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Madame de Stael:#1

Wednesday 13th January, Fresh snow in the night and snow falling all morning, but the air is warmer and the snow is melting now, twilight gathering, the skies still low and unbroken grey. Finally, the winter holiday reading feature.

Corinne, or Italy, May 1807, Madame De Stael.
Anne-Louise-Germaine Necker, daughter of Jacques Necker, Louis XVI's Finance Minister, the man who (amazingly) became the hero of the first phase, the hopeful bit, of the French Revolution. Madame De Stael (she married the Swedish Ambassador when she was twenty); "French Revolutionary Activist and Theorist of European Romanticism", "The most influential woman in Europe. . . the the Spirit of Eighty Nine in person. How come I've never read anything by her before now, given my views and the fascination that period has for me? Because she was a woman? Guilty. I'm not immune, I'm afraid nobody is, to our immemorial cultural assumption that the men are more interesting, whatever the field of endeavour. Because, owing to her being a woman, "her fame has not survived"? I'm not so sure. How many of you out there are well up on her great rival, Francois Eugene Rene De Chateaubriand, the other highly influential French writer and politico of those times? I think there was something else deeply wrong with Germaine De Stael, of which more later. . .

Over Christmas, and partly while felled by flu, I read a fragment called "Ten Years Of Exile", which is interesting but fragmentary, and her second novel Corinne, Or Italy. I should now formally warn against spoilers (stupid concept, really). You're duly warned. Corinne is the story of a young Scottish, or English, De Stael thinks the terms are interchangeable, nobleman called Oswald (a name that sounded different at the time, I can only think cf Harold), who takes a trip to Italy to nurse his great grief after the death of his father. He's the strong, sensitive, vulnerable yet hunky type, given to modest heroism between bouts of spitting blood. He encounters Corinne, on a day when she's being crowned for her poetry, in a kind of Ancient Roman Triumph. He's deeply smitten with this beautiful, talented, independent woman, who is a public figure, just about as famous as God, though never in an an arrogant way. He follows her to Rome and they begin an intense courtship, based on sight-seeing trips. Corinne shows Oswald Italy, and at the same time shows him herself. At least one of their sightseeing trips breaks the bounds of even free and easy Italian convention, but Corinne doesn't care, as she's convinced that though he hasn't declared himself, Oswald must intend to marry her. Finally, he explains that if he marries her, and he might not, she's going to have to give up her public life. He loves her talents, but as her husband he'd expect them to be reserved exclusively for his private consumption. They have a big emotional scene, Oswald returns to England. He's meant to be making up his mind who he'll choose, between Corinne and the modest, insipid young girl his dead father had picked out for him. Instead he meets the girl, who is actually Corinne's half-sister, and falls for her. Corinne finds out, is devastated, and does the noble thing. Oswald finds out, too late, that Corinne had found out, is devastated, realises Corinne is really the love of his life. . . Young girl finds out she's usurped her sister, is devastated... Etc, etc, repeat until at least one of the principals succumbs to early tragic demise.

I'm sure you recognise the formula, because it's still going strong, and the first English versions are still widely read: Mr Rochester, Heathcliff were only a couple of decades in the future. The Moody Romantic Hero, the Passionate Woman who is a match for him, optional Suitable Girl in a supporting role; plus the vital armchair tourism element. What makes Corinne different (viewed just as Napoleonic chic-lit) is that she's interrogating the hide off that Romantic Hero, as popular then as now, and his moods, and his egotistical vaccillation between lovers, and his tormented soul. De Stael sets Oswald up as the acme of "sensitive" masculine cool, and then shows how he thinks only of himself, and destroys the lives of any poor woman who loves him. This is an interesting concept to start with. Plus, the armchair tourism is exceptional. De Stael knows a huge amount about Ancient and Modern Italian sites, history, customs, landscapes. She's also done all the travel, and uses her own experiences with skill and relish. This book would make you want to take ship at once for that vanished Italy, preferably crossing the perilous passes of the Alps at night, and in a snowstorm. Note the fever-haunted desolation of the Campagna, where nothing grows and you risk your life in spending a night there. Nobody gets bitten by insects in the marshy wilderness, but that's probably good-taste censorship. Nothing too disgusting is recounted about bedbugs, fleas or awful latrines in inns of passage either.

The actual fiction element is the weakest feature, as De Stael is an eighteenth century writer who tends to speeches rather than dialogue, and set pieces rather than narrative drive. Famously, she dismissed Jane Austen, on the other side of the divide, as "vulgar". The political element, surprising in a romantic novel, is unmistakeable. Corinne is the Anti-Napoleon. She's the Queen of Peace, Mistress of the feminine-coded arts. Champion of liberty, equality, amitiƩ, (thanks to greywyvern, you are right I was just being lazy); plus another one, which Mme De Stael has just invented, diversity. In real life, at the time when this book came out, "Italy" was just a bundle of political interests, arranged around some battlefields where Napoleon had recently triumphed. De Stael invents a nation, and presents her concept of self-determined nationhood in opposition to the monolithic, police state European Empire Napoleon had just invented, thus cruelly betraying all his intellectual and artist admirers, not to mention the people, and the Revolution.

