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Singing In The Rain

Tuesday 26th May, drizzly and cool. The brood of great tits, newly reared, very charming making forays from the cypress to our little elm, they're feeding themselves now, from our feeder and Nick and Val's. Floods for East Anglia all the rest of this week, which Grauniad reader pounce upon as a Biblical punishment for Farage voters. I doubt that, but I bet I'm right about predicting we are heading for a long wet summer, just like 2007. But the garden doesn't seem to care, and neither to the birds. Yesterday I was here all day (lucky break), working at my desk, and all day long, through windows open a few inches in defiance of the rain, the blackbirds kept singing, wonderfully, echoing off each other, from chimneypots, rooftops, treetops, indefatigable. & this morning, over the the wet garden, talking to Gabriel about his plans for the rest of term, I watched the swifts darting and playing, in and out of the rainclouds.

If I'm being picky, the gentry scenes in Much Ado About Nothing in St Nicholas Gardens shouldn't have been played for such broad comedy. If the toffs start acting like buffoons, it's really not fair on Dogberry & Co. Leaves them nowhere to go. And, plus, to do justice to the play, there has to be an edge to this battle of the sexes, a sense that this Italy, this world, is a savage place to be a woman. (Just ask yourself, why does Hero forgive Claudio? Because she has to She's tainted, nobody's going to marry her if he doesn't).

But all the same, it was magic.

A moratorium has been declared on all tv news media, from Have I Got News For You, through Newsnight, to South East Today, to punish them for their huge contribution to Farage's success, and by the way, their consistently sickening coverage of Climate Change. Doesn't hurt a bit so far, in fact I feel more cheerful than for some time. I may have to go back to relying on Al Jazeera in the longer term.

The Portrait Of Dave Cameron

Friday 23rd May, bright blue skies, cool and breezy sunshine. First four-legged froglet yesterday, today the UK Local Council Election results roll in, Frog Prince in the fore (unsurprisingly, given the inescapable coverage he was awarded, while the Green Party, that's the Party of Change Your Lifestyle, got nothing.)
If Farage ends up my next PM I know who to blame. That will be the mediafolk, and Channel 4's Jon Snow will head the list. Dear UK readers, don't you think Nigel Farage is like a portrait of himself that David Cameron has been keeping in the attic, shuddering as he observes on that painted face the stark record of his fall into political decadence, moral bankruptcy and decay. But oh no, the Portrait has escaped and is roaming the streets, drawing every Party to imitate its charming, seedy grimaces, taken by all for the true Dave; causing all kinds of havoc . . .

Okay, I know it's not really very funny. But don't you?

Billions of Barrels Of Oil Under The Weald!

I watched the Newsnight item on Fracking In The Weald: so now I know what I'm supposed to think about the opposition to this pleasant pursuit. Professor Iain Stewart's overview was shockingly dishonest (where do they find them?). Not a mention of Climate Change; and in his tour of the US, no problems arising whatsoever! The Wisborough Green group, did not do too well either, coming across,, or made to come across, as perfect middle-class South East NIMBYs, protecting their own idyllic lifestyle. And thence to Fernhurst, where the Professor explained it had been hard to find people who would speak to the BBC, a truly bizarre claim, given the committment of Frack Free Fernhurst to publicising their plight. Hard to find people who would say what Newsnight wanted to hear: that, I believe. No mention of the fact that this drilling site is inside a National Park, or of the National Trust RSPB Wildlife Trusts' reasons for demanding a ban on the pleasant pursuit. And still not a word about Climate Change. Or the devastating amounts of clean water that fracking will gobble; or the inconvenient truth that the fields around the Wisborough Green site were under flood water last winter. . . No word from disputed sites in the North, or the repudiation of the pleasant pursuit by citizens of Manchester, oddly enough. Poor people like fracking, was the message. . . (Terrific idea, fake Dave. Go ahead, tear up the entire map of England. "Poor people" dumb enough to still like fracking when it moves in on their doorsteps and comes out of their taps will carry on voting for the True Dave! There's only one vote you can snag on this issue, if you want to reach beyond those making an immediate profit, and it's the protest vote.)

