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Small Mercies

I was wondering if the swifts were coming at all, then Sunday afternoon, we were out in the garden and I heard them shrilling, unmistakeable sound, looked up and there they were, ten, twelve of them (which is a crown these days) darting around high up in the blue. Just passing, they don't live on the Roundhill anymore I am sorry to say, but always a welcome sight.

Saw a pair of them this morning too.

A Brokedown Fridge Has Its Upside

Haha! I have solved my fridge-magnet spider puzzle again! After I don't know how long of looking at it and wishing I had a moment . . . And this time I have taken its photo, so Peter and Gabriel can't mess it up and annoy me as soon as my back is turned. I feel like a new woman!

VE Day Celebrations

Congratulations to Caroline Lucas (returned with a significantly increased majority), Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion once again & to everyone who worked so hard to make this happen. As for the rest of this doomed and benighted land, thank God that rubbish coalition thing is over at least. It was just adding insult to injury.

I didn't stay up late, gave up about 2am, when the situation was already clear enough. The best bit was when Neil Kinnock came on, briefly, and started telling the truth. A hard won privilege in any politician's career. & now off we go again for another whole five years (whose brilliant idea was that?): over the top, further and further into the dark nightmare world of the Post-United Kingdom's Zombie Apocalypse. It's almost exhilerating.

Changing the subject completely:

I found a nice review of Grasshopper's Child* yesterday, in the intervals between stuffing leaflets through letterboxes, and staring gloomily into space. Here it is:

The Grasshopper’s Child by Gwyneth Jones. A short review.
Posted on April 24, 2015 by Rel

"This book arrived in the post mid morning, and I’d finished it by bedtime. Every minute away from it was a minute I wanted to be back in Heidi Ryan’s difficult, terrifying world. Gwyneth Jones has given us another heroic protagonist in Heidi, but so many of the young teenage girls and boys in this book show strength and resolution in the face of the power of Empire and the equally inescapable threat of local corruption.
Set in the near future world of the Bold as Love series, ‘The Grasshopper’s Child’ continues the story of an England managed by a foreign power, where austerity, officially sanctioned tech, and the nationalisation of the means of production are an accepted part of life for many, but where the evidence of deeply hidden crimes bubbles to the surface of life in a seemingly idyllic Sussex village.
Recommended for adults and young adults alike."

& also discovered Bold As Love coming in at 33rd place in someone's list of "the 50 coolest books by women". It turns out I've read quite a few of them. I'm going to keep this link, and see about following up the rest.

It starts with The End Of Mr Y, Scarlett Thomas at number one, which is promising.

A Game Of Margins

I can't believe how much this General Election has got to me. I think party politics are ruinous, and yet I joined a political party for the first time in my life. All the real issues have been banished, there's absolutely nothing going on. I am not a party faithful animal: activism isn't fun, it's a reluctant obligation, and yet I have hosted activists from Newcastle; I have been out canvassing; I'm the worst cold caller in the world, but I can tell you exactly why the majority of respondents on my beat who didn't intend to vote for Caroline Lucas, and were willing to explain why not, had come to their decision. It was traffic calming. 100%, a clean sweep of them. I even met a bus driver who hated buslanes and wanted them all killed*. And today I spent two hours pounding the streets again, doggedly pushing Eve Of Poll cards through long-suffering letterboxes. All this, and for why? Huh. Even if as a I fairly confidently hope my excellent horse, best MP in the House, is first past the post in Brighton Pavilion, what's the best I can hope for? Not much. A second term of this kind of government. You realise what that means? More of the same villainy, powered by narrow selfishness and a complete disregard for the common good, only this time the people know what to expect, and they voted for the same shower anyway. Beggars belief but it's a sure thing. I saw the odds in the window of Betfred on the Lewes Road. Still, I can't help myself. It's a game of numbers, one vote at a time, and I'm too stubborn not to try and win a game of margins.


Speaking of magical thinking, many thanks to Dominik Becher, who gave me a chance to read his as yet unpublished dissertation (Enchanted Children); because he was using Ann Halam's Inland Trilogy for his Exemplary Analysis. Enchanted Children is rich and fascinating, and right up my street: took me back to my History Of Ideas courses at Sussex Uni, in the long ago (Alchemy, Witchcraft; the birth of the Modern Sciences in C17 Europe). But how touching and strange to meet Zanne of Inland again! Like looking in a mirror, as I told Dominik, and seeing a much younger face.

I remember well how I came to write those books: a chat over lunch with Judith Elliott, my editor at Orchard books. I'd had one very respectable success with her (King Death's Garden). Fantasy and feminism both seemed to be trending. Was the time right for a series about a powerful girl magician? I'm not Joss Wheedon (much less J.K. Rowling), so the world had to wait a few more years for that massively popular kick-ass magic heroine. I did something very different (Judith, my apologies). I was a "Seventies feminist": and in those days feminism was all about building the Good State. Can't put all the blame on Joanna Russ though, the connection between Feminism and Utopia is much older. Why was it ever there? Well, that's another story. So, anyway, when I was given licence to write about a powerful girl, in a world where girls could be powerful, obviously I invented a post-apocalyptic, survival-subsistence situation; where ideas and the material world are one and the same thing, and wrote about the consequences. Inland magic is all about building the Good State. Literally. Soil, crops, sky, everything. The future we make for ourselves is made of thought was my message, and I stuck to it.

The books snagged a few positive reviews, but they are didactic, there's no getting around it. I'll never be able to re-edit and put them on the market again. I would change them too much. But you can get hold of them quite easily, if you're keen.

What is magic? The word means power, but that's not the whole story. I've given this some thought, over the years (it's amazing how often, and how consistently, the topic comes up. Inland. The Aleutian Trilogy. Bold As Love). My science is always magic & what I talk about when I talk about magic is always the mind/matter barrier: a strange feature of the human/physical universe that ought to puzzle people a lot more than it does, in my humble opinion. Magic is the belief that:

a) this barrier can be broken, violently, with the aid of ritual, words of lore and possibly huge underground (or space based) tunnel structures; by a powerful human will (or a number of human wills acting in concert).

b) the barrier is weakly permeable all the time; and sometimes dangerously permeable. Trees and rocks can have consciousness, ill-wishing can do people material harm . . . Old school anthropologists used to call this hypothesis "magical thinking": some of them had respect, while others made out it was pitiful and primitive. Nowadays, of course, we know it's the simple truth. The material and the immaterial "worlds" (electrons are not things!) are a continuum, although we haven't even begun to scratch the implications.

(So don't fret, Mr Stoppard. Nobody is ever going to take your ghost away from you, and leave you with just a squishy grey machine. There is no machine, it's ghost all the way down.)

c) both of the above, with permutations.

Enough for now.


Elementary! Revisiting the first series, which we didn't take much notice of at the time, I'm delighted with this show. Liking it so much better than the UK Sherlock, which is watchable but rather hateful: Sherlock Holmes as an infantile, helpless, self-satisfied fop is such a travesty of the original character, and such a depressing insight into the image of "brainy" characters in the mind of the media-consumer. Also, I soon got tired of that no, no, splutter, splutter we're not a gay couple joke.

Have just found out that Kevin Spacey's House Of Cards is going to a fourth series. Sickening. Here was I all keyed up for the suicides, ghosts, bodies all over the stage, and then the show morphs into a sort of rudderless, spun-out anti-West Wing. I'll watch it, of course. All the way to the smug grin borrowed from Ian Richardson, if that is my fate.


