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The Firecrests

Tuesday 26th February, cold and grey, a raw, damp cold; the faint white disc of the sun appearing in glimpses where the cloud has worn into holes. A rich time for birds in the gardens, in variety: the blackbirds, starlings goldfinches,bluetits and the robins as always, but last week, when the sun came out, I saw the firecrests picking through the branches of last years buddleia for insects, on Sunday there was a greenfinch in the sycamore, and yesterday, the wrens and a pair of blackcaps (separately), and a young thrush on Val and Nicky's new raised bed, picking up little lumps of chalk, flinging them around and smacking them down, for all the world as if she had heard of these things called snails that live in rocks and are tasty, and she was just having a go... Not so good for numbers, there used to be a flock of greenfinches frequenting that sycamore, until greenfinches got that disease, and a flock of goldfinches came after them, now I never see more than five birds. Anyway, nice to see the firecrests, they are very pretty, and very confiding, apparently: not fearful of humans.

Finished a draft of Old Venus yesterday, still got to review it and fire it off. Wow what a time that took, and how much intriguing internet "scholarship" I pursued. With the consequence that I had to feature Venus as the evening star, although other alignments might, on the face of it, have made more sense. Dawn is not a time for lovers. It's pretty but too cold, and speaks of partings.
But it's okay. The orbits are so complicated, you can explain anything.


Or having watched, a surprisingly large sample of Oscar hopefuls; whereas years ago, an Oscar nomination or even rumour of same was a surefire indication that I hadn't seen the picture and didn't want to. Not sure what that implies. Anyway, besides admiring Amour from a polite distance, and absolutely loving A Royal Affair, I strongly reccommend NO. I loved this movie, so tough, so brave and cheerful, a real breath of fresh air, also loved the ars gratia artis, period production values. It really cheered me up, and maybe its not quite the ensemble piece it could have been but Gail Garcia Bernal is terrific. Go and see it! You'll never pronounce Pinochet the same way again.

Also The Painted Veil, one of my recorded-off-the-tv-guide movies, an unexpected pleasure, fine acting, shot in China and very beautiful to look at with a haunting score. Must now read some Somerset Maugham, eg The Moon And Sixpence, which Gabriel bought from the pop-up Christmas tree shop and has left here. Though I suspect the sensibility will be different.

Schadenfreude watch

Very high Schadenfreude count going on at the moment. The Pope, the Cardinal, the Lib-Dems; the Chancellor of the Exchequer (I love it that he's writing exclusively for The Sun); the interest rate. Very sad thing about this schadenfreude thing though: the very people you most deeply enjoy seeing take a p**tfall, are often taking you down with them. Ever noticed that?


The "Justice and Security" Bill (Secret Courts) They're going to carry on with this.

The Draft Communications Data Bill (government oversight of internet and email). Looks like this one is going to happen too, I'm afraid. Very mildly diluted by our protests.

And if you live in the UK and you want to preserve at least what's left of the NHS, please, please get your MP to sign this Early Day Motion before 1st April

I can barely see the keys, so Cavafy feature another time.

The Black Snake

Saturday 9th February. Cold and grey. Mouse ice, cat ice, mouse ice again on the ponds this week, but the native daffodils are in bud, far more buds than there were last year, also five crocuses in bloom, two gold, two mauve, one creamy, and you little know what a triumph that represents. Finally! I have beaten the squirrels! (I will tell you how, if you do not know, on request). I feel almost as proud as when I beat the twentyfive letter sort minigame.

Post-WWII Epigenetics

A glimmer of good news for the bees since I last wrote, and a glimmer of good news for fish stocks, with the MEP vote on the discarding of "bycatch". So little, so late. . . But never say die, nobody expected England to survive through the summer of nineteen forty, either.... If we are marked for life by the stresses our parents suffered and the joys that buoyed them up, as the science now seems to say, then my particular cadre, (whose parents fought the war against fascism, and then founded a socialist utopia on the rebound), was born infected with the belief that unlikely victories can be won, if you can just tough it out long enough, and against the worst of odds.

Which cuts both ways, of course... so here's the radioactive waste dump in Eskdale, thrown out once, possibly coming round again, championed (and why wouldn't he?) by Sellafield's top spokesperson. Were the councillors intimidated by this chilling email someone "accidentally had sight of"? Dirty tricks afoot? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe a local activist swung it, using the 38degrees template by the dastardly application of people power. Who can tell?

I wish it was not so, but our government, and all supporters of the nuclear industry, need to face facts. Nuclear power is not the solution, not in its present form. WE NEED TO USE LESS ENERGY. Go away, and come back when you know how to decommission one of your dragons. And when you're ready to put a fair, honest price on the energy they produce. Oh, and you also have to know how to avoid that unfortunate association with Weapons of Mass Destuction. Good luck.

