Last month I was interviewed by Jim Mora, host of Natonal Radio New Zealand's popular afternoon show.
"Kathleen Scott sailed to New Zealand with her husband Captain Robert Falcon Scott, to see him off on his expedition to the South Pole. Now Kathleen's granddaughter Zoe Young is making the same journey her grandmother did in 1913, to mark the 100th anniversary of the Terra Nova's return from Antarctic with the news of the doomed expedition."
And I'm here. The other end of Earth from home: summer when it's winter, evening when it's morning, everythingupside down. And still the coffee stays in the cups, and the lakes don't seem to spill. They are an amazing bright blue colour through, made from glacier ice, melting down great hills.
If people who said they could improve my website actually could, I'd be able to upload pictures to this blog and show you some of the wild nature, cultural resonances encountered already. But there you go, Drupal is hard so no pictures, and a clunky website still, sad to say.
So for the moment I'll keep using Facebook, much as I dislike the politics behind it. It is a good tool for sharing direct with interested friends and family. You can find me there at 'zoeyou'.
But already in my first hour in Oamaru I've heard the last organ Captain Scott Heard. A twinkly lady in Victorian garb told how how students in late 1950s Christchurch made snow shoe footsteps from our grandma's statue of Con over to a nearby bar, and then another set of steps, all wonky, back to his pediment.
This town is styled as NZ's steampunk capital, so the are old and strange items like rusty rockets, steam engines, skellingtons etc here and there. It feels Victorian, in some ways, a friendly little town.
The local paper here is ful of news about the Scott 100 events this week. one article is based round an interview with my cousin Nicky, (Kathleen's eldest grand daughter, daughter of my uncle Peter and Aunt Jane,) saying how pleased she is to come. And mentioning that her family had been raised fiercely never to use the Scott heritage 'for gain.'
It's an ethic that I recognise, (though it feels odd to see it in black and white). Her words reflect a value system that I think our branch of the family also shared. Scott died doing what he felt he had to do, for the greater good. He and his wife, our grandmother, shared a sense of honour, of doing the right thing at whatever cost to ease and personal comfort. It's clear that the right thing does not include making money from someone else's effort or worse, sacrifice.
This maybe why it has taken me until my early 40s to even think about exploring my Scott related heritage. I was too busy making my own adventures, testing my own and society's edges, being interested in conservation science and natural history, exploring my own understanding of honour and refusing to sit back into any kind of easy life from my ancestors' incredible work.
So while we would not exploit their wild and terrible ancestral tales, we are still shaped by these experiences of our preceding generations, at a deep and sometimes invisible level.
For me at least it's time now to reflect.
That's why I'm risking turning upside down.
I’m not sleeping well at the moment.
Anxiety, I guess.
Mainly, my angst seems focused on technology. What do I have, what can I afford, what’s an ecologically insane indulgence, what’s needed to tell my story in an information age, what’s a wise investment because I could make/write/share something someone might pay me for, what’s too bulky or heavy for a little thing like me to carry on my back on a journey involving bikes and camping…
For years I’ve been making little films. Campaigning docs for charities, and documents of some of the strange events I’ve been part of (global resistance to big capital, Polish punk pigs, rebel clown army ridiculous recruitment tour – you name it, I was filming it). This trip is meant to be a step away from all that.
A step into direct experience, into conscious engagement with the echoes of my family’s past. A step back, 100 years back, in order to get a glimpse of the feelings my grandmother experiences, and with that wisdom to see better into an uncertain future. To better understand our connection with the wild, with nature, in its rawest and most testing aspects. To better understand this unquenchable drive in me towards being some kind of spearhead for nature, for conservation models that WORK to save threatened species - including our own.
I won’t go into the details of that here except to say that one criticism I’ve long felt undermined mainstream conservation is its eternal quest for money, never mind where it comes from, with which to pay for the technology and expertise that conservation seems these days to need. For jeeps and binoculars and scuba gear and cameras and GPS and offices in nice places like Fiji.
When that money comes from multinational companies and high net worth individuals, cash for a few parks to watch attractive totem animals bubbled over from the froth of capitalist surplus, money derived from fossil fuel and mineral extraction, extreme exploitation of land, clearance of forest, of wild beasts and the ecologically quieter humans who once lived in some kind of balance with the wild. Well. I wonder if it mightn’t be more strategic for us privileged folk just to travel, exploit, consume and excrete a little less.
So here I am, loading up with camera and tablet, to fly across the world to explore all this.
Hmmm. With glaciers melting, Manila underwater, the ocean whirling with plastic particulates and Australia on fire, how can I explain what I’m doing?
With all this on my little shoulders, no wonder I can’t sleep.
My grandmother Kathleen was the wife of Captain Scott, Antarctic explorer. 100 years on, I find myself following her journey to the ends of the earth, for the man she loved and lost.
