Lovecraft’s Egg

It’s all a pack of lies…almost. When you read a journal article about research into genetic engineering, super-tough graphene membranes or marvellous developments in jet engine design, it’s worth remembering that there are dozens of failed experiments leading up to the glorious achievement now being described. Carefully edited highlights; we admire the elegant sweeps on the ice as Torville and Dean mesmerised the crowds at the Winter Olympics. We don’t see the endless hours of practice, the falls and bruises and lactic acid burn that takes hours to fade. Some great achievements in technology may have come about because someone mislabelled a jar of solvent; nobody is ever going to include this detail in their peer-reviewed masterpiece.

Well, it’s Easter, so I flung a Cadbury’s Cream Egg into the microwave…after a few seconds it began to melt and bubble obscenely like a hideous avatar of Yog-Sothoth struggling to emerge from the forbidden dimensions. Muttering a solemn incantation and brandishing a crux ansata, I opened the oven door and chased the vile creature as it hurtled round the kitchen. Eventually I speared it with an authentic 1970s Viners Splayd and smothered its flailing tentacles with extra crunchy peanut butter. Yummmmm….Heston Blumenthal meets the Exorcist. The end result was a bit too sweet, so I’ll have another goo tomorrow, this time using smooth not crunchy.

It’s Easter Sunday – the first Sunday after the first Sunday following the Ecclesiastical Full Moon when Pluto (in the seventh house) is trine to the calyx of Osiris. I’m listening to William Mathias’ third symphony and drinking Spanish red. This morning I wrote to John and Mary; tomorrow I return to work (even though ‘tis a Bank Holiday) because some of our tests conclude and the specimens need to be transferred between chambers. I might also end up making a 100-litre batch of 5 percent salt solution by carefully weighing out 4800 grams of purified sodium chloride and tipping it into a precisely graduated 100-litre plastic tub full of deionised water, then stirring it anti-clockwise with a dedicated plastic light-sabre. How odd to think that 22 years ago I was busy writing my PhD thesis and trying to explain the significance of XPS traces and XRD spectra and SEM photographs (back in those days we didn’t have USB transfer cables and digital JPEG archives, just ‘Polaroid’ type peel-away film slides). And now my working days are spent on routine tasks which any half-witted school-leaver could perform.

Last night was bitterly cold and this morning the world was covered with harsh white frost; I didn’t bother leaving the flat until about 5.00 this afternoon, and suddenly realised that the view from my back door has a rather de Chirico aspect. There are two steep brick walls giving a cramped view of the back yard, which has three large steps leading up to a wrought-iron gate beyond which is a sturdy wooden fence, and beyond that is a disused factory with boarded-up windows. It’s a very angular still-life type of scene, with nothing to indicate the time or place; it could be Chicago in 1954 or Deauville in 2008. Anyone looking at a photograph of this scene would suspect that there were dangerous, exciting people lurking just out of sight. Even Andy Warhol would dismiss this particular view as having absolutely no artistic potential.

The stories of H P Lovecraft have never really survived their journey to the big screen, but his ideas have definitely added something unique to supernatural thriller movies. Consider Hellboy, or Mouth of Madness, or The Mist – or the forthcoming action blockbuster Pacific Rim, a sort of Battleship-meets-Cloverfield. We like our films to have a clear moral narrative, with heroes and villains; Howard P wasn’t concerned with explaining the motives of his astral juggernauts, but was happy to let them wreak indifferent, uncaring havoc on a deluded mankind.

Brinkwell-Chamberlain Plethora

Sunday 24 March 2013; I’m sitting cross-legged, listening to Bartok quartets (how much more popular they would be if he had given them nicknames, or if Peter Greenaway had used them in his film soundtracks) and drinking coffee.
On Sunday 24 March 1985, I remember sitting cross-legged listening to Mozart while a friend remained asleep in bed; later that day, we made our way into London and walked through the zoo in Regent’s Park, then went to see ‘2010’ at the pictures. I should have followed his suggestion that we see ‘Gremlins’ instead. Back in 1985 I had never driven a car or ridden a motorbike or travelled abroad or used a computer to produce reports.
It’s Sunday 24 March 2013 and I’m looking at ‘B-of-the-Bang’, a sculpture made of radiating metal spines which dominates the skyline of Eastlands Manchester. Or rather, it did so a few years back; shortly after completion, the towering structure began to disintegrate, with steel poles falling to the ground. The entire sculpture was dismantled for safety reasons and nothing remains, except some painful memories and a few picture postcards such as the one I’m presently holding.

The ‘B-of-the-Bang’ sculpture caused great excitement when it was originally proposed: in 2003, the BBC announced that
“A sculpture to be built next to Manchester’s Commonwealth Stadium will become the tallest in Britain.
The floodlit 184-foot steel work of art will be erected next to the City of Manchester stadium, built for the Commonwealth Games.
The sculpture, entitled B of the Bang, will feature 200 tapered columns shooting from its centre and is being compared to a fireworks explosion. The plan has been put forward by designer Tom Heatherwick to mark the success of the Games.

