Steampunk fiction, reviews and interviews

Posts tagged “history

Morning Cuppa: Army Of Brass

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen! Welcome back to Max and Collin’s brazenly brassy and aggressively amorous parlour located somewhere beneath the bustling city of steampunk’d Lancaster.

Our tentacles are trembling with excitement to be back in the parlour, after so many calamitous adventures, and also to be part of  the Army f Brass blog tour this week so without further ado let us hand you cup of tea, kick our tentacles up on the table and take a look at this marvellous book.

army of brass

 

Army Of Brass was written by the Collaborative Writing Challenge with a different author writing each chapter. This gives the text quite a unique feel. On the one hand there is an inescapable sense of each chapter being its own ‘unit’ or ‘micro-story’ and on the other the neat plot development and consistency that speaks of the tight orchestration that must have taken place behind the scenes in order to bring a novel like this together, couple this with a cast of fully developed and likeable characters and you get an exciting, fast flowing steampunk adventure with just the right amount of romance, technology and political intrigue. It’s an amazing accomplishment and we’re all-over impressed by it.

Master Tinkerer Elaina Gable has settled into her new life after escaping her home country which was attacked by the blood thirsty conqueror The Hunter Baron. When the Baron’s warmongering  threatens to destroy her new life as well, Elaina is certain she knows a way to stop him; by reviving the ancient automaton army, the Tinkerers and the Smiths believe they can defeat the Baron, but the automatons harbour a deadly secret linked to the toxic valley in which they now sit rusting away. Only the mysterious silver skinned woman seems to hold the key, but will she decided to help or hinder Elaina and her friends as the Baron’s army draws nearer…

This is a nice, straightforward, old fashioned steampunk adventure full of automatons and airships and some really likeable characters (It was really lovely to see an older, mature heroine for once!) Excellent plot with a few carefully crafted twists and turns and overall a nice smooth read for existing steampunk fans or a perfect entry-point for newcomers to the genre.

 

Tomorrow we continue the Army of Brass blog tour and have the very great pleasure of entertaining Captain Jack Davenport of the Capital Cartographer’s Society for elevenses and so we must now ask you to excuse us while we race about trying on ludicrous amounts of bombazine and lace…. unless that is you’d like to stay and help a poor floundering octopus  with his corset?

No?

Well, until next time then, please remain always,

Utterly Yourself

 

 


Elevenses: Showing The (green) Love

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen I hope you are all feeling the love this morning? The time is of course eleven o clock and we are ravenously eleven o clockish and remorselessly revved up with romance so let us see at once what our gorgeous werewolf butler has cooked up for us this morning…

IMG_1590.JPG

Absinthe ‘Show The Love’ hearts… but these devilish delights are more than just a romantic gesture from a woman with the brains and demeanour of a rabid dog; we are offering them here today to show our support for the Show The Love Campaign  …

“Hand made hearts can move worlds. Make, wear and share your green heart. It’s a beautiful way to begin a conversation about the things we love that climate change threatens, and the clean energy choices we must make to protect our world. Hand-crafting a heart is a moment to share with a loved one, with family, with friends, with your community – and beyond via #showthelove. See the amazing hearts others are already creating.  “

 

Sustainable energy is just as important to us here in The New World as it is to you in your dimension – from cream-powered landships to GORGON energy generators, we are doing our bit to help the environment.

If you’d like to get involved in this festive environmental endeavour there are several ways you can find out more…

Check out some of the fantastic blog posts from ‘Queen Of Green Hearts’ Nimue Brown who has her finger on the pulse where all things green and hearty are concerned:

https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2018/02/03/climate-change-show-the-love/

Visit the official website and get some hearty inspiration for making your own beautiful green heart talking pieces:

http://fortheloveof.org.uk/

And if you’d like to make Klapka’s lovely absinthe green heart fondants,   here’s the recipe:

500g icing sugar, 1 beaten egg white, 1 tsp green food colour, 1 tsp absinthe (or any flavouring you like)
Mix it all together then knead it into a soft dough and roll it out, cut out your hearts and sprinkle or drizzle them with your choice of toppings. Leave for a short while in a cool place to firm up then serve.

 

 

We wish you a very splendid afternoon and do feel free to leave a link to your own #sharethelove green heart projects in the comments section…


Soup Of The Day: With Author Jack Wolf

 

Hello! Mrs Albert Baker here, otherwise known as The Last Witch Of Pendle. Obviously there is no Pendle any more, since The Chronic Agronauts utterly destroyed it with treacle and sprats, but I’ve set myself up quite nicely here in Lancaster, running this little soup kitchen for the street urchins. There certainly are a lot of them and I’m always looking for helping hands to cook up and serve something delicious!

 

Helping me this morning is Jack Wolf – author of The Tale Of Raw Head And Bloody Bones, which Max and Collin reviewed a short time ago with their Morning Cuppa.

Good morning to you Jack! Thank you so much for coming to help me in my soup kitchen today, may I take your coat and hat? It is certainly very frosty out there today but the fire here in the bakery is lovely and warm.  How was your journey here from your own dimension?

Not too bad – the skies were fairly clear and the traffic was ok.

I’m very glad to hear that! This cold snap seems to have the Skyway Men clinging to their fires which is a mercy! And have you brought some soup with you today to share with the orphans?

I make something called Bungitin Vegan soup, which is basically a load of chopped veg – 1 onions, 2 carrots, 1 tin’s worth of tomatoes, 1 pepper, half to a whole tin’s worth of chick peas and/or other legumes, and anything else I can find in the kitchen fridge – 1-2 courgettes are good. Add at least one clove of garlic or a teaspoon of garlic paste – this is really important – and a mix of herbs and spices to taste. The italian herbs are good for this, so oregano, basil and sometimes a little black pepper. I don’t usually add salt, but you can, if you want. To cook, brown the onions and begin to soften the carrots by stir-frying in vegetable or sunflower oil for about 4-5 mins, then add everything else and about 3/4 pint of vegetable stock, and let it all simmer until everything is soft and it tastes really rich. Don’t let it burn or get too dense, as this can make the flavour too strong – you have to keep tasting it.

 

Oh vegan soup recipes are always here, what with the dairy rationing and such, thankyou very much! Now while that is simmering away nicely, why don’t you have a seat here by the fire and tell us about your book The Tale Of Raw Head and Bloody Bones, and its main character Tristan Hart? I see you have brought a copy with you to show the orphans..

full cover rawhead.jpg

 

 

The cover art is stunning! I confess to very much enjoying the book myself, not least because of the cunning use of magic, folk lore and the world of faerie to support the narrative – tell me, have you always had an interest in the relationship between our own everyday ‘stories,’ and the magical and mythological frameworks we use to make sense of our ‘real world’ experiences?

I’ve been drawn to faerie tales, and faeries in general, for a long time. I’m also fascinated by human psychology, and the idea that humans create our own conceptual worlds out of the stories – and I use that word extremely broadly – that we tell ourselves. To an extent, the ‘real world’ of our experience is something we invent – a story we tell ourselves every moment of every day.

 

And the story of Raw Head, that is a real British folk tale isn’t it?

 

Yes and no. It’s a recorded folk belief, but I haven’t found any complete tales concerning it – with a beginning middle and end, and so on. It’s likely that the original RH&BB is more a general bogeyman than a character, in the way that, say, the Wolf in the Three Little Pigs is a character. I think he was a personification of the threat of drowning in a culture where only a tiny minority of people knew how to swim, and nobody knew how to perform cpr on a drowning victim. The idea was, I think, that the fear of RH&BB would keep the kids away from the waterways in a way that a simple explanation of the danger would not. References to the figure seem to peter out in the UK after the 18thC, so I guess superstitions moved on.

But oddly enough, in the US the image seems to have persisted, and mutated – there’s a legend in the Ozarks of RH&BB where a creature by that name appears as a monstrous pig. It may be co-incidental, of course. But I drew on this alternate image a little bit as well in the novel; Tristan’s dread of Joseph Cox becomes focused on the fact that Cox works as a pig-keeper.

 

Ah yes! I didn’t recognise that wonderful little twist but that certainly makes sense!  I had also thought it reminded me of the La Lorona mythos and more localised ‘Maggie O Th’Well’ tales. Tell me, what particularly drew you to use that tale as the focal point for Tristan’s story?

 

I’m fascinated by bogeymen, and the idea that one of the tools we use to keep ourselves safe is actually terror. But the name “RH&BB” is also a wonderful metaphor for what a human being is – mind and body brought together in this messy, contradictory way – and trying to make sense of that conundrum is Tristan’s most prevailing obsession.

Raw Head is by no means the only myth you reference in the book, what other prominent faerie figures feature in the narrative?

