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Turning Compost In The Cold Rain

Thursday 29th November, a bright and chilly day; frost on the roofs at seven; bird action in the garden all morning, a pair of bluetits feeding on the flowerless, but still green jasmine tangle by our kitchen door, great tits and bluetits on the wooden elm tree feeder, and squabbling over access to the nijer feeder, which isn't really for them at all. Only one goldfinch, which they scared off. This time last year nb we had no customers at all, which I take to mean the birds just aren't finding the countryside-autumnal 2012 very bountiful. Turning compost in the rain on Sunday, mud all around and a lot of shovelling (my back still hurts), and such worms! Great lively boluses of them, I could have picked up a worm-ball in my hand, but I didn't. Two large sacks of compost plus one of pure loam. And what'll we do with our riches? It occurs to me, for years now if our nemesis has been slugs and snails, our top garden success story has been worms. They flourish like the green bay tree. Not exactly our intention... Is our midden telling us something about the human condition? Swamped in its own rich rubbish?

Energy bills, what to do? For a long time we've been an EDF for Gas and Good Energy for Electricity household, on the grounds that there's no such thing as "Good" gas, but we've been thinking it over, which lead to wondering exactly what gas tariffs are available, and brought me to another OH! I SEE! moment. Here I am, at the website for Energy Supplier x, that's easy. So what do they charge? What could be a more reasonable question than that? So I look, I look, and suddenly I get what the fuss is about. The bxxxers aren't going to tell me. They just won't. Not a chance. None of them, it's amazing. For tariffs, you have to go to those Comparison Sites, and here at least the situation is clear and simple. First, we will strip-mine you for personal data. Then, we will let you in the door... We are currently planning to switch to a dual fuel deal with the Good guys, which will cost a little more, but supposedly means some of our money will go to developing clean-sourced household gas, and besides, their site is angelic. Dunno if this was quite Mr Cameron's intention, but it works for me.

We can tell EDF we're quitting because they are investing in new UK nuclear reactors, heheheh, but in fact what really annoys me is seeing the Nuclear option called "Green", in any context & even by the incorrigible La Belle France. I won't stand for that sort of cheek.

We don't need to swop fossil fuel emissions for plutonium, that makes no sense. Nothing, as yet, not even seaborne wind farms, makes any real sense. We need to USE LESS ENERGY. Invest in finding out how, and you have me on your side.

Reading: Edge Of Infinity, Jonathan Strahan's new anthology, which arrived this week. A pretty good collection of stories, if I say so myself (one of them is mine). For this one I want sf stories set in the Solar System, said Jonathan. Colonised if you like, BUT the rule is NO novel technology, No fantasy-science, just the resources we have now. Okay, fine... Just the resources we could rustle up right now. It turns out I'm the only contributor who took the brief literally, which for me gives "4th generation sf" a kind of retro air, but no harm in that. Very true to state of the form, really. Anyway, a highly enjoyable collection. (Warning: following the link will lead you to spoilers. Me, I like discursive sf reviews, which pretty much means I like spoilers, I admit. Especially, I cannot tell a lie, when the reviewer is nice to me).

Also, got a preview of the cover for Athena Andreadis and Kay Holt's forthcoming anthology, The Other Half Of The Sky & it's very pretty. Which I have in fact already read. The stories are all, in one way or another about women, and/or feature a female protagonist. Maybe not a new idea, but it's worth it, and it still works. Probably another example of "4th generation sf". A lot of trees, I noticed. Or maybe it was just a few mighty tree and asteroid-forest stories, but it seemed like more. Trees in Space. Mmm.

The keynote photo is Clementina's weeping ash, again, because I like it. Bare of leaves now, of course. But at least this beauty, and all the young windsown ashes at the same site, are sound and clean. So far.

