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Divine Endurance Flowerdust Edition

Mild, dry morning, pewter and silver-gilt sky. The mild weather means no birds, they're a regular temperature gauge, but the squirrel is busy out there, upside down and precarious, scoffing freebies. I'm waiting here at my desk for the news that the dreadful Forever War (You remember? My family's interactive gothic novel, the one with all the Dickensian lawyers in it) is finally over. Not a victory, and the people who most mattered are gone, anyway, but not a defeat either, and (with the proviso that there's always been another turn of the screw before when I've thought this), just maybe, I really will be home for Christmas this time.

Mysterious, eh? More to the point, the new, single narrative Divine Endurance (including the Flowerdust story) is free on Kindle today. So if you're reading this, and you have a device, do try it.

More later...

Christmas Is A Time Of Giving

All week I've been watching the birds in the frosty garden, goldfinches squabbling, thrushes and blackbirds bullying the bluetits (I am sorry to report); starlings bullying all parties, and all of them preferring the fastfood buttered crumbs to the healthy Wild Bird Seed Mix. Hm. Since they're here, and clearly hungry, I think I'm going to succumb to temptation and buy them some live mealworms for Xmas. It'll be fun. But today all change, rain and wind sweeping by my window. It must be a wild day further north, if it's like this in Sussex.

I see my entry in Aqueduct's review of 2012 looks outlandishly gloomy compared with some of the recommended reading etc provided by others. Oh, well, I'm not alone, and I can't help it anyway. My first study was history, fuelling a lifelong passion for "knowing where the bodies are buried". It's not my fault that so often, digging into what really happened in this world means that's what you're literally going to find. It's worth it, in my opinion, because along with those awful "distressing images" you learn that people in Sierra Leone, people in Argentina really are no different from you. Dispelling the ugly feeling that someone who's had her hands and feet cut off by her rapists is somehow another kind of animal, she can't be a young woman who thinks and feels, likes jazz, wanted to be a doctor... Another very good excuse is that I'm reacting against David Cameron's highly scientific social engineering by suggestion, (aka The Nudge Unit) telling me that the way to be happy is just to ignore the bad things. Just don't think about them!

"My colleagues and I have found that people tend to discount the relevance of undesirable information to themselves (such as news that alcohol is bad for your liver) but readily adopt good news (being told that red wine is good for the heart). So when smokers see warning signs on cigarette packets they think: "Yes, smoking kills - but mostly it kills the other guy." At the same when we hear the housing market is going up we think: "The value of my house is going to double!"Using brain imaging techniques we discovered that the tendency to discount bad news is related to how well regions of the frontal lobe are coding unexpected negative information.Now, you may think that discounting bad news can get people into trouble - for example, causing us to smoke more and save less. There is some truth to this, but it is also good for our mental health. Our research shows that the successful incorporation of bad news is related to depression. Discounting bad news, as most of us do, presumably allows us to keep a rosy view of the future, and while this view is not necessarily realistic it does keep us happy."*

Not to mention the new gospel in Downing Street: David Cameron's big plan to convince me that MONEY is actually all we need in life, and all we should strive for. Whereas "love" and "beauty" and all that has been overrated.

Ever had the feeling you were living in a thirties sci-fi story? Aldous Huxley couldn't have made this up.
And you are getting sleeeepy! sleeeeepy! Sleeeeepy!

Anyway, for the record, my best non-fiction (which means popular science about Mathematics, since that's been my drive for 2012), was Why Beauty Is Truth, Ian Stewart. Now joined by The Nothing That Is, Robert Kaplan. This book gets such grumpy reviews on amazon, I was almost put off. Don't be! It's wonderfully free-ranging, entertaining, discursive, a real "natural history" of the extraordinary development and apotheosis of a sign that just meant leave a space here, or, we haven't got any, in Babylon, long ago. The chapter on mathematical function is brilliant. I only worked through a very few of the examples, as I am so slow. But knowing that I, even I, could work through his examples gave me immense confidence; and respect for Kaplan.

For the record #2 I am so glad Price won the Turner Prize. She's proper. The other three nominees were, as is de rigeur I suppose, just purely nincompoops. Three different varieties of frolicking Art World nincompoops (IMHO)

Christmas is a time of giving, which is why I made sure to watch the Why Poverty series programme on the devastating truth about Humanitarian Aid In Conflict Zones, from Biafra to Kosovo. Wow. Seeing how it all went horribly wrong, gathered together in one place, is salutary, or indeed gob-smacking. We want to think that Aid Workers are better people than ourselves, that we can just hand them our money, and sigh with relief and get on with our lives. But they're not. They're just people like us: desperate to DO SOMETHING; plunging into action as a sedative for the awful pain of seeing so many bad things happen to the innocent and helpless; given iresistible license by mass support, and getting rightly fooled, abused, and shamefully prostituted by every warlord in sight, from Goma to Tony Blair and co in Iraq. Ah, well. The big charities have changed their model, so lets hope it won't happen again. Much.

Medecins Sans Frontieres came out relatively well, on the when you're in a hole stop digging meter, which is what I would have expected. And here's another few names for me to conjure with, at this magical time, right now. Anita Haidary, co-founder of Young Women For Change, Afghanistan (Do Not Send Money. Don't send money to anyone. Write a letter instead). Professor Jasmin Nario-Galace, of the campaign for a small arms treaty. Katherine Quarmby, investigating violence against disabled people. But there are so many of them, the people who refuse to close their eyes. The more you look the more you find. Good to know. And I'm feeling less sleepy already...

The keynote image, gloomy as my reputation, is a November oak tree, last Sunday, just outside Butcher's Wood, on the way to Clayton. More on the trees next post.

*this no doubt explains why the government's go-ahead for fracking, announced yesterday, spent very few hours on the BBC front page, and then vanished. It won't make gas cheaper. It involves horrible, devastating strip-mining all over your beautiful country, all in order to squeeze out a fraction more of the poison that's going to send your grandchildren straight to hell. Okay, this is all undeniable, it's true. But it will make our pals rich, and we like that. And anyway, see, it's gone! Just don't think about it, and everything will be fine!

Divine Endurance epub: The Flowerdust Version

Brilliant stars last night, this morning the hardest frost so far, white roofs and a red sky (ie a peach suffused with crimson sky, fading quickly to a gold on cloudy indigo glow that looked like snow on the way). A small cold rain followed, and now bright sunshine. Bird action continues lively, blue tits, great tits, goldfinches, the robins, one female blackcap, the four male blackbirds that hang out together (or maybe four new blackbirds?);and today, a gang of starlings, adults and a few of this year's juveniles descended on the elm tree feeder for some vigorous hoovering. Me, watching all this studiously while making mince pies for the Amnesty Write for Rights day on Saturday (If you're in Brighton&Hove please come along to ours, it's at the Friends Meeting House, Saturday 8th Dec, 1-5pm. Live music, mince pies and so on, and you get to write a few greetings cards to people who will be very grateful).

