Skip to content

Season of Mists, Bottomless Swamps of Doom, and Eerie Fruitfulness (A very gentle entry)

Tuesday 15th October. It's autumn again, disturbingly warm (again) and very moist. Sloppy, almost . . . A walk in woods changing colour, to forage for sweet chestnuts, and through amazingly green fields, liberally sown with giant Parasol & field mushrooms. It's an incredible year for edible funghi, overblown, sodden with rainwater, but fried down in hot butter they're still pretty tasty. And perfectly free of insect infestation . . .Funghi are so fast ripening and fast collapsing in this kind of weather, maybe there's nothing sinister about that. But all this summer I have noticed, idly picking blackberries from hedges and from woodland undergrowth, in Sussex and in Surrey, this eerie absence. Not a single dreaded grub in the ripe fruit. Even the lowliest, most ubiquitous country lane invertebrates are giving up on us.

My Library Books.
A Japanese ghost story, set in an imaginary, contemporary, Japanese town, by a Singaporean first novelist. I picked it out because I liked the cover, but Clarissa Goenawan's Rainbirds has survived the goodreads treatment, so hopefully she is a writer to watch (= there will be more of these). Inevitably, readers have recalled Murakami, (because it's allegedly Japanese, and a bit off kilter) but I got tired of Haruki Murakami a while ago, even before he reached his don't drop it on your foot phase, and to me this dreamlike narrative seemed fresh, and floating, or ungrounded, rather than alienated. I thought of another Japanese writer, Kazuo Ishiguro & The Buried Giant a misty, off kilter take on Arthurian Britain, in which everyone seems either asleep, or making the journey the dead make, to wherever they go, while dreaming the action . . . No, I give up, I can't explain the charm, you'd have to try it and see. & yes, those are goldfish, not any kind of birds on the cover, and no, I don't really understand about the "rainbirds", but they're in there.

Silence, Anthony Quinn. Poetic style, slow motion action, and everything seems to happen in grey pouring rain or darkness, or both. .. A grim, gloomy and bloody "historical case" cop story, thoroughly grounded this time, in the border country of Northern Ireland, years after, but still haunted by The Troubles. Very violent in parts, and with a final revelation that maybe doesn't quite work out, about the mean-minded, respectable bigotry that can lie hidden behind the worst atrocities. Sheep are important characters, guardian spirits, and watch out for the little black hen: comforting, precious and imperilled companion for our tired cop hero; I think she represents Ireland.

Second episode of "Tales of the Condor Heroes" a martial arts epic by Jin Yong (who died last year). I love the "Tales of the Condor Heroes". and I liked this second episode even better than the first. Caveat, possibly you have to have watched "The Water Margin", or at least enjoy Kung Fu movies. This is not High Fantasy, Western style. Don't expect "The Lord Of The Rings". The characters may be fantastical, or performing fantastical feats, but they can be crude and vulgar; they have no compelling sense of mission, beyond being true to the code, and don't feel themselves central to the great story of China that's unfolding around them. My favourite (inevitably) is cheerful and indomitable Jade Huang (Or "Huang Hong", I don't mind the mixture of Western & Chinese-style names, it seems natural enough). Not all cosseted gangster princesses turn out like Ivanka. It's very touching to watch her growing up, and learning to accept that sorrow and loss are real . . . Is it because we have become aware that our lives must be fleeting?

These young cattle (top picture) were very friendly, seeing us as interesting compary, and following us across their muddy field to have their polls rubbed, over the gate. I mention this because there've been bad incidents involving cattle and walkers, this year in Sussex. I suspect, I may be wrong, that it's because some people still, despite all pleading, have their dogs, even multiple dogs, off the leash in pasture, where animals are grazing. It's not okay, and your dog is not different. And there's another autumn, almost gone, and still this bottomless Brexit swamp is drowning us. Most of us (a voting majority) now want to stay in the EU, but (as of now) we aren't going to get a vote. But nothing's settled. Who knows, maybe the snake (the one that winds its way around the halls of power tomorrow, doggedly and gently repeating its only trick) will become a dragon!

Joanna Russ Study (University of Illinois Press)

"Joanna Russ" a Study for University of Illinois Press's "Masters Of Science Fiction" list, has been in the making for three or four years (wow . . .) & now it is done. It's been a long trail, an absorbing story with endless diversions, many twisty passages, much intriguing stuff that I never knew before, even intriguing stuff that (with an effort) I decided not to pursue, and much that I remembered, much that I had learned, in the eighties, nineties, about SF's Seventies Feminism/Feminist Seventies.

I wasn't there for the seventies as such. My contribution to Joanna Russ studies in the seventies consisted of walking past the cover of the Star edition of The Female Man in the Straits Times, Singapore's biggest book store, time and again, and thinking . . . a) is that lady on the cover a feminist? Really? ... If you know the edition you won't be surprised at my uncertainty, and b) Nope. I am not a man. I'll be a female human being, if you like . . . But really I'm absolutely convinced I'm a Gwyneth.
Before I bought it.

Anyway, here's my study, out now. Read her books. Read her essays, read her stories. I promise you (safe bet, if you are reading this!) that whatever your preference as to gender identity, you'll have the time of your life. And like me you will learn stuff, lots of mind-expanding, daunting, hard-to-take, thrilling, tragic, funny and clever stuff, that you did not know before.

Here's the announcement: https://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/catalog/74rgb7hm9780252042638.html

Here's another page where you can buy, with couple of early reader-reviews:

https://www.netgalley.com/catalog/book/165639


Can't leave without saying I love the cover they gave me (thank you so much, Tamara Shidlauski!), and many thanks to all the many people who helped me on the way.

Small, Ugly, Utopias



Small, Ugly Utopias: The Grasshopper’s Child, by Gwyneth Jones reviewed by Joel A.Nichols

Gwyneth’s Jones’s strange novel The Grasshopper’s Child is series of against-the-grain juxtapositions: a teenager of color from the city sent to care for two “Elderly Wrecks” whose great house and gardens are rotting around them, a near-future England so grim and violent that only the Chinese Empire’s invasion can stop the genocide and cannibalism, gardens that seem to teem with magic but instead let Jones show how internet-native teenagers can get down and dirty with Victorian plumbing technology. There are many more examples of points where the author has reached for the most disparate comparison in any given case and confidently pulled it into this novel in a realistic, ho-hum way. . . The overall effect is disjointed: is this an updated Nancy Drew, a satire of late technology (complete with holographic social workers and virtual popstar com-petitions), a refreshing teen friendship and love story that avoids romantic clichés in its desire to do the right thing by these teens, or something else altogether? There are many layers of mystery in this book, whether the reader is questioning the tragic murder that left Heidi’s father dead and her mother imprisoned; the shady conspiracies that infuse every part of life in this too-good-to-be-true rural idyll; or the much smaller scale but no less emotional mystery of what, exactly, the evil Crace is doing to Mrs. Scott-Ambrose, an elderly person being cared for by another teen.Indeed, Clancy, this other teen, is a shadowy question himself in the guise of a hooded rebel avoiding authorities and living rough, but possessing a tender heart . . . All you as a reader can trust is that Heidi’s gut will figure out (mostly) who is good and who is bad, what is safe and what isn’t. She isn’t the narrator. But if she were, I’d describe this book as having a reliable narrator and a completely unreliable plot in which fantasy-seeming reality . . . meets speculative social and political fiction of the grittiest order.

