ESSAY COMPETITION - THE WINNER & RUNNERS UP!

Updated: Jul 28

In our last issue we invited our readers to submit an essay or no more than 2000 words under the title: Life after Coronavirus. We received ten entries with very different approaches to tackling this subject. Our panel of six judges chose their favourite three essays and gave their reasons why. The overall judge then selected the winner from these.


We are pleased to announce that Carol Salter was selected as the winner and will receive the £100 prize money. Carol’s essay is a little on the dark side and tells a very imaginative story with a science fiction feel to it.


The runners up were Dom Hailey with a very clever story called “The Interview” and Griselda Mussett’s positive take on Faversham’s utopian future. Emily Rose Payne’s entry was also commended. These will also be published on our website. We look forward to hearing your views on them.

LIFE AFTER CORONAVIRUS


Written by Carol M. Salter


I wrapped my scarf tighter around my mouth and nose, I wasn’t taking any chances no matter what those in authority said. It was cold, a biting glacial iciness that had my fingertips throbbing inside my thin woolly gloves. If I stayed much longer, they’d start to go numb. I kept stamping my feet to stop the same sensation happening to my toes. I was beginning to regret leaving the warmth of my home to meet a perfect stranger.


Was I that desperate? In these troubled times, it seemed I was.


I couldn’t remember a time when the weather had been so extreme before Covid. We suffered tornadoes, snowstorms, even mild earthquakes in the once temperate England. The sun, a fleeting image on the retinas, was absent on the best of days. The seas had risen before the sun left us, flooding vast areas of the countryside. The distance between us and the continent had expanded, which some said wasn’t a bad thing. More houses perched on the edge of cliffs had tumbled over the brink. The road and rail network floundered, cynics muttering, ‘no change there.’


I huffed in irritation, there was no sign of the person arriving. With the bitterly cold wind blowing straight in my face, I contemplated leaving for home. Not the loving family home where I grew up and lived with my parents. They were long gone. I knew I’d outlive my parents. I didn’t expect both to pass, before one of them became a grandparent. Now that would never happen. A chasm existed in my heart where their love died. I tried not to dwell on it. Millions like me in their early twenties, had lost parents, but some days it was so hard. On those days, I wanted to stay in bed and weep until the emptiness that was my life was as numb as my fingers were fast becoming.


Radical changes in society occurred following Covid Two. Families weren’t the norm anymore. The global government advised, it was too risky, having different ages together with dissimilar immunity levels. Babies were removed at birth. Sent to isolated establishments to prevent them becoming tainted. They would be vaccinated at two years old, the earliest date their developing bodies could cope with the harsh vaccine. Even so, there was a thirty percent mortality rate. They were our future, state media drummed into us without their survival, Homo Sapiens would be extinct. The first removals had been heart-rending to watch. News stations revealed infants torn from distressed mothers only minutes old. That was until all media was prohibited from broadcasting the separation procedure.


The elderly were treated much the same. Anyone over seventy, still alive, was sent to live in care facilities, whether they wanted to or not. Their assets sold. They were a huge Covid risk. Early days of the pandemic had shown how ill-prepared care systems suffered, its residents dying in swathes. Staff for these places and hospitals lived on site since then, a condition of their employment.


Life was bleak, a necessity in a world where over half the population had been wiped out in the colossal second wave of infection. Then China fell out with India. The result led to countries taking sides, their safety precautions falling like dominoes. Nuclear meltdown was inevitable.


People existed in commune-type shared accommodation since the war, pooling income and bills. It was a forlorn existence. I probably wasn’t alone wishing I’d joined my relatives in the grave. Not that a grave is what they got. Communal cremations were performed nationwide, funerals an obsolete activity of a reckless era. My parents? Likely part of some vast pile of ash fertilizing farming soil somewhere in Kent. The sky was clear of ash clouds this evening, which in part explained the freezing sub-arctic temperature. The scientists warned that a second ice-age would materialize after the bombs were dropped.


Guessing my rendezvous wasn’t coming, I turned in the direction of my digs waving my arms to increase the circulation to my fingers. I considered sprinting, but there was black ice underfoot, plus I didn’t want anyone thinking I was fleeing a crime. Vigilantes with guns were common, acting on impulse rather than facts.


