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A Rock And A Hard Place

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

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

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

Anyway, read all about it on drill or drop

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


Who Killed Robin Cleve?

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

Looking Forward To (vicariously)

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

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

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

Don't Frack Lancs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnote on Sir Tim Hunt:

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

Here's the top original witness-tweet

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

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

For The Love Of: Post Mortem

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Library Books

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

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

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

Climate Change Policy and Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ecologist 15th June

The Wildlife Trust's June Challenge #2

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

The Wildlife Trust's June Challenge #1

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Peter did not like this movie at all.

A Day In Birds

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

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

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


The Chemistry of Tears, Peter Carey.

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

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

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

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

bird images from the RSPB


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* subaltern: a subordinate; in critical theory a population outside the power structures of a society. See

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

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

Small Mercies

I was wondering if the swifts were coming at all, then Sunday afternoon, we were out in the garden and I heard them shrilling, unmistakeable sound, looked up and there they were, ten, twelve of them (which is a crown these days) darting around high up in the blue. Just passing, they don't live on the Roundhill anymore I am sorry to say, but always a welcome sight.

Saw a pair of them this morning too.

A Brokedown Fridge Has Its Upside

Haha! I have solved my fridge-magnet spider puzzle again! After I don't know how long of looking at it and wishing I had a moment . . . And this time I have taken its photo, so Peter and Gabriel can't mess it up and annoy me as soon as my back is turned. I feel like a new woman!

VE Day Celebrations

Congratulations to Caroline Lucas (returned with a significantly increased majority), Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion once again & to everyone who worked so hard to make this happen. As for the rest of this doomed and benighted land, thank God that rubbish coalition thing is over at least. It was just adding insult to injury.

I didn't stay up late, gave up about 2am, when the situation was already clear enough. The best bit was when Neil Kinnock came on, briefly, and started telling the truth. A hard won privilege in any politician's career. & now off we go again for another whole five years (whose brilliant idea was that?): over the top, further and further into the dark nightmare world of the Post-United Kingdom's Zombie Apocalypse. It's almost exhilerating.

Changing the subject completely:

I found a nice review of Grasshopper's Child* yesterday, in the intervals between stuffing leaflets through letterboxes, and staring gloomily into space. Here it is:

The Grasshopper’s Child by Gwyneth Jones. A short review.
Posted on April 24, 2015 by Rel

"This book arrived in the post mid morning, and I’d finished it by bedtime. Every minute away from it was a minute I wanted to be back in Heidi Ryan’s difficult, terrifying world. Gwyneth Jones has given us another heroic protagonist in Heidi, but so many of the young teenage girls and boys in this book show strength and resolution in the face of the power of Empire and the equally inescapable threat of local corruption.
Set in the near future world of the Bold as Love series, ‘The Grasshopper’s Child’ continues the story of an England managed by a foreign power, where austerity, officially sanctioned tech, and the nationalisation of the means of production are an accepted part of life for many, but where the evidence of deeply hidden crimes bubbles to the surface of life in a seemingly idyllic Sussex village.
Recommended for adults and young adults alike."

& also discovered Bold As Love coming in at 33rd place in someone's list of "the 50 coolest books by women". It turns out I've read quite a few of them. I'm going to keep this link, and see about following up the rest.

It starts with The End Of Mr Y, Scarlett Thomas at number one, which is promising.

