There are some books that really make you think, that challenge both your assumptions and prejudices and follow through on their premise that not only makes you consider how we got here but also where we are likely to go from this point.

Grass, by Sheri S. Tepper, is just such a book.

What could be more commonplace than grass, or a world covered over all its surface with a wind-whipped ocean of grass? But the planet Grass conceals horrifying secrets within its endless pastures.

And as an incurable plague attacks all inhabited planets but this one, the prairie-like Grass begins to reveal these secrets – and nothing will ever be the same again …

Initially, the novel reminded me a lot of Dune in that the focus is on a world that is superficially strange but for which both the environment has been thought through well enough that the details can be allowed to emerge as the story progresses. Even the name of the novel hints at this.

While it takes a bit of time to really get going, once it does, Grass proves itself to be both very much it’s own story and utterly gripping.

Humanity has spread throughout the galaxy and colonised innumerable planets while still owing allegiance to Terra — our home planet — and Sanctity, the dominant religion and political leadership. Sanctity is trying to deny the existence of the plague while also convince the leaders of Grass to allow their scientists to try and discover why this planet, alone in the galaxy, remains unaffected.

A compromise is reached when, instead of scientists, the leaders of Grass agree to an embassy from Sanctity and so Marjorie Yrarier and her children find themselves travelling to the planet along with her husband, Rigo, who has been chosen for the Ambassador’s role. It very quickly becomes clear just how little Sanctity knows about the planet and its people.

Grass is very much a book about ideas, and the novel is packed with them. The environment, ecology, the conflict between religion and belief, the problem with perfection, and how humanity’s relationship to other species. It’s a novel that takes a bit of time to get into, but once you do, the pay-off is well worth it.

If you want a solid story that gives you plenty of food for thought, then I can’t recommend this highly enough.

The little guy has taste

With yesterday being the hottest day of the year so far, we decided to treat ourselves to a barbecue. And, of course, as soon as the food started to turn up, so did a wasp.

But how can I fault anyone who goes straight for the HP Sauce.


I almost opened the bottle for him.

Mad compromise of the moment

I went to the drink shop today. As with shops everywhere at the moment, they have a one-way system through the store and a screen at the counter. The screen has clearly been causing them a problem.

I generally buy beer by the crate and also, since it’s summer, I also picked up a big bag of charcoal. All of this I loaded onto my very low trolley along with several bottles of soft drinks. When I say the trolley is low, it’s a plank of wood on castors which comes about as high as my ankle. There’s a metal bar at a more normal height so it can be easily pushed, but the crates are very close to ground level and this is the problem.

Normally, in the years Before Corona, the shop assistant would lean over the counter so she could see what I had on the trolley. In these days, After Disease she can’t lean over the counter because there’s a great transparent shield in the way. This has made things a bit of a faff for the last few months, but they have now found a compromise.

The barrier is still in place but they have turned the till around so the assistant can now stand on the same side of the barrier as the customers.

I give them ten out of ten for finding a creative solution, minus about four hundred for completely missing the point.


So this is serious:

A curfew will be imposed on the entire territory of the province of Antwerp as authorities race to contain a steady surge in new coronavirus cases.

Stopping short of imposing a new all-out lockdown, authorities decided that all residents in the province must be home from 11:30 PM to 6:00 AM.

Antwerp is both a province and a city and, even though I live in the middle of nowhere and an hour’s drive from the city, I do live in the province. And while the whole province is affected by this not-a-lockdown, it’s very much a case of the city driving these numbers upwards.

Not that I’m ever out — or even awake — at 11:30 in the evening. Except for the last weekend in August. How, or even if, the annual bat-spotting walk will work this year remains to be seen.

Following a marathon 10-hour crisis cell meeting, Antwerp’s provincial governor, Cathy Berx also announced that face masks would be mandatory in all public spaces for all residents above 12.

So that’s clear, at least.

The Antwerp city authorities have imposed further measures including an obligation to always carry a face mask.

As the number of new cases continues to grow across Belgium, the city of Antwerp has emerged as a hotbed for what experts fear might be a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

As far as I’m aware, there is no clear definition of what a second wave actually is, but these measures make Belgium the country with the strictest response in Europe.

It’s not a surprise, therefore, that there is some pushback. More surprising is that the legal basis is not actually in place yet. That said, I think we can effect these measures to take place in the very near future.

It will be a couple of weeks before we know how effective they have turned out to be. And I really hope that they do get the virus under control again, and quickly, because it’s going to be hard on the kids if the schools are not able to open again in September.

Dodging the second wave

Last week, amid rising coronavirus infections, Belgium’s Security Council called a halt to the gradual easing of lockdown restrictions and, instead, tightened some of these restrictions. The reaction was less than positive, with meany experts saying that the new restrictions didn’t go
far enough and calling for more frequent meetings of the National Security Council.

So they met again yesterday and, to nobody’s surprise, restrictions will be tightened.

The aim, according to Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès, is to avoid another full lockdown.

From 29 July, and for at least the next four weeks, social bubbles will be reduced to a maximum of 5 fixed people per household, children under 12 not included. Within this bubble, caution is necessary: keep your distance and wear a face mask if required.

Non-guided events, such as trips and gatherings with family and friends, as well as receptions, such as weddings, however, are limited to groups of 10 people, children younger than 12 not included. An exception will be made for summer camps.

This is quite a tightening of the existing rules and remains in place for the next four weeks: all of August, in other words. It’s also cause a bit of confusion, which has led to a a clarification as to how you can have only 5 social contacts per household, but still take trips maximum of 10 people.

The numbers of people allowed at events is also reduced and anyone who wants to go shopping will have to go on their own again. Not that I’ve seen the inside of a supermarket since March, but I won’t be surprised if I start seeing queues of shoppers outside again.

The requirement to leave contact details to aid contact tracing is also extended to also include wellness centres, sports classes and more. Frankly, I’m surprised these types of location weren’t already included.

While the aim here is to avoid going into a full lockdown, stricter measures have not been ruled out. It’s going to take a couple of weeks before we know whether these measures will bring the infection rate back under control. If they don’t, who knows where we will go from here.

No-one is admitting, as far as I have seen, that we are being hit by a second wave of the pandemic. But it certainly feels like it from here.

Five Things #39

68:Hazard:Cold by Janelle C. Shane is a first encounter story, set on a cryogenic exoplanet and starring an escaped housekeeping robot. There’s also beeping.

“If a tie-in between an Anglo-Australian mining conglomerate with a history of scandals and a secretive Nestlé-owned coffee company doesn’t calm the doubters, what will?” Ed Cumming looks into how Nespresso’s coffee revolution got ground down.

Will Koehrsen has some lessons on How to Lie with Statistics and the importance of data (and statistical) literacy.

Scarfolk Council looks back at the infamous Class 3 school illustration.

Denzil visits the Erps-Kwerps Vijvers.