It's good news week on the BBC, MPs have "resoundingly" thrown out Cameron et al's attempt to scrap the Human Rights Act. And George Osborne's devastating fracking bonfire plan looks increasingly unstable... Well, okay, I admit I'm struggling with that 2nd good news item and can't find a third, but at least I've managed to get the single volume version of Divine Endurance and Flowerdust up and running on Kindle at last. After tearing hair for days over the last two chapter links. l finally coaxed Peter to lay his eagle eye on the code, and he spotted the bit I could safely delete (same in both cases) almost at once. [In my humble experience, delete something is usually the answer when the html goes bad on you. This ranks third in my stellar computer-savvy toolbox, right after switch everything off at the wall & start again, or that miracle cure, hit the refresh button).

Anyway, now I've finally got that sorted, I've arranged for the new and revised single narrative to be available as a free download on 18th-19th December. I'm pleased with it, I think you should try it, and of course (through gritted teeth), feedback on flaws and coding errors very welcome.

Watching Just caught up with the end of The Secret Of Crickley Hall. Excellent. Classic ghost story, sentimental without becoming too mawkish, played dead straight by the adult leads, one of whom is the always watchable Suranne Jones; wonderful child-acting on the part of the two sisters. Or child-directing, but I suspect that's more a case of not-directing)

And perservering with The Killing III, on we've started so we'll finish grounds. I think it's better as it goes on, but on the other hand, so many scenes are so achingly familiar. The beleaguered politican charges up and down the corridors of power, faithful female sidekick clutching her documents by his side. Lund's partner and treacherous "love interest". OMG! is he working for Special Branch??? OMG has he been part of the sinister gov. cover-up, all along? Oh, and now it's that blood-stained mattress, hidden in the back of the derelict storeroom.... This is where it was done!. Is there an over-reaching plot, about to reveal that the same high-rankin perp is responsible uncannily, for the unsolved sexual torture murders of young girls, hinted at in the first series? Maybe our beleaguered PM himself?? Or is there some other, darker, reason why the Three Lunds begin to seem indistinguishable?

Haven't caught up with The Hour or The Fear yet. But I have taken The Song Of Achilles out of the library, so I'll be up to speed on the new Mary Renault/Rosemary Sutcliff "Slash for Ancient History fans" soon.

The keynote photo is not a tree, it's wild clematis in winter, like snowfall, beside Butcher's Wood, admired on our way to visit the stunning Mediaeval paintings in Clayton Church last Saturday. More of that later.

Turning Compost In The Cold Rain

Thursday 29th November, a bright and chilly day; frost on the roofs at seven; bird action in the garden all morning, a pair of bluetits feeding on the flowerless, but still green jasmine tangle by our kitchen door, great tits and bluetits on the wooden elm tree feeder, and squabbling over access to the nijer feeder, which isn't really for them at all. Only one goldfinch, which they scared off. This time last year nb we had no customers at all, which I take to mean the birds just aren't finding the countryside-autumnal 2012 very bountiful. Turning compost in the rain on Sunday, mud all around and a lot of shovelling (my back still hurts), and such worms! Great lively boluses of them, I could have picked up a worm-ball in my hand, but I didn't. Two large sacks of compost plus one of pure loam. And what'll we do with our riches? It occurs to me, for years now if our nemesis has been slugs and snails, our top garden success story has been worms. They flourish like the green bay tree. Not exactly our intention... Is our midden telling us something about the human condition? Swamped in its own rich rubbish?

Energy bills, what to do? For a long time we've been an EDF for Gas and Good Energy for Electricity household, on the grounds that there's no such thing as "Good" gas, but we've been thinking it over, which lead to wondering exactly what gas tariffs are available, and brought me to another OH! I SEE! moment. Here I am, at the website for Energy Supplier x, that's easy. So what do they charge? What could be a more reasonable question than that? So I look, I look, and suddenly I get what the fuss is about. The bxxxers aren't going to tell me. They just won't. Not a chance. None of them, it's amazing. For tariffs, you have to go to those Comparison Sites, and here at least the situation is clear and simple. First, we will strip-mine you for personal data. Then, we will let you in the door... We are currently planning to switch to a dual fuel deal with the Good guys, which will cost a little more, but supposedly means some of our money will go to developing clean-sourced household gas, and besides, their site is angelic. Dunno if this was quite Mr Cameron's intention, but it works for me.

We can tell EDF we're quitting because they are investing in new UK nuclear reactors, heheheh, but in fact what really annoys me is seeing the Nuclear option called "Green", in any context & even by the incorrigible La Belle France. I won't stand for that sort of cheek.

We don't need to swop fossil fuel emissions for plutonium, that makes no sense. Nothing, as yet, not even seaborne wind farms, makes any real sense. We need to USE LESS ENERGY. Invest in finding out how, and you have me on your side.

Reading: Edge Of Infinity, Jonathan Strahan's new anthology, which arrived this week. A pretty good collection of stories, if I say so myself (one of them is mine). For this one I want sf stories set in the Solar System, said Jonathan. Colonised if you like, BUT the rule is NO novel technology, No fantasy-science, just the resources we have now. Okay, fine... Just the resources we could rustle up right now. It turns out I'm the only contributor who took the brief literally, which for me gives "4th generation sf" a kind of retro air, but no harm in that. Very true to state of the form, really. Anyway, a highly enjoyable collection. (Warning: following the link will lead you to spoilers. Me, I like discursive sf reviews, which pretty much means I like spoilers, I admit. Especially, I cannot tell a lie, when the reviewer is nice to me).

Also, got a preview of the cover for Athena Andreadis and Kay Holt's forthcoming anthology, The Other Half Of The Sky & it's very pretty. Which I have in fact already read. The stories are all, in one way or another about women, and/or feature a female protagonist. Maybe not a new idea, but it's worth it, and it still works. Probably another example of "4th generation sf". A lot of trees, I noticed. Or maybe it was just a few mighty tree and asteroid-forest stories, but it seemed like more. Trees in Space. Mmm.

The keynote photo is Clementina's weeping ash, again, because I like it. Bare of leaves now, of course. But at least this beauty, and all the young windsown ashes at the same site, are sound and clean. So far.

I Spoiled My Ballot

Monday 19th November, a clear morning at seven, darker now. The long-tailed tits on the elm tree and the maple again, how very small they are, and how lively and pretty and insouciant. I hope they're finding what they want, and that they'll make ours a regular venue. Yesterday, bright and clear and mildly chilly, we walked out from Lancing to Coombes. Draggled Old Man's Beard in the hedges; not a very good year for berries in Sussex, but vintage autumn colour. In the hollow way down to Coombes church I stopped to listen to a robin, in an astonishing glory of yellow-gold maple leaves, above me, all around and under foot. Last time we passed this way, records show, was in 2006, so it was a relief (one always expects the worst these days) to find Coombes church where we had left it, tiny and humble, with its bellcote no bigger than a beehive at the West End. We sat for a long while watching a sparrowhawk, perched on the bellcote, until she flew off, probably annoyed at us for nattering and scaring the game. The church restored since our last visit, and thanks to the work of Ann Ballantyne, their wall painting conservator, the fragmentary paintings more vivid, and (a bit) easier to make out. The earliest, and best of them, date from about twenty years after the Conquest. What a riot early mediaeval churches were! And then on to the South Downs way, which passes above Coombes through a large free range Pig City these days. What splendidly untidy animals pigs are, so human in their capacity for making a heap big mess and frolicking in it. How cheerful they seemed, with their crowds of commensal starlings, trotting in and out of their barrel-houses, and watching us with interest. The sun was going down, and as we turned towards the sea the wintery grass ahead of us was full of gossamer, skeins and skeins of it, strung quivering and silvery between the grasses. So much of it and so fragile we were mystified, until crouching down to ankle level revealed the presence of tiny, tiny green spiders, the creators of this ephemeral art work. There must be hundreds of thousands of them up there. It's easier to get away from the feeling of the conurbation if you head east from Brighton, but westward and up onto the downs there's a different beauty, especially approaching sunset on a bright winter day, with a quarter moon straight above, getting whiter and whiter in the deepening blue, a wide sunset sky, and the Channel all flat washes of aquamarine and silver. Walking into this frame, with the silver leads of gossamer rippling away from the path at my feet, like distant frail reflections of the high fair-weather clouds that dappled the sky, made me think somehow of Seamus Heaney's poem A Kite For Michael and Christopher (scroll down). Something about, the gossamer of happiness, (or joy?) being anchored to the strumming, rooted, long-tailed pull of grief?

