In The Hawking Sequence, Skypilot and Alim escape from the work camp via a “speeder” (railway motorcar). My love of speeders runs deep. When I was 10 or 11, my parents took me to see the National Film Board of Canada’s “The Railrodder” (1965), starring Buster Keaton. Keaton plays an elderly Englishman who, after reading an ad in the London Times about touring Canada, decides to do just that.
He swims across the Atlantic (I guess, as he is seen emerging from the water, fully clothed and with enough energy to walk up the beach) then steals a conveniently parked and vacant speeder. The short film is an homage to his previous work as he travels in the speeder along the tracks performing goofy stunts reminiscent of those in his younger days, but miraculously never coming face-to-face with an opposing train. An enjoyable, but not particularly funny, movie that captured the attention of at least one young Canadian at the time.
The concept of the speeder stayed with me. Imagine flying along the tracks, bouncing around corners and over level crossings, while constantly thinking that a train will soon appear around that next corner coming straight at you!
While attending university, I got a job as a Trainman with the Canadian Pacific Railway unapologetically through my uncle, E.N.A. (Ted) Sewell, who was running the show at the CPR. From there, I went to the British Columbia Railway, working on the track maintenance crew. Most of the crew were swarthy Portuguese and I was the tall, gangly kid who kept breaking hammers by not hitting the rail spike at the correct angle.
I guess the railway was tired of repairing hammers as, one day, a supervisor drove up to the crew and asked the foreman, “Where’s Van Alstyne?” Bending down, I heard my name and stood straight up. The foreman saw me immediately, as I was head and shoulders above my colleagues.
The foreman offered me a job as Track Patrolman, operating a speeder! This one was the classic yellow and even had a regulation red emergency light on top; like on the top of police cars of the time.
Of course, I jumped at the opportunity, saying Adeus to my Portuguese workmates and thereby starting the best job I ever had.
Stories about my train patrol experience to follow…
The main character in the Ticking series of books is named Skypilot.
Writers of fiction cower at one of the unwritten rules, this one in a loud voice from above and accompanied by thunder: “Of thy main characters, [insert clap of thunder here] thou shalt make-up but a single weird name”.
For Ticking, I wanted a name that is odd, different for my protagonist; something that reflected his religious family background, a connection to Classic Rock and the choice that his progressive missionary parents made when he was born.
A “Sky pilot” is a member of the clergy, especially a military chaplain who blesses the troops – like in The Animals 1968 song of the same name – prior to battle.
As mentioned in Ticking: A Tale of Two Time Travellers, Sky was not the only one in his school with a different name. Some recent, actual names for babies include: Aoife (for a girl, pronounced EE-fa), Cookie, Peaches, Sugar, Dove, Elon, Falcon, Lark, Oak, Sable, Cub, Lion, Coyote and, of course, Sequoia.
Game of Thrones fans selected Oberyn, Rhaegar, Margaery and Daenerys, the spellings of which will frustrate teachers, coaches and aunts completing birthday cards for years to come. Other parents chose to honour authors, like Hawthorne, Sinclair and Whitman. I am not sure as to the current popularity of “Vann” as a given name, but my upcoming trip to the year 2036 will reveal its future popularity.
The trouble with time travel (how could there be more than one?) is that, upon arrival, you must be able to converse. Zac and Sky speak only English and a bit of French. Their travels are generally restricted to those places in which inhabitants speak these languages. And, the further back in time they travel, the less recognizable these languages will be.
Alim, with his family background, was able to provide an exception, teaching the guys Aramaic.
Aramaic, an ancient language of the Middle East, is still spoken by some, mostly Jews and Christians, in parts of Palestine, Syria and Lebanon. It was the common language of Jesus’ time in the Middle East. Jesus – or Yeshu as he would have been called – spoke Aramaic.
Aramaic is written from right to left, with all the letters representing consonants. Virtually all modern Middle Eastern writing systems and many Asian systems can be traced to it. Aramaic itself has different dialects – like Targumic and Syriac – with Jesus speaking the biblical version.
At its apex, Aramaic had spread to become the lingua franca of the Persian empire.
Readers have been asking about the origin of some of the character's names in Ticking: A Tale of Two Time Travellers. So, I've provided some background below, classified by imaginary and real:
Beatrice Westover: Shares the author’s wife’s maiden name. Audrey is the mother of three sons, Clark, Jordan and Adam. And, grandmother to Addisyn and Cameron.
Clive Rock: Affectionately named after the author’s transit planner colleague and boss. Like his Georgian counterpart in the book, Clive is a visionary, who developed the local fare zone system, amongst other innovations.
Harry Moody: A suburb of “Fraserdale”, Port Moody is where the author attended high school, home of the “Moody Blues”.
Helena Harris: Pronounced “Heleena” (a spelling that would not work in the mid-1700’s), she shares her name with the author’s paternal aunt; that is, his father’s father’s sister. Craig’s “Aunt Helena” would have definitely fit in with the aristocracy. She was an opera singer; wife of a Depression-era doctor who made a bundle writing prescriptions for alcohol; and socialite in the Chicago elite, which included her ex-pat Canadian friend Hal Foster, creator of “Prince Valiant".