The sad thing is, they say (her biographers say) that she thought Napoleon would admire her new book, even that he'd see the lesson in it, and be grateful. Writers get the strangest ideas, especially if their position is oppositional, and they're so used to robust criticism they assume their opponents must be cool about it too. Big mistake when you're dealing with a vain, ruthless self-made Emperor who doesn't like women to have an intellect anyway. The novel was a huge success with the public, Napoleon was furious, and set out to destroy De Stael.

More later. I'm going to have to stop. Ginger has a new trick. When she is really not going to be ignored anymore, she gets behind my keyboard, puts her nose under it, and tries to shove it off the desk. Makes me laugh so much, she almost scuu ddde

Winter Holiday #

Monday January 11th, snow eroding from roofs and pavements, still freezing; thick low skies

Correction. There aren't any actual hippies in Dhalgren. Your hippie is, or was originally, a hard-core radical political animal, with all that implies in range from idiot, corrupt freeloader to dedicated selfless visionary. In Dhalgren there's only a "commune" of clueless flower-children getting back to nature in the park. They have several hapless projects (weaving, washing their own clothes) and are held up to derision for same, but the "coffee out of the beans" reference really comes from Philip Marsden's Polish Travel/Memoir The Bronski House, it's the report of a former Polish aristocrat, looking back long afterwards to the days when she was young and her world collapsed around her ears. The day when the servants were gone, and the family were left staring at these small, hard brown objects, with literally no idea how to transform them into that rich, comforting dark liquid which always used to appear in a silver pot. . . The connection being about people who are completely unaware that they are helpless parasistes on a mightily unfair system. Come to think of it, I also reccomend The Spirit Wrestlers, Marsden's Russian book, same kind of deep cultural exploration in form of travelogue.

Yesterday, blizzards having failed to materialise, Peter and I took the bus out to Stanmer Park. A whole lot of people were tobogganning on the east slopes, we went for a walk in the woods instead and I'm glad we took the road less travelled. Our last snow was freezing as it fell, and there wasn't enough wind to drift but enough to drive it gently: every tree, every branch, every twig was burdened with white, flags and plumes, and the woods went on and on, everything familiar looking different, we went round and round, up along the ridge, managed to lose ourselves at least once: meanwhile discussing quite seriously whether we should take a shovel, rugs, a torch, water and food in the car, when we made our daring expedition north. Maybe the mediafolk are right, and what looks like a harmless winter day is just trying to fool us. . . These woods, esp the part that used to be Stanmer Great Wood, are nearly all young growth, dated by the hurricane of 87, which flattened nearly everything. Every so often a fragment of the old great beech vistas survives.

We decided against the blankets and thermos. Those mediafolk are insane. Now Gabriel is back in London, and the Winter Holidays are over.

Since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

For me, by Houseman's reckoning, that figure should now be twenty. All the more reason to waste nothing.

Winter Holiday

Friday January 8th, hard frost, snow roofs, snow-skies; light-suffused grey with a gilt hem.

This morning both cats refused, categorically to go outside. I ejected Milo, squalling, Ginger protesting: Ginger bounced straight back in again, but she went out for a while of her own accord later. The reason for this cruelty? Well, they have a litter tray each and Milo is using his (but he wees in the bath, which is all right as long as you know. . .) Ginger is not using hers, which makes us uneasy. Either that little cat is constipated back up to her neck, or we are going to find evil withered little offerings somewhere very cunning and obscure. Last night, after two episodes of Wire 4 and watching Gabriel beat the half-way fortress of the 2D Wi Mario, Peter and I spent at least half an hour searching for Dhalgren, which I clearly remembered leaving on the sofa in plain sight, about 7pm when I decided to listen to Stravinsky and work on my Alpine jigsaw instead... Today I found it, behind the leg of the low table we use for eating on all but the most formal occasions, pushed back into the window alcove,looking exactly like a chunk of wood, not a book. I'm getting there, I'll have finished it by the end of the day. A lot of things I don't remember, a lot of longeurs (polite term for boring bits) I found equally tiresome the first time round. Why does this book deserve Masterworks status? Google hits. Can't argue with Google hits, and I won't, they are the stuff of the SF-Establishment. My job is to analyse, and to give (no, this is my pleasure) a historical perspective. I was about ten years old when the autobigraphical events on which this book is based actually happened, but when they're supposed to have happened, believe me I was there. Casting a cold eye. "Middle class" kids (middle class means something different in my country, nb), born and bred parasites who do not have the faintest idea how to get the coffee out of the beans, pshaw, and think it is cool to ape the behaviour of the helpless and the lost. . .

