Mens Temporum . UK


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THE FACTS

 

 

The Chronicle of events to February 2016

The dates in this chronicle of events are primarily taken from my email archive and other timestamped documents on my computer, so there is some provenance, although maybe only from my perspective as I am an accomplished computer technician who could turn his mind to falsifying such records if I had reason to do so. However, I am not attempting to prove anything to others here but simply sharing my experiences as they happened. In that vein I may mention portions of the fiction that I wrote regardless of whether others have had the opportunity to read them yet. Some still only reside on my computer and have never been shared with anyone completely. In fact there are good reasons for them not to be, not the least of which is that they are the components of the as yet unpublished parts of the fictional story. There is always the possibility that it could eventually prove to have literary merit in its own right.

In the twentieth century my working career involved writing explanations of business systems for computers to read and explanations of computer systems for business people to read. I wrote no fiction except when the business people saw it as such and did not agree with my perceptions of the future. The computers disagreed with me less often. Computer systems designers are always looking to the future and it may not always be the one that others see. In the twenty-first century I am retired and can indulge my free will, even my subconscious desires to some extent, so excursions into fantasy and fiction are more likely. Therefore it is fitting to start this account of my peculiar literary career in this latter period in the appropriate fashion.

Once upon a time to which I cannot put a date I awoke one morning with a story in my head. There is a period first thing after waking when responsibility for one’s existence is being passed from the subconscious mind to the conscious. At that time new thoughts may present themselves, such as solutions to the problems that one had the previous day. Sleeping on a problem is often a way to solve it. There can also be other unsolicited thoughts though. These are not just memories of dreams experienced by the conscious mind in an altered state but also genuine thoughts from that unseen beast within the labyrinth of the brain, the subconscious. Why this creature with its incredible capabilities should have delivered a fictional story, a children’s story even, to my mind on this occasion I had no idea. I had no child to tell it to and no reason to write it down, so tried to ignore it, but it buzzed around inside my head like a trapped insect. Years later it is still there, still not released into our reality, but still intact in its details. Maybe that is because during my working life I didn’t forget details until they were safely committed to text somewhere and the habit has remained.

During the years 2002 to 2007 my main literary activity was writing letters to mother-in-law’s solicitors about her financial affairs. In 2007 she died overnight in her bedroom in an old people’s home, having been there for only a few days. It had previously been the home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who had himself died from a heart attack that he suffered in the hall almost directly below her bedroom. He was a spiritualist and she always wanted to meet famous people, so maybe she did in the end. If so then they may well have found that they had something in common. Her mother had been a Basterfield, which is a variation of the name Baskerville. Please excuse a little levity associated with this sad event. My letter writing skills continued to be exercised during the subsequent year that it took to settle her tangled affairs.

In early 2009, soon after that hectic letter writing period, I was writing some specialised computer software to give to a local charity for use in their work when I once again awoke one morning with a spontaneous story nagging at me in my head. After my previous experience with that children’s story I considered this to be a great nuisance as I needed to complete my task, so I decided to purge it from my mind as quickly as possible by typing it into my computer. Having no experience whatsoever in writing fictional stories I did what I definitely could do and wrote it in the form of a letter to a solicitor entitled “Re Case 11”. That took most of a day to complete but then it was gone from my mind and I forgot all about it.

One consequence of mother-in-law’s death was that I had to move a large collection of old electronic components from her garden shed into my garage in order to sell her home. By 2010 I was looking for an alternative home or use for these and I conceived the idea of building a replica of the now extinct Honeywell 200 mainframe computer that I first programmed in the late 1960s. This project is now described on its own website www.honeypi.org.uk, which I first registered in 2010, and also in an article that I wrote much later which appears in issue 66 of the house magazine of the Computer Conservation Society, the magazine title being “Resurrection” unsurprisingly. That article goes into some technical details, which it is possibly appropriate to mention briefly here as well.

