Six Degrees of Separation in September

When I first joined Six Degrees of Separation last month, I was quite delighted at how far my chain of books stretched from the original.  This time, I’ve gone on a changed journey.  Each of my books links together.  And yet they are all so different.  Have a look.

I haven’t yet read Rodham.  I’m a huge fan of Sittenfeld’s writing, but the reviews for this latest book, featuring Hillary Clinton, are very mixed.  Kate, who hosts Six Degrees wasn’t all that keen.  This book is a re-imagining of a life, that of a known individual,  so  that’s my starting point.

Here’s another re-imagining, this time from Greek mythology:  Circe, by  Madeline Miller. Immortal Circe tells her story through the hundreds of years of her life. She’s known Prometheus; Daedalus and Icarus; Ariadne and the Minotaur; Jason of Golden Fleece fame, and most importantly, Odysseus, and has stories about all of them.  Over the years – the centuries – she develops her skills as a witch, We witness her growing independence; her satisfactions as she develops her spells; her joys and loneliness. She takes lovers as they come her way, but never abandons herself to them:  until Odysseus .. and Telemachus …

Might Circe have thought this view familiar? Skala Eressos, Lesvos, Greece, Image from Unsplash (Tania Mousinho)

Next is another strong, independent woman:  A real one, telling her own story:  Stories of the Sahara.  The writer Sanmao was a Chinese/Taiwanese woman married to a Spaniard, who realised her obsession to live in the Sahara desert.  She was feisty, opinionated, driven, and made it her business to get to know the locals and understand their lives in a way no tourist can.

Sand, but not Saharan sand. This is the beach at Alnmouth, Northumberland UK.

It dawned on me that there’s a theme developing here.  These are all stories of women, by women.  So let’s stick with it, and look at another independent woman’s story:  Raynor Winn’s The Salt Path.  It’s the account of a long distance walk undertaken by Ray and her husband when everything that possibly could go wrong in their lives had gone wrong. They’d lost their home, their livelihoods,  and in her husband’s case, his health.  In one sense they walked away from their problems, spending a year living rough and walking England’s South West Coastal Path. It became their journey towards a new life.

This isn’t Cornwall, but Pembrokeshire. However, it is a coastal path with many similarities to that pounded along by Raynor and her husband.

More strong women, more sea, more difficult times:  the diving fisherwomen – haenyo – of Jeju Island, South Korea.  The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See  tells an involving story following the story of two women whose lives develop through their membership of the haenyo culture, as they live through a twentieth century defined in Korea by occupation, internal conflict, deprivation and rapid change.

This isn’t Jeju Island, but it is South Korea: Igidae, near Busan, and a similar coastline.

Over to Russia.  Zuleikha by Guzel Yakhina.  This story, with a young uneducated Tatar woman at its heart, does much to bring to life the gulags and their unhappy part in Soviet history. Zuleikha is the young wife of a prosperous young farmer.  After his murder she’s taken prisoner and survives an apparently endless train journey and real physical, emotional and economic hardship, into a previously unpopulated part of Siberia where against the odds, she builds a life.

On our way home from South Korea, we flew over Siberia, still an astonishingly unpopulated region.

Gina’s life is very different.  She’s  a spoiled, headstrong, privileged 14 year old Hungarian who for her own protection during WWII is sent away to a puritanical isolated boarding school where she has some hard lessons to learn.  But what has Abigail, a classical statue in the school’s grounds, and who will receive messages from the pupils got to teach her? Read Abigail by Magda Szabó to find out.

The church at Arkod, the town where Gina’s boarding school is situated (Wikimedia Commons).

We’ve been to three continents and six countries, gone back in time and remained in the present.  We’ve met rich women, poor women, privileged women, and those who often feel without hope. Here’s a chain with six strong links.

 

Six Degrees of Separation

Playing a Viking Game

Way back in what we no longer call the Dark Ages, this part of the world – north east England – was overrun by Vikings.  They came, they saw, they settled.  They left their mark on the language: villages such as Thirn, Thrintoft, Skeldale, Kirkby, Slingsby, Ainsty all betray their Norse ancestry.  Vikings have a reputation for ravaging and plundering, but in fact many of them and their families made their lives here.

