Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Gotta fly. No, really.

It's 8 am in Victoria and we leave for the airport at 10:30. I'm typing this quickly between laundry loads before hurling myself at the vacuuming. Leaving a house-sit is a bit like trying to remove all traces of yourself from the scene of a crime, really. The four Schnauzers (two of them diabetic and blind) may make that a bit more challenging. I don't have time to explain; I suppose it might make a great post --- when I can laugh about it.

Anyway, once again, Eden Kennedy of NaBloPoMo, the post-counter is claiming I've only posted 30 posts for the month of August. Thirty-one, Eden Kennedy, I've counted. All submitted before midnight PDT. So I'll be taking my completion badge, thank-you very much. Just not now. I have to fly.

Monday, 30 August 2010

If it's all the meme to you...

Two more blog posts to go for NaBloPoMo and I'm running out of time. I have to pack, clean up the remnants of four Schnauzers (two blind and diabetic -- oh please don't ask...) and vamoose from this house-sit by 11 am PDT.

The deliciously desperate Belgian Waffle just did a meme at her excellent blog, and I haven't a hope (nor the time) to try to equal her effort, so I'm just rushing through it:

Favourite time of day: Twilight, when the sun has just set, the first stars are timidly appearing in the greeny-blue darkness, and no one has drawn the curtains yet, so you can walk by and glimpse everyone's quotidienne.

Where and when did you meet the love of your life?: Details here.

What three words would your friends from outside the blogging world use to describe you? Persistent. Private. Witty (that's why they're my friends).

What country would you like to visit and why? Well, I've visited England and long to go again. I've never been to either Wales or Scotland, which is a crying shame, given my ancestry.

What's your favourite dish to cook? Um, this would actually involve my liking to cook, wouldn't it? I do fabulous pies, all evidence this summer to the contrary.

Salt or sugar? Sugar. Duh.

What are your favourite make up and beauty items?
Not that it does any good, but I generally wear liquid eyeliner and waterproof mascara at the very least. To offset my suede-blue eyes, y'understand. ♪Here she comes again. See her dancin' 'neath the starry skies...♫
Sorry, where was I?

What are your favourite flowers? Roses. They're simple and complex at the same time.

At what time of your life were you happiest and why? One blissful week when I was fifteen and felt I belonged. If heaven exists, that's what it will be.

Memes are meant to be passed on. G'wan. I dare ya.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

The little blue man (Part Five of a Google Map walk through an Edmonton childhood)


View Larger MapI am old enough to remember a time when kids wandered free throughout their neighbourhoods. I don't think we were at any greater or lesser risk for being snatched by strangers. I mean, the reason a kidnapped child is big news is because it's a relatively rare occurrence; then, as now, children were more likely to be snatched by members of their own families, abused by people they trusted, and die in car accidents.

So I ranged pretty well where I wanted, provided I returned home at the appointed times. I was required, of course, to say where I was going. My destination was usually the local playground which featured wooden swings you could stand up on, wooden teeter-totters (see-saws) where you could strand or drop your partner if you had the weight advantage, and a rather marvelous summer programme with teen-aged counselors, organized games, crafts and races, and regular visits from a group of acting students from the University of Alberta who called themselves "The Playground Players". A sign posted on the playground shelter would advise us of their arrival and they would trundle across the field drawing a cart of make-shift props and wearing colourful strolling-player-type costumes. I thought they were wonderful. I still remember an exchange between the giant and his wife in their fractured version of Jack and the Beanstalk:
"What's behind your apron?"
"My dress! It's new! Do you like it?"
"What's behind your dress?"
"....ME!"

We roared. Very risqué stuff for little kids.

On more ordinary days, the counselor, a charismatic girl who couldn't have been much more than eighteen but who was as old as the hills as far as I was concerned, led us through summer-camp sorts of activities. My favourite was a game called "I Come From Edmonton" where the leader (usually the counselor) would parade around the inside of the circle singing:

I come from Edmonton,
Jolly, jolly Edmonton!
I come from Edmonton.

Here she would stop in front of someone and both would swipe their hands and scissor their feet to the words:
Can you feel the heat?
The heat?
I smell your dirty feet!
Pew!


On the last word she'd jump 180 degrees, holding her nose, the child would grab her waist and they'd march off to collect another kid in the circle until all were in the train. Marvelous stuff. I must have been pretty easy to entertain.

Our counselor also regularly serenaded us with a goofy surreal ballad about a persistent little blue man who stalks the hapless young women he "wuvs". I was far too young to know that this had been a novelty hit in the fifties for Betty Johnson and had been written by Fred Ebb and Paul Klein, the men behind Cabaret, and later, Chicago. Here's Petulia Clark's version:

(This is my continuation of the exercise suggested by John Reid at his blog Anglo-Celtic Connections.)

The blackberry statement

We got an unexpected surprise on the way home to the house-sit from downtown: rain. Brief, but glorious and enough to leave puddles. It rained the hardest as we made our way down the most rural of the three streets home. After days of dry sunshine, the air filled with the scent of blackberries. Younger daughter and I have been sampling them over the past two weeks and noticing that they have been becoming sweeter and sweeter.

Years ago, in the dying days of another summer with little rain, I was sitting in a church hall rehearsing on a recorder. I was second recorder and the alto singer of a quintet which featured three accomplished musicians. I was one of the other two. Under a government grant, we were spending the summer making the rounds of senior residences, hospitals, libraries, and other institutions singing folk songs and playing late Renaissance to classical music. As a summer job, it was pretty hard to beat.

This particular August afternoon, we were between concerts and the other girl in the group (a talented song-writer and guitarist whom I'll call Kitti for narrative purposes) and I were awaiting the return of the three boys. Kitti happened to glance outside and leaned over conspiratorially: "Let's go and get some blackberries!" There was an abundance of them, gleaming at us like dark jewels. We grabbed a bowl and set to it, happily chatting and picking.

Now, maybe I need to clarify here. There are blackberry bushes all over Victoria, along the highway, roads, in parks. These berries were dangling over the fence which backed the church. So we were very startled when the lady in hair-curlers began screaming at us.
"Just what do you think you're doing?"
Kitti and I blinked at each other.
"Uh, picking blackberries...."
"Yes, on private property!"
Now we were really bewildered. "Well, the church knows we're here; we have permission to practise."
"So you sneak back here to steal the best and the juiciest ones in the middle...."
Slowly, as her tirade continued, we began to realize that she was the resident of the house backing on to the church, and that the blackberry bushes were in her yard. We must have reached beyond the fence top to the berries that were on her side, not surprising because, as Victoria kids, it didn't occur to us that wild blackberry bushes might belong to somebody.

She was also apparently further incensed by our appearance. Our costumes for our concerts had us in peasant blouses, long skirts and head scarves. Worst of all, we were bare-foot. Kitti shook her head in disbelief and made to hand her bowl to the howling lady.

"No! You eat them, if you're so hungry."

We beat a hasty retreat back into the church hall and were just beginning to giggle over our misadventure when Kitti peered over my shoulder and gasped: "Geez! She's called the police!"
My face must have been a picture, because Kitti laughed comfortingly, and said: "Oh, don't worry; the Saanich Police are really nice!" I had only a split second to wonder just how Kitti had come to this conclusion, when there was a knock on the door, and an officer motioned for us to come outside, where Blackberry Lady was in full throttle: "....and they took the best and the juiciest ones in the middle! They'd brought a bowl! And it was this girl and this girl! When I caught them, they just stared at me!"

This was too much; I blurted out: "What on earth did you want us to say?" Yowza. Her voice went up a whole 'nother octave. The policemen quickly led us in one direction and the lady in the other.

