St.Combs Portrait Project

I started the St.Combs Portrait Project in April 2020 to capture the people living, passing through, or connected in any way to the village.

All photos are taken with a Yashica Mat 124G Twin Lens Reflex medium format camera using Kodak Tri-X or Ilford Hp5 film. The film is sent to Photo Hippo in Burnley for developing.

The photos are not perfect, but I hope this adds to the character of the work.

You can view the photos on Instagram: stcombs_portrait_project. If you would like to take part please reach out to me. If you want your photo removed, Just let me know.

16.06.2020

Colin & Ross

16.06.2020

Marina, Millie & Bella

15.06.2020

Charlotte, Allison, Lisa, Charlotte & Alexander

14.06.2020

Drew

11.06.2020

Stuart

02.06.2020

Maya & Annie

01.06.2020

David, Seonaid, Ozzi, Neve, Indie & Reggie

01.06.2020

Rob, Nampet, Bonnie & Sebastian

30.05.2020

Jock, Rebecca, Miley & Sadie

27.05.2020

Dave

26.05.2020

Colin

25.05.2020

Lyndsey & Hollie
Stuart, Alice & Rose

24.05.2020

Rachel & Arya

21.05.2020

Bob

19.05.2020

David, Charleen, Noah, Rhys, Fynn & Gene

16.05.2020

Steven, Sandra, Maggie & Angus

12.05.2020

Penny & Ozzy

09.05.2020

Gordon & Freddy

07.05.2020

John
Paul, Anna & Joseph

02.05.2020

Alan & Elizabeth

01.05.2020

Rory

28.04.2020

Conrad Ritchie

25.04.2020

Allison & John Tait with Hamish, Bridget & Abbie
Colin Cooper
Alec Buchan

22.04.2020

Janey, Jessica & Madison Cooper
Kerry, Hattie & Sandy Smith
Phillip & Margaret Dunbar

18.04.2020

Billy
David Buchan
Ian Tait
Steven-John Tait
John Tait

17.04.2020

Allison Tait

Tinder – A story of shame and hurt

The big night had finally arrived, and as she exited the station and walked down the drying rain-washed pavement, she tried to calm herself down so she wouldn’t start to sweat. She was on the late side of fashionably late, and as much as she was in a hurry, the last thing she wanted was to arrive with damp spots under her arms.

She’d been getting ready since the late afternoon; a long bath after an exfoliation, an application of body lotion after the bath, a facial cleanse, tweezing, hair and make-up. She was a master in the art of make-up. The finer points of her face were all accentuated; the high cheek bones higher, the rounded, fine eyebrows finer, the pouty, red lips fuller and redder.

The match had happened over two months beforehand. She had been ready to swipe right after the first pic; that slick brown hair and hazel eyes, the strong, tanned forearms. He was just her type, but in any case she’d flicked through the rest of his pics, just to be sure.

Within a few minutes of walking she saw the bar on the other side of the road, as he’d said it would be; A patio area under a beige awning extending from the brick wall (crowded with people – the late twenties, early thirties crowd), and a corner door under a beige column with the name of the bar painted in white.

Her heart was pounding as she walked past the people on the patio, keeping her posture in check, with her back straight and her head high, one hand gripping the wooden, crook handle of her compact umbrella and the other, the padded leather of her clutch. A mantra was repeating in her head: Cool confident classy. A bit cheesy she knew, but it worked for her.

She scanned the patio for him while gauging by the other women’s outfits whether she was over-dressed, under-dressed, or just right, breathing easier when she’d decided she was on the better side of just-right. Confident he wasn’t on the patio (people can look slightly different in real life than in their photographs) she opened the door, taking-in the interior through its glass pane.

It was a small room with a bar at the back and benches lining the mirrored walls. Tables and chairs crowded the limited floor space. A chime was ringing out above the low music as she stepped inside and closed the door, causing a split-second gap in the hum of conversation as all eyes glanced at her.

