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The swifts

Cold, grey and blustery.

Yesterday started fair, but the sea wrack moved in during the afternoon, with a cold breeze. BY 6pm, the wrack, thick as custard, down to the treetops across the valley, I saw the first of the swifts, skating and tossing around up there in the blustery grey. Three of them this morning. They're back, one more year.

Real Festival weather. Today, out to Queen's Road in the afternoon, to talk-up the newly discovered lost John Wyndham novel for the BBC. A treat for Wyndham completists, clearly foreshadowing his best books, it's good fun in its own right after the first few pages, which are marred by a dodgy US accent.

As is well known, Wyndham tried to dissociate himself from sf, fearing the ghetto effect. But how influential he has been, in the end: particularly on UK genre tv and movies. Apocalypse with ordinary characters, hoping they'll have somewhere to sleep and something to eat. Clueless blokey heroes (who are never revealed to be the secret child of the Evil Emperor's security chief)*; with kind, competent girlfriends. Nobody knows anything, and the deep need to squabble that possesses any group of people, in any fraught situation, proves the triumph of the human spirit. . . Shaun of the Dead is a Wyndham cosy catastrophe. I like 'em.

*I tell a lie. The ordinary bloke hero of "Plan For Chaos" does indeed prove to be a close connection of the World Domination evil genius. He doesn't exactly take this ball and run with it, however.

Something intelligent

Wednesday 6th May, cold night, same sun through overcast in the morning, still no swifts.

I've had a bit of a sniffle all this week, touch of a runny nose, watery eyes. D'you think I should report myself to the government?

What's that Gordon old chap? Did someone whisper in your shell-like that now would be a good time to talk-up a pandemic, cut down on the space for talking about hm, other things? Cram the early evening news with long discussions about coughs and sneezes spread diseases?

No, this is something intelligent to say about swine flu: and something intelligent to be done about the disgusting global mess from which our tasty cheap food is extracted. It's factory farming of course. Remember that Bernard Matthews (amusing slip corrected here, corporate meatgrinder the dirty shameless old comedian eh?) thing about turkeys and bird flu, two years ago? What happened about that? Nothing, except the advertising got a greenwash, and here we are again. "Smithfield farms of Virginia say there's no sign of swine flu at their huge Mexican facility" Local reports beg to differ. . . Unsafe, filthy, hideously cruel. One day there might be real trouble. No, there already is real trouble. This is the real trouble, the death by inches that we're all aware of, and that we whisper about to ourselves in code, through all our longings for a proper big scare. Please God, we have no willpower, send us a big, terrifying pandemic, it's our only hope. . .

I stick to outdoor reared, local reared pork products, of course. And so do you, dear reader, I am sure. All the cool restaurants are doing it! (or pretending to, bless em, the H&C trade doesn't change). But suppose you can't afford that, or suppose you're one of the well-off helpless, and can't get it together to do anything but fatten Corporate Food shareholders and trust, implicitly, the early evening news? Then your only hope is that people with more resistance will make an impression, and world food production will change its ways. From each according to their abilities. Here's AVAAZ on the subject, check it out:

Bank Holiday Weather

Tuesday 5th May, sun building through overcast.

An improvement on yesterday, which was really nasty cold, grey, mean Bank Holiday weather. My friend Maude calls to tell me about heavy-handed policing at the EDO demonstration in town. There's previous between the police around here and the protestors against the EDO weapons factory, going back at least a decade, it's a fixture. The police will be out in amazing numbers, they will get heavy, and a Carnival Atmosphere doesn't impress them at all. Their minds have been made up. Tell me something new, please. Tell me the police and the EDO protestors have agreed to make peace, and embark on a relationship of mutual respect, and I'll have to start looking hopefully for other green shoots of recovery. Or flying pigs.

Saw In The Loop last week, the movie of the series, both of which might well be subtitled "This Is What Puerile Means" or "Single Sex Education Is Bad For Boys". I'm sure it's true that the corridors of power are populated by loud foul-mouthed bullies and clueless little opportunists. I'm sure it's not true that the only girls who've strayed onto the scene can do nothing but stand around looking pained (except when disgracing themselves by bleeding inappropriately in public). But the fact that this team can't cope with Condoleezza Rice, Harriet Harman, Jacqui Smith & their like isn't going to make those beauties disappear. Intermittently amusing.

