Wednesday 24 February 2016

Legends to engender women’s rights

The Palm Tree Bandit


Nnedi Okorafor

Available online at and in her short story collection Kabu Kabu

Continuing my reading of Okorafor’s short stories, I found this one flows much better, even thought it is a much earlier story written in 2000.

As a mother plaits her young daughter’s hair, she tells the folklore tale of her grandmother, Yaya, after whom her daughter is named. In days when woman were not permitted to climb the date palm tree, Yaya crept out from her marital bed in the middle of the night to climb up and carving a moon, the traditional sign of the female, into the tree. After doing this a few times and engendering the wrath of the menfolk and the quiet smiles of the women, as well as getting herself inebriated on the palm wine, Yaya finally gave up her nightly wanders and remained in her marital bed but the activities of the Palm Tree Bandit continued, spreading to other villages, becoming the stuff of legends.

ashramblings verdict 4* a well constructed story about women’s fight for their rights.

Mixing juju and technology with mixed results

Hello Moto


Nnedi Okorafor

Available online at

Having read two of Okorafor's books now I thought I'd try some of her short stories, this is the first one I found online. It was written in 2011 a few years before her other works I have read the novella Binti in 2015 and her novel Lagoon in 2014. She excites me as an author because of her Naija Scifi/fantasy bent.

There is an interesting premis to the story but I'm not sure it completely comes off. Rain has made herself and two girlfriends, Coco and Philo, wigs blending technology and juju, a mixture which, of course, doesn’t quite have the effects Rain had intended, instead turning the wearers into vampires. I can relate to the picture of these women that Okorafor creates – fashion conscious, preoccupied with hair where hair and identity are intimately linked, pampered and privileged living in a society which is many people are not. Whether this would come across well enough to a reader without any experience of Nigeria I am unsure.

ashramblings verdict 3* I’m still encouraged to read more of her works

Monday 22 February 2016

African culture meets scifi – a fusion of promise



Nnedi Okorafor

My second book by this American – Nigerian author having previously read Lagoon.

I loved the way she takes two ostensibly diverse topics namely African culture and SciFi , and creates a fusion genre. Why shouldn’t a Himba woman become a student at the most prestigious university in this futuristic universe? Would the same prejudices follow her from Earth into the far reaches? Be echoed in the attitude of other beings?

Binti is the first Himba to attend Oomza Uni. Her family think it will change her. Other humans regard her (otjize) sweet smelling orange clay covered skin with disgust. They make her leave her bangles when boarding the space shuttle. From a family of harmonisers she uses her skill with mathematics and her particular cultural heritage to first survive a Meduse attack which wipes out the rest of the shuttle, then to mediate peace and create understanding where there had been none. Binti’s apparent differences in the end save her, humanity and their adversary, the Meduse.

ashramblings verdict 4* I hovered between 3 and 4 stars, finally settling on 4 because I am so intrigues by the premis for this short novella and by the promise it holds of hearing more from this exciting voice.

Saturday 20 February 2016

The Sunset Limited by Cormac McCarthy

The Sunset Limited


Cormac McCarthy

Astounding. I listened to the excellent Audible version with Ezra Knight reading Black and Austin Pendleton reading White. It is like reading a stage play and made me go get the faithful to the book movie version which has Samuel L Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones teaming up with Jones directing with which it compares very favourably. What struck me about the writing was the way McCarthy's dialog beautifully creates a realistic intimate atmosphere between the two men who discuss the meaning of life after Black has stopped White from suicide on the station platform that morning. Their two perspectives are the result of differences in their race, their class, their educational background, their belief and non belief, their life experience as ex-con v professor, their attitude of eternal hope v despair and cynicism. Can Black save White? Can Black understand White's view? Can Black convince White? They hear each other out, but Black cannot stop White heading out to his date with death leaving Black still believing, till intending to be there for White on the station platform again tomorrow but asking his God "why didn't you give me the words?"  It leaves the reader wondering if they are two sides of the one persona, perhaps even America itself.

Footnote: I researched the train name and found that The Sunset Limited was a transcontinental train that crossed the American south from Atlantic to Pacific.

ashramblings verdict 4* astounding dialog, powerful performances. Highly recommended reading

Wednesday 17 February 2016

Desert Island Discs

Halesworth U3A Music Approeciation Group discovered the Desert Island Discs of some more of its memebers.

(1) First up, Lynette

  • Cesar Frank’s Symphony D Minor played by the Philhramonic Orchestra conducted by Otto Kempler. I couldn’t find this particular recording available online but here is Orchestre National de France, conducted by Leonard Bernstein playing the piece.

  • God Bless the Child” by Billie Holliday. Lynette played the 1941 version from a compilation CD Jazz Greats which features Holliday at her best vocally before her downward spiral.


