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Patriotism Is Not Enough

Friday 24th January. Quiet weather, cool and dull. No rain! No wind! It's a miracle, I might be able to oil wash the fruit trees today if I get round to it. Remember Edith Cavell? Patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone... (or something like that) That's an artist's impression of her in the picture, softer but not too far off the existing photos and it's there so I can encourage you to sign a petition calling for her image to get onto a £2 coin, as a counterweight to that glorious warrior, Lord Kitchener. Don't know about you, but I am finding this World War One love-fest hard to stomach. At least, thinks I, they could have had the grace to celebrate the end of the hostilities, not the beginning. But it doesn't work like that, does it? There wouldn't be much point in this big soppy love-letter from one World of Warcraft to another, if it was about the guns falling silent. Edith Cavell was an Aleutian Trilogy icon; her monument in St Martin's place attracts the attention of Bella, in North Wind, ; I took that "patriotism is not enough" message to heart in my nineties feminism. Being a gender warrior is not enough, lay down your weapons, make peace in the battle of the sexes... Seemed like a good idea at the time.

The BBC ran a kind of "where are they now" feature on nearly-made-it people from WWI, including one of my personal icons (can't really count Cavell in that category), Franz Marc . The judgement on Edith Cavell said, "she wouldn't have been famous if she hadn't got shot". Hm. She wouldn't have been such a gift as propaganda material but if you check out her career, I think it's a crass comment.

Anyway, you'll want the bad news about the Gagging Law. The House threw out the Lords' revisions: secret lobbying by big business will now continue unabated, whereas charities and ngos will face the restrictions and have to bear the burden of increased bureaucracy undiluted. Also in the news on this issue, some mildly interesting candid MP responses to clictivism. What I was saying about being able to express my opinion? In some small way? They really do not like it. Voters should not have opinions. I should just shut up and vote.

While I still can.

Smashwords: a pointless challenge?

I've been meaning to try Smashwords for years: have just embarked on preparing the text of Bold As Love for the dreaded "meatgrinder". Wow, this is complicated, and it doesn't help that the Style Guide is written in an almost impenetrable US dialect (which probably tells me something). On the plus side, if I can create a completely clean virgin text, it will not only be eligible for conversion into every different kind of epub imaginable, it will also be a thing of beauty. I can use it to refresh my primitive Amazon Kindle version of the book (which would probably improve reader satisfaction) and I will get that daft feeling of elation utterly pointless challenges give you: like collecting all fifty gold skultulas, figuring out the Angular Isles puzzle, or beating the Savage Labyrinth with no potions. On the minus side, when I looked at the smashwords site (at last) I was surprised that the library seemed so thin (isn't smashwords supposed to be huge?), and a little disconcerted by all the very, very stern warnings about making sure my content is fit for the innocent eyes of under eighteens. . .

Ah, it turns out I had the Adult Content filter on. Different animal without that. And I really don't think I need worry about my content.

Anyway, I've started so I'll finish. If I get accepted for the Premium class, fantastic! It might make up for never having snagged that pesky last Big Octo.

Looking forward to going out to Peter's birthday dinner tonight (not his actual birthday, date of his actual birthday is a closely guarded secret, I have no idea why). And next week, what excitement, I get to talk to the Arboriculture Department (Somewhat under a cloud, since the Save Our Tree affair, but I think they're okay really) about my young windsown elm tree. Which is not sick, thank god, but has got big enough to be pruned, and I need to ask an expert.

Silver Linings, Princess of the Spirits

Friday 17th January, dark skies and violent showers. The flooding finally reached "us" today, the Balcombe Tunnel closed this morning, misery for rail travellers, and the A23 closed at Bolney. How long has this been going on? I've lost track. Besides causing them to sleep twenty hours out of twenty four and suddenly get active at three am, it's playing merry hell with my cats' sanitary arrangements. Despite litter trays, even the good cat (that's Ginger) has been known, over the last six weeks or so, to look at the weather, first thing in the morning, and decide an al fresco wee isn't really necessary: hey, I'll just do it on the doormat, nearly outdoors; they'll never notice! The spray we bought to dissuade this activity has a list of DON'TS on the back label, including DO NOT SPRAY THE ANIMAL.

Huh? Insane. Whyever would anyone think of doing that? I wondered.

However, I've now been very close. Many thanks, thoughtful label writers. You saved me.

I finished Windwaker last night, after a long, fragmented time of voyaging on those oceans, klling Big Octos, madly sorting letters and clearing pirate infested reefs. Good game, I enjoyed it, but would not rate it with Twilight Princess or Ocarina of Time. Way ahead of Skyward Sword however. Next, I am planning to revisit Okami. Then decided to watch Princess Mononoke (Mononoke Hime), first time in a while: what a beautiful movie, unflinching, painful, pitch-perfect: the most serious and the best of all Studio Ghibli's productions, in my humble opinion. Now I'm pining to watch Spirited Away again, soon as possible.

Some good news (qualified) on the Gagging Law:

Long live clictivism. Used to be, my individual opinion meant nothing to nobody. All anyone wanted me to do was trot down to the Polling Station every now and then, and put my X next to the candidate from one of two or three (I mean, being serious) political parties. None of them (yes, I said none) gave a flying xxxx what I really thought or felt,on any specific policy or development, and none of them (yes, I said none) felt any obligation to keep any promises they made in the excitement of the chase: as long as I would check that box and keep them in power. Or get them into power, or at least keep their enemies out. But now, thanks to 38 degrees and all, I can say yes, I can say no! It's brilliant. I'm a bit in the world's machine!

Some ironic news (qualfied) from Greenpeace on the Celtique Energie proposal to raise an exploratory drill rig, with a view to hydraulic fracking, in the South Downs National Park. (WHAT???) The Park Authority was so unprepared for protest, a mere 1200 or so objections "broke" their website. But it's mended now. Comments on the proposal are still being accepted, until 22nd Jan.

Some interesting stuff on frack free Fernhurst's facebook page also, especially a discussion on what I've long suspected about this "exploratory drilling" bonanza:


Robert Hichens: Thanks to greywyvern for his comment. I'd forgotten all about The Green Carnation, until I saw it mentioned in the Wikipedia entry. I read it a long, long, time ago, liked it a lot and didn't realise it was defaming anybody's character at all. Now I want to read it again! My parents had a copy, with a green carnation on the spine, I remember: I think it must have been the 1948 edition. Gone with the wind, of course. My longtime favourite Hichens however is Bella Donna. I just discovered there's two movie versions, wonder if I'll seek them out.

The Malice Of Fortune Excellent antidote to the asinine Machiavelli feature in the BBC's current Imagine series (which I've found very hit and miss). Starring one of my favourite historical characters, plus Leonardo da Vinci (not such a sweetie), a historically verified incredibly beautiful courtesan, a serial killer and (Yes! You guessed it!) a whole slew, absolutely mountains, of viciously tortured and dismembered young women... Gets a bit repetitive going round and round in the middle, a few too many with one bound he was free moments, but I really like the way Ennis hides his "monster" in plain sight, by the simplest of sleight of hand, or rather pen. And the way he withholds his seriousness of purpose, to confound you with it in the end.

I find myself thinking, but stop jeering at this mad popular taste for the inventive slaughter of young women, Gwyneth. What if it's inescapable, the truth about the world? As true as what Freud found out, and then buried. What if it's one of the pillars of our universe?

Going out to see American Hustle tonight. Not my kind of movie really & I prefer the young or "Katniss" Jennifer Laurence (Winter's Bone), to the probably more true to life Hollywood luvvie (Silver Linings Playbook). But perhaps I'll enjoy it.

