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The Old Sofa

Monday 12th July. Cloud and sun, cool but very humid.

Breathless weather. Last week our weather was almost Aegean, cloudless sky, warm sun, cool constant northerly breeze. Now we're sitting under a blanket of moist air, that thickens and curdles into a mat of grey and dissipates for a while into swirls of white on blue, but the breeze is from the south and somehow doesn't stir the breathless closeness. Just glad I'm not in London. At least it rained this morning.

What shall we do with the old sofa? It is ancient and made of rattan, and used to live in the basement swathed in shabby generations of wraps, rugs, the faux fur blanket known as The Wolf, until I had a suburban moment and insisted on buying a proper sofa bed with a proper folding out mattress from the Futon company. Then it was moved upstairs to Peter's room, where it has stayed, looking all bohemian and welcoming and concealing the 1901 aspirational gentility of his fireplace, with the inlaid panels of different coloured marble that are really transfers. . . But Peter already has to share his study with a grand piano (I'd have taken the piano, of course, except that sadly my own room is up two more flights of stairs and much smaller) & he is feeling cramped. It is too old and battered, and if it ever had a fire regs label it lost that long ago, so we can't give it to the YMCA. Shall we haul it up to Sheepcote, perhaps on rollers, and dump it? Shall we leave it out on the pavement, with the traditional notice "PLEASE TAKE", so that the Roundhill corner boys can use it as their outdoor HQ, West Baltimore style?

I'm afraid we may fall back on chopping it up for firewood, poor old sofa.

But not now, because now we're going away.

It's been a hectic week, what with my brother's birthday, the Sci-fi event at Manchester Oxfam Emporium (which worked extremely well, and I met such nice people, including hosts Emma and presenter Florence, and the other writers, Paul Magrs, Steve Lyons and Tom Fletcher); Gabriel's phonecalls from Switzerland, daunted at first by the magnitude of being piano soloist in front of a whole orchestra, and then triumphant and delighted with the whole experience; the final concert with the BYO at Hove town hall on Friday, which ended in a stage invasion by the livelier parts of the audience(encouraged by the conductor) and impromptu Celtic stepdance, and then there was the HGWells society, a beautiful long trainride to Canterbury for me and an intriguing walk from the station, following the footsteps of Ariel Manto (I then proceeded to ask everyone I met who worked or looked as if they worked at Kent to convey my appreciation of The End Of Mr Y to their colleague Scarlett Thomas) Anyway, thanks for inviting me, Andy, and dear H.G people, thank you for being so tolerant, friendly and informative. I could and should have worked out the Zoological Gardens connection for myself, and I think I did know about the gruesome goings on at the butcher's next door when HG was a child. But I'd never heard of the Old Brown Dog

After such a flurry of activity (and I've missed out all the developments in my family's Forever War, which still continues to devour so much of my time), it's strange to be packing, discovering I have no teeshirts fit to be worn, choosing paperbacks, changing euros. But so it is. The Frog Nursery has been disbanded, the last tiny frog set free, along with about 100 well-grown tadpoles from the Plasterers tub. The swifts have swarmed in the warm evening sky for the last time that I'll see them this summer, and the next time I write anything in this secret diary (kept in an unlocked drawer) it'll be Hungry Ghosts, my year will have reached its turning point, and 2010-11 will have begun.

So long.

The General

Saturday 3rd July, warm and clear, tempered by a cool breeze, fair-weather cloud up high.

So, I watched Michael Hastings getting interviewed on Democracy Now, courtesy of Common Dream (who are having a fund-raising drive, by the way) and here's the link:

& then I thought I might as well read the whole Runaway General article on Rolling Stone, which I did & I was surprised, though not really, at what a tactful and patriotic piece it was, and how loyal to the approved War on Terror scenario, despite a few reservations of a pragmatic nature. Didn't spot the words Blood for Oil anywhere, not a whisper about mineral wealth, or any other ulterior motive for the growing death toll. Yes, throwing money at a corrupt government, while at the same time sending death squads to roam around racking up extrajudiciary kills of "insurgents" probably isn't the way to win hearts and minds, but all the corrupt officials were Afghanis, after all. Yes, President Obama instantly fell into the pit he'd been determined to avoid, does anybody think he didn't? Yes, the war is unwinnable and yes the President actually said so, practically literally in the same sentence as his promise to send a shedload more troops, but that's undisputed fact too, isn't it? And yes, McChrystal was actively involved in an unwise attempt to hide a celebrity friendly-fire incident; yes, he may have made the mistake of being in the same room while some torture -I'm-sorry-I meant-enhanced interrogation was going on & that was foolish. But again, this is not doing the dirt, the dirt is old dirt. At the worst, Hastings turned back the carpet. On the tv he gave the impression of being uncomfortable at the fate he'd brought down on those good old boys who'd hung out with him and trusted him a little too much. He claimed he'd been amazed that the general actually got fired & maybe that was even true. I don't think he should blame himself too much. Someone's got to take the candy from these ferocious (and vain?) military heroes, at least every now and then.

As we now know, it won't happen again & perhaps this reaction (wow, we better not let our military talk to journalists, we didn't know any of them still had teeth!) is as mistaken as McChrystal's unguarded openness. The USA looks good when it shows it has a free press
(I'm green with envy)

And all this is perfectly normal. All wars are like this. They go on too long, they become unpopular. The Generals hate the politicians, the politicians hate the Generals, the natural born fearless killers (some of them extremely bright and charismatic) just want to get on with their bloody work, in the fond embrace of the natural born fearless killers on the other side. . . (Afghanistan! What a culture! The Perfect Place to hold a Proper war, no wonder it's been so popular!) And most of the soldiers, most of the time, would rather NOT actually murder people but the culture makes it impossible for them to confess this shameful weakness, & so the game goes on. Nobody knows anything, every battleplan goes awry, the local chiefs are never credible partners, tell all that to Napoleon or Wellington, you'd see them shake their heads and grin. (Well, allowing for temperament). Nothing is wrong with the war in Afghanistan, as your average non-essential war it's just about average.

What happened in the USA in the sixties was a bit of an innovation, but that proud and positive refusal to fight a stupid war that was not worth fighting came from a particular historical situation. It couldn't happen again. Nah. Those songs are over.

Happy Independence Day, cousins.