“Stop, stop!” The breathless call came behind me from down the street. Half of me wanted to run, to escape whatever person was hailing me. I didn’t run, instead I turned to face them remembering I’d agreed to meet someone, and this could be them.


“I almost missed you. Sorry,” the man wheezed. Bending forward, he placed both palms on his thighs while he recovered his breath. He was my age. His long chocolate-coloured hair currently hung down covering his reddened face. Everyone kept their hair long for added insulation these days. It wasn’t much but it kept your neck warm on cold days such as this. Chocolate. I remembered the taste, smooth and comforting, a luxury from my childhood long gone. Food was made to eat, to survive, not for pleasure. That was deemed decadent hence obsolete. I sighed at the memory and he looked up catching my gaze.


His eyes were what had appealed to me, made me agree to meet. They were a startling vivid blue, holding a hint of promise and something indefinable, that maybe life could be more than just survival. We’d been communicating on-line for a few weeks. I worked in food production, the main industry for every country. He worked in textile manufacturing. Gone were careers in hospitality, beauty, or leisure we had none. Nothing filled our lives in this disinfected, lonely world – except Contact.


Contact was the state-run dating site. It allowed individuals to begin liaisons. Government officials supervised the sites, intervening as it felt necessary. If you spent too long ‘talking’ on-line they shut you down. Four weeks was the limit. Four weeks to find the one person with whom you felt an attraction. Four weeks to decide whether you wanted to meet, mate and fall pregnant with their child. Contraception in all forms was banned which satisfied the Catholics amongst us.


Once physical contact was established you could remain in the relationship for five more months. Sufficient, they said, to be impregnated. After that, contact was frowned upon and physically discouraged. Men were expected to sow their seed widely. Couples not wishing to separate would be split, sent to other parts of the country to work. Of course, people found ways around it. I knew of two couples, who re-contacted on-line every six months or so, preferring to stay true to each other instead of having countless, hollow lovers.


“Aaron?” I queried.

“Yes.”

“You look taller.” Aaron laughed.


“Yes, I suppose only seeing a person sitting down for three weeks will do that.” He grinned, the smile I was used to seeing on my screen and I relaxed, smiling back at him.


“Shall we go?” he asked, holding out his hand for me to take. I nodded, not wanting to admit we’d only met up for one purpose. I didn’t want to think how many times he’d taken someone else’s hand. He saw my gaze.


“You’re my first,” he stated quietly, guessing my hesitation. “No one has inspired me the way you do.” I smiled in reflex for a second time. “No one smiles the way you do either.”


It was over, quicker than it began. My pregnancy, within two weeks, was all the confirmation the authority needed. Our on-line Contact sessions were terminated a week later. Aaron managed to let me know he was being shipped off. Our brief time together was fun. He taught me many things, but not what to do when your heart feels like someone has taken a hammer to it. My heart had taken enough punishment. I wasn’t sure how much more I could bear. Each day I struggled to rise, to dress, to eat, feeling the negativity pressing down on me like some gigantic hand pushing me bodily into the concrete. I dreaded giving birth, knowing the remaining portion of my flailed heart would be torn asunder as the infant I delivered was removed.


I considered trying to escape. I wasn’t the first. Rumours abound on the dangers and consequences to women in my position, death being a milder punishment. I continued working on the food production line, sorting and packaging vegetables and fruit, rarely excluding an item. Food was food regardless of its appearance, everything was used. Land waste sites, a thing of the past, every item picked over, sorted and recycled. I longed for my life before Covid, before the bombs. We were told we were fortunate; some countries didn’t exist anymore. The priority was to re-build our population, but my failing heart kept telling me, there had to be more.


I was plodding home one frosty evening, my back aching from standing pregnant for nine hours, when I saw him. His river of chocolate-coloured hair unmistakable. Aaron was running after a woman on the opposite pavement. I stood, shocked by the scene unravelling before me.


“Stop, stop!” he called to the woman about to turn away. My mouth dropped open and my heart shredded as he continued. “I almost missed you. Sorry.”


