Skip to content

Sit Down For Five Minutes. . .

Friday 18th September, unbroken grey skies; cool, still air

Unable to be a professional writer in my own mode at the moment, due to pressing concerns in the soap-opera of my life, suddenly I behave like a real writer with a newspaper column about it, for the first time in my career. Friday morning, do a small amount of housework. Pick flowers. Dawdle around the garden, rubbing the seed-paper off honesty pennies and colliding with spiderwebs. Think about a short story, waste time on a blog post. It's the creative mind, we hate to be driven, hate to be pinned to a desk. (Like hell). Must get on with a scrap of proof-reading the index for that book of essays. . . I see that When It Changed, ed Geoff Ryman now has a launch booked for 24th October in Manchester. Is that anthology finally out of the woods? Hope they make it.

How powerfully the charm of young eyes, young voices, young lives censors me. Last week at that sci-fi event, thing, in the Old Operating Theatre (The Butcher's Shop), I couldn't bring myself to say one pessimistic word, I only tried to bring the topic down to earth, a little bit. We don't need a Kurzweil type "Singularity". Future humans don't need a different place to keep their expanding consciousnesses, the human brain is incredibly malleable, takes to add-ons like a duck to water, we learned to read and write without Ascending like that bad Mayor in Buffy, didn't we? (And by the way, if you want to dream about going to heaven and becoming an immortal superbeing, there's already an app for that). What future humans need is improved feet, improved gut flora; teeth that aren't vulnerable to caries. Plus consensus-tending welfare state government, to make the population vaccination programmes for it all workable.

I think my neighbour (Ian Watson) might have been feeling the same in his own way. I know he started a thread that would have injected a note of darker realism at one point, and stopped himself. You don't have our historical perspective, kids. Don't look at the scary portents, accept your world as normal, the way children do. There's always something, we'll scrape by, off you go and do your best. There comes a point where you'd rather shut up than keep hearingy yourself sound like a dyspeptic H.G.Wells (remember what he wanted on his gravestone? I told you so, you damned fools). Save me from grumpy old arrogance.

And last Saturday, a long day out from Findon to Washington and back, putting the summer (this uncomfortable, arid, grey, blustery summer) to bed. It's become a bit of a trudge, this particular walk, thoroughfares of chalky track, the only beauty is the wide view of sea and downs and coastal plain. Maybe it always was, even three (five?) thousand years ago, when Cissbury first stood up, a towering monster mass of gleaming white chalk, dominating the countryside like a Norman cathedral, and no doubt with exactly the same political intent. An apple on Chanctonbury, very tasty, Early Red Windsor, the housemartins swarming like the bees, getting ready to leave; a grove of cedars like a chapel, in the woods under the scarp slope. Sky-gazing yoga in the hedgerow, watching clouds.The picture (not v good) is of an enclosure of bee hives at Findon, fascinating to see them swarm in the air, crossing and recrossing, creeping in and out in little crowds of furry backs and shiny wings. Oh, God, the bees. If you haven't done so, please sign this. It's worth it, the French banned the stuff and it's working.

Enough of this frivolity.
Fixed the spam filters by the way.

How To End Airport Torture, Air Transport Terror: It's Cheap And It Would Work

9th September, clear and fine, promising to be a warm day.

Actually, the plotters never got near an airport, but that's not going to protect you from the way you get treated in the security queue. There's ancient experimental evidence about what happens to people given work of this kind, instructions of this kind. If you are reading this you've got to have heard of the Milligram Experiment. Think about it.

So if it's so dangerous to be in the air, and so unpleasant to get there, don't fly. Have some self respect. Protect the security staff from becoming brutalised, protect your country's future from a brutalised internal control culture Is your journey really necessary? If not, DON'T FLY.

Found Object, Oracles

Tuesday 8th September, cool, sun and pale streams of cloud.

