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Summer, summer

Wednesday, 11th of May. Still morning, neither warm nor cool, a quilt of gilt and grey cloud. Tantalising feel of water in the air.

Both the yellow roses are in fine bloom, Chris the climber and The German Rose. These are nicknames: Chris was bred by a man called Chris, the German has a fugitive scent like fragrant German wine. The pears and plums have set, pears already decimated by cursed tree rats. Greenhouse is a wilderness of desperate seedlings, triage well overdue. I vow I will, will, save some of their lives today.

Where have I been all this time? Well, I was on holiday, and it was very nice thank you, but then other things happened, for instance my cat Ginger has been poorly, which means a lot to me. She's better now & I hope she stays off the sicklist. Also Brighton Festival previews, inc a private view last Friday, over the hill and across the Park in leafy Surrenden, where I actually bought a painting! (Ha, no I didn't, I couldn't afford the painting, but am now proud possessor of a short-run print of Lost In A Rage, by my friend Jacq Aris.) & the world has changed dramatically, of course. Not. You will have noticed that Osama Bin Laden has been offed, unfortunately rather not James Bond style (in the sixties, these things were managed so much more discreetly); and the response of the US President will have chilled some. We must conclude that it takes worse, darker times than the spasms of our current global politics, to wake the spirit of humanity. It took the Thirties (which were not nice!), six years of war, and an industrial scale genocide in the heart of "the Developed World" to get to Nuremburg. Shall we congratulate ourselves that the evil is no longer "banal", it's all exciting and video-gamey these days? Don't think so.*

May I draw your attention to Fukushima Prefecture? One of those inconvenient wars that has been purposefully forgotten, eh? So, if I'm so clever, do I have an answer to the awful energy gap? YES I DO. USE LESS ENERGY. That's not a sackcloth and ashes austerity programme, it's a wide open field for investment, enterprise, ingenuity.

Enough of this frivolity. My freebie-sheet for "How The Light Gets In" turned up in my inbox yesterday (or maybe last week? Things have been a little slack at this desk). I never know what to do, am I supposed to ask for one small piece of cake, like a good girl, or should I check a variety of boxes, on the assumption that most of the talks/events will already be subscribed by paying customers. Anyway, I've chosen The Islamist Inquisition Maryam Narnazie (really keen to hear her) (Event 307); Cyborg Nation Kevin Warwick (Event 309); the Shooting Star Party on Saturday night & following DJ night; a Platonic breakfast walk along the Wye on Sunday morning (Event 341), and Genes, Memes and Temes, Susan Blackmore, (Even 339). & me, I'm only scratching the surface of the second weekend. I think you can tell from this greedy buffet plate how spoilt for choice you will be yourselves, if you decide to add this fest to your summer plans.

*Eerie thing about the Nuremburg sites, they all home in on the "banality of evil" quote (which used to drive me nuts when I was a young writer and it was very popular in uksf circles). And then they go on to make the German war criminals sound so much more like Barrack Obama, David Cameron than say, any Feudal Despot nutcases of North Africa and the Levant, ostensibly perfectly normal, decent men, "they couldn't fully appreciate the human consequences of their career motivated decisions". Ouch!

And the swifts are back. They arrived here last Friday.

How The Light Gets In

Maundy Thursday 21st April, weather same as it was twenty minutes ago, possibly even a little warmer.

How The Light Gets In, the Philosophy and Music Festival at Hay on Wye, last weekend in May first weekend in June, is open for business. What's it for? I'm not totally sure, but it slightly reminds me of those Cyberfuture happenings at Warwick U., way back in the early nineties, strange cyborg goings on, live body modification and rough-cut neurological experiments, partnering deep and knotty Edge of the Future debate. Here morphed with a tentshow Music Festival... Almost sounds like Rivermead, in Bold As Love; except without the squalor. Or the violence, I assume. Check it out, the line-up is amazing.

I'm going to be there, panel-talking beside the illustrious about the ordinary and the fabulous (I think), and about particle physics if you can believe it (well, I can be the silly one, and I do have a tenuous imaginary connection). Don't know if I'll be sleeping in a tent.

When did you last cry...?

Back in Brighton again. The sun is shining, it's incredibly warm. I should be making hay, but I think I'll stay in doors and work at my desk.

