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Three Days In Berlin

Monday 24th October. It's the last of our autumn half-term city breaks; for there will be no more half-terms. Fantastic apartment, practically next door to the Friedrich Palast, where a lady who wasn't born that way wears her eyes on her arm and sports a superb Jean Paul Gaultier outfit, with feathers to burn; and unfortunately I am poorly. Got some bug. We won't be going clubbing, or visiting that fabulous rooftop bar Gabriel raves about. Cracking headache, aches and pains, thick head, stiff neck feeling sick, but I'll get by. First time we've had our passport check automated at St Pancras, I suppose the full body-scan won't be far behind. . . but still a nice atmosphere down there at the Intercontinental Bar. I have read The Green Hat (Michael Arlen), mysteriously placed in "The Second Inquisition", as glamorous naughty book, but this has always puzzled me, as the novel is actually really, really miserable, unless you think having multiple septic abortions is glamorous. One of that mini-genre I call "Syphilis trash romance" (better done by Ethel M.Dell in The Keeper of the Door). Nope, I'm no wiser. Next holiday homework,the notorious Darkover Landfall. (a Marion Zimmer Bradley initiation for me). Tomorrow is Gabriel's first recital in India. Hope it goes well (it did).

Tuesday October 25th. Museum Island. What a nifty idea, a corral of museums! We visited the Neues Museum, which is all about Egypt, and the star of the show is the bust of Nefertiti, she is amazing. You cannot photograph her, but you can touch her, as there is a replica, black stone, for blind people and anyone else with any sense. Akhenaten's bust, though less spectacular, is also pretty good. The Egyptian everyday stuff in the basement is very, very good, much more intelligently & respectfully annotated than in the BM. I would show you my photo of Imhotep (the real Imhotep, on whom The Mummy himself is based, in the two greatest adventure fantasy movies in the world), but the lights were low, and my hands were understandably shaky. They have what's left of the loot from Schleimann's Troy hoard (the Russians made off with the gold), and a whole EU budget's worth of cumbersome bronze-axe currency. But the other best thing, next to Nefertiti, in the Neues Museum has to be the Berlin Gold Hat, up on the top floor, beside the lovely video-diorama called The Time Machine. You've got to see this, it's bizarre. It's an actual hat ("made for the male skull" the info firmly tells you), a wildly tall and pointy wizard's hat, made of beaten gold, covered in arcane symbols, and dating the museum believes, from about 1000BC. Bought from an antiques dealer in 1996. It's been deciphered as a record and a demonstration of vital calendar information, converting from the Lunar calendar to the Solar calendar. (& if you don't get what that implies, dear reader, I'm guessing you're not female?). Hm. Maybe I should have smashed the case, or scrawled it with red paint GIVE US BACK OUR ELEVEN DAYS! But I just gaped. One thing I do not expect in an ancient history museum is a proper surprise. Wow. J K Rowling missed a trick!

Wednesday 26th October. Chill grey air outside our rooftop apartment: Berlin in the fog, thick fog in my head, but never say die. Off we go to Checkpoint Charlie, a puzzling tourist stop for me as I was convinced that we were staying in West Berlin, and would now be crossing over into the East. (Based on the fact that our part of town was all richly-built and fancy looking, whereas after Checkpoint Charlie it was dour housing blocks all the way; plus a misunderstanding of the orientation of the "East Side Gallery" beside the Spree, I retained this impression even as the day progressed). But anyway, just a short stroll down the Friedrichstrasse with its big shiny shop fronts, we moved in a slow procession with others, along the hoardings that tell the story, 1945-1989, (around the cleared ground that has become a sort of hippie camp). It was absorbing. Although I don't remember ever being afraid, I do remember some of this. I definitely remember Peter Fechter. I was ten: it was, I suppose a pitiful, horrible incident on a scale small enough for me. I don't remember the flood of "East Germans" through the last gap, but here it is, the story that puts Angela Merkel's response to the refugee crisis in context. We must let them in. Yes.

The sparrows chirped, the people moved quietly, reading their history lesson carefully. All the while I was growing up, and even to the turn of the 21st century, I never really believed that all this would be superseded, that WWII and its long Cold War dying would one day no longer be the worst of times; that I would live to see Europe, see the whole world engulfed in another descent into horrors. But here we are.

Anyway, we had another surprisingly short walk down the Freidrichstrasse, to the turn off for the Jewish Museum. Huge banners advertising an exhibition called The Golem, took us aback, we'd been prepared for an intense and grim immersion, not a monster fable, but all became clear indoors, and the Libeskind Building part was exactly as described by Gabriel. Stark. Gripping. Really good, tragic art in the form of a tall hangar of a building holding a concentrated small maze of different experiences. In the Holocaust Tower (the endpoint of the maze), we were invited by Libeskind to think of the genocide; or of genocides; or to find our own meaning for this darkness. So of course I thought of the oblivion that is likely (on current figures) to swallow me, years before I die. I'm very, very much more terrified of that than I am of death itself, because death at least is a door out, whatever lies beyond. An escape.

The towers of the Garden of Exile were also pretty good. Very unsettling.

After this, the Jewish History museum part was thorough, informative and a little bit tame, but we didn't skimp. Much.

I kept thinking, this could happen to me. No, not for being a "bolshy feminist", or any of my other tiny squeaks of dissent (thanks for the thought) but for something I didn't even know I was doing,; let alone doing wrong. For having four Irish grandparents, for having been baptised a Catholic. And they would start closing in, but I would put off running for my life, because I wouldn't be able to believe it was happening, and then suddenly it would be too late . . . I didn't want to have lunch in the cafeteria, I couldn't sit down and happily munch a sandwich after that lot, and so on we went, hungry, and ate risotto in a pop-up cafe near the river.

The East Side Gallery was great, both sides. Nice wide open space.

That same evening, in spooky deep darkness, we took a taxi across town to the piano salon where Alex works and where Gabriel had booked us tickets for a warehouse recital, for two pianos. Grand piano carcases like beached whales lining the walls of this great cavern, strange medley of art and fantasy works among them and up to the rafters, and everyone kept their coats on, you'd better believe it. Olha Chipak and Olesky Kushnir, playing Stravinsky, and Bizet, and Schubert and a bit of Swan Lake, and a four-hander version of Die Erl King that was just brilliant.

Thursday 27th October. The mist was thicker, the temperature lower, and we did a lot of walking around. Can't say I was too impressed by the "Empty Library" (You paid how much?) Decided against the official "Holocaust Memorial", put off by the idea that the anti-graffiti paint on the pillars provided by a subsidiary of IG Farben. Through the Brandenburg Gate and across the Tiergarten, which means zoo but we didn't get that far. The Alte Nationalgalerie in the Kulturforum is the place where the Germans definitely were not at the back of the queue. Wow, what a heap of loot! You like Sandro Botticelli? This is the place for you. Vermeer? They got Vermeers. The Rembrandts are a bit so-so; except for a couple of the self-portraits . . . Like that.The food, however, was awful. The hoodie crows (I loved the hoodie crows of Berlin & they were everywhere) crowded around the little trees outside the Reichstag, but I had nothing to pay them with, so they wouldn't let me take their photo.

& in the morning we caught the train home.

Funny thing, it comes back to me now that I was really quite worried about the reunification of the two Germanies, in 1990. There was a cartoon in one of the broadsheet newspapers of that time, showing a map of Europe with two Jack Boots standing upright, springing to attention: ready to resume their old business. Watch out! The Stasi are coming! But it didn't happen. On the contrary, and as of today, we have a middle-aged East German woman in post (much to her dismay) as the de facto, acting Leader of the Free World. It goes to show you never can tell. A thought which is not supposed to make you feel cosy and better. Feel as bad as you like. You won't be wrong & you might achieve something that way.

P.S Darkover Landfall did not disappoint; so to speak. Highly reminiscent of a certain kind of Seventies Commune, the kind from which you should run away very, very quickly. And, just by the way, what an idea! We're stranded on an unknown planet, haven't a clue what it's going to throw at us, haven't yet built shelters or got crops in the ground, quickly lets all the women get pregnant! And lets declare "them" useless for any other purpose! Cruelty breeds cruelty, I have a strong suspicion she was abused before she was an abuser . . . but, anyway, less said the better and that's another unknown become a known.

Reflections on a New World Order

I've been thinking about what to do about the new world we're facing. No, not which petitions should I sign, where should I donate; I mean internally. There's a lifestyle piece on this very topic on the BBC News site today. Cheer up, dears is the message. Shocked by the EU referendum vote? Disoriented by Donald Trump's victory? Daunted by the UK racist surge? Terrified a the way the world's powers ignore climate change? Concerned about the loss of 40% of the world's wildlife, upset about the ever spreading, ever more horrible fall-out from the rich world's Oil Wars? Distressed by all those bodies in the Med? Here's how to deal: just don't be silly! Your convictions, that you think are so important, are the whole problem! Accept that you don't know what's best, and everything will be fine.

For God's sake.

Never mind to all that? Let's get back to the rich are supposed to be rich, the poor are supposed to be betrayed, our rulers are supposed to be corrupt, and either insane or criminally stupid or both; and the earth is supposed to be despoiled: don't fret, "It's God's will!"? Nope, doesn't work for me. Sounds like the worst kind of mind-numbing anti-depressant. I plan to continue accepting responsibility, and believing in better, and what the hell, why not . . . There was nothing I could do but vote Remain in the referendum, even though I knew we'd lost (and had to endure the irritation of my friends and family, solid "Remainers", not so much activist, telling me to shut up with the doom and gloom). What would I have done in the USA? Tough call. I'd have voted for Clinton, I suppose, but without any conviction (as the editorial in last week's New Scientist suggested "Vote for Clinton, even if you have to hold your nose"). But voting for any "political party candidate" in our present circs is voting for the cherry, does nothing to change the cake. All I know for sure is that any social justice society, any Good State, cannot be the shape of a pyramid. It has to be a Bell Curve: the poor and the rich both have to be outliers or else . . .

The image that keeps coming to me is of a storm at sea: what's best to do, if you're caught out there, facing a scale of challenge you never expected? You batten down the hatches. Take off all the sail you can, while still retaining some control of the boat, and head for the open sea. Stay away from the shore. Don't try to seek shelter, you'll get bashed to bits. You have a better chance of surviving on the deep waters, far from land.

So weather it, as they say, and accept no false comfort. Face the thing out.

But enough of this frivolity. That's the cover of my Tor novella again, to celebrate the fact that I just turned in the copyediting, and and here is a link to the cover memo I sent them. The less an author has to do with the cover the better, in my humble experience, but one shows willing. Warning: this memo may contain spoilers.

& I think I'm overdue for a fiction round-up.
I will be brief (mostly)

Movies first.

Under the Shadow. What I tweeted. Wonderfully acted and directed. It's about Iran, it's about women and war; and djinn, the people of the wind. Why, why, why didn't she cut and run? Because you don't. Because it was her daughter's childhood culture and how could she abandon that? Because that's what low intensity war does to you, and anyway, a great horror movie is entitled to press a few buttons? It's deep, rich, it's a brilliant scary movie. You must see it. Babak Anvari, Narges Rashidi, and one amazing little girl, Avin Manshadi.

