::POLITICAL RANT ALERT::
I know. I don’t do politics. Well. . . .
I am, I admit, frequently appallingly clueless about the realities of . . . reality. I know I’m a wet bleeding-heart knee-jerk la-di-dah liberal but I forget how far from the mainstream that sometimes takes me. Take gay marriage.
I do know there are still rabid homophobic enclaves out there but that’s what I expect them to be . . . enclaves.* In the modern First World at least I expect anyone my age and younger to behave in a polite and tolerant way; if they have private caveats about certain intrinsically harmless and productive subgroups of society they keep this to themselves. That government tends to be butt-heavy with old fogies is one of those sad facts of reality, but I’m rapidly approaching old-fogey status myself so the obvious stuff should be getting dealt with as there are more old fogies like me in Parliament—or Congress, or the Orwellian farmyard, or what-have-you. So we finally got civil partnerships here in the UK for gays a few years ago—so they can have insurance and inheritance and hospital-visiting rights and so on just like hets, well duh—can gay marriage be far behind?
I don’t keep track of this kind of controversy—I know, bad me—because it makes me too crazy. I don’t keep track of all the anti-women stuff still relentlessly going on out there** either, for the same reason. It makes me feel too small and too helpless and too ANGRY: human rights are human rights are human rights. There’s nothing to discuss.*** So I’ll just go on writing my stories about Girls Who Do Things—and keep my head (mostly) down out here in rough and ratbagging reality.
While I was as appalled as everyone else—everyone on the wet-liberal side anyway—about the C of E blocking women bishops again, there was enough general outrage that the church synod what-you-call-it managed to cram a fresh vote through before time, and there’s at least been progress, although there’s a bit too much havering about what they’re doing to keep the paralytic-tradition fogies from mutinying again. But I remember—as a separation-of-church-and-state American—being fascinated by the suggestion that if the C of E didn’t get its act together promptly about women bishops Parliament would make them.
So. Gay marriage. It’s legal in the UK. Finally. But the C of E is saying no, no, a thousand times no, I’d rather diiiiiie than say yes. WHAT? You can’t just look for a sympathetic priest—even wet liberals like me will acknowledge that tolerance tends to be a continuum—it’s illegal for a C of E vicar to perform a gay marriage? This is the Church. Of. England. That’s how it works over here. And Parliament isn’t going to say, ‘Do it and shut up’? WHAT?
And—and this was my personal snapping point—the frelling Archbishop of Canterbury is saying gay marriage would be ‘catastrophic’ for Christians in other parts of the world because it would leave them vulnerable to violence by anti-gay mob rule? http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-26894133 WHAT? Where are you drawing the line, mate? Or what line or you drawing? Being a Christian at all in certain parts of the world is still dangerous. The tradition of violence and martyrdom goes back to the beginning—um, the crucifixion, um?—and ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ has always been a crummy policy. If the early Christians hadn’t been such arrogant little twerps, insisting on going around shooting their mouths off about Jesus being the Offspring of God, they might have believed what they liked in the privacy of their own homes, as long as they didn’t do it on the street and frighten the horses or piss off the local tyrant. Not to mention that appeasement of bullies and murderers doesn’t have a great track record for success.† I hope our Most Reverend Justin is being quoted badly out of context.
It was Aloysius who pointed out to me, in a calm, holy way, that gay marriage is very, very controversial in the C of E—and at the moment the traditionalists are winning.†† And I’m a card-carrying, fee-paying member of this organisation? Aloysius—who admits to being frustrated by the ban himself—says that we’re supposed to pray for change and love those who disagree with us.
ARRRRRRRRRGH. Personally I’d rather have a flaming sword.
* * *
^ The Samaritans question you-as-applicant pretty closely about your attitude toward homosexuality but I half-thought they were joking. In my wet-liberal way I can’t imagine wanting to do something like take shifts on a people-in-emotional-extremis phone line and not sympathise with gays who do have more of a struggle with society and expectations and okay and not-okay than hets do. Not wholly unlike, to my eye, women have more of a struggle with society etc than men do, or non-white people than white people do. Etc. Humanity = ratbag. Sigh.
