Book Thoughts: Seal Morning by Rowena Farre

SealMorning_p016
[1]

I liked this book, it was cute and quirky and an easy untaxing read which is just what i needed when I read it. I really liked  a lot of the nature descriptions but the further into it i got the more I went “hmm.” It’s about a ten year old girl who moves to a remote croft in scotland and lives there for seven years with assorted animal companions who engage in unlikely behaviours and are fed unrealistic diets.

She rescues a baby seal who apparently subsequently learned to play the xylophone and the horn (badly, admittedly). Common seals (also known as Harbour Seals) are cute and smart as hell but I’m not convinced they could learn to play the horn.

Many of  the animals are kept on a diet consisting in large parts of rehydrated cows milk and bread, neither of which ar at all healthy form most animals. At the very least they would have had digestive issues from this diet.

She also has a very romanticised celtic twilightesque view/memory/imagination when it comes to the local crofters and villagers that seems unlikely for someone who actually spent considerable time growing up among them

so anyway when I finished the book I did a bit of research and I couldn’t find  out a lot about the writer but it turns out that nobody knows how much of the book is true and how much is embellishment or fiction. Which actually really appeals to  the part of me that is obsessed with stories

The few articled I did find about her suggest that people have done some research and come up with, well not much,

Fleming [who wrote the foreword to a reprint of the book] agrees that the more eccentric animal antics are highly unlikely and, after spending considerable time in that part of Sutherland in which the story appears to be set – around Strath Skinsdale, between the Strath of Kildonan and Ben Armine – even the book’s most fundamental tenets may be up for questioning. “There don’t seem to be many stories about her,” he said this week. “Although one man said she did camp in the area in a tent for several weeks, while someone else said he’d been told by his parents that she had spent holidays in the area, but had never lived there for any length of time.”

I want to interject that there may be some aspect of “how could a woman and a girl child possibly have managed on their own in those circumstances for that long!” handwringing going on but i don’t think that was all of it. I think she genuinely did make a bunch of stuff up and write about it as if it was real. I think she wasn’t expecting it to be taken so seriously or be so popular when it had been published

Uncomfortable with the attention she disappeared for three years, much to the aggravation of her publisher who resorted to printing messages in the personal column of The Times in an attempt to contact her

She was also estranged from her family at the time of publishing and had been for some time, as someone who knows what it takes to make someone walk away from their family, i wonder if this story is one she invented as a child and adolescent to lose herself in as self protection

1. Illustration from the book by Raymond Sheppard

Carrot Cake

I like cake and i had some spare carrots so I tweaked a carrot cake recipe. It was awesome20150313_115316

Ingredients
100ml olive oil, plus extra for greasing
230g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp mixed spice
½ tsp ground ginger
230g light brown muscovado sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
100g pecans, halved
260g carrots, finely grated
3 large free-range eggs, beaten

  1. Preheat the oven to fan160°C/
  2. Grease an  20cm loose-bottomed round cake tin
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder and spices into a large bowl.
  4. Add the sugar, zest, pecans and grated carrots, then stir until well combined.( I used my hands for this)
  5. Stir in the beaten eggs and oil, then mix well.
  6. Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake in the oven for 1 hour or until a skewer comes out clean.
  7. Transfer to a cooling rack, leave in the tin for 5 minutes, then turn out

original recipe is here

Balance

The first thing, not even remembered,
but carried in bones, written in neural net-
works, dripped through hormone pathways, was that
there was never enough, not enough touch,
love, words, silence, meat, milk, warmth, survival,
for a brain to build its own roads.

The next thing, remembered but not spoken,
was too much, too much rage, erosion,
noise, touch, that ripped up the roads, left them
impassable. These have been borrowed roads for so long,
those who built them have been emptied, emptied,
endlessly into the fissures and hollows.

