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Blood Moon and Mushrooms

Monday 28th Sept, a very fine sunny day with a deep blue autumnal sky; a bit breezy.

Up to London last night to deliver Gabriel and his goods to his latest roost, first via Clapham, where he'd left the stand for his keyboard, and then, in a line straight as if the Romans laid it, to Deptford via Coldharbour Lane; at one point Peter plaintively wondering what had happened to the voice, that nice lady who lives in his smartphone. "I am the voice now," intones our son's bordering on mystical reply: and no word of a lie, Like my brother, Gabriel has a startlingly deep knowledge of the secret arteries of the capital, cutting right through the dazzle and dark and confusion. On the way back the supermoon had crossed the road, and was looking a little less impressive, as higher in the sky, but the sky was so clear I was inspired to set the alarm for 3.am. So now I'm exhausted, but I've seen a blood moon, at first like a murky round fruit set in a silver-gilt bowl; then red brown all the way. I like these night sky phenomena, if conditions are right and you take the trouble they're a treat. Better still, our view of the autumn stars was as good (once the moon was brown) as we can ever expect. Orion and the Pleiades on one side of the house, Cassiopeia, Perseus and Andromeda on the other. Image is from UK huff post.



& yesterday, escaping from town for the first time since we got back from Green Man, we went walking. Such a profusion of small flowers, self heal and wild thyme, bell heather, toadsflax and gorse, in the purple, gold & bright magenta colours of the season. Peter gave me a present, a spray of Traveller's Joy in fruit (aka Old Man's Beard); astonishing seeds in nests of silvery lace, in the shape of isocelated dodecahedrons (?) green at the heart, the tiny pointed spurs dark red. The lace has faded to wool now, so I won't try to take its photo. We met the longhorned cattle of the Friston Forest grazing project, didn't didn't catch sight of any Konik Primitive Ponies, just the ordinary kind; but spotted some Herdwicks far from home. Funghi foraging was very good, but we did not pick sloes.
We need to tackle that huge jar of plums in whisky first.




Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex?


Okay, I get that its none of my business, as I'm no Rugby fan, but I'm allergic to that new ad. Designed to appeal to wives and girlfriends and children, of course (the market hates a specialism) & I'm thinking why not just stick to appealing to the fans? Have the guys chomp the heads off small animals, something harmless like that. Those monstrous, beefy, bloated, hypermale giants, stomping across the land, while the fool populace scampers to worship at their feet: that's a little too true to be comfortable. That little tiny fragile child-woman, in her dainty babydolls, kissing her supersized husband through the bedroom window. Good god, what happens when he . . .

The reference (Man of Steel etc) is to Larry Niven's 1971 "satirical essay" of the same name, in which Niven dwells lovingly & at length on the consequences of sex with Superman for Lois Lane. Exactly how he would tear her apart, "from crotch to sternum" How his ejaculate would blow the top of her head off . . . All in fun of course, so you're a killjoy if you take offence. And still going the rounds today, as a cool, funny curiosity.

Reading

Finished my post-summer New Scientist fest, catching up after the break in routine. A magazine with issues, these days! Horribly schizophrenic on Climate Change (at least one big spread on "the terrifying truth" a week; turn the page, and next item is all about supercars. And Fred Pearce, of all people, taking Drax's money and flying to Carolina, as prep for a journalistic, neutral account of the whole "White Rose" debacle.) Ouch. And what's going on with this ever more bloated "Opinion" section? Shouldn't we be trying to reduce that element, in a science magazine? Complaints, complaints, yet I keep coming back. Can't see to help myself, but I'm going to have to recalibrate my respectometer.

Looking Forward To

Suffragette, currently. Coming to the Duke's soon. Surprisingly twenty-first century, I heard someone say. I don't think surprising is quite the term I'd be looking for. I hope it's good. Women with bodies of kleenex, and hearts of steel.


& last but not least, the PK Dick award bundle is still out there: http://storybundle.com/pkdaward. Still yours for a trifling sum.










LIFE: Has A Cover Story

"what you see's nothing, I got a Balinese dancing girl tattooed across my chest"
The Big Sleep


It all started with the Aleutian Trilogy. By the time I'd finished, I knew too much, far, far too much: about real sex science, and also about the rotten deal that women had to put up with, in any kind of science in the real world. I had to write another story. Like mother nature herself I love folding things. I soon worked out that I could write a story about women in science that would also be about the collapse of binary gender. Job done!

I started work well before the third Aleutian book was published in 1997. It was a labour of love and bricolage, a fictional biography, and a "science fiction" about something I knew to be science fact. I called it The Differences Between The Sexes (in honour of a famous nineties collection of sex-science papers; hard to get hold of now); then Differences, which I hoped was more catchy. Didn't matter what I called it, I couldn't sell it (Jo Fletcher, my editor at Gollancz handed it back metaphorically using tongs: "Sometimes I'm not sure if I like you, Gwyneth," was her verdict). Stan Robinson had nagged me for a copy of this unpublishable work. In the end, around the turn of the century, I sent it to him. It passed from Stan to Timmi Duchamp, then in the throes of setting up The Aqueduct Press. She bought it, for her first list.




A book needs a title. Differences no longer appealed. We settled on Life, while we thought of something better. A book needs a cover. I have no luck with covers; I make my own bad luck with covers, take your pick, both apply. Timmi and Kath Wilham came up with a street scene, dark colours, people hurrying face forward, overlaid with streams of the letters AGCTU, the tumbling dice of our genetic code. Well, I didn't like it. I Iiked a lotus, rising out of heart of light (symbolising god knows what about the actual book: I've competely forgotten). I roughed this out and tried the image (above) on my new publishers; they didn't like it.

So I tried the Balinese Dancer idea on them. Bear with me. The legong dancers of Bali, Indonesia, are pre-pubertal young girls, possibly possessed by angelic spirits. Their training is remorseless, depersonifying, their exquisite costume bizarrely constricting. Within these constraints, physically imprisoned by "tradition", they dance, and the dance is very beautiful. I've liked the legong dancer, for an image of what socially constructed gender role does to a talented young girl, for a long time. See Divine Endurance, and Flowerdust

("tradition" is what I point to when I say it. Legong is not ancient.)