Well, I also draw heavily on the idea of the Glanconer – the Irish Faerie seducer – or as we might now acknowledge, rapist. He’s the dark Faerie who lies at the bottom of the myth of the Elf Knight, or as I call him in the book, the Goblin Knight. In numerous folk songs such as The Outlandish Knight and Steeleye Span’s The Elf Knight (which was the first place I encountered him) he is a seducer and murderer of young women who lures them to their doom sometimes by drowning, like RH&BB, or more simply by stabbing or strangling them. But of course as a Faerie Knight he’s also part of the court of the Faerie Queen, so she had to come into the book as well – and the image I’ve used to represent her is that of the shapeshifting barn owl. I’ve called her Viviane, of course, which is a nod to the Arthurian tradition. 

Of course, and very nicely done indeed! Now, in some modern / mythpunk re-workings, the world these tales and archetypes belong to is something that is a step removed from the protagonist’s reality but in your book the world of faerie doesn’t just run alongside Tristan’s human world does it?

Well, I don’t see the worlds as being separate in the way that a lot of modern fantasy does. I’m much more drawn to the Alan Garner or Susan Cooper school of world building in which the two realms are in constant communication with each other. It’s much closer to the way I experience the world, as well.

Well, I for one can certainly identify with that, Dear! I very much liked the way that, by giving each of the main characters both a human identity and, simultaneously, a faerie-self, you seemed to re-imagine (or perhaps ‘release’) some of those ancient beings in a way that made encountering them a very fresh, real and emotive experience.

Do you think that it is important to keep exploring these tales and releasing these characters into the collective consciousness?

 

Yes. I think it’s vital, actually. In the last couple of hundred years, we have built an  industrial society that demands that we deliberately reject older, deeper ways of thinking, and more intuitive ways of experiencing ourselves and the world around us, in order to be considered full, ‘rational’ individuals. It’s a form of madness, I think – cutting off a very ancient, nourishing, and protective part of the psyche. We need to find stories that allow us to reconnect with who we really are as a species. I think faerie stories do have the capacity to do this.

 

I certainly think you are right on that point!

The book is set at an important liminal moment in British history – revolutions in the worlds of medical science and industrial technology are bringing a ‘great awakening’ of so called rational thought, but at that same time, aspects of the collective consciousness seem still to be slumbering in the ‘dream world’ of spiritual / magical understanding and superstition. Did you deliberately choose this time period as one that would reflect the turmoil within Tristan and some of the other key characters?

 

Absolutely. The period stands exactly on the cusp of the modern world – and Tristan, in particular, is a character who represents – even embodies – the confusing contradictions inherent in that historical moment. 

 

The character Katherine Montague uses the story of Raw Head And Bloody Bones to communicate and cope with her traumatic life experiences and Tristan uses it to understand and make sense of his own fragmented reality… do you think that, to some degree, we are all prone to using the language of faerie / magic to feel secure and form an understanding of our often confusing or frightening world?

 

I think there is a human tendency to perceive the world through stories – and as I said above, I think that, right now, we need better ones than we currently have. It is a form of magical thinking, in a way – constructing one’s own reality through images, words and ideas. But we don’t all draw on the language of faerie to do this: we all construct our own stories out of whatever conceptual material we have to hand. In Katherine’s case, this happens to be the language of faerie tales: the abused girl, the wicked mother, the stolen child, etc are all common tropes in the folk-awareness of her time. A modern character in her situation would most probably use different stories to try to make some sense out of the dreadful things that have happened to her, and around her. But a modern character would hopefully have more psychological support… Katherine literally can’t speak about what she has gone through unless she displaces it onto a faerie tale – which both enacts and subverts another faerie trope, the magical silence. For her, magical thinking really is a survival mechanism.

For Tristan the situation’s slightly different, because the whole thing goes so much farther – for him, the worlds of faerie, story and rationality collide in a way that is quite traumatic in itself. He may be using the story, but there is also a sense in which he is also being used – and abused – by it. 

 

While this ‘magical toolkit’ for understanding the world may be useful to the individual utilising it, it can lead to fear, suspicion and ultimately persecution of individuals who are seen as liminal themselves – the ‘outsiders’ if you will, whose lifestyle or beliefs set them apart as ‘abnormal’ can’t it?

 

We still don’t live in a particularly tolerant society – even though in many ways it is, of course, much more accepting than it was in Tristan’s time. But it’s true that standing out from the crowd in ways that the crowd don’t understand, or even fear can bring about terrible persecution – I’m thinking of Sophie Lancaster’s murder here, but there are other examples.

When it comes to holding a magical or otherwise ‘fringe’ understanding of the world in some way, I have found that intolerance has tended to manifest as ridicule, rather than fear or violence. I am a panpsychist, for example (a highly unusual position here, but actually one that was most likely the norm throughout most of human pre-history, and which is still common in certain non-westernised societies), and most educated Westerners simply cannot grasp the principles behind it. So they mischaracterise and then dismiss it. The author Emma Restall Orr went through exactly this experience years ago on BBC Radio 4 with Michael Gove. She responded by writing The Wakeful World, which is a fairly decent introduction to the concept, I think. 

 

Viviane, for example, is a character whose ‘otherness’ allows Tristan to see her as quite unreal and therefore excuse and ‘explain’ his misconduct towards her using the framework of faerie mythology. This use of faerie / magical lore against women (and often, as you highlight marvellously in the book, against Rromani women) is a very real phenomenon isn’t it?

 

It was very much a problem in the 18thC, where it did become, in addition to other things, a cloak for racism against the Romani (not that the concepts of racism, or even sexism, existed then). It’s less obvious now, and here, of course – that’s thanks to the Enlightenment convincing the populace that magic is not real – but it still endures verbally in slurs – “Witch” etc – and in cultural assumptions about the overwhelming sexual allure of women’s bodies. “She put a spell on me, your honour” isn’t really that far from “she was wearing a short skirt,” in my estimation. Both rely on the belief that a female body – a woman in a body – somehow exudes some sort of mystical aura that overcomes a man’s ability to control himself, and provides him with the excuse to, as you say, explain away his misconduct.

 

But Tristan isn’t deliberately demonising Viviane in order to take advantage of her, is he? He is genuinely grasping at the threads of, what for him is, a confusing multilayered reality and this manifests to those around him as a form of madness – demonising him, in turn.

 

Yes, Tristan is completely oblivious to the cultural programming that’s going on beneath the surface; and he’s certainly not demonising Viviane on purpose. As far as he becomes concerned, she is wholly the Faerie woman of his dreams and nightmares – if she ever had a real, human self, he can’t acknowledge that.

 

Again, the demonization of those ‘outsiders’ who come to be labelled ‘mad’ is something that has always been a frighteningly real occurrence hasn’t it?

 

Yes, it has – and it is still going on today. When I was writing Tristan I was very conscious of the stereotyping that leads to people with severe schizophrenia, or similar disorders, becoming objects of fear. People have been taught to expect the mad to behave like monsters. It’s dehumanising – demonising. if you like. it’s also statistically untrue.

 

Perhaps especially unsettling is the fact that what is termed ‘madness’ to one particular culture or at one point in history, can later come to be understood as a natural phenomenon  – the hormonal surges of menstruating or pregnant women, for example, and those whose sexuality is anything other than heterosexual…

 

Absolutely – the boundaries of what is considered ‘sanity’ are shifting all the time. I really do believe that in a couple of hundred years – assuming any humans are still left by then – a lot of the beliefs and habits we hold to now will be seen as dangerously crazy. I don’t, of course, know which ones these will be. I have my hopes, but I don’t see history as  an inevitable march of “progress”, either technologically or culturally, so it may be that some very dark definitions of sanity/insanity will come to dominate. Hopefully we won’t go back to a time when women were locked up for being disobedient, but it could happen.

 

 

I suppose it all comes down to who has the cultural upper hand at the end of the day? Here in Ire, for example, a person is considered dangerous and ‘mad’ if they crave a cup of tea or a slice of cake!

 

Now, you see, I think anyone who doesn’t drink tea or like cake must be completely crazy.

 

Power is certainly a theme that you explore rigorously in the book isn’t it? – The power we may have over the people, animals and natural world around us, the power others may have over us and that which we have over ourselves, our actions and our perceptions…

 

Yes, it’s one of the major themes of the novel. It’s connected with the idea of disconnection and displacement – that the less integrated we are as beings with each other and the natural world, the more our relationships become aligned along power lines: power over, rather than power with. Katherine’s and Tristan’s relationship is really an example of mutual power in flux, rather than power over, on either side, although it may not look like that superficially. The dynamic between them is nothing like, for instance, Jane and Barnaby’s marriage, or the sibling relationship between Tristan’s father and his sister.

 

The power that women have over their own bodies is something that you explore in a number of ways through the different female characters in the story, is this something you feel strongly about?

 

I’m very passionate, actually, about the right of a woman to inhabit and control her own body. It is still a shocking truth of our society that women aren’t always accorded physical autonomy – look at the abortion debate, for example.

 

Looking at the #metoo phenomenon in your own dimension recently, it seems as though we are still very much in need of stories which explore this issue?

