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The Black Snake

Saturday 9th February. Cold and grey. Mouse ice, cat ice, mouse ice again on the ponds this week, but the native daffodils are in bud, far more buds than there were last year, also five crocuses in bloom, two gold, two mauve, one creamy, and you little know what a triumph that represents. Finally! I have beaten the squirrels! (I will tell you how, if you do not know, on request). I feel almost as proud as when I beat the twentyfive letter sort minigame.

Post-WWII Epigenetics

A glimmer of good news for the bees since I last wrote, and a glimmer of good news for fish stocks, with the MEP vote on the discarding of "bycatch". So little, so late. . . But never say die, nobody expected England to survive through the summer of nineteen forty, either.... If we are marked for life by the stresses our parents suffered and the joys that buoyed them up, as the science now seems to say, then my particular cadre, (whose parents fought the war against fascism, and then founded a socialist utopia on the rebound), was born infected with the belief that unlikely victories can be won, if you can just tough it out long enough, and against the worst of odds.

Which cuts both ways, of course... so here's the radioactive waste dump in Eskdale, thrown out once, possibly coming round again, championed (and why wouldn't he?) by Sellafield's top spokesperson. Were the councillors intimidated by this chilling email someone "accidentally had sight of"? Dirty tricks afoot? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe a local activist swung it, using the 38degrees template by the dastardly application of people power. Who can tell?

I wish it was not so, but our government, and all supporters of the nuclear industry, need to face facts. Nuclear power is not the solution, not in its present form. WE NEED TO USE LESS ENERGY. Go away, and come back when you know how to decommission one of your dragons. And when you're ready to put a fair, honest price on the energy they produce. Oh, and you also have to know how to avoid that unfortunate association with Weapons of Mass Destuction. Good luck.

Watching: Mainly movies recorded off the tv guide, which sometimes means great classic, but often means recent movies that didn't get us out of the house... An unlikely double bill of Contagion and Super 8 one night. I preferred Contagion. Thought Super 8 was derivative beyond absurdity. What a suck-up! I suppose if by any chance you haven't seen ET, it's a cute story. And Silent Witness is back! As preposterous as ever, if lacking the dashing Harry. Just leave out the trips to Afghanistan, please. It's embarrasing. Warzone chic is beneath you guys. Stick with with the Anthrax and the plutonium. You know it makes sense.

Looking Forward To La Traviata at the ENO. Actually, Peter bought the tickets on a very cheap deal...and then the reviews caught our attention. Hm. A Left-Wing, Brechtian, stripped down Traviata? Goodness! With no intervals and no dance numbers? Interesting! It sounds to me as if this Peter Konwitschny chap may be trying to tell the story of "the real" Marie Du Plessis, aka Alphonsine Plessis, rather than the story in the Dumas novel etc, a strange idea (I wonder if she'd thank him?). I wonder how my favourite track Di Provenza will survive, when the kindly old gent singing that golden lullaby is recast as a. . . Well, never mind. Not to give the game away, no spoilers here. If you like Grand Opera, you have to like crazy leftfield productions too & the music is apparently immaculate and wonderful.

The keynote picture is a Black Snake, of course, courtesy of monyetbesi blogspot. Apparently, the year of the Black Snake is not as bad as it sounds, which is fortunate, isn't it?

Wet Play

Friday 1st February. Chilly, and it's raining again. My cats, aged twelve and seven this year, have made this the winter of becoming indoor pets. Ginger, my older cat, has long been of the opinion that cold weather, snow and rain are for the birds, which I applaud because I like the birds, but now Milo, junior cat, has joined her in this unilateral decision. Even cats can't sleep all the time, so they tear around the house beating each other up, or else (Ginger), climb up the back of my chair, claw my shoulders, try to climb onto my head and lick my hair as I type; (Milo) they leap. He can leap quite high, and he lands quite hard, he isn't a small cat. He killed my last monitor.

Anyway, it's wet play again today, and so far I have: mended the birdfeeder that got blown down from the elm tree and restored it (via stepladder and new twine) to its branch; done some housework including a little wood-chopping in the rain; practiced piano, liking my Hadyn very much, getting frustrated with the Bach Prelude; done my greek homework; discovered that Amazon Kindle has developed a new wrinkle: in their "new sales territories" (doesn't that sound imperial!) Brazil, Japan and India, you can only get 35 percent Royalties tops, whether you have a US Tax ID or not; unless you make your books exclusive to Kindle by enrolling in KDP Select. I will hold up my hand and confess I don't get KDP Select. Maybe if I was an Indie writer I'd know. There's a huge "global fund" they're always talking about, but none of it has ever come my way or likely too... It's good for the free days, that's the only use I've found for it.

And cast a cold eye on the BBC News Headlines: In The Gambia Friday is to join the weekend club, is this the shape of things to come? Good idea, on the face of it. Four day week makes sense economically, and makes sense of the actual situation; until of course the Jedi Knights become huge, and declare that their Sabbath is a Tuesday... And today is Hejabi Day, when non-Muslim women are encouraged to take the veil. "My beauty" says (I nearly wrote simpers, but I controlled myself) the non-Muslim young lady allowing her photo to be displayed to the world "Is for my family and my partner, that's what the hejab is saying". For God's sake, kid, listen to yourself*, and you need a burqa, anyway, if that's the way you feel. Will I adopt the hejab? I covered my head in Morocco only 2 years ago, so for politeness abroad; yes. In the UK, never. I am not a woman, I am a citizen and a human being. My hair, chin and the back of my neck are as decent as anybody else's. Would I refuse under torture, or to save my son's life, say? I'll think about it... Do I understand the appeal of this gesture? Certainly I do. There's a war on. The things one keeps hearing! Appeasement is tempting.

The light has changed, the blue tits and the goldfinches already seem to be courting (ie scrapping and scampering over the scaffolding that has taken root at the back of our house; and flirting their wings at each other). And tomorrow it will be bright sunshine. Or heavy snow. Could go either way, apparently, according to our oracles. What does sun AND snow on Candlemas mean?

So, finally, I return to Old Venus.

*a comparison has been censored for being in poor taste. It involved yellow stars as a tasteful addition to outer clothing.

More Free Days for Divine Endurance Flowerdust Edition

Friday 18th January, and it's snowing outside my window, looking very pretty at the moment, but down here in Brighton the snow is not set to persist, alas.

