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It's Only A Tree. But. . .

Wednesday 17th April, mild windless air; a soft overcast, downy grey and white quilted and threadbare blue. Forsythia and Almond blossom spring-flower gardens and birdsong outside my window. Coming down from Cumbria, having been, for a week or two, as offline as humanly possible if you leave all the chargers at home, we were quite shocked when the trees remained leafless as we hit the sunny south, but now I do believe Spring has sprung. Yesterday I brought in the traditional bowl of tadpoles, and placed a rather over-powering sugary hyacinth bouquet by my bed, to replace (at last) the chaste ivy and pine of the New Year.

I kind of miss the ivy and the pine, but their turn will come round again.

With some trepidation I checked SaveOurTree, and I'm glad to report the Seven Dials Elms (although there's some controversy about "root-trimming" going on today) seems to have made it through the B&H Council's lengthy deliberations. . . So far. Don't count on it. But a small triumph, as I have said, over Mr Gradgrind, and the whole brutal project of the so-called profit-motivated, so-called aspirational mindset: the sensible life, whose only passion is hatred, and a local news story that's been a useful corrective to popular assumptions. Everybody was having fun, last month, about the spluttering and shuffling of the "Green" controlled Council of Brighton&Hove. Greens caught in the act of planning to chop down a hundred year old elm tree! One of the sacred urban elms in this last stronghold of the English Elm, for no very good reason at all! What were they thinking!!. .
Many feeble excuses and much flailing about later, the genuine explanation seems to be that our Council, lead by our Green Council leader, looked at the tree, saw nothing of particular value, and didn't realise there would be a fuss. Fine. But why didn't they realise the tree was valuable all by themselves?

Maybe the answer is that the Green Party is not now, if it ever was, the party of the Natural World. Social Justice, yes (and a very necessary role too!). But trees, now: trees have to come last. A caring, inclusive and democratic Green society will enable everyone to do valuable work, follow their interests, interact with their community and enjoy nature. A Green government will have the courage to pursue responsible solutions to our social, economic and environmental crises through its commitment to fairness, citizen participation, shared responsibility, peace and environmental protection.

I don't want to be mean, I hope the Green Party is a little more sincere than the "greenest government ever" but Dave Cameron's copywriter could easily have penned that lot.

Nightingales may still be silenced at Lodge Hill, whichever Party is pulling the trigger. Trees and little brown birds really cannot be at the forefront or in the foreground for any party aspiring to govern. There's only one way to minimise the losses: to keep these people on their toes, we have to convince them, and keep on convincing them, that trees, and little brown birds, can vote. That there IS a party of the Natural World, and honestly, it isn't altogether, or even mainly, about "Green Jobs" or "Sustaining Economic Growth Responsibly". It's about the natural world for its own sake, it's about things many people aren't prepared to sacrifice; it's just for love.

PS Dear Plashing, thanks for the electroluminescent paint link. I don't think you could get straight from this stuff to Aoxomoxoa's neurologically controlled skull mask, but it's definitely a step on the way.

Actually, back in the olden days...

Tuesday 12th March. Snow is easing now; gleams of brilliant sun outdoors. Have moved my white camellia into the greenhouse, hope I did that in time; also filled the bird feeders, but there don't seem to be many takers.

Actually, back in the olden days, before there was climate change, I remember this was the normal weather in March, in Cumbria (where we'll be in a week or two). From one day to the next, vicious cold winds and snow, then sun and all the flowers (of course, above 2000ft it could get very nasty: I remember a legendary exploit with my older sister, making our way along Striding Edge in a blizzard, and promising each other we would try to fall on the Patterdale side, because it was more human down there, although we would be dead...) I've been thinking about the traffic too. Why all this grinding to a halt? It never used to happen, not even in the eighties, when we last had a run of cold winters in Sussex. What's the difference? (Allowing that cutting down the trees that sheltered Handcross Hill wasn't a good idea*). It's purely the density. There are too many cars, and this has happened in the last twenty years. That's what makes winter weather intolerable, infuriating and all that for all the hordes of drivers. What's the solution? We need fewer cars! So simple. And stop cutting down trees!

A Conversation with FriendsLife...

Monday 11th March, snow. A healthy dusting of white deposited overnight, but now it's really snowing. It's snowing quite hard. Have made several attempts to get my son (down for the weekend) out of bed. Gabriel, it's snowing, Gabriel, there's delays at Three Bridges, Gabriel... I think he's stirring now.

A conversation with my pension provider

Been meaning to make this call for a while...

The FriendsLife website "members area" is a waste of cyberspace, or was last time I looked, I've given up on it long ago. But that's okay, what I'm doing today is only fun if I talk to a human being.

I get through at once, no nested options. Points to FL. FriendsLife wants to know how she can help me.

G: well, it's a query about something in the latest Projected Benefits Illustration your firm sent me. The wording is puzzling. Could you put me through to someone who...

FL: (resigned tone) No, no, need. I can probably help. Just tell me what your query is.

G: Oh? Really? Well, okay... It's not about figures at all, it's this bit (reads aloud) "The pension is payable every month in advance for at least five years or until you die." It's that last bit. It just sounds odd. What does it mean "Until you die"? What happens if I don't? Is someone from FriendsLife going to come around and shoot me?

FL: (It is clear that she has fielded this query often, in varying witty forms, and is tired of it) Laughs lightly. No, no! The pension will go to your next of kin until the end of five years, even if you die. Otherwise, it goes on being paid for the rest of your life.

G: Oh, good. So, if I live to 3000, FriendsLife will go on paying my pension?

FL: yes, that's right.

G: And I don't have to do anything, except keep paying my premiums, and then collect my pension?

FL: That would be right.

G (in her head): So. Would you agree that FriendsLife is using that curious wording to avoid using the term lifetime annuity, in the transparent hope that unwary pension fund investors will believe they don't already have a lifetime annuity, and, convinced by the hardsell in the rest of your mailing, will sell the money they put into their pension fund to you, and buy another product, a totally unnecessary transaction from which the firm will cream £XXXX in commission and "administrative costs"???