 

Very much so. We need, as a culture, to reclaim and then rewrite the ballad of the Elf Knight. I think we actually are trying to do something like that, in this historical moment, at least. I was delighted to read that in the latest production of Carmen, in Italy, Carmen shoots Don Jose, not the other way round – and there’s also that new prize for Crime Fiction that doesn’t focus on dead female bodies. There are other stories that can be told. When I started writing RH&BB, several of my early readers imagined Tristan was going to kill Katherine. Er, hardly! But that tells me how deeply embedded some of these unhealthy cultural assumptions about what love is, and what women can and should expect from men who love them, actually are. I was writing against those expectations then, and I will continue to write against them.

 

 

Such important subjects but oh my goodness! I do ramble on don’t I? I must apologise, the kettle has long been singing at us and I haven’t offered you a cup of tea! What is your poison, dear, and how do you take it?

 

Builders’, soya milk, no sugar. Thanks!

 

Here you are. Now then, moving away from The Tale Of Raw Head And Bloody Bones for a moment, what can you tell me about your own involvement in the world of faerie and the enigmatic character of Lord Crow?

 

That’s an interesting question. Of course, being bound by the laws of Faerie, I can’t tell you very much! But I suppose in one way Lord Crow is an idea; in another he’s a being-in-himself. I want to explore the possibility of writing from the point of view of the non-human, and he is my voice and my persona when I do that. I guess there are similarities here with the faerie co-walker, who is a figure I’ve come across occasionally in various modern “guide to faerie” books – though to be honest, I don’t tend to read those sorts of books. The older stories speak to me much more clearly – and also, there’s a tendancy in more modern writings to try to group faeries into species, or even races – which is a hangover from the Victorian obsession with scientific classification. The faeries I know – so to speak – would wet themselves at the thought that any human being should be able to classify them into any sorts of types – especially along such spurious lines as ‘light’ and ‘dark’. They would also probably explode at the notion that they should show any real interest in helping human beings. Faeries are wild. Humans, on the whole, are not. Faerie, as I understand it – in a modern sense, moving away from some of the ways it has been perceived historically as a concept, place, or whatever – has its essence in the flow of energy through complex systems – it can’t be fixed into any stable form. The best way I have found to get to know it is to get to know the natural world, and really fall in love with that – truly, madly, deeply, without reservation, fear, or any desire for power-over it.

I think Lord Crow is quite unlike me, personality wise, though other people disagree. He’s wilder, darker, cleverer, less forgiving, and much less patient. Given the current state of our relationship to the natural world, I don’t find this in any way surprising.

 

‘Re-wilding’ is an important concept that is, happily, growing in popularity as regards our physical relationship with the land isn’t it?

 

Yes; it’s a wonderful development, but it has a long way to go. I’m hoping that it represents the beginning of a tectonic shift in the terms of that relationship towards integration and respect and away from exploitation and power-over. It’s great that people here are slowly becoming accepting of the idea that we should live alongside beavers and – to an extent – wild boar, but I also want to see lynx in every suitable habitat across the UK, and I think some research should be done into reintroducing the wolf in Scotland, to balance the red deer population and give the Caledonian forest regrowth a fighting chance. (And besides: wolves! Wow!) Just as importantly, I want to see a new ‘wilding’ of cities. Bath, where I live, is an ideal habitat for peregrine falcons, because of the many urban pigeons. It’s also a breeding site for herring gulls, which are now in serious decline. People love the peregrines and loathe the gulls. I want to see the gulls welcomed alongside the more charismatic falcons. Urban foxes, too. For one thing, more foxes can mean fewer urban rats; and it’s not so hard for the city to provide fox and gull-proof bins. For another, there’s a moral case, I think, for opening up cities to creatures that can safely live alongside us.

Humans are a bloody invasive species. They need to learn to share.

That’s Lord Crow, now, interrupting. I knew once he heard the conversation he’d be unable to resist joining in with it.

And a very warm welcome to you Sir!

Space-invaders! Manspreaders!

All right, Crow.

 

Do you think that it also concerns our spiritual or psychological relationship with the land as well?

 

I don’t think one is achievable without the other. If we don’t change our overall attitude toward the land, then we will never effect meaningful changes in our behaviour. This whole “man must overcome nature” narrative has got to change.

 

Or it will be changed.

Is that a warning, Crow?

Just an observation.

 

 

Well thank you so much, both of you, for coming to help out in the soup kitchen today, Jack, it’s been wonderful to chat with you!

I know you are probably eager to be off and explore our wonderful Lancastrian Frost Fair that is just coming to an end at the moment but, before we start dishing up this wonderful-smelling soup, would you like to tell us about any of your current projects and where we can find more of your marvellous work?

 

I’ve got several projects on the go at the moment. I’m working on something with Lord Crow, of course, but obviously I can’t say too much about that, especially now he’s sitting in the kitchen with us. Faerie law. We’ll see what develops. I’ve also finished my second novel, which is currently looking for a publisher. I’m actually quite strongly drawn to the idea of putting it out via Unbound, as I like the idea of having full editorial control over my own work, and Unbound looks like exactly the sort of model I think both writers and readers want and need – grassroots, down to earth, writer and reader-centred publishing, which doesn’t have to pander to the rather limited tastes of the big London houses. But again, we’ll see what happens. Watch this space!

 

We certainly will! And I hope that you will come back and talk to us about your marvellous work again soon. Well now, I must say that soup really does smell delicious. I think it must be about ready and the little urchins are starting to get fidgety so shall we start serving it up?

 

It’s been lovely to visit! Thank you for the conversation, tea and cake!

 

And thankyou to you all for joining us in the soup kitchen today! If you would like to read more of Jack’s wonderful works and keep up to date with his new releases, do visit his website and blog at: https://jackwolfauthor.wordpress.com/

 

 

 


Steampunk Gypsies: The many names of the Rromani People

If you’ve been following this blog for a while now you’ll know that the word Gypsy (especially with a lower case g ) is a highly offensive word to most Rromani people. What you might not know is why it is so upsetting. You might also want to know the correct term to use instead and a google search might well leave you even more baffled on that score! So, hopefully this post will be a good resource for this subject and of course if you have any questions (or if you’re fed up with me banging on about all this) feel free to leave your comments  in the … er… comments section 🙂

In order to understand this subject clearly, you first need to understand a bit about our language and history…

The Rromani People are a displaced diaspora of India. Back around  the time of the crusades, Rajput military units were formed to protect different regions of India from invading Muslim armies. As these soldiers and their families and attendants all spoke different dialects /  languages, a military language had to be formed which all could understand. This language formed the basis of what is now the spoken and written language of Rromani people worldwide.

When we refer to the way we speak might say ‘Romanes.’ But that is not the name of our language. The word Rom (s) / Roma (pl) means ‘a person / us / the people / (one of) the group / the family / ‘ so to speak Romanes means to speak ‘in the way of the group / the family / the people / us / to speak in our way … it is not the name of a language and, strictly speaking therefore, ‘Rom / Roma’ is not the name of our people.. it just means ‘(one of) the people.’ (It can also mean husband but not in this context – like the word ‘man’ can mean ‘a man’ or ‘people in general.’)

So, if you refer to Rromani people as The Roma or a Rromani person as ‘A Rom’  (which a lot of people do) you are saying ‘The People’ / ‘The Group’ / ‘The Family’ or ‘One of the people / the group / the family’.  That is absolutely fine, many Rromani people speak in that way, most don’t mind it even if they don’t use it themselves. It’s certainly a polite, respectful way to speak to or about Rromani people.

Getting back to the Rajputs again, two groups were defeated by the Muslim armies and forced to leave their lands. Some were captured by Turkish armies and forced to join as slaves, those who escaped into Eastern Europe were immediately captured and enslaved for hundreds of years, those who fled west were unable to find a place to settle but continued travelling through Greece and eventually into the rest of Europe, using their military skills, skills in metal work and horse trading (as well as trades they learnt along the way such as entertaining, dancing and fortune telling – more about that in another post I think? ) to make money.

Obviously during this time The Group was forced to split many times. As each new splinter group moved through different countries, new words were added to the military language they all spoke – thus each clan now speaks a slightly different version of that first ‘Language of The Group.’ They also began to refer to themselves by different names, names that for the most part described their skills and trades  much in the same way as surnames do the world over.

I belong to the Petulengros (Smiths) who are of the English clan known as Romanichals (which literally means ‘Rromani Chaps’ ) and the Kalderash (The cauldron makers /  copper-smiths who turned their pots on fat posts hammered into the ground). Often a Rromani family have kept their clan name (or a version of it). Sometimes though they have had to change it in order to hide the fact they are a Rromani person and so allow them to avoid persecution and live an integrated, peaceful life with the rest of society.

So, some Rromani people don’t like to be called Rom or The Roma – you can understand that now right? They don’t want to be called ‘One of the group’ or ‘The People’ … they want to be called by their clan / family name (Like you might say ‘I’m a Jones’ or ‘I’m a McGill’) they prefer to identify as something related to who their family is and what they do / did.