The intimidation factor was almost too much, but her mantra did its job and she kept a calm front, and looked for Chris, who she saw (in the same muscle gripping, red, white and green top he wore in one of his photos on the app) sitting between two men. He didn’t look at her then, although she was sure he had as she closed the door. He seemed to be in deep conversation. She didn’t know what to do. Was he short sighted? Didn’t he recognise her? Did he not want to acknowledge her?

There was no way she was going to approach him, especially when he was in company. A part of her wanted to go straight back out the door again (the self-saboteur part, as it was called in so many of the books she’d read) but they’d been getting on so well that she wasn’t going to give up just like that. Spotting a lone stool at the bar, she took a seat, feeling the familiar weight of perspiration seeping through the thick foundation on her face and forehead. It had been brought on by the combination of the brisk walk, coming into a hot room out of the
cold, and the slight humiliation of not being immediately recognised.

Before she had even got comfortable the barman was over at her, but she sent him away to give her time to decide, and pushed the stool into the corner to use the wall as a back rest, and have an open view of Chris. She surveyed the wine list and ordered a glass of South African Dry White, and went hot in the face when it was poured from a screw-top in plain sight of everyone.

Sitting there, sipping slowly while looking at Chris from the corner of her eye, she subtly tried to gain his attention. He kept looking at his watch, and when he got up along with the others at the table, she bounced forward to the edge of the stool, her feet poised on its rung, ready to run after him, but after shaking hands, the others left and he sat back down, looking around the room as he did so. His eyes met hers and she raised her arms as if to say, ‘look it’s me.’ And after peering at her for longer than seemed polite or necessary, unless he had vision problems he hadn’t told her about, he came over and apologised for not noticing her.

‘It’s okay,’ she said, trying to sound charming and positive. ‘You preferred to stay with your friends rather than the woman you were supposed to be meeting.’

‘Something like that,’ he mumbled.
‘Your pint’s still on the table, should we go and sit there?’ They went to his little table and she was glad he gave her the padded bench and took the small and frail looking chair. She sank down in the padding and felt the frame digging into the underside of her thighs. ‘These seats are so small,’ she said after an awkward silence, and couldn’t tell if his laugh was one of sarcasm or a gesture of agreement. ‘How’s your day been?’

He stared into his pint: ‘okay.’

She waited for him to continue, but he didn’t, so she spoke again: ‘Just okay? weren’t you going to the game? Who was it? The Bees?’

‘The Wasps against the Quins,’ he said, taking a big gulp from his glass. ‘Quins won.’

‘Thats good. That’s your team isn’t it?’ He still hadn’t looked up, and began fiddling with the beer mat:

‘Yes, it’s good. They have a chance of winning this season.

‘Cheers to that,’ she said, raising her glass. And without looking at her, barely lifting it from the table, he clinked his glass against hers then took another big gulp, leaving his glass half empty. She laughed nervously. This wasn’t going well. He had been so chatty on the app, how could he be so different in person? But knowing there’s a big difference between a written conversation, where one has the safety of time, distance and an electronic device between them and the person they’re talking to, she put his lack of social skills down to shyness, and decided to push harder. ‘You know, in some cultures its very rude not to look into each others’ eyes when you clink glasses together.’
He gave a chuckle and sneered as opposed to smiled. ‘So, who were the men with you? They went to the game?’

‘One of them went, the other must have watched it here, he was here when we arrived.’

‘I’d imagine the atmosphere there would have been a little bit better.’

‘Yes, of course.’ He brought the glass to his mouth and she watched in amazement as the rest of the lager disappeared.

‘Let me get you another,’ she said.

‘No, thanks, I’ve had too much already,’ he said, getting up. He shoved an arm into his jacket.

‘Come on, we just sat down.’

‘Really, I have to go. I have an early start tomorrow.’

She was determined to get a round in: ‘Please,’ she said. ‘Just one.’

He dropped his shoulders and sat back down with a sigh.