This near-future England on the mend from neo-Anglo-Saxon butchery and organized blood rites is fascinating, and so lightly drawn by Jones that details come only thread by thread, and still don’t add up to a very complete picture. The few details do leave the reader with unmistakable and terrible knowledge about how it must have been. Because Grasshopper’s Child is set in the world of Jones’s Bold as Love Cycle, simply sketching its outlines is sufficient for those familiar with that work. It’s effective for the rest of us, too: the light touch of her world-building pays off in massive impacts and is not to be ignored: “No-body had talked about it, it was never on the news, but everyone had known street kids were disappearing; and the homeless; anyone vulnerable, and anyone who tried to defend them.” Jones flicks a pebble down the hill in the first chapter, and by the end of the book, our very earth is shaking with the boulders crashing around us.

For the complete review see The Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ) back issues at: http://www.thecsz.com/past-issues/csz-v5-n2-2015.pdf

He's Not a Very Naughty Boy, He's the Messiah

On Monday I sent a Whatsapp photo of the Shaftesbury Memorial Fountain festooned with rebels (this isn't it, this is a better one),to Gabriel, in Leeds. Later I recalled that I knew that winged archer statue as "Eros", but I didn't know why, so I looked it up. The whole fountain is a memorial to Lord Shaftesbury, a Victorian parlimentarian, good guy who "replaced child labour with school education" (see wikipedia). But that's not Eros! It's not the divine bad boy of careless love, having naughty fun, fooling around and making a mess. It's his twin brother Anteros, the Greek god of selfless love.

I could tell you more, but anyway, just another sidelight on Extinction Rebellion. Speed the plough.

A Polite, Good-humoured Message From The Moral Majority . . .



Off We Go!



Stanhope Gate (this one's for Gabriel and Noemie!)



How pretty the trees are!



Mime Artists Against Brexit



Onwards to Pall Mall (quote is from the RevokeA50 petition instigator)



Into the home straight



The message . . .



Delivered.



All Done!



At the Greencoat Boy, (A lot busier than we usually find it at the end of one of these strolls)

____________________________




Joanna Russ (provisionally) put to bed

I've seen the cover (not for sharing, as yet). I've responded to the last few page proof queries . . . There may be more stages that need my input, further down the line, but for now, Joanna Russ (Masters of Science Fiction Series) is off my desk. This seems an appropriate moment to celebrate, anyway. It's been a long haul, and a fascinating, absorbing task, taking in not only the writing life of one iconic female sf writer of the "Feminist Seventies", but also the story of Gernsback and the Female Utopians in the Twenties; the Cold War and domestic revival politics of the Fifties, the Cultural Revolutions of the Sixties; the Feminist Sex Wars of the Eighties . . . You can't separate Joanna Russ's fiction from her life and times. No more than you can separate her from Modernism, Erwin Schrodinger's Cat, or the United States of America (with special reference to NY state, the Great Plains, and the Pacific North West, but most of all New York city).

Never heard of Joanna Russ?
Or you read The Female Man and thought that was it?
Try her story collections, The Zanzibar Cat and The Hidden Side Of The Moon. ("out of print" but easy to find, at any online bookseller of your choice). Or may I recommend How To Suppress Women's Writing; "A provocative survey of the forces that work against women who dare to write". Not so easy to find secondhand, but readily available in the new, 2018 edition, prepared & curated by Louann Atkins. Knowledgeable, very funny, and not at all out of date.

https://utpress.utexas.edu/books/russ-how-to-suppress-womens-writing

Many thanks to all the kind, helpful people at the University of Illinois Press; to my utterly essential Indexer, and to the many others, in and out of genre, who answered my questions, lent me books, and cheered me on my way.

---------------------------------------------------------


ps. The photo of Joanna (above) featured in an issue of "Galileo" magazine in 1978, which is where I found it. I believe it was taken much earlier, maybe as early as 1966. Many have tried, but nobody can trace the photographer.

It's People's Vote Time Again, Again . . .


An Oak Tree

Of course we'll be there on the 23rd, with our sandwiches, and our Green Party placards. Meet up on Park Lane, probably outside the Army and Navy Club, as before. Wend our way to Parliament Square, mill around a bit, take in a bit of the speeches; retire to The Greencoat Boy. I wouldn't dream of missing out. But why the hell are we still doing this? Why can't we just revoke Article 50 and have done with the whole shameless, tragic charade?

The Brexit Circus rumbles on, and on, and on, and on, yet another dreadful pantomime every evening on the Channel 4 News; yet another twist to the plot, which is exactly the same as the last "twist", but nobody seems to care, or even notice the repetition, except for a few swivel-eyed Tory/Labour rebels, who have tried to escape the toils of nightmare and only succeeded in driving themselves right over the edge. We went up to Westminster in February, for a minor #PutItToThe People/#People'sVote photo opportunity ("No To BlindFold Brexit!") and wandered about for a while; despairing among the fans; trapped in one of those long ago Michael Moorcock type, Blitz Spirit, rubble and surreality scenarios (I think I'm thinking of The Bed Sitting Room?). It was the placid cheerfulness that got me down.


lairs of the media folk


The media folk only come out after dark. The niches in hell for commoners are politely undisputed: Brexiteers cluster along the kerb-sides, shouting HOOT! and jerking their very simple placards. Les Autres, those circus fans capable of grasping that 2+2=4, favour the green retreat of Parliament Square, wear blue berets with gold stars; trail the EU flag casually over one shoulder, and their placards are full of puns, wit and wordplay. The groups don't mix (obviously). But "It's all very amicable", one of the berets told me, happily, & for a moment I was consumed with fury, because he wasn't. He really seemed to be enjoying himself.

BREXIT was brought to you by vile Tory "Austerity". By children going hungry, by failing schools, the ransacked NHS, cruelty and spying and routine humiliation; the punitive and vicious Universal Credit. By the famous "hostile environment" for migrants which was and is the special pet of our own, home grown q.fabius maximus cunctator.