When did I last cry? This morning, when I read a report of the systematic abuse of doctors and nurses who are treating wounded protestors in Bahrain. I write letters for Amnesty International Urgent Action: to put it bluntly, that means not the most urgent or dreadful abuses of human rights, more those acute cases where the Urgent Action team senses the possibility of movement, if a rush of protests can be organised. Somebody just got snatched, or some evidence has turned up about the detention location of a long-lost disappeared person (or a body) etc. But nothing like this, this is powers beyond. This is the heart of darkness doing what the hell it likes, while the so-called West sc**ws around in hapless Libya, by arrangement.

Precious Bane. I wish it was gone, I really do. AND YET I still drive my car, occasionally.

At least Bradley Manning is out of his torture cell.

And Avaaz is gaining ground, global grassroots

If anyone in our so-called government has the gall to send me one of their Happiness Quizzes, I am definitely going to spoil my ballot.

Social Mobility

Wednesday 6th April, another "beautiful day". We're having a bit of a drought in the South of England & ironically getting congratulated on it every night. On the other hand, the day is really beautiful.

Social Mobility, social mobility, hmm... Of course, it's very, very important that some of the fabulously fat cats, cuisine entrepreneurs, media moguls and merchant bankers of the next generation started life in deprived estates, and I can see how that would make it easier for Nick Clegg to sleep at night. But it's not really what I was worried about. The poor we have always with us, the materially poor are not going to go away either. They can't all find room at the top. I was worried about making the bottom more comfortable, making sure there's a safety net of concern and care, day-centres, social clubs, homework clubs, breakfast clubs, health care, medical and domestic support, all of that. That's what a more equal society means to me. Not just fixing it so that a few can leap the gulf from unacceptable poverty to repulsive riches.

This years tadpoles are doing fine, by the way. I gave them their first lettuce this morning, and they got the idea at once. (Yes, that's last year's photo. Even I have to admit, there really isn't much difference between one bowl of tads and another).

Reading: Bright Earth by Philip Ball. Really gripping and satifying popular science (with plenty of chemistry) about the history of colour.
Devastated by: discovery that Buffy Season 7 is not being aired, after Season 6 finale on Monday night. How can Syfy do this to me! Buffy brings back such memories, it's been so great revisiting them all, even through the grim post-mortem reality-rash in 6.
We're going to have to borrow Dan's DVD, which sort of reduces the magic.

Asia Times reports Obama Saud pact (April Fool's Day links)

Saturday April 2nd, clear sunshine

I know I said I wasn't interested, but I couldn't help wondering. Obviously, the Libya rebels aren't dangerous to the status quo, not really, but the Sauds and the no-fly how does that work, so had to read this when it turned up:

And the cuts begin to bite. Last messages have reached me from the friends I made a few years ago in SET and other UK bodies. This is from the arts, just one of many casualties in retreat to the bunker of the virtual, art/comment magazine Mute.

Beautiful weather, but I'm home alone and intend to spend as much of the time as possible staying that way. I need some aloneness, away from the keyboard. Need to sort out a few knots, in the fertile calm induced by lying in bed, reading and partly reading, sustained by cups of tea.

Except I have to go on an expedition in search of a lost phone, not mine.

Shame vs Guilt?

Thursday 31st March, a grey rainy morning, bringing out all the candy-colours of spring. Good to have a little rain. Last night, in the cold dusk, I opened my window to listen to the blackcap, singing and singing, piercing sweet.

So Diana Wynne Jones is gone, and that's sad, but what a good life to celebrate. She played a very fine innings, seems to me. Wrote a lot of great books, had many friends, many fans and will be missed by a lot of people.

Still following, irrisistibly, the story of my long ago celebrity acquaintance, Fukushima. I find the report that the "troubled" reactors will be scrapped the most heartening for many days, and maybe the first rational move. Worryingly radioactive seawater. Is that news? What on earth did the people, near and far, expect? I was moved, yesterday, to look up the old saw about Japan, and shame vs guilt culture, famous and influential mass psychology paper of the post-WWII period. Self congratulatory, of course, but anyway here's a link: (of course Islam is now the un-American culture with the massive flaw, but I can't help that. Still think there's something in it.) Moved further to propose that nations and sovereign states that practice Shame Culture should be banned from using Nuclear Energy. The two just don't mix. Ironically, shame is supposed to be the strategy in collectivist society, guilt the practice where the individual is the perceived social unit. But collectivism is just where shame doesn't work! Pretending it didn't happen, so as not to lose face, is a very sensible response eg in the case of an individual with a self-esteem issue, not so great in the case of full or partial meltdown in a wrecked reactor.