New Herbs #2

Tuesday 14th January, bright and clear blue sky, a touch of ground frost in the early morning. Exhilarated at having finally extracted my Old Venus payment from PayPal (what sticky fingers!) I have otherwise achieved absolutely nowt so far today, except stare out of the window at goldfinches, bluetits, starlings and the Lonesome Squirrel, single returnee from the mysterious Squirrel Purge of 2013. Not very varied bird action in the garden this year, so far. Maybe they'll appear if it gets cold.

Have I mentioned what a fantastic winter we're having? England's afloat, and in all the fuss about flood precautions, David Cameron let slip he thought the extreme weather probably WAS, on balance down to climate change?*and did you see those space pictures of the ice storm (not really a Polar Vortex, as we all now know) over the USA, looking exactly like stills from that silly Day After Tomorrow scare movie? Bizarre! *He quickly realised he'd misspoke himself, and got the Met Office to issue the old "no single extreme event can be attributed to global warming aka climate change" line. Absolutely right, of course!

But they all can.

Ah well, no point at all in yelling DO YOU GET IT NOW! No use suggesting people put a pan of water on the hob, add heat and see what happens to the fluid... Of course everyone gets it.


Department of Never Say Die Continued
(My Fracking Round-Up Jan 2014)

The first trial of protestors, arrested at Balcombe last summer, began at Brighton Magistrate's, Jan 6th. I couldn't make it, but here's the account (entertaining):
All defendants were acquitted. The Judge remarked that the police seemed to have poor memories, and concluded that the protestors' actions "were reasonable in the circumstances and that they acted with dignity" Our judges are still like that, here in the UK. They tend to uphold the law. They haven't had any death threats yet; haven't had their children snatched and terrorised on the way to school, or any stuff like that. Give it time. I'll definitely be at the trials in March.

Meanwhile, Total has become a player in UK fracking, with a massive public boost from David Cameron. Bad news, and yet the story made it big on the BBC newsite, close on 2000 readers thought it worthwhile posting a comment (at close of play, the Editors' Picks rather favoured the objectors than otherwise), and there followed an actual forum on the to frack or not to frack issue at">Barton Moss. Which is a first. A crack in the wall of silence.

Please, if you're a UK resident, consider submitting an objection to the Celtique Energie application to frack for shale gas in the South Downs National Park.The current deadline is 22nd January. Frack free Fernhurst has more information.

submit an objection

You can also still">submit an objection to Celtique Energie's application to drill at Wisborough Green, as WSCC has asked Celtique to supply more information (their planning application really was a disgrace) & the deadline has been extended until March.

for more information see: WSCC councillor ransley's blog
the sad story of West Chiltington

Keep chipping away. Never say die.


Went to see the Katniss Everdeen show #2 (I mean The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) for our Christmas outing, in the basement of the Odeon on the seafront (luckily it was a calm night). Much better than the book, good idea to ditch all the "Peeta has talents!" business, not needed when you have real actors, and boost the revolution. I was never really planning to, but I don't know if you'd get me inside a Center Parcs now. I'd never be able to enjoy the fencing or the tree climbing, I'd be waiting for the poisonous fog and the mad mandrills the whole time.
Desolation of Smaug (the B choice) will have to wait for the small screen.

Also The Bridge on the tv. (Saga show ~2) Same monochrome, same nightscapes. The thriller plot seems a bit pointless, this is no Edge Of Darkness, but it's fun trying to follow the ramifications of the soap opera


Joanne Harris's Gospel According to Loki, of which more later, and Robert Hitchen's The Garden Of Allah. A suspect character, he definitely had issues, but I got fascinated by his sultry stories & intrigued by his fascination with Islam. I used to collect Edwardian bestsellers long ago: I'm rediscovering them since we cleared the loft. I thought the Garden Of Allah, his really big one, was slow, florid and talky, forty years ago, but I'm loving the languid pace and the over-the-top colours now. The movie (I've only seen the Marlene Dietrich one) is a long way off the book.

New Herbs

Sunday 12th January, unbroken cloud and still air all day; darkening early, feeling cooler. The starlings came out immediately they saw me this morning, they've been denied service for a few days as I was poorly, but the dried mealworms have resumed today. Not too poorly, however, to attend the Anti-Gagging Law meeting in Brighton on Thursday 10th (see below). Or to get my hair cut yesterday (long overdue), with the special treat of being driven there in the car. This blog has been silent for a while due to Christmas and New Year festivities, and my drive to finish my new book; of which more later. The decorations are down, the Christmas cake is nearly finished, the tree has been lingering in the area basement due to evil weather but will be delivered to the Dead Xmas Trees corral on the refurbished Level this evening. The Cheese Mountain, created by certain massive cheese fanciers failing to turn up to Xmas dinner parties due to evil weather, had been reduced to about 100g of smoked Ashdown Foresters. And Mrs Woozle, my friend Jacq's cat, has returned, after 5 weeks missing. Definitely the best news I've had all year.

Department Of Never Say Die

Went along with a friend to St Mary's Church Kemptown on Thursday 10th, to attend a meeting, sponsored by 38 degrees, panel and discussion, about the Gagging Law, aka Transparency of Lobbying Bill (LHII*). I'd turned up to deliver a petition about the deficiencies of said Bill to my MP before Christmas, and found myself in a crowd of 10, so I wasn't expecting much. On the contrary the venue was packed (and St Mary's is a big old church, which I had never been inside before, handsome Victorian gothic). It got loud at times. Our chairman at first attempted to convince the assembly they should be quiet and dignified, and never, never jeer at a speaker with whose honorable opinions they happened to disagree. Or make groaning noises, or hoot. He must never have tuned in to the Parliament Live channel. In the end he gave up, possibly conceding the point about how the honorable persons comport themselves in that little green chamber. Me, I'd have felt sorry for Councillor Graham Cox,, in the Coalition's corner, the MPs for Hove and Portslade and for Brighton Kempton having found that they were unavailable. Except he was so happy in his work, just sat there grinning like a coal scuttle, secure in his conviction that we were all loopy outsiders, losers. Telling us silly nanas that no proper charities would be affected by Part II of the Bill. All they have to do is conform to the new regulations, operate exactly the way the Coalition wants them to operate, and everything will be fine.

The mood of meetings of this kind really isn't the fault of the participants Like those naughty badgers, this government has moved the goalposts! Only like, last week, it was okay to be charitable. Even caring about the rule of law or the fate of the planet was still respectable. Voters might well be divided on these issues, but it wasn't a political division. Now suddenly it is. Charities; advocates for justice and human rights, for the poor, the marginalised, the suffering, are a clear and present danger to the Coalition. A Shelter campaign or a Foodbanks petition could swing the next election. These rogue organisations must be stifled, their work must be made so difficult and costly they'll be forced to quit. . . Honestly, look at the evidence is it our fault?

Oh, and by the way, if you belong to a Union, the government has a right to know it and to do what they like with that knowledge. And no strike ballots, if the membership record of any Union, however many members, hasn't been scrutinised and found to be perfectly current and perfectly in order.

One day soon, dear uk readers, if this Bill gets passed, you'll find out where this "chilling" business is heading.

Sorry, mate. It says here you've donated to CAFOD; you once signed a Friends Of The Earth Petition; you've written a letter for Amnesty International. To be on the safe side we find it's better not to employ political activists. (most of the above redacted, of course)

So you aren't getting the job.