More free days for "The Last Days of Ranganar", a reworking of Divine Endurance and its "midquel", Flowerdust, into a single narrative. You can download the ebook for free from amazon next week, 22nd-24th January, & then 2nd-4th February And that's the lot. I won't be enrolling Escape Plans (my next epub) in KDP Select. Unlike the above the epub Escape Plans will be the same as the print version, only with the lightest editing, and the print book is readily available, for modest sums; or you can buy it from me any time you like, and the money goes to an operation, originally a spin-off from Anmesty International Medical Division, that looks out for victims of torture, and helps them recover.

Spent the entire day yesterday converting EP scans to a word docx, and spraying my citrus trees with Vitax oil wash, to combat scale insect infestation (a tip from the Australians, which I embraced as more helpful than the RHS advice: ie to the effect that scale is ineradicable once established).

On mature reflection, fish oil tree spray probably should not be used indoors.

Big Aid!

Wednesday January 16th. A faint dusting of snow on Monday morning, a hard frost and a bright coloured dawn today, first hard frost we've seen here since the cold snap at the end of November. I saw on a newsstand paper, the "deep freeze" to persist until Valentine's day, but we shall see.

Big Aid! What Is It Good For?

Clicktivism I think I have a handle on. Click and sign, click and share, on a mailing by mailing basis, but no regular donations, no unreserved endorsement, as I know for a fact (facts of course readily available) that I don't by any means support all their campaigns. Other small, case-specific operations likewise: I know where I am with Compassion In World Farming. But (continuing my blog thoughts on the humanitarian aid industry, see Christmas Is A Time For Giving), what's going on now with that new, improved faith hope and charity based benevolent religion "Human Rights"? Supposed (like Islam, btw) to replace the flawed Christianity model;founded in the UK, Western Europe, and the US, in the post-WWII Age of the Liberal State; and now on the brink, or over the brink, of going global: escaping from the dwindling shadow of the so-called West, the way Christianity burst out of a small corner of the Eastern Mediterranean basin.

From the Acts Of The Apostles to the mighty Mediaeval Papacy in five or six decades, that's really quite an achievement: but there are costs, and some may say the costs have been considerable. Humanitarian Aid for a war-torn African nation can end up in the cynical hands of the combatants, allowing them to prolong the agony for their own advantage. Skilled, courageous professional volunteers can end up the dupes of the perpetrators of genocide. Closer to our own time, uncomfortably close indeed, the work of "Western" Aid Agencies can be implicated as tools of a "Western" occupying army, with predictable, devastating results, both immediate and enduring. Better by far then, in future, for the aid concept to be visibly and actually independent of the White West. The movement has move, bodily, to the places where it can be genuinely important. And maybe make whatever compromises are necessary; to be seen as a valid organisation, and have influence under local conditions. It's been done before, and it worked (sort of, partially, but better than nothing). You start by being crucified and thrown to the lions...exhilerating but tricky in terms of expanding the operation. You become Caesar! Problem solved!

But is globalization on the international corporate model really the answer? No longer one of the problems, but the big solution? The logo, the brand, the landmark offices, the impressive, macho CEO salary? Financial gain, economic growth and territorial expansion, as the measures of success? Last Saturday I was at an Extraordinary General Meeting, where the UK section of probably the world's most respected Human Rights organisation debated (essentially) these issues. They're all doing it. Going global is the big idea in charities all round, but I came away unconvinced.

I'm thinking about it, and meanwhile I'm reviewing my own modest list of regular donations. Giving is a nice thing to do. I'll hold up my hand, yes, I find it a pleasurable activity. But I don't want to be one of those charitable ladies who just likes knitting socks for the Poor Black Babies, and doesn't want to know whether the Poor Black Babies actually need the socks. Or whether the socks are even getting to the babies...Or how much it costs to run the company that handles the export. Or any of that.

I'm looking for horizontal-style payscales, I'm looking for human rights defenders "on the ground" already. Small operations, start-ups, maybe that idea about micro-investments?

Not that I'm giving up on the big hitters, not at all. I'm just, like I say, reviewing the situation.

Watching Went to see Les Miz last night. It was okay, although I'm glad I didn't pay for the stage show. A few problems, such as being very, very long, too many lashings of artificial squalor on the giant stage sets, having no good tunes (not even I dreamed a dream, in my opinion), and far to much conviction that there's nothing so dreadful a few candles and a chap in a white lacy frock won't put right. But it was a fine spectacle, with knowing that Victor Hugo did, really and truly, get his hands dirty in the 1848 affair, providing an assist. Tom Sutcliffe in the independent (I think) complained Les Miz makes le peuple in their poverty, and on the barricades, look rather horrid. Hm. He doesn't know much about revolutions, that's all I can say.

The New Ik

Friday 11th January, very pretty day (first time I've been able to say that in a while): blue sky, white cloud, calm and chilly. Peter, from Lewes, reports The Railway Land is flooded deep today, all the streams running strongly, and some new opportunistic streams charging about too. The Ouse brimming its channel through town and the tide still rising. But that's why The Railway Land is there, and there'll be no trouble.

News Flash! The Institute of Arts and Ideas has released a video of the very interesting and entertaining Philip Pullman panel on Fantasy, from their "How The Light Gets In" Festival, and would love you to watch it. I'm on the panel too, but don't let that put you off:

Climate Change, Is It A Real Threat?

At first I was bewildered by climate change deniers. How wouldn't the huge presence of the human race, all that mass and heat and chemical activity, be changing the planet's climate? That's like agreeing there's an elephant in the living room, but insisting it's isn't taking up any space.

Then I felt resigned: It's human nature, innit, naturally they don't want to get off the gravy train, they'll wake up in time. Then I found them cynical: all these people who keep saying "how arrogant to think humans can change nature!" (for God's sake), and "it's just natural cycles" know fine well what's going on, of course they do. They just think the bad stuff will only happen to poor people, far away.

Now I don't know what to think. This is insane! The old hippie expression "freaked out" might best describe my state of mind.

Not to worry, children. Listen to Matt McGrath over at the BBC. He'll calm you down. Keep spending, keep driving your cars, preferrably at least two each! It's all very confused, so probably everything's fine!

The War On Women:

Isn't Africa worse than India?
Africa isn't a country, but the point bears discussion. Leaving aside places where women's rights aren't even considered, are there countries/cultures in the former so called Developing World (the World Of The Future) where women's rights are not under attack? This is not a competition, nb. It's a holocaust.

Not entirely unrelated to my first topic, I see a "scientific" study has "proved" that Chinese born since 1979, ie under the one-child policy, are damaged goods, "less trusting, more risk averse, more pessimistic"; leading to the conclusion (I hazard a guess) that the policy is antisocial, and can be dropped.

