Thursday, June 21, 2007

Moving from the epitome of urbanity to an eco-centre in rural Wales, Hannah Davey continues her diary

Weeks 8-12

Just as I think I’ve gone off on a tangent with this column, meandering down some recent recollection or other, I realise that it’s all right and I can pluck the experience straight out of real life and plant it on the page. On a long walk at the weekend, a friend and I followed a river, found a quarry, a tunnel, a gorge and a wind turbine – without even trying.

The turbine was like a great white angel, it roared as it turned and was really quite frightening, especially when the shadow, the dark version of itself, swooped over us. I know that wind turbines represent a sustainable future, but the sheer scale of it made the cogs of my imagination turn; would it fly off into the sky? or morph into a beast to get me? We whiffled through a tulgy wood to get there, and rested by a tumtum (well, oak) tree to have some conversation whilst waiting out the rain. I imagined people lived in the wood, beneath the turbine, or inside it and that Norah Fleex, the protagonist in my novel, would stay there on her travels.

It’s been raining for about two or three weeks now. But we still get slashes of sunshine that cut through the grey and make for the most crazy, weird skies I think I’ve ever seen. There is a lot of wind too, it blows loudly in and out of different trees like a symphony, like there’s someone conducting the weather. When the sun comes out, which despite the rain happens several times a day, there is a moment of bright clear blue and we get this amazing filtered light that is the most beautiful thing. It goes all gloomy-bright – and we all look like we’re in a film.

Of course, we very much needed the rain, our reservoir was very shallow and that’s where all our water comes from. A sauna shed sits on the edge of the reservoir and through its windows you can watch the lowest branches of the trees dip its leaves in and out of the moonlit water. I break the norm by refusing to be naked inside, so have ‘repressed saunas’ in my bikini. The sauna is much-loved by all, used several times a day sometimes, and the oil drum it is made of is showing it. The flue that’s soldered on, and the drum itself are worn right through in parts, its small patchy holes show the fire leaping inside.

The reservoir is great to take you off the boil. The water is so cold that your body thinks its dying, all the blood rushes to your organs, leaving your limbs helpless and flailing and your lungs gasping - none of which is much good for swimming. But then when you get out you’re a big ball of adrenaline, icy skinned and hot inside – not to mention gloriously lightheaded. And the sleep you get afterwards! Well it’s wonderful, and the morning sees you glowing and refreshed and about as relaxed as a person can be.

I have a scene in my novel-in-progress where Norah Fleex dives into a lake, led by Benjamin Ambigraph she goes deeper and deeper and passes through a submarine tunnel and ultimately emerges on an underground shore. My first draft is pretty weak on physicals, but now I know what it feels like, so I think I can translate it better. I guess it leaves me wondering whether I will ever have an experience again that I don’t use to inform my writing.

Now that I’ve settled down, I’ve been able to branch out. I have been to other places. At Cae Mabon , a small retreat in an oak forest up north, I stayed in a round log cabin with bluebells on the roof. As Eric Maddern, the storyteller who created Cae Mabon says, “it’s like sleeping with the arms of the wood around you.” The walls are built with smooth, strong, interlocking logs. I built fences by day and sang-along to Eric’s guitaring round a fire by night. And weirdly, I felt quite comfortable. I expected it to be too ‘far-out’ for me, but all my cynicism snuck out of me on the walk down through fields of bluebells. It’s a beautiful place, very peaceful and calm and little wonder that groups go there to bond and learn.

Another weekend, a friend and I went to Oxford on whim. Quite the opposite experience. We caught a lift, or as she said, a prearranged hitch, with a man who had just completed a Solar installation course at CAT. He said they could take us as far as Banbury. “Banbury Cross?” I said, and the guy drove us via the statue of the fine lady upon a white horse. As he dropped us at the train station I caught sight of myself in the sliding doors – oh my gosh! When I had left CAT, I looked completely normal. Now, I looked like a hippy-chick-traveller. I felt totally incongruous amongst all the shiny hard floors and the glass slide-doors and the people with slapped-arse faces and no talking and no laughing and drab grey. And money! People were using it! (I haven’t used it in absolutely ages, don’t need to here, because I pay subs instead, then we order food as a community). I used some ‘money’ to buy tickets to Oxford from a ‘machine’ and then off we went. It was accidental research again, for my heroine Norah Fleex, who makes a similar journey, back to the city… a scene played out fresh for me, in reality. On that platform, I felt self-conscious and like I was breathing in smog, and the ground was too hard and the earth too far away, and she will feel exactly the same! Interestingly, I didn’t think of that at the time and it’s only through writing this, that I’ve connected these feelings to Norah.

In Oxford, I unexpectedly performed in a Samba band
[1] on a stage in a university college. But not before I’d painted octopi on a community garden mural, whilst half listening to a workshop on permaculture. To remember Samba rhythms, you say funny sentences in your head,

It’s not about grammar, it’s about the beat man! And (get this) in the toilets after the gig, one of my fellow samba-ists, heard some Oxford kids say “That Samba band, they were amazing!” ah yeah! Ever since Oxford, I’ve been hearing rhythms in everything.

Perhaps loveliest thing this month was a visit from my London photographer friend. She inspired and revitalised me, reminded me how important and special it is to be with people who you’ve known for ages, and how much I love this place I live in. By day we laid-down in fields for funny pictures, ate cake, worried and wondered, and laughed till our sides ached. I found a bike for her to borrow and we zoomed around the pitch-black night-time countryside with matching straw hats, neon jackets and torches on our heads. We trampolined at a tipi party and bounced the night away while the others raved. I don’t think Norah Fleex would do any of this, but perhaps some things are just for me.

Until next month,

Happy Hannah x

P.S. In case you were wondering. We had to send the cockerel back. And that was even harder than the catching. It took the whole of site community and several friends to trap him. We rigged up a cargo net, propped it with sticks and tried to lure him with grain; we tried to feed him grain soaked in vodka
[2], to make him easier to catch. We tried to lasso him, to catch his foot in a loop and then hoik him up. We tried to ambush him it at dusk, when he’d gone blind, but he just flapped about in the rhododendrons. We caught him in the end, with the foot-in-a-noose technique. So he’s back at the other side of site now, where he’s one of many cockerels and unlikely to even get a look in (wink wink, nudge nudge). I wanted to keep him here, but then, I wasn’t the one he was waking up every morning.

[1] Oxford’s "Breach of the Peace" samba band, is part of the Rhythms of Resistance network of anti-capitalist Samba Drum Bands. Right on!
[2] When I say ‘we’, I don’t mean me, I was not a party to this particular tactic!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Another Take on Women in Art

Excerpt of Guerilla Girls Frida Kahlo and Kathe Kollwitz presenting on activism / race / geopolitics for The Feminist Future: Theory and Practice in the Visual Arts Symposium at the Museum of Modern Art, January 27 2007)

If you're not familiar with the Guerrilla Girls' work, you can see some of their early posters on display online and at the Tate and / or watch a webcast of their July 2006 Tate performance on the Tate website.

How do we as female writers feel about the publishing industry? Do we get a better deal than visual artists? Or is there still a long way to go?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A Day in the Life

... of Meg Cabot.

Typical of a full-time writing life? Those of us with 9-5 jobs need to know.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

AnyBody Zine

AnyBody is looking for contributions to its new zine - see their website for more details.

AnyBody is "a website giving women a voice to challenge the limited physical representation of females in contemporary society" (homepage, accessed 5 June 2007)

Monday, June 04, 2007

Women in Art

"500 years of female portraits in Western Art"

This is mesmerising and disturbing in equal measure ...