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Continuous Creation

Friday 28th September, no more of the torrential rain today, at least not so far. Rain-washed skies, silver and blue,and tarnished leaves on my little elm and the red maple looking likely to fall, leaving the trees bare by the end of October, how old fashioned. Cool air, very autumnal. Who knows? The vanished Arctic ice, the unprecedented high temperatures in the North Atlantic. . . Chaotic weather is just chaotic, innit? Another dose of the little ice age, or a C30 degrees heatwave all the way til Christmas. Could go either way.

My Week

Monday 24th Sept. Torrential rain. Peter gave me a lift down to the seafront where I joined the 38degrees team in the gauntlet of leafleting Lib Dem delegates must run to reach the safety of that forensic-looking tent sort of thing at the entrance to the Brighton Centre. Ours were about the Climate Change vote. When I shared this petition on facebook, someone called Steve Heynes (Hi Steve!) cmmented that it was a stupid waste of time, the Lib Dems will never do anything... Ah, now that's because (unless your dissing comment was a dedicated, sneaky climate-change denier activist ploy, in which case, apologies!) you're not an activist, Steve. If you were an activist, you'd know that this never say die chipping away, no matter how unpromising your entree, is the ONLY way anything ever changes. Okay, it may look silly but, who do you suggest we lobby on Climate Change issues? The Labour Party? You are having a laugh. Nice kids, those 38 degrees people. I enjoyed their company. The weather was atttroccious. I thought I might catch pneumonia, but didn't. Spent rest of day slogging on with my trenchant revision of Flowerdust, (1994) latest item on my backlist to get the Kindle treatment, & then I'm going to fool around with Divine Endurance (1984)to make these "companion volumes" actually line up together, for the first time in their lives. Then cooked miso soup with carrots, onions, mushrooms and bean-sprouts (Amy's dinner take note!) & went to see Tabu at the Dukes. Which Gabriel thought was absolutely wonderful, but we rated strange & interesting. Predictably, I liked the crocodile best. But also the old ladies, in the "40 years after" part. I could really read Pilar. So melancholy and so quietly, doggedly good.

Tuesday 25th Sept. Torrential rain. Spent the morning putting together a presentation on the story "Bricks, Sticks, Straw" I just wrote for Jonathan Strahan's Edge Of Infinity anthology. His pitch, my pitch. Process of elimination whereby I chose my near future solar system venue. The random elements that accrete around an idea. The websites: ESA, NASA, eLISA; Greek Mythology.... In the afternoon, a train ride to Canterbury West, a double rainbow and a single lapwing in the big stormcloud skies as we crossed the county boundary at Rye. More nice kids (not all actually kids, of course: but I'm very old!) at the "Tuesday evening reading series". Impressive turnout. I rather rattled off my favourite Stranded Space Explorer Classic Short Stories, so I'll repeat it here:

"Desertion" Clifford Simak, from his fix-up novel City; 1944. One man and his dog, on the hard core of Jupiter, transformed into life-forms that can gambol and play in this unforgiving corrosive hell. They love it, don't miss their old embodiment at all, and don't want to come home.

"Dark They Were And Golden Eyed". Ray Bradbury, 1949. Find it in the collection: A Medicine For Melancholy. Needs no introduction from me. Haunting, brilliant.

"Surface Tension" James Blish, 1952. Find it in the collection The Seedling Stars. Crash-landing explorers on a water-world tranform themselves (or something) into a microscopic race of water-breathers. Zillions of generations later, descendants find out who they were, and plan to go home. But that iron barrier, the surface tension that holds a raindrop together like, blocks them like a massive gravity well. . .

And one I forgot. Actually a slim novel, but We Who Are About To Joanna Russ has to get a mention, for her mordant, realist approach to the scenario. What do you do, when you're a bunch of clueless tourists, crash-landed on an alien planet far, far, far from any hope of rescue, and you have no resources, no skills, and anything that might be food or water is poison? You die, sillies. Get on with it.

I told Amy Sackville, Creative Writing Lecturer at Kent at Canterbury (whose debut novel, The Still Point, is a thing of beauty), what I was doing to Flowerdust , and my wicked plans for the already-filed Kindle version of Divine Endurance. You can go on rewriting what you wrote forever and ever, I said. And nobody can stop you. Imagine that. Could be I'm a corrupting influence: she seemed intrigued.