Patiently, Kath sourced a painting of two Indonesian dancers. What she hadn't noticed, no wonder, given the costumes, was that one of them was a man. I vetoed the mixed sexes like a hellfire Presbyterian minister! To me Life was (still is) about two women, Anna and Ramone: Anna the gentle, modest, unassuming and chaste high achiever. Ramone the aggressive, shameless, rabid troublemaker: the acceptable and the unacceptable faces of liberated womanhood. (Damn, I've often thought, in retrospect, why couldn't I leave well enough alone? Those figures, almost indistinguishable, dancing together. Everyone who reads Life seems to thinks it's about "man and woman", anyway)

Anyway, Kath then sought for and found a Balinese Dance school in Washington State. She went and took pictures of actual legong dancers, practicing their moves. Amazing. I was just stunned. So there you have it. The cover story.

Except, now we're on the subject of Life, The Aleutian Trilogy and covers, I have to share a link. It's old now, but still so funny. Sometimes writers feel they might as well meddle with covers, not because they'd like to have a voice, but because how could they make things worse? The writers are wrong. See here: Phoenix Cafe. Good show, sir! Worth every penny of my pain.

This post was brought to you by the PKDick award storybundle, out today



Reading, Watching, Looking forward to . . . And coming soon.

Reading

Last night I finished reading Remembrance Of Things Past (or, if you insist, À la recherche du temps perdu , but I can only read it in English) for the sixth time in this iteration. So farewell to Marcel, and his inexplicable weakness for high-society buddies; farewell to the great work's long, blurred, dying fall, written when Proust's health was failing for the last time, and robbed of all his obsessive attention to revision. He compares himself to a seamstress in the final pages, so much cutting and tacking together and patching went into his creative process. I think of lacquerwork, immense numbers of meticulous painted layers, each contributing another invisible scintilla to the finish.

It used to be The Tale Of Genji, followed by Proust, followed by Gravity's Rainbow. Then I put Gravity's Rainbow aside (so twentieth century, you know) and added the Bible instead. (It's set in the Middle East, inn'it? Maybe I'll pick up some tips on our current End of Days scenario), but I've decided to give the classic St James version a break. I'm going to read Tolkien instead this time round. The Lord Of The Rings, in the 1973 impression hardbacks, the same books that I bought for my father, with my first earnings, back in the Seventies. Ten years later, I was writing Divine Endurance for the same firm, under the tutelage of Rayner Unwin. . . Somewhat less dense and slow than À la recherche, I wonder how long it will take me.

Also just finished a duo of novels about French colonialism, from my father's eclectic francophile library, Un Barrage Contre le Pacifique, Marguerite Duras, and Port Tarascon, Alphonse Daudet. The same story, told as tragedy in the Duras (1950); as comedy sixty years earlier in Daudet, equally biting in both forms. The Marguerite Duras story is engaging, romantic Indochine cocktail hour bleak; full of hopeless pity equally for the hapless French victims of a vicious colon system; and the destitute natives. I now want to see the 2008 movie (The Sea Wall). Also taught me something I never knew. Marigot is the french word for a backwater; a marsh. Ah! So that's why those glossy yellow flowers are called "marsh marigolds". Nothing to do with the metal, or with the Virgin Mary!

Watching

Hard to be a God, Aleksei German Irresistible one off opportunity at the Duke's last weekend. A three hours, sludge and entrails immersive experience, this masterpiece felt like every minute of three light years. But how can I describe the experience? Like standing behind a rail, watching a huge storm at sea that never lets up, but luckily you are just out of reach of actual contact with the tepid, mighty waves of mingled human dung, blood and mud, so it's somehow fascinating and you never want to look away. The film-making is extraordinary, characters (so to speak) stare straight into the lens, like wildlife caught by a nature-cam (probably disguised as a heap of dung. Or a dead pig. Or a scholar buried head first in a cesspit). Vague memories of the original Strugatsky novel were very helpful. After about two hours I recalled that all I had to do was wait for Kira (Anton/"Don Remata's" native girlfriend) to reappear . . . . I will struggle to avoid spoilers, and just tell you, when she turns up again, it's soon after the hedgehog I think, the endgame is in signt. Whew. You won't regret it!

And so goodbye OdysseySeries One. If you haven't been following this action drama (retitled from "American Odyssey" a month before it aired) don't worry, you can pick it up anytime, it's going nowhere. Series Two (no spoiler, this was the trailer) enters science fictional territory. Global tensions have miraculously relaxed, following the revelations of brave soldier Odelle. A condemned US traitor on the run has no problems with border controls. A minor alteration in hair colour, no need even to change your style: queue up and get your passport stamped.

Looking forward to . . .

Songhoy Blues on tour. They're in Brighton on November 3rd. Other tour dates here. I strongly recommend you get hold of a ticket.

The Seagull, Young Chekov season at Chichester Festival Theatre. I'm trying to educate myself. Don't know what to expect, it's one of those ones where you have to buy a pig in a poke (english expression meaning there are no reviews until the tickets are all sold out)

And finally, the PKDick storybundle is out this week



a bunch of ebooks including Life, my 2004 novel about a woman scientist and a revelation (well, more of a realisation, as I think we now know) about the nature of human sexual gender. Available 23rd September to 15th October, and if you read ebooks, quite a bargain to add to your library.

Lisa Mason told me I was one of only four female writers (no longer so! A fifth this year) to win the actual award, since its inauguration, so I'm glad to be onboard, and here's to celebrating all the great, slightly off-kilter special books in this bundle. Yours for a trifling sum. Or as much as you feel like paying.


Three Sisters

There's a book I've wanted to get hold of for a long time, The Brontës' Web Of Childhood, I think it's by someone called Elizabeth Rachford, or Ratchford?, about the imaginary histories the Brontë children invented; lived; experienced; were obsessed by well into adulthood. I'm pretty sure I wasn't much interested in Charlotte, Emily and Anne (or Branwell, the favourite, terminally drunk and fatally incontintent brother who painted this group portrait) before I found out about Gondal and Angria. The ability to create make-believe worlds and live in them has fascinated me since I first realised I had a major share of the talent -or mental health issue?- myself; which takes us back. (I wonder, now and again, why the neuroscience boomers aren't more interested in this, and would be grateful if anybody could point me in the direction of some research). But that was then. We've come a long way since the Sixties. Fantasy is big business & to my mind the games are a special case, replicating the physical immersion effects a born-that-way fantasist experiences, the way the printed page or a movie narrative cannot. I once got a chance to talk about this on a panel with Phillip Pullman; who is always interesting (still on Youtube here).

