It’s felt such a long slow start to the year, with so many hours of work into late hours, work in slow motion and nothing much finished and much stress so no time for blogs until we went on strike. It is still so confusing that is already almost March.
Mum was here for weeks after we got out of hospital, getting better from pneumonia before she could fly home. I worked from home, and weather permitting we wandered slowly slowly. Unable to walk very far we circled around and around. With her on my arm, I saw things I had never seen before, found nooks and crannies and allies and corners. Cobblestones, just down the row from me.
More cobblestones along the alley behind my yard, an alley I had never seen before, but which suddenly makes this part of the world like something out of Dickens, despite the modernity of the debris down the far end. It goes nowhere, we know, because we followed it all the way down. Stepped over the garbage. Neither of us can resist a cobbled alley, though on my own I would not have braved the last bit.
Continue and there is a triangle of grass, I could almost call it a common and perhaps it was once, a little semi-detached that still has the Victorian wood porch and that I quite love. I could not find an angle to do it justice.
Walk a little further and there are ruins, stairs to nowhere, and the most beautiful of fish.
To continue in this direction is to move back and forth in time, from council flats to terraces of varying classes. An Orthodox church with a bulbous dome. We came to an ordinary home with an enormous front yard full of the first crocuses and snowdrops of the year. A little path to the right through some trees and another church, continue down the street and you see that the church is now a mosque.
This was the furthest edge we reached. We circled cramped between the massive roads that have carved my neighbourhood into pieces and made it unfriendly. Turning, we walked past odd decisions, money run out, speculative building mishaps.
Everywhere these cobbled alleys though. In many places blocked by metal gates, no longer open to wander. Sometimes filled with fascinating discards, if I could have taken these home I would have. Put seats between, like a fancy old cinema…
I can’t imagine they are anything else, but so odd to find them there.
Some streets are very simply, very working class, two up two down, no frills. This one is a step up, with it’s fancy windows.
My street, a bit fancier still. I’ve gone up in the world a bit maybe, but it definitely has come a long way down.
I’ve been missing my mum now recovered, flown away. She tells me how warm it is in Tucson, while I stare at the snow. Working hard. Going on strike. Not looking forward to the day I face tomorrow and Friday when we’re off strike momentarily, but next week — ahhhh. Striking is pretty ace, except the not getting paid bit.
Weekend walk — in the sun but god, have these past few days been cold. We started in New Mills. Cotton town, built to take advantage of the confluence of the two rivers here, the Goyt and the Sett, to run water wheels though they were later powered by steam engines. I’ve been reading so much about housing, about the rise of these early factories that had to be built where there was (water) power even though there were often no people, so the people had to be brought here, housed. They wanted families, because children are dead useful in mills.
And then the mills shut down. Now they are just picturesque additions to the quiet countryside. No noise, waste, streams of workers.
This is Torr Vale Mill, built around 1788 by Daniel Stafford, originally water powered and it continued working until 2000 — in use for over 200 years it was the longed continuously working manufacturing site in England.
This is taken standing in the ruins of Rock Mill, built around 1790 by John Crowther as a water powered cotton spinning mill. It changed hands and production many times, before becoming a print works in 1829. In 1872 it switched to paper, and was abandoned around 1884. I failed to photograph its remains.
This bridge above — amazing. This is taken from Torr Mill, built 1790 by the Schofield family, and remained in their ownership though with different tenants. Cotton production ceased in 1890, but was still in use by a cloth-cutting firm when on 2nd December, 1912 it caught on fire and the 5-story mill was destroyed. You can see the remains of it below through the arch — the chimney was its own. There is now a very fine hydraulic engine there, the UK’s first community owned and funded hydro electric scheme. Which is very cool indeed.
This place is awash with viaducts. They are all stunning.
Glacial winds, glacial! We did not climb the hills. Instead we opted for the shorter walk, following Overhill Road. So really, we did still climb some hills. Through the ice.
A mirrored pool of water, a heron. So beautiful.
Still over the hill. So beautiful. So cold. So so cold.
