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Continuous Creation

Friday 28th September, no more of the torrential rain today, at least not so far. Rain-washed skies, silver and blue,and tarnished leaves on my little elm and the red maple looking likely to fall, leaving the trees bare by the end of October, how old fashioned. Cool air, very autumnal. Who knows? The vanished Arctic ice, the unprecedented high temperatures in the North Atlantic. . . Chaotic weather is just chaotic, innit? Another dose of the little ice age, or a C30 degrees heatwave all the way til Christmas. Could go either way.

My Week

Monday 24th Sept. Torrential rain. Peter gave me a lift down to the seafront where I joined the 38degrees team in the gauntlet of leafleting Lib Dem delegates must run to reach the safety of that forensic-looking tent sort of thing at the entrance to the Brighton Centre. Ours were about the Climate Change vote. When I shared this petition on facebook, someone called Steve Heynes (Hi Steve!) cmmented that it was a stupid waste of time, the Lib Dems will never do anything... Ah, now that's because (unless your dissing comment was a dedicated, sneaky climate-change denier activist ploy, in which case, apologies!) you're not an activist, Steve. If you were an activist, you'd know that this never say die chipping away, no matter how unpromising your entree, is the ONLY way anything ever changes. Okay, it may look silly but, who do you suggest we lobby on Climate Change issues? The Labour Party? You are having a laugh. Nice kids, those 38 degrees people. I enjoyed their company. The weather was atttroccious. I thought I might catch pneumonia, but didn't. Spent rest of day slogging on with my trenchant revision of Flowerdust, (1994) latest item on my backlist to get the Kindle treatment, & then I'm going to fool around with Divine Endurance (1984)to make these "companion volumes" actually line up together, for the first time in their lives. Then cooked miso soup with carrots, onions, mushrooms and bean-sprouts (Amy's dinner take note!) & went to see Tabu at the Dukes. Which Gabriel thought was absolutely wonderful, but we rated strange & interesting. Predictably, I liked the crocodile best. But also the old ladies, in the "40 years after" part. I could really read Pilar. So melancholy and so quietly, doggedly good.

Tuesday 25th Sept. Torrential rain. Spent the morning putting together a presentation on the story "Bricks, Sticks, Straw" I just wrote for Jonathan Strahan's Edge Of Infinity anthology. His pitch, my pitch. Process of elimination whereby I chose my near future solar system venue. The random elements that accrete around an idea. The websites: ESA, NASA, eLISA; Greek Mythology.... In the afternoon, a train ride to Canterbury West, a double rainbow and a single lapwing in the big stormcloud skies as we crossed the county boundary at Rye. More nice kids (not all actually kids, of course: but I'm very old!) at the "Tuesday evening reading series". Impressive turnout. I rather rattled off my favourite Stranded Space Explorer Classic Short Stories, so I'll repeat it here:

"Desertion" Clifford Simak, from his fix-up novel City; 1944. One man and his dog, on the hard core of Jupiter, transformed into life-forms that can gambol and play in this unforgiving corrosive hell. They love it, don't miss their old embodiment at all, and don't want to come home.

"Dark They Were And Golden Eyed". Ray Bradbury, 1949. Find it in the collection: A Medicine For Melancholy. Needs no introduction from me. Haunting, brilliant.

"Surface Tension" James Blish, 1952. Find it in the collection The Seedling Stars. Crash-landing explorers on a water-world tranform themselves (or something) into a microscopic race of water-breathers. Zillions of generations later, descendants find out who they were, and plan to go home. But that iron barrier, the surface tension that holds a raindrop together like, blocks them like a massive gravity well. . .

And one I forgot. Actually a slim novel, but We Who Are About To Joanna Russ has to get a mention, for her mordant, realist approach to the scenario. What do you do, when you're a bunch of clueless tourists, crash-landed on an alien planet far, far, far from any hope of rescue, and you have no resources, no skills, and anything that might be food or water is poison? You die, sillies. Get on with it.

I told Amy Sackville, Creative Writing Lecturer at Kent at Canterbury (whose debut novel, The Still Point, is a thing of beauty), what I was doing to Flowerdust , and my wicked plans for the already-filed Kindle version of Divine Endurance. You can go on rewriting what you wrote forever and ever, I said. And nobody can stop you. Imagine that. Could be I'm a corrupting influence: she seemed intrigued.

Wednesday 26th Sept. Torrential Rain. And so cold! The cats want the heating turned on, they keep crouching by the cold radiators, trying to make their point. Round two on the last chapters of Flowerdust. I lost on points, but I will beat this thing. Peter cooked masala cabbage and potato, tomato and onion tarkari. & we watched Stephanie Flanders's Masters of Money #2 Freidrich Heyek. Very light on content, this miniseries. Maynard Keynes moved in the Haighest of Bohemian circles (pictures of Charleston) and advised governments to spend their way out of a slump by throwing money at public works (pictures of dole queues,the Hoover Dam, and Obama's somewhat more modest solar-power field in Arizona). Heyek saw hyperinflation in Vienna when he was a child (pictures of jerky bourgeois toting sackfuls of notes to the baker's); collected gongs, and advised governments to let "the markets" do what they like! (pictures of Margaret Thatcher And The Miners). Plus a "surreal prize fight" that Was A Big Youtube Hit!, (that's as much as we ****ing plebs need to know on any subject, of course); yet more footage of Meryvn King looking dead shifty, & a coy reference to "human nature", to explain why neither high-concept plan really seems to have fixed things, much, ever.

But Miss, Miss, on what caluculations, what grounds, did these giants base their airy advice? There must be more to it than this. Show working out!

Wonder what she'll do with Karl Marx, the content king?

Thursday 27th Sept. Finished Flowerdust revision. Tnx God. If I'm caught changing a word of Escape Plans, Peter has orders to take me out and shoot me. (Unfortunately I know he hasn't got a gun. Oh, dear) Also buried one of my homemade crocus cages, which was fun. Do your worst, squirrels! & cooked Tuscan Bean Soup with bacon, & went out for a couple of pints, & watched Neil Jordan's 1999 version of Graham Greene's The End Of The Affair. About rain, and miracles. All shot in the most beautiful, cool and silvery light. Fine piece of work all round. & again Gabriel praised the doomed romance, while Peter and I twisted our heads around, meanly trying to spot modern slips in the Brighton shots. The trivial minds we have. It's a shame.