But Gondal and Angria in the novels? I'm sure I was told so once: I'm sure I was told, or taught, that the drastic, violent, highly-coloured behaviour and action in Wuthering Heights and in Jane Eyre was lifted from the fantasy scenarios . . . I don't know why, but I decided to re-read Brontë novels this summer, books I hadn't touched for many years, and I don't think so! The brutal, infantile inter-sibling violence, the destructive power of completely untamed emotion, the wild melodrama that ensues if there's a full-on alcoholic in the house, all of this awful and gripping stuff is painted, I will stake my word on it, Mr Lovecraft, directly from life. Yep, in these wild times of ours I'm certain of it. These gently bred young women, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, they all drew what they knew; what they saw; what happened where they lived on a daily basis. Maybe the literary critics of the twentieth century, that lost civilisation, just could not believe it.

Wuthering Heights is amazing. Right on the money; the cranky nested-narrative, persuading us that this is a true tale, remembered and relayed, not invented, offset by an effortless, underlying formal structure. If she was here now I'd see Emily, saved from TB, as the enfant terrible type, growing up to be a multi-talented intellectual. If she didn't kill herself with anorexia; still the plague of young girls who struggle with the strength of their own personalities today. (She gives herself away on this point. Check it out, see if I'm right. Charlotte's the same. They really don't eat much, in Brontë world!)

I read Shirley straight after Wuthering Heights. I wish I could say that this "big nineteenth century novel"' a character-driven, but analytical study of social change, industrial revolution, and the role of women; realist and yet imbued with the same post-Enlightenment nature worship as I found in Selma Lagerlöf, was Charlotte's perfected work, to match Emily's. But Emily herself, the real "Shirley", dazzling, fierce and tender captain of Charlotte's life, died when the book was being written (as did Anne and Branwell, in swift succession). The break is horribly obvious, the writer's flight from dreadful grief and loss comes out mawkish, the novel never recovers. Charlotte is different, and not only in that she didn't die, or at least not at once. I think she had a less wilful talent than Emily (no comparison is possible between either of them and Anne). She wanted to reach people. She was prepared to compromise, critical of the melodramatic tastes they all shared, and willing to reconsider: I'm sure (see a 2012 post), she came to look on that lovely gothic fairytale Jane Eyre as juvenilia, and wrote Villette as a corrective: the same story, equally as closely based on her own experience; but no fairytale.

Charlotte is my top Brontë. I'm afraid I can't stand Anne. Having embarked on my Brontë fest, I discovered that the minor sister is tops with the Goodreads Gang, and now regarded by some as having been wronged; or overlooked. I barely remembered anything about The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, so I gave it a try. It isn't so bad. I can see why Anne's naive frankness on Early Victorian Drunk-Dining And Adultery won notoriety at the time (& did her sales figures no harm!); otherwise the book is just ordinary. Could have been written last year. Then I tried Agnes Grey for completism. Ouch! Whiney, wish-fulfillment of a storyline, dull and disengenuous, chiefly used as a vehicle for monstrously self-satisfied religiosity. Her views on womanhood are horribly conventional. I'm sure the "Old Maids" chapter in Shirley is a direct rebuttal of Anne's nasty dismissal of unmarried females: dried up, spiteful, worthless and repulsive . . . In ways the germinal Brontë for the 21st century boom in Mash-up Gothicism. Like Jane Austen with Zombies, like Charlotte Brontë with Vampires, Anne writes a shrivelled husk of a story, attached umbilically to a senseless, lurid bladder of the supernatural.

Emily dominated her, and kept her captive in the Gondal and Angria continuum for longer than was quite decent. Charlotte suppressed a reprinting of that over-frank The Tenant after Anne's death. She had reason, if you know the Branwell story, but I don't know if I'd have done the same.

http://kleurrijkbrontesisters.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/httpfatalsecret.html

Positive News

Thursday 3rd September. A cool morning, sheets and fibres of white cloud threadbare over blue, but now the grey is gathering again. So many, many calls on my slender purse! (can you tell I've been reading the Brontës?). I do what I can, when I can and forgive the chugging, which I feel it's okay to resent on the street but not in your email. They're only asking! Right now, the refugees from the warzones are the top of my list, so thank you to Positive News, who not only bring me cheering stories, but also tell me practical things I can do besides despatch tiny sums of money. And thanks to Maude for the steer.

http://positivenews.org.uk/2015/community/18360/five-ways-ordinary-people-helping-refugees-calais/

Meanwhile Dave Cameron on Thorney Island persists with his King Canute* act: bidding the tide to stop rising. As I'm sure you know, dear readers, the genuine King Cnut, emperor of the north inc the Anglo-Saxon part of these islands, twelve hundred years ago, was admonishing his smarmy courtiers in this apocryphal demonstration of the limits of his power. I'm pretty sure that when Dave says "We must bring peace to these war-torn countries", he's simply drumming up Weapons Trade custom-and-kickbacks, and hasn't a further thought in his tapeworm head*: but if he was channeling Canute/Cnut maybe he wouldn't be far wrong. This tide will not stop rising, and just as no statesman in England is going to stand up, and speak with Churchill's forthright compassion** of his own accord, and say "I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. They're refugees. We have to let them in", still even now when the great waves are picking us up and tumbling us, throwing us around, dumping us down deep and grinding our faces into the sand, nobody in our government is going to say to us, not until it's far too late, THIS IS CLIMATE CHANGE. THIS IS ONE DEGREE OF WARMING! THE DAMAGE IS DONE, YOU DON'T WANT TO FIND OUT HOW MUCH WORSE IT CAN GET, FORGET THE PROFITS, F*CK THE CORPORATIONS! WE'RE KEEPING THE FOSSIL FUEL IN THE GROUND.

Nah, nobody ever says anything like that until it's May 1940 and the Panzer tanks have crossed the Rhine (please excuse me, noble Germans). You can suppress the truth as much as you like (as I once said in another context). Because it's only the abstract truth, and who cares? You can't suppress the facts, because, well, there they are, all over the place . . . I just wonder how many facts does it take?

*He's not alone, of course. The Gulf states are equally as guilty. More so, in their shameless denial of Islamic duty. This does not let Europe off the hook: it's an emergency. Call Dubai, Saudi, Qatar and the rest all the names you like. Shame them if you can: we still have to let the people in.

** Many thanks to Peter Gwilliam for providing the Churchill quote from February 1945 (see below, Comments)

Anyway, moving on.

