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Suffragette Review on Ada Lovelace Day

No red carpet protestors at the Brighton opening of Suffragette last night, (no red carpet, of course) just the Brighton branch of the brand new (March 2015) Women's Equality Party, with green and purples rosettes and sashes: (and the best of good luck to them) The movie? For me, it was good, but not terrific. I thought it was great the way they focused on the use of early movie technology and covert cameras. I wasn't sure about the way the Pankhursts were reduced to Meryl Streep beaming fatuously out of an upstairs window. And In the end I felt a bit let down. Firstly on a purely visceral level, because the movie chooses to ends on a bum note: fade to sad and the rest is silence; instead of a chorus of Mary Ethyl Smyth's March Of The Women. Secondly by the whole decision to present Emily Davison's Derby Day stunt as the climax of the Suffrage campaign (definitely not true!), and worse, the fudged suggestion that Davison's act amounted to suicide (I don't think so), but this suicide bomb created a hugely trending social media event, so the tactic was justified. (Ouch. On reflection, you can see why the movie, having struck this note, fades out uneasily).

"It felt very 21st century in a way" says Abi Morgan, screenwriter. (Interview with Caroline Criado Perez). Indeed.

Like any dissatisfied critic, I sat there as the credits rolled, writing my own version of the scenario, which I have now figured out pretty nicely. Carey Mulligan, great in her role as the "inarticulate but eloquent footsoldier" is seen hero-worshipping Emmeline Pankhurst from a distance, as in the crowd scene as in the movie, BUT, she actually connects with Sylvia (that's Sylvia in the photo, by far my favourite Pankhurst). "Maud" and Emily both volunteer for the stunt of trying to attach a WSPU scarf to the bridle of the King's Horse on Derby day. They are seen practicing this stunt (with Sylvia, who disapproves, it's too dangerous). They study the course, agreeing on the Tattersham corner; with expert, female advice (I'm sure you could find or create a female, WSPU sympathising racegoer and gee-gee fancier if you tried). In a word, they are organised. On Derby day, by chance Emily gets in, "Maud Watts" doesn't. Emily dies, & the media event follows. The suffragettes, however, are not last seen wallowing in an orgy of white lilies; they are seen in a montage of the very interesting subsequent events.1914: Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst "patriotically" ditch the struggle and join the War Effort. Maud Watts is disgusted and goes on working for peace and justice, and the welfare of working women, alongside Sylvia & her comrades. She is seen (rather tight-lipped, yet still determined) welcoming the1918 victory for well-heeled women over 30 . . . Now you can fade out to the roll call of the votes for women international roster, but over a rousing chorus of the March of the Women

Okay, more than you wanted to know. The movie made her think, you are saying to yourselves. So she dissed it. I hate it when reviewers do that . . .


The Third Wave

"Feminism is having a new wave. The first was about the vote; the second was about identity and . . . the pressure cooker of women being in the home; this third wave is about violence. It’s about women being murdered and raped. It’s more self defence than self assertion."


If you have a strong aversion to extreme examples of sexism and discrimination, this is probably not the book for you. Rena McGee, reviewing Life

"Daz stared at the muddy river. “If you don't understand, I don't think I can tell you. Anna, where you and I live, women's rights is old news. Intelligent women want to be judged on their own merits and find the whole feminist thing embarrassing and whiney. But here, where I come from... it's a can of worms. If you start applying the concept of ‘human rights” to women, in Asia and Africa, you uncover a holocaust . . . (and) It's getting worse, not better."

I never took to Third Wave Feminism. By the time it reached me, TWF was Feminism Lite. Not so much a compromise between feminism, and women who identified primarily as African Americans; and who didn't want to condemn misogynist male behaviour, because that involved stigmatising the African American male. Not so much Grrls Can Be Punks Too . . ! More a kind of fancy diet food, whereby "we" can be just as righteous as Second Wave Feminists, without giving up any of our sexy, feminine treats! Lapdancing, power-heels, the pretty dresses, the boob-jobs, the whole armoury, yum! It just wasn't for me.

But I can definitely get on board Margaret Atwood's Third Wave. Rape, murder, mutilation . . . Film-maker Leslee Udin's movie India's Daughter, examining the horrific attitudes of India's men, revealed in the wake of the 2012 Delhi gang-rape case. The women of Forward (Tackling Female Genital Mutilation) whom I first met at an Amnesty International UK conference, in 1994. They were Africans, but not in the least sentimental about African traditional culture, male or female. No more than I feel sentimental about the misogynist traditions of the UK; why should they? People like these are my Third Wave Feminists. You can probably all think of your own examples, at home or abroad; wherever you are.

The FGM situation in the UK has not improved. Far from it. All sorts of brutal pressures on women and girls, the world over are getting worse, not better, in this twentyfirst century. The indignant, feisty, so-called Second Wave Feminism of the Sixties and Seventies starts to look pitifully naive.


“I think,” said Anna slowly, “that human sexuality will be changed. This thing is not a fashionable fad: it’s bound to change everything, some way or other. And I think it doesn't matter. In the liberal world we already live as if people can choose at whim whether to take on a “male” or “female” lifestyle . . . In time, TY may create a situation where there are no genetic traits exclusive to “men” or “women”: when sexual difference is in the individual, not a case of belonging to one half of the species or the other. Will that be a lot different from the way we are now?"

My lack of interest in transgender issues has upset some readers of Life. "I wish Anna didn't have to be so cis and heterosexual", said one Goodreads reviewer. But as I couldn't help knowing, after the research I did, the "third sex" phenomenon is nothing new. People who don't feel themselves to be either one sex nor the other; people who are sexual mosaics (often a benign condition; sometimes, before successful treatments, a life of misery). Women who choose to live as men, men who choose to live as women; "inters" and all shades between, have been around forever, in every culture. It's a perfectly normal situation. What's new, what would be new, would be a world where sexual difference does not define a person's chances in life. This is the hope, and the ever-receding goal, that I call feminism.

Why aren't we there yet? Why aren't we even nearly there?

Because feminism is hard. Feminism is hard, and the world is huge. Changing this huge world of seven billions and counting is far, far more of a proposition than "we" imagined, back in the naive Seventies. We have a long way to go, that's all.


Space is hard, as they say at NASA, when we demand to know what happened to that dream about colonising the galaxy. Feminism is hard too. We'll get there.

This entry is the fourth in a series inspired by the PKDick award storybundle. Available only for a few more days. Offer ends on the 15th October!


Saturday 10th October, in company with other people inspired by Friends of the Earth all over the country, Peter and I went to Barclays Bank on North St. I closed my account, as promised, talked to the cashier about why I was doing it (what's fracking? he asked. I've never heard of it. . . ) and handed in a letter for Mr Daniel Quinlan, the Branch Manager. (One cannot have an appointment to see the Branch Manager, that's not allowed). Then we stood on the steps and handed out flyers to the customers as they passed. The bank staff did not molest us or discourage us in any way.

What was it all about? Third Energy, a company 97% owned by Barclays Bank Group, is proposing shale gas fracking operations in Rydale, starting with 19 wells, on the borders of the North York Moors National Park. Very unwelcome precedents are involved. Read all about it here: And here's a quick summary:

This is the first time a high street bank has been openly involved in backing fracking in the UK.

