Saturday, 26 November 2011

Power Posting

Power tools. George W Bush and Tony Blair shake hands at a White House press conference.  Photo by Paul Morse, for the US Government, via Wikimedia Commons - public domain.
They got the power! - George W Bush and Tony Blair shake hands at a White House press conference. Photo by Paul Morse, for the US Government, via Wikimedia Commons - public domain.

I'm in a triadic mood, and have three thoughts about power:

1) The will to do or make something which will require a lot of power, is a sign of virtue and quality - specifically, the virtue of magnificence. Aquinas's idea that this is ultimately an aspect of fortitude or courage is looking good to me at first blush.

2) The will to make oneself fit to wield a lot of power should one need to, is the sign of a more careful and scrupulous virtue - which feels, to me, like a sort of magnanimity. But it is magnanimity played in a careful and questioning mode, if so, and seems to me intimately linked to fortitude's three companion cardinal virtues - prudence, temperance, and justice.

3) The will to power for itself, as against these, seems to me a psychic form of self-gratification - pleasant and harmless enough in moderation and in private, but neither attractive nor civil to exhibit in public, and depressingly narcissistic and sterile if considered as a vocation.

So magnificence seeks power as a tool to do great things, by which I mean some particular great things which it has the heart and mind to imagine; magnanimity cultivates the skills to wield one's power greatly, by which I mean gracefully instead of grossly; and mere ambition is satisfied with just being a great big power tool. That sounds about right.

What does this say about people who are 'passionate' about attaining the highest levels of power, so that they can deliver 'strong leadership' towards - 'whatever works'?

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Lessa's Last Word - for Anne McCaffrey (1926-2011)

Anne McCaffrey, whose death is just today announced, was a prolific and widely-beloved author of science fiction and fantasy - perhaps of science fantasy above all.

Her most famous work, and the one dearest to my own heart, is her Dragonriders of Pern series. Its beginning tale, Dragonflight, was one of the books I most badly needed to read on the threshold of my teens; Lessa, its central character, may have offered me my first female viewpoint into which I could sink quite seamlessly. I had the most enormous book-crush on her for a couple of years afterwards, and remain highly prejudiced in her favour. Readers who know what Lessa is like, may draw any deductions they please about my character from these several circumstances.

To these books I also owe: my first encounter with a vision of dragons that was not mine, but was yet close enough to be played upon my heart; my independent discovery of the possibility of fanfiction, and the inspiration that compelled its writing; a great eye-opening to the possibilities of fantasy that didn't fit into familiar moulds of the heroic and epic; and last, by no means least, a world which offered me wholly new kinds of places and characters worth being haunted by.

Without encountering the works of Anne McCaffrey so early on, I should have likely grown up a perceptibly different person - and I don't think the changes would have been to anybody's benefit. For all these things thanks are due, and I give them most heartily now.

Goodbye, Dragon Lady. Fare well; dream long; fly high.

And here is the only other thing I presently know how to say about it.

Lessa's Last Word

"He'll shake me!" she said,
Who shook him into shaking
Their world's mean Alexander from his roost atop High Reaches –
Who shook his heart, and in the aftershock
Their age,
Their ways,
Their me - a small mean singer from an eminence of twelve,
Borne up to be, to love her, in a storm of stone-musk wings –

"He'll shake me!" she protested,
Still shivering from shaking
The wide world's tree for redfruit: new days, new flights of old
Whom she had moved to leave for after times
Their age,
Their ways,
Their selves – that small fierce vision, from a child's height and the sky's –
Spent, shivered, frozen – home, with all the wide world's price on wings!

She shook us, then.

Between our worlds seeps chill.
The breath that bore her flight up's fallen still.

First posted here in the comments on Making Light, where the news caught up with me. A separate commemorative thread for the sharing of thoughts and memories has now been started there. More on io9, and John Scalzi's blog Whatever.

ETA 26/11/11: Replaced a self-destructing metaphor and removed two renegade commas.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Serenade to the Healthists

You're the skim in my decaf!
You're my savourless stew!
Keep your water clear -
Leave my beef and beer,
Or I'll Safety Elf you!

This post inspired by the genius practice in Certain Nameless Institutions of: (i) Cooking dishes without salt, so that people can add their own to taste instead of having it imposed upon them; and (ii) playing Hide The Only Salt Cellar, in order to nudge them into getting none at all.

We really have to start taking all these professional health panickers cum grano salis!

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Lombards Have Stormed the Library

Part of the Occupy Wall Street encampment's People's Library, after the New York Police Department had confiscated it in their violent nocturnal storming of the camp, and used it according to their pleasure before its lawful owners were permitted to reclaim it.

This picture by Lauren Comito, released under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Licence.

Lest doubt remain: who are the looters, and who the guardians of Civilization, now?

This picture was brought to you by grace of Hizzoner Michael Bloomberg: Mayor of New York City, Wall Street media magnate, and in no way possessed of any private interest in punishing public impatience with his business cronies and their political bagmen.

All hail the New Alboin, King of the New World Lombards! Or else!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The System's Failing, So This Is No Time to Change It!

Senior European politicians discuss how to rekindle the public's love affair with the EU - Struthio camelus, Chay Bar Yotvata, Israel, by MathKnight at Wikimedia Commons - released under   Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported Licence
Senior European politicians discuss how to rekindle the public's love affair with the EU. Struthio camelus, Chay Bar Yotvata, Israel, by MathKnight at Wikimedia Commons. Released under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported Licence.

For the Liberal Democrats in the UK, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg offers a bold response to the current structural crises in the Eurozone and the EU: Please sirs, may we have some more? The BBC reports:

David Cameron said on Monday it was time for the UK to "refashion" its relationship with the EU.

The prime minister argued powers should "ebb back" from Brussels to Westminster as part of "fundamental" future reform

But speaking at a press conference alongside Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, Mr Clegg said only populists and demagogues would benefit if EU leaders disappeared "into a windowless room" to discuss things that no-one understood, at a time when people were worried about their jobs.

Some of us might think that people were right to be worried about entrusting their jobs to the same old truffle-hounds that led us to this dirty big clump of stinkhorns in the first place. But no: apparently the nature of the EU's institutions can have nothing to do with any failure modes of those institutions whatsoever, so those institutions must not be tampered with until they have properly solved our problems.

And some of us might also think that if the highest-level rules binding people's choices of government are things that nobody is expected to understand, and only a small privileged circle meeting in windowless rooms is permitted to influence, then perhaps the people so ruled could use a little more populism than that.

They might flirt with a childish philosophy called 'liberalism', in which people might aspire to know what the supreme laws of their land were, or even to make suggestions about what they found good or bad in them. Of course, if questioning leads to liberalism, liberalism itself too often leads to a radical outgrowth called 'democracy', in which the ignorant herd actually demand the right to consent to their governors or to reject them. I would not suggest that Mr Clegg or his party endorse such a radical position as 'liberal democracy' itself - yet I think he might find some food for thought amongst its demands, if he could descend briefly from his mountaintop to study them.

I guess I must be just a big old populist demagogue, after all!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland - First Draft

Finished! Man, that was a big binge there towards the end. Last chapter and epilogue knocked out this week.

So where do I go from here? Well, the story has changed enough in the telling that what I have before me is the original Crappy First Draft on a number of levels, principally that a number of the things I was originally aiming for in the early chapters didn't happen or happened very differently, so there are consistency and relevance issues out the wazoo.

Another aspect of the Official Crappiness is deliberate - large sections of text are functionally mostly construction lines in this version: passages written to remind me what I was thinking, what alternatives I needed to consider, or just to write myself the hell out of a difficult corner. My particular process requires this to be written actually in-story, in order to keep the narrative flowing - but passages of that kind come sort of pre-marked for editorial attention at the first opportunity. So the final text is liable to be considerably slimmer than the original.