As she got up her stomach rumbled. She hadn’t eaten since lunch: ‘Hey,’ she said, an idea popping into her head. ‘I noticed they have wonderful looking scotch eggs at the end of the bar.’ A vision of his tanned, masculine hand easing a fork full of creamy scotch egg into her mouth, then dabbing her chin with a napkin, flashed in her mind. ‘How about we share one?’

‘No thanks,’ he said without looking at her.

She walked towards the bar, aware that there was an off-chance that he might be checking her out, and tried to project an image of sexiness as another mantra from one of her books replayed in her head: Sexy in, sexy out. She imagined tripping over and falling flat on her face. That would be something to tell the girls about, but it would be even better to let them know how he came to her rescue, wrapping those big muscular arms around her and helping her to her feet.

The toilet was to the left of the bar and she decided to use it while she was up, turning back to see if he was checking her out; she saw him shaking his head and laughing to himself in the mirror. As she struggled to pull down her jeans and reduction underwear in the tiny cubicle, she thought about how he hadn’t looked in her eyes since he saw her, how he had said he was going to give her a great big hug and a huge kiss whenever they met, but hadn’t so much as touched her; she considered his strange laughter and dull demeanor. It was all making her very uneasy.

She called the flat. Sarah answered. ‘He’s probably just shy. Keep calm and don’t get paranoid,’ she said. ‘Make sure it’s not a boring date. A good date is good and a bad date is a story to tell. Only from a boring date do you gain nothing.’

She really wanted to like him, and wanted him to like her, and Sarah had a point, so she decided to go out and suggest they start over, to tell him to forget whatever was troubling him and start afresh. She brought a pint of lager and a Sauvignon back to the table.

For the first time of the night he spoke unprompted: ‘What, no scotch egg?’ He might as well have stabbed her in the heart.

‘What’s your problem?’ she asked, slamming the glasses down. Her aggression caught him off guard and he reclined in his chair, creating distance.

‘Look,’ he said, ‘it’s just that, well…’

She stood, looking down at him. ‘Come on then, spit it out.’

He looked away. ‘Let’s just forget it. Come, have a seat.’

‘No I won’t have a seat. You’ve been weird the whole night. You were going to say something, so be a man and say it.’

His eyes fixed on the table and his shoulders dropped, he spoke in a hushed voice: ‘It’s just that I thought you would be smaller.’

She spoke through clenched teeth and unblinking eyes. Her hands balled into fists. ‘Smaller? so you’re saying I’m fat?’

He sighed, and after remaining silent for a while said, ‘I should have asked… I mean you only had face pics on there. I should have known you’d be a big girl, it’s one of the tell-tale-’

She slammed her hand on the table, thought about slapping him or throwing her wine in his face. She stared at him and he looked into her eyes with genuine compassion.

‘Maybe you should think about putting a full body pic on there, or a normal photo, not one taken from some obscure angle, and I think it’s best to remove, “what you see is what you get” from the caption. Quotes are silly anyway, all girls do it for some strange reason.’

She was in a rage now and wanted to scream at him but could only force a whisper through her clenched jaw and strained chest. ‘Fuck you,’ was all she said, and as he said sorry, she picked up her bag and umbrella and left, flinging the door against the wall with a thud that silenced all conversation in the bar, and left the chimes clanking together in semi-harmonic chaos. She held it together, walking in the same confident stride as she had walked in with, past the patio, past the takeaways and bus stops, through the gates of the station where a solitary guard nodded hello in his navy with red trim jacket, until she found an empty carriage, then cried her eyes out all the way to the apartment.

She had tried so hard, so fucking hard; the five AM runs through the empty streets so nobody would see her, the aerobic DVDs, the celeb diets, the self-improvement books; confidence building, conversation guides, philosophy, and she had come so close to being the confident, thin, celebrity-like person she wanted to be, but now this.

