Gwen: 1930-2014

Gwen
My mum, girl scientist.

(Photo from the early 1950s, I think.)

Posted in Feminism, Personal | 25 Comments

A Very Long Day

Yesterday I was up and dressed around 7:00am (which for me is the middle of the night) because I can never be sure when the carers will turn up. Most of the rest of the day was spent dealing with medical visitors of one sort or another, or on errands to do with patient care, or being on the phone to various medical people. The nature of the discussions gradually escalated through the day, culminating in a decision to take my mother into hospital that evening. I finally got home at around midnight.

The good news is that Mum will be far better cared for in hospital than she will be at home. There’s no way, even with the three carer visits and one nurse visit a day we were getting, that we can provide the same level of care that 24-hour nurse support can give. When you are very ill, the slightest thing can knock you down, and you need help to get back up again.

On the downside, my days from now on are going to revolve around visiting a hospital in another town. The train station locations are not convenient at either end, and while there is a bus I travel very badly on such things and will happily walk miles to and from train stations to avoid using them. The best solution is to hire a car, and the weekly hire rates don’t seem too bad. Longer term I need to buy one, and with Kevin’s help I’ve just extracted a large portion of my savings from the USA and can start looking for something second hand. I have an awful feeling I’ll need to get used to driving a manual again.

As yet I have no idea what this is going to do to my available time. It is likely that the hospital will want Mum home again as soon as possible, but how many days that means I do not know.

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Time Out Of Mind – Episode 4: Anne McCaffrey

Here is the fourth episode of Time Out of Mind. It features Anne McCaffrey. The fifth and final episode, shot at the 1979 Worldcon, has already been uploaded to YouTube by someone else and can be found here.

Aside from the small amount of copyright material in the John Brunner episode, everything appears to have gone up OK. Fingers crossed it will stay there. Of course I hope that the BBC still have the original files somewhere, and will one day produce decent quality versions of the series for sale, but for now I hope you have enjoyed what we have got. Thanks again to Arnold Aiken for sending me the recordings.

Posted in Science Fiction, TV, Video | 2 Comments

Ridding the World of Girl Cooties #BalanceTheBooks

I have said many times that the only way to put an end to the under-appreciation of female writers is to start in school. If children are brought up to believe that only male writers are important, and in particular that boys do not need to read books by women, they will take those attitudes into adulthood where they are much harder to shake off.

My friends at For Books Sake have been taking a look at gender representation in English Literature examinations in the UK. They found to their horror that the syllabus is becoming more male dominated (and more white) rather than less. As the politicians are fond of saying, something must be done.

To read more about the issue, go here. And for information about how you can help the #BalanceTheBooks go here.

Posted in Feminism, Publishing | 1 Comment

Graham Joyce, R.I.P.

When you are nursing someone who has cancer one of the last things you want to hear is that a good friend of yours has just succumbed to the disease. I did dedicate this week’s Women’s Outlook show to Graham, but I feel like I should say more. So I am going to re-post a review from Emerald City (#113, January 2005) of the fabulous (and deeply feminist) The Limits of Enchantment. That’s partly because it is a great book, and partly because much of the subject matter is very appropriate for me right now.


The new Graham Joyce novel, The Limits of Enchantment, is to some extent a follow-on from The Facts of Life. In that book there is mention of how, in the middle of the 20th Century, professional midwives with years of experience but no professional qualifications were being hounded out of work by the new, official, government health service. In modern, technological Britain, old witch women were no longer to be allowed to practice their arts. Especially when those arts also included abortion advice. It was, after all, well known that young women who became pregnant outside wedlock were mentally disturbed and should be put in asylums, not given abortions.

So, enter old Mammy Cullen, resident wise woman of a small village near Leicester. Mammy has successfully delivered well over 100 babies, including some that looked quite dead on their arrival into this world. The women of the village mostly think she is wonderful. The men regard her with some suspicion but are cautious because it is known that whenever a girl comes to Mammy to get an abortion part of the price is the name of the man responsible. Mammy can’t write, but she has a very good memory.