A Game Of Margins

I can't believe how much this General Election has got to me. I think party politics are ruinous, and yet I joined a political party for the first time in my life. All the real issues have been banished, there's absolutely nothing going on. I am not a party faithful animal: activism isn't fun, it's a reluctant obligation, and yet I have hosted activists from Newcastle; I have been out canvassing; I'm the worst cold caller in the world, but I can tell you exactly why the majority of respondents on my beat who didn't intend to vote for Caroline Lucas, and were willing to explain why not, had come to their decision. It was traffic calming. 100%, a clean sweep of them. I even met a bus driver who hated buslanes and wanted them all killed*. And today I spent two hours pounding the streets again, doggedly pushing Eve Of Poll cards through long-suffering letterboxes. All this, and for why? Huh. Even if as a I fairly confidently hope my excellent horse, best MP in the House, is first past the post in Brighton Pavilion, what's the best I can hope for? Not much. A second term of this kind of government. You realise what that means? More of the same villainy, powered by narrow selfishness and a complete disregard for the common good, only this time the people know what to expect, and they voted for the same shower anyway. Beggars belief but it's a sure thing. I saw the odds in the window of Betfred on the Lewes Road. Still, I can't help myself. It's a game of numbers, one vote at a time, and I'm too stubborn not to try and win a game of margins.


Speaking of magical thinking, many thanks to Dominik Becher, who gave me a chance to read his as yet unpublished dissertation (Enchanted Children); because he was using Ann Halam's Inland Trilogy for his Exemplary Analysis. Enchanted Children is rich and fascinating, and right up my street: took me back to my History Of Ideas courses at Sussex Uni, in the long ago (Alchemy, Witchcraft; the birth of the Modern Sciences in C17 Europe). But how touching and strange to meet Zanne of Inland again! Like looking in a mirror, as I told Dominik, and seeing a much younger face.

I remember well how I came to write those books: a chat over lunch with Judith Elliott, my editor at Orchard books. I'd had one very respectable success with her (King Death's Garden). Fantasy and feminism both seemed to be trending. Was the time right for a series about a powerful girl magician? I'm not Joss Wheedon (much less J.K. Rowling), so the world had to wait a few more years for that massively popular kick-ass magic heroine. I did something very different (Judith, my apologies). I was a "Seventies feminist": and in those days feminism was all about building the Good State. Can't put all the blame on Joanna Russ though, the connection between Feminism and Utopia is much older. Why was it ever there? Well, that's another story. So, anyway, when I was given licence to write about a powerful girl, in a world where girls could be powerful, obviously I invented a post-apocalyptic, survival-subsistence situation; where ideas and the material world are one and the same thing, and wrote about the consequences. Inland magic is all about building the Good State. Literally. Soil, crops, sky, everything. The future we make for ourselves is made of thought was my message, and I stuck to it.

The books snagged a few positive reviews, but they are didactic, there's no getting around it. I'll never be able to re-edit and put them on the market again. I would change them too much. But you can get hold of them quite easily, if you're keen.

What is magic? The word means power, but that's not the whole story. I've given this some thought, over the years (it's amazing how often, and how consistently, the topic comes up. Inland. The Aleutian Trilogy. Bold As Love). My science is always magic & what I talk about when I talk about magic is always the mind/matter barrier: a strange feature of the human/physical universe that ought to puzzle people a lot more than it does, in my humble opinion. Magic is the belief that:

a) this barrier can be broken, violently, with the aid of ritual, words of lore and possibly huge underground (or space based) tunnel structures; by a powerful human will (or a number of human wills acting in concert).

b) the barrier is weakly permeable all the time; and sometimes dangerously permeable. Trees and rocks can have consciousness, ill-wishing can do people material harm . . . Old school anthropologists used to call this hypothesis "magical thinking": some of them had respect, while others made out it was pitiful and primitive. Nowadays, of course, we know it's the simple truth. The material and the immaterial "worlds" (electrons are not things!) are a continuum, although we haven't even begun to scratch the implications.

(So don't fret, Mr Stoppard. Nobody is ever going to take your ghost away from you, and leave you with just a squishy grey machine. There is no machine, it's ghost all the way down.)

c) both of the above, with permutations.

Enough for now.


Elementary! Revisiting the first series, which we didn't take much notice of at the time, I'm delighted with this show. Liking it so much better than the UK Sherlock, which is watchable but rather hateful: Sherlock Holmes as an infantile, helpless, self-satisfied fop is such a travesty of the original character, and such a depressing insight into the image of "brainy" characters in the mind of the media-consumer. Also, I soon got tired of that no, no, splutter, splutter we're not a gay couple joke.

