the m john harrison blog

Tag: notes

characters (1)

This character took the decision to bury his early hopes under the weight of overexpectation & consequent disappointment then repressed the horror of that as quickly as possible. The effect was of stuffing a live part of himself into a box & shutting the lid. Each time he accomplished the manoeuvre there was less of himself to stuff in. The job seemed easier–was easier in some way–yet the amount of effort he had to put into the procedure increased. More energy needed to be redirected each time to make sure he didn’t hear his own calls for help.

in the rain

“If you watch enough art,” Melody says, “you will always leave your umbrella in the coat check.” She’s spent the morning in the museum with her friend. She also says, “I wish I’d kept those old clothes. I’ve lost enough weight to get back into them now.” They study the map of the museum gardens, which, with its simple arterial branchings and lobed outline, resembles disturbingly the diagram of an internal organ. “Do you know,” says Melody’s friend, looking around: “I never realised the power of white!”


The light has a warmer quality, which has brought out the biscuit colours of the gable ends along Grove Road. For days the street has been full of children on bicycles taking their proficiency test. Tucked into yellow safety wear & pink helmets, they cycle back & forth with attentive expressions & a careful lack of elan. Points are awarded for the proper use of the hand signal, but this morning I can’t seem to get worked up about that. Down towards the river the street trees are shocking green again, glowing & roaring as they suck in the sunlight to re-emit it at outlandish, artificial-looking wavelengths. You would not eat that colour if it came as a fast food, although it might win you over if they baked it on to the fat alloy tubes of a new bike. Or you might just be curious enough to Google for it with some heartbreaking search string like “high speed jets of matter”. Whatever it is, nature has no right to it except at the extreme end of things where stuff only just hangs together. & this is on a tree, in a street near you! It comes in a bad colour, but it’s life. There’s no life at all on my balcony, only induviae: pots of rotten brown sticks folded over & streaked with black; the strange, silvery, papery transparencies of the remains of flowers. I go out & think about pulling some of this stuff up, but end up staring into the street at the lines of cyclists. When they spot the kiddies in their yellow safety wear, even the white van drivers slow down. Curious, amiable, collapsed expressions come on their faces, as if they are trying to remember how to be human.

my kind of porn

Dave TV is running old episodes of helicopter rescue programmes. I switch on straight into footage of the 2004 Boscastle flood. Machines from different services edge nervously round each other in the sky, trying not to run into one another, or into any wires or hills. Boscastle has aged suddenly, taking on the visual status of a ruin falling back into the coastline, a deserted mining village in a brown & white photograph. “It’s mayhem down there,” someone’s dispatcher remarks, looking at the floating cars banging off buildings and bridges on their way down to the sea. Then he adds thoughtfully, “You’ve still got those powerlines off to your left.” Normally, one of the helicopters would fly up to 5,000 feet and from there co-ordinate the operations of the others. But the continuing storm prevents that. So they land gingerly on the local football field and negotiate. There’s so much custom for them in Boscastle you get the feeling they’re embarrassed. In programmes like these there are always plenty of numbers. In 2004, for instance, 76 cars were swept through Boscastle and ended up in the sea. I’m not here for the statistics. I’m here for the helicopter porn. A red and white Coast Guard Sea King is fastened above the greyish-brown turbulence; only the water and the rotor blades are moving; the machine has a body-language of intense attentiveness, as if it is fishing. Adolescent holidaymakers are the more usual subjects of rescue. They become separated from their bodyboards, or fall off a cliff drunk or go too far on a rubber dinghy. “There’s no let up for Whiskey Bravo,” the voiceover tells us. The crew of Whiskey Bravo wouldn’t want one. They want to work. I deeply admire their calm concentration & their quiet, especially practical argot, the rhythms and stresses of which return language to something worthwhile (from what I know it as, anyway, something you can never trust even–indeed especially–when you made it yourself). “The downwash is right underneath us. Steady. In contact. Steady, steady. Just over the surf line, two feet on the main gear on the right.”