Anyway, I have listened to the news, and found out where our doorstep milk has gone. Into the slurry pit, every pint of it, reports a dairy farmer from Partridge Green, sounding absolutely gutted. Have watched the bluetits on the buddelia seeds, hopefullywatched our uneaten suet ball (birds are not used to finding shop-food in our garden, for obvious reasons). Have listened to Gabriel practicing the Appassionata downstairs, have coloured-in my Shrinkles stegosaurus (she still looks angry, probably because the text says she has an "unusually small brain", which of course is why I say "she"), have eaten Christmas cake.

In 1963 (it says here, on the bbc site) the temperature didn't rise above freezing for two months. Schools did NOT close, and there was no such thing as central heating, so people had coal fires or just got cold. I remember the fires, twisting the papers and clearing the ash (training that would come in d***ed useful later in life), the tobogganing, once by moonlight, and one particular icon, a broken egg that remained intact under the ice, swimming in the fragments of its shell, on Wilson Rd, right until March.

Books and composers stack up, I mean to post about my Winter Holiday reading soon.

I thought I wouldn't ever want to watch the Wire again, after majestic Stringer Bell, evil and noble, got his just desserts. But I find I do.

Intercalary Days

Monday 4th January, clear skies, hard frost.

Intercalary days. . . It's still officially Christmas in this house, where we keep the oldstyle festive season, so the decorations are still up, the one we call the Chinese Foil Lantern shedding its traditional glittering pattern over the ceiling for Ginger to admire, as I eat my working-day marmite toast. Writing the intro for the Gollancz Masterworks new edition of The Time Machine will occupy me this week, that and re-reading Dhalgren. (I once had a book up for inclusion in the Masterworks list myself, but it didn't come to anything, ah well). Male black cap poking around in the sycamore, our charm of goldfinches on Linda and Ron's feeders as usual, the one red camellia flower that opened just before Christmas succumbed to bruising, is there any kind of winter weather these winter blooming beauties like? Anyway, thank you Diana I am pretty much better now. I'd have liked a month's gentle convalescence in an Alpine spa of some kind, but overeating madly seems to have done the trick okay.

In fine weather, the sky in January is the bluest you ever see it in England.

Felled By Flu-like Symptoms

Friday 18th December, in snowlight

Felled by flu-like symptoms I've been living in a dreamworld, walled in fog, feverish painful doze alternating with feverish painful wakefulness (usually in the middle of the night), only eased by mechanically passing my eyes over the blurred pages of The Second Exile (Vol II of Stephen Walsh's monumental Stravinsky biog). Peter, intrigued, checked out my symptoms on NHS direct and found me well-qualified for a Tamiflu voucher, wanted to know if he should print one out and collect the elixir from the chemists?


Leavemealone, stupidgovernment medicine boundtoberubbish...

Diagnosis by clueless lay person multiple choice, for God's sake. Give me a workstation that can tell the amateur how to take a cheek swab, process the swab and deliver the results to robodoc... then maybe I'll listen.

Hey, I'm a PC and I invented that!

I've never suffered from seasickness but by reports this particular flu is similar. Your actual symptoms are trivial and fairly harmless (fever, sore throat, cough, aches) but the effect is such pure misery, so you know there's not much wrong but you sincerely want to die.

Meanwhile, Copenhagen seems to be foundering, just as predicted months ago. The Flood Countries rescue deal sorely hampered by the absence of Ax Preston, and the presence of National Governments.It's been strange for me (though I missed most of the actual action) to track Copenhagen, thinking of the same conference as staged, fictionally, in Amsterdam in Castles Made Of Sand. I note that in the years 1999-2000 (when CMOS was written) I:

a) Had no idea that climate change would take hold so fast
b) Was convinced that civil unrest would be the first result of the building global disaster, and that the economic growth model had to be shattered before anything could be achieved.

I could still be right. Certainly Africa already presents a horrible model on those very lines. I'm sure of one thing (but this is hardly news). The Business as Usual model cannot do a thing to halt the devastation. What's happened this week proves the ridiculous futility. Gordon Brown approves the third runway at Heathrow with one hand, while with the other he supports trenchant (ha) emission cuts. . .

Ginger comes to visit, checks me out: sometimes she gives me a bit of a wash and curls up on the pillow, whereupon she smacks me if I invade her space. Milo flees, terrified by a coughing fit. The last time I had flu was 2005, the end of January and Frank was still alive, I remember his warm, comforting weight against my side. When Frank felt affectionate, he leaned on you.

The last think I remember before the flu took over was Richard Strauss's Salome on the tv, arguing with Peter who would not believe the libretto was by Oscar Wilde. Please. I think I know Oscar Wilde, says I. Listen to her, how daft, John the Baptist's body white as snow etc etc, he's been living in the desert wearing a bit of camelskin. No he has not, says Peter, he's been in incommunicado detention bottom of that tin-roofed well-sort-of-thing for months.

Oh, okay. . .

Something's wrong with my comments again. I'll try to fix it when better. Meanwhile, Beth, yes, it was Hard Times. . . Yes, I did watch the Ballets Russes and we're going to see them re-enacted live on the Big Screen at the Dukes for our Christmas treat next week. Convalescent today, and the snow is falling on Brighton. We love the snow, because of the light.

