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NHS Risk Register; The White Bears

Thursday 29th March, another brilliant high pressure day, and drought is closing in, though it's going to be cold tonight, and that pattern continues for the forseeable, say the weather people. The dry bright tundra, having been booted out of the Arctic, has come to camp on us, like polar bears, like the sign and symbol White Bears in Suzy Charnas's The Furies, anyone remember them?

The NHS risk register: the leaked document, as my MP remarks, certainly shows why our lovely government was "so deeply worried" by the idea of its contents being made public. More coverage here:

It's not too late to stop some of these destructive changes. Caroline Lucas for one will be keeping up the pressure.

We all take our news from different sources. Gabriel gets his from facebook, which (despite my serious reservations about the business model) is a good source for breaking news. Peter buys The Independent. I always look at New Scientist, to find out the way the wind's blowing, and also the BBC page, because I'm interested to know what I'm supposed to think. But then there's Common Dream, which persists in painting a much more doomy picture via eg the radiation hazard at Fukushima.

I tend to believe Common Dream (and The Japan Times) on this one. But the BBC and NS are both doing a good job, in their way.

National Planning Framework

Wednesday 28th March, yet another day of brilliant sunshine and cloudless blue. The spawn I moved to the nursery tub has now hatched, and the tadpoles are swimming, looking fine. I'm not so sure about the spawn that's staying in the pool, as Ginger found it and chomped it, she loves frogspawn, before I could move it out to the centre. She hasn't fallen in, I'd have noticed, and the spawn is no longer visible, maybe it disintegrated and they hatched, but I can't see them.

And so, the new, game-changing, much feared (by the National Trust, RSPB et al) and much anticipated (by the construction industry and housing developers) National Planning Framework has been unveiled, but so quietly, so very quietly... I wonder what's going on. Cautious relief appears to be the message from the lovers of the English countryside and the living world, so far. Good news for me as I am one of them, and also because I am not daft, and I have seen what happens if you let the unrregulated developers loose & it is not affordable housing in places with the infrastructure, where people want to live. Do I need to say Crash? Do I need to say Ireland? Spain? Italy? But what about the interested parties? The boss of mega construction plant company JCB, and property developers Argent Group eg*. Did they, and those other guys, really waste their dinner money, while Cameron was smiling behind his hand, and setting their ingenuous donations aside for really good causes? Time alone will tell.

Very glad, as an interested party in that I'm fond of Cumbria, about the Ulverston Glaxo factory news, though. So that's two cautious relief stories.

Preparing for the Oxford Sunday Times Literary event tomorrow evening doomed me to review the great Shrinking Female UK SF Writers story of last summer (and extending about a year before that I think). In which I am immortalised playing the part of Aunt Sally. Ah well, someone had to do it. I have learned two things. 1. It is over; 2. The comments on the MindMeld on the Russ Pledge really would suck out your soul, & that's no matter where your sympathies lie. I was warned, thank you whoever you were, some voice lost in those mazes, but I'm a fool and got my soul sucked anyway.

Watching: Still following Homeland, which is a lot more fun than any of the succession of sci-fi/futuristic thriller start-ups of the past decade, and none the worse for the fact that it's all so uniformly repellent. Which is so real, don't you think? Considering the subject matter. But I almost wish I didn't know this was originally an Israeli show; that makes a little too much sense.

Still loving Scott and Bailey, cop-shop soap opera starring three terrific women in great parts; except I start to miss the general public. The cops, they have lives. The criminals, they are feral appalling sleaze-bags. Anyone else is a glimpsed cypher, usually being awkward. I think Lund I (aka The Killing) is on my mind, as a shining example of best practice in this respect.

I've finally taken some new tree pictures! The featured tree this entry: standard beech, Stanmer Park, 24th March.

Many thanks to Beneluxcon, for raising £71.50 for the Freedom FromTorture Medical Foundation

*and their lovely wives, of course. Shame on me.

Female Hard SF Online; ebooks; estories; eself-publishing

Tuesday 20th March. Frost on the grass at dawn yesterday. Today, a grey morning, after days of powder-blue skies. We have live, healthy frogspawn. Not a lot, but enough to get by. I've flushed out the small pool, it now awaits live pond water from the Heart of Reeds. But we might have to give it up, there just isn't enough rain to sustain such a tiny puddle in good health.

