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Shostakovich

Tuesday 26th May. Rain.

[The New Shostakovich, Ian MacDonald, revised and with notes by Raymond Clarke, Random House 2006]

(Draft: Less later)

Shostakovich was born in Petrograd in 1906. His family were middleclass, educated, mildly revolutionary in sympathy; connections were more actively anti-Tsarist political. In 1917 he was in the crowds who saw Lenin arrive at the Finland station and was caught up in the euphoria (long afterward he denied this, but I bet it's true. Ten years old, with his family background. Why wouldn't he have been excited?). He was a child prodigy, his first symphony premiered in Leningrad in 1926 to instant acclaim, and recognition that here was an extraordinary, world-class talent. In the early thirties he wrote an opera Lady Macbeth of Mtensk, about an "ordinary Russian family, they beat and poison one another. . .", with a free and defiant rural Soviet heroine (whose principles Shostakovich seems genuinely to have embraced) whose genius is that she breaks free from the petty oppression of bullies, and slaughters her male chauvinist oppressors. In 1936, in the opening phase of the Stalinist purges, he received a severe reprimand from the Party for this anarchic work, at a time when reprimand was a whisker away from a sentence of death; or "disappearence" avant le lettre. His response was his Fifth Symphony, subtitled "A Soviet Artist's Response To Just Criticism", which passed the censor, and was acclaimed world wide despite strange inconsistences in texture and tone; but was in fact a coded message, that the Russian people understood if no one else did. In the slow movement, the premiere audience heard the ticking away of midnight vigils, waiting for the Secret Police to knock on the door, they heard the suppression of their fear and grief, the deadening pervasive torment of constant suspicion, and when the bombastic, blaring final movement took over they all knew very well that this was not triumphalism but daring and bitter satire. They broke down in tears. They gave the composer a rapturous ovation. (Personality cult style success, to the extent of a highly dangerous standing ovation, was to greet many of Shostakovich's works).

But he walked the line, and despite a couple of further minatory brushes with the authorities he remained for his entire career the Composer Laureate of the Soviet Union, Stalin's Poster Boy, saying what he had to say, when interviewed by Western journalists on cultural trips abroad. When the pressure became too great he'd write music he knew he could never publish and put it away, and then turn in another bland innocuous socialist realism movie score. In 1975 he died of lung cancer, in an odor of Soviet sanctity. In 1979, someone called Solomon Volkov produced a work called "Testimony", published in New York, which he claimed was Shostakovich's secret autobiography, that turned everything on its head and revealed a suppressed, passionate dissident. "Testimony" has had a chequered history. Naturally Western music critics, of whatever political persuasion, didn't like being told they'd been fooled into accepting satire as pure music: naturally Communist and even some Left Wing intellectuals were furious at the slur on Russian culture. But though the authenticity of the "autobiography" has been convincingly rubbished, the "New Shostakovich" is now almost universally accepted as the real composer. Maxim Shostakovich (once he was free to speak without endangering lives of family members) has said of Testimony, "this is a book about my father, not by my father, but it gives a true picture of his life". . .


Many musicologists, even so, were unable to believe Shostakovich had devoted his towering abilities to such a weird, secret life. What? One of the greatest composers of the C20 (probably, possibly, the greatest, and he distorted every single line of his music with the secret message "STALIN STINKS". It's not possible! We know Beethoven had a crush on Napoleon and then repented of it, in public, but it was only part of the music. Shostakovich's first priority has to have been self-expression. Deep down, all great artists are selfless egotists (to coin a phrase), they don't traduce themselves. . . Glasnost came along, and the staggering extent of Stalin's Terror was finally, by degrees, revealed. "Testimony" was no longer implausible. And yet, by the way, you'll still find furious Communists, denouncing the New Shostakovich idea all over the net, check it out.