Light A Candle on the 12th?

Another clear blue sky morning, no frost

Squirrels romping in the bare branches, the colony of goldfinch scolding around the feeders in Linda and Ron's acacia, but apparently the "unsettled weather" =rain, wind, depressingly high temperatures, is still roaming around, will be back over Brighton by midday. A big weekend for us has just passed, Gabriel playing the Grieg piano concerto with the BYO at St Andrews Moulescoomb, it's a thirties church, rather handsome, and equiped with a small, elderly and not in great condition grand piano. It did its best and thankfully did not fly apart, though it was touch and go at moments. The boy done good. If you missed this fabulous occasion, there's a reprise at the big BYO concert in February in Hove Town Hall.

Monday morning I look at the BBC news, thinking as the little green squares fill up, what would be good news? Can I imagine any good news? Yes, there is good news: Copenhagen makes the top headline. . . Wow. Of course it was back to the hundredth of OUR BRAVE BOYS dying in Afghanistan and the proposed new runway at Gatwick, by the afternoon. The sight of a coffin with a flag over it does very odd things to a lot of people. Eventually (so I've heard) they change their minds, stop feeling all warm and excited and start asking why, but why am I immune right now?

How I do keep banging on!

So, anyway, here's a link for you:

Still working on the new version of Gypsys & excited because Thursday is a big day for me.

Haven't started reading Stravinsky Part II yet, but we've signed up for the live transmission of the Paris ballet reproducing early Ballets Russes, at the Dukes on 22nd. Our Christmas outing.

Winter Sky

Tuesday December 1st. Clear morning, a touch of hoar frost on the grass.

A clear night, last night, and the night drop in temperature we miss so much. I saw Orion through the landing window, one of my winter pleasures, for the first time in weeks. Sadly, it's not going to last.

Bad news for me, my machine is misbehaving. It passed out twice yesterday afternoon, and various scans revealed nothing I could fix. It's over ten years old, so does not owe me anything. So, my Santa list may need changing. . .

Stravinsky, Five Star Composer

cooler, grey skies, after a very rainy and windy weekend. I was wrong, no real change yet.

I made up my mind to find out about C20th music, because Gabriel was playing from Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues, he brought the Ashkenazy recording home and I found I liked them very much. Ravel should have been next in this occasional series, but my blog was down, and now I've moved on to the Sacred Monster, whose music I only knew of through childhood exposure (ballet was unavoidably big when I was a child) to the nice ballets, Petrushka and The Firebird. And the dinosaurs, of course. So now I'm reading Stephen Walsh's two-part biography (Part I A Creative Spring) & I've been here before. I am late in the day, this is Stravinsky debunked: the new official version: Stravinsky's own version and his apostle's version, corrected by recourse to the evidence. Only unlike "Shostakovich, secret voice of suffering Russia, speaker in code, closet dissident?" Igor Stravinsky does not come out with rep repaired and his face cleaned. Hm. Stravinsky was born near Petersburg, to an urbanised gentry family, and like Shostakovich a crucial couple of decades later, brought up in that unhygenic, West-facing city of culture. His father was a (regionally) famous opera singer, bass baritone, specialising in character parts, a selfish patriarch with a nasty temper, his mother the long-suffering helpmate of a great artist, who sank into that role and never said boo; the children had a bit of a thin time. A pattern that was to be repeated. Definitely not an infant prodigy (but his father would have stepped over him like a ruck in the carpet if he'd been a young Mozart, Walsh rather thinks), he didn't really get started in music until he was past twenty. But he could sight-read, and if you're born being able to sight-read, if you can read music in full sentences instead of having to spell out the words letter by letter, without training: that means you can compose.

So, anyway, his father hustled for him and he became a protege of Rimsky-Korsakov, who was then a professor at the Petersburg Conservatoire and a decent sort of bloke, not only supported the students over their actions in the 1905 rehearsal for a revolution, he put his job on the line for them. Petersburg music was in ferment, along with the politics: Russianism, mythicism, feuds, cliques, Fiveists versus World of Art-ists, everybody denouncing everybody else as cr*p and savagely supporting their own teams. Young Igor plunged with enthusiasm into the nest of vipers, in which he was to spend his creative life, and took to it like a duck to water. In 1909 he secured, by tangled and bewildering means, a commission from Diaghilev to write the music for a scenario called The Firebird, and the rest is history. He left Russia very early (in terms of the revolution). His first great ballets were all premiered in Paris, a city he immediately recognised as the centre of his world. He spent the Great War living in Geneva (a very early attempt at producing The Soldier's Tale in Switzerland fell victim to the Spanish flu in 1918); the subsequent decades, while becoming a fantastically significant figure in Modern music, he was riccocheting between the A-list Paris art & culture world (an affair with Coco Chanel, a big love-hate thing going on with Cocteau) where he kept his long-term mistress; various rented summer dachas for the family in Switzerland, Nice and the Savoie; and punishing concert tours of the USA, England & continental Europe.