Anyway, I spoiled my Police Commissioner ballot. An APB went out from 38 Degrees that day, imploring us all to vote, to save the police from privatisation. But I reviewed all the Sussex candidates' answers to that question, and none of them said no, definitely not. Specially not the Labour guy, and besides, this is Sussex. I knew who was going to get in. I've got a feeling about these Police Commissioner elections. I think there was no cock-up, not at all: they happened just the way they were supposed to happen. Under the radar. David Cameron is very happy with a low turn out, all he wanted to was to get the mechanism in place for making the interior security forces into what he wants them to be. Answerable to political bosses and the profit motive, not to the public. And he's done it.

First the butter, then the guns. It's worked before, it'll work again.

No, the keynote photo is not a tree. It's a C11 seraph, apparently. Six wings and four fine feathered feet too. What weird skeletons they would have, but since in real life so to speak, seraphs are sentient energy-forms that shepherd the stars or something (cf Henry Gee's Sigil trilogy), that's probably not an issue.

Police Commissioners

Tuesday 13th November, very murky day, damp and tepid weather.

Police Commissioners for Sussex, polling day looms & the Green Party is not impressed. We think we had voting cards, we think maybe we threw them away. Been vacillating over this & wondering if it was ever worth spoiling a ballot, then suddenly decided to review the candidates. Vote for one of this shower? A lovely Tory lady with a background in the leisure industry? My god. How on earth to choose one, when I just don't want any party political messing with Sussex police, and nor do I want a clueless nutcase, or the charming prospect of a combination of those attributes. Look at that salary! Spend the money on something else, for god's sake! Now I finally understand the bizarre state of mind of those US citizens* who honestly, genuinely could not decide whether to vote for Obama or Romney...until they realised, right at the line, that d*mn it, it's no good, just can't let that Mad Hatter Mormon loose in the Oval Office, I'm going to have to cast my vote for the hollow man, the miserable disappointment who's kept Gitmo open (or, alternatively, I suppose, for that foreigner with the sticky-out ears who's probably a closet Islamist). Least worst of two.

Only in this case, I think we just won't vote.

Reading The Garden of Evening Mists Tan Twan Eng. Really good. Set in The Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, on the Peninsula indeed. Wonderfully evocative, deceptively gentle, but don't be fooled, it's about the Communist Emergency and the legacy of the Japanese Occupation; it won't stay gentle as you move through the story... One aspect of the story went right by me, and it wasn't the Japanese gardening techniques, which I loved to read about; but still highly recommended.

Watching Still nothing, but looking forward (for old times' sake) to the third "Sarah Lund". The first "The Killing" was much more than the sum of its parts, or the sum of its woolly jumpers. The second was just silly. Absurd contortions. But still, catch it while it lasts. Tough women in leading roles are apparently going to disappear from... well, generally on their way out, I suppose. Just that this Danish bloke has come out and said it.

Very excited about the cinematic release of The Muppets Christmas Carol, except The Dukes is apparently only showing it once "for kiddies and guardians only". What are they thinking? Hoping Cineworld will take a more rational view & then our Christmas outing is sorted.

The keynote photo is Clementina Brown's Weeping Ash, of course. And now we wait, and hope, and plan for a rearguard action. But may I say, I'm annoyed at the way The Woodland Trust has emerged as some kind of Ash Dieback spokes-organisation for this disaster. Sickening, after what they did. It's obvious, from the findings of the survey, that outside of East Anglia the spread of the disease had been by human intervention, and as we now know, the Horticultural Trade had been aware of this deadly pathogen, and done nothing. Buying or planting young ash trees, without confirming that they had been reared or grown in the UK, has been criminally negligent, since at least 2009. The Woodland Trust are guilty, that's bad enough for me, and I'm not impressed by the "it was going to happen anyway" argument. "Yeah, well, it was fragile, asking to be broken..." Never gets anyone out of trouble in my house.

*NB I don't know if they really existed. Polling in the run up to an election is a funny thing.

Divine Endurance and Flowerdust

Monday 5th November, bright and chilly, pale blue sky; washes of high cloud. This morning I saw a robin on the little plum tree (rare occurence, ground feeding birds are infrequent visitors here), definitely eying up the domed feeder.There's a lot more visible bird action in the gardens that this time last year; robins, blackbirds, bluetits, hedgesparrow, and a little group* of long-tailed tits, passing through. Only window-shopping today, but maybe I'll have customers. We have said goodbye to the sash window renovators (until they come back to do the front of the house argh). We have put things back together, including replacing my curtain rail that I broke, and apart from the damaged paintwork around the landing window. Possibly Purple Sage is now Heather Bloom? So that was all fine, until on one of those nights of torrential rain last week, I woke about four in the morning, and was forced to conclude: yes, that persistent dripping sound is coming from inside the room. Roofers will be along later in the week.

And I have published the original Divine Endurance, Flowerdust and the special new "Flowerdust" edition of Divine Endurance on Kindle. Finally! I thought I would have that job dusted by the end of July. I've been meaning to do something about the disjoints between Flowerdust and Divine Endurance for years and years. Now it's done, plus the books have the cover image I wanted for them long, long, ago, and if you're out there, unknown artist, please get in touch. I've even called the
My picture seems closely related to this famous one, but I don't think it's by Gede Sobrat
mini-series of two "The Last Days Of Ranganar", the name I always fancied. I've included the 1987 story "The Eastern Succession", where Endang of Timur first appears, with Flowerdust, in which he's a major character, and my 1998 Olso GOH speech about encountering the perfect machine "About A Girl", with Divine Endurance I wish I could have used the Danielle de Santiago "gynoid" interview, but I'm not in touch with Danielle, sadly.

I wasn't bothered by discrepancies, when I published Flowerdust, back in 1993/1994. I'd always wanted to write an informal "Divine Endurance" story, with my characters in their street clothes (Divine Endurance became as stylised and formal as the Ramayana Ballet during my long and fascinating apprenticeship with Rayner Unwin, who wanted me to write more like Tolkien; it didn't start off that way). And then Caroline Oakley, at Headline as she was then, gave me the opportunity. So I picked up Endang of Timur, the angry young man, sexual and political dissident, and tossed him into the mix of my Divine Endurance characters, like a cat among the pigeons.

