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Free Meriam Yeyha Ibrahim

Tuesday 17th June, cool air, sun and blue sky; silver-rimmed clouds . . . I don't think I've ever seen a cloud with a silver lining, but the effect today is pretty, without being platitudinous. This entry dedicated to Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman at present imprisoned with her 20 month old son and new baby daughter, sentenced to death by hanging for "apostasy" (she was brought up a Christian and married a Christian; her Muslim father left her mother when she was six), and "adultery" on the grounds of her marriage outside Islam. Her husband, a wheelchair user, supports her in her refusal to recant, and says he doesn't believe she'll back down. I think he may be right: she looks like a proud woman. She was denounced for her marriage by "Muslim relatives": the police tried to dismiss the case, the relatives came back with the charge of adultery, and somehow made it stick (CNN). Global outcry might save her, so continue to spread the word. There's a facebook page, needless to say, and Amnesty International is involved. As are we Europeans, Hooray!

Years ago, when I wrote "Life" (working title, The Differences Between The Sexes) I had one of my characters, a Malaysian human rights lawyer, tell another, "Anna, where you and I lived at University, Women's Rights is old news. Intelligent women want to be judged on their own merits and find the whole feminist thing embarassing and whiney. But here, where I live it's a can of worms. If you start applying the concept of human rights to women's lives in Africa, in Asia, you uncover a holocaust. And it's getting worse, not better. "

Two things have changed since around the year 2000*, approximately when I wrote that. One is globalisation. The holocaust is no longer far away, no longer out of our sight, it's in our midst. Honour killings and forced marriage are inescapably a global issue now. Female Genital Mutilation is practised with impunity, performed by qualified doctors, in the UK . . . The other is that the billions of women suffering that silent, immemorial holocaust, women still oppressed by staggering cruelty, are speaking up: with their own voices, insisting on opening the can of worms, and even making men listen, sometimes. It's horrible to see what happens to the martyrs in this cause, but I can only support them, and speak out in solidarity.

For what it's worth.

(I expect you've signed that petition. If not, please do. But then try typing Petition against rape into a search engine of your choice. See what you get: it's a corrective.

*No, wait, there's a third thing. Young women seem less likely to regard feminism as whiney and redundant, right now . . . But I'm not sure that's a positive sign.

Looking forward to another trip to Woods Mill (Sussex Wildlife Trust Reserve) this evening. Last week, with the moon nearly full in a clear blue evening sky, we sat and watched a pair of kestrels and a barn owl hunting in the meadow. One cuckoo calling in the distance, a tapestry of birdsong filling the air.

Public Event about Oil and Gas Exploration and Extraction

Wednesday 11th of June, warm and overcast. WSCC are holding an open day all about oil and gas exploration and extraction, at Pulborough Village Hall on 21st June, where they'll answer all our questions and explain about how to influence planning policy. What an interesting idea! It's a drop-in, but you have to register by email:

Here's the full details:

Public Event about Oil and Gas Exploration and Extraction

In response to demand for more information about oil and gas exploration and extraction, West Sussex County Council have organised a free drop-in session on Saturday 21 June at Pulborough Village Hall. The event runs from 9.30am to 4.00pm.

You will be able to find out about the processes involved and our role as the local planning authority in determining applications. However, WSCC will not be able to have site-specific discussions on current planning applications.

Officers from the Environment Agency, Health and Safety Executive, Department for Energy and Climate Change, and the County Council will attend the event. Representatives from local resident groups affected by oil and gas extraction will also be in attendance.

John Pucknall from Portsmouth University will be deliverying the Science and Techonology information session. As a Petroleum engineer for 30 years with BP, he has a unique insight to the methods used by companies to extract oil and gas.

More information about the venue, including travel directions, can be found on the website:

There is a small public car park next to the hall (please note there is no parking available at the hall) and a train station within walking distance.

You can drop in at any time to get information or ask questions. However, due to limited capacity at the village hall, please confirm your attendance in advance by email to

Footnote To Roumeli: Wisborough Green In Flagrante

Monday 9th June, quiet, cool and overcast. Have torn down the rocket that had shot into flower, and am hoping to get away with having stirred some of the admittedly slightly embittered leaves into tonight's salad. Have not transferred my third indoor froglet to the outdoors, but I must. Yesterday, back to Wisborough on a perfect English summer day, to repeat a walk we remember with fondness from before fracking reared its head. The sky so blue and white it glowed, the sun as warm as it ought to be, and no more; the hollow thwack of leather on willow pursued us as we left the Green. Open Gardens. Teas. Birdsong everywhere, there must be a blackbird pair for every square metre of this landscape, this summer (but never a cuckoo, and very few swallows, martins or swifts). Dragonflies, damselflies (damselflies are hammerheaded, that's the essential difference); yellow water lilies, pink and white dog roses, creamy lace elderflower platters, herons starting up from the Adur canal, or from the reeds by the Adur river next door. We lost our way, when avoiding a field where a bull had been put with the cows; also there were fields and fields where vast thickets of nettles pressed on either side: so it was okay, authentic, all the trimmings, but I was glad to reach The Mens. Very glad to have seen those great beeches, one more time, in all their shadowy glory. And always, except in the beech woods, the slim grey spire of St Peter ad Vincula on its headland (thirteenth century wall paintings, a mysterious void under the sanctuary) inexplicably shifting round our horizon: very Proustian.

And I'm thinking, as we walk through the beanfields in flower on our way back, about the people, the comment-column mavs, even anti-fracking activists, vengefully delighted to think of the Low Weald getting trashed, just because places like Wisborough are so picturebook. Huh? I can't get along with that sort of attitude. Really can't. Neither class war, or a few trollish comments, are going to make it any easier for me to accept the trashing of the Forest of Bowland.

St Peter's ad Vincula is the church featured in the T.S Eliot-inspired story, The Flame Is Roses The Smoke Is Briars I wrote for an MIT venture into sf, a couple of years ago. Although nowhere near the sea.

