Wednesday, 25 March 2015

All my trials, Lord

One thing they don't tell you before you have kids: you will relive the school experience for as many times as you have kids - the embarrassment, the cliques, the bullying… and the homework.

Younger daughter is studying The Crucible this year, so I have to remind myself how it goes. It just so happens that the recent Old Vic production starring Richard Armitage has just become available for download on Digital Theatre.

It's long - almost three-and-a-half hours - so I've only watched the first half so far, but, my goodness, it's good! There's a sequence featuring the minister John Hale and the slave Tituba which is particularly memorable. No clip available of that, of course. Hale is played by Adrian Schiller, who looked familiar to me (well, most of the actors do, that's why they're playing the West End, they have the experience). It turns out Schiller was the creepy Uncle in "The Doctor's Wife", one of the better Matt Smith Doctor Who episodes. Anyway, Hale starts out as the epitome of reason and mercy and without losing that persona, soon has Tituba and the other young girls swearing that they have dabbled in witchcraft and naming names. It's stunning and disturbing.

The following clip shows John Proctor and his wife Elizabeth in a quiet moment before all hell breaks loose. The actors use a kind of northern English accent (Armitage describes it as Lancastrian/Colonial) which makes sense as American accents would not have emerged yet.

The tension, of course, is left over from John's brief indiscretion with former servant Abigail Williams. The real Abigail Williams was an eleven-year-old, but Arthur Miller's play was never meant to be historically accurate; it's a parable about the post-World-War-Two anti-Communism hysteria in the United States. A more accurate dramatization of the 1692 witch trials in Salem and the surrounding area is possibly the 1985 television mini-series Three Sovereigns for Sarah which still takes artistic license, but sticks a bit closer to actual events.

I'll finish watching The Crucible tomorrow, so I can devise a plan for helping the Resident Fan Boy steer younger daughter through her assignment. She'll accept help from him, but not from me, possibly because she thinks I resemble a witch these days.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Dappled snap

Younger daughter and I were hurrying up Metcalfe Street past the panhandlers crouching on the sidewalk squinting into the late afternoon sun. I managed to coax some change from under my parka. It's warmer, but not that warm.

Three quarters of the way up the hill leading to the Parliament Buildings, I noticed the sun reflecting off an office block on to the older buildings at the corner of Sparks Street. As we approached, I thought, I don't have time. I don't have time… but look how lovely that is. I fumbled for my phone, stabbing the screen with my finger, trying to get the camera function to come up. The buildings were getting nearer and nearer. Come on. Aw, c'mon...

Just as we got to the intersection, my sluggish phone came through. I paused long enough to frame the shot, prayed the shutter would open and then race-walked once more.

We caught our bus. We even got seats.

Monday, 23 March 2015

The authority song

When something like this hurtles out of left field and clobbers me, I go back time and time again, trying to remember if there were any warning signs.

It's probably a futile exercise. You can't plan for everything, although heaven knows I try. I tried this time, but the awful thing is, the planning may have been a factor.

During March Break, I've adopted the practice of making a list of possible outings. The idea is to a) get younger daughter out and about once a day; and b) give her some choice in the matter. This year's selection included Kenneth Branagh's Disney directorial debut: Cinderella. I had checked ahead for showtimes and discovered that the IMAX version had pre-booked seating. Well, I thought, that's probably a good idea. The city is full of parents - and gawd help us, day camps - searching for things to do with their kids.

So, on the morning younger daughter had chosen to attend, I got up early, booked our favourite seats online (narrowly missing choosing seats smack in the front row), and carefully plotted the buses that would get us there on time to get to the washroom, purchase popcorn and drinks, and find our seats. (Trickier than you'd think; OC Transpo cuts back on bus service during March Break.) Then I gave younger daughter timely warnings and got her out to the bus stop.

It worked beautifully. Washroom first, and no line-up at concession.

That's where things began to fall apart. When I asked younger daughter if she could take her bag of popcorn, she scooped it up impatiently and snapped, "I'm not a kid anymore!!" Quite a bit of the popcorn went flying. She stomped over to get a straw for her pop, leaving me a little startled.

We made our way to our seats in the centre of the topmost row. The aisle is well-lit, but the middle seats aren't and I realized that I couldn't read the seat numbers. Normally, this isn't an issue, but this was a reserved-seating show, so I asked younger daughter, who was juggling her food and coat, to tell me the number of the seat next to her. She spent some time working out where to put her coat, then sat down. I asked again. She grumbled at me and stared ahead stubbornly. That's when I made the fatal error. I should know better, but it's been a while, and I thoughtlessly muttered: "Oh, please don't act like a bitch." Younger daughter may have deficits in certain categories of memory and comprehension, but her hearing is superb.

