Probably can’t have too many pictures of baby birds at the moment!
From Ancient Rome to Judith Butler in this issue …
Cheryl Morgan blogs about the evidence for women loving women in Ancient Rome, Tribade Visibility Day
The Paris Review has a great piece on The Fabulous Forgotten Life of Vita Sackville West
TIE Campaign podcast has episodes on Lesbians Against Section 28 and Anne Lister
A long and detailed article in Out History, A Tribute to Phyllis Lyon (1924 – 2020)
Interesting interview with Judith Butler about her latest thinking Judith Butler wants us to reshape our rage
A lovely blog from Torch, Women Retold: Eurydice and Portrait of a Lady on Fire
And a nice interview with the poet Jackie Kay, DIVA meets LGBTQI literature royalty, Jackie Kay MBE
This response speaks of a total misunderstanding of how profound an impact inequality has on the material realities of people’s lives. Of it not just being a simple case of the haves vs. the have-nots, but between those who conceive of reality as something they have a stake in and an ability to control, and those who don’t. In an era of widespread, casualised work, which disproportionately affects minority and low-income people, time is not something we are alienated from voluntarily, but by necessity and in larger and larger quantities in order to survive. To put it plainly: “me time” does not exist outside of the comfortable milieu of middle-class existence.Natahlie Olah, Coronavirus isn’t a bucolic writing retreat—but a time to address deep inequalities in our society
This should have been a Sunday post, but I didn’t have the mental energy at the weekend to compose even a lightweight weekly update.
I hope everyone is doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances. We are okay. We’ve established a routine pretty quickly and are doing quite well on the self-care front. There’s a lot to get used to: working from home, the restrictions on going out, and supporting an older relative who is in self-isolation. The main things I’m struggling with are fatigue and loss of mental focus. I also need to find a way to create a sense of distinction between the days. It feels like they are all merging into one.
I finished The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz. Like all his books, it’s extremely readable and the mystery was decent enough, but it lost of a lot of points for being misogynist and a bit racist. I really enjoyed Magpie Murders but this one was a real turn off.
Also in crime fiction, I’m reading All Day and a Night by Alafair Burke, which is book five in her Ellie Hatcher series. I generally find Burke very reliable as a crime writer, although her earlier books have some graphic violence against women. I think she gets better and better.
We’ve been enjoying the documentary series, England’s Forgotten Queen: The Life and Death of Lady Jane Grey . Alice Roberts’s Digging for Britain is also fun.
My musical discovery of the week has been the later work of Buffy Sainte-Marie which is just fantastic. Here she is with Inuk throat singer, Tanya Tagaq, performing the track ‘You got to run’.
For me, winter is a time to listen to country and folk music, and December and January have been all about albums by women artists.
Loreena Mckennitt, the wind that shakes the barley (2010)
My partner is a fan of Loreena Mckennitt. She’s an incredibly talented singer and multi-instrumentalist and her music has a wintry, medieval feel. This album, in which she returns to her Irish roots, is my favourite so far.
To track, the wind that shakes the barley
O’Hooley and Tidow, Winterfolk (2017)
I like my Christmas music melancholy and on the darker-side, so this is perfect. A lovely collection of original songs, traditional carols and covers, including the most heart breaking version of ‘Fairytale of New York’.
Top track: Fairytale of New York (live)
Alison Moorer, Blood (2019)
Blood is a powerful album about the impact of living with unthinkable family violence and tragedy. Haunting, heartbreaking, but also life-affirming. A classic.
I can’t pick a top track, so here’s the searing opener, Bad Weather
Gretchen Peters, Blackbirds (2015)
Another great album from a woman of country music. Blackbirds is full of gorgeous, yearning songs.
Top track: Blackbirds
Laura Marling, Alas I Cannot Swim (2008)
I’ve been getting into Laura Marling recently. I really like her sound – vibrant songs influenced by traditional folk music. This is incredibly accomplished for a first album.
Top track, Night Terror
Belly, King (1995)
An old favourite. Fabulous, shiny indie pop. I put this on the other day as I started my Imbolc clean. Winter is coming to an end.
Top track: Super-connected
A website dedicated to LGBTQ country music: Country Queer
This poem destroyed me.
