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9 Million Litres Of Water

The Traveller's Joy (a rescue plant from the pavement cracks outside our front door, two years ago) that tangles all over the holly and the Bonsai Pine, has flowered for the first time, and is already fading. The scaffolding has finally gone . . . just when I was getting used to having a climbing gym outside my high window, and a (fragmentary) sea view from the top of it. We are solar-paneled, we are double-glazed, the garden is restored to its usual level of untidiness, thank god. In theory I love the summer, but this love is based on the romance of childhood, the end of the educational year, when you down-tools, walk away and abandon your desk as if forever, which I never lost, because my mother was a teacher (until Peter retired). Not so keen on the programme of works idea.

The Consultations

To business. There are two UKGov "Consultations" you need to respond to, before 25 October, if you are at all interested in stopping the Tory Party driven, corrupt, fracking industry's assault on democracy; and poisonous industrialization of the countryside. Not to mention the dire reality of climate change. (No point in mentioning that, because Tories just think "I'm rich, I hate foreigners and and I hate my children, so why should i care?)

One consultation asks you to agree that the construction, drilling and operation of a fracking well, (or any number of fracking wells) for exploration and production of oil or gas should be treated as a "permitted development" (like a small garden shed, for instance) that doesn't require planning permission, so that local government and local communities will have no say in the decision, and the plans to frack can come later, with no further inconvenience! Should "stimulation" be necessary!.

The other asks you to agree that the construction, drilling and operation of a fracking well, (or any number of fracking wells) should be treated as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, (like a new railway or motorway network; or a nuclear power station); so that local government and local communities will have no say in the decision.

You can see why these two very different and on the face of it contradictory approaches have equal appeal to UKgov.

Unfortunately, since the wording of the questions is very confusing, the gov doesn't offer any hand-holding, but Frack Free United has useful walkthroughs here:

Meanwhile, at Balcombe, at Horse Hill, and at Brockham, oil production in the Weald Basin slips by, under the radar. Still industrialising the countryside, still corrupting our local democracy, still blighting clean energy development, but it's not fracking, just a few unauthorised donkeys nodding in the woods; it's not new bad news and though you just keep on saying no, there has to be triage.


Only 13 pretty little newt infants raised in captivity this year, but more fun, owing to the fact that our wildlife pond had become such a murky puddle, in the weeks of semi-drought, we decided to keep them in a tank until they were almost grown (they leave the water at the end of August or so), and discovered the delights of feeding them. They certainly knew what to do with a cloud of brine shrimp! Only two nights sleeping out in Sussex, and only 10 in Brittany, but we got to Ouessant (Ushant) on the last day trip of the year, which we've never managed before, and the sea voyages there and back; very fine too. Starry nights which I'd been missing badly . . . except for Mars, always managing to be visible even in the thick rainless cloud of this summer in England, baleful red-orange dot, like the Eye of Sauron peering above the horizon at the bottom of our garden.

Mixed Media

The Labour Conference was good value; the Tories promising, but dull so far, after that early amusing data breach. I'm reading the Bible again (which I do, periodically, always the King James, because it's full of quotations), and discovering again how the famous, marvellous, life-changing OT (as we call it) is largely boring bits, lists, unaccountable repetition of huge chunks of sartorial instruction, nit-picking and misplaced attention. Look at Joseph in Egypt, so famous for those clever prophetic dreams. Ha! What about that Pharoah, (whoever he was)? A CEO, PM, Great Dictator, king, chief, president, whatever . . . who actually listened to the commonsense advice, and actually acted on it. Unheard of. This does not happen. That's the real wonder tale. But maybe it gets better. Of course I haven't got to Psalms yet. Did you know that Sarah (Abraham's chief wife, remember) seems to have also been his sister? Did you know women like Rachel had property of their own?

I've also decided to read Virginia Woolf again (=the Joanna Russ connection) & thanks to the modern miracle of epub, I can embark on The Lot, from The Voyage Out to Early Journals (pub1990). The Voyage Out conjures up my own youth (because that's when I last read it), in its lovely, wavering, acutely observed Impressionist style, but then a pall descends on everything, because I know someone's going to die, and there's going to be nothing else to say. Night and Day is where I am now, and it goes on a bit. On and on and on. What strikes me most is the vital, unthinking, ritual shibboleth of meal times; especially tea. The religion that outlasted religion. I suppose it comes of having servants. The servants dictate the household routine, and it's built around meals, so that's the law everybody has to obey. Ah, well. Ever onward.

Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies
Farewell and adieu to you ladies of Spain
For we're under orders to set sail for old England
And we may never see you fair Spanish Ladies again

We'll rant and we'll roar like true British sailors
We'll rant and we'll roar all across the salt seas
Until we strike soundings in the Channel of Old England
From Ushant to Scilly is thirty-five leagues

9 million litres? That's how much water is used for one frack. The contaminated waste water can then, in the US, be used to irrigate crops. Not over here: not yet. But it's not a good idea to drink it!

A Very British Protest

Not much of a march, really. St James's Square, to Parliament Square. How long's that going to take? Twenty minutes? Half an hour, tops. We assemble under the auspices of the Army and Navy Club. They've put their flag out for us, UNITATE FORTIOR; now that's nice. I admire the fine placard created by one of the scientists-against-Brexit contingent, and am allowed to take a photo (L). We wait. It's another of this summer's sunny but somehow lightless days. Not too warm, but the air is poor; occasionally, throughout this afternoon, actually stinking. We wait. The Lib Dems, similarly imprisoned in the other outlet from the Square, are getting restive (Peter and I are with the Greens). There are many homemade placards. There are also, as far as the eye can see in either direction along Pall Mall, hordes of people waving the blue flag with the yellow stars. Contrary to punditry, a large contingent, it looks maybe as much as 40-50%, seem to be over fifties. But younger people too, and teenagers, and families. What do we have in common? We are all able to figure out that two and two make four, and neither five nor three. We can see where the lady ended up, in the shell game, but we would never be such fools as to bet money on her position. And crucially, it seems from where I stand, we are good-natured.

Relatively privileged, of course, on the raw data. First since we can all afford to travel to the centre of London, and more importantly since we've escaped or resisted the mass-population dehumanising efforts of successive Tory governments. However far we are, individually, from power and influence, we still believe we are human, and citizens. We may be subaltern but we can speak.

I used to work in a jobcentre, many years ago. What goes on in those places these days sickens me.

There's a rumour that we're being held in these pens because the whole route is packed solid, the flood of numbers is so much higher than expected (the plan had been for a few hundreds, max?). Another rumour that we're being bunched together for a more striking effect. We wait, patient and good-tempered.

Peter & I wander about, cross Pall Mall. We eat our excellent tortilla sandwich, from the Spanish grocers at the bottom of Trafalgar Street,, and juicy late-season Valencia oranges, sitting on a kerbstone. We read placards (we have none of our own, or a flag). Sporadic roars rush through the crowd, like waves up a beach.

And we're off, for a short walk down to Trafalgar square, where the lions and Nelson are screened off for a rather late Eid celebration fete, and on into the land of war memorials, and pedestal-mounted "old blokes in 'ats on 'orses". The familiar, wailing cry of "OOOOh Jeremy Corbyn" causes puzzlement to be expressed in the ranks, and quickly morphs into the more appropriate "Where's Jeremy Corbyn?" But unfortunately the leader of the er, Opposition, so to speak, is a Brexiteer, for political reasons, and the lad is not for turning, no matter what the hell damage the break inflicts.

Rude words are bawled out, to anciently popular tunes. Placard messages favour gentleness, and good old British politeness . . . It's a meme, obviously, this rudeness and the good manners. Dogs trot to heel. Time, traditionally, for me to wonder why I'm here. Am I convinced @theresa_may is secretly a good guy, and I want her to know she has support for her cunning plan to sneak out of this daft impasse at the last possible moment, when her tormentors Johnson-Gove-Rees-Mogg et al are looking the other way? (No). Do I believe that the "Protest March", "raising awareness" tactic works? (It's been known to happen, but not around here). Am I here because it's just what I do; an unbreakable habit? Good point. It's true, I'm not one of those people who regards "the government" as something small and far away, that I can't possibly influence (like that innocent little cloudsy-wowdsy called "climate change"). I vote. I do more than vote. I believe I'm responsible for what the government does, and I communicate my concerns. It's called democracy. A pitifully imperfect union, like the EU itself, but, like the EU itself, worth hanging onto, because all the alternatives are much worse.

I remember when I knew this was true (instead of just wanting to hold on to EU welfare and environment regulations, EU workers, global market share, science base, security & all that other trivial stuff the Brexiteers brush away). It was when Jo Cox was murdered. . .

I was told, for days, that I absolutely MUST NOT, shame on me, make the gross error of confusing the action of a poor crazed motiveless lunatic with the ruthless, xenophobic rhetoric of the Leave campaign. The murderer himself upset that apple-cart, when he came to court. But it made no difference. The Leave campaigners, Blue, Red or Purple, really did not care . . . That's when I knew.

Ah, we're here, so I can shut up, and the speeches can begin. Gina Miller kicks off. Sir Vince Cable goes astray, trying to convince us of things we already know (or we wouldn't be here). Tony Robinson delights everybody by announcing that he has a cunning plan . . . Caroline Lucas channels Churchill, in a really stirring speech, laying down of the hard facts that we face and telling us what is to be done. The tower of Big Ben is wrapped like a package; like the Eid fair, and Ella is wondering what Jeremy Corbyn is going to tell the children, when they ask him . . . The trees around St Margaret's are in full leaf, and somewhat obscuring the screen, but we can see well enough, and the sound system is good.