Footnote To Roumeli

My library books #n: Of course not starring Philip the object of our quest last year, but still unable to resist an archaeological thriller called The Tomb of Alexander, the star of Macedon on the cover, and written by Ernest Hemingway's grandson, who happens to be a curator at The Metropolitan Museum Of Art. It's nice. Not going to set the Thames on fire, and you have to really like archaeology, but that's beside the point. Turns out the plot is full of The Mummy Returns stuff about a secret book; a lost tomb full of untold treasures, amazing mediaeval prophecies and a battle at the End of the World. Couldn't resist looking it up, and what d'you know, it's all true as the internet. So now I must at all costs seek out a copy of The Alexander Romance. , but obviously digital won't do. Maybe I'll have to put it on my Christmas List But the strangest part is that I remember this story. I remember, when I was a very small child, five or six, that I was convinced someone, one of the holy nuns at my school, had told me about a last battle, in which a human hero, a champion of God, would fight with the devil and all his demons, at a pass at the end of the world, and it would be the end of time . . . I repeated this story at home, got soundly told off for making up disrespectful nonsense & have spent all my years between puzzling over the mystery, because I know I didn't make it up.

Well, well, I'll keep you updated.

Still have not caught my froglet, although with the best intentions. It's hard to reason with a tadpole, even at the four-legged stage.

So much to be devastated and furious and ashamed about . . .

Thursday 5th June, very sunny, not all that warm, no sign of the eight or ten local swifts (I've seen very little of them, no screaming parties, I think only a single pair may be nesting at the Brighton General site). And that was brilliant, Greenpeace. Immaculately put together and timed! "The police are absolutely right", says Greenpeace spokesperson, as they were led away from their pretend fracking installation at Dave Cameron's house yesterday morning. "Nobody should frack under somebody's home without permission."

Interestingly (well, okay, predictably) the plan to change the trespass law did not turn up on the list of bills destined to become law before the end of this Parliament. It's going to consultation! You can make your views known, and I encourage you to do so. Here's the link: Underground Drilling Access. Just for fun, nb, and to be annoying. This isn't Passport to Pimlico, I'm afraid. No happy ending is planned. These are the Bad Barons, they mean to have their way and they will have it. But in terms of the future of fracking in the UK, Mr Francis Egan's response says it all. If the trespass law isn't changed, that's the end of fracking in the UK. Why? Because if you have to ask, and nobody who can say no to a fracking operation next door will say yes, that's just about it. Nobody. Not even for £20,000. Quite an admission, you'd think.

Not entirely unconnected: about that British Geological Survey, did you know both Cuadrilla (the major player in Extreme Energy extraction/exploration plans) and Celtique Energie (the exploration operator in the Weald) are cited as advisers in the report? (See ppiii) Confirming publicly that they knew all along, despite the passionate vows they have made to the contrary, with tears in their eyes: a) that nothing could be extracted without thousands of wells employing the controversial technique known as fracking. b) that in the South East there's no nice-sounding "natural gas" at all: only a tiny fraction of "tight oil".

That isn't my tweet (above), by the way: I borrowed it from the Australian research into twitter response, in this case to Australia's Rightist, Climate Change Denier Tendency regime's 2014 budget cuts. Twitter is an interactive graph of public mood (it says here). Twitter's emotional storms are fleeting, lasting only hours. They can be read, obviously, and can influence the equally fleeting moods of our politicians. But can they be manipulated with longer term effect? I wonder. "Demosthenes" did it, with great success, back in 1984 in Ender's Game, as I'm sure you remember, dear reader. Admittedly, that was science fiction

I was hardly likely to expect anything that even sounded good to me, on MP recall, on zero hours contracts, or even on plastic bags, from the Coalition's last "Queen's Speech"; and I was not disappointed. Not at all, just devastated, furious and ashamed, same as usual. Greenpeace's stunt had to put a smile on my face (reference to the row between Mr Gove and Ms May has been deleted here as I've realised I have no idea who did what to whom or why). And now, back to my flowers; and a talk about HG's Time Machine that needs to be written.

To Tashkent, with snow on our boots . . .

Monday 2nd June, official summer weather for official Summer: blue sky and cloud, sunny actually warm outdoors (still don't know how that was the third warmest Spring on record, however). Congratulations to Gabriel and Marianne, who made their comeback in fine style at St Michael & All Angels in the Brighton Festival Fringe programme on Saturday. After the misery of months of serious illness (cancerous bowel polyps, thankfully successfully treated by surgery in the end); horribly compounded by the failings of the NHS hospital most concerned, so glad and happy to see Marianne on form again, and singing beautifully. They now embark on a big season of engagements, with confidence.

"What do you think of creative writing groups?' was the question.

"Playground for bullies," was my instant response. "If there's a dominant unscrupulous person in the room, and there probably is, given the territory, she or he will take over, cow those who can be cowed, crush opposition and what's worse, make it a crime to have an original voice. You need an organisation you can trust, like Arvon in the UK, an experienced, practitioner, non-bully workshop leader, and the leader needs to be properly in charge, which definitely isn't always the case. Otherwise, avoid like the plague! If you can't give up the habit don't ever pay, and if you don't like what happens quit immediately!"

Turned out we were at cross-purposes, Mary-Elly was talking about Creative Writing as a degree course prospect, for the daughter of a friend. Oh, well that's different. A good Creative Writing course, the way it's taught today, just as good as say, English Literature in the old days, as an all-purpose undergraduate choice. You don't have to be a prospective academic to benefit from Eng.Litt; don't have to be a prospective novelist to benefit from studying Creative Writing. All kinds of useful mind-nurturing stuff and practical skills in there, applicable in all kinds of contexts.

Not so sure about the post-grad phenomenon. I might go "university of life is better for you" on that one.

But then a mailing from Clarion turned up (I wish I could stop them wasting the postage, I have email!) & that night I dreamt, a long and rich and complicated dream, about a band of sisters and brothers, setting out for . . . and having . . . many dangerous adventures, but all that remained for me, a couple of moments after waking, was Tashkent. Going to Tashkent, with snow on our boots.