The scenery won’t have been so tidily organised back then.

And settlers need some down-time in among the hard work of clearing and working the land and looking after stock: pursuits like this forerunner of the board game, which was played throughout what is now Scandinavia. We found one while walking the Howardian Hills last weekend. It looks like a maze, and it’s called City of Troy.

 

City of Troy, near Dalby, Sheriff Hutton.

It’s one of only eight still left in England, and this one is the smallest- barely bigger than a large picnic blanket.  There used to be one near Ripon apparently, but it was ploughed up in 1827.  Nobody any longer knows how to play this game.  Why City of Troy?  Well, it’s thought that it refers to the walls of that city, which were apparently built in such a way as to prevent unwanted intruders finding their way out.  I’m astonished by the idea that the average Norseman (or woman) was up to speed with Ancient Greek history and myth, but what do I know?

A close up view.

It’s related though to labyrinths found all over Europe.  Every ancient culture: Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Indian, Native American – had their own take on this one-way-in and one-way-out puzzle.  The labyrinth made its way into mediaeval churches.  There was even one in the cathedral local to us in France, in Mirepoix.

The labyrinth in Mirepoix Cathedral.

To Christians of those days, it may have been a symbol of wholeness, and an aid to reflection and prayer.  That spiral path within a circle may represent a meandering path, leading us to our very centre, then back out into the world.

The maze game probably doesn’t run so deep.  But what its rules were, and when and how it was played, out on a hillside some distance from any known settlement is a mystery that will almost certainly never be solved.

Howardian Hills

Early morning mistiness: looking across to the Howardian Hills.

We’ve just come back from a weekend in the Howardian Hills – that slice of Yorkshire that includes Castle Howard, where that iconic TV series Brideshead Revisited was filmed in the 1980s.

For farmers, it’s a wealthy little corner of the county, with fertile fields offering a steady income in return for careful husbandry.  Well-constructed farm gates at the end of tidy tracks are handsomely buttressed by smart stone gate posts.  Crops stand to attention and weeds show their faces only at field margins.  Agricultural labourers are no longer tenants in those postcard-perfect villages.

Trees neatly marching across a hill crest.

Our late August break was not accompanied by late summer weather.  Although it didn’t rain, skies remained sulky and black.  Wind bustled and gusted fiercely against our faces.  The temperature hovered at 11 degrees all weekend.  Perfect for this week’s Photo Challenge, for which brightly luminous blue skies contrasting with the golden hues of harvest simply Would Not Do.

This month's final assignment - Experiment with using two or three Complementary colours. Try to make one or two colours the focus of the image, and use the other colour to enhance the overall image.

I’ve taken images from fields, from distant vistas, and from the one abandoned ruined grange we came across, where farm animals still grazed in the grassy yard. I’ve played around with colour contrast: aiming to make my results what my eyes thought they saw, rather than what my camera knew it saw.

This is what my eyes, not the camera saw.
I liked the only splash of colour here: those orange beaks.

2020 Photo Challenge #35

Red Hot Chilli Peppers

It’s got to the point where we could almost put chilli on our breakfast cereal. Jalapeño, Scotch bonnet, bird’s eye, habanero, chipotle, cayenne: all have become everyday objects in our home.

Our love affair with the chilli began in France. This is odd, because the French, on the whole, do not do spicy foods. ‘Are you trying to kill me?’ Henri howled, clutching his throat, when we put before him one day the mildest of all mild kormas.

But on a smallholding near us, a chilli enthusiast, Jean-Phillipe Turpin was busy. He grew mild chillies, medium-hot chillies, and chillies so hot they were off the Scoville scale. We came to call him ‘Mr. Chilli’.

Mr. Chilli at Mirepoix market.

He came to sell his wares every week in summer and autumn at two local markets. Fresh chillies, strings of dried chillies, powdered chillies, chilli plants. We became regular customers, as did other English, from far and wide. The French? Not so much.