It isn't a picnic! How dare you trot along here making a hobby of this atrocious debacle!



It's All Very Amicable


Indoors, of course, it's different. Especially after dark. The Speaker throws a spanner in the works (he's good for a laugh, at least); q.fabius fishes it out again . . .The Brexiteer head boys smirk and preen. Q.fabius and the smug and useless Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition exchange grimaces, across the narrow way; but you don't see a genuine smile from any of these souls in torment, only bared-teeth grimaces as the tv journalists stick those forked barbs in. Except maybe from Arlene, and that's not a thing you'd want to see twice, that smile . . .

Oh well. There's no guns involved, so far. And though the knife crime slaughter (that comes from the same, filthy, greed-is-good politics as Brexit) is piling up in our poverty-poisoned cities, we should still thank all the powers for that.

& I'll see you all on the 23rd March. Happy Days!



my sweet violets are wonderful this year


Used to be, one would say, to hell with politics, what do I care. Oak trees and violets will endure.
Not any more.

_____________________________________



My Movies

Leave No Trace

A present from Gabriel and Noémie for my birthday. About a Vet father with PTSD, managing pretty well by living in total hiding in the green forests of Oregon, with his motherless child. How they get spotted, and how their relationship survives a tender (horrible intrusion to the Vet, but really tender, and respectful) attempt to rehabilitate them. Very touching, sad, and reminding me v. much of camping out in those same Oregon forests, long ago, with the most makeshift kit, on the way home from Singapore; and on a cold beach in Mexico, in an outcast camp, later on. I'll watch out for Thomasin Mackenzie.

Capernaum

Why does Capernaum mean "chaos"? I don't know. Harrowing, beautiful tale of Les Miserables of Beirut. Very French, very legalistic and rigidly decent at the top level, hell down in the gutters: starring a rascally little boy, his eleven year old sister, their hapless but dreadful parents, and a decent citizen of a young refugee woman from Eritrea who loses her (absolutely astounding) tiny boy, and then the two children . . . But I won't spoil it. Gripping stuff. Certainly made the Victor Hugo version (in print or on the telly) look pretty stupid.

My Light Reading

The Order of Time, Carlo Rovelli

A beautiful little object, purple and gold, made to look like it was printed in the Renaissance. "The world is made of events, not things". . . (I liked that chapter, it reminded me a lot of my story "The Flame Is Roses", and the idea (definitely not a new idea!) that on some deep, essential level, time does not pass) . . . Time seems so obvious, and then unravels badly under the cumulative pressure of hard and harder science. But all is not lost because we can call upon Marcel Proust to ravel things up again. What exactly is entropy . . .? (I've always wondered). Is this study a little too poetic? Maybe so.

Timefulness Marcia Bjornerud

All about geology, less abstruse and closer to the bone of the here and now. Only just started it, but so far this one promises less and delivers more.



Truth and the War

Just finished reading Truth and The War, E.D.Morel, the book that inspired my last two posts, a collection of articles published in 1916, about the atrocious lies, damn lies and secret politics that led to the catastrophe of World War I, and fueled the unstoppable surge of public support for the completely pointless, irrational, slaughter in France and Belgium.

E.D.Morel was the journalist who blew the whistle on King Leopold of Belgium's hideous regime in what's now Congo. In this foray, he's a bit too keen to insist that Germany was the innocent, peacable party, forced into conflict by the Triple Entente (or was it the Triple Alliance?) all pinned to a bizarre incident in Sarajevo* . . . But by 1916 it was blatantly Germany vs Britain, and all about global markets . . .

(I knew all this when I was seventeen, it comes back to me vaguely, mostly in the form of satirical cartoons. . .)

But could exposing the truth stop that war ? I don't think so! As Morel and others had spotted, we weren't just stuck with the meaningless slaughter, we were already in for the devastating second round.

I wear a white poppy, and strictly on 11th November. I hated that centenary celebration

Naturally, this week and last, I drew parallels. Couldn't help it.

It's heartbreaking to see what's happening to the far-from United Kingdom right now, but the trouble is, same as in 1916, fraud is a crime without redress. The money's gone. Your house has been sold from under you, old lady, and you signed the papers yourself . . . And anyway, you're too proud, too timid, and too inflexible with age, to admit that you were fooled. The irrefutable fact that the people were lied to in 2016. That murderous fascism was recklessly incited and promoted by the Leave campaign, in 2016, is no use to anyone now. We're here because we're here.

*See also Black Lamb, Grey Falcon, Rebecca West. A massive, wonderful book about "The Balkans", which includes a blow by blow account of that day in Sarajevo. You really, truly, couldn't have made it up.



The Plumb Pudding In Danger



Further to my last . . . Maybe there's always been no future in utopian revolution, before our day. Pol Pot didn't achieve much, beyond those fields of skulls. Mao was a monster. It didn't take long to get from the storming of the Bastille to the Terror (a nightmare in which (check it out if you like) the majority of those guillotined were not aristocrats, fat cats, or even the losers in the swift reverses of revolutionary power. They were far more likely to be hapless, lower middle class citizens, denounced by the citizen next door, for no particular reason except personal gain. But the odds are different now.

The plumb pudding in the cartoon above is clearly, as you can see, planet earth ----in danger of being carved-up by someone called "William Pitt the Younger", (you may remember him in Blackadder) Prime Minister of what was soon to be the greatest super power the world had ever known; representing wealth creation. Who is dining out with someone you should easily recognise as Napoleon Bonaparte, top war-monger of the period. (in our modest, domestic peril, I suppose that would be Theresa May across the table from that go-getting rabble-rouser Nigel Farage).

I've labelled them Economic Growth and War, and these are the existential bad guys in the Bold as Love story. Both of them are monsters; or have become monsters. Both of them have to go. I realise Economic Growth is our society's devoutly unquestioned religion, on every scale from the sublime to the ridiculous, and so do you (you can't have missed the sausage roll in the manger?*), so maybe this is the shocking part, rather than the savage attacks perpetrated on the sinews of war, by oil-field torchers and others, all the way from the Baltic to the Black Sea. But shocking or not, denouncing them is not fiction, it's vital for our future. We don't need more money. Nobody could possibly need more money than "we" have concentrated in a very few hands: we need less. We don't need more War, on any scale. Nobody could possibly need more than we have right now . . . Remember that Third World War? The one fought with sticks and stones?

What we seriously need is more time. We need to scratch up another hundred years from somewhere, or fifty, or even twenty, and then we might just get through this part. But without some kind of rough magic, like a global economic crash and the rise of a Hard Green Countercultural revolution, the future of this living world, the only one we have, never mind the future of so-called global civilisation, does not look good.