In contrast, in the studio session, with Caroline Lucas saving the day as usual, Climate Change was taken seriously (except by the presenter, of course). Even Andrew Austin of IGas told us that, despite his passion for shale gas in the UK, "the two degrees limit is imperative". Interesting position . . . Yet again, the weird omissions. Shale gas was discussed, throughout. Shale oil was not mentioned. But it's oil, as we all now know, the dirtiest of fossil fuels, lurking in the crevices of Wealden Basin. How does extracting this thrilling glut of oil (if it exists: see California's revision) sit with the grim reality of climate change? Oil bonanza and keeping the global temperature rise under the fatal two degrees? Impossible! It has to stay in the ground . . . But we'll have to wait and see what The True Dave thinks about that.

The Bees

Now that Laline Paull's fine animal fantasy The Bees is out, I could share with you some of the bee information, and pollinators in crisis stuff, that didn't fit into my review. Bees, for instance, do not have a caste system. Every bee that emerges passes through the ranks, starting off as a cleaner, and rising to become a glorious forager. Drones are numerous, but they're harmless and helpless; they don't require to be slaughtered when the hive has to cut public services for the winter. All the hive workers do is shove them outdoors, and don't let them back in . . . Cellphone masts are not a hazard to bee navigation, that was an "urban myth" . . . But there's so much, and maybe you don't even like bees, so I'll just pass on a fascinating article in which the researchers show that the oppressive social structure in a honey bee hive isn't Selfish Gene type normal bee behaviour, "designed by evolution for the survival of the fittest". It vanishes in the wild. It's a brutalising effect of domestication. Hive bees have a slave culture, how about that!

It may look a bit dry, but if you're keen on bees, you've got to read this! It isn't even depressing!

This report is depressing:

& so is this one. Also liable to annoy you into some kind of action, which would be a good thing:

Pollinator crisis? What pollinator crisis? The Soil Association et al have been fighting for years to get the guilty pesticides banned, but it isn't going to happen. Nope, the bees are doomed. Bayer and Syngenta have too much to lose. And everything to gain. What do they care if insect pollinators vanish? They can make a fortune selling artificial bees!

I never seem to do anything but whine and grouch, do I? I protest it is not my fault, it really isn't. A star laughed, and under it I was born . . . and ever since I've been seeing the sarcastic side of everything. Oh well, going out tonight might cheer me up, Emmy Lou Harris at the Dome (Peter is a HUGE fan, so I made sure we got good tickets). And then Much Ado About Nothing in St Nicolas Gardens tomorrow. Hope it's as wonderful as As You Like It two years ago, and not quite so cold and in every sense wet as King Lear

Getting Out More

Saturday 17th May, a cool blue morning.

Getting Out More

& now here I am back at my desk after a packed few days in Manchester.The old home town never changes, although it changes all the time. In normal life I struggle to recognise a single glimpse of the streets where I grew up, in endless cop shows, (it is the bedraggled and threatening bits, often shot at night): but as I step down from the train, the spirit of Manc comes shining through, somehow. Outings included Albert Square for MCFC's victory parade, The Last Days of Troy at The Royal Exchange. A tramp around the ridge walk above the Edale Valley, which was really, really wonderful except for the torrential rain part, and that only lasted an hour and a half. A morning alone among flowers and birds and butterflies, reading in the sunshine in a vine arbour, on the roof terrace in Hulme Community Garden, where I also bought some seeds, wildflowers for dry shade, yellow rattle and bugle. Mary-Elly, the friend I was visiting, who is a volunteer, thought I might join her in some weeding, but I felt my job was to enjoy this brilliant place, and had to be prised out of the arbour to come down and eat my butties and talk about Barton Moss; a visit to the Mickle Ditch at Platt Fields (it's a black water ditch here, it's Anglo Saxon, it looks rather spooky, definitely less boring than the lump of Roman Wall at Castlefield. They're very science fictional, these lost fragments of the distant past in a city like Manc, and very Alan Garner too of course. And La Boheme at the Lowry; including admiring the Open Swimmers in a specially aerated bit of the Ship Canal (for the benefit of those mediafolk, you know. You just can't expect them to do without their civilised comforts). Good grief. There they were, in the Manchester Ship Canal in May, happily ploughing the shining stream, whatever next?


