June 1st, I finally get the call to volunteer for EU Referendum action, citing 2 uncannily prescient poll results
June 3rd I went to pick up the leaflets. Should have taken a bigger rucksack! Had completely failed to calculate the size and heft of 4x"patches" of this letterbox fodder. It was a mission getting them home (on foot, of course). Still, at least I got to meet nice Ellen, and spy out what the new little houses are like, overlooking the Greenway under Brighton station. Must include the Greenway in one of my "aimless walks" soon. In this beautiful weather I took photos of our garden, very cunningly angled! (you could work for an estate agent, said Peter)
Saturday 4th, my copy of To Shape the Dark arrived at last (I still had a while to wait before a reviewer spotted my story was about emergent AI sentience. Thanks v. much, Publishers Weekly), and I saw a newt looking as if she was up to something in the fishpool. Aha! she's laying eggs! I immediately decided to kidnap some of them, to rear in captivity; became addicted to spotting the newt's little parcels, & only stopped when I imagined she'd developed a harried expression what the hell is happening to my eggs??? Never, ever seen live efts in our pools: the fish must have been eating them all.
Sunday 5th we drove to Forest Row, and headed for the upper Medway. Disappointingly, you can hardly get near the river on this stretch, the wild swimming is elsewhere. Plus, the White Horse at Holtye is no more, so a kindly wayfarer directed us to the Fountain at Cowden for our lunch break. Turned out a very long walk, but we couldn't really complain, walking over the flowery downs, and through the greenwoods full of birdsong, up the vale and down again, and forging our way, as evening fell, through forests of beanflowers in bloom, nightingales singing loudly all around. Still not had enough, we later went out to Woodsmill. An overcast night, no moon; hardly a star showing, and after such a slow, cold Spring, the kestrels hadn't even started nesting. The cygnets (only two) in the millpond were only infants. Never mind, we sat in the meadow, watching the bats flit. A Barn Owl came gliding in (and did a swift U turn, Peter unluckily happening to be on his feet). It's hard to say goodnight.
And let them pass as they will too soon,
With the beanflowers' boon
And the Blackbird's tune
And May, and June . . .
Watched the Welsh "Diversity" Midsummer Night's Dream on Monday night. Very colourful, very sparkly! And very short! All very cool too, of course but I couldn't help noticing (I am so snippy) that Hippolyta (whose liberation seems to be the project of this revisioning, from the moment she's wheeled on in her Hannibal Lecter suit) still does not get to speak for herself. Not once. Also, by the way, how come Oberon gets a free pass? Dominant, imperious Alpha Male if ever I saw one! Is it because he is black? On Tuesday we went out leafleting, and finished up in the courtyard of the Martha Gunn's, eavesdropping on a happy table of French tourists and drinking Long Blonde while the swifts shrilled and dived overhead. It's been the best June for swifts that I remember for years. But hardly a swallow in sight on our country walks, and not a single housemartin.
Thursday the 9th I went to a packed, Friends Of The Earth sponsored EU Referendum meeting in the Exeter Street Hall. A modest venue, packed out only meant about 80 people; all of them white, mostly middle-aged. Keynote speakers: Caroline Lucas – Green Party MP, Lord Deben (John Gummer) – Chair, Committee on Climate Change, Debbie Tann – CEO, Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and Sam Lowe – EU referendum campaigner, Friends of the Earth. And now, rather late! I learned a few things.
Q. Why has the "Remain in the EU" campaign been so muted? Not to say, practically invisible?
A. Because we'd been advised that we weren't allowed to campaign! It's a political issue. NGOs have been banned from campaigning on political issues
Q. Why are the endless tv debates always about "Migrants", something called "Sovereignty"? Why no other topics?
A. Because the debates have to be "balanced". If the Leave campaigners have nothing to say on, for instance, the value of EU funding; EU environmental protections, EU protection of workers' rights etc; then these subjects can't be raised. Which means highbrow or lowbrow, whatever channel you watch, whatever site you read, the Leave campaign has always set the agenda.
