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A message from the Dean of St Paul's

Monday 31st October, a little cooler, clearing skies towards sunset

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Occupy The Cold Equations #2

Friday 28th October, a dark day, humid blustery breeze but no drop in temperature; threatening rain.

Campaigning season is on us again, but this year, since Gabriel is home and it's his room getting the treatment, I'm relegated to the DIY bench, to be brought on for the last half hour, so to speak, to gloss the woodwork, my traditional forte. Wednesday afternoon about 4, Peter comes rushing upstairs to my eyrie, Gwyneth, Gwyneth there's a hawk! I grabbed my binoculars but no, that's not necessary, she's right there, under my nose, on the bathroom roof below my window. A sparrowhawk, ashy brown wings spread, clutching a headless collared dove. Glares up at us, one fiery orange eye, and sweeps away to the apple tree in No 24's garden, to enjoy her meal in peace. Female because of her size, obviously, and an older woman too, because a sparrowhawk's irises start off clear yellow, they only turn that orangey amber with age.

The sparrowhawks live in King Death's Garden (Victorian cemetery across the Lewes Rd), in the tall trees.

Raptors live to be quite an age, but that bird could live and die, I thought, without ever meeting the moving edge of the Mass Extinction in which the whole world is currently plunged. It's a piecemeal edge, different rates and positions everywhere, but though it has certainly reached the UK, collared doves aren't likely to vanish. Along with woodpigeons they are thriving, on the increase in winter crops and intensive farming. Nor is she likely to be inconvenienced even if the tree-loss, which threatens several of our major species, "goes postal". Me, I miss the hedgehog (in drastic decline) a lot. And you know how I feel about frogs. And I envied her, but I can't let go of my fear of the future. The fear of what I will live to see, what my son will live to see...

& so to Occupy. There's a notorious vintage sci-fi story called "The Cold Equations". Read all about it in Richard Harter's article, but to cut a long essay short it involves a space freighter, a pilot, and a stowaway. The stowaway is unaware that she is literally too much for the system to bear. She has to go out of the airlock, or the freighter will inevitably founder, destroying pilot, stowaway and a valuable humanitarian* cargo together... Some have called this famous tale a covert troll-fest, catering to the portion of the sf audience that delights in any "scientific" excuse to imagine a pretty girl going splat. Others have denounced the practical failures of system involved. What a way to run a space freight company! What idiots! I wouldn't like to be the colonists, relying on such margin-shaving b*****ds for their medical support... But the system in The Cold Equations, with or without added splatter-porn, is not failing. The system is Capitalism, doing what it is designed to do. The Capitalist model of wealth creation requires a mass of people who get ejected out of the airlock, periodically. That's how they serve the cause, and this is something devout Capitalists must learn to accept with equanimity.

Its awfully, it's grossly unfair, but it works fine, because Capitalism also creates, inevitably, a nomenklatura, an interested class of people who are not wealthy, but who are wealthy enough, and who form a buffer state.

(I can't get my head around the equanimity of a wealthy UK director who can accept a 50% payrise, in the same year as 1.6 million children in the UK are already living in severe poverty. But I suppose it's no different from being an Evangelical Christian and accepting that everyone outside your church is going to burn in hell).

The Occupy movement has the weakness that it's a protest movement of the middle-classes. It gets its mass support from other middle-class people who are terrified to find themselves on the brink of that short walk in a hard vacuum, besides having a decent compassion for the masses already out there in the cold dark. Their form of demonstration elegantly (in the mathematical sense, not referring to the configuration of their tents) provides a living illustration of just how hard it is to live in a camp. To live cleanly, packed close together without sanitation, to keep warm without housing, to avoid criminality without law enforcement; to eat frugally and sustainably without access to a kitchen. & this alone is good reason to admire and praise them, unconditionally. But what if the machine can be made to work "properly"? What if comfort can be restored to the interested classes of Europe, and prosperity in the future can be promised, however speciously, to all the 6.99% billions and the 20 billions to come? How many of the protestors, up in arms against bankers and bonuses, would still be demanding "something new"?