It appeared rogues existed in this new world as much as the old. I shouldn’t be angry. It was expected that people would take numerous lovers. I was six months along and didn’t believe his heart had healed so quickly. Mine hadn’t. Was I only a dalliance? His lines down pat to attract and amuse? Would he break her heart? I wondered.


My decision was made a day later when a flyer was shoved through our door. It fluttered to the carpet and lay there the black words shouting up at me. ‘There’s another way!’ in bold font. I glanced about to check if my housemates were present. The hall was empty, and no sound came from the lounge. I stared down at the phrase. Had it been put there just for me or was this a neighbourhood mailshot by some discontented faction. My hand reached down and swiped the paper off the floor.


“What was that?” a female voice called from the lounge. Someone was home. I never learnt their names. It was easier that way. No names, no connections, no pain when they moved on, which folk did often.


“Just the wind rattling the letter box,” I called back, hoping my voice was steady. I rammed the crumpled paper into the left side of my bra and waddled into the room. The woman looked up at me. Could she sense my lie? I’d never lied. That wasn’t strictly true. I’d lied to my mum after I’d used her lipstick one evening to go out with my friends. The memory brought sharp tears to my eyes. My housemate, thinking my emotions were all over the place because of my pregnancy, advised me to go get some rest. People never hugged anymore.


I checked the time as I left my room later that night. I was wearing almost everything I owned, which wasn’t much. The rest of my belongings filled one small suitcase but were sitting inside a large carrier bag to look less obvious that I was fleeing. I’d read the reverse side of the paper, it contained a date, tomorrow. A time, three a.m. and a location, a boat berth number in the docks. What I was doing was insane, but I was going insane already, more craziness didn’t seem an issue.


I pulled the front door shut quietly behind me. Covid might have killed my parents, bombs might have destroyed half the globe following it, but I’d be damned if they were going to take my baby, their grandchild. I smiled, patting my rotund belly, my heart swelling as my baby responded. As one, we headed off in the direction of the docks and freedom.


THE RUNNER UP - THE INTERVIEW


Written by Dom Hailey


“I guess it all started with the wheel.”

“The wheel?” The Examiner raised a meticulous eyebrow.

“Yes. It’s a necessary function of the biped, I suppose. Going down the quadruped route is

ridiculously time consuming. There’s such a focus on the aesthetic.”

“Beautiful creatures,” the Examiner agreed, shifting slightly in her seat and flicking an imaginary flake of silicone ash from the arm.

I took it as a sign to continue. She was clearly bored with having to go through another of these obligatory interviews. I had been surprised that she attended in person, to be honest.

“So you see, as things got more advanced, they had more stuff to carry about with them.”

“Evolution begets acquisition,” the Examiner observed.

“Indeed,” I tried to remind myself just who it was sitting across from me. Here was a Titan in the field.

“A lot of people say it was fire. A good one for the more superstitious – the individualists.

Prometheus and all that. Gods, and thumbing your nose at them.”

Bollocks.

It was the fucking wheel. I had lowered my eyes after the internal outburst. As I stared at a worn floor around my feet, I wondered how many others had come before the Examiner with their crackpot theories, their unconventional interpretations, their pitiful excuses.

Time was molasses. I dragged my eyes up to see what the Examiner’s reaction might be. I knew she had sensed my frustration but had remained silent throughout the interminable seconds of my shame. In an otherwise inscrutable face, a slight tightening of the corner of one eye, the sign that a smile

was not unfamiliar to this face outside of our current context, gave me the resolve to further my thesis. I was being indulged.

For now.

“For a long time, early on, when the numbers were relatively small, it didn’t matter if you wiped out the odd species. Especially if it helped you to progress. Sure, micro-ecologies were decimated, but larger factors were in play in those cases.”

Mostly.

“Everyone was still learning, and there was plenty of space. Damage was limited.” I sensed I was starting to lose her attention. I should pull it back.

“Dancing around the fire and throwing sticks.”

Get it together dammit!

“So,” I took a breath, “in comes the wheel.