You think I'm joking? I'm not. Check out the construction industry blacklist story.

Anyway, special thanks to the person who had taken the trouble to look into the backers of the Transatlantic Trade Agreement, and who gave us chapter and verse on the kind of access lobbyers on behalf of this ruinous plan, such as the City of London has to the Coalition government. Could their mother tell them apart?

(didn't catch his name. You'll find this entry short on names. Links to stories, as opposed to vulnerable organisations already too deep in doo for it to matter, are taken from the BBC)

Mr Graham Cox only showed a hint of temper once: it was something about "computer generated politics"

Me, I say thank God for Clictivism. The dirty old internet has to be good for something.


Although its opponents are losers, muddled, and out of step with the vast majority of feeling in the UK, The Transparency of Lobbying Bill is now getting tinkered with, and there's been some movement. If you haven't signed the petition, please consider signing it now

This photo is of Ginger sitting in the sawdust (blocks we use for kindling & they tend to disintegrate) with the last remains of festive season in the bgd. The keynote is my new year's posy. On new year's day I went out, as is traditional, cut sprigs of pine, rosemary and ivy for my bedside table, and put the dried lavender that's been holding the space there into the tinder box. So here we are in 2014,& by Chinese reckoning heading for the Green Wood Horse (not as nice as it sounds). I wonder how things will turn out.

*LHII is an acronym I may have made up, it expands to Like H*ll It Is. Transparency of Lobbying, in this Bill, means that persons in the employ, or on the board of say, Total, BP, or City of London eg, who happen to have a quiet chat, and discuss something of interest and profit to all parties, are NOT lobbyists, because it isn't their job description, they do not have to be registered and their activities shall remain off the books and invisible. Only professional lobbyists, who are already obliged to be registered with the APPC so everyone they work for and why is already on the books, will be affected.

Fear To Tread. . .

Tuesday 10th December, cool and grey. We haven't seen frost on the grass yet this year. Bird action in the garden however, is picking up despite the warm weather. I like seeing them. Gabriel playing Haydn downstairs, a flying visit, he has a recital in Brighton this lunchtime at the Chapel Royal.

Fear To Tread. . .

Supersized Celebrity Charities getting asked some awkward questions, BBC Panorama tonight, it's a date. They invested the donated millions in what. They had to! It's all about money, isn't it? I'm getting really sick of the capitalism-isation of charities, and really sick of this whole concept of paying obscenely high salaries for celebrity or high-flying candidates in public or compassionate leadership roles "because you have to attract the right people."

For God's sake!

On the other hand, I feel I'd happily endorse an MP pay rise to £74,000 p.a. (a topic currently clocking a fantastic number of comments on the BBC news site.) On condition that anyone in government office, local or national, "earning", or found to be otherwise aquiring, an annual income above £74,000 p.a. should be liable to instant dismissal and a mandatory custodial sentence. Just joking.

Swings and Roundabouts

But what can you do? Either you grovellingly award rule to the Good and the Beautiful, on the grounds that probity comes naturally to the wealthy and the successful (eg George Osborne, Dave Cameron, Margaret Thatcher & the CEOs of several charities and ngos I had better not name). Or you righteously award rule to the Opposition to this natural state of things. And you end up with er, Tony Blair?

Have a great big proper old clear out occasionally; seems to be the default solution, in modern history. Maybe not the best one.

Solidarity With

The students of Sussex university, and elsewhere. The police brutality in London, as shown on tv, is looking scary.

What's wrong with this sentence?

Wednesday 4th December, colder, lighter overcast. No sign of the threatened 80mph storm Arctic Plunge, don't think we get it here on the south coast. 4-5 goldfinches on the nijer feeder this morning while I was making harira, and the starlings gang of course. We have no squirrels any more in the Crescent back gardens, which may or may not be entirely because someone got rid of the nest in their loft (not us).Squirrels with wings fill the niche.

What's wrong with this sentence? "Many individuals and groups use and cherish the night for what it is. (okay, two sentences) They do not want to put up lights but rather need darkness for their actions and doings: thieves, demons, hunters, warriors, healers, or just people wanting to celebrate. . ." I find I often know more on many article topics than the New Scientist writers these days; natural consequence of having followed (popular) science and tech stories in their helical paths for longer than writers have been alive, but this is a new one. & it's not even true. Demons are fine about doing business in the noonday sun. I read that in the Bible.

My Fracking Update

Blow from the US for the greenwash selling point about shale gas "reducing emissions"


The Ruth Galloway mysteries. I like these. Forensic anthropologist stories, based in North Norfolk. Elly Griffiths lives in Brighton, apparently, haven't read the bio but I bet she was born in Manchester.


Arctic Monkeys AM Bought the cd a few weeks ago. On my "cloud player", at my desk, this morning. Yes, I know, I know. I'm shocked at myself too.

They use what?

When we were hanging around demonstrating for the Arctic 30 a week or two ago, some woman came up and bent our ears, scaremongering about the DU-lined (depleted uranium) shaped charges routinely used in horizontal frack drilling. Smile and nod, we thought . . Apologies, lady in the chocolate flounced skirt, I feel we may have been wrong.

True or false? Mr Cameron, Mr Davey, Mr Osborne, could you please explain?

Keynote Picture: I've decided I'll use this photo, December Oak taken, near Clayton I think, this time last year; notionally representing Bob Peck as a tree, until the end of the month


Sunday 1st December, a chilly grey day. No frost yet. Starlings descend on the birdfeeders & hoover up the dried mealworms, blue tits doing damage to the suet block. Yesterday we walked around Wadhurst, through the Wealden fields and woods, over dark streams under bright leaves, looking our last and getting hungrier and hungrier as all the pubs within reach, and the Linney tea rooms, fondly remembered, were out of action. You cannot assume any given country pub will still be functioning now. . .the leaves in beautiful colour at last after a cooler spell, fabulous beeches on Argos Hill, and foraged some fine fat late season chestnuts. Today I have skinned the chestnuts, Peter has raked leaves, and we have baked our Christmas cake. No sign of Ison, sadly, but maybe it's just as well. Do we really want to see the sky full of great big comets, given all the other portents.

Q&A session

G: What do you think about Scottish Independence?

P: Not going to happen. Spain will refuse to have them in the EU. Catalonia issue

G: Ooh, yes. I never thought of that. No Dissolution for UK because everybody will want one. . .There'll be quite a few EU states with that reaction. What do you think about the UK quitting the EU?

P: xxxxxxg stupid.

G: I completely agree about the xxxxxxg stupid, but I think it's possible. I also think that in a few years, say ten years, only taxpayers in the UK will have the vote. And you should listen to me, I've been right about a few things. . .

Searching for I don't remember what I came across Troy Kennedy Martin's Northmoor manifesto, and thought again how true that bizarre unravelling ending felt (1985-style true about the future, though Kennedy Martin may have come to feel it was wrong in every detail). & I remembered crediting Edge of Darkness, in my Bold as Love Band Of Gypsys page, on just this issu. You just have to say to yourself, when you are fated to live on such a cusp, born in a hopeful world, growing up or growing older in a disaster zone, well, okaythe black flowers will bloom. Private debt collectors racking up the interest, on student loans that will keep the kids indebted for a lifetime? Not worth worrying about, it had to happen, that "government" scheme was always doomed, my son has the right attitude. Shale gas UK? It makes no sense, it will be devastating, but the signs are clear, any legal barrier will be removed, all rational protest buried deep in inside pages. Global Climate change campaigners becoming indistinguishable from battlefield emergency workers, pleading for aid from the ruthless combatants themselves? Both our leaders, Miliband and Cameron coming on strong against the mounting tides of immigration, making speeches in Parliament like an invitation to Kristallnicht? So it goes. (No doubt the Bulgarian govt would talk tough about its own "immigration" problem, if it wasn't too busy falling apart). It's history, it's the cold equations. Can't go round this thing, got to go through it.