If you think at this point that Rromani people seem incredibly fussy and it is all terribly difficult to know what to call them please look at it this way…

You might call yourself ‘English’ or ‘American’ defining yourself by your location.

If you do so / have ever done so, please take a moment to consider that it is a privilege to be able to claim a geographical location as an aspect of your identity. It implies that you are an accepted member of that place, you belong there, it is a part of you, it’s your home.

Rromani people do not have that privilege, have not been permitted to join another nation and call it home, they have been refugees for hundreds of years and so they must find different ways of defining themselves. (And, I feel, this is food for thought for all of us when we consider the long term impact of our treatment of refugees and immigrants today.)

(It has been suggested that Rromani people reclaim their Indian connection and that is ‘all well and good’ but as many of us now have fair skin and hair and look anything but Indian, that idea seems a little laughable really! So we continue to be ‘The Family’ / ‘That Group that left India together’ because no other nation has welcomed us and we cannot now go back.)  

There are so many Rromani clans in the world today (Wikipedia has a quite dreadful map showing a very few in simple blocks which can only act as a rough guide) many, as I say, call themselves Rom / Roma and some prefer their specific clan name.

 

So, there you have it – When referring to a Rromani person or people you can say…

Rom – One of the people

Roma – The People

Romany (/ Romani / Rromani / Rhomani ) person – A person who is of the group (spelling is dependant on dialect)

Romany (/Romani / Rromani/ Rhomani) people – The people who belong to the group

Or you can use the specific name of the clan the person / people belong to eg: Sinti, Kalderash, Kale, Romanichal etc…

My advice is to just be clear about what word / spelling you are using, what it means and why you are using it.

 

“But why not gypsy?” I hear you say … well, again we need to look at history and language…

 

The word is a shortening of ‘Egyptian’. When Rromani people first fled into Europe their dark skin and hair caused people to mistake them for Turkish invaders and later either for Egyptians or people from Little Egypt (sources are unclear as to which). They were nick named ‘gyptians’ which soon became ‘gypsies.’ Obviously a homeless refugee population are powerless to dictate what they ‘should be called’.

The word gypsy became so far removed from the word Egyptian that, rather than describing the mistaken place of origin of a group of people, it instead took on its own bizarre set of definitions. Various leaders including Vlad The Impaler, Henry The Eighth and Hitler, all used the word gypsy to justify the de-humanisation and murder of thousands of Rromani people. Rromani people were burnt with the ‘gypsy brand’ on their skin which marked them as belonging to animal rather than to human kind and having no right to existence. They were then tortured, sterilised or simply murdered.

At least 250,000 Rromani people were murdered during the Holocaust alone, at least 85% of Germany’s Rromani population were branded ‘gypsies’ and exterminated because they were seen as sub-human.

During the industrial revolution, the notion of ‘being a gypsy’ was seen as a desirable alternative to the horrors of factory and inner city life. The dehumanisation of ‘gypsies’ at this time took a different turn as they were seen as wild, free, close to nature or at one with it, romantic, mysterious, magical, desirable, roguish, care free… writers, poets and artists failed to see the poverty and persecution suffered by a people who were not nomadic or ‘free’ , but shackled to a seasonal circuit of a few safe ‘atching tan’ (‘stopping places’) where seasonal farm work could be found, not allowed to own property, speak their own language or step foot inside shops. The Gypsy Law Society epitomised the attitude when they declared membership of their elite ‘research group’ required that the gentleman must first ‘bed a gypsy.’

You can, I hope, see why nobody would want this label. Why it is distasteful, sickening and upsetting for a Rromani person to be called a gypsy. Is it any different with a capital G? I don’t think so.

 

So, as writers and readers and steampunk enthusiasts who write and read and cosplay in an era where Rromani people were very visible and were habitually branded ‘gypsies’ how can we include the experiences of Rromani people of that time period without perpetuating the ongoing prejudice?

It might seem like a challenge but it’s really a no-brainer – look at other oppressed groups of the colonial period. How should they be referred to / treated / spoken about in historical or punk fiction? You might for example have a racist or ignorant English character refer to an African character using the N word, but you wouldn’t use the N word in the main text of the narrative to refer to that African person would you? You also wouldn’t call them ‘The N….’ , you would use their name. Just consider the G word, exactly the same as the N word. Because, to Rromani people , it is the same.

( Some Rromani people do use the word Gypsy – either because they are trying to re-claim and re-shape it as a form of empowerment or because the word Rromani is so often met with confusion from non-Rromani people. Many cultures take words that have historically been used against them and turn them into a form of personal power – that, surely, is their prerogative. )

If we couple the respectful use of language to talk about Rromani people, with an accurate portrayal of their history and culture, hopefully we can move the image of Rromani people away from the fantastical / de-humanised ‘gypsy’ and back into reality.

 

I really hope this info has been helpful – I’m by no means a linguistic scholar or historian though so if you think that I’ve made a mistake anywhere do please forgive me and feel free to discuss it, we are all learning together afterall 🙂 And of course if you have any questions or want me to cover any more topics on this subject let me know,

Big blessings, Penny 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Steampunk Gypsies: Rromani Character Creation – Papusza

Greetings! Here, as promised, is another careful look at how to respectfully draw on aspects of Rromani culture and history in order to construct a Steampunk character. Again, I’ve used the word Gypsy in the title here because many people mistake the word Rromani for Romanian but most Rromani people find the term Gypsy offensive so it really is better not to use it. As several people have asked me for more details about this I will do another post soon explaining in detail where the various spellings of Rromani come from, which to use, the history of the word ‘Gypsy’ and why it is offensive.

But for now, let’s look at our next character…

Papusza

Papusza means ‘dolly’ in the Rromani way of speaking and was the nick name given to real life Rromani poet Bronislawa Wajs by her mother. She was called ‘dolly’ because of her beauty but the word is a double edged sword – a ‘dolly’ is a pretty, powerless play thing, manipulated as suits the one who plays with it and then dropped when that player becomes distracted or bored.

 

Bronislawa’s poems about the difficulties faced by Rromani people on the road were used against the Rromani community by various government regimes as an excuse for the execution, sterilisation or forced settlement of Rromani people (not into decent housing and mainstream society, which most would have desired) but onto filthy containment camp sites where their strict religious codes of cleanliness and ritual (Rromanipen) could not be observed. The problems of illness, poverty, persecution and social segregation which Papusza wrote about were obviously not solved by this move and the Rromani community blamed her for the trouble she had caused them by trusting her words to the hands of non-Rromani people.

A lot of lies can be found about her on the internet – for example, that she was cast out by her people for being a poet, that women are not allowed to be poets in Rromani society, she was not allowed to read and write because Rromani people believe these things are evil, that she agreed with the forced settlement regime and that the Rromani family she travelled with were lawless nomads.

A film has been made about her life but I haven’t seen it personally and so I’m not sure how authentic and accurate it may be…

 

The sad truth is that most of her work is now out of print, recordings are like gold dust  and versions that do exist have sometimes been altered slightly / interpreted differently “Dikchaw daj, dikchaw doj…” I look here, I look there, I cannot find my Papusza…

 

So I found myself wanting to pay tribute to her in my own small way, by basing a steampunk character around her real life self. But I know I’m on very dangerous ground here – what I absolutely don’t want to do is add to the false mythology that has grown up around her and now prevents people with a genuine interest from discovering the whole truth. I must remain respectful to the truth and evidence of who she was, as well as to her family and clan, her friends and everyone who may be affected  by my actions in characterising her.

So, instead of trying to take Bronislawa (as little as I can ever know of her) and plonk her clumsily into my steampunk world, I’m going to build an entirely new character who suffers the same problem of being exploited because she happens to have a particular talent.

And I’m going to call her Dolly Cauldari…

Dolly’s Story:

Dorothy Cauldari (Dolly) is a Sho’vani character. The Sho’vani are a technologically advanced, displaced diaspora of the Jentacular Landmass. Their rebellion against Wiz and his evil army of Wizards went horribly wrong when the automaton army they had created rebelled against them and the twelve tribes, led by twelve princesses, fled across the sea to the scattered Isles Of Ire where they have been outrageously persecuted ever since.

(Colonialism is an important and troubling part of our world history but so is the historical and current treatment of refugees and immigrants and I wanted to reflect this part of Rromani history in the history of the Sho’vani.)

As the Jentacular Isle is believed by most to be purely mythical (Collin and Max can personally vouch for the fact that it is not!) the government has decreed that the Sho’vani must have come from Bohemia. They first arrived in Ire during the reign of Henry The Eighth and the mechanical wonders they brought with them caused them to be instantly branded as witches (an offence in Ire that is still punishable by death.)

It wasn’t until Elizabeth The First  came to the throne that this persecution eased up a little and a deal was struck – if the Sho’vani would abandon their nomadic lifestyle (ie – hiding in woods and running from the witch hunters) and share their technological knowledge with the queen’s wizards they would be allowed to live peacefully in squalid little hovels just like any other peasant. Many agreed and became known as Tinkers, others did not.