The present economic crisis looks bad, but it's fixable. I know it can be done. Fossil fuels can still be extracted; there are mighty volumes of natural gas, even if the oil is running a little low. There are vast swathes of forest and wilderness that can still be cleared for agribusiness, and irrigated by desalination (I suppose). The oceans can be killed stone dead. And this is what will happen, and this is what must happen, even if it's fracking suicidal (as our lovely Energy Secretary* recently confessed, in a bizarre moment of clarity)...if the wealthy are to protect themselves, and the middle classes are to be given enough of a "share of the wealth" to shut them up again. But it's not what I'm looking for.

I don't want to share the wealth. I want the wealthy to share my frugal sufficiency. I don't want my Capitalist (second class) rights restored. I want those "rights" withdrawn from circulation. I don't want the right to a cheap flight to Barcelona for the weekend, a trip to Disneyland Florida, or a fortnight's holiday in the Maldives. I don't want a new gadget and a new car every six months, I don't want cheap petrol, or cheap energy of any kind, and I want to pay a fair price for my food and clothing. I will trade all these goodies, and more, for a future I can look forward to without dread and grief. I mean it. I'm trying to live it. Not because I think my pathetic, partial drop in the ocean can do any good, but simply because it makes me feel better.

Anyway. I thought the idea of Occupying Paternoster Square was bold and dangerous. The police in my country, especially the Met, are not safe to deal with. They know what their masters really want from them. The alternative of Occupying St Paul's churchyard seemed a bit namby-pamby, but I was wrong. I underestimated the Anglican church's devotion to Mammon. And what next?

I don't know, but I do know that a non-violent, non-sectarian Movement that makes people who were in despair feel better can be a very powerful force for positive change. (In a f****d up, partial and temporary way, nb. Success is dangerous). So here's hoping.

*the humanitarian cargo element in "The Cold Equations" has always set my teeth on edge. So transparent, so creepy.

** “Cutting carbon is not a luxury to be ditched when the going gets tough. It is essential to the survival of mankind as a species. The science is ever more clear. Cutting carbon is also a vital part of our recovery from the deepest recession since 1929. Then we had David Lloyd George’s Yellow Book: now we have Green Growth.” Chris Huhne's Lib Dem conference speech September 2011

Went to see We Need To Talk About Kevin on Sunday, convinced into it by Gabriel. Very impressed. Brilliant, inspired economy of film-making. Only remembered afterwards that this was the Lynne Ramsey who made Morven Caller, must be a decade ago now. Which struck me and Peter at the time as a rare true picture of a world, already passing away, which we had shared; in our cautious fashion.

I never thought of reading the book. What mass audience-makers admire in a novel (sensationalism, basically, and sentiment) only occasionally coincides what I want from a book & I thought that old "massacre in the gym" scenario wanted a documentary treatment. But now I'm curious, and I think I will.

The White Hind

Tuesday 18th October, rain and wind in the night, pale brilliant sunshine now, warm through glass, chilly outdoors.

Sunday 16th October we went out to the beechwoods of Angmering Estate, a foraging walk; wondering if we'd got it right this year. The straight and slim ranks of beeches still green, signs of recent and careful thinning everywhere, the harvest just over for this year. It's very soothing to be under their canopy, and think of nothing but the woods, the blue sky, the signs of autumn; for an hour or two. The tracks near Patching littered with sweet chestnuts, already picked over but we gleaned about a kilo from the leaf litter without even trying, or robbing the local squirrels and mice too much... the spiky urchin shells stinging our fingers, the nuts plump but mostly small, never mind they're okay to peel when they're fresh (says I, with optimistic amnesia, and because slightly addicted to wild gathering). No funghi bar a few large and ancient puffballs, because the woods were very dry, amazingly, alarmingly dry for October. Then we took a detour to the Woodman Arms (was, Hammerpot) for an impromptu lunch, ostensibly to give my foot a break; on the way met a remarkable caterpillar (see above, but that's not our photo, I've given you the benefit of a better nature photographer), and did not meet but maybe startled a goshawk, that went rowing and jinking away through the tree boles. Raptor action also evident in splattered rosettes of wood pigeon feathers, seems like there's been a lot of feasting going on all round.