Climate change was already a wolf at the door twenty years ago for science fiction writers, Counterculturals and others. The actual threat has been perceived by science for a lot longer (but scientists are so timid! Someone just waved a hockey-stick at them, and they vanished) It's coming on much faster now. It's real as real. But still nobody seems to care. What's wrong with us all?


The Plumb Pudding in danger: from HYPERALLERGIC

Castles Made Of Sand, the print edition with the Anne Sudworth cover, is still readily available.

The EU does not play a glorious role in Bold As Love btw. It's the government, everybody blames it for everything. That's what governments are for. But European identity is vital for the revolutionaries, Europe is where we all live. In times of trouble, the people cling together, I read that in the flood countries, long ago


*Okay, the outrage over equating Jesus, saviour of the world, & btw no fan of dietary restrictions (Matthew 15:11) with a non-kosher pork snack was funny: (now if only it had been a vegan sausage roll!) But what I see in that ad is the mass-market, populist form of "greed is good". Feeding your face is God.

Here, Beside the Rising Tide . . .



In 1999 I set the date for the Dissolution of the United Kingdom. Scotland, Wales and the newly United Ireland went their separate ways calmly, (Wales Inc. happy to be wholely or partly owned by the Japanese*). The fourth nation state went straight to hell, via a bloody coup engineered by a back-stabbing Home Secretary (who got his head blown off the same night); a brutal, populist, rock-star "Head of State", a devastating epidemic of illiterate, starving, homeless wanderers, an army of righteous Rock Festival "staybehinds", and a rampage of Hard Green violence up and down the country. Not to mention Union Jack Loyalists mining the beaches of the North East against desperate migrants, and a small war in Islamic Yorkshire.

It was a fairytale. Not a fantasy, not even in 1999, you may be surprised to learn, but I never imagined things could get so scarily, idiotically awful in the real UK, so fast, with or without Dissolution. I never thought I'd live to see poverty and starvation return here, or illiteracy swiftly rising, or so many homeless, or, or . . . (More on that rising tide in my next post). But given my early-adopter behaviours, my tree-hugging, anti-fracking and so on, why did I make the Bold As Love Hard Greens into feared, ruthless terrorists?

Because that's what happens to utopian revolutions? Because the desperate straits that create these explosions always lead swiftly and dreadfully to a Terror? It's a fair point.** But I wouldn't do that. Not my style at all. I wanted to tell the story of a passionate, no-surrender, love is all there is, total revolution, with guitar, that would find a way to stay sane. I think the music helps . . .

Bold As Love

But please do, make up your own minds.


*better than being governed from Cardiff, see?
**Clement Attlee's government and the Welfare State, the utopian world where I was born, had admittedly paid a steep price in global war and genocide, in advance.








It's People's Vote Time Again!



It can't be the People's Vote March time again, can it? Surely we just had one . . . I distinctly remember. It was sunny, we took a sandwich, we spent ages kettled (not in an aggressive way, all very friendly) outside the Army and Navy club . . . Oh, so it isn't going to be an annual event? It just feels that way? It just feels as if the awful BREXIT ROULETTE wheel can keep on rolling and the ball rattling around and around, up she goes, down they go, up they go, down she goes, and never come to rest on the red or the black, while Labour keeps on hoping for the worst (because the worst coming to the worst will be Jeremy's opportunity, he's convinced of that) while the Greens and the Lib Dems and the Good Tories jump up and down gamely on the sidelines, repeating You're all mad! Completely vicious, selfish, reckless and mad! (true, but is it useful?).

And hardly anyone in parliament seems to even know where the Northern Irish Border actually is, let alone that it was a bloody battlefield, town by town, street by street, house by house, before the GFA . . . . And this staggering, blind-drunk squabble between Tory and Tory will just go on. Forever. Because not even the best of them has the courage to remember the oath (I think it's an oath) they took (which I phone-snapped on somebody's placard): and put country before Party . . .




But anyway . . . We were there, and I can tell you two things about this event. First, there really were A LOT of people. If there were 100,000 the first time, I think 700,000 is a conservative (sorry . . . ) estimate for Saturday 20th. Where's it all going to end? Second is that nobody we talked to (and we were volunteering, so we talked to a lot of people) believed the march, whether seven hundred thousand or seven million strong, would make any difference. Not a hope. Not the slightest bit of difference!, they all said, grimly cheerful. The health service will collapse, the lorries will be backed up in squalid holding pens to the Midlands. Stockpiles of food and essential medicines must be gathered for this disaster, but it's "the will of the people", and though we ARE the people, and we strongly suspect ruthless personal profiteering (and also cowardice), is what's really keeping BREXIT on its rattling track, we're here without any hope. Because we had to be able to say we tried.

The sky was an eerie cobalt blue, the October sunlight was glaring. The march was just as good-humoured but more gruelling, from the sheer press of bodies; the police were wonderful. We shared a tortilla sandwich as before, on a different kerbstone, and we had early satsumas this time, not late Valencias, but still Spanish; not so sweet, but juicy, with a lovely mellow yellow coloured skin . . . (old soldiers march on their stomachs). Parliament Square was impossible, so we abandoned the speeches, cut our losses and had a pint at the Greencoat Boy.

very nice pint, but pricely.

Alastair Campbell's March


Mixed Media

Killing Eve? Blood-soaked bit of fluff. Oh, did I just liken that that cool, kinky "Look! Female Leads!" thriller to a used tampon? Shame on me, because I certainly watched it, and enjoyed it, and was charmed by both the leads, and besides I thought it was (also) totally inane, & tampons (though they may not be the greatest solution to monthly bleeds), are not.

The Wire Just as gripping, & more amazing visually second time round. Better with the English subtitles on, because then you can (if you are English, that is), look around you and stuff. Entirely male viewpoint, w. good female police and legal characters, who don't get the awful, awful Jane Tennison/Helen Mirren treatment (and therefore not true to life, of course!). Getting near the end now, and the darkness deepens. There's no such thing as "special dead". Last time Omar was my favourite (isn't he everyone's?) Like the coolest of the 7 Samurai, Omar don't scare. This time I'm in love with Kima Greggs (Sonja Sohn).

Black Honey/PINS At the Concorde, on Dinah's birthday. Down on Brighton seafront, in spectacular black torrential rain, was a good place to be last Sunday week, for old sake's sake. I was feeling like death, bad cold or flu, but even so. However I liked the support best. I thought PINS http://www.wearepins.co.uk/ were great. Black Honey a bit ordinary, but competent. Pins means legs, I should explain.