It's over, for today. We tip our hats to the Suffragettes Scroll in Christchurch Gardens, and retire for a pint of local ale at the Greencoat Boy.

The Season of Living Without Apples

Guess, just guess, how I happen to be holding the great tit's child in my hand? You're absolutely right. Dear Tilly came bounding in and leapt onto the piano keys, jaws full of desperate flutter: look what I've brought you! So then I was bad:rescued the little bird from her soft mouth (she'd make a good gun dog), got her by the scruff, shouted at her and dumped her outdoors. The juvenile great tit was fine: bright-eyed, cheerful and brave . . . as you'd expect from the family's general demeanour, but cat was outdoors, bird indoors, exactly the opposite of what I needed. A useful moral lesson, more haste less speed, if only I could profit from my mistakes (never happens). I had to leave the infant in a box in my office & and cajole Tilly, while she sat on Claire and Steve's compost bin two fences away, very hurt and ostentatiously not looking my way. Anyway, it ended well. The infant flew away, soon as I was sure it was undamaged, and Tilly has forgiven me.

It was a privilege to see a beautiful little bird so close up, anyway. Thank you, Tills.

& This is what a condemned elm tree looks like . . . The last of the mature elm trees on our road into town has got to go. It doesn't have the bug, it has fungal rot, and the Council has decided to remove it rather than risk having to pay up if it suddenly falls on someone's car or something. A reasonable decision or a detestable mindset? On this occasion, I could go either way. But the rise of UK local and national government's pogrom of the trees is certainly a detestable phenomenon, and inexplicable to me. Trees embellish the land (that's Chekov). They make our cities beautiful and liveable; they improve the air, they steady the traffic in towns, they improve human well-being, they're an economic asset. Destroying them, however, seems to be a vital element in UKGov's strategic planning:

Along with destroying renewable energy, "building" new Nuclear Power Plants, at cataclysmic public expense (but thankfully without success); destroying lives and the economy by throwing out all known or suspected "immigrants", sucking up to Donald Trump and the DUP; etc etc.

But what do I know? Only that I'm certainly not getting more conservative as I grow old; except in the protect and survive sense of the term. Not getting any more resigned, either, for what it's worth. Still hauling in the opposite direction from this grand, global movement of history towards kleptocratic chaos, any small and decent way I can.

My Fracking Round Up (obligatory feature)

Oh, look, fracking in the UK is in parliament, how exciting!

Nah, not very exciting. "The Minister contradicted herself ". . . hardly even news. The message: "exploration has to go ahead" no matter what the evidence against these developments, could not be more clear. INEOS has acquired extrajudicial rights over nearly half the land area of the UK, and presumably "Jim Ratcliffe" (a general term, meaning the fracking industry profiteers) has paid for the package, under the table somewhere.

Latest news on the ground is that support grows (notably from individual investors, who don't live near well-pads, and are just hoping, like Lucky Jim, for a quick killing); and resistance grows. Outcomes (ie wells in production) there are as yet none.
(Long, but comprehensive.)


Eleanor Marx: A Life, Rachel Holmes

Eleanor Marx, youngest of Karl Marx's three surviving children (others died in childhood and infancy), a political radical and Bohemian by birth and passion; active in the Paris Commune disaster as a teenager; ran away to Brighton to support herself at eighteen, as (unlike the rest of her family), it upset her to be leeching on the long-suffering Engels the whole time . . . What a grim world for women! So many pregnancies, so few surviving children, so many fine minds and talented individuals, crushed under the wheels of radical politics. Derisory numbers, of course, compared to "crushed under the wheels of privilege and rampant capitalism", but a shocking reminder that the women were always there. As gifted, as dedicated, as resolute, but doomed by biology, custom, and the complacency of the men they supported.

A big fat biography recommended by my friend Elly last year. I'm slowly getting through it, I'll be sorry when it's gone. It's very interesting, moving, and a real education; esp if you never knew the Paris Commune was a feminist issue, or if, like me you've read and loved the fictional versions of this story: eg Olive Schreiner's The Story of an African Farm,and -sublime to the ridiculous-but-enjoyable- Mrs Humphrey Ward (various); or "Baroness Von Hutten's" Pam; What Became Of Pam.

The Storyteller and His Three Daughters, Liam Hearn

This book is just lovely. Set in 1884, in a Japan just opening up to "the West", but actually far more interested in its Korean adventures. Not as fantastical as the more famous Otori series (although there's a spooky strand), or its Shikanoko historical prequels, but a really delightful reading experience from start to finish.


The Breadwinner

Animation, from the people who brought you Song Of The Sea; adapted from Deborah Ellis's highly praised young adult series of the same name. Lovely to look at, gripping and moving, don't miss, but like Song Of The Sea, a little bland at the centre. I think because of the timeless-fantasy frame, and the way it seems that nobody did it. Nobody is responsible. Women are courageous and cruelly subjugated, that's just the way things are. Men are vicious bullies, with one or two marvellous exceptions, "good princes" as it were, and that's just the way things are. Afghanistan is unfortunately placed on the global map, it's nobody's fault. Kabul never was a modern city, where fearless young women wore mini-skirts and went to university . . .

This Is Congo dir. Daniel McCabe

All the politics, sexual and global (Big Man culture/aka toxic masculinity is at the heart of what's wrong with Congo); but the fantasy comes with; this element supplied by the original Leopard-skin Pill-Box Hat Man (I mean Mobutu) and his wannabe- successors. You've seen Black Panther? Great movie, wasn't it? Lots of fun, and affirmative as all get out. Now see a different story about that fabled country in the middle of Africa, with its natural riches beyond belief, its super-power endowing mineral wealth,* and (oops, not featured in Black Panther) its dreadfully poor, articulate and courageous masses. This one hurts.

Try this link for more details and a trailer:

*Literally, super-power endowing. Did you know it was Congolese Uranium, rich and yellow, that fueled the bombs that fell on Hiroshima?

Targeted Advertising

Would you like to go to Iceland? The large chilly island, I mean? With the hole that leads to the centre of the earth. I'd love to go to Iceland, and maybe I will, one fine summer. Meanwhile, an NZ pro-review site spotted the Iceland reference (it's the drained magma chamber you can visit) in my Proof of Concept Acknowledgements Page and asked me to post their 100 best things to do in Iceland feature. It's a good list, so I will:

Living Without Apples?

It's June. The earliest of English apples will turn up soon, and I can wait. I'll stretch a point for some EU fruit and veg, but only idiots buy "organic" to feel good, if the product's flown in from Argentina. More poetically, you can take the title of this purely cultural and a-political post as a generally refusnik statement, and a plug for my secret weapon: You are not trapped helplessly in your "we've got planets to burn" lifestyle choices. You can do without stuff, lots of stuff. It's easy, once you try . . .

Onward to even stormier seas

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

Hunger for Freedom

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

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

Compulsory Reading

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


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

Palace Walk

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

Enlightenment Now

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

Black Lamb, Grey Falcon

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

Definitely not a cheesy rabbit.

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

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

Welcome to 2018: "short periods of loneliness or transient melancholy"

The lovely quote above is from a Chinese horoscope site, heralding the new year of the Earth Dog that starts on Friday (16th Feb). I'll certainly be watching out for those poetic moods and, between my sighs, finding more or less plausible reasons to be hopeful. We had greenfinches on our bird feeding station for the RSPB count, first time in years. Likewise dunnocks, and the male blackcap, besides plenty of the more regular customers. The frogs are back in the fish pond, and the snowdrops, though few of mine survived the ravages of those evil squirrels, have been unusually wonderful in King Death's Garden . . .

New Year's Books (the Japanese Connection)

Kelly Jennings' Velocity Wrachant novel for Candlemark & Gleam isn't out until June, so I won't be letting slip any spoilers. I'll just say Kelly has considerably extended her reach in this "non-clichéd space opera". Previously she's concentrated on space opera's underclasses, too often only represented in faceless CGI ranks, or hauled in briefly (eg, I'm afraid, The Last Jedi) for cameo cuteness. She's co-edited an anthology of sf working-stiff protagonists ( Menial: Skilled Labor in Science Fiction) and published a novel, Broken Slate, the grimly engrossing story about a young man from a merchant (space) shipping family sold into the most brutal slavery . . . Fault Lines takes a less punishing approach to the same issues, featuring Velocity herself and a young girl called "Bronte" as ex-privileged fugitives from the galaxy's Japanese-ish ruling class, called the Combine. When is a person not a person? The Combine's view on that issue is disquieting, and their gene-driven caste system provides some shock moments, but the warmth of Velocity's polyamorous "self-chosen family" is a welcome background. There are intriguing (and reassuring: the story isn't one you'd like to see done and dusted in the first volume) hints of more to come, in the subtle role played by "the Dagan". He's an artificial being from the other power in this Cold War set-up; who serves Velocity, as she comes to realise, very much on his own terms.

Kelly has been compared with C.J Cherryh, and I think deservedly. Fault Lines isn't burdened with the awful angst of Cherryh's greatest novel, Cyteen, but it has the same intensity and conviction.