Cheek by Jowl's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore was rubbish. They cut out the sub-plot, leaving some odd holes in the main plot, if anyone had been paying attention. Excised Ford's serious accusation of a morally bankrupt State and Church, and replaced with much frenzied synchronised dancing by young fat cats in suits. And all of that fair enough, except that nobody on stage, not for one moment, acted as if they believed what they were saying, ever. Unforgivable. If all you want is a young lady pretending to have sex in her underwear, there's plenty of Miley Cyrus on Youtube. Don't bother.

Simon Armitage's The Last Days Of Troy. Looks really good. The framing story (Zeus as a worn-out souvenir seller at the modern site of Troy) seemed hackneyed to me: the action thrilling, as long as Armitage is sticking dead close to Homer, for language, plot and narrative. Loses focus after the interval, when relying more or less on Book II of the Aeneid. Very shabby treatment of Helen. I know Lily Cole is a supermodel, not an actress, but she's got a brain in her head, and I am sure she has stage presence. No excuse whatsoever for mutilating the only, and really remarkable, good female part in the Iliad. Wouldn't you think, in this day and age, a dramatist would know better? But definitely do bother.

Opera North’s La Bohème at the Lowry revival was lovely. Young cast, believing every word of their story, looking like real young examples of the bohemian life, and very sweet. Hurry along there. Recommended.

Even If We Lose Our Lives & Fracking Shifts Its Ground

Friday 16th May, sunny day with a clear blue sky and cool air. The swifts, all two of them, shrieking and shooting to and fro over my head as I'm hanging out the washing. It seems to be the same all over. The swifts, and their unrelated migratory nichemates, the swallows, the house martins, are here but in smaller numbers than ever. Maybe they'll have a late surge . . . Picked myself a 6th bouquet of the year, a random collection, bearded iris, wall-growing campanula, columbines and snapdragon; nothing of the summer ensemble coming through yet, really. Tadpoles doing well, and there has been a stickleback sighting, a rare treat, usually we only know they're there because there aren't any mosquito larvae

Early last Sunday morning, up and out to Under The Bridge studios, with a tray of Turkish cakes, to rendezvous for a reading of Even If We Lose Our Lives, the narratives of four Afghan Women Human Rights Defenders, scripted by Christine Bacon, recorded here in Brighton courtesy of the estimable Jackie Chase and her team at Radio Free Brighton. You can hear the reading online any time you like: It's also scheduled on Radio Free Brighton, Tues 20th May 9pm, and Weds 21st May 9am.

Or if you live around here, you can pay (£1 entry) to see the play performed at The Hawth theatre, Crawley: 7.30 19th May., by Pitchy Theatre.


Fracking shifts its ground: but don't get your hopes up, this is only reculer pour mieux sauter*. Interesting developments (check them out on Frack Free Sussex) include a leaked document (May 9th) confirming Cuadrilla intends to frack at Balcombe. Without fracking, Wealden shale gas extraction cannot be commercially viable. But we knew that. Celtique Energie has made changes to its drilling application at Fernhurst, the one in the South Downs National Park. They now say they will create a new access to the site, and they have withdrawn the horizontal bore from their plans. Greenpeace hails these changes as a "scaling back": Greenpeace is wrong. The site access alteration is an attempt to circumvent obstacles put in their way (eg, new tree preservation orders). The horizontal drill, (transparently!) will be restored at a later date, when Mr Cameron has changed the trespass laws. Seems to me Celtique is simply taking a leaf out of Cuadrilla's book, having realised it isn't necessary to show all your hand. Just apply for an inch and take a mile! That will be fine! The other interesting development at Fernhurst is that WSCC will no longer be determining this application, it has been transferred entirely into the hands of the Park Authority. What does this mean? I'm not sure. After WSCC's insulting, meretricious* pretence of a planning meeting to "determine" the Cuadrilla application at Balcombe, ast month I don't see how the SDNPA could be worse, but I wouldn't put it past them. Please object to the proposal again, explaining why an extreme energy drill site STILL doesn't work for you as an attraction in the South Downs National Park, no matter how it is packaged; and nb you do not have to be a local.

Frackfree Fernhurst site provides a portal and some notes
You can also object in writing, to:

Director of Planning
South Downs National Park Authority
South Downs Centre
GU29 9DH

Celtique have also submitted new information on their Wisborough Green proposal, to be determined (ha!) at a WSCC planning meeting on 25th June. Poor Wisborough Green, so tiny, so fragile, is going to be dragged down the basement and shot, no question. But find out more, with details of how to submit an objection, here:

Just don't give up. To avoid quoting Churchill, you never know. The next thing we try might work. And many thanks, by the way, to Bob Buhr for this useful roundup from Scholars and Rogues

Fracking in the UK? Don't hold your breath

*having the nature of prostitution, dear readers. I believe that's what I saw and heard.