Just haul as hard as you can, as long as you can, in the opposite direction, any chance you get. The mission is still the mission: save the future.


Saw Gravity in 3D. Excellent. Gripping, unremitting thrillride from start to finish. Fabulous special effects. A Ripley for the 21st century, who doesn't even rescue a cat, facing the real, utterly terrifiying and pitiless monster of whom that metal lobstery thing with the acid blood was a mere shadow: Outer Space itself. I have suddenly lost all desire to train as an astronaut.

Also saw Blue Is The Warmest Colour; didn't like it much. It's about two hours too long, the sex scenes are definitely exploitative (& not helped by the fact that we'd viewed Berberian Sound Studio the night before. Those who have seen both movies will know what I mean). The two main characters are cliched and boring, though to be fair, the inordinate length of the thing was hard on such a slight story, and the manipulative queen bee dyke's "art" is truly dreadful. A director to be avoided. Arthouse porn at its pompous tackiest.

Surprised By

An email from Mike Ashley (currently writing the fourth and final volume of his history of the SF magazines for Liverpool Univ Press) who has dug up part ofThe Star. Rachel Pollack's meditation on the Tarot card, an interview with Storm Constantine, reports from an Amnesty UK conference on Female Genital Mutilation, my (fondly recalled) "Big Board" gaming story, and all those crazy colours. . . I found a less tattered remnant once, but that was many years ago & I'm amazed at this survival. The things this unpredictable swamp called the internet preserves. . . Try your luck, if you have time:

Many thanks to greywyvern for identifying my Axel Oxenisterna Latin quote for me. (Do you not know, my son, with what little wisdom the world is governed?)

Slow Down!

Wednesday 20th November, thick grey skies, the sycamore is bare, the red maple and the birch almost naked, our young elm still hanging onto most of its leaves, but it's winter at last, and I might start feeding the birds soon. Cold rain outside my window now, but the night was clear and Orion stands in our landing window again. Time starts to fly as you get older, but as the future contracts, the past expands. How many times, really have I climbed the stairs on a clear winter night, and seen, and stopped to notice that pattern of jewels in the darkness, and looked for the Pleiades, high up above the hunter's left shoulder (hope I've got that right, my sense of right vs left is hopeless)? Probably not many, and only amounting to twenty minutes or so, in twenty years or so, but in memory it seems like an endless sequence of chilly peaceful winter nights, up the stairs, there's Orion. . .

Mixed news on the plans to frack in Sussex. Cuadrilla bedded in at Balcombe, with the support of a willing landowner and despite the dogged efforts of the Environment Agency guys to do their job. Protesters evicted from the roadside, however, went off and set up camp outside West Sussex County Council's front door in Chichester, with the surprising result that WSCC's Louise Goldsmith has entered into dialogue with them, and plans to write to Dave Cameron. Ms Goldsmith has made the same promise to Frack Free Fernhurst
Meanwhile, Kirdford and Wisborough Green Parish Council voted unanimously to reject the proposed Celtique Energie/Magellan Petroleum drilling near Boxal Bridge.

So what now? What happens when the people, the voters that is, say no, with an assist from mounting tally of Biblical-proportions extreme weather?

The fracking goes ahead, no doubt*. Possibly after a show-debate. Nescis, mi fili, quantilla sapientia mundus regatur** (No idea who said that, I picked it up from T.H.White; quoted in The Master)

*cf mysterious silence on the UK fracking bonanza issue, in UK tv coverage (starring Ed Davey as the knight in shining armour of Climate Change Control) of the fracas in Warsaw.

New Bad News...?

Nah, not really. Just surfaced now, for some reason. Unbelievable, inevitable. They've got to be kidding, haven't they?

I tried to worry my son about this, but he's tired of worrying about the mounting tally of terrible news. Yes, yes, he said. But I'm planning a recital right now. Philip (his friend and teacher), likes the Haydn sonata as an opener, what do you think?
And I repented. Let the young be young.

Date For Your Diaries (if you live in reach of London)

I'm going. I think I probably have strong differences of opinion with Shaker Aamer. I certainly do not like his old mucker Moazzam Begg. But the horror of Guantanamo is beyond belief. If you haven't seen the animation, it can be watched here:


<Les Dieux Ont Soif, Anatole France. Latest from my father's french library. A novel about the Terror: humane and pitiless. Reminding me so much of the catastrophic consequences of the so-called Arab Spring, still unfolding.

And The Hours, Michael Cunningham. I hadn't watched the movie until last week, for the petty reason that I saw the trailer, and the Ouse by Rodmell does not look a bit like that and didn't in 1941. But then my friend Elly convinced me, so now I've seen it and liked it, with reservations; and had to get the book.

Later: I liked the movie better. Ironically, the movie featuring three of the BIGGEST FEMALE NAMES in Hollywood managed to seem a lot less "Hollywood" than the novel: & certainly a lot less obsessed with fame and celebrity.


The News, of course. Gripping stuff. Don't you just love End of Days disaster movies?

Keynote picture is your link to Naam, the song voiced by Christy Azumah for Aissa Maiga's role in Bamako. I spent ages looking for the singer, owing to the fact that I was convinced she must be Malian and young, like Aissa Maiga. No, Ghanian and dating from the Seventies. She's dead now, died in Los Angeles, of cancer in 1999 they say.
The Christy Azumah and the Uppers vinyl is going on my Christmas list.

** You have no idea, my son, with what little wisdom the world is governed...

My Fracking Round Up Update

Monday 11th November, just past the eleventh hour of the eleventh day. It's a rainy, windy, rather chilly morning, and time for a review of the fracking situation. I wish I had better news, but I don't.

The Lords' committee questioning the extreme energy bosses were so tender with the pirates, it almost brought tears to my eyes. If you have the patience, meet Mr Andrew Austin CEO of IgAs, favourite movie, Local Hero, when gently teased over this preference by Lord McGregor, turns out Andrew only liked the soundtrack (he didn't inhale). Hear him explaining that some of these communities, some of these planning authorities, haven't got the message, my Lords. . . What do we need? What we need from you is a Big Stick. (cf Mr Eagan, hurt and distressed we're not fracking. Really we're not). Our interest is in exploratory drilling, see. We're promising you riches, but that's later, we'll be gone, you'll have to deal with the mess.

Climate change didn't get much of a look-in, except as one of those pesky minor issues that has to be dismissed with a serious expression. Meanwhile, the Mirror has an article of Typhoon Haiyan, that joins up the dots we're not supposed to join up. And in Fernhurst, Surrey, the prospective drilling site in the South Downs National Park, the "willing landowners" in the case are feeling some ire from their neighbours, while the National Park authority (SDNP) has no objection to the prospective Celtique drilling, but has objected to a solar farm on the grounds of visual impact.

And here's a mystery. I know there's strong opposition to fracking in the UK, and not only from culture of protest types. From the Low Weald to the Forest of Bowland, and not even counting those who just disinterestedly feel that climate change is a clear and present danger, I bet there's more than several 100,000 of you out there. It's not so crazy. We can say no. Other countries have said no. What happened to clictivism?

Take your pick, try signing one or two of these. I'm not saying which, just see what happens.

