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A Day In Birds

Went out on a limb this week, and bought the mini-mealworms from Livefoods (your budget one stop for all live-feed for reptiles, bait and garden birds). They're more expensive by weight, I suppose because they're more delicate to handle?, but I'm sure they're what the bluetits in Kitty-next-door's nesting box need for their fledgings (box given to Kitty as a present when she was about five, her mums put it up on the wall just for the hell of it, and now, Kitty practically in college, suddenly it's in use). So, mini worms on the menu: if the starlings don't get them first, but I can't police that. Starlings are making a bit of a come back in Brighton, and they're all over our bird feeders. They're very social minded. The first to discover food sits and yells a special churling shriek about it to its mates, and waits like a good kid until everybody else turns up. Well, for several minutes anyway.

Such loud peeping from that nesting box this afternoon, the chicks have to be fledging soon. I wonder if we'll be on hand to see. And I hope the jackdaws won't be . . .

Three dapper little cock sparrows in St George's Mews, as I was meandering reluctantly to the gym. Just passing time together, up and down from the top of the wall to the pavement. I love sparrows, I have never stopped missing them since they disappeared from UK cities; from our pavements and our puddles, about 2001. Is their urban population bouncing back? I'd be very happy to see that.


The Chemistry of Tears, Peter Carey.

About a conservator at the V&A (by another name) whose lover dies suddenly and she has to mourn him alone, as she is only his mistress of 13 years. Lots of terrific reviews, mainly loving her torrential tears and orgy of grief. Actually I thought the grief bit was rather shallow, all she does is drink herself silly, and recall baby-names and tender sexual moments; very mistressy, of course. Plus, unlike many she is NOT alone, she has an absolute doormat of a boss who kind of abandons his own life to wait on her hand and foot & then when we eventually hear a word about the man's wife she's dismissed, in classic shallow mistress style, in half a sentence as a bad lot. Lazy, I thought. The real story (my rating of real, that is, not the rating of the novel's target audience) is about Victorian automata and fantastic computing-machines. I thought it was going to be about Charles Babbage (under another name) and the Difference Engine (under another name). But it isn't! The counterpart of the historical strand is set in Germany, the Black Forest, 1854 and It's about the childhood of Karl Benz (own name) as in Mercedes-Benz! Which I thought was pretty clever, and the weird German mystic thing about giving machines souls by sticking mystic objects inside them fine & intriguing. Unfortunately the "present" strand is set in April 2010, and in the end goes off on one about the Deepwater Horizon accident & it turns out that the Industrial Revolution spawned actual supernatural demons in the form of petrol-eating machines, wicked demons that are now destroying us, and we are helpless . . . Huh, what a despicable dodge. The internal combustion engine did it! I suppose that's why toffs admire this sort of thing. All told, the chemistry of tears (which only appears once, briefly) salted with emotion did not succeed in obscuring the fact that this little book has nothing coherent to say. But interesting, all the same. I may take up reading Booker Prize type fiction, as my next hobby after Chiclit bestsellers.

I'm also reading Proust, for the 6th time, and have got nearly to the end of La Prisonnière : the episode where "Albertine" is secretly living in Marcel's family apartment, his parents being elsewhere. I used to find this obsessive set-piece boring, improbable and far, far too long, but it grows on you after a few iterations. I read this passage, late last night:

"Meanwhile winter was at an end; the fine weather returned, and often when Albertine had just bidden me good-night, my curtains and the wall above being still quite dark, in the nun's garden next door I could hear, rich and mellow in the silence like a harmonium in church, the modulation of an unknown bird which in the Lydian mode was already chanting matins, and into the midst of my darkness flung the rich dazzling note of the sun that it could see . . ."