Essay: On Love by Ed Falco
How many mornings have I walked barefoot along the beach?
Not enough. Never enough.
Well, this is fabulous – The Queer Bible
“It’s taken me a long time to learn, in fact my whole life so far”
Damn Marianne! This album near destroyed me.
Negative Capability seems to occupy a similar territory to some of Leonard Cohen’s last works. There’s a very conscious sense of someone staring down mortality and trying to tell us something of what they’ve learned from a long life.
Nick Cave and Ed Harcourt are perfect songwriting collaborators for Faithfull. The instrumentation is gorgeous and the songs bring out her strengths, along with a sensitive production from Head, Warren Ellis and Rob Ellis. Yes, her voice is cracked and broken, but boy, can she still put a song across.
And the songs! Faithfull’s 1965 hit ‘And Tears Go By’ has a very different resonance when sung by a 72 year-old woman (“I sit and watch the children play”) and is especially moving because we know what Hell she went through in the following years. ‘The Gypsy Faerie Queen’ is a beautiful song and Nick’s Cave’s rich backing vocals give me chills. There’s a broken-down cover of ‘It’s all over now, baby blue’. No Faithfull album would be complete without a rambling, angry, in-your-face song like ‘They Come at Night’.
One to treasure.
Lovely little video about the making of the album and interview with Faithfull here
Naomi Shihab Nye, Burning the Old Year
“So much of any year is flammable”.
It is a terrible thing, this kindness that human beings do not lose. Terrible, because when we are finally naked in the dark and cold, it is all we have. We who are so rich, so full of strength, we end up with that small change. We have nothing else to give.
Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness
Heart to Mouth released on 7th December
Mary O’ Hara’s Music Speaks Louder than Words (1978) is the first album that I can remember identifying as something that I liked for myself. I must have been around three or four years old at the time. I couldn’t quite manage to say her name, so I called her “auntie”, much to the amusement of my parents.
I now suspect that I was more interested in the photographs of O’Hara on the album cover than I was in the music. I had begun to realise that I was supposed to grow up to be a “lady”, as the people around me said in the sexist language of the time, and here was a “lady” that looked quite appealing to me. We had fields full of buttercups like the one she’s sitting in on the front cover and I was fascinated by the dress she’s wearing on the back.
I didn’t know anything about her, so I looked her up and found that she’s a very influential Irish singer and harpist. She’s had a pretty interesting life, which includes a period spent as a Benedictine nun.
This album has a lot of covers, so I think it must have been aimed at a more mainstream audience, but it’s her traditional Irish folk recordings seem to have had the staying power.
My favourite tracks when I was a child were the covers, ‘Music Speaks Louder than Words’, and ‘Annie’s Song’. As an adult, my top track is ‘Dust in the Wind’. I can’t find O’ Hara’s anywhere, but here’s a great version by Melanie.
I felt I should include one of her performances in this post, so here’s Óró Mo Bháidín which seems to be a favourite and has the most listens on Spotify.
I usually struggle in November because it comes with some difficult anniversaries. This year, I decided to just try and enjoy it for what it is.
I did pretty well socially. Work sent me to North Wales, which gave me the opportunity to visit some friends on the way back. We took our nephew to the museum for an afternoon and he had a great time. We also went to a party at the end of the month at the house of people we hardly know, so that was definitely an achievement for us.
I only finished two books in November and they were both re-reads, Persuasion by Jane Austen and Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie. I was motivated to read these after watching adaptations, Persuasion just because it’s wonderful and, along with Sense and Sensibility, is the Austen I like to read in the winter. I re-read Sleeping Murder with a view to actually writing a post about it, which I haven’t got around to doing yet.
I watched Anne of Green Gables (1985) and The Sequel (1987) for the first time and really enjoyed them. Anne of Green Gables isn’t really a “thing” in the UK, so I didn’t know much about it, but it was very important to my American partner.
I’m working my way through the Netflix re-imagining of The Haunting of Hill House. I think it’s brilliant, but it is messing with my head!
My chill-out watch has mostly been Chef’s Table, which has become more interesting now that the chefs have a bit more diversity. My favourite so far is the episode with Christina Martinez, an undocumented migrant who runs a traditional Mexican barbacoa restaurant in Philadelphia. It made me cry. I really liked the one with Ana Ros, a self-taught Slovenian chef, too.