Guilt is good. Guilt takes responsibility, and gets things fixed. What's wrong with that?

What's that you say? Japan no different from the rest of the world, really. Not to mention all corporate culture is exclusively run on shame culture lines? Oh, well, okay. That's a bigger problem.

But guilt is still good.

The Killing: Forgotten dreams

Monday 28th March, a cool grey morning, sunshine breaking through by lunchtime. Nursing another cold, weak of will, I have just spent the whole morning reading New Scientist and answering a journalist's questions about gynoids.

And that was The Killing. And what do you know, after all that gripping, sombre and ingenious misdirection, the butler did it & didn't I say so? You ask Peter, he'll tell you. Sara Lund could have saved herself much trouble and grief if she had called me, soon as I'd seen the first episode.

Gwyneth, help me out, so I can go to Sweden and not rip my life apart. Who did it?

Lund, look no further. It was that weevilly-looking bloke, with the crumpled soft face and kind of cringing manner, who works for the Birk Larsens like some kind of family retainer. What's he doing there? He's a fifth wheel, the tell-tale extra body who can be hanging around for no other reason but to be the murderer. He's your man.

The Cave Of Forgotten Dreams on the other hand, retained its mystery. Who were they, what were they doing in that cavern, 32,000 years ago: leaving barely any trace of their occupation bar the cave lions, the horses, the rhinos, the auroch, the bison. Was there simply no barrier between the new-born mind and hand, could everybody draw like that? Or was this a genius, creating in ritual dedication? Was it just Bent Little Finger, and maybe a mate or two, whiling away the time while caught by a snowstorm or something? Or has the blanket of crystal deposited by the millenia smothered a more detailed, purposeful story? I had my doubts about the "bison embracing the sex of a human female", just couldn't see it; on the other hand I waited in vain for someone to explain the reddish skinny elephant, apparently standing on its back legs, with sort of dusters on its feet... Bewildered by the editing that seemed to have been done by a kid on work experience, I will treasure the final image for a long time: the cave painters were human beings. I am as an albino alligator, with fabulous yellow eyes, drifting in a synthetic radioactive swamp.

That's so cool! I embrace this vision!

Eve Teasing

Friday 25th March, another beautiful Spring day, clear skies, very warm.

Well, well, "Eve teasing" as a BBC human interest news item, it must be a slow day, oh wait, no it isn't. Funny how things come round again, like unanswered questions. So why do women "dress provocatively"? To defend themselves against the catcalls, of course. High heels to make them look bigger, because men are taller, duh-uh. And by the height of the fashion you may judge the level of unease. The rest of the costume? It's supposed to placate, signalling that you accept your status as sex object, and to intimidate, signalling you're a really well-endowed sex object.

Do these strategies work? No!

Will women ever try a different approach? Well, one solution is to ditch the "I am sex on legs" armour, dress for your own comfort, convenience and pleasure, and accept any polite signs of appreciation you may still collect with goodwill. This is not infallible but has worked fairly well for me, and practice must make perfect, because I find it works better and better as the decades go by. There's also the full chador. Highly reccommended, by those who habitually use it (with the added value that you can wear the tackiest, tartiest kit you like, underneath!) . Unfortunately, this package includes getting stoned to death for being raped, etc, which makes some women wary.

Will men ever give up this often-not-so-covert aggression? Of course they will! Peer pressure would easily do it. But don't hold your breath

Other answer: they do, from time to time. Men and women on the street both, for a while, realise what's going on, and treat each other with more respect. And from time to time, for a while, those who know that permanent warfare is incompatible with democracy and justice get a hearing. I've seen that happen, too.

Still hoping for the best for Fukushima, but hmm. I'd be glad to get good news of the guys in hospital.

Safe As Milk, anyone?

Wednesday 23rd March, weather same as yesterday, except no dropping mist at dawn. Clear skies, bright sun. Beginning to wish it would rain.