My response to what I thought was Mary-Elly's original question was based on my response to the fairly recent (I'm a slow burner) airing of views on "Creative Writing" as a social activity in the press, and on anecdotal reports from writer friends who'd fallen for a paid "course" that turned out both rubbish and distressing. But as so often, you bounce out a crowd-sourced response, and then memory kicks in . . . I now admit tried the UK "Milford", ie a residential group for and by sf practitioners; I went back for a second bite so it can't have been that bad, though I wasn't tempted to carry on. I'm not group material, me. Too much of an outlier, plus privately & recalcitrantly convinced proper writers ought to be "outliers". But I once co-led an Arvon week in Devon, and that was okay, except Colin Greenland had much more exciting accommodation than me, ah well. I did a week's stint as a Clarion workshop leader, twice, hopefully in charge at least part of the time; hopefully not too much of a bully. 1999 Clarion West in Seattle, the year they had Octavia Butler as a tutor was my first. Accepting the job on grounds of "Free views of Mount Rainier included" (absolutely true), I met a classic, a legendary group, the one including Andrea Hairston, Sheree Thomas, Margo Lanagan, Trent Walters, Joe Sutliff Sanders etc. It was intense. There was trouble! I would never sign up for the 6 weeks marathon as a student, never. Vicariously it was thrilling, I shared a small part of the excitement, the gruelling, addictive writers'-bunker mentality, the wild-eyed gallows humour; all of it.

Do it once, that's my non-crowd-sourced advice. Dive into the concentrated company of fellow writers, and discover that your weirdest, most secret behaviours are shared with them. Don't become an addict. You'll lose all power to judge your own writing, you'll fall victim to groupspeak. And remember the old adage, writing workshops are good for novelists, bad for short story writers. (Reason being, novels don't get the full treatment, they are too big to fit in the room. The short story that gets taken to pieces in its entirety is much less likely to survive the process with its outlier credentials intact. You will revise it to make it more like what everybody else did . . .) But have a go. Adventure, bizarre comradeship, peril, cold feet. What more could you ask?

Meanwhile, why not sign up for the Clarion Writathon?

Objection! Objection!

For UK readers only: there's still time to object to Celtique Energie's application to drill beside Wisborough Green, in the Weald, an area now certified to harbour reserves of around 2mths UK supply of "tight oil" that can only be extracted by the controversial method known as "fracking". If you don't like the idea of fracking in sussex, or anywhere in the UK, why not object? And while you're at it, why not copy your letter to David Cameron, your own MP, and Nick Herbert, MP for Arundel and the South Downs. Just to be annoying nb. I was at the last planning committee meeting. They bin all objections to extreme energy extraction. But they get cross first. You have until 20th June. The planning meeting is currently scheduled for 24th.

You probably can't make them out, either that or they all flew away, but this is supposed to be our wall campanula, my June flower of choice, full of honeybees.

Singing In The Rain

Tuesday 26th May, drizzly and cool. The brood of great tits, newly reared, very charming making forays from the cypress to our little elm, they're feeding themselves now, from our feeder and Nick and Val's. Floods for East Anglia all the rest of this week, which Grauniad reader pounce upon as a Biblical punishment for Farage voters. I doubt that, but I bet I'm right about predicting we are heading for a long wet summer, just like 2007. But the garden doesn't seem to care, and neither to the birds. Yesterday I was here all day (lucky break), working at my desk, and all day long, through windows open a few inches in defiance of the rain, the blackbirds kept singing, wonderfully, echoing off each other, from chimneypots, rooftops, treetops, indefatigable. & this morning, over the the wet garden, talking to Gabriel about his plans for the rest of term, I watched the swifts darting and playing, in and out of the rainclouds.

If I'm being picky, the gentry scenes in Much Ado About Nothing in St Nicholas Gardens shouldn't have been played for such broad comedy. If the toffs start acting like buffoons, it's really not fair on Dogberry & Co. Leaves them nowhere to go. And, plus, to do justice to the play, there has to be an edge to this battle of the sexes, a sense that this Italy, this world, is a savage place to be a woman. (Just ask yourself, why does Hero forgive Claudio? Because she has to She's tainted, nobody's going to marry her if he doesn't).

But all the same, it was magic.

A moratorium has been declared on all tv news media, from Have I Got News For You, through Newsnight, to South East Today, to punish them for their huge contribution to Farage's success, and by the way, their consistently sickening coverage of Climate Change. Doesn't hurt a bit so far, in fact I feel more cheerful than for some time. I may have to go back to relying on Al Jazeera in the longer term.

The Portrait Of Dave Cameron

Friday 23rd May, bright blue skies, cool and breezy sunshine. First four-legged froglet yesterday, today the UK Local Council Election results roll in, Frog Prince in the fore (unsurprisingly, given the inescapable coverage he was awarded, while the Green Party, that's the Party of Change Your Lifestyle, got nothing.)
If Farage ends up my next PM I know who to blame. That will be the mediafolk, and Channel 4's Jon Snow will head the list. Dear UK readers, don't you think Nigel Farage is like a portrait of himself that David Cameron has been keeping in the attic, shuddering as he observes on that painted face the stark record of his fall into political decadence, moral bankruptcy and decay. But oh no, the Portrait has escaped and is roaming the streets, drawing every Party to imitate its charming, seedy grimaces, taken by all for the true Dave; causing all kinds of havoc . . .

Okay, I know it's not really very funny. But don't you?

Billions of Barrels Of Oil Under The Weald!

I watched the Newsnight item on Fracking In The Weald: so now I know what I'm supposed to think about the opposition to this pleasant pursuit. Professor Iain Stewart's overview was shockingly dishonest (where do they find them?). Not a mention of Climate Change; and in his tour of the US, no problems arising whatsoever! The Wisborough Green group, did not do too well either, coming across,, or made to come across, as perfect middle-class South East NIMBYs, protecting their own idyllic lifestyle. And thence to Fernhurst, where the Professor explained it had been hard to find people who would speak to the BBC, a truly bizarre claim, given the committment of Frack Free Fernhurst to publicising their plight. Hard to find people who would say what Newsnight wanted to hear: that, I believe. No mention of the fact that this drilling site is inside a National Park, or of the National Trust RSPB Wildlife Trusts' reasons for demanding a ban on the pleasant pursuit. And still not a word about Climate Change. Or the devastating amounts of clean water that fracking will gobble; or the inconvenient truth that the fields around the Wisborough Green site were under flood water last winter. . . No word from disputed sites in the North, or the repudiation of the pleasant pursuit by citizens of Manchester, oddly enough. Poor people like fracking, was the message. . . (Terrific idea, fake Dave. Go ahead, tear up the entire map of England. "Poor people" dumb enough to still like fracking when it moves in on their doorsteps and comes out of their taps will carry on voting for the True Dave! There's only one vote you can snag on this issue, if you want to reach beyond those making an immediate profit, and it's the protest vote.)

