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The Death Of The Birds: A Winnowing

Monday 25th June, blue skies, mild breeze, cool bright and clear. Saturday we took the train to Shoreham, and walked up through Old Shoreham (an interesting place, confounding my persistent image of "Shoreham" as a derelict power station, and a big shingle bank covered in quirky houses like giant beach huts) to the nettle guarded path up to the bypass and beyond. A very grey and blustery day, but with the reward, as we climbed, of the larks, so many of them in the end (mainly invisible) that their song seemed a continuous fabric, a glorious soundscape, filling the wind-tossed air above the fields of barley. Speaking of Gove's latest bold announcement, which Nick Clegg says is a complete blindsider and His Mate Dave knew nothing about it... But who would believe Nick Clegg? They sent him to Rio, and we know what that means. So yes, probably, "O" levels and CSEs in some form are on their way back. "what's tragic," says Peter, (still partly a Maths teacher at his college) "is not even the mad and rubbish things the govt does to education, of which this is certainly one, it's the way they keep on DOING them, never giving anything a chance to bed in, never giving teachers or students a chance to figure out how to make it work..." "Mm," says Gwyneth. "All these years, it's been like, the business and govt people who wanted to be fashionable back then embraced one idea from the revolutionary years of the Sixties, the concept of Continuous Revolution; never letting people alone. A great way for managers to look busy, eh? Because it was the one thing they could understand. And they've never let go."

We walked along the "butterfly bank", downland where the complete absence of butterflies wasn't a terrible shock, due to the wind and the cold, slow season. July and August may bring them out, and where we met one vivid caterpillar creeping on the vivid purple wild thyme, which I tried to convince myself was an Adonis Blue larva, but I'm afraid it was a Burnet Moth infant, as the Adonis Blue larva is a freestyle take on the whole caterpillar idea, looks like a tiny sea-cucumber and is pretty unmistakable, besides rare. But I was thinking about the birds. We have a picture book, Birds Of Britain And Europe; dating from 1980, but even in the nineties, even ten years ago, its information was still fairly current.

Swifts: HABITAT: Almost anywhere. Feeds over water, frequent in towns and cities

not anymore

Starling: HABITAT: Virtually everywhere: a highly adaptable species

but we got the better of them! Starling population has plunged by 90%

& so it goes on. The heartfelt comment ex-farmer Alan Lloyd added (thank you Mr Lloyd) to my Prometheus Unbound entry says it all. A small suite of birds (eg wood pigeons) can survive and prosper, on intensive farming, but most of the farmland birds, ground-nesting birds, must die. Most of the urban birds must die. Most of the woodland birds must die. Even our enemies the urban Herring Gulls are less of a screaming crowd now, up on our archaic chimneypots here in the Crescent. The hungry generations did tread down the nightingale in the end.

& what remains? It was a stormy day, a bit relentless for any bird*. As we walked down the Adur, we saw one stunning Little Egret (now that's a bird practically unheard of in the UK in 1980), one oyster-catcher, a whole heap of swans, a sparrowhawk, and a big, very red dog-fox, his brush soaked and back muddy, trotting through a field, having obviously just swum the river. Heading quietly for more rabbits than you could count.

Watching: A Royal Affair. Thoroughly engrossing & thrilling, and not afraid to wear its (political) heart on its sleeve. Mikkel Boe Følsgaard took a great part as mad King Christian. & did you know, the "happy ending" is more or less true? Caroline Matilde's son Frederik DID restore the reforms his mother and her lover died for (to be fair, arguably they died, in real life as here, for being young, stupidly arrogant, and horribly careless; but that's not going to make a worse movie, is it?). Also, I really love the sound of the Danish language.

Reading: Ad Infinitum, Brian Rotman. Having problems with the Post-Modernist Prolixity we thought so fine twenty odd years ago, which now seems to have genre fantasy writer's disease (= never use one word where 500 will do!), so I keep thinking yes, yes, but get on with it. However, will persevere.

The church is St Botolph's on the Adur, which we visited and made our turning point. Saxon, more than Norman, a very quiet place. It's one of the 500 Holiest Places in the UK. Certfied, and in a book and everything. Wow. I looked up the book and found somebody on Amazon complaining that his own country's best and secretest holy places had been left out. Fer God's sake (so to speak). Rejoice, my son. Rejoice. Fame isn't everything.

And before I forget, to cheer me up, and probably you too if you read this blog, here's a really nice blog I found earlier: Jonathan Pomeroy
Specially the SwiftCam

* Except the crows, (in flocks, so rooks?)we haven't got the better of them yet. They were out in the wind, and revelling in it.