“There was rolling stuff along on logs. Good for larger objects, but still labour-ntensive. And for smaller possessions, you used a quadruped. Bundle it up, sling it over, and get it to lumber along. The bigger the better, but you had to keep it alive. Then, the wheel. Obvious really, in hindsight.”

I felt the need to elaborate, and really lay out how naturally it had fit into the problem.

This was, after all, the only opportunity I would have to talk it through.

“Take the format of the quadruped and replace the bit that does the walking with the thing that does the rolling. Put a nice big platform, maybe a box, in the middle, and there you have it. Now you can move more stuff.”

Really exciting at the time. When I found out about it, and realised the implications, I almost believed it just made things better.

Oh. The possibilities! You can see how that was tempting.

“I mean, by the time it got to the wheel, it was starting to get a bit tedious, to be honest. The whole ‘mastery of animals’ and ‘taming of the land’ business took ages.”

You kind of mentally fast forward through that in retrospect, but it’s a stage that has to be got through, and it takes time.

It was a grind.

“Great idea, the wheel. Revolutionary,” pulling one of those horrifying donkey grins to oversignify the terrible pun, I chanced a look directly into the Examiner’s eyes. Bile churned in my stomach. For an instant I was nothing but a tense bolt of bright energy with a furiously pulsing red heart.

Fixated.

“I understand the wheel,” said the Examiner.

Behind every syllable the condescension of innumerable, near identical, interviews, a Babylonian Library of hypotheses of cause and effect, fizzed and clamoured to be expressed.

I swallowed.

“You’ve still got to push it along,” I proffered, “that was fine while the best you had was your standard issue domesticated quadruped. It meant that the damage was relatively limited, and there was the opportunity for the wider picture to recover."

"Adapt. "

“It was falling a bit behind, sure. But it was manageable. Things still managed to stay relatively self-contained vis a vis the damage.

Numbers remained small. Most of the things you want to see are stable, or on the up, so you can kind of ignore it. Everything seems to be ticking over nicely. You turn a blind eye to the hint of the exponential. It’s all still pretty flat. And then things start mixing a bit more. Not just peoples, but ideas. Questions.Then answers, or more questions, or answers that turn out to be questions.”

It kind of spiralled from there. At least for me. It’s like a drug. Some sort of fucking speedball or something.

It’s a rush, and you want more. Faster. Knowledge. Exchange. Knowledge. Exchange. Faster. Faster than four legs can carry, pull, push, whatever. You’re on a roll.

Every generation believes it’s in the middle of a revolution.

Sure. They kind of are.

“Questions?”

The prompt jolted me from my reverie. The corners of the room came back into focus and my cheeks reddened. Powerful things, questions. Difficult. Time consuming. But things get figured out.

“Agents of change,” I shrugged, “the poisoned chalice. Progress. When you figure out a way to turn a wheel without a horse, or a stream, or a breeze? When you can control when it starts? When it stops? How fast it goes? How powerfully it turns?”

I sighed.

“Who wouldn’t want that? There was nothing of the forbidden fruit about it. At least that’s what it looked like.”

So drop it in the mix. Why not. That’s that.

Except it’s not.

“But there were consequences,” lamb to the leash of her words, I was steered away from the black hole of hindsight. “I mean there’s the whole ‘digging it up and burning it’ sort of consequences, obviously.”

Usually the first to come to mind.

“But even before that,” I continued, “you’ve already plugged all these different things and places together, and they’ve developed a structure of exchange, and that becomes it’s own thing. And you kind of hate that it’s there, and you see it for what it is, but you know it’s necessary. And it starts to underpin everything. And then you realise… It’s been around forever, really. Not even a function of sentience, and relatively benign without it."

“But with it? "

“Different."

“Acquisitive."

“A snake that fed off its own tail, and grew fatter and longer with every swallow.”

“A global capital exchange?” The Examiner quashed my metaphor with doctrine. This was nothing new to her. She almost looked like she had enjoyed derailing another of my digressions. I mean – we all wanted everything to move around faster, right?

“Yes. Of course. Sorry,” I muttered. I had been getting carried away really. Time to get this over with. “So the spirit of experimentation resulted in invention, and the rest was history. Population exploded. Not entirely for the best, maybe, but by the time that became clear it was too late.”

