the m john harrison blog

Category: barely believable

brexit to the stars

When I see the words, “Seven Earthlike Exoplanets Discovered,” I can’t help reading, “Seven planets so close to their sun that they’re tidally-locked, with years ranging from one & a half days to nearly a fortnight.” And I can’t help asking myself, just for a second or two before the Joy of Expensively Fictionalising Materials (artists’ impressions designed to look as much like real photographs of discoverable objects as possible; retro travel posters returning us to science fiction worlds of yore) hypnotises me: exactly what can be described as earthlike about that game of pool?

For that matter, what is sunlike about the barely warm grape they’re orbiting? And in a slightly different but associated question, why are we at all interested in this irritable little knot of physics tying and untying itself in the middle of a kind of gloomridden void, when, at any imaginably attainable speed, it would take an almost geological period of time to get there? What kind of possiblities exist in such discoveries, except for astronomers? What kind of wish-fulfilment is going on here for everyone else? What need is NASA supplying? Who are they patronising?

Obviously it’s important that a space agency has brought us the news, not a science fiction writer. It’s backed by years of authority, years in the business. Nobody seems to have got the message inherent in that, which is that by bringing us this pious gosh-wow the space agency has become just another source of fantasy. (& actually not a very inventive or interesting one.)

This is just another room in the Punch & Judy Show. It’s science’s own fake news. It’s the spectacle of science in the spectacle, helping to dig the grave of its own raison d’etre by giving the media what the media wants. What’s heartbreaking is how warmly people welcome these Brexit buses, one after the other, gliding down the spacelanes towards happy, shiny worlds of plenty & wonder. Toot toot, all aboard. We’re off to the Gravy Planets.

interesting times

Despite being the definition of selfish, the Tories always know when it’s time to pull together–because if they don’t, nobody will get their snout in the trough. While Labour, despite starting from the assumption that we all should work for the common good, face every crisis by factionalising, falling apart and adamantly refusing to co-operate with one another. This has got to mean something, but I am not clever enough to see what it is. The other noticeable thing about this farrago is explanatory failure. People I admired for their political steadiness reveal themselves to be as changeable–as at a loss and dependent on the gossip of the last minute or two to form a plan–as I am. While outside UKIP and the political journalism industry, you sense, even the bigots no longer know what to think. And of course, everyone’s running for cover in one vomit-inducing fantasyland or another as quickly as they can. In later life, Christopher Isherwood felt it necessary to apologise for manipulating his friends so they made better material for fiction; an entire culture is going to be apologising for itself in a generation’s time.

When the world has gone to hell in a handcart & the muppets are admitting they never had a plan, there’s only one thing to do & that’s watch Jain Kim. There’s a heel hook & rock-on (or whatever they call them nowadays) at about 6 minutes 40 that almost restores your faith in human beings. We’re all desperate for a rest from the shite at the moment, so don’t bother reading me any riot acts about this. Each to their own bottle of scotch & loaded Webley in the study. Best in full screen.

flooded

“Who has time for a shower?” the Guardian asks today: “How busy people get ready.” One celebrity lays the breakfast table before bed; another seems to “slip on her children’s tracksuit bottoms”, which to be honest seems ambiguous if you only read the lede. But what is the secret of a good morning routine? Well, ask the people who live in Tadcaster or Glenridding and they might say: “To not be flooded & have a sewage tidemark in your house.” Nothing illustrates the middle class entitlement to safety–or the idea that built environment sustained by an ideology can supply it–better than a lifestyle article. Will people get this at last? No. And it’s a bit late to get it now anyway; my sympathies go to those who got it fifty years ago and wore themselves threadbare trying to be heard. Might as well just have popped the bubble up around them and got on with consuming their lives like everyone else, because nothing except a proper old fashioned disaster was, or is, going to change the outcome. Meanwhile–aside from the lifestyle game, in which everyone’s just so busy they can’t be expected to take anything else in–they’re all queueing to get their slice, score their points, lay the blame, act out their ideological position for the public: the politicians, the army, the religions, the media. Have I missed anyone?