Hauling In The Other Direction

Monday 18th June, cool and breezy, sun and cloud. I heard the swifts shrilling, above the blanketing cloud at 7am, and have been watching the juvenile starlings, chalky brown birds, with pale throats & starling beaks, feasting at the live worm feeder, overseen by a glossy black speckled parent... So has Ginger, but the starlings and the bluetits don't seem to mind. She's down on the grass, she cannot climb the pole...

I used never to feed birds in our garden. We have cats! And if we didn't, the enclosed gardens of the Crescent are full of other people's. Then I read on the RSPB site that if you are so inveterately evil as to host a cat, providing food for your bird population probably reduces the success of cat predation = birds are innately vigilant when feeding. If they are just hanging out, thinking what a nice day it is, having a bit of a sing, their firewall isn't turned on, so to speak.

So, Greece is back from the brink, for now, and I have to be relieved, because exciting and cleansing as utter disasters are, it's better if they don't happen. Next, I hope la lutte continue. I hope the Left Wing doesn't flounce off in a huff... This is the job of the Opposition: to haul in the other direction, even and nearly always knowing you can't "win". We win by losing, we win by worrying the people in power... You can't stop online snooping (on the contrary "you" out there, you seem to love handing over your entire lives!) , but you say no when you get the chance. You can't stop the usual business and wealth world from ignoring the devastation caused by global warming, but you can say no, whenever you get the chance.

Giving: Anyway, here's a grim and informative bulletin from South Sudan, courtesy of Medecins Sans Frontieres

And a call for stories from Ann and Jeff Vandermeer; kindly forwarded to me by Gordon Van Gelder.

After some thought, and research, I've submitted Identifying The Object, Balinese Dancer and The Universe of Things; having felt obliged to avoid The Voyage Out (over-run by unfathomable East Asian spam); & The Fulcrum (as having been object of passionate and persistent right wing attack), and decided not to bother with those stories that might be deemed appropriate (Red Sonja And Lessingham et al) which have simply been made universally available for so-called free download by pirates. Isn't the Internet wonderful.

You are safe following the gwynethann site links. It won't bite you.

I think there was something else, but I've forgotten.

Prometheus Unbound

Tuesday 12th June, & here in Brighton it's cool to chilly under grey skies, the rain is steady and gentle. My tadpoles, both indoors and out, are showing no signs of developing legs, this is a record for mid-June. Have begun feeding the indoor ones on goldfish food, but I've never fed the outdoor ones in the big tub, they've always managed fine, and temperatures haven't been outrageously under par, so I don't know what's going on.

Sorry, one more Prometheus link, relayed to me by Peter, which I have found irrisistible.

Re: faster-than-light vs sublight speeds. You know, I'm sure the issue was just as hazy, or muddled, in the previous, or I suppose we should now say subsequent Alien movies... I think you could easily have kind of assumed the good ship Nostromo was running on petroleum based marine fuel, from the steampunky look of things. We cannot get there from here. There is an unbridgeable gulf, the science does not exist. Sixty years of spaceflight, and the most ambitious interplanetary exploration currently on the cards involves getting a small and flimsy object, that couldn't sustain Laika, on a one way trip to the orbit of Jupiter. This is not an optional feature. Sci-fi movies NEED an irrational form of transport from A to B, the way Fantasy needs dragons and/or evil magicians.

Not that this in anyway makes taking the p*** out of a self-satisfied, Big Box Office Success behemoth like Prometheus less justified or less fun.

Last night, I accidentally watched Springwatch, which I had previously dismissed as too gushy and cute to bear. Not so, not any longer. The lapwings, they are all gone. A third of the meagre breeding success in the whole of Wales knocked out in a single storm, and the same story in the wetlands of East Anglia already... Twenty years ago, when I thought I lived in a pretty damned urbanised country, those lovely birds, so beautiful, so acrobatic in flight, were everywhere. Sometimes I can't bear it. The future for the living world, here and everywhere, seems so hopeless. But I'll keep the garden soup kitchens open, and try to grow tadpoles, even so.

Clarion Call

Monday 11th June, calm and grey after many hours of heavy rain yesterday evening and late into the night. Slight eco-disaster in the tools-and-tins cupboard under the basement area steps, rainwater got in and one of the pots of live worms was standing in water. Have evacuated the survivors and rehoused them; only a few lost their lives, but the rehousing was in the feeders so that won't last.

A Clarion Call from Karen J Fowler:

"Sign-ups and pledges for this year's Clarion Write-a-thon have slowed to almost nothing. As we are increasingly dependent on this annual fundraiser, we absolutely need it to be a success. Can we get some tweets and blog action? And anything else you can think of that might help? Official dates coincide with the workshop -- June 24th to August 4th -- but we hope to have the pledges in place early so participants can concentrate on their writing goals during that period."

If you can help, please do. The experience will be fun and envigorating, and in terms of the quality and value of the Clarion experience for new science fiction writers it is such a good cause.

