This character never has much more than an unconscious relationship with events. His awareness always skims them, or goes round them, or manages to find a way of dismissing them as shallow and insubstantial even as they’re happening. If the things that happen to him are taken in at all–actually engaged with or reacted to–it must be the unconscious which does that work, because his consciousness always seems to be off somewhere else. It’s never really connected up. Things’ effects on him have thus to be welcomed later, in symbols. Sometimes the return of the repressed will be all he has to work with to understand what has actually taken place.
Soon after we moved into the Dulwich house, we were called over to number 31 at one in the morning to help pick Lord Arquiss up.
His wife ran about in the empty street for a while, trying to attract our attention. A light, dry snow was dusting the road, wreathing and twisting along like dust round each quick little step. “Look at this,” said Elaine, who knew a performance when she saw one. “Not dancing but waving.” She waved back until the ballerina gave up and rang our bell.
“I wouldn’t ask,” the ballerina told us, “but he’s had a little bit much to drink, so we can’t really call the ambulance.”
Their front room was full of furniture too big for it, dimly lit by standard lamps with tasseled satin shades. Lord Arquiss lay waiting for us on the carpet at the base of a display cabinet, arranged on the glass shelves of which were hundreds of very small items in a kind of bright blue glass. He was looking up mischievously from the side of his eye. One of his slippers had fallen off. His legs, thick but somehow graceful, poked out of the bottom of the shortie dressing gown, their color somewhere between white and cream. His skin was very smooth. He had a faint, distinct smell — not unpleasant — which reminded me of babies. We got him up off the floor and back into his chair with difficulty. He was still a heavy man, even in a dressing gown and with naked, biscuit-colored balls.
He looked unrepentant; the ballerina looked relieved. “You must have a drink,” they urged; filled two glasses with Famous Grouse; and spent an hour telling us anecdotes of people called Tippy or Ticky — people who were Malcolm Sargent’s mistress in some old days even the participants barely now recall — people who had been well used to falling down and being picked up again.
from “Black Houses”, in Things That Never Happen, 2002.
Recent turns in my life, not directly related, make this, from 2009, seem worth repeating–
I went to one of the infamous Dylan concerts–Leicester de Montfort Hall, I think–as a raw, betrayed, left wing folkie, ready to heckle as soon as that sell-out reneged on his roots, denied his past & picked up an electric guitar. My girlfriend of the time, too. Two funny, smooth, unmarked, optimistic little faces turned up at the stage ready to defend our values, ready to defend our hero against his own bad decisions. By the end of the accoustic half of the show, I couldn’t bear my own anxiety & had dissociated as a defence.
Then a minute into the first electric song, I was electrified too, & so was she. Everyone around us got up & boo’d; but we got up and cheered & danced & kissed each other’s amazed faces. It was Love Minus Zero No Limit & it went through me like a crack in a mirror, & if I played it now–what? 40-odd years later?–& they have been odd years–I would just cry & cry & cry.
So, actually: fuck “Play some old!” Play some old is just very bad advice, which comes from chipmunks & children already afraid of time. Go on! Go where your work takes you, & don’t be forced into yesterday’s postures–already looking strained & meaningless–by an audience scared to move along with you.
Original post, June 6 2009, here.
“Mornings go slowly, then the afternoon seems to rush away. I was besotted with this house. It was a love affair. Now I’m anxious and afraid again. I see every imperfection, every chip and dent. This morning I found dirt on the kitchen table. It wasn’t there the night before. It was the kind of dirt you find in a flower pot, dark, fibrous. My desk is out of true with the wall and two or three inches away from where I arranged it. That happened overnight. After we had been here three months I looked up in the bedroom and saw that the loft entrance was disarranged, just slightly open. The only conclusion I can come to is that someone else is living here with us.”