My admirably good-tempered friend on the other end of the line has so clearly been teased to death by sarcastic pension customers that I don't bother teasing her any further, and we part friends.

But watch out!

Torture World

Friday 8th March, unbroken grey skies, the goldfinches flirting their yellow underwings, a hen blackbird and a fat woodpigeon mooching about, picking up crumbs, a slight persistent rain, that I can see in dimpled rings, steadily forming, one by one, on the surface of the dark fish pool. It still feels springlike out there, but apparently that's not going to last.

To Amnesty meeting last night, where Kolbassia Haossou of Survivors Speak Out talked to us on behalf of his network of torture survivors and Freedom From Torture (Was: The Medical Foundation For The Care Of Victims Of Torture, but it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue). I asked him what seemed to me the obvious question: Does the therapy work? Are you free from torture now? He said no. He said if there were a delete button for the brain, he'd be the first to use it, but there isn't. You learn to live with it, but the place where you were, the things that were done; it's always there, and a chance association can put you back there in a flash. When you've been tortured you can't trust another human being, you can't love anyone, least of all yourself; whenever someone approaches you, you are sure they mean to harm you. . . Speaking for Freedom for Torture, he said, is the way I tell myself they didn't win. They did not silence me.

We live in torture world, I thought. As long as torture itself is endemic (which it is), then we all live with it, and acceptance of torture is in everything we do, everything we accept. We have all lost our ability to trust, lost our belief in each other, lost the ability to do anything but keep our heads down and ask no questions. We live in fear, that's what's killing our humanity. What is the antidote to this poison? And I thought of that movie NO!, and the laughing, dancing, absurd campaign of defiance.

Whatever anyone says, whatever Bigelow would have you believe, whatever the CIA and the UK intelligence services. . . er, well, they'd just rather you didn't think about the subject, actually, but anyway, whatever anyone says, torture is not about extracting information, it's about instilling fear. It's about showing who is Master. In Chad, everybody knows what's going on, same as they did in Chile, and everybody (or nearly everybody) keeps quiet, looks the other way, tries not to breathe too loud, never raises their eyes. The next time, it could be you. You could be taken off to the torture camp. Or your dad, your mother, your sisters, your brothers. And what if they suffer because you spoke out? So we don't speak out.

But here in the UK, tainted but not actually in danger of our lives, here's some clictivism:The reconvened Arms Trade Treaty negotiations are due to begin on 18th March. Control Arms is asking you to join in a Thunderclap action.


Drabblecast is running a month of Women and Aliens stories, one of which will be an abridged version (very nice job, by Nickyt Drayden) of my "The Universe of Things", but don't let that put you off, starts next week, check it out.

& many thanks to Ant at SF Book Reviews for his review of The Last Days Of Ranganar (aka Divine Endurance, Flowerdust edition). I'm thrilled, never thought it would get a review.


Update on the Seven Dials Elm. It's still standing, still defended but still condemned. Will Brighton & Hove's "Green" Council dare to chop down a tree that's been trending on twitter? I hope not. I hope they find some way to climb down, and the latest from the Argus sounds positive, but who knows?

Btw, ENO Traviata: I don't think the eccentricities of the production added anything at all, and the chair and a curtain setting just looked bone-idle lazy. Bizarrely, however, the music was wonderful. Corinne Winters was just amazing, electrifying, musically and emotionally, (everybody else had been forbidden to act, but even so, she was ace.)

Looking Forward To

The comet, I mean Pan-Starrs
But I bet we don't see it. Those comets, they're elusive creatures, the only one that's been any good in my life time was Hale-Bop (sp?) in 1997, which we saw when we were in Poland for Easter. That was a cracker! & what evil does the pair due to visit this year portend, I wonder. I suppose we've room for a few more.

Keynote picture is a cheat, it's the bed of sweet violets by the bus stop outside the Downs Hotel, at the Rottingdean crossroad, and meant to represent International Women's Day colours, but it's just a stand in. Our own violets are too shy.

Seven Dials Elm

Thursday 7th March, rain earlier, clearing skies at the moment.

A local scandal prompts this unscheduled post, from (sadly) someone who may soon be an ex-Brighton&Hove Green supporter... Read about it here:

And sign the petition, here, please:

There's a multiple-entry junction on a hilltop in Brighton, known as Seven Dials. Planned improvements now turn out to include felling a 100 year old healthy elm tree: and not only 100 years old and healthy, which makes it a national treasure to start with (Brighton & Hove is the last stronghold of the English Elm in the world), but even a Wheatley elm, which is even more significant. Why does the tree have to be felled? There are fears, apparently that it might reduce visibility at a pedestrian crossing. Good grief, Green Councillors. What kind of an excuse is that? Why don't you just come out and say "We like cutting trees down! We're doing it for fun!"

Why did nobody protest until the tree fellers actually arrived on Monday? Well, the main problem was, according to reliable witnesses, that our Green Council put forward their plans, in all the public consultations, without mentioning the trivial matter of cutting down this tree. So the protest was too little, too late...

So now, it's crunch time. Greens, you are in trouble. Have some sense! If you really, genuinely do not give a damn about the tree, and all that felling it implies, think about the cost to yourselves. This is an insane thing to do, under that "GREEN" banner. You cannot afford to play the fool with your support in this city, or nationally. Think again! Ignore the fact that the people who have climbed the tree to protect it look untidy, and that you don't want to encourage that kind of activism. Don't fell the tree. If there really is a problem, then redesign your crossing. Please.

keynote picture courtesy of the Brighton Argus.

Sustainable Palm Oil? No Thanks!