Publisher's Weekly says Google Book Settlement rejected by Judge Chin, read all about it here: That's most unexpected. I wonder what it means. The big money always wins, doesn't it? Weird...

Maybe because I've spent my life on the Opposition benches, and been proud of this status, I regard opposition as a choice, a vote, a wager, a hat tossed in the ring. Power corrupts, always, but that does not mean opposition to the party in power is necessarily, always, right. It's just that there should be some people pulling the other way from the unmindful, manipulated majority. So now I'm sounding like Adoy again, backwards talking and I'll shut up.

I've returned to my garden. Fukishima, hoping for the best. Global War creep by stealth thing that's going on: not a fan, not following it. Except have you noticed Libya has been moved to The Middle East? To keep all the eggs in one basket, I suppose. And hoping there'll be somewhere for the young men who don't wish to kill for money to run to... Canada? Don't think so. Tierra del Fuego?

Sunday sad, Tuesday happy

Tuesday 22nd March, same pattern as the last few days: a cold night here in Sussex, temperatures grazing frost level; a misty dawn, clearing to bright sun, but still an underlying chill.

Sunday I was sad, despite the brilliant success of Gabriel's Liszt Bicentennial concert, because all our fine young pianists gone away again, and practically all my little tadpoles died overnight. No obvious reason why. Also tired as a dead dog, from the parental stress of all that effortless success. Today I'm happy, because the newts are back, in clear water, looking very fine. (the small pool meanwhile is still churned to zero visibility, so I can't tell what's happening in there). Plus the miniscule company of survivors from my first batch of indoor frog-conservation endeavour are still wriggling merrily, having put on weight and developed frillier gills. I'm going to call them the Liszt Concert Six.

Meanwhile, over on Aqueduct Press, and alerted by David Golding, I see the (re-mastered) Aleutian Trilogy ebooks have appeared & that's nice to know. Job done. Really, I need to have Spirit re-mastered and up there before I reach closure, but I'm getting there.

Found a cool link for Rainbow Bridge (I'm so glad someone noticed the carefully researched sixties/rockstar/occult strand, at last) which I'm posting here to remind myself I haven't forgotten that I still have to re-master and epublish the fifth Bold As Love book too.

There's Life

Wednesday 16th March. Soft spring air yesterday, the garden at last and suddenly taking on colour, suddenly budding and flowery. Today a low sky, dropping mist, I could see my breath.

Two batches of spawn so far, I brought some of the first batch indoors, and already I have dumbells: there's life there. Have failed to relocate the little fish in the "wildlife patch" pool = introduced after the tads grew up last year, to eat mosquito larvae. I left it too late, the warm air has warmed the water, the frogs have become active and the water a muddy suspension. Oh well, opportunistic fishing will have to be my hobby (fish and tads don't mix well). In memory of Link's fishing obsession...

And meanwhile, have the Saudis effectively invaded Bahrain, the tiny state where masses of decent people, both sexes, all dress codes, peacefully came out on the streets to insist on reform? Looks like it

Stunningly callous assessment of the Japanese crisis on The Daily Reckoning (but that's what I hire them for, bless). I'm really annoyed at all the insulting denigration of Japan's twenty years of "stagnating economy". Getting to a good place and stopping there, creating social equality, ending the fallacy of perpetual economic growth. What is wrong with that?

"We don't need to replace fossil fuel with plutonium, we need to USE LESS ENERGY"


Friday 11th March, I get to my desk, and switch on the BBC to find out what's happening in Libya. No, Libya is no longer headlining. There's been a huge seabed earthquake and tsunami, affecting the whole North East coast of Japan. Utter devastation everywhere, and one of the Fukushima reactors is in trouble. At once I'm transported back to 1988/1989, when I was drafting White Queen. I had in mind an alien invasion, but not the Space Opera, "War of the Worlds" variety, with a Deathstar Fleet appearing from nowhere, bent on World Domination with sole emphasis on the USA (or UK, in Wells's day). I wanted to use the best real world models we have, ie the alien colonial invasions from Western Europe into the developed civilisations of Pacific Asia, India, Africa. World domination, in this model, come almost by accident, in increments, over generations, and the natives don't even try to resist, much. They believe the promises, they're divided among themselves, and they've already been weakened by complex homegrown factors. Given the heft and size of our current global civilisation, I think I need to invoke some major, politically neutral disaster, it's better wipe out a huge chunk of our notional capital in the bargain, now what shall it be? An asteroid? The USA and Western Europe must be physically, largely unaffected (except by the slow creep of global warming sea level rise), because I can speak with relative confidence in the voice of those cultures, so I'll need to use them as my venues. Likewise Africa, for different reasons. Did I read Sakyo Komatsu's Japan Sinks, and decide I'd found my catastrophe? Or did I think of Japan, and did that lead me to Komatsu? I can't remember.