"We just went out to pick some blackberries and she started screaming at us..."
"Yeah, well, did you reach over the fence?"
"Probably. I mean, you usually just pick blackberries, right?"
"Well, she's a little hysterical, don't provoke her and leave those blackberries alone."
"Oh, don't worry about that..."

The boys arrived shortly afterward and had to be talked out of a harassment campaign involving putting snarky signs in the the church lounge window. One of the boys was the rector's son (hence our rehearsal space) and later reported that the woman had phoned and written to the church demanding our removal.

This was a long time ago and I remember the incident with amused and bemused disbelief when I remember it at all. I have the sad suspicion that it may have been the most exciting day in that woman's life.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Sorry I might be

What I've rather missed about my annual Victoria stay is what I call "The Yoda Buses". For the past fifteen years or so, buses which are returning to the garage have flashed this message in two parts: "Sorry I am" then "Not in Service" reminding me of this gentleman from Star Wars:
Alas, I have seen no Yoda buses this summer. Instead, I have been confronted with the unwritten rules of the Royal Oak Exchange.

The Royal Oak Exchange is where Royal Oak Drive meets Elk Lake Drive north of Victoria. You really need to know exactly which bus you want because it takes ages to cross this impossibly busy intersection, which is a mess of advance greens, to the side of the road from which the bus you need may depart. If you fail to hit the button on time, you miss your walk signal and must wait through the whole damn cycle, unshielded from the wind, rain, or blazing sun, while watching your transport drive off without you.

Unless they are one of the 70-number buses that pass between downtown Victoria and Sidney, the buses drive into their section of the Exchange, discharge their passengers and change their signs to "Not in Service" while the drivers take a break. This means you have to wait until the route number and name light up again before you know if it's the one you want. Apparently part of the game is dashing for the bus as soon as it identifies itself because the number's reappearance is a signal of the vehicle's imminent departure.

I discovered this one hot and oppressive Saturday afternoon. I arrived to find two buses waiting on one arm of the Royal Oak Exchange, one lit with a "30", the other "Not in Service". Having read my trusty schedule, I understood the 30 to be leaving in 14 minutes while the "Not in Service" (presumably a masquerading No. 6) would leave a few minutes earlier. Either route would work for me that day, so I wanted to catch whichever bus would be leaving first. While I was double-checking the posted schedule, the 30 suddenly started up and left. Startled, I turned and exchanged looks of disbelief with a girl sitting in the shelter.

The bus driver sitting on the steps of the "Not in Service" bus watched us with relaxed interest.
"His signs were on. That meant he was about to go."
"According to the schedule, he's not due to go for more than ten minutes."
"Oh, that. Don't pay attention to that."
"Uh, well, I do use it to plan when to show up..."
"Well, when does it say?"
I fumbled for the right page.
"You mean you don't know?"
I'm a West Coast girl, so I recognized the tone and knew not to take umbrage. He was playing around.
"Look, it's the same time that's posted up there."
"And what time is that?"
"Uh..."
"You mean you don't know that either?"
"Well, I don't have the schedule memorized!"
"Well, the written schedules are wrong; I wouldn't pay any attention to 'em."
I gave him a mock glare. "So any schedule is wrong?"
"Well, there's a car rally going on, so all the 30's and 31's are being held up, so he's probably way behind."
I decided not to mention that his delayed buddy had been reading a large novel for five minutes before suddenly taking off. This didn't need to escalate beyond banter. As I said, I'm a West Coast girl.
"So you're the No. 6?"
"I might be."

Please tell me Victoria bus drivers aren't becoming like Ottawa bus drivers....

Friday, 27 August 2010

Love's labour flossed


I've been bemused by an ad for a local supplier of fitness equipment on the back-end of a lot of buses here in Victoria, particularly since I've been stuck looking at it for long periods in slow traffic. The thumbnail only shows a small (but significant) portion of the shot which is of a man (or a rather husky woman) leaning over on an exercise bench to pump his (her) bicep, exposing a sea-foam-coloured thong peeking out of his (her) exercise pants. Life's short, says the ad. Be sexy for it.

I don't know about you, but I'm not feeling particularly turned on by this....

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Other pilgrimages on the western border (Part Four of a Google Map walk through a childhood neighbourhood)

Aside from the trek to church, my Westmount childhood featured another weekly pilgrimage up the west side of my block, heading north along 127 Street to Eccleston's for the purpose of squandering my weekly allowance.
View Larger Map Geez, was it really that small? I remember it being crammed with candy. I'm sure there were other necessaries to buy there, but I only remember the shelves where I had to choose between, um... a Jersey Milk chocolate bar...no, wait... maybe an Aero bar or.... If I was feeling exotic, I might get some MacIntosh toffee or Turkish Delight.

We even hit Eccleston's for Hallowe'en, when prairie kids such as we would sing out "Haahl-low-weeeen Ap-PUULLS!" rather than the more pedestrian "Trick or Treat". Mrs Eccleston, a petite plain lady with short, permed dark hair would stare at us in horror and scoop sweets into our pillowcases. I, being dressed as a not-at-all scary princess, complete with gold crown and heavy chain painstakingly crafted out of cardboard by my mum, was bemused.

Across the street, but only in wintertime (November to April in Edmonton), was the outdoor skating rink where I never quite learned to skate. My mother always told me this was because I was too afraid of falling, that I should go limp and plop down painlessly like a rag-doll as my sister did. (My sister, an expert in cuts and scrapes, was covered in scabs up until her teens.) I would cling to the wooden boards, watching long whip-lashing lines of skaters hold hands and swing out from the centre ice I dared not breach. As the late afternoon twilight descended and the bright lights came on, a beautiful but tinny nameless song played over the PA system. I have never been able to identify it, though it stills plays in my head and I strain to hear the chorus.

(This is my continuation of the exercise suggested by John Reid at his blog Anglo-Celtic Connections.)

...and your muzzer was a 'amstair.... (The last post. About wasps, that is...)

When I was running in from plummeting plums with the pole that normally opens the four or five skylights in this house-sit (if this isn't clear, I'm afraid you may need to check previous posts), I halted and gazed thoughtfully at the huge deck umbrella that seems to be the current refuge of my nemeses (plural of "nemesis", right?) the paper wasps. As you may recall, I am flummoxed about where in the umbrella they may be setting up camp. Gingerly I placed the plums inside, then I positioned myself within darting range of the sliding screen door, reaching out with the skylight pole to give the support pole of the umbrella several quick sharp taps. At the inside centre of the umbrella, I saw two pairs of antennae as their owners peered out at me from the edging that encircles the top of the canopy.

I swear I heard little insect voices inside my head using very bad French accents: "We blow our noses at you! We fart in your general direction..." For you youngsters missing the reference:

This evening, a wasp stung me as I groped to turn off the hose in the twilight. It was not a paper wasp, but one of the gang of yellow-jackets hanging out at the south-west corner of the house.

I hope I will have nothing more to say about wasps. The Resident Fan Boy and elder daughter showed up from Hades about twenty minutes ago. They do not smell of elderberries.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Wasps, watering and werewolves: more obstacles to blogging

A bit over a year ago, I managed to see the pilot episode of Being Human on YouTube. I have been waiting for the rest of the series ever since, despite several major changes in cast. (The picture is of the original cast.) The series (sans the pilot episode) is being telecast on the Space Channel this week.

It's witty, well-acted, and, oh dear, quite violent. I hope I don't have nightmares tonight....