This would be the first "exploratory" operation on the borders of a National Park (& as you know, if you've been paying attention, that means also permission to drill horizontally under the National Park)

& thirdly, we just don't want the extreme energy industry to get started in the UK.

Plus, of course, a fine opportunity for me to display my Barclays Is Cancelled artwork again!

Life Is About Women In Science

1996: I had been writing science fiction for more than a decade, without ever going near a lab. For the "Anna Senoz" novel I needed to enlist a scientist, and this was alarming. I asked someone I knew at the University of Sussex, UK, to be my matchmaker. Could he find a Molecular Biologist, preferably female, willing to talk to a scifi writer? Someone who might even let me come into a lab, and be a fly on the wall? Eventually, Dr Jane Davies agreed to see me. One morning in November, I approached Dr Davies’s office door. I thought I'd state my case, go away and wait for her decision. I was concerned because I would have to talk about feminism right away, or I'd be under false pretences. In my experience successful professional women were very wary of that word. It's demeaning.

I saw a woman in a white coat, a few years older than myself; with a warm smile. I stumbled through my intro and then, Dr Davies showing no signs of impatience; unprepared and probably babbling, I began to tell my story-

"Anna isn't interested in sexual politics. Or any kind of politics. She's not anti-feminist, she'd say she just wants to be treated like a human being. She's secretly, wildly ambitious. She’s heading for a First but she gets derailed, by bad luck involving a male student who probably resents her talent. She ends up in human fertility studies. Then she spots something, a tiny change in a sample of male sex chromosomes, which she sees at once could have weird implications . . . I know the X and Y don't usually exchange bases, but could they? And could something like that happen, and for generations it would appear and disappear, the way I need it to do?”

I trembled every time I had to use a technical term. Mitochondria, how do you pronounce that?

"She keeps coming back to the thing she saw, losing it and finding it again, getting more and more excited. She knows it's the key to a BIG discovery, about life itself, but she also knows that the sex angle will be her downfall. It's what happens to women in science in real life. They keep running up against the sex angle. The story’s meant to be read doubly . . .

I have pages of scribbled notes from this meeting. I have no notes about my state of mind. My sense of astonished daring, my feeling that I'd entered a sanctuary, a holy place where I had never expected to tread, was no part of the interview. But it was to become part of Anna:

A transfer of material from the Y to the X?
The X and the Y don't usually exchange recombination, they're too different in shape, but there is a small area where this male donation could happen-
What's needed is a horizontal transfer
Transposons. What about transpons?
(Transposons were my big idea-)
What do you see? When that happens? A band changes in size?
Spontaneous change causes transposable elements to mobilise.
At least 10/15% of our DNA is made up of transposable elements.
They can act like viruses... She would note this change, publish a paper in "Trends in Genetics" a scientific journalist would pick it up from a database
Very bad news if your supervisor doesn't know what's in your graduate paper. If it's published without her supervisor's name, that's a crushing blow-

I hadn’t decided when my story would be set when I walked into Dr Davies' office. The near future? As we mapped out Anna's career (a game of snakes and ladders: and that's not going to change), I made an instant decision. She starts from 1996. From the here and now. She knows nothing about Seventies Feminism (She’ll have a crazy feminist friend, but she’ll never take her seriously). She's eighteen, proud and brave, and the Spice Girls have just released "Wannabe" . . .

She gets a good first degree
A science department gets a quota of grants
Your supervisor puts you on a project
For three years. It's not enough time.
The nature of lab-based science makes it impossible to survive for the fourth year. Industry sponsored studentships, for top-up grant support. Student works w. industrial partner, but no guaranteed employment.
Many supervisors use their students as technicians, you could end up without much choice of work.
In academic science you can keep going on short term contracts. But you have to have a permanent job by 35-40. Teaching, administration, grant organisation.
Publish! Publish! Publish!
Her own research is always going to have to give-

Not many young women in science will suffer all the crushing blows Anna struggles to survive; Life is fiction, a fairytale about how change, real change in the world comes about: how difficult it is for change to take root, how many false starts and dead ends litter the route (the establishment of a benign mutation has exactly the same drunkard's walk of a path) . . . But every single one of them has endured, or ignored, relentless, casual, intimidation and denigration from male fellow students, and then, most likely more of the same casual, relentless intimidation and denigration from an adult male mentor or supervisor (the case of Dr Tim Hunt's unguarded comments earlier this year is not unusual). Women are far more likely than men to be struggling from one short term contract to another, well into their thirties or forties. Experimental science is demanding, unforgiving work: it's (still) usually women who have to choose between career success and family committments. And in the face of all these obstacles, they also have to make the less obvious choice: between compliance and protest. Nobody loves a whistleblower. You're dedicated, inspired; desperate to get on. What do you do?

Sf feminists, fans and reviewers were very critical of Anna's catalogue of disasters; and of her response. Why so negative? Why doesn't she stand up for herself? It's just unbelievable! . Women in science (the women trying to change science) felt differently. In 2006 I joined an event at Hay Festival, reading from Life; as the preamble to a discussion run by Clem Herman and the pioneers of SET (women in Science Engineering and Technology). Due to a natural confusion about my role, I somehow ended up attempting to answer questions about the maths and science curricula in UK schools: I did my best.

In October 2007 I joined the same gang at the WiSER conference at Maastricht University (Get More Women Into Science Education And Research). The trifling task of giving a reading from Life earned me the right to be a fly on the wall in this terrific pop-up lab of ideas. So much to be said, so much energy, so many pathways opening for women returning to, embarking on, succeeding in, careers in Science, Engineering, Research. An inspirational young astronomer and instrument-engineer, Maggie Aderin-Pocok was there, talking about giant telescopes. I felt I was close to change; real change in the world. It was thrilling. I wrote it up for Aqueduct:

One step forward, two steps back. Change happens.

Read your copy of the latest Gender Science and Technology journal, ed Clem Herman, here:

extracts above are from a chapter called "True Life Science Fiction": Tactical BioPolitics: Art, Activism and Technoscience: eds Beatrix da Costa and Kavita Philips; MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts; July 2008


This post, the third in a series, has been brought to you by the PKDick award storybundle.

My Fracking Round Up: Barclays Is Cancelled

Monday October 5th, a chilly day, grey skies, interludes of driving rain. It's a long time since I had a fracking round up, and maybe no wonder. Such a rising tide of disasters engulfing the world; and not so slowly now. Such a vomiting of dreadful promises pouring out of George Osborne's Westminster, what's a comprehensive carve up of the National Parks and the countryside among so many? Hardly seems relevant, does it, next to a staggering refugee crisis, the killer floods, the wildfires, the war-fuelling famines. Still, it's a hobby, and this week I shall close my foreign cheques account at Bad Baron Barclays and from now on plan to rely entirely on my much smaller building society bank, and Transferwise for foreign transactions (I hate paypal).

Read helpful guides about why and how to move your money here:

and here:

Read all about the action I'm joining here:

And all about the last straw for me and Barclays here. (Nostalgic to see the same ingenuous, transparent deceptions and tame "experts" employed by the industry, just like we saw in Sussex.)