The local authorities have already outlawed amateur midwifery. If Mammy is caught helping deliver a baby then she can be put in jail. But she doesn’t mind over much. She is old, and will doubtless not be long for this world. It is her adopted daughter, Fern, that is the problem. Fern certainly has the talent to be a good midwife. She has assisted at many births. And she has Sight. But she doesn’t altogether believe in the Old Ways. Her main interest in the Moon is that President Kennedy said he was going to send men there, not in its magical powers. Ah well, at least she isn’t going stupid over mop-topped pop stars and wearing mini skirts like the rest of the village girls.

I stared hard at these words on my notepad and I couldn’t see any extra value in them. Any at all. Vertex presentation? We say: head first. I counted the syllables. That’s three times as long to say the same thing. Why had I come to college to learn words that added no more than a lot of extra noise to the sum of my knowledge?

Unfortunately Mammy waits too long. An unfortunate incident in the village leaves her in hospital, an institution dominated by her enemies: doctors and freemasons. It is a prison from which Mammy will not escape. Fern is left to cope on her own. Her only allies are her worldly friend, Judith, the hippies who live on the farm up the road, and a village lad called Arthur whose main interest in Fern appears to be getting her into bed.

Compared to The Facts of Life, The Limits of Enchantment is a much less edgy book. It is hard to beat the Second World War for dramatic horror. But The Limits of Enchantment is rather more angry. There are times which it descends into situation comedy, which is very British of it, but for much of its length it rails against the injustice imposed on well-meaning, ordinary people by those in authority: the nobility, the medical establishment, social workers, the police and so on. In many ways it is a book that is just as applicable today, except you could use gays instead of independent women and Blacks or Muslims in place of pagans and hippies.

The hare told me that we had moved into the time of Man and that was not a good thing, even for men and women. It complained bitterly of the leverets killed in the blades of combine harvesters. It asked me if I knew how many combine harvesters there were in the country, and when I shook my head it specified an exact figure. The corn bleeds, it said pointedly, we bleed.

Gollancz clearly think a lot of this book. My review copy has the now famous Isabelle Allende blurb for The Facts of Life on the cover. On the back cover it proudly says, “The Limits of Enchantment will be submitted for the Booker Prize.” And you know I think it might get somewhere. To start with Graham Joyce is a wonderful author and this is a very readable and entertaining book. Also it doesn’t read like a fantasy. Most of the “magic” that happens can be rationalized if you work hard enough at it and are pig-headed enough to not want any of it to be “true”.

But it is fantasy nonetheless. Like The Lord of the Rings it is an elegy for a lost time in which life was simpler and closer to nature than it is now. Unlike The Lord of the Rings, Joyce accepts that time moves on, and that magic can be found in other ways and in other places. Fern does not fade and go into the West. She picks herself up, adapts, and gets on with doing what needs to be done. In her own way she will become part of the nascent Feminist movement. And when she is old like Mammy she will doubtless shake her head at Grrl Power and wonder what the youth of today is coming to. But along the way the Moon will have traveled with her, for all that it has been trampled on by male feet. And while much of the Green and Pleasant Land has been overrun by the pressures of over-population, there are still places where the hares box in the dawn light of March. The Goddess is not dead yet, and Graham Joyce is doing his bit to keep Her memory alive.

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C’est La Fin Du Monde!

Via the Forbidden Planet International blog I have discovered that there will soon be English translations of Atomas, a French superhero comic from the 1940s. Based on the few sample pages they posted, it looks fabulous. The plot is suitably cheesy in that 1940s way, and the art is magnificent.

Atomas page 1

To see more, go here.

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Silence On The Personal Front

There’s a lot that I could be writing about what I’m going through right now. Mostly, however, I’m choosing to remain silent. Partly that’s out of consideration for other family members, but to a large part it is because it is become clear just how poisonous the culture around health care is these days. It is no longer the case that everyone is doing as much as they can for the patient. For many, probably the majority, of health industry workers these days the top priority is avoiding getting the blame if anything goes wrong. Because I now have to live within this culture, I have to be very wary about what I say publicly, just in case it could be somehow twisted and used against my mother, or against me.

Posted in Health, Personal | 5 Comments

Time Out of Mind – Episode 3: Michael Moorcock

Here’s the third episode in BBC2′s 1979 series, Time Out of Mind. It features Michael Moorcock, but comes with bonus appearances from M. John Harrison, Tom Disch and Fred Pohl. There are also some clips from a Jerry Cornelius film that You Tube has not (so far) objected to. Mike and Mike are their usual, uninhibited selves and do not shy away from slagging off those whose work and/or tastes they deem not up to scratch.