Re-reading another classic — The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois. I remember being a little torn by it just as I was torn reading it again — loving so much the autobiographical sections, loving the stories of his students in the mountains of the deep South and imagining this northern intellectual living there among them. Loving the explorations of music. I remember being so struck with this other sense of divided worlds, of Black and white… of feeling both how far we’ve come, and how much has stayed the same. At the same time, I remember the way some of the old fashioned language and sentimentality left me cold. Yet this a book meant to speak to a broad population, to touch heartstrings and to move. It is hardly Du Bois’s fault that such words might have less power today — and I am no judge of its impact on others. All that said, there are few things more powerful than this I think:
Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of framing it. All, nervous, flutter round it. They approach me in a half-hesitant sort of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then, instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? they say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil? (7)
And grown up through this system of racialisation and horror created in the US, the veil…
After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. (8)
The way that living in two worlds requires two consciousnesses, what is possible in one impossible in the other.
This waste of double aims, this seeking to satisfy two unreconciled ideals, has wrought sad havoc with the courage and faith and deeds of ten thousand thousand people,—has sent them often wooing false gods and invoking false means of salvation, and at times has even seemed about to make them ashamed of themselves. (10)
So much impossible in the white world.
In answer to this, it has been claimed that the Negro can survive only through submission. Mr. Washington distinctly asks that black people give up, at least for the present, three things,— First, political power, Second, insistence on civil rights, Third, higher education of Negro youth,—and concentrate all their energies on industrial education, the accumulation of wealth, and the conciliation of the South. This policy has been courageously and insistently advocated for over fifteen years, and has been triumphant for perhaps ten years. As a result of this tender of the palm-branch, what has been the return? In these years there have occurred:
The disfranchisement of the Negro.
The legal creation of a distinct status of civil inferiority for the Negro.
The steady withdrawal of aid from institutions for the higher training of the Negro.
These movements are not, to be sure, direct results of Mr. Washington’s teachings; but his propaganda has, without a shadow of doubt, helped their speedier accomplishment. The question then comes: Is it possible, and probable, that nine millions of men can make effective progress in economic lines if they are deprived of political rights, made a servile caste, and allowed only the most meager chance for developing their exceptional men? If history and reason give any distinct answer to these questions, it is an emphatic No. (42-43)
For Booker T. Washington to come after Frederick Douglass… damn. And what better refutation.
If the Negro was to learn, he must teach himself, and the most effective help that could be given him was the establishment of schools to train Negro teachers. This conclusion was slowly but surely reached by every student of the situation until simultaneously, in widely separated regions, without consultation or systematic plan, there arose a series of institutions designed to furnish teachers for the untaught. Above the sneers of critics at the obvious defects of this procedure must ever stand its one crushing rejoinder: in a single generation they put thirty thousand black teachers in the South; they wiped out the illiteracy of the majority of the black people of the land, and they made Tuskegee possible. (74)
He goes on to strip the lies of a ‘benevolent’ white society:
The wrong which your gentlemen have done against helpless black women in defiance of your own laws is written on the foreheads of two millions of mulattoes, and written in ineffaceable blood. And finally, when you fasten crime upon this race as its peculiar trait, they answer that slavery was the arch-crime, and lynching and lawlessness its twin abortion; that color and race are not crimes, and yet they it is which in this land receives most unceasing condemnation, North, East, South, and West. (80)
The truth of the plantation:
And yet with all this there was something sordid, something forced,—a certain feverish unrest and recklessness; for was not all this show and tinsel built upon a groan? “This land was a little Hell,” said a ragged, brown, and grave-faced man to me. We were seated near a roadside blacksmith-shop, and behind was the bare ruin of some master’s home. “I’ve seen niggers drop dead in the furrow, but they were kicked aside, and the plough never stopped. And down in the guardhouse, there’s where the blood ran.”