This suddenly thrilled me with delight, because I knew what bird that was. I recognise the song from Proust's description. I hear the same "Lydian" music every morning, from across the street, very early, while it's still dark. It was a blackbird.

bird images from the RSPB


Did I say I live in the middle of a raucous urban herring gull colony? Maybe not. It's nesting season and the gang is not here. They're loud and far from clean bandits, but admirable in many ways and really rather amazing. I miss them. I wake early and listen to the quiet. I look out of my window, and see just one or two lonely sentinels on the rooftops. We've been told for years that herring gull population is in steep decline, and seen the opposite: but you never expect the inevitable to hit you until it does. Maybe it's natural variation. Maybe they'll be be back next year, loud as ever, but that isn't the way it goes, these days. Every population of living things dwindles, except mass market corporate-enslaved humanity in all its guises. Every variety of life on earth fades away, and doesn't come back (except mass market corporate-enslaved humans**). The RSPB and Sussex Wildlif Trust keep asking me to "Celebrate Nature", and I try, but so often, all I seem to have to report is loss. Oh well. Maybe if the gulls have gone, starlings will nest in our empty swifts' nesting box.


Last year I refused to go and see that epic, profoundly humanist, Oscar nomination-laden study of modern life Boyhood; to my son's consternation. My dog in the manger reason? I was pretty damn sure a movie called Girlhood would never be described in those terms, whatever its content; or get anything like the same attention. (Also I was soured by the fact that I'd tried in vain to get the Duke's to screen Girl Rising, a documentary about global girlhood, endorsed by a slew of Hollywood stars giving their services for free. Nothing doing. Not of general interest).

Huh. Always the Jumble Sale funding for girls. The universal importance and the Oscar nominations for boys . . . I'm not proud of this attitude, by the way. Just can't help it, sometimes.

Anyway, I went to see Celine Sciamma's Bande des Filles as soon as I got the chance, and despite the fact that it seemed to be mainly notable (in the media) for a heartwarming scene where beautiful teen bad girls bond with each other by dressing up in shoplifted pretty clothes, and karaokeing around to Rhianna's Diamonds, which did not sound very revolutionary. (Such a shame about Rhianna, I remember her when she was just a kid, and I used to watch her on the music-tv screens at my gym. She had such music in her, still does, why did she have to get addicted to being smacked around? Worse than heroin, in my opinion. And, crucially, far more infectious. I just hope one day she really gets sober. And tells the world). But I take it back, the Diamonds scene was justified, and the movie is something out of the ordinary. To start with, & refreshingly, this isn't all about how different girls are from boys. It's about how boys and girls on a sink estate outside Paris (the notorious banlieuses) are exactly the same. Same rituals, same fierce codes of behaviour; same worship of physical prowess; same fragile egotism. Same longing for greatness, same passion for personal adornment. Except the boys are bigger, the boys are stronger, and the parental culture, such as it is, gives them authority. So the girls, like small predators meeting big predators, always have to give way. The opening night scene, tracking a laughing, yelling, intimidating band of girls into their home environment, of shadowy walkways and bleak tower blocks, until they suddenly fall silent, and for a moment you don't know why, then you see it: they've hit the boys' territory; this sets the tone. And tells the whole story. Girls, however tough and however cool, are subalterns* for life. This is the fate they must accept.

At first it's hard to tell what's going on with Marieme, our protagonist. At her abortive careers interview she doesn't deign to explain to the unseen careers teacher, why she hasn't got the results she needs. She wants to go to high school, she doesn't want to learn a trade, and that's all she has to say. Presumably she wants to go to high school because it's the way out. Presumably she can't get there because she's had to care for her little sisters; because her older brother is idle and abusive (there's no father around); because her mum can't see anything beyond her own life of menial drudgery. But Marieme doesn't plead her own cause & neither does the movie. You have to make out these underlying factors for yourself. It looks sudden, it looks arbitrary when Lady, Adiatou and Fily recruit her to replace the missing fourth of their bande des filles. What do the established bad girls on the block see in this tall, taciturn, sober-looking teen? In retrospect, I think they've had their eye on Marieme.They know who she is: but I didn't. I only saw her timidly allowing herself to be drawn into "trouble". Cautiously opening up, beginning to smile: embracing this other possibility, this chance to shine. The shoplifting, the Diamonds session; the girl-gang intrigues that will lead to a famous cat-fight victory . . . all seem, almost, like a struggling good girl's "fall". I didn't understand Marieme until (in the locker room of the hotel where her mother drudges as a cleaner), she gets told that, as a big favour, she can have the same job for the summer. I expected her to buckle down, to accept she has to pick up some of the eternal female breadwinning burden. Either buckle down or run away crying: throw a tantrum at home, and get her mum to let her off. What I did not expect, and neither did the supervisor, was the moment when Marieme's handshake (apparently accepting the job offer) suddenly becomes a menacing grip. I did not expect Marieme, all coiled and understated violence, softly making her wishes known. tomorrow, you tell my mum there isn't a job after all. . Wow.