Wednesday 6th March, a calm day, thin quilting of grey cloud over the whole sky, balmy temperature after weeks of that icy east wind. My sky-blue crocuses have joined the gold ones, in a fine display, and there are a few sweet violets hiding by the wall. Not so much bird action in the garden this week, or maybe I've spent less time staring out of the window? No spawn action as yet, but it's due soon. Today for the first time I encountered a fine young frog sitting on the rim of the little pool. Didn't look much like a male or female in reproductive trim however.

Sustainable Palm Oil? It depends when you start measuring. The plantation should be easy to sustain, it's such a simple monoculture, but the rainforest that was there before will not be coming back, nor will the orang-utans. I've been working on my Palm Oil dependency for a while, concern triggered by a lasting attachment to the living world of Malaysia and Indonesia, finally ran up against the wall when I looked for Palm Oil free bar soap. It should be easy, shouldn't it? Ethical Products are all over the place. Does The Body Shop have a palm oil free product? No. Faith In Nature? No. Our neighbourhood artisan soapmakers, Bomb Cosmetics of Bournemouth No. Now, if you live in Australia or New Zealand, and you feel like ditching Palm Oil from your bathroom, you're fine. They've seen the damage, I suppose. Any amount of suppliers. What's the ethical consumer in the UK to do? Accept it just can't be done? Not necessarily. The highly visible and popular ethical brand Lush cosmetics has gone completely palm-oil free. So why don't the others? Could hazard a guess, but anyway, here's a couple of links for the curious:

I think the "Sustainable" Palm Oil scam is a scam, about the same level of trustworthy as the "Farm Assured" or (worse) "100%British" label, on supermarket meat. Can't argue with the argument that it's better than nothing, but I happen to want better than that. Sadly, I don't like Lush. When I walk into their very colourful shops I immediately taste the product, it's in my mouth. Not a good feeling. So it's back to Oliva (the only palm oil free soap I could find on the shelves in our local ethical giant Infinity Foods) until further notice.


Two (South) Korean movies in the last week. My son Gabriel tells me the Korean domestic movie industry is huge, and their mainstays are sugary family sagas and comedies; which is a relief to know. Both the ones I saw, however, were the usual thing, savagely violent, bizarre tales about tragically dysfunctional characters. The first was Breathless; Yang Ik-june, one of my movies-recorded-off-the-tv. A small-time gangster, actually debt collector, who dispenses with the mean phone calls and simply comes round and beats the living sh*t out of the unfortunate defaulters (which seems to work!), his horribly dysfunctional family past, and his unlikely friendship with a young girl, who comes from exactly the same background, who pretends she's bourgeois when she meets him, just to give herself a break. Wonderfully acted, intensely engaging, poetic but somewhat grim to look at. The other one was Stoker. I wouldn't say don't go to see Stoker, I definitely would not say it's a waste of your money, it's very stylish, as hackneyed American gothic goes, but if you're expecting a hip, exciting remake of Shadow Of A Doubt you're going to be disappointed, and if you know Park Chan-wook's work from Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr Vengeance or Sympathy for Lady Vengeance prepare to be underwhelmed. Engagement with the characters is set at zero, displays of emotion completely absent. Oh, wait. The bad guy, Matthew Goode channeling David Byrne in his Psychokiller suit, does about three different weird smirks!


Otter Country, Miriam Darlington. Lovely, engrossing. I bought this for Peter for his birthday. (Actually I ended up showering him with books, as I was ordering them off the internet to start with, and got scared when the first choices didn't turn up for a while). It's all about otters, Wales and England, and Scotland too of course. I cannot tell a lie, there's a lot of plashing going on here (very few voles, sadly),but also plenty of cold feet. It's great. Nature writing is allowed to be lyrical, and you just can't beat otters. I wouldn't be surprised if this ends up a bestseller.

Looking forward to reading Tubes, next. Which is the book that was slow to arrive. I assumed, given the writer's Wired credentials, that this would be gonzo journalism. Apparently it isn't, but still (or therefore) is highly reccommended.

The Firecrests

Tuesday 26th February, cold and grey, a raw, damp cold; the faint white disc of the sun appearing in glimpses where the cloud has worn into holes. A rich time for birds in the gardens, in variety: the blackbirds, starlings goldfinches,bluetits and the robins as always, but last week, when the sun came out, I saw the firecrests picking through the branches of last years buddleia for insects, on Sunday there was a greenfinch in the sycamore, and yesterday, the wrens and a pair of blackcaps (separately), and a young thrush on Val and Nicky's new raised bed, picking up little lumps of chalk, flinging them around and smacking them down, for all the world as if she had heard of these things called snails that live in rocks and are tasty, and she was just having a go... Not so good for numbers, there used to be a flock of greenfinches frequenting that sycamore, until greenfinches got that disease, and a flock of goldfinches came after them, now I never see more than five birds. Anyway, nice to see the firecrests, they are very pretty, and very confiding, apparently: not fearful of humans.

Finished a draft of Old Venus yesterday, still got to review it and fire it off. Wow what a time that took, and how much intriguing internet "scholarship" I pursued. With the consequence that I had to feature Venus as the evening star, although other alignments might, on the face of it, have made more sense. Dawn is not a time for lovers. It's pretty but too cold, and speaks of partings.
But it's okay. The orbits are so complicated, you can explain anything.


Or having watched, a surprisingly large sample of Oscar hopefuls; whereas years ago, an Oscar nomination or even rumour of same was a surefire indication that I hadn't seen the picture and didn't want to. Not sure what that implies. Anyway, besides admiring Amour from a polite distance, and absolutely loving A Royal Affair, I strongly reccommend NO. I loved this movie, so tough, so brave and cheerful, a real breath of fresh air, also loved the ars gratia artis, period production values. It really cheered me up, and maybe its not quite the ensemble piece it could have been but Gail Garcia Bernal is terrific. Go and see it! You'll never pronounce Pinochet the same way again.

Also The Painted Veil, one of my recorded-off-the-tv-guide movies, an unexpected pleasure, fine acting, shot in China and very beautiful to look at with a haunting score. Must now read some Somerset Maugham, eg The Moon And Sixpence, which Gabriel bought from the pop-up Christmas tree shop and has left here. Though I suspect the sensibility will be different.