Meanwhile, the Tale Of Genji, which I am reading for maybe the tenth or the twelfth time, is drawing to a close again. The noble-spirited & melancholy Oigimi (Elder sister), is dead, having stubbornly refused poetic Kaoru's advances to the last, & her younger sister, Nakanokimi is facing the realities of a subordinate marriage to the court's darling, Prince Niou. We're moving into the endgame. I love the final section of this (more than a) thousand year old novel. Murasaki has observed the conventions of court fiction for so long, waving a magic wand of sighs, poetic allusions, exquisite robes, bird-song and dew and perfume, over the marriage-by-rape convention of her enclosed, palace society; always taking the male point of view (which her female audience also preferred, to avoid the humiliating reality. However boldly they played their sexual cards in reality they had no control; no control at all). With Oigimi, suddenly she reverses the tapestry, and its thrilling. Though tough on the two sisters.

& continuing the Japanese theme in library books, I'm about to start reading The Emperor of the Eight Islands, "Lian Hearn's" latest fantasy, a two-parter. Again (having read the back of the jacket, besides the Otori) I know the author will take the male point of view. But she'll be subtle about it; the women will be fierce as well as subordinate, and there'll be plenty of bizarre magic. Looking forward to it!

My Fracking Round Up

It already seems forever since I caught some kind of knockdown flu back in January, & had to enlist Peter as my deputy for the planning committee meeting, where, despite public outcry, West Sussex County Council unanimously approved Cuadrilla's application to renew flow testing at Balcombe. It was a low point, like the end of a period of remission, though we'd expected nothing else. A lot has changed since then.

Are we finally winning the battle against the fracking industry in the UK? No. The threat is still active, down here in the Weald, and everywhere else the industry has managed to get a foot in the door; including within and under our National Parks. The clear message from science and the politics is that

a) the fossil fuels have to stay in the ground,
b) the people have spoken and rejected this reckless, stupid industry, and
c) this raggedy offshore island is extremely well placed to benefit from investment in renewables.

But the at least equally clear message is that dirty money speaks louder than science to our friends in the Tory government; much louder than democracy, and besides they all hate their children.

On the other hand, Third Energy's High Volume Hydraulic Fracking operation, which seemed a dead cert back then, has not yet commenced, and apparently Greg Clark's financial resilience test isn't going well for them.

The latest now traditional "leaked unpublished report" seems to show that UK gov has revised its hopes for the industry in a drastically downward direction:

& the various frackers' (admittedly always terminally daft) attempt to secure "Social Licence" has been declared DOA

Another year, and it's not beginning badly. The battle for democracy is not quite lost. All credit to the protectors, who just keep on keeping on, and derision to the investors, however small, however mighty. Let's leave it there.

UB#3: EUrovision Flash Mob, Proof Of Concept, & Movies

Last week they held the UK (ha!) Eurovision shortlist event in Brighton Dome. A modest EUrovision event "flashmob" was organised, and naturally I went down to join in, a short walk in the crispy night (sadly without snow, the snow had melted by then). We waved that blue flag with the yellow stars, big ones & small ones. We herded about, never getting far from the beery warmth of the Mash Tun, and sang Ode To Joy in English, on the other side of the street from the entrance to the great event. (The German words are better, but it's a good rousing tune, at least; although not the composer's best work). Then I went home. I did not forget to thank the police officers. Never forget to thank the police (if they've been well behaved). And here is a special official search string, for you to cut and paste. The official song, in all its stunning banality:

SuRie sings Storm - Eurovision: You Decide 2018 Artist - YouTube

If you find yourself trapped in a storm of Youtube ads, don't blame me. Note the brilliant first comment btw

The Science In Proof Of Concept

Another unexpected cultural highlight for me, when Proof Of Concept made it into the novella section of Locus Recommends . And a new positive review for the new year, from Christopher East:

The future of Proof of Concept is dark and plausible, but also bafflingly unrecognizable — in the best possible way. It makes for a riveting puzzle of a read, by turns accessible and disorienting as it paints a picture of a world clearly descended from ours, but also shockingly different . . . In the end, the effort pays off in a chilling finale that feels both surprising and inevitable. Its a deft authorial performance that makes for a brisk, thought-provoking read.

I can also draw your attention to an article in New Scientist 28th October 2017, about Mattias Troyer's work on quantum computing, and the exact same problem the Needle team were facing, only on a rather smaller scale: the staggering complexity of quantum entanglement, and the well-nigh magical solutions that are emerging, to the problem of deciphering their structure:

Doing the maths is like searching for a needle in a near-infinite haystack: there just isn't enough time to grind out an exact solution, no matter how large your processor

You could also try this one, from 11th November

I always derive my science fiction from real, cutting edge science: hints I've picked up and pursued; articles and books I've read. I'm not a moonlighting science academic. I don't claim to understand all this stuff (though you can bet I'll be pouncing on Philip Ball's new book Beyond Weird, when it comes out next month). I just enjoy it, I find it thrilling.

It's been a long time coming, but right now the weirdness of quantum mechanics, for so long the plaything of quirky science fiction, has found its technology (quantum computing), and is getting serious. It's not just that cat in a box, alive and dead and both until observed (whatever that means). Your own mind, the way you form your ideas and memories, exists in superposition. As does the galaxy we'd like to explore. The implications are beyond bizarre.

Usually, in fact almost always, want I want to convey, in the science of my science fiction, is that we don't know what the rules will be, further down the line. But I do know, from the record of the past, that the most bizarre suggestions of present "science" are the most likely to become recognised as obvious truth.

I wish more women could enjoy hard science fiction (I'm using "hard" in the sense James Blish originally intended, meaning solid, solidly connected to real science, not fantasy). It's a shame many women today, sf fans who are women, seem to police themselves out of this area. That's not half a cockroach in your sandwich. It's a light sword. It's the way you take back control, from the greedy corporations and the ruthless super rich, by gifting yourself with a sense of power, in a world increasingly dominated by the few who regard the rest of us as simply a feedstock.

Movies Sept 17-Jan 18


If only Darren Aronofsky had called this movie Monster!, and billed Javier Bardem (who was terrific) as his star; if only Jennifer Lawrence had had the sense to keep her director's stupid Tippi Hedren crush in check, what a great, grotesque, riveting and bludgeoning blockbuster of a horror movie this could have been. Although just as intolerably let me out of here endless.

The White Countess Merchant & Ivory's farewell, and the fall of Shanghai to the Japanese in 1941. A family affair, all the usual suspects. screenplay by Kazuo Ishiguro. Very pretty and touching, though Ralph Fiennes's American accent a bit wobbly.

The Blood Of Women

Set in Kenya, in the territory of the Pokot, where Female Genital Mutilation is defiantly practiced, in its most savage form. It's a good population control tool, since most first babies die stillborn & a very good living for the women who do the cutting. For the men it's easier not to argue with tradition, though sexual relations are a bit of a struggle. At least you can be damn sure your wives will not willingly commit adultery. The girls who suffer are amazing, as are the Kenyan medical staff and reformers, who do their best to repair, and to educate. But the resistance they face is staggering . . . A must see, but not for the faint-hearted.

The Killing Of A Sacred Deer

That's it. I'm never going to follow up a Guardian movies recommendation again. Ever.
I now suspect I only liked the bleak, surreal, Dogtooth because I hadn't a clue what was going on.

The Box Of Delights

For old sake's sake. The "special effects" aren't all that bad, just odd and uneven. The real problem is the story: not a patch on The Midnight Folk, which I am glad never got this treatment.

The Last Jedi

Loved it. I think I liked the glorious red knights fight scene best, but I loved the whole movie to bits. I think even Joanna Russ, the ferocious Star Trek partisan, would have given it a cheer.* The perfect Christmas movie. NB, I have not linked to IMDB in this case, because their Star Wars site is naff

*Okay, maybe not. Star Wars was the spawn of Satan. But she's have loved to see all the women who have invaded that universe.

#2 Unexpected Cultural Highlights January 2018

Cultural highlight #1 Gabriel's Swiss friend Eric came to stay, fortuitously on Twelfth Night, the feast of the kings, and brought with him from the mainland a kind of flaky, nutty-goo filled tart, a speciality for this occasion, to follow Gwyneth's traditional end of Christmas paella. A small foldable silver cardboard crown came with it, and Gabriel won the prize. So here he is, somewhat disconcerted to find he nearly broke a tooth not on the Baby Jesus, or maybe a Flask of Myrrh, but on a miniature sporting shoe.

More Unexpected Cultural Highlights

Why did I ever agree to take a trip to Lille in January? Maybe I wasn't paying attention . . . It was all for the sake of French chanteuse Camille, with her floating and flowing veils, her rousing drummers and her men in kilts, featuring on a Jools Holland special. Verdict, three days later: Camille's show, in the vast, elderly and cavernous Sebastopol Theatre, was pretty good (although I think her first appearance, completely shrouded in a burqa and looking like a small, swaying blue mushroom, was a mistake), but Lille upstaged her. The Vauban Citadel (currently home of NATO's Rapid Reaction Force). The miraculously intact Old Town, cranky little streets full of fancy food shops, fashion and chocolate. The cathedral . . . well, it's originally Victorian Gothic, with a very strange 1990s Brutalist front end, so maybe not the cathedral. Jeanne and Marguerite of Flanders, C13 princesses, powerful and progressive. The Musee de Marionettes, (puppet shows still thriving, as popular proletarian entertainment, into the C20) . The staggering civic celebrations, and the siege of 1792, recorded by the Watteau of Lille. The enormous Palais De Beaux Arts, sharing the Place de la Republique with Man on Horse in cocked hat, chiefly notable for losing the Franco-Prussian War; didn't catch his name. The Art-Deco People's Piscine, out in Rubaix, re-purposed for a bountiful collection of modern (C19-C20) textiles, fashion, pots and glass.