Meanwhile, preparations for drilling at the only remaining active Sussex site, at Broadford Bridge near Billingshurst, remain at a standstill, as my old Wisborough Green friends Celtique Energie are still "tied up in a legal dispute" with their backers Magellan Petroleum. Something about Celtique owing Magellan $2mn and Celtique is like: can't pay, won't pay!

& here's another little ray of sunshine:

Many thanks to Ruth Hayhurst for all the brilliant drillordrop links

So, it's now 4pm, and having listened twice to the pieces Gabriel is going to play tomorrow (filling in for the song recital after Marianne had to cancel), having made pumpkin soup, baked bread, read New Scientist, created my funky Barclays Is Cancelled visual (as you can see, this took hours of painstaking effort); reviewed the fracking situation out there, and otherwise frittered my time, clearly I am not going to do much more with the day, and another PKDick story bundle catchup will wait until tomorrow.

But finally, just in from Athena Andreadis: here's a preview of the beautiful cover for her new anthology "To Shape The Dark" (which has a story by me in it). Read about the anthology here:

Life Is A Road Movie

Lost In France

The first car I ever bought; the only car I've ever bought entirely by my own choice and with my own money, was in 1986: a sand gold Ford Capri, SFX 761V. I had only just learned to drive. I'm not a natural driver! I can't tell left from right (a brain-quirk that gets worse under stress), but I loved that beautiful car, even if it wasn't very young or very healthy, and I loved the adventure of driving. The most exciting trip we took together was the time I spent three weeks in Cumbria looking after my big sister's hens, in the long dry summer of 1989: alone with Gabriel after Peter spent a weekend (except briefly visited by Lisa Tuttle). . . It was punchy stuff. My skills at getting a long-nosed motor around stiff bends on narrow lanes had to improve rapidly. My sister's house, an old farm, doesn't exactly have a road leading to it. More like a very skinny track, with a nasty drop to the side . . .

SFX 761V replaced the little old red Renault, which was such a dog. I can't recall its registration number: I vividly recall the hours we spent crouched under a plastic tarp outside our front door in the freezing rain, in the month of the Challenger disaster, trying to fix the carburettor). When my lovely car had pretty seriously died (and we nefariously sold it; in that order), we bought a white Toyota Corolla. It looked more ordinary but served us well for a decade; if you don't count the time the drive belt snapped in media res, on our first road-trip, summer of 1990. This was the car of the Aleutian Trilogy years. Which then became, folded differently, the years in which Life, my science fiction that would also be a mainstream novel; my mainstream novel that was really science fiction, was conceived, gestated, and carried to term.

Up and down the motorways to visit my parents in Manchester; a trip best enjoyed on the way home, in darkness, at speed, in the mesmeric dazzle of those streaming lights. Around and about the lanes of Sussex, Kent, Essex, with my Ann Halam kit, visiting schools, libraries, Adult Basic Education; gatherings of librarians and teachers. Always perilous adventures, because I was okay on the road, no good at destinations. Streets, augh! The last half-mile could easily take me most of my journey time. But best of all, the Lost In France trips,

When writing a literary novel, you tell the story of your own life. It is de rigueur. You base your story on your family's tussles and foibles, etc etc. I may have taken to science fiction and fantasy partly, or even mainly, because of my distaste for this idea. Not to mention my healthy fear of repercussions. But when devising a fictional biography, obviously it makes sense to use the biography you know best as a scaffold. Saves thinking time*. So I did, and of that scaffold, the sequence that survives close to intact in the printed organism (so to speak), is Anna's road movie; her relationship with the road.

In the nineteen nineties I knew all about global warming (I just had no conception the brute could move so fast). I knew the dreadful cost of recreational air travel, but I went on flying long haul, and not only for work reasons. Africa, India, Thailand. I knew I should either stop hypocritically worrying or sell my car and take the bus; but I went on driving. Those road trips in France, all summer long, were my compromise with physics** in its purest, most perfect form. Pack the car. Double-lock the front door, leave it all behind. Live in a tent, in the beautiful lonely places of La Belle Fance, where there's always a donjon, a river, a magical forest; forage your food and don't ask where you're heading, just keep going, driving forever, into the thrilling dark . . .

Okay with roads, not good at destinations. Could be an epitaph.


*(I used the same technique in Bold As Love. Near-future rocksters Ax Preston and Sage Pender were born in the same year as my son, so that I would know, I wouldn't have to make it up, what music they'd loved when they were eight, or twelve, etc).

** You can't. But we all behave as if you can. As if you can say to the wildfires and the rising tides, "okay, let's make a deal, let's both make concessions". See Obama and the Arctic

This post, the second in a series, has been brought to you by the PKDick award storybundle

Life, the Prologue: Roads And The Meaning Of Roads

On an orphaned stretch of open trunk road, between the urban freeway system and the M6, they stopped at a garage to recharge. The night was warm. The trees in the hedge by the layby raised nets of blurred, dusty dark branches against a neon-tinted grey sky. Spence went into the shop to pay. He could be seen brightly lit behind plate glass, prowling the stacks, peering into the chill cabinet, and moving slowly along the racked magazines, surreptitiously peeking at half-naked ladies. Anna decided that she wanted to drive. She got out of the car and stood on the blackened concrete, feeling the weight of the dull heat and the light-polluted clouds. As Spence returned a girl in a pink jacket and torn jeans arrived on a petrol-engined motorcycle, her boyfriend riding pillion in a complete suit of black leathers. They drew up beside a German van and began to refuel with the reckless, expensive old stuff. A nostalgic reek flooded the air, invoking hot road-movie nights in happier times. Spence and Anna had been travelers together for so long.
“He must be sweaty in there,” remarked Spence tentatively.
“I want to drive.”
“Are you okay to drive?”
“Of course I am.”
“Sorry. Didn't mean anything.” He held out his keys, with a wary smile. “Is it peace?”
She could see through the droop of his shoulders to the hostility he denied.
“Sure,” she said miserably. “Peace, why not.” She ignored his offering, used her own keys, and slid into the driver's seat.
“Shit,” muttered Spence. “Christ—” He slammed the passenger door and hunched beside her, fists balled against his forehead.
“Daddy said the s-word,” Jake murmured, pleased. “Did you get me anything?”
“Not this time babes,” said Anna. “But we're going to stop at a Services.”
“In the middle of the night?” The child's sleepy voice woke up, fired with enthusiasm. Jake loved midnight pit-stops.
“In the middle of the night,” she agreed.
“And have ice cream?”
“We'll have whatever we like.”
Anna had lost her job. She had lost plenty of jobs without feeling much pain. Short-term contracts end and are not renewed: there is no stigma. It's the business. But this was different. It was her own fault, it was because she had started to work on “Transferred Y” again. Spence had been making money at last. Anna had thought she was free to stretch her wings, to do something a prudent breadwinner couldn't contemplate. She'd known there would be some flak when she published her results, maybe a weird science paragraph or two in the papers. She'd been totally unprepared for the catastrophe that had descended upon her. There was no one to understand. Not her parents, who had taken out an option against bad news. Not her sister (you must be joking). Not Spence; least of all Spence. He said he could not see what her problem was. If she never worked again, which was her overwrought prediction, they weren't going to starve. Why was she so upset? We're talking Anna Senoz here, not Marie Curie. She'd been one of the worker bees, footslogger in a lab coat. Now she was one of the unemployed. Why not? In case you hadn't noticed, it happens to a lot of people.
For fuck's sake, it isn't the end of the world. What makes you so special?
The fact that it was my life.
The fact that you love me.
Anna had said the first of these things. Not the second, because if you have to say that, it is already useless; since then they had not been friends.
It was strange to visit them and see her parents settling into a late bloom of prosperity. Treats, indulgences, new possessions. She felt glad for them but uneasy, as if they had given up her childhood's religion. No car, though. They were true to the old code in that: still acting the way everybody should, but didn't. Still doing the right thing.
The Motorway. They bowled across the wide confusing pan of the interchange: no lanes, headlights coming from all directions, the monstrous freight rigs blazing, bearing down on you like playground bullies, like street gangs, the only thing to do is not be in the way. Anna set her teeth and kept her line, up to one of the automatic gates. They were through, into hyperspace, into the video screen. Suddenly it was fully dark, all solid outlines had disappeared. The road world was made of lights, a rushing void between the unreeling double strands of scarlet and silver, amber and viridian, brake lights in front, headlights streaming towards her in the northbound lanes. Could be anywhere. It should be anywhere, a nameless country outside time and space, but somehow the road was not anonymous. She could sense that tired, familiar sky still overhead: skinny ragged hank of an island, hardly wider than the traffic lanes that braided it up and down.
Oh, but she truly loved this effortless glide through hyperspace. She loved the disembodied concentration that floated up in her: overtake, recover your lane, gear change up, gear change down. Never wanted an automatic or an autopilot, what a sissy idea, get a machine to eat your dinner and fuck for you next. This was a state of grace, hurtling at 140 kilometers an hour (habitual law breaker, like practically every British driver); and then every so often you'd do something wrong, a lapse of concentration or slight misjudgment, a jolt: speed up, dodge, drop back, whew, safe again. Lovely, lovely.
Until, inevitably, they hit a slow patch.