The New Shostakovich was a shock to the system. My music student son has been taught the New Shostakovich line (I checked); me, I was just curious. Long ago, I'd dismissed the man as one of the C20 Big Composers whose work was just never going to interest me. A wannabe Art of Noise merchant, prevented by politics from embracing Modernism, but making up for it with blaring, crude and clumsy dissonance in a Classic mode. Then Gabriel started playing the Preludes and Fugues (Op 87, 1950-51), beautiful, complex, serene and challenging. I loved them, and that made me wonder. . . I never read a biography that left me so interested, and yet so unsatisfied as this one. I immediately decided I'd better read Robert Conquest's "The Great Terror". R. Conquest is a pickle: a complete nutcase on the subject of how he would rule the world (a ginormous Superstate called the Anglosphere, in case you don't know: which would run the entire world, with the President of the USA as CEO, and the Queen of England as, well, Our Queen, God bless her). Also a superb investigative historian, who told the truth about Stalin forty years ago, and has since Glasnost revised and filled out the picture. "The Great Terror" is not for the fainthearted, it's a relentless, endless mass of grim facts and forgettable names, but it did give me insights on the Shostakovich enigma.

My parents (my father died recently, aged 98) were there at the time. They were Manchester Socialists in thirties, forties, fifties, they had no illusions about the Show Trials, and didn't pass any illusions on. Anyway, by the time I left school. I'd read 1984, I'd read Animal Farm. Darkness At Noon was required reading, alongside the Communist Manifesto, at my alma mater. Yet they walked, and taught me by example I suppose, the art of walking a complicated line, the art of being a Socialist, and voting the way you ought, while knowing that your leaders were to some extent corrupt (it's the nature of the beast); that the Great Socialist State over the water was a hellhole; and that many daft idealist local plans (such as the National Health Service without means testing), were bound to end in disaster. But there's a lot in Conquest that I didn't know, particularly the chunks of transcript from the Great Trials, the weirdly moving public confessions of Great Men who had finally been caught in the maw of their own hellish system. Some of them, between the stirrup and the ground, actually appear to have come to their senses under torture. They confessed, with unsettling conviction, to the "invented" crime of decades of secret sabotage; they confessed to wrecking their country.

Shostakovich didn't choose the role he played. If he'd known what was coming he'd surely have fled, but he was genuinely a socialist artist, and then it was 1930 and it was too late. So he walked a line, staying alive, never revealing his true feelings about the regime; trying not to denounce anyone, much. Same as most people of his class. But he was Shostakovich, so he allowed himself to remain a Great Soviet Artist, Stalin's pet composer, so that he could go on writing music, and being heard, at the global level he knew that he deserved; that the world deserved. No wonder he had a real breakdown when he was finally coerced into becoming a Party Member (1960); a fate than many another secret dissident had accepted with resignation. He'd survived for so long, hanging onto his selfless egotism, with honour as he believed, but in the end they beat him. They made him "sell out".

So what about the music? It hasn't changed, it's still weirdly inconsistent, sombre one minute, gruesomely jovial the next. It's still mostly programme music, not pure music, and "full of quotations" (and I think that's not coerced in either case). But surely music that can't be heard right without knowledge of a particular, isolated historical context is doomed to die? Hm. All art has historical context, and somehow the Illiad gets by. And Stalin's Russia was hardly an isolated phenomenon. Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Rwanda, Bosnia. . . And the Western Powers, who let Stalin's Russia happen because, cut the humanitarian crap, Hitler was more of a threat to "our" territories? Do you remember that secret WWII Allied pact to sacrifice Poland, to get themselves a following wind, that I fictionalised with the imaginary codeword Iphegenia in Band of Gypsys? I didn't make it up.


In the C20, Big Music moved to Russia. . . I didn't used to believe that. Movie scores, ballets, Rach2 okay, but what about the Modernists? What about Benjamin Britten? I think I'm going to have to change my mind. Listen to the Fifth. Listen to the music of the C20, the difficult, grievous, harsh, immortal music of the century when "we" reached our peak.









ATP, Sad to say. . .

Monday 25th May, downpour in the morning, fine and warm this afternoon.