This is good, since the size of the raw draft is about 185,000 words. I'm thinking that something like a third, maybe even a half, of this can be slimmed down in a superior draft that eliminates all ramblings and false starts and fictionalized notes-to-author.

But if Three Katherines of Allingdale is to work as one story, to this I have to add the 42,000 words of The Deed of Katy Elflocks. There's little or no fat on that at all, though there will be some minor tweaks for consistency with the way the setting and story have developed. So my best guess as to the size of the Reader Ready Second Draft comes out at somewhere between 130,000 and 165,000 words. This is kind of chunky for a first novel, and unfortunately the only reasonable breakpoint for splitting it is at that 42K mark, where the story takes a thirty-year break.

Funny old thing, that. The original point of extending the story before doing anything with Katy Elflocks was because the logic of the tale suggested a really neat triptych structure - three roughly equal panels: first Katy's song of a summer, then Kit's story of a fall, and last Kate's winter's tale to round the whole thing off. But Kit's story soon proved to be like the Red Witch of Alland herself: elaborate, tricksy, and far-ranging even for a standalone novel of its own. So here we are, with a very different and asymmetrically divided treatment, the enchantment-shot realistic fantasy of Killer-Kate developing and resolving the themes propounded in the grounded fairy-tale of Katy Elflocks. There'll be work to do, in making that work - but it'll be more than somewhat worthwhile, if I can pull it off.

I'm setting myself a deadline of Easter to have the work out and ready for beta-reading, there being so many grades of cutting and polishing ahead. The rest of this month I'm devoting to the highest-level stuff: grand consistency, major structural and character issues, and generally working on the overview.

In the meantime, here is a nicely evocative but necessarily spoiler-free taste of the Honeywoolf's tale: the final chapter-list for Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland.

Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland,

a Winter's Tale


1. The Black Roots of Langdale
2. Treacher Pike
3. The Disenchanted Woods
4. The Last Mortal Passage
5. Beneath the Sky of Thorns
6. The Red Star's Bale
7. Company out of Song
8. Tally-Clerks and Tigers
9. The Long Lane to Hexhold
10. The Horned Moon in Her Hair
11. A Fairfields Wassail
12. Katy of the Marches
13. The Free Folk in the Dales
14. Langdale Rising
15. Fire and Honey
16. New Braidings along Allwater
17. Winter's Telling
18. Upon the Lightning's Fork
19. Eyes of Storm
20. Cockshut Time
21. The Grey Wolf in the Red Gloaming
22. The Assize before Carrowglaze
23. The Low Road
24. The Torches of Heaven
25. The Sweeping of the Hearth
26. Wolf, Witch, and Widow
27. Mother and Son
28. Three Katherines on the Edge
End-Piece: A Spring-Breakfasting in Newborough

Ye Gods, I love being able to post that!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Problem of Partisanship

In these times of stern need, we must resolve this perennial nuisance once and for all!

Partisanship: When rival oligarchic factions are so occupied with doing down each other, they hardly care how much damage they are doing to the public.

Non-Partisanship: When rival oligarchic factions are so occupied with doing down the public, they hardly care how little damage they are doing to each other.

The US seems to be well into a full-on partisan phase at the moment, whereas the EU is starting to sprout governments of 'national unity' like toadstools on a rotten tree. It will be interesting - in the historical sense that nobody wants to experience up close and personal - to see which mode manages to completely exhaust the public's patience first.

Better hope that, before this occurs, we manage to enter the other possible though unstable phase of government:

Awk Cluck Cluck Cluck Cluck Cluck!: When rival oligarchic factions are so occupied with not being all cast down together and stripped of their ill-gotten swag, they hardly care to how many of the public's easier demands they yield for the moment. Later, they may be too weakened to renege.

This may not work where the main demands involve competencies which a target oligarchy has long excused itself from cultivating, and prevented anybody else from acquiring. It is also vulnerable to the loudest public demands' coming from stupid heads, with Hilarious Consequences. But it is the moment of hope and choice, in a way that picking the liveliest scrapper or uniting behind the blandest fudger are not.

I wonder how ready we all shall be for it, at the turning of the tide? Most of all, I wonder how ready I shall.

Let me not prove a sluggard or a stupid head, come the local hour.

Friday, 11 November 2011

The Red Is in the Green

Lest we forget - picture of Canadian remembrance poppy, by user striatic at - Released under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
Lest we forget - by striatic at, 2007 - Released under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

This is what came to me, to end this year's silence for the war-dead of all my peoples.

The Red Is in the Green

Remembrance Day 2011

The red is in the green.
The rose is in the grave.
The reason's still unseen
The lead is in the brave.
The cock is on his dunghill.
The dust is on the plain.
The ocean's in my eyes, my love –
But never you again.

No, never you again.
The wind is in my eyes, my dear –
The way it blows is plain.
The plumes are on the princes.
The names adorn the arch
The flesh that drew apart.
The bones are on the march.
The red is in my heart.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

"Kate! Katy! Ralph!"

Will the Circle Be Unbroken?, by Pentangle - embedded from Youtube.

Another chapter - really two chapters, but the first very slight and little more than a vestibule to the second - of Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland completed. One of the big ones, containing the Family Fight, to which the now Whole-Book Climax was originally little more than an afterthought.

Secrets laid bare, revenge, self-sacrifice, death, yesteryear's pains variously assuaged and renewed, and a monster diplomatic negotiation to get through... this was not one of the easy ones, nor the short. As for doughty old Kate, the Battle of Carrowglaze was japes to this. The back of her nightmares she has broken in close wrestle, at such a cost as one might pay; and the villain in all the Dales who has longest needed killing goes unburied and unmourned, with only snack-happy ravens to appreciate him.

But her confrontation with her own son was never going to go much smoother than Lady Persy's introducing Orestes to dahling Clytemnestra at the Hades All-Achaean Centennial Reunion Dinner; and even once the lad had grown his character in the telling of him, there was no way to understand him completely before I'd actually written this rough passage through. He and she both surprised me several times, and showed me how the impossible-seeming attack on the Big Bad would have to go. No more big revelations now. I understand my characters as well as I'm going to, and I know how the last part of the plot must play out.

(Katy, Good Katy, where are you? That I see now, too; but so long I'd thought to meet you here!)

The immediate political aftermath on the other hand is a lot more transparent and optimistic than I'd envisioned, because it turns out that just about everybody for many miles around has some reason for truly wanting to believe that this settlement will work for them in particular. That works out sufficiently interesting, that I I may extend and dramatize the diffusion of it in the redraft. It will make a better standalone section and pace-governor than this duo's vestibule chapter, which I foresee will be absorbed or eliminated in the fast-approaching rewrite.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Old Thirty-Two

Non-setting-specific Kateverse rebel folksong, directed at the Dales-lords, from the desperate and disastrous peasant revolts that were crushed in the days of the Good Witch's great-great-grandfather. It's another of those things the gentry strike out at people for even knowing, and its singing is as sure a sign of imminent explosion as anything between the lowlands and the Edge.

"Old Thirty-Two"

Bleed me red or black my eye –
You can't have water when the well's run dry.
Storm and curse or stomp and beat –
You ate the ox, so there ain't no meat.
Thrash me through, you'll get no grain –
You've had my loaf, and you can't again.
Your siege can speed without my sons –
You spent them all where the black brook runs.
My daughter dear shan't warm your bed –
You stole our coal, she's cold and dead.
Pick the lint from out my coat –
And here's my teeth for your milk-white throat!

"Thirty-two" is the count of human teeth. This ditty is freely made available, under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License, to anybody who judges that they see a good use for it.

ETA 03/11/11:

(1) Apologies for the imbecile and unnoticed rhyming of 'dry' with 'dry' in the first couplet as originally posted.

