Sunday, 29 November 2009

Herd immunity? Of course I've heard of immunity...

I have a healthy respect for pandemics.
Exhibit A: My great-aunt Dorothy who succumbed to influenza in 1919, along with millions of others world-wide. She was twenty-eight years old, and had been married only six months. My grandmother remembered the anxious ride home on the trolley in Wolverhampton when she was called home from her work as a secretary, and her sister's attempts to speak to her husband as she drowned in the fluids of her own lungs.
Exhibit B: Yours truly who was an unwitting and unwilling participant in another recent pandemic. I was eleven and this illness was in the top three of the sickest I've ever been: an temperature of 106º during which I lost track of whether it was day or night and the bed appeared to flip end over end.

Here in Canada, the reaction to the spread of H1N1 virus has ventured as about as close to hysteria as Canadians get outside of a hockey arena. Speaking of which, unvaccinated hockey players on the Ottawa Senators team have been banned from attending charity events. In my hometown of Victoria, British Columbia, a woman who didn't even have the flu was forced off a bus by an irate little old lady. In Hades, the H1N1 vaccine became available the same week two healthy kids suddenly died, so the clinics were packed and the vaccine kept running out. Oddly enough, healthy kids the same age as the victims were not in the priority groups to whom the vaccine was being offered, so the Resident Fan Boy and I had to field anxious inquiries from Demeter on why neither we nor our kids were immunized. Leo Sister and Jolly-Not-Green-Giant Brother-in-law both have asthma, so braved the line-ups a couple of weeks ago. Within two days, my nephew came down with the virus and thoughtfully shared it with his family before their immunity kicked in. They all survived.

Finally, the vaccine was offered to those outside the priority groups (younger children; medically compromised; elderly; medical staff), so the Resident Fan Boy and I took younger daughter to our family doctor's clinic, hoping to avoid the cattle-calls that have been extensively covered by the news for the past month. Well, it was still a cattle-call, but a small one, aimed at children, but with possible vaccinations for parents, should doses be left over.

Younger daughter is normally brave about needles, but got herself worked up into a right state over this one. She told me she didn't want to have a bleeding arm for Christmas. So you can imagine how delighted I was when we were directed to sit on a stool outside an office from whence blood-curdling screams were emanating. (No! Noooooooo! Don't do it!!!!) This continued for about five minutes. Clearly someone was being vivisectioned in there. Finally, the door opened and a puffy, teary four-year-old boy emerged, followed by his parents carrying his perfectly placid one-year-old sister. Younger daughter entered, gave one "Owwww!" as the needle was inserted, and as we exited, the next parents pointed her out to their kids, saying: "See? It took no time at all and she's smiling!" Whew.

We were corralled into a narrow hall where we were required to wait fifteen minutes before departing. The reason for this became clear as we worked our way gradually towards the exit. A boy of about ten or eleven leaned against his mother, sobbing. Gee, I thought. How badly did it hurt?
I saw the mum of this older boy touching his forehead, so I glanced around for some staff, then approached her.
"Do you need me to find someone?"
"Well, it's just he's so hot..."
I darted into the passageway, found someone with a stethoscope and told her I thought a young boy might be having a reaction. She whipped past me, saying: "Thanks, this is what we need to know!"
Boy and his mum were hurried into another area. I never found out what happened.

The puffy little four-year-old strolled by with his parents and valiant little sister in tow: "Well, it did hurt quite a bit and I may have cried..."

The Resident Fan Boy hung around for his shot, and I took elder daughter in to a smaller and even more civilized evening clinic last Thursday. My arm is sore and bruised and I've been falling asleep at odd moments over the past three days. Let's just say we did it for the herd immunity...

Friday, 27 November 2009

Goldengrove unleaving

A couple of weeks ago, we were eating our traditional Sunday lunch of macaroni and cheese (from scratch, mind, okay, not the noodles), and the Resident Fan Boy was plotting his final attack on the leaves in the front yard, it being the final week for the city to pick up the bags of garden refuse. He gets excited about things like that which is rather endearing.

"It's like that poem about 'Goldengrove unleaving'," he rhapsodized. I gave him an incredulous look.