February 2013 marks a hundred years since news of Scott's death in Antarctica reached Kathleen's ship in mid ocean - as she approached New Zealand to greet him coming back.
I have been invited to attend commemorative ceremonies in Oamaru, South Island, to open an art exhibition entitled 'Postcards from Antarctica', to read from my sister's book and address various audiences about our grandmother's amazing life.
What resonance does one man's extreme bravery, science and tragedy leave in a family - and the island where mourners found each other? What becomes of the widow of a famous explorer - suddenly both lone parent and unwilling focus of international public grief and hero worship?
I plan to follow in my grandmother's footsteps, and to see.
Kathleen was unconventional, independent, and a sculptor of great renown. Her marble likeness of her husband in Christchurch in New Zealand was broken at the legs in the devastating 2011 earthquake. How does remembering Kathleen and her Con feel now, in a land afflicted by its own wild extremes of nature?
Psychogeography was defined in 1955 by Guy Debord as “the study of ... effects of the geographical environment ... on the emotions and behavior of individuals”. This project will explore the resonances of Scott’s last expedition in New Zealand’s landscape, seas and culture.
With my award winning novelist sister Louisa’s excellent biography of Kathleen (‘A Great Task of Happiness’) to hand, I will explore the imprints of an epic polar expedition on we who were left behind. I will give talks and open exhibitions as part of commemorative events at the port of Oamaru, New Zealand. Occasions include a reenactment of the Terra Nova’s return from Antarctica bearing sorrowful news, a play and Flamenco interpretation of Con and Kathleen’s relationship. I will meet with other descendants of the expedition to the Pole, and explore new territories of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration - as seen through the eyes of women and children left behind.
I will maintain an illustrated blog, and longer commissioned articles. My experience as an international researcher, author and film maker, also acclaimed eulogist of my father (Wayland Young, Kathleen’s second son), should stand me in good stead.
My father and extended family would never have been born had Captain Scott returned to his wife, had she not remarried our grandfather. How strange is it to say, that he died, that we might live?
It's not cheap to reach and travel in New Zealand, so support, especially commissions to write, photograph and video my unique ancestral adventure will be very welcome.
It's not cheap to reach and travel in New Zealand, so support, especially commissions to write, photograph and video my unique ancestral adventure will be very welcome.
If you can help, or have any comments or questions, please be in touch.
Listening to my sister Louisa speak at Voewood festival yesterday, I heard her say something I probably should have taken on board years ago: our generation is the first centuries from which no one joined the Navy.foin
We come from a long line of sailors. Ancestors we know about included cabin boys and able seamen, officers, captains and admirals; pirates useful enough to the Empire to be given a formal role.
As young things, my siblings and I messed about in dinghies with our dad (an able seaman in WW2) and mum (a WREN in that same war). Later they sent me for training as 'competent crew', and at university, I crossed the English channel and raced round Ireland in a Tall Ship.
But in truth, I'm still a landlubber.
We are the first generation from which no one regularly heads out into the open ocean, losing touch with family and friends for months and years. We are the first generation with no one running away to sea to seek their fortune, honour, adventure, amazing sights over the visible horizon. We are the first generation not to face extreme hierarchy and discipline, navigation, weather, wetness, cold, sunburn, windburn, ropeburn, scurvy, weevils in the ships biscuits, possible (even probable) injury, disability and death... and still to go on sailing, bolstered by fresh air, exercise, endless horizons, the slap of sails and the wind in the rigging, the thought of 'a girl in every port' and a good tot of rum in the morning..
Suddently I have a whole new perspective on my own youthful urges: to travel to the ends of the earth and to peer from the crows' nests of diverse human experience, and to pursue perhaps unattainable challenges. Of course it was always different for girls - the ancestors of which i speak were almost all male. But with four elder sisters and only one brother I was 'supposed to be a boy', and find I have definite masculine tendencies. So perhaps now I understand why I'm always sailing into the wind on unlikely missions ... Why I'm happiest in a tight crew heading out to unknown oceans, navigating always with the bigger picture in mind and recognising ill winds and doldrums as a part of the journey.
Othertimes, I just like to sit back and watch the sun setting over the water.
‘Capturing Witches’… Well.
So much to feel, think and say about this, and too little time/linearity to write about it. Here's a first bit, hope to make time for more:
Whatever the meaning of the word witch (and there are many – which witch would you be capturing today, Sir? Madam?) the English term for embodied occult malfeasance constellates a kind of existential fear at the heart of our civilisations. Or at least, it embodies a titillation with the sinister, a still rampant plague of violent misogyny and abuse, and also now a tumescent neo-pagan community ‘reclaiming’ the term for empowered, spiritual women and men – ‘Witches With Attitude’, if you will.
