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Dark Skies, Vivid Dreams

Saturday 29th December, cool but not cold, thick grey skies darkening towards sunset. I wake early these dark mornings, plagued by indigestion (but no hangovers as yet: I've become too sensible), brooding on terrible wrongs (that girl in Delhi, gangraped by "Eve Teasers" died today, eg) and fall asleep to dream of strange, beautiful animals that I try to collect. The bird with the long sinuous black neck, with the fluttering white streamers. The very peculiar little pondlife creatures, little homunculi with no heads... Dark skies and intermittent heavy rain, seems like all through the Christmas season. We live on a hill, and I haven't heard of any flooding, not nearer than Barcombe Mills, where we go to the Anchor Inn in summer and hire boats on the river; and where the river regularly invades the bar of the Inn in winter. Our closest brush with the weather etc chaos effects being a dash to Haywards Heath, Saturday a week ago, to rescue Gabriel who had been trying & failing to get home from London since the day before. Haven't left the house much, except to scrump holly (very meagre harvest, very pleasant to be in the cool grey woods, inspecting Badger Cities and listening to the birdsong); visit friends, and to walk in King Death's Garden, a suitable and nostalgic place, in melancholy weather like this. Glaucous grey-green snowdrop spears pierce the dead leaves on the Lime Walk, the koi drift calmly in the Water Feature by the chapel-of-ease.

I've been having a little contretemps with Amazon over the listing of the Divine Endurance/Flowerdust single narrative edition (or at least I think I have). It gets listed on searches & other national sites, but not on Why not? I attempted to investigate, using the Kindle Help tools, and was informed: "We reserve the right to make judgments about whether or not content is appropriate; this can include the cover image or the content within the book. We have found your Kindle book contains mature content and it will not surface in our general product search results." Mature content? Oh, of course, adult content. There must be a special bot that objects to bare breasted women on a cover! (Not so, actually). But, no point in giving offence for whatever reason, so I uploaded a plain cover.. It didn't work, and the personalised response I got (taking the Help tools up as far as they go) revealed "Beatrice K" if human, is a human who can't read. Intrigued, I contemplated trying to outfox the glitch, but life is too short & I've restored the fine art cover. You should be able to find it here, some time soon:

We went to see The Life Of Pi yesterday, in 3D, and it's magnificent, wonderful, absolutely magical, expecially Richard Parker; and incredibly true to the book too. The storms at sea terrified me, but what terrified me more was the way the animals, such a riotous vivid parade of them in the opening passages, looked not real but hyper-real, as if such wild diversity was already pure fantasy. And then of course, by the end, there are no animals at all, they've all vanished, only people, ie Mankind* left to tell the tale.

New Year's resolutions? I resolve to hope. I hope this hedgerow ash will still be green next spring. Click through for the defra map of the current stage of the dieback outbreak, and you will note that the overwhelming majority of sites west of Edinburgh, on a north-south line, have been discovered in new plantings. Artificially introduced, in other words. The natural spread has barely begun. I hope the fracking bonanza in the UK gets stalled before it begins. I hope our stunning ability to do good continues to have that tiny, micro-fractional edge on our talent for hideous deeds. & that we don't get to find out what the Invasion of Poland looks like, in this uber-war we're fighting, without recognising its dire import. I hope.

This is probably my closing entry for 2012, so here's my final tree, appropriately dressed. Click through for a seasonal story about failing to know when you are well off & it's time to get out of the casino.

Happy Christmas

Torrential rain, announcements...

Thursday 20th December. Dark morning turning to dark afternoon, torrential rain all through the night, still falling now. The Forever War? Nope. It isn't over, not yet, there's still one last battle to be fought, with those helpful people who have been providing the weaponry, and don't want the war to end, ever. There must be an aphorism for this, or a historical reference, but I can't quite turn the phrase. We're here because we're here. It's so army, and maybe next year.