Funny thing, apart from the "risk averse" (!) you could say much the same about the same UK generation, born since 1979, and call it the Thatcher effect. Could it be that vicious, rampant neo-capitalism has been damaging China's kids too? What do you think?


Rio Bravo, with Gabriel. Not new to either of his parents, of course, but it's still very watchable, in all its limpid, Right-thinking simplicity. How good Dean Martin is in this movie! & I love his singing voice, soft as butter. Downside is Angie Dickinson's shamelessly Bacall-stealing role as the nameless girl, esp that very creepy last scene, when she dresses up so pretty in her revealing showgirl uniform, allegedly* for the pure joy of hearing Big John Wayne tell her that he now owns her body, and will not allow skimpy attire.
*Metareading shows us that Angie's undress also benefits the cinema audience...

Also watching: Alec Guinness version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, to be followed by Smiley's People, boxed set I bought for Peter. Brilliant. I now despise the 2011 movie's money-no-object C21 lovingly recreated period detail forever.This shabby, muted world looks like what I remember it looked like, when I was there. Or am I just remembering tv of the Eighties? Interestingly, I don't really recall a single scene, but vividly recall the nesting dolls credits and the Nunc Dimittis theme tune.

John Le Carre fest continues in reading matter. Currently, The Honourable Schoolboy (which the BBC were too cheap to film) is keeping me post-festively happy. Nice and fat. Like Dickens, only with tradecraft.

Troubling signs of Zelda addiction: looking out of my window, and seeing a whirl of seagulls, circling over Racehill, I think Ooh! Big Octo!

keynote image is just random, one from my search for cover design inspiration, for the epub of Escape Plans and Kairos, since I can't, I suppose, use the scribbled "tear in the fabric of the universe" from the original Kairos cover, which would be ideal. A work in progress.

Twelve Days

Tuesday 8th January (& Elvis Presley's birthday, I believe), still very mild, grey and humid, but a little light in the sky this morning for a change. And so farewell, another festive season. I love Christmas, it's so steeped in ritual in my small world: the pre-Christmas present buying, the holly scrumping, the bringing of the green wood into the house, the over-indulgent meals we will eat, the people who will share them, the losses and absences, even final absences, we will regret. The way Ginger adores Christmas, and Milo hides away, believing the season is a plot against his life. Like genre fiction, it's not what happens, it's how it happens this time. The foraged-chestnuts chestnut pavé worked better than usual; Ham Night was varied by Gab (as distinct from our Gabriel) having decided he's finally a total vegetarian; and next year Gwyneth will buy the cheese, from the Sausage Shop, not from Sainsbury's and the board will not include "Blue Wensleydale with Cranberries" or similar monstrosities... The watching of The Muppet Christmas Carol, to reaffirm our committment to being good, and doing good; or at least trying. The obligatory model-making, better not be too demanding in my case (see above, that's my butterfly) The tv we will mean to watch and mostly miss (Tove Jansson Arena programme was the star). Like a powerful dream, it's a reboot. It refreshes the mind, at least for a while. And now to begin again.

Two Movies About Life And Death... But Mostly Death*

I saw Haneke's Amour the week before Christmas, alone, and wasn't as affected as I thought I would be. The first passages were terrifying, because that's how I'm sure it will be for me. We'll be pottering along, Peter and I, our powers diminishing gently, nothing too scary, and then one day (one night, probably) BAM! Whatever happens will happen, our life will be over, our death will begin... Once Anne had hit her wall, everything was too familiar, a road I've followed too recently, and it's a trudge. Honestly? For the last hour I was clockwatching. Almost as if I couldn't appreciate Haneke's icy method, without the usual adjuvant of cruel perversity (I suppose Death By Old Age took on that role). But I did like the pigeon, so insouciant (who?) had the honour of being the only free spirit in sight. Like that falling apple shot in Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, I bet everyone will remember that pigeon. To Georges it was his wife, of course. He could catch her, he could hold her, but he didn't know what else to do with her, and by the look of her tired smiles, by the way she lived around him in that very interior life, before disaster struck, he'd never known.

What do women want? It's a mystery, allegedly, and the hero of the tale is the one who finally guesses the elusive answer. What a woman wants is her own way! Well, as Joanna Russ used to say, that's your way of looking at it. Maybe what women want is not to be owned; not to be possessed. Self-determination.

The Life Of Pi, was a fabulous spectacle, a splendid Xmas outing. Do I feel differently, now I happen to know it was the movie the couple in that cause celebre gang-rape in Delhi had just seen, before they boarded the fatal bus, with the six Jack-the-Rippers? Can't be helped, of course I do: I focus on different colours, different shadows. I see that the only female human being with a speaking part in "Pi", is defined as a wife and mother, who very swiftly gets changed into a dumb, helpless animal anyway, and then gets tortured to death. I see the way a thrilling, powerful movie "about the human condition" is naturally going to be about a man, a young man surviving terrifying trials, an old man facing death... If it was about a woman, it would be minor, and either a feminist movie, or a woman's movie (and don't you dare try to tell me different).

I feel differently about the final tagline too. "Which version do you prefer?" asks Pi, the teller of tall tales, and of course, like his listener, we're all inclined to answer, with one voice "The one with the tiger in it!". The company of a terrifying, utterly savage beast, even a beast that shares our soul, seems a small price to pay for a world full of glorious, awe-inspiring, sublime spectacle...**

It's a point of view. When set alongside the story of the six Jack-the-Rippers, acting in concert apparently, in a single city, and not feeling too out of place, by all accounts, in their views at least, if not their actions, the Man as Tiger option app doesn't look so attractive. Does it?

I knew twenty years ago; no, longer, twenty five, that when the struggle for women's rights really hit the so-called Developing World, all hell was going to break loose. That reprisals would be intimate and savage. (I was just a westerner, an ex-pat in south east asia, a tourist in India, but it wasn't hard to work out. Eve-teasing isn't a new phenomenon, you know). I wrote about this horrible coming storm, bigged-up with sf politicial fantasy in The Aleutian Trilogy, realisticallyin Life, and worked alongside international activists, the women who fought, passionately, to convince Amnesty International that Women's Rights were Human Rights. Inspired by two courageous and eloquent West Africans at a Women's Action conference) we got Amnesty to recognise Female Genital Mutliation as torture, and put FGM on the agenda as a campaigning issue, which was a big deal at the time. (Ironic, huh? As everyone knows, caring traditional parents can get their little daughters tortured with ease, at many shiny, respectable UK clinics these days).

