Tuesday, 27 January 2009

The placards of babes

Only five days until NaBloPoMo. See, theoretically, I have at least three posts I could do now, or save them for after February 1st so that they actually count. This way madness lies.
So I went on a protest march yesterday. I haven't been on one in a long time. Protest marches are a fact of life in any capital city, and Victoria was no exception. In the heady days before I became a parent, I regularly joined the Earth Day March, which falls on my birthday on April 22nd. The thing is, that's in Victoria. In April. April in Victoria means oooh, about 17 degrees Celsius. The last of the cherry blossoms are raining down. Yesterday, in Hades, it said -32 on my computer when my Friend With Whom I Go For Coffee came to pick me up for the rally against the bus strike which has been going on for nearly fifty days. This meant a windchill of -37 or so, with fine snow falling even in the faint sunshine coming from the white disk up in the sky.

Friend With Whom I Go For Coffee is a veteran of protest marches. She parked her van in the Byward Market ("Never park next to the protest site"), and gave carefully neutral answers to the reporters who were attracted by the presence of her children, the only kids there, and who had made their own placards that morning. Their hands were bright with marker splotches, that's when they dared remove their mittens to open their water bottles. Friend With Whom works for a community organization supporting disadvantaged families. She says the phone volume has multiplied many times since the strike began, with so many clients needing help and thrown into crises due to no buses. However, she was at the rally as a private citizen and in case she was quoted, could say nothing that be taken as an official position for her organization. (Another fact of life in Ottawa.)

The trouble with protesting a transit strike is that the very people who are affected can't get there. About 60 or 70 people showed (not bad, considering the circumstances and the weather), and made the pilgrimage from City Hall up to Parliament Hill, a motley crew of mostly students and elderly women, lead by a phalanx of motorized wheelchairs. It was disabled activist Catherine Gardner who had organized this demonstration, the first of three small rallies that took place yesterday. She had some trouble being heard even with a bullhorn (her balaclava may have muffled things a bit), and it was a pity, because I heard her say towards the end, before the frozen demonstrators started to scatter: "Look at us! Remember our faces! These are the people being hurt by this strike." She meant the elderly, handicapped, and working poor. The news coverage that evening seemed to focus on students and middle-class types complaining about carpools and traffic.

Friend With Whom's daughters were joining the others in jigging up and down in the cold, and started joking about hitting the drivers with a pie in the face when and if they ever come back. Friend With Whom moved quickly to shush them. One of her colleagues was being interviewed at City Hall last week, and in the midst of a calm and reasoned statement, had the temerity to remark that the transit union and the city council should be ashamed of themselves. She was promptly surrounded and threatened by four burly bus drivers who had overheard her.

We decided it was time to leave, and the girls handed their home-made placards to two elderly ladies who hoisted the duct taped yokes over their heads. In the sparse television coverage (Parliament brought down a budget yesterday and hogged the air time), their placards showed up again and again ---- always on other protesters!

We walked back into the Market, and I wrestled my camera into my bag, blowing the fine-as-sand snow off it first. By the time, I got my mittens back on, my fingers were stinging.

Oh, and Friend With Whom just called. Her daughters (complete with placards) made the second page of the Ottawa Citizen. "Sure beats 'my kid made the honour roll'," she said.

Monday, 19 January 2009

The Beloved Passer-by

My father vanished from my life sometime during the year I was twelve. He had pulled the vanishing act a number of times before, so it was difficult to tell that he had really gone for good. When I was eight, he ran off to Boston with another woman, but he still sent Christmas gifts, so I assumed he was off on one of his lengthy business trips. He reconciled with my mother and rejoined the family when I was ten. My maternal grandfather had died a few weeks before, leaving a small legacy which my mother gave to my father to invest in a kitchen-designing business which promptly failed. At age eleven, I was now old enough to realize that my parents weren't happy and to know that the odor on his breath in the morning was alcohol. We spent that summer basically waiting for him to leave. He left in the autumn, the creditors closed in, and my mother, on legal advice, took out an ad saying she was not responsible for her husband's debts. He phoned a few times during the following year, usually in the small hours of the morning, asking to speak to me. Finally, in exasperation, my mother told him to not phone at all if he couldn't do so at a decent hour. The calls stopped.