Back in England, we still buy different chillies, every week. The dozens of varieties purveyed by Mr. Chilli rarely come our way. The ones we do have are everyday objects in our house. As are jars of spicy pastes and potions.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #111: Everyday Objects

A Window into the Past

I’m back volunteering at Fountains Abbey, and every time I’m there, I’ll spend time in the ruined Abbey itself.  I’ll gaze up at the voids which were once windows.  Any stone tracery has long disappeared, revealing views of the sky and trees beyond.  And I wonder what the monks saw, during their long hours of worship – eight sessions a day, the first at 2.00 a.m., when the night was charcoal-black and only smoky tallow candles lit the space?  The ascetic Cistercians had no statuary in their churches, little stained glass, so the monks probably glimpsed a barely-to-be-discerned landscape beyond, through water-greenish, slightly uneven glass.

In her challenge this week, Jude has invited us to compare the same scene in colour, and in black and white.  I thought it would be interesting to do this in a building in which colour plays little part.  Surely there would be little difference?  Well, apparently there is.  I find the black and white version a little too austere for my tastes. What do you think?

And here’s a view of the Abbey with Huby’s Tower, which was completed a mere 13 years before Henry VIII brought the Fountains Abbey community to an end in 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  I’ve tried to show it more as it might have looked then, set in a wilder landscape than the manicured parkland we see today.  And when it came to the monochrome version – well, there’s black and white, and black and white.  Again, there are choices here ….

2020 Photo Challenge #34

Monday Window

A Bleak Walk is Just Perfect

I love bleak.  Typically rolling English countryside is lovely. And you can’t beat a verdant Daleside vista, criss-crossed with dry stone walls dividing its pastureland, its river along the valley floor edged with trees.  But here in Yorkshire, every now and then, I have to have my fix of bleak.

And one way to do this is to go over to Angram and Scar House reservoirs, both constructed in Nidderdale during the inter-war years last century, to provide water for the citizens of Bradford. Here are slopes, sculpted by long-gone streams and the often savage weather. These hillsides are covered in thin, tussocky grass – and not much else. Few trees.  Few buildings – the odd hunting lodge or barn.  But there are sheep, and birdlife too.  One of our memories of walking here was once seeing a small meadow pipit struggling to feed ‘her’ baby, a cuckoo fledgling three times her size.

My friend Sandra and I went there this week.  The day was perfect.  Not too hot and not too cold.  Briskly breezy.  And as we arrived , the reservoir was as blue as we’ve ever seen it, almost cobalt in its intensity.  We planned to walk our way round both reservoirs.

Scar House Reservoir

Which way though?  Clockwise?  Anti-clockwise? Sandra counselled clockwise, and Sandra won.  That way, we’d get a slightly boring bit of track over and done with.  We’d get the wind-in-our-faces over and done with.  And most importantly, we’d get the squishier, less managed paths of Angram Reservoir over and done with.

It’s rained a lot lately, so walking round Angram involves some wet pathways.  Not muddy, just paddleable.  Juncus grass lining the route offered the odd springboard to drier grassy ground.  But with water to right of us, bald barren hillside to left of us , the route is easy to see.  And each reservoir terminates in a stout dam, each worthy of  walk in its own right, and in Angram’s case, with water tumbling to its sister reservoir below.

Finally we left our wet pathways behind, and joined the springier drier turf pathways of Scar House Reservoir where sheep kept us company.

But even though we knew from the car park that we weren’t alone, we felt that this particular expanse of hillside, sky and water was ours and only ours for the six and a half mile walk in the middle of nowhere.

Scar House Reservoir

 

Jo’s Monday Walk

Six Word Saturday

The Tale of Little Bad Hen

Once upon a time there were five little hens.  They lived in a little wooden hut in a wood.  A  nice family of humans had adopted them, made meals and cleaned for them.  Every time the family cleaned the hut, they made sure there was a fresh copy of the Financial Times on the floor for the hens to read while they were resting at home.

Sometimes, the family went on holiday, and then they asked their neighbours Margaret and Malcolm to take over housekeeping duties.  Every night at 8 o’clock, these servants-next-door popped round, made sure the hens were in bed, and shut the hut door firmly.

One night one of the hens, Little Bad Hen, decided not to go home.  She was having such fun in the woods, grubbing for windfalls and worms: and besides, it was still light.  Nobody had told her that Mr. Fox lived nearby, and had hungry cubs to feed.  Luckily for her, nobody had told Mr. Fox that Little Bad Hen was out and about.  She got away with it, and came scuttling back as soon as one of the servants-next-door appeared to serve breakfast the following morning.