** http://everydaysexism.com/ Everyone know this one? Read it and weep. I don’t read it very often, because of the weeping thing, and the blood-pressure headaches, and the wondering whether anything ever does get better, or whether it just goes round in endless circles. The early Christian church had women in positions of power, for example, but it didn’t last. Here’s a bit more about Laura Bates, Everyday Sexism’s founder: http://www.independent.co.uk/biography/laura-bates
She’s on Twitter too: @EverydaySexism
Go for it. I’m glad someone has the grit.
*** Anyone thinking of writing a counter-diatribe on the forum, please take note. Also, it’s my blog.
† I want to know why these people think that the presence of Christians is going to turn them homosexual?^ Is it something we put in the water? There’s a word that’s struggling to surface in my aging and forgetful mind—wait for it—EDUCATION. You know you can educate people about lots of things. Like that the existence and maintenance of heterosexuality in the Christian church is actually rather common.
^ Which is of course the worst thing that could possibly happen to you. Worse than gangrene! Worse than Sarah Palin for president!
†† Scripture! Yes, I know! But we don’t cut people’s hands off for stealing any more, or stone people to death for adultery! And if you’re asking me, which you probably aren’t, as well as welcoming gay marriage, there are a lot of abused kids out there who are let off honouring their fathers and mothers!
Being at a fiber festival like Wisconsin Sheep & Wool can be tiring. There’s a lot of standing around on hard concrete floors, and walking from building to barn to the next barn. So it was a relief to be able to sit down and watch the sheep shearing demonstration.
The man giving the demonstration was full of information about everything from the importance of good shears to wearing the right kind of footwear to how to keep the sheep as calm & comfortable as possible during the shearing process.
He got the first sheep out of the pen ready to be shorn, and immediately said, “Oh! I shouldn’t have picked this one! It’s slower, and less impressive for demonstrations.” The sheep he’d chosen had fleece all the way down its legs. Some breeds of sheep don’t grow wool on their legs (or heads, either), and they are easier for the shearers to work with.
(It’s very hard to be dignified if you are a sheep being shorn.)
“Does this position make my neck look fat?”
The second sheep he pulled out of the pen was a different breed, and easier to shear. If you look closely, you can see that the wool is coming off in one blanket, almost, instead of lots of little fluffy pieces. That’s good, especially for handspinning, because it means the shearer knows his business, and the wool will be of even lengths that will be easy to work with. (The wool from a single sheep is called a “fleece,” until you process it & mix it with wool from other sheep.)
By this time, the fleece judging had started in another part of the fairgrounds. This was the part my friend Carol was especially looking forward to. You could practically see her drool as she sat on the very front row to listen to everything the fleece judge said. After judging, the fleeces were going to be auctioned off, and Carol was plotting which ones she wanted to take home. (I had almost no fleece lust. I know what it takes to clean one of those suckers, and I’d just as soon let someone else do the dirty work. Literally.)
I’d seen a fleece judging once before, but this judge was fascinating. Different breeds of sheep produce wool with different qualities, so there were a number of different categories in which shepherds could enter their fleeces. As the judge looked over each fleece, he would talk about its strengths and weaknesses, and whether or not it ran true to breed. Often he’d pick up a lock of the fleece and look it over carefully. Most wool, if you look closely, looks like a tiny crimping iron was used on it, and he’d look to see if the crimp was uniform over the whole fleece.
If a sheep has been sick or stressed during the past year, there will be a weak spot in the lock, and the fibers may break as you try to spin them. To test the strength of each lock, he would hold it up by his ear and snap it tight, listening to the sound. It looks kind of funny, but it’s the best way to see if the lock is strong.