In contrast, in the studio session, with Caroline Lucas saving the day as usual, Climate Change was taken seriously (except by the presenter, of course). Even Andrew Austin of IGas told us that, despite his passion for shale gas in the UK, "the two degrees limit is imperative". Interesting position . . . Yet again, the weird omissions. Shale gas was discussed, throughout. Shale oil was not mentioned. But it's oil, as we all now know, the dirtiest of fossil fuels, lurking in the crevices of Wealden Basin. How does extracting this thrilling glut of oil (if it exists: see California's revision) sit with the grim reality of climate change? Oil bonanza and keeping the global temperature rise under the fatal two degrees? Impossible! It has to stay in the ground . . . But we'll have to wait and see what The True Dave thinks about that.

The Bees

Now that Laline Paull's fine animal fantasy The Bees is out, I could share with you some of the bee information, and pollinators in crisis stuff, that didn't fit into my review. Bees, for instance, do not have a caste system. Every bee that emerges passes through the ranks, starting off as a cleaner, and rising to become a glorious forager. Drones are numerous, but they're harmless and helpless; they don't require to be slaughtered when the hive has to cut public services for the winter. All the hive workers do is shove them outdoors, and don't let them back in . . . Cellphone masts are not a hazard to bee navigation, that was an "urban myth" . . . But there's so much, and maybe you don't even like bees, so I'll just pass on a fascinating article in which the researchers show that the oppressive social structure in a honey bee hive isn't Selfish Gene type normal bee behaviour, "designed by evolution for the survival of the fittest". It vanishes in the wild. It's a brutalising effect of domestication. Hive bees have a slave culture, how about that!

It may look a bit dry, but if you're keen on bees, you've got to read this! It isn't even depressing!

This report is depressing:

& so is this one. Also liable to annoy you into some kind of action, which would be a good thing:

Pollinator crisis? What pollinator crisis? The Soil Association et al have been fighting for years to get the guilty pesticides banned, but it isn't going to happen. Nope, the bees are doomed. Bayer and Syngenta have too much to lose. And everything to gain. What do they care if insect pollinators vanish? They can make a fortune selling artificial bees!

I never seem to do anything but whine and grouch, do I? I protest it is not my fault, it really isn't. A star laughed, and under it I was born . . . and ever since I've been seeing the sarcastic side of everything. Oh well, going out tonight might cheer me up, Emmy Lou Harris at the Dome (Peter is a HUGE fan, so I made sure we got good tickets). And then Much Ado About Nothing in St Nicolas Gardens tomorrow. Hope it's as wonderful as As You Like It two years ago, and not quite so cold and in every sense wet as King Lear

Getting Out More

Saturday 17th May, a cool blue morning.

Getting Out More

& now here I am back at my desk after a packed few days in Manchester.The old home town never changes, although it changes all the time. In normal life I struggle to recognise a single glimpse of the streets where I grew up, in endless cop shows, (it is the bedraggled and threatening bits, often shot at night): but as I step down from the train, the spirit of Manc comes shining through, somehow. Outings included Albert Square for MCFC's victory parade, The Last Days of Troy at The Royal Exchange. A tramp around the ridge walk above the Edale Valley, which was really, really wonderful except for the torrential rain part, and that only lasted an hour and a half. A morning alone among flowers and birds and butterflies, reading in the sunshine in a vine arbour, on the roof terrace in Hulme Community Garden, where I also bought some seeds, wildflowers for dry shade, yellow rattle and bugle. Mary-Elly, the friend I was visiting, who is a volunteer, thought I might join her in some weeding, but I felt my job was to enjoy this brilliant place, and had to be prised out of the arbour to come down and eat my butties and talk about Barton Moss; a visit to the Mickle Ditch at Platt Fields (it's a black water ditch here, it's Anglo Saxon, it looks rather spooky, definitely less boring than the lump of Roman Wall at Castlefield. They're very science fictional, these lost fragments of the distant past in a city like Manc, and very Alan Garner too of course. And La Boheme at the Lowry; including admiring the Open Swimmers in a specially aerated bit of the Ship Canal (for the benefit of those mediafolk, you know. You just can't expect them to do without their civilised comforts). Good grief. There they were, in the Manchester Ship Canal in May, happily ploughing the shining stream, whatever next?


Cheek by Jowl's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore was rubbish. They cut out the sub-plot, leaving some odd holes in the main plot, if anyone had been paying attention. Excised Ford's serious accusation of a morally bankrupt State and Church, and replaced with much frenzied synchronised dancing by young fat cats in suits. And all of that fair enough, except that nobody on stage, not for one moment, acted as if they believed what they were saying, ever. Unforgivable. If all you want is a young lady pretending to have sex in her underwear, there's plenty of Miley Cyrus on Youtube. Don't bother.

Simon Armitage's The Last Days Of Troy. Looks really good. The framing story (Zeus as a worn-out souvenir seller at the modern site of Troy) seemed hackneyed to me: the action thrilling, as long as Armitage is sticking dead close to Homer, for language, plot and narrative. Loses focus after the interval, when relying more or less on Book II of the Aeneid. Very shabby treatment of Helen. I know Lily Cole is a supermodel, not an actress, but she's got a brain in her head, and I am sure she has stage presence. No excuse whatsoever for mutilating the only, and really remarkable, good female part in the Iliad. Wouldn't you think, in this day and age, a dramatist would know better? But definitely do bother.

Opera North’s La Bohème at the Lowry revival was lovely. Young cast, believing every word of their story, looking like real young examples of the bohemian life, and very sweet. Hurry along there. Recommended.

Even If We Lose Our Lives & Fracking Shifts Its Ground

Friday 16th May, sunny day with a clear blue sky and cool air. The swifts, all two of them, shrieking and shooting to and fro over my head as I'm hanging out the washing. It seems to be the same all over. The swifts, and their unrelated migratory nichemates, the swallows, the house martins, are here but in smaller numbers than ever. Maybe they'll have a late surge . . . Picked myself a 6th bouquet of the year, a random collection, bearded iris, wall-growing campanula, columbines and snapdragon; nothing of the summer ensemble coming through yet, really. Tadpoles doing well, and there has been a stickleback sighting, a rare treat, usually we only know they're there because there aren't any mosquito larvae

Early last Sunday morning, up and out to Under The Bridge studios, with a tray of Turkish cakes, to rendezvous for a reading of Even If We Lose Our Lives, the narratives of four Afghan Women Human Rights Defenders, scripted by Christine Bacon, recorded here in Brighton courtesy of the estimable Jackie Chase and her team at Radio Free Brighton. You can hear the reading online any time you like: It's also scheduled on Radio Free Brighton, Tues 20th May 9pm, and Weds 21st May 9am.