And where have I been since? Taking a long break. The point came when I realised Amnesty International could defend women's rights, could proclaim (as it does), that domestic and economic rights are as vital as public and political rights, and that states must protect all their citizens; but could not become a radical feminist organisation, and trying to force it into that role would do more harm than good. We'd achieved what could be achieved, so I dropped back into the rank and file. You take things as far as you safely can, you stop hustling, and make do. That's my story... I think the same could be said for a lot of women, in the privileged world, in the last couple of decades. Dropping back, dropping back. Seeing things slide, seeing gains lost, and still keeping quiet. Smiling politely and slipping out of the room, when asked to approve of the lap-dancer tendency in our own communities. Making accommodations, while all the while, in the BRIC countries, in the Middle East, and maybe especially in South Asia, other women were fighting and dying for the right just to walk down the street. For the rights "I" (that's the feeling) had told them were human and ordinary, and well within their grasp... But the tiger does not agree, and the tiger knows no restraint. You can't tell a tiger it's unthinkable to shoot a fifteen year old schoolgirl in the head, for saying she wants to go to school.

You can't tell a tiger it's beyond the pale to unleash a lethal drone program against civilians, against children, either. The tiger won't listen, can't listen.

That tiger just has to go. Cost what it costs.

The last three thousand or so real, live, flesh and blood "Richard Parkers" wouldn't miss him. Man as Tiger is a devil to any beautiful animal worth money dead.

Utopian demands are cheap and fruitless. In the real world, where absolutes do not apply, I'm left feeling that there's been a betrayal, and I have been part of it,, and I don't know what to do.

But this isn't about me. Self determination. The future isn't about "me" or anyone like me. The situation for women and girls, getting savagely attacked for being uppity, in India, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, is far more frightening, far more dangerous, than, say, it would have been in the UK in the ninteenth century. That cannot be denied. It doesn't, however, mean things are getting worse. It means things are getting better. Savagery towards women and girls is being forced into the open, and I feel the same way about that as I did about the Women's Rights Are Human Rights campaign, long ago. It looks very bad, but it's got to be a good thing. A culture has to get sick before it gets well. Horrific injustice is protected, behind the closed doors of the "home". It has to be seen and recognised as injustice, before it can be shamed and outlawed.

So, anyway. I ought to get back to polishing my Wayward Botany story now, but I worked on it all yesterday, and I have to go to see the dentist in a couple of hours. I think I'll prune my citrus tree instead. I've been promising that overgrown indoor tree a haircut and some thinning for ages.

This tree is not a keynote of the year tree. It's just an incidental tree, one of a pair of venerable, and wayward, ginger birches, guarding the entrance to a cave under a sandstone outcrop, in a part of the Ashdown Forest near Hartfield (home of the Anchor Inn, as BAL fans may remember) where we got lost on Sunday, failing to find the Roman Road, under a lightless sky, in dropping mist, far too much mud; still, it was good to get out.

*the quote is from The Independent & was originally "about love and death but mostly death" But I changed it.

** All references are to the Ang Lee movie, nb, and excellent performances from Suraf Sharma and Iraf Khan. In print the teller of tall tales was far too pleased with himself, a party bore. It was the wondrous CGI, the virtual movie-making, that made his survival story glorious.

Dark Skies, Vivid Dreams

Saturday 29th December, cool but not cold, thick grey skies darkening towards sunset. I wake early these dark mornings, plagued by indigestion (but no hangovers as yet: I've become too sensible), brooding on terrible wrongs (that girl in Delhi, gangraped by "Eve Teasers" died today, eg) and fall asleep to dream of strange, beautiful animals that I try to collect. The bird with the long sinuous black neck, with the fluttering white streamers. The very peculiar little pondlife creatures, little homunculi with no heads... Dark skies and intermittent heavy rain, seems like all through the Christmas season. We live on a hill, and I haven't heard of any flooding, not nearer than Barcombe Mills, where we go to the Anchor Inn in summer and hire boats on the river; and where the river regularly invades the bar of the Inn in winter. Our closest brush with the weather etc chaos effects being a dash to Haywards Heath, Saturday a week ago, to rescue Gabriel who had been trying & failing to get home from London since the day before. Haven't left the house much, except to scrump holly (very meagre harvest, very pleasant to be in the cool grey woods, inspecting Badger Cities and listening to the birdsong); visit friends, and to walk in King Death's Garden, a suitable and nostalgic place, in melancholy weather like this. Glaucous grey-green snowdrop spears pierce the dead leaves on the Lime Walk, the koi drift calmly in the Water Feature by the chapel-of-ease.

I've been having a little contretemps with Amazon over the listing of the Divine Endurance/Flowerdust single narrative edition (or at least I think I have). It gets listed on searches & other national sites, but not on Why not? I attempted to investigate, using the Kindle Help tools, and was informed: "We reserve the right to make judgments about whether or not content is appropriate; this can include the cover image or the content within the book. We have found your Kindle book contains mature content and it will not surface in our general product search results." Mature content? Oh, of course, adult content. There must be a special bot that objects to bare breasted women on a cover! (Not so, actually). But, no point in giving offence for whatever reason, so I uploaded a plain cover.. It didn't work, and the personalised response I got (taking the Help tools up as far as they go) revealed "Beatrice K" if human, is a human who can't read. Intrigued, I contemplated trying to outfox the glitch, but life is too short & I've restored the fine art cover. You should be able to find it here, some time soon:

We went to see The Life Of Pi yesterday, in 3D, and it's magnificent, wonderful, absolutely magical, expecially Richard Parker; and incredibly true to the book too. The storms at sea terrified me, but what terrified me more was the way the animals, such a riotous vivid parade of them in the opening passages, looked not real but hyper-real, as if such wild diversity was already pure fantasy. And then of course, by the end, there are no animals at all, they've all vanished, only people, ie Mankind* left to tell the tale.

New Year's resolutions? I resolve to hope. I hope this hedgerow ash will still be green next spring. Click through for the defra map of the current stage of the dieback outbreak, and you will note that the overwhelming majority of sites west of Edinburgh, on a north-south line, have been discovered in new plantings. Artificially introduced, in other words. The natural spread has barely begun. I hope the fracking bonanza in the UK gets stalled before it begins. I hope our stunning ability to do good continues to have that tiny, micro-fractional edge on our talent for hideous deeds. & that we don't get to find out what the Invasion of Poland looks like, in this uber-war we're fighting, without recognising its dire import. I hope.

