22nd April 2009

For the 24th year I take the plane back to London from Pittsburgh. The delight of seeing my family after such a long break is always strong and the physical pleasure of London intense. Indeed this year it is more intense as after 35 years in the suburbs of Islington we have moved to the western edge of the City, less than 200 yards from Fetter Lane where I spent my happy childhood convinced that all we needed to inhabit Utopia was a Labour government. Now the country disgusts me. What Thatcher began , New Labour completed and we live in a world of greed and lies where the values of education and art count for nothing. On the news I watch that contemptible figure Brown who between 1991 and 1994 shed every belief he had ever held as he lusted after power. He took office saying that he would always go to Parliament before the Press but the man who was even more responsible for the culture of New Labour spin than Blair or Campbell is now attempting to manage opinion on Mp’s pay through the internet.. His grotesquely twisted features accurately portray a man whose inner being is now so riddled with mendacity that he is technically incapable of telling the truth. I tell Flavia that that this is not merely the last act but the last scene, The scandal of MPs expenses are going to destroy him much more thoroughly and completely than sleaze destroyed the transparently honest Major.
But I am determined not to waste mental energy on this corrupt and incompetent government. Not least because I am in deep mourning for J.G. Ballard. I do not know how many writers one discovers without any authority or guide, but I will never forget picking down from the shelves of Theobalds Road library the yellow coloured Gollancz edition of The Drowned World. The novel, although written within a recognizable science fiction genre, had a psychic intensity and a hard elegance of style unlike anything I had read. . The image of the hero always heading further south through a world under water has remained with me and I devoured the rest of Ballard’s writings at school. In university reading The Atrocity Exhibition was almost as profound a shock and by then there were others who had recognized the Master long before Crash bought him a wider notoriety. Meeting him in at Laura Mulvey’s house in the late seventies was a great thrill, intensified as the party repaired to a restaurant and Ballard announced that he had “wheels” and offered me a lift. He drove very slowly and in the middle of the road but driving with the author of Crash seemed every youthful ambition fulfilled. When I became Head of Production at the BFI, Ballard, or Jim as he was improbably called, was first on my list of writers to see. He was very wise in the way of film and liked my idea of a low budget science fiction movie but said that he had made an early vow only to write a film script when the money for the movie was already in place. Even in my first weeks in the film business this seemed very sensible. However, we liked each other well enough that I made a radio programme about his next novel The Day of Creation and got to visit him in his fabled Shepperton house with its 1950s telephone and extraordinary surrealist paintings. As all the obituaries make clear he was extraordinarily good company, a mine of information and opinion. The last time I saw him was at a screening of Cronenbourg’s Crash in late 1996. I was much besieiged at the BFI at this time and took great comfort from his unsolicited advice, after he had looked me up and down, that I still had one great effort in me, words which remained with me through the late nineties.
His writing continued to astonish: Super Cannes I thought almost as good as anything had done. His last book which announced his death I have still not been able to read but I shall read it slowly and carefully this summer.


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