My Summer Library (and other) Books

The Blazing World Siri Hustvedt
Phantasmagoria Marina Warner

I enjoyed both these books, they are fat but comely, they bounced off each other and around each other splendidly, and the Marina Warner has the added value of many interesting pictures & conversations. I didn't quite get art-historian Warner's thesis in Phantasmagoria. It was a bit cloudy? Something about how art and artifice have related, in both senses, to the changing status of the unconscious? But it was a wonderful ride, encompassing the first waxwork, a breathing Belle Dormant; mummified nuns, Fata Morgana, photographed fairies, spiritualists and mediums, skying the clouds and Rorshach blots. The Siri Hustvedt is a fairytale of the New York post-Warhol Art World, wherein an unwise fairy godmother, herself an artist whose career was blighted by her sex (maybe: Hustvedt is equivocal on this issue), decides to bestow the same perilous magical gift on three male artists in succession. The first lad is weak and foolish, the second lad is kind and wise, but the third, oh dear, turns out to be the devil himself, Andy Warhol in all but name. . . So now you know all you need to know, and if the Art World interests you, get hold of a copy. Except that this fairytale is cast as a scholarly monograph, (on the subject of the unlucky fairy godmother's experiment, of course); complete with contradictory interviews, tampered videos, and an ocean of staggeringly erudite footnotes. For god's sake, woman, enough with the long, discursive footnotes! On practically every page! Discursive footnotes at the back of the book, where they belong; and where they can be ignored should the reader so choose.

(Don't worry about Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, eminent C17 Royalist; natural philosopher, and "proto-feminist", author of the original "The Blazing World", She doesn't feature much, except as a reference point.)

I recommend Phantasmagoria unreservedly, for fun and as a valuable reference work, to anyone interested in the uncanny, ghosts, spookiness, eerieness, in any capacity. The Blazing World had features designed to annoy me. Including, among other exasperations, the artist as dumb medium. Art as ectoplasm; some kind of amorphous stuff that some people, through no intervention of their own, just happen to be able to channel; from the Beyond or the Collective Unconscious or whatever. The artist as insane commodity (closely related). But the tussle energised me.


Gusta Berling Saga Selma Lagerlof


Picked up by chance, as I was wandering around the library thinking about Booker candidates. Hey, why not try a female Nobel Prize winner?

The time is the 1820s. Deep in the heart of Sweden, beside a long lake, surrounded by hills and forests, there's a prosperous domain called Ekeby, ruled over by the major and the majoress (in England they'd be lord and lady of the manor). There are ironworks in the woods, there's timber in the forests; there are golden fields of grain and bountiful orchards, there's trade up and down the lake and an abundance of fine crafts, splendid woven cloth, exquisite embroidery. The household supports, besides a crowd of useful people, a cohort of dependents, mostly superannuated soldiers, known as "the cavaliers". They're not good for much, they mostly spend their days playing cards, drinking, and getting into absurd scrapes, but each of them plays a musical instrument, each of them has stories; each is a story in himself. They are the leaders of all revelry, and add a glorious element of misrule to Ekeby's rich character. But their acknowledged chief is a young man, Gusta Berling, a minister who has disgraced his cloth, a poet and a dreamer, continually falling in love and then falling out again, to the sorrow and outrage of a succession of fine, deeply respected young women . . . . Then one day something goes wrong. The disaster involves a pact with the devil, and I really can't explain it here, but the upshot is that the major departs, the majoress is banished and takes to the roads like a beggarwoman, and for a year and a day (I put the day in because in English there's always "a day") the cavaliers are left in charge. I absolutely love this book. It's described on the back cover as a Swedish Pickwick Papers, only written by a woman, but that doesn't really tell you much. It's entertaining, lyrical and tragic, and slightly, lightly fantastic. The landscape, the seasons, the animals, trees, flowers hills woods and forests are characters in their own right (you'll never get that in Dickens), and I loved the sly, affectionate way the cavaliers are presented: as a burden on society; tolerated, pathetical, and helplessly destructive.

Like Cranford in trousers, only funnier, more beautiful, and much more powerful

Go Set A Watchman Harper Lee


Is poor stuff, not much of a story and I particularly didn't like the ending. Not the bit where Atticus Finch turns out to have the prejudices and the convictions of his time and his background. No, it's the bit that comes after that, when Jean Louise (Scout) calms down and realises that her burst of outrage was just a bit silly. Her honoured and honourable dad, her charming uncle and her prospective husband aren't bigots. They're only protecting their way of life, and the grand old traditions of the South. Nothing going on here worth quarrelling with your family about . . . And so we leave her, wisely deciding to avoid conflict and getting ready to hold up half the sky for her menfolks' reasonable, moderate and kindly contempt for "the negro".

That just won't do. Not even in a first draft*** Maybe it's because of where I'm standing, looking at the USA today, but I can't stomach that. It wouldn't do then, and it won't do now. Do not condone. Not peace but a sword. Walk away.

NB: links to Amazon books in this blog in no way represent an encouragement to purchase from the store. I do it for the reviews.


Okay, I take that back, a first draft is a novel's private life, and entitled to be full of blunders, errors in taste, etc. But a published book is a public utterance, and you have to be careful what you say.















Upping Tools



In other words it rained, and the rain was beautiful. I almost resented the intervals of sunshine, the great trees of the Glanusk estate were so beautiful in the damp mist. The towering lime west of Main Stage was my best act, the oaks and sycamores that graced the Outdoor Spa excellent in concert with the little birds that darted about high in their branches, the Sequoia Gigantica at the Box Office, and not to forget the Second Huge Small-leaved Lime, on the track by the Far Out field, lit purple and green after dark, a thick canopy that kept the last carpet of dead leaves dry for al fresco dining; until finally vanquished on Sunday. Songhoy Blues were absolutely wonderful, I don’t even mind that I missed a glorious thunderstorm while dancing like a loon. For that hour there was no distance between us and the performers, they had put heartbreak aside; they loved to play, and dance, we loved to dance: we were on a level. Illusion? Escapism? If so I preferred it to the different illusions of corporate rock, or aspiring corporate entertainment.

The nearest I ever got to Mali was a bus-stop out in the middle of nowhere, in Cameroon. That, and looking up about ancient Malian astronomer observations of Venus, for my "Old Venus" story. Dismissed as fantasy by early Europeans, because how could anyone, much less in darkest africa, record such accurate naked eye observations. But they can, they did. West African people make such long journeys! I wish I could go there. To Bamako. Maybe, one day. I wouldn't have to fly, which is a bonus because I don't. Great thing about Africa and Europe, but for a tiny sea crossing I could walk, if I had the time and the legs for it . . .