This was the thrilling moment, for me: almost eclipsing the other thrilling moment when (fired up by that famous cat-fight victory) she invades her boyfriend's bedroom, and unilaterally decides they are going to have unmarried sex. Oh, this is bad! Her scary brother will be humiliated! Shame and sorrow on the family! There's no way back from this step, but once again, Marieme has silently, adamantly, made up her mind. If the bac and Normale Superieure route out of misery is forever beyond her reach, then she will pursue a criminal career. It's the best shot she has. She'll leave home, and won't have to care what the neighbours think. She's not going to be a whore. She has no intention of dishonouring herself: she'll be the dealer not the goods, and rise through the ranks in the employ of the local drug baron, whose patronage she trusts . . . & so Marieme emerges as this very French antihero, the righteous criminal, bound for glory and popular admiration. Except this time she's female, and try as she may to disguise her lovely figure, she's not going to get away with being a girl who wants to be treated as a juvenile female man. Not for very long.

As far as I can make out Girlhood is nothing like Boyhood 2014. On the other hand it's quite a lot like Francois Truffaut's 1959 Nouvelle Vague boyhood movie, Les Quatre Cents Coups (Roughly translated: "Raising Hell"). Marieme's case is far more nuanced (how much do her choices owe to her scary brother?is one question I asked myself). But like Antoine Doinel, the hapless little rebel without a cause in the Truffaut movie**, she is far more naive than she thinks she is. She's not and never was a genuine hardnut sociopath; just a thwarted, ambitious kid, and the further she ventures into her break-out, the further she spirals into the freedom of criminality, the more resistance she will find to that decision not to be the subaltern. But go and see the movie. I thought it was terrific, and the off-the-street cast uniformly amazing.

Also, if you don't know it already, get hold of Les Quatre Cents Coups.

But all this still leaves "Girlhood" an outsider movie. Minority interest. Huh.

* subaltern: a subordinate; in critical theory a population outside the power structures of a society. See

** Les Quatre Cent Coups has sequels, all about the same character btw. The first is the best though, in my opinion.

**strikethrough, and "corporate" substitute added todayon learning of Monsanto/Sygenta's imminent monopoly on the world's seeds

Small Mercies

I was wondering if the swifts were coming at all, then Sunday afternoon, we were out in the garden and I heard them shrilling, unmistakeable sound, looked up and there they were, ten, twelve of them (which is a crown these days) darting around high up in the blue. Just passing, they don't live on the Roundhill anymore I am sorry to say, but always a welcome sight.

Saw a pair of them this morning too.

A Brokedown Fridge Has Its Upside

Haha! I have solved my fridge-magnet spider puzzle again! After I don't know how long of looking at it and wishing I had a moment . . . And this time I have taken its photo, so Peter and Gabriel can't mess it up and annoy me as soon as my back is turned. I feel like a new woman!

VE Day Celebrations

Congratulations to Caroline Lucas (returned with a significantly increased majority), Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion once again & to everyone who worked so hard to make this happen. As for the rest of this doomed and benighted land, thank God that rubbish coalition thing is over at least. It was just adding insult to injury.

I didn't stay up late, gave up about 2am, when the situation was already clear enough. The best bit was when Neil Kinnock came on, briefly, and started telling the truth. A hard won privilege in any politician's career. & now off we go again for another whole five years (whose brilliant idea was that?): over the top, further and further into the dark nightmare world of the Post-United Kingdom's Zombie Apocalypse. It's almost exhilerating.