Have just found out that Kevin Spacey's House Of Cards is going to a fourth series. Sickening. Here was I all keyed up for the suicides, ghosts, bodies all over the stage, and then the show morphs into a sort of rudderless, spun-out anti-West Wing. I'll watch it, of course. All the way to the smug grin borrowed from Ian Richardson, if that is my fate.


The Girl In The Red Coat Kate Hamer

A single mother loses her little girl at a story-telling festival, the little girl stays vanished. Gradually and fuzzily over many years of double narrative we learn that maybe there was some kind of spooky family history behind the disappearence.

Didn't work for me. Just doesn't hang together, and seemed amateurish.

The Girl On the Train Paula Hawkins

USP = descriptions of a very sad young woman (in every sense) getting stinking vomiting drunk on a commuter train journey; over and over again. A page-turner but vapid and unpleasant. Definitely won't be going near the movie.

& that's how my luck ran out, and the end of my bestsellers foray for now.

The Walking Whales J.G.M "Hans" Thewissen.

What a relief to be back in the real world! Brilliant book. The topic sounds very specific and it's true, this really is about a "walking whale" = the revelations derived from a specific fossil find. But the author's skill as an educator and an interpreter makes the experience much more than that.

Looking forward to reading An Indomitable Beast, Alan Rabinowitz next

& so farewell, government of 2010-2015. I'm sure we'll meet again soon. If I wake up on Friday morning and you are not around, I'll be very much surprised.

Live Biological Material

Tuesday May 5th. Sun and breeze; chill outdoors, my cat Ginger toasty warm in Peter's chair by the window, two frogs and a newt strolling in the fish pool; the wild garlic (from Fife) and the Spanish bluebells in full flower in my tiny "woodland glade". Ha! Live Biological Material #2 outside the basement door. This can only mean that Spring is truly here. I accidentally bought the beefy, regular size mealworms first time round, & hence have been running a soup kitchen for magpies, wood pigeons, collared doves and starlings for the past three weeks; not quite my intention. Now we'll have the proper small regulars, for our prefered customers, and I just hope a bad precedent hasn't been set*.

The Bees

Marginally good news from Lowe, an object lesson for cold callers from me: Many thanks to Matt Harbowy for getting in touch after @AnnHalam tweeted about bee-killing pesticides. You wanted to assure me that pesticides aren't responsible for colony-collapse, and sent me a cool, scientific link where I could check this out. But I didn't, Matt. I don't know you, you don't know me, so I guessed immediately it was nothing personal, and checked out Matt Harbowy instead. In no time at all I knew that you work for Genentech, a subsidiary of Roche Bayer. That's Bayer, the pesticide producer: the people actively and inventively engaged in trashing the move to ban bee-harming pesticides . . . & that was the end of our beautiful friendship. So, sorry, Matt, if you're reading this. Your motives may have been pure as the driven snow, but it's just too bad.

Good clicktivists don't shoot, but always interrogate the messenger.

My Fracking Round Up

Are there votes in it? No surprise that the decision on Cuadrilla's application to frack in Fylde has been delayed to 30th June, but nb: the Conservatives may have lost a few votes if the application had gone through on 30th April, but a Labour coalition of some kind after May 7th may well mean fracking STILL goes ahead in the UK, though it makes no sense at all. The Lib Dems also insist on supporting fracking as a component in their vibrant energy strategy. I know this because my local Lib Dem candidate Chris Bowers answered my query: explaining that although he utterly abhors the idea (means he doesn't like it, Newspeak speakers), and would never support fracking in a personal capacity, unfortunately, as an MP he'd have to be in favour because that's his party's stance. Bless. Ah well, good for Chris for fessing up. I suppose. The other candidates (apart from Caroline Lucas) didn't respond, and perhaps took the more rational route.