The viability of the project really depended on my being able to provide two key components of the machine, its memory and its distinctive control panel. I had components in my collection which might just suffice for the purpose but my vintage magnetic core memories from the period were unsuitable. Apart from individually being too small they also employed decimal addressing while the machine needed to use binary addressing. Somehow I would have to use all these memories together in a strange combination, even though each would need its own supporting electronics, and also I would need to make them appear to be binary when they were in fact decimal in operation. Also, to emulate the original machine I needed them to work faster than normal. It doesn’t matter whether this paragraph means anything to you. Read what the next paragraph states with an open mind and it may make some sense eventually. While doing so bear in mind the words after the title of my novel which read “about something else”.

To make my memories appear to be something else I had to treat them as a jigsaw puzzle of smaller pieces which could logically be taken apart and reassembled to appear differently. Anyone with a technical understanding of how such memories work will understand that they can be accessed randomly and their sequential nature is actually an illusion, so they can just as well be used in a different order and still be functional. All one needs to do is construct a way of mapping the virtual memories onto the underlying real ones in real time. I also realised that the memories had a unique feature which wasn’t exploited when they were used conventionally in the past. This was that while writing new information to them one could also simultaneously read previously written information. This previous information would appear in an encrypted form which would need to be decrypted by comparing it to the new information. Basically, by jumbling up the new and previous information, overlapping one period of time with another and both writing and reading at the same time, one could do more with the memories than was previously assumed.

What I described in that previous paragraph proved to me that my project was possible although it would involve some complicated work on my part. My article in “Resurrection” explains more fully so far as the computer project is concerned but here that paragraph above may be interpreted quite differently as it intentionally never mentions computers. Moving on, I spent a couple of weeks writing a demonstration programme, which I called “The Pi Factory”, for the hypothetical computer in a dead language. This involved invoking skills that I hadn’t used since the 1960s but were obviously still lying dormant but intact at the back of my mind. At that point I felt that I could achieve what I intended but only with considerable effort. It would all be a lot easier if I could just find the right memories in the future, so I shelved the project for a while.

I should mention that when I chose to call my project “The Honey Pi Project” I searched the Internet for other references to these words in combination as a courtesy but found little of relevance apart from a song track entitled “Pi” on a CD named “A Sea of Honey” in the album “Aerial” by Kate Bush. I bought the album as a result and enjoyed her actually singing the digits of Pi on that track as this fitted in with my project’s demonstration programme that computed Pi and emitted the digits in a continuous stream.

After my intense mental work on that project I changed tack and did some research to unravel the mystery of my family origins. This included seeking the help of a researcher at the USA National Archives in Washington DC. That was not fruitful as such but he turned out to be a tutor in English literature at a university and as such an Anglophile, so we continued to correspond on assorted subjects for a long time. Literature was hardly prominent in that as my knowledge of our literature is sparse and his is vast, but I tried to give as good as I got. When we turned to comparing the creative processes of software design and fiction writing I mentioned the two occasions when some errant muse had assaulted my factual mind with fiction and he asked to read my short story. I warned him that writing is a virus as virulent as any that a software hacker can construct and that readers catch the bug by reading the writings of others, but I sent him a copy of the file still on my computer. In a reply headed “Infected” he expressed his admiration for my letter to a solicitor and admitted that he was already contemplating ways that the concept could be expanded upon. This took me entirely by surprise, that someone accustomed to reading the classics and widely beyond should react so favourably to what was simply a dumping of my unsolicited memories.

Shortly after I discovered that I was the one who had caught the writing bug. That errant nightly muse returned with a vengeance and every morning for day after day I would discover another episode of an apparently never ending tale waiting to play out in my mind. It was like someone relating to me all the details of a TV series that they were watching while I could not. You may know how annoying that can be. It even started every time with the same persistent introduction, the words about the three clocks in the frontispiece to my novel now, just like the opening title sequence of a TV series. It reached the point where I could almost see those clocks in my mind, but not quite. Since then Professor Adam Zeman and his team in Exeter have identified the condition that they have called “aphantasia” and I have realised that it describes the almost perpetual state of my mind in that I see no visual images in my mind’s eye, which is almost always quite blind. Hence even visualising those three clocks is beyond me although I can imagine them conceptually. You may notice that my website is devoid of visual images apart from the three clocks, but even they were generated by my computer from detailed textual instructions that I gave it. I myself cannot draw of course, except while I am actually looking at what I am crudely copying or when simple geometrical shapes are involved.