Dreams of Maryam Tair: Blue Boots and Orange Blossom. Mhani Alaoui I don't really like magical realism. It's Mystification: it's decorative, but it changes nothing, and in fact ends up reinforcing the status quo (as indeed happens here), despite its "literary radicals" rep. But Dreams of Maryam Tair is pretty hard to resist. All about Morocco, ancient and modern, both at the same time: set mainly in Casablanca, and curated by and ageless but certainly ancient Scherazade herself, the story of a young girl, child of rape (her mother got raped a lot, reading between the stuff about demons, when she and her young husband were picked up for being generally "progressive" in the early eighties), who grows up to be, with her beloved bicycle . . . well, say no more, it's just an enchanting read.

Oh No!, Roland Barthes has been murdered by a laundry van! And he was carrying on his person the dreadful secret of The Seventh Function Of Language. Mon Dieu!, if that awful formula were to get into the wrong hands!!!! Hilarious. Sexy, The name dropping is relentless, everybody and everything involved, however tangentially, in the soi-disant "linguistic turn" gets dragged into the plot, (including the Bologna station bombing, but who cares about good taste). The feminists are there, of course, as Bitch Goddesses; of course (there is no other role a woman can play in the power games of academia). Fear not. You don't have to know a single thing about semiotics, or post-structuralism, or anything. Just relax and enjoy the caper.






9 Million Litres Of Water

The Traveller's Joy (a rescue plant from the pavement cracks outside our front door, two years ago) that tangles all over the holly and the Bonsai Pine, has flowered for the first time, and is already fading. The scaffolding has finally gone . . . just when I was getting used to having a climbing gym outside my high window, and a (fragmentary) sea view from the top of it. We are solar-paneled, we are double-glazed, the garden is restored to its usual level of untidiness, thank god. In theory I love the summer, but this love is based on the romance of childhood, the end of the educational year, when you down-tools, walk away and abandon your desk as if forever, which I never lost, because my mother was a teacher (until Peter retired). Not so keen on the programme of works idea.

The Consultations

To business. There are two UKGov "Consultations" you need to respond to, before 25 October, if you are at all interested in stopping the Tory Party driven, corrupt, fracking industry's assault on democracy; and poisonous industrialization of the countryside. Not to mention the dire reality of climate change. (No point in mentioning that, because Tories just think "I'm rich, I hate foreigners and and I hate my children, so why should i care?)

One consultation asks you to agree that the construction, drilling and operation of a fracking well, (or any number of fracking wells) for exploration and production of oil or gas should be treated as a "permitted development" (like a small garden shed, for instance) that doesn't require planning permission, so that local government and local communities will have no say in the decision, and the plans to frack can come later, with no further inconvenience! Should "stimulation" be necessary!.

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/permitted-development-for-shale-gas-exploration

The other asks you to agree that the construction, drilling and operation of a fracking well, (or any number of fracking wells) should be treated as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, (like a new railway or motorway network; or a nuclear power station); so that local government and local communities will have no say in the decision.

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/inclusion-of-shale-gas-production-projects-in-the-nationally-significant-infrastructure-project-nsip-regime

You can see why these two very different and on the face of it contradictory approaches have equal appeal to UKgov.

Unfortunately, since the wording of the questions is very confusing, the gov doesn't offer any hand-holding, but Frack Free United has useful walkthroughs here:

https://www.frackfreeunited.co.uk/permitted-development-and-nsip/permitted-development-consultation-guidelines/


Meanwhile, at Balcombe, at Horse Hill, and at Brockham, oil production in the Weald Basin slips by, under the radar. Still industrialising the countryside, still corrupting our local democracy, still blighting clean energy development, but it's not fracking, just a few unauthorised donkeys nodding in the woods; it's not new bad news and though you just keep on saying no, there has to be triage.



----------------------------------------------------


Only 13 pretty little newt infants raised in captivity this year, but more fun, owing to the fact that our wildlife pond had become such a murky puddle, in the weeks of semi-drought, we decided to keep them in a tank until they were almost grown (they leave the water at the end of August or so), and discovered the delights of feeding them. They certainly knew what to do with a cloud of brine shrimp! Only two nights sleeping out in Sussex, and only 10 in Brittany, but we got to Ouessant (Ushant) on the last day trip of the year, which we've never managed before, and the sea voyages there and back; very fine too. Starry nights which I'd been missing badly . . . except for Mars, always managing to be visible even in the thick rainless cloud of this summer in England, baleful red-orange dot, like the Eye of Sauron peering above the horizon at the bottom of our garden.

Mixed Media

The Labour Conference was good value; the Tories promising, but dull so far, after that early amusing data breach. I'm reading the Bible again (which I do, periodically, always the King James, because it's full of quotations), and discovering again how the famous, marvellous, life-changing OT (as we call it) is largely boring bits, lists, unaccountable repetition of huge chunks of sartorial instruction, nit-picking and misplaced attention. Look at Joseph in Egypt, so famous for those clever prophetic dreams. Ha! What about that Pharoah, (whoever he was)? A CEO, PM, Great Dictator, king, chief, president, whatever . . . who actually listened to the commonsense advice, and actually acted on it. Unheard of. This does not happen. That's the real wonder tale. But maybe it gets better. Of course I haven't got to Psalms yet. Did you know that Sarah (Abraham's chief wife, remember) seems to have also been his sister? Did you know women like Rachel had property of their own?

I've also decided to read Virginia Woolf again (=the Joanna Russ connection) & thanks to the modern miracle of epub, I can embark on The Lot, from The Voyage Out to Early Journals (pub1990). The Voyage Out conjures up my own youth (because that's when I last read it), in its lovely, wavering, acutely observed Impressionist style, but then a pall descends on everything, because I know someone's going to die, and there's going to be nothing else to say. Night and Day is where I am now, and it goes on a bit. On and on and on. What strikes me most is the vital, unthinking, ritual shibboleth of meal times; especially tea. The religion that outlasted religion. I suppose it comes of having servants. The servants dictate the household routine, and it's built around meals, so that's the law everybody has to obey. Ah, well. Ever onward.

Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies
Farewell and adieu to you ladies of Spain
For we're under orders to set sail for old England
And we may never see you fair Spanish Ladies again

We'll rant and we'll roar like true British sailors
We'll rant and we'll roar all across the salt seas
Until we strike soundings in the Channel of Old England
From Ushant to Scilly is thirty-five leagues



9 million litres? That's how much water is used for one frack. The contaminated waste water can then, in the US, be used to irrigate crops. Not over here: not yet. But it's not a good idea to drink it!