It took me a while to get into this immensely detailed account of a life, because what it recounts is so intricately muddled and so emotionally cold: but in the end I was fascinated. The feuding and the name-dropping is fairly irrisistible. What about the bloke himself? It's no secret that Stravinsky was not a very nice person: that he was, by all accounts even his own, whorish, rapacious and treacherous in art and in business. But did his flaws go beyond the normal chequered record? The most ordinary people become monsters, if subjected to a regime of fame and fortune, we've proved that pretty conclusively with our own celebrity culture. Okay, Igor was an awful, grasping person to do business with, but he did have a clueless extended emigree family to support. Okay, he kept a mistress for show and a wife at home, and expected them to accept the situation: but after all, he married young, probably repented at leisure and he didn't dump the mother of his children (not in volume one, anyway). Okay, he was routinely anti-semitic, routinely callous about sinister developments in European politics. The same could be said for many "A-listers" of the twenties and thirties. They're beating jews to death in Berlin, yeah, yeah, not my concern. The mark is going to hell: does that mean no more concert dates? MY GOD, how evil, how could they do this to mee??? But it can't be denied that Stravinsky was one of those (along with Coco Chanel by the way) who served the cause of Fascism above and beyond the call of airhead self-obsessed idiocy. There was the grovelling to Mussonlini: that wasn't just a cynical whore's reflex, it extended to his private papers. There was the I Love Nazis Clean Bill of Health document he eagerly signed, in support of Germany's regime.

But what about the composer? Wagner in Modernist drag? That gives you a good idea of his ideology and his innate conservatism, but it doesn't describe the music. I don't feel like dismissing Stravinsky as a hollow faker, Damien Hirst style (horrible thought, considering Stravinsky's status), but I did start to wonder, is this bloke, with his passion for mechanical reproduction; for special effects; for any means of making "his music" that devalues the role of the instrumentalist, conductor or vocalist, the Norman Cook of Modernism? I heard Fat Boy Slim, at the height of his fame, describe himself as a producer of music, rather than a creative artist, and maybe that's Stravinsky too. He never went back to Russia, and the Russians said this was because audiences at home would have spotted at once how much of his stuff was stolen from the living and the dead (on the other hand, prophet without honour in his own country won't accept a concert date that might turn out to be a one way ticket to Labour Camp: I won't shoot him for that.) He was the impure face of Modernism, he took up the pure "Modernism" of the opposing school when it suited him: like a magpie, like a fashionista. He re-created, re-made, transformed, stuff that existed already and that was his art: that was his thing.

In the eighteenth century the composer belonged to someone, was on the staff at the Archbishopric or whatever. In the nineteenth century (post Beethoven) composing became institutionalised, you belonged by the Musical Estabishment, the Academy, the Conservatoire. Stravinsky, predictably enough, belongs to the market. He sells himself, puffs himself and reinvents himself like a fashion line, always producing something new, so that the public will have to buy it and he can go on eating. Couture fashion, of course. This was still high culture, and though Stravinsky spent years working from hand to mouth, it was always champagne poverty, he knew where he belonged: where he and his luxury goods had to belong, to survive.

So, I'm sceptical, and so far the listening I've done hasn't dented my scepticism. It's a little like my aquaintance with The Grateful Dead. You watch Anthem To Beauty, and these guys talk up a storm, get you all excited about their musical vision. But then, as a corrective, you remind yourself what it was actually like being trapped under their feedback towers, or you dig out Aoxomoxoa. The instrumental music I've been listening to is nothing like the Sacre Du Printemps; or Wagner. It's perfectly listenable, unaggressive, just doesn't command my attention, and I'm used to reserving my top admiration for art that commands my attention whether I understand it or not. . . (Sacre du Printemps passes that test NB). Yet I get glimpses in the biography of a different Stravinsky. He knew what he was doing, say the instrumentalists he worked with; say the conductors. You look at what he's written, and it shouldn't work, and he's never written for the violin (trumpet, wind, whatever), so he's asking the impossible, but then you try it and does work, and its amazing. I find instrumentalists convincing (although, erm, god help them if they said anything negative and it got back to Igor)

His own instrument was the piano. His technique was not great, but eventually he got himself up to speed, in his own style, an emotionless and mechanically precise style. This may have been his genius, or possibly Stravinsky without much feeling to express, making a virtue of necessity.

More later. My problem now is that a lot of those dance Masterpieces of Modernism haven't had a very good time in repertoire. Of course I took up this topic just in time to miss the ENO Rite of Spring, & can you get it on DVD? Not hardly.

Buy Gold And Keep It Under The Bed

Friday 27th November, chill air in the morning after another night of rain and wind.