Lo and Behold Werner Herzog, and various IT people (also some anti-IT people, but they were deluded and didn't really count except as a romantic backwoodsy touch); and featuring Elon Musk in a special guest appearence, explaining why we have to get a colony started on Mars "in case anything happens to planet Earth". A quirky, patchy treatment of the history of the Internet. I enjoyed this when I saw it, later decided I was underwhelmed. Very strange moment when a still of Tim Berners-Lee suddenly turned up, and then nothing more . . . Wow, I thought. Has he died?. No, the creator of the World Wide Web just, sort of, apparently, got left out. The internet scientists were exclusively male, giggly and cheeky as toddlers, and never displayed a single solitary sign of being grown up; or in touch with reality. The only non-civilian woman among the interviewees did not turn up until chapter 7, I think it was: to explain how the internet could be killed. It was nice to see her; it was Lucianne Walkowicz (later returning in another cameo, to demolish Elon Musk's big idea), but a pattern emerged!

Nocturnal Animals High production values, very watchable and entertaining trashploitation. This is Pop Art. No, I'm serious. There was this one shot, outside the abortion clinic, when she's being cuddled by her lover, and there, right outside the car window, is her husband (who happened to be passing. . .) The father of the child she destroyed: rain and tears pouring down his face . . . that screamed for Lichtenstein. Where did the other daughter, I mean the real one come from? How did the corpses manage to be so delectably clean and tidy? Do all men who go far in the fashion industry really, really hate women? Is it an occupational hazard? Not a big advert for gun control nb. Nocturnal Animals has everything, ghastly poor people, the whimpering cissy who finds manhood, the tough guy with lung cancer, and bitches, bitches, bitches. If you were moved and impressed by this movie you're going to love the Trump presidency.

Books . . . Tourism

Books and Tourism round up will wait for another day or two, because I have to get back to the maze of twisty passages all different, and all equally enticing, that is the Joanna Russ project.

Written listening to Ashkenazy playing the Shostakovich Preludes and Fugues. I fell in love with this recording, and with the composer a few years ago, when Dimitri Shostakovich was on Gabriel's syllabus at Trinity. It was 1950, he was a desperate man, living under one of the darkest shadows in modern history; and he wrote this.


A Hostile Environment:
It's quite possible you were proud to think this doesn't happen in the grand old UK. We're rich, we have people to do the barbed wire, the dawn raids and ten metre wall work for us: first at camp Delta, and now of course we have the people of Calais to take the strain of dirty rotten brutality off our shoulders . . . You would be wrong. The UN says that refugees must be given refuge, but that doesn't mean we have to make it easy. Qualifying for refugee status is a tough, lengthy selection process, even for children, and while your credentials are wandering about the offices of state, this is where you'll be staying (see image). Without trial, without charge. Banged up in concrete, behind barbed wire, and you have no idea for how long. Nobody's even trying to say you're a terrorist. You did nothing very wrong (although you probably have some peccadillo or other on your charge sheet, if you've been living rough). That's not the problem. The problem is you are here, holding out your bowl, saying Please Sir (or Madam) I want some more . . .

You probably feel less than grateful to that butter-wouldn't-melt UN, that giant, for putting you up to this . . .

Unlike any other country in Europe, the UK has no limit on how long someone can be detained in this way.

. . . And if you fail, if your right-to-remain case (any variety) does not convince, then one day, or likely in the middle of one night, the private "security" company heavies will come to your cell, take immediate, ugly, no-half-measures action to restrain you (just in case), and haul you off to the deportation bus. Your UK family members will find out what happened. Eventually. If they try hard enough.

I know it isn't easy. I know there has to be process. But there's got to be another way. A better way.

What is to be done, now that the Home Secretary who vowed to create a "hostile environment for migrants" is running (or attempting to run) the UK? As if it was her private fief? I don't honestly know, but here's some links.

Petitions aren't much use, except, not to be despised, they're a sign of public awareness, and an aid to public awareness. Four million signatures will not impress the Home Office: however, other people, real people, might feel inspired. So please do sign. Writing a letter to Amber Rudd, a proper letter with a stamp and everything, is a step or two up. Or you could try kicking the walls at Yarl's Wood. Direct Action is the one thing that really does work, at least sometimes. I know it does. I can vote. Besides, the media people like it & nothing ever happens in this post-truth world without their hugs and kisses (Hey, we'd never have been close to Brexit without them!)

Rant over? Haha, I've barely started (excuse all the italics btw, it's just the mood I'm in). Let us move on to the topic This Is Not A Migrant Crisis. The first rule of this is not a migrant crisis is: This is NOT a migrant crisis. It's a Conflict Crisis: about all the countries ruined by all the "9/11"; was oil wars, still smouldering since 2001. Not to mention the previous generation of client wars, proxy wars and plunder wars (you know, the gold, the cobalt, the tungsten; whatever. All the stuff you need so you can have the latest phone etc), still "smouldering" since the 1990s. In Central Africa; winning the DRC the unenviable title of rape capital of the world. . . It's a soil depletion crisis. It's a climate change disaster crisis (I am sick of that feeble "climate change" expression. I'm going to ban it). It's a water crisis. It's, above and beyond all its many faces, the crisis of the economic growth model freight train hitting the buffers, and the train is driverless (don't think there's a guard on board either), so it doesn't know when to stop. It doesn't know how to stop, it just keeps hammering on, SLAM SLAM SLAM . . . Crushing the bodies of thousands, of millions of helpless, struggling human beings against that immovable limit.

Back in 1998 when I was writing Bold As Love, I was sure this time had to come: movement of the people, hungry for the lost privileges we former Brits still possessed (400,000 refugees from the Chaos Countries crossing the North Sea, one summer, to arrive, oh no, helpless and destitute in the middle of a cultural revolution). No crystal ball necessary. Empires have fallen before now, ushering in what are known as Dark Ages; and I think you know the particular model I was using. I didn't even have to make it up; or steal it from Rosemary Sutcliff et al, our doom was already upon us, only it was more low-key, I suppose, due to the well-nigh unimaginable lack of social media. But I had it down to the slow stuff reaching a boil: devastating soil depletion, pesticide poisoning, drought, famine; general economic & political meltdown in the most heavily populated countries in the world. I didn't expect the various wars to have ended; I knew climate disaster had to be coming, but those factors were in the background, in my scenario. Back then, we thought the bogey-enemy was "globalisation". And maybe we were right, maybe we're still right, in a way. This is not a migrant crisis. It's, in whatever shape, just one form of a near-unbeatable challenge to the greatest, most wonderful and without doubt the most deadly dangerous human civilisation this planet has yet seen. It's unstoppable because it's so normal, it's just human nature: gone mad as a japanese knotweed colony exploding in the foundations of our survival.

Sorry. I'm part-human; part science-fiction writer. We have to talk like that sometimes.

What is to be done? I have no idea but I'm collecting suggestions, and they all say the same thing. Never look at the odds, just do what you can. (& what I like most about the "humming bird" story is that it doesn't say this will work On the whole, probably not, just do it anyway; seems to be the message). Also that the project started out as being about art).

The September days still stifling hot here in Brighton, though there's a cool breeze through my window now. At night the moon is eerily brilliant, a haggard, blemished white face. It's been a long hard summer. The EU Referendum results.Theresa May. Post-truth Politics. The Hate Crime surge . . . (Well! Who on earth could have predicted that? sarcastic emoticon here) Brexit. Hinkley Point, for God's sake, approved today . . . The evident failure of the Paris climate disaster summit. The rankling knowledge that if the UK actually leaves the EU (whereupon our former community will STICK IT TO US any which way they can, on our way out; and well-deserved too) . . . it will be because the good kids can be trusted to accept our fate quietly, in an orderly fashion. Whereas the bad kids can be trusted to smash the place up if they don't get their own way. And my dear cat Ginger died in July, a loss that stopped all my clocks for a while. My afternoon sun.

Speaking of Climate Disaster, did you know, it's not the megacorps or the masses, or fossil fuel industry, it's the modestly prosperous, adventurous holiday-lovers, NT members, organic-food purchasing, second-generation middle class retirees, my own cohort , that's doing the worst damage? I knew this, I suppose. I've gritted my teeth often enough, when some acquaintance, or old friend, tells me happily she and her boyfriend are going on a Galapagos cruise as they love photographing rare wildlife . . . I don't have to look so far from home, either. When I whine about not being able to sleep in the heat, Peter suggests kindly, shall we get an air conditioner for the bedroom? (NO!) Meanwhile Gabriel is in Chennai, working at a fancy conservatoire. Flying home for Christmas. But it takes the experts to spell it out, and put it in numbers: Still, never say die. At least, and despite a lot of bad news on this front, there's some good news stories in Ruth Hayhurst's fracking round up recently & it's not all of it the fightback kind, more the give up and go away kind:

My friends in Kirdford and Wisborough Green are going to court to challenge a cheeky "licence extension":

SW Energy are retreating from the Forest of Dean:

The Fylde Field (that's Blackpool: Don't Frack Lancs) gets thumbs down from a US geologist

And much more, as always, at Drill Or Drop. Including, bless them, two Conservative MPs asking the frackers to "limit the number of well sites" so as to reassure the public voters. Dear me. That's exactly what frackers can't do! Bit embarrassing for both parties

& that's all for now

Joining The Majority

June 1st, I finally get the call to volunteer for EU Referendum action, citing 2 uncannily prescient poll results

Two Guardian/ICM polls have suggested that public opinion is shifting towards the UK leaving the EU as referendum campaign activity picks up pace. Voters split 52% – 48% inn favour of Brexit. It's more important than ever to share the positive messages for remaining in the EU with those who will vote in St Peters & North Laine. With only a few weeks left to campaign for a remain vote in the EU referendum we're keen to spread the "Stronger In" message with voters living in our ward.This is a call for volunteers who can spare an hour or two to leaflet over the next couple of weeks. We will aim to allocate delivery patches close to where you live.Â

June 3rd I went to pick up the leaflets. Should have taken a bigger rucksack! Had completely failed to calculate the size and heft of 4x"patches" of this letterbox fodder. It was a mission getting them home (on foot, of course). Still, at least I got to meet nice Ellen, and spy out what the new little houses are like, overlooking the Greenway under Brighton station. Must include the Greenway in one of my "aimless walks" soon. In this beautiful weather I took photos of our garden, very cunningly angled! (you could work for an estate agent, said Peter)

Saturday 4th, my copy of To Shape the Dark arrived at last (I still had a while to wait before a reviewer spotted my story was about emergent AI sentience. Thanks v. much, Publishers Weekly), and I saw a newt looking as if she was up to something in the fishpool. Aha! she's laying eggs! I immediately decided to kidnap some of them, to rear in captivity; became addicted to spotting the newt's little parcels, & only stopped when I imagined she'd developed a harried expression what the hell is happening to my eggs??? Never, ever seen live efts in our pools: the fish must have been eating them all.