Avaaz is doing terrible.

The Green Party was doing slightly better than the rest:

but it seems to have given up and gone home.

You could try the specialists, if the expression climate change chaos is okay with you:

And then there's the peleton (this is just a sample)

Sad, isn't it.

Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice

I'm out of the loop, and happy to be out here, but therefore I have to be more cautious about attributing sf political engagement. When I read Ancillary Justice it seemed to me that Ann Leckie's default pronoun could purely be plausible extrapolation. The future will be ambiguous, there's signs things are going that way, and why not? Why use "she"? Well, just ask yourself, how's "he" going to sound. . . I went looking, and found this splendid rant. Wonderful, couldn't have put it better myself. So then I knew.

If you're a BSFA member you should be getting this review, in a slightly different edition, in your next mailing.


In Brighton this Friday? Gabriel Jones and Marianne Wright are in concert at the Unitarian Church, New Road. lunchtime, see link for details, singing mainly Debussy and Poulenc. Also at the Chapel Royal 1pm 1Oth December.

The keynote picture is the remains of our impromptu, minimalist garden firework display on Tuesday night. Reviving an old tradition, except we used to tramp up to the top of Racehill (cf Kairos) and except that the skies are a lot quieter on this night than they used to be.

Green November

Tuesday 5th November, rainy morning, raw grey afternoon. Today I've felt cold in the house first time this season, despite warm jumper and a shawl. But it's not time to start using the central heating. Not while outdoor temperatures are still struggling to get below 15 degrees. Not green, however, but gold november and gold hallow'een in York, from the showers of orange gold and yellow gold leaves that rushed around, covering the walk by the Ouse as we strode up and down. Which looks likely to be drowned deep a couple of times at least: this is going to be one of those mild and wet, wet, wet global warming winters, on the signs so far. It rained on us a lot; not a problem, as it led to spending a v pleasant session on Friday afternoon in the Guido Fawkes, pub where Guy Fawkes was born, 1570 (perhaps building was not a pub at the time), watching the wet world go by

York, ah, one of the Lonely Planet three top global destinations! I don't know how that came about, it seems bizarre to me, even though of course this country is a first class treasure, but it's certainly a fine place to visit for the feast of the dead and the death of the old year, the old town all en dark and scary (if you're afraid of chocolate pumpkins) fete, the costumed ghost walk touts prowling, and then for All Saints, a magical Open Night in the Minster, where we joined the throng lining up to add candles to the spiral of lights in the Chapter House. We stayed there for a long time, in one of the stone mediaeval bays under the weird carvings, and I suppose I should have been thinking of my dead, of whom there are getting to be quite a few, but I didn't, just sat and gazed at the lights in the darkness, the faces, wishing it would never end.

Anyway, go to York next Hallow'een, and you won't be disappointed. Not if you book early, that is.


Last week I sentenced myself to an Alice week, meaning I had to watch all the movies I believed I was dying to see, and had recorded off the tv guide, or else chuck them:


I watched this one, but I didn't really like it. Fiction filmed in documentary style, in this case turned out to mean the drama is as opaque as if you were watching strangers & never finding out what's really going on. Set on the world heritage Banco Chinchorro coral reef, but the reef is only an extra, all anyone did about it was catch fish to eat and lobsters to chop the tails off and sell. The little boy was okay, and so was Blanquita the cattle egret, but I got to quite dislike the pretty-looking free spirit daddy.

Bamako is the capital of Mali. This is a brilliant movie, about Africa putting the post-colonial exploiters on trial. Seek it out. The music is excellent too. The bad thing about watching it was knowing what has happened to this city and to Mali, since 2006.

Mahanagar The Big City. Set in Calcutta, in the fifties. Not the best Satyajit Ray movie I've seen, but pretty good, beautiful to look at and Madhabi Mukherjee is just amazing. The hopes and dreams of India, of a man and a woman, walking off into the utterly daunting future, proud to be paying the price of their decent ideals: heads high and side by side. Heartbreaking final shot.

A Separation One of the best movies I've seen in a long time. Compelling naturalistic direction, compelling, low-key devastating story. The husbands don't come out of it too well, unfortunately, but there are no villains. If you are like me and kept meaning to go and see this and lazily never made it, seek it out now.

Basketcase Deleted unseen. It's no fun watching horror movies on my own, and Peter does not like them. Also, it's Hallow'een and I have captured a new collection.

Night Of The Living Dead recorded for old times sake. Deleted unseen; see above.

The keynote photo is of course the spiral of lights for the dead, in the Chapter House. The thumbnail next to this is Piano In The Rain, my favourite Dana Schulz, who's having an exhibition at the Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield at the moment. Nothing like the Turner at Margate, this is not wishful thinking it's a really great gallery, with of course plenty of Barbara Hepworth. I loved her sculpture galleries; and Henry Moore, but also (currently) Dana Schultz and Tissot, my top jigsaw man. In the Calder (a big cavernous brick shed they use for installations), we watched, or witnessed, a new Roger Hiorns installation (no name, far as I can tell) about a naked youth, and fire, and various oddly assorted objects. Many people didn't stick it out (awful cold in that shed) but I thought it was good, beautiful and engrossing, if not quite as stunning as the spiral, and then enlivened by Peter's having spotted a baby squirrel that had got itself stranded on a windowledge, far above the raging Calder river... The rescue operation intensified the experience no end.

We left while this impromptu work was still in progress, but to all who took part, it was great, and I hope the squirrel came out of it okay.

Rhubarb? I think it isn't the season.

Happy New Year!

Autumn Weather

Tuesday October 15th, clear and chilly morning, bright sun and warm air now. Saturday the 12th we went foraging, over to Hurstmonceux, but we were too early. Beautiful weather, the trees just turning, hedges full of red rose hips and holly berries, and plenty of conkers, but only a pocket full of chestnuts and no funghi to mention, except two undersized field mushrooms, which we carried around pour encourager les autres, and some raggy little old fairy ring mushrooms that we left in peace. So we had lunch at the Bulls Head, Boreham Street, one of the nicest pubs we know, very pleasant drop of Harvey's Bitter you get there, and wandered onward, heading for a beautiful sunset, great sweeping brushstrokes of warm pink across that deep clear blue you only see in autumn skies, me just vaguely looking out for those parasols we usually find somewhere around here. It's almost exactly a year since the news of ash dieback in the UK broke, so I was looking at the ash trees (of which there are plenty around Boreham), and seeing them not withered and blighted, not yet*, but all smothered in bunches of keys and some just turning from green to lemony. . .& then I saw a white ovoid in a clover field, and decided it must be a mushroom. Far too big, says Peter, but something in my ancient little brain said different, so I went haring over there, and stumbled on a monstrous fairy ring of giant puffballs. I've never seen even one giant puffball, except in pictures. They are very strange. Unbelievably huge, pure white lumps the consistency of beancurd with a kid leather skin, and one of them (the one I had spotted from far away) well young enough to eat. As big as my head? Nah, twice that! Like having a big fat tofu ham in the fridge. Enough for a week at least!

Giant Puffball Menu Plan:

Saturday: sliced giant puffball on toast, fried in butter and garlic (very good)

Sunday: puffball curry with chapatis and dahl (surprisingly excellent)

Monday: Puffball and celery soup, with sherry and Worcester sauce (dreadful. Slime flavoured with worcester sauce and had to be replaced with an internet recipe for puffball, corn kernel, onion and milk broth.)