She thanked God that her flatmates were asleep when she got in, giving her time to come up with a suitable lie for what had happened tonight. In her room was her own personal fridge with its door barely visible behind meal plans, a forbidden food list, an exercise regime and magnets of topless male pop-stars, actors and models and bikini clad women.

She pulled off her skinny jeans (that she had to order online as her size wasn’t available on the high street), pulled off her reduction underwear and her brassiere, scrubbed the make-up from her face and opened the fridge. Behind a half-eaten cake, fizzy drinks cans, cheeses and biscuits was the freezer compartment. She picked out an ice cream tub that was missing its lid and grabbed hold of the spoon stuck inside, bending its handle until a frozen-solid lump broke away.

She stuffed it into her mouth and looked at herself in the mirror across the room. All five foot three and fifteen stone of her was illuminated in the darkness by the soft yellow light from the fridge, all her body’s folds and cellulite exposed, the contouring make-up removed along with any hint of a cheekbone or jawline; she admitted that he had had a point, that she had deceived him by hiding her true self behind the image of what she wanted to be.

The ice cream acted as a gag, preventing her sobs from reaching the ears of her flatmates. Her warm tears helped soften the ice cream in the tub, making it easier for her to dig the spoon in.

P.S. I wrote Tinder a long time ago. to read something serious, try my novel Vagabundo.

Interesting Websites and Podcasts

Here are some interesting websites and podcasts that I visit or listen to frequently. I’ve separated them into four categories:

  • News
  • Personal Growth
  • General Interest
  • Travel

News

I try to find reliable sources of news so my head doesn’t fill with skewed information that fits someone else’s narrative and furthers their agenda.

Monocle Magazine Podcasts

Most days during my commute to work I listen to one of Monocle’s podcasts, mainly The Globalist, to keep up to date with global affairs or the shorter, House View.

Monocle have a range of shows exploring culture, business, news and opinion. Click here for their full guide. In the catch up section you’ll see their The Golden Age of Aviation series, which I thought was great.

I also subscribe to Monocle magazine.

The Economist

The Economist might be the best mainstream news outlet for unbiased fact-checked news. You’ll get much more out of reading this than you will any other newspaper. I read this weekly instead of a daily paper.

John Pilger

John Pilger is the type of journalist the world needs now as much as ever. He tells you what’s going on in a way the big news corporations never will. Reading his articles on big issues will help you develop a balanced and informed point of view.

At 80 years old, John has a lifetime of experience in the world and its recent history. As an independent journalist, his reports are uncensored and full of important details. Click here to visit his website where you can read his articles and sign up to his newsletter.

John has created a number of films that are worth watching. His latest is The Dirty War on the NHS. Publicity for its ITV showing was banned during the December UK elections. His films are all crowd-funded, so if you like his stuff please consider chipping in.

The Intercept

To Be honest, I don’t visit the Intercept that much, but I know the importance of having such a news organisation in existence. Headed up by Glenn Greenwald, the man behind the publication of the Edward Snowden files, The Intercept is, in their own words, “an award-winning news organization dedicated to holding the powerful accountable through fearless, adversarial journalism. Its in-depth investigations and unflinching analysis focus on politics, war, surveillance, corruption, the environment, technology, criminal justice, the media, and more. The Intercept gives its journalists the editorial freedom and legal support they need to expose corruption and injustice wherever they find it.”

Personal Growth

The way I see it is that the way you live your life should be greater and more important than anything you produce. You should try to live your best, most beautiful life while staying true to yourself, your desires, your integrity.

We’re all a work-in-progress. There’s so much we can learn to help us become the person we want to be. I should mention the Tim Ferriss podcast because I used to be a frequent listener, so go check that out on the off-chance you haven’t already. Here’s a couple of sites you might not know already:

Farnam Street

I’ve been receiving the Farnam Street’s newsletter ‘Brain Food’ since the start of 2014. Shane Parrish and the team behind Farnam Street are all about introducing you to the ways (mental tools and systems) you can master/improve how you approach and deal with life and goals. They also provide great book recommendations.