Sunday 5th we drove to Forest Row, and headed for the upper Medway. Disappointingly, you can hardly get near the river on this stretch, the wild swimming is elsewhere. Plus, the White Horse at Holtye is no more, so a kindly wayfarer directed us to the Fountain at Cowden for our lunch break. Turned out a very long walk, but we couldn't really complain, walking over the flowery downs, and through the greenwoods full of birdsong, up the vale and down again, and forging our way, as evening fell, through forests of beanflowers in bloom, nightingales singing loudly all around. Still not had enough, we later went out to Woodsmill. An overcast night, no moon; hardly a star showing, and after such a slow, cold Spring, the kestrels hadn't even started nesting. The cygnets (only two) in the millpond were only infants. Never mind, we sat in the meadow, watching the bats flit. A Barn Owl came gliding in (and did a swift U turn, Peter unluckily happening to be on his feet). It's hard to say goodnight.

Draw yourself up from the light of the moon
And let them pass as they will too soon,
With the beanflowers' boon
And the Blackbird's tune
And May, and June . . .

Watched the Welsh "Diversity" Midsummer Night's Dream on Monday night. Very colourful, very sparkly! And very short! All very cool too, of course but I couldn't help noticing (I am so snippy) that Hippolyta (whose liberation seems to be the project of this revisioning, from the moment she's wheeled on in her Hannibal Lecter suit) still does not get to speak for herself. Not once. Also, by the way, how come Oberon gets a free pass? Dominant, imperious Alpha Male if ever I saw one! Is it because he is black? On Tuesday we went out leafleting, and finished up in the courtyard of the Martha Gunn's, eavesdropping on a happy table of French tourists and drinking Long Blonde while the swifts shrilled and dived overhead. It's been the best June for swifts that I remember for years. But hardly a swallow in sight on our country walks, and not a single housemartin.

Thursday the 9th I went to a packed, Friends Of The Earth sponsored EU Referendum meeting in the Exeter Street Hall. A modest venue, packed out only meant about 80 people; all of them white, mostly middle-aged. Keynote speakers: Caroline Lucas – Green Party MP, Lord Deben (John Gummer) – Chair, Committee on Climate Change, Debbie Tann – CEO, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and Sam Lowe – EU referendum campaigner, Friends of the Earth. And now, rather late! I learned a few things.

Q. Why has the "Remain in the EU" campaign been so muted? Not to say, practically invisible?

A. Because we'd been advised that we weren't allowed to campaign! It's a political issue. NGOs have been banned from campaigning on political issues

Q. Why are the endless tv debates always about "Migrants", something called "Sovereignty"? Why no other topics?

A. Because the debates have to be "balanced". If the Leave campaigners have nothing to say on, for instance, the value of EU funding; EU environmental protections, EU protection of workers' rights etc; then these subjects can't be raised. Which means highbrow or lowbrow, whatever channel you watch, whatever site you read, the Leave campaign has always set the agenda.

Debbie Tan was excellent, Caroline Lucas as always; Lord Deben (John Gummer) kept referring his every point back to the Gospels. Honest man, good for him, but I'm not sure how well this went down with a Brighton audience.

"Referenda unleash the forces of evil", says Lord Deben. A true word, as was soon to be proved, all too literally.

Meanwhile, Dave Cameron in a panic because, having deliberately made it hard for young voters to get registered, he suddenly realises he needs them to be able to vote! (One can't help wondering, does he really want to stay in the EU? He could hardly have made things more difficult for "Remain" if he'd been trying!)

I now begin to game my active "Remain" tweets; having learned that one of the problems is that "Remainers" don't tweet enough. I (we) can't possibly compete with the bot army, but never say die.

Friday 10th, we packed up and drove to The Yew Tree Chalvington (home of the oldest cricket ground in continual use in the world) to christen our new tent. Here we absolutely froze about the same time last year, but the night was balmy, and we woke to a novelty dawn chorus of extremely vocal (but invisible) frogs in the duck pond. Also for neighbours: a party of thrushes, a greater spotted woodpecker, pied wagtails, great tits, blue tits, robins, blackbirds. And gulls, and crows. We then replicated last year's walk to the Six Bells at Chiddingly, except that I bottled out of going to inspect the ash dieback outbreak (already mapped by DEFRA when I spotted it last year). If there's a healthy sapling in that blighted young grove, it will still be healthy next year. A short walk of four or five miles today, enlivened by the constant threat of thunder, a convocation of bumblebees on a bank of comfrey, and an encounter with a flock of sheep (plus well-grown lambs) safely grazing under the watchful eye of a pair of fierce alpacas. (You have possibly seen the Shaun the Sheep Llama movie?) Wow, those alpacas look mean. And they meant business, as they politely but firmly escorted us off their patch. So that was fun.

And so to Chiddingly, where the Six Bells is still your just about perfect village pub, and where the village was in full fete for Her Majesty the Queen's 90th birthday. In the ancient church, someone had laid out a tea for her, complete with Union Jack iced cupcakes. I wanted to take a picture, but felt inhibited by a watchful Churchwarden(ess); and I wondered, was a fairy version of HM expected to flit in here in overnight and nibble the cake? BLT in the garden, very good beer, interesting motors that country toffs drive turning up, the cricket pitch glowing in quiet anticipation under the trees, and on the fair-ground the village Brass Band played Is There Life On Mars? as we walked away across the meadows.

Moving on quickly now, into the week of the 14th. The weather broke, humidity rocketed, and to my mortification all my poor mealworms, living in aerated plastic pots in a box in the toolshed, died of it. I am a disgrace as a keeper of livestock. The season is over for this year (it is now, anyway), but I MUST be more careful next time. They're going to be eaten, but that's no excuse for poor animal welfare. I'm tweeting on fisheries, I'm tweeting on careworkers, I've put up a Green Party video, but whatever I do, it's just a drop in the ocean. I go to my friend Jacq's on Thursday morning to get my hair done, and we talk about exit strategies. She's half Greek. I have, we think, an Irish grandmother (long deceased) actually born in the "islands of Ireland". My brother is making earnest attempts to locate her birth certificate. But I'd prefer Greece. I think Naxos. Jacq favours Paros. We talk as if we're joking. Sort of. When I get home, I find out that Jo Cox MP, advocate for refugees, visible and vocal Remain campaigner, has been shot and stabbed, outside the library in Batley, South Yorkshire. Why was she killed? The media are wary of drawing the obvious conclusion, but the killer will soon help them out, when he says, on being charged, that his name is Britain First and Death to Traitors.

In the evening, we went to see the last Ghibli movie ever at the Duke's When Marnie Was There. Very pretty, rather slight. Based one of those children's books about illness and displacement, based on Fifties history, that filled the shelves of imaginative young girls in the Sixties. The glory days are over, but the loveliness remains. I thought the book must have been US, because of the dreaded Grain Silo that towers over the marsh. But no: on checking up, It was Norfolk!

Tributes pour in for Jo Cox, and Parliament will reconvene on Monday in her honour. But no, no, no, we cannot suggest the the Brexit campaign had any effect whatsoever on the mind of a madman; not by a whisper. No, no, no, we cannot reproach the reckless anti-migrant "rhetoric" of Farage, Gove and Johnson.

On the 18th we went to a party, hosted by Brian and Claudia, our dear friends from long ago in Singapore, recently rediscovered living in Hove! I talked to a young former Polish chess champion, making a new life for herself having recovered from devastating illness, and to a couple one of who was voting Remain, the other Leave. How on earth does that work? I thought. This is not a party game! The weather's cold, getting very cold and grey, as we move into the third and final week; & I'm in a bit of domestic bother myself, because of my gloomy outlook on the result. Of course we're going to "Remain"! The bookies all say so! & how I wish Peter was right, but unfortunately, as usual, I've been paying attention.

I'm resolutely avoiding all the big media coverage now. Got the low-down on it from my friend Lina (Ukrainian immigrant, 2nd generation, since you ask) when we met in the street, and I think I'm not missing much. On Tuesday 21st there was a big "EU Referendum Rally" in Wembley Stadium. Place was packed. The Leave campaign of necessity, given the règle de jeu, setting the agenda (see above). My God. A far-right rally, scapegoating "foreigners" in Wembley Stadium? Doesn't that send shivers down anybody's spine? Apparently not. Wednesday 22nd, I volunteered to do a last, early session of handing out bits of paper. Peter thought I was crazy. Me too, but it was a compulsion. So I stood at the exit from Churchill Square "our" big high street shopping mall, handing out absolutely the lamest Remain flyer yet. J.K Rowling says you should vote Remain, folks! You like Harry Potter, don't you? Stephen Hawking says you should vote remain! You know. The Black Holes man. He's a genius, remember! FGS. I talked to my friend Lulu, who is a Remain with Doubts. She thinks our magical "near zero" unemployment figures are based on baby boomers vanishing from the statistics in a flood. Oh? Maybe she's right! Me, I'd put it down to zero contracts & other cunning ways to count people as "employed" when they aren't really. At half past six I gave up, bought a copy of The Sun, and went to wait for Peter outside the Breeze bar, facing the beautiful plane trees of Pelham Square.
Her Majesty is a devout Brexiter, although she can't actually say so . . . All loyal over-Sixties take note! And they did.

We ended up watching the 1973 Disney animation of Robin Hood, as midnight struck. It's a movie that means a lot to us, for historical reasons, and it also features in Bold As Love (Castles Made Of Sand: DARK does a punk version of Not In Nottingham)

Too late to be known as Dave the First*
He's sure to be known as Dave the Worst
The hateful and ungrateful king of England!

On Thursday morning we got up and voted. & then I went to see Embrace Of The Serpent, at the Duke of York's. It seemed like a good idea to go and sit in the dark somewhere, and luckily it was a really terrific movie.

Postscript: And that's the story of what I did in the referendum. I wrote it long because I'm in a mad hurry today. My son just got a job in India. We're off to meet him in London this afternoon, to congratulate & all that & then it's the summer recess. Meanwhile, I'm still tweeting madly (it will wear off) and enjoying, ironically of course, can't help it, a sudden flurry of interest in the Bold As Love books, which happen to deal with the Dissolution of the UK and the far-right downfall of England. Damn it. I've been writing science fiction/fantasy for thirty years an' more. Why couldn't it have been the quirky non-binary aliens, with their mysterious yen for Marcel Proust** Why did it have to be the Bold As Love story?

And now I must go.

*That goes to the Rt Hon David Lloyd George
**Like the Japanese and Peter Rabbit, you know.

(That's not my front door, btw. But my sentiments, definitely.)

Reading Week

Maytime, week one. Highly unusual weather for Brighton Festival! For the first time since 1984 it's warm and sunny! We booked very sparingly, after my bitter complaints of the late nights spent shivering in rain-dripping beer tents last year, looking for the fun . . . Gabriel came down for MOOT's production of Stockhausen's Inori, his "great musical prayer", at St Nicolas (it means adorations; Stockhausen was living in Japan at the time, had become very keen on all things Japanese). Alain Louafi, the original collaborator was mesmerising. Then it was Yanis Varoufakis in conversation with Paul Mason at the Dome. Packed house for another very classy act. I agree with this man about most things, but never seen him live. A different person from the goofy guy on Youtube, lamely informing Google apparatchiks that "money is not a good . . ." (Good luck with that one, mate) money is politics (now you're talking). I had no idea he was so adored in the "People's Republic of Brighton". Varoufakis for President!

