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Actually, back in the olden days...

Tuesday 12th March. Snow is easing now; gleams of brilliant sun outdoors. Have moved my white camellia into the greenhouse, hope I did that in time; also filled the bird feeders, but there don't seem to be many takers.

Actually, back in the olden days, before there was climate change, I remember this was the normal weather in March, in Cumbria (where we'll be in a week or two). From one day to the next, vicious cold winds and snow, then sun and all the flowers (of course, above 2000ft it could get very nasty: I remember a legendary exploit with my older sister, making our way along Striding Edge in a blizzard, and promising each other we would try to fall on the Patterdale side, because it was more human down there, although we would be dead...) I've been thinking about the traffic too. Why all this grinding to a halt? It never used to happen, not even in the eighties, when we last had a run of cold winters in Sussex. What's the difference? (Allowing that cutting down the trees that sheltered Handcross Hill wasn't a good idea*). It's purely the density. There are too many cars, and this has happened in the last twenty years. That's what makes winter weather intolerable, infuriating and all that for all the hordes of drivers. What's the solution? We need fewer cars! So simple. And stop cutting down trees!

A Conversation with FriendsLife...

Monday 11th March, snow. A healthy dusting of white deposited overnight, but now it's really snowing. It's snowing quite hard. Have made several attempts to get my son (down for the weekend) out of bed. Gabriel, it's snowing, Gabriel, there's delays at Three Bridges, Gabriel... I think he's stirring now.

A conversation with my pension provider

Been meaning to make this call for a while...

The FriendsLife website "members area" is a waste of cyberspace, or was last time I looked, I've given up on it long ago. But that's okay, what I'm doing today is only fun if I talk to a human being.

I get through at once, no nested options. Points to FL. FriendsLife wants to know how she can help me.

G: well, it's a query about something in the latest Projected Benefits Illustration your firm sent me. The wording is puzzling. Could you put me through to someone who...

FL: (resigned tone) No, no, need. I can probably help. Just tell me what your query is.

G: Oh? Really? Well, okay... It's not about figures at all, it's this bit (reads aloud) "The pension is payable every month in advance for at least five years or until you die." It's that last bit. It just sounds odd. What does it mean "Until you die"? What happens if I don't? Is someone from FriendsLife going to come around and shoot me?

FL: (It is clear that she has fielded this query often, in varying witty forms, and is tired of it) Laughs lightly. No, no! The pension will go to your next of kin until the end of five years, even if you die. Otherwise, it goes on being paid for the rest of your life.

G: Oh, good. So, if I live to 3000, FriendsLife will go on paying my pension?

FL: yes, that's right.

G: And I don't have to do anything, except keep paying my premiums, and then collect my pension?

FL: That would be right.

G (in her head): So. Would you agree that FriendsLife is using that curious wording to avoid using the term lifetime annuity, in the transparent hope that unwary pension fund investors will believe they don't already have a lifetime annuity, and, convinced by the hardsell in the rest of your mailing, will sell the money they put into their pension fund to you, and buy another product, a totally unnecessary transaction from which the firm will cream £XXXX in commission and "administrative costs"???

My admirably good-tempered friend on the other end of the line has so clearly been teased to death by sarcastic pension customers that I don't bother teasing her any further, and we part friends.

But watch out!

Torture World

Friday 8th March, unbroken grey skies, the goldfinches flirting their yellow underwings, a hen blackbird and a fat woodpigeon mooching about, picking up crumbs, a slight persistent rain, that I can see in dimpled rings, steadily forming, one by one, on the surface of the dark fish pool. It still feels springlike out there, but apparently that's not going to last.

To Amnesty meeting last night, where Kolbassia Haossou of Survivors Speak Out talked to us on behalf of his network of torture survivors and Freedom From Torture (Was: The Medical Foundation For The Care Of Victims Of Torture, but it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue). I asked him what seemed to me the obvious question: Does the therapy work? Are you free from torture now? He said no. He said if there were a delete button for the brain, he'd be the first to use it, but there isn't. You learn to live with it, but the place where you were, the things that were done; it's always there, and a chance association can put you back there in a flash. When you've been tortured you can't trust another human being, you can't love anyone, least of all yourself; whenever someone approaches you, you are sure they mean to harm you. . . Speaking for Freedom for Torture, he said, is the way I tell myself they didn't win. They did not silence me.