Little Bad Hen.

Little Bad Hen kept this up for four whole nights, clucking smugly to herself as she heard the servants-next-door scurrying about the woods, peering under logs and into hidey-holes searching for her.  On the fifth evening, it rained. Little Bad Hen looked up at the sky.  She considered the secret-but-chilly and damp shelter that she’d found, under little Felix’s toy wheelbarrow.  Perhaps that wooden hut, where she could cuddle up to her friends and sisters was a better idea after all.  She might even think about laying those servants-next-door an egg.

Normal egg. One laid by Little Bad Hen or friend.

 

‘Green is the prime colour of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises’*

… so that’s why I chose it for Jude’s Photo Challenge this week, which is to focus on one colour, and one colour alone.  But green of course, isn’t simply green…

This wood was planted by the Victorians on the site of a Neolithic henge in nearby Nosterfield. I’ll tell the story one day.
Crops growing near West Tanfield, North Yorkshire
A view across the Yorkshire Dales.

*Pedro Calderon de la Barca (Spanish Dramatist 1600 – 1681)

2020 Photo Challenge #33

Live Theatre: the Handlebards are Here!

Kipling Hall. The audience enjoys a picnic ahead of the evening performance.

I’m a bit of a Handlebards groupie.  Handlebards?  Yes, the always effervescently inventive troupe (one male combo of four actors, one female combo of four actors) who cycle the country carrying all they need with them to one-night-only venues, in the grounds of stately homes, museums, city parks to present their season’s Shakespeare play in the open air, come rain, come shine.

I’ve been to five productions now, two male, two female, and one … well, we’ll come to that in a minute.

One night was so wet that players and audience alike took refuge in a castle keepOne evening was bright and sunny, as was another, if a little windy.  Last year was fine until after the  interval.  Then the heavens opened.  We were well-provided with rain gear but got utterly soaked anyway.  The players, their hair plastered to their scalps and water streaming down their faces, their clothes sodden, dripping and rendered translucent by the unremitting downpour played on.  What a team!  We admired their grit, and retired home to peel off every item of sodden clothing (and that included underclothes) and take a hot shower.  The actors camped out on a hard floor, got up the following morning and cycled to their next venue.

Covid 19 put a stop to this year’s plans. No male tour.  No female tour.  The actors didn’t sit around twiddling their thumbs though.  The London-based ones set about organising deliveries of essentials to the vulnerable and shielded. Which was wonderful, but not acting.

Three of the Handlebards share a house:  They’re their very own Social Bubble.  So during the days of Lockdown they hatched a plot to tour a play during August and September, just the three of them: two men, one woman.  They chose Romeo and Juliet.  No problem.  Aside from Romeo and Juliet themselves, they only have to play Mercutio, Benvolio, Capulet, Tybalt, Juliet’s nurse and her mother, Friar Laurence …

These kinds of difficulty never thwart the Handlebards.  Hats and wigs temporarily stand in for characters whose actor is currently multi-tasking.  Props are minimal.  Bicycle pumps for weapons; an aerosol; a hand-painted sun and moon; a repurposed squash-up play tunnel becomes Juliet’s balcony; a couple of military jackets; a length of hessian to stand in for monkish robes; gauzy stuff for Juliet; lengths of red ribbon for blood and guts and they’re pretty much sorted.

The actors change roles, sometimes almost mid sentence.  A Liverpudlian becomes a Scot who becomes someone who has twubble with his ‘r’s.  Romeo and Juliet themselves are played by a man and a woman respectively, but who knew that Juliet’s nurse sports a dapper beard, or her mother blue knee-socks?

We went along to Thursday evening’s performance. It was all tremendously rip-roaring fun, played against the backdrop of the lovely Jacobean Kiplin Hall.  We took chairs, a picnic, and lots of warm clothes, because it was chilly.   As ever, laughter and sheer delight kept us entirely in the moment, so we barely noticed that it started to drizzle, not long before the end.  Thank you Handlebards.  Live theatre is back.

The end of a great evening.

Six Word Saturday