With this now monstrous tale filling my mind I had to do something to purge it. I actually wanted to watch this non-existent TV series because it fascinated me, so I contacted a professional script-writer to ask his advice. He told me that his experience was that collaborative works weren’t particularly successful and that I’d just have to write the thing myself. I didn’t consider myself capable of writing a script without any experience in that field, so opted to write it as a novel. My wife thought that I had gone mad, writing a novel when she expected me to be building a replica 1960s mainframe computer in the spare room of our small house. Evidently madness is relative, not an absolute concept. I did the minimum research needed to make the process viable, such as learning the conventions for punctuating dialogue, something which had never appeared in any document that I’d written before. My investigation into the nature of “good” writing produced so much conflicting advice that I ignored it all. I did read a book about the psychology of reading though, not that I can consciously remember a word of it now, but maybe some of it sank in.

Being a system designer used to delegating tasks to computers I also conceived of a fictional writer, a ghost writer one might say, within my mind and effectively delegated the task to this being. I have always trusted my subconscious to do the tedious task of thinking things out and this was definitely in its domain, especially since it was that same entity which had presumably conceived the story in the first place. I would just be the scribe typing its dictation, so my approach was very much one of conscious flow, simply writing automatically what came into my head without paying too much attention to its structure or meaning. I have since learned that writers see themselves as either “plotters” or “pantsers” depending on whether they plan their stories out in advance or not. I was definitely a pantser, flying through the work by the seat of my pants at remarkable speed. For a novice writer it is a good way to start and the result always looks like a masterpiece, if only to the author for a short while. I quickly wrote chapter after chapter from my accumulated thoughts. Haste seemed to be of the essence for no obvious reason, as was the sanctity of what I wrote, as though it would totally break apart if I consciously tried to improve upon it. Also I was completely emotionally involved in the events described, my feelings reflecting those of the characters in it, or possibly the converse. On occasions I was writing with tears in my eyes, which returned whenever I revisited such a scene to review or consider amending it. I was fully aware that the story had a double life, being superficially fictional while simultaneously reporting its own creation in a metafictional way. That made sense as my conscious mind was entirely upon the alien writing task that I had set myself.

While writing the chapters I noticed something unusual, at least to my mind. A writer needs to do research to get detailed facts right as he works. In my haste I noticed that as often as not I was doing the research to confirm what I’d already written and despite that there was seldom any need to correct anything as a consequence. The only occasions when I needed to change details were when I did the research expecting to find that something was wrong. In other words my expectations always seemed to be correct. I was surprised that I had reliable foreknowledge of some of the subjects involved at all and concluded that writing was incredibly easy.

With my original short story still prominent in my mind I was travelling to London by train one morning in February 2011 when something amusing occurred. Apart from myself there was just one person in my part of the carriage, a man across the other side typing furiously on a laptop. Personally I am content to sit back and let my mind wander on such journeys. Eventually he completed his work and phoned someone. "It's Marcus here," he said "I've got some copy to go to Andrew by eleven." I just sat smiling to myself. I had found my Marcus apparently. I could not recollect ever encountering a Marcus before and it wasn’t that likely that one would just happen to announce his name to a fellow traveller like that. He was even a writer himself apparently. It was a shame that I’d got Andrew’s name wrong though and I still don’t know why I chose the name Adrian instead. Anyway, only Marcus got transported back in time in that short story of mine because Adrian was already there in the past, so I just needed some way of accomplishing that to mention him in case eleven, as I had already done in reality two years before. The real Marcus clearly had to get his writing done on time, but apparently I didn’t. It was an idle thought, the sort that occupies the mind during a train journey, but they say that one should be careful what one wishes for.

