Harlan Ellison R.I.P.


It’s a long time since I’ve read any Harlan Ellison, though in the years of my obsession with SF and things associated therewith, he was one of the authors whose work I assiduously collected. Now, at the age of 84, and after a decade (I understand) of illness, he has passed away. As with so many others, the world is diminished today.

Ellison was one of those few writers whose life was often as important as, or even more important, than his works. After growing up under the pressure of anti-semitism as a Jewish child in a protestant Ohio town (aptly named Painesville), Ellison ran away in his teens, taking the classic variety of oddball menial jobs, before reaching New York in the early Fifties.

By dint of sheer force, he made himself into a prolific writer of short stories (Ellison only wrote one novel), and into a very successful and award-winning writer for TV, with two classic Outer Limits episodes and one of Star Trek‘s best episodes, ‘City on the Edge of Forever’.

This latter won a Writer’s Guild Award, based on the original screenplay, which was hacked around for the finished episode. Ellison loathed this, spoke of it often, even published the screenplay many years later. He was a man who glorified writing, who was fiercely protective of his work and who fought tenaciously against those, especially in TV, who thought it could be taken to pieces without understanding it.

This led to many controversies. Ellison was a controversialist who espoused many many causes, most of them noble and great, but some of them more akin to feuds in which it seemed that the controversy was more important than the cause. There was the infamous Michael Fleisher libel case against the Comics Journal over what was clearly praise from Ellison, in an unorthodox fashion, that Fleisher chose to interpret as insult, where Ellison defended himself vigorously.

But he was like that. His writing was fierce, concentrated, aggressive, out to shock, disturb, unsettle. He papered his stories with forewords and afterwords in which he could at times be explicit about what most people would regard as personal and private. He would experiment with form and approach, would insist that writing could be done anywhere, under any circumstances.

There was a lot to like and dislike with Ellison and a lot of people did one or the other or even both. There was no such thing as fence-sitting around Harlan.

Now he’s gone. It’s years and years since I moved all my Ellison books out. I don’t and won’t miss his writing, and I’ve long since ceased interest in the air of chaos that he perpetuated. But Harlan Ellison was grit in the works, sandpaper to the soul, someone who would never let himself and that which he believed in be worn down, co-opted or compromised. Right or wrong, we have too few of those already and now we have one less. Notice must be taken of his passing.

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Father’s Day


Today has been Father’s Day.

Not since 1970, when I wrote my last Father’s Day card have I had any personal involvement in the occasion. A couple of months after that, he died, and since then it has been just another commercial event, of no meaning to me, except to memory.

I still think of him. I always think of him and I will go to my deathbed hoping that, in the face of my complete inability to believe in God or religion, there is another level of life above and beyond our sphere where I will, at long last, see him again, and I will ask him  that only thing that matters to a small boy: did I do good? was I alright? were you proud of me?

There’s been some things happen again, bringing back some of the bad shit, disturbing my never very certain confidence in myself, and once again I’ve been referred to counselling. Not directly about that void that is what Dad would have been if things had been otherwise: I have largely come to terms with that, and have no resentments on that score, it not being his fault that he left me (though I will never cease hating those fucking cigarettes that killed him).

Maybe though I will talk about what I don’t know about him, which is who he was as a man. I never knew my Dad as a man, he died before I could even begin to think of having an adult conversation with him. I know things about him: his practicality, none of which I inherited, his passion for motorbikes, likewise, and his love for the fells, which he bequeathed to me in spades: all my walking has been, in some degree, following in his footsteps, however far beyond him I was allowed to go.

I only know of him as a father, as a Dad. He was a good Dad, strict when he needed to be, but kind and loving to both of us, my sister and myself. All small boys worship their fathers, unless they are cold, or nasty, or angry or violent. Dad no doubt punished me when I was naughty, but always fairly.

Once upon a time, there was something I wanted to go to, desperately. I knew that I, we couldn’t, that it was impossible, out of the question, but I wanted it so much that I had to ask. I hedged my plea about with so many caveats, and resignations that it would have been the easiest thing under the sun for me to be told, I’m sorry, no, it’s just not on. But for reasons I never knew, Dad blew up at me, in anger, shouting at me as if I’d committed some unforgivable crime. It shocked and overwhelmed me, and it reduced me to tears. Not the refusal, but the manner of it. It stands out in my memory still, because he was never like that. Mam comforted me, and Dad came and apologised to me. Naturally, I diddn’t bring it up again, and would never have mentioned it, but a week later he came home with tickets for us both, he and I.