Jacques DuTemps: His name being the French word for “time”, bien sur!
Jerry O’Flarity: Though not spelled the same, named after a local pro hockey player from years ago.
Daltrey: Named after, and bears a resemblance to, Roger of The Who (1983 press photo of Roger wearing a tricorn).
Mr. Jamieson: Named after the author’s younger brother, Jamie.
Mr. Pickett: Named after impresario, Mr. Hugh Pickett, who made major contributions to Fraserdale…err Vancouver's arts and entertainment scene. He was awarded the Order of Canada in 1986.
Skypilot Sewell: Shares his surname of the author’s paternal cousins, a dynasty of Canadian railroaders, some with an artistic flare. His given name will be discussed in a future blog.
Zachary Burling: Shares the author’s paternal grandmother’s surname. Edwina May was born in 1896 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Henry Cavendish (1731-1810) was simply the greatest experimental and theoretical English chemist and physicist of his age. His calculated imprecision in the experiment he performed with the assistance of Skypilot notwithstanding; the Royal Society distinguished him for his precision in his varied research. This included experiments regarding the composition of atmospheric air, the properties of gases, the synthesis of water, the laws governing electricity, a mechanical theory of heat, and calculations of the density (and hence the weight) of our planet. His experiment to weigh the Earth, known as the Cavendish experiment, was so accurate that it is within 1% of the currently accepted figure. And yes, he was painfully shy and did dress rather slovenly for a very rich man.
Henry Fielding (1707-1754) does not appear in person in Ticking, but his influence is felt nevertheless. He was a study in contrasts. On the one hand, he was a staunch supporter of the Church of England (which led to his being given the position of London's chief magistrate) and, on the other; he turned to populist political fiction to support an extravagant lifestyle.
Joined by his younger half-brother John, he helped found London's first police force, the Bow Street Runners. In a corrupt society, Henry was admired for his impartial judgments, incorruptibility and compassion for those whom social inequities had forced into crime. Henry's influential writings included a proposal for the abolition of public hangings. In another display of his polarity, he was not opposed to capital punishment, as he presided in 1751 at the trial of the notorious robber James Field, finding him guilty and sentencing him to hang.
Sir John Fielding (1721-1780) was blinded in an accident at the age of 19. Despite this, he succeeded his half-brother as chief magistrate, becoming known as the "Blind Beak of Bow Street" for his ability to recognize criminals, and others, like Henry Cavendish, by their voices alone. He was knighted in 1761. Together, the Fielding brothers enhanced judicial reform and improved prison conditions.
Jack Harris (d. 1794): The swaggering headwaiter at the Shakespeare’s Head tavern, Harris’s real name was John Harrison. He was a part-time pimp and self-professed author (he didn’t actually write it) of the “List of Covent Garden Ladies”, a popular guidebook of the area’s prostitutes. Printed every Christmas from 1760 to 1793; it detailed the appearance, sexual skills and fees of local prostitutes, reviewing them as one would a movie or restaurant.
“The Pimpmaster General” proudly admitted to being a pimp and in supplying the city with fine whores, all of who paid him for an entry in his famed parchment list. He had agents stationed throughout London who would meet arriving stagecoaches, recruiting young women who were just trying to find a new life in the big city. In addition, he somehow found time to operate a “Whores Club” from a private room in the tavern -- on Sunday evenings, no less.
Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) was the founder of the pottery company that bears his name. He recognized that the middle class was expanding, as was its ability to purchase things like pottery. He pioneered various sales techniques, like a money back guarantee and travelling salesmen, and is consequently referred to as the inventor of modern marketing. And funny! Anyone who can pull off dressing as a gondolier as a subtle thank you had to be a funny guy.
Lancelot “Capability” Brown (baptized 1716-1783) was the most renowned landscape architect of the time. He earned his nickname as he was in the habit of viewing a subject plot and saying, “It has great capabilities.”
Thomas Chippendale (1718–1779) became the first cabinetmaker to publish a book of his designs, titled “The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director”. Three successful editions were published, with illustrations, propelling Chippendale to the forefront of his profession. The first style of furniture in England named after a cabinetmaker rather than a monarch, Chippendale became the most famous name in the history of English furniture at a time when such craftsmanship was at its pinnacle.
Thomas Arne (1710-1778) had to disguise himself, at a young age, as a footman to sneak into the opera, where his love and taste for music was formed. His father wanted him to become a lawyer, but Arne practiced in secret the violin and keyboard instruments. He is generally regarded as the most important English composer of the 18th century.
Thank you to the members of this longstanding book club for hosting me on September 16, 2019. They read "Ticking", sent me some great questions and listened with interest to the answers. I had a wonderful time (and I know Stanley did, too). I hope to return to discuss "Ticking: The Hawking Sequence" soon!