ATP, sad to say, turned out a bit of a bust for us. We'd signed up aeons ago, and watched the bands we'd never heard of added to the roster without disquiet. The Breeders, post-punk, thrashy, female-ordered, what could go wrong? Unfortunately, let me see, we didn't like the music, the weather was cold and atrocious, the food on site was not cheap, not cheerful but uniformly DISGUSTING: which depressed me, to think of the poor holidaymakers, and the Butlins camp itself not as quirky and cute as you might think. Late at night, the rabbits grazed in the security lighting, and we prowled the ranks of chalets, wondering whether to go and see if anyone else had yet braved the stone-empty dance venue. . . Throwing Muses were very good on Friday. Saturday (aside from a dullish 0:0 title-clincher on Sky tv) highlichts were Teenage Fan Club, nothing special, & a disappointing set from the curators, who have grown up and cosy and do a capella alt-folk songs not very well.

Sunday, cheered by truly dreadful weather, we walked to the harbour, ate whitebait & crab, drank Doom Bar, visited the seamen's chapel and discovered, oh,the mines are in Wales across the channel, coalships used to dock here. Lying on the beach, in a gap between showers, engaged in sky-gazing yoga, we debated just going for a nice walk, but happily decided to stick it out. Melt Banana, Soft Pack, The Foals (we already knew about them) all good, and Gang of Four were great, did a terrific set. Worth the price of admission? Not really, they were playing Brighton on Friday 15th.

Maybe it's a refuge for ageing or wimpy Glasto fans, but if Reading was more to your choice when you were young enough, then ATP fest-under-cover may not be for you. Ah, well. It's nice to get out.

And back to the Commons snouts-in-trough shock horror. For heaven's sake. The idea that this Parliament is even moderately high on the historic scale of corruption at Westminster is absurd. Just shows you what gets "us" going, and what "we're" happy to ignore. Destroy their civil liberties, they couldn't care less. Show the great British public an unarmed citizen apparently clubbed to death by the police in broad daylight on the streets of London, and they aren't scared at all. A wooden duckhouse has them in a feeding-frenzy, baying for blood, defecting to the BNP, demanding a General Election. Money, money, money. Nothing else matters.

Just you wait. You'll see.

Reading: still Robert Conquest, but I've finished The Illiad in French and started the Odyssey in French. So now I know (I never could get into the English versions there are around). Fantastic. I'm not surprised that untold generations have been knocked out by the Illiad; and charmed to have learned that the traditions of adventure fantasy were in place back in Homer's day. And more than likely in the Bronze Age setting of this historical romance as well. We haven't changed. You'd have to go back a long, long way to find a viewpoint that isn't "ours". Certainly way further back than recorded text. Always, already bemoaning the hideous inequity and brutal evils of war with one hand, celebrating the glories and dwelling with detailed relish on gory injuries with the other. Achilles, weeping, with his murderer's hands, arranges his friend and lover's body on the bier. . .*

The Odyssey is very different. Same author? Why not? But of course, one of the things I've learned is that the Illiad is not intact, bears signs of multiple authors and editiors, and "Homer" is a catch-all, like saying "God" or "Moses" wrote the scriptures. There's a tradition the Odyssey was authored by a woman, on account of the domestic details, but I don't know about that. Possibly, why not, the "Homer" author thought to himself, the war book was cool, but now I'd like to get home and street with these people, take them down the shipyards, see what they used for door-latches and so on.

*Apparently, in Plato's day the Athenians tied themselves in knots trying to figure out which of this pair was the “erastes” and which the “eromenos”, as they couldn't imagine a homosexual relationship that wasn't pederastic. Later generations tied themselves in same trying to see only chaste manly affection.

Did you know that hetarios originally meant companion, not whore? But I got that from Wikipedia, so don't quote me.

Thick Cloud, thick head

Wednesday 13th May thick cloud, wind has dropped.

Thick cloud lying low over the valley, from Roundhill to Racehill, and no doubt the whole of Brighton. The swifts came out to hawk about ten thirty, like pondskaters on a grey puddle, and now they're dots, far away in the gulf outside my window. King Death's Garden, (I never knew my storybook got a mention in the Festival tourguide talk: non omnis moriar, eh) now in full leaf, a richer green against the dull sky. I like this weather, damp May much better than bitter May, but I'll like it less in Minehead at the ATP Breeders curated weekend, which promises to be a rain fest all the way to Sunday, and I already have an annoying blurry tiring cold in my head. That's ATP as in All Tomorrow's Parties by the way, not the energy molecule.