Official May Day

Wednesday 7th May, a cool grey evening after a chilly, blustery day, outbreaks of blue and sunshine, threatening clouds. Official May Day, Government Mayday, was the fifth this year. We sowed our sunflowers and went walking in King Death's Garden, it was very green and pretty in there, wild excesses of birdsong, evidence of a mass outbreak of primroses just past, floods of Spanish Bluebells (ie, the paler blue, crinkly, more robust model, not the native kind) on the turn, and the trees in beautiful young foliage, particularly the great Field Maple in the valley, extraordinary tall cloud of peachy gold feathery leaves. A short circuit, as we had our cat Ginger with us, and the long circuit would have taken hours. She only really likes jumping on gravestones, or better still leaping from the top of one gravestone to the next, to our gasps of admiration.

And, as we can tell by the dour weather, it's Festival time again in Brighton. So far I have entirely missed the Children's Parade, attended the Gala Concert at Roedean College (where a work by a composer friend of mine was premiered). We had Land of Hope and Glory AND Rule, Brittannia! which seemed a little excessive. The massed parents sang along with great gusto. I sort of envied them, that they still could, while fearing for their sanity; & omitted to support a Slam Poet at Varndean college. Then there's Tis Pity She's A Whore at the Theatre Royal on Saturday, "classic theatre with a startlingly modern outlook", it says here. Hm. Very true. Not sure that's anything to be proud of . . . Emmy Lou Harris, Much Ado About Nothing in St Nicholas Gardens (despite King Lear being so dreadful and so freezing cold last year), I'm a sucker for shakespeare al fresco; and finally Marianne Wright and Gabriel Jones at St Michael and All Angels on 31st.

Justice Is Fled To Heaven And Comes No Nearer

I duly rode the bus to Horsham last week for the WSCC planning committee meeting (very nice park in Horsham, where I got caught in a fine cloudburst), and the success of Cuadrilla's application to resume acid-fracture drilling at Balcombe was duly announced. Approval predetermined, and without much pretence of pretending otherwise. It was a sorry show, the petulant arrogance of the chairwoman (I'll accept chairperson, if you insist, but chairman, when the chair is blatantly female, is ideology gone mad, in my opinion); the insulting little amendments to HGV traffic flow (traffic flow is the only issue the committee are allowed to touch, that and the angle of certain floodlights when the site is in action 24 hours); the bitter and shocked cries of "Shame" and "Unbelievable" from the public . . . Some heartbroken, deeply disillusioned and angry people are rather gaining ground in West Sussex, everywhere but with the oblivious County Council and their Party, and have of course vowed to fight on. And they will. Non Violent Direct Action, Lawyers! Elections! Whatever else comes to hand. My next date is the 24th June, when (at a so far undisclosed venue) WSCC will be "debating" the application for exploratory drilling at Wisborough Green, fiercely and unanimously opposed by all the locals, opposition supported by a mass of conclusive evidence, but I don't expect anything different there. Or at Fernhurst.There is no "planning", there are no regulations, those days are gone. It's a knife fight.

When cardinals think murder’s not amiss:
Great men may do their wills, we must obey,
But Heaven will judge them for’t, another day.

. . . Maybe

Could it be time to lose the word fracking? I'm in two minds. Cuadrilla and Celtique Energie seem to feel there's a lot of mileage in repudiating this dirty word, "Cuadrilla vows never to frack" etc. Maybe the opposition should move on to Opposing Brutally Destructive, Planet-Destroying, Poisonous, Dangerous, Water Gobbling, Corruptly Financed, Extreme Energy Extraction. But it doesn't have the same ring.

Keynote picture is my garden in Maytime, very green, except there's more flowers than it looks like here. And the swifts are back in Sussex, first sighted on the 5th I think, so few so far, I've seen one pair and a singleton, tossing in the wind, over our valley; I have not heard them yet. Their numbers keep going down, of course, and they suffered dreadfully last year, but I'm hoping for at least two or three pairs more. And for fine weather.