A little over a year after he left, Judy Collins appeared on a variety show singing this song:
Luckily, I was alone in the house. I was ambushed by a storm of weeping, and said, for the last time: "Daddy."

My mother took out Canadian citizenship under her maiden name when I was sixteen. It was then that I learned that my father had been a father of three when he met her. My eldest half-sister was five when he left; her brother was three and her baby sister less than a year. My mother told me that they had been unable to marry because of his first marriage, "...but I felt married." I wandered around, saying to myself, "I'm a bastard, I'm a bastard..." not in shame, but in awe, and a good helping of teen-aged melodrama.

During my first trip to England when I was nineteen, we stayed in the same house in Muswell Hill where my parents had often visited in the year before their emigration to Canada. One night, I had a vivid dream about my father and awoke in tears, convinced that he had died. Well, he was an alcoholic and a smoker, and had had more than his share of life-threatening accidents due to the former, so it seemed feasible.

In my mid-twenties, I was awakened at three o'clock in the morning by a long-distance phone-call. The operator asked me to wait, but there was nobody there.

Not long after, I embarked on a Master's degree in Education, emphasis on creative arts in learning. During my studies, I came across a poem by Marie-Claire Blais entitled "L'ami":
. . . Et quand venait Avril, l'homme rentrait chez nous,
C'était souvent à la fin d'une fraîche journée . . . .

Ce n'est qu'un passant bien-aimé, disait nos méres
Mais cet homme venait chez nous, il baisait notre front
A la dérobée
Et s'éloignait aussitôt pendant que sommeillant doucement
Nos visions...

(. . . And when April came, the man would come into our place
It was often at the end of a cool day . . . .

It is nothing more than a beloved passer-by, said our mothers
But this man would come to our place, he would brush his lips furtively across our foreheads
And would leave as soon as dreams sweetened our sleep...)

This poem so reminded me of my father, who even when he lived with us, seemed to have banished himself to the outskirts of our lives, and I responded with a blank verse poem in pentameter, ending with an Alexandrine. (I was experimenting with poetic forms at the time, and forgive me in advance, I'm no Marie-Claire Blais):

Message to the Friend After Reading Marie-Clair Blais
When you left for the first time, I saw you
Sitting on the porch as we drove away
I wept without knowing why. Packages
Would arrive by post and every time
We took a trip, I unwittingly broke
My mother's heart by watching for you at
Each corner and station, for it had seemed
Your habit to appear without warning with gifts.

When you came back, I ran into your arms
And you swung me up, stepping into the
Dark kitchen and knocking over the milk
Bottles. That's how it always seemed to be,
Beloved passer-by, we reached toward
Each other with the joy and eagerness
Of long absence, tinged with awkwardness
Of strangeness. You knew me so well and so little.

When you left for the last time, you kissed me
Clumsily, slipping two chocolate bars and
Two magazines under my pillow. I
Crouched in my bed, not daring, not bearing
To see your car drive into the dawn. In
The dark, I choked back the chocolate like
Bitter pills. Later, I blacked out each line
In my diary meticulously.

Did you mean to wake me? I think you were
A bit of a glutton for pathos with
No appetite for pain. I think that I'm my
Father's daughter. I'd like you to know that
I knew that you loved me, never doubted
You loved me, but that each fresh failure, each
Perceived rejection when you attempted
Reconnection sapped your courage. It's quite
All right, I have a piece of you in safekeeping.

A few years ago, when I took up researching my family history in earnest, I realized I could track down my half-siblings. I sent Christmas cards to my half-brother and a first cousin, saying who I was and emphasizing that I didn't expect a reply. Considering I'd just dropped the psychological equivalent of a bomb on Colchester, they took my overtures graciously. Very graciously. It turned out my father had wived it wealthily in California not much more than a year after I had last seen him driving away. He had a condo with a boat mooring on San Francisco Bay. He had been awarded a MBE for fundraising, for heaven's sake, pretty rich, considering the financial circumstances in which he left my mother. And he had not told a soul that he had a family in Canada. He had divorced his first wife, but, as far as I can tell, my mother is unaware of this. They gave me his phone number and address. My half-sister told me to call him. My paternal aunt suggested that I shouldn't. In the end, I decided that I'm not difficult to track down, and if he had truly wanted to reconnect, he would have.