Meanwhile, the archive for Melissa Appleton's Writtle Calling, the Pop-Up radio station in Essex marking a historic anniversary back in September, is now up. Follow the link and you can hear us all, including me (Sunday 16th September Part One) reading aloud from Band Of Gypsys. I love the way these broadcasts just begin, randomly, suddenly blossoming out of the ether, no explanation, no preamble.... Same effect at the time, of course. Anyway, it was fun.

And let me add to the chorus of those announcing Garry Kilworth has published his travel memoirs, which should make great reading, so hurry along and buy On My Way To Samarkand.

Watching: And so farewell, Sarah Lund. You will be missed. By the last episodes I was cheerfully ignoring the way the plot jolted and swayed, bits falling off in every direction, as we bounced over holes that could have buried a container truck, in the rush to the finish. And ticking off the reprises with delight. The Crucial Campaign Car! The Old Family Retainer, leaping into the prime suspect place. Did the butler do it again? I suppose I'd better not tell you. But I liked the Norwegian fijords much better than that stupd trip to Afghanistan in II. Cheaper, too.

& of course, the two vaccillating princes of Denmark (State and Commerce), faced with unbearable atrocity, were unable to decide, right to the line, whether to take the moral option, or the more attractive one. J***s C****t. Just like real life, eh?

Unbelievable. I have no words.

Late in the coming on Christmas day, yesteday, in the dark and the rain, the three of us went out Christmas tree buying, because Peter was struck with Tree Anxiety, and couldn't wait. Bought it from the Pop-up tree market in a semi-closed secondhand furniture emporium on the Lewes Road. Nordman or something, they call them. We prefer the gentler fir-green and the softer outline of the old model spruce, but were too late. The market was also selling secondhand books (why not?) and I picked up, for 80p, a little hardback anthology Another World Than This, published in 1945, Michael Joseph, a perfectly lovely piece of book; the collection compiled by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson.

Lined coat, warm cap and easy felt slippers,
In the little tower, at the low window, sitting over the sunken
Body at rest, heart at peace; no need to rise early.
I wonder if the courtiers at the Western Captial know of these
things; or not.

Po Chu-I (772-846) trs Arthur Waley

Divine Endurance Flowerdust Edition

Mild, dry morning, pewter and silver-gilt sky. The mild weather means no birds, they're a regular temperature gauge, but the squirrel is busy out there, upside down and precarious, scoffing freebies. I'm waiting here at my desk for the news that the dreadful Forever War (You remember? My family's interactive gothic novel, the one with all the Dickensian lawyers in it) is finally over. Not a victory, and the people who most mattered are gone, anyway, but not a defeat either, and (with the proviso that there's always been another turn of the screw before when I've thought this), just maybe, I really will be home for Christmas this time.

Mysterious, eh? More to the point, the new, single narrative Divine Endurance (including the Flowerdust story) is free on Kindle today. So if you're reading this, and you have a device, do try it.

More later...

Christmas Is A Time Of Giving

All week I've been watching the birds in the frosty garden, goldfinches squabbling, thrushes and blackbirds bullying the bluetits (I am sorry to report); starlings bullying all parties, and all of them preferring the fastfood buttered crumbs to the healthy Wild Bird Seed Mix. Hm. Since they're here, and clearly hungry, I think I'm going to succumb to temptation and buy them some live mealworms for Xmas. It'll be fun. But today all change, rain and wind sweeping by my window. It must be a wild day further north, if it's like this in Sussex.

I see my entry in Aqueduct's review of 2012 looks outlandishly gloomy compared with some of the recommended reading etc provided by others. Oh, well, I'm not alone, and I can't help it anyway. My first study was history, fuelling a lifelong passion for "knowing where the bodies are buried". It's not my fault that so often, digging into what really happened in this world means that's what you're literally going to find. It's worth it, in my opinion, because along with those awful "distressing images" you learn that people in Sierra Leone, people in Argentina really are no different from you. Dispelling the ugly feeling that someone who's had her hands and feet cut off by her rapists is somehow another kind of animal, she can't be a young woman who thinks and feels, likes jazz, wanted to be a doctor... Another very good excuse is that I'm reacting against David Cameron's highly scientific social engineering by suggestion, (aka The Nudge Unit) telling me that the way to be happy is just to ignore the bad things. Just don't think about them!