Changing the subject completely:

I found a nice review of Grasshopper's Child* yesterday, in the intervals between stuffing leaflets through letterboxes, and staring gloomily into space. Here it is:

The Grasshopper’s Child by Gwyneth Jones. A short review.
Posted on April 24, 2015 by Rel

"This book arrived in the post mid morning, and I’d finished it by bedtime. Every minute away from it was a minute I wanted to be back in Heidi Ryan’s difficult, terrifying world. Gwyneth Jones has given us another heroic protagonist in Heidi, but so many of the young teenage girls and boys in this book show strength and resolution in the face of the power of Empire and the equally inescapable threat of local corruption.
Set in the near future world of the Bold as Love series, ‘The Grasshopper’s Child’ continues the story of an England managed by a foreign power, where austerity, officially sanctioned tech, and the nationalisation of the means of production are an accepted part of life for many, but where the evidence of deeply hidden crimes bubbles to the surface of life in a seemingly idyllic Sussex village.
Recommended for adults and young adults alike."

& also discovered Bold As Love coming in at 33rd place in someone's list of "the 50 coolest books by women". It turns out I've read quite a few of them. I'm going to keep this link, and see about following up the rest.

It starts with The End Of Mr Y, Scarlett Thomas at number one, which is promising.

A Game Of Margins

I can't believe how much this General Election has got to me. I think party politics are ruinous, and yet I joined a political party for the first time in my life. All the real issues have been banished, there's absolutely nothing going on. I am not a party faithful animal: activism isn't fun, it's a reluctant obligation, and yet I have hosted activists from Newcastle; I have been out canvassing; I'm the worst cold caller in the world, but I can tell you exactly why the majority of respondents on my beat who didn't intend to vote for Caroline Lucas, and were willing to explain why not, had come to their decision. It was traffic calming. 100%, a clean sweep of them. I even met a bus driver who hated buslanes and wanted them all killed*. And today I spent two hours pounding the streets again, doggedly pushing Eve Of Poll cards through long-suffering letterboxes. All this, and for why? Huh. Even if as a I fairly confidently hope my excellent horse, best MP in the House, is first past the post in Brighton Pavilion, what's the best I can hope for? Not much. A second term of this kind of government. You realise what that means? More of the same villainy, powered by narrow selfishness and a complete disregard for the common good, only this time the people know what to expect, and they voted for the same shower anyway. Beggars belief but it's a sure thing. I saw the odds in the window of Betfred on the Lewes Road. Still, I can't help myself. It's a game of numbers, one vote at a time, and I'm too stubborn not to try and win a game of margins.


Speaking of magical thinking, many thanks to Dominik Becher, who gave me a chance to read his as yet unpublished dissertation (Enchanted Children); because he was using Ann Halam's Inland Trilogy for his Exemplary Analysis. Enchanted Children is rich and fascinating, and right up my street: took me back to my History Of Ideas courses at Sussex Uni, in the long ago (Alchemy, Witchcraft; the birth of the Modern Sciences in C17 Europe). But how touching and strange to meet Zanne of Inland again! Like looking in a mirror, as I told Dominik, and seeing a much younger face.

I remember well how I came to write those books: a chat over lunch with Judith Elliott, my editor at Orchard books. I'd had one very respectable success with her (King Death's Garden). Fantasy and feminism both seemed to be trending. Was the time right for a series about a powerful girl magician? I'm not Joss Wheedon (much less J.K. Rowling), so the world had to wait a few more years for that massively popular kick-ass magic heroine. I did something very different (Judith, my apologies). I was a "Seventies feminist": and in those days feminism was all about building the Good State. Can't put all the blame on Joanna Russ though, the connection between Feminism and Utopia is much older. Why was it ever there? Well, that's another story. So, anyway, when I was given licence to write about a powerful girl, in a world where girls could be powerful, obviously I invented a post-apocalyptic, survival-subsistence situation; where ideas and the material world are one and the same thing, and wrote about the consequences. Inland magic is all about building the Good State. Literally. Soil, crops, sky, everything. The future we make for ourselves is made of thought was my message, and I stuck to it.