Interrogate the links below to keep in touch with developments on the UK's fracking frontlines:

This one for the marginally good news:

& this one for the ingenuous source of that Don't Forget To Frack the National Parks report last week. I think Liam Herringshaw may be a man with more of a mortgage than a mission, but he's certainly keen!

Oh No! Futureshock!

My antique vacuum tube monitor finally died. An ominous smell of fried wiring alerted me to this tragedy when I switched on one morning last week. So now I have a normal slimline model on one leg, and a very angry cat, who persisted for two days in trying every way she could think of to make her old cosy warm perch reappear, including biting me, and repeatedly leaping up the screen from different angles (I can see her reasoning, like a fantasy game: I know the right flick of the wrist will make it appear!).

& Google disposes. This blog is mobile friendly, as I might have guessed, having noticed it had mysteriously become my "official site" a while ago. (Awesome! says Google). Boldaslove** and GwynethJones, are not. A complete refit has been in order for years, since the frames and the flash had to go, in pursuit of which I've been updating the content of gwynethjones. Now we realise might as well go mobile, while we're at it & that's another layer of pointless beauty. Will thie project actually happen? Maybe. In time.

Meanwhile, here's the updated Hoglog.

& it's Festival season again. So far I've seen the Morris Men dance in the May, outside the library on Friday a great performance by Yoon-Seuk Shin at the Unitarian; and been to Glyndebourne for Stephen Hough's Chopin and Debussy recital. Possibly all four Chopin Ballades was a Ballade or two too far, but Stephen Hough is one of the great virtuoso pianists of our time. I heard him four years ago at the BF 2011, playing Scriabin and Janacek,and was determined not to miss another chance. These Glyndebourne Festival Sundays, are an institution, invariably cold and grim, but usually worth it as long as you aren't fool enough to bring a picnic. This year was a privilege. And to Patching Woods & Angmering for the Bluebells: unmissable. I think I've never seen them so vivid, or the young beech leaves such a tender green as under the luminous grey skies of yesterday afternoon. Nor felt so intensely the fleetingness of these things (the beeches are a commercial crop, although a slow one, and of course they will be felled). Just be there when I come back next year; one more time. Please.

*sadly that’s not the peacock butterfly I saved from Milo, it died in hibernation.It’s another peacock butterfly
**The Bold As Love site, your chapter by chapter guide to the Bold As Love series is in remarkably good shape, for its age but “updating the content” could only mean checking all the 1999-2005 external links, , and repairing/replacing them. I’ve decided to tackle this job responsively. So please do complain & I’ll fix whatever you report.

Drown-In On Brighton Beach

What's going to happen? We don't know, exactly. We're just volunteer corpses. Will 200 people turn up? Probably not. Will the proper media turn up? Wait and see. Down we go to the Palace Pier (as we natives still call it), on a brilliant April morning: arriving on the dot, anticipating a bit of standing about, but no. Straight into action. We have to construct this scene. The boxes have to be ripped open, the body bags exhumed from their taped plastic shrouds, and laid out in rows. The sea is about as far away as it gets, in normal tides, and the beach by the Pier is very flat to below high water mark. Is the tide still going out? We're not sure. "Google it," says one Amnesty staffer to another. The tide is declared safe: we lay out the bags in a good strategic position, the Pier in shot. It takes a while. There's a breeze, these bags are recalcitrant. Zippers at the top, please. Weigh the edges down with stones (the beach has plenty). The rows furtherest from the pier will be filled with real human bodies. The rest will be stuffed with balloons. Here are the balloons, a bursting bag of them, pink and yellow, with the Amnesty logo. We blow up a whole lot of balloons (except those of us who have asthma). Some of the results are pretty d**ned weedy, in my opinion, but the willingness is all. Three decent-sized balloons to a bag, shake them down so they lie in a row. It's spookily realistic. Well done, whoever had that idea.