The Girl In The Red Coat Kate Hamer

A single mother loses her little girl at a story-telling festival, the little girl stays vanished. Gradually and fuzzily over many years of double narrative we learn that maybe there was some kind of spooky family history behind the disappearence.

Didn't work for me. Just doesn't hang together, and seemed amateurish.

The Girl On the Train Paula Hawkins

USP = descriptions of a very sad young woman (in every sense) getting stinking vomiting drunk on a commuter train journey; over and over again. A page-turner but vapid and unpleasant. Definitely won't be going near the movie.

& that's how my luck ran out, and the end of my bestsellers foray for now.

The Walking Whales J.G.M "Hans" Thewissen.

What a relief to be back in the real world! Brilliant book. The topic sounds very specific and it's true, this really is about a "walking whale" = the revelations derived from a specific fossil find. But the author's skill as an educator and an interpreter makes the experience much more than that.

Looking forward to reading An Indomitable Beast, Alan Rabinowitz next

& so farewell, government of 2010-2015. I'm sure we'll meet again soon. If I wake up on Friday morning and you are not around, I'll be very much surprised.

Live Biological Material

Tuesday May 5th. Sun and breeze; chill outdoors, my cat Ginger toasty warm in Peter's chair by the window, two frogs and a newt strolling in the fish pool; the wild garlic (from Fife) and the Spanish bluebells in full flower in my tiny "woodland glade". Ha! Live Biological Material #2 outside the basement door. This can only mean that Spring is truly here. I accidentally bought the beefy, regular size mealworms first time round, & hence have been running a soup kitchen for magpies, wood pigeons, collared doves and starlings for the past three weeks; not quite my intention. Now we'll have the proper small regulars, for our prefered customers, and I just hope a bad precedent hasn't been set*.

The Bees

Marginally good news from Lowe, an object lesson for cold callers from me: Many thanks to Matt Harbowy for getting in touch after @AnnHalam tweeted about bee-killing pesticides. You wanted to assure me that pesticides aren't responsible for colony-collapse, and sent me a cool, scientific link where I could check this out. But I didn't, Matt. I don't know you, you don't know me, so I guessed immediately it was nothing personal, and checked out Matt Harbowy instead. In no time at all I knew that you work for Genentech, a subsidiary of Roche Bayer. That's Bayer, the pesticide producer: the people actively and inventively engaged in trashing the move to ban bee-harming pesticides . . . & that was the end of our beautiful friendship. So, sorry, Matt, if you're reading this. Your motives may have been pure as the driven snow, but it's just too bad.

Good clicktivists don't shoot, but always interrogate the messenger.

My Fracking Round Up

Are there votes in it? No surprise that the decision on Cuadrilla's application to frack in Fylde has been delayed to 30th June, but nb: the Conservatives may have lost a few votes if the application had gone through on 30th April, but a Labour coalition of some kind after May 7th may well mean fracking STILL goes ahead in the UK, though it makes no sense at all. The Lib Dems also insist on supporting fracking as a component in their vibrant energy strategy. I know this because my local Lib Dem candidate Chris Bowers answered my query: explaining that although he utterly abhors the idea (means he doesn't like it, Newspeak speakers), and would never support fracking in a personal capacity, unfortunately, as an MP he'd have to be in favour because that's his party's stance. Bless. Ah well, good for Chris for fessing up. I suppose. The other candidates (apart from Caroline Lucas) didn't respond, and perhaps took the more rational route.

Interrogate the links below to keep in touch with developments on the UK's fracking frontlines:

This one for the marginally good news:

& this one for the ingenuous source of that Don't Forget To Frack the National Parks report last week. I think Liam Herringshaw may be a man with more of a mortgage than a mission, but he's certainly keen!

Oh No! Futureshock!

My antique vacuum tube monitor finally died. An ominous smell of fried wiring alerted me to this tragedy when I switched on one morning last week. So now I have a normal slimline model on one leg, and a very angry cat, who persisted for two days in trying every way she could think of to make her old cosy warm perch reappear, including biting me, and repeatedly leaping up the screen from different angles (I can see her reasoning, like a fantasy game: I know the right flick of the wrist will make it appear!).

& Google disposes. This blog is mobile friendly, as I might have guessed, having noticed it had mysteriously become my "official site" a while ago. (Awesome! says Google). Boldaslove** and GwynethJones, are not. A complete refit has been in order for years, since the frames and the flash had to go, in pursuit of which I've been updating the content of gwynethjones. Now we realise might as well go mobile, while we're at it & that's another layer of pointless beauty. Will thie project actually happen? Maybe. In time.

Meanwhile, here's the updated Hoglog.

& it's Festival season again. So far I've seen the Morris Men dance in the May, outside the library on Friday a great performance by Yoon-Seuk Shin at the Unitarian; and been to Glyndebourne for Stephen Hough's Chopin and Debussy recital. Possibly all four Chopin Ballades was a Ballade or two too far, but Stephen Hough is one of the great virtuoso pianists of our time. I heard him four years ago at the BF 2011, playing Scriabin and Janacek,and was determined not to miss another chance. These Glyndebourne Festival Sundays, are an institution, invariably cold and grim, but usually worth it as long as you aren't fool enough to bring a picnic. This year was a privilege. And to Patching Woods & Angmering for the Bluebells: unmissable. I think I've never seen them so vivid, or the young beech leaves such a tender green as under the luminous grey skies of yesterday afternoon. Nor felt so intensely the fleetingness of these things (the beeches are a commercial crop, although a slow one, and of course they will be felled). Just be there when I come back next year; one more time. Please.

*sadly that’s not the peacock butterfly I saved from Milo, it died in hibernation.It’s another peacock butterfly
**The Bold As Love site, your chapter by chapter guide to the Bold As Love series is in remarkably good shape, for its age but “updating the content” could only mean checking all the 1999-2005 external links, , and repairing/replacing them. I’ve decided to tackle this job responsively. So please do complain & I’ll fix whatever you report.

Drown-In On Brighton Beach

What's going to happen? We don't know, exactly. We're just volunteer corpses. Will 200 people turn up? Probably not. Will the proper media turn up? Wait and see. Down we go to the Palace Pier (as we natives still call it), on a brilliant April morning: arriving on the dot, anticipating a bit of standing about, but no. Straight into action. We have to construct this scene. The boxes have to be ripped open, the body bags exhumed from their taped plastic shrouds, and laid out in rows. The sea is about as far away as it gets, in normal tides, and the beach by the Pier is very flat to below high water mark. Is the tide still going out? We're not sure. "Google it," says one Amnesty staffer to another. The tide is declared safe: we lay out the bags in a good strategic position, the Pier in shot. It takes a while. There's a breeze, these bags are recalcitrant. Zippers at the top, please. Weigh the edges down with stones (the beach has plenty). The rows furtherest from the pier will be filled with real human bodies. The rest will be stuffed with balloons. Here are the balloons, a bursting bag of them, pink and yellow, with the Amnesty logo. We blow up a whole lot of balloons (except those of us who have asthma). Some of the results are pretty d**ned weedy, in my opinion, but the willingness is all. Three decent-sized balloons to a bag, shake them down so they lie in a row. It's spookily realistic. Well done, whoever had that idea.

