I needed to get the sun on my face today. I walked three or four miles via the cuts, down to Aston Science Park and turning off towards Digbeth. Catkins out, red deadnettle and gorse in flower; a Paul Nash-ish daymoon in the sky. There's a certain music to bridges: the slop and lap of the canal after a boat has passed, water dripping from a brick arch, the throaty croons and flutter of pigeons in the girders of a railway bridge. Some of the factories and buildings I noted along the way last summer have been demolished (it seems there's a crane everywhere you look in town at the moment). I ended up in the pub opposite the old Curzon Street staion which has been boarded up for a while after being used temporarily as arts admin offices (a mummified cat was found by workmen there a few years ago). Drank a tangy golden beer called Time Machine.
Speaking of Wells, the new R4 version of War of the Worlds is something of a disappointment. It tries to carry a visual iconic story through pretty much dialogue alone, when imaginative sound design and some of the original narration would do it wonders. You're better off relistening to the Jeff Wayne album. The rest of 4's current Mars season has been pretty good though, looking at various utopias and paradigms of the Red Planet.
I bought a new olive-green military coat last week and have been pretty much living in it ever since. It has rounded lapels like a smoking jacket and deep pockets, perfect for books, gloves, tobacco, oddments picked up on walks and the seventies "pocket binoculars" I got at the same time. They fold down into something like a cigarette case; my dad had a pair donkeys' years back and I wanted them badly.
Friday C and I went to see Leviathan at the MAC, a loose dance adaptation of Moby Dick. We ran into friends in the bar and chatted about theremins (I still don't know how you can play one with a cat and still have a face) and nostalgia for cassette tapes. The actor playing Ahab was superb - stalking about in undershirt and cargo pants with the energy of the obsessed and lost, followed by his crew like the Ascent of Man diagram (he turned to fell them all with a mimed gun); laying ropes across stage to trap his whale only to have his own leg snared, clutching at lights while he was hauled behind the curtain. The Leviathan herself rolled and undulated in splendid isolation, totally indifferent to her hunter. The crew turned whales themselves in the second act and ran Ahab down under their wave. A wonderful production, soundtracked by great Polish folk/ambient music.
I went back to my parents' earlier in the week. The field next door has been levelled (the smallholder died last year); sheds dismantled, gorse uprooted, the grass raked through. I thought of the times I'd rooted through the cinder-pit in the corner as a child, finding bones and bits of crockery. A bit of the past gone. I don't think that influenced my decision to hack my hair back to a collar-length bob. I haven't seen any foxes on the land in months but the jackdaws seem to be multiplying at least. I once told H I felt at home anywhere I heard them calling. Back at home I was on the balcony and watched a carrion crow scrabbling through the gutter above my head to find a crust of brown bread (dropped, I guess, by another bird). We looked each other in the eye, which was quite a thing.
Currently reading the new Mieville, "The Last Days of New Paris", which is great fun and has more than a whiff of his earlier novella "The Tain". I just discovered that R4 are doing a two-part dramatisation of "War of the Worlds" next week, and that makes me extremely happy. Less happy-making is my LJ's refusal to let me use the visual editor when writing a post. It's a small pain in the arse not to be able to post pictures and links or tag anyone. Any advice?
Longtime readers will know I've had a fascination with the Mari Lwyd for a few years now, even going so far as to write a poem about her (which Strange Horizons were good enough to publish). Well, I've actually met my obsession at last!
Last Saturday cybermule took me down to the Chepstow Wassail and Mari Lwyd. She picked me up from Longbridge. It was foggy and cold in the Midlands but the sky seemed to open up with each mile: a farmhouse picked out by misted sun looked like a watercolour of itself. Nick Cave's "And No More Shall We Part" was on the stereo. Getting into Monmouthshire the hills were still albino with frost where the sunlight hadn't had a chance to reach. I accidentally dissed Tintern Abbey by saying "That's a bit small, isn't it?" For which I got mocked a bit. We parked in Chepstow then followed a Morris dancer down to the Three Tuns pub.
There were many many Morris people there, and I'm pretty sure it was a 50/50 gender divide among the dancers, which pleased me. Half a dozen sides there, one of them from near my hometown. All the top hats ever: glittered, enbadged, pheasant feathers and ivy. Strips of coloured rags; fiddles, accordions, drums. (Sovay, one of the Morriswomen was the spitting image of you, long sable hair under a wide-brimmed hat decked with fruit - is there something I need to know?) There was a huge silly grin on my face as I joined the audience, but then I'd just stepped behind a woman holding a Mari-head bedecked with flowers. This was one of the smaller ones - there were perhaps ten there. I don't know what the collective term is. Some of them were old school with leather harnesses and bells, some were glittered and ragged. Eyes of metal and glass and lighted eyes in the bone beaks. I'll tell you about my favorite Mari shortly. H (who took several pictures, which I'll include in a separate post) watched the dancing and capers for half an hour before following the crowd down to the wassail in the dell under the gaze of Chepstow Castle.
We were too far off to catch all the words of the wassailing song, but they were hanging holed slices of toast from the branches of an apple tree. Another Mari stood alongside us. Scarlet-and-green tatter-mane, eyes of blank green plastic, tight Celtic spirals painted on the bone. Unearthly as hell. I made some compliment to the woman who led her and then the Mari laid her head on my chest in thanks. I stroked her. I got to PET A FUCKING MARI LWYD. I can't tell you how happy that made me. A few of them did a little nodding jig as a woman played some small variant of the bagpipes.