Also watched Eyes Without A Face George Franju 1960. Wonderfully creepy, and stuffed with quotations; or so it seems, this movie has inspired so many. One of my better Love Film picks.

No swifts. They should be here, but have been as late as the 9th in recent years. Hope they make it.

Trains, trains trains and an Early Day Motion

30th April, cold and grey

Dodgy ads:

If you don't know who Iggy Pop is, why would looking at that raddled old hippie geezer, inexplicably half-naked, make you think about car insurance?

If you do know who Iggy Pop is, why on earth would you want to buy car insurance from him?

That is Iggy Pop, isn't it?

Treacherous automatic barriers at Victoria:

It ate my ticket to Manchester, honestly it did.
The man opens the machine, and cannot find my ticket in its bowels
But it did! It did! Or the person ahead of me took my ticket along with his. Look, look, here's my receipt, here's my seat reservation voucher
The man, kindly to a fault, rushes me to the inquiry office
Mais non, says the young frenchwoman at the desk (only in English). One cannot reissue without a signed form from the ticket barrier teamleader.
we rush back and find the teamleader
Mais non, we still cannot reissue, as this ticket was bought from a travel agency.
She takes all the surviving parts of my ticket, and my proof of purchase, and rushes off somewhere else anyway
Will she ever return? Her colleague eyes me uneasily from behind the glass, as I pace and pace, looking at my phone every ten seconds. I'm going to have to pay full fare. I'm going to miss my appointment. . .

This story has a (relatively) happy ending. Owing to my seldom-used-these-days power to run up Underground escalators, I actually caught my train from Euston.

The story outlined below won't have a happy ending unless a convincing number of MPs are persuaded to show that they care. Do you care about the use of secret evidence in UK courts? Or will you wait until you're made to care, by a knock at midnight from the secret police?, Do you think it's about time we called a halt to the frightening erosion of the rule of law in this country? Check this link, read the motion, contact your MP:

EDM 1308
Abbott, Diane
That this House believes the use of secret evidence in UK courts is fundamentally wrong; notes that secret evidence is evidence held by the Home Office against an individual that neither the individual, nor their legal representation, may see; further notes that in recent cases secret evidence has been used to detain individuals in prison for up to three years without charge or trial; further notes that these individuals may also be put under a control order or severe bail conditions, greatly limiting their movements and ability to lead a healthy life; believes that the use of secret evidence by the state against individuals runs entirely contrary to Habeas Corpus; recognises the European Court of Human Rights' ruling that detaining individuals on the basis of secret evidence is unlawful because detainees had not been able to effectively challenge the allegations against them; and calls on the Government to begin an immediate independent review into the use of evidence that is not ever heard by the defendant or their lawyer but which is used to justify indefinite detention, severe bail conditions or control orders.

Not sure who your MP is? Check it out on

Don't Panic?

Monday 27th April, rain

Rain and cool grey skies, after the fine weather. Yesterday we took Milo and went for a walk in King Death's Garden, first time we've visited for a long tim. A beautiful day, beauties of spring all around, the primroses fading, bluebells in flower (more bluebells than ever before, I think), the elm trees so burdened with green-gold blossom they seem already to be in full leaf. Not much contest between the oak and the ash this year, the ash is definitely lagging, which means (may I remind you) a dry summer.

Something to mourn. One of the great twin copper beeches on the primrose slope in the valley, the prettiest place of all for early spring flowers, is gone. A huge stump sealed by wire netting. Ah, when did that happen? It used to be that one could say, well, never mind, nature always renews itself, it's humans who are ephemeral. Now no longer.

I'm reading The World Of The Shining Prince, in preparation for the readings at Fabrica this Thursday and being reminded of the two obsessions I found I shared with this eleventh century Japanese court lady. The passing of the seasons, with their different beauties; and the essential melancholy of life. Meanwhile, I'm finding fellow feeling with Shostakovich, and the compulsory optimism of the Terror years: you must rejoice, you must rejoice. Yeah, I get sick of socialist realism too.