As I said – I still blame the wheel.

“And all of a sudden, you’re feeding, and clothing, and cleaning up after billions of people. And most of them are just running about doing whatever they want. Or so it seems. Sure, there are structures of control, and some manage it better than others. And eventually a pre-eminent structure emerges, and in this case, it turned out to be the destructive one.”

You can see where this is going by now I’m sure… the winner’s champions: Individualism. Independence. Autonomy. Aspiration. Acquisition. Mastery. It became so ubiquitous that any other way of doing things became incomprehensible.

“By the time that point was reached, had no lessons be learned from the ascent?”

There is no response to a question like that. The Examiner had pinpointed my core problem. I mean, how many clues do you need? A lot, in hindsight.

It wasn’t going to end well.

So we kept patching it up and stringing it along. Sweeping the bad bits under the carpet and grinning proudly at the sky. It was all working. It was all going to be fine. There were ups and downs along the way, sure. Inevitable really. Something that complicated. So many moving parts. Held up by magic. But it wasn’t like we couldn’t see where it was going. It didn’t even take a very big step back, really. But the alternative is unthinkable.

Think of the children. They’ve got no chance, and they know it, poor sods. Every right to be angry, I’d say. Come to think of it, I’m angry. But at the time…

“We managed to convince ourselves that, yeah, it wasn’t perfect, but it was probably going to be OK.”

There had been some scrapes in the past, especially more recently. Plenty to keep the Historians busy.

“We muddled our way through, for a bit. The tools we had developed by then were pretty

sophisticated. There was a global reach. But it’s messy, and there’s bound to be a blip,” by this time the unwavering gaze of the Examiner

had me playing both sides of the conversation. I started to wonder whether she had actually said anything at all since the moment she sat down.

She must have done.

“It had been happening on and off for a while. Various scares.”

The opportunity for lessons. To realise that maybe not everything was as fine as it looked.

“Elements were interacting in unpredictable ways, generating unpredicted consequences.

And there were more of them than anyone could keep track of, and they mutated all by

themselves.”

Bugs.

“We knew eventually one was going to crop up that we wouldn’t be able to just contain. The

number of interactions by this point was insane.

“By the time the numbers confirmed it, and by the time we reacted, as unilaterally and as firmly as we could without completely breaking the system, we did so.”

It had been done knowing it would weaken the wider structure, but I had always thought of it as a temporary measure. There was far too much at stake all round to risk anything less at first. The alternative was chaos, and we had sniffed its borders.

“And then?” the Examiner leaned forward. This was why she was here in person, not just reviewing the file.

The truth was embarrassing.

“We watched. We waited. We did what we could.”

We were a long way from grinding for a bag of corn now. … a millimetric raising of one eyebrow made clear my prevarication was as transparent as the bead of sweat which had wormed from my hairline.

“We got bored,” I admitted, wiping it away and feeling the relief of honesty, “and the alternatives were too much hard work.We had got used to immediacy, to convenience. We started up some of the old routines. Got things rolling again. Gradually, we thought. Damage limitation.”

We had even started to think about what would happen afterward.

“But..?”

“It started up again. It did things we didn’t understand. It kept evolving. I couldn’t see it ever going away.”

“So?”

So I took the decision that it was going to be a failure, and I didn’t want to watch it reach the bitter end.

“I terminated the simulation.”

THE SECOND RUNNER UP


Written by G. Mussett


News spread through the town really fast. Jo was thrilled! The new North Kent canal project would be going ahead! Now that the motorway was being downgraded, the route was going to be converted into a waterway – with the necessary slow-speed arrival times guaranteed.

The plan was to build a wharf and warehouse system in the middle of the new Brenley Forest. That would be right alongside the lorry park – where the huge dirty old-fashioned heavy goods vehicles still doing so much of the distribution were now required to stop, to unload onto smaller electric vehicles to service the shops and homes in the town centre.


Jo mooched into the kitchen where Caroline, her mum, was working. ‘It’s going to happen’ she said. ‘The new canal.’