He didn't. My half-niece messaged me through Facebook on Saturday that he was dying.
On Sunday morning, as I waited for the second message telling me he was gone (it arrived in the late afternoon), I copied pictures of him from my baby album with my digital camera, and the song that was playing in my head was not "My Father", it was my favourite Leonard Cohen tune, "Song of Bernadette", these lyrics in particular:

We've been around, we fall, we fly,
We mostly fall, we mostly run.
And every now and then we try
To mend the damage that we've done.

Tonight, tonight, I just can't rest
I've got this joy here inside my breast,
To think that I did not forget
That child, that song of Bernadette.

So many hearts, I find,
Broke like yours and mine,
Torn by what they've done and can't undo.
I just want to hold you, won't you let me hold you?
Like Bernadette would do.

Here's Jennifer Warnes singing it:

So may he rest; his faults lie gently on him.
- William Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Act IV, Scene ii, line 31

My father always promised us that we would live in France
We'd go boating on the Seine and I would learn to dance.
I sail my memories afar, like boats across the Seine,
And watch the Paris sunset in my father's eyes. Again.
- Judy Collins

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Deep Freeze

Image: Ottawa Citizen's web site today
When I was seven or eight, I lived less than a block from my elementary school in Edmonton, Alberta. The rule at that time was if you lived more than six blocks from school, you could stay for lunch which lasted an hour and a half. (The school day ended at 4 pm.) One winter's afternoon, I set off for school with double mittens on, for the walk that took me five minutes tops. By the time I reached the locker hall, I couldn't feel my hands. Then I could. They felt heavy, like red-hot iron. I burst into tears. The next thing I could remember was being in the principal's office. He was normally a terrifying man and one was never there unless there was trouble. He knelt in front of me, and in a gentle voice I'd never heard from him before, said: "Pretend my hands are a warm oven..." and I wept and wept as the feelings returned to my frost-bitten fingers. There'd been a wind-chill that day that had driven the temperature to well below -40. When it's that low, it doesn't much matter whether it's Celsius or Fahrenheit.

This morning, we had been warned, but I check the Environment Canada website to be sure. Clear skies, temperature -25 Celsius, windchill factor of -39. And this isn't particularly unusual for this time of year in Hades. As younger daughter and I set out, it takes a matter of seconds for me to feel the toothpicky sensation in my nostrils. That's the snot freezing. You bury your nose into your hood, scarf, or balaclava and your nose runs; out to breathe, the mucus freezes again. Two white dots appear in my lower field of vision where the tears accumulating from my watery eyes have also frozen into minute snowballs. Those of us intrepid enough to venture out on foot look ready to rob banks, but as we cut across the school field, I see few tracks in the fresh snow. On days such as these, children are admitted into school before the bell, and most students have been driven. Younger daughter, clad in Mountain Equipment Co-op gear, Kamik boots, and with a white patch where her well-balmed mouth meets the balaclava, heads in cheerfully. As I walk home, the breeze picks up and my thighs, despite two pairs of pants and a regrettably ample coating of fat, begin to sting.

Oh, and the bus strike has just entered its 36th day....

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Going to the dogs

With the awards season getting geared up (Golden Globes tonight), I'm dying to have actually seen some of the nominated films like Milk (saw the documentary The Life and Times of Harvey Milk on PBS years ago and have never forgotten it) and Frost/Nixon (I'm a longtime fan of Frank Langella, a fine, fine actor who was pretty dishy in his younger days; the photo is from The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, one of my all time favourite plays, with Blythe Danner).

So how did I spend Saturday afternoon? Watching that sure-fire award-winner Marley and Me. We went for the sake of younger daughter who adores dogs, and took her favourite dog-puppet Jeffrey along to watch plus a newly inherited collie doll named Lassie. (Elder daughter decluttered three years' worth of stuff from her room three days before Christmas. There are miracles in this world.)