"My colleagues and I have found that people tend to discount the relevance of undesirable information to themselves (such as news that alcohol is bad for your liver) but readily adopt good news (being told that red wine is good for the heart). So when smokers see warning signs on cigarette packets they think: "Yes, smoking kills - but mostly it kills the other guy." At the same when we hear the housing market is going up we think: "The value of my house is going to double!"Using brain imaging techniques we discovered that the tendency to discount bad news is related to how well regions of the frontal lobe are coding unexpected negative information.Now, you may think that discounting bad news can get people into trouble - for example, causing us to smoke more and save less. There is some truth to this, but it is also good for our mental health. Our research shows that the successful incorporation of bad news is related to depression. Discounting bad news, as most of us do, presumably allows us to keep a rosy view of the future, and while this view is not necessarily realistic it does keep us happy."*

Not to mention the new gospel in Downing Street: David Cameron's big plan to convince me that MONEY is actually all we need in life, and all we should strive for. Whereas "love" and "beauty" and all that has been overrated.

Ever had the feeling you were living in a thirties sci-fi story? Aldous Huxley couldn't have made this up.
And you are getting sleeeepy! sleeeeepy! Sleeeeepy!

Anyway, for the record, my best non-fiction (which means popular science about Mathematics, since that's been my drive for 2012), was Why Beauty Is Truth, Ian Stewart. Now joined by The Nothing That Is, Robert Kaplan. This book gets such grumpy reviews on amazon, I was almost put off. Don't be! It's wonderfully free-ranging, entertaining, discursive, a real "natural history" of the extraordinary development and apotheosis of a sign that just meant leave a space here, or, we haven't got any, in Babylon, long ago. The chapter on mathematical function is brilliant. I only worked through a very few of the examples, as I am so slow. But knowing that I, even I, could work through his examples gave me immense confidence; and respect for Kaplan.

For the record #2 I am so glad Price won the Turner Prize. She's proper. The other three nominees were, as is de rigeur I suppose, just purely nincompoops. Three different varieties of frolicking Art World nincompoops (IMHO)

Christmas is a time of giving, which is why I made sure to watch the Why Poverty series programme on the devastating truth about Humanitarian Aid In Conflict Zones, from Biafra to Kosovo. Wow. Seeing how it all went horribly wrong, gathered together in one place, is salutary, or indeed gob-smacking. We want to think that Aid Workers are better people than ourselves, that we can just hand them our money, and sigh with relief and get on with our lives. But they're not. They're just people like us: desperate to DO SOMETHING; plunging into action as a sedative for the awful pain of seeing so many bad things happen to the innocent and helpless; given iresistible license by mass support, and getting rightly fooled, abused, and shamefully prostituted by every warlord in sight, from Goma to Tony Blair and co in Iraq. Ah, well. The big charities have changed their model, so lets hope it won't happen again. Much.

Medecins Sans Frontieres came out relatively well, on the when you're in a hole stop digging meter, which is what I would have expected. And here's another few names for me to conjure with, at this magical time, right now. Anita Haidary, co-founder of Young Women For Change, Afghanistan (Do Not Send Money. Don't send money to anyone. Write a letter instead). Professor Jasmin Nario-Galace, of the campaign for a small arms treaty. Katherine Quarmby, investigating violence against disabled people. But there are so many of them, the people who refuse to close their eyes. The more you look the more you find. Good to know. And I'm feeling less sleepy already...