Fitting the two stories together, I didn't change much really, but of course I found my past, the years when I lived in Singapore. Rural Java, with its temples, terraced mountains, palace cities, where we were poor travellers, and people were kind. The dance school at Solo, where I saw Endang dance; Sumatra when it was still forest; gaspipes by the road had purple crowns of flame, towns were the Wild West. Bali, beautiful Ubud. Trekking in Thailand (aka Gamartha). And not to mention the much more knowing, grittier, blingier (even then) culture of the real Peninsula, across the Causeway. Penang, where we arrived one night, Easter 1978, to find the whole staff of the Golden Sands hotel in fits of laughter, pretending they were scaring away the dragon that was eating the moon (you show it its reflection, in a bucket of water). Our fears, our intense concerns, when ASEAN was the real world to us, and the UK a tiny grey blur, far, far away. The Boat People, Transmigrasi. The Jakarta Reigme; no change there, alas. The warm-milk air of tropical darkness. I haven't been back to Java since 1985. I'm never going to see those places again, mostly they aren't even there anymore, but I still have them, captured in word-amber.

Pure self indulgence (and copyright protection), but I've enrolled them in KDP Select, so you can borrow any or all of the three for free, if you have a ticket to the Kindle Lending Library. There will also be free download days, which I will advertise.

What about free books on my website? No. Never again. I'm sick of pirates.

*Not a flock. We don't get flocks of little birds anymore, much, do we?

Bright Fires

Tuesday 30th October, cool air, blue sky and clear sunshine all morning, clouds bubbling up now.

'Of all the trees in England,
Her sweet three corners in,
Only the Ash, the bonnie Ash
Burns fierce while it is green.'

the quote is from Walter De La Mare's poem "Trees"

So, anyway, this is clearly my ash tree tribute entry & if you click through the image you'll hear "the ash grove" sung by the Morriston Orpheus Choir. They're singing in Welsh, naturally; which led me down another byway; more on that later. I've been fitfully struggling to follow the Ash Dieback trail since the beginning of the month: trying, futile though it may be, to figure out what the h*ll has been going on. The killer fungus can't travel; it can travel but it can't travel far. It's endemic in the UK and has been for years, it's just that diseased trees have only now reached the stage where symptoms are obvious. It's been carried from the Nordic countries where the trees are already lost by tourists (oops, I was in Denmark myself, briefly, a couple of years ago, although I never left Copenhagen. Also been to Poland); it came over the North Sea on hikers' boots, in timber. The cuts are to blame, of course (which may even be true, but doesn't explain what the Woodland Trust thought they were up to). The Labour party would have handled things very differently (a likely story, unless you mean even less convincingly). Unknown on our fortress island, except for one rogue shipment that got planted out earlier this year, but nowhere near wild woods, and anyway not a problem, and anyway swiftly and comprehensively dealt with (100,000 infected nursery saplings burned), and then five months ago, or maybe five weeks, or maybe a few days ago, it was found in ancient woodland in Norfolk and Suffolk, and who knows how many other sites are now suspected. As far as google goes, the "ash dieback" infection I followed showed all the signs of coming from a single source, so not much to be learned that way, except I did find this, a variant I've seen nowhere else (on a greenkeepers site, oddly enough): Hm. This version has a ring to it, somehow, esp given other demoralized and inadequate responses from Defra and the Forestry Commission reported and re-reported elsewhere.

I went to King Death's Garden today, to visit the weeping ash that grows over a grave there, one of my favourite trees, about 30 feet, oh, okay, about 10metres to the crown, and very beautiful. I wonder when it was planted? I have no idea. Maybe 1924, which is when Clementina Brown was buried, the last entry, so to speak, in the family grave at the tree's foot. It's in good health, as far as I could tell, but as I noted out on the Sussex Weald at the weekend (we were gathering chestnuts) it's already far too late in the season to spot a diseased tree unless the symptoms are extreme/ the observer is skilled; or both. On which grounds, I can't feel much confidence in the citizens-sightings upload project "ashtag", but there you go, there's the address anyway. Scroll down for the map. At least, so far, nobody seems to be seriously proposing the wholesale burning out of infected groves, which seemed to be the story at first. That would just be totally pointless, and horribly, actively destructive. Let the sick trees die, let the resistant trees live, and find a fungicide.

But the find a fungicide part will only happen if money is made available, and that means public protest. 80 million trees sounds impressive, momentarily. It's a catchy headline. But who will really miss them? I will. How many others? I'm afraid to many if not most "ordinary people", it's like, what's the fuss about, all these "threats to our trees" there are plenty of trees!

Ash dieback's had its five minutes, anyway. Today it's hurricane Sandy, oh, no, only a tropical storm, yes, with snow, oh, well, it happens, extreme weather. Nothing to get alarmed about.

What on earth will it take?

Weird Weather and the Weird Silence

Wednesday 24th October. Mist shrouded warmth for the last few days, but this afternoon the mist is clearing to blue skies, and it's feeling cooler. A waxing gibbous moon, glowing in the misty sky followed us last night, as we returned from moving Gabriel's stuff to his new house, and as we crawled through the carnage that was beautiful Handcross Hill. A Harold and his Purple Crayon moon. Today I finally put the third coat of Cardinal Red on our front path. About half an hour later someone ignored the WET PAINT sign on the latched gate, and tromped up to deliver a marketing postcard for a bike shop. So I have climbed out along the wall, in danger of falling through the railings, and tied up the latch with string. I suppose I'll have to add expunging the footprints to my touching up: I'd only make things worse now.

It's official: the BBC* is able to report that we've had very weird weather this year. Our intense rainfall however, has nothing to do with global warming, and you can tell it doesn't because we had floods in 2007 too. . . Although, oddly enough, as the report cautiously concedes, if there were such a thing as global warming "that would lead to warmer air being able to carry more moisture to fall as rain". Last night I actually heard a tv weatherman say the temperatures this week have been "much higher than you'd expect for the time of year": I nearly fainted with relief. Why isn't climate change an issue in this US Presidential Election? What's different, is it because the effects are being felt, and the stakes are much higher now. When will the silence be broken? I suppose the fact that these questions are being asked in our UK mainstream media ; that shocking figures on the financial cost (for god's sake!), of climate change are being bandied about, is some indication of a coming shift. Like those puzzling few weeks when we know a Minister is going to resign, but he keeps hanging on by his finger-ends...


It's not going to happen, is it? Just ask yourself, what would it take to get Jeremy Clarkson to back down and change his views, and you see that the idea of the awakening of the UK (barring violent rock fantasy) is simply absurd. So we'll muddle on the way we are, you and me: feeling a little bit uneasy, trying to be a little bit green, and submitting to the will of the aggressive and the greedy, although we know it doesn't make sense. Ah, well. Good job the Bay of Pigs/Cuban Missile crisis didn't have a financial backlash element eh? If there'd been MONEY to be made by engaging in full-on global thermonuclear war, Mr Krushchev and Mr Kennedy would never have backed down, would they?