This is probably my closing entry for 2012, so here's my final tree, appropriately dressed. Click through for a seasonal story about failing to know when you are well off & it's time to get out of the casino.

Happy Christmas

Torrential rain, announcements...

Thursday 20th December. Dark morning turning to dark afternoon, torrential rain all through the night, still falling now. The Forever War? Nope. It isn't over, not yet, there's still one last battle to be fought, with those helpful people who have been providing the weaponry, and don't want the war to end, ever. There must be an aphorism for this, or a historical reference, but I can't quite turn the phrase. We're here because we're here. It's so army, and maybe next year.

Meanwhile, the archive for Melissa Appleton's Writtle Calling, the Pop-Up radio station in Essex marking a historic anniversary back in September, is now up. Follow the link and you can hear us all, including me (Sunday 16th September Part One) reading aloud from Band Of Gypsys. I love the way these broadcasts just begin, randomly, suddenly blossoming out of the ether, no explanation, no preamble.... Same effect at the time, of course. Anyway, it was fun.

And let me add to the chorus of those announcing Garry Kilworth has published his travel memoirs, which should make great reading, so hurry along and buy On My Way To Samarkand.

Watching: And so farewell, Sarah Lund. You will be missed. By the last episodes I was cheerfully ignoring the way the plot jolted and swayed, bits falling off in every direction, as we bounced over holes that could have buried a container truck, in the rush to the finish. And ticking off the reprises with delight. The Crucial Campaign Car! The Old Family Retainer, leaping into the prime suspect place. Did the butler do it again? I suppose I'd better not tell you. But I liked the Norwegian fijords much better than that stupd trip to Afghanistan in II. Cheaper, too.

& of course, the two vaccillating princes of Denmark (State and Commerce), faced with unbearable atrocity, were unable to decide, right to the line, whether to take the moral option, or the more attractive one. J***s C****t. Just like real life, eh?

Unbelievable. I have no words.

Late in the coming on Christmas day, yesteday, in the dark and the rain, the three of us went out Christmas tree buying, because Peter was struck with Tree Anxiety, and couldn't wait. Bought it from the Pop-up tree market in a semi-closed secondhand furniture emporium on the Lewes Road. Nordman or something, they call them. We prefer the gentler fir-green and the softer outline of the old model spruce, but were too late. The market was also selling secondhand books (why not?) and I picked up, for 80p, a little hardback anthology Another World Than This, published in 1945, Michael Joseph, a perfectly lovely piece of book; the collection compiled by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson.

Lined coat, warm cap and easy felt slippers,
In the little tower, at the low window, sitting over the sunken
Body at rest, heart at peace; no need to rise early.
I wonder if the courtiers at the Western Captial know of these
things; or not.

Po Chu-I (772-846) trs Arthur Waley

Divine Endurance Flowerdust Edition

Mild, dry morning, pewter and silver-gilt sky. The mild weather means no birds, they're a regular temperature gauge, but the squirrel is busy out there, upside down and precarious, scoffing freebies. I'm waiting here at my desk for the news that the dreadful Forever War (You remember? My family's interactive gothic novel, the one with all the Dickensian lawyers in it) is finally over. Not a victory, and the people who most mattered are gone, anyway, but not a defeat either, and (with the proviso that there's always been another turn of the screw before when I've thought this), just maybe, I really will be home for Christmas this time.

Mysterious, eh? More to the point, the new, single narrative Divine Endurance (including the Flowerdust story) is free on Kindle today. So if you're reading this, and you have a device, do try it.

More later...

Christmas Is A Time Of Giving

All week I've been watching the birds in the frosty garden, goldfinches squabbling, thrushes and blackbirds bullying the bluetits (I am sorry to report); starlings bullying all parties, and all of them preferring the fastfood buttered crumbs to the healthy Wild Bird Seed Mix. Hm. Since they're here, and clearly hungry, I think I'm going to succumb to temptation and buy them some live mealworms for Xmas. It'll be fun. But today all change, rain and wind sweeping by my window. It must be a wild day further north, if it's like this in Sussex.

I see my entry in Aqueduct's review of 2012 looks outlandishly gloomy compared with some of the recommended reading etc provided by others. Oh, well, I'm not alone, and I can't help it anyway. My first study was history, fuelling a lifelong passion for "knowing where the bodies are buried". It's not my fault that so often, digging into what really happened in this world means that's what you're literally going to find. It's worth it, in my opinion, because along with those awful "distressing images" you learn that people in Sierra Leone, people in Argentina really are no different from you. Dispelling the ugly feeling that someone who's had her hands and feet cut off by her rapists is somehow another kind of animal, she can't be a young woman who thinks and feels, likes jazz, wanted to be a doctor... Another very good excuse is that I'm reacting against David Cameron's highly scientific social engineering by suggestion, (aka The Nudge Unit) telling me that the way to be happy is just to ignore the bad things. Just don't think about them!

"My colleagues and I have found that people tend to discount the relevance of undesirable information to themselves (such as news that alcohol is bad for your liver) but readily adopt good news (being told that red wine is good for the heart). So when smokers see warning signs on cigarette packets they think: "Yes, smoking kills - but mostly it kills the other guy." At the same when we hear the housing market is going up we think: "The value of my house is going to double!"Using brain imaging techniques we discovered that the tendency to discount bad news is related to how well regions of the frontal lobe are coding unexpected negative information.Now, you may think that discounting bad news can get people into trouble - for example, causing us to smoke more and save less. There is some truth to this, but it is also good for our mental health. Our research shows that the successful incorporation of bad news is related to depression. Discounting bad news, as most of us do, presumably allows us to keep a rosy view of the future, and while this view is not necessarily realistic it does keep us happy."*

Not to mention the new gospel in Downing Street: David Cameron's big plan to convince me that MONEY is actually all we need in life, and all we should strive for. Whereas "love" and "beauty" and all that has been overrated.

Ever had the feeling you were living in a thirties sci-fi story? Aldous Huxley couldn't have made this up.
And you are getting sleeeepy! sleeeeepy! Sleeeeepy!

Anyway, for the record, my best non-fiction (which means popular science about Mathematics, since that's been my drive for 2012), was Why Beauty Is Truth, Ian Stewart. Now joined by The Nothing That Is, Robert Kaplan. This book gets such grumpy reviews on amazon, I was almost put off. Don't be! It's wonderfully free-ranging, entertaining, discursive, a real "natural history" of the extraordinary development and apotheosis of a sign that just meant leave a space here, or, we haven't got any, in Babylon, long ago. The chapter on mathematical function is brilliant. I only worked through a very few of the examples, as I am so slow. But knowing that I, even I, could work through his examples gave me immense confidence; and respect for Kaplan.

