The Aickman Islands

The Aickman Islands

posted Tuesday, 21 October 2008
Passage (comparing railway- and waterway-possessed people) written by Robert Aickman in 1967 and published in ‘The River Runs Uphill’ (1986) :

“…the railway movement, such as it is, is crippled by the temperamental limitations that Freud divined. They manifest mainly in obsession with detail, in inability to perceive the whole wood as being in any way as real as the separate trees, even the separate, intricate, fascinating leaves, all so different from one another. The railway-possessed man (it is always a man) tends to be a Freudian obsessional walking. […] The waterway-possessed man or woman is more likely to be hallucinatory than obsessional. Water winding and twisting between banks; rising and falling by locks and weirs; cataracting or quiescent beneath the arches of bridges; much hidden from the common world; secret and initiatory; decked by beautiful buildings as by bountiful botany: water either sparkling and glinting or sullen and boding; at once tended and untendable – and ultimately uncontrollable; always a little mysterious, with a life of its own, like a cat; water is of all sex symbols the superlative, and where the sea is sadistic, as Swinburne divined, the river or canal is sweetly seductive. Conflict, and bitter, inexpressible, often unthinkable, feelings are certain. The water-possessed are likely to be inwardly driven; to cling to their separate, private dreams with the desperation of the drowning; to beset with strange ferocity all conceived of as rivals.

In this same book (The River Runs Uphill), Robert Aickman wrote:
“I am very honoured to be a member of the (World Wildlife) Fund’s Advisory Panel, and was honoured too to be put on the map when a Canadian archipelago was named the Aickman Islands.”
I could not find any reference to these islands on the Internet.  But thanks to discussion on the All Hallows forum, someone pointed out a fascinating brief reference to the Aickman Islands in an old book: where it seems one of the Aickman Islands on the Perry River, Canada had its name changed to Ray Island  and (thanks to pointing out by another AH forum member) Ray was the name of Aickman’s wife.  Thanks also for Barry Wood’s input.
As a bizarre aside, there is a Ray Island very close to where I live in Essex, UK:



1. Weirdmonger left…

Sunday, 26 October 2008 4:52 pm

Another passage from ‘The River Runs Uphill’:

Bulletins 12 and 13 announce the establishment of the (Inland Waterways) Association’s first regional Branch. It was a Midlands Branch. (The appointment of an individual Midland organiser was announced as early as in Bulletin 1.) A local Member made an appointment with me to discuss the matter of a Branch, one afternoon when he was visiting London. Rain had poured down all day and showed little sign of abating as the hour agreed drew near. When the bell rang, our Member proved to be accompanied by a small, elderly gentleman, whom he introduced as his old father. Both, naturally, were wet. I gave them tea, and conversation continued for more than an hour, usefully and constructively. When we had settled everything that seemed necessary, there was a slight pause while we all tried to think of a polite generality of some kind. It was the elderly gentleman who spoke.

“I wonder how Mother’s getting on?”

I was slightly surprised, this being a new development; but supposed that Mother was in the British Museum round the corner, at the pictures, or even buying an umbrella.

“Where is she?” I enquired, entering the spirit.

“Just outside,” said the old gentleman, as if it was the obvious thing. “If you look out of the window, you can see her.”

I rose, walked to the window, and looked. A woman stood alone by a lamp post on the other side of the street.

“We’d better go, Dad,” put in our Member.

We confirmed critical details about the shape of things to come and shook each others’ hands. I noticed that though it was still raining, it was not raining quite so hard.
2. Weirdmonger left…

Sunday, 2 November 2008 5:57 pm

Another quote from Aickman in ‘The River Runs Uphill’, a passage that follows a discussion of his own story: “My Poor Friend”:-

“My own matured view is that democracy works much better when it is not total. I believe that the vote should be not a right but an acquisition: that, to qualify, the applicant should be able *both* to pass a (simple) general knowledge test *and* to prove that he possesses a certain (very small) amount of personal property; thus showing that he has at least a minimum both of intelligence and of character (as my Great-Aunt used to call it). Under the name of “weighted democracy”, a proposal of this general kind was at one time advocated by Winston Churchill himself.”
3. Weirdmonger left…

Thursday, 6 November 2008 4:09 pm

Another quote from Robert Aickman’s ‘The River Runs Uphill’:

“Throwing things, or pushing or heaving them, into canals and rivers is a British tradition. It is related to the primitive and exclusive character of our refuse disposal service, as sadism is to masochism, or medal to mould. (Watch the titan garbage squads of Germany: costumed, gloved, proud, vocalising accurately, and bearing all away.) There is a tradition among the working boat community that when a floating or waterlogged corpse is encountered, or perhaps sucked up, it should be disregarded. The life of the narrow boats allows no margin for attending police stations, adjourned inquests, and local press conferences. A boatman well known on the Oxford Canal told me that he had only last week seen a complete pair of boots floating soles upward; and this just after the Second World War when boots were rationed. He had reached for them but had found feet still inside them. He went without the boots rather than risk disruption of his schedule.”
4. Weirdmonger left…

Thursday, 6 November 2008 5:20 pm

I have had Narrow Boat holidays on three occasions in the Eighties. One I recall particularly was doing the Stourport Ring, whereby in the pouring rain (over several days) we negotiated the many Wolverhampton Locks with windlasses and brute strength … in the industrial dereliction of the Midlands of those days and in and out under the M5 motorway, gas street basin etc … a strenuous effort … all the time looking forward to the more scenic latter half of the Ring towards Worcester … only to be pushed back by the Authorities the way we had come rather than proceeding onward because the Severn was too dangerous (swollen) to ply … back through the Wolverhampton Locks to where we had started and to the end of the holiday!!