This entry is in response to Kathryn Cramer's facebook query. (I'm sorry Kathyrn, but you must have noticed I don't have thoughts on Facebook, I mainly have Avaaz petitions & the like: my advertising, in response to their idea of the products I would love...) You'll see that there are no ads at all here, unless you count the links to my Kindle ebooks. I'm not a fanatical puritan (here I am blogging), but you can call me an idiot: I don't like the idea of being eaten alive by these very large evil parasites & I won't co-operate.

Anyway, your query was about the relative viability of an online anthology of "female authored hard sf".

I think the online anthology is far more likely to see the light of day: simply because I can't see any mainstream sf publisher touching the idea. Even the most dedicated small presses (eq Aqueduct) would have to think carefully. Sf readers, online readers very much included, simply don't believe in hard sf written by women, and this is so widely true of fandom, non-fandom keen readers and the general public, your proposed anthology risks being almost totally ignored. On the other hand there are idealists of the genre to whom "hard sf" means something different, and rather special. So for ambitious young female writers your project could be an opportunity. When you're starting out, getting noticed by just one or two significant people can be very heart-warming.

If anyone invited me to write for such an anthology, I'd probably say no, for the reasons above, but I'd offer a reprint to show my goodwill (I fancy The Fulcrum, for you).

But what is hard sf? The idealists would say "exciting fiction about real science" You have to be a man to write it; women can be praised for trying. The popular vote, empirically, seems to be for mechanical engineering, weapons, and go-faster-striped starfighters. I suspect it's one of those things readers judge by a feeling.

There was a discussion about the value to writers of the various new forms of publishing, at Beneluxcon last weekend. My feeling (we didn't get to our final comments, we ran out of time and the space was needed for an award ceremony) is that e-publishing, like printing on demand, through some agent like Smashwords, Amazon or the American Book Centre can't yet replace getting published professionally, and maybe never will. Publishers are many-talented people, or teams, who do work few writers can absorb into their own schedules. But maybe the e-venues have replaced the vanished, unpretentious, bookstall and subscription printed magazines etc, where a writer could get a first taste of publication, and even an encouraging little bit of money. So that's a good thing.

Meanwhile, I'm e-publishing my backlist, in principle if not in any hurry, for completely different reasons. Not to do with piracy, either. It's the new laws roaming around the horizon about orphan works. I may not even be affected, but I don't like the sound of them, and you know how it is these days. Any time you find yourself saying "it'll never happen, it's too awful, corrupt, illegal and unjust..." You will be wrong.

Just when we'd agreed not to spend any money this year, having "done" Brighton Festival so thoroughly last year, along comes The Musician's Body. What a fantastic programme. Unmissable items!

Ghosts, Dreams,Nothingness

Thursday 15th March, same high pressure weather, only more so. In the early morning, white mist with the sun through it, all the branches of the little elm and the red maple sparkling with dew. It's going to be warm

Short entry: the Ghosts talk is now uploaded, read it here:

Short reading list:

(two contrasting online essays on "The Great God Pan")


The House By The Churchyard Sheridan Le Fanu. 1863. In my opinion, the best of Le Fanu's "Mystery and the Supernatural" novels. There's at least one no-kidding ghost story embedded in the expansive narrative, but the spooky element is mostly (as in "Green Tea") in the mind; in a mood of darkness. Features some excellent CSI work. Seek it out.

The Red Tree Caitlin Kiernan. A fine example of an updated Lovecraft scenario, using the same layered narrative as the classics. Madness or demons from the pit, unspeakable orgies or just difficult sexual fantasies. And did she actually murder anyone? I really don't know.

The Art Of Opposition

Wednesday 14th March, and another misty morning. The nights are sharp, the afternoon skies clear and powder blue. One mass of frogspawn, in the wrong pool; of which I've carefully removed a lump to the plasterer's tub, don't like disturbing it, but the fish are not safe company. The smaller pool needs flushing out, there's just not been enough rain. And not much on the horizon.