Many thanks to Jacqueline Sell and Dorothy Stringer School library. The price of your copies of King Death's Garden has been donated to the AI campaign for freedom of the press in Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, I have no more spare copies of this title.

The downloads: you're welcome, Ben. Midnight Lamp coming real soon.

Reading: Robert Conquest's The Terror; still following the Shostakovich trail.
And The Price Of Spring, Daniel Abraham, which finally landed last week.

Work related: have finally signed off the PS Publishing collection "Grazing The Long Acre". Who knows, it may even go on sale this year. Or next. Have also finished Ann Halam Gothic, Grasshopper, at last!

What's that alternate image in the entry header? It's a detail from a photo of a poppy field, my friends.

Bold As Love

Monday 11th May, bright sun, blustery wind, no rain!

Peter's added the downloads of the first two Bold As Love books to the Rock And Roll Reich pages, and here's a link: Bold As Love. & I've finally got round to making permanent links to that site and my content site: just scroll down the righthand sidebar. If you have the sound turned on, that's Gabriel playing I Vow To Thee My Country , on Spanish guitar, long ago.

The swifts

Cold, grey and blustery.

Yesterday started fair, but the sea wrack moved in during the afternoon, with a cold breeze. BY 6pm, the wrack, thick as custard, down to the treetops across the valley, I saw the first of the swifts, skating and tossing around up there in the blustery grey. Three of them this morning. They're back, one more year.

Real Festival weather. Today, out to Queen's Road in the afternoon, to talk-up the newly discovered lost John Wyndham novel for the BBC. A treat for Wyndham completists, clearly foreshadowing his best books, it's good fun in its own right after the first few pages, which are marred by a dodgy US accent.

As is well known, Wyndham tried to dissociate himself from sf, fearing the ghetto effect. But how influential he has been, in the end: particularly on UK genre tv and movies. Apocalypse with ordinary characters, hoping they'll have somewhere to sleep and something to eat. Clueless blokey heroes (who are never revealed to be the secret child of the Evil Emperor's security chief)*; with kind, competent girlfriends. Nobody knows anything, and the deep need to squabble that possesses any group of people, in any fraught situation, proves the triumph of the human spirit. . . Shaun of the Dead is a Wyndham cosy catastrophe. I like 'em.

*I tell a lie. The ordinary bloke hero of "Plan For Chaos" does indeed prove to be a close connection of the World Domination evil genius. He doesn't exactly take this ball and run with it, however.

Something intelligent

Wednesday 6th May, cold night, same sun through overcast in the morning, still no swifts.

I've had a bit of a sniffle all this week, touch of a runny nose, watery eyes. D'you think I should report myself to the government?

What's that Gordon old chap? Did someone whisper in your shell-like that now would be a good time to talk-up a pandemic, cut down on the space for talking about hm, other things? Cram the early evening news with long discussions about coughs and sneezes spread diseases?

No, this is something intelligent to say about swine flu: and something intelligent to be done about the disgusting global mess from which our tasty cheap food is extracted. It's factory farming of course. Remember that Bernard Matthews (amusing slip corrected here, corporate meatgrinder the dirty shameless old comedian eh?) thing about turkeys and bird flu, two years ago? What happened about that? Nothing, except the advertising got a greenwash, and here we are again. "Smithfield farms of Virginia say there's no sign of swine flu at their huge Mexican facility" Local reports beg to differ. . . Unsafe, filthy, hideously cruel. One day there might be real trouble. No, there already is real trouble. This is the real trouble, the death by inches that we're all aware of, and that we whisper about to ourselves in code, through all our longings for a proper big scare. Please God, we have no willpower, send us a big, terrifying pandemic, it's our only hope. . .