You can see the Vauban fortifications of Lille laid out in full, in the artistically low-lit basement of the Palais de Beaux Arts, which holds relief plans all the strategic centres of France's north east (so popular with invading forces, and so unfortunately lacking in natural barriers). They are entrancing. We walked around it, as we were staying near the beautiful huge park by the student quarter, where it now hides in plain sight, with great naked winter trees towering up in what were the "wet ditch" earthworks, meant to defeat the approach of artillery Swags of Eighteenth century draperies,garlands, swords and flags mingle with more recent memorials: a monument for the gallant carrier pigeons of WWI; tablets remembering the fusillées, and those hung in their cells, in the Nazi occupation.

Who's "Vauban"? Try starting here, if you're interested. I'd heard of him, he's hard to avoid if you study C17 European History, however hazily; as I did, long ago. I'd never heard of Jeanne of Flanders (also known as Jeanne of Constantinople, the portrait's not contemporary of course) or her troublesome sister Marguerite. She ruled Flanders, apparently without male direction, at least some of the time; she fostered the Beguines movement (all-female independent communities, living outside patriarchy on a don't ask don't tell basis); "transformed the position of women in society", and founded the great "Hospital", that still stands, in its seventeenth century incarnation. Efficacy of the regime of cleanliess, good food, good nursing here attested by fine C17 portraits of sick children who recovered. Primitive, male "doctors" and "surgeons" were forbidden entry . . .

Something happened to Western Europe, between the splendid C13 and the dreadful, dreadful C14. I must get A Distant Mirror down from the loft and read it again, and see if I can find out why. Was it Climate Change, Corporate Greed, Bombastic Heads Of State? Or all of the above?

The big canvases of the city en fete put Hieronymous Bosch in context, and attest the Spanish influence around here, due to crazy mixed up European History. You want human heads and bodies popping out of a nightmarish giant fish? You want a party being held in a big half-eggshell? A whale as big as house, with many little legs? All kinds of weirdness.

In ways the best thing in the Palais de Beaux Arts was the giant Matt Collishaw "Whispering Weeds" = video-banner of a famous Dürer study, brought to life, hanging in the entrance hall (inspired idea). Plus the two for the price of one Millet exhibition. Jean-Francois Millet and the USA, exploring how his tender, romantic portraits of well-set-up farm workers got into the American psyche, and into the movies; and then there were the pictures. Read all about it here Otherwise, they've got the decorators in, and a few star attractions: Chardin x 1; Goya x1; Bosch x1. . . Plus yards and yards and yards of more or less attractive figurative art stuff designed to cover large expanses of wall, and be used as currency by the rich, exactly like most of "museum quality" contemporary art today; which is sort of reassuring in a way. Millet's last picture, from the year before he died, Les Dénicheurs, is unexpected, a Black Goya: depicting something gruesome from the winters of his childhood. Migrating pigeons roosted thick as autumn leaves in the trees around his family farm. Everyone would go out, blind them with flaming torches and beat them out of the trees, all confused, and kill them in their hundreds. A source of meat, of course. But an image of violence, cruelty and destruction. And fear, too. Poor man.

Les Glaneuses by Millet and Banksy

After the Beaux Arts we bought a picnic for the train, which didn't last long, and a big pain sucré to take home, on the way to the station. Peter had bought himself a little savoury tart. My ham and cheese and leeks toasted panini was nicer and there was more of it. After I'd kindly let him have one bite, I had to walk fast and keep my distance. Then we waited, with the Disneyland crowd; then we got on the train in a nice extra carriage Eurostar had found was needed, and then we went home.

This in La Piscine, the art deco baths turned gallery, a few stops out of the centre on the Metro. I'm afraid you can't see my favourite piece, a male bather, arms akimbo and loins thrust forward, his whole prideful stance exclaiming "These are my pants!" He comes in 3 sizes, as a bonus. How much Lille spoke to me of Manchester! Dirty old down, cleaned up for the post-industrial Age of Leisure

Cultural Highlight #3 was the concert at St Luke's Church (where they have a very nice Steinway) where And took us for Peter's birthday. The main event was Bartok's "Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta", an amazing piece of music (that I now can't remember a thing about, and not easy to track down on disc; but it is on YouTube)

Cultural Highlight #4 was Songhoy Bluess, at the "O2 Forum" (Was, the Town and Country Club ) in Kentish Town on the 25th. I love The Songhoy Blues. The Toures' voices so warm and sonorous, the glittering guitar work. I wish I could tell you I danced the night away, but I cannot tell a lie. I leaned on a balustrade, and watched from a distance. It's so tiring being retired; I'm not cut out for non-stop treats in January. How could I help getting fascinated, by it all, but I'm going to have to get back to work, or invent some work, before I ruin my health.

We could go to Mali . . . It would be a challenge, but we could get to Bamako without flying. And then by boat to Timbuktu.
Just saying

Donate to Wateraid here (the band's sponsored charity)

& Get your Résistance here.

Je ne marche pas . . .

PS Lille old town was teeming with those gooey nut filled flaky pastry Kings tarts, lingering on.

Unfinished Business #1

Late with the final ceremony of the Christmas season this year, we took the last 2 slices of cake (very good cake) to Balcombe and Ardingly on the 5th of February. A chilly day, promising snow (of which we saw only a few vagrant dots of white), but none of the hard slabs of puddle ice of last year, and no flocks of fieldfares. The water naked of kayaking classes and the like, was empty of waterfowl, as usual, too; except for the grebe (there's always one grebe) two buzzards mewing, one or two wild ducks, a pair of tufted ducks . . . and far beyond the half-drowned hide, where the road crosses the water, cormorants & coots. We saw plenty of wild ducks* on this walk, some of them feeding on a heap of grain, I am afraid not provided for altruistic reasons. (We could eat a duck!, we thought, simultaneously. I tell you this so you know, and won't go on reading my blog under false pretences.) But the reservoir was brimming, for a change, and looking lovely. The light was beautiful, and as we made our way, in the weather of earliest spring, we saw plenty of other bird life, including a magnificent heron, and once marsh tits which we have never seen before, feeding on something invisible, among the cones of an alder tree. Not shy of humans, as it says in the RSPB guide.

It's been (it was) a busy year, full of all kinds of trouble, great souls passing on, and painful losses, including for me personally; and many interruptions that pushed me hard when it came to handing in my Joanna Russ study (which will be with the editors now for quite a while). I have fond memories of recording for The Frankenstein Myth in a tiny East End Studio (not a stone's throw from where Geoffrey Chaucer once lived, rent free, as a rather dodgy wool trade official) . . . but whether anything of my contribution will make it to the finished product, I don't know. I also met Emma Critchley, slipstream media artist, and suggest you take a look:

& of course there was I absolutely loved the art work for this event, and found the idea of hollowing out Canvey Island as a sort of dry-docked GSV alluring (especially if there turned out to be a volcano under it). But I had little to contribute besides facing the audience while grinning like a loon smiling, although apparently I had one startling and novel suggestion:

"Jones evolved the idea that utopia is necessarily a picture of what we lack, not a proposition of what is finally good"

Dear me. What DO they teach them on these sf courses?

On the plus side, no sign of Biedermeier withdrawal and cocooning breaking out. Everyone's still mad as hell, and not going to take it any more. But what aren't we going to take?

Unfortunately, there is no "we"
The one thing we're absolutely sure about is that we're not a united kingdom.
Although cute wildlife tv and an an end to plastic are contenders. . . No more plastic, says the PM, and oh, if she could just wave her lily white hand, for certain the plastic would go! But even that lily wave would be rather too decided.

*originally only the drake was a "mallard". To the Victorians these were just "wild ducks" (Birds Britannica)

Citizen Clem : The Fairytale Of My Childhood

I knew I was channeling the fairytales of my childhood when I wrote Bold As Love, but I never knew how much I'd remembered, or how clearly, until I read John Bew's Citizen Clem . . . I knew Ax had to be a soldier,(check: Gallipoli, wounded twice) that's why I invented the pocket war with Muslim Yorkshire (doesn't sound so unlikely, or so romantic, now, does it?). And the dictator thing, not something anyone would have called Clem, but it says this is total war, and we're in it, better get fighting. As true now as it was then, and "against no human enemy".* I knew there had to be a thrilling landslide victory (well, everybody, surely, in my generation knows about July 45), so I shoe-horned one in, although Ax wasn't the leader of a political party, and never going to be PM; and here it is, in weirdly familiar detail. There had to fighting in the streets (check!) and the mission had to about more than survival, but about founding the New Jerusalem, in the worst of times: English socialism, tolerant of other shades of politics, channeling Blake and William Morris; London broken open with rivers of flowers and meadow; that's not in "Clem" but the spirit of making human life lovely is. It's all here, mysterious, magical reading for me. And then, just when they've achieved something, the awful box of troubles that empties itself on their heads in episode 2; as if Hope had hopped out of the box first, and flitted off immediately. Which is exactly what happened to that Labour government of 45. In dreadful debt, the USA pulling the plug, the Russians gone to hell and worse; committed to dismantling the Empire in a catastrophic hurry . . . Well, it's all here; and did I mention the Weapon to end all Weapons (not) which I called the Neurobomb? But you know what really sent shivers down my spine. Labour Party Conference, Blackpool, October 1956. I was there! I was four, my daddy went to union meetings I suppose, the hotel had red carpets and white walls, there was an interesting girl (older than me), who wore her shiny straight hair parted on the side with a clip, very elegant; the baby in a cot in our room, my big sister telling me horrible stories about the big pipe that dripped grey goo (eh, those were the days! None of that EU muck about clean beaches) She sang to me at night, in a vile whisper, ghosts, skeletons, Noooooorth Piiiiier. . . Where was I? Lost in the fuzzy gardens of memory. It's a gripping biography, a great leader, best we ever had, certainly in modern times, a quiet man; steely brave. No guitar, admittedly, but you could do worse than read it.