Debbie Tan was excellent, Caroline Lucas as always; Lord Deben (John Gummer) kept referring his every point back to the Gospels. Honest man, good for him, but I'm not sure how well this went down with a Brighton audience.
"Referenda unleash the forces of evil", says Lord Deben. A true word, as was soon to be proved, all too literally.
Meanwhile, Dave Cameron in a panic because, having deliberately made it hard for young voters to get registered, he suddenly realises he needs them to be able to vote! (One can't help wondering, does he really want to stay in the EU? He could hardly have made things more difficult for "Remain" if he'd been trying!)
I now begin to game my active "Remain" tweets; having learned that one of the problems is that "Remainers" don't tweet enough. I (we) can't possibly compete with the bot army, but never say die.
Friday 10th, we packed up and drove to The Yew Tree Chalvington (home of the oldest cricket ground in continual use in the world) to christen our new tent. Here we absolutely froze about the same time last year, but the night was balmy, and we woke to a novelty dawn chorus of extremely vocal (but invisible) frogs in the duck pond. Also for neighbours: a party of thrushes, a greater spotted woodpecker, pied wagtails, great tits, blue tits, robins, blackbirds. And gulls, and crows. We then replicated last year's walk to the Six Bells at Chiddingly, except that I bottled out of going to inspect the ash dieback outbreak (already mapped by DEFRA when I spotted it last year). If there's a healthy sapling in that blighted young grove, it will still be healthy next year. A short walk of four or five miles today, enlivened by the constant threat of thunder, a convocation of bumblebees on a bank of comfrey, and an encounter with a flock of sheep (plus well-grown lambs) safely grazing under the watchful eye of a pair of fierce alpacas. (You have possibly seen the Shaun the Sheep Llama movie?) Wow, those alpacas look mean. And they meant business, as they politely but firmly escorted us off their patch. So that was fun.
And so to Chiddingly, where the Six Bells is still your just about perfect village pub, and where the village was in full fete for Her Majesty the Queen's 90th birthday. In the ancient church, someone had laid out a tea for her, complete with Union Jack iced cupcakes. I wanted to take a picture, but felt inhibited by a watchful Churchwarden(ess); and I wondered, was a fairy version of HM expected to flit in here in overnight and nibble the cake? BLT in the garden, very good beer, interesting motors that country toffs drive turning up, the cricket pitch glowing in quiet anticipation under the trees, and on the fair-ground the village Brass Band played Is There Life On Mars? as we walked away across the meadows.
Moving on quickly now, into the week of the 14th. The weather broke, humidity rocketed, and to my mortification all my poor mealworms, living in aerated plastic pots in a box in the toolshed, died of it. I am a disgrace as a keeper of livestock. The season is over for this year (it is now, anyway), but I MUST be more careful next time. They're going to be eaten, but that's no excuse for poor animal welfare. I'm tweeting on fisheries, I'm tweeting on careworkers, I've put up a Green Party video, but whatever I do, it's just a drop in the ocean. I go to my friend Jacq's on Thursday morning to get my hair done, and we talk about exit strategies. She's half Greek. I have, we think, an Irish grandmother (long deceased) actually born in the "islands of Ireland". My brother is making earnest attempts to locate her birth certificate. But I'd prefer Greece. I think Naxos. Jacq favours Paros. We talk as if we're joking. Sort of. When I get home, I find out that Jo Cox MP, advocate for refugees, visible and vocal Remain campaigner, has been shot and stabbed, outside the library in Batley, South Yorkshire. Why was she killed? The media are wary of drawing the obvious conclusion, but the killer will soon help them out, when he says, on being charged, that his name is Britain First and Death to Traitors.
In the evening, we went to see the last Ghibli movie ever at the Duke's When Marnie Was There. Very pretty, rather slight. Based one of those children's books about illness and displacement, based on Fifties history, that filled the shelves of imaginative young girls in the Sixties. The glory days are over, but the loveliness remains. I thought the book must have been US, because of the dreaded Grain Silo that towers over the marsh. But no: on checking up, It was Norfolk!