She kept her distance; three cars instantly elbowed into her sensible gap. She accepted fate: settled into the nose to tail routine, along with the people on either side, and in front and behind for however many miles. It was as if they were all sitting, each of them staring reservedly straight ahead, on the banks of seats in some giant aircraft, doing odd calisthenics to stave off muscle atrophy on a long, long flight through the dark. Oh, those economy-class long haul flights, in the days when Anna and Spence used to travel the world: chasing short-term science jobs for Anna, in exotic locations. Those airports, the battered transfer lounges where the aircon gave up long ago, the ragged carpets soaked in an icy sweat of condensation, the tumbledown vinyl furniture. The rumor that passes as if through a herd of animals, so that first one or two and then a few people hover by the desk: then there's a surge, an unstoppable rush of bodies that everybody has to join, but which is completely pointless. Someone in uniform peeps around the glass doors and hurriedly retreats, clutching a mobile phone. The people in uniforms are terrified of the crowd. Therefore they put off as long as possible the awful moment when they'll have to admit that they don't have enough seats. Actually the plane was full when it left Lagos/Abu Dhabi/Karachi/Singapore, because though all of you here have tickets and you confirmed and reconfirmed your onward bookings, the passengers at the point of origin have the advantage: and there are always more passengers. Always. So they wait and they keep us waiting, in the fear that lies behind unthinking cruelty—as if hoping that some of us will decide, having come out to the dead no-man's-land of the airport and suffered here for sixteen hours on a whim, just to while away the time . . .

Little girl Anna had been frightened when she found out that her grandfather Senoz (who was dead) had been born a Jew. He'd eloped with a Catholic girl, something his family took so hard the couple had decided to leave Spain and start again in England. It was supposed to be a romantic story. In Anna's childish mind the word Jew triggered an image of a great crowd of people shuffling along, dressed in black and white and shades of grey, towards a destination that obviously terrified them, but they couldn't turn back. Where are they taking us, mummy? I don't know. Sssh.
Here we are again, shuffling along, heads down, packed like frightened sheep . . .
The road folds in on itself. Sssh, don't ask where it leads.
The bad thoughts kept coming back, taking any shape they could find. She glanced at her husband. He seemed to be asleep, or if not asleep he was avoiding her as best he could, inside a moving car. Spence wake up, talk to me, I'm drowning.
She was no stranger to the harsh realities of her profession. Getting fired was nothing really. The problem was Transferred Y, this outrage about Transferred Y: as if Anna had invented the phenomenon, and was being whipped and driven from the herd as a scapegoat. She wasn't to blame, she'd done nothing wrong so why did she feel so broken, so desperate? She needed to understand. If she understood her own feelings, maybe she could deal with them. Her menfolk slept. Reluctantly, ruefully, her thoughts turned to the person who used to have the all answers: Anna in the long ago. Staring ahead of her, the silence of memory brimming behind her closed lips, she began to tell herself a story.
For a long time, I used to share a bedroom with my sister. . .

Blood Moon and Mushrooms

Monday 28th Sept, a very fine sunny day with a deep blue autumnal sky; a bit breezy.

Up to London last night to deliver Gabriel and his goods to his latest roost, first via Clapham, where he'd left the stand for his keyboard, and then, in a line straight as if the Romans laid it, to Deptford via Coldharbour Lane; at one point Peter plaintively wondering what had happened to the voice, that nice lady who lives in his smartphone. "I am the voice now," intones our son's bordering on mystical reply: and no word of a lie, Like my brother, Gabriel has a startlingly deep knowledge of the secret arteries of the capital, cutting right through the dazzle and dark and confusion. On the way back the supermoon had crossed the road, and was looking a little less impressive, as higher in the sky, but the sky was so clear I was inspired to set the alarm for So now I'm exhausted, but I've seen a blood moon, at first like a murky round fruit set in a silver-gilt bowl; then red brown all the way. I like these night sky phenomena, if conditions are right and you take the trouble they're a treat. Better still, our view of the autumn stars was as good (once the moon was brown) as we can ever expect. Orion and the Pleiades on one side of the house, Cassiopeia, Perseus and Andromeda on the other. Image is from UK huff post.

& yesterday, escaping from town for the first time since we got back from Green Man, we went walking. Such a profusion of small flowers, self heal and wild thyme, bell heather, toadsflax and gorse, in the purple, gold & bright magenta colours of the season. Peter gave me a present, a spray of Traveller's Joy in fruit (aka Old Man's Beard); astonishing seeds in nests of silvery lace, in the shape of isocelated dodecahedrons (?) green at the heart, the tiny pointed spurs dark red. The lace has faded to wool now, so I won't try to take its photo. We met the longhorned cattle of the Friston Forest grazing project, didn't didn't catch sight of any Konik Primitive Ponies, just the ordinary kind; but spotted some Herdwicks far from home. Funghi foraging was very good, but we did not pick sloes.
We need to tackle that huge jar of plums in whisky first.

Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex?

Okay, I get that its none of my business, as I'm no Rugby fan, but I'm allergic to that new ad. Designed to appeal to wives and girlfriends and children, of course (the market hates a specialism) & I'm thinking why not just stick to appealing to the fans? Have the guys chomp the heads off small animals, something harmless like that. Those monstrous, beefy, bloated, hypermale giants, stomping across the land, while the fool populace scampers to worship at their feet: that's a little too true to be comfortable. That little tiny fragile child-woman, in her dainty babydolls, kissing her supersized husband through the bedroom window. Good god, what happens when he . . .

