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Thunder At Valmy: Tales of Moon and Rain

Friday 25th February, morning mist, mild temperatures, three skinny frogs in the bigger pool: first sighting. A mating pair and a spare male. I hope there will be more.

Watching: Mizoguchi's Ugetsu Monogatari, a Japanese ghost story, one of my happier Lovefilm arthouse choices. "The feeling of wartime must be apparent in the attitude of every character," it says here, quoting the director. "The violence of war unleashed by those in power on a pretext of the national good must overwhelm the common people with suffering—moral and physical.". I don't know why these Japanese movies have such an intense appeal, or even why they are so revered by movie buffs. But knowing nothing, I'm drawn in.

And the BBC live updates from Libya, the rest of North Africa, the Middle East.

Reading (my library books) Jonathan Rabb's Rosa, a richly novelistic thriller woven around the death of Rosa Luxembourg. Also pretty good. Hello! I see it's a trilogy. Am I sorry about that, or pleased there'll be more?

Today it's earliest spring. The insistent see-saw see-saw see-saw of the great tits cuts through the mist, gathering again as the afternoon draws in. The murky damp weather persists, seems to have been hanging around forever, but I have a feeling winter conditions are not going to return, not down here

Intelligence Test For Cats

Monday 21st February, another new year's day for me. Weather same as it's been since I caught this mega-cold: grey, low cloud frequently deliquescing into day-long downpours & I take it those Coronal Mass Ejections did not bring Civilisation to its knees? No? Well, better get on with this.

Bahrain (sounding brave and hopeful), Algeria, Libya (sounding very frightening), and Wisconsin. That's a bizarre addition to the roll.

It's no use. It's over before we begin, due to the test's failure to match parameters. You see, Ginger can with ease communicate this sentiment to a human being ie me:

Get off me! Why are you suddenly behaving so weird?

But I have no means of expressing, in her language:

Calm down, it's an intelligence test, it won't affect your credit rating honest, it's just a bit of fun.

At least Ginger sticks around, curious as always. Touch the inside of your cat's ear with a finger or a pencil, it says here... Does she shake her head? Does she twitch the ear? Or does she (for full marks!) apply a paw to the ear?

Ginger intercepts the pencil with her nose, twitches and shakes in one movement; finally decides having her ear poked might be fun and sits there purring, with her head on one side.

Milo simply runs off and hides under the bed. Does his fear of the unknown mask a mighty intellect?

The Intelligence Test For Cats
was one of my birthday presents, birthday culminating in a visit to the Southbank to hear Pollini play Beethoven's Last Sonatas. For the record I didn't feel like standing up, though plenty did, but I thought he played 111, my favourite, really lovely although having crawled out of my preferred state (huddling, coffing and choking up wads of evil-coloured goop) for the duration I was mainly concentrating on getting through without annoying my neighbours.

For Gwyneth Jones completists in the UK, & if you didn't buy Grazing : If you want to buy The Universe Of Things collection I have some spares, and will not charge you an arm and a leg. It'll be list price, as this is a new book, which I make to be £11.20 in GBP, and the money ex-postage goes to Amnesty as usual. Details for ordering on my Books page.

Nocton and the industrial cows

Friday 18th February, weather same as it was 10 minutes ago only the sun is burning more strongly through the mist. Compassion in World Farming reports that Nocton Dairies has withdrawn its plans for the first industrial "dairy farm" in the UK, in the face of determined popular opposition both national and local. But Compassion in World Farming warns that Nocton hasn't given up. They're keeping the land, on Nocton Heath Lincolnshire, and they haven't withdrawn their planning applications for the slurry reservoir and pipeline required. They have not accepted the validity of the objections raised against their plan & the message seems to be that they'll be back.