A lot of the fleeces looked like beautiful clouds, and I just wanted to go up to the table and stick my arms down in all that lovely wool!
After the judging came the auction. Carol made out like a bandit, coming home with five fleeces! (I never did get to see the spinning wheel she bought. She’d already buried it in sheep fleeces by the time I got to the car.)
By the time Carol picked up her fleeces, the festival was closed for the day and we needed to leave. We made a detour by the lambing barn, though.
Lambs are usually born in the spring, and September is definitely fall in the northern hemisphere. But the nice people at the University of Wisconsin breed specifically to lamb during the Sheep & Wool festival, so people can see new lambs!
“What are you looking at? Don’t you know it’s time to go home and leave us in peace with our babies?”
I generously offered to drive most of the way home, since it was too dark to knit while someone else drove.
And yes, I did pick up some goodies in the sale barn before we left the festival. Apparently I was having a purple-y kind of day. Sometime soon I will have newly-spun sock yarn!
ONE TWENTY FIVE
It was making my head hurt.
A faint, wavering sort-of rectangle, taller than it was wide, paler than the surrounding stormy, turbulent darkness. A sudden streak of light like lightning lashed across my blurry, uncertain Gate and . . . made it . . . real. White, slightly spirally pillars on either side swept up to a lintel gleaming with intricate patterns of what looked like carving; there was also a glittering, fuming confusion at threshold level that wasn’t encouraging to anyone thinking of walking across it, and this whatever-it-was bleeped upwards in big fat slow bubbles like a lava lamp.
Define real. My mind would keep producing that awkward demand; in the circumstances I couldn’t blame it. But I wasn’t the only one who saw this vision, this Gate: there was another moment of stillness—the kind of heavy, breathless stillness that tells you that there are really a lot of people around you—and then mutters and murmurs . . . and a few shouts. Gaduld! Forshaz donol yar! Or something like that. There were other murmurs that sounded more like rhubarb rhubarb or possibly blither blither blither. I clamped my jaws together to avoid joining in on that last.
“Defender,” said Murac, beside me, and his voice was hoarse and scratchy again.
The lava-lamp bubbles seemed to be straining to come through the Gate—toward us. Maybe this was a good thing. Maybe they were the other-worldly version of friendly puppies. Somehow I doubted it. “What—what are —” I doubted Murac had ever seen a lava lamp. Although Borcaithna had brought off some pretty spectacular stunts—especially when he was trying to do something else. Pulling a troop of leather-and-swords mercenaries into a mid-twentieth-century American house with shag carpeting, Harvest Gold appliances and lava lamps wouldn’t be beyond him. If he had done it, I bet that was the last time whoever it was hired him. Magicians tended to live a long time. Borcaithna might run out of people to be hired by before he died of old age.
“So what’s the funny blobby stuff in the Gate?” I said in my best crisp, professional manner.
“Eh,” said Murac. I looked at him, and in the uncertain light I thought there was a sheen of sweat on his face. “Don’t know, Defender. Never been this close to Gate before.”
Mercenaries can do the blithe-in-the-face-of-death thing if they have to, it’s part of the contract, at least in the genre corner of high fantasy I occupied, but they aren’t big on death and glory if there are other options, preferably alive, relatively hale and whole, and paid in good currency of the realm. I decided not to ask how Borcaithna had bypassed the Gate recently . . . or why this Gate was apparently my particular doom. Defender. What a joke. What an awful joke.
In the few seconds I had spent thinking these thoughts my throat had closed up and I wouldn’t have been able to ask any more questions even if I’d wanted to. I still felt ill, but staring at the lava-lamp blobs was making me feel dizzy as well and it occurred to me to wonder how long it had been in the-life-of-this-body time since I’d eaten.
I curled my cold fingers farther into the long lock of Monster’s mane that fell over the pommel of the saddle and gently squeezed his gigantic barrel with my legs. A little light-headed thought floated by, suggesting that I should find out if any of the signals from humans Monster had been trained to obey were importantly different from the signals-to-horse that I knew. . . . He took a step forward. Two steps.