& then it was Gabriel and Marianne's concert, sadly going to be the last for a while plus all of us gutted by the sudden news that the EU Youth Orchestra is about to fold (& not only because Marianne works for them). Please sign and share. Moving on for me and Peter to a scifi event on Portslade Beach: possibly aiming for a "very early Dr Who episode" sort of ambience. Beach wonderfully desolate. Event: Lame. Didn't work at all. I herewith apologise publicly to my partner. Saturday, we walked over from Lewes to Glynde to go pond-dipping in the dewpond where the water-boatmen dwell. I did not kidnap any! Although sorely tempted. The downs there awash with cowslips, I never saw so many, and these were endangered, almost vanished, just 20 years ago. & hurrying back to our second MOOT gig, the Ligeti Quartet & Shabaka Hutchings playing "Octavia" (Octavia Butler, that is) the composer (Hutchings) on clarinet. But I got distracted thinking about the programme notes, which cite Butler's "reverence for change" and her "belief that adaptation to change is a form of worship". Ah, I do know that theme, but no, I don't like it. Reminds me of a certain kind of grim feminism you get in Doris Lessing, a take your sh*t and eat it girl feminism. In a pig's eye will I ever reverence changes that I detest. Never! (and yet "The Morning, The Evening And The Night" is my favourite Butler story). Turned out I liked the opener, a spiky, airy Milton Babbit string quartet that must have been a devil to play, best of the whole programme. There was a Morton Feldman piece after Octavia, but it was so sonorous, so unshaped, so dreamy, it just put me to sleep. (Not literally, thank God).

Week Three, and calming down.My Dinner With Andre (part of our revisit the video library project); the video tape lost, the movie found (on Youtube), as mysteriously enthralling as ever. It's just two blokes. All they do is talk,at a stuffy old NYC restaurant. I don't even like "theater people". So, no explanation. A mangled seagull chick on the garden path, sniffed at by Milo & thank goodness v. thoroughly dead already. The massive predator's beak and taloned foot already distinct. Poor thing, and our poor chimneystack friends, that's two lost children, two years in a row; even if they did eat our goldfish. It's the jackdaws, of course. & this week re-reading Helen Merrick's The Secret Feminist Cabal. Still fascinating, but I was disappointed that Helen moves so completely away from developments in fandom into academe, once the Tiptree Award's established (I'd forgotten that). But how different everything is now! How differently the battle lines (appear to be) drawn, when Obama can be warmly praised for getting it right about toilets; as if trans-identity was now the whole problem with gender issues

Each and every one of us is a mosaic of male/female cells; "genes"; traits. Fine. Some of us have known that for a long time. But what the writer fails to note is the horrible, ugly price that people born functionally female,and called women, the world over, are still paying, and it's getting worse, despite this "liberating" revelation. Is it really, after all, "the old Adam" we have to fear. Not "men", being functionally male is innocent, but certain utterly destructive and callous male traits, however embodied; whatever the gender of choice? And if so, then what?

The full moon a misty silver coin on pewter in my window, as I prowl around, struck by insomnia, and this week it's more Louis Malle, Vanya on 42nd Street, his last movie, just wonderful, wonderful, & the old videotape playing without a hitch. In time for the weather to break, we have bought a new tent! (previous tent given to the refugees), it's a Vaude again, the Travel Mark 3P, very roomy and sturdy. Sunday 22nd I was invited by Friends Of The Earth to decorate my twitter profile pic with a "twibbon" for Five Frack Free Years, but somehow I thought I wouldn't; sure enough next day, North Yorkshire Council's planning committee, overturning the local council's decision and despite overwhelming objections from the community, voted to approve Third Energy's plan to frack its existing well in Kirby Misperton. There will now be a pause, says Third Energy, but I didn't notice one. Looked more like an instant gusher of renewed assaults to me War has been declared.

& so farewell again, Elementary, farewell Sherlock, Joan, Captain Gregson and Marcus; farewell the fleeting presences of Mrs Hudson and "Mittens". And I almost wish you were gone forever, if the looming, glooming, blight of Denethor (I mean, John Noble as Morland Holmes) is the price of season 5. Can't stand that guy.

Then came the cowslip,
Like a dancer to the fair,
She spread her little mat of green,
And on it danced she.
With a fillet bound about her brow,
A fillet round her happy brow,
A golden fillet round her brow,
And rubies in her hair.

I finished my next-to-last run-through of Proof of Concept on Friday 27th; so now I'm having a reading week. I have studied the mystery of Joanna Russ's relationship with Vladimir Nabokov (I mean, I've read Lolita**, Pale Fire, Nabokov In America); I have looked into the crucial "To Write Like A Woman" essay (Willa Cather: O Pioneers, My Antonia). I have read Cherryh's Chronicles of Morgaine (which I liked very much, long ago, but not quite as much as Serpent's Reach or Downbelow Station ); including the v interesting Andre Norton intro; and Delaney's Triton. Moving on to The Dispossessed when I've posted this. I have to go to Liverpool, to read The Country You Have Never Seen, and see what else Andy Sawyer can do for me, but soon I'll be ready to start writing about Joanna Russ. That controversial figure.

And Barnsley beat Millwall and have joined the Championship! (I went along to protect Peter, a fan since he was a child at boarding school; it's a long story). Verdict: I preferred the Nou Camp. The Nou Camp has bats! Also, people don't fidget, they stay in their seats, apart from when it's obligatory to leap up, wave your arms and roar. At Wembley it was fidget, fidget, fidget. Up and down, coming and going, the whole time (this is not counting the actual fisticuffs). Got on my nerves

The swifts arrived on the 6th, classically, on a sunny blue morning, as I was hanging out the washing. Haven't seen much of them since the weather failed, but every day I hear the sparrows, tuneless and charming, calling loudly, up and down the gardens, and that's a new development. Time was, 15 years ago, we thought they were gone forever. Now, here's hoping, they seem to be making a comeback. & there's an end to May.

& here we are in June, with that stupid EU referendum ever closer.

Ads and Bookmarks

My Dinner With Andre

The H.G.Wells Society is holding its conference in Woking this year. I went to this show a few years ago at Kent University, and it was very interesting & enjoyable. Also a fine bookstall. If you're interested in Wells, I suggest you book your place:

Clarion Writeathon needs you! Start date 19th June!

The EUYO needs you too!

& here's Ruth Hayhurst's June Calendar for fracking issues, meetings, etc. There seem to be a lot of them.

*Sydney Thompson Dobell. As quoted in "What To Look For In Spring" Ladybird Nature Series.

**Never been able to read Lolita. Couldn't get past the loins. I'm allergic to loins. I trained myself to endure D H Laurence's loins, but at least they aren't on the first page, first line! Also hated the exculpating fake intro. Needs must, so now I know it's a powerful story, beginning and end, although far too fat in the middle & I don't personally like Nabokov any better.

The Turkish Apple Cake

Wednesday 4th May, with brilliant sunshine, the black maple wonderfully in flower, mass murder in the fish pool (a seagull raid, our pet-shop man says, and recommends tripwire), and out there in the wide world, the signs and wonders continue. But first, by popular request, here is the recipe for the Turkish Apple Cake (pictured)

Ingredients: Cooking apples; about 675g weight, peeled cored and chopped. Juice of one lemon (two tablespoons or so); 50g chopped mixed nuts (as sold ready-packed in the Co-op); 50g sultanas; 100g sugar; 100g plain white flour; pinch of salt; teaspoon of baking powder; 1/2 teaspoon good vanilla essence; I large egg, beaten

Method: Lightly oil a cake tin (spring-formed, about 20cm eg) Preheat your oven to medium/warm (about 175C/350F). Put chopped apples into a large bowl, sprinkle with the lemon juice. In a smaller bowl, mix the nuts, sultanas, sugar, flour, salt and baking powder. Stir this mixture into the apples until all the elements are well combined. Add the beaten egg and vanilla essence & repeat the mixing. Be thorough. Dump the mixture into the cake tin, flatten it out with the back of a wooden spoon or similar, and bake in oven until lightly browned (this will take a minimum of 20 mins). Serve warm with cream or yoghurt, or plain and cool.Eat. This recipe is from David Scott's Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookery, sadly long out of print but still available.

Signs and Wonders: Women in Politics
What you have to remember about Liz Truss is that from her point of view, "Environment" (in the job title) is no more descriptive than the word "Secretary" (although she does, of course, take dictation). She plans to be the new Margaret Thatcher, she doesn't see why not (neither do I, really) and her current post is Secretary of State For Whatever-It-Takes. So when Liz insists we need to protect our pollinators, and then lifts the ban on bee-destroying neonicotinoid pesticides, when she defends the beauty of the English landscape but slashes subsidies for clean energy, (and is trying very hard to get fracking); when she starts bigging-up our EU Environmental Directives on the tv News (the same directives that conclusively blocked fracking development, in the Weald and elsewhere: until that route was closed by Liz Truss's own sterling work on deregulation!) after having protested for years that the EU is killing our farmers. . .You're wasting your time trying to keep track, whether you're a horrified constituent or a horrified environmentalist . . . Damn the contradictions, this is the politics of the way up. They aren't contradictions, to the enlightened insider's eye.

If you live in South West Norfolk,you're devout climate change denier, fox-hunting, gentleman-industrial farmer, and you still dearly want to ride on her coat-tails*, I don't know. Good luck to you, I suppose. The course of true love can be cruel.

My Fracking Round-Up And Why

& why did I waste my rant power on the Iron Lady In Waiting, when I could have been joining up dots on the latest Mysterious Extreme Energyland Horror Story ("wildfires in tarsands country" is not news, but this one is getting headlines!). Or reporting on the funny business at Horse Hill; the Lancashire anti-fracker whose Council decided to sue him, and then somehow changed its collective mind . . . Or on the other side, tales of global fossil fuel divestment, massive growth in public protests?

It's because I've been feeling the need to get back ad fontes ; to ask myself why fracking in the UK?. Why not Jeremy Hunt vs the Junior Doctors? Why not detention centre conditions? Why not the whole tragedy of the so-called migrant crisis? Why not the tragedy of the UK "housing crisis", the privatisation of London, or any other horrible symptoms of the savage behaviour of the super rich?** Why not the scary and really insane global antibiotics crisis and its causes? Even if I only want to get serious about climate change issues, why not we have to change our diets! Why not BAN FEED LOT BEEF? Why not campaign to get the mammon of iniquity (I mean McDonalds) to switch to selling only veggie-burgers (I bet it can be done, and by the way, soy is not allowed . . .).

It's because the topic fell into my lap, here in Sussex in the Weald Basin (Balcombe; Wisborough Green), and I trust localism. It's because my MP is Caroline Lucas. And it's because I'm sure of my ground: I do not feel helpless. I know the fracking industry would be a disaster for the UK, and I know there's an alternative to this "bonanza" (shareholders version) or this "energy crisis" (what they tell the public) already in place, fit for purpose and that could be implemented at once.

