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Name Day Vow

Thursday 29th September, weather the same as it was 10 minutes ago.

It's also Gabriel's name day, and here I formally record his name-day vow.

Casualties for this summer include:

1 nice phone
1 Linux digital compact camera, gift from his father
1 i-pod
1 wallet and contents, including the badger.

The vow is that he will stop losing things.

I'm hoping to welcome our famous and much loved baseball bat home again, after rounders in the park this afternoon. But not totally confident.

Please don't ask how old my son is.

Dale Farm Gate: Invisible Ideology

Thursday 29th September, haze clearing to a hot blue day, a late rush of Summer in full burn, and likely to last until Martinmass (11th November) so the weather doctors say. NB, as I'm sure I've told you before, some other September, an Indian Summer, New England style, where the expression comes from, is supposed to happen after the first hard frosts: making it the meteorological phenomenon we've known as a "St Martin's Summer" over here, for a thousand years or more. St Luke's summer, occuring around the 18th October, has been known as another of these, same timescale. Before the saints? I don't know, ask your nearest megalithic sun-worshipper or animist. Anyway, take your pick, today it is hot.

I'm not a huge great fan of the Traveller lifestyle. In my observation, and personal experience, a Travellers' camp (settled or transit, Irish, hippie, or whatever persuasion) does not step lightly on the earth. Not at all. Maybe things were different once, but right now, I'd put Travellers, as lovers of the land, somewhere on a par with agribusiness farming, though on a far smaller scale. On the other hand, take a closer look at the Dale Farm case, and it doesn't seem to be a clear cut case of trash-and-tyre-fires. It seems more like a storm in a Basildon Council teacup, fueled by inequalities in the laying down of the law; and all in a region of the South East (you wouldn't think there was room, but we do have strong regional variation) where rich or poor, organised or clueless, off the map, planning-permission-what's-that, opportunistic development is a bit of an ancient tradition in itself. So why am I not surprised that the Dale Farm eviction affair, a full-on, illegal, chained-themselves-to-the-railings, Direct Action has been basking in the sunshine of so much mainstream news coverage? Why so warm and sympathetic? What have these people got that other protestors haven't got? Is it because they is non-political? Or is it because in this case, grass-roots protest is serving an approved cause?

I think the answer may be here:

and here:

Of course new houses are needed. Preferably, mostly, in towns. In cities and urban areas, where human infrastructure already exists, where public transport already exists. But the new National Planning Framework isn't designed to make that happen. Check it out. This is designed to make profit happen, by making things easier for opportunistic, greenfield, greenbelt developers. Everything will be much simpler, just jump straight in and take your profit straight out, without facing all that annoying red tape, or heaven forbid, actually doing something useful for the future. Brownfield sites, the land that needs improvement, the urban wasteland and post-industrial dereliction that needs investment will be shunned, even more than it is now.

The countryside is safe? Please. Like the NHS, Dave?


Gwyneth Jones on Social Networks

Monday 26th September. Indian summer yesterday, we walked by the sea, sharing two ices between three and admiring the volley-ball meet at the Barefoot cafe, but this is a cool, tossing grey morning, where has the sun gone?

To whom it may concern. If I get a Linkedin invitation from someone I know well, or someone with whom I've had recent contact that makes the invitation plausible, I accept. If the invitation has no provenance and comes without a personal message, I will always ignore it. That way, I never inadvertantly accept automatically generated invites.

Monday morning, as I've been promising myself, clearing off my Facebook page. As I've said before, I'm not really one for social networks, never will be, the whole thing is too corporate and controlling, and I like to be in charge of my own sandwich. But welcome aboard to all new friends, though you won't see much from me, personally, barring use of Facebook wall as free advertising for Avaaz alerts and such.

Time to come indoors...

Thursday 15th September, crisp bright morning, the next storm-tail not due until the weekend. Did I say crisp? Apparently there was a frost in parts of the UK last night, "in rural areas". That's good enough for me. Time to come indoors, citrus trees.

They won't be sorry, fresh air hasn't been fun this year. Not a single lemon made it. (The other citrus doesn't have fruit, it'll never be big enough, it's a pip-grown I-don't-know-what in a pot, kind of bonsai, very ancient.)

Many thanks to Sophie Mayer for her book order, £21.25 relayed to Amnesty International.