The keynote photo, again not a tree, is the temporary radio station at Writtle, Sunday 16th, which was a rather magical evening, and a rather magical construction. It was bloody cold, but there were bats, waterfowl, cheese, bread and wine, and I got to hear about David Toop's opera about Dora Maar, and to enjoy Mark Lackey's bizarre DJ set of songs from the shows. Anarchic bebop rap from Rosalind Russell, and the monster doing "Putting On The Ritz", from Young Frankenstein....

It's raining torrentially now.

Meat Is Not Murder. But. . .

Friday, 14th Sept, thick grey cloud, the kind that never produces rain: all too familiar. The woodpigeon didn't make it. When I'd finished my post yesterday I went down to look at her, and knew she'd turned the corner in the wrong direction. No sign of recovery, not eating or drinking. By the time Peter came home she was quietly dying, but we let her go in her own time. "Mercy killing" a dying animal can go so horribly wrong. She's now in the compost, and what to do about Caliban? Cat predation doesn't seem to damage bird populations: intensive farming practice does that (selectively); and the grave and worsening loss of habitat, within and outside the built environment. But standards had been slipping. Avoid twilight, and you cut down a cat's hunting dramatically (says the RSPB). Must get strict again about keeping him indoors from an hour before sunset and for an hour after daylight.

Some links for you:

I'm off to Writtle College in Essex on Sunday, to do a reading from Band Of Gypsys, joining multimedia artist Melissa Appleton's celebration of the first commercial radio broadcasts in the UK. Everything kicks off tomorrow, and it should be quite a party. Hope you can listen in. Read all about it:

http://writtlecalling.co.uk/

I'll also be at Kent at Canterbury University on Tuesday 25th, evening, for a reading and a talk. Contact Paul March Russell for details.

And here's a Compassion In World Farming campaign (slightly vindictively) close to my heart. I really despise that toshery, "Little Red Tractor". And "Farm Assured". It's so creepy.

http://www.ciwf.org.uk/what_we_do/labelling/default.aspx?utm_campaign=CIWFLAB003&utm_source=Action&utm_medium=email

I'm not worried at all about the "threat" higher welfare rules pose to meat production in Europe. Meat is not murder, but meat it a treat. Rich and poor, everyone needs to get used to that, for a whole raft of good reasons. Soon as possible.

Watching: Lindsay Seers' new installation at The Tin Tabernacle, Kilburn. "Nowhere Less Now". Not as immersive as her prequel show at Margate. The space doesn't lend itself to immersion, one remains conscious of being in a video viewing audience; of having headphones on, of one's surroundings, basically. But still good. You get a free book, too & The Tin Tabernacle is an experience in itself. Also check out the remarkable facade of the Edwardian RSPCA dispensary next door.

Also The Bletchley Circle. The first episode got some lack-lustre reviews, but I don't know why. It's a bit rushed, a bit of handwaving, okay, but I found the pitch convincing, the acting classy, and I'll always watch Anna Maxwell Martin

Reading: Still lingering over George MacDonald, Phantastes and Lilith;

Getting onto Robert Kaplan, The Nothing That Is, next in my popular science pile

and for a storybook Marco Vicci, Death And The Olive Groves I'm not a big fan of Italian "Crime and Pleasure", usually. But I think I could get to like this one. Set in the sixties, when Italy was just as ****ed up, but everything as less cynical (it says here). Before they'd been Berlusconi-ed, says Peter.

The striking copper beech and lime couple in the keynote picture, are by the permitted footpath that crossed the Bayfield Estate, near Cley. There are a lot of very beautiful trees in this part of Norfolk. There are hills too, shockingly; despite the advertising.

Whole Thing's Brighton Beach You Fool. . .

Thursday 13th September, bright and clear again. Spiders rule in the garden, over weary leaves, dusty earth. It's autumn already, hard and dry; despite a splash of a downpour yesterday. Late at night, in the landing window, brilliant stars: Orion has returned to look in on us, and high in the sky straight above a very bright, golden planet, must be Jupiter I guess? We have a house guest, provided by Milo, who sneaked upstairs yesterday with a woodpigeon in his jaws. Peter to the rescue, tho' possibly more concerned about the bloody and grotesquely struggling remains we might have detected under our bed later in the evening. He called me to help him despatch the wounded (sorry, but we weren't planning to rush her to the vets: there are a real lot of them nowadays, due to all the year round farming): but though her beak was bloodied her eye was bright, head up, wings and body seeming sound. . . Mallet attack canceled, she's now, adult female, no discernable injuries, bill no longer bleeding, roosting in a dark amazon box, with a bowl of strong honey water. She's been eating berries recently, I can tell you that. She's remarkably calm. Recovering? Maybe. . . She may yet keel over and die from septacemia, infected by cat-saliva (that's what cat-attack birds die of, according to the wildlife rescue gurus available via a well-known search engine)

During my extended summer break I couldn't help noticing a few significant science and technology news items: and was struck by the gentle resemblance between the most beautiful of Curiosity's first colour pics:

and the abstract-dunescape screensaver that still adorns (mostly, I'm afraid) the cuts-induced advertising slot frontage of the Phoenix Gallery on the Steine: Things we believe we've purely imagined are strangely congruent with realities we are convinced we have detected: of course they are. Our dreams are constructed from our realities; the realities having been constructed, directly or indirectly, by the same neurons, the same cascade of refining filters as the dreams. How can we be sure that's really Mars, and not a digital camera's artistic impression? How can we be sure that's really what a T cell looks like? See Donna Harraway, Situated Knowledges).

We can be sceptical about technoscience. We can't escape from the circularity of all our image-gathering, all our information gathering. We can only keep on constructing, asking, is this right?, knowing the only answer we'll ever get is the elliptical, unreliable it's working. I thought of this predicament of consciousness when the Higgs Boson finally popped out of the experiments (a timely celebrity appearence, the audience was beginning to get restive). I've had the Higgs on my mind, on and off, since I first read about it circa 1986, and began to think about the mind/matter barrier. Electrons are not things, as Niels Bohr seems to have said, or maybe Dirac. The *** particle isn't a thing, either, nor is the Higgs Field material. Yet both can be pursued and interrogated; forced to answer that question, it seems, by the most outragously massive (pun intended) machinery. If the barrier between mind and matter actually becomes porous, at these fantastic energies, doesn't that mean that at some level it's porous all the time, and isn't that a truly game-changing idea? Or thing. Fiction ensued.