I'm sure about the health issues (the public health risks are a big issue, one of the main reasons why "the more people know, the less they are likely to want fracking near them"). I'm sure about the climate change issue. I'm sure that fossil fuel divestment is not only desirable, it's happening; it's the future. And I'm sure (this is where Liz Truss comes in) about the mindless political "will" that keeps on pushing to make fracking in the UK a reality despite all these crushing arguments (I'm being polite, I know that "will" is made up of cronyism, corruption, and the sheer, undiscriminate lust for power that lies (it's a fact of life), at the heart of every truly ambitious politician.

Carbon Capture and Storage isn't happening. Hinkley Point is a lunatic money pit, and even Liz Truss must be aware that the drill or drop oilmen are lying. That HVHF UK shale gas bonanza is a monstrous threat to our future that doesn't even exist, but like a false and evil idea, it can still destroy us, on its way to the dustbin. Fracking or not, the lights really might be going out, one of these chaotic winters. . . And yet, still this government refuses to back clean energy. Refuses to invest in post-fossil fuel research and development; in distributed energy development, in recyling; in energy efficiency. Turns down all the major new employment opportunities on offer, in favour of a few temporary posts for cleaners and (very unhappy!) security guards at the oilmens' armed encampments. Why? Out of pure spite? No. Lust for power, lust for status, lust for plain old corrupt backhanders.

The tide really is turning against fossil fuels, all over the world. The HVHF extreme-energy extraction line, here in the UK, has yet to be broken. Five years on, there's no High Volume Hydraulic Fracking in the UK. Technically; not yet. One year at a time. One week at a time, all you can do is keep on, keeping on saying no.

And when or if this "battle" is won, go on to the next.

Enough for now.


Dheepan; Jacques Audiard

Tamil Tiger officer masquerades as an innocent press-ganged survivor of the Civil War, and gets shipped to France with a "wife and child" who never met him before. They are dumped, more or less, on a grim tower block estate, infested with ratlike hordes of rival drug gangs, where Dheepan is to be "caretaker". And amazingly, they make it work. Yulini, the supposed wife, finds an unlikely job as cook and carer for the ? brain-damaged, silent father of a charming, but clearly insanely dangerous young drug lord. Claudine, the little girl, goes to school; people are nice to her; there are bad tantrums, but she starts opening up to life. Dheepan and Yulini start to have a relationship. . . It's gritty, it's engaging. But then, I don't know what happens. A former colonel tries to recruit Dheepan as a terrorist in the cause of the lost war, he refuses but goes crazy and decides to start his own private war anyway. Everything blows up! There's blood and bodies everywhere and lots and lots of guns! Is this a tragic outburst of PTSD? Nope, nothing like. But I won't spoil the outcome for you. Kalieaswari Srinivasan is brilliant as Yulini, the angry young woman who's lost everything; she does all the changing, the mourning, the struggle to survive versus the need to revolt against horrible circumstance. Dheepan just glowers, broods and blows up. A movie I was gripped by, until about three quarters of the way through, and then (to me) it looked as if somebody just got bored, or somebody just loves guns.

Eye In The Sky

I can't prove it and the time frame is tight! but this is like a direct reaction to Harriet Harman's needling Dave Cameron rather meanly about Drone Strikes (just after that UK commissioned Drone Strike, you know). I even seem to remember, because I happened to be watching, that Harman asked the PM exactly this question. "What would you do if a child was involved? Would you consult anyone? What's your legal framework in that case?" So here we are, pothering about the relative risk of killing one little girl in the blast, or letting 130 odd Kenyan shoppers die in the suicide bomb attack we can see being set up, right now, right before our eyes . . . And the drone hovers way up high above the house, and the drone pilot weeps in his bunker, thousands of miles away, and the general, of course, is back at the chateau where he always was. Agonising in comfort. No, let's be fair, not a lot of comfort, with the legals and the ministers (especially the irritating female one) nagging on about legal frameworks.

DCI Tennison (Helen Mirren), or I suppose it must be Assistant Commissioner Tennison, rtd by now) was sleepwalking. Aaron Paul's character should have spotted he'd agreed to be paid for killing people when he joined up. The worst line in the movie (up against some crackers) went to the late Alan Rickman. I felt for the IMDB user wailing that military drones can't do that! They can't hover in place for two hours, while the line of command sits around nattering! I suppose he didn't notice the beetle? I loved the beetle, of course. But aside from the sci-fi flourishes, and the completely meretricious "moral dilemma", somehow I didn't feel my time had been wasted. The supporting cast, esp in the Kenya location, played it as if it was real.

& Before I forget. . .

Here's a link to my Hannah's Bookshelf interview. Mainly about being North Manchester, but Bold As Love sneaks in, along with Joanna Russ, Jane Austen, Zombies, and Charlotte Bronte


**Maybe what I would say about these topical horrors can be said, legally, only in fiction.

Emergence: The Yelping Of Wild Dogs At The End Of Winter

One morning at the end of last week I woke in full daylight to the mad yelping of wild dogs, a pack of them, out in the street . . . Wild dogs roaming the Placa Espanya, is it the Apocalypse already . . .? It was the seagulls, our seagulls of course. No concerns that the colony is failing this year; but the light was real, and definitely a new experience. Oh no, it's the end of winter again, and after such a grim-skied, dull and endless winter (I'm talking about Brighton weather nb), this comes as a bit of a shock. Anyway, clearly I have been in Barcelona. I even tried to speak Catalan once; with moderate success. I have learned that in Barcelona, the inevitable signs of ruin and burning in the interior of ancient churches are not due to The Nazis, or to Cromwell or to Henry VIII. No, it was the local populace. This fine, rambunctious ancient workers' town seems still pretty Catholic to me, but that's what you get for insisting on being the supreme authority for everything. You get rightly beaten up, every so often; and fair enough . . . I have also learned, I mean I actually saw this, that there are little bats (bats!) that flitter around the bright lights of the Nou Camp, of a Spring evening. Fantastic. You don't see that at . . . oops, nearly gave my own allegiance away. Which I never will do. A bat is called a rat-penat. And I have learnt that the invasive green parrots that haunt the palms of Barcelona are called Monk Parrots, totally different from our Ringnecked Parakeets. Not least in that our sneaky parakeets now have right to remain status in the UK, purely on the grounds that eradicating them would be too much trouble. Whereas the poor little Monks (true parrots by the way, from South America) still have invasive species stamped on their papers, and you know what that means.

I also heard in the Maritime Museum (which was my favourite, especially the yellow wooden submarine) that 80% or 90% (ie, nearly all, as we scientists might put it) of the world's products travel around the globe by marine container freight. Obvious, really, but that's a crude pop statistic to give you pause, when you think about divesting from fossil fuels. Isn't it?

Department of Signs and Wonders

(the photo of the Light Pillars is by Alan Trow of Dark Skies Wales)

What happens when Climate Change drastically affects the polar shift? Nothing at all, really. Move along, nothing happening here. Well, okay, I believe you, since "drastically" isn't by a lot, and this news item is not news; or much more than a reminder of how little there is that's actually constant, in this ever-changing system we inhabit the way you wear an old sock . . . Still, you know. The sudden onset of the ice age "we" have been delaying with our global outbreak of satanic mills? That's a fine cinematic image. The helpful seasons we enjoy, in the temperate regions? That's pretty basic. And why did this item disappear from the BBC so swiftly?

Just kidding.

My Fracking Round Up

(short form, rant coming later) The soi-disant "Environment Agency" has granted permission for Third Energy to get fracking 200metres from nearest residents at Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire. "Planning Consultation" to follow. At Horse Hill in Surrey, near Horley (Gatwick) the nasty kind of energy extraction techniques seem to be under way, despite earlier reports of glorious conventionally-accessible oil find, and earnest protests against the fracking word from UKOG. Check out the Horse Hill Protection page on Facebook; note the ingenuous UKOG financial revelations. And the "Infrastructure Bill" has come into force, but the position on surface fracking in National Parks remains "equivocal". All quote marks in this para are sarcastic. Details of these developments (and others, not all of them bad) can be found on Ruth Hayhurst's Drill Or Drop


I'm very pleased that my story "Emergence", published in Jonathan Strahan's fourth Infinity venture (Meeting Infinity) last year, has been chosen as a finalist by the Theodore Sturgeon Award judges. I can't post "Emergence" online, for copyright reasons, so instead I've posted "Bricks, Sticks, Straw", from volume 2. Which happens, coincidentally, to serve as an origin-story for the bods and bots strand in Emergence. Ironic, huh? All those silly "humanlike" robots, they're coming, we're making them, we can't help it. R2d2, pleased to meet you.
You can read it here if you like:

& here's sfsignal's links to the other finalists

Bold As Love In The Cloud Chamber

Further to my previous round-up of Bold As Love half life traces, how could I have omitted a link to Tanya Brown's excellent Arthur C Clarke Award Anthology essay? (I don't agree with all of it, but amazingly I do agree with most of it: and the book belongs to the reader)

Here it is: The New Dark Ages

(there are later reprises, nb: here's the most recent:

Hannah Kate and the Library At The End Of Days

And finally, I'm going to be in Manchester on Saturday 16th & if you tune into North Manchester FM (106.6fm) in the afternoon, you could hear me talking about books. Also, hopefully, making my virtual contribution to the library at the end of days. Which books will I choose? I'm still thinking about it.

Here's a podcast sample of the show, from 9th April with horror/gothic genre writer & expert witness Xavier Aldana Reyes

Futures Implicit In Our Present (Chickens Coming Home To Roost)

Wednesday 2nd March, sunshine giving way to a darker sky and a tossing breeze. A blackcap singing on the cypress peak, blue tits and great tits, marauding starlings (I don't mind). The morning news is that Trump appears to have won the nomination, hands down, and Humanitarian Crisis (humanitarian crisis in this case means armed humans attacking other, helpless humans, on a major scale), previously something that happened elsewhere and faraway, has officially become a European crime again (Medecins Sans Frontiers). This darkening world gets darker and darker. How did it suddenly start happening so fast?

These days, I'm remembering that when I planned the Aleutian Trilogy, I wasn't entirely motivated by a desire to get to the bottom of what's wrong between men and women; or what's wrong between subaltern society and the bosses. I wanted to try the taste (in my head) of interesting times. To be like my parents (as a thought experiment); for whom World War II was the very heart of their lives, horrible and thrilling. I wanted a ferocious fairground ride to engulf my imagined world, pillar of cloud by day, pillar of fire by night. Signs and wonders. Unbelievable things, impossible events . . . But maybe you just have to wait until you grow older, and the clamour of your own personal life fades out, to get the special effects.

Maybe it's globalisation, maybe it's the internet. Maybe people will look back, a hundred years from now, and see nothing special going on, quite a benign time, really. I wonder what kind of people they will be?


Still following the Cuadrilla appeal in Lancashire, and still very short of flowers in the garden, so the Roger Hall camellia stays up.

