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The Art of Protest

. . . deserves an entry of its own.

Thursday 25th September, another relentlessly sunny day. Sometimes artists scandalise their public without meaning to. You're just doing your best, trying to get to the heart of things, and suddenly the Salon critics, the very people whose approval is essential for your survival, are absolutely furious! Often, often, at least for the last hundred and fifty years, they've been doing it on purpose: pour ├ępater le bourgeois, a game that went off and began to stink a long time ago, to my mind. I am so tired of hearing that some Turner Prize nominee, artist, or work of art's whole fabulolus claim on my attention is that he, she or it is disturbing, challenging, and so on. To disturb, to challenge is the collateral damage of great art. If it's all you've got, dear, why don't you just put a slug in my sandwich? Sometimes angry, grotesque and rebarbative art is scandalised instead of scandalising; shocked instead of shocking. Picasso's Guernica: the artist's angry, immediate reaction to a Fascist bombing raid on a Basque town was instantly, and remains, a potent anti-war icon, and focus for art-activism.

And then there's Protest Art; something different again. Art being put to use by activists (who happen to be artists), as a means of changing the world. There's a lot of it about, more than you'd think. At the Climate March on Sunday, besides admiring the banners and placards, I talked to people who'd been witnesses at bp or not bp's Deepwater Horzion performance (first staged July 2010) in the Great Court at the British Museum. I looked at the photos, and wondered if bp or not bp were in danger of getting themselves shortlisted for the Turner Prize. Why not? A choice that could defintely enhance the Turner's reputation. I've seen plenty of protest material in art museums. And notoriously, candidates for the notorious prize are nominated by the jury members*. They can choose whoever they like, and protest has been judged to be Turner prizeworthy before now (Mark Wallinger, 2007)

As I was leaving Westminster, a kind woman carrying a box of fortune cookies, obviously seeing how tired and hungry I looked, stopped and gave me a cookie. I can't show you the cookie, because I ate it, but when I checked the small print, I realised I'd been Protest Art bombed by the Belarus Free Theatre.

And that's all about the Climate March. It was an enriching experience, as you can tell. Much to think about, much to follow up, lots of art to seek out. You missed this event? Well, that's a shame but you have nothing to worry about. The one day Climate Summit in NYC** achieved absolutely zilch (I'm sorry, did I say zilch? I meant, non-binding pledges, of course). There'll be plenty more marches.

*the public are supposed to be able to nominate, but I wouldn't take that seriously if I was you; the Director of the Tate is rumoured to have a casting vote: wouldn't know about that.

**Okay, the Chinese. I grant you the Chinese. I put my faith in them (in Bold As Love) not because I admire their methods, but because they have a history (so to speak) of taking the long view. It's what we need right now. Maybe they'll come through. Eventually.

Climate March

Monday 22nd September, yet another relentlessly sunny day. Remarkable turn out on the Climate March in London yesterday, estimated 40,000; (who's estimate, I don't know. If it was the police that means 80k in real numbers, good grief what must the streets of NYC (est 400,000) have been like? Maybe they do the estimating protesters thing differently over there. Much more about the event I can't really tell you: having obediently gathered in Victoria Embankment Gardens for the pre-show, said a prayer written by Desmond Tutu and tied a label on a tulip tree. We all then spent about an hour and a half kettled by Greenpeace and their polar bear, and the sheer unexpected weight of numbers. By the time my contingent reached Westminster, the rally done and gone, no Vivienne Westwood, no giraffes, no zebras, nothing. Ah, well. Splendid array of placards and banners, anyway. Confess a weakness for the avaaz one with David Cameron awful fetching in a sort of Game of Thrones* fur cloak and broadsword ensemble; also loved the brave philodendron accompanying the There Is No Planet B team, and the very cute baby from Lancashire, who was Fracktose Intolerant. Clean Energy for London now! Why the hell not? It was an outing. It was fun. Effective? Don't ask me. But if the battle to save the future is lost, rather than being another of those damned near run things we specialise in, it won't be because I was too selfish, cynical, or stupid to stand up and be counted.