Me, I didn’t come to Green Man for the music. Or for the neo-paganism, although we did visit the Green Man in the rain, and admired web of cedar tile petitions strung around him; to be burned on Sunday. The exact same form of pleas and prayers as we'd seen preserved at Dodona, Dion, Delphi. (Nothing changes in human nature. Shame the same can't be said for the effects of human nature on one small planet . . .) Or for the beer. To my mind there’s few certainties in life, but one of them is that if 500 different craft beers are offered, every brew you try will be cr*p. (I was right) I came for the food, the fresh air, and the scenery. But once we got here, of course I started playing Pokemon. Got to catch them all! Calexico, loving the rain and grieving for wildfires in Arizona and CA. Hot Chip, highly satisfactory; going out on Dancing In The Dark. Oops, we missed The Temples. D*mn there goes Courtney Barnett! How the hell did we miss Atomic Bomb??? But Songhoy Blues, my MUST HAVE, safely secured, plus The Staves (such musicianship, and such cool stagecraft, so ladylike and affable), Father John Misty (so avuncular, so tv host and ditto), St Vincent So icy and distant, such wincy little lyrics, but still you really should see Annie Clark & co live. I do not personally like the stilted (literally!), alt. Lady Gaga gynoid act or costume, but she really can play guitar. Catch her now, while she's young and innocent.

And a lovely acrobatic ballet/masque/ by Citrus Arts at Fortune Falls about the ghost of a slaughtered stag, the bad baron’s beautiful daughter & the revenge of the wild wood. And many more.

& all the while I was looking around, & I was thinking I invented you people. Back in 1998 when I was dreaming up Bold As Love, this phenomenon, this inescapable summer feature of our modern world did not exist. Rock festivals were a laughable minority sport, something students did and got over it. Wellies for the over-fives came in green for toffs, plain black, or a very practical shade of mud. Glamping at Glastonbury hadn’t been invented & my agent said, but Gwyneth, nobody’s interested in Jimi Hendrix. Who he?

Did I forget Einstein's Garden? Place the Zen Self tent here, alongside the Botanical Garden of Wales, the man with the hydrogen engine demo and the people from NPL; with their interesting information about a sublimating kilogram

Not really very Green at all, no, no, no. Take a glance at the vast sea of shining cars. Forget that illusion! No more than the fictional Festival of Dissolution was. Not at all dangerous to the State of Things around here either; sad to say. But still.

Very late Sunday night, having gone neither to Lethe, Wolfsbane, Nightshade or any other reality enhancement (there comes a time . . .) I lay awake, listening to Manchester Man being led away by a mildly coaxing female. from the gazebo party next door; into the rain at last, full of beer and god knows what, roaring to one of the other guests, at the top of his mighty, infantile lungs “Right! Bastard! I’m going off to do a great big poo in your tent now!”

Aoxomoxoa, I thought, in his intemperate youth, cannot be far away.

It’s September. I have upped my downed tools. Normal service, media reviews, sarcastic revelations, exhortations to protest against this and that, etc will be resumed next post.



The Lilies

Wednesday 15th July, moist grey heavy weather, lot of heat in the sun when it breaks through. At the weekend, it was David and Christina's birthday party in Clapham, it must be the holidays. Today I cut down the Lilium Regale, that had to be in pots out at the front of the house because the pollen is poisonous to cats; they've been glorious in this their second year. We're packing for camping, we're off to Chamonix, and up to the refuge du lac blanc. Wonder what kind of weather we'll get. Blistering hot, thunderstorms, cold and icy with visibility near zero. According to the available forecasts, it could be anything. & so goodbye Grexit, see you after Green Man* (I do not believe the Greeks will accept the so-called deal, why the hell should they? And even if they do, this obviously isn't over). Goodbye the ever more desperate news from Fort Calais, our local hot spot in the global refugee crisis. Goodbye Fox-Hunting-Gate, wherever you may be leading us (anyone who believes Cameron doesn't want the Scots out of the union hasn't been paying attention. How else is he going to get rid of the humane majority that's knackering his plans? But that's some heavy medicine.) Goodbye Froomey, unless we catch up with you in Chamonix. Ginger is lounging on the hot patio, Milo looking for frogs to play with in the long wild weeds I call my Flower Meadow. I saw a female stickleback dart like silver wire, the male (still in his mating plumage? Is this normal?) peeping from under the lilypads. Goodbye wild fish, it's beautiful that you live with us. Goodbye cats, forgive us for our treachery.

One final note, I put up The Powerhouse for free sales at the beginning of June, and then forgot to advertise.But I also forgot to opt out of Kindle Select Unlimited (or whatever it calls itself, no earthly use to me except for giving ebooks away every now and then), so anyone who wants a free copy of The Powerhouse ebook should check the amazon sites 28th-July- 30th August. I could write a little more, but I have to go and look for the kettle's whistle, I may be back later . . .

Reading:

Station Eleven Emily St John Mandel

Pandemic Apocalypse Lite. Rich White People in 21st century California think the world has ended because they can't dive into chlorinated swimming pools no more. Hm. And what happens at the end? Oh, I see, it's just like The Day After Tomorrow, that scene a couple of weeks after the Climate Change Apocalypse and some very moving human interest stuff, where all the New Yorkers are rescued from the tops of Manhattan's towers? The lights are on again! It was just a 20 year blip, business as usual can now reccomence!

I'm jaded. I'm sorry, I know this book has had a lot of praise. That's why I read it; I ate it, I eat bestsellers, even though I know exactly what happens in the kitchen of that restaurant. But this time I just don't get it.

Watching

Odyssey. Because it's in Bamako.

But from now on for a little while watching birds, flowers, skies and snow, and the white caps on the navy blue water of Lac Leman. Happy Birthday in advance to my brother in law Dave, and post-the-event to my brother David.


A Rock And A Hard Place

Monday 29th June, fine and clear. Between a rock and a hard place: members of Lancashire County Council Development Committee had all my sympathy this morning, caught between menaces from the Cuadrilla wise guys' lawyers (Mind how you vote, we know where you live, you know. We can make you pay!), and corrupt "direction" from David Cameron's meretricious government. I wasn't hopeful, but so far so good, common sense prevailed in Preston today, and Preston New Road Little Plumpton, Lancs will not, as of now, become a fracking site. I doubt if it's even the end of the beginning. Cuadrilla will appeal*. The fracking industry will keep coming (for at least a few more years; until they get bored of pretending they believe there's a "bonanza" lurking in UK shale) but every refusal makes the next refusal a little more probable, and opens up a space that can be flooded with more, and yet more evidence. And every appeal against a refusal, as Francis Egan has probably noticed by now, is another showcase for the opposition.