I Spoiled My Ballot

Monday 19th November, a clear morning at seven, darker now. The long-tailed tits on the elm tree and the maple again, how very small they are, and how lively and pretty and insouciant. I hope they're finding what they want, and that they'll make ours a regular venue. Yesterday, bright and clear and mildly chilly, we walked out from Lancing to Coombes. Draggled Old Man's Beard in the hedges; not a very good year for berries in Sussex, but vintage autumn colour. In the hollow way down to Coombes church I stopped to listen to a robin, in an astonishing glory of yellow-gold maple leaves, above me, all around and under foot. Last time we passed this way, records show, was in 2006, so it was a relief (one always expects the worst these days) to find Coombes church where we had left it, tiny and humble, with its bellcote no bigger than a beehive at the West End. We sat for a long while watching a sparrowhawk, perched on the bellcote, until she flew off, probably annoyed at us for nattering and scaring the game. The church restored since our last visit, and thanks to the work of Ann Ballantyne, their wall painting conservator, the fragmentary paintings more vivid, and (a bit) easier to make out. The earliest, and best of them, date from about twenty years after the Conquest. What a riot early mediaeval churches were! And then on to the South Downs way, which passes above Coombes through a large free range Pig City these days. What splendidly untidy animals pigs are, so human in their capacity for making a heap big mess and frolicking in it. How cheerful they seemed, with their crowds of commensal starlings, trotting in and out of their barrel-houses, and watching us with interest. The sun was going down, and as we turned towards the sea the wintery grass ahead of us was full of gossamer, skeins and skeins of it, strung quivering and silvery between the grasses. So much of it and so fragile we were mystified, until crouching down to ankle level revealed the presence of tiny, tiny green spiders, the creators of this ephemeral art work. There must be hundreds of thousands of them up there. It's easier to get away from the feeling of the conurbation if you head east from Brighton, but westward and up onto the downs there's a different beauty, especially approaching sunset on a bright winter day, with a quarter moon straight above, getting whiter and whiter in the deepening blue, a wide sunset sky, and the Channel all flat washes of aquamarine and silver. Walking into this frame, with the silver leads of gossamer rippling away from the path at my feet, like distant frail reflections of the high fair-weather clouds that dappled the sky, made me think somehow of Seamus Heaney's poem A Kite For Michael and Christopher (scroll down). Something about, the gossamer of happiness, (or joy?) being anchored to the strumming, rooted, long-tailed pull of grief?

Anyway, I spoiled my Police Commissioner ballot. An APB went out from 38 Degrees that day, imploring us all to vote, to save the police from privatisation. But I reviewed all the Sussex candidates' answers to that question, and none of them said no, definitely not. Specially not the Labour guy, and besides, this is Sussex. I knew who was going to get in. I've got a feeling about these Police Commissioner elections. I think there was no cock-up, not at all: they happened just the way they were supposed to happen. Under the radar. David Cameron is very happy with a low turn out, all he wanted to was to get the mechanism in place for making the interior security forces into what he wants them to be. Answerable to political bosses and the profit motive, not to the public. And he's done it.

First the butter, then the guns. It's worked before, it'll work again.

No, the keynote photo is not a tree. It's a C11 seraph, apparently. Six wings and four fine feathered feet too. What weird skeletons they would have, but since in real life so to speak, seraphs are sentient energy-forms that shepherd the stars or something (cf Henry Gee's Sigil trilogy), that's probably not an issue.

Police Commissioners

Tuesday 13th November, very murky day, damp and tepid weather.

Police Commissioners for Sussex, polling day looms & the Green Party is not impressed. We think we had voting cards, we think maybe we threw them away. Been vacillating over this & wondering if it was ever worth spoiling a ballot, then suddenly decided to review the candidates. Vote for one of this shower? A lovely Tory lady with a background in the leisure industry? My god. How on earth to choose one, when I just don't want any party political messing with Sussex police, and nor do I want a clueless nutcase, or the charming prospect of a combination of those attributes. Look at that salary! Spend the money on something else, for god's sake! Now I finally understand the bizarre state of mind of those US citizens* who honestly, genuinely could not decide whether to vote for Obama or Romney...until they realised, right at the line, that d*mn it, it's no good, just can't let that Mad Hatter Mormon loose in the Oval Office, I'm going to have to cast my vote for the hollow man, the miserable disappointment who's kept Gitmo open (or, alternatively, I suppose, for that foreigner with the sticky-out ears who's probably a closet Islamist). Least worst of two.

Only in this case, I think we just won't vote.

Reading The Garden of Evening Mists Tan Twan Eng. Really good. Set in The Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, on the Peninsula indeed. Wonderfully evocative, deceptively gentle, but don't be fooled, it's about the Communist Emergency and the legacy of the Japanese Occupation; it won't stay gentle as you move through the story... One aspect of the story went right by me, and it wasn't the Japanese gardening techniques, which I loved to read about; but still highly recommended.

Watching Still nothing, but looking forward (for old times' sake) to the third "Sarah Lund". The first "The Killing" was much more than the sum of its parts, or the sum of its woolly jumpers. The second was just silly. Absurd contortions. But still, catch it while it lasts. Tough women in leading roles are apparently going to disappear from... well, generally on their way out, I suppose. Just that this Danish bloke has come out and said it.

Very excited about the cinematic release of The Muppets Christmas Carol, except The Dukes is apparently only showing it once "for kiddies and guardians only". What are they thinking? Hoping Cineworld will take a more rational view & then our Christmas outing is sorted.

