Mill Mechanics: cul-de-sacs, avenues and the baking of bread

Mill Mechanics

Mill Mechanics

I made the film Tree Fall which I tried out on Audrey Steeley (Manager at Heron Corn Mill), Nell Dale (Visual Artist) and my students (Manchester University Devising Module).

You may be able to view it here soon.

The digression into workmen’s  activities became the focus this February working on the project at Heron Corn Mill.  It will  form  Mill Mechanics which I won’t talk about but just edit the material and show you later.  It follows on from Tree fall.

Hats and Ears

Heads and Ears

I have observed the preparations and maintenance necessary following the flood in December to get the mill for opening in the new season.  This culminated in switching on the water mill on 19th February thus awakening its associated 18th century gadgetry into the action of grinding flour.  I will grind his bones to make my bread.  This catapulted me right back to my first instinctive feelings when encountering the giant mill puppet that sits mid- level in the building (if we view the mill as a potential Laban’s Cube).  I have been thinking I should move in there – not live there but move there – I mean, you know, put my body in there.

The giant mill puppet is fed by puppeteer millers who pour grain into the hopper which filters it down into the circular grinding stones that produce the flour (as if by magic).  The window view of the millstones looks like a miniature snow scene.

Magical Stones

Magical Stones

The first grinding of the first flour of the new season took place on that day and just this last Thursday, almost a week later,  I baked a loaf  in the Shepherd’s Hut under the close instruction of Mary Nell Berrydale.  It is strange for me to work and not work. Baking the bread with Mary Nell and the group didn’t feel like doing work; it felt like another distraction.  I am realising that my work at the mill is full of distractions that make me feel as if I am doing nothing at all except just being there.   Mary Nell’s group was made up of several women, one of whom I had met when I performed The House in the barn last November.  I am reminded of the movement work with Sandra Reeve and Suprapto Suryodarmo: movement that is daily life – the ritual performance of working.  “I am working.  I am working.  I am working at the mill.”  The daily action of the turning water wheel and the trembling action of the giant puppet is just what it is, quite beautiful and magical.

Trap door snow

Where Rumpelstiltskin’s foot went – waist high

I have also been thinking about the feminine sense of the mill – women and the mill and I have returned  to the Rumpeltiltskin tale this week – thinking about the job of spinning that was once only woman’s work.  So I ordered Jack Zipes’ Fairy Tale as Myth/Myth as Fairy Tale (1994) having used up my reading quota on googlebooks.  Zipes has some interesting observations on the appropriation of spinning which led me to consider flax and work that was the specific domain of females.

I am still waiting for Lucy Hutton’s Six Sermonciles, or Discourses on the Punishment of Eve. Attempted by the Authoress of Letters on the Antediluvian Females (1788). The title itself maybe reveals something of the position  the writer felt in relation to her male counterparts: sermonicles not sermons, authoress not author:  “attempted” sounds apologetic.  Lucy Hutton has a simple plaque in Beetham church.  I will not try to define her by her father and her husband….I have spoken about this before….

Sara Coleridge by Mary Matilda Betham

Sara Coleridge by Mary Matilda Betham

I have also spent the week reading about Charles and Mary Lamb’s and Coleridge’s correspondence with  another woman I am researching (Mary Matilda Betham).

The third of the trio of writers I am looking at is Constance Holme.  My  week concluded with a bumpy ride around Constance Holme territory driven by expert historian Roger Bingham.  More of this next time.

So I am back where I started with She is the Mill and thinking also about triptychs – threes, trio history, myth and the lack of rigour (Bingham’s observation) afforded women who craved knowledge but were mostly self-taught as in the case of Betham, Hutton and  to a lesser extent, Holme.  I think maybe their self-taught knowledge may well have been quite rigorous; there are over 800 pages in Mary Matilda Betham’s A Biographical Dictionary of the Celebrated Women of Every Age and Country. (1804).

More of this later.


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