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Today On Ujima – Israel, Serbia & Iraq

Thanks to my uncle, and Tracy the cleaner, holding the fort during the day I was able to get up to Bristol to do my radio show today. This was a great relief as I had a busy show planned.

First up was a pre-recorded interview with Gili Bar Hilel, an Israeli translator who, amongst other things, has been responsible for bringing the work of J.K. Rowling and Diana Wynne Jones to Hebrew readers. The discussion included shout outs for Frances Hardinge, Garth Nix and Philip Reeve. Gili and I also briefly discussed the situation in Gaza.

The second half hour saw me joined in the studio by Karen Garvey from Bristol Museums and Gordana Grabež, the Executive Director of the National Museum of Serbia, who is in Bristol on an exchange visit to learn how we do community-based museum exhibits. Karen will be teaching her all about things like the Revealing Stories exhibition that I helped put together, and also the You Make Bristol exhibition that Karen masterminded. In return maybe Bristol will get a loan of some of the fantastic art collection that Belgrade has, including everyone from Hieronymous Bosch to Rubens to Picasso. We talked quite a bit about the history of the Balkans, from Roman times through to Tito. There was also some brief mention of Zoran Živković, and of the embarrassment of the tennis. At least Novak did beat Andy, so we were even less happy than Gordana.

You can listen to the first hour of the show here.

For the second hour I was joined by Jo Baker from the charity, Child Victims of War. The main focus of our conversation was the situation in Iraq, which is quite horrifying (and not for the reasons you’ll hear in the British media). Of particular note was the accusation that US forces are using radioactive weapons (not just depleted uranium) in Iraq, and that these weapons have been sold to Israel. The discussion of how drones are used was also quite horrifying, and led to us speculating that Bristol’s expertise in robotics could lead to the city becoming a leading manufacturer of actual robot war machines.

You can listen to the second hour of the show here.

The playlist for today’s show was as follows:

  • World Party – Meet Your Feet
  • Money Don’t Matter 2 Nite – Prince
  • Friendship Update – The Go Team
  • Rescue Me – Fontella Bass
  • War – The Temptations
  • Save the Children – Marvin Gaye
  • Tribal War – Black Roots
  • Life During Wartime – Talking Heads

Next week’s show, assuming I am able to get to Bristol, will feature Glenda Larke.

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Time Out of Mind – Episode 2: John Brunner

Here’s episode 2 of Time Out of Mind. When I first uploaded this to YouTube they complained about copyright content within the video. As this was likely to cause the whole thing to be pulled I edited it the remove the offending sections. They were a clip from a dramatization of Brunner’s story, “The Last Lonely Man”, and a montage of images of pollution with a soundtrack of music by Eno. Neither segment is vital to the episode.

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The Way We Were

My uncle and I have been sorting through my mother’s records to help her manage her affairs while she is sick. In the process I came across a file of letters I sent her while I was living in Australia. It included this picture, which is a much younger and much slimmer me on the beach at Wilson’s Prom. I guess this must be the girl that Kevin fell in love with.

Me at Wilson's Prom

Posted in Personal, Photos | 3 Comments

Time Out of Mind – Episode 1: Sir Arthur C. Clarke

OK folks, here we go with the first of the full Time Out of Mind episodes. This one features Sir Arthur C. Clarke. It runs for about 25 minutes.

For those coming new to this, the series was first broadcast in 1979, following a UK Worldcon in Brighton at which a lot of footage was shot. These videos are digitized from VCR recordings kindly supplied by British fan, Arnold Aiken.

If all goes well (meaning that no one objects) I’ll post the other three later this week.

Posted in Science Fiction, TV, Video | 1 Comment

Proposed Translations Anthology

Over at Europa SF there is a proposal to create a new anthology of stories from European countries translated into English. The arrangements are a bit nebulous at the moment, but doubtless they will crystalize over time. If you are interested, go here to read the proposal, and then get in touch with Gloria McMillan.

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Jay Lake Memorial Posts at Tor.com

Today Tor.com is running a series of posts in memory of Jay Lake. He is, of course, still very much missed by the science fiction community. The recent convention season has rubbed that in. And now, as I am starting out on the process of nursing someone who has cancer, I am starting to get a much better idea of what those close to Jay will have gone through while he was ill. It is a horrible disease, and I am so grateful to Jay for all of the work he did to help to find a cure while he was able to do so.

