A cranky lady of history: Janet Kincaid

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Remember my post about Tsaritsa Sophia Alekseyevna of Russa and her amazingly cranky face? Well, I accidentally inspired an anthology, which is crowdfunding as we speak.  This is the most viral a post of mine has ever gone.

The crowdfunding campaign coincides with a blog tour celebrating various cranky women in history, so if you enjoy history, feminism or good stories, this is your lucky month.

Which brings me to today’s Cranky Lady, Janet Kincaid.

You probably haven’t heard of Janet.  The problem with history is that, by and large, we mostly know about the wealthy and powerful.  Monarchs and aristocrats and people who happened to be in the right place at the right time and were remarkable enough that others paid attention and wrote about them.

Janet Kincaid is not one of those people.  In the mid-nineteenth century, her husband went to try his luck on the Victorian goldfields, leaving Janet in Glasgow to care for their six children.  By sheer luck, one of her letters to her feckless husband survived, leaving us with a vivid impression of a very cranky woman:

You left to better your family, you don’t need to write that any more, we have had enough of that talk.  You had better do something for them.  You left the ship to better your self and to get your money to your self.  You never earned much for your family, far less for your Wife, you sent five Pounds, two years and a half ago.  You mention in a letter to me that you made more money at the digging than ever you made at home.  You might have sent us the half of what you made.  You are a hard hearted Father when you could sit down and eat up your children’s meat your self.  I was a poor unfortunate Wretch, little did I think when I was young what I had to come through with your conduck.  We might have been the happiest couple in Greenock, you got a good wife and many a good job at home if you had been inclined to do well but folks that cante do well at home is not to be trusted Abroad … poor Duncan does not know what sort of thing a Father is, he thinks it is something for eating … find a proper place where I will send my letters.  No more at present from your deserted Wife Janet Kincaid.

The letter is in the archives at the State Library of Victoria, so it presumably reached the elusive Mr Kincaid.  How he replied, if at all, is unknown.

The narrative of the Victorian goldfields, when I was growing up, was about the Brave Single Man, Seeking His Fortune.  Janet’s letter was printed in Clare Wright’s The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, a book rich with cranky ladies, which points out that many of those gold diggers had families left behind — and many others brought their families to the camps.  It’s a shame Janet Kincaid and her six children didn’t come to Australia — or maybe they did, and the record is lost.

“You left to better your family, you don’t need to write that any more, we have had enough of that talk.” Ladies and gentlemen, an 1850s Skyler White.  Respect.

 

This post is written as part of the Women’s History Month Cranky Ladies of History blog tour. If  you would like to read more about cranky ladies from the past, you might like to support the FableCroft Publishing Pozible campaign, crowd-funding an anthology of short stories about Cranky Ladies of History from all over the world.

Birds, though!

I hope it’s not a spoiler to say that No Award has some bird-related guest posts coming up.  I’m in favour of guest posts in general, but I do have to take a moment to express my feelings about birds.

They are horrible.

THERE, I SAID IT.

I didn’t always hate birds — I used to be quite indifferent — but I was swooped by one too many magpies as a teen, and now I flinch if I hear wings flapping behind me.  It isn’t easy, walking home from school after a bird has flown off with a chunk of your scalp.  Not to mention some hair which it no doubt used to line its nest and signal to other birds that it was a great nestmaker.  I begrudge every hair that magpie took.

Many years ago, when I worked in a book store, our back room was invaded by a pigeon.  It perched high atop the shelves and stared down at us, daring us to come and get it.  “Just try it,”  it seemed to say, “and I’ll shit on some new releases.”  It had beady little eyes that burned with hatred for humanity and books.  We eventually chased it out with a broom, but I’ve been strongly anti-bird ever since.

My mother has a pet budgie named Charlie.  Charlie seems harmless enough, but Mum bought her thinking she was a boy budgie. Then Charlie began laying eggs.  An innocent mistake on the part of a pet store owner?  Or a nefarious budgerigar conspiracy to expand its population?  Well, the joke’s on Charlie, since Mum only bought the one bird.

Mum lets Charlie out of her cage to walk around the kitchen table.  “Pock, pock, pock,” go her talons as she marches over my laptop, examining the keyboard like it was composing an essay on birds rights activism.

Birds are basically miniature dinosaurs — the exception being, of course, that miniature dinosaurs are ADORABLE, and also don’t exist anymore.  Except in the form of birds.  And birds remember.  “Liz,” you say, “they’re not that bright.  There is no way birds have a genetic memory of their lives as dinosaurs.  And avian reincarnation is theologically dubious on a number of grounds.”  Sure.  That’s just what they want you to think.

How do I know there’s a vast bird conspiracy?  Because we live in an age when you can put a bird on something and just call it art.  Portlandia was a warning, people!  One that we didn’t hear, because we were distracted by twee bird prints and plush owls and flying ducks!

Chickens will eat each other if you give them a chance.  They also eat their own eggs.  THAT IS NOT COOL BEHAVIOUR.  Frankly it’s a little troubling, and I think chickens should seek counselling for their cannibalist urges, though obviously not from this guy.  In the meantime, buy organic chicken and free range eggs, and under no circumstances trust a chicken.

I speak with some authority about birds, because once a bird tried to use me as a mule in its attempt to escape a pet store.  There I was, innocently admiring some kittens, when I felt something move … and when I looked down, there was a budgie attached to my skirt.  Attempting to blend in, so I’d carry it away from the pet store and into Ikea.