The magic carpet carried me all the way to the end of episode 3 Midnight Lamp, & then I had to make the transition to the future of 2002, only Tony Blair, Claude Shannon's information theory, and DONT ATTACK IRAQ to guide me. Ouch.

Hungry Ghosts Moon was on the 5th of September, very late this year, and very beautiful, the full moon pitted silver, polished shining white, floating in a gauzy aureole of transparent amber.

What more can I tell you? I'm still wrestling with Joanna Russ. It's okay, poor woman's got a bad back, and I'm little but I'm tough, I'm going to win. Nothing good else. All the news is bad, from #fracking to #Irma, from #Rohingya to the #SLC, and that idiotic destroy everything in the whole world button marked #Brexit. "Where did this all come from???" Nowhere, didn't have to, it's all of it been building for years. Just try to keep your spirits up. These are the times. Somebody had to live in them, looks like its us. Give what you can, think of the people in real trouble, and pull the other way (pick your own crisis) as ever you get the chance.

'Wir schaffen das' - we will do this, says the leader of the free world. What would "doing this" look like? Better than not doing, I hazard a guess. And she's been right before.

> <br />
<br />
><a href= Back in July 2013, a young Syrian woman, engineering student, came to talk to the Brighton Amnesty Group, about a revolution that began in flowers, petals and coloured fountains, it was young Syrians trying to get the message to Assad, your regime is hateful and we've had enough . She brought a movie for us to watch; I remember We Are The Spring, written in green, Arabic of course, with flowers, on a broken concrete slab. Today, or maybe yesterday by now, Assad retook Raqqa, the so-called capital of the Daesh caliphate. In between, these young men, this citizen journalist collective, got the news out of this starving city; or died trying. Mostly both. Very moving, claustrophobic; overwhelmingly male. Not a woman in sight, except a few shrouded black stick figures outside Paradise Park, hovering beside the dead bodies of resistance fighters, husbands, fathers, sons or brothers their severed heads impaled on the park railings; a few head-scarved little girls, in the crowds of kids scampering after Daesh PR jeeps, squealing for candy and mobiles. You get the picture. It wasn't like this, in Syria, just a few years ago, but it's a man's, man's man's world again now.

They won an award, but don't let that put you off. See the movie, if you can. City of Ghosts. It's painful, but worth it.

Kubo And The Two Strings A very pretty animation, US made, Pixar sensibility, Japanese cute. (They're big on origami, aren't they? Let's have lots!) Lame ending, but mostly entertaining, and Charlize Theron, you can't miss with Charlize Theron as a sarcastic animated macaque, can you?

*no human enemy?? Okay,a tactful blur.

Look To Windward . . .

Tuesday 18th July, a hot sunny blue sky day outdoors, thunder and lightning promised tonight: me contemplating: but what does it mean, look to windward . . . ? What did T.S.Eliot mean, what did Ian M. Banks mean? A Goodreads mav suggests: "look to change, look to the future, look forward. . .?" Which sounds inspiring: but not really, not at all. Leeward is looking to the future, to where the wind is sending you. Windward, if you're in a sailing ship, and by rights you must be, for this Eliot quote to make sense, is where the wind is coming from.You look to windward to see what's coming to get you, basically.

At this point we should admit the Culture novels, like all space operas, are not massive on plausible extrapolation. There will be a post-scarcity culture (got to happen some time?) There will be great big enormous galactic-faring intelligent mother-ships (not very likely, on present showing) as huge as Mum looks to a very small boy, that will now and then commit war crimes on a staggeringly vast scale, for reasons as puzzling as their names are insouciantly inventive, although really, honestly, because that's what the storyteller and audience both enjoy. . .

This all came up in relation to a Joanna Russ essay (not one of the famous ones, more a pentimento, replaced by Towards An Aesthetic Of Science Fiction). It's a metatextual, derived from a paper Chip Delany read at a meeting of the MLA in New York,1968; on science fiction's "subjunctive" relationship to reality, and how to describe this position precisely, science fiction is about what hasn't happened yet but isn't absolutely impossible . . . The teasing out of Delany's youthful bright idea gets too complicated to be interesting after a while, but on the other hand (or OTOH) "science fiction is entirely about the present" (Wm Gibson et al), is only true, in my humble opinion (you can tell I've been reading ancient fanzines) if you're a lazy bugger, and don't actually care what happens next in the greater scheme of things, as long as you've got hold of the latest gaming console. I decided I prefer look to windward. Here I am, riding on the cutting edge of the past: the whole weight of events back there, and up to this edge, propelling me forward, what do the pressures that are tossing me about right now imply for things to come?*

My Fracking Round Up

Many if not most sf writers, needless to say, never worry about such concerns: no more than if they were writing Star Wars sequels. It's a genre, it has typical scenarios, decor, properties, costumes . . . Plug in and play! But then again, there are times when the wind at your back is giving you such a pummelling, such a perfect storm of daunting and contradictory messages, it's a tough call to respond, no matter how much you like a challenge.

What can I tell you on the future of unconventional oil and gas** in the UK? It's booming, that's what! Seems like only yesterday, fossil fuels were on a permanent slide, except for a couple of rogue states, and the "fracking" issue was invisible: almost like a conspiracy. Suddenly they're everywhere, out and proud: congratulatory questions in parliament. The frackers are the only people in the country for whom the recent general election was a victory. Up in Lancashire, all through Yorkshire, Derbyshire, all over the shop, it's a proper bonanza. Down here in Sussex, UKOG is gearing up to extract 10 billion barrels of oil from the Weald, starting any day now. Investors in the scheme from all over the country have flocked to register their support with WSCC. Meanwhile anyone who stubbornly believes that embarking on a new fossil fuel industry right now is madness cannot protest: except by protesting, if you see what I mean. We can no longer object, because WSCC has moved the planning-permission goalposts, specially.

Not that it matters, of course, because planning permission is no longer necessary: with the Tories there are no rules. But it does adds insult to injury, that "I support this because it will make me rich" is a sane and valid comment, and "do we really want irreversible catastrophic climate change down on our charge sheet?" is not.

Traffic noise: don't despise traffic noise. Rural quiet. It's about all there is left on the board. Besides dressing up in black and yellow hand knitted goods, eating cake and walking slowly . . .

My Movies

The Other Side Of Hope

Sort of Wes Anderson-ish, low key low budget story of a Syrian refugee in Finland. Definitely worth a look

Trainspotting 2

Nah. Just not very interesting. There's only one Trainspotting

The Handmaiden

Two very pretty, very naughty girls, having lots of fun, and of course some regrettable giant cephalopod action. Not a patch on Sympathy for Mr Vengeance. Don't do the Director's Cut. It goes on forever and ever.

My Library Books

Wolf Winter, Early One Morning. Two fine novels, "Wolf Winter" is just wonderfully, darkly atmospheric, "Early One Morning" more prosaic, but equally absorbing (if you happen to have been a naive UK teenager in Italy circa 1973, it will certainly grab you; if your family was in any way involved in the fate of the Roman ghetto in 1943, more so). In each case, alas, the denoument was written by committee, and the committee said, ow, let's not upset the readers . . . Leave 'em smiling!
What the term deus ex machina used to mean, and fine, but I felt a bit cheated.

Karin Fossum, Hellfire

It's Karin Fossum. Of course you're not smiling. "Heartwrenching," but for Fossum, that's standard.

I really must try a different genre.

And Finally. . .

A long, appreciative review of Proof Of Concept, from Shikeguni.

Wow. I never knew that novella was so deep (to coin a phrase). I just loved the Abyss, and Kir and Altair and the rest of my cast. And the echo-chamber worlds of the GAM hives, which I don't think is a far off future at all.

& Here's a link I forgot to include in my Proof of Concept post: Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men: (to cut and paste)

One last thought, about islands. A windward shore, where the weather hits land, is likely to be stormy, but fertile. A leeward shore, that the prevailing winds can't reach, is calm, but barren

*I have not read Look To Windward Consider Phlebas is my source for the quote

**Purely for old time's sake, nb. Nobody, but nobody, is fracking anymore. Whatever the unconventional oil and gas exploration men plan to do, to your neigbourhood, your countryside, your lives and your environment, it's definitely, absolutely NOT CALLED fracking.

Proof of Concept: Acknowledgements Page

Many, many thanks to my favorite and trusty editor, Jonathan Strahan. And to Katherine Duckett, Lauren Houghen, Carl Engle-Laird; the whole team, plus a special thank you to Bethany Reis, for all the patient detail-work on the copy-edit.