Then we lie down, and pull up the black plastic shrouds. Cover your faces, we're told. We lie still, row on row, and the photographers gather. The sun is bright and warm. Staffers patrol, unseen, asking if everyone is okay; offering water. I'm okay. I'm fine. I lie quietly, thinking of doctors of the darkside, the bit where the narrator says US torturers once used a confining dark box. They'd make a diapered, naked prisoner get in, and leave them there for hours. Until they realised that the dark box was a refuge. The body bag is a refuge. I don't need to think about what I really should be doing (a nagging preoccupation of mine); I'm sorted, for now. Then I start to wonder how long have I been in here? Can't check the time, corpses don't check their phones.

Peter, if my face is covered, how am I different from a balloon?

It's conceptual art, mutters the bag next door. A bag with a real body in it looks different. Don't worry. If the tide starts coming in we'll hear the front row fussing and jumping up.

My legs are getting stiff, I've got cramp in my foot, but I hear the shutters so I lie still. It's interesting listening to the construction of images, images of disaster and despair, but still media images, going on all around me.

Can you get out of shot! PLEASE! All I want is one clean shot of body bags without a camera man in my way! Is that too much to ask!

I was miles away, I heard about this on the radio. Came straight away.

I was in London. Is Reuters sending you work now? Or you doing this freelance?

I've got a really good bag here! The trick is to take them from uphill!

At last we were told we could get up, and thanked profusely, but then the BBC arrived (in the nick of time), so some of us and the staffers lay down again. The BBC wants to see faces (Ha! My point proved!): we peel back our shrouds. I'm told to take off my sunglasses. Don't look alive says a camera person. I close my eyes & have a horrible thought. Does someone close their eyes? Did someone close their eyes, on Lampedusa beach, on Rhodes and in Catania yesterday?

I avoid the news (sick of the election) but I saw Rhodes: the miserable bits of plywood scattered on the rocks, to which the refugees* from Libya and Syria had trusted their lives. I wanted to shout DON'T do it! How can you give your money to these callous, utter b*st*rds! You'll drown, you'll be holding up your baby, she'll die too, the cold water itself will kill her.

I hear a friend of mine in the row behind "giving an interview". He's very cogent, very down to earth. I admire him. What would I say, if I was asked? I know what I'd say, I've been thinking about this for a long time. We have to let them in. We just have to. There comes a point, in a time of global war, when you just stop saying its someone else's fault, and you do what you can. That's all.

Now it's really over. We can get up. The two homeless men next to another friend of mine took their bags away with them. Good idea! The staffers are clearing up, the volunteer corpses can go home. As Peter and I walked up the beach we passed two coastguards, who had arrived (we assumed) to make sure Amnesty International wasn't littering the beach with popped balloons, or chucking body bags into the sea. But maybe not. They were staring grimly at the still-intact media image. The real thing would be their business, I realise. Ouch.

What time is it? It's 11.00am. Amazingly, this is exactly on schedule. The sky is cloudless blue, the calm sea perfect ultramarine, the sun is high. We walk back into the real Brighton beach of plastic spades and sandcastle buckets. I'm thinking, back in 1999, writing my future fantasy Bold As Love, I had my rock star revolutionaries face an influx of 400,000 refugees, crossing the North Sea, in a single summer. I'm stunned, beginning to glimpse the reality of that situation; to think of what I did to them.

"We were lucky with the weather," says Peter.

"I wonder if we'll get onto an Argus placard," I say, hopefully. I love Argus placards. They're straight out of Grahame Greene. Maybe we even will. Drown in on Brighton Beach.

We discuss long term solutions, on our way home. Stabilise the region, well, obviously. Convince the able-bodied refugees, with the money, to stay at home with those who can't get out? Marshall Plan it? Hm, maybe. But who's going to try anything positive, when selling arms is so much more profitable? Good ideas, bad ideas. Try to fix the situation, that we had a hand (to say the least) in creating. Definitely, if you can think of a way. Meanwhile, we have to let them in.

*you can call them migrants if you like. And then you can wash your mouth.

After The Eclipse

At the maximum of the partial eclipse last Friday I was sitting with my cats, congratulating them on their calm demeanour. I have always believed eclipses to be completely harmless, but the confirmation was reassuring. Not that the show amounted to anything more than a mild darkening of a morning of heavy grey cloud (we never get the fancy stuff, no Northern Lights for us). But if there was a profound effect on this world below, I think we'd have felt it anyway, along with the lucky viewers. Sure enough the Spring of 2015 has continued as before: dull, dry and cold, with ominous bursts of electioneering. I'm less and less interested in these Hogarthian, Eighteenth Century hustings; though of course I intend to vote.

And to doorstep and leaflet for the Green Party candidate for Brighton Pavilion, for the rest of the duration; now that I've cleared my desk. We have our Vote Green and Re-Elect Caroline Lucas posters up in the window, along with our Gabriel Jones and Marianne Wright poster. (I've been imploring him to get a new headshot for years, he finally managed it: a snapshot by Marianne's boyfriend, and it doesn't look half bad, in my opinion. Should last him a decade or so.


The Antigone, Barbican, on Tuesday evening. Prepared by negative reviews to be disappointed, on the contrary this production is excellent. Brilliant staging, the parched plain and the palace interior deftly conveyed with minimum fuss. Great idea to have the principal characters (except Kreon) become voices in the Chorus when they're not otherwise occupied. I'd read about Juliette Binoche, my very favourite screen actress, being a bit of a disaster, a ranting hysteric. Actually nothing like as bad as Kristen Scott-Thomas's useless Elektra at the Old Vic, but it's true Binoche is the weak link, which is a shame. When the play calls for her get impassioned & she just gets shouty, that's the worst bit. It's always the director's fault. is my mantra, when good actors go bad. It definitely isn't Sophocles's fault, anyway. Or Ann Carson's. But who knows? The rest of the cast seemed fine. They were televising the show on Tuesday (for BBC4, I think) so I'm looking forward to seeing how Binoche's interpretation works in that medium.

Terrible pun at the final curtain.

Strangely, (or ominously, if you believe in omens) several high-end reviewers seemed to have gone away with the idea that Antigone is in the wrong. No, she is not! Kreon is in the wrong, obviously. Antigone is defying a despot's indefensible edict. She's right, and everyone in the play agrees with that view, they just don't want to do the actual defying themselves, because they'll get killed . . . She's right, but she can't control the fallout from her right actions. Kreon is wrong, but gets his terrible come-uppance (this is fiction of course).

Maybe that's what whoever it was meant, by saying "Antigone is the perfect tragedy because both sides of the argument are right". Maybe the even-handedness is in the consequences. Antigone is perfect because both sides are unbearable. The one time our heroine weakens; the only time she panics is when her sister Ismene (previously protected by a timid, law-abiding nature), suddenly decides she wants to be killed by Kreon too, and this is very true to life, even today. Despots destroy the people, no question. But moral intransigence isn't a private sport, either. You draw others along with you, your family, your friends. I see it (so to speak) all the time in Amnesty International cases. You will bring hell down on your loved ones. That's the problem all defiers of despots have to face; now or 2000+ years ago.

Anyway, my advice is get tickets if you can (Edinburgh next) and good luck with that.

But enough of this frivolity. Entertainment is a serious business.

Two series that have passed their tipping point

House Of Cards. I forgive them. It had to happen. I can see how the Kevin Spacey team looked at the UK House of Cards scenario and thought, yes, great, but there's got to be something we can do with the Clintons. . . So far, this is not working for me.