On the way up from The Woodman, beyond the Estate paddocks, we went to investigate a tiny disused quarry, become a dump inevitably, and thereabouts I found the second four leaf clover in my life, which I have carefully preserved, but luck I don't expect. The luck is in the finding, the little thrill of unexpected treasure & then just a short way further, Peter spotted the white hind, a pure white red deer hind, watching us from a thicket of reddening bracken... She looked like a strange-shaped fallen branch, weathered white, until she moved, and kept on watching us, from farther off.

Wonder if the man with the highpowered rifle, whom we noticed twice, though he was trying hard not to be noticed, was trophy-hunting? Ah, well, Red deer must be culled. On the way back, in Patching meadow (where two or three Munjacs were browsing, quite unphased by passing walkers), we picked a box of juicy sloes, just because they were there. Now we'll have free sloe gin, as long as we buy the gin...and the sugar...

Reading: Sophie Mayer's collection, Incarnadine, which she sent to me when she ordered books from me last month. Really engaging and impressive cycle of poems. And the latest issue of Chroma (A Queer Literary Journal), from the same source, and curated, or edited by Sophie it has a sci-fi theme, or should I say (more like it) it turns out that scifi themes are interesting to literary young writers now, quite irrespective of genre. I liked the story called "Inhale" best, a small gem by Sandra Aland.

This signboard stands at the eaves of Patching meadow, obviously not a threat, after all aren't we in a National Park now? Isn't this land bound to be protected commons anyway. Not anymore, it looks like. The Chairman of the National Trust says: there is ample brownfield land available for development, but "we're up against some very rich and powerful people". So when do you think the proposed lobbying review will move in, to clean up that dirty shop? Not holding my breath, me.

Occupy the cold equations #1

Saturday 15th October, fine and clear.

Mail from a friend of mine early this morning: wish me luck, I'm off to join Occupy LXS. Good for you, we texted back: with you in spirit. But that's not exactly true. I don't think I'm entirely one of the 99%. My allegiance is different: our name is legion, but it's getting to be a little smaller, this legion, every day and every hour. I want the redistribution of wealth, sure, I want this feral global elite tamed, of course I do, but that isn't what I really want. In fact, be honest, what I want requires everybody to get poor. and live poor.

So, anyway, I wish her well, and hope things go well, but our police, especially the Met, don't have that reputation, do they? Looking at it from our rulers' point of view, you cannot guarantee that protestors will be violent, and discredit themselves. But you can easily guarantee that the police will be violent -you just have to give the order, or the licence, and hey presto! A violent demonstration!

What if the good, decent police people scratched their heads and thought, hm, actually, these guys are on our side. And on the side of the police work we want to do, except we're being eviscerated by these cuts... And decided to renounce violence?

I suppose you never know.

Oh, Mister Punch! (Violence is Childish)

Friday 14th October, chilly morning, quiet skies, cloud lifting to sunshine.

Last night Occupy Wall Street finally made it to the BBC ten o' clock news, and was given the BBC's mild seal of approval. Now what? Will Obama realise that these dignified, articulate small groups are the best friends his failing Presidency could hope to have, and try to win them over? Or is it far too late for that? I shouldn't have called them sans culottes, by the way, although The Daily Reckoning certainly did. Sans culottes means rabid mobs (probably not wearing any pants), although it shouldn't. Back in 1789 it simply meant the 99%; it meant, if you were a man, you had no call and no desire to wear the breeches and silk stockings that were de rigueur for court dress... But anyway, irritated by my ignorance, I had already tracked down the Mainstream Media coverage, yesterday afternoon. Ah, they're equating Occupy with the Tea Party! As in, compare and contrast, these two movements, they both want to bring the government down, you can hardly tell them apart, they must be twins... Ingenious move, very.