There is no case for shale oil and gas extraction.
There is no case for any new oil and gas extraction industry, anywhere.
The worst that can happen to a council for refusing is a fine.

This is not a sideshow. The world has to be transformed, or humane civilisation will die (along with many other species!), and this is one of the places where the tide turns.

Anyway, read all about it on drill or drop

My rock and hard place picture was taken on the edge of Kinderscout (by the Downfall) last Thursday, when I was out walking with a ramblers' group, retracing the steps of the Kinderscout Mass Trespass in 1932. Walking en masse is not usually for me (unless Parliament Square is somehow involved, okay), but it was in a good cause this time. Lovely day for it, charming sheep (esp one Swaledale ewe, intent on training her three-quarter grown lamb how to hussle tourists); & so many swifts, diving and skimming around us above the bog cotton, as we crossed Red Brook and headed back to Hayfield. Many thanks to Elly for organising me into this outing, and to the Ramblers for permitting me to join them.

Reading

Who Killed Robin Cleve?

I took Donna Tartt's The Little Friend to Manchester with me, to read on the train. I didn't read it when it came out, having read a few reviews first, though I loved A Secret History. I loved The Little Friend for almost four hundred pages. It was a great Southern Gothic, like Jane Austen on crack**, horribly funny, & I didn't mind if the set pieces, esp Snakes In Da House! went on and on a bit. But then someone seems to have lost interest, and I don't think it was me. Dunno what went wrong. I do, however, know who killed little Robin Cleve***. Or, I should say, I'm pretty sure. I'm pretty sure it's obvious if you think about it, like a detective book reader, but I'm definitely not going wading back through all those pages to check. Whether Donna Tartt intended her many frustrated readers to be as baffled as they seem to have been, that's the real mystery.

Looking Forward To (vicariously)

I won't be at Blissfields, Vicarage Farm Winchester, this weekend (otherwise engaged), but if you're going, make sure you save a place on your dance card for a really lovely singer songwriter, Millie Upton. Gabriel Jones is playing keyboards for her. They're third down in one of the smaller tents.

So little good news, so much that's fearsome and hideous, almost beyond the point of no return. I lie awake in the early morning, and listen to the gulls calling; the juveniles peeping and whistling. I never thought I'd be so glad to hear them, but for the last week or two they've had competition. There are sparrows chirp, chirp, chirping tunelessly in the front garden with the big yellow privet bush, right across the Crescent from us. Like a homely little friend returned from the grave. Are they back? After fifteen years away? Even in this terrifying, swiftly darkening world things can still get better as well as worse. Never say die.


*Of course Mr Egan's surprised. So would you be, if you thought the "vote" you needed had been bought and paid for!
** Crystal meth, in fact, but crack scans better.
***I'll tell you if you like, but owing to spoiler culture you'll have to approach me privately.

Don't Frack Lancs

Monday 22nd June, cool and rainy. The first two froglets of the season transferred from the nursery tank to the wildlife pond on Saturday (where we hope they are too big for the ferocious boss stickleback to tackle, but it isn't critical, we have plenty frogs this year); the first two tiger moths emerged, found each other and immediately began an endurance copulation stunt, and then we had a barbecue with rugs, two of our guests were returning from the Anti-Austerity march, only one made it to the feast, reporting a nice, party atmosphere up there (allowing for the usual ruckers) & no trouble from the police; happy Solstice.

My fracking round-up wakes up again in a brand new world. To put it simply, for the last few years opponents to the great plan to rip up the rural UK with thousands, upon thousands, of poisonous, dangerous drilling wells, for no b***dy good reason whatever except making some rich people richer, have called the government's bluff. We have proved, comprehensively, that if you subject the fracking industry to regulation, the fracking industry can't survive (a lesson the USA skipped, or the first well would never have been drilled). Francis Egan himself (Cuadrilla CEO) expressed this opinion. Environmental hazards, unacceptable industrial traffic, polluting development in rural areas, destructive effects on wildlife and natural beauty, overwhelming resistance from local communities; Environment Agency concerns about water table contamination & identified and unidentified poisons in the drilling fluids; irreconcilable with carbon emission targets, unacceptable etc etc. There was just no way forward. The fracking industry could always be stopped, and always would be stopped, by determined and well-informed opposition.

So, we are at stage 2. The government has called our bluff. The fracking industry can't survive regulation? Fine! We'll get rid of the regulation! The Infrastructure Bill is law, anything, any poison whatever can be pumped into the ground and into our water. We have no right to refuse. The National Parks are not protected. The government of the UK, that's any UK government*, is legally obliged to "maximise the economic recovery of oil and gas". The fracking industry will no longer be regulated. The public will not be consulted. The Environment Agency will not make inspections or assessments. Permits for exploratory drilling must be issued automatically. Actually, the Environment Agency is no more. It has been taken down to the cellar and shot in the back of the neck (with or without a blindfold, we don't know). Your Lib Dem MP's private opinion is overruled by his party's committment to fracking, and the same goes for Labour. Oddly enough, you might even be better off with a Conservative, but that's a postcode lottery, sort of. Here's Nicholas Soames on the subject

here's that "maximise the emissions" link again, worth a look and worth sharing, and a referenced version of the Ecologist article:

http://occupylondon.org.uk/the-infrastructure-bill-and-the-new-legal-duty-to-maximise-emissions/

http://www.fraw.org.uk/mei/musings/2015/20150615-decc_media_misinformation.html

Has anybody here seen defra recently, by the way? You may have wondered why I stopped updating on ash dieback? That's because the tracking of the outbreak has been dramatically stepped down. There's not much to tell you, since most of the UK's rate of infection is now classified as "undefined". The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs may still be alive, but I'm not sure how many arms or legs the poor creature still possesses. Or where it's currently being detained.

Where do we go from here? Interestingly, there's been a correspondence in New Scientist (13th June) on the puzzle of human pain, giving scientific backing to the strategy that remains freely available. Why do humans make such a fuss when they're injured and vulnerable? Why scream, groan and carry on the way we do? Isn't that counter-adaptive? Maybe not. "External signs of distress," says Mr Peter White of Cardiff "caused by pain, must be strong enough to overcome (this powerful avoidance tendency) the revulsion we feel towards cues associated with disease-risk. We might feel pain more than other species because it is the way to get people to help us when they really want to get away from us. It's not easy being a social animal"

Do no harm. But make yourselves hard to ignore. Non-Violent Direct Action. It's worked before. I have the right to vote (currently!) to prove it.

http://www.unisonnw.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Dont-Frack-Lancs.pdf

I can't be in Preston this week (ironically, because I'll be in Manchester). But I'm afraid I'll have other opportunities. If you can't be there either, at least consider signing the petition. Fracking is not a minor issue. It's a wrecking ball through our hopes of saving the future, and our hopes of having a country worth living in.