Two killer problems (not even counting the silly Tsar of all the Russias strand, which reels about, proving that the US can't do foreign policy, not even in fiction, because they just don't care).

1) I can't see anybody worth pushing under a train. No decent candidates in sight, and without murder at home, where's our entertaining monster? He's become boring.

2) Robin Wright did a fantastic turn as Lady Macbeth, but is floundering as the First Lady who plans to ride to the Oval Office on her husband's name. Needs to have the hubris to believe she could be a President who make a difference (depsite everything she knows). If she just wants a nice office and a big long motorcade she's a carbon copy of her husband. Fair comment, but a bit too subtle to be fun to watch. And that hairdo looks like a comb-over.

The Mentalist Series Seven. So, the infantile hero of his own life has finally killed his father (Manelli, remember?) and married his mother! End here, it sounds hopeful. No mileage left in the "psychic" tricks, nothing to replace them. No chemistry between Baker and Tunney. Barely any physical contact, even, and why would there be? Classic Independent But Caring Woman CopTeresa Lisbon, forced to dress in simpering little girl blouses now she's been demoted from Mom to Girlfriend, must be regretting this . . . It's going to end in tears.

And Finally . . .

Setting my affairs in order #n. Sent off the third of three stories completed since last September. Amazing work rate for me, considering everything else; as a story takes me as long as a novel takes some people, and finally updated my travelogue page, from 2013 to 2015. Which leaves only my Hoglog, and the Aliens In The 21st Century paper to revise and publish, and my work is done. I'll have returned to the present.

& that's all til after Easter, folks.
& soon I will be eating meat and fish again! Hurray!
But not often.

Behind The Beautiful Forevers; and other success-stories

If winter's over, can festival season be far behind? Massimo stopped me on the corner this morning, as I was on my way back from the Post Office, and handed me a copy of the original score of a Bach Partita, the one Gabriel's playing in his Fringe recital in May. It has the post-print alterations and decorations Bach added, listed in the front. Gabriel and Marianne's first recital of the season is even closer, they'll be playing St Michael All Angels on Saturday 28th March: but more of that later. So tired,kept awake all night by a cat with a cough (it's okay, nothing too serious), I'm good for nothing today and just getting by doing errands & clearing off my desk. First, some entertainment from boingboing via Peter.

(The Belle vs Cinders one is much better, and neither really bawdy)


And now to one of my occasional light-reading roundups.

I don't often buy new novels. I save my money for academic and popular science books, which cost a bomb; and nosing around in secondhand bookshops (a dying breed, but there's always the British Heart Foundation, Oxfam & Amnesty), picking up strange flotsam & jetsam. On the other hand, I've become addicted to the library reservation service, as a means of checking out bestsellers. You should try it, only 50p a pop, and if people don't use it, it will go away. Here's my latest catch.

The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August Claire North

Billed as a "time-travel story"; more like a claustrophobic vampire vendetta saga. There are people called kalachakras, it means "time-cyclers", who live through the same lifetimes, over and over and over again. Like reincarnation only inexpressibly boring and soul-destroying. As a consequence, as our narrator freely confesses, most kalachakras are miserable s*ds, while many become really really wicked & plan things that will end the world. The story's most ingenious ploy, and also its downfall in my humble opinion, is that these serial immortals, born remembering everything that happened last time, can change the world every time they step into it: by introducing technology "prematurely" and by communicating interesting facts to each other, up & down an aeons-long chain of lifetimes. The ensuing paradox-burden is enough to disable a better story than this. Also, there are far, far, far too many torture scenes.

It was interesting enough to keep me reading. But not by much. If you like the real spying is grim and dreary British school, and you haven't a clue about time travel paradoxes, you may get on fine. Habitual &/or inquiring sf readers should avoid.

Weathering, Lucy Wood

A barely-there literary ghost story, with a Devon river running through it; and a ramshackle house, always on the point of sinking, invaded by the water, where two women's ramshackle, wilfully drifting lives are somehow grounded. There's a mother, there's a daughter, there are the woods, the moor; the birds, glimpsed flashes of kingfisher and heron that the older woman's camera catches; and there's a little girl, a stubborn, naughty little girl called Pepper. In ways nothing much happens, just cranky rural characters getting on with their lives, through many seasons of penetrating damp, icy cold, and ever-threatening flood, but I found this one absorbing. The rising tide of domestic incompetence did start to get me down about half way through (GET THE WOODBURNER-BOILER FIXED for God's sake!) But then Ada, the younger woman, turned out to be very competent at something, and I was hooked again. Lucy Wood has an MA in Creative Writing and it shows. Normally I'd avoid using the expression "beautifully written", believing that it has become a kind of insult, but here I mean it as a compliment. Lovely to read. And Pepper's great. Pepper has stayed with me.

Elizabeth Is Missing, Emma Healey

Maud, in her eighties and struggling with dementia, has become obsessed with the idea that her friend Elizabeth is missing. She's never in when Maud calls round, and her house seems to be empty. Something must be done! Cue exasperated and frustrated carers, and much amusement at the local cop-shop. What nobody realises is that the "missing" Elizabeth, who isn't really "missing" at all, has become a stand-in, in Maud's tumbled thoughts, for another lost loved one, her beloved sister Sukie, who disappeared in 1946. . . Maud has found a heart-stopping clue, and in a moment of clarity she has realised what it means. She's right, but nobody understands, least of all Maud herself, who is doomed to spend the entire book being mocked, feeling like an idiot and forgetting where she put yet another cup of tea that she made and omitted to drink. What was it I was supposed to remember? Train, hammer, pineapple? And why did I have to count down from 100 in sevens . . . ? If you're over sixty, or even over fifty, you may well find this book more disturbing than entertaining, although Maud's tribulations are handled with a light, comic touch (from the viewpoint of a granddaughter, entertained and tolerant; not a hard-pressed middle-aged daughter). But it's really pretty good. I liked it more the further I got from actually having read it.

The Miniaturist Jessie Burton

*A certified massive bestseller, this one; and an interesting and enjoyable historical novel. Young Petronella arrives alone in the big city, to join the sparse household of a merchant husband she's never met, and who shows a total lack of interest; plus his puritanical sister, a manservant from Dahomey and a maid of all work. She witnesses stuff. I can't tell you more, because it would spoil the surprises. Deep emotional attachments spring up from nowhere, likewise outbursts of flashy, soap-opera violence; as if the characters are no more than puppets in the writer's dollhouse, with no inner life at all. There's a crucial strand of the fantastic which is never resolved . . . These elements left me feeling the book was slightly unbalanced, but you can't argue with star quality. It's mysterious (and nor is it true that bestseller status can be bought. It can't. Money can be thrown away on hype, if the public says no). Relax, this isn't War and Peace, it's just a proper good read.


Behind the Beautiful Forevers, National Theatre (live at the Duke's last week)

Highly recommended. Great cast, inspired production. Like Les Miserables with teeth, because this is happening now The only quarrel I had was with the promotional material inviting me to admire the characters' "drive" and their determination to "get ahead". To me the worldly wisdom of the slum dwellers was part of the tragedy. W're all drinking the same dirty water, breathing the same dirty air, and even the poorest of the poor are fooled by those beautiful forevers roaring by over their heads. We all need to learn that corruption is not normal, it's a blight on society, and the greed that drives it is not good.