Tuesday: Chinese vegetables, puffball and rice

Wednesday: creamed puffball and pasta

Actually, I'll cook the last of it tonight. Wednesday isn't going to happen, owing to me having omitted to cut off the growing point, where the fruit connects to the mycelium. . . so our giant puffball went on growing up, and when the spore mass is mature, it's inedible. I knew that, but forgot in my astonishment.

Have posted off my written objection to the "exploratory drilling" at Wisborough Green, which is a weight off my mind. I intend to post it on Gwynethann as well, so you can read it if you want to, although it's pretty boring really. (and here's the link) I also intend to add a short snappy one to the growing number on the WSCC site. Nobody is going to be able to say it happened because we did nothing, in our tiny patch.

On the other hand, here's a site to watch, for a reality check on our global chances:

And meanwhile, from the Brighton Independent: Caroline Lucas, my MP, and in my humble opinion the best MP in the UK, has decided to plead not guilty and go to trial, over her alleged public order offences at the Balcombe drilling site protest. I am very proud of her, and when the trial comes up, I intend to be there.


Not found anything to replace Breaking Bad yet. Blacklist is just feeble. Last night, when we eventually convened for some tv leisure, we watched part of The Mummy Returns (which never tires) and Avengers Assemble, on Gabriel's recommendation. A supersized, fat and sugar feast of silliness, but not a patch on the former entertainment.

The keynote picture is the giant puffball in our fridge of course. *I ducked the ash dieback story this morning, wondering what the reporting was like, a year ago, and was it really so doomladen? Yes, it was, is the answer. Ash dieback will spread at a rate of 20 miles a year, and nearly every ash tree in the UK will be infected in a decade... It could still be true, but maybe, possibly, it won't be quite that fast, or so devastating?

A change in the Weather

Wednesday 2nd October, grey skies, clammy air. Rain in the night, but it didn't change anything. Spider season in the garden has come and gone since I last added anything to this blog, and far too much of the time between has been spent reading the documents supporting Energie Celtique's application to drill for oil and/or gas, at a site between Wisborough Green and Kirdford, Chichester district, West Sussex, deep in that "intimate and secluded" landscape, (I'm quoting from the ES) that still retains (miraculously! ed) its mediaeval character. There's 1000 pages of the stuff. The ancient headland church at Wisborough Green is the haunted location I chose for my "Tom and Em" story The Flame Is Roses The Smoke Is Briars. The Sussex Wildlife Trust has a reserve adjoining the site, frequented by all sorts of bats, including the rare species our present regime mysteriously insists that it protects to the point of reverent worship (cf great crested newts: they're obsessed with great crested newts, they love to catch them and carry them around in jars, like rapacious small children of fifty years ago). SWT wasn't consulted, of course. They're asking all their members to object, and of course many of us will, but the process is a mean joke. If we so much as hint at the term "fracking", our objections will be tossed. If we say, exploration? Well, what are they exploring for, if they don't mean to exploit?, our objections will be tossed. If we say, we know what outcome is planned. We've read the letter to the shareholders, and it's all about tasty unconventional energy reserves, do you think we don't know what unconventional means?... Do you think we don't know how many wells they'll need? our objections will be tossed.

Sometimes I wonder, what could be the Invasion of Poland, the game changer, in the preamble to this war against the worst threat our civilisation has ever faced? And I can't think. I just can't think.

Dust in the air suspended, marks the place where a story ended

Not many people realise this, but that dust, the eutrophic nitrogen in all the heavy goods vehicle emissions just duing the 3 years of this "exploration" license, will be enough to destroy a lot of the "value" of these choice "landscape receptors": and I mean permanently.

& that's only one of the threads I'm involved in. I'm drowning in hopeless activism here. I really must get a grip on this.

Watching (over)

& so, goodbye Breaking Bad. On Friday night we took a break, and another on Saturday: then realised we weren't going to make it without a huge effort, and it was worth it. 3 episodes on Sunday, and a race to the finish on Monday, late. There's times when I've grown impatient, and many times I've grumbled that the two female characters had very little to do except wander vaguely about being witless (I'm not counting the Wicked Witch of the East with her iconic red soles; or that zero-hours contracted baby), but even Marie was a huge improvement on the usual sopranos and madmen collusive and enabling pneumatic dolls. The melodrama of the last stretch was peerless. Pantomime elements in the mopping up of secondaries fine with me. I like a fictioneer who isn't afraid of pantomime. Happy ending for the monster of evil, reunited with his true love, also okay with me. It was neat.


Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice; for Vector. Very interesting! All I'm going to say about that for the moment.

Hoping for

A change in the weather.

Keynote picture is my gentian sino ornata, that I bought to cheer myself up. This plant will have to live in a pot when it moves to the garden, as it hates chalk, yes, I know that. Couldn't help myself. Bright blue October sky...Memo, must visit Sheffield Park this month.

Fall Out

Roumeli Greece:2013 How ironic that Nick Clegg decided to come out in favour of Nuclear Power (with a slightly muted side order on how much he loves fracking), the same weekend as we learned that Cumbria is again to be considered as the site for a massive nuclear waste store. How can this be, when the proposal was dismissed, on geological and a slew of other grounds, just eight months ago? Simples! Our government (cf horizontal drilling) is going to change the rules. And go on changing the rules, for as long as it takes, I presume. If you're interested, there's a comprehensive round-up of why the proposal keeps getting thrown out here:

But it's a tough situation. Last winter, when I went looking, I swiftly discovered that the chief "unbiased blogger" supporting the Wasdale scheme was Sellafield's press officer in a different hat. Shock, horror? Not really, not even blameworthy, really. What's an industry to do? The waste is there, it has to go somewhere. It's not going to go away. Okay, so bury it under Sellafield, right there on the rather unattractive seaside! It looks like the elegant solution. But perhaps not, considering what's happening at the seaside at Fukushima right now... I'm not fanatically opposed to nuclear power. Really, I'm not. I'd be cautiously receptive to the idea of thorium reactors: except I'm not in favour of massive investment in a new, doom-laden fossil fuel start-up, instead of investing in the future. It's just that the industry's difficulties seem so hopelessly recalcitrant, after sixty years of trying. Can't even get rid of the government subsidies: can't even begin to stand on its own feet... Ask yourself, why is the political "Western World" so slap bang convinced that Iran is on the road to building nuclear weapons? Because the leaders of the "Western World" know fine well that as long as you have two sticks to rub together in the way of other energy sources, nuclear stinks. It's only good for one thing: Weapons Of Mass Destruction.

& I think Nick Clegg knows that as well as I do.

Gabriel was down at the weekend. Ginger and I spent some of Sunday watching him play Fall Out "America's First Choice In Post-Nuclear Simulation". Just like old times, when it used to be Counterstrike. We hunted Deathclaws at Quarry Junction, we helped a couple of young lovers to hook up, we dealt with some giant ants and turned the solar power generators back on at I forget where. It was good fun: a Final Fantasy type RPG at heart, but I think I'll stick with Zelda. Under the surfaces, nothing much has changed. I watched the background, this parched, cruelly impoverished environment that the kids take for granted. There's a strong founding father element in game creation, chunks of code that turn up over and over, appearing on your screen as wooden crates, railway sidings, rusted metal sheds; vaguely identifiable South West Seaboard US cityscapes: but that doesn't completely explain it. Why are the games so sure?, I wondered, somewhat spooked. The Apocalypse mooted in Fall Out isn't seriously "Nuclear". It could just as well have been Zombie Plague that did the damage. "Nuclear" is a convention, a shorthand. It covers a lot of things, the intractable truth about how we got where we are now. What we see ahead, and how poor in solutions we find ourselves.