Best piece I read on the Higgs affair was an interview with Peter Higgs, published in New Scientist (21st July), where I came upon his "snappy one-liner" to explain the Higgs Mechanism. "Somewhat like the refraction of light through a medium": an image of great beauty, beautifully intuitive and beautifully congruent. You'll have noticed that the keynote image isn't strictly a tree. It's the Hadron Kaleidoscope, of course (I've traced that story back to the Sydney National Times, 12th July. Anyone spotted it earlier?). I have fallen in love with the Hadron Kaleidoscope. Is there a petition to insist that CERN changes the name of the great torus? Where do I sign?

Oh, and junk DNA isn't junk. Okay. But isn't that revelation as old as the Higgs word itself?

Skyward Sword/Mixed Biscuits

Monday 3rd September, another lightless grey and humid morning. Two well-grown young blackbirds picking about on Val and Nick's lawn. I saw my last swift last week, strangely enough, from the scaffolding that decorated the front of the house (it's gone now), hawking alone in the grey skies, long after its time. Hungry Ghosts moon last Friday, & that's another summer over.

I bought Skyward Sword for Gabriel for Christmas, and at first we were all thrilled. A new Zelda! So long in preparation it must be good! A whole sky to explore, and all the usual suspects down below. Such fantastically reponsive swordplay! Stunning dungeons, absolutely lovely Shadow Realms, perfect Christmas entertainment for player and spectators alike... But it needed to be played straight through. Dipping in and out, the game palled. There was (I know, I know, but still) no narrative drive, barring that rather lame attempt at an "American High School Rivalry" riff; for which, admittedly, we were the wrong audience. Link's guide was not only annoying (which is traditional) but also prissy and dull; the item collections went nowhere and worst of all, the music element was a disgrace. And what was good got milked to death. The Imprisoned eg was a fantastic, beautiful monster the first time you met it, but by about the fifth battle with the same great lump and his toes, it was ho-hum. Same thing went for Ghiraim: his "evil" camp banter was cool first time round, but didn't he keep coming back! And not forgetting the wimpiest Zelda ever: a Zelda whose important contribution was to whimper and moan when being tortured off scene... In the end, this brilliant reinvention seemed more like a bag of Mixed Biscuits, every variety of Zelda experience; custard cream, bourbon, pinky wafer, jammy dodger, ginger nut, fruit shortcake, but all of them a bit dusty, a little soggy, a little knocked about at the corners. It didn't help that I was playing Ocarina of Time myself, reaching the last battle with Ganon for the 2nd time on 24th of June, with such exhileration, triumph and sadness. There was no comparison.

But why open this lightless, ominous New Year with an item on Zelda, of all things? Because in a low mood at the beginning of August, I suddenly decided to read George MacDonald's Phantastes & Lilith again, which I own in the Gollancz 1971 reissue, with the C. S. Lewis introduction. The first time I read Phantastes I was eleven. I'd just had my four back teeth out, to make room for the advent of Wisdom Teeth in my crowded mouth. My mother put me to bed to nurse my bleeding, wadded jaws, and brought me mashed banana and this wonderful book. I can't say I "crossed a great frontier", since I'd already read and reread C.S.Lewis's own Narnia books, full of MacDonald's inspiration. But I definitely met something I was well up for by nature; only lacking the technology... That part where Anodos casts himself into the cold and stormy subterranean ocean, in despair at escaping his fate by any means but Death...

"I breathed again, but did not unclose my eyes. I would not look on the wintry sea and the pitiless grey sky. Thus I floated until something gently touched me. It was a little boat floating beside me. How it came there I could not tell; but it rose and sank on the waters and kept touching me in its fall, as if with a human will to let me know that help was by me. It was a little gay-coloured boat, seemingly covered with glistering scales like those of a fish, all of brilliant rainbow hues. I scrambled into it and lay down in the bottom with a sense of exquisite repose. Then I drew over me a rich, heavy purple cloth that was beside me... I awoke and found that my boat was floating motionless by the shore of a grassy island. The water was deep to the very edge, and I sprang from the little boat onto a soft, grassy turf"

Right. That's me sorted for the next while. Wind Waker will carry me away.

Holiday Reading: Villette, of which more later; which I found excellent and fascinating, as if Charlotte Bronte had said to herself, so long Mr Rochester, enough of this sneakly sugared w**k-aid, I shall write the true story of Jane Eyre now. And The Corner That Held Them, Sylvia Townsend Warner; brilliant. Life during the endless wartime of the Fourteenth Century, from the Black Death to the Peasants' Revolt, as it was for a small community of nuns in the Fenlands. Unsparing, engrossing, and probably no coincidence that the author wrote it, in a corner of England where women had become the main constituent of society, during the wartime of 1941-47.

Holiday activities: (besides crawling around on scaffolding). If you plan to visit North Norfolk any time, may I recommend Hidden Norfolk, and a trip on the Auntie Pam, to see the seals, masses of therm turning up their tails like frying sausages on the Point; and troll for mackerel, and watch the sunset. Not cheap, but a whole lot of fun.

I can't tell you much about the fantastical keynote tree. I don't know if this fine Plane tree is actually an exotic species, or if the extraordinary barrel body and tentacly groping branches are symptons of old age and misadventure; or even some strange kind of topiary. It's in Canterbury Cathedral close, anyway.

Disaster Movie In Real Time

Tuesday 3rd July. Rain today, but nothing spectacular. The trees and houses across my valley hidden in mist, and a thick, Irish drizzle filling up the air between. I'm going through my tax receipts (which is kind of a holiday, and end of term day); while down in the depths of the house Gabriel works on the Liszt sonata, hissing and groaning happily through his teeth, as the music thunders and sighs.

Not sure what's going on with that Higgs Boson. Having read the CERN press office release, I find I cannot share the general (okay, faint and esoteric) excitement. "On Wednesday we might be able to tell you that we soon expect to have seen a glimpse of the beast..." I just wish there was some way to stop them (not the press office) calling this elusive beast "The God Particle". How about "The Gaffer Tape Particle" As in, "the particle that we can wrap around a rather battered old theory, which we are very fond of but the Universe is no longer keeping in stock, so it will go on working a while longer, and we don't have to squabble over what to buy instead..."

Don't you think, in some ways, our current times, what with the end of the rule of law, the collapse of western civilisation, the rising seas, the dying oceans, the wildfires eating great holes in the USA, the levels of fantastically unchecked wickedness in public life to make Sodom blush (nb, that's not the sexual practice preference, that's the hardcore moral depravity) have the character of the most blatantly outrageous disaster movie. Only in real time, instead of 127 minutes or so? All we lack is the Crocosaurus. And it would be here, only unfortunately it choked on a 100 tonne coagulation of plastic bottles and carrier bags out in the Pacific.