Folk Art: Went to see Paddy Considine's Tyrannosaur on Monday night, thought it was good not great. Sincere, but childish, crude not in a bad way, but like a child's drawing... Olivia Coleman was great, no question, but I kept noticing how Eddie Marsan, as the abusive husband, was always weirdly lit, curved nose, curved chin, bulging cheeks, to look like a Mr Punch puppet, and whether this was intended or not, it seemed to fit the case. Gabriel, who had very high hopes of this movie, was also muted in his response, having happened to watch Fear Eats The Soul earlier the same day. Which is not really fair, since Fear is a work of genius, but I'm glad he's making these distinctions.

I thought Shane Meadows Dead Man's Shoes was equally limited, by its too-sentimental view of the protagonist. But there are exceptions, there's real class in this Northern Soul (okay, "Northern" in spirit) genre. A Room For Romeo Brass ; London To Brighton; absolute stand-outs.

Watching and Partly watching: I'm still watching Ringer, just because I like Sarah Michelle Gellar and she's always watchable, even though a) I don't like twin stories, and this one certainly isnt' convincing me to change my mind, and b) the Manhattan Rich Folk setting is getting on my nerves I keep seeing them ballooned out with blubber, it's all Adam Roberts's fault.

Also watching and partly watching Hidden, the Philip Glenister vehicle tv thriller. I suspect made by someone who admires and has studied Edge Of Darkness, and David Suchet adds gravitas, but what's it all about? It's like, someone thought to self, London riots, corrupt PM, got to be a story in there, and then forgot to make up the story.

I think my taste for fantasy gaming has spoiled me for these run around and panic shows. I'd rather be Link, and run around and panic under my own steam.

The 1% Curtain

Wednesday 12th October, weather same as yesterday, less cloud, more blue, quiet skies, still very mild.

I haven't anything new to say today, but I just have to record that it really is uncanny, the way the Occupy Wall Street thing is not-reported. Not a peep. It's hard to believe your eyes. I keep thinking, despite the evidence, well these Boing Boing types, easily excited, its probably about ten people and a dog, a handful of college kids? There can't be much in it, or we'd be hearing about it, hey, if there was really even a little bit of a revolution brewing on the streets of the USA it would be somewhere on the bbc's front page. At least their World News front page. Surely?

What on earth's going on?

I don't know. My pet profiteers' Think Tank mailing from The Daily Reckoning, took the trouble to trash the sans culottes this week, and they weren't bigging the thing up from friendly motives, believe me. On the other hand, that occupystream is, shall we say, charitably, not making a lot of sense. Oh, well. Nobody's been killed yet, no tanks deployed. Maybe the news media just sincerely aren't interested.

My Brain Does Not Reject Negative Thoughts

Tuesday 11th October, mild air, grey low sky, a thin, dropping rain. Frog action and birdsong.

.... but I'm not a pessimist. I'm just not that stupid.

link is from a trusted source, ie Darko Suvin

Also in the news, Avaaz, clearing house for positive negative thinking, announcing today they've hit 10 million members. Are they actually achieving anything? I think It's worth a shot.

Technology Review TRSF: The Flame Is Roses

Monday 10th October, cool grey skies, luminous cloud. Yesterday, the wabi-sabi traditions of autumn, we planted out wallflowers and scoured the pools, savaging the clumps of yellow flag and exhuming soggy sheaves of dead leaves from the depths. Five fish and sundry frogs seemed to appreciate the clean-up. Flames of Roses keynote photo by Pattoise (Patrick Bouquet)/click through to his Flickr site.

TRSF, MIT's Technology Review Science Fiction anthology, out very soon, be sure to order your copy. My story for this exciting new collection has a story behind it: I was invited to submit back in May, with the brief that it was to be about near-future technologies, and went off to the Hay Fringe, where I was on a panel discussing the utility of vast projects like CERN... Some young people asked me, on the way out, what thrilling apps did I expect to "come out" of bizarre massive experiments in high energy physics?