(2) No, I do not mean to imply that it is time to be biting anybody's throat out, metaphorically or otherwise! But I do think it's well time already to sing songs about peasants' long patience with their masters finally expiring. Anybody who suspects the coronet might fit them, will then be very free to consider whether it is really as becoming as all that.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Stupormarket Sweep

'Tossco - very little help!' - public domain.
Tossco - very little help! - public domain.

Some pious Sunday thoughts, for the Dean and Chapter of my local consumerist cathedral:

1) The customer tannoy is for informing us when you are about to close, or have set fire to your bakery again, or other matters of urgency. It is not for spamming all and sundry with the praises of your latest fancy mobile phone contract. You used to understand this better. Nor, if you persist on breaking into conversation or concentration in this manner, will it induce me to buy crap on autopilot with my brain out of circuit. It will induce me to bugger off!

2) Sharp invisible bits of plastic are even more unwelcome on the packaging of fresh meat than they are under other circumstances.

3) Nobody in the world eats 'meal solutions', except possibly those members of your marketing department who barfed up this dronespeak over your customers under the inspiration of one too many liquid lunches. What are we then, cully - 'consumer problems'? Cease and desist from this twin offence against the people and the language of old England, lest raging mobs be moved to pro-actively roll out a you-oriented kick up the arse solution toot sweet!

Thank you for your attention. We are passionate about improving your merchant service experience, and value your whatever. To hear this message again and again everywhere, just keep right on the way you're going!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Fair Is the Face and Dark Is the Heart

A poetic dialogue between Incomparable Cleïs and the moralistic philosopher Jeremias from my own Kateverse setting - where this is a translation from an original by the antique lyrist, stateswoman, and Cleïs fangirl Stateira Hetaira. The content is not otherwise universe-specific.

"Fair is the face and dark is the heart,"

a dialogue between Cleïs and Jeremias

Jer. Fair is the face and dark is the heart.
Beauty and grace end with seeming and skin -
Worm and corruption hold revels within.
Fair is the face, ah, but dark is the heart!

Cle. Fair is the face, aye, and dark is the heart.
Charms are our banners in daylight unfurled.
Hearts are the horrors we hide from the world -
Facing it graciously is our kind art.

Jer. Black is the death when white is the urn.
Flies buzz when hypocrites speak the world fair.
Ghosts fester foul as they fear the free air -
Black is the soul, Cleïs: white is the urn!

Cle. Black is our marrow - to light we must turn.
Artful decay brings red wine and rich food,
Fairer for sharing than raw tripes and blood.
Black are our souls, but how brightly they burn!

Jer. Foul is the heart though fair is the face.
Venus' eyes hide the charnel of Mars.
When he breaks through, who'll compare you to stars?
Fair make your heart, ere it shows in your face!

Cle. Foolish is heart that's unfriend to its face.
Brave is the heart that will fight from its hell.
Inwards must find what is fair from their shell:
Learning life's kindness is all our hearts' grace.

Jer. Dark is the heart caught deep in the clay.
Cle. Deck it with flowers, and dance in the day!
Jer. Fair is the face, but the spirit is sin.
Cle. Let it look out, while the stars soak our skin
By the banks of the wide Milky Way...
A Whisper. - Come in -

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Sallikin Cloud's Lullaby

Mediaeval cot and rattle reproduction from Walraversijde archaeological site - by user JoJan at Wikimedia Commons - released under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported Licence.

Reproduction of mediaeval cot and rattle c. 1465, from the archaeological site of Walraversijde in Belgium. By user JoJan at Wikimedia Commons, released under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported Licence.

A lullaby from Langdale in the Kateverse. It says quite a lot about the singer, who almost certainly invented these lyrics, but quite a lot more about local conditions before the anti-feudalist Rising.

Sallikin Cloud's Lullaby

Daddy's down the booze hole.
Gods are in the sky.
Everyone who'd hurt you -
None of 'em are nigh.

Squires are in their castle.
Wolves are in their wood.
Walls are round about us -
We are hidden good.

Don't you know I love you?
Don't you know I'm strong?
Nightmare's not to fear, dear,
With your Sis along.

Sleep, you little silly -
I will hold your hand.
Lie all night till daylight,
In a better land!

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The Bungle in the Jungle

Kateverse folksong set in some unspecified region of Melandra. Unfortunately, we learn next to nothing about the local cultures/ civilizations/ inspirations hereby, since neither the Northern narrator nor his Southron companion are exactly all about the culture.

The Bungle in the Jungle

Juba and me, in old Melandree,
We went down by the Wetwood, two rich boys to be.
The Dons only paid us in shavepence and stripes,
And so we jumped ship when our planning was ripened, for
Juba and me, in old Melandree –
A bungle in the jungle like you never did see!

Juba once heard, off a blackbird,
Of vine-strangled cities a promising word,
With cobbles of onyx and tin baths of gold,
And nothing but fancies our hands to withhold from 'em –
He said she said, Thieves should be sped
By rotten bad spirits that drove 'em till dead!

Juba and I said All my eye!
We'd pluck ourselves plenty, or else we'd know why.
He said Man it's dirty, I said Man it's hot,
The men said Bog off, till we paid one a lot to guide
Juba and me, through deep Melandree –
A bungle in the jungle like you never did see!

Thicket and mire hedged our desire.
The food that we'd bought set our arseholes on fire.
The guide said That's funny, but Juba said No,
And I fell down stairs as I amplified, Go away –
I hit my nut on a beam, but
We'd found out the ruins of Idunnowot!

What did we find? Treasure so fine?
Only ten buttloads of boiled plantain wine.
We drank it for sorrow, then drank it for mirth,
Then thought we'd stroll home o'er the pretty green earth (which sucked).
All of us three, up Shitty Tree -
We stumbled through the swamplands like you never did see!

Juba and me, in old Melandree,
We came back from the Wetwood, poor beggars were we.
We lost blades and britches, the guide lost our pence,
And Juba complains that we still smell intensely bad:
Misery me, in old Melandree –
A bungle in the jungle like you never did see!

The big Southron tough guy whinging incessantly about dirt and bad smells abroad is a well-established trope in my Europeanly bath-sceptical North. The proverbial 'Shitty Tree' is idiomatically Shit Creek, and originally a reference to the impaling stake.

There is no mass slave trade in known areas of the Kateverse; foreign attitudes towards Melandra and Melandrans don't map well onto those displayed towards sub-Saharan Africa and its peoples in our world; and this song's general spirit of, "Let's not go there, it is a silly place!" is wholly typical of its Morgander sources.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Jolly Saturday

Saturnus - Polidoro Caldara da Caravaggio (16th century) - public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Saturnus, by Polidoro Caldara da Caravaggio (16th century) - public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Kateverse folksong - probably about contemporary with Dame Catherine Tynde, but very definitely not on the same side. People have been burned in Morgander and Selquay for whistling the tune to this revolutionary anthem.

Jolly Saturday

When jolly King Saturday ruled every land,
All men were equal and all men were grand.
Now lords scrap for tinsel where men strove for grain,
And gold blooms from blood where it swelled once from rain,
Oh and hey, hey, King Saturday!
They've thrown us in hell, won't you fetch us away?

When Saturday's children killed Saturday's reign,
Fire on the mountain was drought in the plain.
Every god's bully-boy brawled for a crown:
Trampled the crops and the crop-tenders down,
Oh and hey, hey, King Saturday!
Where are our heroes to fight them today?

Heroes of Hector's day stood against gods:
Heroes of pedigree can't stand for odds.
My lord ain't no Hector - he’s barely a man –
It's high time we showed him what common clay can!
Oh and hey, hey, King Saturday!
We're more than our fathers who failed you, today!

When jolly boys rise up across our fair land,
Saturday's gospel our joy and command,
Peasants and lords shall change pleasure and pain:
Gold shall our fields bloom after red rain,
For it's hey, hey, King Saturday!
They threw you in hell, but we'll fetch you away!

