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Onward to even stormier seas

The end of an era: I finally finished Okami (the original, not the upcoming HD version) last Wednesday night, after more than two years of playing (off & on), and I'd I wouldn't like to say how many, many absorbing hours. Goodbye, Amaterasu, wolf-mother to us all. I hope one day we will meet again. I believe there's never been another game so beautiful, or (at times) so frustrating.

Hunger for Freedom

545 people joined the fasting for freedom Women's Day action last week. I have to admit I didn't feel a thing, since we were only fasting from food; 24 hours without water would have been tough. It was a gesture, a statement and a commitment. Meanwhile the women on hunger strike at Yarl's Wood, where they are confined indefinitely, under prison conditions, without trial or charge, began fasting on 21st February, and they're still going. Did you know that most of the detainees rounded up and dumped in Home Office concentration camps are eventually released back into the community? (In other words, there were no grounds for deportation). Did you know that if HMG does eventually stick you on a plane, it's without notice, and always at the weekend, so you can't get hold of a lawyer? And by the way, whoever may be reading this, if ever you are tempted to decide that Theresa May is okay really, doing her best, just a little clueless: forget Brexit. Remember that this whole "hostile environment" system: the crazy rounding up of people who have lived and worked in the UK for decades, the inhuman treatment of torture survivors, was her own special bright idea.

If you're going to check just one of the links below, make it the first.

Compulsory Reading

For the record, I thought The Shape Of Water was soft-centred & not a patch on eg Del Toro's The Devil's Backbone; and that Three Billboards was brilliant, tragic, but too uncompromising and ironic for the US audience. But don't ask me about vital #MeToo gown decisions, & all that. I wasn't paying attention. In any spare time I've found, I've been busy catching up with the serious books I got for Christmas, and for my birthday. Though it may have seemed to me that these gifts were selected on the Velveteen Rabbit principle (see note 1, below . . . ) I have been seriously getting through them, one by one.


A vintage (2002) Pulitzer prize winner about gender diversity. The grandchild of an incestuous immigrant couple from Asia Minor, Calliope --in fact a normal XY male, just terminally under-dosed with testosterone in early development-- is brought up as a girl, in a close-knit Greek immigrant community in suburban Detroit. Eventually her parents take her to a trendy sex-doctor, because she has no breasts and no periods (but a rather conspicuous external clitoris). The doctor decides that as she's been brought up female, she'll be happier staying that way. But Cal/Calliope, by this stage awoken to his essential (and let's face it, far preferable) inner masculinity, disagrees and runs away. He takes refuge with some cool, weird intersexuals at a peepshow, and finally "comes out" as a slim, slightly-built, American Psycho style dandy, with a penchant for tiny little cigars. It may have passed in 2002, but this story has nothing to do with gender diversity. Nor intersexuality, really. It's entirely about a world Eugenides clearly adores: the relentlessly greedy, conservative and traditional, masculinity-ordered, consumerism obsessed US of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies. I think I'll give the more famous The Virgin Suicides a miss. I know I will never be able to share this author's point of view.

Palace Walk

Even more vintage, the first episode of a family trilogy about Egypt, set in British-ruled Cairo, by Naguib Mafouz, a Nobel Prize for Literature winner, 1956. Like a big fat novel by Dickens, Trollope, or George Meredith, but less coy than any of those socially acceptable C19 chroniclers (Mafouz claims Flaubert as an influence) this is Victorian patriarchy with the wraps off. The vices of the central paterfamilias are right out in the open, graphic, utterly shameless and invincibly protected by his ordinary and monumental hypocrisy. His wife, devout, intelligent and gentle (and clearly Mafouz's favourite character) hasn't left the house since she married him at fourteen, and adores him in all humility. His daughters are obsessed with their marriage prospects (falling in love with a boy only glimpsed through the lattice of your balcony is no fairytale absurdity in this society: just very dangerous); his youngest son is obsessed with the British soldiers. By the end of this episode, even the father understands that the world is about to change beyond imagining . . . The story starts in 1917, and concludes (apparently) with the revolution of 1952. Full of self-knowledge and humanity, which is just what Eugenides lacks. I was fascinated, and yet I don't think I'll read any more of the story.

Enlightenment Now

Steven Pinker, 2018. A big fat book by an erstwhile cognitive psychologist and popular science writer, designed to bring comfort to the one class of people in global society who you'd think have no need for more of that commodity. For the record, it's certainly true that by many measures life on earth, right now, is a lot better than it was, for millions and millions of human beings, and the fact that we can know so much, with so little effort, about the famines, the war zones and the disasters, means the bad drowns out the good. That said "Enlightenment Now" is the work of a rather shallow and dishonest thinker, who seems to believe that climate change is a trivial problem, and "the environment" is simply a five star park he can visit (by jet plane, first class), and enjoy, from time to time. (Of course he's not alone in this one). Plus "science" is a fixed body of knowledge, established er, around the same time as that famous "Invisible Hand", that can be added to, but can't change. Gun regulation doesn't work, and has been proven to have no better results than the officious controls the anti-gun lobby tries to impose; the religion called "humanism" (a secular form of Christianity, invented in the C19- C20, by people uneasy with the envelope of miracle, but devoted to the rest of the creed) is, alone of all the sects, immune to misuse. To sum up, and most reassuringly, simply feeding the staggering appetite of the one per cent is bound to save the world. I feel impelled to add that I got sick of being continually addressed as a special interest group called "women and minorities", so I may have missed the good bits.

Black Lamb, Grey Falcon

Rebecca West,1941. This should really be called compulsive reading, not compulsory. I only meant to read the Prologue, to find out what she meant by her pronouncement on man's besetting sin of lunacy vs woman's besetting sin of idiocy. But I couldn't stop. The Black Lamb is Death, the Grey Falcon is Resurrection. Rebecca West (Cecily Fairfield)'s magnum opus is both one of the greatest travel books ever written (I love travel books), and a monumental history of the lands, fatally trapped between world-dominating civilisations, that later became our Yugoslavia, the beautiful and doomed. The history is absorbing, "Ruritanian"; often unlikely beyond belief, and absolutely fascinating, if you're taken that way. The beauty of cities like Sarajevo; the fabulous religious art in remote monasteries, deep in the flowery mountains is . . . mainly not there anymore, I'm afraid. Not a good place, in any of its manifestations, Jewish, Christian or Muslim, to be born a woman. But West (she took her pen name from an Ibsen play, a character of indomitable will) is ambiguous about that issue. She hates cruelty, but she worships strength and seems to regard being born female as the entry level of a strenuous and demanding competitive sport. At which she excels, naturally. All through the story, her admiration and respect are reserved for those women, either in the harem, or as tortured peasant wives, who do not rebel, but are hard enough to take whatever "being female" deals out.

Definitely not a cheesy rabbit.

In other news, the first clump of spawn has appeared and been removed (mostly) to quarantine until proved viable. There's a queue of clasping frog couples lined up behind the greenhouse, threatening us with far more spawn than we can handle; a small newt has also been seen in the wildlife pond (quite possibly one of the efts I reared in 2016; now full grown but still my newt). And a magpie couple has decided to nest in the cypress tree, which since they are as clever as most humans, is an unprecedented compliment to our restaurant service. The songbird clientele probably not too thrilled, however.

note 1: See Friends Episode 4:6 The birthday present too thoughtful to have come from Joey.