We live in torture world, I thought. As long as torture itself is endemic (which it is), then we all live with it, and acceptance of torture is in everything we do, everything we accept. We have all lost our ability to trust, lost our belief in each other, lost the ability to do anything but keep our heads down and ask no questions. We live in fear, that's what's killing our humanity. What is the antidote to this poison? And I thought of that movie NO!, and the laughing, dancing, absurd campaign of defiance.

Whatever anyone says, whatever Bigelow would have you believe, whatever the CIA and the UK intelligence services. . . er, well, they'd just rather you didn't think about the subject, actually, but anyway, whatever anyone says, torture is not about extracting information, it's about instilling fear. It's about showing who is Master. In Chad, everybody knows what's going on, same as they did in Chile, and everybody (or nearly everybody) keeps quiet, looks the other way, tries not to breathe too loud, never raises their eyes. The next time, it could be you. You could be taken off to the torture camp. Or your dad, your mother, your sisters, your brothers. And what if they suffer because you spoke out? So we don't speak out.

But here in the UK, tainted but not actually in danger of our lives, here's some clictivism:The reconvened Arms Trade Treaty negotiations are due to begin on 18th March. Control Arms is asking you to join in a Thunderclap action.


Drabblecast is running a month of Women and Aliens stories, one of which will be an abridged version (very nice job, by Nickyt Drayden) of my "The Universe of Things", but don't let that put you off, starts next week, check it out.

& many thanks to Ant at SF Book Reviews for his review of The Last Days Of Ranganar (aka Divine Endurance, Flowerdust edition). I'm thrilled, never thought it would get a review.


Update on the Seven Dials Elm. It's still standing, still defended but still condemned. Will Brighton & Hove's "Green" Council dare to chop down a tree that's been trending on twitter? I hope not. I hope they find some way to climb down, and the latest from the Argus sounds positive, but who knows?

Btw, ENO Traviata: I don't think the eccentricities of the production added anything at all, and the chair and a curtain setting just looked bone-idle lazy. Bizarrely, however, the music was wonderful. Corinne Winters was just amazing, electrifying, musically and emotionally, (everybody else had been forbidden to act, but even so, she was ace.)

Looking Forward To

The comet, I mean Pan-Starrs
But I bet we don't see it. Those comets, they're elusive creatures, the only one that's been any good in my life time was Hale-Bop (sp?) in 1997, which we saw when we were in Poland for Easter. That was a cracker! & what evil does the pair due to visit this year portend, I wonder. I suppose we've room for a few more.

Keynote picture is a cheat, it's the bed of sweet violets by the bus stop outside the Downs Hotel, at the Rottingdean crossroad, and meant to represent International Women's Day colours, but it's just a stand in. Our own violets are too shy.

Seven Dials Elm

Thursday 7th March, rain earlier, clearing skies at the moment.

A local scandal prompts this unscheduled post, from (sadly) someone who may soon be an ex-Brighton&Hove Green supporter... Read about it here:

And sign the petition, here, please:

There's a multiple-entry junction on a hilltop in Brighton, known as Seven Dials. Planned improvements now turn out to include felling a 100 year old healthy elm tree: and not only 100 years old and healthy, which makes it a national treasure to start with (Brighton & Hove is the last stronghold of the English Elm in the world), but even a Wheatley elm, which is even more significant. Why does the tree have to be felled? There are fears, apparently that it might reduce visibility at a pedestrian crossing. Good grief, Green Councillors. What kind of an excuse is that? Why don't you just come out and say "We like cutting trees down! We're doing it for fun!"

Why did nobody protest until the tree fellers actually arrived on Monday? Well, the main problem was, according to reliable witnesses, that our Green Council put forward their plans, in all the public consultations, without mentioning the trivial matter of cutting down this tree. So the protest was too little, too late...

So now, it's crunch time. Greens, you are in trouble. Have some sense! If you really, genuinely do not give a damn about the tree, and all that felling it implies, think about the cost to yourselves. This is an insane thing to do, under that "GREEN" banner. You cannot afford to play the fool with your support in this city, or nationally. Think again! Ignore the fact that the people who have climbed the tree to protect it look untidy, and that you don't want to encourage that kind of activism. Don't fell the tree. If there really is a problem, then redesign your crossing. Please.

keynote picture courtesy of the Brighton Argus.