When Ann became queen she tried to strike another deal with the travelling clans – if they would agree to transport the queen’s tea safely from her plantations to the elite county of Devon in their mechanised vans and prevent it falling into the hands of land pirates, all accusations of witchcraft would be dropped.

Dorothy Cauldari’s  family were among the many Sho’vani clans who ‘agreed’ to this arrangement and so by the time Dolly was born, they had been transporting the queen’s tea from the plantations of Crumbria to the elite closed county of Devon for many generations. They moved from one government designated or safe known stopping place to the next, using their skills in technology to make life on the road that bit easier and their skills with spoon-playing and spoon-duelling to entertain themselves and break the monotony of the constant circular journeying. It was not the idyllic, nomadic lifestyle that poets like Christina Biscotti like to fantasise about, but neither was it as bad as the lives of the plantation workers, treacle miners or inner city factory workers.

Unfortunately, when Dorothy was about ten years old, the ideological militant sect know as The Pre-Cognitive Sisterhood (A group of women who violently enforce their beliefs that the world would be better off if The Cog had never been invented) attacked their convoy one night, destroyed the vans, burned the tea and murdered almost the entire clan.

Dorothy managed to escape and eventually made her way on foot to Lancaster where she soon made a home for herself, along with hundreds of other street urchins, high up amongst the new Skyway Rail system that criss-crosses the entire city, carrying the wealthy elite in safety away from the stench and commotion of the over-crowded and poverty-stricken streets below.

Here she quickly earned respect and notoriety in the illegal spoon-duelling rings that are run out of the basements of the many Tiffin Dens and Flop Houses that pepper the overcrowded docklands on the banks of the river Lune.

The urchins who live amongst the Skyway Rails are vulnerable to many predators. After her first few nights of clinging to the enormous metal girders, trying to wrap her skirts and shawl in such a way that would reduce the risk of falling should the wind blow too hard or her fingers become too frozen to grip on, Dorothy received a visitor. A kind and sympathetic woman who brought with her bottles of sweet, fizzy, sugar laden Lemonade.

Night after night the woman came, bring these little bottles of sweet, sweet hope, until Dorothy and the other orphans found their days melting into grey insignificance as they waited for their next sugar-fix.

Then one day when the woman came she was very sad, her money had run out and she couldn’t bring this free Lemonade any more. But she had a good idea! If the orphans could each sell two bottles of this illegal beverage and bring her the money, she could then buy them one bottle each. It seemed fair enough at the start. But the amount of bottles she expected them to sell in return for one bottle for themselves kept rising and when Dorothy decided that she had had enough of this game, the woman turned very nasty indeed and made it clear that opting out was not an option.

Dorothy was trapped and so she turned to the only resource she had left for comfort – her spoons. Dorothy had played the spoons since before she could walk and she often drummed out little rhythms on the Skyway Rails to pass the time. But now she threw herself into the art with a violent passion – drumming out her anger and frustration at the injustice and futility of the plight of all these children being secretly enslaved to the Lemonade Dealers. There were words too, but she never let those slip out.

People stopped to listen, although they couldn’t see the percussionist high above them, and then one day a curious theatre owner braved the climb and discovered twelve year old Dorothy. He persuaded her to come down, though she was careful to pay for her own coffee and oatcakes, and it wasn’t long before his ‘Little Dolly’ was making headlines at The Garish Theatre with her incredible displays of cutlery-based- percussion-craft.

As Dolly’s fame began to increase, she saw the opportunity to introduce lyrics to these  displays  and finally expose the true and dreadful story of the exploitation of Lancaster’s homeless children. Hearts broke, tears flowed, rallies were held and the government of Ire was backed into a corner – what was going to be done about this?

There’s always a man with a plan isn’t there? Some bright Whitehall spark quickly saw that what these children needed was shelter, food, clothing, soap and the prospect of a life long career. Fortuitously, Her Majesty’s treacle mines and tea plantations were struggling due to the fact that the adults ’employed’ there were often too large to perform all the terrible tasks that needed to be done.

Dolly Cauldari’s name has now become a curse on the lips of every street orphan who lives in fear that tonight may be the night when Her Majesty’s ‘Good Folk’ will arrive in their wagons and spirit them away to a ‘better life’ in the treacle mines or tea plantations. Many Sho’vani people have also loudly expressed their condemnation of her actions – claiming that she should have known better than to trust the secrets of her fellow poor people into the hands of the hated rich, who will always see something that they can get out of the exploitation and powerlessness of the poor.

Ignoring her critics, however, Dolly has continued to attempt to use her fame, wealth and influence to improve the lives of the street children of Ire. She channels all her earnings into campaigning against the ill treatment of children in the mines and plantations and exposing the corrupt empires of the Lemonade Barons, many of which she claims are members of the aristocracy.

 

Costume For Dolly Cauldari

 

Despite her fame, Dolly spends very little of her earnings on herself. Her clothing is largely home made and she places great importance on certain religious and sentimental items. She always dresses in red – the feminine, protective colour of her people. Her shawl once belonged to her grandmother and, along with her handkerchief-bag, in which she keeps her heirloom amber bracelet and silver snake hair-charm and spoons, it is the only thing she has left of her original family life. She is a traditionalist and always wears a red dikhlo (head scarf) and still braids her hair in a crown braid. The locket and mulengi dori (ribbon of the wind people) she always wears in memory of her parents.

 

So, there you are! As with the character of Amelia Manylentils  , I have tried to draw respectfully on aspects of Rromani culture and history to create a character that is more realistic, respectful and removed from the Fantasy Creature we know from fiction and art as ‘The Gypsy.’  Again, I really hope this is helpful to anyone interested in writing Rromani characters into their Steampunk worlds or cos-playing a Steampunk Rromani character and if you have any questions feel free to leave them in the comments section.

Big Blessings, Penny 🙂

 


Elevenses: Strolling the frost fair

Good morning Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you are all feeling remarkably eleven o clockish because it is, indeed, eleven o’clock and so I hope that you will come and join us as we stroll around the Lancastrian Frost Fair, taking in the sights and looking for dainty delicacies to nibble on.

I say strolling, which implies a leisurely pace, but my Very Quiet Gentleman Friend is doing an embarrassing amount of huffing and puffing and gasping for breath which is quite off putting I can tell you and leads me, once again, to question exactly what constitutes ‘Very Quiet’ in the realm above the waves.

I say strolling, but perhaps that is a misnoma for the exercise as in fact my tentacles are all still in splints from the ice skating affair and Mrs B has kindly rustled up an old wheelchair from somewhere and we have strapped a couple of floor board planks to the wheels so that Max can push me through the snowy cobbled streets and over the icy river with ease.

Oh the joy! I cannot tell you how immeasurably more enjoyable it is to experience a winter’s walk from the cozy comfort of an armchair…there are fire eaters and jugglers, oh my goodness is that an elephant thy have over there?! It is! I’m amazed the ice does not crack! Mind you, they are roasting spit an ox with impunity over there and I am certain it is going to lead to disaster.

There are so many things for sale. Luckily Max is a bit of a Finger Smith and we manage to procure some excellent spiced buns and treacle toffee before slipping away into one of the ‘fuddling tents’. These are made of the barge sails propped up haphazardly with poles and inside you with find some of the most lethal chai-cocktails to be mixed this side of a Tiffin Den.

We sampled ‘Purl’ (a steaming black brew made with lapsang and wormwood) which the vendor told us would have a man gibbering for days, and ‘The Spiky Mother’ (A pungent Assam with chilli and dark chocolate) which had apparently already hospitalised a crowd of eight, but we must be candid and say that, even after four or five cups of each, Max still had the wherewithal to hot foot it out of the tent and away before the angry vendor could catch up with us an extract his payment.  (no mean feat pushing an octopus in a make-shift sled)

He almost cornered us but luckily Max employed a pocket full of escapological marbles (if you naive to the uses of escapological marbles to thwart a pursuer just ask the nearest five year old) and we left him cursing in the gutter.

 

So here we are, keeping our heads down in a much quieter area of the ice and ready to show you some of the delights for sale…

Moth Festival (The home of Hopeless Maine on etsy) have a massive amount of Steampunk delights for you to spend your pocket money on, including this spiffing steampunk manifesto print which we are coveting for our parlour wall…

steampunk manifesto.jpg

Hapi Cult (skateboards, skate wear and street wear for urban Magic Makers) have these fab new Hapi Life spell t shirts

hapi life t.jpg

Steampunk Parliament  has a huge array of beautiful Steampunk lace jewellery, cute wall plaques and colouring books.

steampunk parliament.jpg

We wish you all a very splendid afternoon and hope you will join us for more frosty fun next week so, until then, please be always,

utterly yourself

 

 

 

 


Elevenses: Frosty Fayre

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Max and Collin’s splendiferously sparkling and frostabulously frozen parlour located in the splendidly scenic city of Lancaster!

True, some have called it a frigid place of cold hearts and frosty welcomes but we consider that uch people are merely embittered that they have not yet received an invitation.