I stick to outdoor reared, local reared pork products, of course. And so do you, dear reader, I am sure. All the cool restaurants are doing it! (or pretending to, bless em, the H&C trade doesn't change). But suppose you can't afford that, or suppose you're one of the well-off helpless, and can't get it together to do anything but fatten Corporate Food shareholders and trust, implicitly, the early evening news? Then your only hope is that people with more resistance will make an impression, and world food production will change its ways. From each according to their abilities. Here's AVAAZ on the subject, check it out:
http://www.avaaz.org/en/swine_flu_pandemic

Bank Holiday Weather


Tuesday 5th May, sun building through overcast.

An improvement on yesterday, which was really nasty cold, grey, mean Bank Holiday weather. My friend Maude calls to tell me about heavy-handed policing at the EDO demonstration in town. There's previous between the police around here and the protestors against the EDO weapons factory, going back at least a decade, it's a fixture. The police will be out in amazing numbers, they will get heavy, and a Carnival Atmosphere doesn't impress them at all. Their minds have been made up. Tell me something new, please. Tell me the police and the EDO protestors have agreed to make peace, and embark on a relationship of mutual respect, and I'll have to start looking hopefully for other green shoots of recovery. Or flying pigs.

Saw In The Loop last week, the movie of the series, both of which might well be subtitled "This Is What Puerile Means" or "Single Sex Education Is Bad For Boys". I'm sure it's true that the corridors of power are populated by loud foul-mouthed bullies and clueless little opportunists. I'm sure it's not true that the only girls who've strayed onto the scene can do nothing but stand around looking pained (except when disgracing themselves by bleeding inappropriately in public). But the fact that this team can't cope with Condoleezza Rice, Harriet Harman, Jacqui Smith & their like isn't going to make those beauties disappear. Intermittently amusing.

Also watched Eyes Without A Face George Franju 1960. Wonderfully creepy, and stuffed with quotations; or so it seems, this movie has inspired so many. One of my better Love Film picks.

No swifts. They should be here, but have been as late as the 9th in recent years. Hope they make it.

Trains, trains trains and an Early Day Motion

30th April, cold and grey

Dodgy ads:

If you don't know who Iggy Pop is, why would looking at that raddled old hippie geezer, inexplicably half-naked, make you think about car insurance?

If you do know who Iggy Pop is, why on earth would you want to buy car insurance from him?

That is Iggy Pop, isn't it?

Treacherous automatic barriers at Victoria:

It ate my ticket to Manchester, honestly it did.
The man opens the machine, and cannot find my ticket in its bowels
But it did! It did! Or the person ahead of me took my ticket along with his. Look, look, here's my receipt, here's my seat reservation voucher
The man, kindly to a fault, rushes me to the inquiry office
Mais non, says the young frenchwoman at the desk (only in English). One cannot reissue without a signed form from the ticket barrier teamleader.
we rush back and find the teamleader
Mais non, we still cannot reissue, as this ticket was bought from a travel agency.
She takes all the surviving parts of my ticket, and my proof of purchase, and rushes off somewhere else anyway
Will she ever return? Her colleague eyes me uneasily from behind the glass, as I pace and pace, looking at my phone every ten seconds. I'm going to have to pay full fare. I'm going to miss my appointment. . .

This story has a (relatively) happy ending. Owing to my seldom-used-these-days power to run up Underground escalators, I actually caught my train from Euston.

The story outlined below won't have a happy ending unless a convincing number of MPs are persuaded to show that they care. Do you care about the use of secret evidence in UK courts? Or will you wait until you're made to care, by a knock at midnight from the secret police?, Do you think it's about time we called a halt to the frightening erosion of the rule of law in this country? Check this link, read the motion, contact your MP: http://edmi.parliament.uk/EDMi/EDMDetails.aspx?EDMID=38455&SESSION=899

EDM 1308
SECRET EVIDENCE
21.04.2009
Abbott, Diane
That this House believes the use of secret evidence in UK courts is fundamentally wrong; notes that secret evidence is evidence held by the Home Office against an individual that neither the individual, nor their legal representation, may see; further notes that in recent cases secret evidence has been used to detain individuals in prison for up to three years without charge or trial; further notes that these individuals may also be put under a control order or severe bail conditions, greatly limiting their movements and ability to lead a healthy life; believes that the use of secret evidence by the state against individuals runs entirely contrary to Habeas Corpus; recognises the European Court of Human Rights' ruling that detaining individuals on the basis of secret evidence is unlawful because detainees had not been able to effectively challenge the allegations against them; and calls on the Government to begin an immediate independent review into the use of evidence that is not ever heard by the defendant or their lawyer but which is used to justify indefinite detention, severe bail conditions or control orders.