Unshouldering my bag to put on my rain jacket in Brighton station car park last Wednesday, I saw a very small Totoro, standing at the foot of the taxi rank post. Was I right to take him home? What if he was waiting for a bus? Peter says don't worry, that's how he gets around. Anyway, he didn't have an umbrella & I didn't have one to spare.

He stands in for photos of Copenhagen not yet uploaded. The gloomy family grave of Soren Kirkegaard (in English that's Grim Graveyard, isn't that nice to know), in the gloomy, rainy, tree-filled cemetery in the inner city; infested with red squirrels. The Little Mermaid, very little (tho' somewhat larger than Totoro). The North Sea. No pictures from the National Museum's stunning Ancient Denmark exhibit, I think they were allowed but snapshots not appropriate. Stunning exposition of the Sun worshipping culture we know, further south, mainly through incommunicative vast traces like Stonehenge and Carnac. Bog graves, the Egvet girl, in rich-coloured stylish cut clothes one could wear today and feel pleased (supposing one was young, and had good legs). I suppose they had underwear with those short cord skirts? Or maybe they were just hardy.

Anyway, Gabriel's birthday over, term has begun. Save The Green Planet, unexpectedly good bonkers Korean sci-fi, need I tell you many scenes of gruesome bizarre torture? Broken Embraces, hugely enjoyable melodrama, possibly a bit shallow; and on Sunday night the first episode of an airhead US version of Agatha Christie's 10 little n*****s. Self-obsessed wedding party guests on an island, very poor at finding corpses. Jupiter still in the sky, provokingly big, expansive, and jovial and pleased with self (roll on January 2010 when this transit ends: I can't think it's good for us), but for me the season has changed: now back to work, taking Totoro as my totem. Ancient, hidden, wise and childish. I like the sound of that.

Forgot: Comments closed, as I need to fix my spam filters. Something's gone wrong with them.

This Degrades...

Wednesday 26th August, cool; cloud and strong breeze.

Not that I suppose the lads in pants are really being exploited...

Far as I can tell, they're happy in their work & they don't look any sillier that Iggy Pop, for one.

I just think it would be funny if they were anti-pubbed.

Darn it, I see that Spirit on Not-the-Booker seems to have peaked at around 7votes. Typical of my lack of organisation. If I'd just taken the trouble to stuff a few envelopes, knock on a few doors, offer taxi rides to the polling station, I bet you anything I could have pushed that into double figures, and THEN wouldn't I have been proud. Ah well, I'm not that person, such is life.

West Sussex in the photo, blue and gold and tarnished late summer green, and that's the end of another August. New year, by our reckoning, always begins in September, which is when I'll be back here.

Trains, trains, lads in Pants, no regrets and surprises. . .

Friday August 21st. Breezy, cooler, blue & white sky. Brief heavy shower early this morning.

Every time I quick-march out of the exit from the Tube platform at Euston there they are. A group of young men, in their D&G underpants, lifesize, staring at me with diffident, imploring gaze:

Look at my pants

Please look at the lovely front of my pants!

Please look at my pants!

The fact that they seem to be gathered beside a swimming pool, about to swim in their knickers?, gives them a sad, nervous, underprivileged look. Can't they afford swimwear; or was it a spur-of-the moment idea and now they're scared the attendants might shout at them? Of course I look, but I never pause, I just zoom by on my swift, honed and minimised path to the escalators (the up ones work); thinking to myself, what fun if I came by here one morning and found them anti-pub spray-paint daubed with the message THIS DEGRADES MEN!

Nah. Not going to happen.

Nobody's going to anti-pub with those trigger-happy Mets of ours around. Which reminds me, I'm so glad that our police (chastened by the inquiry into G20) will in future adopt a "no surprises" policing policy for demonstrations. If they're going to be brutal, they'll announce it in advance, so anyone with any sense will stay at home.