Fifty years looking out of trains at night. The lines of lights, the distant neon, the way everything is laid out across a landscape you can’t see but which is somehow implied along with all its concomitant failures. Lights stacked on top of one another. Lights outlining buildings. Traffic lights glimpsed going through their cycle at empty junctions. Motorway boards. The tragic patina of light falling into a box room or a ground mist. The lives lived in it appear just like real lives. I don’t know what I mean. What can you mean, stationary again in some brownfield site on the edge of Wolverhampton, some nowhere, eleven thirty at night, late home again to an empty house?
Lost & Found
Rockets of the Western Suburbs
Entertaining Angels Unawares
Elf Land: the Lost Palaces
Last Transmission from the Deep Halls
Places you Didn’t Think to Look for Yourself
Not All Men
Keep Smiling (with Great Minutes)
The Theory Cadre
Recovering the Rites
In the Crime Quarter
The Good Detective
Name This City
The Old Fox
Explaining the Undiscovered Continent
Back to the Island
Cave & Julia
At the Seaside
Getting Out of There
Poor souls blundered helplessly around in the remains of their lives in the atrium of Manchester John Rylands Library yesterday evening. It was a curious tale, indeed it was two of them. The Rylands would be a fantastic place to read anything, let alone a ghost story. Spotted in the audience: John Coulthart & the fabled Michael Butterworth. Nick Royle took this picture in the modern annexe afterwards–Left to right: Alison Moore, Tom Fletcher, Beth Ward & AN Other. Curious Tales: Poor Souls’ Light.
Poor Souls’ Light event in Birmingham this evening, with Jenn Ashworth and Alison Moore. Decided to read the first twenty minutes of “Animals”. Thought I’d better try that out. Strange to read aloud for the first time something you wrote nearly a decade ago. There’s already something like a dirty window between you and it. You keep thinking, “Why did I write this? Did I write this to be read out loud? Or just for the page?” Then you begin to to remember who you were back then, and the inevitable huge rift opens up between the two of you. There’s a further complication with “Animals”: it’s assembled from so many layers of my own life that reading it is like reading a maze, like trying to interpret your own geological nonconformities and discontinuities. I feel like a Robert Aickman character, looking for Rosamund’s Bower but without any idea what Rosamund’s Bower might be or at what point you might be said to have found it. Serves me right I expect.
Here’s the first scene of “Animals”, my contribution to the Curious Tales Christmas anthology, Poor Souls’ Light—
“In late June, Susan rented a cottage for a fortnight. It was tucked away at the seaward end of a lane; beyond it there was only flat light on the sand dunes and open beach. The paperwork required her to collect the keys from a Mrs Lago, who lived at the other end of the lane where it joined the road. Mrs Lago turned out to be sixtyish, frail-looking but active, with watery blue eyes, bright red lipstick and a selection of cotton print dresses two generations too young for her. During the summer her grassy front garden, across which had been scattered some round white plastic tables, did duty as a cafe. She was in and out all day, carrying trays of cakes, fitting umbrellas into the sockets in the centre of the tables to keep the rain off. In the evening the onshore wind blew everything about, and it lay in the rain looking shabby.
“Susan called as instructed and found the garden full of sparrows. They gathered round her while she waited for the keys, cocking their heads right and left. They ate cake crumbs, first from the ground, then the chairs, then the very edge of the table. Then they took off all at once and one of them flew through the open door into the house, where it fluttered inside the window just above the sill among the china ornaments and little vases. Its panic was terrible. Mrs Lago went inside and after some reckless stumbling about appeared with it in her hands at the door. It was squawking and cheeping miserably. As soon as she let it go it shot off across the garden.
“‘I thought it was going to break my lucky horseshoe,’ she said, looking at Susan in a vague but excited way. ‘It’s been broken once before.’
“’Has it ?’ Susan said.
“You were always the junior partner in a conversation with Mrs Lago, your responses limited to, ‘Yes. No. Isn’t it ?’ and, ‘I did!’ Listening to yourself make them was a bit like listening to one end of a telephone conversation. She had a curious lurching walk. She owned two or three dogs that sometimes got out and ran up and down the lane, surprised by a freedom they couldn’t seriously exploit.”