Schadenfreude watch

Very high Schadenfreude count going on at the moment. The Pope, the Cardinal, the Lib-Dems; the Chancellor of the Exchequer (I love it that he's writing exclusively for The Sun); the interest rate. Very sad thing about this schadenfreude thing though: the very people you most deeply enjoy seeing take a p**tfall, are often taking you down with them. Ever noticed that?


The "Justice and Security" Bill (Secret Courts) They're going to carry on with this.

The Draft Communications Data Bill (government oversight of internet and email). Looks like this one is going to happen too, I'm afraid. Very mildly diluted by our protests.

And if you live in the UK and you want to preserve at least what's left of the NHS, please, please get your MP to sign this Early Day Motion before 1st April

I can barely see the keys, so Cavafy feature another time.

The Black Snake

Saturday 9th February. Cold and grey. Mouse ice, cat ice, mouse ice again on the ponds this week, but the native daffodils are in bud, far more buds than there were last year, also five crocuses in bloom, two gold, two mauve, one creamy, and you little know what a triumph that represents. Finally! I have beaten the squirrels! (I will tell you how, if you do not know, on request). I feel almost as proud as when I beat the twentyfive letter sort minigame.

Post-WWII Epigenetics

A glimmer of good news for the bees since I last wrote, and a glimmer of good news for fish stocks, with the MEP vote on the discarding of "bycatch". So little, so late. . . But never say die, nobody expected England to survive through the summer of nineteen forty, either.... If we are marked for life by the stresses our parents suffered and the joys that buoyed them up, as the science now seems to say, then my particular cadre, (whose parents fought the war against fascism, and then founded a socialist utopia on the rebound), was born infected with the belief that unlikely victories can be won, if you can just tough it out long enough, and against the worst of odds.

Which cuts both ways, of course... so here's the radioactive waste dump in Eskdale, thrown out once, possibly coming round again, championed (and why wouldn't he?) by Sellafield's top spokesperson. Were the councillors intimidated by this chilling email someone "accidentally had sight of"? Dirty tricks afoot? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe a local activist swung it, using the 38degrees template by the dastardly application of people power. Who can tell?

I wish it was not so, but our government, and all supporters of the nuclear industry, need to face facts. Nuclear power is not the solution, not in its present form. WE NEED TO USE LESS ENERGY. Go away, and come back when you know how to decommission one of your dragons. And when you're ready to put a fair, honest price on the energy they produce. Oh, and you also have to know how to avoid that unfortunate association with Weapons of Mass Destuction. Good luck.

Watching: Mainly movies recorded off the tv guide, which sometimes means great classic, but often means recent movies that didn't get us out of the house... An unlikely double bill of Contagion and Super 8 one night. I preferred Contagion. Thought Super 8 was derivative beyond absurdity. What a suck-up! I suppose if by any chance you haven't seen ET, it's a cute story. And Silent Witness is back! As preposterous as ever, if lacking the dashing Harry. Just leave out the trips to Afghanistan, please. It's embarrasing. Warzone chic is beneath you guys. Stick with with the Anthrax and the plutonium. You know it makes sense.

Looking Forward To La Traviata at the ENO. Actually, Peter bought the tickets on a very cheap deal...and then the reviews caught our attention. Hm. A Left-Wing, Brechtian, stripped down Traviata? Goodness! With no intervals and no dance numbers? Interesting! It sounds to me as if this Peter Konwitschny chap may be trying to tell the story of "the real" Marie Du Plessis, aka Alphonsine Plessis, rather than the story in the Dumas novel etc, a strange idea (I wonder if she'd thank him?). I wonder how my favourite track Di Provenza will survive, when the kindly old gent singing that golden lullaby is recast as a. . . Well, never mind. Not to give the game away, no spoilers here. If you like Grand Opera, you have to like crazy leftfield productions too & the music is apparently immaculate and wonderful.

The keynote picture is a Black Snake, of course, courtesy of monyetbesi blogspot. Apparently, the year of the Black Snake is not as bad as it sounds, which is fortunate, isn't it?

Wet Play

Friday 1st February. Chilly, and it's raining again. My cats, aged twelve and seven this year, have made this the winter of becoming indoor pets. Ginger, my older cat, has long been of the opinion that cold weather, snow and rain are for the birds, which I applaud because I like the birds, but now Milo, junior cat, has joined her in this unilateral decision. Even cats can't sleep all the time, so they tear around the house beating each other up, or else (Ginger), climb up the back of my chair, claw my shoulders, try to climb onto my head and lick my hair as I type; (Milo) they leap. He can leap quite high, and he lands quite hard, he isn't a small cat. He killed my last monitor.

Anyway, it's wet play again today, and so far I have: mended the birdfeeder that got blown down from the elm tree and restored it (via stepladder and new twine) to its branch; done some housework including a little wood-chopping in the rain; practiced piano, liking my Hadyn very much, getting frustrated with the Bach Prelude; done my greek homework; discovered that Amazon Kindle has developed a new wrinkle: in their "new sales territories" (doesn't that sound imperial!) Brazil, Japan and India, you can only get 35 percent Royalties tops, whether you have a US Tax ID or not; unless you make your books exclusive to Kindle by enrolling in KDP Select. I will hold up my hand and confess I don't get KDP Select. Maybe if I was an Indie writer I'd know. There's a huge "global fund" they're always talking about, but none of it has ever come my way or likely too... It's good for the free days, that's the only use I've found for it.

