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Bright Fires

Tuesday 30th October, cool air, blue sky and clear sunshine all morning, clouds bubbling up now.

'Of all the trees in England,
Her sweet three corners in,
Only the Ash, the bonnie Ash
Burns fierce while it is green.'

the quote is from Walter De La Mare's poem "Trees"

So, anyway, this is clearly my ash tree tribute entry & if you click through the image you'll hear "the ash grove" sung by the Morriston Orpheus Choir. They're singing in Welsh, naturally; which led me down another byway; more on that later. I've been fitfully struggling to follow the Ash Dieback trail since the beginning of the month: trying, futile though it may be, to figure out what the h*ll has been going on. The killer fungus can't travel; it can travel but it can't travel far. It's endemic in the UK and has been for years, it's just that diseased trees have only now reached the stage where symptoms are obvious. It's been carried from the Nordic countries where the trees are already lost by tourists (oops, I was in Denmark myself, briefly, a couple of years ago, although I never left Copenhagen. Also been to Poland); it came over the North Sea on hikers' boots, in timber. The cuts are to blame, of course (which may even be true, but doesn't explain what the Woodland Trust thought they were up to). The Labour party would have handled things very differently (a likely story, unless you mean even less convincingly). Unknown on our fortress island, except for one rogue shipment that got planted out earlier this year, but nowhere near wild woods, and anyway not a problem, and anyway swiftly and comprehensively dealt with (100,000 infected nursery saplings burned), and then five months ago, or maybe five weeks, or maybe a few days ago, it was found in ancient woodland in Norfolk and Suffolk, and who knows how many other sites are now suspected. As far as google goes, the "ash dieback" infection I followed showed all the signs of coming from a single source, so not much to be learned that way, except I did find this, a variant I've seen nowhere else (on a greenkeepers site, oddly enough): Hm. This version has a ring to it, somehow, esp given other demoralized and inadequate responses from Defra and the Forestry Commission reported and re-reported elsewhere.

I went to King Death's Garden today, to visit the weeping ash that grows over a grave there, one of my favourite trees, about 30 feet, oh, okay, about 10metres to the crown, and very beautiful. I wonder when it was planted? I have no idea. Maybe 1924, which is when Clementina Brown was buried, the last entry, so to speak, in the family grave at the tree's foot. It's in good health, as far as I could tell, but as I noted out on the Sussex Weald at the weekend (we were gathering chestnuts) it's already far too late in the season to spot a diseased tree unless the symptoms are extreme/ the observer is skilled; or both. On which grounds, I can't feel much confidence in the citizens-sightings upload project "ashtag", but there you go, there's the address anyway. Scroll down for the map. At least, so far, nobody seems to be seriously proposing the wholesale burning out of infected groves, which seemed to be the story at first. That would just be totally pointless, and horribly, actively destructive. Let the sick trees die, let the resistant trees live, and find a fungicide.

But the find a fungicide part will only happen if money is made available, and that means public protest. 80 million trees sounds impressive, momentarily. It's a catchy headline. But who will really miss them? I will. How many others? I'm afraid to many if not most "ordinary people", it's like, what's the fuss about, all these "threats to our trees" there are plenty of trees!

Ash dieback's had its five minutes, anyway. Today it's hurricane Sandy, oh, no, only a tropical storm, yes, with snow, oh, well, it happens, extreme weather. Nothing to get alarmed about.

What on earth will it take?

Weird Weather and the Weird Silence

Wednesday 24th October. Mist shrouded warmth for the last few days, but this afternoon the mist is clearing to blue skies, and it's feeling cooler. A waxing gibbous moon, glowing in the misty sky followed us last night, as we returned from moving Gabriel's stuff to his new house, and as we crawled through the carnage that was beautiful Handcross Hill. A Harold and his Purple Crayon moon. Today I finally put the third coat of Cardinal Red on our front path. About half an hour later someone ignored the WET PAINT sign on the latched gate, and tromped up to deliver a marketing postcard for a bike shop. So I have climbed out along the wall, in danger of falling through the railings, and tied up the latch with string. I suppose I'll have to add expunging the footprints to my touching up: I'd only make things worse now.