Didn't get round to reporting on my visit to the NHS frontline rally in Central Hall last week, and there isn't in fact a lot to say. The hall was packed, the ambience was of a revivalist meeting. Everytime anyone on the platform said "Nye Bevan"* or "Save Our NHS" the crowd roared, clapped and in many cases stood up, to express their emotion. If anyone said "DO WE WANT THIS BILL?" everyone roared NO!. Any more complex statements, eg from clinical staff, were received in a silence that seemed, if only by contrast, bewildered. (Give us a clue, what are we supposed to roar now?) A couple of times hecklers proposing wholesale strike action were removed. I don't know if the peacemaking letter addressed to the PM by Dr Clare Gerada the chair of the Royal College Of General Practitioners was already known to the organisers, but I'm sure everybody up there was feeling that all this we shall fight them on the beaches was a kind of sad ritual, that must be respected. Only comedian and former psychiatric nurse even mentioned that the rot had set in in the eighties, when cleaning hospitals first went out to the cheapest tender. Now, in a few years, we're set to be going all the way to the USA and beyond. Health insurance firms getting disgustingly fat, the poor living in fear. Interestingly, the only two speakers actually engaged in government, Lib Dem MP Andrew George, and reprimanded Cumbrian Medical Officer John Ashton, both explained to us, in just about so many words, that there was no hope, because Dave could not possibly climb down,(no matter if he was perfectly convinced by the general protests that his Health and Social Care Bill was ruinous and cruel). It's a man thing. The guy can't help it, the size of his virility would be in question...

(Nonsense, btw. It's a profit motive thing.)

What I missed was any tough talk about a way forward, strategy and tactics for fighting the defeat. Fighting the defeat is what opposition in government is supposed to be about. You don't give up, if you are the forces of the Good State, in bad times like these. You keep out of trouble as long as is humanly possible (not any further!), and you keep hauling the other way, by all means you can possibly invent. You never do nothing because you can't do much. I suppose it wasn't the setting.

So, oh well, I suppose I'm happier now.

So, anyway, I found a page with a cogent explanation of the crash of the urban sparrow population, and now I know what we have to do in the fledgling season. Feed live meal worms. It's worth trying.

Must flush out that pool, and get some new dipped live pondwater from the Heart of Reeds.

And many thanks to Beneluxcon, for helping me to make £71.50 from selling my books for the Freedom From Torture medical foundation

GOH talk on Ghosts will be made available soon.

*My parents disagreed with Bevan btw. They wanted the Health Service means-tested (like access to Higher Education was) from the get-go. But I don't know. I went to University with some absolute toffs who were on the full grant. Were they poor, were they hell. Their parents had good accountants.

Ladies, shall we join the gentlemen...

Wednesday 7th March, a dark and stormy morning out there, but no rain for us today apparently.

Coalminer's Daughter. Finished The Hunger Games tril. The tale of Bathsheba Everdene (I'm sorry, I mean Katniss Everdeen, but I kept thinking of Far From The Madding Crowd, because this proud coal-miner's daughter in the sticks has three contrasting suitors, and spends the trilogy choosing between them)*. Verdict, the first was very readable, gripping and even inspired, in the way it combined teen reality tv princess and sadistic tv wipeout game. The second installment had middle-book-of-trilogy, let's just go round the circuit again, disease. Can't be helped, commercial fiction will do this. If the target audience doesn't have any objection (and clearly they don't) why not repeat a winning formula at least once? The third installment was a lot more substantial, but when the tv wipeout game morphs into a vicious civil war between the two political factions in this remnant of the USA (hey, lets call them the Republicans and the Democrats), the first person narrative becomes really inadequate, in my opinion.

I suppose the trouble is, Katniss isn't officer material. There's no reason why she should be, her name was just picked out of a hat. But there's no reason why she shouldn't be, and for me this was a bum choice on Collins's part. It means we get a full-on war, told from the point of view of a deracinated and paranoid squaddie, who happens to have been picked out to be Poster Girl for the conflict; who doesn't care what's going on, doesn't have any witty asides, and who dismisses all the politics and all the war-room discussions as nothing to do with her. And her Forrest Gump "I was just here and they made me a hero" act definitely isn't sweetened by any naive good-hearted charm.

The failure in the narrative is one reason why I won't be recommending this series. The second is that though you might have thought, in your innocence, since aimed at shaping the minds of young teens, that this would be an "anti-war" story, it certainly is not! This is a story that glorifies militarism, much in the same way as Bigelow's "It's incredibly cool to be a damaged vet!"The Hurt Locker.

Still, it kept me reading and got me posting. The movies may well be better fun. Though if Katniss is going to come out on screen as "a futuristic Joan of Arc" there are going to be a lot of changes!

Also consumed, Charlize Theron in Young Adult. Suckered by the trailer, which includes every single one of the three good lines, along with the rest of the full house at The Dukes. We sat in stony silence, all of us. Respect to Theron, she did a very good job, but what I saw was bitchy, shallow point-scoring, directed at all and sundry: spiteful and not funny. Net result, I worried that I was judging Juno harshly when I found it a little sickly. No longer.