And cast a cold eye on the BBC News Headlines: In The Gambia Friday is to join the weekend club, is this the shape of things to come? Good idea, on the face of it. Four day week makes sense economically, and makes sense of the actual situation; until of course the Jedi Knights become huge, and declare that their Sabbath is a Tuesday... And today is Hejabi Day, when non-Muslim women are encouraged to take the veil. "My beauty" says (I nearly wrote simpers, but I controlled myself) the non-Muslim young lady allowing her photo to be displayed to the world "Is for my family and my partner, that's what the hejab is saying". For God's sake, kid, listen to yourself*, and you need a burqa, anyway, if that's the way you feel. Will I adopt the hejab? I covered my head in Morocco only 2 years ago, so for politeness abroad; yes. In the UK, never. I am not a woman, I am a citizen and a human being. My hair, chin and the back of my neck are as decent as anybody else's. Would I refuse under torture, or to save my son's life, say? I'll think about it... Do I understand the appeal of this gesture? Certainly I do. There's a war on. The things one keeps hearing! Appeasement is tempting.

The light has changed, the blue tits and the goldfinches already seem to be courting (ie scrapping and scampering over the scaffolding that has taken root at the back of our house; and flirting their wings at each other). And tomorrow it will be bright sunshine. Or heavy snow. Could go either way, apparently, according to our oracles. What does sun AND snow on Candlemas mean?

So, finally, I return to Old Venus.

*a comparison has been censored for being in poor taste. It involved yellow stars as a tasteful addition to outer clothing.

More Free Days for Divine Endurance Flowerdust Edition

Friday 18th January, and it's snowing outside my window, looking very pretty at the moment, but down here in Brighton the snow is not set to persist, alas.

More free days for "The Last Days of Ranganar", a reworking of Divine Endurance and its "midquel", Flowerdust, into a single narrative. You can download the ebook for free from amazon next week, 22nd-24th January, & then 2nd-4th February And that's the lot. I won't be enrolling Escape Plans (my next epub) in KDP Select. Unlike the above the epub Escape Plans will be the same as the print version, only with the lightest editing, and the print book is readily available, for modest sums; or you can buy it from me any time you like, and the money goes to an operation, originally a spin-off from Anmesty International Medical Division, that looks out for victims of torture, and helps them recover.

Spent the entire day yesterday converting EP scans to a word docx, and spraying my citrus trees with Vitax oil wash, to combat scale insect infestation (a tip from the Australians, which I embraced as more helpful than the RHS advice: ie to the effect that scale is ineradicable once established).

On mature reflection, fish oil tree spray probably should not be used indoors.

Big Aid!

Wednesday January 16th. A faint dusting of snow on Monday morning, a hard frost and a bright coloured dawn today, first hard frost we've seen here since the cold snap at the end of November. I saw on a newsstand paper, the "deep freeze" to persist until Valentine's day, but we shall see.

Big Aid! What Is It Good For?

Clicktivism I think I have a handle on. Click and sign, click and share, on a mailing by mailing basis, but no regular donations, no unreserved endorsement, as I know for a fact (facts of course readily available) that I don't by any means support all their campaigns. Other small, case-specific operations likewise: I know where I am with Compassion In World Farming. But (continuing my blog thoughts on the humanitarian aid industry, see Christmas Is A Time For Giving), what's going on now with that new, improved faith hope and charity based benevolent religion "Human Rights"? Supposed (like Islam, btw) to replace the flawed Christianity model;founded in the UK, Western Europe, and the US, in the post-WWII Age of the Liberal State; and now on the brink, or over the brink, of going global: escaping from the dwindling shadow of the so-called West, the way Christianity burst out of a small corner of the Eastern Mediterranean basin.

From the Acts Of The Apostles to the mighty Mediaeval Papacy in five or six decades, that's really quite an achievement: but there are costs, and some may say the costs have been considerable. Humanitarian Aid for a war-torn African nation can end up in the cynical hands of the combatants, allowing them to prolong the agony for their own advantage. Skilled, courageous professional volunteers can end up the dupes of the perpetrators of genocide. Closer to our own time, uncomfortably close indeed, the work of "Western" Aid Agencies can be implicated as tools of a "Western" occupying army, with predictable, devastating results, both immediate and enduring. Better by far then, in future, for the aid concept to be visibly and actually independent of the White West. The movement has move, bodily, to the places where it can be genuinely important. And maybe make whatever compromises are necessary; to be seen as a valid organisation, and have influence under local conditions. It's been done before, and it worked (sort of, partially, but better than nothing). You start by being crucified and thrown to the lions...exhilerating but tricky in terms of expanding the operation. You become Caesar! Problem solved!

But is globalization on the international corporate model really the answer? No longer one of the problems, but the big solution? The logo, the brand, the landmark offices, the impressive, macho CEO salary? Financial gain, economic growth and territorial expansion, as the measures of success? Last Saturday I was at an Extraordinary General Meeting, where the UK section of probably the world's most respected Human Rights organisation debated (essentially) these issues. They're all doing it. Going global is the big idea in charities all round, but I came away unconvinced.

I'm thinking about it, and meanwhile I'm reviewing my own modest list of regular donations. Giving is a nice thing to do. I'll hold up my hand, yes, I find it a pleasurable activity. But I don't want to be one of those charitable ladies who just likes knitting socks for the Poor Black Babies, and doesn't want to know whether the Poor Black Babies actually need the socks. Or whether the socks are even getting to the babies...Or how much it costs to run the company that handles the export. Or any of that.

I'm looking for horizontal-style payscales, I'm looking for human rights defenders "on the ground" already. Small operations, start-ups, maybe that idea about micro-investments?

Not that I'm giving up on the big hitters, not at all. I'm just, like I say, reviewing the situation.

Watching Went to see Les Miz last night. It was okay, although I'm glad I didn't pay for the stage show. A few problems, such as being very, very long, too many lashings of artificial squalor on the giant stage sets, having no good tunes (not even I dreamed a dream, in my opinion), and far to much conviction that there's nothing so dreadful a few candles and a chap in a white lacy frock won't put right. But it was a fine spectacle, with knowing that Victor Hugo did, really and truly, get his hands dirty in the 1848 affair, providing an assist. Tom Sutcliffe in the independent (I think) complained Les Miz makes le peuple in their poverty, and on the barricades, look rather horrid. Hm. He doesn't know much about revolutions, that's all I can say.