Then we lie down, and pull up the black plastic shrouds. Cover your faces, we're told. We lie still, row on row, and the photographers gather. The sun is bright and warm. Staffers patrol, unseen, asking if everyone is okay; offering water. I'm okay. I'm fine. I lie quietly, thinking of doctors of the darkside, the bit where the narrator says US torturers once used a confining dark box. They'd make a diapered, naked prisoner get in, and leave them there for hours. Until they realised that the dark box was a refuge. The body bag is a refuge. I don't need to think about what I really should be doing (a nagging preoccupation of mine); I'm sorted, for now. Then I start to wonder how long have I been in here? Can't check the time, corpses don't check their phones.

Peter, if my face is covered, how am I different from a balloon?

It's conceptual art, mutters the bag next door. A bag with a real body in it looks different. Don't worry. If the tide starts coming in we'll hear the front row fussing and jumping up.

My legs are getting stiff, I've got cramp in my foot, but I hear the shutters so I lie still. It's interesting listening to the construction of images, images of disaster and despair, but still media images, going on all around me.

Can you get out of shot! PLEASE! All I want is one clean shot of body bags without a camera man in my way! Is that too much to ask!

I was miles away, I heard about this on the radio. Came straight away.

I was in London. Is Reuters sending you work now? Or you doing this freelance?

I've got a really good bag here! The trick is to take them from uphill!

At last we were told we could get up, and thanked profusely, but then the BBC arrived (in the nick of time), so some of us and the staffers lay down again. The BBC wants to see faces (Ha! My point proved!): we peel back our shrouds. I'm told to take off my sunglasses. Don't look alive says a camera person. I close my eyes & have a horrible thought. Does someone close their eyes? Did someone close their eyes, on Lampedusa beach, on Rhodes and in Catania yesterday?

I avoid the news (sick of the election) but I saw Rhodes: the miserable bits of plywood scattered on the rocks, to which the refugees* from Libya and Syria had trusted their lives. I wanted to shout DON'T do it! How can you give your money to these callous, utter b*st*rds! You'll drown, you'll be holding up your baby, she'll die too, the cold water itself will kill her.

I hear a friend of mine in the row behind "giving an interview". He's very cogent, very down to earth. I admire him. What would I say, if I was asked? I know what I'd say, I've been thinking about this for a long time. We have to let them in. We just have to. There comes a point, in a time of global war, when you just stop saying its someone else's fault, and you do what you can. That's all.

Now it's really over. We can get up. The two homeless men next to another friend of mine took their bags away with them. Good idea! The staffers are clearing up, the volunteer corpses can go home. As Peter and I walked up the beach we passed two coastguards, who had arrived (we assumed) to make sure Amnesty International wasn't littering the beach with popped balloons, or chucking body bags into the sea. But maybe not. They were staring grimly at the still-intact media image. The real thing would be their business, I realise. Ouch.

What time is it? It's 11.00am. Amazingly, this is exactly on schedule. The sky is cloudless blue, the calm sea perfect ultramarine, the sun is high. We walk back into the real Brighton beach of plastic spades and sandcastle buckets. I'm thinking, back in 1999, writing my future fantasy Bold As Love, I had my rock star revolutionaries face an influx of 400,000 refugees, crossing the North Sea, in a single summer. I'm stunned, beginning to glimpse the reality of that situation; to think of what I did to them.

"We were lucky with the weather," says Peter.

"I wonder if we'll get onto an Argus placard," I say, hopefully. I love Argus placards. They're straight out of Grahame Greene. Maybe we even will. Drown in on Brighton Beach.

We discuss long term solutions, on our way home. Stabilise the region, well, obviously. Convince the able-bodied refugees, with the money, to stay at home with those who can't get out? Marshall Plan it? Hm, maybe. But who's going to try anything positive, when selling arms is so much more profitable? Good ideas, bad ideas. Try to fix the situation, that we had a hand (to say the least) in creating. Definitely, if you can think of a way. Meanwhile, we have to let them in.

*you can call them migrants if you like. And then you can wash your mouth.