The reference (Man of Steel etc) is to Larry Niven's 1971 "satirical essay" of the same name, in which Niven dwells lovingly & at length on the consequences of sex with Superman for Lois Lane. Exactly how he would tear her apart, "from crotch to sternum" How his ejaculate would blow the top of her head off . . . All in fun of course, so you're a killjoy if you take offence. And still going the rounds today, as a cool, funny curiosity.


Finished my post-summer New Scientist fest, catching up after the break in routine. A magazine with issues, these days! Horribly schizophrenic on Climate Change (at least one big spread on "the terrifying truth" a week; turn the page, and next item is all about supercars. And Fred Pearce, of all people, taking Drax's money and flying to Carolina, as prep for a journalistic, neutral account of the whole "White Rose" debacle.) Ouch. And what's going on with this ever more bloated "Opinion" section? Shouldn't we be trying to reduce that element, in a science magazine? Complaints, complaints, yet I keep coming back. Can't see to help myself, but I'm going to have to recalibrate my respectometer.

Looking Forward To

Suffragette, currently. Coming to the Duke's soon. Surprisingly twenty-first century, I heard someone say. I don't think surprising is quite the term I'd be looking for. I hope it's good. Women with bodies of kleenex, and hearts of steel.

& last but not least, the PK Dick award bundle is still out there: Still yours for a trifling sum.

LIFE: Has A Cover Story

"what you see's nothing, I got a Balinese dancing girl tattooed across my chest"
The Big Sleep

It all started with the Aleutian Trilogy. By the time I'd finished, I knew too much, far, far too much: about real sex science, and also about the rotten deal that women had to put up with, in any kind of science in the real world. I had to write another story. Like mother nature herself I love folding things. I soon worked out that I could write a story about women in science that would also be about the collapse of binary gender. Job done!

I started work well before the third Aleutian book was published in 1997. It was a labour of love and bricolage, a fictional biography, and a "science fiction" about something I knew to be science fact. I called it The Differences Between The Sexes (in honour of a famous nineties collection of sex-science papers; hard to get hold of now); then Differences, which I hoped was more catchy. Didn't matter what I called it, I couldn't sell it (Jo Fletcher, my editor at Gollancz handed it back metaphorically using tongs: "Sometimes I'm not sure if I like you, Gwyneth," was her verdict). Stan Robinson had nagged me for a copy of this unpublishable work. In the end, around the turn of the century, I sent it to him. It passed from Stan to Timmi Duchamp, then in the throes of setting up The Aqueduct Press. She bought it, for her first list.

A book needs a title. Differences no longer appealed. We settled on Life, while we thought of something better. A book needs a cover. I have no luck with covers; I make my own bad luck with covers, take your pick, both apply. Timmi and Kath Wilham came up with a street scene, dark colours, people hurrying face forward, overlaid with streams of the letters AGCTU, the tumbling dice of our genetic code. Well, I didn't like it. I Iiked a lotus, rising out of heart of light (symbolising god knows what about the actual book: I've competely forgotten). I roughed this out and tried the image (above) on my new publishers; they didn't like it.

So I tried the Balinese Dancer idea on them. Bear with me. The legong dancers of Bali, Indonesia, are pre-pubertal young girls, possibly possessed by angelic spirits. Their training is remorseless, depersonifying, their exquisite costume bizarrely constricting. Within these constraints, physically imprisoned by "tradition", they dance, and the dance is very beautiful. I've liked the legong dancer, for an image of what socially constructed gender role does to a talented young girl, for a long time. See Divine Endurance, and Flowerdust

("tradition" is what I point to when I say it. Legong is not ancient.)

Patiently, Kath sourced a painting of two Indonesian dancers. What she hadn't noticed, no wonder, given the costumes, was that one of them was a man. I vetoed the mixed sexes like a hellfire Presbyterian minister! To me Life was (still is) about two women, Anna and Ramone: Anna the gentle, modest, unassuming and chaste high achiever. Ramone the aggressive, shameless, rabid troublemaker: the acceptable and the unacceptable faces of liberated womanhood. (Damn, I've often thought, in retrospect, why couldn't I leave well enough alone? Those figures, almost indistinguishable, dancing together. Everyone who reads Life seems to thinks it's about "man and woman", anyway)

Anyway, Kath then sought for and found a Balinese Dance school in Washington State. She went and took pictures of actual legong dancers, practicing their moves. Amazing. I was just stunned. So there you have it. The cover story.

Except, now we're on the subject of Life, The Aleutian Trilogy and covers, I have to share a link. It's old now, but still so funny. Sometimes writers feel they might as well meddle with covers, not because they'd like to have a voice, but because how could they make things worse? The writers are wrong. See here: Phoenix Cafe. Good show, sir! Worth every penny of my pain.

This post was brought to you by the PKDick award storybundle, out today

Reading, Watching, Looking forward to . . . And coming soon.


Last night I finished reading Remembrance Of Things Past (or, if you insist, À la recherche du temps perdu , but I can only read it in English) for the sixth time in this iteration. So farewell to Marcel, and his inexplicable weakness for high-society buddies; farewell to the great work's long, blurred, dying fall, written when Proust's health was failing for the last time, and robbed of all his obsessive attention to revision. He compares himself to a seamstress in the final pages, so much cutting and tacking together and patching went into his creative process. I think of lacquerwork, immense numbers of meticulous painted layers, each contributing another invisible scintilla to the finish.

It used to be The Tale Of Genji, followed by Proust, followed by Gravity's Rainbow. Then I put Gravity's Rainbow aside (so twentieth century, you know) and added the Bible instead. (It's set in the Middle East, inn'it? Maybe I'll pick up some tips on our current End of Days scenario), but I've decided to give the classic St James version a break. I'm going to read Tolkien instead this time round. The Lord Of The Rings, in the 1973 impression hardbacks, the same books that I bought for my father, with my first earnings, back in the Seventies. Ten years later, I was writing Divine Endurance for the same firm, under the tutelage of Rayner Unwin. . . Somewhat less dense and slow than À la recherche, I wonder how long it will take me.

Also just finished a duo of novels about French colonialism, from my father's eclectic francophile library, Un Barrage Contre le Pacifique, Marguerite Duras, and Port Tarascon, Alphonse Daudet. The same story, told as tragedy in the Duras (1950); as comedy sixty years earlier in Daudet, equally biting in both forms. The Marguerite Duras story is engaging, romantic Indochine cocktail hour bleak; full of hopeless pity equally for the hapless French victims of a vicious colon system; and the destitute natives. I now want to see the 2008 movie (The Sea Wall). Also taught me something I never knew. Marigot is the french word for a backwater; a marsh. Ah! So that's why those glossy yellow flowers are called "marsh marigolds". Nothing to do with the metal, or with the Virgin Mary!