The New Ik

Friday 11th January, very pretty day (first time I've been able to say that in a while): blue sky, white cloud, calm and chilly. Peter, from Lewes, reports The Railway Land is flooded deep today, all the streams running strongly, and some new opportunistic streams charging about too. The Ouse brimming its channel through town and the tide still rising. But that's why The Railway Land is there, and there'll be no trouble.

News Flash! The Institute of Arts and Ideas has released a video of the very interesting and entertaining Philip Pullman panel on Fantasy, from their "How The Light Gets In" Festival, and would love you to watch it. I'm on the panel too, but don't let that put you off:

Climate Change, Is It A Real Threat?

At first I was bewildered by climate change deniers. How wouldn't the huge presence of the human race, all that mass and heat and chemical activity, be changing the planet's climate? That's like agreeing there's an elephant in the living room, but insisting it's isn't taking up any space.

Then I felt resigned: It's human nature, innit, naturally they don't want to get off the gravy train, they'll wake up in time. Then I found them cynical: all these people who keep saying "how arrogant to think humans can change nature!" (for God's sake), and "it's just natural cycles" know fine well what's going on, of course they do. They just think the bad stuff will only happen to poor people, far away.

Now I don't know what to think. This is insane! The old hippie expression "freaked out" might best describe my state of mind.

Not to worry, children. Listen to Matt McGrath over at the BBC. He'll calm you down. Keep spending, keep driving your cars, preferrably at least two each! It's all very confused, so probably everything's fine!

The War On Women:

Isn't Africa worse than India?
Africa isn't a country, but the point bears discussion. Leaving aside places where women's rights aren't even considered, are there countries/cultures in the former so called Developing World (the World Of The Future) where women's rights are not under attack? This is not a competition, nb. It's a holocaust.

Not entirely unrelated to my first topic, I see a "scientific" study has "proved" that Chinese born since 1979, ie under the one-child policy, are damaged goods, "less trusting, more risk averse, more pessimistic"; leading to the conclusion (I hazard a guess) that the policy is antisocial, and can be dropped.

Funny thing, apart from the "risk averse" (!) you could say much the same about the same UK generation, born since 1979, and call it the Thatcher effect. Could it be that vicious, rampant neo-capitalism has been damaging China's kids too? What do you think?


Rio Bravo, with Gabriel. Not new to either of his parents, of course, but it's still very watchable, in all its limpid, Right-thinking simplicity. How good Dean Martin is in this movie! & I love his singing voice, soft as butter. Downside is Angie Dickinson's shamelessly Bacall-stealing role as the nameless girl, esp that very creepy last scene, when she dresses up so pretty in her revealing showgirl uniform, allegedly* for the pure joy of hearing Big John Wayne tell her that he now owns her body, and will not allow skimpy attire.
*Metareading shows us that Angie's undress also benefits the cinema audience...

Also watching: Alec Guinness version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, to be followed by Smiley's People, boxed set I bought for Peter. Brilliant. I now despise the 2011 movie's money-no-object C21 lovingly recreated period detail forever.This shabby, muted world looks like what I remember it looked like, when I was there. Or am I just remembering tv of the Eighties? Interestingly, I don't really recall a single scene, but vividly recall the nesting dolls credits and the Nunc Dimittis theme tune.

John Le Carre fest continues in reading matter. Currently, The Honourable Schoolboy (which the BBC were too cheap to film) is keeping me post-festively happy. Nice and fat. Like Dickens, only with tradecraft.

Troubling signs of Zelda addiction: looking out of my window, and seeing a whirl of seagulls, circling over Racehill, I think Ooh! Big Octo!

keynote image is just random, one from my search for cover design inspiration, for the epub of Escape Plans and Kairos, since I can't, I suppose, use the scribbled "tear in the fabric of the universe" from the original Kairos cover, which would be ideal. A work in progress.

Twelve Days

Tuesday 8th January (& Elvis Presley's birthday, I believe), still very mild, grey and humid, but a little light in the sky this morning for a change. And so farewell, another festive season. I love Christmas, it's so steeped in ritual in my small world: the pre-Christmas present buying, the holly scrumping, the bringing of the green wood into the house, the over-indulgent meals we will eat, the people who will share them, the losses and absences, even final absences, we will regret. The way Ginger adores Christmas, and Milo hides away, believing the season is a plot against his life. Like genre fiction, it's not what happens, it's how it happens this time. The foraged-chestnuts chestnut pavé worked better than usual; Ham Night was varied by Gab (as distinct from our Gabriel) having decided he's finally a total vegetarian; and next year Gwyneth will buy the cheese, from the Sausage Shop, not from Sainsbury's and the board will not include "Blue Wensleydale with Cranberries" or similar monstrosities... The watching of The Muppet Christmas Carol, to reaffirm our committment to being good, and doing good; or at least trying. The obligatory model-making, better not be too demanding in my case (see above, that's my butterfly) The tv we will mean to watch and mostly miss (Tove Jansson Arena programme was the star). Like a powerful dream, it's a reboot. It refreshes the mind, at least for a while. And now to begin again.

Two Movies About Life And Death... But Mostly Death*

I saw Haneke's Amour the week before Christmas, alone, and wasn't as affected as I thought I would be. The first passages were terrifying, because that's how I'm sure it will be for me. We'll be pottering along, Peter and I, our powers diminishing gently, nothing too scary, and then one day (one night, probably) BAM! Whatever happens will happen, our life will be over, our death will begin... Once Anne had hit her wall, everything was too familiar, a road I've followed too recently, and it's a trudge. Honestly? For the last hour I was clockwatching. Almost as if I couldn't appreciate Haneke's icy method, without the usual adjuvant of cruel perversity (I suppose Death By Old Age took on that role). But I did like the pigeon, so insouciant (who?) had the honour of being the only free spirit in sight. Like that falling apple shot in Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, I bet everyone will remember that pigeon. To Georges it was his wife, of course. He could catch her, he could hold her, but he didn't know what else to do with her, and by the look of her tired smiles, by the way she lived around him in that very interior life, before disaster struck, he'd never known.