mexican death tv

My writing desk is a long, solid structure made of two thuggy planks– stained, knocked about, but having in places of high wear (the mousing area, for instance) a buttery patina–supported on a timber frame. It runs under the window for nearly eight feet, but I tuck myself into one end of that as if embarrassed or overpowered by such an executive allocation of space. It was originally a photographer’s bench, I think; equally, you could rebuild an engine on it if anyone did that anymore. It’s not mine, it was here when I arrived in 1998, but it’s the most satisfying desk I’ve ever had. My ideal is to keep it bare of everything but the engine of the Mac. No pens, paper, books, nothing to remind me of what I do for a living except the screen, the writing space itself; above all, no clutter. But I do not fool myself that this aesthetic is actually available. Stuff is all over, all the things mentioned plus: wires, dust, iPods, earbuds, hard drives, CDs, souvenirs including Mexican Death TV, two elephants, brass lizard, wire lizard, big brass tray of beach pebbles pine cones shells etc, a Thai fish, glass pigs & an ash tray with horses on it nearly 40 years old. I have some good photographs of the bench, & I would put one up here but they also feature S’s daughters, who were doing some tidying up at the time, & I would rather get everyone’s permission first. This morning I’m sitting here on an Ikea swivel chair ten years old–called a Ronni or a Bobsu or a Cummi or something–with the cloth peeled away to reveal rotting foam. I am wearing a Rab double-pile jacket over a merino wool base-layer, & my red Buff in its beanie mode. It’s cold. An extra roof has appeared in the street, a snow-covered Luton van leaning up against a tree like a container abandoned in the corner of a field. No one can park sensibly in West London, home of double-parking for an hour in a street already lined on both sides with 4x4s, your driver-door open & engine running while you chat in the porch of a nice little workingman’s cottage, your honking voices penetrating all the way to Hammersmith & beyond causing shivers of rage & terror in the poor people who don’t know how to push for the things they want or even look after themselves properly.

a dark fraught place

Mid day I walk up & down Church St, a street the business of which takes place at other times. I walk up & down looking in shop windows until I reach the Rose & Crown at the junction with Albion Rd. Three or four paces ahead of me a young woman tries door after door, but everywhere is closed. Clothes shops, toy shops, book shops, shops which stock just nicely-designed things. No one wants to sell her anything. She can’t understand that. Once or twice, we acknowledge one another, exchange a shrug. What can you do ? we seem to say. Is this London we find ourselves in ? & the unspoken conversation ends there because we have so little else in common. It’s pleasantly empty in the Rose & Crown, just a couple of old men with big white beards drinking beer & someone else ordering a whiskey & coke at the endless bar where it starts going away into the shadows & chalked wine lists. I have a Becks; a packet of crisps, Irish cheddar with onion chutney flavour. Though the contents have never been anywhere near cheese or chutney or Ireland, those things are a pleasant fiction we can all have a piece of. The word “flavour” is printed in smaller letters than the rest. I am really & honestly very content with that, & with the view down Church St, which hardly seems awake & which looks as if it ought to be at the seaside. It didn’t look like that last time I was here. It was a dark fraught place & I was in a poor state too. Those days I had little connection with the scenes in which I found myself. What connection I could manage was through a kind of terror. It was my condition then to believe that I was haunted: but I was the haunting, & understanding that eventually taught me a lot.

invasion of Oxford under way

Just past mid day. Thirteen military helicopters grind over, line astern, west up the river. It’s been bedlam all morning. I phone someone, point the phone into the air & shout, “Can you hear this ? Can you hear it ? Thirteen military helicopters!” I turn on BBC 24 hour news-related fictions at the same time, but it doesn’t say Oxford has been invaded by alien machines that resemble airstream trailers reflected in a circus mirror in Arizona in 1958 etc etc, so I get back to work. Just as I start a new paragraph another helicopter trudges past after the others. It’s grey. It’s piecing up the air. It’s a long way behind but it doesn’t seem to be hurrying to catch up. You see a lot of helicopters when you live in Barnes.

here’s a picture of me now

Your bathroom had a hole in it, I forget why. Your kitchen was a mess. You told me I was writing to manage my anxiety & that it showed. I’m always glad to get free advice about my personality. I remember suddenly going blank–but very depressed–when your cat passed me on the stairs. I wanted to be home but I didn’t have one any more. I knew that most of my behaviour was as inappropriate for a man of my age as the parrot ear ring. To the extent, anyway, it could even be called behaviour. Was the bathroom ever fixed ? I often wonder about that. Right now I’m reading Daniel Alarcon, Lost City Radio, very good, & listening to a lot of early Rolling Stones. You’d like the one but I bet you hate the other.

modern horror

When you look in the dead artist’s garden pond now, all you see is some kind of slimy, feathery-looking weed moving to and fro in the cloudy water. It might be growing on something, some shape you can’t quite bring to mind. Overseeing it from a short plinth of home-made concrete is a ten-inch figure without head or legs but with distinct male genitals. This seems to sum things up. The tiles at the rim of the pool have been fitted by amateurs–the effect is of a mouldy bathroom in a Spanish holiday villa. All over the walled garden broken or partial bodies abound. Women are reduced to loins and buttocks. Heads of both sexes rest on the tops of walls. An aesthetic of careful disarrangement–of pretended disarrangement–dissimulates this site of suppressed rage and murder, limbs ripped off as a result of acts with no aesthetic at all.