And some kind of clamor broke out on our right. How many of us are there? I had said, and Murac had replied: Too few. But to me, who was used to working alone in a small room with a computer, and whose idea of hell was a confrontational-fan-heavy SF&F con, it sounded like a medium-sized army in a bad mood.
Someone—someone with a retinue—was making his way through the gloom—the gloom already full of horses and riders. Toward us. There didn’t seem to be any blood or screaming involved so I assumed they were some of ours. One of the retinue was holding a torch, and in its hazy light I could see horses shying out the way, and the occasional glint of what I guessed was chain mail. And yes, I was sure that the figure at the front was a man. Even allowing for what the dim light and personal terror was doing to his silhouette as his horse walked toward me, he seemed about two storeys tall. With shoulders that would give even Mr WS serious competition.
His horse was possibly even bigger than Monster. But Monster drew himself together and raised his head, and I decided the honors were about even. I still had to look up—a long way—into the rider’s face. Who was scowling down at me.
“Tha?” he said disbelievingly. “Tha’s Defender?”
I was supposed to be going to a concert tonight. Well, I was supposed to be going to a concert tomorrow night, only I kept forgetting, because Saturday night is Monk Night* and that there might be something else going on doesn’t register unless you nag me relentlessly**. So by the time I remembered—chiefly because I was going to be seeing the friend who was singing in it and wanted me to come—it had sold out. Never mind, she said, come to the dress rehearsal. Which I would probably have enjoyed more anyway because it’s more of the nuts and bolts of putting on a performance***.
It has not been a brilliant day. I went with Peter when he saw his GP this morning, and the frelling doctor was forty five minutes late without explanation or apology.† Sound of Robin scraping herself off the walls since Peter likes his doctor and I don’t want to disturb this desirable situation by, for example, putting said doctor through the clinic paper shredder.†† Then Peter and I had our usual Friday foray to the farmers’ market, to which I bring the hellhounds so they were okay, but I got back to the cottage finally and very late to an EXTREMELY CRANKY HELLTERROR who had to be soothed by . . . well, give her a dog biscuit and she’s your slave for life, or at least till the next dog biscuit, but I figured I owed her a good walk.†††
Meanwhile I’d had a text from Niall reminding me that the much-neglected-by-me Friday handbells were occurring tonight at 5:30 as usual . . . I’d already texted him back that I was coming, after which I was going to have to rip off to the concert. Good thing I don’t write the blog every night any more, I thought, harnessing up hellhounds for their pre-handbell sprint.
. . . And Darkness has the geysers again. WAAAAAAAAAAAH. ‡
So I stayed home.
And I thought, oh well, I might as well write a blog post. Sigh.
* * *
* Which is a ratbag on your social life, if any. But the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament—which I think I’ve told you before?, is that you stare at the wafers they’re going to use at Mass on Sunday morning, which are suspended in some manner within this golden starburst thing I’m told is called a monstrance^ —is kind of booked to happen Saturday night. Clearly weeks need an eighth day, so you can get your serious acting-out post-work-week over with, or possibly just go to a concert, on that day^^ between Friday and Saturday and be sufficiently clean, upright and awake^^^ for wafer-contemplation on Saturday night.
^ Which I feel is an unfortunate derivation. Like calling angels vampires because one of the origins+ of ‘vampire’ may refer to spirits of the air. And why is a rosary either a rose garden or a loop of prayer beads? I know—garland. But confusing.
+ disputed, but I think they’re all disputed
^^ Which I feel should be called Loki-day or Misrule-day except the world would probably end. So maybe we could call it Dead Sheep day or Dwarf Conifer day.