Monday, 23 August 2010

Pie plight

Friends were dropping by for a potluck this evening, and I was to provide for the pie. Yesterday, I knocked several delicate and diminutive orange plums from an ancient tree near the farthest edge of this house-sit's enormous backyard. This morning, I rose, made a to-do list, which included making pie crusts and pitting the two dozen plums, arranging them in the pie crust and carefully weaving a pastry lattice across the top. I carefully set the timer for twenty-five minutes and went to put my feet up. When I heard the bell, I went to the kitchen and was surprised by the strong smell. The beautiful lattice was black and the plums were sizzling noisily. I had set the unfamiliar oven to "broil".

I glanced at the clock. 3:45. My guests were due at five. I grabbed the pole which normally opens and closes the skylights and pelted across the backyard. I swiped at the high branches of the plum tree while amber balls of ripe fruit plummeted to the ground around me with muffled thumps. I tore back to the kitchen, mixed a new pastry together and pitted plums precipitously, tossing in the other ingredients in rather the wrong order and weaving the lattice with rather less care.

The second pie, still a bit over-baked but definitely presentable, was ready shortly after five. The phone rang. My guests would not be arriving until seven.

Y'know, this summer is beginning to wear a bit...

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Wasp wars (continued?)

It's become a ritual. Every night, I put the backyard hose at this house-sit at full blast and stealthily climb the stairs to the deck. I aim the spray at the centre of the huge umbrella and soon, bedraggled wasps struggle from the top of the canopy where I wash them down and flood them over the balcony. Every morning, as the sun warms the transparent table on that same deck, a group of two to a dozen wasps cluster on one of the metal legs. I see others clinging to the underside of the umbrella. So, with the evening, I grasp the backyard hose and... eventually retreat to the house shivering in my wet blouse, wondering if I've finally destroyed the nest. Wherever it is. In the apex of the umbrella? In the tubing? In the (shudder) broad metal base? Still, I see the bedraggled wasps silhouetted against the amber clouds of sunset. (Amber? Isn't it supposed to rain tonight? Y'know: "Red sky at night; shepherds' delight"?)

Gawd, I'm tired...

Friday, 20 August 2010

Next time I'll ride the rabbit

My mum once invited her late brother-in-law (back in the days when he was early) to accompany her and her sister to Butchart Gardens
"I've seen 'em," he said laconically.

That's rather like saying you've seen Hamlet and therefore never need to see it again. We who live or have lived in Victoria tend to take "Buchart's" for granted, to dismiss it as a touristy thing, but actually (I may have to whisper this): They're kind of wonderful. Like Hamlet, they're never the same. They change from season to season and from year to year. I've seen the gardens roughly every two to five years since I was ten. I've seen them at Christmas, in spring, in the summer, at night.

Today, we went for the carousel. The Rose Carousel is new to the Gardens, with about fifty different animals to ride on. It's enclosed in its own building, and looks and sounds ancient, although it was especially designed and built for Butchart's by a California company about two years ago. Younger daughter made a beeline for a large flowered horse, much like the carousel horses in the Disney version of Mary Poppins. My mother, rather to my surprise and to the astonishment (and perhaps slight consternation) of the carousel operator, clambered on to a zebra. I managed to straddle a dog.

The merry-go-round started up, complete with calliope music, and spun with surprising speed. Our animals rose and sank a considerable distance, making this actually rather an exciting ride. Younger daughter was ahead of us, gliding up and down, looking very fetching and lady-like with her pink straw hat. Oh, how I wish I'd kept my camera handy.

"I wish I could see her face," said my mother, leaning toward me from her zebra.
"Look at the arch in her back," I replied. "I'm pretty sure she's Mary Poppins."

As the ride ended, I managed to scramble down, and my mum, who was higher up, descended with grace as the operator hurried forward to help her.

"My mum was a fine horsewoman," I explained. "And she grew up in Kenya."
"I didn't ride zebras though," she quickly clarified for the lady who was passing her cane to her.
"We have a giraffe too," said the lady.
"That's next time," grinned my mother.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

The doppelgänger effect

A traffic jam isn't all that bad when viewed from a double-decker. You can see what's going on (more illegal left-hand turns than you can shake a stick at), and it's air-conditioned. This trip was marred somewhat by a German group of seven people taking up the twelve front seats and talking loudly while they lounged, but younger daughter and I were enjoying our elevated view nonetheless.

Sitting further back gave me an excellent view of anyone climbing up from the lower deck, and when a ten-year-old boy emerged from the stairwell, looking exactly like a family member who I know is now nearly thirty, I managed to stifle an audible gasp. It was a good thing that I was busy holding my breath, for the young boy was followed by his father, a dead ringer for the much younger version of the person I've come to believe hates me more than anybody else in the world.

Hate is a peculiar emotion. I refuse to believe that there is anybody that is loved by everyone, despite what you may read in obituaries and testimonials; we all have people who dislike us to varying degrees of intensity. However, the few times I've been aware of someone's enmity, I've always been surprised. Not that I'm such a likable person (although I am...really...), but because in each case the person expressing antipathy is never someone I know well. Hatred seems like such an intimate sentiment, but I think for it to truly work, it needs to be based on lack of knowledge. It is hard to hate someone we truly know well; understanding may not promote love, but it dilutes hatred. The fellow-who-wasn't-the-fellow-on-the-bus has never told me what I've done to earn his antagonism. It's probably far easier to go on hating me than to explain why. I suspect it's rooted more in something he's been told, and possibly in my resemblance to someone else. I know in my own case, that when I feel instinctive disinclination to a person, it's invariably because they remind me of someone who has angered or hurt me.

Once I got over the shock of this doppelgänger, I remembered five other spooky incidents connected with my bête noire:

1. My awareness that there was a problem came quite swiftly. Essentially, bête noire was speaking to me when I left Victoria with my new husband, and not speaking to me when I returned a year later. It took a few social gatherings to realize that this was a campaign, and when the usual measures failed to thaw him, I sought professional advice and finally resolved to ignore him back. This had the almost humourous effect of making him disappear completely, so hard had he been working on freezing me out. Things deteriorated from there.

Bête noire attended the same church as the Resident Fan Boy, and it was in that church that it dawned on me that this was a whole new kind of detestation. When I attended service with the RFB, I realized that the sinking feeling that took over my stomach coincided not when I caught sight of BN, but a few minutes before. I actually seemed to be able to sense the moment he had entered the building. I went from bewilderment to fearfulness. I mean, this was downright creepy.

2. It got creepier over the course of the next year. The Resident Fan Boy and I were shopping on the third floor of a department store one Saturday afternoon, when I was suddenly hit with the same feeling of dread dropping through my belly. When we left the building, and started up the street, we almost ran smack into BN. As usual, he greeted my husband and ignored me.

3. When the sensation hit me a few weeks later, I was at my own church and preparing to meet the RFB to attend the christening tea of one of his godsons. "Is (BN) going to be there?" I asked nervously. "No," he replied. My gut knew better. He was.

4. The Resident Fan Boy and I attended a show at the Royal Theatre. By this time, of course, I knew what the stomach-drop meant. We got off the bus, and I knew BN would be attending, so watched out carefully. There he was, talking with his brothers. We slipped in another door.

5. Finally, during a city-wide bus strike, I was walking home through a neighbourhood not far from where BN lived. By now, I knew that the warning sensation meant a sighting within the half-hour and was ready to avert my eyes and cross the street.

I've experienced the "doppelgänger effect" once before, as well. I was more relieved than anybody when BN and his family got posted overseas. Imagine my horror when, strolling into town on the West Bay Walk one late autumn afternoon at sunset, I found myself staring into the malevolent eyes of BN's double: same sort of clothes, same posture, same manner of walking. However, I knew BN was thousands of miles away, on another continent. When I got home, I made a note of the time (December 16th, 4:32 Pacific Standard Time). If there was any significance to this sighting, it has not yet been revealed to me.