People understand and even approve when you say you don't like the way everything in the world is about men, and male-dominated values. Unfortunately they just get purely bewildered when you say you don't like the ladies' section of this man's world, and don't aspire to be admired there.

You don't want to be a man, and you don't want to be a woman either? Huh? What can she possibly mean?

Ah, well. It's a koan.

*You've read the books, and you thought Katniss only had two guys after her? No, she has three. The third being a tyrannical older man, arguably quite insane; whose imperious love-gifts and favours are a feature of the whole series; who fascinates her, and for whom she develops a strange kind of respect.

Pickled Cabbage No Frogs

Tuesday 28th February, grey and still morning. Days of mist clearing to blue, a scoured, dry April feeling to the weather for our February trip to Stratford on Avon where we saw three kingfishers darting along the river at Tiddington, numerous swans and geese, and crowds of amazing tropical butterflies in a sort of big hot humid plastic shed called Butterfly World; oh and a good play, with the added value of young Ebenezer (Raymond Coultard) from The Muppets Christmas Carol playing a lovely bishop in wonderful ivory satin robes, (who unfortunately turns into a baddie) oh and a good meal, fine dining enough to please Gabriel the Masterchef addict, but free of furniture polish icecream. Stratford on Avon, we were suprised and pleased to find, still has Closing Time, and curfew on the town centre streets by midnight is almost complete. How unlike our own fair city, and what a good idea!

Inspired by a true story, wonderfully staged and not much constricted by facts, (to my relief, says Helen Edmundon, or words to that effect, I discovered that the life history of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz has plenty of gaps*) The Heresy of Love is a highly charged, cracking good show. Except if it had been me, I'd have given the soliloques to Sor Juana herself, rather than the aforementioned lovely bishop. Who only said exactly what any naughty bishop would say, when succumbing to the temptation of flirting with a beautiful, intellectual nun. Whereas Juana, the mystery woman, could have told us a lot...

I saw the male blackcap yesterday, singing madly from the peak of the cypress tree. No frog activity at all. (This is general, apparently. Frogs should be breeding now, and they aren't) There has to be a year when the decline is over and there is nothing left. I don't think it will be this year, but who knows.

And that's the end of Occupy St Pauls, finally evicted. Occupy smouldered, but it did not catch fire at least not over here. And despite the horrible cost of living with this truly shameless and destructive greed is good government of ours, we'd be worse off if there was more accelerant around, I have to admit. Because look at Syria... Look at Eygypt, indeed. Or Baghdad.

Look what happens to the women after the revolution, or the forced regime change, and you know everything.

I have pickled the red cabbage.

*likewise her online presence. Looking for resources, I found mainly start-ups

Special Feature: No Child Born To Die

Ash Wednesday, low light, mild grey sky, light breeze. The goldfinches squabble on the thistle feeder, five is the most we've seen and that's probably all that remains of the small flock that used to frequent Linda and Ron's acacia tree cafe. Did they disperse, did some fall victim to that white beak disease? Anyway, here they are, flashing their amazing yellow underwings, and threatening each other with tiny grrr and getoff noises...

a pair of Great tits eating suet, have become very faithful. Yesterday a pair of blackbirds feeding on our holly berries. how big and strong they looked, beside the tiny mobsters.

& the content today is brought to you by Save The Children:

Here's a video:

Here's a "fantastic store cupboard soup" by Jamie Oliver:

But I'm not going to be making it because I already have my plans for this soup instead:

I can of chickpeas, drained
Or 6oz dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 potato roughly chopped
about half a curly savoy cabbage, chopped
1 large tomato, peeled and chopped
Or 1-2 tablespoons of ready-chopped tomatoes
2tsp of tomato paste
one bunch dill, finely chopped (around 25-50g weight, according to taste)
3tsp vegetable stock powder and 1 litre water
Or 1 litre vegetable stock

Put them all together in a big pan. Bring to the boil. Simmer for at least an hour and a half, or until everything's really tender. Serve with yoghurt and strong bread.

This is from Mahdur Jaffery's Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook.

Except, mine is the old edition, so I'm not sure. But it's the thought that counts, & the thought is, eat frugally today, out of respect for the children who are starving. And do something to make their plight better known. Plenty of suggestions on the site.

The Soup

Monday 20th February, a frosty morning, ice on the pools, rime on the grass. Clear sky clouding over. And still no significant rain for us. There's going to be a serious drought in the South East of England this summer, we've been saying for months but I think we're past the point of no return now.