Standard Rules vs Bespoke Permits

The Environment Agency's Fracking Consultation Response dropped into my inbox last week. Did the consultation end early (it was supposed to run until today), or is this a special announcement? I'm not sure. Anyway, here it is:

Standard Rules and Bespoke Permits

To summarise, at the outset of this consultation the EA was planning to wave HVHF applications through on the nod. Due to popular demand, any and every onshore Oil or Gas application that involves High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing will now require what is called a "Bespoke Permit", (who dreamed that one up???) ie a full-on environmental assessment , a public inquiry; the works.

Congratulations to us!

However, the business part of that term is still permit. No ban. Arguably, just a lot of money and time thrown at making sure the people believe the activists have nothing to whinge about, and that the fracking industry still gets in wherever it wants to get in. Don't put out any flags.

(in the heading of the email, the "fracking" word was used; in the document the EA is on its dignity, and insists on HVHF "fracturing". Maybe it's thought to sound better).

Fracking Headlines

& here is the link to Ruth Hayhurst's February Fracking summary, which in fact is most notable for an entry from The Ends Report, giving the actual wording of that new anti-lobbying clause. You know, the one where our government, having grasped that their anti-environment, anti-humanitarian policies were the main problem facing UK charities today, decided to go on giving the charities money (because it looks good) but ban them from using it to combat government abuses . . . Joined-up thinking's evil twin, but it works for the Tories! The full weasely wording deserves an airing here. Grant money can no longer be used for:

“activity intended to influence or attempt to influence parliament, government or political parties, or attempting to influence the awarding or renewal of contracts and grants, or attempting to influence legislative or regulatory action”


I did see Room, all by myself in the shabby old Odeon down by the sea; haunted by ghosts of Gabriel's childhood because we never come here anymore. We go to the movies at the Duke's or Komedia. I thought it was good, touching and engrossing (except the little boy clearly was not five!). Not as exceptional as people had been making out, but conversely more like an Oscar hopeful. The other main thing I thought was that Joy's fate wouldn't even have been a crime, in many of today's societies. A young girl, married by force? To a suitor of drastically limited empathy? He won't let her outdoors? Not even to go to the dentist? What's weird about that? "Old Nick" (the captor in Room) isn't a monster. He's not going to shackle her to the bed, cut off her hands and feet and rape her babies. He's just a regular guy, of limited intelligence and clueless determination, who has taken an unorthodox route to what many like him would consider marital bliss. (Including, possibly Joy's own father, whose horror that she's been sullied by rape and brought the dreadful proof home with her,seems to be his main concern). For many, many young women, some of them very young women, what happened to Joy Newsome happened to them with the full consent of their families and their societies; their plight is not called rape or wrongful imprisonment, their mental health is not thought to be imperilled, and they are not going to be rescued.

So, a disturbing, issues, movie for me, only not quite the issues it planned to be about, maybe.

Also watched, on the telly last week (I wasn't keen, when this came out. Been there.) Ex Machina

Good movie, as it turns out, but definitely not a movie about Artificial Intelligence. Or emergent machine consciousness, or anything of the sort. You are kidding me. It's a movie about gynoids. The Richard Calder kind, not the Gwyneth Jones kind, NB. If you thought Ex Machina was about Artificial Intelligence you are. . . You are, well, I just don't know how you managed it.

As Low As Reasonably Achievable

Tuesday 23rd February, bright sun and frost. A green december has made a fat churchyard of my garden, and it's the slugs that are fat. The red camellia returns? Solidarity for Don't Frack Lancs, while the Cuadrilla appeal is going on. I don't have a red rose so it has to stand in. I don't have any other flowers, except for a few blue specks on the rosemary bush. My native daffodils are sluggish and half blind, likewise all the other bulbs; I blame the dark skies, I've been feeling the same myself. Don't want to get out of bed.

Ah, the heady days when fracking was news to me. When, at buttercup time, I mourned the coming demise of the fields of gold, in the pastureland of Balcombe's AONB (Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty) but it was a local, minor loss; possibly even justified, probably unstoppable. It's almost nostalgic, responding to yet another Government Consultation (that familiar little black & white crown!), and finding exactly the same specious language, exactly the same total misrepresentation of what the perpetrators know to be the truth (except in those days, the Environment Agency actually had agency; it hadn't been taken down to the basement and shot in the back of the neck, to be replaced by a yes-Dave imposter). So, anyway, here's my response to the ongoing Onshore Oil and Gas Consultation (open until 3rd March). NB, the consultation is not addressed to you. It's addressed to the industry, for the industry's approval. You, as a member of the public are allowed to express your opinion, as a matter of form. I wrote it long because I didn't have time to write it short. I responded because I try never to miss a chance. It's about quantity, not quality, so don't worry if you can't come up with any whizzy technical objections, or new evidence. I just doused them with sarcasm. I believe my approach is equally valid.

here's the link:

& here's the live feed to the Lancashire Cuadrilla Appeal, via Drill Or Drop, as always thanks to Ruth Hayhurst

If you have the expertise and the patience to pick holes in the Emperor's New Clothes, please do! But once you know the "Environment Agency" is prepared to rip up our National Parks (approval for surface fracking installations in the National Parks is coming soon, NB), and is happy right now to approve 4,000 fracking wells on the Fylde without seeing any "significant impact" on public health, quality of life, the roads, the landscape; the environment in short, I think you know all you need to know. All you can do, as in all these cases, is let them know about a growing, disaffected public.

Watching, Reading, Walking

As my french reader, I'm still enjoying Delphine de Vigan's Nothing Holds Back The Night The tainted paradise of childhood, a place none of us ever really leaves. But seven children! Seven! It's like a fairytale.

I'm going out to see Room this evening, a late single showing, I missed it first time round. Very much looking forward to it.

And we went walking from Exceat down to the sea & over the Seven Sisters to East Dean last Tuesday, with Gabriel and Noemie, on another brilliant chill and sunny day like this one. A familiar route, but it never stales.

The twitchers were out in force at Cuckmere Haven. Hordes of them, all lined up taking turns with their binocs, rubbernecking a greenshank. Can't understand it. I would have thought it would have to be at least two.

Oxted: And Just One, Two more Things

The storm never got really strong here. It was sort of difficult to stay upright on the seafront, but the sea on a falling tide wasn't doing anything special yesterday, just churning. Today, drenching rain, and our outside drain is blocked again.

Oh, yes. One more, rather disconcerting, point from John Ashton:

• Hinkley Point delayed again, and the captain has jumped ship. It is vanishingly unlikely that any new Nuclear Power stations will be built in the foreseeable future.

• Biomass as our government interprets the term (ie massive power stations fed by imported wood-pellets) is unsustainable and impossible to scale-up.

• Carbon Capture Storage is a bust: not happening and not going to happen

The three pillars of David Cameron's COP21 deal (having ditched conventional renewables as politically insufferable) have fallen. It's now very probable that when the coal is dumped, the lights are going to go out. And a dead certainty (but this is my gloss btw) that the Green Party, the fracking movement and anyone else favouring the obvious and only workable solution (renewables) will be publicly shamed and blamed. See Jeremy Hunt's deft media campaign to wreck and then smear the NHS

And there's a video for you to watch, just to remind you, in all fairness, that David Cameron is not alone.

The COP21 You Didn't See


I just finished re-reading Flaubert's Trois Contes, in a French Paperback Classics edition with masses of academic notes. Fascinating. Did you know that Oscar Wilde wrote the play Salomé (that became the libretto for Rickard Strauss's opera Salomé), directly in french, specifically for Sarah Bernhardt in the role? I never knew that!

Now reading Delphine de Vigan's Rien ne s'Oppose a la Nuit, a Christmas present from Gabriel's Swiss girlfriend. Harrowing tale of a volatile, broken family past . . . Right up my street, and a whole lot easier reading than Flaubert's C19 fantastically exacting "simplicity" in those contes

And from my library books:

Sara Gran City of the Dead and The Bohemian Highway

I read the second of these two unusual whodunits first. The first one (City Of The Dead) is better, with a devastatingly effective venue in post-Katrina New Orleans I recommend them for the unusual post-punk setting, and the highly charged style but not to people sensitive to habitual drug use, notably cocaine. By the end of The Bohemian Highway I was saying to myself, if there's a third of these, which is strongly signalled, our "unique" raggedy hipster detective isn't going to have a nose left on her face.

Frack Free Red Fire Monkey

Monday morning, awaiting the gale that's causing havoc along South West Coasts and in the islands,, but the storm's getting downgraded as it move east. Yesterday we moved the plasterer's tub to its traditional springtime roost, having cleared the area beside the house of the debris of a long winter and a couple of drain blockages. We had to empty it of rainwater to carry it up the steps, but its already half full again. Also culled the pondweed in both pools, and saw a beautiful healthy common newt in the "wildlife" one. Tipped my cyclamen corm pots out to dry off in the greenhouse, and watered my over-wintering seedlings. Plenty of frog action in the ponds, but they are canny, we rarely see them, just their disturbance of the water.

Saturday 6th I took the train to Oxted, for the public meeting organised by Frack Free Surrey. I walked from the station with Miranda, a US student at Goldsmiths, who was attending in pursuance of her dissertation on the fracking movement. I corrected her, mildly, anti-fracking movement, but I think Miranda had it right. Two words good, one word better. It's the fracking movement, vs the fracking industry (or is it? See below). I didn't ask her why she'd picked on fracking; I explained to her what "meat in the room" means, & that was the extent of my contribution to her thesis.

An impressive line up of speakers: Tina-Louise Rothery for Frack free Lancashire, of the original Knitting Nanas from Blackpool, veteran of the Preese Hall protest in 2011; Charles Metcalfe and Helen Savage from Balcombe. Damien Short, Reader in Human Rights at London University, and John Ashton, former diplomat, former representative on Climate Change to the British Government. What I mostly got out of this afternoon? A scary picture of our government at work, and their determination to destroy democracy in pursuit of extreme energy extraction; despite all the rational and potent arguments against this course. And not just the Tory government. The extraordinary "Three Two Secretaries And a Minister Letter", leaked by the Daily Telegraph last week, and written by Liz Truss, Greg Clerk, and Amber Rudd (having first asked George Osborne what he would like them to write) dates back, as John Ashton reminded us, to July 2015; ie, under the Coalition.

The horror of their plans, their Orwellian beliefs: The Environment Agency does not, as you thought, have the job of protecting our Environment and protecting us from abuses to our clean water, our clean air, our green spaces, our health and the health of our livestock. Nope. The job of the Environment Agency is to Promote Growth (and we're not talking crowds of golden daffodils). "Gold-plated protection" of the National Parks "must not get in the way" of the frackers. Surface installations in the National Parks can't be ruled out.The fact that anyone might object to seeing our National Parks devastated by ranks upon ranks of extreme energy gas rigs, bulldozed by ceaseless massive HGV traffic, littered forever more with humongous lakes of poisonous waste water, seems to be flat-out incomprehensible. Something to be swatted, like a fly in the room. To be exterminated, like squirrels in the roof. . .