Not having any awareness of early music and not being a lover of choral pieces, but being a saxaphone fan, this took me totally be surprise and blew me away with its beautiful melding of the vocal and sax harmonies. Cristóbal de Morales (c. 1500 -1553) was a Spanish composer of the Renaissance period


(2) Vanessa’s choices were

  • Gerald Hoffung’s The Bricklayer’s Lament Sketch from a CD entitled 17 Comedy Classics. I found this recording of most of his 1958 Oxford Union address which includes this tale and this transcript of the tale if you prefer to read or read along.
  • Beethoven’s Pastoral by the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Von Karajan….here’s a taster  

(3) Next up was Sue with her selection

  • Rostropovich and Britten on Cello and piano playing Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata . Not a piece I knew prior to hearing Sue’s extract but I do love the sound of the cello and I liked this very much I have been listening to it a lot since then and to his Complete Decca Recordings


(4) Finally we had Richard’s choices

Sunday 14 February 2016

Lost parentage

I’m sitting listening to the man
who cometh here from my homeland
From my mother’s town.
My mind is wandering
to heritage,
to lineage.
Is he a way to track it down?
Alas, the age is wrong, the dates don’t work.
Once again I come unstuck.
Lost passages
from parentage.
© Sheila Ash 14th February 2016

Tuesday 9 February 2016

My weekly trip to Tesco’s

This week at our Creative Writing Group we had a visiting tutor Piers Blaikie who post academic life has become a short story writer. He set us the following 15 minute exercise …my weekly trip to Tesco’s (I am blind).

Bemused before the wall of loaves
I stand and stare
the choice of fayre
dazzles me.

Four years without such markets grand
more used to buying hand to hand
from sabzi-wallas’ baskets
perched effortlessly on their heads
replaced now by wheeled affairs
with left hand biases
bumped and bruised by hurried shoppers
this and that flung in the hopper
spewed across the exit lane
gathered in and packed again.

How much bread does one man need?
the sourdough roll and poppy seed
Endless lines of blinding choices
lost in surplus, glut and noises
My trolley empty
My eyes moist
My heart rejoices.

© Sheila Ash 8th February 2016

Memories of my first trip to a supermarket on my return the UK after living abroad.

Sunday 7 February 2016

The Good Companion

Queuing to pay for the milk, I saw the face appear at the door with a look saying “Why are you taking so long?” I’d been nervous when I saw the couple in front of me. Ponderous contemplation about which variety of goats cheese, should they really have the Vignotte? A long wait loomed large. My eyes darted betwixt door and milk, anxiety rising, as the second assistant rescued me.

En route home from the Library, I’d popped round to Rachel’s on the off chance she was still at the flat rather than busying herself in her wood. It was earlier than I would normally have called on someone on a Saturday morning, but as soon as I rang the bell I heard Kali so I knew she was there. The door opened to the normal warm welcome from both dog and owner. Still dressed in her nightwear I mumbled something about just passing, thought I’d pop in to see how you were. “Yes, yes, come in. I’ve not been sleeping so well. I’ll put the kettle on, come in, come in” As the Lapsang was spooned into the teapot we chatted about books. “oh dear I’ve no milk” “no problem, black’s fine” “But I do need to get some” “I’ll go” “it’s just across the road, I.. I’ll give you the money” as she rummaged for her purse.

Kali followed me down the stairs, keen to be out and about. I stopped before opening the door “Will he stay with me?” My unheard question hung in the air. “Ok you can come with me if you stay with me” I found myself saying to the dog as if it was a child. So there I was, with her dog, not on a leash: an undisciplined, learner let loose on Saturday mid morning in the Throughfare. As Kali charged off at speed I attempted to call him back. He stopped, turned, waited and we stepped out together into the main drag. Then the sound of gruff barking. Another dog also not on a leash. “Kali, here” as I walked across the far side of the precinct in an attempt to give that dog’s owner time to retrieve the situation. “Fluke, I though” as Kali too crossed over and we walked together along the line of shops “Oh shit can’t take a dog in a food shop” “Kali, wait” and I went inside.

And here he was, tail wagging, ears up, eyes beckoning me, face slightly cocked to one side enquiringly, looking through the clear panel of the deli door. Milk now paid for, the two of us begun our walk back. Gruff barking again. “Damm” I’d forgotten about the other dog outside the café. This time Kali was behind me, sniffing a road side planter. “Kali, with me” and up he trotted to my side, ignoring the other dog, as we passed straight by it and into the alleyway back to the flat.

“He went with you?” “Yes, such a good dog, obeyed my every word”. As I sat down to my cup of tea, Kali came over and gave me a kiss on the ear “Good human. Good human”.

© Sheila Ash 7th February 2016