Skip to content

Let Mr Cameron Know: Overnight the season changed

Back from Cumbria last weekend to an Easter Sunday of splendid pelting rain and wind & over night it seemed, the "black" maple at the bottom of our garden lost its gold floral topnotes, and turned deep red & the whole garden sprouted lush greenery, drowning the last of the spring flowers. The fish and juvenile goldfish are fine, the "wildlife" pond is functioning for the first time in its life, fat tadpoles, one newt, frogs, clear water in both: I praise my Swan Mussels, Peter gives credit to barley straw. Have spent a whole week debriefing, unpacking, transplanting (rather recklessly, excited by the drenched soil and mild air; hope my victims survive), and turning in a review (Laline Paull's The Bees, of which more later) & by now I'm sure you're sick of looking at my King Death's Garden cover, so onward.

Tree diseases
The good news: as of now, Ash dieback sinks to join the rest of a list of threats, no swift devastation throughout the UK. 644 confirmed sites on the forestry commission page, the number keeps going up, but slowly, & still, for what it's worth, the overwhelming majority of identified sites in England are east of the Wash (the Wash, dear non-English readers, is that sort of squared-off chunk of sea between the bulge of East Anglia and the flank of Lincolnshire. King John allegedly lost his Royal Jewels in there once). Tree diseases are scary, but anthropogenic habitat loss, and destruction in Global Warming extreme weather events, are probably worse enemies. For the record, ash is way behind oak, throughout the uk, so I predict it will rain all summer. You heard it here first. Along with the Dissolution of the Union, and Cornish minority rule.

My Fracking Roundup

No internet or mobile phone signal where I was, but I read about the acquittal of Caroline Lucas and the rest of the Balcombe Five in a newspaper last Friday week. Since when, another 14 protestors have been acquitted. I'm very glad the judges in both trials resisted the criminalisation of protest creep. One more time.

Also very glad Caroline Lucas made such measured comments. This is not a victory. West Sussex County Council, in their planning meeting tomorrow, are minded to determine in favour of Cuadrilla's renewed "flow test" drilling (not gas nb, it's "tight oil" now) at the Lower Stumble site, outside Balcombe, despite the huge weight of evidence (where's the water coming from, how is the effluent going to be handled etc etc); the justified objections, impassioned protests from local residents. Since this particular council has invested public money, and their own too, for all I know, in the energy companies concerned, they would, wouldn't they. But they shouldn't.

Not getting thrown into jail for peaceful protest is not supposed to be a victory, it's supposed to be normal service. The victory is when the protests become successful. Non Violent Direct Action, history has often proved, is the way to do it. Dignified outrage, courageously expressed, could still swing this issue. In pursuit of which, I'll be taking a trip to Horsham tomorrow, to attend WSCC's planning meeting. You are all hereby invited to join me. (NB, apologies if you're non-facebook, you have to log in to facebook to tick the boxes). It's worth a try.

And if you're uk, and whether or not you think my obsession with fracking uk is just weird, consider going to wrong move to register your property as a frack free zone. You might as well. As a gesture. Before this government changes the trespass law, and your property rights get stolen from under you. Give Mr Cameron something to think about.


Aside from Laline Paull, Dark Orbit, Carolyn Ives Gilman (of which more later) and Peter Pan In Scarlet Geraldine McCaughrean. Can't remember why I picked this up, I've never been a big Peter Pan fan, but there you go. Not enough fairy dust to keep the whole thing sparkling, but definitely good in parts, and the playful language is a delight. Also On The Organic Law Of Change: facsmile edition of Alfred Russel Wallace's species notebooks from the Malay Archipelago. I read the Malay Archipelago many years ago, so I was a sucker for this massive volume; somebody's doctrate project. A bit disappointing, more entries saying variations on found a really interesting beetle and guess what it was just by my hammock than you could shake a stick at, but it got quite addictive. Conclusion: Wallace did have the same idea as Darwin, for making a science out of the transmutationism movement, & endemic island species were the big clue for both men. But he was a maverick, he would have messed up anyway, so arguably didn't lose much (not that he'd ever say how he really felt) by Darwin sneaking into publication first. Footnote, apparently Wallace favoured and helped to promote the distorting lens of "survival of the fittest" (which ranks with The Selfish Gene in my opinion), above Darwin's accurate, neutral, "natural selection". I never knew that. And he became a Spiritualist in his declining years. I never knew that, either. Now I want to read a proper biography.

