the m john harrison blog

Month: June, 2009

“your Mari foaled of the starry skies”

I’m going to Wales now.


Back next Tuesday.


a loving relationship

A loving relationship with Time for Tea Original, Millstone Edge, around 1989. I seem to have had a few more muscles then, also a nice line in little black sweaters.


This was supposed to be a photo session for the back jacket of Climbers. Andy Pollitt held the rope. Ron Fawcett took the pictures. I had a serious case of hero-worship related performance anxiety. “You can put more runners in than that,” Ron said, genuinely worried I would fall off a route he could do in a coma. Andy insisted on seconding it formally, although in the normal run of things he probably downsolo’d it with his eyes bandaged & one foot tied to a railway sleeper. Fashion data: the scrunchie was bright red, the Ron Hills light grey with a black stripe. The Boreals were an early attempt to make an actual climbing shoe, rather than just wrap the stickiest rubber in the world around a suede carpet slipper.

Photo: Ron Fawcett

what we talk about when we talk about the ethics of assisted suicide

I’ve been laughing all morning at the blatantly empty rhetoric displayed in this piece.

two had Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease; two were tetraplegics; three had kidney disease, which can be usually treated by dialysis or a transplant; and one had rheumatoid arthritis – all conditions which doctors say are not terminal.

No one takes their own life because their life can’t be prolonged; that would be an utterly meaningless position. No one says, “I’m going to kill myself because I’m going to die.” They kill themselves because the quality of their life is not acceptable to them. “Oh, but you could have lived in complete horror and misery for another 15 years!” is therefore neither a helpful nor an appropriate response.

It also seems to camouflage an even more inappropriate response, which goes: “Your duty is to bear your suffering. Our duty is to decide when you have suffered enough to purify your soul. We decide (after due consultation with your local pastor, Parish Council and the Women’s Institute) when your life has become too unpleasant to bear, not you. Until then, take the drugs and do the needlework. You’re only the patient.”

This is 2009, not 1947. When will the NHS get off the “life at any cost” standard and substitute something more humane for those who don’t subscribe to it ? It is a bad value assumed without thought, and it sustains the steep power gradient between the care industry and the patient.

I can stomach a “palliative care” argument, though I don’t agree with it (mainly because palliative care is simply never palliative enough). But, palliative care or not, the decision as to when, where, and how one will take one’s own life is something to be decided privately by the patient, with emotional support from a close friend or relative. That’s why this quote is so insulting–

Dr Tony Calland, chairman of the ethics committee at the British Medical Association, the doctors’ union, said: “This list raises considerable concern. There are some conditions such as Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis that, whilst extremely unpleasant, are eminently treatable and many of the symptoms can be relieved. To go off and commit suicide simply on the basis of these conditions would be premature and unreasonable.”

Note the classic use of “extremely unpleasant” and “many of the symptoms”. This is code for, respectively, “fucking unbearable” and “just not the ones you so desperately want to escape”. While “premature and unreasonable” is code for, “We’ll let the doctor decide what’s reasonable and what isn’t, dear, shall we ?”

Underneath the argument this is simply a power grab.

Other than to safeguard the patient’s point-of-decision, there should be no public input into the point-of-decision. God forbid that we should have “a new legal right of assisted death to render the growing British use of Dignitas unnecessary”. That would put the power squarely back into the hands of the UK medical bureaucracy, not to say the care industry. There would be plenty of forms to fill in, plenty of interrogations and moral hoops to jump through. There would be an attempt at a properly quantified suffering scale. Everyone would get a slice of your business. Your life would not be your own. Come to think of it, your death would not be your own either.

Dignitas is exactly what’s needed.

pigges eare

Someun have made Haye with my revue of Adam Thorpe’s Hodd in teh Graunaid today. The word “jougleur” should be italicised. The quote in the first sentence of paragraph four should read: “mere cottars [rustici] dressed in hodden grey” etc. “St Edmonds Abbey, Doncaster” should read “St Edmonds Abbey, Dancaster”. Then there’s the random link they’ve added to the word “fiction” in paragraph three.