Watching: Mainly movies recorded off the tv guide, which sometimes means great classic, but often means recent movies that didn't get us out of the house... An unlikely double bill of Contagion and Super 8 one night. I preferred Contagion. Thought Super 8 was derivative beyond absurdity. What a suck-up! I suppose if by any chance you haven't seen ET, it's a cute story. And Silent Witness is back! As preposterous as ever, if lacking the dashing Harry. Just leave out the trips to Afghanistan, please. It's embarrasing. Warzone chic is beneath you guys. Stick with with the Anthrax and the plutonium. You know it makes sense.

Looking Forward To La Traviata at the ENO. Actually, Peter bought the tickets on a very cheap deal...and then the reviews caught our attention. Hm. A Left-Wing, Brechtian, stripped down Traviata? Goodness! With no intervals and no dance numbers? Interesting! It sounds to me as if this Peter Konwitschny chap may be trying to tell the story of "the real" Marie Du Plessis, aka Alphonsine Plessis, rather than the story in the Dumas novel etc, a strange idea (I wonder if she'd thank him?). I wonder how my favourite track Di Provenza will survive, when the kindly old gent singing that golden lullaby is recast as a. . . Well, never mind. Not to give the game away, no spoilers here. If you like Grand Opera, you have to like crazy leftfield productions too & the music is apparently immaculate and wonderful.

The keynote picture is a Black Snake, of course, courtesy of monyetbesi blogspot. Apparently, the year of the Black Snake is not as bad as it sounds, which is fortunate, isn't it?

Wet Play

Friday 1st February. Chilly, and it's raining again. My cats, aged twelve and seven this year, have made this the winter of becoming indoor pets. Ginger, my older cat, has long been of the opinion that cold weather, snow and rain are for the birds, which I applaud because I like the birds, but now Milo, junior cat, has joined her in this unilateral decision. Even cats can't sleep all the time, so they tear around the house beating each other up, or else (Ginger), climb up the back of my chair, claw my shoulders, try to climb onto my head and lick my hair as I type; (Milo) they leap. He can leap quite high, and he lands quite hard, he isn't a small cat. He killed my last monitor.

Anyway, it's wet play again today, and so far I have: mended the birdfeeder that got blown down from the elm tree and restored it (via stepladder and new twine) to its branch; done some housework including a little wood-chopping in the rain; practiced piano, liking my Hadyn very much, getting frustrated with the Bach Prelude; done my greek homework; discovered that Amazon Kindle has developed a new wrinkle: in their "new sales territories" (doesn't that sound imperial!) Brazil, Japan and India, you can only get 35 percent Royalties tops, whether you have a US Tax ID or not; unless you make your books exclusive to Kindle by enrolling in KDP Select. I will hold up my hand and confess I don't get KDP Select. Maybe if I was an Indie writer I'd know. There's a huge "global fund" they're always talking about, but none of it has ever come my way or likely too... It's good for the free days, that's the only use I've found for it.

And cast a cold eye on the BBC News Headlines: In The Gambia Friday is to join the weekend club, is this the shape of things to come? Good idea, on the face of it. Four day week makes sense economically, and makes sense of the actual situation; until of course the Jedi Knights become huge, and declare that their Sabbath is a Tuesday... And today is Hejabi Day, when non-Muslim women are encouraged to take the veil. "My beauty" says (I nearly wrote simpers, but I controlled myself) the non-Muslim young lady allowing her photo to be displayed to the world "Is for my family and my partner, that's what the hejab is saying". For God's sake, kid, listen to yourself*, and you need a burqa, anyway, if that's the way you feel. Will I adopt the hejab? I covered my head in Morocco only 2 years ago, so for politeness abroad; yes. In the UK, never. I am not a woman, I am a citizen and a human being. My hair, chin and the back of my neck are as decent as anybody else's. Would I refuse under torture, or to save my son's life, say? I'll think about it... Do I understand the appeal of this gesture? Certainly I do. There's a war on. The things one keeps hearing! Appeasement is tempting.

The light has changed, the blue tits and the goldfinches already seem to be courting (ie scrapping and scampering over the scaffolding that has taken root at the back of our house; and flirting their wings at each other). And tomorrow it will be bright sunshine. Or heavy snow. Could go either way, apparently, according to our oracles. What does sun AND snow on Candlemas mean?

So, finally, I return to Old Venus.

*a comparison has been censored for being in poor taste. It involved yellow stars as a tasteful addition to outer clothing.