Progress Report on The Grasshopper's Child POD

I finished the cover with Barry over the weekend, and now the grasshopper is green, an important point, for which thank you Gabriel (actually there are five of them all told, but you can only see one here). First proof copy has shipped. The only bad news is that this trade paperback type book will be as expensive for the buyer as mainstream tpbk, whereas I can make my ebooks very cheap. POD has no economy of scale. I wonder what it's going to look like in real life? They warn you it can take several tries to get it just right. I must say, this is far more fun than getting published old style. If you like playing games, that is.

*smart dress and repulsive ultra violence (white collar kind) a speciality!


Monday 15th September, a clearing overcast, and yet another day when it isn't going to rain around here. Went to see the last night of Ben Power's Medea at the Duke of York's yesterday (not live: 'encored' from the National Theatre). A great amenity, and you only have to sit through ten minutes of NT fundraising, which is your own fault for turning up early. NB it's a version, not all that close to Euripides!; but I'm fine with that sort of thing. Helen McCrory excellent in the name part, and Jason impressive as the imposing, successful man who's so good at compartmentalising, putting the brutal piracy and all that business in Colchis out of his mind; astonished that the foreign wife he needs to discard is cutting up rough. The type of man I would say, if I was a savage or an Ancient Greek, which I am not, who positively calls down on himself (and others) the unstoppable, black, implacable force of a Medea. Great music too. Not so totally keen on the obligatory 'modern psychoanalytical terms' rationalisation provided in the intro.

A bit of a surprise to walk out of that into the Sunday afternoon sunshine.


And so we're here at last, the Referendum. Let me make this clear: I hope the answer is NO & I still think it probably will be NO; as in the end the voters will do a 'Neil Kinnock', or a 'Bush Second term' on us. On the other hand, why shouldn't Scotland say YES? England is a rotten borough, and I'm not all that convinced by the 'hard economic arguments'. The welfare state is punishingly expensive? So is having an unhealthy number of disgustingly rich people on board, and a 'government' indifferent to anything but their own personal financial advantage. Free University tuition is expensive? Student loans have proved a ridiculous waste of money. I could go on, but I digress. I DO NOT think the Dissolution of the United Kingdom is a good idea. I didn't think it was a good idea back in 1999, when I wrote Bold As Love: I just saw that it was, eventually a likely future outcome. Little did I know how near future it might be; and how bizzare, (you couldn't make it up!), to think that if what I don't want to happen, happens, this week 2015 really might be the Year Of Dissolution. My best wishes, neighbours, and forgive my English cheek (esp in Band of Gypsys). Do what you think best, as your conscience dictates, and good luck for whatever future you choose.


Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Excellent. I was completely wrapped up in this book, and devoured it in a sitting. Only thing, I thought the storytelling ended too soon. I wanted the reunion, when the sisters meet again, for the first time, to be part of the story. Just that moment, no need to go further, let the rest be (as it is) righteous and necessary footnotes. (And see, no spoilers! You'd better not follow the link, though).

and looking forward to Haruki Murakami Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, but I can't read it until after Gabriel has read it, I can only admire the very beautiful cover.


Two Days, One Night
Another movie from the Dardennes brothers, author of 'Kid With A Bike', which I also loved, but I liked this one more. So good at passionate drama about ordinary things happening to ordinary people. What I liked best about this movie was the way I spent most of it thinking, oh no, this isn't going to work. It's no use, Sandra isn't coping. If she wins this cruel little game and gets her job back, she won't get her life back, which is what she's really lost. It'll be awful, terrible, she won't last a day . . . But the Dardennes were ahead of me. I can't tell you how or why (even though, after visiting with the Ancient Greeks, i'm cfeeling more annoyed than usual with that 'spoiler' concept). But it totally does work.

And the new Scott and Bailey, which has returned with the female trio, via a bit of handwaving, safely unchanged. Still entertaining, but dear me, what a lot of goody goodies they are at GMP these days, it's like a girls' boarding school. And completely blase about their disintegrating role in society. Like, it's perfectly natural and right that just encountering the police, just in passing, (never mind, god forbid, while exercising your legal right to peaceful protest) instantly strips you of all your purely conditional civil rights.

Speaking of which . . .

The Climate Change March in London next Sunday. Tired of hearing about tipping points? Spotted that Climate Change is the greatest threat around to human rights, including yours? Horrified by the price paid by the most vulnerable, while the rich and heedless carry on regardless? Or just frightened of that fragmented World War Three thing? I know I won't be alone, but hope that this time there will be a lot of people. Come and join me.