In hindsight, it was an enjoyable experience of a lifetime. Something I shall never forget.
5. Weirdmonger left…

Monday, 10 November 2008 6:00 pm

Two more (separate) quotes from Robert Aickman’s “The River Runs Uphill”:


“Quite late in the evening, we saw a man standing silently by our boat in the rain. Asked if there was anything he wanted, he replied that he was keeping an eye on us. “They’re rough round here,” he said, pronouncing the adjective in the Lancashire way. Naturally, we thanked him but said it was not to be thought of. By then we believed we were, in any case, well informed about waterway perils and able to meet most of them. The man would accept no refusal. All he did was withdraw to a certain distance; where we saw him still standing as night fell, still in the rain.”


“Once again: public opinion is only heeded when it has power to do harm. For example, little can be attained by saying that one’s opponent, Zero, is a splendid chap who is only doing his job. Zero’s private splendours are immaterial if his job is to be a philistine. What a different world it would be if every individual was required to accept responsibility for his individual actions! As once when there was belief in another reality than this.”
6. Weirdmonger left…

Friday, 14 November 2008 9:07 pm

Another passage from Robert Aickman’s ‘The River Runs Uphill’:

“Very odd things indeed can happen during early morning birdwatching. One ornithologist was occupied in that way by the shore of a Scottish loch. He became aware of an inexplicable entity that had somehow appeared on the (generally rather open and bleak) opposite shore. It looked like a man and yet not like a man and, what was more, it appeared to be entirely black. The ornithologist was alarmed from the start, but as he stared at the entity, it began to move along the side of the loch. It seemed to be doing so with extraordinary swiftness. The loch was fairly large, but it was not long before the idea came to the ornithologist that the entity might be making for him in particular. He departed at a quick walk. After he had managed to look over his shoulder, the walk became a very fast run. But the situation was hopeless: the black entity was gaining on him at a rate entirely beyond common experience; and he could see now that as well as being black, it was huge. Beside that part of the loch stretched a rough road, down which the ornithologist was fleeing. When the entity had all but caught up with him, the ornithologist threw himself over a five-barred gate into an adjoining large meadow or waste-land. There was little point in doing so. It was sheer, unthinking, desperation. As he landed on the ground, he fainted. There, hours later, he was found by a shepherd; still unconscious, but otherwise alive and without physical injury. Possibly he had seen what is known as an ‘elemental’: perhaps the earliest and most primitive form of surviving organism, natural or supernatural. It was understood that he gave up birdwatching thereafter.”

I would say that I don’t scan these passages but manually type them out to get some sense of the rhythm of the author typing it (assuming he didn’t handwrite it and get it typed out by someone else!)

This passage reminds me slightl of ‘The Centaur’ by Algernon Blackwood.
7. Weirdmonger left…

Sunday, 23 November 2008 5:55 pm

“As remarked in ‘The Attempted Rescue’, I am one to whom wretchedness brings not insomnia but slumber. Who (I feel) wants to sleep when he is happy?” Robert Aickman – ‘The River Runs Uphill’
8. Weirdmonger left…

Sunday, 23 November 2008 9:45 pm ::

The previous DFL thread on Aickman on link just above.
9. Weirdmonger left…

Monday, 24 November 2008 10:09 am

Two quotes below first drawn to my attention as they are quoted by Robert Aickman in his ‘The River Runs Uphill’.

“I have always thought that the truth of fiction is more profound, more charged with meaning than everyday reality. Realism, whether it be socialist or not,falls short of reality. It shrinks it, attenuates it, falsifies it, it does not take into account our basic truths and our fundamental obsessions: Love, death, astonishment. It presents man in a reduced and estranged perspective. Truth is in our dreams, in the imagination.” — Eugene Ionesco

“A ball is almost a short lifetime in itself. Everything that happened beforehand retreats, for the time being, into a kind of pre-natal oblivion, and the world waiting for you when you wake up next day, seems as vague and shadowy as the eternity that waits beyond the tomb. Like somebody’s life, the ball goes on and on, and the incidents stand out in retrospect like a life’s milestones against a flux of time when miniature years are measured out in dance tunes.” — Patrick Leigh-Fermor

My last actual quote from Aickman himself in this book is a personal one:

“”…but the lady in Coulsdon has no notion of the North other than that it is cold and unmodish.”

because I lived in Coulsdon from 1979-1994 !


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4 responses to “The Aickman Islands

  1. Pingback: Robert Aickman and cannibalism | My Last Balcony

  2. Pingback: John Magwitch’s Thesis on Robert Aickman & Cannibalism | My Last Balcony

  3. Having completed my month-long real-time review of THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN by Thomas Mann (HERE), I am convinced that it must have been an enormous influence, outweighing any other influence, on the fiction of Robert Aickman. This is not only because of the similarity I seem to be the first to observe between The Hospice and The House Berghof, and their residents, and their meals, but also because of many other factors, including tone and beguiling disarming undercurrents and tropes, an absurd-weirdness that borders on nightmare as well as rationality.

  4. Another probable influence on Aickman: THE INMATES by John Cowper Powys –

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