Farnam Street has a podcast called The Knowledge Project with Shane Parrish. If you know the name of the intro music, please tell me.

The Art of Manliness

The Art of Manliness is, in their own words: “a one-stop resource for actionable advice that covers every aspect of a man’s life: character, career, relationships, fitness, style, skills, and much more. Through weekly podcasts and articles, AoM tackles subjects from the philosophical and serious to the practical and fun. AoM differentiates itself from other men’s lifestyle media outlets in providing content that is intelligent, thoughtful, thorough, eminently useful, and clickbait-free.”

It presents a lot of practical skills in one place that should appeal to every man, especially those in their late teens and twenties. Some examples: How to take care of rope; 6 ways to sharpen your pencils; How to change oil on a motorcycle.

They also have articles and podcasts on great men from history, like Jack London, Winston Churchill and Teddy Roosevelt.

Be sure to check out their stuff. One of my favourite podcast episode is Podcast #225: The Real James Bond

General Interest

Stratechery

Stratechery: Strategic Technology – Ben Thompson looks at tech from a different angle. In his own words: “Stratechery provides analysis of the strategy and business side of technology and media, and the impact of technology on society. Weekly Articles are free, while three Daily Updates a week are for subscribers only.”

The associated podcast runs weekly and is called Exponent. You can listen to it here.

Ear Hustle Podcast

Ear Hustle is all about life in San Quentin State Prison. I found it through Monocle Magazine. It’s run by former and current inmates and artist Nigel Poor. The first episode I listened to is called Tell Christy I love her. I’d never heard anything like it before, a powerful real life story that could just as easily have been part of a film.

Ear Hustle takes you inside the prison, introduces you to a facet of society you might know little about and shows you the human side of incarceration.

Finances

At the start of 1998 I put all my savings into a stocks and shares ISA. By the end of 1998 I was pulling out 3/4 of the amount I’d put in. I had lost £250 – a lot of money to a 16 year old. I was not happy.

It took me almost 20 years to give the stock market another try. In August 2017, while staying in a flat on the outskirts of Bangkok, I listened to a few Tim Ferriss podcasts, watched some youtube videos of Warren Buffett, read chapters 8 and 20 of Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligent Investor and read Tony Robbins’s Unshakeable.

I wish I had done all of the above much much earlier. I’m 38 now. If I did things back in 1998 the way I do now, learned from those people listed above, my savings would have doubled multiple times through compounding interest and by following the upward trend of the financial markets.

Mr Money Moustache

Anyone who wants to get their savings in order could do a lot worse than check out Mr Money Moustache and learn how he and many like him deal with money. This site focusses on frugality as much as what kind of savings account to open.

Monevator

Monevator is a UK equivalent to Mr Money Moustache. In finances there’s a lot of things to consider such as currency fluctuations and withholding taxes. So for UK residents it might be better to invest in the FTSE and opposed to the S&P 500. It’s a topic I need to research a bit more; I won’t wait another 20 years to do so.

In his own words, “Monevator is a personal blog about money: making, saving, growing, and sometimes even spending it.” The author is not “flogging a financial product or luring you into some cult pyramid scheme where you have to spend your Saturday nights posting coupons to all the Ts in the phone book.”

I recommend anyone in the UK interested in saving read the blog.

Travel

The man in seat 61

My preferred method of travel is by train. The Man in Seat 61 has helped me plan trips such as Paris to Moscow, Moscow to Beijing, Berlin to Amsterdam and my upcoming Amsterdam to Lisbon. If you like train travel, his site is a great resource.

P.S.

If you liked this article on interesting websites and podcasts, maybe you’ll enjoy other posts on my site. Check out my travel blogs or if you prefer something tangible to read, get a copy of my novel Vagabundo. Buying it will help keep it and this website alive.

Ubud

Is Ubud worth visiting in 2020? Read on and see what you think.