It's official: the BBC* is able to report that we've had very weird weather this year. Our intense rainfall however, has nothing to do with global warming, and you can tell it doesn't because we had floods in 2007 too. . . Although, oddly enough, as the report cautiously concedes, if there were such a thing as global warming "that would lead to warmer air being able to carry more moisture to fall as rain". Last night I actually heard a tv weatherman say the temperatures this week have been "much higher than you'd expect for the time of year": I nearly fainted with relief. Why isn't climate change an issue in this US Presidential Election? What's different, is it because the effects are being felt, and the stakes are much higher now. When will the silence be broken? I suppose the fact that these questions are being asked in our UK mainstream media ; that shocking figures on the financial cost (for god's sake!), of climate change are being bandied about, is some indication of a coming shift. Like those puzzling few weeks when we know a Minister is going to resign, but he keeps hanging on by his finger-ends...


It's not going to happen, is it? Just ask yourself, what would it take to get Jeremy Clarkson to back down and change his views, and you see that the idea of the awakening of the UK (barring violent rock fantasy) is simply absurd. So we'll muddle on the way we are, you and me: feeling a little bit uneasy, trying to be a little bit green, and submitting to the will of the aggressive and the greedy, although we know it doesn't make sense. Ah, well. Good job the Bay of Pigs/Cuban Missile crisis didn't have a financial backlash element eh? If there'd been MONEY to be made by engaging in full-on global thermonuclear war, Mr Krushchev and Mr Kennedy would never have backed down, would they?

When I wrote about climate change in Bold As Love (set 2015-2020 or so), I had no idea things would or could move this fast. I gave them a little mild flooding and a run of harsh winters in the UK, I mentioned crop failures, rocketing food prices, as a cause of discontent in Europe, and a refugee crisis as people from the South got on the move, fleeing from floods, desertification, etc. I thought I was being fairly extreme, but I didn't even consider, eg, the Arctic meltdown we've seen this year.

Now I don't know what to think. I feel more alienated than I did when Margaret Thatcher was in power, and much more bewildered. I'm looking straight at this elephant (actually, it's more of a Rhinoceros, cf Eugene Ionesco's play about Nazi infiltration of French society**), I'm looking around me, and thinking, well, there's so many of them. They're so successful, so loveable and jolly and relaxed and sure of themselves it has to be me, I must be hallucinating...

On a slightly less frantic note, I'm glad to see the badger cull has been "delayed". The government issues licences for 70% of the population of a protected wild animal to be shot by bounty hunters? When all the science says this ploy will be useless? It's mysterious, it beggars belief, really. A glance at the distribution map (badgers vs bovine TB in the UK) makes it obvious that badgers are not even the problem.

The keynote picture of the lonely leafless birch is one I've used before, but it seemed appropriate.

*I'm a devoted student of the BBC News. Always interested to know what we're supposed to think

**I couldn't find a decent reference for Rhinoceros online. But NB part of Ionesco's Theatre of the Absurd's point is that French society had Nazism in it naturally.
. Turning into a rhinoceros was no struggle, it made people feel better about themselves. The struggle (to become known as the resistance) was to stay human.

James Bond and the The Lady Of Lebanon

Thursday 18th October. Traditionally, the feast of St Luke, and marking a Buchan Warm Spell* in old money, but this one is grey and rainy in Brighton, despite the BBC et al. The sash window restoration people still here, but it should be the last day. And I never did decamp to my favourite coffee shop... Just not that person. I lie and fume when I have insomnia too.

Just found out that the US ebook of Spirit is out, and you can now purchase it from The Aqueduct Press. That's nice to know!