Oh, it's not a terrible film. It would make a terrific TV movie, and if I actually liked Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson, that would probably help too. The Resident Fan Boy dabbed his eyes in the right places, of course. He's never got over the loss of Satin, a cocker spaniel acquired on his eighth birthday who needed to be put to sleep on his (the RFB's, that is) twentieth birthday. I don't mind the heartbroken cry of "Satin!" that he emits each time he sees a cocker spaniel, but I do mind being absent-mindedly scratched behind the ears. Younger daughter, who had thoroughly enjoyed the Marley's antics throughout, glanced in some bewilderment at her dad, and was anxious to return home after the film. This involved another 45-minute stroll; the bus drivers voted down the city's offer on Thursday, and the strike is now something like 32 days old.

During the long walk home, the Resident Fan Boy and I discussed the movie. He was rather annoyed that the film was called Marley and Me and "it was all about her (Jennifer Aniston)".
"No," I said, giving him a look, "It was all about him. She's the one who, aside from a cranky spell of being the mother of a toddler and a colicky baby, dealing with a destructive dog in the house, ends up being the perfect, supportive sidelined wife who has given up her newspaper job, never ages a day, and keeps the house beautiful, the meals cooked, and the homework supervised. He's the one agonizing about never getting to travel abroad to be a hard news reporter, and deciding he doesn't want to be a columnist, no wait, he does... He wrote the story, so it's all about him."
"You mean, this actually happened?"

The trek home also gave me time to ponder: 1) If they've been the owners of a rambunctious and incorrigible golden retriever for a few months, why do they have a prettily decorated bungalow with trinkets on the coffee tables? (We have friends with a Marley-like golden retriever. There is nothing on the coffee tables. Or the dinner table. Or the lower-lying shelves. Or the kitchen counters.) 2) If Jennifer Aniston's and Owen Wilson's characters are both newspaper reporters (it is suggested that she is slightly more successful than him), and he tells her they can't really afford a swish house with a swimming pool before she tells him she wants to quit her job and oh by the way she's pregnant again, why can they afford the house when the newspaper doubles his salary? 3) And if they then go on to purchase a three-story stone farmhouse with a wooden addition in the Pennsylvania countryside, why are they sleeping in a tiny alcove with a small double bed, and why are their sons sharing a room? What the hell are they using all those other rooms for? And finally, I was waiting throughout the first third of the movie for an explanation about why Owen Wilson's character is wearing a strip across the bridge of his nose. I thought he liked to box, or had a snoring problem. Elder daughter tells me that's just how his nose looks.

I really need to see some good films...

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

The second day of Epiphany? (Oh, let's stop...)

Last night, we stripped our lovely tree. Younger daughter couldn't bear it and disappeared upstairs; she had told her special education class that this had been "the best Christmas ever". I sat by the television which was playing Takin' Over the Asylum" (the Resident Fan Boy screwed his courage to the sticking place and set up our new universal DVD player over the holidays), my knees strewn with the surviving icicles from our first married Christmas. We've always sorted them into blue, gold and silver piles, although the gold pile is getting sparse. I averted my eyes as the beautiful bushy balsam was squeezed out the front door. Now it's propped in a snow bank, pretending to be alive, waiting to be taken away by the city next Monday.

Theoretically, we can leave the Christmas decorations up until Candlemas (or, to use its ugly modern moniker Ground Hog Day, Imbolc if you're partial to Pagan), but the tree simply would be heartbreaking at that point. As it is, we may have to take the holly down before Candlemas Eve. Younger daughter's godfather sends it every year from Victoria; it's one of his few remaining pleasurable duties as Alzheimer's besets his fine engineer's mind. The indoor branches have been sucked khaki-green by the heating; and the outdoor branches have been blasted black by freezing rain, wind chills, driving snow and other hallmarks of a winter in Hades.

We will, however, leave the strings of Christmas cards up. Increasingly, cards and the mass-produced, impersonal, and usually unenlightening Christmas letters which some people think are mandatory arrive after Christmas and well into February. So it's official, people, such missives that arrive before February 2nd are not late.

I always thought the sentiment of "wishing it could be Christmas every day" unrealistic, undesirable, and sappy (didn't like the damned song either), but this year, oh, I wish it could. I've watched younger daughter float through this time delightedly, words coming easily to her for the first time in months. It won't be easy watching her spirit get squashed steadily until June.

I managed to post daily for thirteen day straight over Christmas, but I really prefer posting every three days or so. I do plan to try NaBloPoMo in February, a) because it's only 28 days; and b) because I want to see if I can do it. Provided, of course, I don't have to pay for the privilege. The "Terms of Use" thingie isn't that clear...