Sitting on a double-decker bus years later, I didn't look back. I had not the slightest inclination. I've written about hauntings before. I think, given my druthers, I'd rather be haunted by the dead, who seem, on the whole to have less ill will.

Wasp-washing

I'm bushed, unlike the indefatigable wasps that keep clustering on the table leg near the deck chair where their hive was before I blasted it with the hose a couple of nights ago. Every evening, I wait until sunset, then wash them away again. They keep coming back. I have several posts aborning, but I must sleep.

Is wasp-washing like straining at gnats? Is this why I'm so exhausted?

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Is this as neat as it appears to look?

The frustrating thing about working at a computer with very little RAM is that I can't see a lot of videos posted online properly. I'll probably have to wait until I get home to see the images from this "flash mob" by the National Ballet School at the Eaton Centre in Toronto without jerkiness or pauses and actually in sync to the snappy song by Feist.

Can you see it? How is it?

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Will o' the wasp

Long-time readers of this blog (there are a couple of you, aren't there?) may remember that I have a certain, er, delicacy about insects. My grandfather was an entomologist, but evidently this didn't rub off on me. ("Eewww... is it on me? Get it off! Get it off....")

Where was I? Oh yes. My squeamishness about bugs. When my sister and I were small, my mother got around the expense of a summer holiday by taking on the job of hostel parent in nearby Banff and Jasper. Now, my mum was worried about bigger things than insects. She was really concerned about bears, so she hung whistles around our necks and instructed us to blow them if we needed her. Our whistles would ring from the nearby creek; Demeter would dash down bashing on a pot to scare away ursine predators only to be confronted by two terrified little girls: "Wasses, mummy! Wasses!" By the end of the summer she decided the bears could have us.

It's the fourth evening of the heat wave. I waited until the sun was setting to tackle the watering of the back garden. First, I checked the potted plants on the deck with my plant wand, then, on a whim, decided to sweep up a bit. In doing so, I knocked one of the deck chairs with a good thump and suddenly the darkening air was full of insects.

Holy mother of.... With an agility and speed I didn't know I possessed, I found myself inside the sliding screen door, gazing at dozens of long-legged wasps hovering around the chair I'd disturbed. They didn't looked pleased. Bloody hell, I thought. The cats were due to be let out, and they always exit by that door, and there was no way I was sliding that screen open.

Thinking quickly, I slipped out the side door, reached around to unlatch the gate, and turned on the hose, thinking grimly of my determination not to knock down wasps' nests for the people who own this house. Then I gingerly ascended the stairs to the upper deck. I rounded the corner and directed the hose at every wasp I could see, whirling and spraying. I felt a bit like a character in a Sam Peckinpah film. Then I knocked the deck chair over and blasted the nest itself which was round, flat, about six inches across, covered with uniform cells and swarming with wasps. I kept spraying and spraying washing the struggling wasps across the floor and over the edge of the balcony. Every now and then I'd aim at flying wasps that kept arriving, I guess because it was evening and they were coming home. Every time I directed the hose back at the nest, more wasps seemed to be emerging. It was like that clown car at the circus with dozens of clowns getting out of it. Eventually, I washed the nest itself free of the underside of the chair and over the edge. With fewer wasp sightings, I occasionally took time to water the potted plants, before hitting out at another late arrival.

Finally, I opened the screen door to allow the cat to exit. He, of course, was not sure about dampening his white paws and took his time before venturing out. Nervously, I set about watering the rest of the huge backyard, my mind buzzing with fearful images of vengeful vespiforms wreaking waspish revenge for the slaughter I'd committed and the home I'd destroyed. When I went to turn off the hose, one wasp was on the wall at eye level. She seemed to look over her shoulder at me. I let her live, mainly because I was unarmed, but this war isn't over. August is still young. Yellow pages next, I should think....

Monday, 16 August 2010

This is John Reid's fault

Oh, I was going to write a long post today. It was going to be about Shakespeare. Or the Unitarian Church.

But it's been bloody hot today, which is not John Reid's fault. The house I'm sitting retains heat like a pregnant lady retains water. This is not John Reid's fault either.

What is his fault is his blog. Now, he recently wrote something very nice about this blog which made me blush with pleasure, but today he posted this.

I've been holding off doing family research this summer. For one thing, I'm three thousand miles away from my private data base; for another, well, you might remember I'm only supposed to be using this house-sit's computer for emails. Which is, of course, why I defiantly decided to NaBloPoMo my way through August, but never mind.

When I read John's piece about the National Probate Calendar for 1861-1941 being made available at Ancestry.co.uk, I thought I'd take just a little peek. Then I thought I'd look up just a dozen ancestors. Before I knew it, Sunday afternoon was gone, and it was time to water the damn garden again.

What did I find so alluring? Most of the people I was checking were direct ancestors of my daughters. The probate calendar gives me date of death, the address of the deceased and where s/he died, names of beneficiaries and their addresses, how much the estate was worth. In earlier entries, we get occupations of everyone concerned.

I discovered that my great-great-grandfather, a publisher in Shoreditch who apparently worked with Charles Dickens and once entertained him in his home (where my great-grandfather, being the youngest child, escaped punishment by hiding from his mother underneath the great man's chair) left an estate of £31.442, 7s. 6d. In 1886, this was a hell of a lot of money. Why on earth did he live in Hackney?

I learned that my great-grandmother left a tidy sum of money, not to her only surviving child, but to her nephew and his wife in Wolverhampton. Was this because my grandmother and her family were stranded in Kenya for the war? I'll be quizzing my mum about that!

Most exciting of all, I finally found out what happened to one of my great-great-uncles, who had seemed to disappear off the face of the earth after the 1861 census. He's there in the probate calendar, having died in South Africa in 1898. However, his address in Britain is a house in Lymington, Hampshire where my great-aunt finally died of her alcoholism (long and sad story there) under the care of my great-great-grandmother. My long-lost great-great-uncle died in the Royal Naval Hospital at Smith's Town, and left his estate to his widowed sister-in-law.

Darn you, John Reid! How do I stop myself now?

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Worlds apart and a block away (Part Three of a Google Map walk through a childhood neighbourhood)

The Resident Fan Boy and I had been an item for a matter of days when we made the astonishing discovery while waiting for a movie to begin at the students' cinema at UVic. It started when we realized we had been born in the same hospital (The Royal Alexandra, Edmonton, Alberta) eight months apart, then we stumbled upon the fact we'd had the same Grade One teacher, although not, obviously, at the same time.

Working out addresses, landmarks and neighbours, we figured out we'd been living about a block and a half from each other, from the time my family moved into 12618 109A Avenue when I was four (the RFB was five) to the time when the RFB and his family moved to Victoria when he was six going on seven. (I would have just turned six and been about to enter school --- where I would have the RFB's former Grade One teacher.) For two years there, we surely must have passed each other on the streets, a freckle-nosed girl with long flyaway braids and a dark-haired boy in conservative clothes with a lazy eye.
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The Resident Fan Boy was astounded to learn that there had been a Unitarian Church in the neighbourhood. Being the son of a very High Anglican rector, he would have been blissfully unaware of the community of heathens worshipping a mere two blocks from his front door. (His mother would have been horrified; that was certainly her reaction when she discovered her precious boy had fallen for a Unitarian years later in Victoria: "But....they deny Our Lord....")

So every Sunday, my sister and I made the trek up 126 Street to 110 Avenue where we went to Sunday School, learning Bible stories as folk tales. It's still there today, but the church sold it about five years ago to an architect who no doubt was intrigued by its Bauhauss style.