Maybe his temper derived from pain. Not long after, he took the pains in his shoulder to the Doctor. It was the beginning of the long end.

I never spoke to him about his life. He had done his National Service in the Navy, he was a trained Draughtsman, he had built up a Division at the company where he worked then had it taken away from him. Afterwards, I didn’t think to ask questions about him, only rarely. He was Dad, frozen in time, and what he’d been outside my eyes seemed unimportant. And then those who had known him started dying too, and there was no-one to ask. My sister and I have been estranged for many years now, yet for reasons I can’t begin to account for, we never talked about him, and probably never will, now.

I last saw her at Uncle Jack’s funeral, back in 2011. He was married to Mam’s younger sister, who’d died before him. My cousins came back to England for the funeral: two live in Australia, but my cousin John, the only relative remaining who is older than me, has lived in Canada since 1981. He talked to me about Dad,about how much he’d respected him, and how he’d never seen Dad anywhere without thinking he was the most intelligent person in the room. And then he stopped, concerned that he’d upset me, for I was all but in tears. To have someone talk to me about Dad, someone who knew him as an adult. There is no-one else.

In a couple of months I’ll be making that annual pilgrimage to the Crematorium, to that place that is the last place some part of him physically was on this Earth. Today was Father’s Day, for you but not me. I hope you don’t mind me asking you to listen. It was a very long time ago and I have no-one else to talk to.

Crap Journalism: Unseriously.


https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jun/09/has-fiction-lost-its-sense-of-humour

Go on, read this one. It’s about Comic Fiction and whether it still exists. Read it all the way to the end. A whole essay about Comic Fiction and it gets to the last paragraph before it mentions Terry Pratchett, and then as a maybe and not even with the courtesy of his first name: Douglas Adams at least gets that.

That makes the writer the biggest joke of all.

Crap Journalism: Seriously?


https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2018/jun/09/sense8-series-finale-review-netflix-wachowskis

I’ve never watched any of Sense8. Apparently, it ran for two series on Netflix but was cancelled because it didn’t capture enough of an audience to sustain it, the age old story. Being an SF-styled series, it seems, it’s audience was passionate and distraught (see The Big Bang Theory). So Netflix, and applaud them for this, commissioned and broadcast a two hour wrap-up episode, to reward the show’s fans.

If you read the link above, you will find the review by the Guardian‘s TV reviewer, Sam Wollaston, who only watched two episodes of the series and wasn’t interested in it. Wollaston complains that a special post-cancellation finale, created for the core fans who loved the show chooses to concentrate on the stories and characters that these people loved the show for and didn’t instead come up with something that made Sense8 appealing to those who didn’t watch it.

Seriously? Do you ever listen to yourself, Wollaston?

The end of the Block


You can call it a block, but that’s not how it felt. It felt like a great absence, as if my head was completely empty.

It didn’t stop me writing the regular things for this blog, and the little snippet posts that are an instant response to things around me. I seemed to be able to watch, or read, and then scramble my thoughts together. But anything remotely creative, even down to trying to conceive of something of any substance for the blog, was inaccessible.

Some of it, I think, was a side effect of the weather. Now that I’m not a kid anymore, sun and hot weather don’t do much for me. Lay it on like it’s been the past couple of weeks and, whilst its very welcome, I’ve no wish to go outside and bask in it unless I can lean back in a seat at Old Trafford and enjoy the cricket, or if you parked me on a beach in Mallorca.

But that’s not really it. There’s been some stress lately, some stuff that’s had a negative effect, that has me thinking about counselling again (ironically, this was offered by my Doctor the day before recent events blew up, and I turned it down. Pillock.) All these things have tipped my perennially fragile balance.

And it’s not fun, not at all fun to have this great emptiness in my head, completely intangible, and be unable to summon any thoughts to even begin to fill it. I’ve told my Doctor several times, and Counsellors I’ve seen, that it’s the writing that keeps me sane, and it does, and when deserts as it did…

It’s quiet at work currently. We think it’s the good weather: people are out in it, enjoying it, saying soddit, we’ll call up about the broadband, the phone later. There are some long waits, for calls, between calls. I can feel myself sitting there, unable to think, my head like a 3D desert, conscious of just existing without any actual way of moving through the minutes.

And then, without warning, in the shower this morning, getting up earlier because I have a dental check-up, there it came: a thought. A forthcoming scene, in the next chapter I have to write. A character asked me something. She says, what about (redacted): why is this different?