When I wrote about climate change in Bold As Love (set 2015-2020 or so), I had no idea things would or could move this fast. I gave them a little mild flooding and a run of harsh winters in the UK, I mentioned crop failures, rocketing food prices, as a cause of discontent in Europe, and a refugee crisis as people from the South got on the move, fleeing from floods, desertification, etc. I thought I was being fairly extreme, but I didn't even consider, eg, the Arctic meltdown we've seen this year.

Now I don't know what to think. I feel more alienated than I did when Margaret Thatcher was in power, and much more bewildered. I'm looking straight at this elephant (actually, it's more of a Rhinoceros, cf Eugene Ionesco's play about Nazi infiltration of French society**), I'm looking around me, and thinking, well, there's so many of them. They're so successful, so loveable and jolly and relaxed and sure of themselves it has to be me, I must be hallucinating...

On a slightly less frantic note, I'm glad to see the badger cull has been "delayed". The government issues licences for 70% of the population of a protected wild animal to be shot by bounty hunters? When all the science says this ploy will be useless? It's mysterious, it beggars belief, really. A glance at the distribution map (badgers vs bovine TB in the UK) makes it obvious that badgers are not even the problem.

The keynote picture of the lonely leafless birch is one I've used before, but it seemed appropriate.

*I'm a devoted student of the BBC News. Always interested to know what we're supposed to think

**I couldn't find a decent reference for Rhinoceros online. But NB part of Ionesco's Theatre of the Absurd's point is that French society had Nazism in it naturally.
. Turning into a rhinoceros was no struggle, it made people feel better about themselves. The struggle (to become known as the resistance) was to stay human.

James Bond and the The Lady Of Lebanon

Thursday 18th October. Traditionally, the feast of St Luke, and marking a Buchan Warm Spell* in old money, but this one is grey and rainy in Brighton, despite the BBC et al. The sash window restoration people still here, but it should be the last day. And I never did decamp to my favourite coffee shop... Just not that person. I lie and fume when I have insomnia too.

Just found out that the US ebook of Spirit is out, and you can now purchase it from The Aqueduct Press. That's nice to know!

Timmi Duchamp gave me the option of making major revisions, but I didn't. In the end I decided I like the latter part of the book (which had collected some criticism for distancing the reader from the heroine, and bringing in an apparently random bunch of young newcomers), the way it is. It's truer to Dumas. The Count of Monte Cristo is a figure of mystery, a very different person from Edmond Dantes. And one of the things I love in the original is the way Dantes comes back from his ordeal bent on being the implacable instrument of Justice, but instead finds his own salvation (finds himself again) in rescuing young lives he thought he wanted to ruin. . . To my mind Edmond's own life doesn't start again until right at the end, when he takes off with Haydee. And though the Count plays merry hell with them, when the bad guys get what they deserve it's not so much through his intervention, as simply because they are asking for it. So, I just took on board the fact that it's a long story and readers needed to be reminded of certain things, and that's about all. NB, if you have never read the original (dear reviewers!), I recommend it highly, I love this book, except you MUST get a modern translation (all the C19th ones are c**p, done by pirates), and you must be ready for a serial novel, prolix as Dickens if not more so.

Watching: nothing. Saw Looper, and can't see what the fuss is about. Preposterous and drab. Saw Holy Motors, considerably loopier, lot more engaging. Finding this a very lean season for tv, a season for channel surfing as a form of entertainment (le montage, don't you know); while debating the merits of yet another old Mentalist versus whatever variant on our dear old Crocosaurus... Homeland #2? No thanks. I spied that thing getting a little LOST about half-way through series one, and am finding it easy to keep the promise I made to self then.

Reading: La Chatelaine Du Liban (The Lady of Lebanon), Pierre Benoit, 1924. Of the half dozen or so must-read ancient espionage titles I gleaned from Paul Bleton's La Crystallisation De L'Ombre, this was the only one I found easily available ( I got my paperback cheap edition, good price, from PrixMinister. Wonderful ur-James Bond story. Exotic settings. Ironic double entendre conversations between our hero and the suave, evil bad guy, a beautiful, shameless femme fatale with a cracking weird name, sumptuous taste in dress & undress and a really, really shocking past, who lives in a Crusader's castle. There's a discussion of the unexpected importance of cocktails in the spying business that made me laugh out loud, it was so totally 007. The special cocktail in question, which does feature prominently, is a Metropolitan (Metropolitian). I looked it up: most online aficionados think it's a version of the Cosmo, invented in the seventies, but they are clearly wrong. It's like a brandy Manhattan, basically. I hate Manhattans, because of what happened after letmesee maybe four or five of them a certain night, long, long ago, but I will have to give this a whirl.

Listening: Glenn Gould. Glenn Gould fest going on here, courtesy of an anniversary deal by Presto Classical. I love the Bach.

The keynote picture is the other twin elm.

*or so my mother always used to tell us. Next "warm spot" is St Martin's, I think it's November 11th or so

Mastered By Money

Wednesday October 17th, blue skies, high cloud, strong gusting breeze, strangely warm and soupy air. Torrential rain seems to be skipping the South East this week, replaced by my least favourite global warming weather, the restless tepid soup effect. I remember long ago, when climate change first began to bite (or mouth us rather toothlessly, would be more accurate for this locality), they warned us that the difference between night and day temperatures would be disproportionately affected. Warmer nights would in fact be our most noticeable change, making it more difficult to sleep. It definitely works on me. Even torrential rain is good for some things. Saturday, in the uncertain rain, we went out walking near Arlington, gleaned a very meagre harvest of sloes (for the gin, you know) but could have filled baskets with huge parasol and field mushrooms. It's mostly water, of course, but still tasty.

I had a very vivid dream, after watching The Masters Of Money on Marx...

Watching Stephanie Flanders tackle the content king of Capitalist Theory was like watching a nervous, rather smarmy Papal nuncio circa 1620 or so, explain that Canon Copernicus's heliocentric model is a genuinely important and useful mathematical conceit, invaluable to astrologers as an aid in casting pinpoint accurate horoscopes. But Galileo Galilei's absurd claim to have seen actual moons, orbiting actual Jupiter, would be plain laughable if it wasn't so wicked and downright dangerous...

Many of the present day Masters of Money were more candid, and felt able to concede that, despite the dreadful deeds done in his name, Marx really did know how the capitalism machine works, and his words are true; that in fact Marx may be the only really competent thinker ever yet to tackle the science of money... But I suppose they weren't dreading the hatemail.

Anyway, then I had the dream. It was all about my purple and silver kain panjang ...

(in itself a fine example of the best and worst that capitalist-driven mass-production and mass-marketing can do to a luxury handicraft product: the fabric that would once have been hand-loomed silk become heavy rayon; the hand-stitched silver thread embroidery become printed dye; the product, once elite and ceremonial, become very reasonably priced and attractive tourist goods).