With such foundations a kingdom must in time sway and fall. (92)
We seldom study the condition of the Negro to-day honestly and carefully. It is so much easier to assume that we know it all. Or perhaps, having already reached conclusions in our own minds, we are loth to have them disturbed by facts. And yet how little we really know of these millions,—of their daily lives and longings, of their homely joys and sorrows, of their real shortcomings and the meaning of their crimes! All this we can only learn by intimate contact with the masses, and not by wholesale arguments covering millions separate in time and space, and differing widely in training and culture. (101)
To the car-window sociologist, to the man who seeks to understand and know the South by devoting the few leisure hours of a holiday trip to unravelling the snarl of centuries,—to such men very often the whole trouble with the black field-hand may be summed up by Aunt Ophelia’s word, “Shiftless!” (113)
There are still a number of academics engaged in such pursuits, still an inability to listen. Still a denial that any kind of veil exists, much less that it makes it difficult for those with race (class, gender) privilege to see, or understand what lies on the other side of it. Not the way those who stand there must, within oppression but needing that knowledge of privilege’s workings for survival.
I read the short version of Frederick Douglass’s autobiography many years ago and it impressed me so deeply, I had always meant to read the longer version — one of them at least. Too many years separate them for me even to be sure of the differences, apart from the recounting of the scene where Douglass stands up to Covey — much expanded here, but I am not sure more powerful for that. Still. The moment where enough is enough, where resistance is embraced fully, where everything changes. An incredible moment. But this is a book of powerful moments. So much of what is theorised over the next 150 years is here already, though always in a way that pathologises slavery not those bound and tortured by it. If only we had kept to that tradition.
Geneological trees do not flourish among slaves. A person of some consequence here in the north, sometimes designated father, is literally abolished in slave law and slave practice. It is only once in a while that an exception is found to this statement. (34-35)
Of course, Douglass’s father was white. Master or overseer, he is not explicit — does not know, does not wish to know, does not wish to say.
The practice of separating children from their mothers, and hiring the latter out at distances too great to admit of their meeting, except at long intervals, is a marked feature of the cruelty and barbarity of the slave system. But it is in harmony with the grand aim of slavery, which, always and everywhere, is to reduce man to a level with a brute. It is a successful method of obliterating from the mind and the heart of the slave, all just ideas of the sacredness of the family, as an institution. (37-38)
Frederick Douglass belonged to the Lloyds, a plantation along the Wye river named after the river in Wales whence they came. Knowing the Wye river — it brings these connections home. From rural wales to owning slaves in Maryland.
Frederick Douglass grows up. Always cold. Always hungry. Always questioning.
The old doctrine that submission is the best cure for outrage and wrong, does not hold good on the slave plantation. He is whipped oftenest, who is whipped easiest; and that slave who has the courage to stand up for himself against the overseer, although he may have many hard stripes at the first, becomes, in the end, a freeman, even though he sustain the formal relation of a slave. (95)
There is, of course, a line to be walked here because too much and they will just shoot you — this is clear in the text despite the numerous forceful statements like the one above.
I’ve just finished re-reading Du Bois on The Souls of Black Folk, and found it powerful that Douglass too spends time on the songs sung by slaves and their meaning and importance. It was often demanded of them that they sing, you cannot plot while singing, you cannot run away. But song transformed into something else. Douglass relates that it is not until after escaping slavery and looking back that the real meaning of the songs struck him.
They told a tale which was then altogether beyond my feeble comprehension; they were tones, loud, long and deep, breathing the prayer and complaint of souls boiling over with the bitterest anguish. Every tone was a testimony against slavery, and a prayer to God for deliverance from chains. The hearing of these wild notes always depressed my spirits and filled my heart with ineffable sadness… Those songs still follow me, to deepen my hatred of slavery… (99)
But then, still a child, he is sent to Baltimore, and it is strange to think, that without this arbitrary decision the future course of his life might not have been possible. For here he has opportunity to learn to read, to play with poor white children, to ask questions, to obtain knowledge, to see a world beyond the plantation. And, in the beginning, to have a taste of something different.
At first, Mrs Auld evidently regarded me simply as a child, like any other child; she had not come to regard me as property. This latter thought was a thing of conventional growth…it took several years to change the natural sweetness of her temper into fretful bitterness. (144-145)
Douglass illustrates time and time again how the structures of slavery constrain the humanity of both slave and slave-owner. The nature of slavery is such that there can be no good owner, no kind mistress because to own a slave is to deny the humanity of another human being. Mrs Auld begins kindly — begins to teach him to read, and is stopped in her tracks by her husband. It becomes fully brought home to her that reading and slavery are incompatible. In bowing to this, she loses her own self as she must.