Arctic Ice Melt in the news again, and the Common Dreams comment-teamsters as usual have a lot to say. I finally read Cormac McCarthy's The Road this summer, and am now puzzled by reports that the catastrophe is "unidentified". Surely that's blatantly a Nuclear Winter/following a Global Nuclear War scenario? Or possibly, or both, a fantasy-heightened record of the mournful adventure of fatherhood. You mean everything to this kid, he worships you and keeps you holy, and then in the end he just grows up and moves on. As an sf reader, I found this slipstream novel engaging, moving, old-fashioned and highly conventional. Where have you been since 1960?, sort of thing. Touching, yes, but disturbing in its message: in short, nothing can be done, and no change in behaviour is required or even advised. Nuclear Winter or Capitalist Summer, we just plod on, we dauntless pursuers of life, liberty and happiness, plundering whatever supplies we find, and it will all come right in the end.

Hm. No wonder book and movie made such a hit with the public.

The Twelve Planets: Summer put to bed

Wednesday 14th September, a blue and sunny September day between the tails of the Atlantic gales, a slight cool breeze, the tangled autumn garden full of spiders, opportunistic tomatoes smothering the rosemary bush, and bully teazels making goldfinch food (that's their story) in the cottage garden patch.

Finally, finally the summer without a summer may have been debriefed, although I'm still booked this Friday morning to courier Gabriel's suit and good white shirt up to London for a lunchtime concert with Marianne (soprano) at Regent Hall, Oxford Street, Friday 16th 1pm. Come along if you like, it's free entry. The Walton songs (lyrics by Edith Sitwell) and the Debussy songs are my favourites, the Debussy so beautiful.

I've been reading The Twelve Planets' latest selections, and enjoying them very much, starting with Deborah Biancotti: police procedural with a sinister undertow of the weird, progressing through Tansy Rayner Roberts (Romanpunk), Lucy Sussex (Thief of Lives), and Sue Iles (Nightside). These collections, just four stories in a slim paperback, are an excellent idea, a tasting menu of Australasian female genre writers. Romanpunk has an intriguing twist on the noble vampire and mortal girlfriend* story (see, these vampires are really Lamia, they're Roman in origin, and very well connected, but they find the C21 street has its uses). Ever wondered why pretty-boy Caligula was such an unmitigated horror in private life? Or why Nero was finally forced to kill his mother? Refreshingly, unlike Buffy, the mortal girlfriend is not allergic to education and actually has a life... Lucy Sussex I can safely say needs no introduction: I loved her beautiful story about modern and ancient Babylon, "Alchemy". Sue Iles has created a daunting, yet not hopeless day after tomorrow Western Australia; linked stories all set in the same moment, the moment, for various characters, when you realise that climate change has won, and civilisation is not coming back. So you stop mourning, and you move on... Made me wish there was a novel.

Someone said, recently, the Finnish sf community gives me hope for the future of the genre... These Australians give me hope for the future of female, and even feminist, writers in sf.

Saw The Guard, don't think it was a patch on In Bruges, a gem of a movie. My two Irish companions were better pleased, but we were agreed on uneven as a final verdict. I'd have added annoyingly self-satisfied; there, I did. Also saw Amoldovar's The Skin I Live In, and then a week later, Les Yeux Sans Visage, (warning, spoilers if you follow the link, but if you read my blog you don't care about spoilers, do you?); the original version, which I've been wanting to see for years, only lovefilm would never send it to me... Thanks to the Duke's cunning timing I did actually enjoy the Amoldovar (a late Amoldovar, rather over-fed: and you could hear the great man thinking, damn it, I love Les Yeux, I long to remake it, to praise it, to enshrine it in my own work, shot by shot and almost frame by frame, but I am going to shove transgender surgery in here anyway. I know It's stupid, but it's my favourite thing and I don't care!. My god, what a difference. Les Yeux Sans Visage is wonderful, so stylish, so truly full of pity and terror too.

Getting back to the long-delayed novel. Accepting no more invitations or commissions certainly not until after Katcon, a wild weekend by the North Sea in March, how could I resist? People say they don't like winter, they hate grey November, January and February are the slough of despond. Couldn't disagree more. Summer summer summer, always some kind of hell.

Madame de Stael & the Globalisation Salon

Friday 9th Sept, unpleasant weather, a breathless, heavy, humid morning, thick grey mist and cloud down to the rooftops across the valley. Think this dead air effect may be because the tail of another big storm (Hurricane Katia) is on its way. Birdsong again. I think the robins must have a late brood.