As always, I write these things, I think these things, and I hope I'm wrong. But I know this is how it happens, in slow motion, inexorably; not in two hours, but in two or three generations. I refer you to Jane Smiley's The Greenlanders, for the model case that inspired me when I was writing the Bold As Love sequence. (The Thermohaline Circulation thing, nb, turned out to be completely inadequate. The real workings of the winds and currents life-support machine we seem to have broken are much more complicated than that.)

But maybe I'm just scaremongering. I must be, mustn't I. Or we'd be on a war footing, and fossil fuels (just for a start) would be banned like poison gas... er, I mean, like poison gas used to be.

If you want to subscribe to Common Dreams, my source for many tidbits of news you won't find on the BBC, apply here.

Traffic on the live meal worms is slowing, this may be the last week or so. Tadpoles in the plasterer's tub are giving me an unusual problem, this is my best year, for numbers, but they aren't growing very fast. I have had to resort to commercial Tadpole Food. Oh, dear. It's the slippery slope.

The Storm's Tail

Monday 2nd July, grey skies, cool temperature, tossing air. No spectacular storms or floods here, no successive waves, we just seem to have become permanently lodged in the tail of the same big tropical-type storm, same conditions day after day. Is this summer as bad as 2007 was? Not yet, but I know it's colder.

Went out to see Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom last week, and liked it very much. I'm not totally sure about Wes Anderson, I found eg The Life Aquatic the wrong kind of whimsical for my taste, but this was really engaging. I think it was the two young leads who made it work, great kids, brilliantly directed. And the treasured library books that Suzy Bishop brought away with her. I can imagine doing that, at the same age, and in the same era. Does anyone remember a US children's writer called Elizabeth Enright? And her quirky stories of the Melendy children? Moonrise Kingdom kind of seemed like the Melendys, or Gone Away Lake (probably my favourite) only uncensored. Also watched the first episode of The Hollow Crown on the tv. it's not a Nordic detective serial, bit short of guns and car chases but it'll do. What a lot of blasted heaths and lonely shores! But I thought Ben Whishaw took a particularly good part, as Richard. Just the right combination of undeniable intelligence, insufferable charm, and defiant, trembling conceit. Great physical acting all round, too.

Anyway, I really wanted to post you this video appeal from Save The Children.

And this from 38 Degrees. You really should care about the government snooping plan. It unfolds. It's the private police force issue that worries me most.

The Death Of The Birds: A Winnowing

Monday 25th June, blue skies, mild breeze, cool bright and clear. Saturday we took the train to Shoreham, and walked up through Old Shoreham (an interesting place, confounding my persistent image of "Shoreham" as a derelict power station, and a big shingle bank covered in quirky houses like giant beach huts) to the nettle guarded path up to the bypass and beyond. A very grey and blustery day, but with the reward, as we climbed, of the larks, so many of them in the end (mainly invisible) that their song seemed a continuous fabric, a glorious soundscape, filling the wind-tossed air above the fields of barley. Speaking of Gove's latest bold announcement, which Nick Clegg says is a complete blindsider and His Mate Dave knew nothing about it... But who would believe Nick Clegg? They sent him to Rio, and we know what that means. So yes, probably, "O" levels and CSEs in some form are on their way back. "what's tragic," says Peter, (still partly a Maths teacher at his college) "is not even the mad and rubbish things the govt does to education, of which this is certainly one, it's the way they keep on DOING them, never giving anything a chance to bed in, never giving teachers or students a chance to figure out how to make it work..." "Mm," says Gwyneth. "All these years, it's been like, the business and govt people who wanted to be fashionable back then embraced one idea from the revolutionary years of the Sixties, the concept of Continuous Revolution; never letting people alone. A great way for managers to look busy, eh? Because it was the one thing they could understand. And they've never let go."

We walked along the "butterfly bank", downland where the complete absence of butterflies wasn't a terrible shock, due to the wind and the cold, slow season. July and August may bring them out, and where we met one vivid caterpillar creeping on the vivid purple wild thyme, which I tried to convince myself was an Adonis Blue larva, but I'm afraid it was a Burnet Moth infant, as the Adonis Blue larva is a freestyle take on the whole caterpillar idea, looks like a tiny sea-cucumber and is pretty unmistakable, besides rare. But I was thinking about the birds. We have a picture book, Birds Of Britain And Europe; dating from 1980, but even in the nineties, even ten years ago, its information was still fairly current.

Swifts: HABITAT: Almost anywhere. Feeds over water, frequent in towns and cities

not anymore

Starling: HABITAT: Virtually everywhere: a highly adaptable species

but we got the better of them! Starling population has plunged by 90%

& so it goes on. The heartfelt comment ex-farmer Alan Lloyd added (thank you Mr Lloyd) to my Prometheus Unbound entry says it all. A small suite of birds (eg wood pigeons) can survive and prosper, on intensive farming, but most of the farmland birds, ground-nesting birds, must die. Most of the urban birds must die. Most of the woodland birds must die. Even our enemies the urban Herring Gulls are less of a screaming crowd now, up on our archaic chimneypots here in the Crescent. The hungry generations did tread down the nightingale in the end.

& what remains? It was a stormy day, a bit relentless for any bird*. As we walked down the Adur, we saw one stunning Little Egret (now that's a bird practically unheard of in the UK in 1980), one oyster-catcher, a whole heap of swans, a sparrowhawk, and a big, very red dog-fox, his brush soaked and back muddy, trotting through a field, having obviously just swum the river. Heading quietly for more rabbits than you could count.

Watching: A Royal Affair. Thoroughly engrossing & thrilling, and not afraid to wear its (political) heart on its sleeve. Mikkel Boe Følsgaard took a great part as mad King Christian. & did you know, the "happy ending" is more or less true? Caroline Matilde's son Frederik DID restore the reforms his mother and her lover died for (to be fair, arguably they died, in real life as here, for being young, stupidly arrogant, and horribly careless; but that's not going to make a worse movie, is it?). Also, I really love the sound of the Danish language.

Reading: Ad Infinitum, Brian Rotman. Having problems with the Post-Modernist Prolixity we thought so fine twenty odd years ago, which now seems to have genre fantasy writer's disease (= never use one word where 500 will do!), so I keep thinking yes, yes, but get on with it. However, will persevere.