"It is Margaret you mourn for?"
"That's right; it's about the leaves falling, and about being reminded of death."
"But Goldengrove is a man, isn't he? And Margaret is weeping over him, but she's really mourning for herself..."
"No, it's about the leaves falling..."

So out came the Norton's Anthology and this time and this time only, the Honour History major trumped the English Literature major. The poem, by Gerald Manley Hopkins, is actually entitled Spring and Fall: to a young child. The Resident Fan Boy remembered studying it in a First Year English course at UVic; I, despite having a degree in the same at the same, never actually studied it, but knew it from an essay called "The Poet and the Peasants" written by the late Jean Kerr which recounted, in hilarious and poignant detail, her ambitious plot to get her five young sons to memorize and even like poetry. I have never forgotten the article, but clearly, I didn't read this particular poem closely enough:

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

So, to sum up, it's addressed to a little girl, not a heart-broken young woman, and Goldengrove is a place, not a heartless young man. Couldn't have been more wrong.

So I went out to walk in the "unleaving" neighbourhood just before the late afternoon sunlight got gobbled up by the over-eager twilight of late autumn, where the last of the maple leaves were being scooped into paper bags by the more civic-minded, the rest being left to blow anti-socially over others' yards. It has been an unusually balmy November and there are whispers of a rainy rather than snowy Christmas this year.

I bent my steps in the direction of the Rideau River and thought mourning-for-Margaret November thoughts while watching ducks on a current so slow and in air so still that they might have been swimming in a pond. Then I strolled further and noticed for the first time that there are beavers living along the river bank. Mind you, I've never seen one in my nine years in Hades. I suppose the squirrels could have been getting extra hungry and ambitious; I wouldn't put it past them.

Finally, I nearly got ploughed off the sidewalk by a car which roared up the side-street and inexplicably tried to wedge itself between the sidewalk and another car making a right turn into a driveway. Honks and words were exchanged between the two drivers, as I checked to see if my heart hadn't jumped out of my chest and dazedly mused about the lack of control we have in what happens to us, plus the fact I'd told the RFB I'd be home in half an hour and his potential progression of annoyance to worry to panic if I'd not shown up. This, of course led to morbid thoughts of the events of a year ago. Come to think of it, I was mourning for Margaret then, too.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Any way the blog blows...

I have several blog posts I could write, but seem to keep blocking myself. Obsessively watching pirated episodes of Never Mind the Buzzcocks doesn't help. So while I continue to stall, watch this. I love this. This is going to go viral. I don't care. This is magnificent.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Sorrow, remembrance and blood

Living in The Nation's Capital has an extra resonance in the days leading up to Remembrance Day. Not only are we in close proximity to The National War Museum and key Armed Forces offices and bases, but being resident near Rockcliffe Park, our daughters have attended school with children and relatives of prime ministers and high ranking officers, both foreign and otherwise. Remembrance Day is taken very seriously here. The wearing of the poppy (which, by the way, I think is a rather better-looking poppy than that available in Britain) is not exactly mandatory, but the custom is heavily observed, and Ottawa streets are strewn with lost poppies, dropped from the flimsy pins.

Coming from Victoria, where I grew up between the naval base and the army base (not that pleasant experience for an adolescent girl, soldiers and sailors being what they are), I bring my own strategy for making my poppy stay put. I wrap the end of the pin with scotch tape. However, Ottawans have another excellent method which doesn't work for my thick Irish cape, but does nicely for blouses and lapels. They removed the pin and black felt poppy centre and replace it with a maple leaf or Canadian flag pin, the kind you stick straight though and anchor with a metal clutch on the other side of the fabric.

Lately, there's been a debate in the papers about wearing poppies. A columnist in The Ottawa Citizen worried that poppy-wearing might symbolize support for Canada's involvement in Afghanistan. I was rather startled by this idea as I've never viewed wearing the poppy as supporting the idea of any war. I wear it because I associate it with sorrow, blood, and remembrance.