We only watched one film and that was the 1995 adaptation of Persuasion. I didn’t really like this adaptation when I first saw it, but it’s grown on me over the years and is now one of my favourites. It has a different feel to other adaptations – slower and more realistic. The only thing I don’t like is the ending which has Anne and Wentworth kissing in the street as a circus goes past (why?) and then sees Wentworth demanding Anne’s hand in marriage in front of a room full of people (erm, no!).
Soundtrack to the Month
Mostly Kristin Hersh!
For World Aids Day on the 1st December, the Act Up Oral History Project
A collection of interviews with surviving members of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, New York.
The purpose of this project is to present comprehensive, complex, human, collective, and individual pictures of the people who have made up ACT UP/New York. These men and women of all races and classes have transformed entrenched cultural ideas about homosexuality, sexuality, illness, health care, civil rights, art, media, and the rights of patients. They have achieved concrete changes in medical and scientific research, insurance, law, health care delivery, graphic design, and introduced new and effective methods for political organizing. These interviews reveal what has motivated them to action and how they have organized complex endeavors. We hope that this information will de-mystify the process of making social change, remind us that change can be made, and help us understand how to do it.
There was a meme going around twitter the other day with the question, ‘Tell us about your first crush on an animated character’.
It’s funny how things that you had completely forgotten can come back to you. I suddenly remembered my early “crush” on a cartoon character called ‘Jana of the Jungle’.
I couldn’t remember anything else about it, though, so I looked it up and found that it was produced by Hanna-Barbara from 1978 to 1979 and only lasted one season. I must have been watching re-runs around 1982.
Reading the description, the content was probably a bit …. dodgy on a number of levels.
I forgot all about Jana when I became obsessed with She-Ra a few years later.
Carl Sandberg, Theme in Yellow
I am a jack-o'-lantern With terrible teeth And the children know I am fooling.
Samhain, the ancient Gaelic festival that marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter is traditionally marked by fire to represent light in the dark.
We put together a little altar in the corner of the living room with a candle and a photograph of my Dad. The Rosie the Riveter action figure that roro sent us years ago is on there too, I think to represent our feminist foremothers!
I made quite an exciting dinner involving squash and kale and goat’s cheese and we watched the adaptation of M.R. James’s Tractate Middoth.
At the moment, I feel like I want quietness and domesticity this winter. Hot cocoa and snuggling under blankets with hot water bottles.
The Butchies, Make Your Life (2004)
This album is SO much fun. It’s just catchy, dumb, lesbian pop/rock tunes from beginning to end.
Tanya Donelly, This Hungry Life (2006)
I love everything Tanya Donelly’s done. This album feels less innovative than most of her other work, but it’s lovely. Top tracks: “Kundalini Slide” and the title track, which makes me think of my grandmother for some reason.
This hungry life won’t let you out whole
But you can change a thing or two
Before you go
This hungry life
Might not leave you with much
But you can change your story
And throw a hand up from the mud
Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)
I hadn’t listened to this for years. The production is amazing and it still sounds incredibly fresh and vibrant, but you can also hear the influence its had on a lot of artists since it was released. A classic album. Top track, Ex-FactorContinue reading
One of my ambitions in life is to have amazing grey hair. I stopped dying my hair three years ago, but the result can’t yet be called “amazing”. It’s …. a journey I guess, an interesting one which I would like to write more about at some point.
When I feel insecure about it, I’m going to look at this picture of Natalie Merchant from the cover of her retrospective collection.
This is everything and I’ll be happy if I can get my hair to look half as good.
Gillian Welch’s hair is looking awesome these days too
Butternut and cannellini gratin
From a modern way to cook by Anna Jones.
The picture doesn’t look very appetising, but this is a really nice vegetarian recipe. Red onions, butternut squash, cannellini beans with a sourdough bread and cheese topping. Tearing up bread is a good way to top a gratin or casserole without all the work of making a dumpling or scone topping.
Woke up at 6am, so I’ve already had a long walk. Time for a Sunday morning coffee in the garden.
This is a treat because I’m too caffeine-sensitive to drink it very often.
My partner was making risotto last night and somehow managed to set fire to our Jane Austen tea towel.
The risotto came out well though.