As Douglass comes to understand this, the bewildering changes from kindness to bitterness, the reminders of his place in the household, he is also working out the nature of his own morality under slavery. That within a structure that has robbed him of both liberty and all reward of his labour, his right to steal for self preservation cannot be questioned. With no freedom of choice, no slave can be held morally responsible or accountable, rather all responsibility lies with those who created an enforce slavery.
There are insights too, into slavery’s impact on the class distinctions made in the South:
Slaves, too, readily distinguish between the birthright bearing of the original slaveholder and the assumed attitudes of the accidental slaveholder; and while they cannot respect either, they certainly despise the latter more than the former. (192)
Refusing to call him Master only one of many subtle ways of showing this. But it is so clear that status is entirely bound up in ownership of other human beings at this time, even though a certain level of privilege is granted to all those with white skin. Douglass is thinking all of these things, but can do little. At the age of 16 he is sent to work for a man named Covey for year, to be broken. And after 6 months of being broken, he stands up, refuses to be whipped, fights back.
…this battle with Mr Covey–undignified as it was, and as I fear my narration of it is–was the turning point in my “life as a slave.” It rekindled in my breast the smouldering embers of liberty; it brought up my Baltimore dreams, and revived a sense of my own manhood. I was a changed being after that fight. I was nothing before; I was A MAN NOW. It recalled to life my crushed self-respect and my self-confidence, and inspired me with a renewed determination to be A FREEMAN. (246)
He was never whipped again. He does wonder why he wasn’t just killed — the punishment decreed by law for such defiance. The loss of face that Covey would have incurred is most likely the reason, but he himself has seen someone murdered for less. He describes the price of being a man — being willing to die. He also notes the many other things that work to keep human beings enslaved. Ties to family and friends, to place and familiarity. The granting of holidays, and other things that keep ‘minds occupied with thoughts and aspirations short of the liberty of which they are deprived. A certain degree of attainable good must be kept before them’ (253).
One of teh most powerful sentences I think:
The thought of only being a creature of the present and the past, troubled me, and I longed to have a future–a future with hope in it. (273)
I think this is perhaps the terror of poverty as well, though it cannot be compared to slavery. But it appears again in one of the speeches at the end. A future could only lie in freedom. He plans an attempt at escape with a group of dear friends and is betrayed, but without quite the proof needed to convince his owner that the freedom break was actually going to be attempted. So while threatened with sale to the South, he is not in the end taken there. He is sent back to Baltimore, and apprenticed in the shipyards.
He has the shit beaten out of him by white apprentices there, partially at the instigation of the white carpenters who stand and watch it all. He notes that one of the elements in slavery is this:
the conflict of slavery with the interests of the white mechanics and laborers of the south. … The slaveholders, with a craftiness peculiar to themselves, by encouraging the enmity of the poor, laboring white man against the blacks, succeeds in making the said white man almost as much a slave as the black man himself… The slave is robbed, by his master, of all his earnings, above what is required for his bare physical necessities; and the white man is robbed by the slave system, of the just results of his labor, because he is flung into competition with a class of laborers who work without wages. (309-310)
Douglass writes this will set the white laborers in the vanguard against slavery — it’s curious that he is right and wrong, for in much of the north and in California they surely are against slavery, but equally against Black labour. Still, we see here the intersections of race, economic systems, labour, struggle…
He escapes. Wanders lost in NY afraid for his life and recapture, no money, no friends. He doesn’t wonder that some return South. But he reaches safety with the abolitionists and they recommend he move to New Bedford. Which sounds bad ass. He tells a story in which a newcomer threatens one of the community with informing on him to his old master. A meeting is called of the whole Black community, and at the end of it
…at the close of his prayer, the old man (one of the numerous family of Johnsons) rose from his knees, deliberately surveyed his audience, and then said, in a tone of solemn resolution, “Well, friends, we have got him here, and I would now recommend that you young men should just take him outside the door and kill him. (348)
He escapes, sadly. But Douglass writes
A slave could not be taken from that town seventeen years ago, any more than he could be so taken away now. the reason is, that the colored people in that city are educated up to the point of fighting for their freedom, as well as speaking for it. (348)
That brings a tear.