It happened so fast that it seemed she had disappeared and reappeared in the distant aisle, leaving me in a shower of popcorn. She was screaming at me at the top of her lungs: "I HATE YOU I HATE YOU YOU IDIOT!!!" Then she stomped down the stairs, and left the theatre.

The family sitting in the row ahead of us moved down several rows.

A few minutes later, she reappeared, grabbed her coat, and exited as I called after her, keep my voice level, "You don't have a ticket with you." She was watching me from the corner of her eye, holding her coat in front of her body when she vanished from my view.

I sat, fighting down the embarrassment and panic, knowing pursuing her would only start another scene. What if she left the building? What if they didn't let her back in? She had her bus pass with her; would she try to go home?

Finally I made my way down, apologizing to a mum and her little girl at the end of the aisle as I squeezed by. They had just arrived and had missed the drama; most people had, the theatre was nearly empty when we first came in. The family who had moved had returned to their seats.

I looked in the washroom. I asked the woman who had taken our tickets, the one who takes hundreds of tickets for the eight large cinemas -- of course she didn't remember seeing younger daughter. I went to the entrance and gazed out at the grey and icy parking lot, out beyond the box stores towards the Transitway station. I decided to return to the cinema. As I was standing in the ramp between the risers and the doorway, scanning the seats, the trailers started and I saw her come in as an usher closed the door behind her. I walked quickly to the far aisle, up the stairs, and had to climb over another family to return to my seat.

As I sat down, I saw she hadn't followed me.

It was a morning show, and the seats were half-filled. I prayed she had taken another seat, and I sat alone in my row - thank God - with her untouched popcorn and drink wedged in her empty seat.

When the movie was over, I picked up her food and my containers and spilling a bit, waddled down the stairs to the garbage containers as the credits rolled. As I pulled on my coat, I scanned the seats again, still not finding her, but a minute later, the lights came on and there she was, in the front row of the upper level, gazing at the screen and listening to the closing song. I waited for her to finish in the washroom, texting her dad with the briefest of details. (Of course, my phone had refused to transmit in the middle of the crisis.) I told the Resident Fan Boy that I was bringing her to his office.

We didn't say a word on the long walk back to the station. We sat separately on the bus. We walked silently through the Rideau Centre. When the Resident Fan Boy appeared at his building's entrance, I handed him the music for her voice lesson, turned and left.

On the bus home, I realized I hadn't handed over my iPod which the voice teacher has been using for recording the week's lesson. I shuffled through my music, each title just a little too appropriate to be a comfort: "The Shelter of Storms"; no. "The Mountains Win Again"- oh God, no.

Finally I settled on a good old rocker. It's kind of appropriate, but not enough to put more salt in my wounds.

When I got home, there was a message from the RFB saying that younger daughter had thrown up. It was a timely reminder for me that this whole business had been every bit as traumatic for her as for me. I made the slow turn into beginning to let go of my hurt, although I felt chilled and depressed for another couple of days. I am, after all, a grown-up, and for all younger daughter's indignation, her road to adulthood still stretches out a long way ahead. The late Madeleine L'Engle quoted someone in one of her books: To love someone is to have hope in them always.

I'll have to look it up.

In the week that has followed, we have slowly returned to what is normal for us, anyway. I give thanks that these meltdowns happen so infrequently. Otherwise, I'd be tempted to run away myself.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Concluding with cartoons

March Break is ending. Younger daughter is unhappy and volatile, yet I know I will only make things worse if I interfere. From the sounds of things, the Resident Fan Boy is handling the situation - he has been younger daughter's favoured parent for some time - but he will drained as he heads to bed.

I stay downstairs and think of today's outing to the Bytowne Cinema to see a collection of the animated shorts nominated for the Oscar this year. The winner, of course, was Feast, a charming if formulaic Disney number, about an adorable dog who lives for delicious people food, yet remains healthy and trim. It was younger daughter's favourite, of course.

I can't say if I had a favourite this year, but I was never bored. I rather like this one, a Danish/Canadian collaboration. I doubt it will be up on YouTube for long.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Triumph of the will


Just found a treasure trove of Bank of England will extracts which not only told me when my great-great-great-great-grandfather died in Aldgate (October 1800), but alerted me to two children of another great-great-great-great-uncle.

See you later!

Friday, 20 March 2015

The safer side of an English country garden

One of my Facebook pals posted a video of "Country Gardens", probably to herald the coming of spring, which showed up this afternoon, but was nowhere to be seen when younger daughter checked the front door.

When I hear it, I think of Demeter who told me of the trips back and forth between England and Kenya where she grew up. It used to come on over the loudspeakers and everyone would troop down to the dining room.

I became intrigued because I was puzzled why it seemed that there are few recordings of British singers doing this song. Jimmie Rodgers (the second of that name, and no relation to the first) had a hit with it in the UK, but he was very American. When you look up the sung version on YouTube, there seem to be rather a lot of Australians.