There has also been a flurry of letters to the editor in the debate over In Flanders Fields, which being written by Dr John McCrae of Guelph, Ontario after watching a close friend die at Ypres and before succumbing to pneumonia himself, is a staple of Canadian Remembrance Day ceremonies. John Finnemore recently discussed his problems with the poem in his blog, and once again, I was a bit perplexed. John McCrae was a doctor in the army for both the Boer and First World Wars. He would have seen the very worst war can offer. I don't think he had any rosy ideas about war being glorious or desirable, although I do think he thought it was necessary. The stanza both the writer of the Letter to the Editor and John Finnemore had trouble with was the third one which begins: Take up our quarrel with the foe . . .

Well, I don't boycott plays like The Merchant of Venice for anti-Semitism, nor books like Huckleberry Finn for its use of the "n-word", nor pretty much anything written or performed over the centuries for its depiction of women. Art is a reflection of its era. Good art transcends this. I happen to think both statements apply to In Flanders Fields, which, like the poppy, expresses sorrow, remembrance, and blood.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Write of Passage Number Six: The clash of the stereotypes

A number of thoughts crossed my mind when the big brutha with a ghetto blaster sent up camp at my bus stop. One of them was: A ghetto blaster? Seriously? Is he partying like it's 1979? He stashed his blaster on top of the shelter, thought better of it, then swooped it past my ear a couple of times, while shouting along with the rap lyrics and making those hand signals that seem to have been co-opted by boy bands. (I found this video to try to find out about rapper/hip-hop hand signals, but it's only marginally helpful):As I tried to studiously ignore this guy as he strutted up and down, grinning widely beneath his baggy wool cap and neon-yellow sunglasses, my next thought was: Oh Gawd. Please. Not on my bus. These appeared to be the precise thoughts of the bus driver as I climbed on. He glanced over my shoulder, then back at me and we raised our respective eyebrows. Sure enough, as I took my seat, the brutha-from-anotha-planet made his entrance and proceeded past me. Judging from the facial expressions on the swiveling heads, I'd say roughly half our fellow passengers were thinking: Oh Gawd, not on this bus, and the other half were thinking: A ghetto blaster?? Seriously?
It looked like we were all going to sit this out in quiet Canadian martyrdom, until the song finished and the next one started. That's when a number of guys started shouting back at our homie. A very large man who looked like he rode Harley Davidsons when he wasn't using public transit, was particularly incensed and insistent.

"Have some respect for other people. We don't want to listen to your &%#@."
"Stick in some earphones, like everyone else!" someone else added, while the bus driver pulled over, got out of his seat and pointed meaningfully at the door.

Our homie rose slowly with a few choice words and a face-saving shrug and made his way to the back door... closely followed by Motorcycle Man who, uttering a string of imprecations, gave him a mighty shove. Homie measured his length on the sidewalk for a split second, then sprang up and hurled himself at Motorcycle Man, while those of us still on the bus gasped and gaped. Motorcycle Man soon had Homey pinned on his back, his eyes white and wide without his sunglasses which were scattered across the sidewalk along with his ghetto blaster and several other belongings.

"He picked the wrong white guy to piss off," offered someone.
I had my face buried in my hands and looked up at the young girl seated next to me.
"That was totally unnecessary," I said wearily. "He was getting off the bus."
The girl and a young man standing by us nodded vigorously.
"He didn't need to shove him," they said. A lady in bright yellow Brunhilda braids tried to explain how Motorcycle Man was justified, but no one paid much attention; our eyes were glued on the drama outside.

Our bus driver sighed, waited a moment, then got out and strolled over to tap Motorcycle Man on the shoulder as he continued to pin Homey to the sidewalk. I guess some sort of truce was arranged as Motorcycle Man got up, and Homey struggled to his feet. M.M. tried to hand Homey a yellow book of scripture which had fallen in the melée, but Homey was spitting. There were a couple of additional angry exchanges, before a young fella handed Homey his ghetto blaster and got an embrace in return. Motorcycle Man, thank heaven, did not get back on the bus.

It was only when the woman in Brunhilda braids got off at Elgin Street that I realized she was an office worker dressed for this last day of work before Hallowe'en. I was beginning to wonder how many people on that bus had been in costume.