Now venerable (1985, Java) my kain panjang is still a treasured shawl, and a thing of modest, mass-market beauty. I dreamed a golden orchid had grown out of it, and that the flowers of this orchid had become a big, flamboyant, flame-spitting snake. This hunky flame-spitting snake was mine, and I was scared of it. I thought it was pretty wonderful, I wanted to keep it, but it was taking over my life, and I was afraid it would eat my cats. Then along came a man, a very helpful man, with goggle-eye glasses and wild hair (must have been a guru of some kind) and offered to take care of the flamboyant golden snake. I was grateful and agreed to the deal. He presented me with the bill, I looked at it, I thought it was all right, I paid him. And then he said, oh, wait, let me check, oops, I made a mistake, you owe me another £GBP1.00. Hang on, said I (or words to that effect, i can rarely remember what I say in dreams) let me have a look... So I looked at the bill again: but there were so many entries, so many items, I just couldn't be bothered. I gave him his quid, thinking my, he's a speedy calculator... Off went Mr Helpful, with his little bit extra, and a big smile on his face, whereupon I realised that he hadn't checked the bill at all. He had checked me out, and calculated, correctly, that I was comfortable enough to prefer a quiet life, £GBP1.00 was just about the amount I'd certainly hand over without a murmur, and he could rob me with impunity...

& then I woke up.

So that's how we end up, here in the Developed World, with the flamboyant golden snake, aka post-capitalist deregulated money-trading, still strangling us. Despite all the brute's menacing behaviour, and the way it destroys the vulnerable. Mr Helpful knows what he can take us for, and he does.

I read the Communist Manifesto when I was a little girl as Sussex university; it was obligatory. I found it slight, and a bit bombastic. I read the first volume of Capital on my own time, a few years later, because I was curious. I have no doubt that Marx anatomised the Capitalism of nineteenth century Europe correctly and that he named the fuel that drives the engine correctly. (even Mervyn King seems to feel the same). Capitalism needs a callously exploited labour force, which must include a reservoir of the currently un-employed, to keep driving the price of labour down. And of course, an equally compliant force of relatively wealthy consumers, a nomenklatura in short, who are able to close their eyes to the nasty part of the price. This is as true now as it was then: except that the exploited labour is now suffering elsewhere (Do you have a smartphone? Then think on); and possibly, even in the deepest metal mines of South Africa, not suffering quite as much*, because rampant Capitalism, as Marx explained, breeds its own palliatives, and its cure.

I was impressed by Marx, and as a science fiction writer, I felt for him. It's not really all that hard to "predict" the next big thing. But when you tell a story about it, you are inexorably doomed to tell it in the language of your own present time, and describe it in the imagery of your own time, because you cannot speak the language of the future. Marx predicted the fall of Capitalism, and Capitalism fell. You don't think so? Ah, I see, you're talking about the immortality of money. I'm talking about the death of a fantastically successful civilisation entre Somme et Vosges, as the French say, and then later, in the equally terrible aftershock of that fall, at places like Auschwitz. He predicted this fall would be followed by the dictatorship of the proletariat. He was dead right. You don't think so? Think again. It was called the Welfare State, it kept me alive, it sent me to University, and it ruled Europe for a Camelotish brief span of about thirty years (actually not too bad, as Camelots go). It was ****ed up, temporary and partial, and had totally the wrong architecture, but I'm not at all convinced that we're better off without it.

I don't know what he predicted after Volume 1. But if there is a Marxian (as opposed to Marxist) model for globalisation and its discontents, my money would be on a reiteration of the nineteenth century/twentieth century drama of Capitalism's fall, temporary Utopia, then the dirty money; as often as it takes to reach the heat death of wealth & then. . .

The keynote picture is one of the famous twin elms in Preston Park, down the road from me: held to be at least 400 years old and still looking wonderful. Taken this July. Home improvements continue to plague me: I write this on a borrowed machine, in enforced idleness, which is why it's sooo long. Back soon.

Continuous Creation

Friday 28th September, no more of the torrential rain today, at least not so far. Rain-washed skies, silver and blue,and tarnished leaves on my little elm and the red maple looking likely to fall, leaving the trees bare by the end of October, how old fashioned. Cool air, very autumnal. Who knows? The vanished Arctic ice, the unprecedented high temperatures in the North Atlantic. . . Chaotic weather is just chaotic, innit? Another dose of the little ice age, or a C30 degrees heatwave all the way til Christmas. Could go either way.

My Week

Monday 24th Sept. Torrential rain. Peter gave me a lift down to the seafront where I joined the 38degrees team in the gauntlet of leafleting Lib Dem delegates must run to reach the safety of that forensic-looking tent sort of thing at the entrance to the Brighton Centre. Ours were about the Climate Change vote. When I shared this petition on facebook, someone called Steve Heynes (Hi Steve!) cmmented that it was a stupid waste of time, the Lib Dems will never do anything... Ah, now that's because (unless your dissing comment was a dedicated, sneaky climate-change denier activist ploy, in which case, apologies!) you're not an activist, Steve. If you were an activist, you'd know that this never say die chipping away, no matter how unpromising your entree, is the ONLY way anything ever changes. Okay, it may look silly but, who do you suggest we lobby on Climate Change issues? The Labour Party? You are having a laugh. Nice kids, those 38 degrees people. I enjoyed their company. The weather was atttroccious. I thought I might catch pneumonia, but didn't. Spent rest of day slogging on with my trenchant revision of Flowerdust, (1994) latest item on my backlist to get the Kindle treatment, & then I'm going to fool around with Divine Endurance (1984)to make these "companion volumes" actually line up together, for the first time in their lives. Then cooked miso soup with carrots, onions, mushrooms and bean-sprouts (Amy's dinner take note!) & went to see Tabu at the Dukes. Which Gabriel thought was absolutely wonderful, but we rated strange & interesting. Predictably, I liked the crocodile best. But also the old ladies, in the "40 years after" part. I could really read Pilar. So melancholy and so quietly, doggedly good.

Tuesday 25th Sept. Torrential rain. Spent the morning putting together a presentation on the story "Bricks, Sticks, Straw" I just wrote for Jonathan Strahan's Edge Of Infinity anthology. His pitch, my pitch. Process of elimination whereby I chose my near future solar system venue. The random elements that accrete around an idea. The websites: ESA, NASA, eLISA; Greek Mythology.... In the afternoon, a train ride to Canterbury West, a double rainbow and a single lapwing in the big stormcloud skies as we crossed the county boundary at Rye. More nice kids (not all actually kids, of course: but I'm very old!) at the "Tuesday evening reading series". Impressive turnout. I rather rattled off my favourite Stranded Space Explorer Classic Short Stories, so I'll repeat it here:

"Desertion" Clifford Simak, from his fix-up novel City; 1944. One man and his dog, on the hard core of Jupiter, transformed into life-forms that can gambol and play in this unforgiving corrosive hell. They love it, don't miss their old embodiment at all, and don't want to come home.

"Dark They Were And Golden Eyed". Ray Bradbury, 1949. Find it in the collection: A Medicine For Melancholy. Needs no introduction from me. Haunting, brilliant.

"Surface Tension" James Blish, 1952. Find it in the collection The Seedling Stars. Crash-landing explorers on a water-world tranform themselves (or something) into a microscopic race of water-breathers. Zillions of generations later, descendants find out who they were, and plan to go home. But that iron barrier, the surface tension that holds a raindrop together like, blocks them like a massive gravity well. . .