Caroline gave her a big thumbs-up smile, with her phone held between her ear and hunched shoulder…. She was talking to a client, making appointments. She mouthed at Jo. ‘Great! At last!’ They had been campaigning for a quieter life for some time, thinking that ‘high speed everything’ was part of the problem.


Jo waved goodbye to her mum, pointing at her school bag, and mum waved back with a smile. Jo headed to her school-house, which had once been the Limes pub…. None of the old school buildings had survived the planning madness of the ‘20s… they’d almost all been sold off for development, so the old pub buildings – so many of which had stood empty since the lockdown started 2 years ago – had been put to better use as drop-in centres for the youngsters who did a lot of their studies online at home, but still needed support and a strong social life. The pubs were ideal.


Out at Brenley, the large tree-planting scheme was going ahead. This had once been part of the ancient forest known as the Great North Wood, and the trees were happily re-establishing themselves right across the landscape. It was laid out with glades and food gardens, and bike tracks following the old field boundaries. Local food production was a high priority now across the land, and Faversham – sited on the rich soils of the coastal lowlands – was very fortunate. Some crops were grown in the open, but a great deal was put under the new plant-based plastic tunnels for longer growing seasons. The more trees were planted, the less damage the tunnels suffered in the winter storms.


Arriving at the Limes, Jo met up with her class-mates. They were due to meet at Homestall to be allocated a patch of forest ground to manage for themselves. Each school year group was given responsibility under supervision to look after a patch of new woodland. It would be theirs for life. They had choices about what species to plant, and had to research the pros and cons of each kind of tree. They’d already heard about the canal – it was pretty exciting, and they set off to hop onto the electric shuttle-bus which arrived within a few minutes. They didn’t care that they only made slow progress along Whitstable Road graced with an avenue of fruit trees, because they were behind a little cart pulled by a team of alpacas, but once they were over the old railway bridge at Lady Dane, it wasn’t long before they reached Homestall where their teachers were waiting with some local farmers and foresters. The day was panning out nicely. They were all talking about what would be best to plant in their stretch of forest… oaks for the timber in due course, hazels for so many uses and for the wildlife, fruit trees, limes. Jo’s pet project was to tell them about pickling softwood in vinegar, to make a robust new hardwood without contamination.


Back in town, the new lifting bridge at the Basin swung open at the top of the tide, and three boats passed through – two coming in, and one heading out downstream. The heavy lock-gates swung shut behind them, creating a long thin pool of water, with the barges and pleasure boats moored all along one side, and visitors already drifting in for coffees and snacks at the quayside shacks. The Western Wharf was busy, with the Sea Cadets pulling their boats down to the new slipway ready for a training race, and a small crane lifting a new engine into a bawley smack. These traditional fishing boats now did great service around the estuary for a variety of smaller jobs, not always under sail deliveries, taxi-routes, bird-watching or seal-watching trips – part of an ever-growing fleet of vessels making a living along the coast.


Down at the Iron Wharf, they were talking about how to connect the new canal to the creek, maybe with a series of locks. The barge-business was booming – wind-power was back in business, and they were keen to see if they could build boats suitable for the new canal-navigators who’d be passing so close to the town. It looked as if an easterly route might be best, with a cut made through Goodnestone and then swinging south past the new burial ground to reach Brenley Canal Wharf. They were thinking Prince Charles might be interested in helping out with this, as a local landowner.


Gaffer George, owner of the oldest of the traditional barges, SB Ancient, said ‘I’m thinking we really ought to expand our water-bus service, spread out further’, and that idea seemed to go down well. Little Pluck, the rigger’s son, said ‘As long as your bus boats take trikes as well as bikes, that’d be a good idea…’ and everyone nodded agreement. But the old shipwright Corbel Knights said ‘I know that we’re all looking to slow things down these days, that speed isn’t everything, but we really need a quicker route out to the Swale. We need to get a whole new cut made from opposite the white footbridge, skirting round east of Ham Farm, and out to the creek mouth near to the Hollowshore.’ There was a bit of a silence, as they contemplated how much would be saved by straightening the creek as had happened once long ago with the Telford cut. ‘It’d help clear the mud if the tide could work more directly….’ said Corbel. ‘You’d just have another bight of slower water – new land really - where the bed runs now… and that would take care of the sewage problems, with reed beds….’ Gaffer George said, ‘That’s funny, that is. There we are making a new waterway along the old M2 route, and here we’d be giving up an old waterway to create more land…. Give and take!’


