the m john harrison blog

Month: August, 2018

photo: Cath Phillips

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the schools of night

Catching up late with Cyclogeography, Jon Day’s excitingly obsessive memoir of the cycle-courier trade. Dispatchers become the map, couriers map themselves onto the ground. History & literature of the discipline. All the things, fluidly organised & delivered at speed: just what writing ought to be. Excellent review here. And buy it here or at your usual outlets. I love experiential memoir, hermetic knowledge of actual events; but then you know that. Propellerhead, Junkie, Space Below My Feet, Tales of a Rat Hunting Man, How the Universe Got Its Spots, The Mint: nothing more exciting than someone else’s descent into a discipline–whether it’s sex, math, junk, microlighting, rat-hunting or whatever–and do they or don’t they manage to haul themselves out afterwards. One of the brilliances of Cyclogeography is that it’s catalogued as travel writing. If I was Jon Day I’d be so happy with that. The height of my career was walking into a Charing X Road bookstore & finding Climbers shelved under Fiction, Autobiography, Travel & Sport. What more are you going ask of life? In that kind of writing you surf the difference between the act and the record of the act. You’re jumping red lights in the rain at night in November in a space engineered to be somewhere between life and the discourse. The knack of writing like that is to know exactly where you were in that space when you fell off.

march 2013

Hanwell Bridge to Wharncliffe Viaduct: suburban gardens, each with its decking, its wooden viewing bench, its toy mooring stage. At some point not long ago the river, suffering some sort of flux, the fluid equivalent of a seizure or convulsion, has swept down from the north, exfoliating its banks to grey mud, carrying away the garden-centre fences, the clumps of bamboo and exotic grasses, leaving instead a detritus of broken branches, blanched and ancient looking, tangled together with plastic carrier bags, broken toys and bits of garden architecture from the houses upstream. It has washed away a pebble path here, a nice if flimsy little gazebo there. Suburbia, which previously ran all the way down to the petrol coloured water, now ends ten feet further inland, ceding itself to a mud flat. We follow the river through Brent Lodge zoo and maze, past Hanwell Cricket Club with its views of St Andrews Tower, Ealing, to the point where it crosses Brent Valley Golf Course. There, I write by accident,“Gold Course”; and, extending that immediately to “Gold Coast”, arrive at the concept “Hanwell Gold Coast”. Hanwell Gold Coast, shabbier than some. Everywhere it slows, the stream is pasted with the usual milky brown curd; every large obstacle has a stationary stern eddy filled with beer cans and plastic bottles; and a smaller one at the bow.