A Very British Protest

Not much of a march, really. St James's Square, to Parliament Square. How long's that going to take? Twenty minutes? Half an hour, tops. We assemble under the auspices of the Army and Navy Club. They've put their flag out for us, UNITATE FORTIOR; now that's nice. I admire the fine placard created by one of the scientists-against-Brexit contingent, and am allowed to take a photo (L). We wait. It's another of this summer's sunny but somehow lightless days. Not too warm, but the air is poor; occasionally, throughout this afternoon, actually stinking. We wait. The Lib Dems, similarly imprisoned in the other outlet from the Square, are getting restive (Peter and I are with the Greens). There are many homemade placards. There are also, as far as the eye can see in either direction along Pall Mall, hordes of people waving the blue flag with the yellow stars. Contrary to punditry, a large contingent, it looks maybe as much as 40-50%, seem to be over fifties. But younger people too, and teenagers, and families. What do we have in common? We are all able to figure out that two and two make four, and neither five nor three. We can see where the lady ended up, in the shell game, but we would never be such fools as to bet money on her position. And crucially, it seems from where I stand, we are good-natured.

Relatively privileged, of course, on the raw data. First since we can all afford to travel to the centre of London, and more importantly since we've escaped or resisted the mass-population dehumanising efforts of successive Tory governments. However far we are, individually, from power and influence, we still believe we are human, and citizens. We may be subaltern but we can speak.

I used to work in a jobcentre, many years ago. What goes on in those places these days sickens me.

There's a rumour that we're being held in these pens because the whole route is packed solid, the flood of numbers is so much higher than expected (the plan had been for a few hundreds, max?). Another rumour that we're being bunched together for a more striking effect. We wait, patient and good-tempered.

Peter & I wander about, cross Pall Mall. We eat our excellent tortilla sandwich, from the Spanish grocers at the bottom of Trafalgar Street,, and juicy late-season Valencia oranges, sitting on a kerbstone. We read placards (we have none of our own, or a flag). Sporadic roars rush through the crowd, like waves up a beach.



And we're off, for a short walk down to Trafalgar square, where the lions and Nelson are screened off for a rather late Eid celebration fete, and on into the land of war memorials, and pedestal-mounted "old blokes in 'ats on 'orses". The familiar, wailing cry of "OOOOh Jeremy Corbyn" causes puzzlement to be expressed in the ranks, and quickly morphs into the more appropriate "Where's Jeremy Corbyn?" But unfortunately the leader of the er, Opposition, so to speak, is a Brexiteer, for political reasons, and the lad is not for turning, no matter what the hell damage the break inflicts.

Rude words are bawled out, to anciently popular tunes. Placard messages favour gentleness, and good old British politeness . . . It's a meme, obviously, this rudeness and the good manners. Dogs trot to heel. Time, traditionally, for me to wonder why I'm here. Am I convinced @theresa_may is secretly a good guy, and I want her to know she has support for her cunning plan to sneak out of this daft impasse at the last possible moment, when her tormentors Johnson-Gove-Rees-Mogg et al are looking the other way? (No). Do I believe that the "Protest March", "raising awareness" tactic works? (It's been known to happen, but not around here). Am I here because it's just what I do; an unbreakable habit? Good point. It's true, I'm not one of those people who regards "the government" as something small and far away, that I can't possibly influence (like that innocent little cloudsy-wowdsy called "climate change"). I vote. I do more than vote. I believe I'm responsible for what the government does, and I communicate my concerns. It's called democracy. A pitifully imperfect union, like the EU itself, but, like the EU itself, worth hanging onto, because all the alternatives are much worse.

I remember when I knew this was true (instead of just wanting to hold on to EU welfare and environment regulations, EU workers, global market share, science base, security & all that other trivial stuff the Brexiteers brush away). It was when Jo Cox was murdered. . .

I was told, for days, that I absolutely MUST NOT, shame on me, make the gross error of confusing the action of a poor crazed motiveless lunatic with the ruthless, xenophobic rhetoric of the Leave campaign. The murderer himself upset that apple-cart, when he came to court. But it made no difference. The Leave campaigners, Blue, Red or Purple, really did not care . . . That's when I knew.

Ah, we're here, so I can shut up, and the speeches can begin. Gina Miller kicks off. Sir Vince Cable goes astray, trying to convince us of things we already know (or we wouldn't be here). Tony Robinson delights everybody by announcing that he has a cunning plan . . . Caroline Lucas channels Churchill, in a really stirring speech, laying down of the hard facts that we face and telling us what is to be done. The tower of Big Ben is wrapped like a package; like the Eid fair, and Ella is wondering what Jeremy Corbyn is going to tell the children, when they ask him . . . The trees around St Margaret's are in full leaf, and somewhat obscuring the screen, but we can see well enough, and the sound system is good.

It's over, for today. We tip our hats to the Suffragettes Scroll in Christchurch Gardens, and retire for a pint of local ale at the Greencoat Boy.

The Season of Living Without Apples

Guess, just guess, how I happen to be holding the great tit's child in my hand? You're absolutely right. Dear Tilly came bounding in and leapt onto the piano keys, jaws full of desperate flutter: look what I've brought you! So then I was bad:rescued the little bird from her soft mouth (she'd make a good gun dog), got her by the scruff, shouted at her and dumped her outdoors. The juvenile great tit was fine: bright-eyed, cheerful and brave . . . as you'd expect from the family's general demeanour, but cat was outdoors, bird indoors, exactly the opposite of what I needed. A useful moral lesson, more haste less speed, if only I could profit from my mistakes (never happens). I had to leave the infant in a box in my office & and cajole Tilly, while she sat on Claire and Steve's compost bin two fences away, very hurt and ostentatiously not looking my way. Anyway, it ended well. The infant flew away, soon as I was sure it was undamaged, and Tilly has forgiven me.

It was a privilege to see a beautiful little bird so close up, anyway. Thank you, Tills.

& This is what a condemned elm tree looks like . . . The last of the mature elm trees on our road into town has got to go. It doesn't have the bug, it has fungal rot, and the Council has decided to remove it rather than risk having to pay up if it suddenly falls on someone's car or something. A reasonable decision or a detestable mindset? On this occasion, I could go either way. But the rise of UK local and national government's pogrom of the trees is certainly a detestable phenomenon, and inexplicable to me. Trees embellish the land (that's Chekov). They make our cities beautiful and liveable; they improve the air, they steady the traffic in towns, they improve human well-being, they're an economic asset. Destroying them, however, seems to be a vital element in UKGov's strategic planning:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/11/priest-chain-tree-protest-euston-hs2-felling-plans-london

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/04/29/millions-trees-mapped-drone-network-rail-felling-programme/
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-34749065

Along with destroying renewable energy, "building" new Nuclear Power Plants, at cataclysmic public expense (but thankfully without success); destroying lives and the economy by throwing out all known or suspected "immigrants", sucking up to Donald Trump and the DUP; etc etc.