Hard to be a God, Aleksei German Irresistible one off opportunity at the Duke's last weekend. A three hours, sludge and entrails immersive experience, this masterpiece felt like every minute of three light years. But how can I describe the experience? Like standing behind a rail, watching a huge storm at sea that never lets up, but luckily you are just out of reach of actual contact with the tepid, mighty waves of mingled human dung, blood and mud, so it's somehow fascinating and you never want to look away. The film-making is extraordinary, characters (so to speak) stare straight into the lens, like wildlife caught by a nature-cam (probably disguised as a heap of dung. Or a dead pig. Or a scholar buried head first in a cesspit). Vague memories of the original Strugatsky novel were very helpful. After about two hours I recalled that all I had to do was wait for Kira (Anton/"Don Remata's" native girlfriend) to reappear . . . . I will struggle to avoid spoilers, and just tell you, when she turns up again, it's soon after the hedgehog I think, the endgame is in signt. Whew. You won't regret it!

And so goodbye OdysseySeries One. If you haven't been following this action drama (retitled from "American Odyssey" a month before it aired) don't worry, you can pick it up anytime, it's going nowhere. Series Two (no spoiler, this was the trailer) enters science fictional territory. Global tensions have miraculously relaxed, following the revelations of brave soldier Odelle. A condemned US traitor on the run has no problems with border controls. A minor alteration in hair colour, no need even to change your style: queue up and get your passport stamped.

Looking forward to . . .

Songhoy Blues on tour. They're in Brighton on November 3rd. Other tour dates here. I strongly recommend you get hold of a ticket.

The Seagull, Young Chekov season at Chichester Festival Theatre. I'm trying to educate myself. Don't know what to expect, it's one of those ones where you have to buy a pig in a poke (english expression meaning there are no reviews until the tickets are all sold out)

And finally, the PKDick storybundle is out this week

a bunch of ebooks including Life, my 2004 novel about a woman scientist and a revelation (well, more of a realisation, as I think we now know) about the nature of human sexual gender. Available 23rd September to 15th October, and if you read ebooks, quite a bargain to add to your library.

Lisa Mason told me I was one of only four female writers (no longer so! A fifth this year) to win the actual award, since its inauguration, so I'm glad to be onboard, and here's to celebrating all the great, slightly off-kilter special books in this bundle. Yours for a trifling sum. Or as much as you feel like paying.

Three Sisters

There's a book I've wanted to get hold of for a long time, The Brontës' Web Of Childhood, I think it's by someone called Elizabeth Rachford, or Ratchford?, about the imaginary histories the Brontë children invented; lived; experienced; were obsessed by well into adulthood. I'm pretty sure I wasn't much interested in Charlotte, Emily and Anne (or Branwell, the favourite, terminally drunk and fatally incontintent brother who painted this group portrait) before I found out about Gondal and Angria. The ability to create make-believe worlds and live in them has fascinated me since I first realised I had a major share of the talent -or mental health issue?- myself; which takes us back. (I wonder, now and again, why the neuroscience boomers aren't more interested in this, and would be grateful if anybody could point me in the direction of some research). But that was then. We've come a long way since the Sixties. Fantasy is big business & to my mind the games are a special case, replicating the physical immersion effects a born-that-way fantasist experiences, the way the printed page or a movie narrative cannot. I once got a chance to talk about this on a panel with Phillip Pullman; who is always interesting (still on Youtube here).

But Gondal and Angria in the novels? I'm sure I was told so once: I'm sure I was told, or taught, that the drastic, violent, highly-coloured behaviour and action in Wuthering Heights and in Jane Eyre was lifted from the fantasy scenarios . . . I don't know why, but I decided to re-read Brontë novels this summer, books I hadn't touched for many years, and I don't think so! The brutal, infantile inter-sibling violence, the destructive power of completely untamed emotion, the wild melodrama that ensues if there's a full-on alcoholic in the house, all of this awful and gripping stuff is painted, I will stake my word on it, Mr Lovecraft, directly from life. Yep, in these wild times of ours I'm certain of it. These gently bred young women, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, they all drew what they knew; what they saw; what happened where they lived on a daily basis. Maybe the literary critics of the twentieth century, that lost civilisation, just could not believe it.

Wuthering Heights is amazing. Right on the money; the cranky nested-narrative, persuading us that this is a true tale, remembered and relayed, not invented, offset by an effortless, underlying formal structure. If she was here now I'd see Emily, saved from TB, as the enfant terrible type, growing up to be a multi-talented intellectual. If she didn't kill herself with anorexia; still the plague of young girls who struggle with the strength of their own personalities today. (She gives herself away on this point. Check it out, see if I'm right. Charlotte's the same. They really don't eat much, in Brontë world!)

I read Shirley straight after Wuthering Heights. I wish I could say that this "big nineteenth century novel"' a character-driven, but analytical study of social change, industrial revolution, and the role of women; realist and yet imbued with the same post-Enlightenment nature worship as I found in Selma Lagerlöf, was Charlotte's perfected work, to match Emily's. But Emily herself, the real "Shirley", dazzling, fierce and tender captain of Charlotte's life, died when the book was being written (as did Anne and Branwell, in swift succession). The break is horribly obvious, the writer's flight from dreadful grief and loss comes out mawkish, the novel never recovers. Charlotte is different, and not only in that she didn't die, or at least not at once. I think she had a less wilful talent than Emily (no comparison is possible between either of them and Anne). She wanted to reach people. She was prepared to compromise, critical of the melodramatic tastes they all shared, and willing to reconsider: I'm sure (see a 2012 post), she came to look on that lovely gothic fairytale Jane Eyre as juvenilia, and wrote Villette as a corrective: the same story, equally as closely based on her own experience; but no fairytale.

Charlotte is my top Brontë. I'm afraid I can't stand Anne. Having embarked on my Brontë fest, I discovered that the minor sister is tops with the Goodreads Gang, and now regarded by some as having been wronged; or overlooked. I barely remembered anything about The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, so I gave it a try. It isn't so bad. I can see why Anne's naive frankness on Early Victorian Drunk-Dining And Adultery won notoriety at the time (& did her sales figures no harm!); otherwise the book is just ordinary. Could have been written last year. Then I tried Agnes Grey for completism. Ouch! Whiney, wish-fulfillment of a storyline, dull and disengenuous, chiefly used as a vehicle for monstrously self-satisfied religiosity. Her views on womanhood are horribly conventional. I'm sure the "Old Maids" chapter in Shirley is a direct rebuttal of Anne's nasty dismissal of unmarried females: dried up, spiteful, worthless and repulsive . . . In ways the germinal Brontë for the 21st century boom in Mash-up Gothicism. Like Jane Austen with Zombies, like Charlotte Brontë with Vampires, Anne writes a shrivelled husk of a story, attached umbilically to a senseless, lurid bladder of the supernatural.

Emily dominated her, and kept her captive in the Gondal and Angria continuum for longer than was quite decent. Charlotte suppressed a reprinting of that over-frank The Tenant after Anne's death. She had reason, if you know the Branwell story, but I don't know if I'd have done the same.

Positive News

Thursday 3rd September. A cool morning, sheets and fibres of white cloud threadbare over blue, but now the grey is gathering again. So many, many calls on my slender purse! (can you tell I've been reading the Brontës?). I do what I can, when I can and forgive the chugging, which I feel it's okay to resent on the street but not in your email. They're only asking! Right now, the refugees from the warzones are the top of my list, so thank you to Positive News, who not only bring me cheering stories, but also tell me practical things I can do besides despatch tiny sums of money. And thanks to Maude for the steer.