You find us this morning, warming our tentacles beside an imaginary fire after an enterprising and entertaining morning at the fabulous frost fair which is being held on our beloved river Lune.

Our psychotic scarecrow landlord, Montmorency, woke us before dawn with the business end of his walking cane and demanded that we head out into the frozen darkness and not return until we had enough money to pay for this month’s rent. The fact that we only just paid for the last month seems to have escaped the rogue and so I perched upon Max’s shoulder and we set off towards the river.

There were already traders setting up stalls on the ice but none of them took favourably to our offers  of  assistance (it seems that Queen Vic’s recent  amendments to equality in employment law do not extend to an Octopus and a Tea Fiend) So we settled ourselves on the bank instead and watched the sun rise over the frosted spires of the sail barges which had collapsed crazily into the ice sheets and lay mired liked the skeletons of stranded beasts from some fantastical caffeine-fuelled nightmare.

Things picked up once the punters arrived. After some initial competition from a woman hawking root beer (For a Very Quite Gentleman, Max can be terribly clumsy when glass bottles are around) we managed to sell twenty bottles of lemonade (and drink many more) without being lynched by the barge folk for selling without paying the trading fees.

We decided that that was quite enough hard shirking for one morning and spent the rest of the time mooching around the stalls, watching the jugglers and fire eaters and, most impressively to me, the ice skaters. Having lived under the sea all my life, I never imagined this curious form entertainment and I am determined, soon, to beg, borrow or steal enough pairs of ice skates to attempt the thing myself.

Now here we are back in the parlour, our landlord briefly appeased, our cats greedily devouring the last of the skimmed milk ration, and all desperately in need of a reviving spot of elevenses and some soothing music to tap our tentacles to. Unfortunately our absconding butler has not seen fit to deliver the goods this morning (perhaps she thinks it’s a holiday? ‘Though what a werewolf would find to do at a frost fair we have no idea…) but not to worry because we managed to run into our lovely Mrs Baker on the way back and she has set us up with a packet of genuine Frost Fair Souvenir Gingerbread which, knowing Mrs B, will be crammed full of illegal sugar…mmm…

And, by happy chance, Max’s constant pocket companion ‘The Whole Duty Of A Woman (or an infalliable guide to the fair sex) – 1737’ (A birthday gift from a devoted family member I think) has an excellent recipe for … OWCH! …Well, really! You know, for a Very Quiet Gentleman, Max, you  can be excessively violent devoid of a sense of humour…

I was going to say, before I was so rudely interrupted by a flying teapot, that this is a recipe for ginger bread biscuits, rather than the cake which we are enjoying now but it is nonetheless share-worthy, I think…

“To Make Gingerbread…

Take a pound and a half of London Treacle, two eggs beaten, half a pound of sugar, one ounce of ginger, beaten and sifted, of cloves, mace and nutmeg, all together, half an ounce beaten very fine, coriander seeds and caraway seeds of each half an ounce, Two punds of butter melted; mix all these together, with as much flour a will knead it into a pretty stiff paste, then roll it out and cut it into what Form you please; bake it in a Quick Oven on Tin-plates; A little time will bake it.”

 

And now we’d better tune in our Tesla radio and have some soothing sounds to placate my beastly savage companion… drink your tea Max and calm yourself down, it is not becoming for a Very Quiet Gentleman to sulk like that…

 

Ah, much better, that was Smith and Burrows if you were not aware of the before they are rather marvellous. We wish you a very pleasant afternoon, filled with with warmest and spiciest of delights, and we will see you back on Monday for some more splendid steampunk fiction and excellent tea. So, until then, please be always,

Utterly Yourself

 

 

 

 

 


Elevenses: Off With The Masque!

Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen! We hope you had a deliciously delinquent festive season and are not yet ready to don the cap of contrition and sobriety because although our little dust cat friends have fled with the tinsel and the oatcakes back to their gothic island home we are none the less ready to make mischievous merriment in the aftermath of the Wizmas insanity!

You find us all about the lace and the periwinkles, all about the bombazine and the damasks, all about the masks in fact because tonight is the annual Lancastrian New Years Carnival which marks the end of the hated (a-hem, I mean beloved) Wizmas season and the beginning of our excellent Frost Fair as the weather begins to grow even colder and the River Lune threatens to freeze solid again.

Courtly Masques have been a traditional part of New Year celebrations here in The New World for centuries and the public version;  The Street Pageant or Carvnival, is something that accompanies the Frost Fair here in Lancaster every year.

Some of the most outstanding lunatics, parlour-poets, tea fiends and self proclaimed ‘artists’, in the full intensity of their creative insanity, have devoted themselves to producing these Pageants (despite the earnest efforts of various New World Puritans to abolish them) and the infamous Garish Theatre producer Joyce Jameson recently proclaimed it to be “the highest art form in The Scattered Isles.”

To give the balance however we should  also quote journalist Pomona Squash of the Tiffindependent Newspaper whose scathing review of last years’ revels read  ” the entertainment went forward, and most of the presenters went backward, or fell down, wine did so occupy their upper chambers. The actress playing the Queen tripped over the steps of the throne, sending her gifts flying; Hope and Faith were too drunk to speak a word, while Peace, annoyed at finding her way to the throne blocked, made good use of her symbolic olive branches to slap anyone who was in her way” (click here to tut at our rampant quote theft)

But what mask to put on? Well, let us have a look at some historical masks from your own dimension for some inspiration….

Bauta

https://goo.gl/images/rikGE6

Primarily a masculine mask. During the 18th century this mask and accompanying black cape were often worn at official and government events where anonymity was essential.

Columbina

https://goo.gl/images/5eEZac

Historically a mask worn only by women, this one is named after the famous character from the commedia dell’arte.

The Plague Doctor

https://goo.gl/images/87UpvJ

Invented by the 17th century physician Charles De Lorme, this macabre mask is a reminder that we are all participants in The Divine Comedy, our own parts decidedly finite whatever our societal status.

Visard

https://goo.gl/images/jVgrTR

A short-lived mask of the early 1700s , this small strange black velvet mask was worn by women and held in place by biting on a button, which rendered the wearer unable to speak or eat while wearing it. So obviously it won’t be any good for Max… ouch! Good grief is that our best teapot? Totally un-called for!

Larva

https://goo.gl/images/j6vGJk

The ghost mask, worn by both men and women, is usually all white although some are also decorated and worn with a veil, cloak or tricorn hat.

 

Pantalone

https://goo.gl/images/4JcEMz

A masculine mask depicting a grotesque old man this one is said to symbolise intelligence or wisdom so, again, perhaps not an appropriate choice for … ouch! For pity’s sake Max, get a sense of humour! This is supposed to be a holiday… tsk!

Harlequin

https://goo.gl/images/5WhiE6

Well here’s one our good friend Freddy Payne can tell us all about as he permanently wears one! The story of harlequin varies through the ages but essentially he is either a comical, foolish or romantic servant – character and a male counterpart to Columbina.

 

So, there you have it and that is where we abscond to this evening, to paint the town of Lancaster red and utterly get away with it because we shall be masked up and totally unrecognisable… we hope… not sure how much of a give away the tentacles will be…

We wish you all an equally jubilant evening and we will let you know how we got on on Monday so, until then, please throw on a mask be whoever the hull you wish (for one night at least!)

 

 


Steampunk Gypsies : Character Creation – Amelia Manylentils

Greetings! Here, as promised some time back now, is a careful look at how to respectfully draw on aspects of Rromani / Gypsy culture and history in order to construct a Steampunk character. I’ve used the word Gypsy in the title here because many people mistake the term Rromani for Romanian but most Rromani people find the term Gypsy offensive so it really is better not to use it. You wouldn’t use the N word to describe a person of African heritage would you? No.

Rromani people are a fairly visible part of the Steam Era, cropping up in folk tales, art, literature and ephemera of the time but our portrayal is usually colourful , romanticised, demonised and mis-representative of the reality of every day life for Rromani people living in Georgian and Victorian times. (I’ll write in more depth about this in a separate article).

But we can move on from the mistakes of the past and make sure that, by educating ourselves, we don’t repeat or perpetuate them when we write , create or cosplay in the Steampunk genre today 🙂

So here is how I used Rromani culture respectfully to influence the creation of one the the primary  characters here in Ire, Amelia Manylentils. If you have any questions about creating your own Rromani characters or other topics you want to me cover etc let me know in the comments as I’m happy to do more articles like this if folks find them useful.

 

Amelia Manylentils. 

Amelia is a Sho’vani character. I drew a fair bit on Rromani history and culture to create the Sho’vani people and so I have drawn on many aspects of Rromani culture to create the costume for Amelia.

The Sho’vani are a technologically advanced, displaced diaspora of the Jentacular Landmass. Their rebellion against Wiz and his evil army of Wizards went horribly wrong when the automaton army they had created rebelled against them and the twelve tribes, led by twelve princesses, fled across the sea to the scattered Isles Of Ire where they have been outrageously persecuted ever since.