The suspicion that we might be right to protest against the process, and to deride this fracking government's inflated estimates, and spurious claims, for the product, is never going to enter their heads, ever. The fact that we might know what we are talking about is completely opaque to Liz Truss, Greg Clark, Amber Rudd (unless you count that touching, ingenuous confession that the people who know about fracking are opposed to it, and only those who don't know anything about it can be fooled into thinking it's harmless); as they have no experience of this odd state of affairs.

Extreme Energy Hydraulic Fracking has a terrible EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) number ? The wells are short lived, individually expensive to erect and service (even if you don't have to worry about environmental controls); you would need thousands of them, in the Weald alone, to begin to squeeze out a commercially successful return? Conventionally obtained oil and gas prices are not favourable, and never likely to be favourable in the forseeable future?
Not to mention the climate change issue. There's just no point in mentioning the climate change issue.

Nah, why would Rudd Clark and Truss have anything to do with that sort of information? "Knowing the facts" is something minions do. You know what your boss wants, that's what. You don't get to be a Big Bucks by knowing the facts

And then, to offset the nasty taste of all that stuff, the curious fact that the fracking industry could, possibly, become the UK fracking movement's best ally.

It's over, and the industry knows it. The sensible money is divesting from fossil fuels, sooner rather than later.

The exploration men we are dealing with (Cuadrilla, Celtique Energie) hand on heart, swear to God, truly never intended to "frack" in earnest. They intended to test drill, announce some exciting estimates, and run away very quickly! They don't like having to deal with protest. Protest scares investors, and sullies the fiscal reputation of those protested against.

Cuadrilla seem to have abandoned their well pad at Lower Stumble. IGas have pulled out of Cheshire. There are already over 400 fracking movement groups in the UK, and there will be more. Wherever, whenever the frackers start up, there will be protest, legal or illegal because (see above) the locals will not be ignorant. They'll know the ruin they're facing. You do the math.

So far, says Tina-Louise, the Preese Hall well (that caused the seismic activity, back in 2011) is the only HVHF well ever drilled in the UK #Frackfree2016, coming up

See link below for the text of the leaked letter:

Move Towards The Darkness

Thursday 28th January, and it's our sunshine allowance! The tail of the last almost unprecedented US NE blizzard passed over us yesterday, in rain and wind, we don't get the next wave until the weekend.

Unhappy, Darling?

I used to think the Addams family was invented, by the US popular classes, to express their bemusement at the customs and behaviour of their Old Rich. Living in crumbling mansions; dressing strangely, keeping odd hours; some oozy and monstrous bad case of their hereditary disease probably squelching around in a locked room . . . But maybe (esp given the actual dates: this iconic cartoon is from the New Yorker, 1942) it's just Culture, generally. The weird habit of caring about global issues, and having ideas, making connections and thinking that they matter (doesn't sound like my country's moneyed classes). . . Anyway, I always loved the joke (although I admit I prefer the stylish movie image, featuring Angelica Houston and Raul Julia on the sofa; in the middle of a midnight graveyard. I'm not immune to our society's mad craving for more, more more of whatever it is I like). Because yes, oh yes, completely: I know I'm generally very unhappy, darlings (and not a drop of wealth-DNA!).

Not many sunlit hours in my counting of the world. Always the doom and gloom. I apologise, but I can't change my nature, and in my defense, people like me have their own odd sort of fun. For instance, look at this little catalogue:

You want to know where schizophrenia probably comes from? You should read Band of Gypsys, written in 2003/4; in which a hallucinating Fiorinda (at a conference with the Evil Greenest Government Ever) gives a surprisingly cogent description about how her disease develops. You can read it there, or you can read it here, on al-jazeera today:

You want to know how viruses have suddenly emerged as possibly the vital mediator in "evolutionary" change, for all of life on earth? You can read it in Life (written from 1998-2000), when Clare Gresely expounds her theory of Continuous Creation, and the living troposphere. Or you can read it here, in last week's New Scientist

Information space? Look it up. Why do I "anthropomorphize" self-aware artificial intelligence? Let's say: this is no longer Asimov. Consciousness is consciousness. We have nothing to make it with; except our own selves. Of course we'll read them as human, if they're self-aware; if we ever admit it's happened.The question of what happens, when you reach the point where there's "somebody home" is a very disquieting issue, on the frontline.

Astonishing! Black Holes can turn into White Holes! Spewing out information, instead of devouring it! New Scientist the week before last, and also The Memory of Whiteness, Kim Stanley Robinson's neglected masterpiece (written circa 1983). Astonishing! A Black Hole could have a whole other universe trapped inside it! Escape Plans, 1986. (I think maybe Stan Robinson and I read the same series of Stephen Hawking articles)

I have also noticed that the multiverse is sneakily repositioning itself. We now have a situation where the "whole multiverse" is a thing, rather than the bizarre, endless multiplicity envisaged by Hugh Everett in his "many worlds" interpretation. Interesting! And its building blocks are units of information.

I could go on.

What does all this prove? That I'm one of the undiscovered brilliant polymaths? Luminary of a secret band of mind-gods? Well, of course I wouldn't tell you, but that's irrelevant anyway. What it tells you is that I pay attention. All the time, and whether I like what I see or not. It means you should probably listen to me when I tell you that Carbon Capture Storage is a bust. That there is no way shale gas can be a bridging fuel. That the troubles of our overcrowded planet are too staggeringly complex for any technological fix, and the hard way, from the bottom up, is the only way. That the Paris deal is just a big lie & you should quite probably listen* to the big men from BP and Shell, if you want to know the seriously scary degrees of warming that are now inevitable. That are now, like there is no way back

The only way you can save the world, should you accept that mission, & this is the truth I'm telling you, is to use less energy. Start now. Pretend there's a global war on. Because there is, & I'm not talking about the Caliphate, or even the refugee crisis (see above, "staggeringly complex"). Pretend you have to give things up. Because you do.

Don't be afraid to be scared. Move towards the darkness.
You'll like it here, I know you will.


The World At War (How did you guess?)

We watched episode 24 last night. The one about the Bomb, & how the decision was made. Hard watching, but then so was episode 23, featuring Okinawa and Iwo Jima. There are no happy endings to this story; which is as it should be.

But the one you should be watching this week is Episode 20:

Dear Elizabeth de Boer . . .

Who killed Robin Cleve Dufresnes?

You wrote to me on a post from last summer (A Rock And A Hard Place) asking me to divulge my proposed solution to the murder mystery in Donna Tartt's The Little Friend. Sorry! Email coming up, I forgot that you'd have to have provided an address, to post the comment. I have found it now. To anyone else who wants to know, just ask me. My answer has to be private, or otherwise it would be spoilers, even though this deduction of mine is pure speculation, of course.

& that's all I have time for. I have to get a haircut.

* I just noticed all the "probably" and "could be's" in this pep-talk. Oh no. I hate it when scientists do that. I try to blame it on their timidity, and those trolling "hockeystick" scammers putting such a scare on them. But I'm afraid it's (probably) endemic.

Expedition to Pirbright

Saturday 16th January, a clear bright winter's day for the delayed Jones, Gwilliam and Sinclair-Jones Seasonal Outing: an expedition to the wilds of Surrey; daring Ministry of Defence scary yellow notices, and the proximity of the scary Pirbright Institute, on tracks potentially littered with things that would blow up in our faces, in search of that "well-travelled Victorian journalist" Henry Morton Stanley. Especially thrilling to me when we found him (or his memorial, in Pirbright churchyard) since I hadn't spotted the dry wit of our guide to byways of the Kent and Surrey borders, and had no idea we were looking for the Dr Livingstone I presume Stanley. So here he is, presented in triumph by the successful explorers, except by the way Mr Guidebook, that's not an obelisk, that's a menhir. What a harsh and eventful life! How fitting he's buried with the UK's National Rifle Association alumni lying all around him! Shame about the vicious brutality; well attested, and judged out of order even by the "African Explorer Hardnut Hero" standards of the day. Bula Matari, the Congolese called him, breaker of rocks, and they were the rocks that got broken.

My Fracking Round-up

. . . There's so much to say; and so little. What's the use in asking you to write letters, when the planning officers no longer have their power to say no? What's the point in going over the arguments? Well, no point at all, but I believe I will mention how disgusted I was at Amber Rudd's performance on South East Today last week. She says fracked shale gas start-ups will give us control over the price of our fuel; will create new jobs; will give us fuel security. She knows (good grief, she's the Energy Secretary) that these are outright untruths. But there it is. Just lie, that's our rulers' motto* Fool most of the people, most of the time, and you're home clear, so why worry? The blithe and rugged determination of this government: still dead set on its lets get fracking drive, what can I call that but obvious, blatant corruption and cronyism? No other explanation stands up. Given the state of the industry (BHP Hilton writes down $6billion of shale assets)
Given the climate-change floods . . . "We live in a warmed world. All our weather is affected by climate change" (New Scientist)
Given inconveniences like the defection of even the frackers themselves.
Not to mention the promises in Paris. No, we won't mention the Paris deal*.
Many thanks to Caroline Lucas, and Chris Matheson, for questions asked in Parliament this week
&Many thanks (I suppose) to Kevin Hollinrake MP, Ryedale, for his tasteful resignation.

More details on drill or drop. Me, I'm taking myself to the public meeting about the Horse Hill well tests, in Oxted on February 6th. See you there, if you come from round here.


Prime Minister's Question Time,

On the tv in my gym last week. Harriet Harman maliciously needling Our Dave, over that targeted drone strike. Could the Prime Minister possibly provide us with his protocols, something in writing; before next time? With the proper security clearances, of course. So parliament knows when this long distance, without trial or charge, execution thing is legal, and when it isn't? Nope, he couldn't. Okay, next: could he at least clarify just a little. What would be crossing a line? If there was, say, a small child involved, out there in Syria? Would the Prime Minister then order the small child's head to be blown off? No use, he just can't get his head around it at all. The question is too complicated, too long and bewildering, sorry (mops brow, mugs helpless overload): he's getting hopelessly confused. But he's clear on one point. I reserve the right, says Our Dave, to act without consulting parliament.

Hm. There's a word for people like that, and it isn't Prime Minister.

Anyway, how very Churchillian. But all I'm thinking is, how dearly all leaders love a war. & why wouldn't they, because that's all they're really good for, isn't it? Dux bellorum. Everything else is too complicated, conflicting, confusing: impossible for one man to handle. For running a country, decently, in peacetime, you need a government. That's why we haven't got one.

Those Romans, they knew what they were doing; for a while.