The tomatoes? (Click through for anything you ever wanted to know). Oh yes, it's tomato time. Tomato soup, fresh tomato soup with herbs and cream. The scent, when you poke your head into our tiny vine-filled greenhouse; warm tomato off the vine, dripping juice. Best year since the legendary 1976, and at last we did something right. Also, been watching movies:

Battle of Algiers. Excellent, thoughtful, seminal & a piece of modern history that has been fantastically influential, shall we say, on the real world too. Terrific score. The ending more bitterly ironic than Pontecorvo could have guessed, because every old woman who remembers how she fought so savagely long ago for the liberty of her country, for the dignity of Islam. . . must now be kicking herself. And plenty of men too.

Day of the Jackal Also about Algeria & OAS, mass market treatment. Stands up to the associaton.

Mesrine Doesn't! It's probably a bit unfair that I watched this soon after those two, but really! Little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously. I have no interest in this brutal self-pitying idiot. Go away and get some irony.

Sin Nombre Loved it. Can't believe its his first feature. Okay, Fukunaga clearly a little seduced by his gangster pals, but this is the tragedy of youth without hope in pure moving pictures, without the stylish speeches of a novel or a theatrical drama: Flores and Paulina Gaitan both excellent, understated performances, a beautiful, tragic thing.

Laura recorded from daytime tv. Load of tosh. Classic Noir often is not what it's cracked up to be.

Not The Booker

Warm day, lot of cloud, no rain, growing cooler towards evening (same as for ages now)

Well, well. It's not often I get a chance to say this, in fact I can't remember if I ever have. Voted awards are not for me, and I know it, and humbly accept my fate. But here goes: Spirit, Not the Booker If you're reading this, and you liked the book, you could vote for me!

Why the Albert Hall? No particular reason, except we went Promenading last week, with the two Gabriels, after a nice picnic in the park by the Memorial. I liked the Mozart best.

Now, back to pasting together my Utopian Politics Powerpoint for Copenhagen. A brilliant idea, I think. If nothing works, I can blame the technology. Not often I give myself a chance to do that, either

the arun, peter in chains

Friday 31st July, sunny and clear, about 28 degrees. Lovely weather for cricket, a bit malicious of the weather gods to lay it on for Brighton, given that they are apparently planning to drown Pride tomorrow.

Marcel walking in Paris, a summer evening in wartime, the sky still a sea of turquoise:

"But if one looked for long at the sky, this lazy, too beautiful sky which did not condescend to change its timetable and above the city where the lamps had been lit, indolently prolonged its lingering day in these blueish tones, one was siezed with giddiness: it was no longer a flat sea but a vertically stepped series of blue glaciers. And the tower of the Trocadero, which seemed so near the turquoise steps, must, one realised be infinitely remote from them. . ."

Immediately, I long to be somewhere where I can see the immensity of those "glaciers": but you probably need to be in a city, and you must be on a hilltop. Here in West Sussex on a summer afternoon, there's no trick of the light or angle to break the illusion. The height of blue sky, with all its ranked clouds, seems to match exactly the space of meadow and woodland below the horizon. The Arun harbours yellow waterlilies, the Wey and Arun canal, a project of restoration that's fallen on hard times, hides between drifts of purple loosestrife. We'd been drenched in The Mens, hiding under a tree in the shadowy beech and holly woodland, we were hoping to find lunch of some kind in Wisborough Green. In the church of St Peter ad Vincula, extraordinary little treasure, we were waylaid by an agreeable church warden or similar, who may have turned up to make sure we weren't nicking anything but stayed to tell us all about it, the tour guide experience. Saxon foundation, Norman structure, fourteenth century wall-paintings, fifteenth century side aisles, the tower had to be built inside the body of the church because otherwise it might have fallen off the knoll, and into the river which used to flow just below us in those days. The Huguenots came and made glass hereabouts, bits get dug up in gardens, there's a tiny window pieced together from scraps of blueish, very thin, mediaeval glass. . . Thank God, says I, as we finally left, all of that lot wasn't in French. Almost drenched again, we made it to the Three Crowns, a very nice location on the 272, on one of the prettiest and most touristique roads in the South of England. Startlingly good food, if you are passing on your way to historic Winchester.