Sustainable Palm Oil? No Thanks!

Wednesday 6th March, a calm day, thin quilting of grey cloud over the whole sky, balmy temperature after weeks of that icy east wind. My sky-blue crocuses have joined the gold ones, in a fine display, and there are a few sweet violets hiding by the wall. Not so much bird action in the garden this week, or maybe I've spent less time staring out of the window? No spawn action as yet, but it's due soon. Today for the first time I encountered a fine young frog sitting on the rim of the little pool. Didn't look much like a male or female in reproductive trim however.

Sustainable Palm Oil? It depends when you start measuring. The plantation should be easy to sustain, it's such a simple monoculture, but the rainforest that was there before will not be coming back, nor will the orang-utans. I've been working on my Palm Oil dependency for a while, concern triggered by a lasting attachment to the living world of Malaysia and Indonesia, finally ran up against the wall when I looked for Palm Oil free bar soap. It should be easy, shouldn't it? Ethical Products are all over the place. Does The Body Shop have a palm oil free product? No. Faith In Nature? No. Our neighbourhood artisan soapmakers, Bomb Cosmetics of Bournemouth No. Now, if you live in Australia or New Zealand, and you feel like ditching Palm Oil from your bathroom, you're fine. They've seen the damage, I suppose. Any amount of suppliers. What's the ethical consumer in the UK to do? Accept it just can't be done? Not necessarily. The highly visible and popular ethical brand Lush cosmetics has gone completely palm-oil free. So why don't the others? Could hazard a guess, but anyway, here's a couple of links for the curious:

I think the "Sustainable" Palm Oil scam is a scam, about the same level of trustworthy as the "Farm Assured" or (worse) "100%British" label, on supermarket meat. Can't argue with the argument that it's better than nothing, but I happen to want better than that. Sadly, I don't like Lush. When I walk into their very colourful shops I immediately taste the product, it's in my mouth. Not a good feeling. So it's back to Oliva (the only palm oil free soap I could find on the shelves in our local ethical giant Infinity Foods) until further notice.


Two (South) Korean movies in the last week. My son Gabriel tells me the Korean domestic movie industry is huge, and their mainstays are sugary family sagas and comedies; which is a relief to know. Both the ones I saw, however, were the usual thing, savagely violent, bizarre tales about tragically dysfunctional characters. The first was Breathless; Yang Ik-june, one of my movies-recorded-off-the-tv. A small-time gangster, actually debt collector, who dispenses with the mean phone calls and simply comes round and beats the living sh*t out of the unfortunate defaulters (which seems to work!), his horribly dysfunctional family past, and his unlikely friendship with a young girl, who comes from exactly the same background, who pretends she's bourgeois when she meets him, just to give herself a break. Wonderfully acted, intensely engaging, poetic but somewhat grim to look at. The other one was Stoker. I wouldn't say don't go to see Stoker, I definitely would not say it's a waste of your money, it's very stylish, as hackneyed American gothic goes, but if you're expecting a hip, exciting remake of Shadow Of A Doubt you're going to be disappointed, and if you know Park Chan-wook's work from Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance or Sympathy for Lady Vengeance prepare to be underwhelmed. Engagement with the characters is set at zero, displays of emotion completely absent. Oh, wait. The bad guy, Matthew Goode channeling David Byrne in his Psychokiller suit, does about three different weird smirks!


Otter Country, Miriam Darlington. Lovely, engrossing. I bought this for Peter for his birthday. (Actually I ended up showering him with books, as I was ordering them off the internet to start with, and got scared when the first choices didn't turn up for a while). It's all about otters, Wales and England, and Scotland too of course. I cannot tell a lie, there's a lot of plashing going on here (very few voles, sadly),but also plenty of cold feet. It's great. Nature writing is allowed to be lyrical, and you just can't beat otters. I wouldn't be surprised if this ends up a bestseller.

Looking forward to reading Tubes, next. Which is the book that was slow to arrive. I assumed, given the writer's Wired credentials, that this would be gonzo journalism. Apparently it isn't, but still (or therefore) is highly reccommended.