So then I spent the weekend, which happened to be unsettling and eventful in my own private life, constantly referring to the live updates, hearing phrases and descriptions (the entire coastal plate, the reactor core may have been exposed, the fuel rods were not fully inserted) familiar to me from long ago, and feeling, creepily, that I was reacting like someone who sees a celebrity in trouble on the News, and cries excitedly "Oooh, Fukushima! I met her once!" But what has struck me most is the sheer ugliness of the sight (same as the wake of the Boxing Day tsunami a few years ago). The whole coastland and for miles inland transformed into a vast, foul, muddy, festering heap of trash, as if the lives of millions of the poorest of the poor of the urban tropics had been swept up and dumped there. And the humanity of the reaction of the Japanese government and people. How their first instinct was to minimise the damage, we're not much hurt, we'll be fine. But that's shock, it wears off, the pain sets in, they begin to realise the horrific extent of their injuries, and the invisible fear.

Nuclear Reactors may compare favourably, on environmental grounds with gas, coal, oil-fired power stations as long as nothing goes wrong.

Nobody would ever, ever build a Nuclear Power Station, if safety was the top priority.

No room for Libya on the front pages, and no hope for those rebels that I can see. Guernica is a very famous picture, but it didn't help to shift Franco, far from it. But from the start, I wasn't hopeful for the Libyan tranche of the Arab revolutions.There didn't seem to be a general will to change the paradigm. The men, and the young men, were just too willing to die, eerily willing to die gloriously in battle, while the women stayed in their houses, not in safety, of course not, but in "honour" bound.

Saturday 12th March, watery sun and haze, the waterlily tulips all wide open in the big blue pot, Gabriel home for the weekend, a buzz of preparation for the Liszt concert, and working on his share of a Fitkin eight-hand piano piece, part of an evening of Fitkin, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Thurs 24th A vast site specific event, it says here. Should be fun, I'll be there.

Gloom and Sunshine

Wednesday 2nd March, cold but the sun has come out. Hazy sky, faintly blue, suffused with light. Lulu Belle Camellia may have to come indoors again tonight, however. Three frogs have been seen, no further action, no spawn. One of these years...

Sunday 27th in the grey stillness of a shrouded end-of-winter day, we found something strange outside Mayfield (=Maul's field in Saxon times, formerly the capital of the Sussex iron industry you know). A large rectangular pit, still partially clothed in swimming pool blue, a few inches of dead leaves and water in the bottom, the trees around leaning close to grab the open sky. Marked on the map, "swimming bath", wonder how it got here, who swam here, and when did it fall into dereliction. The answer to the first might be the spring close by, running strongly from a metal pipe into a mossy stone basin and spilling downhill to a tributary of the Rother. Spring recently adopted as an al fresco "Celtic Shrine", and declared sacred, which does not mean it was left alone in beauty, no, it means the young ash tree above it had been requisitioned as an eyesore: coat hanger for rags of coloured cloth, beads, twisty things. A notice wrapped in plastic invited us to add our own. Bloody Pagans, litter-louts. Where do they get off? Are we on Celtic ethnic territory here? I don't think so! Oh well, at least they didn't build themselves a lurid basilica. Yet.

But I tasted the water, and it was sweet.