Butterflies. The oaks along the field margins. A long halt for sky-gazing yoga by the old canal, listening to a water wheel. And back in the Mens, one lone Parasol mushroom, which I stubbornly carried home, because Parasols are so tasty. It should be a great summer for funghi, the rain has to be good for something, but we saw nothing else edible, except for a couple of elderly horse mushrooms I decided to leave to the invertebrates.

The photo is by Simon Carey, and if you link through his name you can find out how to buy it.

Thanks to Mark Irons, for the nice letter you sent to Aoxomoxoa.

Midnight Lamp free online

Cool grey evening, no sign of the threatened rain.

Midnight Lamp online, third episode of Bold As Love, has now been added to the right page of the bold as love site, and here it is:

Tell you the truth, I never thought of this project as circumventing the Google Settlement (they've digitised "Life", for some reason, but I don't think any other of my titles). It's just something I've always wanted to do. In time, all my novels will be provided in this form, or whatever replaces this form*, and they're yours to keep, I won't have any power to wipe your copy from your reader, or nefariously meddle with the content as a form of attack-art. (Though it's an idea). *Yes, even Escape Plans.

Ann Halam, hm. That's a lot of books. . .

The only thing that slows me down is the remastering, but it'd be a shame not to. Esp in the case of episode 4 of Bold As Love, the next in line for the treatment.

and to think. . .

Tuesday July 28th, cool sun and cloud, strong breeze

And to think, six months ago I was convinced that by the summer, at the very latest, I would be safely back in those halcyon days of the lost past, when I could spend my time being a writer; even indulge in the hours of critical reading, writing, listening, thinking, and speculation that trickle down, eventually into an essay or an article for my own archives. Fat chance. Today it's a break of sorts, bullying my tax docs into submission : first the neat and docketed parts, then at last, reluctantly, the woeful heap of crumpled old bus tickets that represent out of pocket miscellaneous expenses, (which we have to be ready to produce, you know) and here is laid bare the staggering amount of time I have spent on trains since last December, not to mention the miserable things I have had to eat on said trains (seem to be a few beers here as well, but I couldn't call that a consolation). The endless Americanos. That smoked ham sandwich and "Florida Orange Juice" from M&S food manchester piccadilly, probably the nadir of dining experiences. Ah, the almond croissants at Pumpkin, East Croydon (a rare non-Manchester related jaunt). They were nice.

Oooh, a ten pound note!

I shouldn't complain, it's no worse than having a job, I'm sure (as opposed to being a feckless artist). And last week, a genuine break, reading Helen Merrick's "Secret Feminist Cabal" story. Really fresh, interesting take on the whole phenomenon of women/feminist sf/feminism in the sf community: light on literary criticism, academic jargon, long on piecing together what happened, when it happened, and who did what to whom. Segues from chapters of what's frankly vintage tasty gossip (what else is history?), into analytical discussion, and settles on the place of science in feminist sf as a final topic. An aspect of the endeavour that usually goes right by feminist theorists who get interested in fem-sf, & it's a shame. Science isn't only a metaphor, or a decor, or a crude means of smuggling utopia into adventure fantasy. There are women (me for one) who write sf not to make a feminist point, that's necessity, not preference. But because they are interested in science, just the way a bloke might be.

No use, time's a wasting, tomorrow I'm back on the train, now for the triage operation on these scraps

The photo is a view from Greenwich Park. The poppy field and my office are on their holidays, wish I was.