Overview

Early morning is the best time to experience Ubud. Picture yourself on Jalan Gootama. The offerings have just been placed on the threasholds, incense smoke rises into the morning haze, filling the air with the scent of sandalwood, champak and frangipani.

Local shoppers crowd the junction at Bisma Ubud buying their fruit and vegetables from sellers seated on cloths at the roadside. Scooters and cars push and shove inches away, ferrying Yoga practitioners to their shalas or day trippers to the waterfalls, beaches and temples.

The restaurants and cafes are coming to life; eggs are frying on skillets, vegetables are being tossed in woks, palm leaves are being cut to fit wicker plates.

The School Run
Analogue photo of Monkey Forest Road in Ubud
Monkey Forest Road
Analogue photo of Jalan Hanoman in Ubud
Hanoman

Ubud has done well to keep its character under the pressure of tourism and globalisation. However, change, modernisation, progress, or whatever you want to call it is at work, erroding the very thing that makes many people go there. Finding the right balance is never easy.

Tegallalang, the beautiful rice terraces from Ron Fricke’s Baraka are now more like a Disney imitation than the real thing. Where once you could walk up and down the clay paths, seeing the locals tending their paddies, or selling coconuts from their bamboo huts, you can now swing in front of purpose built statutes and greenery tended only for that perfect, but unoriginal photo, a snapshot of a purely superficial experience.

The surrounding rice fields are, one by one, being sold off as building plots; the colours and smells of nature giving way for white washed walls of modern villas.

Ubud now has not one but two Starbucks.

Despite all that, Ubud is still an amazing place. The majority of restaurants are locally ran and the atmosphere in town is very good. It’s a place where you can make lasting friendships with both Balinese and foreigners alike.

Analogue photo of the Ubud rice fields at sunset
View from Sari Organik

Where to eat

You really are spoiled for choice here. So you can’t go wrong with wherever you end up. The following are the restaurants I visit again and again but there are many more I want to try. Just walk down Jalan Gootama on your first day.

Analogue photo of a paved pathway through the rice fields of Ubud
Path to Pomegranate

Where to go

pastel shades of yellow and violet in the ubud sky at sunset
the ubud pedestrian bridge is no longer in use
A girl rides a bicycle in the ubud suburbs
  • Jump on a scooter or find a driver and go explore the surrounding area. You’ll soon find yourself in a sea of green rice fields under a blue sky, with a view of (I think) four volcanoes in the hazy distance. You can find the above by driving straight up Jalan Suweta, like I did, and you could even visit the Pyramids of Chi up there for some sound healing – Let me know if it’s any good.
  • Camuphan Ridge walk. It’s fully paved and has great views of nature on either side. Before turning back, I stopped off at Karsa Spa for a Jamu and a young coconut while watching a Javan pond heron take two carp from the pond.
  • Walk through the rice fields from the main street (Jalan Raya Ubud). Access across from Lazy Cats Cafe for the path that leads to Cafe Pomegranate – one of the best places to see the sunset, or from behind The Paon restaurant, where you can follow the path to Sweet Orange Warung and beyond.
  • On the subjects of sunset, I’ve stayed in a few hotels and homestays in Ubud. My favourite for watching the sunrise or sunset is Iman Homestay on Jalan Gootama. It has amazing views over town. I got a room on the top floor facing east and left the blinds open so the sunrise would wake me. With only two rooms on each floor, there was no need for anyone to be going past that window (which led nowhere) at 6 in the morning. So it was a little embarrassing as I stood naked looking out when the cleaner suddenly blocked my view and began moping the balcony.