I love going to see National Theatre productions at the cinema down the road. Sort of reminds me of Proust dialling up a concert on the telephone. & guess what, I have reserved the Katherine Boo book.

The Wind Rises

Finally, last Friday week . . . I didn't want to watch this, I've seen Grave of the Fireflies, thanks. But it's not harrowing, nor is it glorifying war: almost dodges the whole issue, in fact, by ending this bio-pic of the creator of Japan's WWII fighter planes before war actually begins. But not entirely; the message of tragic helplessness is there. (The wind rises, we can't stop it, or drop out, we must just try to live, as best we can). Beautiful and sad, and maybe, if you don't share Miyazaki's passion for those magnificent men in their flying machines, a tiny bit pointless.

Not planning to watch . . .

Televised election debates.

*The book cover montage features flotsam and jetsam from a day when I walked down to the sea in January. The book "If Winter Comes . . . " was a massive bestseller for decades, from 1921 when it took the world by storm, apparently. I really defy you to understand why, should you ever read it: but the WWI patriotism strand is salutory.

Graffam Daffodils: Losing the Map

Saturday 14th March, another dry, chilly, still and overclouded day, we drove to the other side of the world, beyond Petworth if you can believe it, & all to see the native daffodils at Graffam. This walk, which is a very good one but not to be undertaken lightly, now involves negotiating the Heathland Project, currently in process = the NT and Sussex Wildlife Trust conspiring to make a desolation out of the pine plantations of Lullington, Lavington and Graffam Common, (100 yrs old or so and ready for harvest) on the way to restoring the ideal state of land use (around 1763, I think). I'm not really complaining, I like adders, and on heathland there might be boletus, which I can eat, but at the moment it's a heap big mess. Anyway, we weathered it, with the help of directions from a friendly woman on a v. pretty chestnut: found our way to the stream and the woodland ridge above; where the daffodils grow. Whoever called them a "Wordsworthian profusion" hasn't visited Ullswater in the season, but they were lovely, and stretching far away under the bare trees, if not actually fluttering and dancing. Previously too early or too late, we made it on time this year: make a note of it, said Peter, & so I have. We lost the map later on, which involved some racing with the sunset, so as not to spoil a very good day out with a mishap. It was where it had been dropped, safe & sound; so an end to racing, & the two of us sitting looking across the powdery-blue shadowed valley, listening to the thrushes shout their evening song; me rubbing my sore feet.

My Fracking Round-Up: What About Balcombe?

If you don't already know, Celtique Energie made a surprise announcement last week: Greg Davies has decided to abandon his appeal against the council's decision to refuse permission for senseless unconventional oil/gas extraction at Wisborough Green. & also abandon all plans to drill at Fernhurst, inside the South Downs National Park. Good of him, eh?

Will Francis Egan of Cuadrilla now realise that oh, wow, never noticed, Balcombe is in an Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and officially abandon his plans there? I suspect not. He'll want to keep a foot in the door.

The Wealden frackers will be back. They've not even gone away. The CE/Magellan Billingshurst fracking site, with all the usual prevarication in place, is still due to be drilled this Spring

Despite everything we're hearing about a committment to dramatic carbon-emission targets, and a "growing realisation" that catastrophic climate change actually IS a terrifying disaster it would be a good idea to avoid, nothing's changed since we heard that story last time, and even the UK shale gas bonanza surges on.

Oh well. Congratulation KKWG. It's still good news.

The daffodils are standins. These ones, although native species, are in my garden

Even If and Old Venus

Saturday 7th March, 7.00pm at the New Venture Theatre Brighton. "Following our success, reading Even If We Lose Our Lives (interviews with Afghan Women Human Rights Defenders, scripted for Amnesty as part of the Afghan Women's Rights Campaign) with Radio Free Brighton last May, we decided to look for a venue for a live perfomance. The New Venture Theatre, a not-for-profit theatre company with a great reputation, is donating a cabaret performance space with all facilities (including a bar for snacks and drinks) for a one night show in March; to be followed by a talk and discussion on the current situation in Afghanistan, lead by Christine Usher, Amnesty UK Country Coordinator for the region.

Even If We Lose Our Lives, an account of what three women have done and sacrificed for their country, through years of danger and war, is a powerful and moving experience, for the performers as well as the audience. We hope we can do them justice, and make our show on 7th March (International Women's Day weekend) a celebration of their achievements and their courage.

To reserve a seat contact:
Booking essential as space is limited.
No ticket charge. Donations to Amnesty International at the event."

Congratulations to George R R Martin, Gardner Dozois and all the contributors, on the official publication day for Old Venus. It was great fun writing my story, and I'm delighted to be in your company. Here's my submission email for "A Planet Called Desire" (anyone who tells me where the title comes from gets a prize, you naughty person.)

"Dear Gardner,

Having read around the subject of Old Venus, in fact, fiction and speculation, and discovered the Ancient Venus Habitable Zone hypothesis, I decided to channel Eddison, with a splash of H.G.Wells, and embed my story in a contemporary frame; just as the Old Masters did. I invented a hero of our times, and a sorceress-queen of Venus, and came up with the attached submission. I hope it fits into your brief. I really enjoyed this task, thank you for inviting me."

And here's a selection of my Venus/Old Venus trail links:

Venus Morning Star, Venus Evening Star (the phases)

Lore of the Dogon

Was Venus Once A Habitable Planet?

Colonising Venus With Floating Cities

Guest voices: Venus in Transit

Out in the garden the sun is bright, signs of Spring begin to gather, and we're onto our seventh clutch of fertile spawn. These frogs, almost vanished a few years back, are on a hiding to nothing, a boom and bust cycle, we'll just have to do our best.

Listening to Tasmin Little playing the 2nd movement of the Ligeti violin concerto, one of my favourite pieces of music, and my favourite performance

Credible and Reliable Evidence

What to look for in spring:

A pair of collared doves sit, absorbed in grooming themselves, on the falling-apart fence atop the wall at the bottom of the garden: ruffling neck feathers, combing wing feathers with those wicked-looking hooked black beaks. One leans over, and worries ferociously at the other's neck plumage; it's mate (male and female are pretty much identical nb) returns the favour: tugging out and then smoothing down the other's tail fan. A robin picks at dried mealworms, darting to and fro from the bay laurel: keeping the doves under observation. In the garden pool, six frogs, or maybe seven, enjoy a mating party in a tangle of weeds, bellies, kicking feet and golden eyes, while three red goldfish drift around them, basking in the sunlight.

I've done good work on my story for the estimable Athena Andreadis this week, but today I'm slowed down, head thick with a cold, and its Friday. The sunshine is a little wasted on me.

Credible And Reliable Evidence

Announced on Common Dream this week, "credible and reliable evidence of US Military torture in Afghanistan"

Well, fancy that! I also hear there's credible and reliable evidence that, despite pleasant rumours to the contrary, Shaker Aamer, along with one or two others, is still incarcerated, and likely to remain so, in the most brutal conditions, in Guantanamo Bay.

And if by chance you have not yet watched this movie, you really, really should. Watch it now.

Doctors of the Darkside

Nobody's stopping you. When you've watched the movie, you might wonder why not.
They know they don't need to stop you. You'll shudder, but you won't do a thing.

