Wednesday 27 June 2018

Projects old and new

Back in September last year we went to Yarndale and I bought this lovely merino yarn from Woosheeps to knit a Nori dress. Unfortunately I completely miscalculated how much yarn I needed so it is only a  top, but I still absolutely love it. I changed the pattern quite a bit, stopping the increases at the armpits because it was beginning to flare out too much. The partly crocheted top sat in the corner of the living room for some months while other projects too precedence, but I finally finished it just in time for the hot weather. Note to self ... keep a nice summer shawl around when you go out because my shoulders are not used to being exposed to the sunshine.

The socks have been my project at Dunk's. I like to leave my stuff lying around so he remembers to invite me over for cake. They are made with the Undercover Otter yarn that we bought in Amsterdam back in November. I am doing a few hexipuffs with the leftover nugget.

My 'jumper of a million ends' however only took a month to knit. This silly first photo shows all the dangling ends, which I have no intention of sewing in. 
I am so pleased with the finished object. 
I love the random stripes and it is wonderfully cosy. It reminds me of why I loved the yarn and am I looking forward to getting a lot of wear from it this autumn. Dunk's blanket is my main current project, but no sneak peeks, he has to wait until it's done.

The Story of the Last Slave

'Barracoon: The Story of the Last Slave' was written by Zora Neale Hurston back in the late 1920s and finally published this year. It is the story of Oluale Kossula, also known as Cudjo Lewis, the last surviving member of a group of people shipped as slaves from West Africa in 1860. Though the trading of human beings as possession still continued the importation of new slaves had been banned in 1807. Zora was spent several months visiting Cudjo, getting to know him and learning the background of his life as well as his experience of being enslaved, and the tragedy of his life afterwards. There are several suggestions why the book failed to find a publisher at the time: some sources say it was because the story is told from the perspective of a former slave, using his own words, others because it describes the active involvement of tribal kings in Africa in the capture and selling of slaves. I am having trouble writing the review, because once you start reading around the issue of slavery and its supposed end you begin to feel that the title is a very naive one. This is not the story of the last slave, because as many millions of people today experience the bonds of slavery and slave like working and living conditions as were bought and sold during the era we think of as the Atlantic slave trade

Kossula was taken captive by a neighbouring tribe after an attack on his town and imprisoned in a barracoon  at Ouidah. From there he was one of 110 slaves taken aboard the ship Clotida and then transported to Alabama. He lived as a slave for more than five years before being freed by Union soldiers in 1865. Unable to return to Africa he worked with other former slaves to found their own town, Africatown, where he married and raised a family. One by one their children died leaving Cudjo and Seely to grieve, and by the time he meets Zora he has been living alone for many years, though with a daughter-in-law and some grandchildren living nearby. After being injured by a train and unable to work he became a church sexton and was also provided with some financial support by Charlotte Mason who sponsored Zora's research into his life story. He became a well known story teller and was interviewed many time about his life both in Africa and in America. 

The book is a very matter of fact account of his life, he does not waste his time wanting what is not possible and is often grateful for the decent treatment that he sometimes receives, and especially for his freedom. He does not relate anything startling or unusual, and Zora describes a life spent caring for his family and taking care of his house and garden. It is the very ordinariness that is its charm; he was one of millions, and to know his story is to know something of theirs too. Two quotes from the very brief chapter about his enslavement, one describing the work, and the other his freedom:

 "Oh, Lor'! I workee so hard! every landing, you unnerstand me, I tote wood on de boat. Dey have de freight, you unnerstand me, and we have to tote dat, too. Oh Lor'! I so tired. No sleepee. De boat leak and we pumpee so hard! Dey ain' got no railing on de boat and in de night time if you doan watchee close you fall overboard and drown yo'self. Oh Lor'! I 'preciate dey free me.
Every time de boat stopee at de landing, you unnerstand me, de overseer, de whippin' boss, he go down de gangplank and standee on de ground. De whip stickee in his belt. He holler, 'Hurry up, dere, you! Runnee fast! Can't you runner no faster dan dat? You ain't got 'nough load! Hurry up!' He cutee you wid de whip if you ain' run fast 'nough to please him. If you doan git a big load, he hitee you too. Oh, Lor'! Oh, Lor'! Five year and de six months I slave. I workee so hard!" (p.60-61)

"Know how we gittee free? Cudjo tellee you dat. De boat I on, it in de Mobile. We all on dere to go in de Montgomery, but Cap'n Jim Meaher, he not on de boat dat day. Cudjo doan know (why). I doan forgit. It April 12, 1865.  De Yankee soldiers dey come down to de boat and eatee de mulberries off de trees close to de boat, you unnerstand me. Den dey see us on de boat and dey say 'Y'all can't stay dere no mo'. You free, you doan b'long to nobody no mo'.' Oh, Lor! I so glad. We astee de soldiers where we goin'? Dey say dey doan know. Dey told us to go where we feel lak goin', we ain' no mo' slave." (p.62-63)

Tuesday 19 June 2018


I confess this review is now months overdue and so I have lost the sense of what was so good about the book so this is likely to be thoroughly inadequate. 'Harvest' by Jim Crace was sent to me by mum, having been highly recommended by a friend. I was disconcerted at being unable to place the time setting for the story; at some moments it feels almost modern, but at others back in the dark ages. A small community, bringing in their annual harvest, has their celebrations interrupted by a fire and a group of interlopers, who are duly blamed for the conflagration. From there events spiral rapidly out of control, although unbeknownst to the villagers the recently widowed Master Kent, the owner of their lands, is about to be usurped by another family member with very different plans for the village and its people. 