This may seem like a storm in a teacup, from a global perspective. Why shouldn't Holsteins, bred and fed solely for milk production, be treated callously and packed in impoverished conditions? One has to be hard headed about farm animals. On the other hand, in other parts of the world prosperous people have what seems to me, here in this small country, a shocking tolerance (especially dairy and meat eaters, of whom I am one) for eating horribly dirty food. It was the same in the last industrial revolution, until protest and pressure turned things around. Why not be even-handed. We're good at that. We can always see a case for moral relativism these days, so why should cows take all the stick? Along with CiWF, I feel there's a case for being hard-headed about the real bad guys in all this, the ruthless profiteering drivers of this new industrial revolution, I mean the giant supermarkets.

I don't like violent revolution, because it doesn't have a great track record (and indeed, in the Bold As Love sequence it's the Extreme Right Wing, with occult connections and a genocidal plan, that finally "benefits" from the violence that overtakes the joyous young demonstrators of Dissolution Year). But I look back with pride at the targets I got right: Ax Preston co-opts the military and the police to his cause, while torching Asda, Tesco Sainsburys etc, on a massive scale. But I'm glad I didn't forget the reverse of the medal: as these Bastilles are stormed, and agribusiness collapses in their wake, Sage Pender is dragging starved mega-farm dairy cows into burial pits. How hard it is to right a wrong by violence!

Hey, who took my rat?

Friday 18th February, misty sunshine, calm and mild. Fragile pale crocuses, battered daphne still locked in winter, Lulu Belle about to burst into flower.

It was I, Buddha. I took your rat. I deduce from the fuss you made when you found it gone that you were planning an extended necrophilia session, well too bad. It was dead. Rats eat rat poison, and you have little children who love you. I'm going to keep you away from dangerous drugs if I can.

I cleared away the rest of the pigeon too. For this, I have no excuses, but from the state of the remains I believe you'd all finished playing with it, and it was making the place look untidy.

What's Happening In Egypt

Friday 11th February, a grey, moist day, the rain clearing off around noon, coming back again as daylight faded. Wet cats, wet birds, one yellow crocus and a blackcap on the sycamore tree

Just stopped work (ie, it's Friday afternoon, stopped reading New Scientist and listening to Rothko's Chapel: I'm slowly working my way through the listening list at the back of The Rest Is Noise), and decided to switch on the news. Well, amazing, would he wouldn't he, & the Saudis are backing him & Obama isn't backing the people, but what d'you know Mubarak did step down after all, with the dubious twist that he's handing over to the army. Mm. So, the army has allowed the people to retire one obsolete general. They have plenty more. Now we'll see how it turns out. But long live the revolution, anyway. What a feeling.

The Damage and The Lies

Friday 4th February, grey quiet day, fairly mild. Happy New Year.

As the Chilcot inquiry sneaks to an end, here's another stunning injustice that ought to be addressed:

Maude Casey, who wrote that first letter, is a friend of mine, a writer and an activist. Here's what she said to me in an email, reminding me that things are even worse than they look at first glance:

"The further point is that those four innocent young men (one was only 15 at the time of his arrest) would not now, in 2011, be given the jury trial which was their right in 2005. Today the case would be held in a secret commission in which even their barristers would not be allowed to see the evidence against them, and no doubt they would be dispatched to prison for life.

The jury foreman at their trial, Laurence Archer, has just published a book about the whole sorry affair. It has a foreward by Michael Mansfield, whose quiet and patient cross examination of the manager of Porton Down was instrumentental in revealing the chilling lie at the heart of this case."

Compare that female tv journalist who quit her job in Cairo yesterday, because the tv coverage was telling lies, she could see the very different scene that was unfolding out of her windows, but the public lies were becoming public truth.

For more on the Ricin prisoners and their fate, follow this link:

& please consider writing to your MP or to Kenneth Clarke at the Ministry of Justice (or both) raising the issue and appealing against this treatment.

Not at all connected, but I also have a link from Clarion for you. The estimable Clarion Foundation workshops are still looking for students, so if you thought it was too late, it isn't. Check it out and see if you would benefit. As you know, these gruelling immersion courses have been, and continue to be, a positive hotbed for future stars of sf and fantasy.