It took me some time to arrange the separate episodic chapters into a continuous story and even now it appears episodic in nature to some extent, that phantom TV series still lurking somewhere beneath the surface, but I still had no serious ambitions as a writer and just wanted the thing out of my mind. It still fascinated me though and I kept reading it to try to understand what it was really about. To determine whether it had any genuine merit before I discarded it entirely I tried writing a synopsis so that I could submit an extract to a professional reader for assessment. I must have written maybe seven different synopses over time before I realised that every perception of its meaning was subjective within the mind of the reader. In frustration I added those words “about something else” below the title of the novel and wrote a bland synopsis which in no way did it justice to my mind. A significant financial expenditure on this folly resulted in a professional assessment of a small portion which proved just how subjective the story was.

I had made the mistake of using the original short story as the first chapter and the professional reader was so infected by its viral nature that he suggested that I abandon my own story entirely and instead write at length about the exploits of the confused private eye first mentioned. I agreed that that would make a very good story, but it was not my story and I wasn’t capable of writing such a thing. To deter other readers from following his example I revised the story so that it started instead by relating some of the experiences of a girl who was not even named until much later, but that first chapter was still unsatisfactory. Computers have to overcome a problem that has been called “bootstrapping” in the past and is now just called “booting”. It involves starting something that needs to have already begun to do so. Hence the true beginning of the process is never quite where one might think that it is. That is how the first chapter of my novel acquired the title “Nowhere to begin”, because that was how I felt about the entire story, that I had no idea where it truly started. By then I knew that it extended into a trilogy of novels and spiralled around back into itself in an impossible way, impossible for me to have written any of it, that is.

I tried to determine whether the cryptic story revealed anything about myself or people close to me that I would not want to, but I couldn’t find anything that even a psychologist could unravel to my mind, or maybe within my mind. It was clear that in one respect the story was about my mind itself, even the architecture of the building described in it being a creditable analogy of a human brain, and the metafictional aspects reinforced that view. That made it an autobiography, not of my conscious self but of my subconscious, but its cryptography was beyond my conscious understanding as a lay person. As it seemed harmless enough I invited my literary acquaintance in the USA to read it in its entirety, not being able to justify the cost of employing a regular professional again as such, although I did make him an offer in that respect. He agreed and apparently enjoyed it greatly, even reacting to the changing moods that I had experienced when writing it. If I ever wrote any more he would happily read it. What I sent to him was both the first and second parts of Never Upon A Time but as I only ever wrote the second part as a very rough draft to assess its length it doesn’t exist in any more recent publishable form. To place these events precisely in time now, I sent the first full draft of the novel to him in February 2012 and received his annotated copy back in January 2013.

In January 2012 my wife and I made a donation to an action group which had been campaigning for years to get a local folly restored. The description of that same folly in my novel was how it ought to have looked, not how it actually did when I wrote about it. The restoration work had at last been scheduled to start and the action group wanted to fund the creation of a visitor centre. The significance of this comes later.

While waiting for comments on the novel during the earlier part of 2012 I continued to work on the later novels in the long story, sending my literary contact details of my ideas at various times. One fragment of dialogue, that I wrote at that time and intended to include in the opening chapters of the second novel, is worth mentioning. It stated that in the altered reality of that story Lucine and her family had emigrated to Australia when she was young. Another idea that I considered to add variety to the story was to describe the director of the team in it taking a holiday in Scotland. I chose the Assynt region where my wife and I had spent a couple of pleasant holidays and sat in a restaurant watching salmon leaping in the river outside the window. I did some research on the area and was surprised to discover that there was a large cave system there. Furthermore one of the largest caves in the system had been named “The Great Northern Time Machine” for some unimaginable reason. The complete skeleton of a bear had been found there but nobody knew how the animal could have got that deep into the system dead or alive. I abandoned the chapter. I couldn’t possibly mention a place where a time machine accessible only through underground tunnels actually existed and visitors like bears could appear without any apparent means. Clearly my story was meant to remain within the confines of my own imaginary time capsule.

In July 2012 I mentioned to my literary friend a fact not stated in the draft of the novel already with him, that the central character’s full name was actually Graham Graham as his father had a sense of humour and had enjoyed the book Catch-22 very much.