For the record #2 I am so glad Price won the Turner Prize. She's proper. The other three nominees were, as is de rigeur I suppose, just purely nincompoops. Three different varieties of frolicking Art World nincompoops (IMHO)

Christmas is a time of giving, which is why I made sure to watch the Why Poverty series programme on the devastating truth about Humanitarian Aid In Conflict Zones, from Biafra to Kosovo. Wow. Seeing how it all went horribly wrong, gathered together in one place, is salutary, or indeed gob-smacking. We want to think that Aid Workers are better people than ourselves, that we can just hand them our money, and sigh with relief and get on with our lives. But they're not. They're just people like us: desperate to DO SOMETHING; plunging into action as a sedative for the awful pain of seeing so many bad things happen to the innocent and helpless; given iresistible license by mass support, and getting rightly fooled, abused, and shamefully prostituted by every warlord in sight, from Goma to Tony Blair and co in Iraq. Ah, well. The big charities have changed their model, so lets hope it won't happen again. Much.

Medecins Sans Frontieres came out relatively well, on the when you're in a hole stop digging meter, which is what I would have expected. And here's another few names for me to conjure with, at this magical time, right now. Anita Haidary, co-founder of Young Women For Change, Afghanistan (Do Not Send Money. Don't send money to anyone. Write a letter instead). Professor Jasmin Nario-Galace, of the campaign for a small arms treaty. Katherine Quarmby, investigating violence against disabled people. But there are so many of them, the people who refuse to close their eyes. The more you look the more you find. Good to know. And I'm feeling less sleepy already...

The keynote image, gloomy as my reputation, is a November oak tree, last Sunday, just outside Butcher's Wood, on the way to Clayton. More on the trees next post.

*this no doubt explains why the government's go-ahead for fracking, announced yesterday, spent very few hours on the BBC front page, and then vanished. It won't make gas cheaper. It involves horrible, devastating strip-mining all over your beautiful country, all in order to squeeze out a fraction more of the poison that's going to send your grandchildren straight to hell. Okay, this is all undeniable, it's true. But it will make our pals rich, and we like that. And anyway, see, it's gone! Just don't think about it, and everything will be fine!

Divine Endurance epub: The Flowerdust Version

Brilliant stars last night, this morning the hardest frost so far, white roofs and a red sky (ie a peach suffused with crimson sky, fading quickly to a gold on cloudy indigo glow that looked like snow on the way). A small cold rain followed, and now bright sunshine. Bird action continues lively, blue tits, great tits, goldfinches, the robins, one female blackcap, the four male blackbirds that hang out together (or maybe four new blackbirds?);and today, a gang of starlings, adults and a few of this year's juveniles descended on the elm tree feeder for some vigorous hoovering. Me, watching all this studiously while making mince pies for the Amnesty Write for Rights day on Saturday (If you're in Brighton&Hove please come along to ours, it's at the Friends Meeting House, Saturday 8th Dec, 1-5pm. Live music, mince pies and so on, and you get to write a few greetings cards to people who will be very grateful).

It's good news week on the BBC, MPs have "resoundingly" thrown out Cameron et al's attempt to scrap the Human Rights Act. And George Osborne's devastating fracking bonfire plan looks increasingly unstable... Well, okay, I admit I'm struggling with that 2nd good news item and can't find a third, but at least I've managed to get the single volume version of Divine Endurance and Flowerdust up and running on Kindle at last. After tearing hair for days over the last two chapter links. l finally coaxed Peter to lay his eagle eye on the code, and he spotted the bit I could safely delete (same in both cases) almost at once. [In my humble experience, delete something is usually the answer when the html goes bad on you. This ranks third in my stellar computer-savvy toolbox, right after switch everything off at the wall & start again, or that miracle cure, hit the refresh button).

Anyway, now I've finally got that sorted, I've arranged for the new and revised single narrative to be available as a free download on 18th-19th December. I'm pleased with it, I think you should try it, and of course (through gritted teeth), feedback on flaws and coding errors very welcome.

Watching Just caught up with the end of The Secret Of Crickley Hall. Excellent. Classic ghost story, sentimental without becoming too mawkish, played dead straight by the adult leads, one of whom is the always watchable Suranne Jones; wonderful child-acting on the part of the two sisters. Or child-directing, but I suspect that's more a case of not-directing)

And perservering with The Killing III, on we've started so we'll finish grounds. I think it's better as it goes on, but on the other hand, so many scenes are so achingly familiar. The beleaguered politican charges up and down the corridors of power, faithful female sidekick clutching her documents by his side. Lund's partner and treacherous "love interest". OMG! is he working for Special Branch??? OMG has he been part of the sinister gov. cover-up, all along? Oh, and now it's that blood-stained mattress, hidden in the back of the derelict storeroom.... This is where it was done!. Is there an over-reaching plot, about to reveal that the same high-rankin perp is responsible uncannily, for the unsolved sexual torture murders of young girls, hinted at in the first series? Maybe our beleaguered PM himself?? Or is there some other, darker, reason why the Three Lunds begin to seem indistinguishable?

Haven't caught up with The Hour or The Fear yet. But I have taken The Song Of Achilles out of the library, so I'll be up to speed on the new Mary Renault/Rosemary Sutcliff "Slash for Ancient History fans" soon.

The keynote photo is not a tree, it's wild clematis in winter, like snowfall, beside Butcher's Wood, admired on our way to visit the stunning Mediaeval paintings in Clayton Church last Saturday. More of that later.

Turning Compost In The Cold Rain

Thursday 29th November, a bright and chilly day; frost on the roofs at seven; bird action in the garden all morning, a pair of bluetits feeding on the flowerless, but still green jasmine tangle by our kitchen door, great tits and bluetits on the wooden elm tree feeder, and squabbling over access to the nijer feeder, which isn't really for them at all. Only one goldfinch, which they scared off. This time last year nb we had no customers at all, which I take to mean the birds just aren't finding the countryside-autumnal 2012 very bountiful. Turning compost in the rain on Sunday, mud all around and a lot of shovelling (my back still hurts), and such worms! Great lively boluses of them, I could have picked up a worm-ball in my hand, but I didn't. Two large sacks of compost plus one of pure loam. And what'll we do with our riches? It occurs to me, for years now if our nemesis has been slugs and snails, our top garden success story has been worms. They flourish like the green bay tree. Not exactly our intention... Is our midden telling us something about the human condition? Swamped in its own rich rubbish?