Is the flood weather over? Something feels different this morning. Yesterday I went down to my local branch of A Certain Very Big Building Society, to rearrange my small savings, a nice man at the counter having pointed out to me that I was getting no interest at all on any of it. Oh, right, I heard about that, I muttered, feeling caught out. I don't expect my assets to be fed turtle soup with a golden spoon (Dickens ref, can you name the novel?) but I do draw the line at putting my money out to hire for no wages whatever, that's cruel. So, anyway, I met my personal banking assistant, who suggested I try her best product, where you put your money down the saltmines for a six year stretch, and at the end it gets paid 12% guaranteed, but you could earn a lot more, as this fund is linked to major stock markets! Eerm, says I, doesn't that make rather less than 3% a year, and can't I get 3% guaranteed on a shorter term? Personal banking assistant a little taken aback, customers not supposed to be able to count. Well, yes, but you could make a lot more. Sorry, says I, diffidently, but the trouble is, I'm not one of the people who thinks the recession is over...At which, bless her, my personal banking assistant burst out laughing. "Oh God, no!" she cried. "Of course is isn't! Nothing like!"

Since you ask, I mainly ended up going for that new over-fifties deal, and that's me sorted again until the latest suite of "savings" accounts go dead. But dear reader (and if you are reading this, I bet you don't), should you have anything substantial to put aside right now take my advice, which is the advice of Bill Bonner over at The Daily Reckoning. Keep doing this until I tell you it's safe to adopt a different strategy. (Er, better if you don't let on to your neighbours, or the folk in the pub)

1Buy Gold.
2 Keep it in a sock under the mattress.

Bright Star, Three Star, Four Star, Five Star

Thursday 26th November, clear skies right now, after rain and wind.

We saw Jane Campion's Bright Star at the Dukes's, it's such a beautiful picture. Campion is a Chardin of film-makers (that's Jean-Batiste-Simeon Chardin's market girl making a guest appearence in the thumbnail, click through for the Paris WebMuseum). She recreates domestic details with such passionate, faithful intensity that every soundscape, every scene, brims with the stillness of great art, that makes you look and look, listen and listen. I liked Bright Star a lot more than I liked The Piano, which I admired with reservations years ago. I could see that the story of John Keats and Fanny Bawne was a gift to her style, period, poignant, contained and so well-documented too, and I wonder slightly if she'll ever pull off her Chardin trick in a contemporary setting. Now that would be something. But it was inspired to place the point of view in the heart of Fanny's loving family, looking outward: a subtly different trick from just making Fanny, this confident, grounded, innocent young girl, the viewpoint character. And the principals were great, and so were Fanny's family, and the jealous bounder Brown. And I loved the way Campion conveyed the cruelty of the young lovers' fate through coldness, physical cold: the saturating rain, the chill, saturated colours of spring flowers, the bitter weather of those years around the Year Without A Summer. Keats was always talking about being cold, and telling Fanny she better wrap up warmly, in his letters.

Why revert to a movie I saw weeks ago? Well, partly my blog was still missing back then, and partly I saw a review in Grazia yesterday, (high-priced classy type women's glossy), and Bright Star only got a measly three stars. Not exciting enough. The reviewer "couldn't believe" in the passion between the principals. Tuh, thinks I. Some people wouldn't know true love, young love, if it jumped up and bit them. And it's not because that lovely, touching phenomenon has vanished from the modern world, either. Far from it (young love endures, the poor nightingales have proved ephemeral). Reviewer probably doesn't know any teenagers, that's all. . . Anyway, then I started thinking about stars, because I remembered the posters and I knew that stacks of eminent movie reviewers had absolutely adored Bright Star, thought it was wonderful. A whole page of four stars, full house of all the best venues.

So why not five stars in all those little rows, to match the adjectives? Does Jane Campion just automatically get a star knocked off for being female? Surely not. Well, obviously you will tell me that there are five star movies the way there are Oscar movies, and it isn't exactly to do with quality, it's to do with star quality (to coin a phrase). It's the subject matter, the gravitas (as Movie people understand gravitas). Okay, so here's A Serious Man, the Coen brothers. A period piece, a chamber piece, a contained little drama by a duo renowned for being obsessive about their art. Five starred all over the place. What's the difference? As far as I can make out (and I'm not going to see the movie. I admired Blood Simple very much when it came out, still admire it now. I like Fargo and I liked that crazy one about the scriptwriter too. But Burn After Reading finished me. Super-rich Hollywood luvvies playing their deeply unattractive real selves and thinking they are funny. Go away) Anyway, as I was saying, far as I can work out, judging by the reviews, A Serious Man gets five stars because it bullies people. It bullies the audience into believing they have to laugh at some poor shmuck getting bullied up down and sideways, it beats them into submission and makes them do something unpleasant.

Is that the way contemporary taste works? The public and the mediafolk hand over their top admiration to playground bullies? When you look around you, you have to admit it's a point of view.

Six Degrees of Devastation?