imaginary room

spain room

fantasy city

City as symbol of the self. Let’s not do this literalistically, item by item of possible correspondence. & let’s do it in at least a halfway contemporary way, acknowledging that a self is anyway, temporary, a snapshot of a passing state, less an item than an assembly of the relations between some other–constantly shifting–items. Like a dream, which, in Hillman’s formulation, tells us “where we are, not what to do”, a self–a city–is a progress report. Or absolutely not even that, because why does the self, the city, the dream, have to have a purpose or a product ? That’s why products, along with built environments, though sold as dreams, have so little in them of an actual dream. & maybe selves are the same.

reduced territories

The garden bench stands in an area two feet by four, with old brick edges on the short sides and the ivy-covered wall at the back. The surface so bounded is covered with unevenly-bedded squares of old tile (nine inches on a side) and paving slab (perhaps eighteen inches on a side), up through the joins of which grows a spongy little plant with yellow flowers. The tiles are eroded–spalled or blown-out–in shallow, layered oval patches. The paving slabs are coined with a dull yellow lichen. Vegetation–I think campanula–has leached the mortar from the bottom three courses of the wall, then died of starvation, leaving the London stock blanched and powdery-looking, as if some absolute substance–some virtue–has been drained from it. Above that the ivy begins, dense, thick of trunk & inhabited. Dead leaves are scattered over the stones. Warmth comes up from them. I look at this and think it’s the most perfect space I’ve ever known, a micro-place which, like Spencer’s The Blacksmith’s Yard, contains more than a hundred percent of itself. An altar. The old cat sleeps there in the sun, keeping a wary eye on us in case we decide to use the garden hose, or take it into our heads to clip his claws. Once, thirty-odd years old, running on the moor above Holmfirth, I lost my house keys and had to drop down the valley & into Huddersfield to collect a spare set. When I got there, I thought, Oh, fuck it, & ran back instead of getting the bus; I did around 20 miles that morning. Now–for now–my territory is Barnes Common & the river, & 20 minutes is my limit. But I can still get more than a hundred percent out of 20 yards of sandy heath, 20 yards of singletrack with intermittent sunshine spilling in over the head high gorse.

running makes me feel good but

this is just about enough to put you off for ever. Why can’t the media leave me to experience my own life ? Why can’t they just fuck off out of my head, & leave me my own reasons for doing what I do ? Why do they have to grasp everything in the cheap utilitarian rhetoric of advice ? What a patronising crock. Here at the Ambiente Hotel’s Lifestyle & Lower Bowel Clinic, our advice to the over 60s has always been: do drugs & unprotected sex with very much younger people, get your immune system down to 30% function, & race stolen cars on the public street. Or just sprawl across the sofa seeing how many times you can masturbate before 11 in the morning (don’t cheat on this by taking vitamin supplements). Binge drink. Self-harm. Don’t wash. & don’t, whatever you do, take up exercise.

In possibly related news, Infinite Thought has found the most magnificent item…

kaluza klein mornings

For those of us who often wake up in the morning feeling as if we have slipped into a Kaluza-Klein state, there is only one cure. It is to run, & run off-road (preferably in the rain). The smell of wet oak trees will bring you back to the world in two & a half minutes. Although, in addition, you might have to play Ringer by 4Tet as you go; or given extreme conditions, quote copiously from Denis Johnson to yourself. “He feared he might be living out some myth of seeking the goddess beyond the pale, entering the realm, being changed into one of its denizens, every footstep forward changing the shape of his soul, and every form of her dissolving as he approached.” [Resuscitation of a Hanged Man, buy it.] The only thing I still miss–& it goes through & through me on a wet morning–is running with the smell of moorland.

So thank you, S.

Meanwhile, Larry at OfBlog has a quote from Richard Morgan with which I agree very wholeheartedly, although I’d add that despite their subject matter many “mainstream” novelists, from Nemirovksy to Eggers, have less a bleak view of life than a subtle one, which tends to take in its ups & downs. A knack that many “mainstream” readers have also cultivated, using ordinary life as a model. Good luck to Richard with his arguments for a realistically human view of humanity. I’ve been making them for many years & no one in f/sf has paid the slightest attention.

dan jones & ian miller

I’ve added a couple of new links, to Ian Miller & Dan Jones. Ian is as invigorating as ever–


–while Dan is up to his neck in Kursk at the Young Vic.

Listening to: everything I can get of the Psychedelic Furs. Regretting: a missed lunch at The Modern Pantry. Just finished reviewing: Hodd by Adam Thorpe.

Image copyright Ian Miller.