And I recognised it for what it was, a genuinely connective thought. That calls back to a previous incident that was merely an episode, and which now is integrated into the story, which helps to set up the long-planned emotional conclusion of the story. The guilt will not come out of left field. Its seed is planted.

I had a thought. An idea.

And I wrote it all down in the Dentist’s reception, analysing and expanding the initial idea into the areas I’ve just written about above. Oh blimey, it felt good. To think again.

And in quiet moments at work, I have written a substantial blogpost based on a memory that came to me whilst eating some early lunch, a long section of the current chapter, and now this, being rattled through during my last fifteen minute break (less than sixty seconds left). My head is full of words again. I am back to normal. I am back to keeping sane.

Oh, Yog-Sotthoth that feels good!

Notes from a Fire Alarm


Well, this is fun.

Just over an hour ago (as I write this), I was starting a call when the fire alarm went. The customer reacted to the alarm first, and I apologised that I’d have to terminate the call, could she call again? It being another fine day, and carrying neither coat nor pullover, it took me about four seconds to scoop my glasses case and waterbottle into my bag and vacate the building.

Down four flights of stairs and round the back where our floor congregates. It’s sunny, warm, and I keep my clip-on shades clipped on.

We’ve had two Fire Engines turn up. At least one Police vehicle. Three Incident Response units from the Ambulance Service. This isn’t your ordinary False Alarm. Though all of them have left by now, we’re still outside.

We can’t smoke (not that I do), we can’t use mobile phones (in case we’re mistaken for terrorists about to remotely activate a bomb – seriously), we can’t even go to our nearest Wetherspoons for a pee without a Fire Marshall escorting us, which I would like to do, but I haven’t needed someone to take me to the loo since I was in hospital having my appendix out in 1977: I can hold it a bit yet.

There are a lot of disgruntled people wandering around whose shifts ended at 6.00pm (this is presently 6.50pm) but who are not allowed to leave even if, like me, they have all their gear with them. Roll-calls must still be taken, so that there is a certainty that nobody has been trapped anywhere. Those whose shifts end at 7.00pm are starting to get a bit nervous. I am here to 9.00pm, so on the purely selfish level, I’m in no rush.

The problem, we’re now having explained to us, is a Building Fault, a lift that is continually tripping the Fire Alarm, for which an Engineer is required. This could be another hour yet, and it’s starting to get a bit cool.

On the other hand, there’s a summoning forward of everyone who has been off-shift since 6.00pm and who has all their gear with them. Common sense is about to happen.

This cheers me up. I mean, I am staring at a couple more hours here yet, with the sun going down, my clip-ons unclipped and a bit of a wind about and I don’t want to be staying after 9.00pm.

Of course, when I say I grabbed everything, I meant my everything. There’s a whiteboard, a wrist support, a lidded coffee cup and a £200 pair of headphones out on my desk that could do with being stashed in my locker at some point.

And my bum’s getting numb from the marble balusatrade I’ve been sat on for the past 75 minutes.

Could anyone who’s shift ends at 9.00pm kindly step through this handy time-warp and go home?

Another attack of common sense occurs when it’s announced that those who have finished are to be allowed back in to the building to collect their gear and go, but unfortunately the first of them don’t even get through the ground floor security barriers before the Alarm goes off again, which means Out, the return of the Fire Engine, and this time a Fire Chief, ‘cos this is a Repeat…

Eventually, after two hours, the Powers That Be agree to close the Building. There are no lifts and no Fire Alarms. We are allowed in to retrieve/put gear away, and go. To my dismay, I find I have been in Outbound Status on the customer’s account for 2 hours 2 minutes and 53 seconds – so much for my productivity – and when I close the account I am immediately pushed an Inbound Call, which I have to hang up on.

Those who were stuck outside will get their delay back as Time Worked. The rest, like me, get an early dart. The chippy’s still open when I get the bus so Wednesday Night Fish’n’Chips becomes Tuesday night Fish’n’Chips this week.

And we’ll have fun fun fun till Daddy takes the T-Bird away…

I was a Charity Collector


Each year, my employers choose a local Charity to support, and this year it’s Stockport MIND, supporting Mental Health. This is obviously a cause close to my heart (and head) and when a request came up for volunteers to do a collection at Stockport Railway Station, I was one of the earliest to volunteer.