Really vintage birthday last week. Excellent presents, including a fancy trip to Stratford to see The Heresy of Love next weekend, and my very own Snow Leopard. Also I beat my boss, I rode my bicycle for the first time in 10 years and only fell off a bit, once, and the goldfinches found the thistle feeder. This week is dedicated to eating pancakes, embarking on Lenten detox, and composing GOH speech for Benelux, which is going to be about Ghosts, and Dreams, and Nothingness (I'm appearing as Ann Halam, in spirit).

Have read Twilight, finally (I fell asleep in the movie, could not see the point of that lad with the Jedward hairdo). Liked it for the first while, a lot better than I liked the first Harry Potter anyway, but then when it got to the lovely couple making-out in the meadow, was surprised to find how creepy... On the screen, I can see that you get a lovely Cinderella teen and a beautiful mythical monster teen. On the page, I just got the inescapable impression that this was a big grown up man manipulating, or as they say grooming, a helpless little girl. Still, me not teenage girl. Or father of teenage girls, which I believe is also a very enthusiastic target audience. Have also read #1 of The Hunger Games. Liked it and found it very readable, but didn't like it as much as Gregor the Overlander and his sister.... Reason, I suspect, is me not girly, so not interested in the reality show Cinderella aspect, whereas in the Battle Royale context me definitely shreddie. . But will persevere.

Saw Martha Marcie May Marlene, and thought it wonderfully creepy, but hard to rate because the other half of the equation (the yuppie couple) were such place-holders. They needed something to do, and I'm not saying they needed to be killed and eaten. Did I get faint hints that both these sisters had sexual abuse in their history? Something subtle and unsettling, anyway, to match M.girl's story.

Watched the first episode of Homeland last night. Psychotic high cadre CIA vs a ginge with a funny twitch and an unreasonably pretty wife, whose teenage daughter hates her, ho hum. What's this lone turned Marine going to do, grumbles Peter. Well, of course, he's going to assassinate the President, what else?

Have made the soup (red pepper and sweet potato). Have read New Scientist, have reluctantly set aside Why Beauty Is Truth (I'm up to quaternions, and Hamiltonian systems are looking good for the Remote Presence story). Have run out of distractions.

The Dickens Issue

Wednesday 8th February, ice still hard, very dry, grey skies. The birds have made a bit of a comeback: I've seen one of the female blackcaps two days running now, and great tit, hedge sparrow & one male chaffinch as well as my faithful blue tits & robin. Crowds of sparrows in my brother's garden yesterday.

Charles Dickens has been on my mind for the last couple of years, originally because of a novel he wrote called Bleak House, which, as you may remember, features a family civil action case, over a disputed inheritance. Jarndyce vs Jarndyce finally, at a leisurely pace and after ruining many lives (some of the recipients eagerly embracing their ruin, others just in the wrong family at the wrong time), completely destroys both the family and the inheritance, and absorbs all the money in legal fees... After trolling my way through Bleak House, and appreciating the anaesthetic effect of its deft storytelling, I later decided (never having been a fan) that I would set myself to read my way through the workd of the great Charles Dickens on my commute from Brighton to Manchester.

Previously, and apart from A Christmas Carol (which depends for a lot of its effect on the incomparably greater modern work, A Muppets' Christmas Carol) I'd only met Dickens novels as "set books" in secondary school. I remember being thrilled by the Magwich opening of, Great Expectations, and intrigued by the mysterious Miss Havisham and Estella (Estrella?) set up, but then the tide of coincidences began to roll in across the mudflats, and in the end I lost patience.Hard Times was memorable, in that I still remember Mr Gradgrind and his utilitarian philosophy of everything, but I don't remember being moved or gripped by the story... I think there was David Copperfield too, but can't recall a thing about that one, except for the dolly little child bride, about as much use as a hamster, who rather annoyed me. Meanwhile, all adult, ie non-classroom based, literary and intellectual opinion seemed agreed that Dickens was a sentimental hack, a big bit of a hypocrite and no great shakes as a novelist either. But I'm now an adult myself, so I know that fashions change & you can't tell fashion from reliable reporting until you try.

I started with Little Dorrit, for the very good reason that the tv version had recently been filmed using the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich (aka these days Trinity College of Music) &, thus the modern mind, I've walked those hollowed pavements a few times so I felt a connection... Then resolved to start again at the beginning and read The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist in succession, plus I ordered the Claire Tomalin biography from Father Christmas.

