Lines of mountain bike tyres in the thin black towpath mud. Out along the Barnes bank, back by Chiswick. Where previously she scuttled, S now dawdles over the bridges at either end, her gephyrophobia in tentative remission. The river grinds along. Meanwhile, massively still, Christmas distorts everything around it. There are parrots in the trees on both banks; leaf buds have appeared.
Monthly Archives: December 2008
My review of Necromicon, Gollancz’s bumper commemorative HP Lovecraft selection, in the Guardian today.
11am St Pancras/Sheffield. A man sleeping across the aisle from me. He has taken off his black leather shoes & put his stockinged feet on the seat opposite. The Daily Telegraph has fallen off the table at his side. Bedford station wakes him up & he opens his briefcase & begins to eat from a packet of crisps or something like it, putting his hand into the case each time he wants some more. While he is eating, his hand flops down to the seat at his side. He is quite a young man, with lively eyes, but this way of eating has a curiously furtive effect, as if he is reluctant to admit that he is eating at all. He drinks more openly, from a cardboard carton of pineapple juice, sucking at it energetically. A bit later he takes something from his waistcoat pocket, slips it into his mouth & repeats a few sentences to himself in a rapid mechanical voice while the flat landscape races past his shoulder, green with summer, wired for electricity with cables like the stitching in a good suit. He puts the newspaper aside for a book; he eats a chocolate bar. His toes twitch. The guard announces, “Ladies & gentlemen, Kettering station.” HE Bates country. A white butterfly bobs up and down between the platforms, fluttering towards London along the down-line, fragile but compelled.
My review of Sean O’Brien’s first collection of short stories The Silence Room–which I thoroughly enjoyed–will be in the Xmas (print) issue of the TLS, 19th December.
Monsters of Landscape: It turns out that Vivienne Westwood & Hilary Mantel were born & brought up a stone’s throw from one another, in Tintwhistle & Hadfield, 1941 & 1954, respectively. Something about these places that can produce satisfyingly rogue talents–people who aren’t going to be fobbed off; who are going to tip the table over. It’s the stone, maybe. Tintwhistle hangs above the Etherow, indistinguishable from the quarries that gave it birth etc etc, gurning down on Padfield village (described by Mantel as “the hind brain” of Hadfield in this wickedly funny & useful 2005 interview). I loved Longdendale, which features in The Course of the Heart & many of the short stories (“Empty”, for instance) as well as in Climbers.
Why does a junkie quit of his own free will ? You never know the answer to that question. No conscious tabulation of the disadvantages and horrors of junk gives you the emotional drive to kick. The decision to quit junk is a cellular decision, and once you have decided to quit you cannot go back to junk permanently any more than you could stay away from it before. Like a man who has been away a long time, you see things differently when you return from junk. [Burroughs, Junkie, p152.]
Obsession is like this. The core experience empties out, the signs reverse themselves. The object is de-eroticised. You put it down like a book you mean to keep reading but don’t pick up again. From now on you will be able to pick it up & put it down at will–that seems demeaning somehow, although you aren’t sure quite who to. But the worst thing about not being obsessed is that you have to find something else to do.
I don’t remember setting up a Facebook. Here at the Ambiente Hotel, of course, it’s hard to tell one day from another as they pass in the featureless gloom of senility etc etc; but I’m sure I would remember doing that. I woke up sweating in the night. I thought: what if you have to get a Facebook now, or they just do it for you ? I know I should be grateful to be given a helping hand into modernity, but somehow–I can’t think why–I only feel invaded.
(Whoever you are, please give C. Phillips a credit for her photograph. And don’t mine the Wikipedia entry for data. Why propagate a lot of woolly-minded crap riddled with factual errors ? Oh, yes, of course, it’s the internet isn’t it ?)
Earlier this year C, who is 100% a literalist subeditor, managed to get through several HPL stories, including “The Haunter of the Dark” & “The Colour Out of Space”, as bedtime reading, without having a moment’s insomnia or a single nightmare.
“So, this ‘Goat with a Thousand Young’ business,” she says: “What’s scary about that ?”
I try to explain that it can’t really be a goat. It’s an attempt to describe something by one of its qualities, or–worse–to encode some quality it possesses which can’t be described any other way.
She says: “Bollocks. Goats can’t have a Thousand Young. & anyway, why’s that frightening ?” She’s Lovecraft-proof.
At 17, I couldn’t have the books in the house. If I owned them I’d read them. If I read them, I wouldn’t sleep for days. When did they stop doing that to me ?
To tell the truth I have felt a lot chirpier since this recession began. I don’t know how to explain it. I’ve got as much to lose as anyone. I expect my living to become more precarious. As the middle-aged establishment tighten their grip on the resources to which they feel especially entitled, I expect their systemic ageism to make it harder for older people like me. My safety net is, as ever, mysteriously absent. Nevertheless, when I took this interesting test, I discovered that I had, in fact, significantly less chance than average of becoming depressed in the next twelve months. You can’t beat that for irony. The arch miserablist turns out to be a closet cheery chappy. Just don’t ask for your money back. I’m doing my best. & I’ve been perfectly transparent here: I needn’t have told anyone this.