Monday 23rd November, grey, blustery and rainy, horribly mild

Calamitous floods in Cumbria, Catastrophic Fire Warnings in South Australia, and Copenhagen admits defeat before it is even born. How can these things possibly be connected? Not at all, according to the people who script our news coverage. I read in the Independent that the Cumbrian floods "cannot be directly related to Climate Change", and fair enough, if it was an isolated weird weather event. If there wasn't all this other weird stuff, if the Arctic wasn't melting, if there weren't all these other frightening indicators. We could just sit back and enjoy the spectacle, as long as we weren't facing ruin and loss our sweet selves. But the mediafolk and the politicians have never heard of Bayes' Theorem, so they continue, defiantly, to look on the weather as a tossed coin.

Funny how the only people who seem to take the need for drastic action seriously are in Africa (and the aid organisations of course). Oh, and China, I suppose, but China's historical record on Big Interventions is not encouraging. Their efforts in that line have tended more towards making dents in their population that would frighten any other massive superpower.

Meanwhile, in my own sweet little life I'm happy because I beat the City In The Sky at last; because I've managed to put a couple of obstinate things to bed, and because I've had an invitation I like the look of for next July. Unhappy because we have fleas in the house again, despite Frontline Combi (which as pet owners will know, is the latest weapon in the endless battle). It's Ginger, not Milo. She goes somewhere and comes back hopping, and I get bitten. This is the problem with warm winters, warm worlds generally. Parasites flourish. If the warmth comes suddenly the parasites are swift to take advantage, the host species, not so opportunist in design, cannot riposte at the same speed, and they suffer badly.

Wearing Brocades In The Darkness Of Night #n. When I started my first blog, years ago, my first heading was that Genji quote. Nobody knows about this, I said (aside from Peter and Gabriel). I'm not going to publicise, even if I knew now. I'm just going to leave this occasional diary in an unlocked drawer, and if anyone reads it, I may never know. & here I am again, because that "Coming Soon" page at the old address is apparently immoveable, unchangeable. Never mind, I'll carry on. Now and then.

Must now go and cook, and listen to The Rite Of Spring. I'm currently finding out about Stravinsky, for Gabriel's sake, my attitude hampered by the fact that when I was a child ballet was part of the furniture of cultural life, Petruschka and The Firebird were things I was supposed to admire and didn't know why, not revolutionary or weird, good heavens kno. And, plus, The Rite Of Spring to me means dinosaurs. Always and irrevocably, dinosaurs.

Lest We Forget

Wednesday 11th November, cool and rainy.

The blog is back, with salvaged entries back to July. No redirects yet so this is a rather secret blog. Never mind, it's nice to have my little soapbox window open again. Lest we forget? Well, I do not wear a poppy, I did respect the 2 mins silence, in the pub on Sunday, before the Chelsea: MU match (ah well, win some lose some); as did all the assembled. I do not take kindly to being advised that I "ought to" support the war in Afghanistan, though I suppose it makes sense to those who understand, and revere the UK fallen for dying in defence of our planet destroying addictions. No Blood For Oil still seems a good plan to me. You haven't heard this story? Go on, try typing Afghanistan pipeline into a well-known search engine yourself, and pick a hit or few. You'll find allies I'd rather not have, but that's always the way. Any cause has its parasites. Click through the poppy for my source for the image.

Coincidentally, in the last entry before service was interupted, we were walking through Patching Woods, looking for chestnuts far too soon, and finding blackberries. Saturday 7th, for the first time since, we escaped for a walk in the country again. Herstmonceux this time, where the castle is, and the Science Centre with its observatory domes still rising like pallid eaudenil giant funghi above the treetops. The castle is a conference centre these days (what else?), but the woods and quiet fields are still open to the public, & here, just by the great mis-shapen beech in the photo, we found a treasure of sweet chestnuts and picked up a kilo of the plumpest, pricking our fingers and yelping as we foraged among the damp bright leaves. Whereupon we started looking out for fungi too, and made a splendid collection, from the wood margin and later from damp green pasture. The edible count went: Macrolepiota rhacodes, a parasol mushroom variant; a good handful of Fairy Rings (Marasimus oreades); two fine young Shaggy Manes (Coprinus comatus) and a heap of good old field mushrooms.

Pasta al funghi with garlic for our dinner, mushrooms and eggs for breakfast, and plenty left for Sunday supper. The fascination of foraging for food grows on us, year by year (I turned Peter on to this game, ha, I remember there was a time he wouldn't touch a puffball for fear of curling up like a hoop, vomiting blood and dying of kidney damage. Now there's no stopping him). Probably a sign of a worn out brain, more interested in dinner than anything intellectual. Sad, really. A girl that knew all Dante once (slight exaggeration) lives to revel in this exciting thought: Hey, now I can make that terrific Elizabeth David chestnut and chocolate cake for Christmas.

Reading: Band Of Gypsys, because I've finally got round to tackling the online edit. It'll be a lot more different than the first three second editions: this book suffered badly in the making, and I'll explain why later. And still La Peste, which is truly wonderful. A well deserved Nobel, that one (if Nobels can ever be well-deserved, being so daft and annoying sometimes as to tarnish the good ones)

Missing: Harper's Island! What a loss. Following: Fast Forward, though I don't really like it, it is too stupid (& not following Defying Gravity, which literally, so to speak, took stupidity to new levels); but still not out of the City in the Sky, and still not started 3rd season of The Wire.