Everybody should "know" about these things (easy problem). Everybody should think about what these things mean, in the context of the "radicalisation" of young Muslims, and equally, in the rising level of acceptance, globally, of the legitimacy of torture, and the evil power this acceptance has over all our lives. Hard problem. Everybody should think, think think about where the heart of darkness in this 21st century world of "terrorism" lies; exactly where it all springs from. And fight this plague with all their power. Harder still. We do nothing, or nearly nothing. We just go on, dimly feeling that the world is getting to be a worse and worse place, an evil place, even. Never joining the dots, and mostly never considering taking any remedial action.

"It's pointless. You'll never get anywhere."

I'm not Amnesty International's biggest fan, and I definitely did shudder when I came to the line in their "recommendations" that says "a qualified medical practitioner should be present" at every interrogation. Aaargh! But follow this link, if you want to do something, not nothing. Stop Torture.

My Fracking Round Up

When I saw the last minute amendment, effectively clawing back the concession that fracking was to be banned from Natural Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, I thought to myself, immediately, Balcombe is in an Area Of Outstanding Beauty. The Wisborough Green proposed drilling site is embarrassingly close to two extremely beautiful, valuable and highly protected nature reserves, Ebernoe and The Mens; not to mention a Sussex Wildlife Trust reserve immediately adjacent, and the South Downs National Park boundary 500m away.

Both these sites are showcases, flashpoints; centres of resistance in the Weald. Both of them were protected . . . for about ten minutes.

Infrastructure Bill amendment


September 2014, WSCC finds that the Celtique Energie proposal is fatally flawed. Road access to their proposed site is impossibly constricted, and they really should have picked a more suitable spot, in their huge licence area. Maybe further from nationally and internationally protected nature & wildlife preserves? For the first time, a community and a consortium of Natural Beauty & Wildlife Defenders have managed to get a fracking proposal turned down!

February 2015, WSCC suddenly decides to demolish a little bridge on a narrow lane, and replace the whole stretch of road involved with a 2 lane highway. Thus removing two major obstacles to the drilling plan: a weak little bridge, and a tree-canopied lane; both of them features that the villagers treasure. WSCC's spokespersons deny that this "improvement" nobody wants has anything to do with the drilling proposal, which Celtique Energie is still pursuing, through a public inquiry .

Do you believe these people? I hate to hurt anybody's feelings, but I'm afraid I don't.

There's nothing I can do. Road improvements in West Sussex aren't my business. But for the record, there's a petition. If you have a WS postcode, please consider signing

Sign here

And by the way, if you were clinging to the belief that "of course, fracking will be safer here" just have a look at this other adjustment in the small print:

Fracking redefinition

I started off objecting to the proposed fracking operations in the Weald because I live here*, I know what fracking looks like, and when I checked the facts, I soon found out that, even if you believe that cr*p about methane being a safer alternative to other fossil fuels, there were no commercial reserves, so it was just pure nonsense. But what I've learned since is all about corruption. The dirty rotten private personal deals that those who govern us make, with the corporations and their lackeys, to steal our land, our water, our natural resources, even the air we breathe. The world over.

Oh, and another by the way. Remember how we were promised that the NHS would be protected from TTIP? So the corporations would not be able to take the NHS to court, at ruinous cost, for trying to be affordable or for reversing privatisation? It isn't happening

Nowhere is safe. There is no protection.

(no, I don't. I live in Brighton. Why don't I live in the countryside if I love it so much? Because I believe in cities, and in urban development, as the real solution to the housing crisis. And because am just about bright enough to realise that the UK is a small place and if we all go and live in the country, there won't be any countryside left.)


I don't like the new set up in New Scientist, relegating the letters to the back pages. This might not sound serious, but it is. New Scientist is read by scientists but written (bless) mainly by journalists. Practically every week, there'll be letters, from well-qualified persons, refuting, questioning, clarifing; and arguing with the content of the main articles. New Scientis letters aren't a cutesy extra, like Feedback (excuse me Feedback, but you are cute). They're integral. So, New Scientist people, please change it back! Now!
I may start a petition.

& looking forward to the third episode of the "Jonathan Holt" (it's a pseudonym) Carnivia trilogy. The second episode The Abduction featured such a visceral and phenomenally accurate account of those practices the US government has defined as "not being torture" (start with walling, proceed to waterboarding. Don't forget the diapers the naked victims must wear, to save the torturers a messy job) I wonder where on earth Mr Holt is going next. Warning, some amazon respondents (.com) have found Mr Holt's treatment of this sensitive subject "anti-US". And some have not.

New Herbs #n

Cold wind, grey cloud growing luminous and showing blue as the morning progresses. I went out early, to cut "new herbs" for the new year for my bedside, pine twigs and rosemary. Nothing in flower, not even a first daffodil, but two starved looking little white dianthus in a pot, but in the fish pool a first clump of spawn had sprung into being overnight. I scooped it out (goldfish eat spawn).It's now in the plastic tadpole bowl, pending proof of fertility, and so another year begins.


I've finished The Autobiography Of Alice B. Toklas. It was very interesting, full of famous people, and occasionally arresting insights: cubism, the link between "Cubism" and its compartments, its rigid print inclusions, with the usual display of items for sale in a Spanish shop window of the time: a pipe, set in a frame of its own, and so on. And Picasso one day seeing a camouflage-painted cannon rolling down the Boulevard Raspail, and being transfixed; saying look, "C'est nous qui avons fait ça", because that was what cubism had done to buildings in a landscape: it was "the way of building in spanish villages, the line of the houses not following the landscape, becoming indistinguishable in the landscape by cutting across the landscape. It was the principle of camouflage." (1907-1914)

Still don't know what to make of Gertrude Stein though. Neglected genius, who wasted her talent through arrogance, and on providing a wonderful salon and support system for male geniuses? Or a crank with inherited income and a knack for spotting celebrities early, and hanging on to them; like Mme Verdurin in Proust? She certainly could pick them, and she certainly did like them male; with all their tinder-fragile maleness about them (picasso, hemingway).

Still can't help feeling there's something slightly naff about writing a pretend autobiography for your spouse, all about yourself. As if she's a pet animal or something.

Looking forward to

An embarrassment of riches, all forced on me more or less.

I've been reading W.H.R Rivers on Medicine, Magic and Religion, for my anthropology story, so now I really have to get hold of Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy, which I've never read.

I've snagged about the last two tickets for Antigone at the Barbican, and damn the expense, because I couldn't miss Juliette Binoche in that role.

And The Hard Problem live from the NT, at the Duke's in April. We went to see Arcadia at The Theatre Royal a week or two ago, and it was a delight. So nostalgic for those heady days in the eighties and nineties, when Science was outing itself as a pathetically limited enterprise, just beginning to dare to open up to the real world, with kindly computers holding it by the hand; and Chaos Theory, and Fractals, and that particular brand of sparkling, witty, "classless" male academic, University of Sussex all over him. . . Besides breaking a jinx for me. Everything I've paid to see at The Theatre Royal for years has turned to mud, but not this time.

I don't think The Hard Problem will be as good. It's a daft hard problem, it will vanish, when all the "easy" problems of consciousness are solved. Like the hard problem of the mysterious irreducible binary differences between men and women. Fix the non-gendered human rights issues involved, and I promise you, the mystery will melt away, because it doesn't exist.

Plus Behind The Beautiful Forevers, also live at the Duke's, and two Shaffer plays at the New Venture Theatre, one of our local non-profit theatre companies. And now my pockets are empty. Have to wait for them to fill up again.

Okami footnote.