On our way, we passed the firehouse which had saved our own house from destruction, and some neighbours who were particular friends of my father's.

One evening, I was playing just outside our gate as the sun set. My father's car drove up and he invited me to hop in to pop around to see the neighbours on 126 Street. We were less than a block away, and I don't think he intended to stay long, but it was dark when we returned to the house.

As we entered the front door, I could see my mother from the back. She was sitting on the couch with her jacket on, being comforted by our housekeeper, a brisk grandmother from Saskatchewan named Mrs Leigh. My mother's hair, usually neatly swept back into a tidy chignon for work, was disheveled and she was weeping. Mrs Leigh darted to us and had a few quick words with my father. I didn't hear what she said, but I'd never heard her be angry with my father before. I didn't have much time to process this as I was swept into my mother's arms.

Later, I sat in the bath with eyes like saucers as my mother sat by the tub and told me what had happened. It was very uncharacteristic for me to wander off, so she had searched the street, asked the neighbours, then pelted off on a frantic run across the field to search the playground. "It got darker and darker, and I called and called," she said. "And then I thought my little girl was gone...."

Even though this incident was clearly my father's misjudgment and not my own, I never forgot it. During my sister's and my turbulent teens, I was the one who never failed to phone to say where I was. I had seen my mother's grief and terror. Once was enough.


(This is my continuation of the exercise suggested by John Reid at his blog Anglo-Celtic Connections.)

A solid girl like me

We're running into a week of hot days for Victoria. "Hot" in Victoria means high twenties (Celsius) which means upper to mid-thirties here in Saanich. I struggled to somehow get the large front yard and simply enormous backyard adequately watered, as we'll be out tomorrow evening watching The Taming of the Shrew on the Camosun College campus (where we'll probably be cold). Inside, younger daughter was delighting to the 1965 television version of Rogers and Hammerstein's Cinderella which features one of the best songs ever written about falling in love ("Ten Minutes Ago"); one of the truest songs about longing ("Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful") and one of the most painfully funny songs about how men unoriginally keep falling for the pretty girls ("Stepsisters' Lament"). With all that damn watering, I barely have enough time to post something before midnight PDT, so I'm posting the 1957 version of the last song with Alice Ghostly and Kaye Ballard:

Friday, 13 August 2010

Write of Passage Number Thirteen: Four Solitudes

Younger daughter and I try to ride the double-decker buses in Victoria whenever we can. Today we caught one which runs from the campus of the University of Victoria to downtown. When we clambered to the second deck, we found the prime seats occupied by four Japanese girls, probably ESL students in one of the university's summer language programmes. They weren't sitting together, mind. Three sat one behind the other on the left side, and one sat across the aisle. All four seemed to be in their own worlds, gazing out the window or examining their cell phones. Each one had shoulder-length hair, parted on the side. Each wore slightly scuffed ballet slipper flats. The tops seemed to be artfully varied: a frilly blouse, a short-sleeved sweater, a navy hoodie, and a scruffy tee-shirt.

The girl across the aisle suddenly extended her arm, and snapped her own picture with her phone. As she fell back into gazing and poking at the buttons, another girl stretched out her arm and captured herself with a bright pink digital camera. She gazed at the result, then leaned away against the window and tried again. And then the next girl raised her arm, and so on. I felt I was sitting in the middle of a piece of performance art or some weird visual haiku full of single arms branching across the bus toward no one:

The girls of Japan
Make a forest of photos
What will be recalled?

Finally, one girl turned in her seat to talk to the one behind her. I could see them glancing at the girl across the aisle, while she watched them beneath lowered lids, pretending to check her phone. The row of three got off together at City Hall. Cell phone girl pocketed the same and got off at our stop, disappearing into the crowd.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The tricycle thief (Google-map-walking through a childhood neighbourhood, Part Two)

Our journeys to downtown Edmonton always started with a three-block walk to 124 Street where the buses ran. (According to the current map, there is now a bus stop directly in front of where our house used to stand, probably put there for the seniors in the residence that has taken its place.) It seemed a very long trek to an under-eight-year-old, rife with all sorts of hazards. For example, there was a cantankerous get-off-my-lawn guy who permanently traumatized me by yelling at me when I accidentally stumbled on his carpet-like green.

The walk was usually taken with my mum (although I was on my own when the lawn ogre roared). I remember walking with my dad on one occasion, desperately trying to match his stride which took up three of mine.
View Larger MapMore often though, I ventured to the end of my block and sat on the curb facing east. Warm in the afternoon sun (I certainly didn't do this in the winter), I would thoughtlessly toss ants to their watery grave in the gutter while I waited for the familiar figure to appear in the distance. When the figure returned my frantic wave, it was my cue to run to meet my mother returning from work.

One day a group of young kids on tricycles appeared in silhouette, peddling from the next lane in the next block. Just as suddenly, they vanished, along with the approaching figure of my mum. Baffled, I ran the half-block to where my mother had disappeared, halting to gaze down the deserted back lane. A few minutes later, there was my mother, purse over her shoulder, grimly towing two tricycles.

A few weeks before, my sister and I had received our very first tricycles. Mine was an electric blue, hers a bright green. Both had bright plastic ribbons flowing from the handlebars. They had promptly vanished from our front yard. Not long afterward, I was engaged in my favourite activity of climbing on our wooden white-washed front gate and riding it until it slammed shut with a satisfying click. A posse of about five or six kids trundled by, either riding or clinging to a largish tricycle and a smaller one. The ringleader of this mob was a rather loathsome little girl called Gigi. (With a name like that, I suppose she didn't have a chance.) She jeered: "You can't ride on my bike!"

Being five, I was too distracted by this out-of-left-field insult to notice the details of the trikes. Mama, returning home that summer evening, had recognized the tricycles immediately, despite the miscreants having partially ripped the decorative ribbons from the handlebars to disguise them. She had, after all, spent precious time and money acquiring them. I can only imagine the terror of Gigi and her gang when pursued by my mother who, although by nature a gentle person, could be formidable. She later told me that they abandoned their ill-gotten vehicles in the backyard and ran for the safety of the house. She, of course, pounded on the door and confronted the startled mother.

Once home, Mother covered the white mudguards on the wheels with our address in large letters, and we were strictly required to keep our trikes in the backyard shed. I don't remember seeing much of Gigi after that. No great loss.


(This is my continuation of the exercise suggested by John Reid at his blog Anglo-Celtic Connections.)

Bred of an airy word

Logic tells me awful moments like these don't last forever, but when you're in them, time, like space, has a way of stretching vertically as well as horizontally into infinity.

And how did it begin, this civil brawl, bred of an airy word by me, o mummy? This morning as I pinned up younger daughter's hair in preparation for her swimming lesson, she groaned. "This is going to be a bad day." I was baffled, but in a bit of a hurry.

Nothing bad at swimming lesson. Younger daughter executed some admirable dolphin kicks, and did well treading water in preparation for her Red Cross Level Eight endurance requirement. She was excited that it was a water slide day and unhesitatingly zoomed down twice.

Afterward, she was withdrawn and tired, so I took my most recent tack and tactfully withdrew to read the paper in the lounge, leaving her to finish dressing. Unfortunately, younger daughter's change time has been slowly increasing over the summer. What used to take twenty-five minutes now takes thirty-five. As not one but two buses whizzed off downtown when we finally left the rec centre, I turned to her in mild exasperation and said: "You know, we'd have caught those buses, but you're taking a bit too long in the change-room."

