the m john harrison blog

Month: December, 2014

further dialogue of the clergy

“One evening towards the end of April I found myself staring out of a shop window at a man parking his car in the darkening street.”

“–but our generation slipped voluntarily into a kind of mediocrity the young cannot imagine, an acceptance that nothing more is possible; that energy is low and must be husbanded; that life is linear, thin, one-dimensional–”

“He reversed jerkily, lurched impatiently to a stop. He pulled some boxes out of the back seat and shoved them into the front.”

“–and self-circumscribed.”

“All his movements were abrupt and irritable. He got out of the car and got back into it again.”

“All of life, I sometimes think, has been a way of deciding the difference between what we do and some ritual young women perform at the same hour every Wednesday.”

“It was after seven when I turned away from the window, and the shop was beginning to empty. Did I finish telling you about Margaret?”

“No, I don’t think you did.”

“Look how light it is out there. February already! Such a pleasure to travel while there’s still light!”


long mynd

-1Photo: Cath Phillips

dscf3237Boxing Day 2009, happy memories.

the burden of possibility

Two important-looking clergymen prowl uneasily in the bitter platform cold. They are travelling down from Leeds to London. When the train arrives they sit on opposite sides of a reserved table in the quiet carriage. “Young mothers with chipped nail varnish,” the first begins, “fill themselves with cigarette smoke for a brief blank moment of satisfaction.” To this challenge, the other responds: “When you take your clothes to the laundrette you are reaffirming or celebrating your identity. Its components dance, spin, enumerate themselves in front of your eyes.” At this, they nod and smile; a slight milkiness, an opaqueness, passes across their eyes. Later that same night they’re collecting armfuls of dead roses from the expensive homes along the river in Chiswick. “Your mind unravels like a pullover as your driver explains to you the positions of the stars.” “Certain kinds of wear and tear reveal themselves. Every personality is prone. On the other hand its renewable energies become clear.” These two men have a uniform whiteness of hair the secret of which has been lost to the laity. Neither of them drink coffee. “It occurs to me I will probably never need to write, ‘He fell into the abyss of the nunnery.'” “And yet you never know.”

the crown

Winter solstice. The woods are dark and slathered with mud. The sun rises as bitter as gall, the deer run diagonally across the hillside. The wind’s along the Edge. It’s in the trees. You can hear the hounds but they’re down the valley yet.DSCF7632And is this half-resolved object in the seep (somewhere between an anxiety-ridden hairdresser’s manikin & the symbol of guilt that drags itself off the mud flats in John Gordon’s The House on the Brink) really all that remains of last night’s Heritage Ritual in the Tontine Hotel, Ironbridge?

I should have added “Once A Year” by Axel Hoedt & Heike Geissler (Steidl, 2013) to my nonfiction list for 2014. Animal mask ritual in Old Weird Europe. “In this strange place, one can get quite close to being faceless.”

lit up from within

A Christmas farrago from The Course of the Heart, soon to be in print again–

“In that part of Warwickshire the winter copses seem to hang forever in the moment of darkening against a pale blue sky–as if it will take forever for night to fall–in a gesture so perfect there will never need to be another day. Medieval strip-fields, Tudor gateposts; narrow lanes and banks choked with ivy awash in horizontal light; yew berries, waxy and tubular, somehow lit up from within so that they look like fairy lights in the gathering dusk: even without snow this is a landscape continually composing itself as a Christmas card. Even now, a chance configuration of cottages and bare elm trees will remind me how I trudged home across the cold ploughed fields at the close of an afternoon in late December: a boy thirteen or fourteen, composed only of the things he wanted at that moment–the warmth of a front room with its Christmas lights and strings of tinsel, the smell of toast.

“I loved the holly that grew by my grandmother’s door. Every Spring, among its new leaves, you found clusters of small flowers as complicated as cyphers, four petals and four white stamens arranged to make up a sort of eight-pointed star. The petals had an almost hallucinatory touch of purple near the tips. Male and female holly flowers grow on separate trees; only the females bear berries. In winter, my grandmother’s holly bore ‘a berry as bright as any wound’.

“The holly and the ivy! Every time you hear that carol, whatever its provenance, you take the full weight of the medieval experience, which was itself just like a childhood. To them, words seemed mysterious and valuable in their own right; the berries so bright against the dark foliage of the tree! But rowan and yew berries are just as bright. So are hawthorn berries, especially when they are new. Hips and haws are as bright. All are instrumental and have their magical and symbolic associations, but none as dark and childlike as this myth of conscious sacrifice, organised, performed, expressed, as the matrix of a culture!”

curiouser & curiouser

Poor souls blundered helplessly around in the remains of their lives in the atrium of Manchester John Rylands Library yesterday evening. It was a curious tale, indeed it was two of them. The Rylands would be a fantastic place to read anything, let alone a ghost story. Spotted in the audience: John Coulthart & the fabled Michael Butterworth. Nick Royle took this picture in the modern annexe afterwards–B5KeYHLIUAAfHqu-1Left to right: Alison Moore, Tom Fletcher, Beth Ward & AN Other. Curious Tales: Poor Souls’ Light.

christmas card to the labour party

My parents & grandparents lived in fear. They lived in fear of illnesses we don’t even remember. They lived in fear of illness despite the NHS because they had lived without the NHS. My parents and grandparents lived in fear of losing their livelihoods. They lived in fear of old age, even after pensions came in, because they remembered the time before state pensions. My parents and grandparents lived with fear all their lives, either inside the social and economic systems David Cameron is bringing back daily, or in the memory of living inside the social systems David Cameron is bringing back daily. I don’t want to end my life the way it began, in constant anxiety and fear. That’s why I won’t vote Labour in 2015. I won’t vote Labour because they are afraid not to agree with the Tories. I won’t vote Labour because they are no longer strong enough to represent people who are afraid. I won’t vote labour because they are the dishonest rump of the party that fought to change the lives of people who had to live in fear. I do not take the argument that Because Things Are Different Now A New Kind of Labour Party Is Necessary, and that therefore everything I have said here is “old fashioned class war”. The Tories are bringing all those old fashioned things back and the Labour Party is already behind the ball. By not acknowledging the Tory project–the businessman’s revenge for the New Deal, massive social re-engineering based on fear–Labour has committed suicide not just on its own behalf but on behalf of the people it had a duty to represent. Things aren’t different now. They were different for a while, between 1945 and the mid 1980s, because we had a strong Labour Party, a real Labour Party, but now they are back the way they were. I won’t vote for a party that blinkers itself in the light of that.

M. John Harrison, ‘The 4th Domain’. A potent distillation of Harrison’s bleakly compelling corpus. There are sardonic references to Borges, seedy séances in a house by a graveyard, intimations of ancient lost civilizations, shattered lives, blood, and forbidden lore. Like the Thames at East Sheen, it has a surface scum that glisters deceptively, but dark currents lie beneath. Harrison achieves in this short story what, for most, would take an entire novel.

—Timothy Jarvis at The Weird Fiction Review.