Colonialism is an important and troubling part of our world history but so is the historical and current treatment of refugees and immigrants and I wanted to reflect this part of Rromani history in the history of the Sho’vani.

(For those of you who are unaware, the Rromani people are a displaced diaspora of India. Two groups of Rajputs were defeated by Muslim invaders and forced to flee their land. Some were captured by Turkish regiments and forced into their army, those who managed to escape into Eastern Europe were enslaved for hundreds of years. Those who fled to the west were feared, outlawed, imprisoned, murdered, not allowed to settle down , speak their own language, have children or own property. Many are still facing this persecution today. As soldiers and their entourage, they already had skills with metal work , horses and other crafts which they tried to use to earn money. When this wasn’t possible, they took on farm and manual work and also picked up skills such as entertaining and fortune telling along the way. )

Amelia’s Story:

Amelia’s Sho’vani father was ‘adopted’ (read: stolen) by a rich Tea Time Lord and his wife because they could have no children of their own and they thought it would be an amusing project to ‘tame’ a little wild woodling and make him into a proper Ire-ish Gentleman. They succeeded but when he grew to manhood he annoyed his parents by falling in love with and marrying  the local watch maker’s daughter who was also Sho’vani. That is as far as his rebellion went however and he inherited his father’s estate and treacle mine and settled into life as a Tea Time Lord. His wife, who had always hated her father’s business and had been only too eager to escape her fate of having to become a ‘filthy Tinker’ (her words) took to the lifestyle like butter to a crumpet. Unfortunately their daughter Amelia was different…

Love Triumphant: 

“Amelia? Amelia where are you this time?” Gerda Manylentils wrung her hands anxiously as she scoured the ornamental gardens in search of her daughter.

From high amongst the whispering leaves of the grandfather willow, Amelia watched her mother’s progress through the labyrinth of repressed shrubbery. Each leaf of the neatly maimed privet hedges lapped at her crinoline skirts, like the wax-bright tongues of crouching goblins, green and catching the last drips of evening light like drops of honey.

“Amelia?” Her voice was grey with the coming dusk and it weighed on her daughter’s ears with the same impending doom.

Amelia carefully placed her dolls into their little wicker basket and secured it firmly to the hawser. She wiped her grease-stained fingers on an oil cloth and brushed an arm across her cheek, swiping off a layer of sweat and grime. She took one last look around the treehouse. Every nut, bolt and screw, every spanner, saw and wrench was neatly stowed away in its own private apple crate. The leaves of the old man were fainting and pale, fluttering as the tree drew his deep, ragged breaths. She tied the straps of her leather cap under her chin, flicked her goggles down over her eyes and clipped her utility belt to the hawser behind the basket.

“Amelia? Oh!”

Amelia sailed over her mother’s head like a whistling stormcrow and landed, inelegantly, beside the koi pond. She teetered for a moment on the brink, before steadying herself and unclipping the harness and the basket.

Meanwhile, her mother was passing through her usual colour scheme of emotional meltdown; parchment fright, scarlet shock and finally, purple rage. “Amelia, how could you? How, simply, could you do this to me? You know perfectly well that Watkin Caffiendish and his parents, Lord and Lady Sugar of Crumbria are here! That is to say, were here – they are leaving, and, to be perfectly candid, I cannot say I blame them.” She twisted her plump fingers together in agitation. “Oh, Amelia! I am not sure which is worse; that you didn’t make an appearance, or that you could have done and this is what you are dressed like!” She gestured despairingly at her daughter’s patched and grease-stained overalls. “No, it is no good, Amelia, no good at all. Your father will demand an explanation. I demand an explanation! What have you been doing all this time? Where have you been? Not up in that tree again? Oh no!” Her glance strayed to the basket, now hooked over her daughter’s arm. “Not those awful dolls?”

“Mother, they are not dolls they…”

“They were once!” her mother screeched. “Perfectly beautiful porcelain dolls, Amelia, which your Aunt spent months crafting the petticoats for! Why you have to…fiddle with everything, I do not know.”

“It’s not ‘fiddling,’ Mother, it’s ‘tinkering’ and look,” Amelia reached inside the basket and pulled out one of the dolls. It certainly didn’t resemble any of the prim and pouting manikins which graced the little bay windows of the toy shops in town. Any clothes it had once possessed were nowhere to be seen, large portions of the porcelain had been carefully hacked away and replaced with metal screw-plates and the entire chin was now a hinged collaboration of metallic scraps.

“Oh no, please, do not wind it up! Amelia, my nerves! You know I cannot abide…”

Amelia ignored her mother’s pleas and wound the key which protruded from the back of the doll. The moment she released it, the doll’s mouth began to slowly open and close and sweet string music, almost akin to lark song, filled the blushing air.

“See, it sings. I made it sing. And this one…”

“Absolutely not! No more, Amelia, no more! This whole nonsense has gone on for long enough. A Lady should not spend her time fiddling about with things like this, she…”

“It’s not fiddling, Mother…”

“No, enough!” Gerda snatched the basket of dolls and hurled it into the koi pond, where, of course, it floated like an infant Egyptian prince.

Amelia stared at it in silence.

“This is the last straw, my girl. Go to your room and make yourself presentable, whilst I speak to your father about what, exactly, can be done about you.”

 

Amelia let her head fall back, cradled against the warm wood of the ancient rocking chair which had been her grandmother’s, then her mother’s and was now hers. Her legs pulsed her back and forth like a living piston, the cogs of her brain whirring furiously. Above her bed, Love Triumphant rose on flaming wings into the golden dawn of eternity from the brooding brushwork wrought by G.F.Watts. Amelia pressed her index fingers together and a single eyebrow arched. To have wings. To rise from the grim clutches of the mortal bind. The drudge of duty and a course mapped out by incompetent navigators who would never sail this ship themselves, never set foot in the harbour for which they would doggedly insist it must be bound.

She continued to pulse. Each foot thrust a pump for the adrenaline that was fuelling her mind.

Above her head, the many ceiling fans looked down on her with sympathy, as redundant in the chill evening as a tinker at a tea party. The tiny automatons, arranged in regiment across her eiderdown, sat dutifully silent and even the pot bellied wardrobe seemed to suppress a sigh, bearing its burden of corsets and crinolines with sombre resignation.

Amelia scowled at the painting and out of the broad sash window to where bats were now looping gleefully like liberated gloves cast up in celebration into the greening light.

To have wings…

Amelia leapt to her feet, pulled her folding utility knife from her belt and wrenched a spring steel crinoline from the closet. Her furnace lit by the fuel of epiphany, she snipped at the light metal bands with her cutting tools, skilfully subduing the writhing serpents as they sprung and snapped, unleashed from their structural bindings.

Soon a nest of steel lay heaped in one corner of the room and Amelia turned her attention to the sheets beneath the eiderdown. Out came rulers and angle measurers, scissors and chalk and several tools she had designed herself; a rotating rivet setter and a hand held clockwork seam-stitcher.

Before long, a bat-like pair of wings lay spanning almost the width of the entire room. Amelia cast a critical glance at the rocking chair, made a few last minute calculations and then proceeded to strap the wings to the wooden framework at the back of the chair, using leather trunk-straps which she kept in store beneath her bed for just such emergencies. The wings concertinaed in on themselves perfectly and she arranged more straps which would release them at the precise moment of take off.

Next she turned her attention to the ceiling fans, which came down easily via the maintenance pulley system. Each fan came off in piece and was swiftly re-bolted to the chair, along with the small turpentine motor which powered them.

From somewhere deep in the belly of old house, a servant’s bell sang out its dainty falsetto like a knell. With no time to waste admiring her handiwork, Amelia heaved the chair up to the window and hoisted up the sash with practised difficulty, securing it with the tiny cheese wedges of splintering wood.

The giddy scent of pine teased through the fresh night air; exhilarating, promising adventure as it filled her senses until every cell stung with the anxiety to snap this leash of obligatory life.

Amelia raised the rockers of the chair against the sill and guided, slided, eased it into a position of perfect balance. Her breath caught in her chest, her heart a rapid rhythm as she carefully negotiated her way into the seat, feet now the stabilising factor and one arm braced against the rotting window frame, whilst the other tugged the motor into life.

The pang of pine was now intoxicating.

“Hello?”

A shadow eclipsed the green. The bats fled, piping indignation.

The rocking chair teetered on the sill.

“I say, hello? Amelia?”

In a fulmination of fragrant annihilation, the chair staggered, slipped and spiralled down into the ravenous clutches of the psychotic shrubbery below and combusted, leaving Amelia dangling, dumb struck, from the cross bar of the sash.

“Oh dear. Er, terribly sorry about that. Hold on…”

The vivid lights, cast upward from the flaming shrubbery, illuminated the profile of a pathetically small dirigible, from which a rope was now being lowered. Amelia grasped the life line without hesitation and hauled herself up into the gondola which hung beneath.

“Grab an oar then.”