Or if you live around here, you can pay (£1 entry) to see the play performed at The Hawth theatre, Crawley: 7.30 19th May., by Pitchy Theatre.


Fracking shifts its ground: but don't get your hopes up, this is only reculer pour mieux sauter*. Interesting developments (check them out on Frack Free Sussex) include a leaked document (May 9th) confirming Cuadrilla intends to frack at Balcombe. Without fracking, Wealden shale gas extraction cannot be commercially viable. But we knew that. Celtique Energie has made changes to its drilling application at Fernhurst, the one in the South Downs National Park. They now say they will create a new access to the site, and they have withdrawn the horizontal bore from their plans. Greenpeace hails these changes as a "scaling back": Greenpeace is wrong. The site access alteration is an attempt to circumvent obstacles put in their way (eg, new tree preservation orders). The horizontal drill, (transparently!) will be restored at a later date, when Mr Cameron has changed the trespass laws. Seems to me Celtique is simply taking a leaf out of Cuadrilla's book, having realised it isn't necessary to show all your hand. Just apply for an inch and take a mile! That will be fine! The other interesting development at Fernhurst is that WSCC will no longer be determining this application, it has been transferred entirely into the hands of the Park Authority. What does this mean? I'm not sure. After WSCC's insulting, meretricious* pretence of a planning meeting to "determine" the Cuadrilla application at Balcombe, ast month I don't see how the SDNPA could be worse, but I wouldn't put it past them. Please object to the proposal again, explaining why an extreme energy drill site STILL doesn't work for you as an attraction in the South Downs National Park, no matter how it is packaged; and nb you do not have to be a local.

Frackfree Fernhurst site provides a portal and some notes
You can also object in writing, to:

Director of Planning
South Downs National Park Authority
South Downs Centre
GU29 9DH

Celtique have also submitted new information on their Wisborough Green proposal, to be determined (ha!) at a WSCC planning meeting on 25th June. Poor Wisborough Green, so tiny, so fragile, is going to be dragged down the basement and shot, no question. But find out more, with details of how to submit an objection, here:

Just don't give up. To avoid quoting Churchill, you never know. The next thing we try might work. And many thanks, by the way, to Bob Buhr for this useful roundup from Scholars and Rogues

Fracking in the UK? Don't hold your breath

*having the nature of prostitution, dear readers. I believe that's what I saw and heard.

Official May Day

Wednesday 7th May, a cool grey evening after a chilly, blustery day, outbreaks of blue and sunshine, threatening clouds. Official May Day, Government Mayday, was the fifth this year. We sowed our sunflowers and went walking in King Death's Garden, it was very green and pretty in there, wild excesses of birdsong, evidence of a mass outbreak of primroses just past, floods of Spanish Bluebells (ie, the paler blue, crinkly, more robust model, not the native kind) on the turn, and the trees in beautiful young foliage, particularly the great Field Maple in the valley, extraordinary tall cloud of peachy gold feathery leaves. A short circuit, as we had our cat Ginger with us, and the long circuit would have taken hours. She only really likes jumping on gravestones, or better still leaping from the top of one gravestone to the next, to our gasps of admiration.

And, as we can tell by the dour weather, it's Festival time again in Brighton. So far I have entirely missed the Children's Parade, attended the Gala Concert at Roedean College (where a work by a composer friend of mine was premiered). We had Land of Hope and Glory AND Rule, Brittannia! which seemed a little excessive. The massed parents sang along with great gusto. I sort of envied them, that they still could, while fearing for their sanity; & omitted to support a Slam Poet at Varndean college. Then there's Tis Pity She's A Whore at the Theatre Royal on Saturday, "classic theatre with a startlingly modern outlook", it says here. Hm. Very true. Not sure that's anything to be proud of . . . Emmy Lou Harris, Much Ado About Nothing in St Nicholas Gardens (despite King Lear being so dreadful and so freezing cold last year), I'm a sucker for shakespeare al fresco; and finally Marianne Wright and Gabriel Jones at St Michael and All Angels on 31st.

Justice Is Fled To Heaven And Comes No Nearer

I duly rode the bus to Horsham last week for the WSCC planning committee meeting (very nice park in Horsham, where I got caught in a fine cloudburst), and the success of Cuadrilla's application to resume acid-fracture drilling at Balcombe was duly announced. Approval predetermined, and without much pretence of pretending otherwise. It was a sorry show, the petulant arrogance of the chairwoman (I'll accept chairperson, if you insist, but chairman, when the chair is blatantly female, is ideology gone mad, in my opinion); the insulting little amendments to HGV traffic flow (traffic flow is the only issue the committee are allowed to touch, that and the angle of certain floodlights when the site is in action 24 hours); the bitter and shocked cries of "Shame" and "Unbelievable" from the public . . . Some heartbroken, deeply disillusioned and angry people are rather gaining ground in West Sussex, everywhere but with the oblivious County Council and their Party, and have of course vowed to fight on. And they will. Non Violent Direct Action, Lawyers! Elections! Whatever else comes to hand. My next date is the 24th June, when (at a so far undisclosed venue) WSCC will be "debating" the application for exploratory drilling at Wisborough Green, fiercely and unanimously opposed by all the locals, opposition supported by a mass of conclusive evidence, but I don't expect anything different there. Or at Fernhurst.There is no "planning", there are no regulations, those days are gone. It's a knife fight.

When cardinals think murder’s not amiss:
Great men may do their wills, we must obey,
But Heaven will judge them for’t, another day.

. . . Maybe

Could it be time to lose the word fracking? I'm in two minds. Cuadrilla and Celtique Energie seem to feel there's a lot of mileage in repudiating this dirty word, "Cuadrilla vows never to frack" etc. Maybe the opposition should move on to Opposing Brutally Destructive, Planet-Destroying, Poisonous, Dangerous, Water Gobbling, Corruptly Financed, Extreme Energy Extraction. But it doesn't have the same ring.

Keynote picture is my garden in Maytime, very green, except there's more flowers than it looks like here. And the swifts are back in Sussex, first sighted on the 5th I think, so few so far, I've seen one pair and a singleton, tossing in the wind, over our valley; I have not heard them yet. Their numbers keep going down, of course, and they suffered dreadfully last year, but I'm hoping for at least two or three pairs more. And for fine weather.