Binging on Breaking Bad

I'm starting to feel as if I'm in an eating competition. Thank God these people show no sign of getting LOST, but they're spreading what they have fairly thin. Why does the product have to be so staggeringly pure, btw? I mean, right down on the street like it is? I didn't think the drug industry worked like that. I know what she's going to do with some of it, saw it coming a mile off, but why doesn't Skyler (stupid name) just burn a stack of the dirty money? Nah, don't tell me. I'm ticking off my guesses, right and wrong, as we move into the home stretch: it's something to do.

Good News

On the High Court's decision about West Sussex CC's attempt to evict the Balcombe protestors, who will now be able to maintain their presence until the current planning permission runs out on the 28th September. And vindication for the anti-fracking movement, in reports of catastrophic damage to farming, esp livestock farming, in the USA; that are now reaching UK farmers. Our water, and now our food production. Leave aside all the rest. Will this be enough? The end of the threat? I very strongly doubt it. Fernhurst, Kidford and Wisborough are up next.

Revisiting Bold As Love

Eating out last night at the Eastern Eye for Maude's birthday, conversation with the young people gave me an update on the cold equations of being in a hot, cool, but unsigned rock band. I've promised to send Charlotte and Lizze, best friends of my friend's daughter, copies of the Ax, Sage and Fiorinda portraits. Oh no, my digital copies have become corrupt. I'll have to scan from the originals again, or get it done properly for me... Hoping they might be online somewhere (nope), I turned up this gem from 2011. Nothing to do with me, I swear.

little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter...

Sadly, the graphic novel version of Bold As Love advertised by The Guardian in support of my review of Samantha Shannon's The Bone Season does not exist. What they have is just the US hardcover, with the Union Jack cover design (augh!), being sold by whoever bought the stock from the deceased Night Shade books. That's nothing to do with me, either.

I wonder how the fanbase (in so far as there is one) will take to Aoxomoxoa at forty five. If I ever publish, that is.

Coda To The Roumeli Tour: Historical Crimes

But what was it like in modern Greece, 2013, you'll be asking. Surely that's the real story. Protests? People coping with the Economic Crisis? Nazi gangs? Were you affected? Yes and no. We heard some sad stories. Trouble brushed by us, probably more often than we knew. & we were in a strictly cash economy all right. Nobody wanted to see a credit card. But having credit line problems is one thing: grinding poverty is another and often invisible, same as in the UK. The rich were carrying on regardless, far as we could tell.

As tourists with a hired car we were removed from the harsh underbelly of the recovery. The tourist towns were struggling, no doubt about it. The tour-buses still rolled into Delfi, but nobody in town was getting much of a taste & it was like that everywhere. As for Golden Dawn, we were keeping well away from Athens and that, I admit, was part of the plan. We, personally never had any trouble. But now, the news this week from Athens, just when I was thinking of how to frame this necessary coda: the murder of Pavlos Fissas, brave man, that's such bad news. The scenes of Far-Right vs Communist street-fighting. So eerily familiar, is this the nineteen thirties?: so close to my own fiction: such a chilling re-enactment game being played out in the real world. Can't think what more to say.


Roumeli Greece:2013
The Oracle of the Dead at Mesopotamos was closed for business

The Oracle at Dodona is well signposted off the Egnatia, about twenty kilometres west of Ioannina, but easy to miss close up: hidden in plain sight behind plain black railings with no signage, no billboards, only the two flags, one blue and gold, one blue and white, and a tiny brass plaque; like a dentist's. Entrance to the site of the greatest and most ancient Oracle was 1 euro. We'd set out very early, as a precaution against tourbuses, but I don't think it was necessary. We were completely alone for most of our visit, except for a single, very plump guard who never stirred from her shady seat; except to blow her whistle when we ventured too near the Do Not Cross tape around the proscenium.

The theatre was built to hold 17,000 people, which is quite a thought, considering how they'd have had to get here. It's functional again, there was a stunning production of Medea here a couple of years ago. Originally and for a long time there were no buildings. Ge, the earth mother was worshipped in the open. When Zeus (also known as Dion) moved in, Ge became known as his wife, Dione and they lived together in a sacred house, beside the old sacred enclosure. The Zeus of Dodona is known as Nias, the dweller; which I liked. It makes him sound homely, like the naiad of a stream. He dwells here in Ge's sanctuary. Later on, other shrines were built for other deities, and a council chamber for Epirote decision-making. Only the foundations remain.

The historical record of this place is obscure and confusied, but it seems that priests, male, and the "doves" female accepted written questions on strips of lead, and gave answers based on what they heard in the sound of the sacred oak's leaves, rustling in the breeze. Later on, metal cauldrons suspended on tripods were set around the oak's trunk for the breeze to shake, which probably made a more impressive noise. We listened, but we could barely hear a whisper. I don't know about Peter, but I couldn't frame a question, which was a slight problem. I'm just not in that mind set. There aren't any cauldrons, currently. In the fourth century CE, local Christians chopped down a huge ancient oak and dug out the roots, hoping for buried treasure. All they found was a big empty hole: I suppose that was some kind of answer. The tree in the courtyard of the Sacred House now was planted by one of the archaeologists on Constantin Carapanos's famous dig, about 1880. In Ioannina's archaeological museum (at the gates of a park opposite the Town Hall) you can see some of the lead strips. The questions are banal, direct, heartfelt. Should I marry? Did he steal from me? The answers, archaeologists reckon, must have been delivered orally: as there don't seem to be any replies.

Today, Dodoni is probably better known in Greece as the name of a big dairy firm. They make good ice cream. I loved seeing their signs on Loutsa beach. Sacred Oracle ices!

In the butterfly-haunted isolation, austerity and silence of Dodoni we asked ourselves what did Delfi do right (or wrong)? Was this site too remote? Too near the border; the seers not crazy enough? We knew what to expect at the navel of the world, of course. You never hear of Dodoni: Delfi is a world-famous UNESCO celebrity. On this trip we arrived early not to escape the tourbuses (the Delfi experience in quiet loneliness would be a contradiction in terms), but to avoid the worst of the heat. It was stinky hot, the whole time we were in Sterea Ellada. You could have fried eggs on the pavement, when we were eating our supper at 11pm or so, down in Galaxidhi. Obviously, when you get here, what Dodoni did right was to be a long way from those pesky city states. There was nothing going on up in Epirus to inspire the jumble of insanely competitive erections, like a gargantuan toybox spilled by a giant child in a temper, that turned the eagle's eyrie site of the Sacred Precinct of Apollo into such an unholy mess. I couldn't stand the place (nb, I had not had my breakfast). The crowds, esp the Japanese in costume (various) and the nice friendly Greek man in the Burberry check suit with matching umbrella were by far the most interesting and engaging part of it, and I bet that's been true for a long, long time. Entrance to the precinct and the museum inclusive cost us 12 euros each; catering is private enterprise, aggressive and totally inadequate.

You were required to wash your hair in the Castilian Spring before you consulted the Pythia. Byron jumped right in. You couldn't do that now, the pool is dry (says everything about Delfi). But you can fill a bottle, from a gutter where the water runs under the fence. It's cold and good. When Alexander tried his luck, wanting to know whether he would conquer the world, the priestess refused to say anything, until he dragged her off her hallucinogenic gas-vent by the hair, at which she shrieked You are unconquerable!, and Alexander said "I have my answer." Absolutely typical Delphic utterance: she got him good, haha, as he wasn't strictly conquered, he died of typhoid. The more you look into it, the more you wonder why anybody ever paid for this service. Why not just come to Delfi and hang out in the wine shop: pick up on the information exchange less twisted out of shape and on the cheap? I suppose, actually, that's what most people did.