So Douglass comes to the attention of the abolitionists as a speaker, begins to travel and lecture. He reads more, speaks more, thinks. He is fucking brilliant, far more so than those around him and they don’t like it, tell him to speak more like a slave, to just give his story and let them denounce the wrongs and provide the solutions. Whites in the audiences start murmuring at his eloquence, refuse to believe that he is a slave as he doesn’t speak like one or act like one. Makes you want to throw things.
And so Douglass writes the first version of his autobiography to free himself from these insinuations…which is, of course, a huge risk and means his almost certain recapture. And so he goes to England. where like many others before and after, he is treated as an equal (though all this would change for other generations of Black people coming to England). Money is raised to buy his freedom so he can return to the US without the threat of recapture hanging over him. (He is criticised for allowing this, by those who don’t know what it is like to be owned or to have the fear of being taken back hanging over them.) More money is raised to provide him with a printing press, so he can begin his own paper. And the white abolitionists really fucking hate that, as you can imagine — they argue it’s not needed, that it will interfere with the lecturing they have planned for him, that he is a better speaker than writer, and that it can’t succeed. William Lloyd Garrison has his own paper after all. So Douglass moves to Rochdale to avoid competition with them. They hate it even more when, upon deep thought, Douglass decides that they are wrong in their analysis of the issue and in their tactics of refusals to vote and demands that the slave-states be cut free from the union.
He notes near the end, the many instances of racism in the north. The prejudice that existed even among abolitionists and the awkwardness of their denials underlining how deeply it ran. Like their insistence they were ‘not afraid to walk with him’. He resists the existence of ‘Jim Crow’ cars in trains and trams, refusing to move and fighting any attempts to so remove him. Jim Crow this early, in name and in segregated carriages. I had forgotten. He is such a well-connected figure by this time, his battles are successful.
At the end are a collection of speeches and damn. They are incredible, what a thing to have heard him speak. Above all the speech for the 4th of July, which I have read before. But some excerpts, first from his reception speech at Finsbury Chapel.
I am here to say that I think the term slavery is sometimes abused by identifying it with that which it is not. Slavery in the United States is the granting of that power by which one man exercises and enforces a right of poetry in the body and soul of another. The condition of a slave is simply that of the brute beast. He is a piece of property–a marketable commodity…to be bought or sold at will and caprice of the master who claims him to be his property; he is spoken of, thought of, and treated as property. His own good, his conscience, his intellect, his affections, are all set aside by the master. The will and the wishes of the master are the law of the slave. He is as much a piece of property as a horse. If he is fed, he is fed because he is property. If he is clothed, it is with a view to the increase of his value as property. Whatever of comfort is necessary to him for his body or soul that is inconsistent with his being property, is carefully wrested from him, not only by public opinion, but by the law of the country. He is carefully deprived of everything that tends in the slightest degree to detract from his value as property. He is deprived of education. God has given him an intellect; the slaveholder declares it shall not be cultivated. If his moral perception leads him in a course contrary to his value as property, the slaveholder declares he shall not exercise it. The marriage institution cannot exist among slaves, and one-sixth of the population of democratic America is denied its privileges by the law of the land. What is to be thought of a nation boasting of its liberty, boasting of its humanity, boasting of its Christianity, boasting of its love of justice and purity, and yet having within its own borders three millions of persons denied by law the right of marriage? (408)
And then this rousing finale
The slaveholders want total darkness on the subject. They want the hatchway shut down, that the monster may crawl in his den of darkness, crushing human hopes and happiness, destroying the bondman at will, and having no one to reprove or rebuke him. Slavery shrinks from the light; it hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest its deeds should be reproved. To tear off the mask from this abominable system, to expose it to the light of heaven, aye, to the heat of the sun, that it may burn and wither it out of existence, is my object in coming to this country. I want the slaveholder surrounded, as by a wall of anti-slavery fire, so that he may see the condemnation of himself and his system glaring down in letters of light. (418)