Let Mr Cameron Know: Overnight the season changed

Back from Cumbria last weekend to an Easter Sunday of splendid pelting rain and wind & over night it seemed, the "black" maple at the bottom of our garden lost its gold floral topnotes, and turned deep red & the whole garden sprouted lush greenery, drowning the last of the spring flowers. The fish and juvenile goldfish are fine, the "wildlife" pond is functioning for the first time in its life, fat tadpoles, one newt, frogs, clear water in both: I praise my Swan Mussels, Peter gives credit to barley straw. Have spent a whole week debriefing, unpacking, transplanting (rather recklessly, excited by the drenched soil and mild air; hope my victims survive), and turning in a review (Laline Paull's The Bees, of which more later) & by now I'm sure you're sick of looking at my King Death's Garden cover, so onward.

Tree diseases
The good news: as of now, Ash dieback sinks to join the rest of a list of threats, no swift devastation throughout the UK. 644 confirmed sites on the forestry commission page, the number keeps going up, but slowly, & still, for what it's worth, the overwhelming majority of identified sites in England are east of the Wash (the Wash, dear non-English readers, is that sort of squared-off chunk of sea between the bulge of East Anglia and the flank of Lincolnshire. King John allegedly lost his Royal Jewels in there once). Tree diseases are scary, but anthropogenic habitat loss, and destruction in Global Warming extreme weather events, are probably worse enemies. For the record, ash is way behind oak, throughout the uk, so I predict it will rain all summer. You heard it here first. Along with the Dissolution of the Union, and Cornish minority rule.

My Fracking Roundup

No internet or mobile phone signal where I was, but I read about the acquittal of Caroline Lucas and the rest of the Balcombe Five in a newspaper last Friday week. Since when, another 14 protestors have been acquitted. I'm very glad the judges in both trials resisted the criminalisation of protest creep. One more time.

Also very glad Caroline Lucas made such measured comments. This is not a victory. West Sussex County Council, in their planning meeting tomorrow, are minded to determine in favour of Cuadrilla's renewed "flow test" drilling (not gas nb, it's "tight oil" now) at the Lower Stumble site, outside Balcombe, despite the huge weight of evidence (where's the water coming from, how is the effluent going to be handled etc etc); the justified objections, impassioned protests from local residents. Since this particular council has invested public money, and their own too, for all I know, in the energy companies concerned, they would, wouldn't they. But they shouldn't.

Not getting thrown into jail for peaceful protest is not supposed to be a victory, it's supposed to be normal service. The victory is when the protests become successful. Non Violent Direct Action, history has often proved, is the way to do it. Dignified outrage, courageously expressed, could still swing this issue. In pursuit of which, I'll be taking a trip to Horsham tomorrow, to attend WSCC's planning meeting. You are all hereby invited to join me. (NB, apologies if you're non-facebook, you have to log in to facebook to tick the boxes). It's worth a try.

And if you're uk, and whether or not you think my obsession with fracking uk is just weird, consider going to wrong move to register your property as a frack free zone. You might as well. As a gesture. Before this government changes the trespass law, and your property rights get stolen from under you. Give Mr Cameron something to think about.


Aside from Laline Paull, Dark Orbit, Carolyn Ives Gilman (of which more later) and Peter Pan In Scarlet Geraldine McCaughrean. Can't remember why I picked this up, I've never been a big Peter Pan fan, but there you go. Not enough fairy dust to keep the whole thing sparkling, but definitely good in parts, and the playful language is a delight. Also On The Organic Law Of Change: facsmile edition of Alfred Russel Wallace's species notebooks from the Malay Archipelago. I read the Malay Archipelago many years ago, so I was a sucker for this massive volume; somebody's doctrate project. A bit disappointing, more entries saying variations on found a really interesting beetle and guess what it was just by my hammock than you could shake a stick at, but it got quite addictive. Conclusion: Wallace did have the same idea as Darwin, for making a science out of the transmutationism movement, & endemic island species were the big clue for both men. But he was a maverick, he would have messed up anyway, so arguably didn't lose much (not that he'd ever say how he really felt) by Darwin sneaking into publication first. Footnote, apparently Wallace favoured and helped to promote the distorting lens of "survival of the fittest" (which ranks with The Selfish Gene in my opinion), above Darwin's accurate, neutral, "natural selection". I never knew that. And he became a Spiritualist in his declining years. I never knew that, either. Now I want to read a proper biography.

Going to the movies

Calvary John Michael McDonagh. Stunning. Quirky "black" humour fans better take note, this is not for babies, this iis a full-on, uncompromising morality play, harsh and pure as they come. I thought In Bruges had hidden depths, I thought The Guard was slight: this is a masterpiece. I don't know what to compare it with, except maybe Pasolini's Gospel, or Park Chan-wook's Sympathy For Mr Vengeance. And all played out beside the bleak and beautiful strand under bare Ben Bulben's head. The entire audience at The Dukes sat in dazed silence as the credits rolled, and I have never seen that before.

Return To King Death's Garden

How long ago it was. We moved into the house where nothing had changed for forty years the year after we came back from Singapore, drawn back to Brighton and the old gang after an abortive attempt to install ourselves up north. We painted (notably the big yellow flash on lilac in the front room, that left a radioactive yellow film on everything, because we were rank amateurs with a stencil and a spray can). We had the roof done, we decorated, we put up shelves, and I took possession of King Death's Garden, the Brighton and Preston Cemetery & Extra-Mural Cemetery next door; with only a small brown cat for my companion. My dear Siang, who walked along with me, lost in her own thoughts, only yelling at me when she'd found something interesting and I wasn't paying attention. I was working as an accounts clerk at Amex, I was writing Telebug scripts, I was teaching myself computing, and in the midst of all this I wrote King Death's Garden, the first of my "Ann Halam" ghost stories. It was amazingly successful, it sold buckets, I got invited to a posh party on the grounds of my sales figures . Wow. An experience never to be repeated. But I still liked it, and I still like it now. I found my memories of those years enshrined within the pages, as I was converting it for epub, and I was very glad to meet them. So much has changed. You can't get into the Extra-Mural valley from the Brighton and Preston part anymore, not without climbing the wall. The gate is bricked up and the steps where Maurice met Moth for the first time are mouldering into the earth. The two great copper beeches have gone from in front of the funeral chapel (deliberate; I suppose meant to make the place look more cheerful); Siang's cypress is gone, and most of the great elms on the drive, which have not been replaced. But the limes on the lime walk have been, and are now grown trees. I cried in King Death's Garden when I saw the devastation, the morning after the hurricane in 1987, and a gardener came up to me and said don't cry love, we'll make it beautiful again. I sat in a shower of petals under the cherry trees on the slope where the slave boy is buried, and told Gabriel (10mths) about Bushido and the Cherry Blossom Way. (someone had given him a book of Japanese folk tales). We walk there often, though we no longer live next door. And I visit the weeping ash on Clementina Brown's tomb: going strong, and looking exactly as described by Maurice right now, the tentacle branches still almost bare, and trailing to the ground.