Timmi Duchamp gave me the option of making major revisions, but I didn't. In the end I decided I like the latter part of the book (which had collected some criticism for distancing the reader from the heroine, and bringing in an apparently random bunch of young newcomers), the way it is. It's truer to Dumas. The Count of Monte Cristo is a figure of mystery, a very different person from Edmond Dantes. And one of the things I love in the original is the way Dantes comes back from his ordeal bent on being the implacable instrument of Justice, but instead finds his own salvation (finds himself again) in rescuing young lives he thought he wanted to ruin. . . To my mind Edmond's own life doesn't start again until right at the end, when he takes off with Haydee. And though the Count plays merry hell with them, when the bad guys get what they deserve it's not so much through his intervention, as simply because they are asking for it. So, I just took on board the fact that it's a long story and readers needed to be reminded of certain things, and that's about all. NB, if you have never read the original (dear reviewers!), I recommend it highly, I love this book, except you MUST get a modern translation (all the C19th ones are c**p, done by pirates), and you must be ready for a serial novel, prolix as Dickens if not more so.

Watching: nothing. Saw Looper, and can't see what the fuss is about. Preposterous and drab. Saw Holy Motors, considerably loopier, lot more engaging. Finding this a very lean season for tv, a season for channel surfing as a form of entertainment (le montage, don't you know); while debating the merits of yet another old Mentalist versus whatever variant on our dear old Crocosaurus... Homeland #2? No thanks. I spied that thing getting a little LOST about half-way through series one, and am finding it easy to keep the promise I made to self then.

Reading: La Chatelaine Du Liban (The Lady of Lebanon), Pierre Benoit, 1924. Of the half dozen or so must-read ancient espionage titles I gleaned from Paul Bleton's La Crystallisation De L'Ombre, this was the only one I found easily available ( I got my paperback cheap edition, good price, from PrixMinister. Wonderful ur-James Bond story. Exotic settings. Ironic double entendre conversations between our hero and the suave, evil bad guy, a beautiful, shameless femme fatale with a cracking weird name, sumptuous taste in dress & undress and a really, really shocking past, who lives in a Crusader's castle. There's a discussion of the unexpected importance of cocktails in the spying business that made me laugh out loud, it was so totally 007. The special cocktail in question, which does feature prominently, is a Metropolitan (Metropolitian). I looked it up: most online aficionados think it's a version of the Cosmo, invented in the seventies, but they are clearly wrong. It's like a brandy Manhattan, basically. I hate Manhattans, because of what happened after letmesee maybe four or five of them a certain night, long, long ago, but I will have to give this a whirl.

Listening: Glenn Gould. Glenn Gould fest going on here, courtesy of an anniversary deal by Presto Classical. I love the Bach.

The keynote picture is the other twin elm.

*or so my mother always used to tell us. Next "warm spot" is St Martin's, I think it's November 11th or so

Mastered By Money

Wednesday October 17th, blue skies, high cloud, strong gusting breeze, strangely warm and soupy air. Torrential rain seems to be skipping the South East this week, replaced by my least favourite global warming weather, the restless tepid soup effect. I remember long ago, when climate change first began to bite (or mouth us rather toothlessly, would be more accurate for this locality), they warned us that the difference between night and day temperatures would be disproportionately affected. Warmer nights would in fact be our most noticeable change, making it more difficult to sleep. It definitely works on me. Even torrential rain is good for some things. Saturday, in the uncertain rain, we went out walking near Arlington, gleaned a very meagre harvest of sloes (for the gin, you know) but could have filled baskets with huge parasol and field mushrooms. It's mostly water, of course, but still tasty.

I had a very vivid dream, after watching The Masters Of Money on Marx...

Watching Stephanie Flanders tackle the content king of Capitalist Theory was like watching a nervous, rather smarmy Papal nuncio circa 1620 or so, explain that Canon Copernicus's heliocentric model is a genuinely important and useful mathematical conceit, invaluable to astrologers as an aid in casting pinpoint accurate horoscopes. But Galileo Galilei's absurd claim to have seen actual moons, orbiting actual Jupiter, would be plain laughable if it wasn't so wicked and downright dangerous...

Many of the present day Masters of Money were more candid, and felt able to concede that, despite the dreadful deeds done in his name, Marx really did know how the capitalism machine works, and his words are true; that in fact Marx may be the only really competent thinker ever yet to tackle the science of money... But I suppose they weren't dreading the hatemail.

Anyway, then I had the dream. It was all about my purple and silver kain panjang ...