King Saturday is the Titan-God Saturn of the Golden Age. Hector the Hold-Fast of the Kateverse is not our Hector of Troy (though several parallels exist) but a famous champion of the weak, god-bothered, and oppressed. The thumping sexism of this song is partly of its day, but at least equally because Saturnists Have Certain Issues.

As the rest of the song suggests, their ideology is not in every respect a repellent one.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

"Lovely Creature of Earth"

The Meeting on the Turret Stairs - Frederick William Burton, 1864 - public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, or Hellelil and Hildebrand (1864), by Frederick William Burton. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The end of Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland draws nigh. Just completed the second, unexpectedly long chapter of the Young Duke and his beloved enemy, back at Garcastle waiting for the Grey Wolf to come riding home from Langdale. Now I've blocked in every moment of time: nothing can happen now but the last negotiation to avoid a ruinous war which nobody wants or can be sure how to step back from, and the final culmination of a forty-year family feud. Again and now until the end, my grey-gold Kate must take centre-stage, and bear the weight of the tale on her aching old shoulders, where Katy Elflocks great as the green hills and the black sky cannot. But this Garcastle segment, given wholly to her antagonist the Duke, has been needful, and reshaped parts of the ending I'd long thought set in stone.

And there is that romance that animates it. It is a romance that, even in the moment of its greatest triumph, is not very obviously fortunate in its stars. It is also one without which it would have been hard, mighty hard, to manage the forthcoming descent into the fire.

The final two chapters await, and the epilogue. This backfill has left me six weeks behind my summer schedule, and ahead lie the grand crises of the book. Realistically, I'll do well to get this whole draft completed before December. That will make it almost exactly four years since I got my first idea of it, a true winter's tale from root to crown.

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Cock and the Cat

Just to make sure that my blogging for this month can only go uphill, here is a shamelessly bogus folksong which the Kateverse would spit out like a bowl of warm mouthwash. I make no excuses for it except a bad fit of what-the-hell.

The Cock and the Cat

There was a cat so sleek and proud,
Her name was Pretty Pussy.
She met a rooster red and loud,
And he was none too wussy.

"Good morrow to thee, Chanticleer,
And step aside before me,
For dost thou flout thy mistress here,
To redder rags she'll claw thee!"

"I am a game and fighting cock,
Nor bow to any moggy,
And if thou'lt meet in battle’s shock,
I'll leave thee red and soggy!"

Then each made good upon their word,
Red cock and ready ratter –
Her lightning claws caught not the bird,
Nor might his spurs come at her.

So she's become a tiger fierce,
Each tooth a savage sabre,
And he a loathly cockatrice,
To end her lively labour.

Then she's become a mirror smart,
And he a stone to smash it,
And she a frost to break its heart,
And he a rain to wash it,

And she a bird to drink the rain,
And he a cat to catch it,
And then they change shapes round again,
And cry, "No more of that shit!"

She rose as maiden clear as stars,
And he as manxome fellow,
And, as bright Venus and red Mars,
Into embrace they fell, O!

Her poniard found his occiput
Just as his shiv her kidney,
So Pretty Pussy down was put,
And Cocky snuffed it, didn’t he?

The moral this was made to show
Is neither cute nor clever –
It's cocks and kitties come and go,
But dickheads are forever!

This was loosely inspired, if such be the term, by The Two Magicians, though the protagonists' agendas here are... predictably divergent.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Mother Mason's Fiddler

Kateverse folksong from a very late period, beyond which the history starts going round corners I can't follow. Also known as Callimby Wine and The Sailor's Dream; a completely garbled version called Clemmy Hopkins is popular in Starkady. A slow, deceptively mellow lament.

Mother Mason's Fiddler

Left my old mother a twelvemonth ago,
For to go fighting the Following Foe.
Look what I got, Ma, for fighting so fine -
Kazandry copper and Callimby wine!

How my young sweetheart was ardent and proud -
How my plumes waved, as she waved through the crowd!
What have I won for my sweet Clementine?
Kazandry copper and Callimby wine.

Bravely we stood off the Southron seaboard –
Treasure and honour to win with my lord.
Kazandry cannons, they done us up fine.
All is amended with Callimby wine.

Caliph's men saved me, but left me to beg
Round the Bazaar with a stump for a leg.
Old Mother Mason to me took a shine –
Lets me play fiddle for lodgings and wine.

Ma, oh my mammy, I'll never come home:
Save in these wine-dreams, no more can I roam.
Warn my sweet Clemmy she'll never be mine,
Save when I've copper for Callimby wine.

Brothers, oh brothers, take warning by me,
When ameers promise you glory at sea.
Coppers ain't worth mangled limbs and bent spine,
And my folk don’t know no Callimby wine!

Pity me, masters so free and so fine –
Kazandry copper for Callimby wine!

Callimby wine is the northern name for a spiced and addictive liquor, probably containing opiates, often used by Southron doctors to lessen the edge of pain, and by their patients to keep the world away. 'Callimby' is an upland realm many leagues south of coastal Kazandry, the largest and most famous city in the world.

The Following (of Kazander) is the mystically humanist faith of that culture, and resembles Islam about as closely as northern neo-Olympianism resembles Christianity, i.e. not a lot. It admits perforce that the Gods and Titans exist, but feels impelled not so much to worship them as - inspired by the Emperor Cassander's silencing of the oracles - to kick them up the bum.

'Mother Mason' is certainly a blunder for the Kazandrite name Maysun, which fully Occidentalized might be rendered Belle.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Johnny Parr

Kateverse folksong from the midlands of Morgander. I don't seem to be able to shut off the tap at the moment - possibly I just needed something to cleanse my palate of all the nasty Carterets! A quick merry song that practically cries out to be accompanied on a flute or tin whistle.

Johnny Parr

Good day to you, my young pretty maid,
And tell me who you are?
"Oh, I'm the girl who goes out in the morn
For to wed with Johnny Parr!"

Young Johnny has nor blood nor brawn,
Nor brains to take him far!
"His heart and hand are kind and grand,
So I’ll wed my Johnny Parr!"

Oh tell me, maid, from whence you come,
And who your parents are?
"They're them I left by the light of the moon,
For to wed with Johnny Parr!"

Then give me now your silver ring –
Your day I would not mar,
But the ring when mine is a month of wine,
And I dread not Johnny Parr!

"Oh it's here's my belt, and it's here's my boot,
And my ring shall leave the scar,
For it's Quick-Claw Kit that you stopped, you nit -
And she'll wed her Johnny Parr, she will,
With a ring for Johnny Parr!"

Quick-Claw Kit is a generic stroppy Katherine from the uncouth eastern marches. Name, implied origin, and attitude fit a stereotype of dale and forester women that spread far and wide in the generations following the events of Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland. It wasn't exactly ungrounded.

Fair Lory and Kind Evett

Kateverse folksong from across the Sea of Stars. This very remote descendant of Carteret hails from the Freegarths of Starkady. That is a tough frontier country, and this interpretation of Kind Yvette is nobody any scoundrel wants to mess with. The tune is pretty much stolen from subtly influenced by our own world's Sovay.