^^^ I will not say no one has ever fallen asleep during the Exposition. Unless you fall off your chair+ it’s not a big deal in the congregation—all one or two or three of us—because we’re sitting in the dark till the service begins. The black-garbed chappies up on the dais . . . yeah. They’re kinda visible if they start to nod.++ But the Benedictine order is heavily into physical, three-dimensional this-world work, and my monks have probably been rescuing kittens from the tops of two-hundred-foot leylandii cypresses and doing the steel-driving man thing alongside soulless steam drills+++ all day and are tired.
+ NO. I HAVEN’T. THANKS FOR ASKING.
++ Alfrick never falls asleep. He’s my hero.
+++ And winning, of course. Our railroads need a few miracles.
** And even then nothing is guaranteed except that I’ll probably bite your head off.
*** I’m singing again at St Margaret’s on Sunday—AAAAAAAUGH—the nice young man who is leading this week dutifully sent the playlist last night with the video links—AAAAAAAAUGH. I’d far rather be learning The sun whose rays are all ablaze^ or I Want to Be a Prima Donna^^
^ The Mikado. You’d’ve remembered in a minute.
^^ On the spectacular perversity of bodies: my singing practise at home is pretty . . . erratic, both because I’m an erratic kind of person (!) but also because I have an erratic kind of voice, which I gather is pretty standard, it’s just if you’re good and/or professional you learn workarounds. I will warm up a bit, sing a folk song, warm up a bit more, sing another folk song, lie on the floor and do a few breathing exercises, sing another folk song or an old gospel thumper, sing something I’m actually working on to bring to Nadia . . . do a few more warm ups. What I sing and how I sing it is entirely based on the noise I’m making: on a good-noise day I’ll do a lot more than on a bad-and-I-can’t-seem-to-make-it-better-noise day. Most days are in between: if I keep doing warm-ups and vowelly exercises and approaching the intractable from different angles I will at least improve. Probably. I also try not to get too hung up on what specific notes I’m singing—this is on Nadia’s advice—find a range my voice is happy in and sing there.
But by the end of a good practise I’m singing a high B as part of an exercise pattern without any particular effort—my much-desired-for-silly-reasons high C is clearly there I just haven’t quite had the courage to have a stab at it—somebody tell me why, as soon as I’m trying to sing a song, I can’t even hit a frelling G reliably. Because my blasted throat closes up and goes no no no no no! Eeep eeep eeep eeep eeeep!+ I tried to be clever about this the other day, and snaked out a few bars of Prima Donna where you’ve got a G-to-G octave leap, because octave leaps are a gift they’re so nice and obvious, and I use them in exercises all the time. But my voice wasn’t having any of it. I know what you’re trying to do, it said, and went squeaky. ARRRRRRRGH.
Tonight’s concert included a professional soloist singing something that I—theoretically—sing, and I might have found this educational. I might also have come home and burnt my music books, so maybe it’s just as well I didn’t go.
+ What’s even more irritating is when I’m sharp rather than flat. Usually it’s flat—which is losing your nerve at a big fence so your horse raps it with his knees and brings a pole down. Sharp is jumping eight feet over a three-foot fence. But if I give up and sing along with the piano . . . okay, the note’s true enough but it’s got a frelling edge on it you could slice bread with. ARRRRRRRRGH.
† I GOT A LOT OF KNITTING DONE. It’s been a good week for knitting. I got a lot of knitting done at St Margaret’s AGM equivalent earlier in the week too. Gah. Groups of PEOPLE. DISCUSSING things. Nooooooooo. I’m a Street Pastor! I’m going to be a Samaritan! My social conscience is FULLY BOOKED UP! I don’t have to do church-AGM-related things too!
†† No jury would convict me. My barrister or whoever would be sure to load the jury with people who have WASTED HOURS OF THEIR LIVES IN DOCTORS’ WAITING ROOMS.
††† She’s crated if she’s left alone, so if she’s been locked up longer than she thinks she should be she tends to emerge like the Blue Angels/Red Arrows at an air show. WHEEEEEEEEEEEE.