The books snagged a few positive reviews, but they are didactic, there's no getting around it. I'll never be able to re-edit and put them on the market again. I would change them too much. But you can get hold of them quite easily, if you're keen.

What is magic? The word means power, but that's not the whole story. I've given this some thought, over the years (it's amazing how often, and how consistently, the topic comes up. Inland. The Aleutian Trilogy. Bold As Love). My science is always magic & what I talk about when I talk about magic is always the mind/matter barrier: a strange feature of the human/physical universe that ought to puzzle people a lot more than it does, in my humble opinion. Magic is the belief that:

a) this barrier can be broken, violently, with the aid of ritual, words of lore and possibly huge underground (or space based) tunnel structures; by a powerful human will (or a number of human wills acting in concert).

b) the barrier is weakly permeable all the time; and sometimes dangerously permeable. Trees and rocks can have consciousness, ill-wishing can do people material harm . . . Old school anthropologists used to call this hypothesis "magical thinking": some of them had respect, while others made out it was pitiful and primitive. Nowadays, of course, we know it's the simple truth. The material and the immaterial "worlds" (electrons are not things!) are a continuum, although we haven't even begun to scratch the implications.

(So don't fret, Mr Stoppard. Nobody is ever going to take your ghost away from you, and leave you with just a squishy grey machine. There is no machine, it's ghost all the way down.)

c) both of the above, with permutations.

Enough for now.


Elementary! Revisiting the first series, which we didn't take much notice of at the time, I'm delighted with this show. Liking it so much better than the UK Sherlock, which is watchable but rather hateful: Sherlock Holmes as an infantile, helpless, self-satisfied fop is such a travesty of the original character, and such a depressing insight into the image of "brainy" characters in the mind of the media-consumer. Also, I soon got tired of that no, no, splutter, splutter we're not a gay couple joke.

Have just found out that Kevin Spacey's House Of Cards is going to a fourth series. Sickening. Here was I all keyed up for the suicides, ghosts, bodies all over the stage, and then the show morphs into a sort of rudderless, spun-out anti-West Wing. I'll watch it, of course. All the way to the smug grin borrowed from Ian Richardson, if that is my fate.


The Girl In The Red Coat Kate Hamer

A single mother loses her little girl at a story-telling festival, the little girl stays vanished. Gradually and fuzzily over many years of double narrative we learn that maybe there was some kind of spooky family history behind the disappearence.

Didn't work for me. Just doesn't hang together, and seemed amateurish.

The Girl On the Train Paula Hawkins

USP = descriptions of a very sad young woman (in every sense) getting stinking vomiting drunk on a commuter train journey; over and over again. A page-turner but vapid and unpleasant. Definitely won't be going near the movie.

& that's how my luck ran out, and the end of my bestsellers foray for now.

The Walking Whales J.G.M "Hans" Thewissen.

What a relief to be back in the real world! Brilliant book. The topic sounds very specific and it's true, this really is about a "walking whale" = the revelations derived from a specific fossil find. But the author's skill as an educator and an interpreter makes the experience much more than that.

Looking forward to reading An Indomitable Beast, Alan Rabinowitz next

& so farewell, government of 2010-2015. I'm sure we'll meet again soon. If I wake up on Friday morning and you are not around, I'll be very much surprised.

Live Biological Material

Tuesday May 5th. Sun and breeze; chill outdoors, my cat Ginger toasty warm in Peter's chair by the window, two frogs and a newt strolling in the fish pool; the wild garlic (from Fife) and the Spanish bluebells in full flower in my tiny "woodland glade". Ha! Live Biological Material #2 outside the basement door. This can only mean that Spring is truly here. I accidentally bought the beefy, regular size mealworms first time round, & hence have been running a soup kitchen for magpies, wood pigeons, collared doves and starlings for the past three weeks; not quite my intention. Now we'll have the proper small regulars, for our prefered customers, and I just hope a bad precedent hasn't been set*.