What to do

A man lights a flaming candelabra before the kecak dance at pura dalem ubud
The resident band at LOL bar in ubud performs
LOL Bar
Unb'rocken performing at the Laughing Buddha
Unb’rocken performing at the Laughing Buddha
  • Get a traditional Balinese oil massage. My favourite spa is StarChild.
  • The Laughing Buddha has some great live music. I like the Monday nights when Unb’rocken are playing. As I publish this (February 2020) they are on tour in Australia for 2 months.
  • LOL Reggae bar is a great place to go with cheap local wine.
  • Go see the Kecak Dance at Pura Dalem.
  • Latin night in No Mas.
  • CP Lounge if you fancy a late night – They have a little sound-proof disco house to the right of the main entrance.
  • Melting Pot Saloon to play pool.
  • Bali Bohemia supposedly holds great open mic nights. I haven’t had a chance to check them out yet, so let me know what you think.
  • Go to Soma Cafe on a Friday night for an Ojas Builder and to watch and listen to the Yoga Barners jam. Bring ear plugs just in case.
  • See a film at the Earth Cafe.
  • If you’re there for at least three weeks, you could go learn ashtanga yoga with Prem and Radha at the Ashtanga Yoga Bali Research Centre. Be prepared to sweat.

is ubud worth visiting in 2020?

I would say a definite yes.

The Balinese people are some of the most hospitable people in the world, the food is excellent and the country itself has an abundance of natural beauty. It’s no wonder that you seldom meet anyone who has been there once without returning or without having plans to return.

In spite of the selling-off of the rice fields, the two Starbucks and the death of Tegallalang, Ubud retains the local culture and upholds its customs more than any place I’ve been to in Bali. Hopefully when you’re there you’ll see one of the local ceremonies where the people dress in their best traditional clothing and get fully involved.

Like most places in Bali, Ubud is very much worth a visit, and will continue to welcome tourists of all kinds for many years to come.

If you’re considering going to Ubud, like most things in life it’s best to do it now. The ‘golden age’ of Ubud and Bali might be long gone, but your very own golden age may just be beginning. Don’t put off the things you want to do until tomorrow, because as Cat Stevens says ‘you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.’

The present is guaranteed but the future isn’t.

Sapodilla Pool During the day
Sapodilla pool at night

P.S. Are you as adventurous and generous as I think you are?

I want to put my novel in your hands. If you found this post useful, share the love by getting a copy next time you’re on Amazon. It’s best suited to readers of literary/classic fiction, but it’s good for anyone who wants to read something different. You can buy it for only £2.99 Kindle/£6.99 paperback (or your currency equivalent). Your purchase will help keep Vagabundo and this blog alive. Click here to read more or search Vagabundo by Steven-John Tait on Amazon. Why not take it to Ubud with you?

Native Son by Richard Wright

Native Son by Richard Wright was first published on the 1st of March 1940. It is said to have been written for a white audience. Bigger Thomas, the main protagonist, has been criticised (or identified) as a caricature lacking the depth and truth of other black protagonists found in that era.

SETTING

Setting is the most important part of this novel. It’s 1930s Chicago and the Jim Crow Laws are in full force. Black people are corralled into the Black Belt, living in cramped, rat infested apartments that cost more to rent than the white people’s apartments across town; bread is more expensive but not as fresh as white people’s bread; It’s America at a time when black people are unknown and unwanted by the whites ruling class. It’s a country where black people feel completely alienated; a world where a murdered black woman’s body is considered with such disregard that it is used as evidence in the murder trial of a white woman.

It’s over 15 years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat and 17 years before Elizabeth Eckford and The Little Rock Nine met with such hate when they went to integrated high school for the first time.

An alternate-angle view of Elizabeth Eckford on her first day of school, taken by an Associated Press photographer. Hazel Bryan can be seen behind her in the crowd. (Credit: Bettmann/Getty Images)

Bigger stays in a one room apartment with his mother, brother and sister. He and his brother share one bed while his mother and sister share another. They avert their eyes each morning to allow the others to get dressed without “feeling ashamed.”

Like his humanity, Bigger’s manhood is under constant attack, both at home and outside. To the white men in society he is a boy. To his mother he’s also boy, albeit in a different way:

‘sometimes I wonder why I birthed you.’