Footnote on Sir Tim Hunt:

Just for the record, by his own report Nobel Laureate Sir Tim Hunt wasn't joking. At the time he confirmed that he'd meant what he said (about women being a menace in the lab, and segregated labs being advisable etc), but he did realise it had been foolish to make such remarks in front of the journalists. He was just being honest! The "I was only joking" spin arrived several days later, and is really creepy. He meant what he said, he has not apologised, and please don't tell me he's getting loads of support from Other Arrogant Male Scientists, and their female admirers (of course he is! Would you Fifty Shades Of Grey leave it out???); and expect me to be impressed. Or expect me to be less concerned.

Here's the top original witness-tweet

http://www.themarysue.com/sir-tim-hunt-sexist/

Distractingly Sexy news of a better kind here, in the latest issue of the International Journal of Gender, Science and Technology: You can get copies of all the papers for free. http://genderandset.open.ac.uk/index.php/genderandset
My seagulls did come back, by the way. Just fewer than last year, and fewer chicks being raised, but at least our colony is still with us. I hear them calling every morning now, at dawn and often in the night, and I don't mind the racket at all







*the Tories probably couldn't make this stick if the Greens won a General Election, but in that unlikely event so many bets are off, I suppose they decided not to worry. All other parliamentary parties are in agreement with this Maximum Extraction line.

For The Love Of: Post Mortem

Friday 19th June, sunny and clear, light breeze, blue and silver sky; a blackbird singing outside my open window.

Duly went up to London for the fortheloveof Climate Change action event on Wednesday. It was a small gathering, a few thousand people: mostly Faith groups (almost entirely Christian or Muslim, far as visible identifiers go) and the emergency humanitarian orgs (hard to tell those two apart these days); plus the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB. A mild mannered lot! We did not, as I'd thought was the plan, swarm into the Lobby to speak to our various MPs. No, no. We gathered in little constiuency groups along the Embankments and across Lambeth and Westminster Bridges, and our MPs were brought to us, thus causing absolute minimum disturbance to the House. (Maybe there was a good fortheloveof reason for this revision, but I sometimes think the gentle people have a little to learn about protest as an effective tactic). Anyway, the half dozen of us who got to talk to Caroline Lucas were, as she ruefully remarked, probably having the best of it. Nick Herbert of Arundel and the South Downs, I am shocked to report, apparently told his constituents that unregulated fracking all over the UK is vital so that we will be self sufficient in fuel. Nick Herbert, who cannot possibly be such a dummy; who knows very well that the shale gas/or oil, if any, will go to feed the European energy market, and sold to the highest bidder, to benefit the shareholders, not the fuel poor of the UK. Last year, he defended the Weald valiantly from Celtique Energie. But there's been an election. Votes have plummeted in value (and will stay low for years! It's lovely!). His constituents, who may have thought they'd been saved, had better watch out!

There was bunting, there were free Ben and Jerry icecreams ad lib, and a beautiful, touching art installation by South London school kids & students in the Archbishop's Park (the Archbishop's Park was the best bit), there were "workshops" in the Royal Society's Emmanuel Centre, including two Royal Society actual scientists, roped in to give us a really excellent illustration of the problem with Climate Change as an issue . . . The bloke's main points were a) I'm a scientist, I'm sceptical of everything and b) I'm sorry to be a spoiler but the sea ice in the Arctic hasn't been behaving as you people would obviously like.

I'll accept the first assertion (with reservations!). The second seemed either deliberately misleading (the actual situation: Arctic Sea Ice Grows) a bad case of Climategate Paranoia Syndrome, or maybe just hard to make out. The other scientist was milder, but seemed equally uncomfortable. She just said, biodiversity in the oceans will change due to acidification, because acidification stops things building skeletons. If you like kelp and you like algae, you'll be fine. Jelly fish too, she could have added . . .

There was the No Nukes guy with his little No Nukes dog, convinced the whole operation was a front for the Nuclear Power lobby. There was the Population Matters stall, from which Peter and I both silently, politely and independently turned away. We have one child between us, our choice, but anything that smells like First Worldism (your babies aren't as good as mine) is a big taboo. Sorry mates, sure you mean well, but there has to be another way. There was the smiling bicyclist, who wanted to know what it was all about: whose response to our explanation that we all need to use less energy, and keep fossil fuel in the ground, to avoid catastrophic climate change, was a smug and smiling, "But we're all addicted, aren't we", wringing from me an unforgiveable, dreadful, "Oh, I can't be bothered with this. Let's go." There's a reason why I've never been tempted to go into politics. I'm sorry smiling lady. I'd been out of sorts all day. The air in London was stifling, my head felt thick, I was still recovering from that hopeless struggle with Consultation 11.

Global warming is happening now, and hitting the poorest people in the world first and worst, that's why I was in London. We can't stop it, the damage that has been done will stay done for thousands of years (now why do I, a non-scientist, have to make that Job's comforter point?). But I, for one, personally, am going to continue trying to stop it getting worse. If we are addicted to tumble dryers, longhaul holidays, new cars, whatever your poison is, we can get sober. It can be done. Addicts do beat their addictions. 4 degrees of warming is unacceptable, however good it looks in a Mad Max movie. I know I won't be there (except the results of fast-track warming are unpredictable, and there I go, talking like a scientist again; so who knows). But I feel I have a lot of children, and grandchildren, and they will be there. A lot of responsibility for their world.

My Library Books

Memory of Water Emmi Itäranta Young adult (far as I can tell), climate fiction debut. Some very nice touches, a sober, gentle pace that suited the Tea Ceremony motif; nice detail, but this one felt unstructured. Like a first draft that needed another going over to pull all the threads tight. I wanted to know, for instance, what the Tea Ceremony tradition was even doing in Finland & I didn't like the drop off ending. I probably won't be looking for episode 2 unless I get a strong shove in that direction.

The Girl With All The Gifts. M.R. Carey. Not much to it: a nice, light zombie apocalypse read. Squeamish fans will be pleased to know (if nobody has told you yet) that Carey reduces his cast so dramatically (early on and without much ghastly detail), that you will be spared that Walking Dead ordeal of seeing your current favourite member of the plucky band of survivors eaten alive before your very eyes every ten pages. He can't spare a one of them until the finale! I enjoyed this, but I might skip the movie.

footnote: Climate Change not so lite. What was really going on that day in:

Climate Change Policy and Practice

postscript: To save you having to read the whole thing, Rolling Stone has done a precis of that Encyclical:

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-13-most-radical-lines-from-the-popes-climate-encyclical-20150618






Standard Rules Consultation No.11: Relaxing the rules for fracking start-ups, was this a public consultation?