Last weekend in Lancaster’s University we dived deep into such themes, exploring witch hunts old and new and bathing in holy/unholy waters of Historical Diabolism, Frontline Human Rights and Law Enforcement, Artistic Experimentation, Wiccan Cultural Conjuring and Literary Dissection of Old Texts. The event marked the 400th anniversary of the 'Pendle Witches' – a group of local women (and some men) tried, imprisoned and executed 400 years ago for supposed supernatural crime. The conference was dedicated to memory of Alice Nutter, Old Chattox, Mother Demdike and others killed as witches, 400 years before.
Friends also took me to visit the outcastes' gravesite of Lancaster: shades of South London’s Crossbones) medieval prostitutes’ graveyard in that marginal space. There is something that draws me to honour the outsiders, the underdogs, those victimised for their differences, desperation or for speaking out, for challenging the powerful and their hypocritical mores - or for just being a wrong person in a wrong place at a wrong time. The wrong time may just be when social tension (ethnic strife, hunger, social change) is building and pressures seek an outlet, a scapegoat to blame. An accusation of ill will can be the pin that bursts the balloon and releases the flood – too often of blood… but doesn’t change the dynamics that led to the pressure. So witchhunts tend to come in phases.
My contribution to 'Capturing Witches' was a tale of modern day Ghanaian witchhunting of the old and ill, the ‘witchcamps’ where survivors find refuge, and how we came to make a half hour film for Ghana’s SOSYWEN women's empowerment network. 'What I Used to Know - The Road to Ghana's Witches' Camps', is available to watch online here: http://www.sosywen.org, and you can read my first account of the emotional process of making it here: http://internationaltimes.it/ghana-witch-hunts. Ours is just one of a surge of recent documentaries exposing West Africa’s witch hunts – ‘Saving Africa’s Witch Children’ is probably the best known, and features the conference’s co-organising charity, Stepping Stones Nigeria.
Researchers such as Birgit Meyer, Ronald Hutton, Sylvia Federici offer us knowledge in surfeit, and yet, and yet. Most of us still seem to be wandering blind. Perhaps it’s because ‘witchcraft’ deals with the ‘other world’, and real life witchcraft abuse is a crime in 2 dimensions that needs understanding in 3 (thanks to Andy Desmond, former detective and anti-human trafficking consultant, for that phrase). It’s hard for those of us raised in a ‘materialist’ culture like Christianity – where personal responsibility for sin can be got rid of as easily as believing in a 2,000 year old hippy – to understand the seriousness with which animist cultures take the magical realms.
Even most neo-pagan, self-proclaimed ‘Witches’ don’t seem to grasp the scale and nature of witch hunting. There’s a fetishisation of historic witch hunts in North America and Europe, and a mourning for the wounding of women’s spiritual place, plant-based healing capacity and the sacred feminine – all of which I can share. What I can’t share is the almost studied ignorance of witchcraft abuse affecting women and children alive now, and even in our own British cities where groups like AFRUCA work to stop more kids dying like Victoria Climbie – battered to death by her own relatives in a crazed ‘exorcism’ of demons, diagnosed by a pastor.
Few neo-pagan Wiccans (and self proclaimed witches outside this modern religious frame) seem awake either to the difficulties that their use of the term ‘witch’ creates for intercultural exchange. And it goes deeper than just the words:
“Do what thou wilt”, say neo-pagans, ‘if it cause harm to none”
but what happens when someone DOES use their connection to the realms of spirits to do harm? The harm comes back on them three times over, they say, an article of faith so it seems. Karma style. But what of those affected, where do they go for revenge? IF the magic is real that is, which the wiccans say that it is? Or is it just real when it’s nicely, when it’s celebrating the seasons, praying with good intent, for healing, not harming.. like the ‘cunning women’ of old. Old Chattox and Demdike of Pendle, so called ‘witches’ put to the death, were known as healers on their day, and feared lest they turn to the bad. When they did so, their like were called ‘witches’, and killed.
“Injustice is not anonymous”, say activists, “it has a name and address”
Condemnation and harsh sentencing, direct action, rough justice, vigilante mobs… Are these not all societies’ crude responses to feeling something ‘wrong’ ..? and to the fear of death, and the unproductive old women – crones - aging whores, small scale brewers, intheway infertile wives - who remind even the most powerful of death?
If there’s no belief in all powerful patriarchal deity after life or instant karmic process to sort out ‘evildoers’, what are courts and justice systems but an attempt to root out evil and protect the innocent from harm and worse, untimely death, here on earth?
Seems G8 world leaders return to Blighty next year - 2013.. I'm reminded of last time their gilded cages landed on our shores. I spent the preceding months embedded with a Ridiculous Recruitment Tour, entertaining, training and raising an army of undercover fools to speak truth to power.
Maybe now it's time to make that documentary. Tell a story,warts and all, of how a rebel clown army was conjured; how this meme, that's now worldwide, was conceived, born and nurtured here in Britain.
We need: a director. a producer. money. an outlet.
The archive, the researcher / co-producer / storyteller and the audience are ready.