Wednesday 26th Sept. Torrential Rain. And so cold! The cats want the heating turned on, they keep crouching by the cold radiators, trying to make their point. Round two on the last chapters of Flowerdust. I lost on points, but I will beat this thing. Peter cooked masala cabbage and potato, tomato and onion tarkari. & we watched Stephanie Flanders's Masters of Money #2 Freidrich Heyek. Very light on content, this miniseries. Maynard Keynes moved in the Haighest of Bohemian circles (pictures of Charleston) and advised governments to spend their way out of a slump by throwing money at public works (pictures of dole queues,the Hoover Dam, and Obama's somewhat more modest solar-power field in Arizona). Heyek saw hyperinflation in Vienna when he was a child (pictures of jerky bourgeois toting sackfuls of notes to the baker's); collected gongs, and advised governments to let "the markets" do what they like! (pictures of Margaret Thatcher And The Miners). Plus a "surreal prize fight" that Was A Big Youtube Hit!, (that's as much as we ****ing plebs need to know on any subject, of course); yet more footage of Meryvn King looking dead shifty, & a coy reference to "human nature", to explain why neither high-concept plan really seems to have fixed things, much, ever.

But Miss, Miss, on what caluculations, what grounds, did these giants base their airy advice? There must be more to it than this. Show working out!

Wonder what she'll do with Karl Marx, the content king?

Thursday 27th Sept. Finished Flowerdust revision. Tnx God. If I'm caught changing a word of Escape Plans, Peter has orders to take me out and shoot me. (Unfortunately I know he hasn't got a gun. Oh, dear) Also buried one of my homemade crocus cages, which was fun. Do your worst, squirrels! & cooked Tuscan Bean Soup with bacon, & went out for a couple of pints, & watched Neil Jordan's 1999 version of Graham Greene's The End Of The Affair. About rain, and miracles. All shot in the most beautiful, cool and silvery light. Fine piece of work all round. & again Gabriel praised the doomed romance, while Peter and I twisted our heads around, meanly trying to spot modern slips in the Brighton shots. The trivial minds we have. It's a shame.

The keynote photo, again not a tree, is the temporary radio station at Writtle, Sunday 16th, which was a rather magical evening, and a rather magical construction. It was bloody cold, but there were bats, waterfowl, cheese, bread and wine, and I got to hear about David Toop's opera about Dora Maar, and to enjoy Mark Lackey's bizarre DJ set of songs from the shows. Anarchic bebop rap from Rosalind Russell, and the monster doing "Putting On The Ritz", from Young Frankenstein....

It's raining torrentially now.

Meat Is Not Murder. But. . .

Friday, 14th Sept, thick grey cloud, the kind that never produces rain: all too familiar. The woodpigeon didn't make it. When I'd finished my post yesterday I went down to look at her, and knew she'd turned the corner in the wrong direction. No sign of recovery, not eating or drinking. By the time Peter came home she was quietly dying, but we let her go in her own time. "Mercy killing" a dying animal can go so horribly wrong. She's now in the compost, and what to do about Caliban? Cat predation doesn't seem to damage bird populations: intensive farming practice does that (selectively); and the grave and worsening loss of habitat, within and outside the built environment. But standards had been slipping. Avoid twilight, and you cut down a cat's hunting dramatically (says the RSPB). Must get strict again about keeping him indoors from an hour before sunset and for an hour after daylight.

Some links for you:

I'm off to Writtle College in Essex on Sunday, to do a reading from Band Of Gypsys, joining multimedia artist Melissa Appleton's celebration of the first commercial radio broadcasts in the UK. Everything kicks off tomorrow, and it should be quite a party. Hope you can listen in. Read all about it:

I'll also be at Kent at Canterbury University on Tuesday 25th, evening, for a reading and a talk. Contact Paul March Russell for details.

And here's a Compassion In World Farming campaign (slightly vindictively) close to my heart. I really despise that toshery, "Little Red Tractor". And "Farm Assured". It's so creepy.

I'm not worried at all about the "threat" higher welfare rules pose to meat production in Europe. Meat is not murder, but meat it a treat. Rich and poor, everyone needs to get used to that, for a whole raft of good reasons. Soon as possible.

Watching: Lindsay Seers' new installation at The Tin Tabernacle, Kilburn. "Nowhere Less Now". Not as immersive as her prequel show at Margate. The space doesn't lend itself to immersion, one remains conscious of being in a video viewing audience; of having headphones on, of one's surroundings, basically. But still good. You get a free book, too & The Tin Tabernacle is an experience in itself. Also check out the remarkable facade of the Edwardian RSPCA dispensary next door.