When I looked up the history of the song, I found Percy Grainger's arrangement for piano, made popular in 1918. (He was born in Australia, and died in the United States.) The tune apparently has been around for at least three centuries -- associated with Morris dancing, among other things -- but the words Jimmie Rodgers sings were written in 1958 by some fellow named Robert M Jordan who probably isn't English. Apparently, cardinals, tanagers, and fireflies are not things you'd find in an English country garden.

Perhaps it's safer to stick with the instrumental.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

"March has the first day of spring, but not the last day of winter"

Well, winter is on the way out. That's why we had a frost-bite warning last night here in Ottawa. But it's okay, it was only a paltry -13 wind chill this morning. Time for a last crack at the departing season with this Rick Mercer poke at Calgary's attempt to have designated tobogganing hills.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015


Nope. Still circling the painful subject of yesterday. Spent the bulk of the day buried in family history research, so am cheating with yet another Doctor Who fan-vid. This one is, once again, from the admirable BabelColour, and is cleverly based on the frenetic finale of the musical Half a Sixpence, one of those Sixties musicals I've never managed to see all the way through.

Half a Sixpence itself is based on, believe it or not, an HG Wells novel. The musical started out in the West End, starring a former skiffle star named Tommy Steele, who managed to pick up some startling dancing skills along the way. The show made it to Broadway and a film version was made in 1967. Here's the number as it appeared in the movie. It's longer to allow for the dancing (choreographed by Gillian Lynde who did the honours for Cats and scores of other musicals), and amusingly enough for the swinging Sixties, the original lyrics from the staged version have been cleaned up for the film.

Let's see how tomorrow goes. I may be feeling a bit less fragile by then.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Gang aft agley

Emotional wounds, like physical hurts, leave me chilled and exhausted. Shock is shock. At times like this, I turn to my tried-and-true therapies: family research, music, and (yes, still) David Tennant. When some warmth and energy return, I might go into detail, but right now, indulge me.

About a month ago, David Tennant received a special recognition award at the National Television Awards, held in London. What appeared on British television screens got posted on YouTube pretty damn quick, but just a couple of days ago, someone got hold of a video focussing on Tennant's reaction to the surprise presentation as he sat in the audience with his wife Georgia Moffett. This is made all the more touching by the recent revelation that Tennant's father Alexander McDonald is terminally ill.

Monday, 16 March 2015

A relatively gentle reminder

We tried to get out to Gatineau last week, before the Ontario public school system's March Break kicked in. Unfortunately, the Resident Fan Boy had slipped younger daughter's bus pass into the wrong pocket in her parka, so it wasn't discovered until the optimal departure time had passed.

We did make it today. When we arrived at the museum (formerly the Museum of Civilization, now, in a governmental fit of political correctness, relabelled the Museum of History which, elder daughter insists hotly, is a tautology), there was a long, looping line-up for tickets, and I was reminded forcefully why I avoid museums during official March Break. The place was brimming with large herds of Japanese students following a banner, and families, mostly with very young children.

Oh, it wasn't bad. We got to the ticket counter in about ten minutes, and weren't challenged about younger daughter's school status this time, although I'd been careful to bring documentation.

After an early lunch in the relatively recent, rather swish bistro, we lined up for fifteen minutes to await the IMAX film with mildly cranky kids munching on take-away food. This ensured that we were close enough to front of the line to snag my favourite perch above the projector, where we sat for another twenty minutes watching the late arrivals try to avoid sitting in the bottom rows by stumbling over those who were already seated.

What followed was a rather delightful film about the Galapagos Islands which couldn't even be spoiled by the kid kicking the back of my seat, nor the little girl (another late arrival) who chatted at her mum during most of the movie. I learned all sorts of things about the Galapagos, the unique species, how they arrived on the islands and evolved, how the islands themselves are constantly changing, bubbling up through volcanoes, greening, then eroding back into the ocean.

One of the neatest discoveries is the dandelion tree, which has evolved from the dandelions sprung from spores that blew across that corner of the Pacific Ocean millions of years ago. Those are the trees in the photo above; they remind me a bit of the Truffula trees in Dr Seuss's fable The Lorax.

Afterwards we took a second stab at an exhibition about the sinking of the Empress of Ireland (the centenary was last year), which the Resident Fan Boy, younger daughter and I had to rush through last autumn because we hadn't allowed enough time. This exhibit was also good enough to not be spoiled by more than one ankle-biter who would grab both receivers of an audio display, press the French version to one ear, the English to the other, then invariably drop one receiver with a smack and a crash while trying to hang both up at once.  Or the mothers almost tripping me with their strollers because they were distracted by their phone conversations as they passed scenes of death and devastation.

But, as March Break museum visits go, it was a pleasant day. All the same, I was aware I'd had a relatively gentle reminder to not press my luck, and plan a visit on a quieter day.