We wouldn’t have to live in this garbage dump if you had any manhood in you’

How is his manhood realised? In violence. When a helpless rat appears in the room, it’s Bigger who must kill it. He corners it and its fangs tear a three inch hole in his trousers. This happens in the first few pages and is a metaphor for the story to come, for Bigger is also helpless but cornered. He holds up the dead rat to his sister – his manhood and dominance made tangible, just as the state will hold him up to the white mob.

CHARACTERS

I will focus only on Bigger Thomas because to include the other characters: Mr. Dalton, Mary and Jan, Bessie, Max and Buckley, would be to turn this review into an essay.

Bigger Thomas

Bigger’s acts of bravado and violence hide his fear and make him feel, momentarily, as big as those he commits the acts upon. His ultimate act of violence though, that of taking a white life enables him to see clearly while those around him are blind. He sees the heavy burden his mother carries, his brothers naive innocence, his sister’s fear, her “shrinking from life.” However, in his clear sightedness he can only contrast his family against the white people he has met – His Mother/Mrs.Dalton, Buddy/Jan, Vera/Mary.

Committing murder and taking the subsequent actions is the first time in his life he’s acted fully on his own accord even though he feels forced into it to avoid being found in the girl’s room by her blind mother and being accused of the usual things that black men got accused of in those days.

He becomes obsessed with his ‘creation’ and constantly wants to read the newspaper to find out what’s being said about it and him, to read about his relevance in the world.

It’s not easy for me to separate Bigger from setting and plot. While I was reading, I highlighted a number of sentences that help characterise him:

“He hated his family because he knew that they were suffering and that he was powerless to help them.”

“he could take the job at Dalton’s and be miserable, or he could refuse it and starve. It maddened him to think that he did not have a wider choice of action.”

“Half the time I feel like I’m on the outside of the world peeping in through a knot-hole in the fence…”

“God, I’d love to fly up there in that sky.”

“His entire body hungered for keen sensation, something exciting and violent to relieve the taughtness.”

“In all his life these two murders were the most meaningful things that had ever happened to him. He was living, truly and deeply, no matter what others might think, looking at him with their blind eyes. Never had he had the chance to live out the consequences of his actions; never had he been so free as in this night and day of fear and murder and flight.”

“It was when he read the newspapers or magazines, went to the movies, or walked along the streets with crowds, that he felt what he wanted: to merge himself with others and be part of this world, to lose himself in it so he could find himself, to be allowed a chance to live like others, even though he was black.”

PLOT

The novel is set in three parts.

Book 1 – Fear: Bigger Thomas is the man of the Thomas household: a one room apartment in the Black Belt of 1930’s Chicago which he shares with his mother, brother and sister. He’s chosen by the ‘Relief’ as empoverished enough to be given a job as a driver for Mr Dalton, owner of a real estate empire, who is particularly charitable towards the poor black people in town. Bigger accidentally kills Mr Dalton’s daughter, Mary, on his very first night on the job.

Book 2 – Flight: Bigger tries to evade capture by implicating Mary’s friend Jan in the murder, then opportunistically writes a ransom letter in an attempt to gain $10,000 for the safe return of the girl. He engages Bessie in this plan against her will, and in the process gets found out, goes on the run, kills Bessie to save himself, then get’s caught.

Book 3 – Fate: Bigger’s lawyer Mr Max explains to the court how Bigger, a product of his surroundings came to kill, and pleads leniency. However, the state and the mob it incited are out for blood and have already made their minds up.

CONCLUSION

I enjoyed reading Native Son and learning more about American history in the process. It shows how fear, hate, repression and alienation can force someone (or an idea of someone) into drastic action. Any animal or human forced into a corner by someone or something with harmful intentions will fight to free itself. It’s an important novel and despite or perhaps because of the criticism has introduced me to more works from that period in a way that To Kill a Mocking Bird didn’t. Thanks to the Ayana Mathis article linked in the introduction, I’ve added the following books to my reading list:

I give Native Son 4 stars.

I finished this book in Bali. Click here for my Ubud travel blog.

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