Indexing, Indexing, Indexing

Tuesday, 21st July, cool and balmy air, luminous overcast

After breakfast and putting together the ful mesdames which will simmer now all day, I take my coffee out to the shabby peace of our patio and pretend I'm on holiday, Kastraki beach 2005 wd do, or Thoard or Bonnieux last summer. Seven drunks in a van, coming back from Lords howling incoherently down the phone, evervescent with the cunning way Freddie conspired to rob England, for once of a triumphant snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory, reminded me yesterday of Kastraki, and the Australian Internet bar in Naxos town... The air is soft, I have a good book (it's Accelerando), maybe I just went swimming in the Aegean, maybe not, but never mind, I have a painted lady for company, a female she's sitting on the worn wood (just like in the picture), fearless and calm, even when I get close to her. Accelerando is a this is where I came in experience (like deja vu only not so exciting as it's voluntary). Exactly like reading Neuromancer for the first time, or Bruce Sterling when I first met him. The humane geek, hip to the futuristic edge of things, and, sadly for me, terrified of women. Did I ever mention, all the times I've praised the cyberpunks, that little problem? Me, not a deracinated cyberbabe, not a Mom or a vagina dentata. Therefore me not possible! Ah, well, me and the butterfly, same problem maybe. But don't you see, the world already is packed with intelligent information? Looking back at us, from every angle? Don't you see, we don't need Second Nature, reinventing the wheel, we only need to connect?

I wish I could stay outdoors, getting my brain tweaked into pleasurable attention, but I have to go to work. Indexing, indexing, indexing, what made me remember this as an enjoyable task? Maybe the volume was slimmer, and maybe I was working in Old Word, a decade ago, instead of struggling with a pdf ripped back into Word 2007, which I don't like. Or else it's because this so-called book of essays is more like a memoir, and that gets boring after several close examinations. Full of things I'm finished with.

Charles Brown, Emperor of Locus

Monday July 13th, cool and cloudy, one lone swift on the wing.

Just got the news, via SFRA, that Charles Brown is dead. I liked him very much, he was a friend of mine from the first time we met. I'm glad he went easy (I mean, as far as the reports I've seen), that's a gift from the gods. He'll be missed.


Friday 10th July, clear blue sky, cooler. No swifts.

Finally watched Tony Palmer's Shostakovich biopic last night. I don't know why, considering the director, but I'd been expecting a sombre bio/historical drama. It's more of a Ken Russell puppet show, and if it hadn't been made for Channel 4, I'd have wondered what audience Palmer was thinking of, for a fairly demanding topic. I thought it was pretty good, though. The combination of stark black&white & surreal carnival effects works very well with the man's music and with the horror around him. Interesting range of reviews here and elsewhere! I must concur: if you're a big fan of Joe Stalin you should beware of this movie. It will only upset you.

I love red kites, always look forward to seeing them over the M40. I didn't know they did interior design, how nice.

Madness, mayhem, anorexia

Monday 6th July, cool grey and showery.

Madness and misery in my bedside reading. I've just reached the home straight of Proust again, Time Regained, and Marcel's jaded view on life is getting me down. Every friend betrays him, everyone turns out to be venal, treacherous, secretly homosexual or all three. The "secretly homosexual" issue has to be a big part of the problem, but Marcel's thesis that: when homosexuality is outlawed, only nasty or feeble-minded perverts persist, all the normal people who happen to be gay/lesbian just make do with straight sex is getting me down too. . . And then it's back to Gravity's Rainbow, paranoia goes mad in wartime Europe; more grim loony tunes. And if I decide to skip GR, I revert to The Tale Of Genji, despairing anorexic women with limbs like wet spaghetti, creeping around in gloom, getting institutionally raped. I've thought of replacing Gravity's Rainbow with Memoires De L'Outre Tombe, but Francois Rene de Chateaubriand can be a bit of a miserable nutcase himself. . . I need a new direction, but I can't bear to let go. I started reading those three majestic tomes in rotation about twenty years ago.

Trapped by my own traditions, I've probably reached the age I've heard about, where people no longer find the cruel edge of reality intensely satisfying, instead they just do not want to hear the bad news.