The church is St Botolph's on the Adur, which we visited and made our turning point. Saxon, more than Norman, a very quiet place. It's one of the 500 Holiest Places in the UK. Certfied, and in a book and everything. Wow. I looked up the book and found somebody on Amazon complaining that his own country's best and secretest holy places had been left out. Fer God's sake (so to speak). Rejoice, my son. Rejoice. Fame isn't everything.

And before I forget, to cheer me up, and probably you too if you read this blog, here's a really nice blog I found earlier: Jonathan Pomeroy
Specially the SwiftCam

* Except the crows, (in flocks, so rooks?)we haven't got the better of them yet. They were out in the wind, and revelling in it.

Hauling In The Other Direction

Monday 18th June, cool and breezy, sun and cloud. I heard the swifts shrilling, above the blanketing cloud at 7am, and have been watching the juvenile starlings, chalky brown birds, with pale throats & starling beaks, feasting at the live worm feeder, overseen by a glossy black speckled parent... So has Ginger, but the starlings and the bluetits don't seem to mind. She's down on the grass, she cannot climb the pole...

I used never to feed birds in our garden. We have cats! And if we didn't, the enclosed gardens of the Crescent are full of other people's. Then I read on the RSPB site that if you are so inveterately evil as to host a cat, providing food for your bird population probably reduces the success of cat predation = birds are innately vigilant when feeding. If they are just hanging out, thinking what a nice day it is, having a bit of a sing, their firewall isn't turned on, so to speak.

So, Greece is back from the brink, for now, and I have to be relieved, because exciting and cleansing as utter disasters are, it's better if they don't happen. Next, I hope la lutte continue. I hope the Left Wing doesn't flounce off in a huff... This is the job of the Opposition: to haul in the other direction, even and nearly always knowing you can't "win". We win by losing, we win by worrying the people in power... You can't stop online snooping (on the contrary "you" out there, you seem to love handing over your entire lives!) , but you say no when you get the chance. You can't stop the usual business and wealth world from ignoring the devastation caused by global warming, but you can say no, whenever you get the chance.

Giving: Anyway, here's a grim and informative bulletin from South Sudan, courtesy of Medecins Sans Frontieres


http://www.msf.org.uk/


And a call for stories from Ann and Jeff Vandermeer; kindly forwarded to me by Gordon Van Gelder.

http://www.jeffvandermeer.com/2012/06/12/open-call-for-submissions-feminist-speculative-fiction-anthology/

After some thought, and research, I've submitted Identifying The Object, Balinese Dancer and The Universe of Things; having felt obliged to avoid The Voyage Out (over-run by unfathomable East Asian spam); & The Fulcrum (as having been object of passionate and persistent right wing attack), and decided not to bother with those stories that might be deemed appropriate (Red Sonja And Lessingham et al) which have simply been made universally available for so-called free download by pirates. Isn't the Internet wonderful.

You are safe following the gwynethann site links. It won't bite you.

I think there was something else, but I've forgotten.

Prometheus Unbound

Tuesday 12th June, & here in Brighton it's cool to chilly under grey skies, the rain is steady and gentle. My tadpoles, both indoors and out, are showing no signs of developing legs, this is a record for mid-June. Have begun feeding the indoor ones on goldfish food, but I've never fed the outdoor ones in the big tub, they've always managed fine, and temperatures haven't been outrageously under par, so I don't know what's going on.

Sorry, one more Prometheus link, relayed to me by Peter, which I have found irrisistible.

http://digitaldigging.net/prometheus-an-archaeological-perspective/



Re: faster-than-light vs sublight speeds. You know, I'm sure the issue was just as hazy, or muddled, in the previous, or I suppose we should now say subsequent Alien movies... I think you could easily have kind of assumed the good ship Nostromo was running on petroleum based marine fuel, from the steampunky look of things. We cannot get there from here. There is an unbridgeable gulf, the science does not exist. Sixty years of spaceflight, and the most ambitious interplanetary exploration currently on the cards involves getting a small and flimsy object, that couldn't sustain Laika, on a one way trip to the orbit of Jupiter. This is not an optional feature. Sci-fi movies NEED an irrational form of transport from A to B, the way Fantasy needs dragons and/or evil magicians.

Not that this in anyway makes taking the p*** out of a self-satisfied, Big Box Office Success behemoth like Prometheus less justified or less fun.

Last night, I accidentally watched Springwatch, which I had previously dismissed as too gushy and cute to bear. Not so, not any longer. The lapwings, they are all gone. A third of the meagre breeding success in the whole of Wales knocked out in a single storm, and the same story in the wetlands of East Anglia already... Twenty years ago, when I thought I lived in a pretty damned urbanised country, those lovely birds, so beautiful, so acrobatic in flight, were everywhere. Sometimes I can't bear it. The future for the living world, here and everywhere, seems so hopeless. But I'll keep the garden soup kitchens open, and try to grow tadpoles, even so.

Clarion Call

Monday 11th June, calm and grey after many hours of heavy rain yesterday evening and late into the night. Slight eco-disaster in the tools-and-tins cupboard under the basement area steps, rainwater got in and one of the pots of live worms was standing in water. Have evacuated the survivors and rehoused them; only a few lost their lives, but the rehousing was in the feeders so that won't last.

A Clarion Call from Karen J Fowler:

"Sign-ups and pledges for this year's Clarion Write-a-thon have slowed to almost nothing. As we are increasingly dependent on this annual fundraiser, we absolutely need it to be a success. Can we get some tweets and blog action? And anything else you can think of that might help? Official dates coincide with the workshop -- June 24th to August 4th -- but we hope to have the pledges in place early so participants can concentrate on their writing goals during that period."

If you can help, please do. The experience will be fun and envigorating, and in terms of the quality and value of the Clarion experience for new science fiction writers it is such a good cause.

And good news from Cassie Hart about the sf anthology Tales For Canterbury, a benefit anthology, all profits to the NZ Red Cross Earthquake Appeal. Now the winner of the Best Collected Work Sir Julius Vogel Awards!!! Copies still available through Random Static Press

& here's a link from The Momus Report, about a podcast on female sf writers, plus subsequent discussion, relayed to you from a comment posted recently but on an earlier post of mine. Apparently the discussion was annoying. So, by all means go ahead and find out if you agree.
http://themomusreport.blogspot.com.au/2012/06/momus-report-podcast-women-in-sf-pt-1.html

Is it safe?

Sunday 10th June, bitter grey skies, a sullen breeze; the next rain due later.