Not sure who your MP is? Check it out on theyworkforyou.com

Don't Panic?

Monday 27th April, rain

Rain and cool grey skies, after the fine weather. Yesterday we took Milo and went for a walk in King Death's Garden, first time we've visited for a long tim. A beautiful day, beauties of spring all around, the primroses fading, bluebells in flower (more bluebells than ever before, I think), the elm trees so burdened with green-gold blossom they seem already to be in full leaf. Not much contest between the oak and the ash this year, the ash is definitely lagging, which means (may I remind you) a dry summer.

Something to mourn. One of the great twin copper beeches on the primrose slope in the valley, the prettiest place of all for early spring flowers, is gone. A huge stump sealed by wire netting. Ah, when did that happen? It used to be that one could say, well, never mind, nature always renews itself, it's humans who are ephemeral. Now no longer.

I'm reading The World Of The Shining Prince, in preparation for the readings at Fabrica this Thursday and being reminded of the two obsessions I found I shared with this eleventh century Japanese court lady. The passing of the seasons, with their different beauties; and the essential melancholy of life. Meanwhile, I'm finding fellow feeling with Shostakovich, and the compulsory optimism of the Terror years: you must rejoice, you must rejoice. Yeah, I get sick of socialist realism too.

An email from Rami Shal'heveth, Editor of Bli-Panika, asking may he translate 'The Tomb Wife' for a Hebrew sfwebzine. Yes, of course. I'm not in favour of imposing cultural isolation on Israel; hope I'm right. I would hate to be seen as encouraging racism and sanctioning the inhuman treatment of Gaza's helpless population. Try this site for a fresh view

Another London Road

Wednesday 22nd April, another beautiful spring day.

Down to the Duke's yesterday evening, to the benefit showing of Man On A Wire, for the AnotherLondonRoad show. Got to be there. I did help out at the streetstall last winter, and went to the Christmas do, but local activism became casualty to the gothic affair in Manchester, and I never got back on board. . . Couldn't get away before six, but sadly that's no problem, it's a benefit for a town-planning action group, on a minor issue to most (idiots); probably lightly booked. . . Thwarted! Hordes of people, queuing round the block. I joined the line, in hopes that maybe the afternoon audience had not yet left the theatre, but no. Dukes sold out, and I had to be content with donating a tenner to the raffle.

Maybe there's more interest in town planning around here than I thought. I really hope so. I'd like to see my part of Brighton get some care, thought and attention, something to tell me this town (sorry, City) isn't just for tourists. I definitely don't need another huge Tescos in my life, in my face, killing off all the human-sized shops and businesses and suffocating the traffic. So, if you're reading this and you live in Brighton, please check out this site another london road. Do something, if it's only signing the petition

After Easter. Turning, turning

Monday April 20th, beautiful day, a bright clear morning after a chilly night.

I can never get straight to work after a break from the core task. Turning and turning, like a cat preparing to sleep, I fidget around the house, finding ridiculous little things to do, and finally settle, nose to tail, in the nest of the keyboard, the screen, the story.

Blood, Ink, Let The Right One In

Friday 17th April, rainy and mild.

Easter week, full of flowers disjointed and muddled days, chocolate eggs, gardening, The World At War, Prokofiev and Stravinsky, and me struggling with the never-ending gothic novel of my family's affairs, recalcitrant small tasks at my desk, pining to get back to Grasshopper. Saw Let The Right One In at the Duke's, loved it. Such a great idea to tell the story of where Igors come from. I love people who love the rules; who find new ways to work within a classic imagination-space. Especially an imagination-space so exhausted, so over-fished, as the Vampire story. Admirable.