To London last week, last minute draftee (Iain Banks had to drop out) to a panel on Science Fiction, at the World Conference of Science Journalists, Central Hall. Nice to see Geoff and Paul, briefly, nice to visit the grand old Methodist Party Central, home of a famous conference of Futuristic Utopians in the Bold As Love story; and an amazingly well-attended panel. NB, it was not science fiction about global warming, drowning cities or anything like that. It was rocketship fantasies, with a small side-order on human cloning. Human cloning always gets people going & I can't understand why. It's just a form of IVF, the DNA is not the person & if you think it can be banned, should the shrinking knowledge gap be bridged, and should there be a market for the product, you are living in a dreamworld. Anyway, it was fun to be in London in the heat, crossing the vasty halls of Canary Wharf, seeing all the Londoners set their teeth as Tube Girl advised them, once more, to carry a bottle of water.

If she had a neck, that girl would be SO strangled.

Maybe I'll be less grumpy tomorrow. Did I mention the hayfever? First year I've ever suffered full blown hayfever, it goes on forever and I don't like it.

Strange Accolade

Friday 26th June, very warm and hazy. It's Ginger's birthday, she's eight.

Up to London yesterday evening, too hot, crowded train, me having failed to complete my draft of the Long Price essay, for my brother's birthday dinner at The Star, Belgrave Mews. We ate, we drank, we talked about many things up and down the long table. . . On the train home again, suddenly somebody called out, Michael Jackson's dead!

Seemed like it was true, because the same call went up from other seats in the carriage, the news conveyed to a moving train by our futuristic world's telecoms, and then passed around in the simplest way, mouth to mouth. . . As we walked along the Upper Lewes Road someone came out of a house and called to us, with the same absence of emotion, yet the same conviction that something important had happened, hey, man, Michael Jackson's dead!

Strange accolade.

He was a very good dancer, a phenomenal entertainer, a rock and roll casualty who died painfully, shamefully, publicly; over decades. Poor kid.

Midsummer's Eve

Wednesday 24th June, another clear warm day, strong breeze.

Midsummer's Eve, eight in the evening, I stand on our ledge (sort of balcony with rickety-railed steps down to the garden, outside the kitchen door), watching the swifts, scimitar wings, flashing when they catch the sun, one, two, four... Maybe a dozen, that's twelve oh children of the C21. Reflected sun, evening gold, making all the roofs and walls across the blue gulf between me and Racehill glow. The trouble with moments like this is that one can't shift them out of context. They come with all the grief and losses and impending doom of the present day drawn up after them. Making it difficult, briefly, to wish the world otherwise.

Just finished Soldiers of Salamis, and found it very good. Falange, it means Phalanx, a greek squad, a noble little band of heroes is the image, only that's not what happened, Franco's dismal exhausted Spain happened. In theory it wouldn't be worth saying over again, but if you loved Pan's Labyrinth you'll love this. Salamis? Ah yes, one of those "turning points of European history", and I don't suppose Javier Cercas knows the Browning poem, but Name not the clown with these is exactly what he means, I think, by his "Miralles"

I praise masculine deconstructed heroics, male-ordered romance about lost causes and the courage it takes to go on living, and live well, because these aren't the Seventies.

Working on the Long Price review now, and just got the ARC of Grazing The Long Acre from PS. Good heavens. Wonders will never cease. The cover work by Mark Garlick was my choice, it's an sf version of Magritte's La Reponse Imprevue, which means "The unexpected answer". For the record, my favourites are "Destroyer of Worlds" and "In The Forest Of The Queen". There had to be a frog story!

PS, I decided not to do a Spirit encyclopedia, enough of that with Bold As Love, but I always search my characters' names, just in case, and this is what I turned up, long ago, for "Yelaixaing", night comes fragrance, which means tuberose (I suppose the Mexican flower? But maybe there's a Chinese tuberose). Isn't that nice.