‡ What frelling happens in March? We’ve had a really bad March, that is, the hellhounds have, and I have because I’m responsible. The hellterror, I am delighted to say, seems to be maintaining intestinal integrity this year. I thought we were coming through it. . . . But it all went horribly wrong in March last year . . . what happens in March?
This is such a good book.
I don’t remember how I managed to notice it; unless I am being even more clueless than usual, which I admit is entirely possible, I don’t think it’s been waved around and shouted about much over here, which is a pity—do the British really think a YA fantasy novel about the American antebellum south isn’t of interest? But it isn’t a YA fantasy novel about the American antebellum south, although it’s certainly that too—it’s a novel about what it is to be human. Which is what all the best novels are about, including—and I know I’ve said this before but it bears repeating—the ones featuring fuzzy blue eight-legged methane-breathers. Or a Louisiana sugar-cane plantation a hundred and fifty years ago, run by slave labour.
Thirteen-year-old Sophie’s parents have split up (very shocking in 1960 middle-class America) and her mother is taking her back to her family’s old home for the summer to get her out of the way. Sophie’s mother’s family were very grand a hundred years ago, and the house where Sophie’s grandmother and aunt still live is on a remnant of the old plantation. Sophie is miserable; she’d already been outcast by her friends because of the divorce, and the back of beyond in the bayou is nearly the worst fate she can think of. She explores the overgrown—and reputedly haunted—maze that had been part of the Big House’s garden in the plantation’s day. And there she meets . . . a Creature. “There’s no question that there’s strange things around Oak River,” says Sophie’s Aunt Enid, “and if they’re not ghosts, then they’re something mighty like.”
“I warn you,” says the Creature to Sophie, “I mighty powerful juju. I sits at the doorway betwixt might be and is, betwixt was and will be, betwixt here and there. . . . ”
But Sophie, reckless in her unhappiness, and having perhaps reread E Nesbit and Edward Eager a little too often, wishes for an adventure. “Adventures just come along natural with going back in time,” says the Creature.
And Sophie discovers that she’s back a hundred years. When her ancestors, the Fairchilds, were plantation owners. And what had been her bedroom in 1960 is the bedroom of the daughter of the family in 1860. Who is understandably dismayed by the strange girl in it. But Sophie, with her frizzy hair and her dark summer tan, is mistaken for a runaway slave. And the only reason she isn’t flogged and dragged away in chains is because she is obviously a member of the family—she has the famous Fairchild nose. She is, it is decided by Miss Liza’s parents, the daughter of Miss Liza’s rackety uncle—and one of his slaves.
Which makes Sophie a slave. Which is not the sort of adventure she had in mind.
The plantation world is brought superbly to life, as are the people in it. One of the things I found particularly effective is sheltered, white-girl 1960 Sophie having no idea what it means to be a slave: that just meeting someone’s eyes because they’re speaking to you is uppity, that any answer at all may be the wrong answer, that it is perfectly acceptable to be expected to wait on table when you are half-sick with hunger yourself, that it is perfectly acceptable to be sent on another errand, and another errand after that when you’re exhausted—because you aren’t really human. And that the white overseer is always right even when he’s wrong, and that a black slave doesn’t know more even when he does—because he’s a slave.
And what this grotesque imbalance of power does to both sides of this criminally bad bargain.
There are so many neat, tucked-away little details in this book, of plot, character and serendipity, none of which I can tell you—but I can tell you to look out for them. I’ve discovered one or two more just glancing through it now to get the names and quotations right—and many of these apparently casual bits and pieces come together beautifully for the climax and denouement.
Give yourself a treat: read it.
* * *
* I read a book over supper last night.^ It was thrilling. I always used to read over meals unless Story in Progress was giving me an unusually ferocious time; but in the last six and a half years if I’m not wrestling with a recalcitrant Story I’m mostly writing the blog at night. Hey. More book recs on the new blog system. Yessssssss.
^ I was also up way too late as a result. Sigh. Well, no system is perfect.