Fair Lory and Kind Evett

Fair Lory calls on Evett her friend,
But she is weeping at journey's end.
Her dress so tattered, her cheeks so torn,
And she lamenting that she was born.
"Oh lovely Lory, why such dismay?"
"As I rode singing by Carter Haye,
A masked man took me in ambuscade -
No more is Lory your merry maid.
I am so hurt I am fain to die.
All doors but death close to such as I!"
"I'll give you hearth, and I'll give you bed,
And your oppressor shall soon be dead.
I'll bring you balm, and I'll feed you brose -
I'll feed your felon to carking crows!"
Evett has put on a veil of mist -
A pretty pistol that never missed -
A knife that nestled where none could see -
Her lips she's poisoned with solany.
"And if your foe I can't find again,
I'll bring my true love and all his men.
No less than I, love, he loves thee well,
And we'll avenge thee in mouth of hell!"
So as Evett rides by Carter Haye,
A hooded villain steps in her way.
"Despoil or die, strumpet, make thy choice!"
She knows her true love then by his voice.
Her pretty pistol she's quickly fired -
It's always struck where her heart's desired.
Its bullet blows back to burst her heart,
And to the good lands she does depart.
Her veil down falls, and he stands as stone.
"Oh Kind Evett, must I live alone?
I will assuage me with savage bliss,
Which you shall bless with a last cold kiss!"
Her lambswool garments he swiftly strips,
And plants a kiss on her chilly lips.
The poison serves her, and serves him well,
And Furies tear him in strips in hell.
The lovely Lory, my mother dear,
She mourned Evett till her final year.
I sing this song as I dig her grave,
And lay her bones by her friend's so brave.
Stars shine down mercy upon us.

Also known as The Planet Pistol, which in Starkady is not nearly so science-fictional a reference as it sounds. Solany is here a poison derived from a plant of the nightshade kind, sometimes used generically to mean 'witchy herbal toxin'. The last line is a solemn local formula.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Dougal Dare-All

Kateverse folk-song about one of the minor characters in Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland, the Cauldale-born chief of the Fairfields rangers. Slightly fictionalized, and evidently composed in one of the woodland freesteads that flourished immediately after the heyday of the Good Witch Katy. The author seems to have known a good deal about Dougal, but not necessarily to have actually known him.
Dougal Dare-All

"Dougal Dare-All, where awa'?"
"For life ye find me flying.
For lying wi' a bonnie lad,
My laird would see me dying.
He's brent my cot, he's reaped my grain,
My lovely lad done murther -
If ever I come home again,
He'll trouble earth no further!"

"Dougal Dare-All, where awa'?"
"For making manful wedding.
In Candy Country, stock and stone
Do bless our kindly bedding.
A farmer fine, from fields afar,
He's known his share o' sorrow –
The foe whose blade our bliss would mar,
He'll know no more a morrow!"

"Dougal Dare-All, where awa'?"
"For love o' Luckie Triona,
To meet Brown Numpty at his door
And mend his ill demeanour.
His thralls I'll raise, his chains I'll strike,
His knights I'll make to cower –
His head they'll bring me on a pike
Afore they'll brave our power!"

"Dougal Dare-All, where awa'?"
"To turn my hand to farming.
On Catscairn lay my honours all –
No more my mind they're charming.
We've struck away the tyrants' bands,
And dreams left free for making –
From woods-won lands and husband hands,
I'll look no more for waking!"

The song is known only in very corrupt versions outside of its eastern homelands, where it long remained popular, and the customs of old Fairfields long-enduring.

'Luckie Triona' is a Selkish-flavoured by-name for the Good Witch Katy Elflocks - not actually used by Dougal or his comrades. 'Brown Numpty' is a gibe at Sir Humphrey Brownsword, a Northdales castellan of scant popularity - used by Dougal and his contemporaries quite extensively.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Dame Catherine Tynde

Fantastic Vision, or Asmodea (1819-1823), by Francisco de Goya - via Wikimedia Commons - public domain
Fantastic Vision, or Asmodea (1819-1823), by Francisco de Goya . Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

A folk-rhyme from the Kateverse. Dame Catriona Tynde (Catherine is a later assimilationist error) was probably a real petty noble who lived in the elvish marches some generations after my tales of the Three Katherines. Being famously liberal to her people in a time of war and doubt, she has soaked up legends of the far more radical and magical Katy Elflocks like a biscuit in a barrel of gravy. Collectors like Charles Newbury customarily omit the third verse as scurrilous and indecent. It certainly reflects Katy's sentiments in the days of her great anarchy: Dame Catriona's own positions, wherever they differed, are about as lost to posterity as the abovementioned soggy biscuit.

Dame Catherine Tynde

"Mine is a lord of a hard flinty will:
Grain of my land must be grist to his mill.
Little but hunger his fees leave behind."
"Share we our bread, then!" says Dame Catherine Tynde.

"Mine is a temper too high and too free:
That would Milady have torn out of me
With the worm's tongue that would speak a man's mind."
"Call us good fellows!" says Catherine Tynde.

"Mine is a body by Nature betrayed,
Turning to man as it ought to a maid.
Where in the world love's content shall I find?"
"Here with fair comrades!" says Catherine Tynde.

"Mine is a spirit that recks not of odds:
Though I'm a lass, I will fight men or Gods -
Strike at the stars, should I find them unkind!"
"Dwell as my daughter!" says Catherine Tynde.

"Mine is the shape of a black woodhouse wight:
Terror I bring to the woodsmen by night.
Who would believe that to good I inclined?"
"Thou dost, and I do!" says Catherine Tynde.

"Mine is the scythe that old customs shall change:
All men I'll level from castle to grange.
See you our world to our vision consigned!"
"See you in Hell, Sam!" says Dame Catherine Tynde.

The last verse refers to the Saturnist revolution across the northern border in Dame Catriona's day - and that really is how she and her followers responded to it. It's hard to explain even the parts I understand of the ideology of the first 'Sammy Saturday', but it bears certain generic resemblances to both Trotskyism and Covenanting Presbyterianism in our world. A dream I had three years ago suggested in the strongest terms that it was, unfortunately, a lot more successful than either.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Buddy Capitalism, Official UK Edition

Hot lamprey love. Brook lamprey, Lampetra planeri, mating - filmed by YouTube user hvilesteddk.

The UK governing coalition wants to end the bad old days of powerful corporate players being able to have a quiet word at the seventh hole with any minister they wanted a favour off. They know the British public are in no mood for any of that sort of nonsense.

In future, crony capitalism is to become an official Government institution, so that everybody will be able to trust it. The BBC reports:

Plans are under way to give the heads of the UK's 50 top companies a hotline to individual government ministers.

The ministerial "buddies", including Business Secretary Vince Cable, will be just a phone call away for firms like BP, British Gas and GlaxoSmithKline.

The Department for Business said the idea - designed to boost investment - had been welcomed by the companies.

I just bet it has! That'll be two regulations against upstart competitors, an Extra Whopper McSpecial police power against reluctant potential clients, and a bag of Mr Porky Subsidies up the wazoo, to go! Hurry up there boyo, time is money!

Showing special concern for efficiency in these straitened times, Business Secretary and ex-Shell employee Vince Cable is mooted as official buddy to... Shell. But, lest we should smell any rats which absolutely do not exist and are absolutely not whooping it up in the wainscotting, we are reassured that the scheme will:

"fit with the ministerial code of conduct to avoid conflicts and potential conflicts of interest"

and that

"It does not necessarily follow that the best minister to lead on a company would be the one who was most vulnerable to lobbying from that company."

So that's all right, then.

Of course, the loony left are furious. Labour's Shadow Business Secretary John Denham storms that the scheme is:

" admission that big companies have completely lost confidence in the ability of government to understand their concerns and priorities".

The horror!

Rumours that the newly-privileged companies are planning to reciprocate this generous public gesture, by accommodating the entire establishment of Parliamentary draughtsmen on secondment schemes to their head offices, cannot at this stage be confirmed.

Friday, 23 September 2011


Sovay, by Shadrack Tye @ The Folkthing, 2011.

Kateverse folksong from the west of Morgander, which corresponds to something a little like northwestern France, and something a deal more like the 'Home Counties' of England.

In Leland Came Calling, I presented the trad 'love test' theme in folksongs with a (probably) happy ending. Even in folksongs, this does not always work out, on account of cruel creepy possessive stalky One True Loves without the brains God gave bastard geese in Ireland are not everybody's cup of cocoa.