hi dave

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who is anyone kidding here

Or knows which way up anything is. You need a lot of bolts & sometimes even that’s not enough. There’s no certainty this is the neck or that, even if it is, it’ll hold the head on. Just the usual sounds of the floor being up, probably in the wrong room, & a cheerful sense of applied despair. All morning connecting three feet of pipe to nothing. Fucked ducting. Defibrillators, dessicant dehumidifiers & now something like a lobster the size of a kiddy but without a shell, stuffed in there for reasons no right minded person could entertain. You’re late, you brought the wrong tools & you’re supposed to think of this as the chassis? Then shouts from near a stream (they sound like they come out of the Brueghel in the middle distance) & your mother’s voice from, really, a long time ago, asking what’s the story & advising you put that arm down. You’re in the wrong house again, Jack, & it’s rain later.

photo: s sarre, 2003

photo: s sarre, 2003

the story today

Dear BBC, I know that the story is the story. But do you have to structure every story around the story that it’s a story, & advise me that you’re storying the story, EVEN WHEN IT’S JUST THE FUCKING WEATHER? I’m fucking storied up to here with the fucking story. Really. I just want to know if it’s going to rain. I do not want to know that it’s going to be “a story of rain”. I do not want the story of the rain. I want to know if it’s going to rain or not. Anything else is meaningless nonsense to me in this context. Rain or no rain? Be careful how you answer this. Because you are a weather forecaster. Get it?

Today’s story has been one of bollocks all over the British Isles, with more bollocks, I’m afraid to say, to come.

it’s the new pictures: a spiel in medias res

He rang the bell three times & banged the doorknocker twice in the time it took me to get down from the top floor. “We’ve just had the new pictures done,” he said, as if we’d met previously, maybe in some pub, & discussed it all, & I’d asked him to let me know the moment they were ready. I had no idea what he was talking about. He stood bent at the neck a little, as if the doorway was too small for him & he had to peer under the lintel to look inside. He was dressed in a yellow short-sleeved shirt and he sounded a little like George Formby. He was in a rush. It was as if he had rushed to get here & now he was already rushing to get away. At the same time he was insistent. As soon as he saw I was 60-odd, he raised his voice a few decibels & shouted, “The pictures? The new pictures?” At this time I had not had a chance to speak. I had jogged down three flights of stairs at the end of the afternoon, which is not my best time, & I had left behind the last reasonably promising sentence of the day, the upshot of which I knew I would forget if someone encouraged me to take part in a conversation. “I’m sorry?” I said. “The pictures!” he shouted. “It’s the new aerial pictures! Of your house?” “Ah,” I said. “No thanks. Really.” He stood on the doorstep, acting as if I had forced him to look down under the lintel to get a glimpse of me. “Are you going to close the door in my face?” he shouted as I began to close the door. He was appealing not to me but to the street at large. When I got back upstairs I had forgotten not only the ending of the sentence but why I had been writing it in the first place. I was glad to be a man aged 60-odd, because if I had been a woman of that age he would not only have shouted at me as if I was deaf & stupid, he would have got a foot in the door & called me “petal”.

happy xmas, Iain Duncan Smith

This year I decided, against my normal practice, to send the Tories a Christmas Card. I hope everything that can go wrong for you will, that everything you can’t control comes back on you & controls you, and that as you sing your self-exculpating Victorian hymns (sing in exculpation) and eat your vast expensive meals, you smell for just a second your humanity rotting in its grave.

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A Happy Christmas to everyone else, the best possible Christmas to the fucked up and the nearly done, all the deadbeats and ne’er-do-wells, the metaphysicians, atheists and losers, all the so-called scroungers, all those not in receipt of a Royal pardon, all the thoughtful, intelligent and above all decent people who believe there is such a thing as a society, the readers and the writers, students and philosophers, and–especially–a big shout out to the 32,000 paid-up UK citizens who on Christmas Eve didn’t receive benefits to which they were entitled, due to “administrative error”.

Let’s get together in the New Year and start putting things to rights. It’s going to be a long haul: but it was a longer haul, from a harder place, in the first half of the last century, and those people managed it.