There were two sessions, one from 7.00 – 10.00am, which was long before my shift, the other from 4.00 – 7.00pm, for which I was selected. It turned out to be timely on an appropriately personal level: after last week, I am currently completed frazzled both mentally and physically and a spell away from the phones was very useful.

In fact, it was better than expected. Our stint was to end at 7.00pm, with two hours of my shift left, but the manager in charge had signed me out until 9.00pm, so I could go straight home.

Like the weekend, this was a blazing summer day, deep blue skies with nothing more than the occasional cotton bud of cloud. I don’t know if this is the mental fatigue talking but it’s all but destroyed my sense of time. When the sky is unchanging throughout a whole day, when there’s nothing atmospheric to distinguish between 7.00am and 7.00pm, or any point between, I found it impossible to tell that time was even passing.

We left at 3.45 to walk over to the station. There were eight of us volunteers, equipped with collecting boxes (which we are not to rattle, it having been decided that rattling a collecting box is ‘too aggressive’) and a combination of sashes and t-shirts: as the t-shirts only went up to Large, I collected a sash.

We were supposed to split up into four teams of two, and pick a platform each. One team of two consisted of three ladies off the same team, so that left one team of one: no prizes for guessing who that was.

I wound up on Platform 1 which, despite the number, does not imply is was going to be busy. For that you needed Platform 2, which our team of the two youngest, and most attractive girls selected. Platform 1 was for outbound trains, mostly local like Buxton or Alderley Edge, maybe count Chester amongst that, with the occasional train for Cleethorpes. BUt they’re trains which in the main have come from Manchester Piccadilly, so the number of people getting off is pretty limited. Those getting on were a bit more numerous, and as they were having to hang around with me for longer periods, I was more likely to get a donation out of them.

I have never done anything like this before, and had no idea what to do. I positioned myself at the top of the stairs onto/off the Platform and smiled at people a lot. I can’t remember the last time I have smiled so consistently for so long.

It was interesting to people watch. So many people were gassing on their mobile phones. At least as many avoided catching my eye conspicuously (about which I couldn’t complain, given that that’s what I would normally do in the same circumstances). Some would faintly smile in return. I kept the collecting box visible, the smile bright.

In the end, I collected donations from 18 people, a couple of them only silver change, but the majority giving a pound coin, or sometimes two. Maybe I raised £20 all told, I wouldn’t bet on it. Others were getting £5 notes, £10 notes. I was clearly the wrong person in the wrong place, but the rest of the station was sewn up, except for Platform 0 opposite, which was averaging two trains an hour.

So I was, in relative terms, a flop, but without me there would have been no contributions from Platform 1, which is how I’m trying to look at it.

The time seemed to pass reasonably well. Given my arthritic hip and knee, I could have done with the chance to sit down ion the longer waits between trains, but there were always passengers coming onto the problem, and I decided that it would create entirely the wrong impression for the collector to be sitting on a bench: suggesting this wasn’t entirely serious.

So I swayed gently, keeping my dodgy parts in gentle motion, and trying to ease the growing ache in my left shoulder which, as I was well aware from 2016’s London Museum Trip series, was down to my shoulderbag. Couldn’t do a thing about it, not even switch it round to the other shoulder, without taking off the sash etc. So I soldiered on.

Just after 6.00pm, I saw the two girls leave their post behind me on Platform 2. They didn’t return. After about ten minutes, with Platform 1 dead, I walked round to Platform 2, which was still busy. I was starting to get worried: nobody had come to tell me what was going on, and I couldn’t see either of the other two teams on Platforms 3 and 4. Had it ended early and I’d been forgotten? I wasn’t getting anywhere on Platform 2 either, even though that was the one for the long-distance services: London, Plymouth, Bournemouth.

The team of three was downstairs, taking a break. Apparently, we had an option to leave when we’d had enough. The MIND people weren’t intending to stay much longer. The cafe had shut, it was after 6.00pm, the station was dying down. I havered about it and decided I would jack it in. I hadn’t had a donation for ages, I’d run out of the free pens I was distributing (others had wristbands, or stickers for the kids – I wasn’t getting kids on Platform 1).

So I was out by about 6.25pm, catching the bus, early arrival home even with a stop in ASDA on the way. This was my first experience of Charity Collection. I’d do it again, especially for the same Charity, or Cancer or Fibromyalgia, but next time I’d like to be paired up with someone who has a better idea – any idea – of how to solicit contributions from the likes of me.

P.S. I was supposed to be watching out for this but I missed it. This is my 2,000th blog.