Hope And Promise

Candlemas, Wednesday 2nd Feb: low sky, mist and dropping rain clearing, grey squirrel looking exactly like a giant furry caterpillar, head down at the tip of a perilous twig stealing birdfood from a coconut shell. Robin blackbird thrush hedge-sparrow wren, blackcap garden warbler, great tit, blue tit, goldcrest (only one, this winter so far) goldfinches, greenfinches, starlings. Not counting jackdaws street pigeons wood pigeons (fat iridescent throated caterpillars, hoovering up the berries from a matted clump of ivy) and collared doves. . . I did not take part in the RSPB garden birds weekend survey, I think people with cats that go outside are barred, but I'm amazed at the variety of birds managing to survive in our gardens, despite the cats, the tree rats and the ground rats. They keep their wits about them and take advantage of being able to fly, I suppose.

I wish I wasn't old enough to have seen flowers tucked in gun turrets before now. I wish I couldn't remember 1979 (Iran, fall of the Shah), and 1991, (darkness at dawn for Russia). Not to mention what happened to the original Spirit Of Eighty Nine. Modern History is such a tissue of cliches! Demonstrations good. No major political reform can be achieved without the support of dedicated, single-issue Non Violent Direct Action. Mass Market bad. But when the millions on millions pour out into the streets,it will be the most power-hungry of the disparate groups, and therefore the most ruthless and oppressive, that leaps to fill the power-vacuum. Knowing what's all too likely to follow, would I have been out in Tahrir Square, decorously headscarved and shouting for joy? Of course I would. There's always a first time.

Actually my money's on Mubarak hanging on, like Mugabe. We're in a blocking system.

Watching: Splice, last night. (Warning, Spoilers) Lunatic nerd gender-essentialist Canadians descend into hell. I hoped this would be Blood Music by David Cronenberg but it ended up being Okay-not-great verging on absurdly predictable. The moment when two naked mole-ratoid synthetic lifeforms decide to go for each other in a territorial battle, and corporate Big Pharma gets engulfed in a wave of blood, goop and tank water; that was fun. The moment when doe-eyed Clive returns to child-abuse survivor Elsa, having been caught getting sexually active with the pubertal (but chronologically about three months old) ersatz little girl they made. And he's like "What are you looking like that for? Okay, I raped a toddler. So? It's not like I contaminated the polymerase chain reaction or anything" had a certain crazy charm. Everything after that point was desperately ho-hum. Still, we got those cool, Guillermo de Toro bouncy satyr legs. Compares extremely poorly with Species, 1995 "trashy" treatment of the same material (except the dodgy DNA is from ET, not lab built); where the reproductively predatory transgenic humanoid female definitely gets out more, and does not have to become male before she gains a voice, achieves her aim, and becomes really powerful.

Reading: The Bone Woman, Clea Koff Gripping. The details of how you unearth incontrovertible evidence of a genocide are relentless, the viewpoint is personal. I picked up this book because I thought I don't know enough. I don't know enough about Burundi, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo: about the supersized crime, genocide, which now seems to have defined the twentieth century, from first to last. The Bone Woman isn't about causes, but I'm learning. Don't read this if you prefer a tear-jerker. It isn't a tear-jerker, it's an account of the gritty, smelly everyday grind involved in forensic proof, when murder has been committed on such a scale. The squabbles, the discomforts, the grumbles about the UN (that cranky, stumbling old mothership). And the stubborn, unsentimental good will of some amazing people determined to bring the victims of genocide to light; to bring them home.

Les Aiguilles Rouges take the keynote photo spot, because it's that time of the year. No matter what happens to the weather from now on, the light has turned. Twigs and trees have begun to glow, birds have begun to sing and winter is on the downslope. There are plans to be made, and my plan is that I'm going to walk into that picture, this July.