The fact is, there are few here who would not return to the South in the event of emancipation. We want to live in the land of our birth, and to lay our bones by the side of our fathers’; and nothing short of an intense love of personal freedom keeps us from the South. For the sake of this, most of us would live on a crust of bread and a cup of cold water.(424)
At this moment, you are probably the guilty holder of at least three of my own dear sisters, and my only brother in bondage. These you regard as your property. They are recorded on your ledger, or perhaps have been sold to human flesh mongers, with a view to filling your own ever-hungry purse. Sir, I desire to know how and where these dear sisters are. Have you sold them? or are they still in your possession? What has become of them? are they living or dead? And my dear old grandmother, whom you turned out like an old horse, to die in the woods—is she still alive? Write and let me know all about them. (426-427)
First of all, I will state, as well as I can, the legal and social relation of master and slave. A master is one—to speak in the vocabulary of the southern states—who claims and exercises a right of property in the person of a fellow-man. This he does with the force of the law and the sanction of southern religion. The law gives the master absolute power over the slave. He may work him, flog him, hire him out, sell him, and, in certain contingencies, kill him, with perfect impunity. The slave is a human being, divested of all rights—reduced to the level of a brute—a mere “chattel” in the eye of the law—placed beyond the circle of human brotherhood—cut off from his kind—his name, which the “recording angel” may have enrolled in heaven, among the blest, is impiously inserted in a master’s ledger, with horses, sheep, and swine. In law, the slave has no wife, no children, no country, and no home. He can own nothing, possess nothing, acquire nothing, but what must belong to another. To eat the fruit of his own toil, to clothe his person with the work of his own hands, is considered stealing. He toils that another may reap the fruit; he is industrious that another may live in idleness; he eats unbolted meal that another may eat the bread of fine flour; he labors in chains at home, under a burning sun and biting lash, that another may ride in ease and splendor abroad; he lives in ignorance that another may be educated; he is abused that another may be exalted; he rests his toil-worn limbs on the cold, damp ground that another may repose on the softest pillow; he is clad in coarse and tattered raiment that another may be arrayed in purple and fine linen; he is sheltered only by the wretched hovel that a master may dwell in a magnificent mansion; and to this condition he is bound down as by an arm of iron.
From this monstrous relation there springs an unceasing stream of most revolting cruelties. The very accompaniments of the slave system stamp it as the offspring of hell itself. To ensure good behavior, the slaveholder relies on the whip; to induce proper humility, he relies on the whip; to rebuke what he is pleased to term insolence, he relies on the whip; to supply the place of wages as an incentive to toil, he relies on the whip; to bind down the spirit of the slave, to imbrute and destroy his manhood, he relies on the whip, the chain, the gag, the thumb-screw, the pillory, the bowie knife the pistol, and the blood-hound. These are the necessary and unvarying accompaniments of the system. Wherever slavery is found, these horrid instruments are also found. (429-430)
It is only when we contemplate the slave as a moral and intellectual being, that we can adequately comprehend the unparalleled enormity of slavery, and the intense criminality of the slaveholder. I have said that the slave was a man. … The first work of slavery is to mar and deface those characteristics of its victims which distinguish men from things, and persons from property. Its first aim is to destroy all sense of high moral and religious responsibility. It reduces man to a mere machine. It cuts him off from his Maker, it hides from him the laws of God, and leaves him to grope his way from time to eternity in the dark, under the arbitrary and despotic control of a frail, depraved, and sinful fellow-man. (431)
Fellow citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us? (441)
Those words are still pretty true.
America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the Constitution and the Bible which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery-the great sin and shame of America! (442)
What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employment for my time and strength than such arguments would imply.
What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? (444)
Words cannot express my admiration or respect. Yet I am still full of questions, about the wife who came from Maryland also, about her life, about the day to day…more to read, always more to read.