Actually, in a statistically representative sample of real traditional folksongs, not much of anything ever works out without death and woe splashing everybody within a five-stanza radius - what with real traditional life in our heroic past tending to suck like Thor trying to empty the Ocean Sea through a mead-horn, and all that! An informal compendium of advice on dealing with said suckitude can be found here, and does not suck in any detectable manner.

Kateverse folk culture is not clearly happier than ours. If there is less pointless disaster in the samples of it I choose to channel, that is purely a reflection of my personal taste.

But taste is a spectrum, and it has a lot of points on it. This was inspired by a sort of random collision between Sovay, Lord Randall, and The Death of Young Andrew, fine songs all three.

Short and sweet as it might be to hear how Sovay dealt with Young Andrew, that song is not this song.


Carteret pulls on his boots
And cloak and mask so grim, oh,
To meet his true love on the road,
And see how she will trim, oh!
"Deliver up your silver chain,
Or lose your life opposing,
And every money red and white,
All riches now disclosing!"

Yvette gives freely every jewel,
Her every pound and penny,
And begs Gods' mercy of the rogue,
But he denies her any.
"Deliver up your silken dress,
And dance for rover's pleasure,
And all your body red and white
Shall yield to me its treasure!"

"Oh, I am loved by Carteret,
And he is fifteen of you,
And if you will me spoil and shame,
His sword shall cold reprove you!"
"I give no fig for Carteret,
But I will have his harlot!"
And pale her tears and clothes down fall,
Lest he should bleed her scarlet.

Now Carteret rips off his mask.
"The whore I see thou'dst play me,
Though knowing I should sooner die
Than deed or thought betray thee!"
Then he's betrayed with bitter blade
The heart that dear did love him,
And hacked her flesh for raven’s meat
Who set sweet life above him.

The raging Carteret rides home,
And makes his moan to mother
How foul the fair Yvette did prove.
"Cruel son! Thy gentle lover
Dared shame and pain to win again
To thee. She died no sinner!"
"The mind of honour longs to men -
To thee, to fetch my dinner!"

"Oh, mother, I am sick to die:
The harlot's shade must haunt me
And make a revel in my guts
With fellow-fiends, to taunt me!"
"Nay, son, 'tis only toadstools white
And red are doing for thee.
The kind Yvette I’d not forget,
But only that I bore thee!"

She's laid him under log and stone,
His bitter blade for pillow.
On Carteret's grave, grass grows none.
Yvette's is gold with willow.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Factoids Are Forever

'Sorry, fellas: Nero has forwarded me one fucking conspiracy theory too many!' - La mort de Sénèque, by Luca Giordano (1884), via Wikimedia Commons - public domain
La mort de Sénèque (The Death of Seneca), by Luca Giordano (1684). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The trouble with the Internet is that it induces shoddy reading and writing habits, fuelling a toxic cultural bloom of faddishness and factoid-mining; drowning thought in swamping tides of so-called information; and creating a dumbed-down culture of attention-deficient OH CRAP I CAN'T EVEN BE ARSED TO FINISH THIS SENTENCE, you know the drill, there are already 426,879 essays on the Web which can fill in the blanks for you, if you don't know them all by heart already!

(Breaking News: Now 426,880.)

Every time I see this jobbie come bobbing back again, my mind turns to Seneca. Actually it usually turns first to senna-pods, and then to Seneca by a sort of persistent loose association; but it sounds more scholarly and austerely classical the other way, so kindly forget I mentioned it. Anyway, the old Roman offers us a salutary reminder of what Western culture was like before we wilfully flushed our brains down the Intatubez, and I think he well deserves the fresh bay of providing my Billy Quote for the month!

The scholar Didymus wrote four thousand books. I would pity him if he'd read as many useless works. Among them you find enquiries into Homer's birthplace, Aeneas's real mother, whether Anacreon was more of a womanizer than a drunk, whether Sappho was a prostitute, and other things worth forgetting if you knew them. Go on, tell me that life is not long!

Monday, 19 September 2011

Leland Came Calling

Kateverse folk-song, from the middle counties of Morgander in which none of my stories have so far been set. Lively, rollicking, and good to whistle.

Leland Came Calling

Leland came calling, Jankin did ride
All through the spinney to meet with his bride.
Out from a hazelnut jumped a brown maid –
"Jankin the bold, lay me down in the shade!"
"Fianced I be,
Maid of the tree –
Under the hazels, I'll lay not with thee!"

"Lord shall be true when he's loved of the land:
Carly of Coldstone shall well understand.
Kiss of my lips, as the sun shall thy grain:
Till of my ground, that thine swell up with rain!"
"Thanks be to thee,
Maid of the tree –
Sweet be thy price, yet we may not agree!"

"If thou art thankless, and kiss not my mouth,
Hard shall thine hunger in famine and drouth.
If thou wilt come but to Carly's cold womb,
Naught shalt thou find there but dust of thy tomb!"
"Bale be to thee,
Maid of the tree –
Die thou or I, ere thy curses I see!"

"Jankin of Leland, now lay down thy knife!
Carly of Coldstone shall love thee for life.
Woe that I doubted, that well was I loved!
Constant of all lusty men thou art proved.
Carly I be,
Heart-fast to thee –
Under the hazels, come lay down with me!"

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Garden of Proserpine

Swinburne's vision of Proserpine across the Black River - created by me, Gray Woodland, from public domain works by William Bell Scott and Dante Gabriel Rosetti - free to reuse, attribution requested.
Swinburne looks to Proserpine across the Black River of Souls.
Source works:
Algernon Charles Swinburne, by William Bell Scott, between 1850 and 1870.
Proserpine, by Dante Gabriel Rosetti, 1873-77.

By Algernon Charles Swinburne, a dude not lacking in either spirit or... issues. Poisonously lovely.

The Garden of Proserpine

Here, where the world is quiet;
Here, where all trouble seems
Dead winds' and spent waves' riot
In doubtful dreams of dreams;
I watch the green field growing
For reaping folk and sowing,
For harvest-time and mowing,
A sleepy world of streams.

I am tired of tears and laughter,
And men that laugh and weep,
Of what may came hereafter
For men that sow to reap:
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
And everything but sleep.

Here life has death for neighbour,
And far from eye or ear
Wan waves and wet winds labour,
Weak ships and spirits steer;
They drive adrift, and whither
They wot not who make thither;
But no such winds blow hither,
And no such things grow here.

No growth of moor or coppice,
No heather-flower or vine
But bloomless buds of poppies,
Green grapes of Proserpine.
Pale beds of blowing rushes
Where no leaf blooms or blushes
Save this whereout she crushes
For dead men deadly wine.

Pale, without name or number,
In fruitless fields of corn,
They bow themselves and slumber
All night till light is born;
And like a soul belated,
In hell and heaven unmated,
By cloud and mist abated
Comes out of darkness, morn.

Though one were strong as seven,
He too with death shall dwell,
Nor wake with wings in heaven,
Nor weep for pains in hell;
Though one were fair as roses,
His beauty clouds and closes;
And well though love reposes,
In the end, it is not well.

Pale, beyond porch and portal,
Crowned with calm leaves, she stands
Who gathers all things mortal
With cold immortal hands;
Her languid lips are sweeter
Than love's who fears to greet her
To men that mix and meet her
From many times and lands.

She waits for each and other,
She waits for all men born;
Forgets the earth her mother,
The life of fruits and corn;
And spring and seed and swallow
Take wing for her and follow
Where summer song rings hollow
And flowers are put to scorn.

There go the loves that wither,
The old loves with wearier wings;
And all dead years draw thither,
And all disastrous things;
Dead dreams of days forsaken,
Blind buds that snows have shaken,
Wild leaves that winds have taken,
Red strays of ruined springs.