The keynote photo is Clementina Brown's Weeping Ash, of course. And now we wait, and hope, and plan for a rearguard action. But may I say, I'm annoyed at the way The Woodland Trust has emerged as some kind of Ash Dieback spokes-organisation for this disaster. Sickening, after what they did. It's obvious, from the findings of the survey, that outside of East Anglia the spread of the disease had been by human intervention, and as we now know, the Horticultural Trade had been aware of this deadly pathogen, and done nothing. Buying or planting young ash trees, without confirming that they had been reared or grown in the UK, has been criminally negligent, since at least 2009. The Woodland Trust are guilty, that's bad enough for me, and I'm not impressed by the "it was going to happen anyway" argument. "Yeah, well, it was fragile, asking to be broken..." Never gets anyone out of trouble in my house.

*NB I don't know if they really existed. Polling in the run up to an election is a funny thing.

Divine Endurance and Flowerdust

Monday 5th November, bright and chilly, pale blue sky; washes of high cloud. This morning I saw a robin on the little plum tree (rare occurence, ground feeding birds are infrequent visitors here), definitely eying up the domed feeder.There's a lot more visible bird action in the gardens that this time last year; robins, blackbirds, bluetits, hedgesparrow, and a little group* of long-tailed tits, passing through. Only window-shopping today, but maybe I'll have customers. We have said goodbye to the sash window renovators (until they come back to do the front of the house argh). We have put things back together, including replacing my curtain rail that I broke, and apart from the damaged paintwork around the landing window. Possibly Purple Sage is now Heather Bloom? So that was all fine, until on one of those nights of torrential rain last week, I woke about four in the morning, and was forced to conclude: yes, that persistent dripping sound is coming from inside the room. Roofers will be along later in the week.

And I have published the original Divine Endurance, Flowerdust and the special new "Flowerdust" edition of Divine Endurance on Kindle. Finally! I thought I would have that job dusted by the end of July. I've been meaning to do something about the disjoints between Flowerdust and Divine Endurance for years and years. Now it's done, plus the books have the cover image I wanted for them long, long, ago, and if you're out there, unknown artist, please get in touch. I've even called the
My picture seems closely related to this famous one, but I don't think it's by Gede Sobrat
mini-series of two "The Last Days Of Ranganar", the name I always fancied. I've included the 1987 story "The Eastern Succession", where Endang of Timur first appears, with Flowerdust, in which he's a major character, and my 1998 Olso GOH speech about encountering the perfect machine "About A Girl", with Divine Endurance I wish I could have used the Danielle de Santiago "gynoid" interview, but I'm not in touch with Danielle, sadly.

I wasn't bothered by discrepancies, when I published Flowerdust, back in 1993/1994. I'd always wanted to write an informal "Divine Endurance" story, with my characters in their street clothes (Divine Endurance became as stylised and formal as the Ramayana Ballet during my long and fascinating apprenticeship with Rayner Unwin, who wanted me to write more like Tolkien; it didn't start off that way). And then Caroline Oakley, at Headline as she was then, gave me the opportunity. So I picked up Endang of Timur, the angry young man, sexual and political dissident, and tossed him into the mix of my Divine Endurance characters, like a cat among the pigeons.

Fitting the two stories together, I didn't change much really, but of course I found my past, the years when I lived in Singapore. Rural Java, with its temples, terraced mountains, palace cities, where we were poor travellers, and people were kind. The dance school at Solo, where I saw Endang dance; Sumatra when it was still forest; gaspipes by the road had purple crowns of flame, towns were the Wild West. Bali, beautiful Ubud. Trekking in Thailand (aka Gamartha). And not to mention the much more knowing, grittier, blingier (even then) culture of the real Peninsula, across the Causeway. Penang, where we arrived one night, Easter 1978, to find the whole staff of the Golden Sands hotel in fits of laughter, pretending they were scaring away the dragon that was eating the moon (you show it its reflection, in a bucket of water). Our fears, our intense concerns, when ASEAN was the real world to us, and the UK a tiny grey blur, far, far away. The Boat People, Transmigrasi. The Jakarta Reigme; no change there, alas. The warm-milk air of tropical darkness. I haven't been back to Java since 1985. I'm never going to see those places again, mostly they aren't even there anymore, but I still have them, captured in word-amber.

Pure self indulgence (and copyright protection), but I've enrolled them in KDP Select, so you can borrow any or all of the three for free, if you have a ticket to the Kindle Lending Library. There will also be free download days, which I will advertise.

What about free books on my website? No. Never again. I'm sick of pirates.

*Not a flock. We don't get flocks of little birds anymore, much, do we?