Douglass, Frederick (1969 ) My Bondage and My Freedom. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
I’ve been spending every day in Hairmyres Hospital with my mother, the very same East Kilbride hospital where George Orwell once stayed. Since Friday I’ve been here. She’ll be in the rest of the week. She’s here with severe and acute pneumonia, complicated by her old familiar heart issues. Orwell was here too, recovering from TB, there’s a plaque to prove it.
But it can’t have been the same place, because how could 1984 happen here? I never thought I’d write a post on the conviviality of hospitals. I have hated them, after all my anguished time there with my dad and then my mum. Hated them despite immense admiration for the competence and compassion of the nurses and other staff and even some of the doctors. But I’ve had to change my mind just a little in a way that has highlighted the everyday brilliance of people in helping each other get along. It’s so easy to forget in our world.
After many room moves due to an NHS in crisis combined with snowy, icy weather, she has ended up here in this particular ward. She is sharing a room with three other women. It is big and square, airy with big windows in this older building that is the closest thing here to something almost pleasantly residential. When we got here, the others were: B in the bed next to her, J across and E along the diagonal. They have been so lovely these women.
E the oldest, so desperate to go home. Tiny, frail, beautiful. I thought at first the loveliest thing I had seen in ages was her face when the nurse opened the curtains and E whispered sunshine. But no. I saw her face when her husband walked in. The transformation had everyone tearing up, and me? Cried…couldn’t stop, it was embarrassing. I missed M, and besides honestly, it was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. 64 years married. Isn’t he handsome she said, and smiled again. It lit up the room.
B has been there the longest now, she and J set the tone when we got there. Friendly, everyone checks in on each other, makes sure they have what they need. Tells stories, tells jokes, calls across the room to say hello. The nurses and aides join in. J walking over to tell me how lovely my mum was, how happy she was to meet us. Everyone cried when she left. In her place T, who doesn’t speak too much English and is quite deaf (as is my mother and as was E, so we are in ‘the shouty ward’) and very hard to understand. The friendliness continues, though it’s harder when you have no idea what she needs — both she and my mum do a lot of nodding and smiling. Family come and go, we know each other, joke back and forth. The woman who was in the bed before mum, now well and back at work, dropped by to bring cakes and prawn sandwiches.
E left today, that amazing smile never left her face this morning. More tears for the rest of us, most of the staff came to see her go. From her I learned the phrase ‘need a penny’ for having to go to the bathroom, ‘spending a penny’ for going, we heard it lots. It’s such an intimate space, everyone knows everything. It could be my worst nightmare, should be. If you have to be in hospital, though, with everything most private suddenly public and bored and in pain as you always are…well, this is the way it should be. A nurse walked in after E left holding up a blanket, saying that’s the size tissue they would need for the day B leaves.
They are quite wonderful. I will miss them.
A is there now (there aren’t enough beds in the hospital for everyone who needs one). We don’t know her story yet. I might be back tomorrow, might not make it because the snow has been coming down. The drive back this evening was terrifying though my brother is experienced at driving in snow. Sadly none of the other drivers are. But it was good to get home to my tiny brand new nephew and L and the smell of stew.
This morning just before 8, the world looked like this:
Tomorrow, a full-on wonderland I think.
As for George Orwell, I found this lovely article about his stay at Hairmyres, when it was a very different kind of place and set alongside a working farm:
Orwell was admitted to Hairmyres under his real name, Eric Blair, on Christmas Eve 1946. He suffered from tuberculosis in one lung. At the time of his admission he was busy writing his novel “1984”. The staff, insisting that complete physical and mental rest was essential for effective treatment, confiscated his typewriter. With rest his health improved to some extent but attempts to rest his badly affected lung by simple surgical procedures were not very successful. He suffered severe side effects from his treatment, and although the disease was responding, it had to be stopped after fifty days. The remaining supplies of streptomycin were administered, with success, to two other patients. Orwell’s typewriter was returned to him in May 1948 and he spent the remainder of his stay in Hairmyres writing, walking in the grounds and playing croquet.
