door. There are people at the Limes who will remember who is there. But their composition, the atoms that hung together long enough to be called Margaret and Donald, those are back where they came from, part of that universe my mother was always trying to fathom. Maybe she’s found the perimeter fence. I bet there’s a shrub there now.

Our music was provided by Dave Brown who sang lovely Irish ballads for us and never minded that he was the background.

Our reading came from ‘Search’ which is one of the stories in ‘Sum: tales from the afterlives’ by David Eagleman. Irreverent, poignant, funny, but always gentle.

‘Fete Accomplice?’ now on Ether Books

Marissa Nalletamby, married with two children, starts to have romantic dreams about a man she barely knows. Is it an affair if she never actually meets him? And why is his dream-self getting younger? On Ether Books as a paid download now. Go on, give it a star or two, you know you want to!

‘Dissolution’ – an unidentified literary object

Fractal Filament (Photo credit: Simon Lexton)

This piece has, like many adult offspring these days, come rolling back with its washing to live with its parents because otherwise it will probably remain forever homeless. Why? What did it do? Is it the literary equivalent of an indolent, work-shy waster?  Not really (well I would say that!), it’s likely because the poetry market thinks it’s prose and the prose market believes it’s poetry.


Actually they are both right; ‘Dissolution’ started life as a poem for my OU course and, because I don’t really have a feel for poetry, I wrote a flash story first from which to fashion it. Not quite in the spirit? My tutor thought so and chuckled out a less than perfect grade! So when the time came to unleash it on a more public stage I tried the poetry market first [zilch – it’s prose], re-wrote it as a flash piece [nope – it’s poetry], then revised both for different markets because if you don’t keep knocking, no one will ever let you in, right? Today when it turned up again on the doorstep, I decided to let it back in permanently and give it its room back because it brought home some of the best comments ever for a rejection. So here it is, my hybrid chimaera of a tale that won’t roll on a catnip mouse or bury a bone:


The threads bend back on themselves, sweeping through time, dipping into tiny pockets of experience and breathing out again into the emptiness. The artist whose threads they are and whose speck of life has held them together asks the scientist ‘What is this?’ and ‘Where is it going?’ But the scientist keeps her counsel. Tugging on theoretical principle and marshalling empirical evidence, she is silent. It will come right, there will be an algorithm.


The threads gather pace, gather new threads; hundreds, thousands, billions, and weave themselves together around the hundreds, thousands, billions of dreamers and thinkers and existers and things barely alive at all and out of whose experiences they are extruded. The scientist ponders. Extrusion? How so? But the artist has lost interest, she is absorbing the tracks, following the threads, losing definition.


Her soul frees itself first from its identity as lover. The bonds fade, he fades, his image dissolving as she looks on, the smell of him in the morning – content as warm coffee – creeping away and leaving no trace. His touch, gentle and thoughtful, and their loving – sometimes courteously perfunctory, most times an exhilarating union of impassioned equals – nothing more than echoes as the essence of them drifts away. All those losses turn the threads cold as life gives up its ability to find comfort in another.


Soon after, she feels the unravelling of mother love. What was his name? She can no longer remember or fully comprehend what he was, what child was, but the ache of hollowed out nothingness where he had been, coils and uncoils, rails against its dissolution, then gives in and drifts, insensate, into the collective void.


The scientist contemplates what is left of meaning while coherence and logic, resolution and cognition detach themselves and become insubstantial. Her last notion – not quite thought but not quite nothing, is curiosity, an attempt to gain an understanding of this process. But it folds itself elegantly into the anonymous, sinuous, regressing threads and leaves her alone.


The artist watches it go. Could love exist without cognition? Identity? She imagines a thread the shape of love, holds it, nurtures it for a quantum moment, for millennia. She binds to it all the loves she has ever known and tries then to bind it to herself to protect it and keep it safe. Finally, with loneliness turning to communality, loss to inevitability, and both feathering away into the temporal tide, she sets it free.


(c) suzanne conboy-hill 2012

‘If it ain’t broke …’ now an i/Phone/Pad/Pod/Thing download

If it ain’t broke …’ has been on This Personal Space since May 20th, 2012 and now I am very pleased to announce its availability as an iPhone/iPad download from Ether Books, 12/07/12. A brave decision by Ether – not everyone would take the risk of featuring a story whose main character is a man with Down’s Syndrome, especially one who doesn’t live up to the stereotype of happy, smiley but ultimately helpless dependent.

The app and the download are free. If you felt so inclined, you could take a look and maybe even give it a star or two? Jolly good.

‘50 Shades’ – the phantom menace?

grey stuff and grey stuff and grey stuff

I know, using ‘50 Shades’ in the header will pull in all sorts of innocents looking either for more clips of lascivious lustings or critiques of same. Sorry. I consider it payback for having searches on this book permanently in my internet history and available to David Cameron, should he feel moved to inspect my homework. Which is still better than having it in my library, and that was a close thing.

‘50 Shades of Grey’ (‘Gray’, if you have the US version. Lucky you) is selling by the forest-load and getting the film industry in a tizz so I went for a look. Well, you would, wouldn’t you? It took a couple of minutes to see that the poll was divided into five star and one star ratings, and only a little longer to determine which camp I was in. You can read some of the reviews here, and there is another here. I haven’t carried out an analysis, but my impression is that the more articulate the comment, the more likely it is to be negative. Positive comments seem to come largely from people who, in their on-line postings at least, seem to be as linguistically impoverished and unskilled as the other lot claim the ‘50 Shades’ author, E.L.James, to be. No surprise then, that it has wide appeal when literacy is such an issue in our education systems, time is at a premium, and appealing to the common denominator is the most effective way to optimise sales.

You can’t knock that; everybody is entitled to have something accessible to read and that keeps them entertained. At least they are reading and that’s good news. The question of standards, taste, quality is multi-layered. Some of it is subjective – what you like is your business and telling you your preferences are not high falutin’ enough gets no one anywhere. The scaffolding though, is technique, skill, grammar, punctuation, vocabulary – all those tools good writers use to make whatever they write, readable for its audience. Even trashy content can be well-written trashy content.

So, to put my own cards on the table, I have read samples of this book.  I found it to be conceptually naive, and soul-shatteringly badly crafted – a teenager’s idea of romance (with a lot of being slapped around) that must have Mills and Boon shuffling up the sofa to avoid association. Other reviewers talk about repetitiveness, coyness of language, the limited range of its vocabulary, and down-right laughable sex scenes.

So how did it nearly get in my library? Fact is, I don’t know and Amazon can’t explain, but my receipt for a kindle download listed the book I had purchased – plus ‘50 Shades’, for which I had also been charged. Did I miss-click? Doubtful – I had the title and the author of the book I wanted, went straight to that page, and made a one-click purchase. No clicking around, no other pages upon which to make an unwitting hit, and nothing on the subsequent notification either. Amazon gave me an immediate refund and sucked the item back up the tube. But for a few hours it was a purchase, it was on my Kindle, and it registered as a sale. I wonder how many more times that has happened.

So, has your kindle ever been possessed by a phantom purchase? I’ve had a word with mine about going shopping on its own and I suggest you do an audit of yours – who knows what it’s been up to!