We are not sure of sorrow,
And joy was never sure;
Today will die tomorrow;
Time stoops to no man's lure;
And love, grown faint and fretful,
With lips but half regretful
Sighs, and with eyes forgetful
Weeps that no loves endure.

From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no man lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.

Then star nor sun shall waken,
Nor any change of light;
Nor sound of waters shaken,
Nor any sound or sight;
Nor wintry nor vernal,
Nor days, nor things diurnal;
Only the sleep eternal
In an eternal night.

Like the thought that one can bail out on life at any time if one so chooses, in my more morbid moods I find this kind of thing a sort of rock bottom of comfort: a little poppy-juice that one may take to recover oneself for the works of life in the lovely light of the phoenix morning, and for the long glad stand against the uttermost Night.

A clever modern shilling shocker of the Steampunk kind - The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack - featuring Swinburne and Sir Richard Burton as its eccentric protagonists, has been rather well executed by Mark Hodder, who is now well into the sequels, and displaying samples of his alt-Victorian wares on his website.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Controversial Controversy Controverted

Wayland R Good, spokesgoat for quality-of-life campaign group CABBAGE*, yesterday faxed me a press release which I am churning to avoid doing any tedious and expensive investigative journalism. "For immediate release!" he declared. "The ordinary working English-speaking peoples demand a complete moratorium on the word 'controversial', on the grounds that it now conveys precisely as much content as writing the noun it qualifies in ALL CAPS!"

Mr Good asks us to consider the following three popular media senses of the word:

1) Controversial cleric Lucifer Hayter was criticized yesterday for demanding the death penalty for unrepentant redheads. In this case, 'controversial' signifies "hateful whackaloon whose opinions you care about, why would that be, eh?"

2) Controversial reality star Amy Anooki was yesterday branded a crap singer by Bollocks Bill from Notting Hill. In this case, 'controversial' equates to "somebody vaguely notorious, who does not excite universal admiration, which you care about because why exactly, eh?"

3) Controversial boffin Hick Hawkins yesterday rubbished campaigners' concerns that algebra may be a long-game Muslim ploy to keep Western schoolboys so busy with homework, they'll be too weedy to fight back when the jihadis arrive, chiz chiz! In this case, 'controversial' signifies "unimpressed by hateful whackaloon whose opinions you care about, why would that be, eh?"

In none of these cases - so Good claims - is the 'controversy' ever evaluated, because that would be Unjournalistic, and also would raise the question of why there is almost nothing present to bear evaluation.

Further, the only constant he can detect across these senses of 'controversial' appears to be the "there's an argument here which you care about, because I say so!" part.

"There's no place for such an empty, manipulative word in modern journalism!" Good insists. But he admits this might be a controversial position. "I asked Bill from Notting Hill what he thought about it," he recalls, as I phone him to see if I can blag a banana daiquiri out of running this story, "and he said it sounded like absolute bollocks!"

*Complete Authority for Billygoats Bullshitting About Generally Everything

Sunday, 11 September 2011

What's in Our Heads? What's in Our Heads?

So it's the eleventh of the ninth of the eleventh, and the big news here in the West is that ten years ago, some fucking fuckers fucked us up. That's not news, that's necromancy!

I suppose it's at least appropriate to the necromantic sympathies of the culprits.

Here are some good thoughts on how not to let them eat our brains:

What is true, no two men know by Abi Sutherland at Making Light - Against the use of anniversaries to drill us in media narratives by ritual repetition, so that our memories are worn smooth and our tears irrigate other people's estates.

The Way the Present Was by Jim Henley at Unqualified Offerings, via Patrick Nielsen Hayden at ML again - Uncomfortable truths about our own related complicity in the War Story, or at any rate the complicity of people like the author, and also people like me.

Bollywood vs. Jihad by Shikha Dalmia at - On the kind of heavily Muslim counter-attack against death's partisans that neither mosques nor media will be trumpeting very loud, fighting back with dirty sexy lively kitsch; and why the necro boys must fear it worse than death by drone.

Damn the pornography of grief. Damn the pride of pundits. Damn the dead-eyed machismo that would rather prevent one murder by coolly fighting to death, than a hundred by messily fucking for life. Damn them all to the past, forgive them, and forget them; except only to remember how we fell for them - that we may not fall for those tricks so easily again.

End the long war; make Caesar render back unto everybody what was never Caesar's to begin with; come home to civilization, however we each conceive it, and do not pick clashes that we do not need or understand with people who are not gunning for us already. Fellows and friends, we can do this!

In our hearts, in our hearts, we're still living...

Saturday, 10 September 2011

In the House of the Waxing Weasel

Sometimes, our glorious leaders leave a goal so wide open that even a down-on-his-luck end-of-the-pier comedian would be ashamed to take advantage of it. Luckily, I am no such comedian.

Brought to my attention in a Metro fluff-piece yesterday, the original scoop seems to have been scored on June 6th by political blogger Mark Wallace. The plot goes like this:

1) Francis Boulle creates, a site which aims to create "a fun and memorable tool to help the British public get to know their Members of Parliament" by - generating randomly paired pictures, and asking them which politician they would rather have sex with. The results are then used to generate shaggability wrankings for the whole disorderly House. Figures for which politicians people think they have already been more screwed by, are outside the remit of this forward-looking enterprise.

2) The PICT (Parliamentary Information, Communication and Technology) office feels compelled to block access to the site from the Palace of Westminster, where it has become an overnight sensation. Suspicion runs rampant that MPs were wasting too much time voting for themselves.

Yes, O Children of Albion, your leaders do give a toss!

A classic American demonstration of this fundamental civic virtue is celebrated by the Foremen in this catchy little ditty. It is most massively unsafe for work...

...except, of course, for those who are presently self-employed.

Friday, 9 September 2011


Kateverse folksong, about a middle-aged farmer from Langdale who led the notable Levermoss band in the Rising. More distinguished for care, canniness, and steadfastness than any extraordinary fighting ability, he appears briefly as a very minor character in Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland. On his own homeground, he is a major folk hero, and his compatriots are probably right that the whole enterprise would have failed in its darkest hour without him.


Edgar, Edgar, rise from your bed!
Edgar, bold and free,
Tell me what you saw with the dawn,
When they come from the high country?
"I looked east, where hope was least,
And I saw a ragged throng –
With a witch that crept, and a cat that leapt,
And a mind that made mine strong!"

Edgar, Edgar, turn from your plough!
Edgar, bold and grim,
Tell me what you saw in the noon,
And the word you have for him?
"I looked south, in the wild boar’s mouth,
And I saw my master's gate,
With a gallows high for the likes of I,
And a heart that made mine hate!"

Edgar, Edgar, stride from the woods!
Edgar, bold and proud,
Tell me what you made in the mirk,
When the Sun was laid in shroud?
"In northern moss, in grief and loss,
I lay with my beaten band,
Till we ran with the cat and the dog to the hog,
And I fought him hand and hand!"

Edgar, Edgar, speak from the shade!
Edgar, bold and grey,
Tell me what you glimpse in the gloam
Now the pig, he has passed away?
"I look back, to the River black,
And I see that I spent my life
For a cause as good as a poor man could,
And a tale I can bring to my wife.
A cause as good as a poor man could –
But it’s time I was home to my wife!"

I'm glad I could give him something of his own at last.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

"Something Real. Something Wrong."

Älvalek, or Dancing Elves, by August Malmström (1866) - via Berig at Wikimedia Commons - public domain
Älvalek, or Dancing Elves, by August Malmström (1866). Via Berig at Wikimedia Commons - public domain.

Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland completes its 24th chapter, of the 27 and epilogue now projected. This section looks at the shadow cast in Allingdale by the Battle of Carrowglaze and all that attended it. Even for her friends and family and partisans, What Katy Did shows in a far more alarming light from this vantage. And this has not been our heroes' chapter. It has belonged to the more sympathetic of their enemies.