Also The Bletchley Circle. The first episode got some lack-lustre reviews, but I don't know why. It's a bit rushed, a bit of handwaving, okay, but I found the pitch convincing, the acting classy, and I'll always watch Anna Maxwell Martin

Reading: Still lingering over George MacDonald, Phantastes and Lilith;

Getting onto Robert Kaplan, The Nothing That Is, next in my popular science pile

and for a storybook Marco Vicci, Death And The Olive Groves I'm not a big fan of Italian "Crime and Pleasure", usually. But I think I could get to like this one. Set in the sixties, when Italy was just as ****ed up, but everything as less cynical (it says here). Before they'd been Berlusconi-ed, says Peter.

The striking copper beech and lime couple in the keynote picture, are by the permitted footpath that crossed the Bayfield Estate, near Cley. There are a lot of very beautiful trees in this part of Norfolk. There are hills too, shockingly; despite the advertising.

Whole Thing's Brighton Beach You Fool. . .

Thursday 13th September, bright and clear again. Spiders rule in the garden, over weary leaves, dusty earth. It's autumn already, hard and dry; despite a splash of a downpour yesterday. Late at night, in the landing window, brilliant stars: Orion has returned to look in on us, and high in the sky straight above a very bright, golden planet, must be Jupiter I guess? We have a house guest, provided by Milo, who sneaked upstairs yesterday with a woodpigeon in his jaws. Peter to the rescue, tho' possibly more concerned about the bloody and grotesquely struggling remains we might have detected under our bed later in the evening. He called me to help him despatch the wounded (sorry, but we weren't planning to rush her to the vets: there are a real lot of them nowadays, due to all the year round farming): but though her beak was bloodied her eye was bright, head up, wings and body seeming sound. . . Mallet attack canceled, she's now, adult female, no discernable injuries, bill no longer bleeding, roosting in a dark amazon box, with a bowl of strong honey water. She's been eating berries recently, I can tell you that. She's remarkably calm. Recovering? Maybe. . . She may yet keel over and die from septacemia, infected by cat-saliva (that's what cat-attack birds die of, according to the wildlife rescue gurus available via a well-known search engine)

During my extended summer break I couldn't help noticing a few significant science and technology news items: and was struck by the gentle resemblance between the most beautiful of Curiosity's first colour pics:

and the abstract-dunescape screensaver that still adorns (mostly, I'm afraid) the cuts-induced advertising slot frontage of the Phoenix Gallery on the Steine: Things we believe we've purely imagined are strangely congruent with realities we are convinced we have detected: of course they are. Our dreams are constructed from our realities; the realities having been constructed, directly or indirectly, by the same neurons, the same cascade of refining filters as the dreams. How can we be sure that's really Mars, and not a digital camera's artistic impression? How can we be sure that's really what a T cell looks like? See Donna Harraway, Situated Knowledges).

We can be sceptical about technoscience. We can't escape from the circularity of all our image-gathering, all our information gathering. We can only keep on constructing, asking, is this right?, knowing the only answer we'll ever get is the elliptical, unreliable it's working. I thought of this predicament of consciousness when the Higgs Boson finally popped out of the experiments (a timely celebrity appearence, the audience was beginning to get restive). I've had the Higgs on my mind, on and off, since I first read about it circa 1986, and began to think about the mind/matter barrier. Electrons are not things, as Niels Bohr seems to have said, or maybe Dirac. The *** particle isn't a thing, either, nor is the Higgs Field material. Yet both can be pursued and interrogated; forced to answer that question, it seems, by the most outragously massive (pun intended) machinery. If the barrier between mind and matter actually becomes porous, at these fantastic energies, doesn't that mean that at some level it's porous all the time, and isn't that a truly game-changing idea? Or thing. Fiction ensued.

Best piece I read on the Higgs affair was an interview with Peter Higgs, published in New Scientist (21st July), where I came upon his "snappy one-liner" to explain the Higgs Mechanism. "Somewhat like the refraction of light through a medium": an image of great beauty, beautifully intuitive and beautifully congruent. You'll have noticed that the keynote image isn't strictly a tree. It's the Hadron Kaleidoscope, of course (I've traced that story back to the Sydney National Times, 12th July. Anyone spotted it earlier?). I have fallen in love with the Hadron Kaleidoscope. Is there a petition to insist that CERN changes the name of the great torus? Where do I sign?

Oh, and junk DNA isn't junk. Okay. But isn't that revelation as old as the Higgs word itself?