Antigravity smartwatch charger
Part of the fun associated with being a writer is discovering real things that seem imaginary. Such was the case for me when I discovered, for Ticking: A Tale of Two Time Travellers, the antigravity smartwatch charger.
Beatrice needed a charger for the smartwatches she had purchased and modified, with Alim’s help. She decided to spend a little more for an antigravity smartwatch charger, which allowed her smartwatch to "levitate" while charging. She figured that it was a great way to present the catalytic device to the chrononauts and, when the time came, to others. The combination of the 18th Century concept of the cloche (a silver food cover) covering the 21st Century concept of the antigravity smartwatch charger was, for her, irresistible.
In Ticking: The Hawking Sequence, she was obligated to show it to Sam Richter.
Bea lifted the lid revealing a smartwatch mounted on a wrist-shaped support. The watch and support hovered noiselessly and slowly rotated.
Richter stood to get a better look. With his hands on his hips, he chuckled, then muttered, “Well, what do you know…”.
“Lots, believe me!” Beatrice shot back, “But, some people only want the short version. Anyway, this is an antigravity smartwatch charger. There’s an electromagnetic field in the base that wirelessly transfers power to the smartwatch.”
Poor Helena. In the second book, she was so amazed by the sight of the hovering smartwatch that she almost gave herself away as being from another time.
These chargers retail for about $200.
Beatrice had selected an isolated booth in the coffee shop. Still, she leaned forward onto her elbows, holding her coffee mug in both hands. She quietly told Alim the truth; she had developed rudimentary time travel.
Alim gasped, Has she literally done it?
Wildly and uncharacteristically, he shouted the first thing that came to mind, “Prove it!”
Other coffee shop patrons turned to see who had shouted. Alim cleared his throat, leaned forward and repeated in a whisper, “Prove it.”
Knowing Alim as she did, Beatrice had come prepared. She smiled confidently and said, “Alright…”
She reached into her handbag and extracted what looked like a newspaper and a woman’s shoe. She handed both over the table to Alim, saying, “Both items are from the past. They are not definitive examples of time travel, by any means, well, not here in this coffee shop, in any case. I mean, you could subject both items to carbon dating, if you wished. As you know, pretty much any organic compound can be dated.”
Alim unfolded the newspaper. He had to admit that it was like new, the paper white and the ink clear. He looked at the date.
Beatrice continued, “The newspaper, as you can see, is from 1942. It was brought back from that year by my dog. Yes, my dog, Legal the Beagle, in a pouch on his back. As I say, the paper might not be the best proof for you; you can get historical newspapers from a variety of sources. But Alim, look at its pristine condition. Even the ink! You cannot get one that new…because there aren’t any! Now, check out the shoe.”
He picked up the shoe – of a simple design with just the hint of a heel – and said, “Sure, the shoe is very much great.” Alim had retained some of his ‘Inglish’; that is, Indian pronunciation of English, “It looks authentic, but you could have purchased it somewhere or even had it made, Bea.”
“Sure, I could have, but I didn’t. What you’re holding is genuine 18th Century woman’s footwear made with all-natural materials. It was worn by Helena on her trip from 1766 to here and now. Most women’s shoes from the period featured heels. But, because Helena is so tall, she prefers no heel. She told me!”
Sam Richter is the diplomatic agent who had volunteered to see young Skypilot safely home to Canada after his ordeal in Africa, when Sky’s parents were murdered. Sam had become a friend of the family.
Now a Canadian Security Intelligence Service operative, Sam was not in Fraserdale just for the wedding of Skypilot and Helena. He had been directed to find out more about the scientist, Beatrice Westover.
CSIS routinely observes the activities of scientific leaders to ensure that national interests are not being subverted. Ms. Westover was a leading scientist at a prominent research agency; an agency that has been on the cutting edge of technological advances in quantum theory and the space-time continuum. That alone placed that agency and its leaders under the scrutiny of CSIS.
The national intelligence service had learned that Ms. Westover continues to be employed, but, curiously, works primarily from her suburban home.
As Richter’s boss in Ottawa had put it during his briefing, “We assume that the nature of the research agency is to maintain a collaborative work environment to forward knowledge in its primary areas of research; not to have leading employees working in isolation over a lengthy duration. She may be, knowingly or not, an information security threat.”
Director Hancock, the steely-eyed boss, leaned forward and slapped a report with the back of his hand, “And, to top it off, the Canadian Space Agency confirms that she is a former astronaut candidate. She turned down an opportunity to fly into space, citing ‘personal reasons’. Something stronger than mere gravity must have kept her on earth.”
He paused, then scratched his chin, “Find out what’s keeping her grounded, Sam.”
So having returned from London in 1766, where do you think Sky and Zac are headed next? Aunt Beatrice thinks that they should travel back in time to prove that Jesus Christ, the man, existed. And her colleague, Alim, with his knowledge of Aramaic (the language of Jesus) agrees.
What are your suggestions for a destination?
The book signing was a huge success, thanks to all those who attended. I hope that you enjoy reading "Ticking" and that you let me know what you thought of it.