Tributes pour in for Jo Cox, and Parliament will reconvene on Monday in her honour. But no, no, no, we cannot suggest the the Brexit campaign had any effect whatsoever on the mind of a madman; not by a whisper. No, no, no, we cannot reproach the reckless anti-migrant "rhetoric" of Farage, Gove and Johnson.
On the 18th we went to a party, hosted by Brian and Claudia, our dear friends from long ago in Singapore, recently rediscovered living in Hove! I talked to a young former Polish chess champion, making a new life for herself having recovered from devastating illness, and to a couple one of who was voting Remain, the other Leave. How on earth does that work? I thought. This is not a party game! The weather's cold, getting very cold and grey, as we move into the third and final week; & I'm in a bit of domestic bother myself, because of my gloomy outlook on the result. Of course we're going to "Remain"! The bookies all say so! & how I wish Peter was right, but unfortunately, as usual, I've been paying attention.
I'm resolutely avoiding all the big media coverage now. Got the low-down on it from my friend Lina (Ukrainian immigrant, 2nd generation, since you ask) when we met in the street, and I think I'm not missing much. On Tuesday 21st there was a big "EU Referendum Rally" in Wembley Stadium. Place was packed. The Leave campaign of necessity, given the règle de jeu, setting the agenda (see above). My God. A far-right rally, scapegoating "foreigners" in Wembley Stadium? Doesn't that send shivers down anybody's spine? Apparently not. Wednesday 22nd, I volunteered to do a last, early session of handing out bits of paper. Peter thought I was crazy. Me too, but it was a compulsion. So I stood at the exit from Churchill Square "our" big high street shopping mall, handing out absolutely the lamest Remain flyer yet. J.K Rowling says you should vote Remain, folks! You like Harry Potter, don't you? Stephen Hawking says you should vote remain! You know. The Black Holes man. He's a genius, remember! FGS. I talked to my friend Lulu, who is a Remain with Doubts. She thinks our magical "near zero" unemployment figures are based on baby boomers vanishing from the statistics in a flood. Oh? Maybe she's right! Me, I'd put it down to zero contracts & other cunning ways to count people as "employed" when they aren't really. At half past six I gave up, bought a copy of The Sun, and went to wait for Peter outside the Breeze bar, facing the beautiful plane trees of Pelham Square.
Her Majesty is a devout Brexiter, although she can't actually say so . . . All loyal over-Sixties take note! And they did.
We ended up watching the 1973 Disney animation of Robin Hood, as midnight struck. It's a movie that means a lot to us, for historical reasons, and it also features in Bold As Love (Castles Made Of Sand: DARK does a punk version of Not In Nottingham)
He's sure to be known as Dave the Worst
The hateful and ungrateful king of England!
On Thursday morning we got up and voted. & then I went to see Embrace Of The Serpent, at the Duke of York's. It seemed like a good idea to go and sit in the dark somewhere, and luckily it was a really terrific movie.
Postscript: And that's the story of what I did in the referendum. I wrote it long because I'm in a mad hurry today. My son just got a job in India. We're off to meet him in London this afternoon, to congratulate & all that & then it's the summer recess. Meanwhile, I'm still tweeting madly (it will wear off) and enjoying, ironically of course, can't help it, a sudden flurry of interest in the Bold As Love books, which happen to deal with the Dissolution of the UK and the far-right downfall of England. Damn it. I've been writing science fiction/fantasy for thirty years an' more. Why couldn't it have been the quirky non-binary aliens, with their mysterious yen for Marcel Proust** Why did it have to be the Bold As Love story?
And now I must go.
*That goes to the Rt Hon David Lloyd George
**Like the Japanese and Peter Rabbit, you know.
(That's not my front door, btw. But my sentiments, definitely.)