An email from Rami Shal'heveth, Editor of Bli-Panika, asking may he translate 'The Tomb Wife' for a Hebrew sfwebzine. Yes, of course. I'm not in favour of imposing cultural isolation on Israel; hope I'm right. I would hate to be seen as encouraging racism and sanctioning the inhuman treatment of Gaza's helpless population. Try this site for a fresh view

Another London Road

Wednesday 22nd April, another beautiful spring day.

Down to the Duke's yesterday evening, to the benefit showing of Man On A Wire, for the AnotherLondonRoad show. Got to be there. I did help out at the streetstall last winter, and went to the Christmas do, but local activism became casualty to the gothic affair in Manchester, and I never got back on board. . . Couldn't get away before six, but sadly that's no problem, it's a benefit for a town-planning action group, on a minor issue to most (idiots); probably lightly booked. . . Thwarted! Hordes of people, queuing round the block. I joined the line, in hopes that maybe the afternoon audience had not yet left the theatre, but no. Dukes sold out, and I had to be content with donating a tenner to the raffle.

Maybe there's more interest in town planning around here than I thought. I really hope so. I'd like to see my part of Brighton get some care, thought and attention, something to tell me this town (sorry, City) isn't just for tourists. I definitely don't need another huge Tescos in my life, in my face, killing off all the human-sized shops and businesses and suffocating the traffic. So, if you're reading this and you live in Brighton, please check out this site another london road. Do something, if it's only signing the petition

After Easter. Turning, turning

Monday April 20th, beautiful day, a bright clear morning after a chilly night.

I can never get straight to work after a break from the core task. Turning and turning, like a cat preparing to sleep, I fidget around the house, finding ridiculous little things to do, and finally settle, nose to tail, in the nest of the keyboard, the screen, the story.

Blood, Ink, Let The Right One In

Friday 17th April, rainy and mild.

Easter week, full of flowers disjointed and muddled days, chocolate eggs, gardening, The World At War, Prokofiev and Stravinsky, and me struggling with the never-ending gothic novel of my family's affairs, recalcitrant small tasks at my desk, pining to get back to Grasshopper. Saw Let The Right One In at the Duke's, loved it. Such a great idea to tell the story of where Igors come from. I love people who love the rules; who find new ways to work within a classic imagination-space. Especially an imagination-space so exhausted, so over-fished, as the Vampire story. Admirable.

Blood and Ink is a series of literary events at Fabrica, an exhibition venue in Brighton, at present displaying two medium-sized works by Anish Kapoor, one of them a bronze bloodbath with an incised text commenting on the Arabian Nights, by Salman Rushdie. We went to the first last night: my friend Maude Casey giving a fascinating, wide-ranging presentation on the many faces of the Thousand And One Nights. Decor to match, charming refreshments provided, sweetmeats and pomegranates on lordly dishes. And not forgetting Guantanamo Bay either. The rest of the presentations are an eclectic pick and mix, Chinua Achebe, Ovid, among others. I'm kicking in with Genji on 30th April. I wonder if the gathering will get sushi? Veggie sushi, I hasten to add. This is Brighton!

Seems like the keynote is going to be an intro wherein the writer at the desk disparages Salman Rushdie's contribution to the art work. It's okay. Apparently Anish Kapoor has had second thoughts too.

Splendours And Miseries. . .

Thursday April 2nd, sun through haze, the blackbird singing.
That's thirty five days straight, thirty six counting the official day off on the 4th Sunday. I get asked, hopefully (by male respondents, women have this issue nailed) "did you lose weight?" No, mate. Alcohol fasts only make you lose weight as part of the proverbial calorie-controlled diet. If you drop a dress size without trying, just by leaving out the booze for a week or two, I'm afraid you have a drink problem, my friend.