The posts on Tor.com are as follows:

Have some good cheese, everyone. Jay would like that.

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Time Out Of Mind – Anne McCaffrey Clip

Here is a clip from episode 4 of Time Out of Mind. This one features Anne McCaffrey. She talks about how she got into writing science fiction, and does a fairly mild feminist rant. There is also a brief appearance by a large, chrome phallic symbol.

I’ll start posting the full episodes next week and see what happens. Fingers crossed no one will object.

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No News is No News

I’ve not been posting updates on my mother’s health, partly because I still haven’t been able to talk to a doctor, and partly because I’m not sure what other members of the family have been told and I don’t want to worry them by posting updates on what it is very fluid situation. I’ll let you know when I know more about my own situation.

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Time Out Of Mind – Michael Moorcock Clip

Here is a clip from episode 3 of Time Out of Mind, the 1979 BBC2 series about science fiction. It features Michael Moorcock, with a little bit of supportive nodding from M. John Harrison, complaining about what a bunch of conservative old fuddy-duddies the science fiction community is made up of.

The amusing thing from my point of view is that I was reading Moorcock and Harrison as an excited teenager, so I see them as an older generation. And yet I have already been consigned to the bin of “evil old white man”, so goodness only knows what they are now. Heck, Moorcock lives in Texas, which probably makes him an ur-conservative.

By the way, Fred Pohl is interviewed during the program, and is quite gracious about the whole thing.

Posted in Science Fiction, TV, Video | 1 Comment

The NHS – The Bad and the Good

We had a minor medical emergency this morning, in that my mother’s wound dressing started leaking blood. It didn’t look serious, but equally it didn’t look like something I should try to fix myself as up until now fresh dressings had always been applied by nurses.

So I phoned the carers, because that was the emergency number I had. They said I should phone the GP surgery, but that because it was Saturday I’d probably get a message to phone 111.

I phoned the surgery. There was indeed no one there. I got a message apologizing that I may have received a number of text messages today about appointments, which had been sent out in error. The answerphone system then told me that the message space was full, and stopped. There was no information as to what to do in an emergency.

So I called 111 as suggested, and got through immediately to a very helpful chap who promised to send a nurse. It took her about 3 hours to arrive because she was busy, but when she got here she was brilliant.

It is all very hit and miss. Some parts of the NHS still clearly care deeply about patients. Others are a complete shambles. Slowly but surely I am getting to know who I can trust and who I can’t.

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Time Out Of Mind – John Brunner Clip

Following up from yesterday’s clip of Sir Arthur, here’s a clip from episode 2 of Time Out of Mind, featuring John Brunner. In it Brunner explains why he has taken to writing near-future SF (books like Stand on Zanzibar, Shockwave Rider and The Sheep Look Up) instead of the space opera he was writing early in his career.

In another part of the show Brunner talks about Stand on Zanzibar and notes that in it he predicted a world population of 7 billion. We are now past that. The book is set in 2010, and we are past that too.

Posted in Science Fiction, TV, Video | 4 Comments

Some Advice on UK Medical & Financial Regulations

If you have an aged relative who may become seriously ill, make sure that someone has a Power of Attorney for health and welfare. Without it you may find that NHS staff will refuse to give you any information about your relative’s condition, even if you are the next of kin. I am finding the staff at my mother’s surgery exceptionally obstructive in this regard. There is a carer form that I could get signed, but to do so I have to get myself, my mother and the doctor in the same place, and as the surgery blocks all access to the doctor that’s proving very difficult.

Of course the same is true of banking. You need a Power of Attorney for property & financial affairs in order to help a sick relative with the bank account. If you don’t have one and, for example, help them with online banking, you could get into all sorts of legal trouble.

Fortunately I have the latter. I note that getting this stuff is a complicated legal process — far more so than strolling up to a notary like you can do in the USA — and currently takes many months, far longer than the people who sorted ours expected. That’s probably because lots of people are suddenly finding themselves stonewalled by jobsworth bureaucrats and need to get this legal bypass arranged.

Update: I’ve just been speaking to the guy who arranged the Power of Attorney for my mother. He says the reason he didn’t advise getting the health version as well is because the NHS will often ignore them.

Posted in Health, Personal | 1 Comment