Jessica Raven was next (camping in France), then The Fear Man (my brother's Battersea and Clapham London stamping grounds; the desolate, dreamy feeling of a long, dirty London street, on a silent Saturday afternoon, long ago), then The Powerhouse* (nameless setting but really it's Manchester); then Crying In The Dark (a cottage with ghosts in Devon); then Nimrod (Brighton again; called "Beachcombe" this time; I have no idea why); the one that surprised me, this time round. Clearly I'd decided to have a ghost story of every popular shade, but I'd forgotten there was a noir in the pack. And finally Don't Open Your Eyes, the only real horror story & not at all coincidentally the only one with even a whisper of sex in it, as Charles Brown, god rest him, pointed out. Anyway, after a labour of love that nearly fried my eyes out (350,000 plus words, reviewed, edited, proof-read, in 2 months) the Ann Halam ghost stories are now available in epub, at several of the usual retailers, including Kindle, Smashwords, Barnes&Noble, Apple etc. Very reasonably priced, fine covers, and you can buy them!

*See The Powerhouse for some pre Bold as Love: the first version of immersions; an experimental techno band, black magic and Seventies hippies in a rather poor light

Ann Halam On Smashwords

More Balcombe trials this week. That's where I'll be tomorrow. This afternoon I'm taking off, to go and see The Past

Section 14

March 28th Friday, grey skies, but it's not raining yet and not so chilly as yesterday. What a busy week! Zooming down to the Law Courts and back, coaxing the Ann Halam ghost stories series through the Smashwords process (more haste less speed, most of them go straight through but then always that little niggle in the formatting to be tracked down, in the oldest text and the one I processed at the end of a long day).

Cold weather, frost on the grass, planting celandines in the green under the newly pruned elm, taking delivery of the swan mussels that are going to solve the algae problems without chemical aid; and of three more very charming little sticklebacks, blue-silver lances, miniscule barracuda (disappeared instantly, moment they were transfered from their holding tank).

A great leap forward on Tuesday evening, the first consolidated anti-fracking meeting in Brighton; lots of interesting stuff, and a relief to the nagging irritation of seeing all those disparate petitions, collecting tens of thousands of signatories each. Doomed we may be, and I fear we are, but that's no excuse for untidiness. And the DECC consultation on the next round of fracking licences (you missed that, dear readers. You were meant to, even if you did have something to say about the prospect of 33,000 dirty energy fracking wells in Lancashire, 2,800 in the Low Weald . . . (the coming round puts 60% of the land area of the UK up for tender. Wherever you are, you'll have your own little piece of Pensylvania's misery, don't worry). The environmental assessment consultation document, prepared by some engineering suppliers outfit called Amec, bore an amazingly close resemblance to the "EA" documents presented by the fracking companies themselves (trust me, I know), and found no adverse effects at all, none to speak of. Now there's a surprise.

And back to court, where yesterday we considered that debatable Section 14 order, signed off by the Deputy Chief Constable on 16th August, suddenly served by the police on sundry Balcombe protectors, 19th August 2013. Is a Section 14 (Public Order Act, 1986) a kind of lettre de cachet of public assembly, where the name of any assembly or other can be entered on the dotted line, that a senior officer can sign off at his leisure and the police can apply whenever they choose, arbitrarily? Or is the order required to be case specific, issued at the scene by a senior officer actually present, who has assessed a specific public assembly as violent and dangerous . . ? I tend to take the former view, but then I would, wouldn't I? One of the violent, dangerous defendants (accused of sitting down outside the gates of a drilling site vacant except for two persons that day, and having a back entrance if emergency exit was needed) is my MP. The other four don't look very threatening either, although I can't speak for their having hairy armpits or not. The Public Proescutor favours the latter, but then he would, wouldn't he. Our judge appeared to feel it was a pretty point of law, and though he's looking really tired of all this, he allowed our learned friends to mull it over with him for two mortal hours yesterday afternoon.

It's fascinating, it's totally Dickensian, I'm gripped, as if by quicksand. Must get back there now.

Frack Free Brighton

Monday 24th March, a cold night, Mars very bright, more a livid pimple than a pinprick now the moon is down; frost on the decking, & down to the Magistrates' Court, Edward Street for 9am, to join the throng for the media (another meat in the room call), as today's the day Caroline Lucas goes on trial for obstructing the highway. Talked to the Lush contingent, starting their working day like this with the campaigning firm's full approval, and to a sussex university Climate Change student, who tells me her lecturers are clearly against fracking, but maybe "they can't say so". (Oh? Why not?) & another young man whose party had all come down from london and were staying in Brighton B&B (who says fracking isn't good for the economy?). We discussed the BBC's piecharts (provided by the energy industry) on the tv last night, demonstrating totally fictitious UK dependency on Gazprom, But the news coverage, he said, is shifting a bit, and I agree: you hear far more now about how difficult it's going to be to get communities to accept the devastation they face, how over-the-top violent the police have become, ( I mean, it's not just ordinary police violence anymore) and less about the puzzling antics of a few bad apples. And that's a good thing. Ate a chocolate biscuit, waved a yellow triangle for Greater Manchester, and cheered as my MP arrived. That's all so far.

I'm off there again at noon, it's going to be a disrupted few days, and more on this later.

Later: It seems the trial of the Balcombe Five may need longer than five days. Not much achieved today before the lunch break & now I'm back at my desk for the afternoon.

See Radio Free Brighton for details of tomorrow's public meeting in Brighton. Brighthelm Centre, North Road 7pm 9.30pm, and please check the Frack Free Sussex page.