I didn't watch the City of London situation yesterday, just checked it at my desk every now and then. 86 arrests, in the end (or so they say). Protestors harrassed and cattle-penned, police provoked, and someone died, while the Met were tending him. . . It was going to get ugly,because our police are like that. That's why I stayed at home. The surprise will be when (if ever) the English police, or rather their masters, start cleaning up their act, and turning all Gilbert and Sullivan because the voters en masse are getting behind those four horsemen. What will it take? Wait and see.

Splendours and miseries of having your son home for the holidays:

Mother: Gabriel, Gabriel! You have to get up! You've got to get up and go to London. The agency just called, your landlord is chucking you out because of that rent strike. . .

Son: Gnnfh Guugnth... Wha, wot. Sits up, eyes focusing in panic. Wot, today? They're chucking us out now??

Mother, urgent and beginning to panic: Yes, right now. Your things are all on the pavement! And I just had a phone call from Gab's mum (that's the other Gabriel, currently asleep downstairs and making the place look even more untidy, were that possible). He's getting thrown out as well. His stuff is outside too!

Son: (SCRAMBLING OUT OF BED, WILD EYED) Ohmigod! Ohmigod, I knew it, I told him! I told him! And Gab is getting chucked out of halls? What did he do? Oh, Oh, Oh, God, what shall I do???

Mother, growing calmer: Well, it's pretty bad. But you should allow for the fact that it's April 1st. And you left the basement in a horrible state last night.

(At three am, listening to the drinking games and the wild piano music down below, I was contemplating having him scramble and panic as far as the doorstep before letting him off, but I had relented a little.)

35 Thousand

March 28th, Saturday. Chilly, bright and clear am, heavy cold showers later.
Honour to those who in their lives are committed and guard their Thermoplyae. . . The G20 protest, peace march version. Stop bailing out the d***ed bankers, don't print money you idiot! Jobs, Green Recovery. A New Deal. Return to Victoria, walked down the river to Arundel St. where we collected our green hard hats from Avaaz and then hung about sightseeing for a while. Coot bobbing on the brown waves of the Thames, this is the King's Reach, dedicated as such 1935, nice bronze carp and so on by the river-steps. Memorial to the BN submarines killed in 2 World Wars. In the 1st they only got numbers (as they weren't expected to live long, maybe). In WW2 they got names. Spent some time helping an anarchist from Preston with his extremely frisky banner-bearing contraption, and who better than an anarchist to rely on the kindness of strangers. Off we go to Hyde Park, isn't the Queen Mary small, how great if we could get the rich back to the level where they'd fit inside, they'd still own as much as ever, but they'd need fewer golf courses. Hey, Faraday, hey all you bronze people, all you fine buildings, always something new to admire in this beautiful city.

A lot of EU and UK trade unions (and that's new), inevitable Socialist Workers and Communists of different stripes,the Four Horsemen of the Apocalpyse, two brass bands, the drummers, beat boxes on bicycle trailers. Palestine and StopWar, and Don't Attack Iran, of course. Lot of fancy dress, the young faux capitalists were fun, except I felt the (f) members shd have been wearing spike heels, their trainers (running shoes, cousins) were giving them away, like that high-heeled nun in The Lady Vanishes, . Invitations to the illegal raves next week were offered; I sang the Internationale with the Italians, only in French as I don't know any Italian and the English lyrics are cr*p and don't scan. We got behind the 4 horses, and wondered what the slow-marching police front row was there for? To make the whole thing look more impressive? Were they joining in? They wouldn't be out of place on this one, not at all. Everybody's got a job, pension, supermarket bill on the line, and if you're if not P****d off by now (as one homemade placard had it), you haven't been paying attention. Most, about half I'd say, are under thirty (and that's new).