And one I forgot. Actually a slim novel, but We Who Are About To Joanna Russ has to get a mention, for her mordant, realist approach to the scenario. What do you do, when you're a bunch of clueless tourists, crash-landed on an alien planet far, far, far from any hope of rescue, and you have no resources, no skills, and anything that might be food or water is poison? You die, sillies. Get on with it.

I told Amy Sackville, Creative Writing Lecturer at Kent at Canterbury (whose debut novel, The Still Point, is a thing of beauty), what I was doing to Flowerdust , and my wicked plans for the already-filed Kindle version of Divine Endurance. You can go on rewriting what you wrote forever and ever, I said. And nobody can stop you. Imagine that. Could be I'm a corrupting influence: she seemed intrigued.

Wednesday 26th Sept. Torrential Rain. And so cold! The cats want the heating turned on, they keep crouching by the cold radiators, trying to make their point. Round two on the last chapters of Flowerdust. I lost on points, but I will beat this thing. Peter cooked masala cabbage and potato, tomato and onion tarkari. & we watched Stephanie Flanders's Masters of Money #2 Freidrich Heyek. Very light on content, this miniseries. Maynard Keynes moved in the Haighest of Bohemian circles (pictures of Charleston) and advised governments to spend their way out of a slump by throwing money at public works (pictures of dole queues,the Hoover Dam, and Obama's somewhat more modest solar-power field in Arizona). Heyek saw hyperinflation in Vienna when he was a child (pictures of jerky bourgeois toting sackfuls of notes to the baker's); collected gongs, and advised governments to let "the markets" do what they like! (pictures of Margaret Thatcher And The Miners). Plus a "surreal prize fight" that Was A Big Youtube Hit!, (that's as much as we ****ing plebs need to know on any subject, of course); yet more footage of Meryvn King looking dead shifty, & a coy reference to "human nature", to explain why neither high-concept plan really seems to have fixed things, much, ever.

But Miss, Miss, on what caluculations, what grounds, did these giants base their airy advice? There must be more to it than this. Show working out!

Wonder what she'll do with Karl Marx, the content king?

Thursday 27th Sept. Finished Flowerdust revision. Tnx God. If I'm caught changing a word of Escape Plans, Peter has orders to take me out and shoot me. (Unfortunately I know he hasn't got a gun. Oh, dear) Also buried one of my homemade crocus cages, which was fun. Do your worst, squirrels! & cooked Tuscan Bean Soup with bacon, & went out for a couple of pints, & watched Neil Jordan's 1999 version of Graham Greene's The End Of The Affair. About rain, and miracles. All shot in the most beautiful, cool and silvery light. Fine piece of work all round. & again Gabriel praised the doomed romance, while Peter and I twisted our heads around, meanly trying to spot modern slips in the Brighton shots. The trivial minds we have. It's a shame.

The keynote photo, again not a tree, is the temporary radio station at Writtle, Sunday 16th, which was a rather magical evening, and a rather magical construction. It was bloody cold, but there were bats, waterfowl, cheese, bread and wine, and I got to hear about David Toop's opera about Dora Maar, and to enjoy Mark Lackey's bizarre DJ set of songs from the shows. Anarchic bebop rap from Rosalind Russell, and the monster doing "Putting On The Ritz", from Young Frankenstein....

It's raining torrentially now.

Meat Is Not Murder. But. . .

Friday, 14th Sept, thick grey cloud, the kind that never produces rain: all too familiar. The woodpigeon didn't make it. When I'd finished my post yesterday I went down to look at her, and knew she'd turned the corner in the wrong direction. No sign of recovery, not eating or drinking. By the time Peter came home she was quietly dying, but we let her go in her own time. "Mercy killing" a dying animal can go so horribly wrong. She's now in the compost, and what to do about Caliban? Cat predation doesn't seem to damage bird populations: intensive farming practice does that (selectively); and the grave and worsening loss of habitat, within and outside the built environment. But standards had been slipping. Avoid twilight, and you cut down a cat's hunting dramatically (says the RSPB). Must get strict again about keeping him indoors from an hour before sunset and for an hour after daylight.

Some links for you:

I'm off to Writtle College in Essex on Sunday, to do a reading from Band Of Gypsys, joining multimedia artist Melissa Appleton's celebration of the first commercial radio broadcasts in the UK. Everything kicks off tomorrow, and it should be quite a party. Hope you can listen in. Read all about it:

I'll also be at Kent at Canterbury University on Tuesday 25th, evening, for a reading and a talk. Contact Paul March Russell for details.

And here's a Compassion In World Farming campaign (slightly vindictively) close to my heart. I really despise that toshery, "Little Red Tractor". And "Farm Assured". It's so creepy.

I'm not worried at all about the "threat" higher welfare rules pose to meat production in Europe. Meat is not murder, but meat it a treat. Rich and poor, everyone needs to get used to that, for a whole raft of good reasons. Soon as possible.

Watching: Lindsay Seers' new installation at The Tin Tabernacle, Kilburn. "Nowhere Less Now". Not as immersive as her prequel show at Margate. The space doesn't lend itself to immersion, one remains conscious of being in a video viewing audience; of having headphones on, of one's surroundings, basically. But still good. You get a free book, too & The Tin Tabernacle is an experience in itself. Also check out the remarkable facade of the Edwardian RSPCA dispensary next door.

Also The Bletchley Circle. The first episode got some lack-lustre reviews, but I don't know why. It's a bit rushed, a bit of handwaving, okay, but I found the pitch convincing, the acting classy, and I'll always watch Anna Maxwell Martin

Reading: Still lingering over George MacDonald, Phantastes and Lilith;

Getting onto Robert Kaplan, The Nothing That Is, next in my popular science pile

and for a storybook Marco Vicci, Death And The Olive Groves I'm not a big fan of Italian "Crime and Pleasure", usually. But I think I could get to like this one. Set in the sixties, when Italy was just as ****ed up, but everything as less cynical (it says here). Before they'd been Berlusconi-ed, says Peter.

The striking copper beech and lime couple in the keynote picture, are by the permitted footpath that crossed the Bayfield Estate, near Cley. There are a lot of very beautiful trees in this part of Norfolk. There are hills too, shockingly; despite the advertising.

Whole Thing's Brighton Beach You Fool. . .