Courage, Constancy, Success

Wednesday 19th March, cold and luminous grey sky, chill breeze. There's very little bird action in my garden this season, owing to loss of neigbour trees, safe places to nest, congregate and watch out for cats (the big cypress from 3 doors down, the acacia from two doors up & the sycamore, all gone since this time last year). But the wren sings valiantly every morning, still. Tadpoles are doing fine.

Small Beginnings on My Day Out

Up to London, to assist at handing in a petition to Amazon, about the dreadful working conditions in their warehouses. As I had surmised, it wasn't much, and "meat in the room" badly needed. A few organisers in hi-vis vests with logos, a banner, a photo opportuinity of thirty or so interested citizens; a symbolic box of signatures. Interested citizens attempted to hand out info to passers-by and to exiters from the huge splendid blockhouse of wobbly glass spaghetti, on Holborn Viaduct. The exiters dodged, hands in their pockets and heads down: understandably. Amazon employees are told at interview that they will be fired if they join a union. They can be and will be fired without notice, for any reason, and they are always under surveillance. I'm an Amazon associate myself. I've given up buying the physical products, until they get the living wage thing sorted out: but they sell my ebooks, and I take the money. They sell my physical publishers books, and I take a cut; and I can't quit this association. Best I can do is come along to this here, and encourage people to register their disgust. Photos were taken, the box was delivered, but did not get further than about 2 metres inside the revolving doors. Oh well, you've got to start somewhere.

Then I walked up the river to Tate Britain, a place I really like. It's so far away from anywhere, it's so quiet. On my first visit, long ago, a little girl in a huge black jumble sale coat, I saw the Rothkos here, and sat looking at them, bowled over, thinking, this is where I'll stop & despite the huge refit, it feels the same. I visited the original of Misha Connelly in Phoenix Cafe, and the inspiration for the Inundation Festival in Spirit, among many. Nothing calms me like looking at pictures in a gallery. A quiet gallery.

The Sylvia Pankhurst exhibition was very touching, the Angel of Freedom on her tiptoes, apparently smoking a long churchwarden pipe, the fine pastel sketches of girls and women at the pit head, in the potteries; factory and craft work. Sylvia's account of Holloway, published in the Pall Mall Magazine, a different kind of grim from her later account of force-feeding, a far cry from women's prisons in the UK of today: these helpless, humble souls, obediently scrubbing their bedboards, shedding tears at prayers.

This is a major, global industrial revolution, I was thinking (amazon's de facto slave labour; the absolutely staggering degree of surveillance, and data mining, and government corruption, that we now accept, the world over; and the rape of the commons; the death of policing by consent, the gagging of civil society). It's happened before, it'll happen again. Like every industrial revolution back to agriculture, globalisation enslaves: turns people into cattle, monetises and destroys the living world, and creates wealth. Can't live with it, can't live without it.

Can resist. Can tame it, if we put in the effort. Possibly.

But never say die. If you give up, you get nothing. If you go on insisting on making your point, you get somewhere. Or someone does, further down the line. I do actually have the vote.

My Fracking Round Up

Dear Mr Cameron, are you sure the voters are ready for the degree of police brutality we're getting now? Are you sure this is going to work out for you? Won't the kind of people who dismiss brutality against law abiding legitimate protectors as no more than they deserve going to vote for that cheery chappie anyhow?

"Shocking GMP brutality on the walk in today! Numerous people assaulted, grabbed, pushed, kicked, punched in the face and ribs, slammed against trees, thrown to the ground in the worst police violence we have seen so far. Sit down protests were attempted to stop the TAU brutality but we were moved on. Officers were even told to walk into people lying on the ground! One disabled man was pounced on by 8 officers who dragged him around on the ground and then arrested him. Several protectors and locals are injured. 4 confirmed arrests not counting the two in the lock on but there is more awaiting confirmation."

"The policing at Barton Moss this morning was the worst, most brutal assault on the protectors yet. One man, after being pushed so hard fell over, the police just went straight over the top of him, trampling him.

There were at least 2 arrests, both good, peaceful and caring people. One was arrested with an arm around his neck. We were treated like animals.

When the police look at us, what do they see. Do they look at us and see criminals? Animals? Scum? Because this is how we are being treated, this morning, more so than ever before. How do they look at us and see these things. Don't they have a shred of respect? A remote care about the future of their drinking water, their environment? What happened to make them act in this way. Because for the life of me, I wouldn't and couldn't treat other human beings with such little respect and dignity as we have been shown this morning."

Mancs don't want fracking (73% said no, in a Manchester Evening News poll). The Fracking Conference scheduled in Manchester for April has decided not to risk it, and gone to Birmingham instead. Meanwhile, down here, Celtique Energie has been given another extension to fix its planning application for Wisborough Green; decision now delayed until June. Nobody is optimistic about these delays, but why should that make us change our minds? It won't.

So, any way

At least I understand what's happening in the Crimea now, having checked out the Ukraine to integrate with NATO strand. . . For heaven's sake, you USians and your nutcase foreign policy bright ideas. Were the Russians going to stand for that? The Black Sea fleet! That's just mental. Still, however, do not understand why Putin gets called Hitler, instead of the obvious historical monicker, on the grounds that "Hitler annexed stuff". Huh? Wasn't there a sovereign nation called Poland (1945) And a few others, if I recall.

Foregoing the Tuesday riches of The Mentalist, Shetland and Silent Witness, we went to see Under The Skin at the Duke's last night. It was nice, arthouse scifi, somebody had a lovely time with those soundscapes, and Scarlett Johannson, doing a good line in blurred confusion throughout, possibly wondering what season it was, and how to fill up with petrol. She so has that bruised, slightly fleshy Monroe look down. You feel like your fingers would sink into her. A bit slight, though, in the end. More I cannot say, although given the advertising I would hardly be guilty of spoilers. I think I'll read The Crimson Petal And The White now.

And the clear night sky was brilliant. As starry as is humanly possible, given our location, and that livid red-orange pinprick to the left of the moon, that's Mars all right, I checked.

Reading: Andre Gide, Les Faux Monnayeurs, a book about writing a book. Loving it. Everything a French novel ought to be. & my father's marginal notes, like the sound of his voice.

This is called Repose on the Flight to Eygpt, Glyn Warren Philpot. I want to have it for a Christmas card, wonder if the Tate would agree. I love that cheerful black sphinx.