The keynote image, gloomy as my reputation, is a November oak tree, last Sunday, just outside Butcher's Wood, on the way to Clayton. More on the trees next post.

*this no doubt explains why the government's go-ahead for fracking, announced yesterday, spent very few hours on the BBC front page, and then vanished. It won't make gas cheaper. It involves horrible, devastating strip-mining all over your beautiful country, all in order to squeeze out a fraction more of the poison that's going to send your grandchildren straight to hell. Okay, this is all undeniable, it's true. But it will make our pals rich, and we like that. And anyway, see, it's gone! Just don't think about it, and everything will be fine!

Divine Endurance epub: The Flowerdust Version

Brilliant stars last night, this morning the hardest frost so far, white roofs and a red sky (ie a peach suffused with crimson sky, fading quickly to a gold on cloudy indigo glow that looked like snow on the way). A small cold rain followed, and now bright sunshine. Bird action continues lively, blue tits, great tits, goldfinches, the robins, one female blackcap, the four male blackbirds that hang out together (or maybe four new blackbirds?);and today, a gang of starlings, adults and a few of this year's juveniles descended on the elm tree feeder for some vigorous hoovering. Me, watching all this studiously while making mince pies for the Amnesty Write for Rights day on Saturday (If you're in Brighton&Hove please come along to ours, it's at the Friends Meeting House, Saturday 8th Dec, 1-5pm. Live music, mince pies and so on, and you get to write a few greetings cards to people who will be very grateful).

It's good news week on the BBC, MPs have "resoundingly" thrown out Cameron et al's attempt to scrap the Human Rights Act. And George Osborne's devastating fracking bonfire plan looks increasingly unstable... Well, okay, I admit I'm struggling with that 2nd good news item and can't find a third, but at least I've managed to get the single volume version of Divine Endurance and Flowerdust up and running on Kindle at last. After tearing hair for days over the last two chapter links. l finally coaxed Peter to lay his eagle eye on the code, and he spotted the bit I could safely delete (same in both cases) almost at once. [In my humble experience, delete something is usually the answer when the html goes bad on you. This ranks third in my stellar computer-savvy toolbox, right after switch everything off at the wall & start again, or that miracle cure, hit the refresh button).

Anyway, now I've finally got that sorted, I've arranged for the new and revised single narrative to be available as a free download on 18th-19th December. I'm pleased with it, I think you should try it, and of course (through gritted teeth), feedback on flaws and coding errors very welcome.

Watching Just caught up with the end of The Secret Of Crickley Hall. Excellent. Classic ghost story, sentimental without becoming too mawkish, played dead straight by the adult leads, one of whom is the always watchable Suranne Jones; wonderful child-acting on the part of the two sisters. Or child-directing, but I suspect that's more a case of not-directing)

And perservering with The Killing III, on we've started so we'll finish grounds. I think it's better as it goes on, but on the other hand, so many scenes are so achingly familiar. The beleaguered politican charges up and down the corridors of power, faithful female sidekick clutching her documents by his side. Lund's partner and treacherous "love interest". OMG! is he working for Special Branch??? OMG has he been part of the sinister gov. cover-up, all along? Oh, and now it's that blood-stained mattress, hidden in the back of the derelict storeroom.... This is where it was done!. Is there an over-reaching plot, about to reveal that the same high-rankin perp is responsible uncannily, for the unsolved sexual torture murders of young girls, hinted at in the first series? Maybe our beleaguered PM himself?? Or is there some other, darker, reason why the Three Lunds begin to seem indistinguishable?

Haven't caught up with The Hour or The Fear yet. But I have taken The Song Of Achilles out of the library, so I'll be up to speed on the new Mary Renault/Rosemary Sutcliff "Slash for Ancient History fans" soon.

The keynote photo is not a tree, it's wild clematis in winter, like snowfall, beside Butcher's Wood, admired on our way to visit the stunning Mediaeval paintings in Clayton Church last Saturday. More of that later.