Our narrator Walter has in common with Master Kent the status of newcomer; they arrived together, Kent as husband to the owner's daughter and Walter his manservant. Though now part of the community there is an element of the begrudging about their acceptance, a continued wariness and suspicion. The story has a strong sense of their community, but I felt as I read that it was based on their dependence on each other. They are people who have shared their lives, through bounteous years and lean ones, with their family bonds creating as much division as cohesion. Walter befriends the man who comes to survey the village lands and finds himself at odds with the other villagers. Master Jordan arrives from city, with his thuggish entourage, then Master Kent's horse is killed and people begin to question the proposed changes to their lives. Blame is allotted to those unable to defend themselves, accusations of witchcraft are soon bandied around, an easy tool for controlling a superstitious populace, and before our very eyes the community crumbles and disintegrates with frightening rapidity. A disturbing tale, with parable like qualities; it has such close parallels in modern life, where so many decisions about peoples lives are taken by remote corporations or centralised governments. 

Here the atmosphere at the beginning of the tale, where the land, the seasons and the harvest are what dominate their existence:

"What wind there was yesterday after we dispatched the final sheaf gathered up and spread much of the lighter, finer chaff. The village has been freckled by the chaff. The service trees between our dwellings and the gleaning field are still embroidered with it and with straw, despite the rain. On the way between the harvest and the stackyard, unsecured bundles of cut barley have dropped on the verges from our wagons and our barrows, providing pickings for the ruddocks and the dunnocks to contest, and there are signs in the disrupted soil that someone's pigs are on the loose and have been snouting for fallen grain. There is a silent ripeness to the air, so mellow and sappy that we want to breath it shallowly, to sip it richly like a cordial. No one who knows the busy, kindly, scented universe of crops and the unerring traces of its calendar could mistake this morning's aromatic peace and quiet for anything but Gleaning Day." (p.60-61)

And as Walter watches the departure of Master Kent and the prisoners. He manages to sum up the devastation of what has been lost:

"The lane is empty once again. This hilltop is a friendless place, and capped in cloud. I've bought the end-of-summer sorrows on myself. They spread their great black wings and cast their peckish shadows over me. The sun's still shining in the valley but its warmth's no longer reaching me. It is the middle of the afternoon, late harvest-time. I should be as dry and ripe as barley corn. Instead, I feel as chilly as a worm. I feel no prouder than a worm. I am almost tempted to run down the hill to that now empty way and join the pageant as it heads off for town. I'm panicking, not only for myself, but also for the prisoners, and the departed villagers, every one, and for Mr Quill as well. I have to fight the nightmares. I can't imagine living here for the coming seasons without someone to love or like, or any neighbour to share my troubles with. I can imagine living there, where they will be, above those smelling, busy, crowd-warmed streets, with Kitty, Gosse as my hands-on-belly second wife. I can imagine bringing Lizzie Carr into our rooms and taking care of her. I'd be as loving as her uncle John, until the day that uncle John himself arrives. I can imagine being Master Kent's town man again, like in those lively days when he was still a bachelor. The prospect is not frightening. It wouldn't take me long to catch up with that mummers' show. I could tag on at the end and follow Despair and his dejected mount as  ... Shame, perhaps. As Servitude. I'd put up with their switches and their staves, so long as I could be with them and not beset by clouds." (p.202-3)

Friday 8 June 2018

The Trial

The Actor's Wheel is a touring and actor training company based in Plymouth. Last night they brought one of their current productions, The Trial by Steven Berkoff, to Z-Arts in Hulme. The play is an adaptation of the novel by Franz Kafka, and having listened to 'The Metamorphosis' on the radio some time ago I was anticipating something unconventional. We were greeted in the theatre by smoke, atmospheric lighting, 
and loud music, and were drawn swiftly into a disorientating dystopic world where questions definitely were not answered. The scenery consisted of multiple wheeled filing cabinets, very emblematic of bureaucracy, which were repeatedly moved around the stage and used for different purposes. The actors, most of whom were on the stage almost continuously, moved themselves and the filing cabinets around in a complex and beautifully choreographed dance, interacting and then moving on in one flowing scene. The whole staging was very imaginative, using duplicate characters, on stage together, acting out mirror images of the same scene. Four women played Josephine K, the main character; each one taking turns to express her outrage and confusion at her arrest, each one in turn pleading to be heard, and for answers. The performances were all excellent, and I liked the fact that the staging allowed more cast members to take centre stage, rather than a single central character surrounded by a multitude of minor players. The whole production was engaging and the execution very slick; they certainly created a world worthy of the adjective Kafkaesque. The audience was very small and I apologise to the actors if I was a little droopy by the end, I had been up since 4am; the company has not been around long but I definitely think they are worth keeping an eye on if you are interested in experimental theatre.