Southern England just doesn’t seem as nice as it did, dear, so your father & I are moving north before Thames Valley prices drop even further. We were thinking of somewhere in the Harrogate area. Above 100m, obviously, and with a bit of ground for the dogs. It will be such fun for them, especially Pinnie. The fact is, darling, your father and I are rather surprised that this has happened to people like us. You do see why some of the Somerset people complained, don’t you, but I think we’ll always vote Tory. Anyway, best wishes as ever, and I’m sure you’ll do well with your little wellington boot shop.
Tag Archives: england
The palace turned out to be a stuffy, disappointing warren that just reeked of dogs. The Queen showed us around lots of small low-ceilinged rooms with fitted carpets, not what we were looking for at all. No real Elfland values or internal architecture left, except for that rather gorgeous river-frontage. She kept saying that she & her husband had been going to make this or that improvement, but everything was interrupted when, “They came back”. At one point she said, “We were going to sell up, go to the Deep West, but they came back. They came back, you see, & what can you do?” She never said who or what they were. There was an old labrador sleeping outside the back door. They also had a really quite smelly chihuaha, always gazing up at you, & when you petted it, “Oh she’ll go to anyone, that one. When you’re shopping she’ll go straight in your bag.” Meanwhile, honestly, Eldranol just sat there in the front room, watching US cable TV on satellite & in the end we decided no matter how close it was to the Evening Harbours it just wasn’t for us.
All the Elf Land here.
Seventeen jackdaws were conducting a meeting in their invisible boardroom between the pub chimneys. I felt a bit thin on the ground that day so I took the green slot up through the woods. My hearing was back in my left ear. Welcome home baby, I said, but I wondered if my affair was over with the binaural world & we were only going through the motions. The pylons made a sound like a bottling plant in the distance. There were church bells. Half-tuned motors snarled up from the garage in the valley like dogs behind a security fence. Sounds of an English village. Later, rain slopped off the front gutters of the closing shops in the twilight. Dark before seven, TVs on before eight; front rooms full of flickering light. The ads don’t even seem to be selling anything anymore, just updating, reprocessing their brand in the light of current consumer perceptions, fine tuning the engines of consumption. It’s less important that you buy our stuff than you buy any stuff. Soon be winter in a strange house.
Two people get out of their cars, slam the doors and greet each other– “Orright?” –in unison but an octave apart. The knack of “Orright?” is to pitch it as if the other person is at the far end of the village, even when they’re three feet away. It should sound cheerful, with a little musical lilt, but also imply that you have errands.
Late May. Flat earth paths under vast cloudscapes, architectures of rain and sunshine. Blackened spires. GBR Railfrieght low-loaders in rows. Blossom in cream waves; rollers of blossom bursting against fences, rail lines, suburbs; sprays and shellbursts of blossom across fields and hillsides. Someone always gets on the train with a toddler that has learned to make a piercing noise. By Grantham the weather has picked up. The cathedral spire glows in the sun. I catch a fleeting glimpse of Retford. I went to college there for a bit. It was one of the many weird temporary conditions of my life at that time. Short disastrous engagements. Bleak, shallow brushes with life on the part of someone so unformed he couldn’t manage more than an oblique relationship with anything or anyone. I’m surprised I can always talk about them so blandly. I wouldn’t go back to those days if I was paid. They were a nightmare like a Robert Aickman story, but with a lot less happening and a lot less learned. I was barely present. Not to be present at 67 years old is somewhere between a nuisance and a disgrace. Not to be present at 20 years old was to be in danger: so few allowances were made for people who didn’t connect, who didn’t get it. Later, the train waits by an industrial estate outside Bradford, a grim-looking shed with a word I can’t read written high up at one end. Then straight into a tunnel. Half a viaduct, ending suddenly in the middle of the valley it used to cross; not broken, but carefully sealed off with a hundred-foot brick facing. Gritstone houses dot the hillsides, each separated by an exact distance from its neighbours, like people taking up seats in an empty railway carriage to ensure maximum personal space and isolation. Sign: KEEP OFF THE TRACK. Sign: ASTONISH. Sign: REVERSING TRAINS STOP HERE.
“Sometimes as it blows across the Great Brown Waste in summer, the wind will uncover a bit of petrified wood. Mammy Vooley’s head had the shape and the shiny grey look of wood like that. It was provided with one good eye, as if at one time it had grown round a glass marble streaked with milky blue. She bobbed it stiffly right and left to the crowds: who stood to watch her approach; knelt as she passed; and stood up again behind her. Her bearers grunted patiently under the weigh of the pole that bore her up. As they brought her slowly closer it could be seen that her dress–so curved between her bony, strangely-articulated knees that dead leaves, lumps of plaster and crusts of wholemeal bread had gathered in her lap–was russet-orange; and that she wore askew on the top of her head a hank of faded purple hair, wispy and fine like a very old woman’s. Mammy Vooley, celebrating with black banners and young women chanting; Mammy Vooley, Queen of Uroconium, Moderator of the city; as silent as a log of wood.” [The Luck in the Head, 1982, from Viriconium, also in audio download.]