Monday, 5 January 2009

The twelfth day of Christmas (cheating just a bit)

Younger daughter bravely went to school this morning and even greeted her teacher cheerily. So far, those hippy-dippy creative visualizations and affirmations seem to be working. At least I haven't been resorting to the Sleep-Relax or Valerian to escape the gremlins.

Twelfth Night is tonight, and I've promised younger daughter chocolate chip cookies to celebrate her getting through the first day of the new term. This means cheating a little, as I fob you off to two items that have amused me on other blogs.

First, I occasionally like to look in on Angry Who Fan. The humour is (how shall I put this?) a wee bit puerile and scatological at times, but this morning made me giggle and if you too have been joining in on the New Doctor debate, maybe this will tickle you too.

Second, a pal of mine in Vancouver sent me a link to this, so I'd better post it while it's still the twelfth day of Christmas. It's a bit American-centric (but what isn't?):

I need to have the house smelling of chocolate chip cookies by the time I leave the house in three quarters of an hour, so I leave you with this from Steeleye Span: Oh, Christmas is past; Twelfth Night is the last, so we bid you adieu, pray, joy in the new...

Sunday, 4 January 2009

The eleventh day of Christmas (drugging myself with Who news and new Whos)

There are advantages being over a certain age. I discovered that, since coming to Hades, that I can cry in public. And no one notices. So there I am sitting in Planet Coffee which is a really wonderful little coffee shop squirreled away in the Bytown Market, sorting through the thick grey sheets of younger daughter's extensive assessment report resulting from those tests back in November, y'know, when the Resident Fan Boy was knocked down and out? I had saved this for the end of Christmas, we had the feedback session in late November, so I pretty well knew what to expect, so I'm not crying from shock, it was (oh, how do I explain this?) the combination of grief over what ground appears to have been lost over younger daughter's four years of so-called integration into her local school, the consideration of how far she has come when you don't compare her to other children, but only to herself, and gratitude for the fact that somehow between the clinical terms and percentiles, this psychologist's compassion and caring still comes through. When I read an assessment report, which is never fun (unless you have a gifted child -- which I do, and even then it's a guilty pleasure, because you can't take credit for it), I look to see if I can recognise younger daughter amidst the jargon. I can, and I weep. For the compassion, for the tough road ahead, for how I've failed her. No one, as I say, notices.

It was a mixed morning. Elder daughter and I left younger daughter bellowing with excitement as she slid down the steep hill at McDonald Gardens Park, and I listened as elder daughter regaled me with the antics of "vloggers" (video loggers at YouTube) into town. Her clarinet teacher did not come down from his rather posh apartment to collect her at the lobby; he's a rather scattered young university student, so I sought out a payphone and left a rather curt message on his voice mail, informing him we'd been waiting 15 minutes after a 45-minute walk into town due to the bus strike and would wait another five before hiking back. He showed up a few minutes later and told us there would be no charge. Elder daughter informed me I'd scared him, when she joined me at the coffee shop an hour and a half later and my tears had long been safely put away. I thought I'd been firm and certainly not abusive, but I guess I'm a dragon lady after all. I heard all about Twilight on the way home; she thinks the movie is cheesy but Robert Pattinson is hot.

Matt Smith (the new Doctor on Doctor Who after David Tennant's imminent and lamented departure) is not what I'd call hot (not that I use that terminology) but he looks "interesting" if way too young. Elder daughter is miffed when I pretend to check his neck for bolts. I'm sure he'll be fine; there's always Steven Moffat's writing for consolation. Just as I'm taking this ridiculous kerfuffle as consolation now.

This morning, I told younger daughter that school starts again tomorrow. She began to weep quietly, while I told her how brave she was, and that I would do everything I could to help. Then I went into the bathroom and had a little weep myself. When I came out, elder daughter was curled up in her bed, looking at me quietly. The heating vent from the bathroom opens out into her room.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

The tenth day of Christmas (slip-sliding away)

Gift certificates are a mixed blessing for someone who hates to shop. I mean, it really is looking a gift horse in the mouth, but I don't much care being sent out to shop for myself (and by extension, the Resident Fan Boy and younger daughter who aren't shoppers either) in the post-holiday crowds of shoppers.