Back in town, Jo’s mum needed to get her shopping done and wandered down to the new Covered Market where once the old post office building and yard had stood. It was a handsome structure with solar roof and its glass walls also captured electric power from daylight. It had a fine open hall in the middle, with the post office and some little shops and municipal offices along the Newton Road side. The new market building was sometimes used for concerts as the acoustics were so good, but mostly offered a splendid selling space for local suppliers. There was even an underground passageway leading to the reconfigured library and arts centre across the road, now topped with an international study centre (a branch of the University of Beijing) with a fine raked auditorium for lectures, where scholars came from around the world to teach and do their research. There was even talk of a new specialist hospital opening where the grammar school used to be, linked to the Physic Garden, but that was still just an idea. Meanwhile a splendid new therapy centre had been built where the Tesco garage once stood. Hardly anyone needed liquid fuel now, and the car-charging points were to be found all round the town. The parish church roof was just one of many generating areas helping supply power to the town, and the roof-power was used to keep the great nave warm as a busy community centre through the cold winter months.

Caroline realised she needed to renew her bank card, which sometimes refused to scan properly and went into the old marketplace to the town’s Bank Building. Here all the main banks shared one building. That had been a grand result, which she was proud of. Not so long ago, one by one, the big banks had announced they were leaving town as cash was on the way out – but the people in Faversham had made such a protest that the distant Boards of Directors of all these huge companies had decided to try an experiment. They pooled resources and created a new Banking Hall and Business Centre… the financial hub of the town. She ordered her new card, and wandered out again. There she bumped into Jo and her friends, who’d finished their forestry class and were back in town, keyed up with excitement about their plans.


‘We’re going to have a cafe in our stretch of forest, Mum!’ said Jo. ‘They want some R&R stations along the pathways, and it falls into our patch…. So we can have a proper local business to look after! We’re well pleased! And I have this idea…..’


A week or so later, the postman knocked on Jo and Caroline’s door with a smile. ‘Special delivery for you!’ he said, handing Jo a large, smooth creamy envelope. Jo looked pleased. ‘I wonder what he’s said!’ she muttered as she took it inside, and started to open it. Then she read out loud….


‘….and His Royal Highness asks me to thank you for your very informative letter describing your new forestry cafe near Brenley Corner, which you and your schoolfriends intend to set up. He asks me inform you that he is most agreeable to you naming it after him, as long as you maintain your stated high standards for environmental control and biodiversity, and wishes you the best of luck in your enterprise. As a local landowner he has an interest in the future of the land around Faversham and would support projects which enhance the new green economy in North Kent….’


Jo sank to the ground, clutching the precious letter to her chest. She looked up at Caroline with the broadest smile on her face. ‘This is it mum!’ she grinned. ‘We’re on our way….’


News of Prince Charles’ approval of the new forest cafe being named after him was the talk of the town. And that led on to the Association of Wooden Boat Builders approaching him to ask if he’d be interested in helping develop a subsidiary set of canals to support Faversham’s maritime future, which is how three years later the Prince of Wales Cut was made out across the Ham Farm fields, as well as the waterlink to the M2 canal, and he came to cut the ribbon to open it. And so the great new solar barges came in and out of the old port as their predecessors did long ago.


That all happened while we still had a United Kingdom – but of course it’s all different now. England itself has split into its old kingdoms, and what better place for the new capital of the new Kentish kingdom to be based than in Faversham? With the forests and fields for food and timber, the new cuts linking sea and land through the creek and basin, the marketplaces, the healing traditions, the modern facilities and the young people all engaged, this is where it has to be. So we have a new palace too, in the old Davington Priory, with a view out over the Swale and the town laced with cycle tracks. So the virus did us proud, in the end. The planet breathed again.

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