I'm a bit lost for words on this "Consultation No.11" thing, although not entirely (see below). What's the use? is one response. Why didn't I know, is another? Was this a public consultation or not? I'm not totally clear. When I tried checking for previous comments, on the online form, I found responses to a previous consultation (Horse Hill) but apparently not a single person had entered any objections to this one, before me. Can't be right.

Anyway, what is it? This is, I think, an early implementation of the Fracking Good/Onshore Wind Farms Bad new legislation in the Infrastructure Bill. It's wickedly, blatantly, all about serving private vested interests. You used to have to get the Environment Agency to make an assessment, before you could apply for exploratory drilling, in preparation for fracking for gas or oil. In future, that won't apply. You just tell the Environment Agency what you fancy doing, where you fancy doing it, they refer themselves to their spreadsheet, which says Low Risk all the way across the boxes, whether the supposed question is about the protection of rare bats, air quality, climate change, noise pollution, or what the hell, and then they issue a "Standard Permit". Job done.

Exploration shows the very clear intention to exploit. The oil men know what's down there, "Exploration" is boots on the ground, foot in the door, it's standard tactics, and, as I thought we all knew by now, Cuadrilla and Celtique Energie (Balcombe, Fernhurst, Wisborough Green & Kirdford ) have consistently told their shareholders they intend to extract by hydraulic fracking, in just about so many words, while at the same time promising the locals, hand on heart that they will never, ever frack!.

Anyway, I'm bemused, but I responded to 38 Degrees, and I made my personal response here:

https://consult.environment-agency.gov.uk/portal/ho/ep/src/newrules/oilandgas

& to help you out, if you wish you had known about this, and you want to hurry and get your response in by midnight, or by tomorrow, here's what the questions are and what I said:

Update: I'm sure you've had enough of looking at my spluttering. Here's a link to The Ecologist instead.

Oh. It's shorter than it was last week (but I can fix that|). . . What a tricksy place the Internet is!

The Ecologist 15th June

The Wildlife Trust's June Challenge #2

A stormy night, & now the panes are blind with showers. Have gone out in the rain to feed the birds, black sunflower seeds and live mealworms. The birds are not in evidence, not even the starlings. It certainly is wild and wet out there. Todays interaction with wildlife was that I killed two slugs that were after Peter's youngest sweet peas. Which was a bit pointless. The photo is of red campion and wild parsley at Woods Mill where we went last week to hear the nightingales (not much luck with the latter, and see if the kestrels were nesting again. They weren't, but there was a nice lot of bat action in the gloaming, along with a half moon, and a cuckoo's song,

The Wildlife Trust's June Challenge #1



The blue tits next door fledged! We watched three emerge in the morning, and later I took pictures of the 4th. This is the best of them. I got worried that I was upsetting the little bird (though it gave no sign) and stopped and went away before it actually flew.
Bon voyage, kiddies

Nicky next door says blue-tits only live about one and a half years on average in the wild, but there's a record of one living to be 21. So I suppose the limitation is: they are popular prey, and live until something kills them.

Watching

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night The "Iranian Vampire Western". Very beautiful b&w cimematography and a tiny movie with a tiny but appealing cast, sparsely inhabiting an urban wasteland called Bad City, oil donkeys ducking and rising in the background as a constant refrain. The Iranian girl vampire is a great conceit, shimmering sinister apparition in her black cloak. I loved it when she takes the little kid's skateboard & from then on scoots around on it, when out hunting. Why a Western? I don't really know, but I did think of Once Upon A Time In Anatolia. Is it the loneliness, the desolation of the landscape urban and otherwise; the makeshift-seeming city melting into badlands; the gun law or none? Is it the darkness on the edge of town? A Springsteen sort of Western.

Timbuktu Stunning to look at, low-key, wise and sad. I can't tell you much, go and see it. It's not going to tell you anything you don't know, but it's heartbreaking, and grimly interesting, to see what happens to individual people, ordinary lovely people, when IS arrives in town.

I thought of Walter Scott's novels, which are often about the savage wars of religion in the UK in the seventeenth century, especially in Scotland, & the culture around that time (and often btw sympathetic to women's rights). I never noticed when I was a child (I wasn't meant to) but rape happens a lot in Scott's novels. It's called "outrageous violence". Women, especially young women suffer "outrageous violence", from lawless armed men on both sides all the time. Marriage by rape and kidnap (actually, "rape" covers the whole process, you snatch a girl, rape her and keep her; and possess her child, if any) was something every family with a daughter feared and not only from the religionists of course. The rapist's party (just as in Timbuktu) liked to insist on moral acceptance of the crime, and could usually rely on the girl and her family being shamed & scared into accepting a form of marriage. But in Scotland, even three hundred years ago, women were not cattle. They were persons, and had rights in law. There's a historical account, I think it's in the preamble to Rob Roy of a young woman who refused to comply. Her rapists' lawyers tried every trick in the book (they needed to catch her acting nicely in the rapist's company; so they could say she was willing). But her father had good lawyers too, she stuck it out, and in the end, god bless legalistic Scots, eh?, she won & went home. Most didn't.

I suppose you could hope that equally legalistic Islam would work for you in the same circs, if IS wasn't doing the interpreting. But not really. A woman living under Sharia, as things stand, is living on the edge.

Mad Max: Fury Road Gabriel's treat. 2D, naturally. I was fine with it. Nostalgic. How often, in the long ago, did convoys of desperate good guys, in whacky falling apart transport, flee across our basement floor, savagely pursued by evil Transformers . . . ? How well I remember those days. And on the way home I got to explain to Gabriel why its "The Many Mothers" as the desirable alternative to one Big Daddy, in terms of a) social animal behaviour & b) humane governance. I've done that before too. Plus, who could ever have enough of Charlize Theron being heroic with a buzz cut, a big gun and a fancy mech arm?

Peter did not like this movie at all.

A Day In Birds

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

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

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

Reading

The Chemistry of Tears, Peter Carey.

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

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

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

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

bird images from the RSPB

Girlhood

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

Girlhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* subaltern: a subordinate; in critical theory a population outside the power structures of a society. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subaltern_postcolonialism

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

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