Skyward Sword/Mixed Biscuits

Monday 3rd September, another lightless grey and humid morning. Two well-grown young blackbirds picking about on Val and Nick's lawn. I saw my last swift last week, strangely enough, from the scaffolding that decorated the front of the house (it's gone now), hawking alone in the grey skies, long after its time. Hungry Ghosts moon last Friday, & that's another summer over.

I bought Skyward Sword for Gabriel for Christmas, and at first we were all thrilled. A new Zelda! So long in preparation it must be good! A whole sky to explore, and all the usual suspects down below. Such fantastically reponsive swordplay! Stunning dungeons, absolutely lovely Shadow Realms, perfect Christmas entertainment for player and spectators alike... But it needed to be played straight through. Dipping in and out, the game palled. There was (I know, I know, but still) no narrative drive, barring that rather lame attempt at an "American High School Rivalry" riff; for which, admittedly, we were the wrong audience. Link's guide was not only annoying (which is traditional) but also prissy and dull; the item collections went nowhere and worst of all, the music element was a disgrace. And what was good got milked to death. The Imprisoned eg was a fantastic, beautiful monster the first time you met it, but by about the fifth battle with the same great lump and his toes, it was ho-hum. Same thing went for Ghiraim: his "evil" camp banter was cool first time round, but didn't he keep coming back! And not forgetting the wimpiest Zelda ever: a Zelda whose important contribution was to whimper and moan when being tortured off scene... In the end, this brilliant reinvention seemed more like a bag of Mixed Biscuits, every variety of Zelda experience; custard cream, bourbon, pinky wafer, jammy dodger, ginger nut, fruit shortcake, but all of them a bit dusty, a little soggy, a little knocked about at the corners. It didn't help that I was playing Ocarina of Time myself, reaching the last battle with Ganon for the 2nd time on 24th of June, with such exhileration, triumph and sadness. There was no comparison.

But why open this lightless, ominous New Year with an item on Zelda, of all things? Because in a low mood at the beginning of August, I suddenly decided to read George MacDonald's Phantastes & Lilith again, which I own in the Gollancz 1971 reissue, with the C. S. Lewis introduction. The first time I read Phantastes I was eleven. I'd just had my four back teeth out, to make room for the advent of Wisdom Teeth in my crowded mouth. My mother put me to bed to nurse my bleeding, wadded jaws, and brought me mashed banana and this wonderful book. I can't say I "crossed a great frontier", since I'd already read and reread C.S.Lewis's own Narnia books, full of MacDonald's inspiration. But I definitely met something I was well up for by nature; only lacking the technology... That part where Anodos casts himself into the cold and stormy subterranean ocean, in despair at escaping his fate by any means but Death...

"I breathed again, but did not unclose my eyes. I would not look on the wintry sea and the pitiless grey sky. Thus I floated until something gently touched me. It was a little boat floating beside me. How it came there I could not tell; but it rose and sank on the waters and kept touching me in its fall, as if with a human will to let me know that help was by me. It was a little gay-coloured boat, seemingly covered with glistering scales like those of a fish, all of brilliant rainbow hues. I scrambled into it and lay down in the bottom with a sense of exquisite repose. Then I drew over me a rich, heavy purple cloth that was beside me... I awoke and found that my boat was floating motionless by the shore of a grassy island. The water was deep to the very edge, and I sprang from the little boat onto a soft, grassy turf"

Right. That's me sorted for the next while. Wind Waker will carry me away.

Holiday Reading: Villette, of which more later; which I found excellent and fascinating, as if Charlotte Bronte had said to herself, so long Mr Rochester, enough of this sneakly sugared w**k-aid, I shall write the true story of Jane Eyre now. And The Corner That Held Them, Sylvia Townsend Warner; brilliant. Life during the endless wartime of the Fourteenth Century, from the Black Death to the Peasants' Revolt, as it was for a small community of nuns in the Fenlands. Unsparing, engrossing, and probably no coincidence that the author wrote it, in a corner of England where women had become the main constituent of society, during the wartime of 1941-47.

Holiday activities: (besides crawling around on scaffolding). If you plan to visit North Norfolk any time, may I recommend Hidden Norfolk, and a trip on the Auntie Pam, to see the seals, masses of therm turning up their tails like frying sausages on the Point; and troll for mackerel, and watch the sunset. Not cheap, but a whole lot of fun.

I can't tell you much about the fantastical keynote tree. I don't know if this fine Plane tree is actually an exotic species, or if the extraordinary barrel body and tentacly groping branches are symptons of old age and misadventure; or even some strange kind of topiary. It's in Canterbury Cathedral close, anyway.