What have I been doing over half-term? Lots. Never a dull moment, unless you count those periods of bad weather when the skies were merely dull, rather than full of roaring gale or pounding rain. Friday 1st I watched Weekend on the tv, with Gabriel, a very sweet movie, enlivened by a contention on Gabriel's part that the city had to be London, he favoured the south west; maybe Wimbledon or somewhere as he has never been there, whereas I, also failing to recognise a city where I spent a formative six weeks on Civil Service training, long ago, maintained it could not be London, as neither the artsy-type or the ordinary-type crowd people were not speaking any form of Estuary English (Gabriel counters: there are lots of London accents, what would you know?) and there are no hills like that in Wimbledon. It's Nottingham, of course. Later that same evening, went out to see Battle Royale at the Duke's with Peter, a movie I've always wanted to see, and always missed. It's not really a lot like The Hunger Games, much more rough and ready in every respect, but there are startling points in common (eg the chirpy tv persona girl with the updates, the scrolling death toll). Was disappointed to find that contrary to legend, the collars the kids wear do not actually make their heads explode*.

Sunday Peter & I went out walking, a pub crawl around the High Weald, under grey skies and blue; through showers and calm. The wheat has certainly picked up, which is good to see, blossom still on the hawthorns, flowery meadows, shouting thrushes. A little of the Thames pageant on the telly at the second pub, a bit of bunting; at the rainiest pub, a wet dog cart with a pair of very morose skewbald big ponies (cobs?) in harness, rumoured to be offering jaunts around the lanes. A strangely empty feeling everywhere, like a supermarket during a Cup Final...

The big storm never really hit us in Sussex, but there was no question (guilty shake of head) of the planned project: prepping basement area for housepainter, by hand, with scrubbing brushes and sugar soap. No jet spray allowed, see, as we have a hosepipe ban on.

Ate out. Had haircuts. Played Zelda. Watched telly. Went to the movies some more later in the week. Liked The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists quite a lot, though not sure what the 3D added in value. I'd give it no more than four stars, as the script just didn't sparkle, somehow. But absolutely top marks for identifying and utilising to their fullest extent the three things every child is sure to know about science:

1. Charles Darwin invented Evolution (with a little piratical nudging, it seems)

2. Dodos are extinct.

3. If you mix vinegar and bicarbonate of soda YOU CAN MAKE A VOLCANO!

Also saw Prometheus and it wasn't easy, but I have found a genuinely appreciative thing to say: some of the points made in less positive amateur reivews at imdb are very funny:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1446714/reviews

(NB, please do not follow this link if you somehow manage to be fearing spoilers. Also, you may find the language used by some spluttering respondents crude and offensive; because it is. )

Not that any of the delightfully withering nitpicks and queries would have mattered a damn, if the script and characters had worked together, or the ensemble had ever looked as if they believed in the daft hokum that was happening. Sigh. Bring back The Mummy Returns, all is forgiven.

Saturday we went to Massimo's concert at St Andrew's church, and that was really good. Except I spent the interval watching fish in the pool room at The Iron Duke, as I do not play pool, and it was just too cold and nasty to go for a stroll by the sea...

It's that time of year again, the time of year when I realise once more that (like many of my fictional characters, coincidentally) I pretty much hate summer. The weather is always vicious, the pitiful attempts I made at gardening in the Spring have reached the point where hope must fail; I get hay fever from evil bee-destroying rapeseed, and there is too much stuff going on outside.

Is it safe to come out of the cinema yet? No, it is not safe. There's the Euro 12s (which I don't mind, except not all day everyday, and btw, I wonder should Angela Merkel take the national coaches aside and have a word: Let the Greeks win, okay? Don't make it obvious, but it would really help...) There's Le Tour (an old friend), and oh no, there's The Olympics.

A few times I have heard the swifts, shrilling above the clouds, a couple of times I have glimpsed a pair of them. The seagulls are all brooding now, and very noisy: sad discovery of a dead chick by our water butt recieved with calm by the houshold. "You don't even like them" was the verdict. "Put it on the compost."

The keynote picture definitely is not Brighton Beach. It's the beach at Katwijk aan Zee, back in March. Just trying to cheer myself up.

*I totally apologise if this is deemed a spoiler.

Woods Mill

Thursday 24th May, still very warm; a luminous overcast.

Tuesday evening, the first actually warm evening of the year, as the sun set like a luscious red blood-orange, we drove out to the Sussex Wildlife Trust HQ at Woods Mill, to hear the nightingales. Which we duly did, sitting on the worn grey oak bench under a thorn thicket by Nightingale Bridge, a blackbird couple scolding us for camping on their doorstep. As on previous occasions kind of wondered what the fuss is about*. Glug, flugggle gluggle, wheep wheep tuiu tuiu. Our domestic blackbirds seem much more musical, esp the one who sings at dawn, every morning, outside our house. And the one (could be the same songster?) who grandstands on the chimneypots opposite my window, at the close of day... But Woods Mill itself was in beautiful form, May blossom and chestnut flambeaux almost back to Houseman's settings this year (ie, just about to fade at the end of May), cow parsley in hazy glimmering masses all along the paths. Thrushes shouting, a small grass-snake swimming along in the stream, a hovering kestrel above the Barn Owl Meadow (where the kestrels now have a nesting box, and reared five last year). Never free from the sound of traffic, but you can't have everything. Nightingales, and a cuckoo's song, shouting away in the dusk, somewhere off in the woods, and the evening stars coming out overhead, in an extraordinary deepening golden-green sky. Such a feeling of privilege, and gratitude, what did we do to deserve this.

*We met the warden on the way out, and he told us the nightingales sing better when they do their second show, around 11.30pm, when there's no competition. We'll bear that in mind. The creatures making extraordinary noises in the big pond, snuffling and sneezing and flopping (too dark for us to see their origin) are the big carp.

Watching: Bit stuck for anything to watch, now Homeland's gone (will I watch the second series? Probably not, I can tell when a programme is getting a little LOST, know what I mean?). And Scott and Bailey is over (I could tell you who it is Rachel sees sitting by her mum in the pub, in that parting shot. But I won't as my "guesses" often turn out to be right, and then it's a spoiler, innit); and The Bridge too (Saga was a splendid invention, a woman after my own heart, but who's idea was that worthless mash-up of a plot?. Actually, I suspect it was a lot of people, all thinking they were writing separate self-contained episodes of a police procedural, but then at the last moment, some nutcase decided it was to be a single, through-composed storyline. So! What to do! Saw off the resolution part of each episode, and just ravage them, weld them all together, any which way...

But now it doesn't make sense the poor mugs of writers wail?