Thursday 13th September, bright and clear again. Spiders rule in the garden, over weary leaves, dusty earth. It's autumn already, hard and dry; despite a splash of a downpour yesterday. Late at night, in the landing window, brilliant stars: Orion has returned to look in on us, and high in the sky straight above a very bright, golden planet, must be Jupiter I guess? We have a house guest, provided by Milo, who sneaked upstairs yesterday with a woodpigeon in his jaws. Peter to the rescue, tho' possibly more concerned about the bloody and grotesquely struggling remains we might have detected under our bed later in the evening. He called me to help him despatch the wounded (sorry, but we weren't planning to rush her to the vets: there are a real lot of them nowadays, due to all the year round farming): but though her beak was bloodied her eye was bright, head up, wings and body seeming sound. . . Mallet attack canceled, she's now, adult female, no discernable injuries, bill no longer bleeding, roosting in a dark amazon box, with a bowl of strong honey water. She's been eating berries recently, I can tell you that. She's remarkably calm. Recovering? Maybe. . . She may yet keel over and die from septacemia, infected by cat-saliva (that's what cat-attack birds die of, according to the wildlife rescue gurus available via a well-known search engine)

During my extended summer break I couldn't help noticing a few significant science and technology news items: and was struck by the gentle resemblance between the most beautiful of Curiosity's first colour pics:

and the abstract-dunescape screensaver that still adorns (mostly, I'm afraid) the cuts-induced advertising slot frontage of the Phoenix Gallery on the Steine: Things we believe we've purely imagined are strangely congruent with realities we are convinced we have detected: of course they are. Our dreams are constructed from our realities; the realities having been constructed, directly or indirectly, by the same neurons, the same cascade of refining filters as the dreams. How can we be sure that's really Mars, and not a digital camera's artistic impression? How can we be sure that's really what a T cell looks like? See Donna Harraway, Situated Knowledges).

We can be sceptical about technoscience. We can't escape from the circularity of all our image-gathering, all our information gathering. We can only keep on constructing, asking, is this right?, knowing the only answer we'll ever get is the elliptical, unreliable it's working. I thought of this predicament of consciousness when the Higgs Boson finally popped out of the experiments (a timely celebrity appearence, the audience was beginning to get restive). I've had the Higgs on my mind, on and off, since I first read about it circa 1986, and began to think about the mind/matter barrier. Electrons are not things, as Niels Bohr seems to have said, or maybe Dirac. The *** particle isn't a thing, either, nor is the Higgs Field material. Yet both can be pursued and interrogated; forced to answer that question, it seems, by the most outragously massive (pun intended) machinery. If the barrier between mind and matter actually becomes porous, at these fantastic energies, doesn't that mean that at some level it's porous all the time, and isn't that a truly game-changing idea? Or thing. Fiction ensued.

Best piece I read on the Higgs affair was an interview with Peter Higgs, published in New Scientist (21st July), where I came upon his "snappy one-liner" to explain the Higgs Mechanism. "Somewhat like the refraction of light through a medium": an image of great beauty, beautifully intuitive and beautifully congruent. You'll have noticed that the keynote image isn't strictly a tree. It's the Hadron Kaleidoscope, of course (I've traced that story back to the Sydney National Times, 12th July. Anyone spotted it earlier?). I have fallen in love with the Hadron Kaleidoscope. Is there a petition to insist that CERN changes the name of the great torus? Where do I sign?

Oh, and junk DNA isn't junk. Okay. But isn't that revelation as old as the Higgs word itself?

Skyward Sword/Mixed Biscuits

Monday 3rd September, another lightless grey and humid morning. Two well-grown young blackbirds picking about on Val and Nick's lawn. I saw my last swift last week, strangely enough, from the scaffolding that decorated the front of the house (it's gone now), hawking alone in the grey skies, long after its time. Hungry Ghosts moon last Friday, & that's another summer over.

I bought Skyward Sword for Gabriel for Christmas, and at first we were all thrilled. A new Zelda! So long in preparation it must be good! A whole sky to explore, and all the usual suspects down below. Such fantastically reponsive swordplay! Stunning dungeons, absolutely lovely Shadow Realms, perfect Christmas entertainment for player and spectators alike... But it needed to be played straight through. Dipping in and out, the game palled. There was (I know, I know, but still) no narrative drive, barring that rather lame attempt at an "American High School Rivalry" riff; for which, admittedly, we were the wrong audience. Link's guide was not only annoying (which is traditional) but also prissy and dull; the item collections went nowhere and worst of all, the music element was a disgrace. And what was good got milked to death. The Imprisoned eg was a fantastic, beautiful monster the first time you met it, but by about the fifth battle with the same great lump and his toes, it was ho-hum. Same thing went for Ghiraim: his "evil" camp banter was cool first time round, but didn't he keep coming back! And not forgetting the wimpiest Zelda ever: a Zelda whose important contribution was to whimper and moan when being tortured off scene... In the end, this brilliant reinvention seemed more like a bag of Mixed Biscuits, every variety of Zelda experience; custard cream, bourbon, pinky wafer, jammy dodger, ginger nut, fruit shortcake, but all of them a bit dusty, a little soggy, a little knocked about at the corners. It didn't help that I was playing Ocarina of Time myself, reaching the last battle with Ganon for the 2nd time on 24th of June, with such exhileration, triumph and sadness. There was no comparison.

But why open this lightless, ominous New Year with an item on Zelda, of all things? Because in a low mood at the beginning of August, I suddenly decided to read George MacDonald's Phantastes & Lilith again, which I own in the Gollancz 1971 reissue, with the C. S. Lewis introduction. The first time I read Phantastes I was eleven. I'd just had my four back teeth out, to make room for the advent of Wisdom Teeth in my crowded mouth. My mother put me to bed to nurse my bleeding, wadded jaws, and brought me mashed banana and this wonderful book. I can't say I "crossed a great frontier", since I'd already read and reread C.S.Lewis's own Narnia books, full of MacDonald's inspiration. But I definitely met something I was well up for by nature; only lacking the technology... That part where Anodos casts himself into the cold and stormy subterranean ocean, in despair at escaping his fate by any means but Death...

"I breathed again, but did not unclose my eyes. I would not look on the wintry sea and the pitiless grey sky. Thus I floated until something gently touched me. It was a little boat floating beside me. How it came there I could not tell; but it rose and sank on the waters and kept touching me in its fall, as if with a human will to let me know that help was by me. It was a little gay-coloured boat, seemingly covered with glistering scales like those of a fish, all of brilliant rainbow hues. I scrambled into it and lay down in the bottom with a sense of exquisite repose. Then I drew over me a rich, heavy purple cloth that was beside me... I awoke and found that my boat was floating motionless by the shore of a grassy island. The water was deep to the very edge, and I sprang from the little boat onto a soft, grassy turf"

Right. That's me sorted for the next while. Wind Waker will carry me away.

Holiday Reading: Villette, of which more later; which I found excellent and fascinating, as if Charlotte Bronte had said to herself, so long Mr Rochester, enough of this sneakly sugared w**k-aid, I shall write the true story of Jane Eyre now. And The Corner That Held Them, Sylvia Townsend Warner; brilliant. Life during the endless wartime of the Fourteenth Century, from the Black Death to the Peasants' Revolt, as it was for a small community of nuns in the Fenlands. Unsparing, engrossing, and probably no coincidence that the author wrote it, in a corner of England where women had become the main constituent of society, during the wartime of 1941-47.

Holiday activities: (besides crawling around on scaffolding). If you plan to visit North Norfolk any time, may I recommend Hidden Norfolk, and a trip on the Auntie Pam, to see the seals, masses of therm turning up their tails like frying sausages on the Point; and troll for mackerel, and watch the sunset. Not cheap, but a whole lot of fun.

I can't tell you much about the fantastical keynote tree. I don't know if this fine Plane tree is actually an exotic species, or if the extraordinary barrel body and tentacly groping branches are symptons of old age and misadventure; or even some strange kind of topiary. It's in Canterbury Cathedral close, anyway.