(in itself a fine example of the best and worst that capitalist-driven mass-production and mass-marketing can do to a luxury handicraft product: the fabric that would once have been hand-loomed silk become heavy rayon; the hand-stitched silver thread embroidery become printed dye; the product, once elite and ceremonial, become very reasonably priced and attractive tourist goods).

Now venerable (1985, Java) my kain panjang is still a treasured shawl, and a thing of modest, mass-market beauty. I dreamed a golden orchid had grown out of it, and that the flowers of this orchid had become a big, flamboyant, flame-spitting snake. This hunky flame-spitting snake was mine, and I was scared of it. I thought it was pretty wonderful, I wanted to keep it, but it was taking over my life, and I was afraid it would eat my cats. Then along came a man, a very helpful man, with goggle-eye glasses and wild hair (must have been a guru of some kind) and offered to take care of the flamboyant golden snake. I was grateful and agreed to the deal. He presented me with the bill, I looked at it, I thought it was all right, I paid him. And then he said, oh, wait, let me check, oops, I made a mistake, you owe me another £GBP1.00. Hang on, said I (or words to that effect, i can rarely remember what I say in dreams) let me have a look... So I looked at the bill again: but there were so many entries, so many items, I just couldn't be bothered. I gave him his quid, thinking my, he's a speedy calculator... Off went Mr Helpful, with his little bit extra, and a big smile on his face, whereupon I realised that he hadn't checked the bill at all. He had checked me out, and calculated, correctly, that I was comfortable enough to prefer a quiet life, £GBP1.00 was just about the amount I'd certainly hand over without a murmur, and he could rob me with impunity...

& then I woke up.

So that's how we end up, here in the Developed World, with the flamboyant golden snake, aka post-capitalist deregulated money-trading, still strangling us. Despite all the brute's menacing behaviour, and the way it destroys the vulnerable. Mr Helpful knows what he can take us for, and he does.

I read the Communist Manifesto when I was a little girl as Sussex university; it was obligatory. I found it slight, and a bit bombastic. I read the first volume of Capital on my own time, a few years later, because I was curious. I have no doubt that Marx anatomised the Capitalism of nineteenth century Europe correctly and that he named the fuel that drives the engine correctly. (even Mervyn King seems to feel the same). Capitalism needs a callously exploited labour force, which must include a reservoir of the currently un-employed, to keep driving the price of labour down. And of course, an equally compliant force of relatively wealthy consumers, a nomenklatura in short, who are able to close their eyes to the nasty part of the price. This is as true now as it was then: except that the exploited labour is now suffering elsewhere (Do you have a smartphone? Then think on); and possibly, even in the deepest metal mines of South Africa, not suffering quite as much*, because rampant Capitalism, as Marx explained, breeds its own palliatives, and its cure.

I was impressed by Marx, and as a science fiction writer, I felt for him. It's not really all that hard to "predict" the next big thing. But when you tell a story about it, you are inexorably doomed to tell it in the language of your own present time, and describe it in the imagery of your own time, because you cannot speak the language of the future. Marx predicted the fall of Capitalism, and Capitalism fell. You don't think so? Ah, I see, you're talking about the immortality of money. I'm talking about the death of a fantastically successful civilisation entre Somme et Vosges, as the French say, and then later, in the equally terrible aftershock of that fall, at places like Auschwitz. He predicted this fall would be followed by the dictatorship of the proletariat. He was dead right. You don't think so? Think again. It was called the Welfare State, it kept me alive, it sent me to University, and it ruled Europe for a Camelotish brief span of about thirty years (actually not too bad, as Camelots go). It was ****ed up, temporary and partial, and had totally the wrong architecture, but I'm not at all convinced that we're better off without it.

I don't know what he predicted after Volume 1. But if there is a Marxian (as opposed to Marxist) model for globalisation and its discontents, my money would be on a reiteration of the nineteenth century/twentieth century drama of Capitalism's fall, temporary Utopia, then the dirty money; as often as it takes to reach the heat death of wealth & then. . .

The keynote picture is one of the famous twin elms in Preston Park, down the road from me: held to be at least 400 years old and still looking wonderful. Taken this July. Home improvements continue to plague me: I write this on a borrowed machine, in enforced idleness, which is why it's sooo long. Back soon.