And good news from Cassie Hart about the sf anthology Tales For Canterbury, a benefit anthology, all profits to the NZ Red Cross Earthquake Appeal. Now the winner of the Best Collected Work Sir Julius Vogel Awards!!! Copies still available through Random Static Press

& here's a link from The Momus Report, about a podcast on female sf writers, plus subsequent discussion, relayed to you from a comment posted recently but on an earlier post of mine. Apparently the discussion was annoying. So, by all means go ahead and find out if you agree.

Is it safe?

Sunday 10th June, bitter grey skies, a sullen breeze; the next rain due later.

What have I been doing over half-term? Lots. Never a dull moment, unless you count those periods of bad weather when the skies were merely dull, rather than full of roaring gale or pounding rain. Friday 1st I watched Weekend on the tv, with Gabriel, a very sweet movie, enlivened by a contention on Gabriel's part that the city had to be London, he favoured the south west; maybe Wimbledon or somewhere as he has never been there, whereas I, also failing to recognise a city where I spent a formative six weeks on Civil Service training, long ago, maintained it could not be London, as neither the artsy-type or the ordinary-type crowd people were not speaking any form of Estuary English (Gabriel counters: there are lots of London accents, what would you know?) and there are no hills like that in Wimbledon. It's Nottingham, of course. Later that same evening, went out to see Battle Royale at the Duke's with Peter, a movie I've always wanted to see, and always missed. It's not really a lot like The Hunger Games, much more rough and ready in every respect, but there are startling points in common (eg the chirpy tv persona girl with the updates, the scrolling death toll). Was disappointed to find that contrary to legend, the collars the kids wear do not actually make their heads explode*.

Sunday Peter & I went out walking, a pub crawl around the High Weald, under grey skies and blue; through showers and calm. The wheat has certainly picked up, which is good to see, blossom still on the hawthorns, flowery meadows, shouting thrushes. A little of the Thames pageant on the telly at the second pub, a bit of bunting; at the rainiest pub, a wet dog cart with a pair of very morose skewbald big ponies (cobs?) in harness, rumoured to be offering jaunts around the lanes. A strangely empty feeling everywhere, like a supermarket during a Cup Final...

The big storm never really hit us in Sussex, but there was no question (guilty shake of head) of the planned project: prepping basement area for housepainter, by hand, with scrubbing brushes and sugar soap. No jet spray allowed, see, as we have a hosepipe ban on.

Ate out. Had haircuts. Played Zelda. Watched telly. Went to the movies some more later in the week. Liked The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists quite a lot, though not sure what the 3D added in value. I'd give it no more than four stars, as the script just didn't sparkle, somehow. But absolutely top marks for identifying and utilising to their fullest extent the three things every child is sure to know about science:

1. Charles Darwin invented Evolution (with a little piratical nudging, it seems)

2. Dodos are extinct.

3. If you mix vinegar and bicarbonate of soda YOU CAN MAKE A VOLCANO!

Also saw Prometheus and it wasn't easy, but I have found a genuinely appreciative thing to say: some of the points made in less positive amateur reivews at imdb are very funny:

(NB, please do not follow this link if you somehow manage to be fearing spoilers. Also, you may find the language used by some spluttering respondents crude and offensive; because it is. )

Not that any of the delightfully withering nitpicks and queries would have mattered a damn, if the script and characters had worked together, or the ensemble had ever looked as if they believed in the daft hokum that was happening. Sigh. Bring back The Mummy Returns, all is forgiven.

Saturday we went to Massimo's concert at St Andrew's church, and that was really good. Except I spent the interval watching fish in the pool room at The Iron Duke, as I do not play pool, and it was just too cold and nasty to go for a stroll by the sea...

It's that time of year again, the time of year when I realise once more that (like many of my fictional characters, coincidentally) I pretty much hate summer. The weather is always vicious, the pitiful attempts I made at gardening in the Spring have reached the point where hope must fail; I get hay fever from evil bee-destroying rapeseed, and there is too much stuff going on outside.

Is it safe to come out of the cinema yet? No, it is not safe. There's the Euro 12s (which I don't mind, except not all day everyday, and btw, I wonder should Angela Merkel take the national coaches aside and have a word: Let the Greeks win, okay? Don't make it obvious, but it would really help...) There's Le Tour (an old friend), and oh no, there's The Olympics.

A few times I have heard the swifts, shrilling above the clouds, a couple of times I have glimpsed a pair of them. The seagulls are all brooding now, and very noisy: sad discovery of a dead chick by our water butt recieved with calm by the houshold. "You don't even like them" was the verdict. "Put it on the compost."

The keynote picture definitely is not Brighton Beach. It's the beach at Katwijk aan Zee, back in March. Just trying to cheer myself up.

*I totally apologise if this is deemed a spoiler.