It was bloody cold in that dell. An administering angel passed us cups of mulled cider, but it was getting too cold for us. We went for a pint at The Bell-Hanger and decided against staying for the meeting of the English and Welsh meeting "on the Old Iron Bridge". Next year, hopefully! We drove home and watched The Wicker Man over cheesecake and booze. The end of a perfect day.
I'm back in Brum now, but I carried on the "folk horror" vein of the weekend by reading Andrew Michael Hurley's first novel The Loney, which is extraordinary, atmospheric, slippery and lyrically told. The rites and beliefs of a desperate Catholic family are every bit as strange as any local pagan magic. Recommended.
Writing: currently making a (sketchy!) start to "Where Youth And Laughter Go", the story that would have been "The Concrete Child".
I went home yesterday to my folks. Hoped to get some walking in, but it was too dingycold and mizzly to bother going out again. I found out an old friend of my dad's had died recently; someone I didn't know well but liked: I remember best the smell of pipesmoke and the parping tunes he made through the pipe when he wasn't smoking. My contributors' copies of This Spectacular Darkness were waiting for. It's a hefty book and a thing of beauty with a creamy yellow dustjacket and a small cover photo with various mugshots of the giants of weird fic in foxed sepia. I shan't start it properly for a while yet.I stayed huddled in bed for most of the day with James Agate's diaries and the latest Egaeus Press anthology, a gift from John, who I saw Saturday night. Christmas crowds made us detour to the gay quarter and the Old Fox, a nice theatre pub I haven't been to in years. Lots of old stage posters and geometric stained glass and a jukebox playing punk in the back bar. A fight broke out between a barman and an aggressively-pissed couple while I was outside smoking. I didn't intervene much more than to tell them to fuck off (as did a few other peaceable drinkers) but seeing someone's glasses knocked off in a scuffle gives me playground flashbacks. As to John and mine's conversation I don't recall much beyond talking about satirical cartoons, the last Quatermass serial, spomoneks, and Lovecraft's vignettes.
I couldn't sleep until 4 am this morning. At least in the city I often have company to listen in the form of the insomniac birds (song thrushes, I think) fooled by the dawn-con of the streetlights. My home seems too quiet now. I've not heard or seen foxes around there for a while now and that saddened me.
I start another "voluntary" (ie, at the request of my Jobcentre) placement at a charity shop tomorrow morning. At least this time I've got a degree of autonomy and control my hours (I'm just doing one day a week; I can't afford a bus every day). A few doors down from the place is the local Oxfam Books, where I nipped in today and bought a (hopefully) satirical Handbook on Hanging and a chapbook on the misericords of Wells Cathedral. It has such delightful captions as Alexander the Great being carried up to heaven by two griffins tempted by a piece of meat and Ape mimicking a pedlar (broken). All a bit M R James. It might inspire me to do a bit of drawing again.
...is the question someone asked me in my sleep this morning, but I can't remember a dream associated with it. (The one I did have gave me an undercut bob and heavily-kohled eyes and I liked my face like that.) I woke up and there it was in my head, like a line from an old folk song. It needs a story as answer, and I don't think it can be anything but sinister.
I meant to announce this earlier in the week, but I've been busy with applying for jobs and editorial work: Supernatural Tales have accepted the first Nairns story, "To Utter Dust". It'll appear some time next year. I have no idea what to write next - not that my brain's blank, but I have a trove of fragments and images and no direction. Prompts and/or suggestions welcome if you have the time. Thanks if so. <3
Beers with John H tonight, thank God: the week's been a drudge and I've been too depressed lately to make much of anything.
I was writing the previous entry when the intercom rang. I went to answer - expecting a parcel and dreading the hoohah I'd had getting post back a few weeks ago - but it turned out to be some guy wondering if there were any Spanish-speaking people in the block. It was a short conversation.
Some bad dreams of late, involving death: breathing in poison I'd laid down for the huge slugs infesting my room; being strangled on a shingle beach in the middle of the city. My subconscious can go to Hell.
A couple of days ago I was smoking on Corporation Street and I noticed a small crowd gathering. A bunch of (white) policemen clustered around a black Muslim guy and his young family. My hackles rise whenever I see coppers around POC. What little gist I could get was that his little boy had been either jostled or insulted by a passer-by and the dad had taken umbrage. He lifted up his mobile to film the officers while talking to the crowd, most of whom were white and amused-looking. Those smiles nauseated me. It doesn't seem a huge step from smirking rubberneckers to open abuse.
In more pleasant news, "This Spectacular Darkness" has sold well: half the print run gone in it first three days of release. It'll go to an e-book edition now. I'm currently re-reading James Agate's diaries and I picked up Scott and Willis' "Botanicum" for a snip a couple of days back. It's gorgeously illustrated, in the manner of an expensive Victorian natural history tome: I couldn't turn down any book that depicts Carboniferous-era plants under a bell jar.
The city skyline was beautiful in yesterday's twilight, as seen from a sloping road in the Black Country: watercolour washes of dove and slate, rooves and trees deepening to blue, the BT Tower lights like beacon fires. I think I've found the church of the nightbell I've mentioned in older entries: it's ten minutes' walk down the towpath, a narrow steeple with green shutters. Perhaps too narrow for the way that bell sounds, but it's at the right distance. I need to get down there at the right time to make sure...
I have spent most of this day numb and cold with grief and quiet rage. I didn't think this could happen. Woke up at eight, switched on Today and heard the news. Hoped I was having a nightmare, but we don't get to wake from this one. I wrote on Facebook: Another triumph for isolationist fuckwits. To all my American friends - you have my love and whatever support I can give. I wish I could offer you better. Look after yourselves, okay? Be safe. Fight the good fight if you feel you can; but don't give up. Please. <3