As it would be some while before I received any comments about the novel and that passing muse seemed satisfied with my efforts I returned to my deferred computer project in September 2012 with remarkable immediate success. Deep searches on Google revealed two people to me, both of whom I successfully contacted. The first was Gay Gordon, daughter of the American chief designer of the original Honeywell 200 computer. She told me that her father had died just over a year before, in other words while I was working on my novel, and that she had his personal papers in her basement. Apparently it was the right time for her to be revisiting her father’s memory as she looked through these and found some fascinating documents about the machine written by him personally, copies of which she sent to me. These were words straight from the source, precious to my project as background material if not of practical assistance. They demonstrated what a delightful sense of humour the man had had, as shown by the choice of his daughter’s name as well. Later in the project she did herself provide practical assistance to me and I gave her just a little insight into why her father spoke so fondly of that machine, so the encounter was fortuitous for both of us. She told me that he had once worked for the NSA and had done his share of prying while there.

The second encounter definitely was practically beneficial. I found a peculiar webpage catalogued in Google. It was in a subdirectory named “test” on a Dutch website but wasn’t actually linked to the website itself in any way. Somehow the Google spiders had found and catalogued it nevertheless. Although the website was all in Dutch this page was in English and on it someone unidentified claimed to own a collection of Honeywell 200 logic boards. I had to investigate this as these were so rare, so contacted the organisation that owned the website, Natura Ingenium. I received a reply from a lady named Els who told me that she would pass my query on to her partner Marcel. Marcel proved to have exactly what I needed, the right memories together with all the logic needed to operate them and he offered them to me for my project. As a result I didn’t need to do all the work that I’d planned in order to use my own memories after all. He brought the memory components to me in the UK just weeks after we made contact as he came to London to organise an extended trip doing research there the following year. He is a world authority on the imaging techniques used in medical scanners, i.e. looking inside living people to see what is happening there.

Using a translation of the Natura Ingenium website I discovered that the organisation tackled problems involving trees in urban areas, especially Amsterdam, providing solutions that took both the welfare of the trees and the demands of their alien environment into account. I was confused by the Latin name, which seems to mean something like “Nature Ingenuity” but doesn’t translate exactly. Els, who is adept at Latin, admits that it is not a properly formed phrase but was coined centuries ago in this form. She had taken over running the organisation from her father Jan, who had died in May 2012. There was also a slogan at the very bottom of one page on the website which caught my eye. It read “A tree on your doorstep, a forest in your mind”. My searches for other sources of information about her led me to the website for Garage Notweg, the location of her business, where an article about her work was accompanied by a peculiar picture of her. All that could be seen was her lower half protruding from a hole in the ground under the trunk of a large tree on which she was presumably working, her speciality being the care of tree root systems. This image reminded me of Alice in Wonderland diving headlong down a large rabbit hole, although her jeans and workboots didn’t quite fit in with that. It seemed an unlikely picture to find there as one would normally expect one accompanying such an article to show the person’s face. Also I didn’t understand why the website was for a garage, not knowing at that time that Garage Notweg is a large former Renault garage that has been converted into a community centre with studio space for small businesses. Somehow these incongruities bothered me, but at that time I didn’t know why.

It was in January 2013 that I received the annotated copy of the novel back from my literary contact in the USA. At that time I tried yet again to write a representative synopsis, which I labelled “Synopsis n+1” as I had lost count of how many previous attempts I had made. That one described the novel as itself being “An exercise in synopsis” because of its self-referential nature.

Still contemplating the future of my novel writing I attended a one day course on creative writing in March 2013, but was appalled by it. The exercises that we did there involved making things up without any constraints. That in no way compared to my experience where I seemed free only in the way that I wrote what appeared to my mind as a preconceived story. Apparently there were constraints on what I wrote but I had no idea how or why.

Meanwhile another setback for my computer project was the need for an extra backplane, the large frame into which the many small logic boards were plugged in the 1960s, but in April 2013 I discovered that all the last Honeywell 200 computers had been acquired by a company in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania and that the service engineer there had salvaged and kept many of the parts when they were scrapped. I mention this simply because the town’s name jogged my thoughts somewhat.