This post is in belated response to a comment from Alison Smith, about Mme de Stael, back in May. Alison, you mention P D James, Annie Lennox. I thought of Bianca Jagger, Arundjati Roy... But Germaine de Stael wasn't exactly a human rights defender, or a lady of mercy, or an oustandingly charitable and righteous wealthy WAG. I think we have to shift up a few gears, and I think we have to accept she was no angel. She was (to paraphrase a famous description of Einstein's emotional and sexual behaviour) "a very normal woman". She was an old-fashioned establishment figure, whose novels were laden with convention: who had no problem with her privileges, who sought wealth and position; a lifelong Daddy's girl, who traded shamelessly on her feminine charms. Yet still, she commands my immense respect. There hasn't been a woman like her, operating on her level in world affairs, since she bowed out.

So let's imagine... Imagine the daughter of a hugely important, unimpeachably liberal and honest financial advisor to the White House, possibly Canadian or Mexican by birth; anyway, a bit of a foreigner. That would be, I think, the modern equivalent of Jacques Necker, Swiss financial minister to Louis XVI, who lit the fuse for the revolution of 1789. I'm scratching my head over a name, so, cut a long story short: imagine if Obama himself were thrown out of office, after providing the assist for a coup by the Progressives? They find him totally discredited. He's thrown so hard that he actually has to leave the USA, and goes into dignified retirement, with Michelle, in the Pacific somewhere not far from Hawaii. His only daughter, or his older daughter, say, has cunningly got herself married to somebody safe from the displeasure of the new regime (Germaine was married off at thirteen, to acquire a patent of nobility for the family, a prize she herself treasured all her life: the deal was decently conducted, the marriage wasn't consummated until she was eighteen). Anyway, Malia Ann, at first trading on her father's name, starts a blog. This blog, liberal, principled, outspoken, incredibly well connected and well informed, is a total internet sensation. Nobody can shut her down, nobody can shut her up, she has friends on all sides, and shrugs of the occasional death threat. (Her best-selling books go platinum instantly, but they are just spin-off.) Everyone, every single member of our bizarrely varied C21 global High Society reads Malia Ann, from Hu Jintao to Victoria Beckham; from Shanghai to Sao Paulo, from Tehran to Los Angeles. From Mark Kermode to Angela Merkel. Even the Pope reads Malia-Ann: you just have to. He probably consults her when he's preparing his encyclicals.

It's important that she looks like a simple woman of the people, of the Coming Race, but she isn't really a peasant or a sans culotte, so (be clear about this) she isn't threatening to the bankers and the Ministers, she just makes them want to be admired in her terms: not the terms of War is Profitable and Greed is Good... It's important that she has no office, and belongs to no party. Imagine what a counterweight she'd be to our feral elite: how they'd be dragged towards decency by her decent, liberal and humane voice. How they'd be held in check, instead of treating the world (as they do now) as their playground, and their blood-spattered larder.

It can't last. The Progressives, after a period of turmoil, finally throw up a new pretender for the throne of Leader of the World. He's nominally Progressive, like Obama before him, but soon he shows his fangs. He wants Malia Ann on his side, and she rather fancies the position of being his restraining guide, but it doesn't work out. When Malia Ann tries to get herself recruited as his Muse, he tells her the most celebrated woman should be the one who bears the most babies. So that's the end of that flirtation...and Malia-Ann becomes radicalised at last, and pays the price.

Anyway, I just wanted to explain what and who Germaine de Stael was, this barely-famous historical figure, so eclipsed now (as a writer) by, say, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. And the moral of the story is that I can explain, now, because for the first time since her day a woman like Germaine makes sense. Conversation was her passion, and the medium of her power: and now, again, different technology, different scale, it's the conversation that matters, the unstoppable conversation that rules the world.

Other moral, put not your trust in patriarchy. Not if you want to last.

Germaine died at 51, I think because she never recovered from a dangerously late pregnancy, but the story doesn't end there. It ends in a quietly well-heeled country house, many generations later, on another planet (as good as), with a soft spoken android guide, who really has no idea why Germaine was famous, except that she's one of the ancestors...