Meanwhile Dave Cameron on Thorney Island persists with his King Canute* act: bidding the tide to stop rising. As I'm sure you know, dear readers, the genuine King Cnut, emperor of the north inc the Anglo-Saxon part of these islands, twelve hundred years ago, was admonishing his smarmy courtiers in this apocryphal demonstration of the limits of his power. I'm pretty sure that when Dave says "We must bring peace to these war-torn countries", he's simply drumming up Weapons Trade custom-and-kickbacks, and hasn't a further thought in his tapeworm head*: but if he was channeling Canute/Cnut maybe he wouldn't be far wrong. This tide will not stop rising, and just as no statesman in England is going to stand up, and speak with Churchill's forthright compassion** of his own accord, and say "I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. They're refugees. We have to let them in", still even now when the great waves are picking us up and tumbling us, throwing us around, dumping us down deep and grinding our faces into the sand, nobody in our government is going to say to us, not until it's far too late, THIS IS CLIMATE CHANGE. THIS IS ONE DEGREE OF WARMING! THE DAMAGE IS DONE, YOU DON'T WANT TO FIND OUT HOW MUCH WORSE IT CAN GET, FORGET THE PROFITS, F*CK THE CORPORATIONS! WE'RE KEEPING THE FOSSIL FUEL IN THE GROUND.

Nah, nobody ever says anything like that until it's May 1940 and the Panzer tanks have crossed the Rhine (please excuse me, noble Germans). You can suppress the truth as much as you like (as I once said in another context). Because it's only the abstract truth, and who cares? You can't suppress the facts, because, well, there they are, all over the place . . . I just wonder how many facts does it take?

*He's not alone, of course. The Gulf states are equally as guilty. More so, in their shameless denial of Islamic duty. This does not let Europe off the hook: it's an emergency. Call Dubai, Saudi, Qatar and the rest all the names you like. Shame them if you can: we still have to let the people in.

** Many thanks to Peter Gwilliam for providing the Churchill quote from February 1945 (see below, Comments)

Anyway, moving on.

My Summer Library (and other) Books

The Blazing World Siri Hustvedt
Phantasmagoria Marina Warner

I enjoyed both these books, they are fat but comely, they bounced off each other and around each other splendidly, and the Marina Warner has the added value of many interesting pictures & conversations. I didn't quite get art-historian Warner's thesis in Phantasmagoria. It was a bit cloudy? Something about how art and artifice have related, in both senses, to the changing status of the unconscious? But it was a wonderful ride, encompassing the first waxwork, a breathing Belle Dormant; mummified nuns, Fata Morgana, photographed fairies, spiritualists and mediums, skying the clouds and Rorshach blots. The Siri Hustvedt is a fairytale of the New York post-Warhol Art World, wherein an unwise fairy godmother, herself an artist whose career was blighted by her sex (maybe: Hustvedt is equivocal on this issue), decides to bestow the same perilous magical gift on three male artists in succession. The first lad is weak and foolish, the second lad is kind and wise, but the third, oh dear, turns out to be the devil himself, Andy Warhol in all but name. . . So now you know all you need to know, and if the Art World interests you, get hold of a copy. Except that this fairytale is cast as a scholarly monograph, (on the subject of the unlucky fairy godmother's experiment, of course); complete with contradictory interviews, tampered videos, and an ocean of staggeringly erudite footnotes. For god's sake, woman, enough with the long, discursive footnotes! On practically every page! Discursive footnotes at the back of the book, where they belong; and where they can be ignored should the reader so choose.

(Don't worry about Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, eminent C17 Royalist; natural philosopher, and "proto-feminist", author of the original "The Blazing World", She doesn't feature much, except as a reference point.)

I recommend Phantasmagoria unreservedly, for fun and as a valuable reference work, to anyone interested in the uncanny, ghosts, spookiness, eerieness, in any capacity. The Blazing World had features designed to annoy me. Including, among other exasperations, the artist as dumb medium. Art as ectoplasm; some kind of amorphous stuff that some people, through no intervention of their own, just happen to be able to channel; from the Beyond or the Collective Unconscious or whatever. The artist as insane commodity (closely related). But the tussle energised me.

Gusta Berling Saga Selma Lagerlof

Picked up by chance, as I was wandering around the library thinking about Booker candidates. Hey, why not try a female Nobel Prize winner?

The time is the 1820s. Deep in the heart of Sweden, beside a long lake, surrounded by hills and forests, there's a prosperous domain called Ekeby, ruled over by the major and the majoress (in England they'd be lord and lady of the manor). There are ironworks in the woods, there's timber in the forests; there are golden fields of grain and bountiful orchards, there's trade up and down the lake and an abundance of fine crafts, splendid woven cloth, exquisite embroidery. The household supports, besides a crowd of useful people, a cohort of dependents, mostly superannuated soldiers, known as "the cavaliers". They're not good for much, they mostly spend their days playing cards, drinking, and getting into absurd scrapes, but each of them plays a musical instrument, each of them has stories; each is a story in himself. They are the leaders of all revelry, and add a glorious element of misrule to Ekeby's rich character. But their acknowledged chief is a young man, Gusta Berling, a minister who has disgraced his cloth, a poet and a dreamer, continually falling in love and then falling out again, to the sorrow and outrage of a succession of fine, deeply respected young women . . . . Then one day something goes wrong. The disaster involves a pact with the devil, and I really can't explain it here, but the upshot is that the major departs, the majoress is banished and takes to the roads like a beggarwoman, and for a year and a day (I put the day in because in English there's always "a day") the cavaliers are left in charge. I absolutely love this book. It's described on the back cover as a Swedish Pickwick Papers, only written by a woman, but that doesn't really tell you much. It's entertaining, lyrical and tragic, and slightly, lightly fantastic. The landscape, the seasons, the animals, trees, flowers hills woods and forests are characters in their own right (you'll never get that in Dickens), and I loved the sly, affectionate way the cavaliers are presented: as a burden on society; tolerated, pathetical, and helplessly destructive.

Like Cranford in trousers, only funnier, more beautiful, and much more powerful

Go Set A Watchman Harper Lee

Is poor stuff, not much of a story and I particularly didn't like the ending. Not the bit where Atticus Finch turns out to have the prejudices and the convictions of his time and his background. No, it's the bit that comes after that, when Jean Louise (Scout) calms down and realises that her burst of outrage was just a bit silly. Her honoured and honourable dad, her charming uncle and her prospective husband aren't bigots. They're only protecting their way of life, and the grand old traditions of the South. Nothing going on here worth quarrelling with your family about . . . And so we leave her, wisely deciding to avoid conflict and getting ready to hold up half the sky for her menfolks' reasonable, moderate and kindly contempt for "the negro".

That just won't do. Not even in a first draft*** Maybe it's because of where I'm standing, looking at the USA today, but I can't stomach that. It wouldn't do then, and it won't do now. Do not condone. Not peace but a sword. Walk away.

NB: links to Amazon books in this blog in no way represent an encouragement to purchase from the store. I do it for the reviews.

Okay, I take that back, a first draft is a novel's private life, and entitled to be full of blunders, errors in taste, etc. But a published book is a public utterance, and you have to be careful what you say.

