Hild by Nicola Griffith

Well dang, this post is several months late.

I read a book (several months ago) that’s really great! It’s Hild by Nicola Griffith.

I thought about writing my own review, but this one says it better than I could. Give it a read!

A few of things I will add:

  • The author kept a blog during the research for this book. There’s some interesting stuff in here and it goes to show just how thorough and dedicated Griffith was in her research.
  • For me, this was a tough read, but rewarding. Tough, because all of the names are alien and easily confused. The book begins with Hild as a small child, and your perspective is limited to what she sees and understands. Grown-up politics will be confusing.But Hild was perceptive and sharp. So she catches on quickly. As the reader, you grow up with her, and start to learn the political landscape as she does. Embrace being a child at the beginning of the book, and try to remain as open and perceptive as she is. You don’t need to solve all the puzzles at the beginning. But don’t skim either. Pay attention.
  • In addition to being a captivating story about a young woman learning to wield her political skills… this book is a fascinating window to the culture and economy of Britain in the 600s. It’s interesting to see the work that nobles did. What the division of labour was. Some of it is familiar, or at least expected. But much is delightfully foreign.
  • The io9 review I linked to above mentions “In her later life, Hild (as she would have been known to contemporaries) became a famous abbess at Whitby, whose advice was sought by political and religious leaders. But we know almost nothing about her early life and young adulthood, before she became a nun. And that is the part of her life that Griffith explores.”

    But it’s more than that, as I understand it (I could be wrong). The extant written historical record makes mention of her family when she was a child, and again when she is a powerful abbess. But where the record leaves off, the state of affairs for her childhood family is dire. Her father, a king, has just died – possibly poisoned by a rival. Hild, her sister, and her mother were left without a home or protection amidst a very volatile and fractious political landscape. Lords are all jockeying for power. Different ethnicities and religions are clashing. In this environment these three women must find a foothold, must find a court to provide them shelter – literally and figuratively.There is not another mention of her in the historical record until she is a politically powerful adult.

    That is a fascinating gap! You just know there is a compelling story there. How does a young woman rise to prominence amidst all the chaos, violence, and bloodshed of seventh century Britain? It’s your classic zero-to-hero story. “THAT is the part of her life that Griffith explores.” emphasis mine.

    The balance between the known history of this time period and what remains unknown seems to be at a sweet spot for an author like Griffith. There is enough evidence that a skilled researcher can really dive into the old texts and bring a lot of authentic details. Which Griffith does excellently. Just read her blog!

    But there are also a lot of aspects about this historical time period that we know nothing about. Not just the major events of the time, but the culture too. The social structure. What people did for fun. How they organized their work. These gaps offer the space for a creative and thoughtful author to flex their imagination. Fill out those vacant spaces with interesting details.

    Griffith stitches these realms together seamlessly. The research is top-notch, and so is the creativity. And the two serve each other well, so nothing feels disjointed or incongruous.

Whoops! I guess I had more than just “a few things” to add. Anyway, go read the book!

All hail the Sturmey-Archer 3-Speed Hub

One of the most important and amazing pieces of bicycle technology is the internal-gear hub.

This goofy video explains how they function, but it can be a little hard to follow at points.

As you may recall, the Raleigh Sports given to me by Ron Richardson featured one of these excellent Sturmey-Archer 3-speed hubs.

These hubs are remarkably resilient, and last for decades and decades. However, they do benefit from occasional servicing.

Last summer, I noticed that my hub was having some problems. It would often not engage when I pedaled. I suspected that old gummy grease was keeping the pawls from moving freely. I added “overhaul the hub” to my long-term to-do list.

Well, I finally got around to it!

Cleaning the exterior was so satisfying. It had gotten pretty grimy!

Next I removed the cog so I could get access to the ball ring. The ball ring is the part that threads into the hub shell and keeps all the innards securely in place. In order to service those innards, you have to remove the ball ring. Instructional videos like this one recommend using a hammer and punch on the ball ring’s little notches to get it moving.

Sturmey archer also makes a special tool for the removal, but it is only compatible with later models, since the notches on the old ones are a different shape.

Alas… I was unable to get it to budge at home. Fortunately, I live in a city with well equipped DIY bike repair shops like Bikechain! Unfortunately, all the might and know-how of the shop were no match for this stuck ball ring.

We got the hub into a bench vice and used vice grips on the ring to try and move it. No luck. We used other pliers to close the vice grips even tighter when our hands couldn’t close them alone. Still no luck. We tried getting penetrating oil to seep into the threads. We even tried heating up the hub shell with a blowtorch to cause it to expand. Still no luck.

This hub may never open up.

The good news is that Bikechain has lots of used parts available by donation. So while I couldn’t open up my old hub, I walked out of there with another hub of the same vintage. It is in desperate need of some cleaning and lubrication, but at least it opens up!

Coming up: I will document the process of restoring this old hub.