Also in April 2013 my wife and I attended a party to celebrate completion of the restoration of that local folly and then in June I corresponded with one of the action group organisers about visiting it. Her name was Caroline but she signed her messages “Cee”. When asked she said that she had been given the nickname “C” by a friend but had lengthened it to “Cee” when signing things since. She also mentioned that I’d shortly be contacted by the chairperson of the group, yet another Caroline. Eventually we did tour the fantastic mock Gothic tower with its visitor centre in the round reception area in the middle of the ground floor. There was a lift on one side for access to the lower levels but the top was only accessible by stairs. Around the walls of the visitor centre was painted a timeline of the historical events surrounding the tower’s own history. I noticed that there was an error in one entry, which mentioned the “Boar Wars” instead of the Boer Wars. I found the idea of English troops fighting bands of wild pigs in Africa amusing but pointed out the error to one of the guides.

In June 2013 Gay arranged for the backplane that I needed to be shipped from Mechanicsburg to the UK. I followed the shipment on the FedEx tracking service and noticed that the first leg of the journey was five hundred miles due west to Indianapolis, away from the UK. This was because FedEx flies shipments to the UK from their Indianapolis hub, but I was confused by it for a while. I didn’t need the backplane immediately anyway, but knowing that it was on its way meant that I could assemble the memory unit on the one that I already had. The extra backplane would go into storage until I built the main processor on it.

In September 2013 I went to consult a hospital doctor about a medical problem. While waiting for him in the consulting room I overheard him talking to the previous patient in the passage outside. Evidently he was having trouble ending that encounter as the man was insisting on relating his entire extensive medical history and how it had baffled doctors. Eventually the exasperated doctor said “You should write a book.” I smiled to myself at this sound advice. When he did get to me he advised me to have a physical colonoscopy but also mentioned that I could have a virtual one using a CAT scanner first just to determine whether I actually had a problem in my colon. He explained that the physical approach would allow the problem to be treated immediately whereas the virtual one would not actually provide a cure. I opted for the virtual approach. Immediately after the CAT scan all my symptoms disappeared and did not return. Apparently the doctor was wrong about virtual cures. I later wrote to him to provide my holistic explanation for the phenomenon and thank him for the timely cure. I suspected that my ailment had actually been caused by a persistent bacterial infection and the course of strong purgatives that I had to take before the scan had removed this from my system. Apparently even virtual reality can influence the physical world by causing a prior chain of events. I told Marcel about this experience as he designs and develops medical scanner technology.

In December 2013 I was contacted by someone named David in California who said that he had an original control panel for a Honeywell 200 computer, the remaining key component that I needed to make my project viable. However, his personal circumstances and the fact that the panel was, if anywhere, in a shed at his parents’ home meant that for a long time this object was a hypothetical one. During our correspondence over the subsequent year and more we referred to it as though it were Schrödinger’s cat, not knowing whether it still existed until the shed was opened.

In January 2014 our next door neighbours told us that they’d photographed a UFO that had been circling our houses several times. I downloaded the photo from their camera into my computer, but the object was just an indistinct blob in it. They said that on a previous occasion they had reported a similar sighting to someone appropriate. We get a lot of lightweight craft flying around our airspace in the daytime, but anything silently circling us in the hours of darkness seemed unusual. It was just one of those things to me though. I couldn’t imagine that there was anything interesting enough in our quiet patch of suburbia to merit two visits by aliens or any other aerial visitors at night for that matter.

In October 2014 I was contacted by Nominet, who handle registrations of UK Internet domains, to tell me that as I had registered menstemporum.org.uk back in 2011 I had the option also to register menstemporum.uk, the new briefer format. Being an IT type I had registered the original domain name simply as a precaution when I wrote the novel but never used it for anything except emails. I wondered why I hadn’t been offered honeypi.uk as I also own honeypi.org.uk, so checked whether anyone had registered honeypi.co.uk since I’d set up my other project website. My Nominet search revealed that honeypi.co.uk had been registered, but the name of the owner was my own! With thoughts of identity theft in my mind I investigated this and discovered that my namesake was a beekeeper on the other side of the country who was contemplating using a Raspberry Pi computer to monitor the temperature and humidity in his hives. While I had registered my domain on the 12th July 2010 he had registered his on the 16th July 2012. It might have been even more of a coincidence if the dates had been exactly two years apart, but in fact both were Mondays, which was just as remarkable. It was all a coincidence but ultimately not even that simple a one. He wasn’t using his domain name as such but it was accidentally linked to another website which advertised a holiday cottage that he co-owned in a remote corner of Devon. This happened to be very near a church about which I needed information for a local history project in Kent on which I was working and a friend of his in the area subsequently sent me what I wanted. Just another coincidence then, but not the last.