Catwalk wall, cakewalk. I hate that marlin. I hate that fish so much I might even be defeated.

A very frivolous post. Makes a sheepish change.

My Darkening World Round Up

Cold rain outside my window, just the same as Friday Yesterday it was as warm as sunshine, and we sat in the garden, watching the cats; it's a stop-start pre-spring season, even my hard as nails Roger Hall camellia is nowhere near in bloom.

So, darkening worlds. I found out something I really didn't want to know, when I was following my "H is for Hawk" trail over Christmas and New Year. H is for Hawk itself was harmless, if a bit disappointing (like the original Goshawk, slightly the utilitarian approach to nature writing: in a wet field, in a tangled wood; by expropriating the "freedom" of a wild hawk, you too can escape from being human!) . . . but The Goshawk itself was ouch. The Midnight Folk (1935) was pure, unadulterated magic, incredibly graceful and insouciant blend of fantasy, glorious adventures for a lonely child who gets to turn into wildlife, and adults are up to no good comedy. The Box Of Delights, the "sequel" is not so wonderful, the fantasy a bit clumsy, but I read it in tandem with Jessica Cornwell's The Serpent Papers, which made me very conscious of the mediaeval illuminations strand. The Box of Delights, you see, (the treasure guarded by Ramon Llul, aka "Cole Hawlings", travelling Punch and Judy man) is a portal to the magical nature of the living world, cue the most beautiful descriptions of flowers, trees, birds, beasts, that make you feel as if you are indeed falling into one of those exquisitely crowded, brilliantly coloured mediaeval pages . . . But The Sword In The Stone was the worst.

" . . . glades in which the wild thyme was droning with bees. The insect season was past its peak, for it was really the time for wasps on fruit, but there were many fritillaries still, with tortoiseshells and red admirals on the flowering mint . .

That hurts, because I know it isn't fantasy, I have seen this, I was there. I was there thirty years ago, when the downs were shouting with larks, and storms of blue butterflies rising from the wild marjoram in june, and nobody thought twice about crowds of wasps around fallen fruit (or fallen sticky ice lolly papers); flocks of lapwings, marvellously tumbling over the flatlands of Northhamptonshire, which I could always reckon on seeing, on the train up to Manchester, no more than a decade ago. I know it was real, and I know its gone. The most ordinary things, that you never thought you'd outlive: trees, rivers, mountains . . . So, I say darkening world, a shadow rushing over everything around me, and I count the losses in my own small patch; and look for chinks of hope:

Hope Farm @RSPB

"Nightingale threat" goes to public inquiry
(this is not a chink of hope!)

Barn owls back from the brink; Early results from farm bird survey

The But Its Not Amazon Dilemma

Well, I do my best. I swore off amazon for Christmas shopping, but was a bit disappointed at the BINA choices offered by the @AmazonAnonymous squad: it seemed not too many alternative online retailers were able to swear all their staff had a living wage, either. Anyway, I found these two gave good service:

& on the other side of the counter, you can buy The Grasshopper's Child BINA now, (but not the other Bold As Love ebooks yet, apart from Bold As Love. It's a work in progress.

And finally

The white and red cat? That's Kabegami, god of walls from @OkamiOfficial (the deviantart link didn't work last time, maybe it will today: I promise you this avatar of the divinity is in there somewhere). She's there to celebrate that I climbed the Catwalk Tower late last Thursday night, with the support and inspiration of GadgetGirlKylie. I can't really explain the attraction of this pointless challenge. There's no trick, and no great skill or feat of endurance required (beyond the usual, remember there is no spoon). It's just the way it goes up, and up, and up, and up. And then, if you like, you can take a running jump, and glide all the way down.

I did it again, yesterday, just to collect a stray bead. Dreamy.

Off To See The Witches

Friday, just after one. Wind and rain outside my window. Good! I was getting sick of that dry barren cold weather, it had such a mean-spirited feel. Off to see the witches tonight, for my birthday treat, only about nine years after Amy Rowan (Rowan-Buckley now) recommended Wicked so highly. My first Modern Musical! I don't usually move so fast in embracing new trends, it's the effect of having walked past the Apollo at Victoria so often, going up and down to London. (Gabriel thought I should prefer Woman on the Verge, but that was too much of a leap into the unknown).

My Fracking Round Up

A lot's been stirring the pot since I last wrote about fracking. The New York State ban. The bumpy progress of the Infrastructure Bill. which became law yesterday. The oil price collapse, the troubles in the North Sea. Wales and Scotland both voting for a moratorium on the dirty business. But what exactly did we end up with, after all the excitement about a proposed entire UK moratorium (never going to happen!); the infamous change in the trespass laws, with Kramer's nasty addition; the pressure put on Labour by the major unions, not to support the moratorium; the apparent "reprieve at the foot of the gallows" for our National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest?

Not a lot of joy I'm afraid. The protection for Protected Sites clawed back, in a horrible amendment that says fracking wells can crowd around the gates of any National Park, AONB, SSSI (imagine that effect on the beauty and tranquillity, eh?) and horizontal drilling can just ignore the whole idea of protection . . .

Why is this still happening? The extractable reserves in the UK, where they exist, are, at the most optimistic estimate, piddling in terms of our future energy needs, and everybody in the business knows it. You really want to understand why Mr Francis Egan, Mr Greg Davies and their cronies are still going to be allowed to make a vile mess of our countryside, when everything in the world says no, and the current price of oil makes their alleged, potential, distant product look absolutely lunatic? Wilful ignorance accounts for a lot, of course. The house is on fire and we know it, but we won't get out of bed until the flames are licking our pillows. But there are other factors. Study this diagram, which puts together some facts that should be better known:

But there's the cheap oil factor, which may not last, but it might last long enough. And there's the tide of climate change action, creeping up. Wait and see.

Watching and not-watching

I like Wolf Hall. I tried the book and gave it up, it was just too much like reading A Place Of Greater Safety (about Danton, and I liked it), all over again. Same type historical man-mountain main character, same tone, same prose, same everything. But it's like Harry Potter, much better on screen. Thomas More's very good, waspish, cranky, monster of integrity. Cardinal Wolsley and Cromwell maybe a wee bit too cuddly? Haven't seen any heads roll yet, but it's got to start soon.

Broadchurch is just ridiculous tat.

Birdman I liked better than any other Inarritu movie I've seen, but that is not saying much (as I walked into the cinema I suddenly remembered having vowed never again, after finding Babel very irritating, but it wasn't that bad). Another of those luvvie movies. Give the guy an Oscar, he really gets us! Give him five Oscars!

Ex Machina I think I won't pay good money for.


Just come to the end of a trail I started following at Christmas; instigated by H is for Hawk (which turned out, oddly, to be mainly an extended, in depth review of T.H White's The Goshawk. It went from The Goshawk, to The Midnight Folk and The Box Of Delights (John Masefield, very old favourites of mine, clear precursors of T.H.White's The Sword In The Stone, and also, in the case of The Box of Delights, starring the great Ramon Llul (aka Cole Hawlings;then doubled back to The Heart Of Midlothian; where you will find the precursors of the witches and that excellent character the Rat, in the first and best of the Masefield stories (The Midnight Folk). The Sword In The Stone, to my surprise, stood up well in this august company. A fine lineage!

More on these later.

I'm now going to read The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, which Gabriel bought for me yesterday. Always meant to, never got further than the cookbook, which I have never yet used in anger, but it's interesting; esp. the Picasso Fish Dish, and other insights.