Sigh. I forgot that I was talking to a premenstrual fourteen-year-old on the autistic spectrum. By the time we boarded the bus, she had advanced from indignant to furious, and about halfway through the long, long bus ride (because we'd missed those two other buses) she had graduated to heart-broken sobs. When this kind of thing happens, talking is of very little use. I've learned through hard experience that it simply feeds into the maelstrom of her injured feelings. So I sat there, feeling the gaze of our fellow passengers on the crowded bus (being packed with ESL students from the summer programmes at UVic, of course), and sensing the unspoken "Why aren't you doing something?".

Our plan had been to return items to the library, eat at her favourite restaurant, then do a bit of grocery-shopping. We got off the bus, and she stalked ahead of me to the corner. I had decided the quiet courtyard behind the coffee shop might be an opportunity for her to cool down, so waited by the entrance until she noticed I was not following her. I gestured her to follow me, and she dashed by me to the other end of the plaza where a passage by an optometrist leads back to the street. I sat down and waited for her to notice I was not behind her. Eventually I heard sobs and saw pedestrians exit the passage, looking over their shoulders. I got up and went to investigate, being joined at the same time by the woman from the optometrist's.

"Are you her mother?"
"Yes," I nodded.
"What's the matter?"
"She's upset," I replied, politely but concisely, hoping she'd take the hint. She stood by, while I talked to my daughter.
"How can we solve this?"
"I don't know!"
"You're stuck in your bad feelings?"
"Yes?"
"How long will you feel like this?"
"Forever!"
"Oh. That's a very long time."
"I know it's a long time, Mom!"
"Can you tell me why you're so upset?"
"I...I....I...... I miss Daddy!"
I felt something relax in our observer.
"Can I do anything to help?" (People say this. I'm not sure why. Because they can't think of anything else to say?)
I decided to focus this back to younger daughter: "The lady is asking whether you need help. Do you want to say 'Yes, please' or 'No, thank-you'?"

After the optometrist departed, we continued our stalemate. I told younger daughter we couldn't go to the library unless she calmed down. I stepped into Broughton Street and daughter headed east toward the library. I waited until she noticed I wasn't following. And there we were standing about ten yards apart. When I moved toward her, she retreated, and when I turned back toward Douglas Street, she gingerly followed. Every time I tried to speak, she turned her back and grimaced, rather like the Peanuts kids do in the animated Charlie Brown specials. Two Taurus at an impasse. It seem to be endless, but probably wasn't much more than five minutes.

Finally, I decided to walk toward the library. She carefully kept her distance and studied an exhibit while I sort the library items into the bins. When she entered the library, I followed her to the children's section and sort of non-directed her to the DVD section while I took a seat. After she stood irresolutely for some time, I ventured to ask her if she wanted help. Gradually, we eased into what passes for normality for us, and I felt brave enough to lead her through the planned itinerary.

Seated in the Dutch Bakery, her favourite diner, she murmured: "I'm sorry."
"Pardon?"
"I'm sorry; I did a terrible thing today."
"What was that?"
"I slept too late."
She had been up in plenty of time, but I had had to rush her a little through breakfast.
"Then I said rude things on the bus."
"You were very angry."
"Yes and you told me to leave you alone. Never say that to me again!"

I had, in my despair, mumbled, "Oh, Leave me alone," when her shouting and crying had made me want to leap off at the next bus stop and leave her there. But a person on the autistic spectrum takes things very literally, and although she's told me to leave her alone a hundred times, when I say it, it means abandonment and that I will never love her again. Even as she ordered her food, I could see her face still on that brink of crumpling into tears.

As we left the restaurant amicably, she was humming to herself and stimming slightly, and the little old ladies stared.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Memories are like smoke


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John Reid, an august past-president of the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa (BIFHSGO -- we members call it "Buh-FISS-Go") recently made an intriguing suggestion at his resourceful and informative blog Anglo-Celtic Connections. I have found it invariably worthwhile to follow his suggestions whether on his blog (a great resource if your family history lies in Great Britain, or even Canada), or from one of his fascinating presentations, so I'll taking a Google map walk around the tiny neighbourhood where I spent a fraction of my childhood (although the neighbourhood seemed huge at the time, and when I was six, a year seemed forever). In doing so, a host of memories have resurfaced, so, seeing as I'm doing this NaBloPoMo thing, I shall return to the stroll from time to time, whenever my ideas for posts run out (which is liable to be often).

I spent four years of my life at 12618 109A Avenue in Edmonton, Alberta, from the time I was four to the time I was eight. It was my last home in Edmonton before my mother took my sister and me to make a fresh start in British Columbia. The house is no longer there. Along with our neighbours' house on the west side and at least two houses behind us that fronted on 127 Street (including my future husband's grandparents' home and thereby hangs a strange and wonderful tale), it made way for the Alliance Villa which I think is a seniors' residence.
View Larger Map Across the lane to the east, the Hatley's house still stands, a similar vintage to our house, although our house was darker and narrower, I think; the Hatleys, after all, were a much larger family. The crab-apple tree in their front yard is gone, and were the bushes that low? They towered above me and completely obscured the building.

The tree in our front was a cottonwood which I remember as being enormous. It may not have been. I spent ages pulling down the green pods in the spring so I could split them to see the white fluff inside. It's gone, along with the narrow yard that ran alongside the west of the house where a long lilac bush became my secret "Wendy House". At the back, was the rickety swing-set, a sandbox full of cat poo (although I did not realize this until years later), and a toolshed where I hid from the noise of the firetruck.

I was playing in the front yard when an ineffectual seventeen-year-old live-in housekeeper my desperate parents had hired, fired (for having a boyfriend in her room and leaving us unattended), and rehired (when her sister pleaded for her) came running out onto the porch.

"My bedroom is on fire!" she sobbed and seeing the newspaper boy cycle up, screamed at him: "Go and tell the fire department!" The startled boy pedaled off. Fortunately for us, the fire department was around the block on 126 Street. Especially fortunate, as the young girl didn't have the presence of mind to get my sister, about four or five at the time, out of the house. All I could think of, at age seven, was how loud the sirens would be, so I ran to the back of the house and shut myself in the shed. The Hatleys eventually corralled us and took us into their kitchen. My mother received the news at work and never forgot Mrs Hatley's grim opening words: "The girls are all right."

Little Miss Not-sharpest-knife-in-the-drawer had been smoking in her room and thrown the butt in the waste basket. My father's only words to her were a quiet but deadly "Get out." I remember watching her lonely silhouette on the back balcony from my vantage point in the Hatleys' kitchen, as she gingerly picked belongings out of the burnt dresser with no mirror in the charred frame. Naturally, we never saw her again. The fire and water damage to the front bedroom and the ceiling below were considerable, and took many weeks to repair.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Yet another double-duty posting

The Princes in the TowerThe Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the Richard III Society. My husband was: I bought a membership for him as a birthday present, and he occasionally wears a sweatshirt with the White Boar emblazoned across it. He remains a staunch Ricardian (and a champion of James I, the subject of his thesis for his Honours History).

This book would drive him crazy. I had never heard of Alison Weir; she seems to be a prolific writer. She pretty much agrees with Shakespeare's portrayal of Richard, opening her book with two quotes from his Richard III. She sets out her evidence, relying heavily on primary sources, in a readable way, but every time she makes a sweeping statement, I find myself muttering "Wait a minute! How does this prove anything?" This isn't the sort of feeling one should keep confronting while reading a history book, is it?

I don't have strong feelings pro or con for Richard of York, but I have spent the past year in particular with books by other historians on other topics, including Ian Mortimer and Elizabeth Longford. If I'm going to read a book about who murdered the little princes in the Tower, I think I'd feel more confident somehow with the work and research of one of them.