By this time I was feeling haunted by coincidences and in December 2014 I wrote to an old scientist friend who had taught chemistry at Oxford University to discuss with him the potential for quantum effects within neurons in the brain. I knew about quantum entanglement, the “spooky action at a distance” that worried Einstein and suspected that precognition could result if it occurred across time within neurons, but my friend was sceptical about this. Later during the same month I saw a programme on BBC TV about recent discoveries in the field of quantum biology. The fact that quantum effects actually could have an impact in the microscopic world of neurons strengthened my opinion.

Within days of this another strange coincidence occurred. I won’t go into the personal details but for just one night my wife wore a different nightdress, short black and lacy, and made remarks that appeared to come straight out of the original first chapter of my novel, which she had never read. She maintains that my novel is just me being me and she already knows everything about me, so doesn’t read my work unless I plead with her. I quickly realised that information about Lucine, the girl in that chapter, seemed to point to a specific point in time, the end of 2014, the month when this incident actually occurred. Looking for other such clues in the story I concluded that 2015 would also reveal more such coincidences.

While reviewing my novel for more clues to this ludicrous phenomenon I realised that there was an acid test highlighted, the one used by Bernard Fermorick, my fictional inventor of the time capsule and hence the analogy of me as author. He had addressed Doctor Andrews by name even though he only suspected that that was who he was. I decided to apply a similar test and discover whether a real Doctor Victor Andrews existed on the Internet. Such a search tends to reveal dentists in the USA but even so it produced a very interesting candidate at the top of the list on Google. His address was given as Ponca City in Oklahoma, which is not only the region where my literary correspondent in the USA was raised as a boy but also the home of some friends of my next door neighbours. Those neighbours had been touring the region not so long ago to visit civil war battlefields and on their return had mentioned to us that the general state of teeth in rural areas in the USA is poor compared to that in the UK, presumably because of our national health service. In addition one prominent reference to this dentist in Google mentioned him as being on the list of associates for an organisation that dealt specifically with sleep apnoea. I have been concerned about my wife’s bouts of this, sometimes digging her in the ribs at night to persuade her to start breathing, and no doubt I experience it too. One symptom is apparently unremembered dreams, which is what I originally attributed my memories of an unseen TV series to. This dentist also happened to have the same middle initial as the chief designer of the Honeywell 200 computer, who also had the title “Doctor” as a technical qualification. Finding facts that fitted so well just reinforced my suspicions, but of course that dentist himself was in no way connected with the phenomenon, only the publicised information about him.

In January 2015 I joined an online writers’ forum after looking through several such on the Internet. Although I found one based in the UK I finally opted for one which was international although a lot of the membership were in the USA. On it knowledge, advice and opinions are shared with novice writers. I have subscribed to it regularly ever since.

In March 2015 my wife and I took a short holiday in that remote village in Devon in the cottage adjoining my namesake’s. We went for walks along the beautiful coastline, spent time in the marvellous local pub and our evenings sitting before a wood-burning stove in our cosy cottage. While reading about the area we made a surprising discovery. A house on the coast close to the village, one that we must have walked right past, was the home of the reclusive singer Kate Bush. Just another coincidence then.