So yesterday, we all set off for the forty-five-minute slog into downtown. Our challenge this time was steady snow and pavements slick with slush. Not quite two steps forward, one step back, but it felt like it. The gift certificates in question were the annual Chapters certificates from the girls' generous godparents. (Chapters, for non-Canadians, is probably the equivalent of Borders in the States, and I dunno, Waterstones in Britain?)

Elder daughter made a beeline for The Dark Knight, y'know, that other Christian Bale/Heath Ledger flick. Chapters seems to have done away with the family shelf in their DVD section, but we mosied over to "Musicals". Younger daughter gave a little gasp, and made the same reaching-for-then-pulling-her-hand-back gesture that she makes when trying to decide on a book or video at home.
"Do you see something you want?"
"I don't know."
"It looks like you see something interesting. Can you tell me what it is?"
"I don't know."
"Can you point at it?"
"I'm scared."
"Of the movie?"
"What are you afraid will happen?"
"You might say no."
"Well, it's your gift certificate, so you can choose whatever you want."
Another little gasp and aborted reach.
"I won't say no."
With an anticipatory smile, she pulls down South Pacific. Oh, damn, damn, damn. It's still under the tree, set aside as her Twelfth Day of Christmas present. I try to explain. She stomps off across the shop. I call after her. She says: "NO!" I can't blame her; it's my poor planning, and she's done that most difficult thing of making a choice, and I've said "no", just as she feared. We manage to talk her into getting The King and I
and I leave the Resident Fan Boy and elder daughter to do the certificate negotiation, and hastily get younger daughter to a nearby TexMex restaurant to restore us both.

After a hearty lunch, the RFB and elder daughter set off for the drug store, and younger daughter and I begin the 45-minute trudge-trudge-slip home. We cut up York Street past some funky little shops and pause to admire a Christmas bird sanctuary that one of them has set up: Then we make our way through the beat-up streets of Lowertown, stepping aside to let the sidewalk snow-movers (which look like orange earwigs) mow past us. I note that they are not laying down gravel, so we still slide further east, past the ice rink at the Catholic school where boys of different hues play pick-up hockey, some managing to skate through the snow covering the ice, some making do in their boots.

At home, I surreptitiously sneak South Pacific from the Twelfth Day of Christmas gift bag into the Tenth Day of Christmas gift bag.

That night, I invite younger daughter to watch Oliver! which was in the Eighth Day of Christmas gift bag. We get to the intermission before it's time for her bath and she comes to kiss me good night:
"Oliver is so strange!"
"Don't you like it?"
"Yes, but it's better than Elmwood School!" (We saw a cut-down production of the musical at the swish private school for girls a few weeks ago.)
"There's a lot of dancing, isn't there? And I think you like the costumes?"
"Yes, and Oliver was only a little girl!" she says, shaking her head in wonder, remembering the all-girl production.
"Well, in the movie, they could have a boy for Oliver, couldn't they?"

This morning, the Resident Fan Boy offers to take her tobogganing, and she enthusiastically accepts ("That's a great idea!") and delightedly plans to watch South Pacific afterwards: "I missed South Pacific so much!"

For myself, I'm accompanying elder daughter to her hated clarinet lesson downtown, and am planning to finally read younger daughter's assessment report which I'd set aside over Christmas. I need to ration out my heartbreaks like Christmas gifts.

Friday, 2 January 2009

The ninth day of Christmas (the annual New Year's Day movie)

For most of our marriage, the Resident Fan Boy and I have taken in a movie on New Year's Day. As I said yesterday, New Year's is rather a nothing sort of holiday, and seeing a movie not only gives us a focus for the day, but oddly enough, the movie seems to set the tone for the rest of the year. This means choosing carefully. Given how 2008 has been, I didn't think Doubt or Milk would be quite the boost we needed, although I do plan to see them before awards season kicks in. I decided to take in Happy-Go-Lucky. Minimal research seemed to reveal it was about a London school teacher who is...happy. A quick check at the Yahoo! Movies site hinted at a flick that was liked better by the critics than the viewing public, and indicated that the viewing public was split into two camps: those who loved it ("enchanting" "interesting" "funny"), and those who hated it ("boring", "pointless", "no &*%$#ing plot"). Seeing as I've liked the Mike Leigh films I've seen, I gambled that I'd fall into the former camp.