The artwork is aimed at capturing the power of athletics and the crack of the starting pistol.
A spokeswoman for New East Manchester, the regeneration project which commissioned the sculpture, said it was chosen by a team of judges which included local residents.
She added: “We hope this sculpture will become a landmark on the city’s skyline just as the City of Manchester stadium has become.”
Planning consent is likely to be granted later this month and the artwork is due to be completed in July.

Instead of July 2003, the actual opening of the artwork was delayed until January 2005 – and the sculpture was hastily fenced-off when one of the spikes became detached and fell to earth.
On the ‘Welcome to Sportcity’ site, readers learn that:
The UK’s tallest sculpture, standing at 180ft it is three times taller than the Angel of the North. Made of specially weathered steel to give it the famous rusty glow, the sculpture has 180 tapered spikes and leans at a 30º angle – more than the tower of Pisa.
The sculpture was commissioned by New East Manchester to commemorate the Commonwealth Games which took place in 2002. Chief Executive of New East Manchester Tom Russell, at the launch of B of the Bang in January 2005, said:
“The choice of B of the Bang as the centrepiece for Sportcity was a very clear and bold statement of intent. The regeneration of east Manchester needed a monumental piece of public art to provide a sense of identity and place and to represent the physical, economic and social changes underway in the area.”

The Sculpture was designed by Thomas Heatherwick Studios and represents the explosion of energy created by an athlete on the starter’s gun. It was inspired by a quote from British Athlete Linford Christie, who once claimed he always won a race when he started on B of the Bang.
It is wonderful what can be achieved with nearly 2 million pounds of taxpayers’ money…

Snow in the Suburbs (first verse)
Every branch big with it,
Bent every twig with it; Every fork like a white web-foot;
Every street and pavement mute:
Some flakes have lost their way, and grope back upward when
Meeting those meandering down they turn and descend again.
The palings are glued together like a wall,
And there is no waft of wind with the fleecy fall.
(Thomas Hardy, 1840-1928)

Journal Entry, 23 March 2013:
This morning I awoke with a modest hangover; during the night the snow had settled in a heavy blanket on my old six-fifty Honda, which slept beneath its yellow nylon cover. In Hardy’s poem, the world is completely still; in Eccles, however, occasional fierce gusts of wind rattled the fence. At one point the wind caught the bike cover, causing it to billow and shaking off great lumps of snow; for a brief magical moment it seemed to be alive. But as any rider will tell you, a bike in motion really is alive.
I recall once being in my landlord’s house in Oxford; he had invited some friends from Ghana to stay, and one of them was in the kitchen when I came down for breakfast. It was winter and the world had been transformed into its softer, whiter self. Inoni pointed out of the window in amazement: “Tell me, is that snow?” The harsh cold landscape took on new meaning as I suddenly began to see it through a foreign stranger’s eyes.

Like Snow
She, then, like snow in a dark night,
Fell secretly. And the world waked
With dazzling of the drowsy eye,
So that some muttered ‘Too much light’,
And drew the curtains close.
Like snow, warmer than fingers feared,
And to soil friendly;
Holding the histories of the night
In yet unmelted tracks.
(Robert Graves, 1895-1985)

And in March 1985, when I found myself walking with a friend through Regent’s Park, eating ham and chips in a scruffy café near Piccadilly Circus, and wondering where my life would take me next, it seems that Graves, master craftsman of the English Language, had just eight months left to live.

Journal entry, 17 May 2020: We’ve been in lockdown for weeks now. The Prime Minister gave a broadcast on Sunday telling people that the official slogan had changed from ‘Stay home and Save the NHS’ to ‘Stay Alert and Fight the Virus’.

We were told that it was now important that everybody should return to work unless they had the option of working from home, and that people should avoid using public transport in order to prevent the coronavirus from spreading to others. And that when they arrived at work they should maintain the required two-metre social distancing.

These instructions caused a lot of confusion; do we stay at home, or don’t we? And how can we travel to work without using public transport? About one-third of the population of Manchester do not own a car.

The frustration felt by many people boiled over on Saturday, when a mass gathering was held in Hyde Park to protest against the lockdown rules – the crowds held scruffy banners claiming that the epidemic wasn’t real, and that 5G wireless systems were causing the illness. One man held a banner whose words had been badly laid out, and which said, “I am a free I am not man a number”.

Meanwhile, on Radio 4, I’ve just heard audio diaries presented by frontline workers in the health service; they describe the discomfort of wearing heavy-duty PPE for eight hours, and the distress of having to watch young people, at the end of their lives, saying goodbye to distraught parents.