What the positive pre-pub reviewers said

"Gwyneth Jones does a great job of giving the reader so much story in a relatively short amount of pages. As soon as she establishes the setting, she’s off and running. The pace is fast, the dialogue is good, and there’s enough death to make a sci-fi & horror hound happy"

"Um. Wow. No seriously. Terrifying and amazing and absolutely captivating".

5) I had a few false starts because it was difficult to understand what was going on at first, there’s some scientific talks that lost me. But the main character, Kir, grew on me and made me be interested on what was going on. By the end I was totally invested in the characters.

"Most important, Jones, an Arthur C. Clarke winner, offers a delicious portrayal of what it feels like when that nagging voice in your head telling you something is wrong is in fact your only ally." Washington Post

"the tangled plot may leave the reader wishing for a longer work in which to untangle it." Publisher's Weekly

(Well. You can't please everyone (which is fine) but I like the novella length for sf! It feels like the natural shape for a fairly complex, eventful science fiction story like this one, where a novel would seem padded-out. But I take note of the criticism. Maybe I'll get better at this business, if I try hard enough).

Many thanks to you all.

Could There Be More?

Of course there could. Plenty more. But I like science fiction stories that end at the beginning.


Timescape, Gregory Benford.
A really thrilling read when I first met it, and the suspense still works, though the near-future UK strand now seems a bit stilted and artificial. Proper lab-science fiction about whacky ideas (tachyons) on the edge of proper science, with lots of sex (maybe too much sex?) Watch and learn, as the desperately important new idea gets bent out of shape by the scientific process itself, and discredited by dirty-fighting career-fixated scientists (for God's sake, when the end of the world is nigh!) What's so special about 1963? Find out here. What a robust and amazing invention Morse Code is!

Behind The Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo.
Pulitzer Prize winner Katherine Boo's account of life, death, and how stubbornly people cling to their dreams, in one of Mumbai's enclaves of direst poverty, and right in the shadow of the luxury airport hotels. I also recommend the theatrical version.

A River Runs Again, Meera Subramanian Can devastated ecologies recover? Yes. They can. It's a choice, it's available. "India's natural world in crisis", and five case studies on what people are doing about it. Beautiful, inspiring book.

Life Without Genes, Adrian Wolfson The first book I read about conceiving life, the universe and everything as information. A very good read (not at all sciency). Also see Claude Shannon


"super-dense population": Just to be clear, the world of "Proof Of Concept" isn't strictly speaking over-populated.The problem as in the real world, is about inequalities, ruthless megacorps, and exhausted resources, not teeming human numbers. There is enough for everybody's need, there is not enough for everybody's greed. Or something like that.

"refraction technique". I saw Peter Higgs giving a tv interview, when the Higgs Boson was announced. He was asked to explain, for the public, what a "particle that carries mass" could possibly mean. I think he said something like, think of light falling through a prism, and splitting into different colors. The "boson for mass" is a refraction, permeating the universe, not a species of tiny billiard ball. I don't know if this bears any relation to what Peter Higgs actually said (never mind what he meant), but I remember feeling, just for a glancing moment, that I got it. It was a thrilling glimmer, a lasting memory.

Sergey Pillement = Stephen Hawking? .
(I mean, yes, the reference is deliberate)

Dan Orsted = Elon Musk?
Possibly Dan the unfathomable is someone Elon Musk sees in the mirror, in one of his nightmares.

Margrethe Patel? Driven, maverick, immensely powerful, female Post-Particle physicist?
. . . has no real world original that I know of.

The Abyss?

As I've said elsewhere, I first thought I'd put the Needle Voyager at the bottom of a Polish salt mine (in memory of a mysterious book called What Dangers Deep, and other Polish connections). But even a fictional salt mine would be nowhere near deep enough or isolated enough (the one you visit is close to Kracow), so I had to invent my own cavern. Hence the closest real world equivalent is now in Iceland:

I would love to make this trip! And maybe I will, somehow, some day, when my desk is clear.

Altair ?

Is a bright star (planet-bearing, and a favourite sf venue) in the constellation called the Eagle. A character in Assassin's Creed; and the trade name of a (personal) computer that changed everything, long, long ago.

Kir is me. The viewpoint character is always the writer's personal avatar in the game of the story. In my experience.

The Goncourts

Another pretty, pretty spring day out of my window blue skies and sunshine, clearing out of mist, now sinking back into the mist & I've done nothing all day except decide on the book I'd like to celebrate for Tor.Com & read for my next chapter, & play & arbitrate between the two cats. One big old cat, one ridiculously small new cat. They get along quite well. She's a pickle, but she's breathed new life into my poor Milo. He was so, so sad when we lost our Ginger. As were we all.

Reading (recreational)

Journal des Goncourts Vol 1: 1851-1861 I know I'll never read Proust in French, just not up to it: this is the next best thing, two brothers, hommes des lettres frankly, avidly desperate to be famous, but something always happens, like a coup d'etat, or getting arrested . . . proto-Proustian diarists in mid nineteenth century Paris. (the graceful young men in the picture above not they, not even close: only a tangential connection, just pretty) At first I thought I'd have to give up, my big Collins was stumped whenever I was, and my Daddy's massive old illustrated Larousse is hors de combat, but I stumble along, getting oddly fascinated:

Marie took me to see Edmond, the great sorcerer favoured by the little ladies (of easy virtue, I surmise. No other ladies exist. Les Filles are nothing other than nasty hated rivals, really, to these lads). . . a white haired old lady showed us into a dark dining room, where we saw mounted and framed in black, an array of famous hands cut out of white, lined paper; on which you could see traces of notes in the margins. The hand of Robespierre, the hand of the Emperor, the hand of the Empress, and then the hand of Madame de Pompadour . . . as if joined by other hands, the hands of the little girls who wait in this antechamber when they come here to buy hope...

& then the sorcerer, in his black velvet robe with his big square head, comes in and sits them at a little table, the room's almost completely dark, hardly any light coming in through the little stained glass windows, just one Rembrandt-ish ray falling on this table, & he asks: how old are you; what's your favourite flower? what's your your favourite animal?, all the while shuffling the great cards, each of which has a image of a woman; a symbolic event; some kind of allegory, depicted without any art, but crudely fantastical, thumpingly monstrous, and colored brutally in black and an ugly red; and the movement gives some sort of savage and macabre life to these primitive figures, these anthropophagy . . . (Tarot, I suppose)

Another time they're drinking with Feydeau and Gautier Nope, nothing to it, far as I'm concerned, says Gautier. I get up in the morning, I have my breakfast, I sit down, I take my pen and I just write. It's my job, I just do it, my sentences are like cats, I know they'll fall on their feet . . .

(Those were the days. If only I wrote with a goosefeather dip pen, how much more cavalier and productive I might be.)

I can't work out how these two ever get any work done.

Also, my library books: The Whitehall Mandarin, Edward Wilson.

Great fun for about a hundred pages, you have to warm to a Sixties spy story when the dodgy Mandarin in the title (first female head of the Ministry of Defence) is called Lady Penelope . . . Then it went off piste, like rocks falling down a hill wildly overloaded with more period signifiers, period plot twists than you could shake a stick at (and was Hugh Gaitskell really killed by a fungus infection administered by the Chinese???) but I soldiered on & now we're calm again pretending to be fear&loathing gonzo journalist in Vietnam while secretly looking for Lady Miranda, the beautiful young junkie Maoist.

Just spotted it's the third in a trilogy: which is going to save me a lot of bother.

Proof of Concept and other publications

Three nice reviews on Goodreads, and then a bad one, she wrote it but she shouldn't have: Too much science and speculation, not enough about relationships, and then oh no, another bad review on Publishing weekly, saying exactly the same thing. Enough with this naszty science and speculation! More about relationships!

& here's me, old enough to remember that twittering on about relationships was exactly what women were supposedly doing wrong. Plus ca change . . .

But then some good news. Gothic Lovecraft, edited by S.T. Joshi and Lynne Jamneck, that I thought I'd never see, is suddenly available, Trade Only, from Cycatrix Books! I'll be so please if I get my contributor's copy (& many thanks to Atlassix for being on the case). I really liked writing my story (The Old Schoolhouse), it's full of Norfolk silence, and slightly spooky lost places i love*. Not holding my breath though. Good grief, those prices! But for the collectors, it's a wonderful looker, work of art.

My Fracking Round Up


Angus Energy caught drilling a sidewell for which they had no planning permission. Caught working all night, (night work not allowed) to plug a leak they hadn't reported. Caught claiming they'd had a meeting with the Council and got it all cleared, when there was no meeting. Surrey Council "extremely disappointed" : Outrageous breach of trust, says Keith Taylor, my MEP (for now). But there's nothing he can do. Nothing anybody can do. Our alt-right PM says fracking regulations can go to hell, and that's that. Via Ruth Hayhurst, as usual

Cheshire West and Chester councillors, meanwhile (their whole area is covered by those damned PEDL things) is trying something, adopting a new policy, a more stringent, but perfectly legal set of requirements:

“In the absence of a complete ban it offers the greatest protection against the effects of fracking within our democratic process.”

Good for them. Never give up.

If . . .