Something Special About This Place . . .

Sunday 14th September, yet another sunny day emerging from another misty morning, and the garden having a late warm flourish (or maybe the first of the late flourishes, who knows with the weather these days). Bounteous garden foraging this year, plums in jars, a kilo of plums soaking in whisky, stewed plums with everything, and with the dregs Peter made several pots of slightly sticky jam. Masses of pears, still on the tree, and masses of August tomatoes, regrettably enjoyed mostly by the slugs. Another refulgent Super Full Moon last week, rather denting the excitement, but a few nights after TTIP, in a clear sky in the early hours, I saw Orion sneaking into the landing window. The last of summer can't last forever now.

Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

Well, it was indeed a hard sell on the London Road. Just try saying all that, before your target has vanished beyond the 99p store. But I think I've got a handle on the problem now (NB there's another of these agreements sneaking around in secret, called CETA, with the same toxic issues), and the problem is something called the Investor/State Dispute Settlement clause. Devised to protect companies whose assets have been appropriated or destroyed by some rogue state's latest revolutionary government, the ISDS clause allows an injured company to bypass the laws of the State where the injury has occurred, and take their case to a 'neutral' arbitration panel. The panel is neutral in the sense that when assessing liability, it has no interest in right,wrong, legality or the public good: the only question this panel asks is whether the Investor has suffered financially through the actions of the State.

Oh my! cry all the financial and business pages! Why is anybody making a fuss??? How harmless can you get! What could possibly go wrong? What sillies the general public are!

If the EU decides that the evidence is overwhelming (which is d**n well is), and ban the pesticides that are destroying the pollinators, the birds, and (I bet!) the insectivorous wildlife of all kinds, the SIDS clause enshrines the right of Syngenta and Bayer to sue the respective governments for reducing their profits.

If a Labour government decides to roll back the privatisation of the NHS, and tighten up drug procurement, the pharmaceutical giants have and extra-legal right sue the UK government for reducing their profits.

This would never happen? What, you mean the lawyers won't leap on this feast with cries of joy, billions of dollars sparkling in their eyes? You mean the corporations won't just have to mention SIDS, to have a government cave in at once? It's happening already. Read all about it here.

The next EU day of action is on 11th October.

The irony is an actual rogue state would be totally unimpressed.

My Fracking News

. . . The Fernhurst decision: is not exactly making the front pages. I got my ticket for the Planning Meeting, and went to Midhurst last Thursday (took a photo of H.G.Well's blue plaque, as Midhurst Grammar is right next door). The planning officer had advised that Celtique Energie's application, to do a little bit of exploratory drilling in the South Downs National Park, should be refused. A succession of eloquent locals spoke in favour of the refusal. Celtique Energie's spokeswoman made a statement, (featuring the rather cheeky suggestion that since 83% of visitors are car users, the SDNP should be all in favour of having the park fracked-out), A Celtique Eenergie consultant also spoke in support. The committee 'debated' their decision: or rather, a succession of committee members spoke passionately about their love for this tranquil, untouched, beautiful and secret place, hidden in the depths of the Milland Basin. The decision to refuse was unanimous.

Mr Geoff Davies is struck all of a heap! He can't understand why he's been turned down, what's going on with all this emotional, subjective rubbish about beauty and tranquillity, precious treasures of landscape character and food for the soul? I wonder about Mr Davies. Is he quite on the ball? Who did he think was running the South Downs National Park? He gets passionate and emotional enough about money-making. You'd think he'd understand. Read his response here.

How did I get to the meeting? Public transport, of course. How could I do anything else (hm, learn to ride a bike properly, I suppose). Obviously, If the SDNP is serious (and I think they are) about reducing car use, they need a lot more buses, a least in summer and at weekends. But I did wonder, as I crossed the road to my bus stop, how many of the other passionate opposers of the fracking industry, who had packed the hall, had made the connection, and left their cars at home?

The Fernhurst decision is a huge precedent. The first National Park application, and the people said no. The people said, if we're going to frack at all, obviously we Frack the National Parks Last. Not first. No wonder this story didn't last long on the BBC. And that makes two. But the fracking industry will be back.

And Finally . . .

The Grasshopper's Child: Just a brief note to say the eversion of my new book is now available. Print copies to follow soon, more on this later & if anybody would like a pdf for review purposes, just let me know.