the m john harrison blog

Month: August, 2015

muppetised

Horror, some people believe, is a sensation that arrives with the discovery that “we’re the monsters”. That was an interesting position for a while. But lots of other things are horrific & have nothing to do with this kind of narcissism; and subsequent across-the-board application has turned the idea into a cliche of unearned self-forgiveness, muppetising by cross-fertilisation both monster and human being. Embracing your monsterhood is the Thatcherite/neoLiberal excuse for impulse action, especially when it leads to being a shit. It’s from that generation. It began to gain traction just when you’d expect, in the early 1980s, and peaked with the horrified recognition that New Labour was a nest of cannibals. Your own narcissism can be kept within reasonable bounds: true horror is the discovery that Tony Blair’s can’t.

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october is the weirdest month

17th October I’m at Goldsmiths with Tim Etchells & many another, for the Fiction As Method conference. If time allows I might read a new short fiction presently entitled “Yummie”, written for 2016 publication in an original anthology I’m not sure I’m supposed to talk about yet (story of my life this year). Tim will probably have something more sensible to contribute, which we can then discuss. A week later, on the 25th, I’m back at the uncanny Manchester Rylands Library for Twisted Tales of the Weird–readings & discussions with Timothy Jarvis & the eerie Helen Marshall. What is the weird (& how much longer can it support itself as a category)? You can be sure none of us know the answer to that. Time will be more constrained at the Rylands, so you’ll have to be content with a few hundred words from the novel in progress.

Both events are free but ticketed: order now to be certain of satisfaction.

in the park

Obelisk on a base of eroded local stone. Several little gravestones commemorating Chumble, Coco, Bessie, Mollie, Porridge, pet names that could be equally for animals or people. “This must be where they buried the servants,” C says. Much of the stone in the park is laminated. Judging by the quarry in the bay at the north end of the lake, and the exposed rock in the cuttings, this is intrinsic & not much to do with subsequent erosion. It comes out of the ground wafery and brittle. From a distance, the pillars of the Ionic temple seem like ideal volumes; closer to they’re rippled, loose, falling apart into the same world as you. Leaden, coffin-shaped garden planters with a knot design, a rose design, their edges are battered, cut, used-looking. An empty plinth between yews. Walled garden: lines of ruined Victorian glasshouses; rusty iron curves; grubbed-up tree roots, charred looking and still clasping chunks of the glasshouse foundations two or three bricks on a side. Clee Hill slumps on the hot skyline, against architectural June cloud, while an unaccompanied Italian greyhound wanders disconsolately between the tables on the terrace and someone says, “I don’t like the smell of sweet peas, they’ve got an edge to them. Something musty underneath.”

“…the awful transmutation of the hills” –Arthur Machen

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mapping

Now the dust has settled I can see that my 70th birthday books haul includes: A Philosophy of Walking, Frederic Gros; Henk Van Rensbergen’s superb Abandoned Places; The Illiterate, Agota Kristoff; The Slate Sea, poems & photographs, ed Paul Henry & Zed Nelson; Britain & Ireland’s Best Wild Places, Christopher Somerville; Dusk, Axel Hoedt; and The Near Death Thing by Rick Broadbent, interviews with Manx TT riders. To help me navigate this complex territory I have in addition a 1930s quarter-inch map of North Wales & Manchester. I’m going to start by running Gros & Broadbent concurrently.

SC visits for one night. She’s over here to sell her place in Barnes, where I was her tenant for fourteen years. She’s committed to the States now, she thinks, looking after an ageing mother in Pennsylvania, teaching at Juillard, & may not be back again. We talk about age & death. As she’s getting into the rental Volkswagen to drive to Richmond next morning, I think for a brief moment how the wind round the house–any house, but this one in particular, with its complicated roofs–sounds just a little too much like the wind in a 1960s Japanese movie. This year seemed to start out full of promise; now it’s just one lesson after another, all of them about the same thing.

we can deal with this

Tall old guy in running gear–not new, not old, perfectly neat but on the perfect edge of shabby–which says, “These clothes are thin but I’m thinner”–standing on the apron of the Ogwen Interpretation Centre looking out at the rain. We exchange the old guy look, which is often accompanied by a minute shrug & in this case means, “What the fuck is an Interpretation Centre, other than Euromoney turned into the lousiest architecture and emptiest content you’ve ever seen? What is an Interpretation Centre, other than an expensive drying-room in which these sodden D of E kids can cluster, drip and shout while they stuff down the hydrogenated fats?” Then he gives me a good-natured smile, as if to add, “We know all this and don’t begrudge it. We know all this about the weather in Idwal, dirty weather streaming down the slabs, slopping in your shoes, blackening the lake, one seagull in the saturated air, & yet we’re still here, still in Ogwen though Ogwen no longer quite represents an experience of itself we understand.” It isn’t a weak smile, it’s a frail unbreakable one, as strong and languid as his running style, a smile that’s learned such a lot, waiting all these years for the rain to stop.