Nah, shut up, no problem. Life doesn't make sense, and the punters will never worry, anyhow.

Oh well, back to my jigsaw and The Great British Menu. Which has the beauty of being amazingly daft this time.

Reading Elsa Osorio, My Name Is Light, an Argentinian novel written as the personal account of one of them, about the stolen children of The Disappeared (victims of the military junta, 1976-1983). Came to this via Clea Koff's The Bone Woman, which I read and greatly admired last year, which in turn lead me back to Christopher Joyce and Eric Stove's Witnesses From The Grave, which is largely the story of Clyde Snow, and the birth of forensic anthropology, the technique for nailing the perpetrators of genocide and other "extra-judicial" massacres, he and a group of young Argentinians pretty much founded. But now, and strangely, from Osorio's angle, the political struggle all but disappears. In this world there are no ideas, words like "social justice", "communism", "police state" mean nothing. There are only sensual responses, it's a naked Gender War. Nature red in tooth and claw, women and their babies, versus men and their hierarchies of power, erotic allure versus brutal physical force. Creepy but compelling

Giving Medical Foundation For the Care Of Torture Victims. Check out what they do. You already know how much the torture victims who arrive in this country need protection

Writing News: Lynne Jamneck's excellent and very well-reviewed Lesbian themed sf anthology Periphery is now available in e-book format. Check out her blog for venues: http://lynnejamneckdiaries.blogspot.co.nz/

Also the action on the Authorlink mailing list, which is currently all about the loving and intimate, (did someone say corrupt?)links between Google and our PM, constantly in each other's pockets. Sweet.


And before I forget (again) the best fun (in English) on the Beneluxcon programme, and the best science fiction con, totally and convincingly straightfaced "scifi science" feature I've seen in a long time, was the lightsaber talk, and I was going to post about it but I didn't so here's the link: http://dickgrune.com/Misc/LightSaber/


The blossoming May tree was at Burwash, two years ago.

Can't Pay? Won't Pay! #n

Wednesday 23rd May, very warm, very clear, it's going to be a hot day. I've been waiting and looking for the swifts, even a glimpse; I saw a few last thursday, early, flying high & since then nothing. And it's not just me, I've checked the usual venues, nobody is seeing swifts, where have they gone? This morning, about 9am, I heard a shrilling, looked up and saw a strange, double-winged black butterfly shape, speeding high up above the Crescent gardens, and realised I was watching a pair of swifts, mating on the wing. What a rush, eh? They must have a nesting place nearby, are they alone?

Gabriel's Student Loan statement arrives. Whoa, look at that interest! A moment's calculation, not requiring the back of an envelope, tells one that the ex-student, First Class Honours, full scholarship for his Masters, (along with many like him, the scholars, teachers, scientists), hasn't a hope. He might, might reach the repayment threshold before he's forty, but by that time the idea of catching up and paying it off will be out of sight. He can't do it. Ever, really.

I thought tuition fees as an interest-free loan, repayable when earnings reach a threshold, was a very reasonable idea. Since all this "everybody has to go to university, it will keep them off the dole figures" lark was really the government's idea (previous governments, I mean), the government should pay for it, unless those years of study turn out to have been an investment for the student him or her self. But that's not what's happening. What's happening is a weird, blindfolded aversion therapy, which will work, in the torturous end. Young people who aren't rich will learn that they can't have Higher Education, and things will settle down, the way the Tories like it, the rich and the poor in their proper places.

My son, who probably hasn't given a thought to the concept of Compound Interest since he met it briefly in a maths class when he was twelve or something, just throws the nasty thing aside. Can't pay, won't pay. I immediately start thinking how can I possibly get the money together and stop this juggernaut? NOW! Before my child becomes a serf for life, or the government, I'm sorry I mean the Student Loan Company sells off the debt to Organised Crime... But Gabriel's alien attitude is gaining on me. They told me what the rules were, and then they changed the rules... It's a prisoner's dilemma situation. Always default? Nope, you'll lose. Always co-operate seems ideal, but it leaves the field open to any determined bad guys. Tit for tat, and its derivatives; you're onto something. Can't pay, won't pay.

Mealworms continue to go down a treat. The starlings cleared out the wooden feeder before 9, but as yet they haven't figured out how to sneak into the dome feeder, and the blue tits are doing well.

Must think of some way to feed live food to the Greeks. They were bad, but they are my neighbours. Go there and spend money, I guess. Soon as I can. It's a long trip if you don't fly. And I won't fly.

Click through the keynote image for a gallery of swift photos at the swift conservation site.

Schubert

Tuesday 22nd May, sunny and breezy under clear blue skies, & much warmer, said to be reaching mid-twenties before the end of the week. Suddenly the gardens are in leaf from top to toe, the Christopher rose is in bloom, the big flowerbed is thick with columbines and foxglove spikes. Feeding mealworms could become an expensive hobby, the starlings (although national population horribly in decline) are still the voracious thugs-of-the-birdtable that they always were.

A long time ago, a year ago, in Gabriel's last year at Trinity, I thought I would write here about modern composers, find out the (literary) lowdown about the authors of the music I kept hearing about, and became excited about by contagion. The Rest Is Silence (Alex Ross) kept me enthralled for weeks. Shostakovich, Stravinsky. We were to proceed backwards, through the game-changers (Ravel, Debussy), but it never happened, though I read the biographies and listened to the music. The moment had passed. What prodded me towards Schubert? It was returning to Thomas Mann, esp The Magic Mountain, a book I started and never finished when I was an undergraduate, a story that ends in the trenches, with, for our hero, the poignant tender resignation of Der Lindenbaum (the Lied that became a folksong) running through the foul din of battle.

Trouble is, there's not much of a literary lowdown to be found. All I knew was that "he was truly great, comes straight after Beethoven, & died young" & he mainly wrote songs, also piano sonatas people thought unplayable at the time, and one very famous symphony called The Unfinished (nb I come form Manchester, was often taken to Hallé orchestra concerts when young, & Sir Charles Hallé was, I now know, one of the few, an early adopter, hugely keen on the Schubert repertoire. Or I probably wouldn't even have known that much). The more you look for Schubert's music the more riches you find, but biography is thin. He was born in Vienna, of lower-middle class parentage, just before the turn of the nineteenth century, was a child when Napoleon was at the height of his powers, lived to be adolescent and young adult in the pleasure-loving and cultured capital of a small country much diminished in world (ie European) politics, and, after the excitement of the Revolutionary Wars, in the throes of a deep repression. He had friends, they drank (a lot), made merry and made music. His mother died when he was thirteen; he would have got married when he was 19, but the law said he had to prove he could support a household and that he couldn't do. He trained as a chorister, but that career ended like the careers of most boy choristers. He trained as a primary school teacher (his father was a school-master), but that didn't work out. He made a very decent name for himself (though not much of a living) as a songwriter, on the local, domestic music scene; he tried for years to forge a career in opera, but failed to gain a foothold, as everyone was mad for Rossini, while he favoured German opera & it seems he had an unfortunately short fuse besides: and he contracted syphilis when he was 26.