In Geneva again this July, we finally managed to make the visit to Coppet, the manor house to which Jacques Necker retired, when the French Revolutionary government no longer had a use for him, and which later became the HQ in exile of his redoubtable daughter. Listed among the Castles of Switzerland, Its actually a restrained C18th manor house, close to Nyons, on the shore of Lac Leman; still occupied by the present Comte de Haussonville, the property having descended through Germaine's daughter Albertine, duchesse de Broglie, and Albertine's daughter, Louise d'Haussonville. The rooms we saw, restored to what they were in Mme De Stael's time, are simple, stone tiled, cool and graceful. Aside from the inevitable family portraits, including a massive King Louis in white satin (sort of thing monarchs of the ancien regime used to hand out, as marks of great favour), it has the air of a slightly primitive country retreat, a place to rough it in comfort for the visitors from Paris. There's not much sign of Germaine's public and literary career. Our guide seemed mildly bemused when I bought the second volume of D'Allemagne, (the book that made Napoleon so furious); the only copy in stock, from the gift shop. A guided visit to Coppet today is all about family, nobility; the honour of having been passed down in the same line for nine generations; romantic celebrity connections. Juliette (Mme Recamier) is the star among these, what a beautiful creature she was. And a true friend too.

I Walk Into The Picture

Thursday 8th September, cool and grey, glimpses of sun, the air outdoors heavy and humid, but no rain yet. The gale winds have died down completely now. There's been a bird singing, a robin I think, first birdsong in the garden for a long time.

In the last week of July, the night after the first of three alcoholic and carnivorous meals shared in Geneva, I slept uneasily and dreamed I was at a festival. It was in steep forest, the teepees, benders, tents, log huts, buried in bracken and mossy thickets along hillsides. I was looking for someone Norwegian called Anna Petersen (see what I did there, my husband is called Peter). I found her, dressed in pale blue denims: tall and slim, with black rough hair, white skin and blue eyes. She was some kind of leader of this politically engaged festival. She'd been trying to get in touch with Ax Preston, I was here to tell her that Ax Preston doesn't exist, he's a fictional character. And if you've read the books, I said, you'll know Ax didn't change the world, he didn't think that was possible, he only tried to change it, for a while. I'm not that kind of Utopian, I explained, like a child, absentmindedly dropping the make-believe. I'm afraid of that route. Ideally, I'd be trying to make the best world we can of what's already here, what's in us. But that's not what's happening now, it isn't what happened in the books. This is a time for saving what you can. The dream went off on a tangent after that. There were foxes, friendly little foxes in the tents with the people, and I copped a couple of flirty, definitely sexual advances (from men). I realised they didn't know how old I was, I didn't know what I looked like in this dream of course. Have you ever looked in a mirror in a dream?; I felt I ought to explain, only it was embarrassing.

Long afterwards, I realised the figure I called Anna Petersen had looked very like my best friend Mary Curran, only the Mary of a long time ago.

I rarely if ever dream about my fiction, in any shape or form, but I suppose I couldn't help it, in this summer without a summer. The faces of those children (adults really, but my son is twenty four, so children to me) lined up on the screen. Watching NASDAQ tumble, on the tv in the departure lounge at Gatwick, as I broke my non-flying vow -not really broke it, I'll fly for a serious family reason. Watching the fighting in the streets in Manchester, on another tv in an outrageous Celtic Tiger Years gin-palace of a bar in Peter's hometown, in the early hours.

My treat. If you write about full-on scifi disaster-futures (Nuclear Winter swallows us; Yellowstone blows its top; the Flood or the Ice Age engulfs us in an afternoon), I suppose you don't get these flashes, much less have them strengthen over years and years. My ruin was cumulative and slow, the Devil's work; not an Act Of God.

To get back to Les Aiguilles Rouges. The picture above is of me, unbelievably cold and wet, walking into my jigsaw picture, sadly with zero co-operation from the weather around Mont Blanc. If you look carefully, you can see the glacier called the Mer du Glace, across the Chamonix valley, but of course no needles, and if there had been, they couldn't have been reflected in sunset or dawn light in the Cheserys lakelets. That would take very different timing. As it was, I was forced to pretend I was Tommy Voeckler, utterly determined to hang onto the yellow jersey one more time, to set a pace that got us back to La Flegere for the last telephorique down to the valley. One lives and learns. Next time, maybe.

But the flowers were beautiful.

On the last evening, me very footsore with the trouble that's going to ground me completely one of these years, we took a short stroll up a tiny, raspberry dangling path between the chalets of Les Mousseaux to find John Ruskin's stone: Ruskin placed here in honour by local worthies on a great medallion set in a granite boulder, wood sorrel and wild strawberries clustering around it, under steep forest trees: really like the grounds of Brantwood, oddly enough. Looking remarkably rugged, wild haired and Beethovian, I must say. 1925. He loved Chamonix, of course. He'd hate it now, but he'd be wrong to get too upset, it's just like Cumbria. You don't have to go very far, to leave the crowds. We were alone most of the time.

Did someone say, yeah, well look at the weather you went out in...

You have a point.