After The Eclipse

At the maximum of the partial eclipse last Friday I was sitting with my cats, congratulating them on their calm demeanour. I have always believed eclipses to be completely harmless, but the confirmation was reassuring. Not that the show amounted to anything more than a mild darkening of a morning of heavy grey cloud (we never get the fancy stuff, no Northern Lights for us). But if there was a profound effect on this world below, I think we'd have felt it anyway, along with the lucky viewers. Sure enough the Spring of 2015 has continued as before: dull, dry and cold, with ominous bursts of electioneering. I'm less and less interested in these Hogarthian, Eighteenth Century hustings; though of course I intend to vote.

And to doorstep and leaflet for the Green Party candidate for Brighton Pavilion, for the rest of the duration; now that I've cleared my desk. We have our Vote Green and Re-Elect Caroline Lucas posters up in the window, along with our Gabriel Jones and Marianne Wright poster. (I've been imploring him to get a new headshot for years, he finally managed it: a snapshot by Marianne's boyfriend, and it doesn't look half bad, in my opinion. Should last him a decade or so.


The Antigone, Barbican, on Tuesday evening. Prepared by negative reviews to be disappointed, on the contrary this production is excellent. Brilliant staging, the parched plain and the palace interior deftly conveyed with minimum fuss. Great idea to have the principal characters (except Kreon) become voices in the Chorus when they're not otherwise occupied. I'd read about Juliette Binoche, my very favourite screen actress, being a bit of a disaster, a ranting hysteric. Actually nothing like as bad as Kristen Scott-Thomas's useless Elektra at the Old Vic, but it's true Binoche is the weak link, which is a shame. When the play calls for her get impassioned & she just gets shouty, that's the worst bit. It's always the director's fault. is my mantra, when good actors go bad. It definitely isn't Sophocles's fault, anyway. Or Ann Carson's. But who knows? The rest of the cast seemed fine. They were televising the show on Tuesday (for BBC4, I think) so I'm looking forward to seeing how Binoche's interpretation works in that medium.

Terrible pun at the final curtain.

Strangely, (or ominously, if you believe in omens) several high-end reviewers seemed to have gone away with the idea that Antigone is in the wrong. No, she is not! Kreon is in the wrong, obviously. Antigone is defying a despot's indefensible edict. She's right, and everyone in the play agrees with that view, they just don't want to do the actual defying themselves, because they'll get killed . . . She's right, but she can't control the fallout from her right actions. Kreon is wrong, but gets his terrible come-uppance (this is fiction of course).

Maybe that's what whoever it was meant, by saying "Antigone is the perfect tragedy because both sides of the argument are right". Maybe the even-handedness is in the consequences. Antigone is perfect because both sides are unbearable. The one time our heroine weakens; the only time she panics is when her sister Ismene (previously protected by a timid, law-abiding nature), suddenly decides she wants to be killed by Kreon too, and this is very true to life, even today. Despots destroy the people, no question. But moral intransigence isn't a private sport, either. You draw others along with you, your family, your friends. I see it (so to speak) all the time in Amnesty International cases. You will bring hell down on your loved ones. That's the problem all defiers of despots have to face; now or 2000+ years ago.

Anyway, my advice is get tickets if you can (Edinburgh next) and good luck with that.

But enough of this frivolity. Entertainment is a serious business.

Two series that have passed their tipping point

House Of Cards. I forgive them. It had to happen. I can see how the Kevin Spacey team looked at the UK House of Cards scenario and thought, yes, great, but there's got to be something we can do with the Clintons. . . So far, this is not working for me.

Two killer problems (not even counting the silly Tsar of all the Russias strand, which reels about, proving that the US can't do foreign policy, not even in fiction, because they just don't care).

1) I can't see anybody worth pushing under a train. No decent candidates in sight, and without murder at home, where's our entertaining monster? He's become boring.

2) Robin Wright did a fantastic turn as Lady Macbeth, but is floundering as the First Lady who plans to ride to the Oval Office on her husband's name. Needs to have the hubris to believe she could be a President who make a difference (depsite everything she knows). If she just wants a nice office and a big long motorcade she's a carbon copy of her husband. Fair comment, but a bit too subtle to be fun to watch. And that hairdo looks like a comb-over.