View all my reviews >>

Saturday, 7 August 2010

House-sister

The thought came to me as I was gloomily gazing at my ruined toenails. The house we're sitting is quite far inland, out of reach of the sea breezes, so the temperature here is usually five degrees and sometimes as much as ten degrees warmer than downtown Victoria. The upper rooms are a good five degrees warmer than that, no matter how many fans I turn on.

So as the fiery ball finally made its way to the western horizon, it was finally cool enough on the back deck to escape the heat of the house. I was worn out by too little sleep, hiking around downtown Victoria laden with groceries and swim-gear, and the prospect of trying to prepare supper and water the yard on this thirty-seventh day without rain. (How big is this yard? Recently I was chatting to the Resident Fan Boy on the cordless phone while hiking out to the compost bin. We lost the freaking signal.)

I was having another long-distance chat with the Resident Fan Boy who is holding the fort back in Hades which has been plagued with thunder-storms and flooding. We could use some floods in BC where the sun has been reduced to a disc on several days from the smoke from forest fires on the mainland.

Clutching the cordless phone in my weary claw, I gave the RFB the latest update on the continuing struggle with the lady who owns this house. During my half-dozen house-sits over the past nine years, I've been the one to contact the home-owners: "So-and-so called; may I give her your number?", emails giving updates or requesting trouble-shooting instructions. This usually amounts to two or three contacts over the period of the house-sit; owners usually want to enjoy their trip and not worry about the house -- that's why I'm there, right? This year's house-sit hostess (I'll call her "HH", shall I?) seems to think the reason I'm there is so she can continue to run things from 823 kilometres (511 miles) away. It's gotten so my heart sinks when the phone rings and I see her number blinking on the screen.

This week, it's emails. Husband of House-sit Hostess (HHH if you like) came home from the sea, and opened their Outlook Express which meant all messages got downloaded to OE and she can't access them from her server's web site. HHH apparently got on the horn with the server and set up a default where all incoming messages will be copied to the web site. However, after he joined the air force (oh let's not go into that) and vamoosed to train in Ontario -- until Christmas -- she discovered that this doesn't apply to all those messages that arrived before HHH had that chat with the server.

So I get a series of phone calls and phone messages, each detailing how I had to get on a phone with a technician and "go through the process step-by-step because (HHH) did that and it didn't work." Fruitlessly, I try to explain to her that we used to have the same thing happen with our server and the trick is to forward those older emails. She sighs and says firmly: "NO. Trust me, we've been through this. He forwarded the emails and it didn't work."

So I phoned the server. Was put on hold for ten minutes, while they played the same ten-second phrase from Doctor Zhivago over and over again, punctuated with various automated phrases thanking me for my patience, advertising other services, and at one point, even asking me to press "One" if I wanted a scheduled call-back and "Two" if I wanted to stay on line. Eventually, I got a technician and gathered with some difficulty (his accent was a bit thick) that all emails prior to the set-up were now downloaded to the computer and it would be necessary to forward those email if she wanted to access them from the web site....

"NO," said HH, when I called her back. "He needs to walk you through this step by step. When (HHH) tried that, it didn't work..."
"Look," I pleaded. "Just let me try to forward them again. I think the problem may be that (HHH) couldn't send them all at once."
I hung up and grouped the 139 email according to date, making the date the subject line of each emailed group. When I checked the web site, they were all there, and I phoned back to tell her so.
"How did you think of that?" she stammered.
"Didn't I mention I'm a brilliant woman?" I reply wryly.

The whole damn summer is shaping up like this, directive phone-calls, cats who refuse to come in or out, long lists of things I'm suppose to do, or not touch, to say nothing of packing up and leaving every time Johnny comes marching home.

Where was I? Oh yes, contemplating how to get the strength up to give myself a pedicure before I cause nausea at younger daughter's next swim lesson, and updating the RFB. And no, the above saga wasn't it; that was just background. Now HH wants me to trawl through her June emails (she deletes nothing, by the way, not even the porn spam) to locate the owner/operators of obscure Mexican resort she's booked for Christmas. Doesn't remember their names.

That was when the thought hit me. Someone phoned and left a message last weekend wishing HH a happy birthday. Oh. My. Gawd. She's a Leo.

"That's it!" I gasped to the RFB in a moment of horrified revelation. "It's like house-sitting for my sister!" My sister the double Leo red-head. Resident Fan Boy understood immediately. He loves my sister, but shares my traumatic memories of both her weddings, and any number of other occasions where we've been crunched under the oppression of her A-type controlling perfectionism, all delivered with a sweet smile and appreciative words which RFB and I know to be a front for the deadly determination always there beneath the surface.

It's actually my sister's birthday today. Happy birthday, sis. God bless and keep you.....at a safe distance.

Oh, and it's raining today. I'm excused from watering the flower beds, shrubs and trees. If I focus on that and not on the long-range forecast, maybe I'll have a happy day too.

The crone with the dragon tattoo

She was sitting a little ahead of me and across the aisle on the bus this morning. She leaned forward to search for something in her bag, so that her tank top shifted and three large psychedelic flowers appeared to burst from her armpit. I'm sure this wasn't the intended effect; they were evidently a small part of a major masterpiece in subcutaneous ink all across her back.

Over the past ten years, I've watched tattoos take over the bodies of more and more of the people I see in buses, in coffee shops, at the various functions marking my elder daughter's high school graduation. Every time I see an ink-ringed bicep, florid calves, or cartoon faces on the tops of someone's sandalled feet, I think to myself: "Oooh...there goes yet another person who never thinks s/he's ever going to get old..."

Years ago, a comedian on television got a big laugh from imagining the day when rest homes are full of people named Heather, Tiffany, and Jason. Imagine the fading ink-band (Celtic design, of course) sagging on a wasted arm, or the not-so-bright blossoms laced with veins, or the cartoon faces cracked and dry and next to bunions and yellow toe nails. My guess is that today's bearers of tattoos are blissfully convinced that they will never have the bad taste to actually age. Or maybe they're counting on the world to end.

I got off the bus at the same stop as the girl with the blooming armpit. She also had a diamond stud on the right side of her philtrum which caught the morning sun and made her appear to have a sparkling zit. She crossed the street, and I could see another piece of her back design peering out from under her shirt, just above her mild muffin-top. Hospital-gowns open at the back; some rest-home attendants are in for a treat in fifty years.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Not gonna make it

My blog is on Hades time (EDT) and I'm house-sitting on Victoria time (PDT), so if you're wondering why there are not posts for every day in August at my actual blog, let me assure you, that at NaBloPoMo, the dates are correct --- so long as I post them by midnight PDT.

However, I'm not going to finish the post upon which I've embarked tonight. So I'm cheating and posting a YouTube video.

I'm not a country music fan, but I adore this song. I do not adore this video. If I had my way, I'd post a clip from the late lamented A&E programme By Request, back when A&E actually meant "Arts and Entertainment". On her appearance, Trisha Yearwood performed this song with the songwriter Kim Richey, plus one of my favourite singer/songwriters Mary Chapin Carpenter. It was fabulous. The vocal here is also fabulous, so I recommend closing your eyes and ignoring the video, which is inoffensive to the point of being bland and pointless:

I'll endeavour to produce a real post tomorrow, I promise!