If you've read my books and stories you'll know the answer: I write about a form of faster than light travel, "coming out" of a combination of information space science and high energy physics. But the Buonarotti Torus is a metaphor, not an extrapolation. It just means there has to be some huge shift, in basic science, before we can be starfarers. Something's got to give. What I said was, very firmly: I DON'T KNOW, because I thought that was the point of the lively discussion we'd just been having. You can't know. You can't put in an order for truly novel science, or it wouldn't be really novel, would it? But then I tried to think, because I had a story to write. What kind of app would I like? How could I link it to current cutting edge ideas? Then I read (classically) a timely New Scientist article about Bousso and Susskind's quantum global multiverse, which you can also read about in TR: I felt immediately drawn to this. Hey, weird and totally cosmic scientists in need of an experiment/ What do I have in the locker that I could use, to make a story out of that...? I went to sleep one night, and woke up with the words the flames are roses, the smoke is briars. I knew it was a quote from T.S.Eliot's The Four Quartets, but it seemed highly suggestive. Flames, the pattern of fire of the neurons, I've often used that one. Roses, the pulsing, convoluted false-coloured rose of a brain scan, I've often used that one too... But what about that random T. S. Eliot connection? Was it just a pretty title? Or was there anything useful in Eliot?

Our Big Science throws up perverse hints and glimpses of a hidden level of reality, where time does not exist (and therefore neither does space); where everything is contiguous. Maybe, who knows, best described as a fantastically complex single object (mathematically speaking), that contains all possible universes. We can't observe this reality, we can't live in it, though it must be all around us, all the time. We can only deduce the immanent, enormous presence from the most fleeting phenomena, the faintest traces. And yet the fact that we have these glimpses seems to suggest that there is some bridge, some intersection, between what goes on in our causation-bound, flaccid jelly and chemistry brains, and the contiguous universe of information. Meanwhile artists and poets, such as Thomas Stearns Eliot, have wrestled for millenia with a strangely similar, aesthetic and spiritual dilemma. How human life; how consciousness itself, only exists painfully poised between physical, bodily existence, and ungraspable eternity. On the intersection, as he puts it, between the timeless, and time.

So, anyway, out of these scattered hints and traces I made an art/science sf story: realised it was far from being "good old fashioned clunky near future sf", and decided to send it off anyway, with apologies for being so undisciplined. But good old fashioned clunky sf had its moments of poetry too, after all...

The church on the headland, with the mysterious void below the Sanctuary (it's probably just a disused mediaeval crypt) is St Peter Vincula at Wisborough Green, West Sussex. If you know the Four Quartets, you'll know why there had to be a river.

I hope I haven't put you off, but I trust not. The list of contributors is stellar, the rest of the stories certain to be thrilling, and just what you need, a generous dose of the real stuff of science fiction.

On The Beach

Monday 3rd October, a cool breeze through my window, morning sun burning white in a clear sky, but it won't be so hot today as it's been over the weekend

Sunday afternoon, after the banquet and the awards, the former enlivened by very good company at my table; in the latter, I only had one shout (so to speak, I am not a betting woman so my money had stayed in my pocket) and it was Tom Fletcher's The Leaping for the Best Novel. Alas, my boy didn't win, but there you go, I still think he's a very promising writer, had the despair and anomie of the call centre work/life really nailed. I slipped away to change and join Peter, musing on the curious things that worry fantasy ie horror writers...

Zombies can't see

I've visited a morgue, there's no question, they can't possibly see

Mm. Visual cortex also well on its way to becoming soup, I'd have thought. Realistic zombies, you know, I would never have thought about it, but I see it's a tough one.

... and we drove over to Hove, away beyond King Alfred's where crowd thins out and the shingle gets finer & there's even a patch or two of sand, and we went in the sea together, swimming for the first time this year, the endless sea dead calm and silver blue, sailing boats, against the white, declining sun, the water chill and wonderful, I love swimming in the sea.

Look at that, says Peter, noting a handsome red setter charging around, threatening our towels. Dogs on the beach! That's not allowed

Peter, that's in summer. It's 2nd October, the dogs are perfectly within their rights.


It's called global warming, you know. You just be thankful you live here, not in Western Australia, or Kenya or somewhere.

& I wonder, while basking in this glorious weather, do other people secretly also have that strange feeling you get, when nothing overtly nasty is going on, but you know your dream is actually nightmare? & we just none of us say it out loud.