It's been colder, today and yesterday, which is a welcome respite, but nothing yet like the respite of last year, snow and ice on Bowfell at the end of October, how great that was. And it's the eleventh month of my forever war, and I don't think I'll be home for Christmas.

Blackberry Weather

Thursday 1st October, grey skies, silver-gilt sunlight breaking through.

Today it's grey, and I'm praying for rain, but Sunday 27th that bitter drying wind had dropped at last, and we had a perfect "Indian Summer" day down here, sky over the downs the clear deep blue that only comes in September. We went out to Patching woods to see if the sweet chestnuts were ripe. They weren't, but we went hunting and gathering anyway. Big cluster of Oyster Caps plucked from a fallen beech (actually L. pulmeria, but the whole species is good edible funghi: and we ate them & they were tasty), a pound of sloes from just a couple of little trees on the headland path, where we ate our egg sandwiches looking down on Little Burpham farmstead, the swathes of ochre stripped fields and the great woods of West Sussex & Hampshire stretching away into the far distance, into blue furrows seeming regular as ploughed land. Blackberries on every hedge and bank, glowing hips and haws. We don't gather blackberries, because in fact, as I've proved long ago, I'm none too good at jam-making and nobody wants to eat it, but its good to have had mouths and fingers purpled with juice, (even if I never got sand between my toes) for once in a dour summer. Why Indian? I don't know.

Sat pricking sloes for gin later, it isn't as bad a job as I remembered. Only took half an hour.

Reading: the dregs of Proust. Time Regained fading out, sadly unrevised & sometimes I get irritated at the way he's everlasting talking about "love" when he really means "desire", as any fool can see. Just started La Peste as my breakfast book. Watching: the irisistible Harper's Island! Currently my money is on the chainsaw wielding Masked Gardener; and Chloe is my favourite shreddie in waiting. I know you're not supposed to get attached to them, but she's so cute. Also the latest US fantasy thriller, Flash-forward, but I think I may not take to it.

Things for you aspiring or professional writers to check out, a new enterprise by Kelley Estridge and Nicola Griffith called Sterling Editing, offering manuscript assessment and a whole lot more. And, if you don't already know it a fun and useful webresource powered by Ralan Conley, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at Fantasticon.


Monday 28th September, mid-morning, cool and still, unbroken grey haze

Golden Age pictures in the Glypotek. These pictures were one of the reasons I wanted to go to the Copenhagen con (there's always an ulterior motive, I'm afraid). The ones I like are usually very small, very rural; almost always very quiet, very still. The subject is the least important thing, portrait of a roadside peddler, portrait of a cow or a horse, given the same respect. I was sorry not to see more Hammershoi, but very interested to learn more about the women painters of his period, in the Hirschsprung

Of course I also paid my respects to Kierkegaard. & here, in rough form, is the Either/Or presentation posted online:

Greetings to old friends and new, not forgetting Charles, Feorag and Fluffy, Many thanks for your hospitality and conversation to Lea, Jesper, Flemming, HH Loyche, Michael Kamp & to all.

Climate Change Wake Up Call...!

Friday 25th September, warm and clear.

Spider weather has settled in, apparently not likely to break for us before 2nd week in October.

Here's Avaaz report on Monday's Climate Change Wake Up!

Watch the video, then scroll down for the other one where a Parliament Square flashmobber gets Gordon Brown on the phone.

No one can predict what will happen in any detail. It isn't predictable. But we can be sure of sort of general things, like Africa fries and Bangladesh drowns, oh, and pity about Australia

The masses, the rich poor, with their ruinous "cheap" foreign holidays and "cheap" industrial farmed meat diet, are only doing what they're told. This will be their excuse should there ever be an accounting, some time when the world has decided their behaviour was wicked (cf rank and file of Hitler's Germany). And how different are their choices from the choices of the important people (I don't mean celebs!)? The rich-rich, well, the rich we have always with us, as dogs have fleas, one could do with fewer, but no use blaming Posh. I blame the people who know better. The ones who will say, Climate Change isn't really happening; or it's greatly exaggerated; or it's not man made; or Big Tech will fix it, so bleeding heart emission cuts are pointless. . . when all the while you can see in the back of their eyes that they know perfectly well what's real, only they have also spotted that they most likely they will not be affected. Africa fries, Bangladesh drowns, a few hordes of displaced persons have to be driven from the gates. Where's the harm? We have a global population problem don't we? So I'm going to carry on regardless.

Sadly I don't think giving Gordon Brown a much-desired video opportunity on the Avaaz site is the answer. Are you going to cancel the third runway, PM? No? Not even vaguely think about it (cf the fourth Trident)? Then what the devil is the use of making speeches, and why are we even paying the fares for your trip to Copenhagen? I just can't see him turning.

Maybe he'll develop a crush on Hu Jintao.