The World At War

We're getting there. We're through D-day (What the hell went wrong on Omaha? Just awful. I know a story about that, but the uneven distribution of Hobart's Funnies didn't get a mention from Olivier. Episode 18, Holland in the Occupation last night. Possibly the grimmest yet. The Greater Germany; a collaboration path that really did not work out well. The moment when you realise what's been done to you, what they've turned you into, and already there's no way back . . . One man, telling the story of how he encountered a chained-up consignment of Jews, on a railway platform in Amsterdam. This was 1944, he knew they were on their way to be gassed. It was early morning, he was alone with the prisoners and their guards. He's crying, on the tv screen. "If I'd had my pistol, I could have shot three of the guards," he says. "But what about the fourth? And if I got all four, then what? They are chained, I'm alone, what can I do next?" He went away . . . & joined the resistance, and blew up stuff with plastic explosive provided by US air drops, which made him feel better. But the gas chambers were already lit, and they kept on burning, and the tears of shame and pity are still ready to fall. You can't undo what you've let happen. You can never make it better.
Salutory. Horribly up to date. Right on the money


When The Floods Came
, Clare Morrall. Haven't liked her last two books much. But I think she's back on form

War and Peace
Leo Tolstoy. (Just become my new classic read, bumping the King James Bible on the grounds that getting the Ring to the Fire took me no time at all) Hey, this is a soap opera. This is very nice, but it's purely a soap opera. No, really.

Oh, it is a soap opera! Well, I'm not watching it. That would be unpatriotic, when I don't watch Eastenders. The print version will do me fine.

Approaching With Caution

Microsoft 10. The screams of rage and groans of agony from downstairs have ceased, Peter is now convinced he was one of the unlucky few, or no, in fact it was all his own fault that M10 destroyed his profile those times, & wiped his machine once, & all that. But he has a funny glazed look in his eye now, when he tells me everything is fine, and there's no need to worry, you can turn off all the spyware . . . No, actually. I have an update. Not approaching at all.

Farewell To A Year Without Flowers

I think i've never known such a dark festive season, but one early morning, I think it was the 6th January, the sun came out, sending sickles of coloured light-shadow from the Chinese Lantern across the ceiling (the lantern which traditionally hangs across the way from the mistletoe bough; glimpsed to the left of the picture); and I made them dance to Ginger's delight, by giving the lantern a poke.

But did not make a video.

And so farewell to a year without flowers . . . I don't know why, but I didn't bring in any flowers this last year, not after the pine sprigs on New Year's Day. It wasn't planned, but it began to seem like a statement and then I thought: might as well make it one. This year I plan to fight the gloom; if the flowers will let me. No sign of an accelerated Spring here as yet. Snowdrops lagging, native daffodils and pussy willow about where I'd expect them to be, in a normally mild winter & Roger Hall, my only surviving camellia, has just one bud showing colour.

New moon tonight, and the next new moon we'll be moving on to a Year of the Monkey.


Festive Reading

Forlorn Sunset Michael Sadleir

I read Fanny By Gaslight years ago, picked it up at a Jumble Sale: Victoriana docu-fiction about (f) prostitution, written in the forties, when Central London was still as Dickens left it; in parts. The far less famous Forlorn Sunset was a charity shop find (I'm a great fan of the British Heart Foundation's bookshelves) it's a darker and more forthright version of the same story, a sensual, spirited little girl, "ruined" as the saying goes, and ruined is absolutely right, by skilled child-prostitute groomers; and what becomes of her. Nothing much good, you can bet. Once a forlorn curiosity tale, I suppose. Very contemporary feel, nowadays, P.S Michel Faber (The Crimson Petal and the White) may also be a "Sadlier" fan.

The Sculptor's Daughter. Tove Jansson, tr Kinglsey Hart, intro by Ali Smith.

Christmas present. Brilliant. I absolutely loved it.

The Shepherd's Life James Rebanks

A memoir. By the dirt beneath our nails, we horny-handed Herdwick Sheep farmers are better men! In fact we're the only REAL men! The rest of you, especially if you visit Cumbria with a volume of Wainright in your turquoise cagoule pocket, are not fit to wipe our proud bottoms! Okay, well, Rebanks does comes over as a callow, arrogant s*d & his righteous contempt for, well, everyone, really, wears a bit thin, esp when you take in his actual career arc (failed at secondary school; belatedly realised he'd like some qualifications, stormed Oxford, currently combines small traditional farm with a globe-trotting career in the international heritage site business). But, on the other hand, in his favour he's a W H Hudson fan (the title is a tip of the hat to A Shepherd's Life); & it's a delightful book about sheep, & hill-farming & he's a fine nature writer.

On the other other hand, I bet his wife sometimes wakes up in the night and finds herself staring at the ceiling, musing on her choices. MY GOD, why did I go and marry Ted Hughes? What was I thinking!

Festive Watching

The Tale Of Princess Kaguya Isao Takahata (Christmas present, of course) Very, very pretty; a bit insubstantial.

The World At War Jeremy Isaacs et al

Before Christmas, the broad top shelves of the Dead Media Wall held stacks of video tapes, some of them dating back to the Seventies. They suffered their last winnowing in December, and two bin-liners-full made their melancholy journey to Sheepcote (tip) just yesterday. The favoured, remnant tapes, including Vanya on 42nd Street, and Peter Brook's Mahabharata, are now taking their last slipping and sliding trip through the way back machine. (Tampopo, for some reason, has survived in mint condition). We started watching The World At War again on tape, the very same set I used when I was researching White Queen. Had to give up before we even got to Stalingrad, it was too stop and start. We're watching on Youtube now. Harrowing. Unsurpassed, Unsurpassable; like (as I said in those White Queen days) knowing exactly what Achilles really said to Agamemnon about the sacrifice at Aulis. We watched the Chindits, last night.

Good grief. I see (on Amazon) people are paying actual money for the original tapes. Well, get in touch if you're interested. But hurry . . . Sheepcote is waiting.

Fortitude (Sky Atlantic!)

Aka "Twin Tusks" Preposterous. Watchable. No zombies yet, but I can't help noticing that Christopher Eccleston's* corpse remains curiously intact, in the cold storage drawer, as for some reason it's impossible to chopper-in (no pun intended!) a pathologist, or ship him over to a lab on the mainland. Although, deep in the depths of this Arctic winter, the sea all around is very modishly unfrozen. And the only doctor on this tiny island with the massive police force has, of course, been eviscerated with a table fork by her daughter, the rather tactless fat girl weird Marcus with the food fetish was trying to kill with chicken soup.

*Yes, I can remember the name of the fictional character. But I don't see why I should.

Next time, Christmas Truce over: the bad news . . .

Traces in the Cloud Chamber of Time (the half-life of Bold As Love)

Thursday 10th December. Grey skies (of course), cool and still; 10 degrees outside. Sitting at my windowside desk, I'm watching a thrush, who is watching a young male blackbird pick bright red holly berries from our bush, now there's a photo opportunity. If my eyes had cameras in them. Oops, gone . . . Every now and then, having spotted that Bold As Love the novel is still leaving traces in the cloud chamber of the internet, I have a look to see what I can find. Here's my latest discoveries

Reviews, esp. in retail venues, don't usually count in this game, but Bob Sherunkle is a star, just for this observation:

. . .The book’s appendix has long lists of rock albums and of books (mostly about rock music) supposed to have inspired the story. I recognised many of the song quotes, e.g. “just a singer in a rock and roll band”, but if the book contains explicit motifs based on these sources I had trouble finding them, and I own half of these albums! I fear the list is no more than Gwyneth's fave raves..
Bob Sherunkle (amazon) June 2015

Fantastic. Bob, you are the first person ever to comment on my discography, and you are absolutely right! The dilemma, way back then: Bold As Love obviously should have a discography, but how to construct this fictional artefact? The solution was to go down to our basement and survey the Dead Media Wall, with special emphasis on the vinyl. My criteria were simple. An album has to be first, a beloved favourite of mine*, plus either be contemporary with the Hendrix album, or have some direct relationship (even if known only to me) with the action in the novels; or, preferably, both. Eg, "Cigarettes and Alcohol" as a chapter heading, that gets Definitely Maybe in.

PS, Wow. You review a whole lot of stuff!

Here's a nice one. A Fiorinda inspired Bold As Love Playlists, from July 2015

& here's an unexpected honour, Barefoot and Pregnant The things those Wikipedia people come up with!

And, although I probably posted this before, a podcast of the original story (via Dark Fiction magazine)

The two beautiful Anne Sudworth pictures (Lost Thoughts and Footprints) featured as cover images for Castles Made Of Sand and Midnight Lamp. The "Ax Preston" portrait is by Bryan Talbot.

Bold As Love (1) ebook, is available on Smashwords. The whole series (ebooks) is on Kindle. Print copies are readily available from many dealers. You can even buy them from me.

That's all for now!


There's no DVD and none planned says the BBC; you can't buy it, but someone has posted Shoulder to Shoulder, the BBC 1974 series on the Suffragette Movement, on Youtube. I think the whole thing is up, I've watched two episodes so far. The video quality is not exactly HD and the sound is a bit blurry, but it's worth the effort. NB, the first episode, pocket bio-pic devoted to the Manchester middle classes radical-leaning Pankhurst family, is slow going, but this is history, so I don't begrudge them their backstory. Besides, there's a line referring to the place where I was born (Blackley village). Anyway, don't give up. Episode 2 is gripping. I find I remember it all surprisingly well, especially the character of Sylvia, the most complicated Pankhurst. More engaging, and more challenging than the recent movie, which I ended up feeling was rather tepid. This is the real people (flaws and all), who had the ideas and did the deeds, not some luvvy imaginary characters.


I've just finished A River Runs Again. I read the last chapter, on gender inequality, this morning. Brilliant.

The first time I went to India, I was genuinely shocked by billboards in Delhi, advertising new tvs with the image of a dark scrawny fist flinging a stone at a middle-class plate glass window, with the tagline "DON'T ENVY! BUY IT!" (On the never-never, I suppose). Envy was something I had never been taught, and never ever seen openly encouraged like that. It's a mean-spirited, demeaning emotion, what do I care if you've got a fancier car? Nice car, congrats, but we're all as good as each other . . . I suppose I was brought up in a more equal society than India's masses have ever known. Everything's changed now. I've learned how to feel resentment, irysha. I do indeed resent post-capitalism's super-rich. I bitterly resent all those bloated, domineering corporations and smirking tax-dodging billionaires. And I've learned not to be decently reticent and measured in my demands; in my protests. Reticence is not the way to change this world.

"To negotiate such changes is to ask for everything you want, knowing you might only get a fraction. It is to remain unflinching as you look forward into the future of (India's) women and girls, and the generations they will bear . .."

Just started Johanna Sinisalo's The Blood of Angels

Special mention (Carol made me think of this) Wylder's Hand, Sheridan LeFanu. Which I read as part of my Gothic spree this summer, having remembered liking it very much, years ago. Not only a great Victorian Gothic thriller, but also a perilous love story, and . . . I can't tell you, must avoid spoilers. If original period Gothic, unexpectedly and subtly Sapphic, appeals to you, seek it out.

*including Definitely Maybe, beloved favourite Gwyneth? You were a bit long in the tooth, weren't you?
I am never going to be long in the tooth.
Plus, beloved favourites of Gabriel, my niece Catherine and Gabriel's best friend Pat Mays also qualify (except Fat Boy Slim), esp. owing to my cunning ploy (which I have mentioned before) of making my 2 heroes the exact same age as Gabriel and Pat, so I wouldn't have to wonder what their musical tastes had been, growing up; I would know