My verdict? Definitely a sentimental hack, and a big bit of a hypocrite. Had only one or two ideas for plots/characters/situations, which he recycled shamelessly and relentlessly. And no doubt the same will be true, mutatis mutandis, of the great fictioneer of our times when he (well, obviously, but okay, outside bet on J K Rowling) comes to be enshrined as a cultural icon... Of course (this is in response to Claire Tomalin's view on the subject) he "resorted to prostitutes", what's more, internal evidence suggests he preferred girls at least as young as anybody could possibly consider decent. In fact that's obviously why he quietly supported a small and kindly reformatory for getting girls off the streets. He was not heartless, and he had an imagination. He married the wrong woman, poor man, and visited his marital disappointment on a long parade of monstrous fictional females, to match the long parade of infuriating insolvent fathers. Which is forgiveable, I suppose, but it's harder to forgive the author of Nicolas Nickleby for fathering a mad succession of children he insisted he didn't want, and then sending the boys off to the most ghastly prisonhouse boarding schools, where they had to stay even over Christmas... His "never mind the quality feel the width" writing style led him into the mire again and again, with the last third or so of any given novel just about bound to collapse under its own weight. Little Dorrit is awful for this: I was embarrassed for the man. They say he worked hard at his meticulous plotting. I pay him the compliment of saying, frankly I do not believe it. On the other hand, he was a terrific, if self-indulgent (but the two things go together) natural storyteller, and a terrific master of the art of arousal; ie the vital art of gripping an audience's attention. And (further in response to Claire Tomalin) he certainly knew how the English talk and behave, how desperate, drunken prostitutes behave, how extravagent and wild the underclass can get. Seriously, you'd think he'd been studying such scenes all his life.

I salute him. But.

Pickwick Papers is mainly an interminable waste of time and space. And they don't half drink a lot. Stunning non-stop consumption, even by the standards of C21 UK.

Oliver Twist is the one I recommend, the pick of the bunch, coincidences & all

& then my mother died, and I have set the task aside.

Dry As A Bone: Science Fiction As The Art Of The Possible

Thursday 2nd February, hard frost, dry as bone, everything crackles, my hair whips around the brush, hard ice on the pools but not a feather of frost.

Noticed this yesterday, on the bbc:

Here's me apologising to Stephen Cass a few months ago, having cooked up a story for the Technology Review SF Anthology, out of two New Scientist articles, a dream and a quote from T.S.Eliot, when I was supposed to be writing about tech that might actually be on the horizon. I needn't have worried, apparently.

For our next trick, The Day After Tomorrow. Nothing spectacular going on here, but it's cold, even in Brighton. The cats huddle in the house, all day. Ginger exploring the back of my desk drawers, hoping for a secret passage to Narnia. Then at four in the morning they want to go out, presumably convinced it will be warmer in the dark.

Absence of birdlife continues. A pair of bluetits and the robins, that makes three visitors, because I only ever see one robin. A blackbird in passing, occasionally. No sign of the local flock of goldfinches, nNo finches of any variety, no thrushes, I haven't seen the blackcaps for a long long time. There's going to be an answer to this puzzle, and what's the betting it won't be "not to worry!"

Keynote picture is bare beech branches at Nuthurst, December

Sick As Dogs

Tuesday 31st January, a still, cold morning here in Brighton, no sign of interesting wintery showers as yet, but the temperature has certainly taken a fall.

Sick as dogs all last week, Peter and I competing with each other bitchily for the watch below, as we alternately crept about getting things done, pleading with a cranky boiler, or huddled under the duvet. Not a spectacular bug, but a mean one, crushing us to the ground, poison headache and continuous nausea combined. I started getting better on Sunday and felt such a rush of well-being, it was almost worth it. No it wasn't. At least we managed to celebrate Peter's birthday weekend first, and at least Gabriel (who has a competition this weekend coming) is getting off lightly.

So, belated welcome to the Year of the Water Dragon.

Reading, Alexander Puskin short stories, having seen them praised as the forerunners once too often to resist. A collection of engrossing fragments, uncut, unpolished shards, I really like his "flat" style (though it's still frustrating to be told I can't ever appreciate his wonderful poetry unless I become fluent in Russian); The Queen of Spades is the finished, perfect gem. Watching, a succession of movies recorded by Gabriel who then doesn't find the time to watch them. My Darling Clementine, such a beautiful movie, such beautiful cinematography, every proportion and every detail, I confess I passed over its political flaws without a pang... the "goodgirl waits smiling by the trail, badgirl does something interesting and dies"; the "homely, decent Manifest Destiny manifesto"; the "intellectuals go to the bad get tb and can only hope to die unnoted heroic deaths"... Didn't bother me at all. Scarface. The germ plasm of all Chicago-style Italian gangster movies since, inc the Al Pacino remake. Mm. No wonder the genre strikes me as so impoverished.
Gilda. Now that's an oddity. Peculiar, but very watchable. Rita Hayworth making the most of her assets is an education, should you have forgotten how much flimflam there is in the femme fatale concept.