In this new story I address the usual themes. People sit on sofas, staring ahead; while at the edges of the room things shift inconclusively from one state to another. They may be real, they may be not. Meanwhile, in another part of the small Midlands village, Ms Suihne the plump medium who runs the hat shop believes she is changing into a bird &, to the accompaniment of rough music, jumps off the roof. Another party is engaged in a relationship with three empty sacks arranged on a pole in his living room. At one point, things will turn sexual. All this might or might not be happening, or somebody might be telling it as a story to someone else, who is not listening. To sum up, the impossibility of knowing other people; or, really, anything. If you like the sound of it, click through to the usual outlets. Or you can catch me reading it from the hill on Barnes Common, most Wednesdays. There’s a review up at Wild Eyed Visionaries & obviously I’ll be tweeting.
Buggy tracks in snow. Spindrift blowing off the roofs. Silhouette of a labrador dog hauling the silhouette of a woman across Grove Road; detail from a Lowry of the West London suburbs. Meanwhile the van from Bathrooms At Source–a constant visitor to this pleasant street–ploughs its way responsibly towards the river, first-responder to the morning’s soft catastrophe. Everything is so hushed as he makes his way down! In Barnes, bathroom commerce, second only in religion to kitchen commerce, must go on. He’s closely followed by Bespoke Carpentry. Meanwhile, over in “Burma”, no crates of preserved Spitfires have come to light. Buried Spitfires! The very words are like a knell, awakening the British retroconscious to a deep sense of itself. The earth with which they turn out not to be compacted is the authentic dark chocolate of myth. We dream that Spitfires lie buried in exotic ground, the exact way they are embedded in our diffusing memories of empire. Meanwhile, perhaps the Spitfires dream themselves, in some half-world of suspended purpose, the trope of sci fi war machines made obsolete by time, waking too late. It’s the final reinscription. Ballard would have loved it.
Richmond Park. Cold & clear but no frost. An argument about how few cyclists are out this morning–C rightly points out that all we can know is that there is one cow in Scotland & one side of it is black. We run downhill at first, round a wood, along a stretch of bridle path slightly up hill in sand. Stags regard us with momentary irritation from the bracken, then go back to honking & clearing their throats at one another like theorists. It isn’t the Peak District but I feel good just to be outside & not in a street. Later at the hot snacks stand, two men chat about computers. “Of course, of course,” they agree. They laugh. They’re knee deep in terriers, one of which–a Border bitch dubbed “Maisie” –is very clever with a stick. The sunshine looks as if it was applied to every individual item during the night, like gold leaf. It’s as if someone worked so hard to make things nice for the people who come here from Kingston, Richmond, Barnes, East Sheen, as far away as Clapham. Later, Billy the bloodhound arrives, queen among dogs. The Saturday trade is mainly in bacon sandwiches, although one boy eats a frankfurter with thick squiggles of mustard & ketchup at 8.30 in the morning before he gets across his rather beautiful road bike.
Valentine Sprake turned away from the darkening view and walked in a jerky, hurried fashion across the room, as if he had seen, out there in the marshes, something which surprised him. Ignoring Michael Kearney, he leaned over Meadows’ desk, picked up the coffee-pot and drank its contents directly from the spout. “Last week,” he said to Meadows, “I learned that Urizen was back among us, and His name is Old England. We are all adrift on the sea of time and space here. Think about that too.” He stalked out of the office with his hands folded on his chest.
Meadows looked amused.
“Who is that, Kearney ?”
“Don’t ask,” said Kearney absently. On the way out he said: “And keep off my back.”
“I can’t protect you forever,” Meadows called after him. That was when Kearney knew Meadows had already sold him out.
Lightweight separators in pastel colours were used to create privacy inside MVC-Kaplan’s otherwise featureless tent of bolted glass. The first thing Kearney saw outside Meadows’ workspace was the shadow of the Shrander, projected somehow from inside the building on to one of these. It was life size, a little blurred and diffuse at first, then hardening and sharpening and turning slowly on its own axis like a chrysalis hanging in a hedge. As it turned, there was a kind of rustling noise he hadn’t heard for twenty years; a smell he still recognised. He felt his whole body go cold and rigid with fear. He backed away from it a few steps, then ran back into the office, where he hauled Meadows over the glass desk by the front of his suit and hit him hard, three or four times in succession, on the right cheekbone.
“Christ,” said Meadows in a thick voice. “Ah.”
Kearney pulled him all the way over the desk, across the floor and out of the door. At the same time the lift arrived and Sprake got out.
“I saw it, I saw it,” Kearney said.
Sprake showed his teeth. “It’s not here now.”
“Get a fucking move on. It’s closer than ever. It wants me to do something.”
Together they bundled Meadows into the lift and down three floors. He seemed to wake up as they dragged him across the lobby and out to the canal bank. “Kearney ?” he said repeatedly. “Is that you ? Is there something wrong with me ?” Kearney let go of him and began kicking his head. Sprake pushed his way between them and held Kearney off until he had calmed down. They got Meadows to the edge of the water, into which they dropped him, face down, while they held his legs. He tried to keep his head above the surface by arching his back, then gave up with a groan. Bubbles came up. His bowels let go.
“Christ,” said Kearney reeling away. “Is he dead ?”
Sprake grinned. “I’d say he was.”
He tilted his head back until he was looking straight up at the faint stars above Walthamstow, raised his arms level with his shoulders, and danced slowly away north along the towpath towards Edmonton.