But it's a rag bag, as always, and I'm an odd sort of rag myself. I wonder if there's a single other person here is thinking the way I am, about caddis fly larvae creeping around the bed of a stream, in their cases made of grains of sand and tiny twigs. The sparrows, lost. Cuckoos and skylarks, blackcaps and songthrushes, the she-frog I took out of our tiny water feature, grey-green, healthy looking young creature, hiding her pointed snout between her splayed, fairytale-fingered forefeet. The candled tower of a horse chestnut in bloom, the great oak trees, I would rather die than live without these things, and it's only through them that I understand what's happening. There is no doubt in my mind that there's only one real problem, the NUMBERS, the awesome burden of human success. But the problem is also the place where we'll find the cure. I believe that too. So few, sighed Peter, sounding oddly like the Steward of Minas Tirith. Nothing like the crowd for that first Stop The War. . . Yeah, right, that freezing February, few weeks before I gave up being English: and what good did it do to be so many, eh? Like I've said in another context, we're the symptom, not the cause, and if critical mass is reached, it won't be down to us early warners. It will be down to the trouble itself: objective effects scary enough to get Middle England (etc, etc) behind the anarchists, the NVDA brigade like next week. All we need to do is wait until they're paddling around here, and get close enough to critical mass to scare our so-called leaders into seeing the light. Gordon Brown (not him, the next PM, obviously) will look at the Youtube record of torched fast food joints, torn up runways, fighting in the streets: listen to the media and the voters howling "those people have a point, d**n it!" and say to himself, my goodness! Of course we must take this chance we've been offered, by the collapse of the unbelievably stupid finance system! So far and no further, here we turn the tide. Here's where we save the future! The future of the living world and our own.

Nah. We're here because we're here. Either it's a way of life (the old guard, who really would come out to ANY demo), or it's the young guard, who are coming back next week: who are ready to go to prison, to get beaten up, tasered, even shot, to guard the Springs; or it's the timid frogs such as me and my friend here, who have been paying attention, who come out because they can't bear not to, because it's a brief respite from the scariness of life surrounded by the KFC, 4X4, Ryanair tendency (including of course the substantial vintage champagne, red carpets, weekend in the Maldives wing), who will never see that there's a problem. Hell, there's not much left outside the bunker but we got champagne synthesisers haven't we?

When we finally reached Hyde Park we listened for a short time to Tony Robinson, various worthies from the Flood Countries of the South, and is that Bianca Jagger? Ate our sandwiches& drank hot chocolate in the shelter of a big oak tree, by a Speakers' Corner kiosk (listening to anarchists mutter about Socialist Workers in their Nike and their Umbro, tuh); and headed off down by the Serpentine, blossom trees and birdsong in the cold, sudden rain.

Peter asked me, d'you think there's any famous sf writers here? (He's always hoping I know someone famous). I gave it some thought: Theoretically, yes, but I can't really picture it, protest marches are so pathetic. Sf mavs either think teatrays in the sky are the answer, or else they're sure it's just the current scare story, like Global War, City-eating Floods, Famine, Over-population, Epidemics, Mass Extinction, an annoying distraction or good copy; it's not real

Those hard hats an excellent innovation. They keep the rain off, are not so much hassle as a placard on a stick, and add a certain pleasing conformity to the view for the camerapersons.

Instant Judgement on Robert Schumann

Friday March 27th, sun surfacing through overcast, after a chilly night Reading Clio Grey, of whom more later, and The Iliad, where I've reached the Battle By The River, Hector hasn't got long left now. Watching a lot of movies as I've been feeling poorly, Mildred Pierce, Once Upon A Time In The West, The Fifth Element (again).

Improving my musical knowledge (down to Gabriel of course, he starts playing the music, I start wondering, what was that guy like? What did his life and times have to do with his composition?): this week's composer is Schumann. Reminds me of Bruce Sterling, a bit (sorry, Bruce, I know you're not mad). Esp. the selfless early career, putting passionate criticism and the Good Of The Genre before his own art, and not even realising it. The not-in-the-best-of-tempers manifestos against moribund convention, the revolutionary brotherhood of correct thought, to which you could get elected without your knowledge. Also the reckless mixing of media. Music written to illustrate details in a novel (Papillons) which of course everyone cool will get, because of course everyone cool knows the novel off by heart just like Robert does. I ended up not really liking most of what we have on CD, because it's too puzzling, too literary, and I haven't any desire to read the Wertheroid novels. They've vanished, and I bet it's with good reason.