Blood and Ink is a series of literary events at Fabrica, an exhibition venue in Brighton, at present displaying two medium-sized works by Anish Kapoor, one of them a bronze bloodbath with an incised text commenting on the Arabian Nights, by Salman Rushdie. We went to the first last night: my friend Maude Casey giving a fascinating, wide-ranging presentation on the many faces of the Thousand And One Nights. Decor to match, charming refreshments provided, sweetmeats and pomegranates on lordly dishes. And not forgetting Guantanamo Bay either. The rest of the presentations are an eclectic pick and mix, Chinua Achebe, Ovid, among others. I'm kicking in with Genji on 30th April. I wonder if the gathering will get sushi? Veggie sushi, I hasten to add. This is Brighton!

Seems like the keynote is going to be an intro wherein the writer at the desk disparages Salman Rushdie's contribution to the art work. It's okay. Apparently Anish Kapoor has had second thoughts too.

Splendours And Miseries. . .

Thursday April 2nd, sun through haze, the blackbird singing.
That's thirty five days straight, thirty six counting the official day off on the 4th Sunday. I get asked, hopefully (by male respondents, women have this issue nailed) "did you lose weight?" No, mate. Alcohol fasts only make you lose weight as part of the proverbial calorie-controlled diet. If you drop a dress size without trying, just by leaving out the booze for a week or two, I'm afraid you have a drink problem, my friend.

I didn't watch the City of London situation yesterday, just checked it at my desk every now and then. 86 arrests, in the end (or so they say). Protestors harrassed and cattle-penned, police provoked, and someone died, while the Met were tending him. . . It was going to get ugly,because our police are like that. That's why I stayed at home. The surprise will be when (if ever) the English police, or rather their masters, start cleaning up their act, and turning all Gilbert and Sullivan because the voters en masse are getting behind those four horsemen. What will it take? Wait and see.

Splendours and miseries of having your son home for the holidays:

Mother: Gabriel, Gabriel! You have to get up! You've got to get up and go to London. The agency just called, your landlord is chucking you out because of that rent strike. . .

Son: Gnnfh Guugnth... Wha, wot. Sits up, eyes focusing in panic. Wot, today? They're chucking us out now??

Mother, urgent and beginning to panic: Yes, right now. Your things are all on the pavement! And I just had a phone call from Gab's mum (that's the other Gabriel, currently asleep downstairs and making the place look even more untidy, were that possible). He's getting thrown out as well. His stuff is outside too!

Son: (SCRAMBLING OUT OF BED, WILD EYED) Ohmigod! Ohmigod, I knew it, I told him! I told him! And Gab is getting chucked out of halls? What did he do? Oh, Oh, Oh, God, what shall I do???

Mother, growing calmer: Well, it's pretty bad. But you should allow for the fact that it's April 1st. And you left the basement in a horrible state last night.

(At three am, listening to the drinking games and the wild piano music down below, I was contemplating having him scramble and panic as far as the doorstep before letting him off, but I had relented a little.)





35 Thousand


March 28th, Saturday. Chilly, bright and clear am, heavy cold showers later.
Honour to those who in their lives are committed and guard their Thermoplyae. . . The G20 protest, peace march version. Stop bailing out the d***ed bankers, don't print money you idiot! Jobs, Green Recovery. A New Deal. Return to Victoria, walked down the river to Arundel St. where we collected our green hard hats from Avaaz and then hung about sightseeing for a while. Coot bobbing on the brown waves of the Thames, this is the King's Reach, dedicated as such 1935, nice bronze carp and so on by the river-steps. Memorial to the BN submarines killed in 2 World Wars. In the 1st they only got numbers (as they weren't expected to live long, maybe). In WW2 they got names. Spent some time helping an anarchist from Preston with his extremely frisky banner-bearing contraption, and who better than an anarchist to rely on the kindness of strangers. Off we go to Hyde Park, isn't the Queen Mary small, how great if we could get the rich back to the level where they'd fit inside, they'd still own as much as ever, but they'd need fewer golf courses. Hey, Faraday, hey all you bronze people, all you fine buildings, always something new to admire in this beautiful city.