The Mentalist Series Seven. So, the infantile hero of his own life has finally killed his father (Manelli, remember?) and married his mother! End here, it sounds hopeful. No mileage left in the "psychic" tricks, nothing to replace them. No chemistry between Baker and Tunney. Barely any physical contact, even, and why would there be? Classic Independent But Caring Woman CopTeresa Lisbon, forced to dress in simpering little girl blouses now she's been demoted from Mom to Girlfriend, must be regretting this . . . It's going to end in tears.

And Finally . . .

Setting my affairs in order #n. Sent off the third of three stories completed since last September. Amazing work rate for me, considering everything else; as a story takes me as long as a novel takes some people, and finally updated my travelogue page, from 2013 to 2015. Which leaves only my Hoglog, and the Aliens In The 21st Century paper to revise and publish, and my work is done. I'll have returned to the present.

& that's all til after Easter, folks.
& soon I will be eating meat and fish again! Hurray!
But not often.

Behind The Beautiful Forevers; and other success-stories

If winter's over, can festival season be far behind? Massimo stopped me on the corner this morning, as I was on my way back from the Post Office, and handed me a copy of the original score of a Bach Partita, the one Gabriel's playing in his Fringe recital in May. It has the post-print alterations and decorations Bach added, listed in the front. Gabriel and Marianne's first recital of the season is even closer, they'll be playing St Michael All Angels on Saturday 28th March: but more of that later. So tired,kept awake all night by a cat with a cough (it's okay, nothing too serious), I'm good for nothing today and just getting by doing errands & clearing off my desk. First, some entertainment from boingboing via Peter.

(The Belle vs Cinders one is much better, and neither really bawdy)


And now to one of my occasional light-reading roundups.

I don't often buy new novels. I save my money for academic and popular science books, which cost a bomb; and nosing around in secondhand bookshops (a dying breed, but there's always the British Heart Foundation, Oxfam & Amnesty), picking up strange flotsam & jetsam. On the other hand, I've become addicted to the library reservation service, as a means of checking out bestsellers. You should try it, only 50p a pop, and if people don't use it, it will go away. Here's my latest catch.

The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August Claire North

Billed as a "time-travel story"; more like a claustrophobic vampire vendetta saga. There are people called kalachakras, it means "time-cyclers", who live through the same lifetimes, over and over and over again. Like reincarnation only inexpressibly boring and soul-destroying. As a consequence, as our narrator freely confesses, most kalachakras are miserable s*ds, while many become really really wicked & plan things that will end the world. The story's most ingenious ploy, and also its downfall in my humble opinion, is that these serial immortals, born remembering everything that happened last time, can change the world every time they step into it: by introducing technology "prematurely" and by communicating interesting facts to each other, up & down an aeons-long chain of lifetimes. The ensuing paradox-burden is enough to disable a better story than this. Also, there are far, far, far too many torture scenes.

It was interesting enough to keep me reading. But not by much. If you like the real spying is grim and dreary British school, and you haven't a clue about time travel paradoxes, you may get on fine. Habitual &/or inquiring sf readers should avoid.

Weathering, Lucy Wood

A barely-there literary ghost story, with a Devon river running through it; and a ramshackle house, always on the point of sinking, invaded by the water, where two women's ramshackle, wilfully drifting lives are somehow grounded. There's a mother, there's a daughter, there are the woods, the moor; the birds, glimpsed flashes of kingfisher and heron that the older woman's camera catches; and there's a little girl, a stubborn, naughty little girl called Pepper. In ways nothing much happens, just cranky rural characters getting on with their lives, through many seasons of penetrating damp, icy cold, and ever-threatening flood, but I found this one absorbing. The rising tide of domestic incompetence did start to get me down about half way through (GET THE WOODBURNER-BOILER FIXED for God's sake!) But then Ada, the younger woman, turned out to be very competent at something, and I was hooked again. Lucy Wood has an MA in Creative Writing and it shows. Normally I'd avoid using the expression "beautifully written", believing that it has become a kind of insult, but here I mean it as a compliment. Lovely to read. And Pepper's great. Pepper has stayed with me.