But what do I know? Only that I'm certainly not getting more conservative as I grow old; except in the protect and survive sense of the term. Not getting any more resigned, either, for what it's worth. Still hauling in the opposite direction from this grand, global movement of history towards kleptocratic chaos, any small and decent way I can.


My Fracking Round Up (obligatory feature)


Oh, look, fracking in the UK is in parliament, how exciting!

https://drillordrop.com/2018/05/30/minister-quizzed-on-evidence-behind-fracking-proposals/#more-64264


Nah, not very exciting. "The Minister contradicted herself ". . . hardly even news. The message: "exploration has to go ahead" no matter what the evidence against these developments, could not be more clear. INEOS has acquired extrajudicial rights over nearly half the land area of the UK, and presumably "Jim Ratcliffe" (a general term, meaning the fracking industry profiteers) has paid for the package, under the table somewhere.

Latest news on the ground is that support grows (notably from individual investors, who don't live near well-pads, and are just hoping, like Lucky Jim, for a quick killing); and resistance grows. Outcomes (ie wells in production) there are as yet none.

https://www.newcivilengineer.com/latest/fracking-body-slams-claim-uk-needs-6000-shale-gas-wells/10030436.article

https://www.carbonbrief.org/qa-the-return-of-uk-fracking-and-what-it-could-mean-for-the-climate
(Long, but comprehensive.)

Books

Eleanor Marx: A Life, Rachel Holmes

Eleanor Marx, youngest of Karl Marx's three surviving children (others died in childhood and infancy), a political radical and Bohemian by birth and passion; active in the Paris Commune disaster as a teenager; ran away to Brighton to support herself at eighteen, as (unlike the rest of her family), it upset her to be leeching on the long-suffering Engels the whole time . . . What a grim world for women! So many pregnancies, so few surviving children, so many fine minds and talented individuals, crushed under the wheels of radical politics. Derisory numbers, of course, compared to "crushed under the wheels of privilege and rampant capitalism", but a shocking reminder that the women were always there. As gifted, as dedicated, as resolute, but doomed by biology, custom, and the complacency of the men they supported.

A big fat biography recommended by my friend Elly last year. I'm slowly getting through it, I'll be sorry when it's gone. It's very interesting, moving, and a real education; esp if you never knew the Paris Commune was a feminist issue, or if, like me you've read and loved the fictional versions of this story: eg Olive Schreiner's The Story of an African Farm,and -sublime to the ridiculous-but-enjoyable- Mrs Humphrey Ward (various); or "Baroness Von Hutten's" Pam; What Became Of Pam.

The Storyteller and His Three Daughters, Liam Hearn

This book is just lovely. Set in 1884, in a Japan just opening up to "the West", but actually far more interested in its Korean adventures. Not as fantastical as the more famous Otori series (although there's a spooky strand), or its Shikanoko historical prequels, but a really delightful reading experience from start to finish.



Movies

The Breadwinner


Animation, from the people who brought you Song Of The Sea; adapted from Deborah Ellis's highly praised young adult series of the same name. Lovely to look at, gripping and moving, don't miss, but like Song Of The Sea, a little bland at the centre. I think because of the timeless-fantasy frame, and the way it seems that nobody did it. Nobody is responsible. Women are courageous and cruelly subjugated, that's just the way things are. Men are vicious bullies, with one or two marvellous exceptions, "good princes" as it were, and that's just the way things are. Afghanistan is unfortunately placed on the global map, it's nobody's fault. Kabul never was a modern city, where fearless young women wore mini-skirts and went to university . . .


This Is Congo dir. Daniel McCabe


All the politics, sexual and global (Big Man culture/aka toxic masculinity is at the heart of what's wrong with Congo); but the fantasy comes with; this element supplied by the original Leopard-skin Pill-Box Hat Man (I mean Mobutu) and his wannabe- successors. You've seen Black Panther? Great movie, wasn't it? Lots of fun, and affirmative as all get out. Now see a different story about that fabled country in the middle of Africa, with its natural riches beyond belief, its super-power endowing mineral wealth,* and (oops, not featured in Black Panther) its dreadfully poor, articulate and courageous masses. This one hurts.

Try this link for more details and a trailer: http://www.ramascreen.com/this-is-congo-and-these-are-its-poster-and-trailer/

*Literally, super-power endowing. Did you know it was Congolese Uranium, rich and yellow, that fueled the bombs that fell on Hiroshima?

Targeted Advertising

Would you like to go to Iceland? The large chilly island, I mean? With the hole that leads to the centre of the earth. I'd love to go to Iceland, and maybe I will, one fine summer. Meanwhile, an NZ pro-review site spotted the Iceland reference (it's the drained magma chamber you can visit) in my Proof of Concept Acknowledgements Page and asked me to post their 100 best things to do in Iceland feature. It's a good list, so I will:

https://www.jenreviews.com/best-things-to-do-in-iceland/

Living Without Apples?

It's June. The earliest of English apples will turn up soon, and I can wait. I'll stretch a point for some EU fruit and veg, but only idiots buy "organic" to feel good, if the product's flown in from Argentina. More poetically, you can take the title of this purely cultural and a-political post as a generally refusnik statement, and a plug for my secret weapon: You are not trapped helplessly in your "we've got planets to burn" lifestyle choices. You can do without stuff, lots of stuff. It's easy, once you try . . .

Onward to even stormier seas

The end of an era: I finally finished Okami (the original, not the upcoming HD version) last Wednesday night, after more than two years of playing (off & on), and I'd I wouldn't like to say how many, many absorbing hours. Goodbye, Amaterasu, wolf-mother to us all. I hope one day we will meet again. I believe there's never been another game so beautiful, or (at times) so frustrating.



Hunger for Freedom

545 people joined the fasting for freedom Women's Day action last week. I have to admit I didn't feel a thing, since we were only fasting from food; 24 hours without water would have been tough. It was a gesture, a statement and a commitment. Meanwhile the women on hunger strike at Yarl's Wood, where they are confined indefinitely, under prison conditions, without trial or charge, began fasting on 21st February, and they're still going. Did you know that most of the detainees rounded up and dumped in Home Office concentration camps are eventually released back into the community? (In other words, there were no grounds for deportation). Did you know that if HMG does eventually stick you on a plane, it's without notice, and always at the weekend, so you can't get hold of a lawyer? And by the way, whoever may be reading this, if ever you are tempted to decide that Theresa May is okay really, doing her best, just a little clueless: forget Brexit. Remember that this whole "hostile environment" system: the crazy rounding up of people who have lived and worked in the UK for decades, the inhuman treatment of torture survivors, was her own special bright idea.