A lot of EU and UK trade unions (and that's new), inevitable Socialist Workers and Communists of different stripes,the Four Horsemen of the Apocalpyse, two brass bands, the drummers, beat boxes on bicycle trailers. Palestine and StopWar, and Don't Attack Iran, of course. Lot of fancy dress, the young faux capitalists were fun, except I felt the (f) members shd have been wearing spike heels, their trainers (running shoes, cousins) were giving them away, like that high-heeled nun in The Lady Vanishes, . Invitations to the illegal raves next week were offered; I sang the Internationale with the Italians, only in French as I don't know any Italian and the English lyrics are cr*p and don't scan. We got behind the 4 horses, and wondered what the slow-marching police front row was there for? To make the whole thing look more impressive? Were they joining in? They wouldn't be out of place on this one, not at all. Everybody's got a job, pension, supermarket bill on the line, and if you're if not P****d off by now (as one homemade placard had it), you haven't been paying attention. Most, about half I'd say, are under thirty (and that's new).

But it's a rag bag, as always, and I'm an odd sort of rag myself. I wonder if there's a single other person here is thinking the way I am, about caddis fly larvae creeping around the bed of a stream, in their cases made of grains of sand and tiny twigs. The sparrows, lost. Cuckoos and skylarks, blackcaps and songthrushes, the she-frog I took out of our tiny water feature, grey-green, healthy looking young creature, hiding her pointed snout between her splayed, fairytale-fingered forefeet. The candled tower of a horse chestnut in bloom, the great oak trees, I would rather die than live without these things, and it's only through them that I understand what's happening. There is no doubt in my mind that there's only one real problem, the NUMBERS, the awesome burden of human success. But the problem is also the place where we'll find the cure. I believe that too. So few, sighed Peter, sounding oddly like the Steward of Minas Tirith. Nothing like the crowd for that first Stop The War. . . Yeah, right, that freezing February, few weeks before I gave up being English: and what good did it do to be so many, eh? Like I've said in another context, we're the symptom, not the cause, and if critical mass is reached, it won't be down to us early warners. It will be down to the trouble itself: objective effects scary enough to get Middle England (etc, etc) behind the anarchists, the NVDA brigade like next week. All we need to do is wait until they're paddling around here, and get close enough to critical mass to scare our so-called leaders into seeing the light. Gordon Brown (not him, the next PM, obviously) will look at the Youtube record of torched fast food joints, torn up runways, fighting in the streets: listen to the media and the voters howling "those people have a point, d**n it!" and say to himself, my goodness! Of course we must take this chance we've been offered, by the collapse of the unbelievably stupid finance system! So far and no further, here we turn the tide. Here's where we save the future! The future of the living world and our own.

Nah. We're here because we're here. Either it's a way of life (the old guard, who really would come out to ANY demo), or it's the young guard, who are coming back next week: who are ready to go to prison, to get beaten up, tasered, even shot, to guard the Springs; or it's the timid frogs such as me and my friend here, who have been paying attention, who come out because they can't bear not to, because it's a brief respite from the scariness of life surrounded by the KFC, 4X4, Ryanair tendency (including of course the substantial vintage champagne, red carpets, weekend in the Maldives wing), who will never see that there's a problem. Hell, there's not much left outside the bunker but we got champagne synthesisers haven't we?

When we finally reached Hyde Park we listened for a short time to Tony Robinson, various worthies from the Flood Countries of the South, and is that Bianca Jagger? Ate our sandwiches& drank hot chocolate in the shelter of a big oak tree, by a Speakers' Corner kiosk (listening to anarchists mutter about Socialist Workers in their Nike and their Umbro, tuh); and headed off down by the Serpentine, blossom trees and birdsong in the cold, sudden rain.

Peter asked me, d'you think there's any famous sf writers here? (He's always hoping I know someone famous). I gave it some thought: Theoretically, yes, but I can't really picture it, protest marches are so pathetic. Sf mavs either think teatrays in the sky are the answer, or else they're sure it's just the current scare story, like Global War, City-eating Floods, Famine, Over-population, Epidemics, Mass Extinction, an annoying distraction or good copy; it's not real

Those hard hats an excellent innovation. They keep the rain off, are not so much hassle as a placard on a stick, and add a certain pleasing conformity to the view for the camerapersons.