The Bees

Marginally good news from Lowe, an object lesson for cold callers from me: Many thanks to Matt Harbowy for getting in touch after @AnnHalam tweeted about bee-killing pesticides. You wanted to assure me that pesticides aren't responsible for colony-collapse, and sent me a cool, scientific link where I could check this out. But I didn't, Matt. I don't know you, you don't know me, so I guessed immediately it was nothing personal, and checked out Matt Harbowy instead. In no time at all I knew that you work for Genentech, a subsidiary of Roche Bayer. That's Bayer, the pesticide producer: the people actively and inventively engaged in trashing the move to ban bee-harming pesticides . . . & that was the end of our beautiful friendship. So, sorry, Matt, if you're reading this. Your motives may have been pure as the driven snow, but it's just too bad.

Good clicktivists don't shoot, but always interrogate the messenger.

My Fracking Round Up

Are there votes in it? No surprise that the decision on Cuadrilla's application to frack in Fylde has been delayed to 30th June, but nb: the Conservatives may have lost a few votes if the application had gone through on 30th April, but a Labour coalition of some kind after May 7th may well mean fracking STILL goes ahead in the UK, though it makes no sense at all. The Lib Dems also insist on supporting fracking as a component in their vibrant energy strategy. I know this because my local Lib Dem candidate Chris Bowers answered my query: explaining that although he utterly abhors the idea (means he doesn't like it, Newspeak speakers), and would never support fracking in a personal capacity, unfortunately, as an MP he'd have to be in favour because that's his party's stance. Bless. Ah well, good for Chris for fessing up. I suppose. The other candidates (apart from Caroline Lucas) didn't respond, and perhaps took the more rational route.

Interrogate the links below to keep in touch with developments on the UK's fracking frontlines:

This one for the marginally good news:

& this one for the ingenuous source of that Don't Forget To Frack the National Parks report last week. I think Liam Herringshaw may be a man with more of a mortgage than a mission, but he's certainly keen!

Oh No! Futureshock!

My antique vacuum tube monitor finally died. An ominous smell of fried wiring alerted me to this tragedy when I switched on one morning last week. So now I have a normal slimline model on one leg, and a very angry cat, who persisted for two days in trying every way she could think of to make her old cosy warm perch reappear, including biting me, and repeatedly leaping up the screen from different angles (I can see her reasoning, like a fantasy game: I know the right flick of the wrist will make it appear!).

& Google disposes. This blog is mobile friendly, as I might have guessed, having noticed it had mysteriously become my "official site" a while ago. (Awesome! says Google). Boldaslove** and GwynethJones, are not. A complete refit has been in order for years, since the frames and the flash had to go, in pursuit of which I've been updating the content of gwynethjones. Now we realise might as well go mobile, while we're at it & that's another layer of pointless beauty. Will thie project actually happen? Maybe. In time.

Meanwhile, here's the updated Hoglog.

& it's Festival season again. So far I've seen the Morris Men dance in the May, outside the library on Friday a great performance by Yoon-Seuk Shin at the Unitarian; and been to Glyndebourne for Stephen Hough's Chopin and Debussy recital. Possibly all four Chopin Ballades was a Ballade or two too far, but Stephen Hough is one of the great virtuoso pianists of our time. I heard him four years ago at the BF 2011, playing Scriabin and Janacek,and was determined not to miss another chance. These Glyndebourne Festival Sundays, are an institution, invariably cold and grim, but usually worth it as long as you aren't fool enough to bring a picnic. This year was a privilege. And to Patching Woods & Angmering for the Bluebells: unmissable. I think I've never seen them so vivid, or the young beech leaves such a tender green as under the luminous grey skies of yesterday afternoon. Nor felt so intensely the fleetingness of these things (the beeches are a commercial crop, although a slow one, and of course they will be felled). Just be there when I come back next year; one more time. Please.

*sadly that’s not the peacock butterfly I saved from Milo, it died in hibernation.It’s another peacock butterfly
**The Bold As Love site, your chapter by chapter guide to the Bold As Love series is in remarkably good shape, for its age but “updating the content” could only mean checking all the 1999-2005 external links, , and repairing/replacing them. I’ve decided to tackle this job responsively. So please do complain & I’ll fix whatever you report.