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Ms Bean (Write of Passage Number Twelve)

She's a young plain Jane, hair cut in a kind of church bob, plain tee-shirt, practical clothes, glasses perched on a snub nose. There is something atypical about the way she moves as she works her way to the back of the nearly empty bus, although I'd be hard-pressed to say just what it is. She spots a comely young man and plops down beside him, leaning enough into his space to make him squirm just a little bit. He looks out the window and studiously ignores her. A small smile plays about her lips. I've seen that smile before:

Comely young man eventually escapes. Plain Jane makes her way to another seat and leans almost imperceptibly into another young man who possesses equal powers of ignoring. Then she rises, and in that odd, not-quite-definable ungainly way, descends from the bus. She's still smiling.

Mischief managed.

The loneliness of the long-distance house-sitter

I believe I've established that my house-sit this year has been somewhat stressful. One factor (of many) in my disquietude is my responsibility for two outdoor cats. I'm an indoor cat person, and I have cared for outdoor cats before at the half-dozen or so houses I've sat over the past nine summers. However, I'm required to let the feline denizens of this home out for the night, and to "strive" (as the house directions put it) to get them in during the day.

The reason for this? A former cat of this household was killed by the dogs next door. The neighbours in question reportedly declared that they had found a cat claw in the nostril of one of the dogs. I'm not sure whether they were helpfully providing gory details or trying to suggest that the dogs were provoked.

Recently, I returned to the house late one afternoon to discover a sheet of paper in the screen door:
Hello there,
We have been over a few times to introduce ourselves and let you know that we are having a party this evening and we will be playing volleyball. It is difficult not to be noisy. Sorry in advance if we are.


I had been warned of this too. In addition to the tension over the chewed-up-and-spat-out cat, there have been confrontations between my hosts and the party-heartys next door. Apparently the better half of the couple asked if it were not possible for the people living here to simply sleep later, not understanding that the military generally frowns on this.

So after dinner, when I headed out to harvest raspberries from the backyard, the volley-ball game was in full swing. Shortly thereafter, a half-pint appeared.

"Uh, can I help you?"
"I'm here to look for the ball."
"No ball came over over the fence."
"They sent me over to look for it. Gee, you have nice flowers."
"Yes, the lady here did a nice job. There isn't any ball here."

At this point, a head appeared at one of the back gates. I was not astonished to note that it was blond.

"Hiiiiye! We're from next door; we haven't met yet!"
"Yes, I got your note..."
"Our ball came over the fence."
"Uh, I saw no ball come over."
"Oh yes! I smacked it over! Can you open this gate?"

"I'll open it for you!" chirped the cherub. "These leaves are really soft!"

He'd been coached well. I, as a mother of a special needs child who is frequently ignored or bullied by similarly appealing moppets, recognized the studied charm.

Blondie and nipper embarked on a tour of the large backyard which was, as I kept pointing out, devoid of volley-balls. Finally, someone shouted that it was embedded in the shrubbery on their side. They vanished.

I rinsed the raspberries and listened to the shouts and thonks outside. It was oddly comforting and I even summoned up the courage to tackle the front yard with the lawn-mower before the light faded.

When I stashed the machine in its place, I spotted unfamiliar shapes on the grass beside the raspberry bushes where I had laboured earlier. It appeared to be what was left of a rabbit's head and a whole field-mouse, along with clumps of fur. I guess it was dropped by one of the red-tailed hawks I've seen soaring in gyres high above the roofs. I'm certainly glad I wasn't standing underneath when this stuff plummeted from the sky. Another reason for keeping those cats inside during the day. I don't think the hawks hunt at night, although on quieter nights, I've heard them calling to each other from the tallest tree-tops.

This was not a quieter night though. Well past midnight, the voices floated up through the bedroom window, and alone with my younger daughter in this huge house, I actually slept sounder than I have since arriving.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Audience participation

Mary Ann Johanson has asked at her blog Flick Filosopher about her readers' preferred way of viewing movies. Since I'm attempting NaBloPoMo again, I'll spare her my natterings at her blog and witter on here on my blog:

This question has come up on other blogs and I'm bemused by the replies. On one side, we have the DVD viewers who decry the irritations of price, timing, and people who behave as if they're at home watching television themselves. On the other, we have those who like the cinema "experience": the concession, the big screen, the special effects if the movie has 'em.

I have a cinema preference myself, but it's mainly for the shared experience. Sure, I want to throttle the guy who repeats every joke, or the teenager sticking his feet through to my armrest, or the couple who are chatting (and are so offended when requested to stop!). However, my favourite movie memories have involved being part of the audience reaction.

I was lucky enough to see Singing in the Rain for the very first time with a university student audience, all howling with laughter at Donald O'Connor's acrobatic mishaps as he sang "Make 'Em Laugh". I saw my first Ginger Roger/Fred Astaire musicals as part of a festival for the same, and watched delightedly as a couple rose from their seats afterward and executed some pretty fancy footwork in their exit up the aisle. I recall the silent boyish awe of a row of nineteen-year-old boys eating up ET and the stunned gasp during the opening scene of Star Wars as that enormous Empire warship passed...and kept on passing....

This past year, I experimented with the looping device at my local arts cinema to see if I could catch the dialogue better. I can, but I miss the chuckles and sniffles around me. I'd rather miss a few words than be shut off from the connection around me, even if that means the risk of wanting to throttle someone.

Kinda like my rationale for marriage, I guess.

A blazing penny for your thoughts

It's cool and overcast, just before 9 am PDT on a Sunday morning in Cook Street Village. As I hurry down the hill under the ancient chestnuts, the sun is a penny rising on my left, promising to eventually burn off the sea mist.

A younger woman waiting for her chai latte examines the newspaper clipping of today's horoscope which dangles from the counter.

"I don't like her," I say cheerfully, nodding toward the photo of the astrologist, "She hates Tauruses." (As indeed she seems to; in yesterday's paper, she promised me increased stress and rarely has a nice thing in store for us Bulls.) Chai Lady behaves as if I have not spoken, or even if I'm not standing right next to her. Possibly not from around here. Or shy. Or deaf. Or determined not to acknowledge a lowly drinker of mocha lattes. I stop making mental excuses for her and find my favourite table.

This is my one chance this summer to sit by myself on the veranda of the Moka House, an independent coffee shop which has flourished defiantly to spite the Starbucks across the street.

Our eight-week house-sit has turned into a see-saw affair. You may have guessed this by the infrequency of my posting, but giving my recent posting history, maybe it's not all that evident.

Oh, the home-owners are nice enough people, but as far as I can figure, they're that most dangerous combination: scattered control freaks. I'd go into more detail, but I've just learned they want us back in the house tonight (yes, we've been out --- it's a long story...), which means I have access to a reasonably quick computer (unlike my dear mama's dial-up), which means I can try my admittedly hare-brained scheme of attempting NaBloPoMo again. My hostess, for want of a better word, has sworn we have the house until August 31st. Given recent events, which I'll go into later (maybe), I'm pretty damned cautious about this. However, for now, let's pretend that I'll have the house-sit for the entire month of August and therefore can attempt to post in the blog every day. Keep your fingers crossed.

I sip my mocha latte and watch the comings and goings along Cook Street. If I were out here an hour later, I'd see the occasional older lady dressed for one of the several churches along Quadra Street. (I doubt Chai Lady would answer them either.) However, it's 9:15 on a Sunday morning, so I see a different class of worshipper, dog-walkers, ear-budded joggers and brisk pedestrians. And coffee and chai sippers, of course, attending service uneasily side by side in this funky coffee shop.

I see them all very well. That's when I notice that two of the most ancient chestnuts of all have been removed since I was last here, replaced by a hopeful adolescent sapling all strapped up and supported and surrounded by baby shrubs. What will be missing this time next year?

Gotta go. I can see the amber lights of the blazing penny sun reflected in the parked cars. It's actually trying to put out some heat. Someone may be missing me by now. Have you? I do hope so...