What do women want? It's a mystery, allegedly, and the hero of the tale is the one who finally guesses the elusive answer. What a woman wants is her own way! Well, as Joanna Russ used to say, that's your way of looking at it. Maybe what women want is not to be owned; not to be possessed. Self-determination.

The Life Of Pi, was a fabulous spectacle, a splendid Xmas outing. Do I feel differently, now I happen to know it was the movie the couple in that cause celebre gang-rape in Delhi had just seen, before they boarded the fatal bus, with the six Jack-the-Rippers? Can't be helped, of course I do: I focus on different colours, different shadows. I see that the only female human being with a speaking part in "Pi", is defined as a wife and mother, who very swiftly gets changed into a dumb, helpless animal anyway, and then gets tortured to death. I see the way a thrilling, powerful movie "about the human condition" is naturally going to be about a man, a young man surviving terrifying trials, an old man facing death... If it was about a woman, it would be minor, and either a feminist movie, or a woman's movie (and don't you dare try to tell me different).

I feel differently about the final tagline too. "Which version do you prefer?" asks Pi, the teller of tall tales, and of course, like his listener, we're all inclined to answer, with one voice "The one with the tiger in it!". The company of a terrifying, utterly savage beast, even a beast that shares our soul, seems a small price to pay for a world full of glorious, awe-inspiring, sublime spectacle...**

It's a point of view. When set alongside the story of the six Jack-the-Rippers, acting in concert apparently, in a single city, and not feeling too out of place, by all accounts, in their views at least, if not their actions, the Man as Tiger option app doesn't look so attractive. Does it?

I knew twenty years ago; no, longer, twenty five, that when the struggle for women's rights really hit the so-called Developing World, all hell was going to break loose. That reprisals would be intimate and savage. (I was just a westerner, an ex-pat in south east asia, a tourist in India, but it wasn't hard to work out. Eve-teasing isn't a new phenomenon, you know). I wrote about this horrible coming storm, bigged-up with sf politicial fantasy in The Aleutian Trilogy, realisticallyin Life, and worked alongside international activists, the women who fought, passionately, to convince Amnesty International that Women's Rights were Human Rights. Inspired by two courageous and eloquent West Africans at a Women's Action conference) we got Amnesty to recognise Female Genital Mutliation as torture, and put FGM on the agenda as a campaigning issue, which was a big deal at the time. (Ironic, huh? As everyone knows, caring traditional parents can get their little daughters tortured with ease, at many shiny, respectable UK clinics these days).

And where have I been since? Taking a long break. The point came when I realised Amnesty International could defend women's rights, could proclaim (as it does), that domestic and economic rights are as vital as public and political rights, and that states must protect all their citizens; but could not become a radical feminist organisation, and trying to force it into that role would do more harm than good. We'd achieved what could be achieved, so I dropped back into the rank and file. You take things as far as you safely can, you stop hustling, and make do. That's my story... I think the same could be said for a lot of women, in the privileged world, in the last couple of decades. Dropping back, dropping back. Seeing things slide, seeing gains lost, and still keeping quiet. Smiling politely and slipping out of the room, when asked to approve of the lap-dancer tendency in our own communities. Making accommodations, while all the while, in the BRIC countries, in the Middle East, and maybe especially in South Asia, other women were fighting and dying for the right just to walk down the street. For the rights "I" (that's the feeling) had told them were human and ordinary, and well within their grasp... But the tiger does not agree, and the tiger knows no restraint. You can't tell a tiger it's unthinkable to shoot a fifteen year old schoolgirl in the head, for saying she wants to go to school.

You can't tell a tiger it's beyond the pale to unleash a lethal drone program against civilians, against children, either. The tiger won't listen, can't listen.

That tiger just has to go. Cost what it costs.

The last three thousand or so real, live, flesh and blood "Richard Parkers" wouldn't miss him. Man as Tiger is a devil to any beautiful animal worth money dead.

Utopian demands are cheap and fruitless. In the real world, where absolutes do not apply, I'm left feeling that there's been a betrayal, and I have been part of it,, and I don't know what to do.

But this isn't about me. Self determination. The future isn't about "me" or anyone like me. The situation for women and girls, getting savagely attacked for being uppity, in India, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, is far more frightening, far more dangerous, than, say, it would have been in the UK in the ninteenth century. That cannot be denied. It doesn't, however, mean things are getting worse. It means things are getting better. Savagery towards women and girls is being forced into the open, and I feel the same way about that as I did about the Women's Rights Are Human Rights campaign, long ago. It looks very bad, but it's got to be a good thing. A culture has to get sick before it gets well. Horrific injustice is protected, behind the closed doors of the "home". It has to be seen and recognised as injustice, before it can be shamed and outlawed.

So, anyway. I ought to get back to polishing my Wayward Botany story now, but I worked on it all yesterday, and I have to go to see the dentist in a couple of hours. I think I'll prune my citrus tree instead. I've been promising that overgrown indoor tree a haircut and some thinning for ages.

This tree is not a keynote of the year tree. It's just an incidental tree, one of a pair of venerable, and wayward, ginger birches, guarding the entrance to a cave under a sandstone outcrop, in a part of the Ashdown Forest near Hartfield (home of the Anchor Inn, as BAL fans may remember) where we got lost on Sunday, failing to find the Roman Road, under a lightless sky, in dropping mist, far too much mud; still, it was good to get out.

*the quote is from The Independent & was originally "about love and death but mostly death" But I changed it.

** All references are to the Ang Lee movie, nb, and excellent performances from Suraf Sharma and Iraf Khan. In print the teller of tall tales was far too pleased with himself, a party bore. It was the wondrous CGI, the virtual movie-making, that made his survival story glorious.