This last thing. A path built with just enough
words, warmth, touch, silence, survival,

self

Hanging out with the Moomins

Moominvalleymaptj[1]

I’ve been looking to fill my life with good things, calming things, happy things, thoughtful things, educational things, and one of the things that fills some of those needs is the Moomins

One of the good things my unparents did for us was read us stories on a regular basis, a lot of those stories i didn’t connect to, didn’t like or don’t remember. One of those I did connect with was the Moomin books. There was a calm safeness about moomin valley a warm safe love between its inhabitants who were always having adventures and looking out for each other (and whose parent figures where much more reliable and consistent than my unparents)

I have vivid memories of seeing the stop motions Moomin stories as a youngissh child

I love stop motion, its my favourite type of animation and i wonder if the reason i love it so much is because i equate it with the calmness and charm of the Moomins

And I also have vivid memories of watching the 2d animation with my little brother with its cute theme tune and beautifully drawn backgrounds.

My brother loved the moomins so much that he named all our guinea pigs after characters who lived in Moominvalley: Fillyjonk, Snufkin, Little My, Mymble, Sniff, Hemeulin. (And it’s times like this that I miss my little brother and the relationship we had before the unparents fucked us both over and damaged both of us, and the closeness we had. irreparably)

I think one of the things I loved about the moomins was how i saw bits of myself in so many of the characters, the tomboyishness of Too Tiki, the contrary as fuck nature of Little My, the curiosity of Moomin, the fear of Sniff, the darkness of the Groke, the not really belonging of Snufkin.

snufkin_by_ekatya-d74h3ak[2]

Snufkin, Snufkin was always my favorite character partly because he was a real boy, as I spent so much of my childhood wanting to be and partly because he was loved even though he didn’t quite belong. I’ve realised recently that I think of Snufkin as a trickster figure, he lives in the same box in my head as El-ahrairah, the Pied Piper, and Doctor Who.Those I think of as The Trickster Boys, so maybe I should do some work with him on belonging/not belonging, letting oneself be loved even though one is of a different kind, of letting oneself have a safe base to come back to even if one is a wanderer

There are lessons i learned from the Moomins that i never should have needed, about the value of chosen family, about how sometimes people who are not you will accept you, about the responsibility that outlaws, and vagabonds and weirdos have to each other to keep each other warm and fed, about how sometimes there are good “normal” people who will also do that for you.

friends_and_family_by_jessicamariana-d5gg1n5[3]

And later much, much later as a grown up queer person I learned that the creator of the Moomins, Tove Jansson, was a bisexual woman who had a long term lesbian relationship. In lots of ways this makes my childhood memories of the Moomins even more precious because my unparents were allergic to pretty much even the mention of anything queer, and these beautiful books by an incredibly talented bisexual woman just totally flew under their radar even though one of the characters (Too Tiki) was based on her long term female partner. And the fact that these books, written by a woman kind of like me, shaped my life so much, makes me think that maybe i should include her in my ancestor work, if she is not an ancestor of kind then who is?

 

1. http://moomin.wikia.com/wiki/Moominvalley (image By Tove Janssen)
2. Ekatya
3. JessicaMariana

Girl

I was the one who taught you to
Breathe

who taught you to
Stand

we were
mercury
oil
honey
milk

around and through

We were disney films

bubble games
aniseed balls

we were
shakespeare in silly voices

but you decided to be the good girl
an “all my friends are normal except you” girl
an “if only you put more effort in, walked better, didn’t look so butch, at least tried” girl

and when i changed my name
to the hard male sound

you told me all vicious, unnecessary jokes they made
like i didn’t already know i was the wrong shape for your world

seven years in
your rage at me not being girl enough to wear a dress
at your hetero-patriarchal consumerist lamp post pissing contest
left me lost and cold

A decade later

when i finally realised that you would never make a place for me

That you’d decided I was inconveniently
crippled and queer

I said to her

“we love them more than they love us, those straight girls, and they disappear into their whitebread lives without us, they empty us out and leave us on call, waiting for nothing

we would joke about running away to join the circus

me not realizing this genderqueer, limping, woman loving, arm scarred, given away, crazy girl

was your circus