Upping Tools

In other words it rained, and the rain was beautiful. I almost resented the intervals of sunshine, the great trees of the Glanusk estate were so beautiful in the damp mist. The towering lime west of Main Stage was my best act, the oaks and sycamores that graced the Outdoor Spa excellent in concert with the little birds that darted about high in their branches, the Sequoia Gigantica at the Box Office, and not to forget the Second Huge Small-leaved Lime, on the track by the Far Out field, lit purple and green after dark, a thick canopy that kept the last carpet of dead leaves dry for al fresco dining; until finally vanquished on Sunday. Songhoy Blues were absolutely wonderful, I don’t even mind that I missed a glorious thunderstorm while dancing like a loon. For that hour there was no distance between us and the performers, they had put heartbreak aside; they loved to play, and dance, we loved to dance: we were on a level. Illusion? Escapism? If so I preferred it to the different illusions of corporate rock, or aspiring corporate entertainment.

The nearest I ever got to Mali was a bus-stop out in the middle of nowhere, in Cameroon. That, and looking up about ancient Malian astronomer observations of Venus, for my "Old Venus" story. Dismissed as fantasy by early Europeans, because how could anyone, much less in darkest africa, record such accurate naked eye observations. But they can, they did. West African people make such long journeys! I wish I could go there. To Bamako. Maybe, one day. I wouldn't have to fly, which is a bonus because I don't. Great thing about Africa and Europe, but for a tiny sea crossing I could walk, if I had the time and the legs for it . . .

Me, I didn’t come to Green Man for the music. Or for the neo-paganism, although we did visit the Green Man in the rain, and admired web of cedar tile petitions strung around him; to be burned on Sunday. The exact same form of pleas and prayers as we'd seen preserved at Dodona, Dion, Delphi. (Nothing changes in human nature. Shame the same can't be said for the effects of human nature on one small planet . . .) Or for the beer. To my mind there’s few certainties in life, but one of them is that if 500 different craft beers are offered, every brew you try will be cr*p. (I was right) I came for the food, the fresh air, and the scenery. But once we got here, of course I started playing Pokemon. Got to catch them all! Calexico, loving the rain and grieving for wildfires in Arizona and CA. Hot Chip, highly satisfactory; going out on Dancing In The Dark. Oops, we missed The Temples. D*mn there goes Courtney Barnett! How the hell did we miss Atomic Bomb??? But Songhoy Blues, my MUST HAVE, safely secured, plus The Staves (such musicianship, and such cool stagecraft, so ladylike and affable), Father John Misty (so avuncular, so tv host and ditto), St Vincent So icy and distant, such wincy little lyrics, but still you really should see Annie Clark & co live. I do not personally like the stilted (literally!), alt. Lady Gaga gynoid act or costume, but she really can play guitar. Catch her now, while she's young and innocent.

And a lovely acrobatic ballet/masque/ by Citrus Arts at Fortune Falls about the ghost of a slaughtered stag, the bad baron’s beautiful daughter & the revenge of the wild wood. And many more.

& all the while I was looking around, & I was thinking I invented you people. Back in 1998 when I was dreaming up Bold As Love, this phenomenon, this inescapable summer feature of our modern world did not exist. Rock festivals were a laughable minority sport, something students did and got over it. Wellies for the over-fives came in green for toffs, plain black, or a very practical shade of mud. Glamping at Glastonbury hadn’t been invented & my agent said, but Gwyneth, nobody’s interested in Jimi Hendrix. Who he?

Did I forget Einstein's Garden? Place the Zen Self tent here, alongside the Botanical Garden of Wales, the man with the hydrogen engine demo and the people from NPL; with their interesting information about a sublimating kilogram

Not really very Green at all, no, no, no. Take a glance at the vast sea of shining cars. Forget that illusion! No more than the fictional Festival of Dissolution was. Not at all dangerous to the State of Things around here either; sad to say. But still.

Very late Sunday night, having gone neither to Lethe, Wolfsbane, Nightshade or any other reality enhancement (there comes a time . . .) I lay awake, listening to Manchester Man being led away by a mildly coaxing female. from the gazebo party next door; into the rain at last, full of beer and god knows what, roaring to one of the other guests, at the top of his mighty, infantile lungs “Right! Bastard! I’m going off to do a great big poo in your tent now!”

Aoxomoxoa, I thought, in his intemperate youth, cannot be far away.

It’s September. I have upped my downed tools. Normal service, media reviews, sarcastic revelations, exhortations to protest against this and that, etc will be resumed next post.

The Lilies

Wednesday 15th July, moist grey heavy weather, lot of heat in the sun when it breaks through. At the weekend, it was David and Christina's birthday party in Clapham, it must be the holidays. Today I cut down the Lilium Regale, that had to be in pots out at the front of the house because the pollen is poisonous to cats; they've been glorious in this their second year. We're packing for camping, we're off to Chamonix, and up to the refuge du lac blanc. Wonder what kind of weather we'll get. Blistering hot, thunderstorms, cold and icy with visibility near zero. According to the available forecasts, it could be anything. & so goodbye Grexit, see you after Green Man* (I do not believe the Greeks will accept the so-called deal, why the hell should they? And even if they do, this obviously isn't over). Goodbye the ever more desperate news from Fort Calais, our local hot spot in the global refugee crisis. Goodbye Fox-Hunting-Gate, wherever you may be leading us (anyone who believes Cameron doesn't want the Scots out of the union hasn't been paying attention. How else is he going to get rid of the humane majority that's knackering his plans? But that's some heavy medicine.) Goodbye Froomey, unless we catch up with you in Chamonix. Ginger is lounging on the hot patio, Milo looking for frogs to play with in the long wild weeds I call my Flower Meadow. I saw a female stickleback dart like silver wire, the male (still in his mating plumage? Is this normal?) peeping from under the lilypads. Goodbye wild fish, it's beautiful that you live with us. Goodbye cats, forgive us for our treachery.

One final note, I put up The Powerhouse for free sales at the beginning of June, and then forgot to advertise.But I also forgot to opt out of Kindle Select Unlimited (or whatever it calls itself, no earthly use to me except for giving ebooks away every now and then), so anyone who wants a free copy of The Powerhouse ebook should check the amazon sites 28th-July- 30th August. I could write a little more, but I have to go and look for the kettle's whistle, I may be back later . . .


Station Eleven Emily St John Mandel

Pandemic Apocalypse Lite. Rich White People in 21st century California think the world has ended because they can't dive into chlorinated swimming pools no more. Hm. And what happens at the end? Oh, I see, it's just like The Day After Tomorrow, that scene a couple of weeks after the Climate Change Apocalypse and some very moving human interest stuff, where all the New Yorkers are rescued from the tops of Manhattan's towers? The lights are on again! It was just a 20 year blip, business as usual can now reccomence!

I'm jaded. I'm sorry, I know this book has had a lot of praise. That's why I read it; I ate it, I eat bestsellers, even though I know exactly what happens in the kitchen of that restaurant. But this time I just don't get it.


Odyssey. Because it's in Bamako.

But from now on for a little while watching birds, flowers, skies and snow, and the white caps on the navy blue water of Lac Leman. Happy Birthday in advance to my brother in law Dave, and post-the-event to my brother David.

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.