Dark Skies, Vivid Dreams

Saturday 29th December, cool but not cold, thick grey skies darkening towards sunset. I wake early these dark mornings, plagued by indigestion (but no hangovers as yet: I've become too sensible), brooding on terrible wrongs (that girl in Delhi, gangraped by "Eve Teasers" died today, eg) and fall asleep to dream of strange, beautiful animals that I try to collect. The bird with the long sinuous black neck, with the fluttering white streamers. The very peculiar little pondlife creatures, little homunculi with no heads... Dark skies and intermittent heavy rain, seems like all through the Christmas season. We live on a hill, and I haven't heard of any flooding, not nearer than Barcombe Mills, where we go to the Anchor Inn in summer and hire boats on the river; and where the river regularly invades the bar of the Inn in winter. Our closest brush with the weather etc chaos effects being a dash to Haywards Heath, Saturday a week ago, to rescue Gabriel who had been trying & failing to get home from London since the day before. Haven't left the house much, except to scrump holly (very meagre harvest, very pleasant to be in the cool grey woods, inspecting Badger Cities and listening to the birdsong); visit friends, and to walk in King Death's Garden, a suitable and nostalgic place, in melancholy weather like this. Glaucous grey-green snowdrop spears pierce the dead leaves on the Lime Walk, the koi drift calmly in the Water Feature by the chapel-of-ease.

I've been having a little contretemps with Amazon over the listing of the Divine Endurance/Flowerdust single narrative edition (or at least I think I have). It gets listed on searches & other national sites, but not on Why not? I attempted to investigate, using the Kindle Help tools, and was informed: "We reserve the right to make judgments about whether or not content is appropriate; this can include the cover image or the content within the book. We have found your Kindle book contains mature content and it will not surface in our general product search results." Mature content? Oh, of course, adult content. There must be a special bot that objects to bare breasted women on a cover! (Not so, actually). But, no point in giving offence for whatever reason, so I uploaded a plain cover.. It didn't work, and the personalised response I got (taking the Help tools up as far as they go) revealed "Beatrice K" if human, is a human who can't read. Intrigued, I contemplated trying to outfox the glitch, but life is too short & I've restored the fine art cover. You should be able to find it here, some time soon:

We went to see The Life Of Pi yesterday, in 3D, and it's magnificent, wonderful, absolutely magical, expecially Richard Parker; and incredibly true to the book too. The storms at sea terrified me, but what terrified me more was the way the animals, such a riotous vivid parade of them in the opening passages, looked not real but hyper-real, as if such wild diversity was already pure fantasy. And then of course, by the end, there are no animals at all, they've all vanished, only people, ie Mankind* left to tell the tale.

New Year's resolutions? I resolve to hope. I hope this hedgerow ash will still be green next spring. Click through for the defra map of the current stage of the dieback outbreak, and you will note that the overwhelming majority of sites west of Edinburgh, on a north-south line, have been discovered in new plantings. Artificially introduced, in other words. The natural spread has barely begun. I hope the fracking bonanza in the UK gets stalled before it begins. I hope our stunning ability to do good continues to have that tiny, micro-fractional edge on our talent for hideous deeds. & that we don't get to find out what the Invasion of Poland looks like, in this uber-war we're fighting, without recognising its dire import. I hope.

This is probably my closing entry for 2012, so here's my final tree, appropriately dressed. Click through for a seasonal story about failing to know when you are well off & it's time to get out of the casino.

Happy Christmas

Torrential rain, announcements...

Thursday 20th December. Dark morning turning to dark afternoon, torrential rain all through the night, still falling now. The Forever War? Nope. It isn't over, not yet, there's still one last battle to be fought, with those helpful people who have been providing the weaponry, and don't want the war to end, ever. There must be an aphorism for this, or a historical reference, but I can't quite turn the phrase. We're here because we're here. It's so army, and maybe next year.

Meanwhile, the archive for Melissa Appleton's Writtle Calling, the Pop-Up radio station in Essex marking a historic anniversary back in September, is now up. Follow the link and you can hear us all, including me (Sunday 16th September Part One) reading aloud from Band Of Gypsys. I love the way these broadcasts just begin, randomly, suddenly blossoming out of the ether, no explanation, no preamble.... Same effect at the time, of course. Anyway, it was fun.

And let me add to the chorus of those announcing Garry Kilworth has published his travel memoirs, which should make great reading, so hurry along and buy On My Way To Samarkand.

Watching: And so farewell, Sarah Lund. You will be missed. By the last episodes I was cheerfully ignoring the way the plot jolted and swayed, bits falling off in every direction, as we bounced over holes that could have buried a container truck, in the rush to the finish. And ticking off the reprises with delight. The Crucial Campaign Car! The Old Family Retainer, leaping into the prime suspect place. Did the butler do it again? I suppose I'd better not tell you. But I liked the Norwegian fijords much better than that stupd trip to Afghanistan in II. Cheaper, too.

& of course, the two vaccillating princes of Denmark (State and Commerce), faced with unbearable atrocity, were unable to decide, right to the line, whether to take the moral option, or the more attractive one. J***s C****t. Just like real life, eh?

Unbelievable. I have no words.

Late in the coming on Christmas day, yesteday, in the dark and the rain, the three of us went out Christmas tree buying, because Peter was struck with Tree Anxiety, and couldn't wait. Bought it from the Pop-up tree market in a semi-closed secondhand furniture emporium on the Lewes Road. Nordman or something, they call them. We prefer the gentler fir-green and the softer outline of the old model spruce, but were too late. The market was also selling secondhand books (why not?) and I picked up, for 80p, a little hardback anthology Another World Than This, published in 1945, Michael Joseph, a perfectly lovely piece of book; the collection compiled by Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson.

Lined coat, warm cap and easy felt slippers,
In the little tower, at the low window, sitting over the sunken
Body at rest, heart at peace; no need to rise early.
I wonder if the courtiers at the Western Captial know of these
things; or not.

Po Chu-I (772-846) trs Arthur Waley