The Annotated Grasshopper's Child

Monday 9th February, a cold dry month so far, here in Brighton; a couple of mornings just a feathering of snow on the roofs, ice on the garden pools and frost on the grass. One pair of mating frogs under the ice on the fish pool, on the 1st February. One panicking stickleback accidentally hauled out with a bundle of excess weed from the "wildlife" pool, so it can't be as unhealthy as it looks (always does, this time of year nb). Noticeably fewer winter birds, even in a back garden context, than I used to see ten years ago (& I know this because I've been wandering down memory lane).This is partly because some of my neighbours have cut down garden trees, but where are the blackcaps? The hedgesparrow that used to sing so fervently, from the topmost branch of the cypress? Where are the greenfinches that used to gather, ten or twenty at a time? I'm just glad the goldfinches are still around, and the robins I had a very Secret Garden whistling exchange with one of them this morning. (Robins will whistle back to you at the drop of a hat, if you sound even vaguely birdlike), and the wren that creeps on the wall. Yesterday was springlike, today low grey cloud.

But to business. In honour of the more-or-less publication of The Grasshopper's Child print edition, here's the book's all-new entry on the Bold As Love site:
The Annotated Grasshopper's Child

Also very pleased to note that The Grasshopper's Child has made the Locus Recommended Reading List (young adult section). Thank you, dear Locus people.

Down Memory Lane

My smart new blog (a work in progress to some extent, as my nephew and webmeister is currently recovering from laser surgery) now includes access to all the material on my smart new gwynethjones site: a restoration project that has kept me happily occupied, turning up many forgotten curiosities, for the last few days. I will display my finds here, from time to time. Today, a dusty gem from March 2003 (much syndicated, I seem to remember: by which I mean, it got onto infinityplus). Shuffle, shuffle, grumble, grumble. . . I didn't know I was born, did I?

Peace Demo report

Ah!, the sun has come mistily out. I have to take my aimless walk now; I do it for my health, until I'm fit to get back to the gym. Also, it's my new year's resolution: no more long blog entries.
More soon.

The Peacock Butterfly

Thursday 11th December, brilliant china blue sky and gentle cloud outside my window, no sign of any Weather Bomb around here. Yesterday I was ill in bed, and plagued by cats, galloping over me and racing each other up and down the stairs: behaviour I tried to ignore until suddenly I heard Milo, under the bed, making his ferocious, unmistakeable, I'll kill you if you touch my prey noises. I investigated. Something dark fluttered furiously in his jaws; it escaped, it was a peacock butterfly. I caught the gallant creature in my cupped hands, and transferred it to a small box. It's looking fine this morning, alert and composed: I'm just about to take it outdoors, to a safe hibernating spot. You cut a vertical slit in the box, so the butterfly can get out, leave it some where unheated and out of the light and in the Spring, if all goes well, you find the box empty. Amazing things, butterflies. A lot tougher and more intelligent than they are given credit for.

There. Butterfly in a box is in the greenhouse, under a rack of seed trays, cool and dark.

Up to London on Wednesday for the RSPB/Wildlife Trusts/League Against Cruel Sports
Rally For Nature & their allies. Originally a Birders initiative, about the devastation wrought by the Shooting Industry, scope had widened as the thing got organised. "Many people here" said one of those responsible proudly, "have never been involved in a political action before". Hm, I wouldn't be too sure about that. I was sitting nexted to a LACS activist from Bridgwater, who didn't seem scared of the smell of gunpowder, or the crack of a shotgun. You don't have to be, if you're resisting the badger cull. As is often the case, many in the rank and file probably far more radical than most of their leaders.

Here's the main points I took away with me:

The Government must Protect the European Species and Habitats Directives.

More important than ever under the very dubious recent appointments. "No country should secure a competitive advantage by trashing the environment". We don't need new laws, the wildlife and environmental laws we have, in Europe, are very good, balanced, professional. What we need is for the laws to be observed and protected.

We call for A Full Public Inquiry into the Shooting Industry's practices, including wildlife crime.

Shooting landowners who like to make money out of their rich cronies regard themselves as guardians of their grouse moors and the lowland woodlands (where caged pheasants are released). This is no longer the case. Besides devastating the populations of iconic birds of prey, shooting for sport is an unregulated industry these days, destroying fragile peat uplands, with calamitous effect; releasing staggering masses of caged pheasants every autumn, with a shocking, ever-increasing impact on the survival of our struggling wildbird and small mammal species. Caged pheasant rearing and release has been banned in the Netherlands (2002). Why shouldn't it be banned here?

We want to see the landowners who employ the gamekeepers brought to book. We want to see existing laws enforced (the quote was that in a survey, 60% of wild bird hunters admitted they still used toxic lead shot even in protected areas.)

We need the Well Being and Nature Act, and we need it to be a good one.

"Every political party needs to play a part in rebuilding society's relationship with the Natural World. We need to defend the existing laws but we also need to wake up to the value of nature as the foundation of our quality of life"

I was least impressed by the third heading. Yeah, it sounds hopeful, in the sense that an Act like that could be passed, by a new and eager government, I agree. But (unless we get that Green Party/UKIP coalition I'm praying for) they'd pass it knowing they'd got themselves a pretty bit of greenwash, and make sure it had no teeth. . .

I've met the European Directives in my activism against proposals to frack for shale gas in West Sussex. They're impressive, I admire them very much. I think the Shooting Industry Practices inquiry could be as important to the public, if they knew the scale of what is happening, as the proposed sell off of the Forestry Commission a few years ago. I have access to "wild nature" within five or ten minutes (in the Brighton and Preston Cemetery) in the centre of Brighton. I've seen rewilding in central Manchester (where I come from). I know these things are possible. So never say die. Always keep trying.

Interestingly, the soi-disant "Natural England", our lovely government's alleged "guardian of the natural world" was not represented, and did not get a single mention. And are even the Wildlife Trusts to be trusted? Some doubt about that. Some suggestions that the Trusts accept the guidance of the Shooting Industry and the Farming Industry far, far too readily.


The Golem and the Djinni, Helene Wecker. Debut novel. In many ways a lovely book. A well-characterised pair of mediaeval monsters, a golem from Yiddish Poland and a Djinni from the Ottoman Empire's Greater Syria, provide the frame for a big nostalgic travelogue of 1890s New York, with its patchwork of ancient cultures (all of them, including the culture of the ruling WASP caste, fairly inimical to women). Altogether too much starch, or stodge as we call it in my country, and the finale is a long, handwaving, and lumpy blur. But still cosy and enjoyable.

And Jessica Cornwell The Serpent Papers. What is Jessica like? "Uber promotable!" it says here. Ouch! But believe me, you cannot judge a book by its cover, or an author by her publicists. More on this later.


Read and sign. Please.

The Season Of Giving

Oooh! My fuel allowance arrived. £200! Excellent. Have passed it straight on to Project Antifreeze, as I can afford to do that, unlike many people. & If you are in the same position, I advise you to do the same: but keep it local . . . More festive cheer: The Grasshopper's Child is back on Aamzon Kindle. The POD edition is put to bed, to be published (notional date!) 7th Feb 2015. Many thanks to all my amazingly generous and kind early readers including Kath Langrish. & finally, The Powerhouse, the last Ann Halam giveaway, will be free from amazon kindle on 19th and 20th December. Merry Christmas