If you're going to check just one of the links below, make it the first.

http://www.biduk.org/

https://detainedvoices.com/2018/02/25/the-strikers-demands/

https://action.freedomfromtorture.org/stop-closed-door-policy-making-immigration-detention?utm_campaign=torturedefinitionaction&utm_source=twshare

http://detentionforum.org.uk/

http://detentionaction.org.uk/


Compulsory Reading

For the record, I thought The Shape Of Water was soft-centred & not a patch on eg Del Toro's The Devil's Backbone; and that Three Billboards was brilliant, tragic, but too uncompromising and ironic for the US audience. But don't ask me about vital #MeToo gown decisions, & all that. I wasn't paying attention. In any spare time I've found, I've been busy catching up with the serious books I got for Christmas, and for my birthday. Though it may have seemed to me that these gifts were selected on the Velveteen Rabbit principle (see note 1, below . . . ) I have been seriously getting through them, one by one.

Middlesex

A vintage (2002) Pulitzer prize winner about gender diversity. The grandchild of an incestuous immigrant couple from Asia Minor, Calliope --in fact a normal XY male, just terminally under-dosed with testosterone in early development-- is brought up as a girl, in a close-knit Greek immigrant community in suburban Detroit. Eventually her parents take her to a trendy sex-doctor, because she has no breasts and no periods (but a rather conspicuous external clitoris). The doctor decides that as she's been brought up female, she'll be happier staying that way. But Cal/Calliope, by this stage awoken to his essential (and let's face it, far preferable) inner masculinity, disagrees and runs away. He takes refuge with some cool, weird intersexuals at a peepshow, and finally "comes out" as a slim, slightly-built, American Psycho style dandy, with a penchant for tiny little cigars. It may have passed in 2002, but this story has nothing to do with gender diversity. Nor intersexuality, really. It's entirely about a world Eugenides clearly adores: the relentlessly greedy, conservative and traditional, masculinity-ordered, consumerism obsessed US of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies. I think I'll give the more famous The Virgin Suicides a miss. I know I will never be able to share this author's point of view.

Palace Walk

Even more vintage, the first episode of a family trilogy about Egypt, set in British-ruled Cairo, by Naguib Mafouz, a Nobel Prize for Literature winner, 1956. Like a big fat novel by Dickens, Trollope, or George Meredith, but less coy than any of those socially acceptable C19 chroniclers (Mafouz claims Flaubert as an influence) this is Victorian patriarchy with the wraps off. The vices of the central paterfamilias are right out in the open, graphic, utterly shameless and invincibly protected by his ordinary and monumental hypocrisy. His wife, devout, intelligent and gentle (and clearly Mafouz's favourite character) hasn't left the house since she married him at fourteen, and adores him in all humility. His daughters are obsessed with their marriage prospects (falling in love with a boy only glimpsed through the lattice of your balcony is no fairytale absurdity in this society: just very dangerous); his youngest son is obsessed with the British soldiers. By the end of this episode, even the father understands that the world is about to change beyond imagining . . . The story starts in 1917, and concludes (apparently) with the revolution of 1952. Full of self-knowledge and humanity, which is just what Eugenides lacks. I was fascinated, and yet I don't think I'll read any more of the story.

Enlightenment Now

Steven Pinker, 2018. A big fat book by an erstwhile cognitive psychologist and popular science writer, designed to bring comfort to the one class of people in global society who you'd think have no need for more of that commodity. For the record, it's certainly true that by many measures life on earth, right now, is a lot better than it was, for millions and millions of human beings, and the fact that we can know so much, with so little effort, about the famines, the war zones and the disasters, means the bad drowns out the good. That said "Enlightenment Now" is the work of a rather shallow and dishonest thinker, who seems to believe that climate change is a trivial problem, and "the environment" is simply a five star park he can visit (by jet plane, first class), and enjoy, from time to time. (Of course he's not alone in this one). Plus "science" is a fixed body of knowledge, established er, around the same time as that famous "Invisible Hand", that can be added to, but can't change. Gun regulation doesn't work, and has been proven to have no better results than the officious controls the anti-gun lobby tries to impose; the religion called "humanism" (a secular form of Christianity, invented in the C19- C20, by people uneasy with the envelope of miracle, but devoted to the rest of the creed) is, alone of all the sects, immune to misuse. To sum up, and most reassuringly, simply feeding the staggering appetite of the one per cent is bound to save the world. I feel impelled to add that I got sick of being continually addressed as a special interest group called "women and minorities", so I may have missed the good bits.

Black Lamb, Grey Falcon

Rebecca West,1941. This should really be called compulsive reading, not compulsory. I only meant to read the Prologue, to find out what she meant by her pronouncement on man's besetting sin of lunacy vs woman's besetting sin of idiocy. But I couldn't stop. The Black Lamb is Death, the Grey Falcon is Resurrection. Rebecca West (Cecily Fairfield)'s magnum opus is both one of the greatest travel books ever written (I love travel books), and a monumental history of the lands, fatally trapped between world-dominating civilisations, that later became our Yugoslavia, the beautiful and doomed. The history is absorbing, "Ruritanian"; often unlikely beyond belief, and absolutely fascinating, if you're taken that way. The beauty of cities like Sarajevo; the fabulous religious art in remote monasteries, deep in the flowery mountains is . . . mainly not there anymore, I'm afraid. Not a good place, in any of its manifestations, Jewish, Christian or Muslim, to be born a woman. But West (she took her pen name from an Ibsen play, a character of indomitable will) is ambiguous about that issue. She hates cruelty, but she worships strength and seems to regard being born female as the entry level of a strenuous and demanding competitive sport. At which she excels, naturally. All through the story, her admiration and respect are reserved for those women, either in the harem, or as tortured peasant wives, who do not rebel, but are hard enough to take whatever "being female" deals out.

Definitely not a cheesy rabbit.

In other news, the first clump of spawn has appeared and been removed (mostly) to quarantine until proved viable. There's a queue of clasping frog couples lined up behind the greenhouse, threatening us with far more spawn than we can handle; a small newt has also been seen in the wildlife pond (quite possibly one of the efts I reared in 2016; now full grown but still my newt). And a magpie couple has decided to nest in the cypress tree, which since they are as clever as most humans, is an unprecedented compliment to our restaurant service. The songbird clientele probably not too thrilled, however.


note 1: See Friends Episode 4:6 The birthday present too thoughtful to have come from Joey.