the m john harrison blog

Month: March, 2016


IMG_0818Once the West London “research” had been done it remained only to go and look at leary old trees in Richmond Park. These two stopped moving the moment we tried to film them. Later, we watched a pair of ringnecked parakeets courting on a branch: same. They didn’t mind being watched, but they weren’t doing it for posterity thanks very much.

Photo: Cath Phillips.



It’s a little place in the south of England, with timber frame construction and thatch, so compact and self-satisfied it has a sense of being bigger inside than outside. This doesn’t last, of course; but it is a great special effect on a Saturday morning, and can be had in similar villages all the way down the river to the sea. A cat is sitting on a window sill staring across at the roof across the road. There among the chimneys and satellite dishes two large black birds are perched, staring back over their shoulders with their heads and bodies at identical angles. These, the cat says, are the Crow twins, Ugly and Serendipida. Ugly is the sensitive one. His sister would never have a feather on his head harmed. As she says, “You got to look after yourself in this life.” She remembers being less aggressive before they arrived here: unnerved by the very decency of the houses and little shops, frankly disoriented by a borough where no one carries a Colt, they are thinking of moving back to Detroit.


I’m rather enjoying AS Byatt’s The Children’s Story, although sometimes it’s a bit like reading about sexual trading in the power structure of a chimpanzee colony. Makes you realise how lucky you’ve been to live most of your life in atomised modernity. If the price is loneliness, that can be examined–explored, even celebrated–as it’s paid; & freedom from the relentless struggles of classic Victorian patriarchy/matriarchy is absolutely worth it. Large middleclass family dynamics aside, The Children’s Story is another interesting picture of the relations between fiction (as formalised wish-fulfilment) and “worldbuilding” in the actual world. A snapshot of the heyday of that sort of writing. Not perhaps as forceful or compact as Taylor’s Angel, but analytical & exhaustive.

To write anything you have to let go & descend floatily & yet at vast speed through terraced self-awareness, layer by layer, directly into a canyon wider at the top narrower deep down. No one ever hits the bottom anyway, a non-physics fact which I think Milton & others may have missed out on when they said the word “fall”. There really is nowhere to go, only the flutter of your clothes in the turbulence, which I take it base jumpers know more about than most.

nature study

A wren comes out to pick about among the pale green monbretia shoots along the base of next door’s fence, nipping & bobbing, posing tail-up like the wren on the old farthing. What could you emboss on a farthing to indicate it was the smallest unit of currency, now the wren has lost its symbolic function? For those younger people who’ve never seen a wren, it’s quite a small grey-furred mammal the elongated rear legs of which give it an energetic, hopping gait. It has a striking coloured breast often described as “pink” or “roseate”, but in fact much closer to violet. The male is slightly smaller than the female, more colourful & less active. Wrens are quite solitary but breed with enthusiasm in suburban gardens in late March & early April, rearing ten to fifteen “kits” in a litter. Predators include the magpie, or “English Parrot”. In the historical times it was a Boxing Day custom to hunt wrens and offer them on satay sticks at the tradesman’s entrances of the great houses.

(Originally posted as “Hunting the Wren” in January 2010.)

goodnight irene

thcmmttdmb1971-1A lot of moths flutter up when someone disturbs this. 1968, I was so disgusted with the first draft I gave it away. Still can’t say I love the contents, but I always loved the Hutchinson New Authors package and Chris Yates art, which allowed me to think of myself as a proper writer. Covers wouldn’t be so kind to me thereafter, not for a couple of decades anyway. [Image borrowed from Joachim Boaz.]

Oh, and how things do change. An argument which prompted shrieking hysteria less than a decade ago now seems to be an acceptable minority opinion…

nova swing playlist

knife chase/tom waits; narigon/melingo; baby i don’t care/buddy holly; candy land/cocorosie; o deserto/mariza; let’s go out tonite/craig armstrong; clandestino/manu chao; chun li’s swinging bird kick/arctic monkeys; it takes a lot to laugh/bob dylan; on falling/stina nordenstam; vuelvo al sur/mercedes sosa; lowdown/tom waits; lucullus/matt howden; metropolitan/emmanuel santarromana; sweethearts on parade/m ward; you wont fall/lori carson & the golden palominos; libertango/la camorra; tekno love song/cocorosie; love is strange/buddy holly; sailor song/regina spektor; surround me with yr love mental overdrive remix/3-11 porter; waltz for goddess/soil & pimp sessions; desire/ryan adams; primavera/mariza; goodnight irene/tom waits

In that order. Leave a pause then play Harmonium by Stereolab, really, really, really loud….

the space travel

Somebody once arrived here by typing into a search engine, “What colour is the space travel?” It’s a query , I think, which should concern us all. For me–& I hasten to add that this is only an opinion, which I am not in any way trying to foist on anyone else–it’s the colour of Ruth Wilson’s lipstick in the 2007 BBC/HBO co-production of Steven Poliakoff’s Capturing Mary. The space travel will be just as fascinating as that colour. Or maybe it will be the colour of a gas ring in the pitch dark when you come down at four o’ clock in the morning for a drink of water & discover you forgot to switch it off six hours earlier, & it will have all of that sense of shock & simultaneous relief to it, but also a similar sense of wonder. Or maybe, if it’s neither of those, it isn’t a particular colour at all but is many colours having in common a sort of neon quality, so that the space travel is a bit like travel in a large previously-unvisited city at night, & you go to your companion, “Oh, wow, fuck, are you looking at this?” Here at the Ambiente Hotel we not only welcome other opinions about the space travel colour, we invite them.

There’s a new page up, here. Add queries if you like, to the ghost queries that crowd around & fail to find satisfaction etc etc.

Screen+Shot+2016-02-10+at+19.10.36“The accusation of pretentiousness is ‘a form of social control’, designed to keep people in their place and protect the status quo.” Often used by a class against its own members. There was so much of that in the 1950s. But weaponised unpretentiousness soon becomes a pretension in itself. That’s why we moderns dress up as post-Edwardian farm labour while we call other people out for being inauthentic; and every cultural policeman you meet is suddenly both DH Lawrence & a really blunt bloke from a three-issue fanzine in 1982, with just the right kind of “working” dog. (The picture has nothing to do with this, I just liked it.)