Energy bills, what to do? For a long time we've been an EDF for Gas and Good Energy for Electricity household, on the grounds that there's no such thing as "Good" gas, but we've been thinking it over, which lead to wondering exactly what gas tariffs are available, and brought me to another OH! I SEE! moment. Here I am, at the website for Energy Supplier x, that's easy. So what do they charge? What could be a more reasonable question than that? So I look, I look, and suddenly I get what the fuss is about. The bxxxers aren't going to tell me. They just won't. Not a chance. None of them, it's amazing. For tariffs, you have to go to those Comparison Sites, and here at least the situation is clear and simple. First, we will strip-mine you for personal data. Then, we will let you in the door... We are currently planning to switch to a dual fuel deal with the Good guys, which will cost a little more, but supposedly means some of our money will go to developing clean-sourced household gas, and besides, their site is angelic. Dunno if this was quite Mr Cameron's intention, but it works for me.

We can tell EDF we're quitting because they are investing in new UK nuclear reactors, heheheh, but in fact what really annoys me is seeing the Nuclear option called "Green", in any context & even by the incorrigible La Belle France. I won't stand for that sort of cheek.

We don't need to swop fossil fuel emissions for plutonium, that makes no sense. Nothing, as yet, not even seaborne wind farms, makes any real sense. We need to USE LESS ENERGY. Invest in finding out how, and you have me on your side.

Reading: Edge Of Infinity, Jonathan Strahan's new anthology, which arrived this week. A pretty good collection of stories, if I say so myself (one of them is mine). For this one I want sf stories set in the Solar System, said Jonathan. Colonised if you like, BUT the rule is NO novel technology, No fantasy-science, just the resources we have now. Okay, fine... Just the resources we could rustle up right now. It turns out I'm the only contributor who took the brief literally, which for me gives "4th generation sf" a kind of retro air, but no harm in that. Very true to state of the form, really. Anyway, a highly enjoyable collection. (Warning: following the link will lead you to spoilers. Me, I like discursive sf reviews, which pretty much means I like spoilers, I admit. Especially, I cannot tell a lie, when the reviewer is nice to me).

Also, got a preview of the cover for Athena Andreadis and Kay Holt's forthcoming anthology, The Other Half Of The Sky & it's very pretty. Which I have in fact already read. The stories are all, in one way or another about women, and/or feature a female protagonist. Maybe not a new idea, but it's worth it, and it still works. Probably another example of "4th generation sf". A lot of trees, I noticed. Or maybe it was just a few mighty tree and asteroid-forest stories, but it seemed like more. Trees in Space. Mmm.

The keynote photo is Clementina's weeping ash, again, because I like it. Bare of leaves now, of course. But at least this beauty, and all the young windsown ashes at the same site, are sound and clean. So far.

I Spoiled My Ballot

Monday 19th November, a clear morning at seven, darker now. The long-tailed tits on the elm tree and the maple again, how very small they are, and how lively and pretty and insouciant. I hope they're finding what they want, and that they'll make ours a regular venue. Yesterday, bright and clear and mildly chilly, we walked out from Lancing to Coombes. Draggled Old Man's Beard in the hedges; not a very good year for berries in Sussex, but vintage autumn colour. In the hollow way down to Coombes church I stopped to listen to a robin, in an astonishing glory of yellow-gold maple leaves, above me, all around and under foot. Last time we passed this way, records show, was in 2006, so it was a relief (one always expects the worst these days) to find Coombes church where we had left it, tiny and humble, with its bellcote no bigger than a beehive at the West End. We sat for a long while watching a sparrowhawk, perched on the bellcote, until she flew off, probably annoyed at us for nattering and scaring the game. The church restored since our last visit, and thanks to the work of Ann Ballantyne, their wall painting conservator, the fragmentary paintings more vivid, and (a bit) easier to make out. The earliest, and best of them, date from about twenty years after the Conquest. What a riot early mediaeval churches were! And then on to the South Downs way, which passes above Coombes through a large free range Pig City these days. What splendidly untidy animals pigs are, so human in their capacity for making a heap big mess and frolicking in it. How cheerful they seemed, with their crowds of commensal starlings, trotting in and out of their barrel-houses, and watching us with interest. The sun was going down, and as we turned towards the sea the wintery grass ahead of us was full of gossamer, skeins and skeins of it, strung quivering and silvery between the grasses. So much of it and so fragile we were mystified, until crouching down to ankle level revealed the presence of tiny, tiny green spiders, the creators of this ephemeral art work. There must be hundreds of thousands of them up there. It's easier to get away from the feeling of the conurbation if you head east from Brighton, but westward and up onto the downs there's a different beauty, especially approaching sunset on a bright winter day, with a quarter moon straight above, getting whiter and whiter in the deepening blue, a wide sunset sky, and the Channel all flat washes of aquamarine and silver. Walking into this frame, with the silver leads of gossamer rippling away from the path at my feet, like distant frail reflections of the high fair-weather clouds that dappled the sky, made me think somehow of Seamus Heaney's poem A Kite For Michael and Christopher (scroll down). Something about, the gossamer of happiness, (or joy?) being anchored to the strumming, rooted, long-tailed pull of grief?

Anyway, I spoiled my Police Commissioner ballot. An APB went out from 38 Degrees that day, imploring us all to vote, to save the police from privatisation. But I reviewed all the Sussex candidates' answers to that question, and none of them said no, definitely not. Specially not the Labour guy, and besides, this is Sussex. I knew who was going to get in. I've got a feeling about these Police Commissioner elections. I think there was no cock-up, not at all: they happened just the way they were supposed to happen. Under the radar. David Cameron is very happy with a low turn out, all he wanted to was to get the mechanism in place for making the interior security forces into what he wants them to be. Answerable to political bosses and the profit motive, not to the public. And he's done it.

First the butter, then the guns. It's worked before, it'll work again.

No, the keynote photo is not a tree. It's a C11 seraph, apparently. Six wings and four fine feathered feet too. What weird skeletons they would have, but since in real life so to speak, seraphs are sentient energy-forms that shepherd the stars or something (cf Henry Gee's Sigil trilogy), that's probably not an issue.

Police Commissioners

Tuesday 13th November, very murky day, damp and tepid weather.