Don’t worry, though.  I single-handedly prevented the avian invasion of Sweden by yelping and jumping, and then making high-pitched squeaking noises until a shop assistant took the bird away.

Some particularly evil birds

An emu gazes at the camera. Its eyes are empty, its gaze hollow.
Seconds after this picture was taken, the photographer was murdered in cold blood by the emu. I expect.

Bird apologists will tell you that emus are just inquisitive birds whose habit of pecking at anything they find interesting is easily mistaken for aggression.  THAT IS A LIE.  And even if it was true, what do emus even need to be curious about?!  Are they the intelligence-gathering vanguard of an invasion?

Simplistic pixel art depicting a bird.
Even pixellated birds are evil.

Okay, yes, Flappy Bird went from “explosive meme” to “old meme” in, like, three days.  This monstrous game was basically unwinnable, and if anyone tells you otherwise, they are a sneaky bird appeaser.  Now it’s come out that some of the knock-offs contain malware.  So that’s great.  Please hold while I delete some stuff from my phone…

The main birds of Angry Birds. They look contemplative. I don't know why.
Some of these birds don’t even look angry!

While we’re on the subject of birds that make people want to throw their smartphones…

Look, Angry Birds, I get it.  Pigs have stolen your eggs, and that makes you mad.  But then, you avian hypocrites, you send your hens off with explosive eggs!  To save your children, you must kill them!  You are well over the moral event horizon, birds.  Not to mention that it’s totally problematic how the hens are the weakest of you.  Let’s talk about the unexamined misogyny inherent in Angry Birds.  Let’s think about your bird privilege.  I’m calling you out on Tumblr as we speak, that’s how strongly I feel about this.

I’m not racist.  I don’t hate all birds.  Why, some of my best friends are birds!  Like that time my BFF jumped up on the futon and pretended to be a bird.  Although that was horrible.  She made her hands into talons and had the wild-eyed look of a person who would stop at nothing to get a reaction.  It was remarkably like that episode of The Carrie Diaries where Freema Agyeman’s character mixes ecstasy and LSD and hallucinates that she’s a bird, only it happened eight years earlier and my BFF isn’t Freema Agyeman.

Freema Agyeman, looking divine yet somehow evil, wearing feathers - it's a high fashion Hallowe'en costume.
But here’s a picture of Freema from that episode anyway.

Anyway, the point was, I don’t hate all birdkind.

Here are some birds which aren’t terrible

Big Bird! Looking happy and waving.
I especially enjoy it when he roller skates.

Look, I’m not a monster. How could anyone hate Big Bird?

Although I do find it troubling that he’s basically a giant four year old running around Sesame Street without a guardian.

I’m in favour of Muppet birds generally, as a matter of fact, because all the evil of birds is concentrated in Sam the Eagle, and he’s really not around that much.  However, I do think Bert needs a better hobby than pigeons.  Paperclips are where it’s at, Bert!

Mo Willems' The Pigeon waves at the reader.
‘Sup.

The Pigeon is actually my very favourite bird ever.  I wouldn’t let him drive the bus, but I’d probably share my hot dog with him.

Two galahs, pink birds with grey wings, gaze at the camera. They look pretty mellow.
Look at these guys! How can you hate them?!

Galahs just crack me up.  I see them hanging around, all puffed up, like they’re some kind of credible bird, and they have no idea they’re basically the same colour as Barbie’s Dreamhouse.  No one takes you seriously, galahs.  But I like you, I guess.

IN CONCLUSION, birds are mostly evil, but some are okay.  If a bird has infiltrated your home in the guise of a pet, I recommend approaching it with caution, treating it with affection, but maintaining CONSTANT VIGILANCE so you’ll be ready when it turns against you.

Here, have a spooky Hallowe’en read!

Short fiction for Hallowe’en seems to have exploded in the last few years, or maybe I’m only just starting to notice it.  I don’t care much for horror, or creepypasta in general — my BFF is obsessed with the NoSleep boards on Reddit, and I’m like, BUT I WANT TO SLEEP! — but I do enjoy a good ghost story now and then.

“Over the River” by Katherine Traylor is a really excellent, atmospheric, creepy story.  It reminded me of one of the Hugo-nominated novellas of this year, except it wasn’t sexist or annoying, and also I can remember the title.  OKAY, THAT SOUNDS LIKE FAINT PRAISE.  Despite a superficial similarity to that story, “Over the River” is really good.  It felt like the set-up for a novel, but also stands on its own.  You should go and read it and stuff.

Grown-up blogging

Secretly I feel a bit silly, starting this shiny new blog, when I have a perfectly good Dreamwidth that holds my archives going back to 2002.  I mean, am I ashamed of my (*gulp*) ten years of writing fan fiction, flailing about Harry Potter and Doctor Who and Avatar: the Last Airbender (among others)?  Not in the slightest!

But there is something to be said for having a nice blog you can take home to your mother, or at least tell people about at conventions.  I’ve decided that it’s like going to work.  At home, I wear jeans (or, you know, pyjamas) and lie around and say whatever comes into my head.  At work, I wear nice clothes and brush my hair and make small talk, and generally behave in what I hope is a professional manner. 

I have something being published later this year, which I cannot talk about yet, and I am writing … various things, not necessarily in the speculative genre, but roughly in the neighbourhood.  I’m also doing programming for Continuum 9 in 2013, and the committee members I met over the weekend all seem so sensible and professional and not at all likely to tell people off for being wrong about a children’s cartoon.  So this is my amateur professional blog, and hopefully one day I can strike out the “amateur” bit.