Monday 13th March

A bright Spring day, I'm trapped at my keyboard, reading online for the next chapter of "Joanna Russ", and I just found this, in a very good, very cogent article (but written in 1979, in a different world), "(she will) light a torch in that vast chamber where nobody yet has been. . . " Well, well. It comes from A Room Of One's Own, the vast chamber is supposed to be the unknown land of affectionate relationships between women, I think (and I think we're past that), but that image, that's the image Proof of Concept came from, except my "vast chamber" in that story is a much bigger unknown land, forever and ever unknown. Soon to be published, and I must add that entry to my acknowledgements, which will be posted here (no webpage)

but outside there are violets and celandines in the garden, budbreak on the Seathwaite willow thumbs of flower-buds all over the newly pruned elm in the corner. Poor elm tree, we have to cut it, "reduce" it, can't let it grow to its magnificent 150ft, but at least it's still healthy. For now. But all the elms will go, one by one. The cuts, you know. No money for fripperies, the super-rich have to be fed, and we have to keep on and on feeding them, like meadow-pipits (nearly gone) trying to satisfy a great fat cuckoo chick (nearly gone).

There've been Springs, the last few years, when I've walked home from town in the violet light of late afternoon on a clear day at this season, passing from one blackbird's song to another, never out of their spell. Not this year, or else I haven't had the chance, but how great to step out of the front door and hear the male sparrows singing out their call sign, one to another, along the bushes and the gutters across the street. How great if they were really coming back, common sparrows. When I see them hopping on the pavements in London again, the way it used to be I'll believe it.But they've been gone since 2000 & that's a very long time.

Up to London yesterday to see the Hockney exhibition. Not my idea of fun! I hate big crowded exhibitions, but Gabriel had bought Peter tickets for his birthday, Hockney in the morning, Wigmore Hall in the afternoon. I found a lot more in the Hockney exhibition to like than I would have thought. It's his Seventies stuff I don't like, I discovered (used one of the most famous, Mr & Mrs Clarke and Percy, as a signifier of false security, dangerous complacency, in Castles Made of Sand). Best bits were the gaudy blood-orange Grand Canyons, and the charcoal drawings and the mesmerising Iphone movies of country lanes in Yorkshire Wolds.

& How about that! SHELL KNEW!?!Not much of a trick, really. A lot of people knew, and have known for longer than that, but what's ironic (aside from the way nobody cares) is that the Guardian write-up includes a Shell explication that's one of the best descriptions of what climate change does that I have ever seen. Turn up the temperature under the pan, and what happens? The water gets hotter? Nah, that's a side effect. The fluid boils. The atmosphere boils.

Went to see Moonlight last week. It's not much, really, is it? A pretty good foundation year film school project, I'd call it. On the other hand, I didn't dislike it and I disliked Lalaland intensely (except for the first number, which had energy). Sickening confection.

& all this springtime & me being stuck at my desk is happening as our alt-right,Trump-hugging Prime Minister teeters on the brink of "triggering article 50". Whatever she thinks will happen next.


Gilded waning crescent moon in a clear sky when I got up this morning, and a sharp white frost. Naked trees in the little gardens and sparkling white roofs, white roofs, crossing the valley and up to the skyline, at 8am, but now my window's filling up with fog. Click through the rooster icon to get your (Chinese) horoscope for 2017, and a poem about the Rooster personality (sadly, no interesting surprises, just a positive spin: "Rooster" is a family man, keen on appearances and the strict guardian of the farmyard. Strutting cockerels have the same profile in China as anywhere else, apparently)

Biedermeier, what does it mean? Originally it was a caricature, a character called Gottlieb Biedermeier (roughly: God-fearing steward of the commonplace), invented to mock the complacently oppressive attitudes of the middle-class family-man, getting on fine under a complacently oppressive political regime. Later, and this is the meaning that won out, it became the name for a German style of furniture and decor that was trending in the quiet decades after the fall of Napoleon (between the Congress of Vienna in 1819, and the revolutions of 1848). Basically (it says here) Biedermeier is a modest, cosy version of the pompous, magnificent Empire style that preceded it. I've met the name in museum displays all over Northern Europe; and the furniture's pretty. The Biedermeier way of life, on the other hand, was the original "nineteenth-century respectability" rulebook. It means comfort in a narrow-minded compass, and a wise determination not to step out of line. It means the secret police are watching, so make sure you never admit you even know they exist. It means don't talk politics, and have no dreams (other than seeing your sons earning decent money, and your daughters well-married). Keep an eye on your neighbours, guide your wife and your children with a firm hand. Channel your outrage -and you probably enjoy that feeling, as it's your only real freedom- against anyone who dares to disturb your comfort zone.

For Germany, the age of Beidermeier ended in 1848, when Europe broke out in revolutions again (but not as severe as the French version of the virus), because when the dust had settled Germany was a proper, modern nation state, instead of just some departments in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, comprising a bunch of petty nobilities and Prussia (I paraphrase). But I think the culture lingered for much longer, well into the twentieth century; enforcing itself, as these things do. All those bold young women, taking lovers, smoking cigarettes, cutting their hair and wearing skirts above their ankles, they were fighting the Beidermeier rules. All those popular fictions where a Great Artist (m) struggles against Society's Expectations, or a young woman kicks over the traces, gets a job outside the home, and wins her true love as a reward; despite rejecting the rulebook . . . I never thought about the secret police aspect when I was being forced to read D.H Laurence, but I'm thinking about it now.

Mainly, I admit, because I've just read Ian Bostridge's Schubert's Winter Journey . . . a book I recommend highly, although with the caveat that it's seriously about the music of Schubert's Winterreisse song cycle, besides explaining the history, the social conditions, the science, the politics, and even the weather, around a great work of art. Anyway Bostridge has got me thinking about "Beidermeier" as the Zeitgeist of a period in European history. A time when a generation's wild hope and passionate belief in the future had turned horribly, horribly sour. When ideals only recently held to be self-evident had been discredited; freedoms recently declared the inalienable property of all human beings had been snuffed out, and nobody wanted to know.

Everything is still standing, that's what's confusing. The law is still the law, truth is still truth and justice still justice: these words simply don't mean what you used to think they meant, when it was joy in that dawn to be alive. And they don't belong to you, not anymore.

It's not very Nineteen Eighty Four, not very Alone In Berlin, it's more insidious. Nobody's going to stop you being comfortable, the whole point is that you never step outside the lines because you are comfortable. You can be sexually active outside marriage, you can be sexually deviant, you can do any allegedly hellfire thing you like, as long as you keep quiet about it. You can even talk politics, within the walls of your own home, and if you're sure you can trust your friends . . . Your world is full of terrible evils, adulterated food, disgusting pollution, endemic child prostitution, appalling conditions in teeming urban slums (check out Engels on Manchester, if you've forgotten), and all in the sacred holy name of wealth creation, but it's not your job to know these things. Nobody's going to tell you anything, and anyway you don't listen to those people, of your own choice. Those people just make you angry.

"In Biedermeier art the skies never glower, mountains are unforbidding and water is still. Biedermeier offers no stirrings of revolt."

Winter Journey

Saturday 14th January, a frosty morning, some promise of snow later, it's time for the traditional post-Christmas walk, from Balcombe to Balcombe, and around Ardingly reservoir: with christmas cake and little oranges for provisions (in fact this year a single big orange). Our train not more than ten minutes late or so, and oddly dressed in yellow and green Southern livery, on a Thameslink route. Whatever next! From Balcombe station we take the new and tiny footpath through the woods parallel to the road, that exits where the track leads off to Cuadrilla's Big Fence and their well-pad, which is still deserted, so far: Mr Francis Egan having decided the humble, ignorant folk Ooop North would surely be more docile He's currently finding out that this is not the case, but he's happy, because now the government is letting him do what the hell he likes with the regulations that used to trip him up . . .. But today, we're going down into the valley, (very claggy mud in a stripped maize field); into the woods. Uphill again, on a broad path thick with orchids in Maytime, to the sandstone outcrop that was crowned with two magnificent ancient beeches, when we first came this way. Only the roots remain, in a massive, spooky grey tangle. The buttercup meadows have been ploughed, no fields of gold this year. Across the lane we stop to watch a big flock of fieldfares, foraging in stubble; and then hurry past the farmyard where a large Union Jack is flying. Not that we're doing anything wrong, but . . .

It's hard to explain the charm of this afternoon, the sullen sky, the naked oaks, the damp edge-of-freezing air, but the best bit, always, is the hide. We ate our cake and shared the orange, and stayed for a long time, because it was raining. We were playing house, minimalist house, very happily but silently. There are never many birds, but we don't seem to mind. A male bullfinch in the alder by the waterside, and a goldfinch. A pair of grebes, a coot, two herons, and a huge squad of cormorants (low in the water, only the black dagger beaks and lean black heads of the divers visible, way out in the distance). Some mallards (aka wild duck), passing close by. A woman came and joined us, then she went away again (hide etiquette, not a sound, and I think she was a woman, but I didn't look round). In the end it dawned on us that the rain was mostly just dripping water from alder branches tossed in a bit of a breeze, and we set off again, so inexplicably happy, all you can say is, somehow, everything here and now is outside the doom that's overtaking our world, and provides a spare,chilly, complete sufficiency.