Elizabeth Is Missing, Emma Healey

Maud, in her eighties and struggling with dementia, has become obsessed with the idea that her friend Elizabeth is missing. She's never in when Maud calls round, and her house seems to be empty. Something must be done! Cue exasperated and frustrated carers, and much amusement at the local cop-shop. What nobody realises is that the "missing" Elizabeth, who isn't really "missing" at all, has become a stand-in, in Maud's tumbled thoughts, for another lost loved one, her beloved sister Sukie, who disappeared in 1946. . . Maud has found a heart-stopping clue, and in a moment of clarity she has realised what it means. She's right, but nobody understands, least of all Maud herself, who is doomed to spend the entire book being mocked, feeling like an idiot and forgetting where she put yet another cup of tea that she made and omitted to drink. What was it I was supposed to remember? Train, hammer, pineapple? And why did I have to count down from 100 in sevens . . . ? If you're over sixty, or even over fifty, you may well find this book more disturbing than entertaining, although Maud's tribulations are handled with a light, comic touch (from the viewpoint of a granddaughter, entertained and tolerant; not a hard-pressed middle-aged daughter). But it's really pretty good. I liked it more the further I got from actually having read it.

The Miniaturist Jessie Burton

*A certified massive bestseller, this one; and an interesting and enjoyable historical novel. Young Petronella arrives alone in the big city, to join the sparse household of a merchant husband she's never met, and who shows a total lack of interest; plus his puritanical sister, a manservant from Dahomey and a maid of all work. She witnesses stuff. I can't tell you more, because it would spoil the surprises. Deep emotional attachments spring up from nowhere, likewise outbursts of flashy, soap-opera violence; as if the characters are no more than puppets in the writer's dollhouse, with no inner life at all. There's a crucial strand of the fantastic which is never resolved . . . These elements left me feeling the book was slightly unbalanced, but you can't argue with star quality. It's mysterious (and nor is it true that bestseller status can be bought. It can't. Money can be thrown away on hype, if the public says no). Relax, this isn't War and Peace, it's just a proper good read.


Behind the Beautiful Forevers, National Theatre (live at the Duke's last week)

Highly recommended. Great cast, inspired production. Like Les Miserables with teeth, because this is happening now The only quarrel I had was with the promotional material inviting me to admire the characters' "drive" and their determination to "get ahead". To me the worldly wisdom of the slum dwellers was part of the tragedy. W're all drinking the same dirty water, breathing the same dirty air, and even the poorest of the poor are fooled by those beautiful forevers roaring by over their heads. We all need to learn that corruption is not normal, it's a blight on society, and the greed that drives it is not good.

I love going to see National Theatre productions at the cinema down the road. Sort of reminds me of Proust dialling up a concert on the telephone. & guess what, I have reserved the Katherine Boo book.

The Wind Rises

Finally, last Friday week . . . I didn't want to watch this, I've seen Grave of the Fireflies, thanks. But it's not harrowing, nor is it glorifying war: almost dodges the whole issue, in fact, by ending this bio-pic of the creator of Japan's WWII fighter planes before war actually begins. But not entirely; the message of tragic helplessness is there. (The wind rises, we can't stop it, or drop out, we must just try to live, as best we can). Beautiful and sad, and maybe, if you don't share Miyazaki's passion for those magnificent men in their flying machines, a tiny bit pointless.

Not planning to watch . . .

Televised election debates.

*The book cover montage features flotsam and jetsam from a day when I walked down to the sea in January. The book "If Winter Comes . . . " was a massive bestseller for decades, from 1921 when it took the world by storm, apparently. I really defy you to understand why, should you ever read it: but the WWI patriotism strand is salutory.