And Borgen I don't know why I'm still watching this soap, so I suppose that makes it watchable, but for heaven's sake. By numbers, or what?

Went to see The Descendants last night, in the cold. Taken there only by the reviews, I thought (we all thought) it was very good, except the prolonged "cathartic" yelling at an effectively dead person element. Please. At least wait until you're alone in the room.

If I go to see Iron Lady, which you could not drag me to, but if, do I get my money back should I be disappointed that the last scene does not show Meryl Streep burning in hell?

The tree is a little beech in Stanmer woods, in the snow this time two years ago. i don't have enough photos of winter trees. Or any trees. So my project this year will be to remedy that. I will about the woodlands go... It's a little late, in my case, but an excellent plan.

Lack of birdlife in the garden continues.

Moral Capitalism

Friday 20th January, grey morning, but more light in the sky and currently it is not raining. The native daffodils have put on a growth spurt, all of an inch and a half high today, but they're in a very cool shady corner. Shop-daffodils are strapping adolescents, some already showing their flower buds, but I think no fair maids of February this year, despite the green winter. Dampness prevails, but the state of Ardingly reservoir is a benchmark. We need a lot of rain, unnatural amounts of rain, to get us back to what the health profession would call this patient's baseline There are just too many people living in Sussex now, and too much very thirsty agriculture. Ironically, unnatural amounts is what we're most likely to get, so here's sort-of hoping.

And so, goodbye Occupy St Paul's. Or at least, a loss of mandate for the campers. Me, I support the idea wholeheartedly, I want the revolt against Toxic Capitalism Run By Self-Confessed Psychopaths to be visible; even if I don't actually believe in capitalism anyway. Hey. Look! Occupy is working. It's working on David Cameron, Ed Milliband, and what's that other fellow? I know what these anarchic festivals of revolution look like close up (that's not Anarchist, btw); I know what they become. Haight-Ashbury wasn't all flowers and gentle, mind-opening highs, you know. But a shambolic, messy Occupy, or the LSX bonus-culture? Even the people of England, en masse, know there is no contest.

I don't believe in moral capitalism. But on the other hand, when Mr Ecover came on the tv yesterday, to explain this strange idea Dave had come up with, to the people at the BBC, I was immediately filled with a desire to go and clean a floor. That floor-cleaner of theirs smells so great, and its such a nice colour too. There's no point, says Mr Man, in making a good, righteous product nobody wants...But he doesn't, they don't. Consumers don't love the word Organic, they don't continue to favour ethically traded goods even in hard times, to punish themselves. The stuff is good, it's nice to buy good stuff, it feels good. We want more.

Still don't believe in it.

Paper Modelling vs Zelda (post-Christmas angst bulletin)

I have not given up on my duck-flying-an-aeroplane. That's just not true.

I'm getting back to it, as soon as I've finished this Water Temple.

The keynote image is Angmering beeches in Maytime. Trees will be the default feature, this year. I'm tired of my office photo

The Birches

Tuesday 17th January, 2012. Another in a series of clear nights, shell-pink dawns in a blue sky. A weekend of real frost, this morning at seven both the pools had ice on them, first time I've seen that this winter. Interestingly, the two little fish in the smaller aka wildlife pool were visible for the first time in weeks, swimming just under the ice, maybe they were curious? Or the ice was shelter and the sunshine warmed them? Anyway now, it's a grey afternoon and the mild weather is supposed to be back tomorrow. It's the old pattern from before our run of ice and snow winters, brief cold snaps; long unhealthily mild stretches. But not enough rain for us down here. We need a lot of rain.