Police Commissioners for Sussex, polling day looms & the Green Party is not impressed. We think we had voting cards, we think maybe we threw them away. Been vacillating over this & wondering if it was ever worth spoiling a ballot, then suddenly decided to review the candidates. Vote for one of this shower? A lovely Tory lady with a background in the leisure industry? My god. How on earth to choose one, when I just don't want any party political messing with Sussex police, and nor do I want a clueless nutcase, or the charming prospect of a combination of those attributes. Look at that salary! Spend the money on something else, for god's sake! Now I finally understand the bizarre state of mind of those US citizens* who honestly, genuinely could not decide whether to vote for Obama or Romney...until they realised, right at the line, that d*mn it, it's no good, just can't let that Mad Hatter Mormon loose in the Oval Office, I'm going to have to cast my vote for the hollow man, the miserable disappointment who's kept Gitmo open (or, alternatively, I suppose, for that foreigner with the sticky-out ears who's probably a closet Islamist). Least worst of two.

Only in this case, I think we just won't vote.

Reading The Garden of Evening Mists Tan Twan Eng. Really good. Set in The Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, on the Peninsula indeed. Wonderfully evocative, deceptively gentle, but don't be fooled, it's about the Communist Emergency and the legacy of the Japanese Occupation; it won't stay gentle as you move through the story... One aspect of the story went right by me, and it wasn't the Japanese gardening techniques, which I loved to read about; but still highly recommended.

Watching Still nothing, but looking forward (for old times' sake) to the third "Sarah Lund". The first "The Killing" was much more than the sum of its parts, or the sum of its woolly jumpers. The second was just silly. Absurd contortions. But still, catch it while it lasts. Tough women in leading roles are apparently going to disappear from... well, generally on their way out, I suppose. Just that this Danish bloke has come out and said it.

Very excited about the cinematic release of The Muppets Christmas Carol, except The Dukes is apparently only showing it once "for kiddies and guardians only". What are they thinking? Hoping Cineworld will take a more rational view & then our Christmas outing is sorted.

The keynote photo is Clementina Brown's Weeping Ash, of course. And now we wait, and hope, and plan for a rearguard action. But may I say, I'm annoyed at the way The Woodland Trust has emerged as some kind of Ash Dieback spokes-organisation for this disaster. Sickening, after what they did. It's obvious, from the findings of the survey, that outside of East Anglia the spread of the disease had been by human intervention, and as we now know, the Horticultural Trade had been aware of this deadly pathogen, and done nothing. Buying or planting young ash trees, without confirming that they had been reared or grown in the UK, has been criminally negligent, since at least 2009. The Woodland Trust are guilty, that's bad enough for me, and I'm not impressed by the "it was going to happen anyway" argument. "Yeah, well, it was fragile, asking to be broken..." Never gets anyone out of trouble in my house.

*NB I don't know if they really existed. Polling in the run up to an election is a funny thing.

Divine Endurance and Flowerdust

Monday 5th November, bright and chilly, pale blue sky; washes of high cloud. This morning I saw a robin on the little plum tree (rare occurence, ground feeding birds are infrequent visitors here), definitely eying up the domed feeder.There's a lot more visible bird action in the gardens that this time last year; robins, blackbirds, bluetits, hedgesparrow, and a little group* of long-tailed tits, passing through. Only window-shopping today, but maybe I'll have customers. We have said goodbye to the sash window renovators (until they come back to do the front of the house argh). We have put things back together, including replacing my curtain rail that I broke, and apart from the damaged paintwork around the landing window. Possibly Purple Sage is now Heather Bloom? So that was all fine, until on one of those nights of torrential rain last week, I woke about four in the morning, and was forced to conclude: yes, that persistent dripping sound is coming from inside the room. Roofers will be along later in the week.

And I have published the original Divine Endurance, Flowerdust and the special new "Flowerdust" edition of Divine Endurance on Kindle. Finally! I thought I would have that job dusted by the end of July. I've been meaning to do something about the disjoints between Flowerdust and Divine Endurance for years and years. Now it's done, plus the books have the cover image I wanted for them long, long, ago, and if you're out there, unknown artist, please get in touch. I've even called the
My picture seems closely related to this famous one, but I don't think it's by Gede Sobrat
mini-series of two "The Last Days Of Ranganar", the name I always fancied. I've included the 1987 story "The Eastern Succession", where Endang of Timur first appears, with Flowerdust, in which he's a major character, and my 1998 Olso GOH speech about encountering the perfect machine "About A Girl", with Divine Endurance I wish I could have used the Danielle de Santiago "gynoid" interview, but I'm not in touch with Danielle, sadly.

I wasn't bothered by discrepancies, when I published Flowerdust, back in 1993/1994. I'd always wanted to write an informal "Divine Endurance" story, with my characters in their street clothes (Divine Endurance became as stylised and formal as the Ramayana Ballet during my long and fascinating apprenticeship with Rayner Unwin, who wanted me to write more like Tolkien; it didn't start off that way). And then Caroline Oakley, at Headline as she was then, gave me the opportunity. So I picked up Endang of Timur, the angry young man, sexual and political dissident, and tossed him into the mix of my Divine Endurance characters, like a cat among the pigeons.

Fitting the two stories together, I didn't change much really, but of course I found my past, the years when I lived in Singapore. Rural Java, with its temples, terraced mountains, palace cities, where we were poor travellers, and people were kind. The dance school at Solo, where I saw Endang dance; Sumatra when it was still forest; gaspipes by the road had purple crowns of flame, towns were the Wild West. Bali, beautiful Ubud. Trekking in Thailand (aka Gamartha). And not to mention the much more knowing, grittier, blingier (even then) culture of the real Peninsula, across the Causeway. Penang, where we arrived one night, Easter 1978, to find the whole staff of the Golden Sands hotel in fits of laughter, pretending they were scaring away the dragon that was eating the moon (you show it its reflection, in a bucket of water). Our fears, our intense concerns, when ASEAN was the real world to us, and the UK a tiny grey blur, far, far away. The Boat People, Transmigrasi. The Jakarta Reigme; no change there, alas. The warm-milk air of tropical darkness. I haven't been back to Java since 1985. I'm never going to see those places again, mostly they aren't even there anymore, but I still have them, captured in word-amber.

Pure self indulgence (and copyright protection), but I've enrolled them in KDP Select, so you can borrow any or all of the three for free, if you have a ticket to the Kindle Lending Library. There will also be free download days, which I will advertise.

What about free books on my website? No. Never again. I'm sick of pirates.

*Not a flock. We don't get flocks of little birds anymore, much, do we?