Going to the movies

Calvary John Michael McDonagh. Stunning. Quirky "black" humour fans better take note, this is not for babies, this iis a full-on, uncompromising morality play, harsh and pure as they come. I thought In Bruges had hidden depths, I thought The Guard was slight: this is a masterpiece. I don't know what to compare it with, except maybe Pasolini's Gospel, or Park Chan-wook's Sympathy For Mr Vengeance. And all played out beside the bleak and beautiful strand under bare Ben Bulben's head. The entire audience at The Dukes sat in dazed silence as the credits rolled, and I have never seen that before.

Return To King Death's Garden

How long ago it was. We moved into the house where nothing had changed for forty years the year after we came back from Singapore, drawn back to Brighton and the old gang after an abortive attempt to install ourselves up north. We painted (notably the big yellow flash on lilac in the front room, that left a radioactive yellow film on everything, because we were rank amateurs with a stencil and a spray can). We had the roof done, we decorated, we put up shelves, and I took possession of King Death's Garden, the Brighton and Preston Cemetery & Extra-Mural Cemetery next door; with only a small brown cat for my companion. My dear Siang, who walked along with me, lost in her own thoughts, only yelling at me when she'd found something interesting and I wasn't paying attention. I was working as an accounts clerk at Amex, I was writing Telebug scripts, I was teaching myself computing, and in the midst of all this I wrote King Death's Garden, the first of my "Ann Halam" ghost stories. It was amazingly successful, it sold buckets, I got invited to a posh party on the grounds of my sales figures . Wow. An experience never to be repeated. But I still liked it, and I still like it now. I found my memories of those years enshrined within the pages, as I was converting it for epub, and I was very glad to meet them. So much has changed. You can't get into the Extra-Mural valley from the Brighton and Preston part anymore, not without climbing the wall. The gate is bricked up and the steps where Maurice met Moth for the first time are mouldering into the earth. The two great copper beeches have gone from in front of the funeral chapel (deliberate; I suppose meant to make the place look more cheerful); Siang's cypress is gone, and most of the great elms on the drive, which have not been replaced. But the limes on the lime walk have been, and are now grown trees. I cried in King Death's Garden when I saw the devastation, the morning after the hurricane in 1987, and a gardener came up to me and said don't cry love, we'll make it beautiful again. I sat in a shower of petals under the cherry trees on the slope where the slave boy is buried, and told Gabriel (10mths) about Bushido and the Cherry Blossom Way. (someone had given him a book of Japanese folk tales). We walk there often, though we no longer live next door. And I visit the weeping ash on Clementina Brown's tomb: going strong, and looking exactly as described by Maurice right now, the tentacle branches still almost bare, and trailing to the ground.

Jessica Raven was next (camping in France), then The Fear Man (my brother's Battersea and Clapham London stamping grounds; the desolate, dreamy feeling of a long, dirty London street, on a silent Saturday afternoon, long ago), then The Powerhouse* (nameless setting but really it's Manchester); then Crying In The Dark (a cottage with ghosts in Devon); then Nimrod (Brighton again; called "Beachcombe" this time; I have no idea why); the one that surprised me, this time round. Clearly I'd decided to have a ghost story of every popular shade, but I'd forgotten there was a noir in the pack. And finally Don't Open Your Eyes, the only real horror story & not at all coincidentally the only one with even a whisper of sex in it, as Charles Brown, god rest him, pointed out. Anyway, after a labour of love that nearly fried my eyes out (350,000 plus words, reviewed, edited, proof-read, in 2 months) the Ann Halam ghost stories are now available in epub, at several of the usual retailers, including Kindle, Smashwords, Barnes&Noble, Apple etc. Very reasonably priced, fine covers, and you can buy them!

*See The Powerhouse for some pre Bold as Love: the first version of immersions; an experimental techno band, black magic and Seventies hippies in a rather poor light

Ann Halam On Smashwords

More Balcombe trials this week. That's where I'll be tomorrow. This afternoon I'm taking off, to go and see The Past