“Excuse me?” Amelia stared incredulously at the synergist of the Armageddon below, as silhouettes of servants began pouring from the house, to leap in frenzied state around the flaming privets like demons around a hell pyre. “Who even are you?”

“Watt.”

“I said who are you?”

“No, sorry, I mean I am. I am Watt. Watkin Caffiendish, er, knight in shining armour, come to rescue you and all that shenanigans. So, grab an oar, fair lady. She rows out like a dream in this weather.”

Amelia looked down, bitterly, at the wreckage of her marvelous machine, now being stoically dowsed by the household domesticons. Behind the dark shutters of the house, the hue and cry was already up.

She picked up an oar and, for one glorious moment, considered trouncing this ballooning buffoon around the head with it and pitching him over the side into the dark abyss that was soon to be her past.

The scent of smouldering turps was becoming acrid and adrenaline-fuelled ecstasy was fast waning to fatigue and resignation.

Sighing inwardly, she fitted the oar into the rowlock and began to pull.

 

….

Above is one of the many mythical re-tellings of Amelia’s early life and the beginning of her infamous voyage to discover Siberia but rather than begin a philosophical debate on that subject, let’s have a look at her costume…

 

 

Amelia is more interested in dressing practically rather than in a way that is perceived as ‘feminine’ (a taboo both in Upper Class Western and Rromani society of the Steam Era!) so I made her a pair of the classic wide legged trousers worn by our Kalderash men and waistcoat to match from heavily embroidered fabric.

Embroidery is of great cultural significance in Rromani culture and I still have a lot of my family’s embroidered pieces which I wouldn’t dare use for costuming! In Ire, one of the Sho’vani families play an important role in the revolution and they use a cog-based embroidery to code messages into clothing they are ‘mending’.

Amelia likes to keep her inventing equipment close to hand. Belly dancing belts stitched with coins are a mark of shame and anger for many women – not just Rromani. In days where women (and men) were seen as property which could be bought to entertain rich people with dancing and other ‘tricks’ , many people were forced to lay aside their religious beliefs about modesty and proper sexual conduct in order to survive. The passion in many Rromani dances is an expression of the anger felt by the slave dancers at being forced to act against Rromanipen (their beliefs) in order to entertain the rich. For Amelia’s costume I decided to take the belly dancing belt of coins and re-purpose / re-claim it as a tool belt  – a status-symbol for an independent young woman – so I have attached cogs and gears and similar things to the sash instead of coins.

steampunkrromani3

 

I chose red for the belt because it is a sacred protective colour in Rromani culture and a very feminine colour too. I hate the fact that femininity is often seen as inferior and that when women choose to pursue traditionally masculine careers they are somehow seen as being un-feminine. I wanted to wrap Amelia in her femininity – her inventing and creating are expressions of her womanhood, not a rebellion against that. By the end of our little saga here she is a wife, mother, grandmother, chrononaut and the greatest inventor the world has ever seen and none of these aspects of her character contradict or corrupt the others.

The cap and goggles are necessary for any wife and mother and are just my own everyday wear for nappy changes , cricket matches etc. but I love the black and white lace and pearls adding lots of magpie-pretty to these functional items.

So, there you have it; part one of creating an authentic Rromani Steampunk character. In the not too far future I’ll do a completely different character for you, based on the real historical Rromani poet Bronislawa Wajs. (Yep, we have poets!)

Until then, best wishes for all you splendid steampunk capers and I hope you’ll join the boys in the parlour tomorrow for some marvellous masquerade madness 😉

Penny 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Morning Cuppa: Spoon Duelling for beginners

Good morning Ladie and Gentlemen and welcome to Max and Collin’s splendiferously spoontastic parlour located within the splendidly scenic city of Lancaster, Mor Ire.

True some have called it an unfulfilling place of half baked fancies, bad eggs and drastic measures, but we consider that such people are merely embittered that they have not yet received an invitation.

This morning you find us about to engage in the noble art of the festive spoon duel. We understand that in your dimension you settle your disputes by duelling with tea but, frankly, we find it hard to understand the mechanics of such a thing – do you hurl the tea at eachother? Or are the cups somehow used as foils?

Here  in the New World we settle our disputes with a series of Parlour Affairs, one of which is spoon duelling (or Spuelling if you are feeling lazy). Spoon duel challenges are usually reserved for the Wizmas period.

In case you are not familiar with the art and history of the spoon duel let us enlighten you:

Spoon duelling began during the Ancient Egyptian era and was reserved for religious ceremonies in honour of The Goddess. Ornate spoons made of wood, flint and ivory were carved with hieroglyphs pertaining to tea, cake and magic.

Archaeological evidence suggests that it was in Ancient Greece that spoon duelling moved from being a religious ritual to an event used by the upper classes to settle disputes in a sophisticated fashion. Silver and bronze spoons were used during this period and spoons in the British Museum can still be seen which bear the scars of spoon duelling.

By 1259 CE (Cakeless Era), spoons had become a symbol of power. Royal monarchs were anointed with a special spoon to mark their coronations. The wealthy displayed the many battle-mangled weapons of their defeated opponents while the peasants were left spoonless to slurp soup with their bare hands and stir their tea with their burnt and blistered fingers.

Discontent began to stir the soul of the general populous and The Great Spoon Uprising of the Renaissance period lead to greater equality in cutlery which in turn lead to a greater diversity in spoon design. In joyous celebration of the noble spoon, artisans sprang up in every town, flooding the market with an array of spoons for every occasion.

Soon  there were Caviar spoons (made of mother of pearl), Dessert spoons, Tea spoons, Fruit spoons, Runcibles (Max’s favoured weapon), Iced tea spoons, Jolly Long Spoons, Demitasse spoons, Chinese spoons, Bouillon spoons, Parfait spoons, Rattail spoons, Salt spoons, Seal-top spoons, Bar spoons, Caddy spoons, Slotted spoon, Mote spoons, Mustard spoons, Cheese scoop spoons… not to mention the cochlear ritual and anointing spoons, ear spoons, nose spoons and new born spoons (for ladling out babies)…

By the time Queen Vic came to the throne The Good Folk were screaming for regulation and one of the first papers to pass through parliament was the Standardisation Of Kitchen Utensils Act which introduced the standard issue spoons, tea cups and other tableware permitted for use today.

Obviously underground artisans linked to the Arts and Crafts Movement have sprung up across the scattered isles to produce illegal cutlery of the most impractical and extravagant artistic merit …

Hm? Sorry? Oh yes, Max says I should stop the history lesson and get on with the thing… you know for a Very Quiet Gentleman Max does interrupt an awful lot…

So, the noble art of spoon duelling :

Each competitor sits opposite the other at a tea table. (Historically, spoon duelling was a standing affair and opponents would attempt to crack eachother over the top of the head with a battle cry of ‘bad egg!’. After hats became fashionable the aim then became to knock the opponents’ headwear to the ground. This type of spoon duelling was outlawed by King George in 1721 CE. Of course there are those who claim to have revived it in some sort of secret- society- boys- club- thing… but we’re not sure we believe them…)

A point (or hit) is scored when one competitor taps the centre knuckle of their opponents’ spoon-hand with the back of their spoon. Three hits are needed to win the duel.

A hit is established thus; each spoon is moistened (traditionally with cold water but some vulgar persons lick their spoon and spiteful ones have been known to stir their scalding tea) and then dipped into coloured chalk. The chalk mark left on the back of the hand makes it easier for adjudicators to judge whether or not a hit is legitimate.

The spoon hand or wrist must remain in contact with the table at all times and the other hand may be placed behind the back, on the hip or above the head as preferred but never upon the table, knee or chair.

 The winner takes the spoon of the defeated competitor as a trophy and many people choose to display their hard won spoons upon their hats, waistcoats, parasols, bed posts and parlour walls. 

So we will soon be packing our runcibles into their leather holsters and heading into town to witness, and hopefully take part in, some festive sport. But before we do that we must tighten the belts on our dressing gowns, pour ourselves a morning cuppa and see what our little dust sucking friends have been up to in the night…

 hopelesslullabye

 

 

Hm, Gnii fishing eh? I’m not terribly fond of fishing now, having done so very much of it in the sunken city of Hull. Fish – delicious, but the getting of them? I would much rather visit the local monger rather than run the dispiriting odds of catching other ocean debris., the things you humans throw into the ocean sets my tentacles shuddering. Anyway… let us forget all that and dip our tentacles into  our seasonally spicy tea which should give us plenty of zest for the morning is this superb ginger rooibos from craftteacompany… 

ginger-rooibos

 

Splendid, and now we must button up tight and head out into the cold dark alley ways of Lancaster and find ourselves a shady little tavern where we can lay a few bets on a spoon wrestling match (it’s similar to the duelling but for Ladies only and so there are less rules, more name calling, eye gouging, spork scratching, hair tangling etc and it all gets a little rougher and therefore more interesting, especially when the wigs come off…)

We wish you an utterly ineffable morning chockablock with spoonfulls of fun and we invite you back to join us for elevenses tomorrow so, until then

please be always

Utterly yourself