the m john harrison blog

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the real dream

I dreamed of being in love with an airline pilot. I was younger than I am now. She was tall and full of life. Her father, a short man who had flown jet fighters in the Falklands, came out against the affair. He hated me because I was only a passenger and I had been late on to the plane. My papers weren’t fully in order, which caused one hold up; after which there was something to do with pills, which caused another. I had hurt my left hand climbing. Trying to be cheerful with everyone, I said: “These gritstone abrasions are always slow to heal.” But really, the thumb and part of the hand were missing and the exposed flesh had gone an odd colour. Inside the various cracks and fissures of the wound, so that they looked as if they were interleaved with strips of raw bacon, were strange creamy looking blobs of something. I didn’t want to acknowledge this but in the end I had to look. They were small, slim, white crocuses, growing in tight clusters in my hand. When I woke up it was snowing again.

“there are goats richer than us”

1491. Oakham, a fictional village just outside Bruton in Somerset, is a dump. Its villagers are a rowdy, bad-luck menagerie of “scrags and outcasts”. A row of poor harvests has devastated their investment in arable farming. Isolated in a bend of the river, they need a bridge to the outside world. The surrounding villages are getting rich on imported sugar and the new sugar products; they’re still getting rich on wool–while even in that established trade Oakham lags technologically, spinning with distaff and spindle, fulling the wool by foot. “There are goats richer than us,” John Reve, the local priest, ruefully admits. Then, a few days before the beginning of Lent, a corpse snags briefly on a fallen tree in the river, then vanishes… Read the rest of my review of Samantha Harvey’s The Western Wind here.

did you see him

I saw him too! He was with his cat. The cat–it was white–was keeping three feet ahead and about five to the side, in the angle between the wall and the street. I’m glad you saw them, and especially there. I daydream about the light there this time of year. I can’t quite understand why I’m not there now. It’s an enchanted venue more than any other. You hear the music two streets away. You look up and see soot. A church. Trees, feathered against the sky like something real. The world is just completely perfect, completely completed. The minotaur hides in the maze, the maze hides in itself. Look down at your hands, so cold you can hardly open them. Time to go now, it will all be there for you again tomorrow. It’s a noticeboard with just so much of everything written on it, we must somehow preserve that. We’re brave enough but we have to make such tragic assumptions.

You Should Come With Me Now

not really a metaphor

This house is old, late 1700s. It shifts and resettles with the weather. It makes noises in the night. It makes noises when you walk about. It’s seen a few things. It’s “like a ship”, whatever that might once have meant. All the impressive old floorboards, along with some of the less impressive newer ones, are interestingly warped. They’re bowed, creaky and flexible. Yes, they’re fun–like the mystery cupboard someone made from part of a now-vanished staircase on the top floor–but more fun than you might want when you wake up in the dark with your anxieties arranged unartfully around you. Next day you’re aware of every dip and bounce. Outside the dry cold winds of late February grind around the town. The loft is fine to think about because the roof’s good and the floor up there’s brand new. We could sail the loft out of this port any time. We never use the word “subside”.

Disconnected memories. Uncertainty of events and entities in their relations with reality. The author positioned like Maxwell’s demon, feeling able to claim that this is the inside & that is the outside (the conscious & unconscious, the forgotten & remembered, the admissible & the inadmissible). Calculatedly inefficient filters will be placed at points of transition represented as boundaries and edgelands. The hiatus or glitch, the dropped catch or stitch between the living & the written.

Originally blogged as “who’s dead & who’s alive”, 2016

start point

When I was an obsessive climber, Shropshire was just a corridor you went down to get to Wales. You turned right or left at Birmingham, depending whether you’d come north or south. The effect of blinkering yourself in that way is that you accidentally save up unexplored territories. By 2005, whole areas of the country were overwhelming me with the sudden, pure clarity you feel in childhood and adolescence–nostalgia for landscapes you’ve yet to investigate, places you’ve yet to know. Shropshire, the South Downs, the Rhinogs: the world seemed new again, but now it was set up perfectly for an old head. I was certain I could make something out of this feeling, but publishing–which would rather you didn’t find things new again, for fear you might wander off on the wrong track–got in the way and since then writing has been a process of struggling back to a lost start point, through a substance a bit like glue.

duties of care

A dream in which I was looking for someone, or making a journey to a house where they could be found. I went on foot & sometimes by bike. I had to take a small bird with me. Sometimes the bird flew, sometimes I carried it in my hand. My hand had to be held flat or very shallowly cupped, in case I crushed the bird. I had some worry about that, & some worry that the bird might fly off or become lost. At the same time, this was not a dream of anxiety. The person I was looking for could be described like this: a boy, younger than twelve but quite grown up & intellectually mature, very companionable & at ease with people. The house might be described like this: no older than the 1930s but feeling Edwardian. Detached. In the Home Counties. On a hill, in woods. On soft earth. Bay windows. The bicycle considerably more modern. No threat in this dream, & the only tension centered on the bird, for which I felt a duty of care. I was looking forward to seeing the boy, whose ideas & ability to talk were already attracting the interest of writers & teachers.

the build

The handrails of Stoneway Steps are somehow both rusty and polished by use. The stair descends a succession of slots between frost-peeled red brick walls built on to layered outcrops of eroded sandstone poisoned with oxides and thick with cobwebs. Look up and you see the backs of houses and shops in the High Town. Old disused doors open into the air. Windows dusty and broken, likewise. The steps, bound with iron, rims shining from use in the wet depths, fall away towards the 16th Century houses by the river. Bridgnorth–pronounced with heavy emphasis on the second syllable–has the only inland cliff railway in Britain; also a church built by Thomas Telford, from the grounds of which the tilted ruins of Robert Bellem’s castle (founded 1101, demolished 1647) look less like architecture than the bow of some curious unfinished ship, darkly grooved, pocked, implying further structure hidden behind the trees–part-riveted decks, perhaps, vast girders with the cladding yet to be applied. It’s as if Telford had built St Mary Magdalen’s not on top of a hill but at the edge of a dock: as if his genius had already seen into some future of immense sea-level rises. The castle gardens are, by way of a counter-statement, comfortably ordered, safely landlocked, full of bedding plants.

never think beyond the problem of getting things down

Stop reading. Stop being anxious about your relations with books. Assume your skills are adequate. Assume you don’t know who you are. Go away to another town. When you get there, don’t “write”: instead begin recording what you see. Describe a life you can only be on the edge of. Get those people down. Get down what they do, what they say, how they say it. Aim for observational accuracy but understand that you can only ever proceed from emotional & moral judgements you have already made. Never try to resolve that opposition. Never think beyond the problem of getting things down. Keep everything. After two years go back to where you came from, if you any longer believe that to be possible, or if you believe yourself any longer to be the you that went away. You can start trying to “write” again now.

Originally published as “note found in a copy of The Cosmic Code”, in 2013.