The Sibyl's Rock, where the Sibyl used to stand to chant her oracles, before Apollo moved in, is still there, an incongruous natural outcrop in the overturned toybox. In all the sacred places, at Dodoni, in the royal tombs of Macedon, in Dion, in Delfi, and in the Corycian Cave, high above Delfi in the Western Parnassos, we found this same message: Ge was here. Our original divinity was the earth. We read her as female, we called her mother, she gave us everything and we owed her everything. The sky-gods took over, long ago. Apollo rode into Delfi as a dolphin, and killed the sacred python. Zeus turned up one day at Dodoni, in the form of an eagle, and insisted on changing everything. Hades stole the Maiden... But she was here, and she's still here, not gone, only demoted, partially erased, co-opted; in everlasting mourning. (She's still here right now, known as the Panaghia, the All-Holy; the God-bearer, under the current regime and on much the same terms). It was a strange counterpoint, anyway, to our travels here, and to the trails I insisted on following; in these rapidly darkening times, for Greece and for the world. The sky-gods, the heroes and their brief adventures, playing against the rivers, the forests, the numinous hollow hills where spirits dwell.

The springs of Acheron was the best thing.

Messolonghi: A History Of Ideas

Roumeli Greece:2013 Another day, almost our last day in Greece, in the Sacred City of Messolonghi, Peter finally rebelled. He'd had enough of my latest wild goose chase, wanted to know why we had to stop for ten minutes, let alone spend the night, in this dump, flat as a pancake, sickly, glaring hot, unfriendly, nothing to see but a dreary great lagoon with litter bobbing at the shore; totally devoid of attractive features... I blame myself. To me it was so obvious that Messolonghi had to feature on the Roumeli tour, I'd forgotten to explain what we were doing. I'd also forgotten to give my patient companion proper warning that even I wasn't expecting to like the place, and he probably was not going to like it either. Maybe I'd been hoping that Messolonghi would beat the critics, but August is not its best month. This flat modern town is the reverse of picturesque, the downtown area is the only place on our whole trip where I felt a foreign woman should be uneasy alone, and there was a cockroach in the shower. Okay, the roach was dead, always the best kind, but even so...

Why are we here?

Good question...

Philip of Macedon's blitzkreig empire didn't last long. Philip got assassinated. Alexander went off on his own astonishing go for it until you got no armies left World Domination game, and basically never came back. The generals scrapped, the chain of command was broken, democracy had died and (for all democracy's many awful faults) permanent warfare proved an inefficient substitute: Greece ceased to be a great power. Macedonian rule had a late revival under Philip V, but then he unwisely backed Carthage against Rome. Things fell apart again, and the Romans, to cut a long story short, just walked in the back door as soon as they had a free moment (168 BCE).

The Greeks had huge cultural influence as Roman citizens. They went on doing pretty well in the time we call the Dark Ages, through the collapse of the Western Empire and for hundreds of years after that; off on their own prosperous and dazzling Byzantine track. But the Byzantine empire never recovered from the debacle of the Fourth Crusade. In 1453, Byzantium (aka Constantinople aka eventually Istanbul) fell to the Ottoman Turks. Arabic, Byzantine and nascent Western European scholars had been scouring lost libraries and inacessible lamasaries for shards of the old Greek magic since the fall of Rome, and piecing the fragments together. At the time when a new world civilisation, that endures, just barely, even to the present day, was rising from those magic shards, Greece itself fell off the map, and vanished.

There'd been other revolts, over the centuries. The War of Independence (1821) was different. The Ottoman Empire was dying, rotted from within. Primed by the success of (allegedly) egalitarian, idealistic revolutions in France and in the American colonies, the world was watching. Philhellenes of many lands, thrilled at the prospect of rescuing the Cradle of Civilisation, rushed to the barricades. Delacroix painted scenes of lightly draped, glamour-model carnage. George Gordon, Lord Byron, the famous poet, who'd found good copy and had a wonderful time around here, on his Grand Tour, (as Peter & I had seen memorialised, in Ali Pasha's citadel in Ioannina), offered his services. He arrived at Messolonghi, the rebel HQ, in January 1824, extravagently equipped with weapons, money, scarlet uniforms and gold braid. He was welcomed equally extravagently and set his considerable gifts to work, trying to organise some decisive action. He did not succeed. The freedom fighters were vain, venal, and quarrelsome as a sack of cats. The weather was awful, living conditions sodden and squalid. At just turned 36 Byron was not a young man (worn out by too much fun). He caught a fever and died, within a hundred days of his arrival, on 24th April. His intervention, and his death, had considerable effect on world opinion, and in Greece he is still regarded as a national hero. In 1827 the Greeks regained their independence: some would say for the first time since Cheronaea.

But that's only half the story, because I wasn't drawn to the idea, the romance of Greece, directly. I was never in that league. It's all second hand, a bag of scraps bequeathed to me by nineteen and eighteenth century schoolboys (and their sisters, who fed on the crumbs from that table), raised on those magic shards. We're here because the spartans on the sea-wet rock sat down and combed their hair, because Heracles wore the intolerable shirt of flame, that human power cannot remove...; because the real hero of Marathon deserved something better than fame, Name not the clown with these... because Keats hungered for "Tempe and the vales of Arcady", places that for him, as for me, lived entirely in the imagination... Cavafy's in there too, of course. The echoes and tags a writer follows, wanting to know the story. The Romantics and their interesting times, from whence I date my formation as a writer, when the world turned upside down...

And if it hadn't, I wouldn't be here. (I mean, someone like me just would not exist.)

At Messolonghi, with Byron (I've never rated his best-selling major works, but maybe I'll give Harold and Juan another look), the trails meet.

So, anyway, we visited the Byron room in the War of Independence museum in the Town Hall: inspected the plan of the great siege-battle and admired the miniature cricket bat signed by a Notts County team; among other curious treasures. We made peace, walking in the quiet green Garden of Heroes, where the Philhellenes are buried, and found ourselves a better hotel. I think the naked young girl on Markos Botsaris's equivocal monument is meant to be Liberty? She's beautiful, anyway, and reminds me somehow of Neolithic Cycladean statuettes. If you ever visit Messolonghi, after I've talked it up so splendidly, go in Spring or Autumn. Check out the birdwatching and the mediaeval painted cave-chapels, and stay at the Liberty, opposite the Garden. It's a bit blockhouse-looking and drab, but fine indoors.

Pomegranate Seeds

That's Dionysios riding on the panther, a mosaic from Pella, a reminder of a different Greece. We had a phrasebook, never opened it; except for me to look up words I wanted in the dictionary, and find that they weren't there. Really, English is all you need to get by. On the last drive I had a look inside, and found young British tourism of the early 21st century lovingly enshrined.

I'm very drunk, please could you get me a taxi?

Would you like to have sex?

I'm going to be sick!

So many graves. Back in Ioannina, on the nameless island in lake Pamvotida, I'd bought a "silver" pomegranate for eight euros. As you probably know, Demeter got her daughter back in the end, but Persephone, the Maiden, she who destroys the light by leaving us, has ever afterwards had to spend half the year in Hades, because she ate a handful of pomegranate seeds there. I didn't realise it at the time, but this symbol of life in death and death in life came to seem like the ideal souvenir.