The water's very low. It's been an exceptionally dry winter down here in Sussex, despite a few downpours. Once, we left the copper-leafy, muddy path and ventured out a long way onto weird, crusted yellowish moss; we found the traces of a firepit (modern, not ancient). Many warning signs about Toxic Blue Green Algae: but these are post-truth signs, purely an attempt to stop people from letting their dogs go swimming. It does not work.The icy drizzle never changed to snow; a small flock of Greylag geese in another field, and now we'll soon be back at the station. I'm wondering, as you do -if you like to see life, and have spotted that there's less ahead of you than lies behind- what changes will we see before we die? Will we be able to engage with the new conditions, at all?

(I get nudges from Twitter, it's eager to help me to incentivise my self-advertising. For a trifling investment! Ah, no. Sorry, a misunderstanding. Of course you can't actually read, so you don't realise: if I have something to advertise I'll advertise, but mostly my tweets are not in any sense business. I'm addressing the counters that are counting these beans, adding rare drops to the vast ocean of public interest. I'm raising, drop by drop, the concentration, in that ocean, of concern about topics I'd like to bring to our rulers' attention; that's the whole plan. It's sort of like having a vote).

But what new conditions? Jury's still out. Is this strange world of plenty, where everything gets better and there's just more, and more, forever; where it's always Christmas and never winter, really dying at last? Are our neighbours, the resolutely unconcerned, already living in the future, which is a new Beidermeier? Or will something completely unexpected come along instead?

Wait and see.

Three Days In Berlin

Monday 24th October. It's the last of our autumn half-term city breaks; for there will be no more half-terms. Fantastic apartment, practically next door to the Friedrich Palast, where a lady who wasn't born that way wears her eyes on her arm and sports a superb Jean Paul Gaultier outfit, with feathers to burn; and unfortunately I am poorly. Got some bug. We won't be going clubbing, or visiting that fabulous rooftop bar Gabriel raves about. Cracking headache, aches and pains, thick head, stiff neck feeling sick, but I'll get by. First time we've had our passport check automated at St Pancras, I suppose the full body-scan won't be far behind. . . but still a nice atmosphere down there at the Intercontinental Bar. I have read The Green Hat (Michael Arlen), mysteriously placed in "The Second Inquisition", as glamorous naughty book, but this has always puzzled me, as the novel is actually really, really miserable, unless you think having multiple septic abortions is glamorous. One of that mini-genre I call "Syphilis trash romance" (better done by Ethel M.Dell in The Keeper of the Door). Nope, I'm no wiser. Next holiday homework,the notorious Darkover Landfall. (a Marion Zimmer Bradley initiation for me). Tomorrow is Gabriel's first recital in India. Hope it goes well (it did).

Tuesday October 25th. Museum Island. What a nifty idea, a corral of museums! We visited the Neues Museum, which is all about Egypt, and the star of the show is the bust of Nefertiti, she is amazing. You cannot photograph her, but you can touch her, as there is a replica, black stone, for blind people and anyone else with any sense. Akhenaten's bust, though less spectacular, is also pretty good. The Egyptian everyday stuff in the basement is very, very good, much more intelligently & respectfully annotated than in the BM. I would show you my photo of Imhotep (the real Imhotep, on whom The Mummy himself is based, in the two greatest adventure fantasy movies in the world), but the lights were low, and my hands were understandably shaky. They have what's left of the loot from Schleimann's Troy hoard (the Russians made off with the gold), and a whole EU budget's worth of cumbersome bronze-axe currency. But the other best thing, next to Nefertiti, in the Neues Museum has to be the Berlin Gold Hat, up on the top floor, beside the lovely video-diorama called The Time Machine. You've got to see this, it's bizarre. It's an actual hat ("made for the male skull" the info firmly tells you), a wildly tall and pointy wizard's hat, made of beaten gold, covered in arcane symbols, and dating the museum believes, from about 1000BC. Bought from an antiques dealer in 1996. It's been deciphered as a record and a demonstration of vital calendar information, converting from the Lunar calendar to the Solar calendar. (& if you don't get what that implies, dear reader, I'm guessing you're not female?). Hm. Maybe I should have smashed the case, or scrawled it with red paint GIVE US BACK OUR ELEVEN DAYS! But I just gaped. One thing I do not expect in an ancient history museum is a proper surprise. Wow. J K Rowling missed a trick!

Wednesday 26th October. Chill grey air outside our rooftop apartment: Berlin in the fog, thick fog in my head, but never say die. Off we go to Checkpoint Charlie, a puzzling tourist stop for me as I was convinced that we were staying in West Berlin, and would now be crossing over into the East. (Based on the fact that our part of town was all richly-built and fancy looking, whereas after Checkpoint Charlie it was dour housing blocks all the way; plus a misunderstanding of the orientation of the "East Side Gallery" beside the Spree, I retained this impression even as the day progressed). But anyway, just a short stroll down the Friedrichstrasse with its big shiny shop fronts, we moved in a slow procession with others, along the hoardings that tell the story, 1945-1989, (around the cleared ground that has become a sort of hippie camp). It was absorbing. Although I don't remember ever being afraid, I do remember some of this. I definitely remember Peter Fechter. I was ten: it was, I suppose a pitiful, horrible incident on a scale small enough for me. I don't remember the flood of "East Germans" through the last gap, but here it is, the story that puts Angela Merkel's response to the refugee crisis in context. We must let them in. Yes.

The sparrows chirped, the people moved quietly, reading their history lesson carefully. All the while I was growing up, and even to the turn of the 21st century, I never really believed that all this would be superseded, that WWII and its long Cold War dying would one day no longer be the worst of times; that I would live to see Europe, see the whole world engulfed in another descent into horrors. But here we are.

Anyway, we had another surprisingly short walk down the Freidrichstrasse, to the turn off for the Jewish Museum. Huge banners advertising an exhibition called The Golem, took us aback, we'd been prepared for an intense and grim immersion, not a monster fable, but all became clear indoors, and the Libeskind Building part was exactly as described by Gabriel. Stark. Gripping. Really good, tragic art in the form of a tall hangar of a building holding a concentrated small maze of different experiences. In the Holocaust Tower (the endpoint of the maze), we were invited by Libeskind to think of the genocide; or of genocides; or to find our own meaning for this darkness. So of course I thought of the oblivion that is likely (on current figures) to swallow me, years before I die. I'm very, very much more terrified of that than I am of death itself, because death at least is a door out, whatever lies beyond. An escape.

The towers of the Garden of Exile were also pretty good. Very unsettling.

After this, the Jewish History museum part was thorough, informative and a little bit tame, but we didn't skimp. Much.

I kept thinking, this could happen to me. No, not for being a "bolshy feminist", or any of my other tiny squeaks of dissent (thanks for the thought) but for something I didn't even know I was doing,; let alone doing wrong. For having four Irish grandparents, for having been baptised a Catholic. And they would start closing in, but I would put off running for my life, because I wouldn't be able to believe it was happening, and then suddenly it would be too late . . . I didn't want to have lunch in the cafeteria, I couldn't sit down and happily munch a sandwich after that lot, and so on we went, hungry, and ate risotto in a pop-up cafe near the river.

The East Side Gallery was great, both sides. Nice wide open space.

That same evening, in spooky deep darkness, we took a taxi across town to the piano salon where Alex works and where Gabriel had booked us tickets for a warehouse recital, for two pianos. Grand piano carcases like beached whales lining the walls of this great cavern, strange medley of art and fantasy works among them and up to the rafters, and everyone kept their coats on, you'd better believe it. Olha Chipak and Olesky Kushnir, playing Stravinsky, and Bizet, and Schubert and a bit of Swan Lake, and a four-hander version of Die Erl King that was just brilliant.

Thursday 27th October. The mist was thicker, the temperature lower, and we did a lot of walking around. Can't say I was too impressed by the "Empty Library" (You paid how much?) Decided against the official "Holocaust Memorial", put off by the idea that the anti-graffiti paint on the pillars provided by a subsidiary of IG Farben. Through the Brandenburg Gate and across the Tiergarten, which means zoo but we didn't get that far. The Alte Nationalgalerie in the Kulturforum is the place where the Germans definitely were not at the back of the queue. Wow, what a heap of loot! You like Sandro Botticelli? This is the place for you. Vermeer? They got Vermeers. The Rembrandts are a bit so-so; except for a couple of the self-portraits . . . Like that.The food, however, was awful. The hoodie crows (I loved the hoodie crows of Berlin & they were everywhere) crowded around the little trees outside the Reichstag, but I had nothing to pay them with, so they wouldn't let me take their photo.

& in the morning we caught the train home.

Funny thing, it comes back to me now that I was really quite worried about the reunification of the two Germanies, in 1990. There was a cartoon in one of the broadsheet newspapers of that time, showing a map of Europe with two Jack Boots standing upright, springing to attention: ready to resume their old business. Watch out! The Stasi are coming! But it didn't happen. On the contrary, and as of today, we have a middle-aged East German woman in post (much to her dismay) as the de facto, acting Leader of the Free World. It goes to show you never can tell. A thought which is not supposed to make you feel cosy and better. Feel as bad as you like. You won't be wrong & you might achieve something that way.

P.S Darkover Landfall did not disappoint; so to speak. Highly reminiscent of a certain kind of Seventies Commune, the kind from which you should run away very, very quickly. And, just by the way, what an idea! We're stranded on an unknown planet, haven't a clue what it's going to throw at us, haven't yet built shelters or got crops in the ground, quickly lets all the women get pregnant! And lets declare "them" useless for any other purpose! Cruelty breeds cruelty, I have a strong suspicion she was abused before she was an abuser . . . but, anyway, less said the better and that's another unknown become a known.