The Young Duke is always slipping into and out of my grasp as I write him, because his character seems at once so recognizable and so alien to my own. His new guest, the Vestal Abbess, is quite a new thing in this telling. She is profoundly opposed to most of the things Katy Elflocks or I hold dear. Cold, ascetic, single-heartedly devoted to divine Authorities who appear considerably less decent than herself, and unshakeably convinced that faerie and all enchanting arts are both sinful and horribly dangerous, she is not a very obvious person for me to like.

And yet withal she is strong courage, frank charity, hard wisdom, and a very dry and humane humour, all in one compact and embarrassingly puffin-like package. She is what I and my heroes must have now, if we are going to make it to the right true end of this tale: somebody who can set herself against our ways for reasons proper neither to knave, naïf, or noddy.

Her thinking is as hierarchical as a ziggurat. Her religious insight is a nightmare. Her politics is a paralysis. Her sacred hearth sheds as pallid a light on its world as ever gleamed off cold marble. She can’t solve any of the master-problems of the Bonfire Arc, either.

And yet my darling anarch Katy and I have got such terrible things so wrong, that the old cultist gets plumb right! We never dreamed, when we set out, how a wild a wind we were going to set blowing. Still and all, we must follow it now to the last storm's breaking.

Soror Ursula, ora pro nobis!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Ruby Wine

St Cecilia, by Peter Paul Rubens (1640) - this image courtesy of Olga's Gallery,
St Cecilia, by Peter Paul Rubens (1640). The original of this digital image can be found here at the Mataev family's mighty Olga's Gallery, the online art museum. Well worth a browse, or several.

Kateverse lyric, attributed to Sergeant Tray of the Mountain Kingdom - a companion of Clare the Crafty in her great quest, posthumously and inaccurately known as Trajan the Troubadour. Its very sprightly tune has had me breaking out in silly grins all day.

Ruby Wine

A legionnaire alone, and a goose without a bone –
Which is more use to Zoya?
A pick without a mine, and no cup to hold the wine –
What are we like now, Zoya?

A foe no clay can kill, and a friend with mere goodwill –
That is our lot, dear Zoya!
A battle I can't fight, and a kissless cold goodnight,
Are not what I like now, Zoya.

A blade no longer young, and a clacking foreign tongue –
A mighty small host for Zoya!
A quest no mind can frame, and a hope without a name,
Are what we have got, my Zoya.

The Mountains' lovely Life be a saltmarsh-strider's wife?
I’ve heard things stranger, Zoya.
A beaky lowland girl came to clutter up my world –
You got the last laugh, Zoya!

We’ve had our summer's fun, and the part you played is done –
Bravely as rubies, Zoya!
I'll cross this little lake, for to hunt that little drake.
All men are mortal, Zoya.

The lady addressed is Princess Zoya the Bountiful of the Mountain Kingdom, who gets a brief mention in The Deed of Katy Elflocks, and is a significant secondary character in the unwritten events that lead from that tale to Killer-Kate and Luke Lackland. Zoya looks rather like St Cecilia in the Rubens painting: fat, beautiful, opulent, affectionate, and distracted. She is not a candidate for sainthood in religions that bandy about phrases like "the world, the flesh, and the devil". She gets underestimated a lot, though never by Tray, and eventually not by anybody else who has shared a truly serious venture with her, either.

Most of the songs attributed to Tray were fathered on him after the regrettable incident with the dragon, but this one has the ring of true coin.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Hasta la Vista, Customer!

The Masonic All-Seeing Eye, 18th? century illustration - via LiberalFreemason at Wikimedia Commons - public domain.
There's a piece of sad overseer facetiousness which is very rife in the UK at present. Every other where you go that is open to the public, some professional Peeping Tom will have put up a cheery poster to remind you:


So I saw one of these signs smirking out at eye-level from the Tesco video racks today; and when I had finished discreetly coughing up my spleen, I thought about it some more. And it occurred to me that we very likely have two wildly incompatible visions at play, here.

I think the managers who order these damn things expect the poor chestnut to lighten the tone of the warning, and make it less officious and sinister. So I imagine them hearing their words come out with a sort of cheeky chirpy cockney barrow-boy breeziness; or, failing that, at least with the sort of office joviality that informs one and all that


It certainly helps explain many an office's customer service, but I digress.

When I saw that sign in Tesco, the voice I heard it in sounded more like Arnold Schwartzenegger's in a cheesy film, where he is exercising his wit along some such lines as:


Which I feel in my bowels is... not the tone one wants to be taking pre-emptively with one's clients.

In fact, I think one might better redeploy these jolly old signs to somewhere they will cause less public offence, because the light of day shall no longer illumine them.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Red Red Robin

Little John and Robin Hood, by Frank Godwin (undated, before 1912) - via Thuresson at Wikimedia Commons - public domain
One from the musical sock drawer.

Red Red Robin

Old Robin Hood did a power of good
to the starving and the poor:
Shared out lords' gold with the sick and the old,
and that was against the law.
Now Robin Hood was a great Earl's son,
a man of high degree -
But he hated the wrong and the greed of the strong,
so off to the woods ran he!
He hated the wrong and the greed of the strong,
so off to the woods ran he!

Big Little John was a man of his hands,
he was six foot six in his socks.
But to mighty men of wealth and lands,
he was scarce the worth of an ox.
The Squire caught him a-poaching,
and swore he would stretch his neck -
John knocked the Squire into Hellfire choir,
and off to the woods, by heck!
John knocked the Squire into Hellfire choir,
and off to the woods, by heck!


Old King Dick with the wild beast's heart
Was roaring in the South,
His glory fed with the poor boy's bread,
And the mite from the widow's mouth,
Poor paynim boys to slaughter,
And exalt the Holy Rood -
Rob took his taxes back to the land,
And God knows, that was good!


Fat Friar Tuck, he lived by his luck,
and he pushed it good and hard,
With wine and women and meat and song,
for Tuck was a Goliard.
To make him wear an hair-shirt,
and preach to the poor's annoy,
The Abbot and the Pope, they never had an hope,
so off to the woods with joy!
The Abbot and the Pope, they never had an hope,
so off to the woods with joy!

Lady Marianne was to wed a nobleman,
and his name was Gisborne Guy,
But she got a hot tip he was kinky for the whip,
and the housemaids on the sly.
And he liked his droit de seigneur,
and the screams in the long cornstalks -
So she off with his balls, and quits his halls,
and off to the woods she walks!
She off with his balls, and quits his halls,
and off to the woods she walks!


Old King Dick was a bit of a prick,
And Saladin stuffed him well,
So he took it on the wing, till a German king
Locked him up in a dungeon cell.
Young Prince John put the big squeeze on,
Till the bloody red ransom came.
It was nicked by the Hood, but it weren't no good -
Dick come back just the same!


The freest folk in England
then flocked to the greenwood hall,
To the Green Man and the Lady,
to fight for their rights and all.
The Sheriff's men would have undone them,
but found they could not prevail -
They got shot at by Scarlett, sat on by Tuck,
and satired by Allan-a-Dale.
They got shot at by Scarlett, sat on by Tuck,
and satired by Allan-a-Dale.*

Then the spears and swords of the knights and lords
come out for Robin Hood,
And he took it on the run, till a no-good nun
let out his dear heart's blood.
He shoots an arrow in the air,
we bury him where it flies -
The Church left the poor folk all in the lurch,
sing ho for a big surprise!
The Church left the poor folk all in the lurch,
sing ho for a big surprise!


Rob was slain: so soon was the maniac
By the Church anoint.
The arrow that smote the Lionheart's throat
Was his kingship's brightest point.
But the Green Man and the Lady
Will return when the need is most,
With a hey for the jolly fosters,
And a health to Robin's ghost!

(Mine's a pint!)

* Their fates don't improve when the song is sung quickly.