A little later in 2015 my wife was contacted by someone from her distant past, someone important to her. This woman now has a family and over the year we formed a close friendship with them. In September 2015 we travelled to visit them at their home, in Devon again. I also tried to arrange a visit to an old friend of mine from my childhood, whom I hadn’t met in sixty years, as he lived nearby, but it wasn’t possible. Our visit to my wife’s acquaintances was filled with coincidences. The husband worked for a company that supplied generators, right up to the very large ones that power whole buildings in emergencies when they cannot draw power from the main supply. He also had a sea life aquarium. When I looked at it one small fish came and stared at me through the glass, its mouth open wide and both eyes apparently observing me, although it probably only saw its own reflection in reality. The family had an autistic teenage son who collected vintage games consoles. We played a Mario Brothers game on one of them together. His collection was extensive. He had a young sister who had been born in the early months of 2011 when I was writing my novel. She was named Georgia after her grandfather George. Her mother called her “Miss G” as their surname also began with that letter. As I had spent time with her brother in his bedroom Georgia also invited me to hers and her brother came too. She chose a jigsaw puzzle for us to do and then left us to work on it while she bounced on her bed. We had a problem with it. Apart from the normal flat puzzle it had cut out figures that slotted into it and stood up. The picture on the box showed the completed puzzle but these figures in it obscured the picture behind them on the puzzle itself, so to a great extent we had to work just by matching up the shapes without seeing what the picture was meant to be. It was only when I woke up the next morning that the sheer number of coincidences during that visit hit me.

In July 2015 the trust which owned that local folly as well as other historic properties around the country reported that it was going into liquidation. The visitor centre remained open for the rest of the summer season but there was the possibility that the folly could be sold off as a private residence and no more public tours would be possible. This was a great blow for the group of volunteers who had set up the centre.

In August 2015 I received a very brief but welcome message from David in California. It simply read “The cat lives,” and was accompanied by a tantalising photo of the corner of a Honeywell 200 control panel peeping out from under a tarpaulin.

September 2015 still had surprises in store apart from our visit to Devon. Someone in that online writers’ forum had offered to read my entire novel and comment on it. By then I had cut it down to just the first part. I sent him the latest version and from the 20th September until the 1st October I received his comments. He remarked that the first chapter was a problem, which I had always thought too but hadn’t been able to correct, so I attempted to substantially rewrite that chapter. I completed the new version and posted it in the forum for comments on the 21st October. In it I included a fact not in the previous version, that the girl’s name was Lucine. I also alluded to an eclipse of the moon in it. One had actually happened on the 28th September while my fellow writer was reading my novel. He lives in a wilderness area in the USA and was raised with Shoshone children. He studies the culture of native Americans and, living close to nature, they have a different perception of time from other people.

Having been a member of that forum for almost a year I have learned more about it. It was originally created by someone else named Rob, who used the pseudonym “Baron” in the forum. He had passed ownership of the site on to a writer and journalist living in Western Australia, who had an interest in science including astrophysics. Rob himself died during 2015. In the administrative structure of the website the current owner is known as the Admiral, the site being regarded as a ship sailing through a sea of literary possibilities.

As I enter the year 2016 I wonder which project will demand most of my attention. Will I be tempted to continue my writing or focus on building my computer from the past? In the latter project I am currently contemplating a problem with the power supplies. My mains supply units are not powerful enough, so I may resort to using rechargeable batteries in the short term. My test runs will only be for limited periods and waiting for the batteries to recharge will not cause problems as there is no time limit on how long my work takes. I will have to take care not to drain any battery too much though, so will need a device that will keep a check on all of them. I have a suitable rotary device that could serve the purpose and there will be twelve batteries to check in turn, so when they are numbered to identify them the final device may well turn out to look like a large possibly red clock. It will tell me when a session with this 1960s memory unit, my own personal time capsule, must end. Just another coincidence then.

In February 2016 I attended a half day introduction to cognitive psychology. We did various simple experiments. One involved looking at six pairs of photographs of people’s faces and choosing from each pair which person had been successful in an election. I mentioned that I gained no information from the faces because of my aphantasia, so the speaker told me to act as a control, making my choices at random. I got all six choices wrong, a one in sixty-four chance. Everyone else got average results in comparison. I noticed that the six right choices on the question paper were at the vertices of a regular hexagon and asked him whether he had placed the photographs in this way on purpose but he said that he had laid them out randomly. In fact on his computer he had the photographs laid out differently and the regular pattern didn't show there. Just another coincidence then. I don’t do psi tests. They don’t interest me.

Rob Sanders

March 2016