All the while, music was pouring out of him. He wrote one piece, he started another... Symphonies, chamber music, song-cycles, a mass of works, great and small, a whole catalogue of challenging, innovative, beautiful and powerful music. He was arguably the best ever interpreter of the Romantic school of German philosophy, not only the passion for the sublime, but the insistence that the study of interior experience is not a frivolous indulgence, but the source of all our knowledge of the world and of ourselves, that was later, rebranded as "psychology" to shape another century of European thought. But nobody really knew. When he died he'd just begun attract attention, and the line on Schubert, for long afterwards, was "what a shame, he could have written such great music". He'd already done it.

He lived in Beethoven's shadow, in the same city, without ever (it seems) having any direct contact with the great man, who died in 1827. He saw himself as the successor of the master he revered, a figure in the socially radical model Beethoven has just invented (I am no man's servant, I am Beethoven). But it was impossible, because Schubert wasn't a virtuoso performer. Far from it, he was (far as I can tell) no more than an ordinary domestic pianist. It's hard to achieve fame, when the route to celebrity is closed. Hard for him to get a proper job in the conservativbe musical establishment either: the odds and the trends, were not in his favour. What he could do was write music, all kinds of music, but this was a trap for his career, and his reputation after death. Publishing deals were awful and the demand (as even the greatest celebrities found to their cost) was for home entertainment, shortish pieces that could be played, preferably at sight, by the average ordinary music lover (comparable level of skill, ability to load an ipod with taste, ah well). So Schubert was a local hero, prolific producer of popular stuff, who struggled in vain to get published outside Vienna, and when he died, he was the tubby little man who wrote charming songs and piano duets for the masses. Which didn't sound like much of an oeuvre.

The irony is that this passionate back-bedroom fan-boy really was Beethoven's rightful heir, Beethoven and more, things Beethoven couldn't do; and how often does that happen? If he'd been taken seriously in life, his music would undoubtedly have lived in Beethoven's shadow too, and he'd have had different frustrations. As it is, Schubert's status is a controversy that never happened. There are passionate Schubertians, and he has a secure place in the repertoire, and there it lies.

When he'd recovered from the acute phase of the disease his health was poorish, but okay, for the last five years of his life. In October 1828, when he was thirty one, he was taken ill at a dinner party. A few weeks' later he was dead. His sudden death is held to be a puzzle, but given the many forms syphilis can take, and given the horrific, grotesque long-drawn out torture it could and can inflict on the way to killing you (in the absence of antibiotics), I don't see any mystery, and you could say he got off lightly. The sublime, unbearable sadness of his late and greatest music, the intense poignancy in the happiest, is also held by some to be a puzzle, since what, in his uneventful, modest, lower-middle-class biography prepares one for such intensity? Well, I don't know. He knew his own worth (and he was dead right). He knew he'd contracted a shameful, hideous disease that was going to kill him by inches; that all his hopes were blighted, his chances of love and happiness destroyed. He "lived with death as a constant companion for five years", and came to terms with this dark angel, faithful friend, in the language of a composer of genius. What does his class background, and failure to play before the Crowned Heads of Europe have to do with it?

(The portrait at the top of this entry is the standard model. The one on the right at the bottom is a disputed sketch of Schubert at 16. See here http://www.last.fm/music/Franz+Schubert/+images/2490089 (scroll down the comments, until you get to the informed response, which is the long one). Who can tell? I've looked at the two faces side by side, I think it could well be him).

His last sonata, in B flat (D960) is my favourite piece of music.

File beside John Keats.

The biography I read was: Schubert, John Reed, Master Musicians series; OUP; series edited by Stanley Sadie. It's really more of a Schubertian handbook, best on dates and the catalogue, and critical examples. I'm not convinced there isn't a literary biography (debunking, revisionist or otherwise), and I have my eye on one, (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Franz-Schubert-Elizabeth-Norman-McKay/dp/0198165234/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0/278-6711434-1284028) but I've no idea if I'll get round to it.

Der Leiermann (linked through the keynote portrait) is sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; piano, Alfred Brendel.

A More Equal Society

Tuesday 15th May, cool morning, heavy grey skies promising more rain. Rain in the afternoon yesterday, blackbirds scrapping in the new leaves of red maple and green elm.

I find it very mysterious, the way our rulers in government have no trouble at all spotting the need to offer substantial salaries for important posts in, say, banking, because otherwise we cannot attract the good candidates, and yet completely fail to understand that this phenomenon is scale-free, and must apply equally when you're hoping to attract and retain the good candidates for nursing, for teaching; even for hospital cleaners. You have to show people you respect them, if you want them to do their best work.

Perhaps the government is living in dreams of the past, times when one could assume that nurses and teachers had vocations, not mere jobs, and their compassion and integrity could be assumed to rise above filthy lucre... Failing to note that Tories have worked very hard to destroy the more equal society that underpinned those happy assumptions.

Reminds me of the slow-of-thinking Green revolutionary rank and file in my Bold As Love books, who sawed down all the unsightly masts, and then couldn't figure out why their mobile phones didn't work anymore.

Still reading De L'Allemagne, and I can understand why this book in particular made Napoleon so mad. It's not that the the justice and peace, liberty and enlightenment agenda is so offensive, Emperors like that sort of thing, in the abstract. It's the needly bits about great servants of the people deciding to hand out the spoils to their own families; the pitiful way men of remarkable talent fall apart, morally, when they mistake their personal vanity for a value system... But how modern it all seems!

Mme de Staël, getting on the case of her own version of the twittering and facebooking generation: "The young people, having hardly left school, hurry to embrace a career of luxurious idleness, as if it were the true mark of adulthood. Young men and young women spy on each other, picking on the most minute details, not so much out of active malice, but just to have something to say, when they have nothing to think. This kind of daily spite destroys goodwill and loyalty... "

Her point is that only a real, liberal education will teach them empathy, since the book of Nature has been closed to them by modern urban life. Il faut beaucoup savoir pour bien sentir...