This is richly populated country, since Saxon times. Walking around Mayfield woods and fields you're rarely out of sight of some human dwelling, mainly ancient and fine, or derelict and pleasingly spooky, but still it feels as if you're strolling through an extremely leafy extended garden suburb. Bit like the Shire, maybe, except no grass roofs. Yet. The footing also unspeakably slimy throughout, that's Wealden Clay for you, and sometimes vile (eg getting past the deer feeding station in Wadhurst Park, disgusting lakes of slurry). But there were primroses, the first we've seen, crowds of yellow hazel catkins, fully expanded; amiable sheep. I like sheep, as you may have gathered. Birdsong, non-stop and the sound of water; neither of these disturbing the quiet. A skein of geese went honking overhead, dropping rain and then a cold breeze got up towards sunset, but we didn't mind.

Many thanks to Mr Plashing Vole, for his book order. Universe of Things is in the post, and a donation of £13 has been made to Amnesty International. I have more Universes! It's for a good cause, come on.

Meanwhile, joy it was in that dawn to be alive seems to have segued into a dreary, deadly civil war in Libya, and no good news from Wisconsin either. The tight little group of regular respondents on Common Dream are convinced the anti-Gaddafis are being financed by the CIA, and maybe that tells the whole story.

Meanwhile #non-war news, Gill Spraggs has posted some new links on the doubtful future of copyright, and the issue of Mr Cameron's plan to adopt a US style system. Join the mailing list if you're interested:

Thunder At Valmy: Tales of Moon and Rain

Friday 25th February, morning mist, mild temperatures, three skinny frogs in the bigger pool: first sighting. A mating pair and a spare male. I hope there will be more.

Watching: Mizoguchi's Ugetsu Monogatari, a Japanese ghost story, one of my happier Lovefilm arthouse choices. "The feeling of wartime must be apparent in the attitude of every character," it says here, quoting the director. "The violence of war unleashed by those in power on a pretext of the national good must overwhelm the common people with suffering—moral and physical.". I don't know why these Japanese movies have such an intense appeal, or even why they are so revered by movie buffs. But knowing nothing, I'm drawn in.

And the BBC live updates from Libya, the rest of North Africa, the Middle East.

Reading (my library books) Jonathan Rabb's Rosa, a richly novelistic thriller woven around the death of Rosa Luxembourg. Also pretty good. Hello! I see it's a trilogy. Am I sorry about that, or pleased there'll be more?

Today it's earliest spring. The insistent see-saw see-saw see-saw of the great tits cuts through the mist, gathering again as the afternoon draws in. The murky damp weather persists, seems to have been hanging around forever, but I have a feeling winter conditions are not going to return, not down here

Intelligence Test For Cats

Monday 21st February, another new year's day for me. Weather same as it's been since I caught this mega-cold: grey, low cloud frequently deliquescing into day-long downpours & I take it those Coronal Mass Ejections did not bring Civilisation to its knees? No? Well, better get on with this.

Bahrain (sounding brave and hopeful), Algeria, Libya (sounding very frightening), and Wisconsin. That's a bizarre addition to the roll.

It's no use. It's over before we begin, due to the test's failure to match parameters. You see, Ginger can with ease communicate this sentiment to a human being ie me:

Get off me! Why are you suddenly behaving so weird?

But I have no means of expressing, in her language:

Calm down, it's an intelligence test, it won't affect your credit rating honest, it's just a bit of fun.

At least Ginger sticks around, curious as always. Touch the inside of your cat's ear with a finger or a pencil, it says here... Does she shake her head? Does she twitch the ear? Or does she (for full marks!) apply a paw to the ear?

Ginger intercepts the pencil with her nose, twitches and shakes in one movement; finally decides having her ear poked might be fun and sits there purring, with her head on one side.

Milo simply runs off and hides under the bed. Does his fear of the unknown mask a mighty intellect?

The Intelligence Test For Cats
was one of my birthday presents, birthday culminating in a visit to the Southbank to hear Pollini play Beethoven's Last Sonatas. For the record I didn't feel like standing up, though plenty did, but I thought he played 111, my favourite, really lovely although having crawled out of my preferred state (huddling, coffing and choking up wads of evil-coloured goop) for the duration I was mainly concentrating on getting through without annoying my neighbours.

For Gwyneth Jones completists in the UK, & if you didn't buy Grazing : If you want to buy The Universe Of Things collection I have some spares, and will not charge you an arm and a leg. It'll be list price, as this is a new book, which I make to be £11.20 in GBP, and the money ex-postage goes to Amnesty as usual. Details for ordering on my Books page.