I am unsure, therefore, how accurate the plaque is. Sadly, you can no longer play croquet here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the building we’re in now wasn’t part of the complex. Most of it has disappeared, what you see now is a very expensive building built through a Private Finance Initiative. I hate those. What I do love though, is that the first incarnation of this place was as a reformatory for inebriates. They still try and make sure you don’t steal the most excellent hospital gowns.
Ice. I’ve lived in cold places, but never this cold I suppose. Frozen sand, iced ponds, incredible shards and circles and forms, as beautiful on incredible beaches as within the pocked asphalt alongside an industrial estate. I know these have nothing on what can be seen all along the East Coast today, the frozen wonder of Niagra Falls, but then I suppose you should never compare wonders.
Marvelously mechanical, haunting carvings incorporated into scrap wheels and cogs and machines that are beautiful in their stillness. We were able to take pictures of that, but not when they come alive…
Eduard Bersudsky (b. 1939, St.Petersburg, Russia – then Leningrad, USSR) is a self-taught visionary artist. He started carving in his late 20-s, while making a modest living as a metal worker, electrician, skipper on the barge, night guard and a boiler man, and got his education in museums, libraries, exhibitions, and evening classes for drawing and sculpture.
In 1974-80 Bersudsky took part in some exhibitions of “non-conformist art” – a movement of artists who wanted to avoid the control of the official Soviet ideology.
In 1974 he found a job in the park department to carve giant figures out of fallen trees for children playgrounds. At the same time in his only room in a communal flat he began producing the kinemats – kinetic sculptures driven by electrical motors and controlled by sophisticated electro mechanical devices, incorporating pieces of old furniture, metal scrap and grotesque carved figures. Until 1989 his kinemats could be seen only by few friends and acquaintances.
In the centre of their new Glasgow home, a space roughly the same size as this room in St Petersberg and the kinemats that once filled it
We didn’t time it right to see the evening show when these were set in motion.
In 1988 his met Tatyana Jakovskaya (b.1947), a theatre critic and director. Together they founded Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre (opened in St.Petersburg in 1990). A mechanical movement of kinemats has been supported with music, light and shadow play. The third member of team – Sergey Jakovsky (born 1980) – joined Sharmanka at the age of 13 and gradually became responsible for light/sound design as well as technical management.
It is the combination of all of these things that make these so entirely magical.
The shadows alone, so beautiful.
The bittersweetness of each sculpture, like the Rag’n’Bone Man above, most dedicated to friends who made art, who stood with integrity. The Master and Margarita. Below the Titanic, and the dissemination of forbidden books.
And the tongue and cheekiness. Like the Aurora, Battleship of the Revolution:
Words fail in description, so go there. I love that it is in the very same building as the Britannia Panopticon, another wonder of Glasgow that I thought I had blogged but did not…how? An old music hall full of wonder, Stan Laurel started here. These are from 2014:
I hope that just a little of the love and ingenuity and brilliance of this carry on through our own year and its many endeavors that feel so daunting now.
Inverness. It is cold and beautiful, full of sun and mists followed/preceeded by rain. I have seen ice, have walked on frozen sands. We are staying in a most beautiful fisherman’s cottage on the river Ness, fixed up by wealth, a claw-foot tub in one gabled window, central heating and a le creuset casserole dish of the kind I aspire to own just left here in which to cook my favourite chicken with garlic, lemon, white wine. We curled up after dinner on the couch, watched the Godfather and an old Sherlock Holmes played by Basil Rathbone. Caught Hootenany with Mavis Staples and George McCrae and Soul II Soul and Ruby Turner. At the new year, fireworks exploded over the river just for us I think. Happiness complete last night.
This morning we woke to sun.
We thought we had to move quickly to keep the sun, we crossed the bridge to a world beautiful. Like paintings I stared at when I was little, could never imagine being present within.
Our cottage whitewashed there on the left, a green door. We walked down along the water through industrial and council estates, past burdens civil and into Merkinch Nature Reserve.
Back home to a breakfast of Lorne sausage and haggis and eggs, the sun now shining warmly on the world, unforseen by all weather predictions. Long may it continue.
Happy New Year.
Just communities, just cities, Just connections between country and city. Also, the weird and wonderful.