The story about disabling his hand is less extreme than I thought, in fact my arbitrarily chosen biographer gave the distinct impression that it was a good excuse to stay out of the virtuoso bloodbath. Shame about the story of that ultra-romantic marriage, it really doesn't stand up. Oh Clara, you are my equal in all things, we are twin souls, we are beyond convention! Ah, at last you are mine! No, you can't go on tour. Didn't I say I need you to stay at home and bring up twenty kids. . ? He wrecked her career for as long as he was able (an uphill job, as Clara Wiek was incredibly talented, ditto hardworking, already famous & knew how to work a crowd), and though she submitted, though she became the fierce champion of his faltering genius, picking fights left right and centre, I don't think she forgave him. Not until he was safely on the way out. . . She didn't visit him much in that horrible aslyum. Where he certainly didn't deserve to end up, whatever it was that was wrong with him. All right, he jumped in the river, okay he'd been admitting to psychotic symptoms, but all the heroes of those turgid novels "admit" to psychotic symptoms, they never stop: how can your soul be in torment without a few waking nightmares?, it's de rigeur And in the end, when nobody would listen, he starved himself to death. Nasty way to go.

NB, my research for this entry, such as it was, involved reading Robert Schumann his life and work by Ronald Taylor, probably not the best place to start, a pedestrian biography and not great on musical analysis; but it was in the library! And listening to these two disks. Richter is as a God, I am reliably told, but I like Jonathan Biss.

Richter, playing Schubert's Wanderer and Schumann Papillons & Fantasie 17

Jonathan Biss, Fantasie 17 etc

He championed Chopin, when nobody understood what Chopin really was (cannons disguised by flowers is a Schumann quote), he railed against mediocrity, he had his faults but he was okay. I ought to listen to more, esp. the songs, and Kindersznesen (not for children; about being a child). Next in this series, Shostakovich: closet dissident or pillar of Stalinism?

Really, I'm practising having categories, after all these years: see if I can be a proper blogger.

Castles 2008

layered cloud, moving towards twilight

Cracked it. Castles Made Of Sand, remastered, complete and unabridged. The file had got corrupted on disk, which does not bode well for my off-site storage but anyway, here's Castles, the 2008 edition, free online.

Spring Officially Began Last Friday. . .

Monday 23rd March, cool sun, light overcast, spring gardens full of candy colours below my window.
I have nothing more to say, except thanks to Anne O'Donnell for an Aleutians Trilogy book order: really I'm just posting my Lenten Alcohol fast tally.

Reading: Clio Grey, The Envoy of the Black Pine My latest librarybooks find, more later.

Wondering about, 1.The Nebula Weekend, & if I really need to nominate an accepter/deliverator should "The Tomb Wife" win in the short stories, problem arising as neither of my US editors will be there. Interim conclusion, think I'll cross that bridge if I come to it. 2. The G20/Climate Change Protests. Justice and Peace on the 28th March, StopWar on 1st April. Neither of them exactly my agenda but I think I'll probably settle for the 28th, as I'm getting the three line whip from CAFOD on that one. Let's face it, I'm really more of a CAFOD type, more bothered about Guantanamo at Calais than eager fomenting anarchist revolution (but don't let me put you off!). Plus, amusing though it is to see the Bold As Love precursor scenario taking to the streets again, just like the nineties, eh?, that's not what I'm researching right now. Plus, I like animals. If I go to prison, I don't want them to say it was for frightening a shy and sensitive police horse.

Deciding not to go and see. Watchmen.

Book Sales, Bold As Love downloads

Weather same as it was ten minutes ago. Bright sun, blue sky.

At last. Finally I can get into my homepage again, and here's the URl for the updated Book Sales page, for Gwyneth Jones and Ann Halam. Note that you can now use PayPal:
Book Sales

Plus, the reinstated free download of Bold As Love, re-edited, complete and unabridged. Castles Made Of Sand to follow, when I've figured out what's wrong with the pdf:

Bold As Love

Castles Made Of Sand

Plus, from Specusphere, another review of Spirit:

Spirit reviewed by Ian Banks