Christmas and New Year long over, our first walk of 2012 on Sunday, a clear, crisp, sunny day. From Balcombe to the magnificent great Ouse Valley Viaduct, designed by Urpeth Ridpath, occupant of the Engineer's Tomb, such a landmark in King Death's Garden, builder (all in Latin) of the London to Brighton Railway. We lingered there a while, then onwards to Ardingly Reservoir. Last time we came this way, January 2007, the year of the floods. The fields were full of standing water, the reservoir full to the brim. We sat in the birdhide on a dark day, shivering and eating Christmas cake, watching crested grebes, gadwalls and wigeon, mallards and of course masses of geese. The Christmas cake's all gone, and the water's gone too. Plenty of people about, visiting the nature reserve on a fine sunday, but no kayakers, no sailors, just one lone fisherperson in a rowing boat, far out, beyond horrible huge expanses of exposed bank. Warnings of "deep mud" but I don't think so, the mud is dry and moss-grown. Hasn't been under water for months. Overheard on the lakepath: there's going to be no fish left by the summer, if it carries on at this rate. Mm. And then what will go next? But nothing's going to stop us carrying on at this rate. Nothing

But we sat in the hide, for old sake's sake (disappointingly, I had forgotten to put even apples in the bag) and watched the little birds instead. A tree creeper in the birch stems, neatly using its tail as a third leg; long tailed tits in the thicket. Then further along, cormorants and a heron; on Balcombe lake, we found the crested grebes. And so back to Balcombe village and the Half Moon, in a still, rosy twilight. Fancy a pint, says I, hopefully? But Peter is strong, full of new year's resolution, and says no. Not strong enough to resist crumpets and honey at home, however.

...but we go on counting our losses, and closer to home (for me). ALCS is telling me I can probably expect no more income from educational use of my work. That's the fee they pay for photocopying snippets, mostly. And I haven't heard from PLR lately. Not since their revised date for the modest share-out of Public Lending fees, warning me this may well be the last time, as their future is uncertain. Petty as these cuts may be, they're going to hurt people in the writing trade.

Saw The Artist, and thought it cute enough to cuddle, slight enough to avoid all suspicion that it might be one of those highbrow foreign things. Did I detect the safest possible little sigh of comment, in those title cards, at the refusal of "Hollywood" to read subtitles? Well, maybe this is the answer! Saw Hugo, in Manchester as it happens, at Salford Quays, the night before my mother's funeral, in a huge, filthy and spooky Multiplex..and thought it very attractive, a lovely boy's adventure for all the family, and there's no point in telling you what I thought was wrong. Have not seen Dreams Of A Life, because so far the only showing at The Dukes has been a Director's Q&A session and you have to be sharp to get those tickets.

Have watched Sherlock #2, and find the 2ns series much more polished, a little bit fascist, & very true to the original, in that the quirks and Holmes's party trick are most of it, the "detective stories" are actually a bit rubbish. Very watchable; very entertaining. We call a woman with power over the power-brokers a whore these days, not an "adventuress", how progressive, how unlike 1895! Didn't think much of the Hound of the Baskervilles, but I never thought it was a great Holmes story. Nobody will come with me to see Guy Ritchie's slap bang wallop version, sigh.

Have been reading Dickens, but that will wait. Also A Fish Trapped Inside the Wind, Christien Gholson, sent to me by the author as a thank you (he liked Life). Surrealist, charming, recommended by Karen Fowler and deservedly so. Set in Belgium, naturally, where in a town called Villon, a lost poet's lost poems serve as the mcguffin.

The Russian-loooking birch grove is not from the Balcombe walk, they're in Lodgesale Wood, near Nuthurst; the pines there are also really beautiful.

Home By Christmas

Friday, December 16th, a raw damp day, but plenty of light in the sky. It was snowing outside my window earlier, but it's not really cold enough for snow down here.

My mother died, early on Tuesday morning. Not unexpected, I've known since August she was on her way out: no dramatic change, when someone is dying of the plain system-failures of old age, but unmistakeable. But you know it's coming, you wait for the call then you forget to wait, and then it comes.

So, Tuesday morning I made the last of those train journeys, and joined my brother who'd driven up from London through the very wild weather of that night, and been at her bedside. By Wednesday afternoon it was all over bar the funeral, and we were clearing out her room, at the end-of-life place where she'd spent the last few weeks. David went to rustle up some more boxes, I looked out on the grounds from her window, at the beautiful towering bare beeches we'd hoped she might live to see in bud or leaf. It was snowing: a black cat scampered for cover, a big dog fox trotted slowly, from shrubbery to shrubbery across the icy drenched grass. Thinking, so this is it. She's free at last, and so am I. What on earth am I going to do with myself?

I'm sure I'll think of something.

Mary Rita Jones (Dugdale) 16.12.1920-13.12.2011 RIP

& this will be the last entry, for a while.