So the RFB and I found ourselves trudging through the streets on a crystal-clear and bitterly cold first January afternoon to the ByTowne Cinema, an arts movie house which is, fortunately in view of the continuing bus strike, a 25-minute trot from our house. It's an enormous old-fashioned cinema, complete with a balcony. As you take your seat, it's easy to spot the regulars. They're the ones circling the auditorium and giving you the evil eye because you've taken "their" seats. It occurred to me that I haven't been to the ByTowne in over a year. Since it's a repertory sort of system, it's a challenge catching the film you want at the time you can actually get to the theatre, especially since the 9 o'clock show is out of the question for me and I tend to nod off even at the 7 pm screenings, which leaves me only weekend matinées...

Watching Happy-Go-Lucky, I was rather pleased I'd read some reviews first, and thus was braced for the plotlessness. The film follows a few summer weeks in the life of Poppy (Sally Hawkins), and it does feel like we're trailing a supporting character of another movie, or of several other movies. Each of the characters Poppy encounters could have a film made about them: a grim book store owner, a slightly-unhinged flamenco dancer, a very unhinged driving instructor, a deranged street person, a troubled little boy who hits his classmates, even Poppy's relaxed room-mate or bickering sisters. And in each of these stories, Poppy would be the shining little bit part, or supporting role, or comic relief.

However, this movie is entirely from Poppy's point of view except for a brief glimpse of her room-mate at work in another school. And Poppy is...happy. And lucky. She's not oblivious; she is aware of suffering and does try to intervene, but she refuses to let anyone's misery pull her into the depths. She's lucky because she's a young, attractive, employed person with a circle of friends living in a particularly lovely version of London. The camera often sits back and lets you take in the whole of the scene, or linger on an interesting face in the background.

I suppose we're left with the question: Is Poppy happy because, as she says, she's lucky? Or has she chosen to have a sunny disposition, finding that this is what works best for her in coping with whatever wanders into her path? I left the movie quite liking Poppy, but wondering how irritating I'd find her in real life.

Part of the fun of watching a Mike Leigh film is recognizing faces in passing. If you look at the photo, you might recognize the flamenco student to Poppy's left and our right. It's Rebekah Staton who played Jenny/Mother of Mine in that most splendid of Doctor Who episodes, Human Nature/Family of Blood. Remarkably enough, she doesn't have a speaking part in this. I understand Mike Leigh's films are workshopped, so I suppose anything she had to say was edited out.

After the film, the Resident Fan Boy and I headed home. It was only four o'clock but the sun had nearly set, and the towers of Parliament Hill and the Basilica stood out darkly against the gold-rimmed sky. The deserted streets were white with the cold, not with snow, and I sadly realized that we only have three days left before returning to the strains and stresses of the everyday. What about me? Can I choose to be happy? Or am I not quite lucky enough?

Thursday, 1 January 2009

The eighth day of Christmas

I rather gave up on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day as holiday material years ago. My idea of a party never grew much beyond cake and ice cream and games, and I'm an unaccomplished drinker. Alcohol doesn't loosen me up; it just makes me sleepier and stupider than usual (when it doesn't make me positively ill).

Yesterday evening found us parked in front of the television eating potato chips and tortilla chips and watching, amongst other things, the very last Royal Canadian Air Farce New Year's Special The Final Flight. The Royal Canadian Air Farce, which was on CBC radio in the seventies and eighties and has been on CBC television since the early nineties, isn't what you'd call biting political satire, and has never been as hip as say, The Kids in the Hall or Codco, but in between the lamer gags there's always been a gem or two. CBC television, in its questionable wisdom, has decided to cancel the show despite healthy ratings, presumably because of the desire to attract a more desirable demographic. (I hate to break it to you, CBC, but that demographic is hunched over its computer, playing games and downloading stuff to watch illegally.) All the same, I noticed that elder daughter, all of sixteen, guffawed several times during this final Air Farce, which featured, among other things, longtime news anchor Peter Mansbridge pretending to be a Newfie, and the infamous Chicken Cannon firing for the last time at five chosen targets, including the CBC logo. Prophetic? Maybe...